Thursday, 16 April 2015

Project Genesis takes root!

This week is National Gardening Week which ties in perfectly to the first subject of Project Genesis, the archive of renowned horticulturist and landscape gardener James Russell.  In many ways James Russell makes an ideal starting point for the project.  Unusually for a Borthwick collection, the archive of James Russell has a published catalogue, prepared by Katrina Legg in 2003, which includes a biography of Russell himself and a full list of the 473 files that make up the archive together with details of its history and system of arrangement.

Whilst I have often fetched items from the James Russell archive for visitors in the searchroom, preparing a Collection Level Description and authority file for the collection was the first opportunity I’ve had to look through the catalogue in detail.  The breadth of material is remarkable.  The James Russell archive takes up some 72 archive boxes and includes more than 100 rolls containing extensive correspondence, plant lists, plans, sketches, photographs, magazine and journal articles and other administrative papers relating to his work with hundreds of individuals and organisations in the UK and around the world.
‘Promotional literature for Sunningdale Nurseries’. Ref: JR 1/77
Helpfully for the modern researcher Russell kept the papers for each of his clients together in a single file, separating out the larger plans and sketches to be stored as rolls.  When cataloguing new collections archivists seek to preserve its original order wherever possible and so these files and rolls have been largely retained as they were received in the 1990s – albeit with some new packaging and a few less paperclips.
In its entirety the archive tells the story of Russell’s career from the 1950s to the 1990s.  It was a career that saw his work in the revival of Sunningdale Nurseries in Surrey; create the Rose Garden, Ray Wood and the arboretum at Castle Howard; undertake countless projects for private clients at home and abroad and receive the Royal Horticultural Society’s highest accolade, the Victoria Medal of Honour.
‘Annotated plan of arboretum at Castle Howard’. Ref: JR 1/264
As the archive shows, his clients included the paper merchants Wiggins Teape Ltd whose new rooftop gardens, designed and planted by Russell in 1976, were dubbed the ‘Hanging Gardens of Basingstoke.’  Outside of the UK his commissions took him to Normandy and Nassau, and even to Japan where he advised on the landscaping of Mount Akagi Nature Observation Park for the Seiyo Corporation between 1987 and 1991.
In between such projects he found time to take part in plant hunting expeditions and horticultural excursions to America, Madagascar, Nassau, Georgia, the Bahamas, Sri Lanka, Mexico, St Lucia, Belgium, Holland, to name just some of his destinations referenced in his papers.  In 1985 he became one of the first Westerners to visit the province of Guizhou in the new People’s Republic of China with John Simmons, then curator of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.
As the archive makes clear, his specialism was rhododendrons. The Sunningdale rhododendrons had their origins in the Himalayan expedition of Joseph Dalton Hooker in 1849.  Some of the rhododendron seeds he brought back to Kew from Sikkim in the Himalayas found their way to the celebrated Sunningdale nursery in Surrey where they were sold, helping to fuel a new gardening fashion.  However when Russell took over the nursery in the 1940s he found that not all the trees grown from the 1849 Sikkim seeds had been sold and the surviving rhododendron trees found still growing in the grounds formed the basis of Sunningdale’s revival.  When Russell left Sunningdale for Castle Howard in 1968 the majority of his rhododendrons went north with him and they can still be seen today in the magnificent Ray Wood, laid out by Russell in the 1970s over twenty-five acres of the Castle grounds.
James Russell was not a man who sought publicity, preferring to be seen as ‘simply a gardener.’  Nevertheless his skill and expertise was recognised during his lifetime and in addition to receiving accolades from the Royal Horticultural Society, Russell was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of York in 1994 for his contribution to botany and conservation.  Russell died in 1996 but his archive stands as a testament to the man and his work, providing a valuable insight into the history of landscape design and horticulture in the second half of the twentieth century and a full and fascinating resource for the historian and gardening enthusiast alike.

Sally-Anne Shearn

T. Aldous and J.Winter, Hanging gardens of Basingstoke,’ in Architects’ Journal (Aug 1977).
Julia Brittain, Horticulture: The Plant Lovers Companion (2006).
John Grimshaw, ‘Ray Wood rhododendrons on show,’ in John Grimshaw’s Garden Diary (May 2013)
John Grimshaw, ‘Rhododendron thomsonii,’ in John Grimshaw’s Garden Diary (March 2014)
Katrina Legg, The Archive of James Russell, garden designer, deposited at the Borthwick Institute, University of York (York, 2003).

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

A breath of fresh air….

The air handling systems we have here at the Borthwick were installed just over 10 years ago ahead of our move from our old site at St. Anthony’s Hall. They work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and help, along with the building’s design, to keep a consistent level of both temperature and humidity in our strongrooms and our searchrooms - including our microfilm room. If you’ve visited us in the past, you will have heard it rumbling quietly away in the background.

The reason we control the temperature and humidity is quite simple - it’s better for the documents! Every document we hold here is entirely unique and irreplaceable and correct environmental conditions help to preserve our collections for you to use in the future.

As you can imagine, constant use of a system for just over ten years means that things need replacing to make sure we can provide those optimum conditions. We have a short window this spring to undertake work to replace and renew our air handling system. We have chosen this period as it’s the ideal time to do this - right in between the cold of the winter and heat (and humidity) of a British Summer!

This is where the magic happens.

Sadly, this means there will be some unavoidable impact on the services we can offer you. For the period 23rd April-8th May we’ll need to operate our searchroom and document delivery service from our Lifelong Learning space on the the top floor of our building - right by our exhibition space.

This is so the air handling equipment in the searchroom and microfilm room can be replaced with the smallest amount of disruption possible. The air handling equipment in these spaces is housed in the ceiling, so for the sake of safety and disruption we’ve chosen to relocate for the duration.

Our Lifelong Learning room is slightly smaller than our usual surroundings, so for the duration of this work we’ll only be able to accommodate eight readers at a time and  - sadly - we won’t be able to open our microform space as work will be underway there too.

As we’re only able to help a smaller number of researchers than usual during this time, please get in touch to book your space if you’d like to visit us during the course of the air handling works as we will only be able to accommodate pre-booked researchers.

Our searchroom

Beyond our searchroom and microfilm spaces, we’ll also be replacing air handling equipment in our Conservation and Accessions/processing spaces too - so if you’re visiting us over the next few days, there may be a some unavoidable noise from upstairs and outside which we’ll try to keep to a minimum.

We won’t know until the work starts how much disruption may be caused, so check our website, twitter account (@UoYBorthwick) and on Facebook for the latest news.

The benefits of this work will be felt for at least another 10 years and will ensure we can continue to care for our shared heritage in the best possible conditions, both while you’re using our archives in our searchroom, and while they lie in our strongrooms waiting for you to discover them.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Introducing the Genesis Project

The Borthwick Institute holds archival collections that range in date from the 11th century to the present day.  If you have visited the Institute yourself you will be all too familiar with the numerous paper catalogues that take up an entire wall of the searchroom reception, serving as guides to our ecclesiastical, business, architectural, health, estate and drama collections (not an exhaustive list by any means).
If you have looked up these same collections on the internet, you may have discovered that only a small fraction of these vast holdings, perhaps 10%, have information available online - via external databases such as The National Archives ‘Discovery’ catalogue (and its predecessor Access to Archives), the Archives Hub, and dedicated websites like The Cause Papers Database and The Lascelles Slavery Archive. 
Lots and lots of lists...
A newly funded project aims to change that.  Over the next two years the Genesis Project will open up the full range of the Borthwick’s collections to staff and the general public through the creation of our own online catalogue using AtoM, or Access to Memory, a web-based, open source application for archival description and access.  For the first time, users anywhere in the world will have remote access to accurate and up to date information about our full holdings, bringing the Borthwick in line with other institutions of similar size and scope and creating a wealth of opportunities for research and discovery.
The aims of the project are both ambitious and modest at the same time.  Where traditional archival practice has often focused on putting complete archival catalogues online, right down to individual item level, our aim in this initial stage will be to populate our catalogue with collection or ‘fonds’ level descriptions, that is descriptions of archival collections at the highest level, and their associated authority files.  These are the parts of an archive catalogue that provide users with the ‘need to know’ data, the key dates, names and general content of the collection and any restrictions that might apply to its access and use.   The fonds level description will describe the collection as a whole, whilst the authority file will describe the creator of that collection and can be linked to multiple collections, allowing us to show links between different groups of archival records created by the same individual, family, or organisation.
The project will prioritise collections with no existing finding aids online, bringing key details of such diverse archives as those of the playwright Sir Alan Ayckbourn, the chocolate makers Terry’s of York, and the estate and family papers of the Earls of Halifax, to a global audience.   In doing do we hope to highlight the hidden treasures in the collections which, until now, have only been discoverable by searching the paper catalogues in the searchroom.  Treasures such as the Morrell Deeds in our Private Deposits which include records from as early as the 12th century, or the papers of the York family which date from the 17th to the 20th century and include 24 volumes of diaries, visitor books and common place books kept by Lady Mary York between 1786 and 1831.
As Project Archivist I will be spending the next few weeks getting to grips with AtoM and the archive standards we will be using before I begin work on the first collection level descriptions.  As the project progresses I hope to use this blog to share new developments and discoveries. The Genesis Project is, as its name suggests, just the beginning - but by establishing a single, uniform source of information for our holdings it will provide an invaluable tool to staff and visitors and a solid foundation for the expansion of our online catalogues in the future, showing the world just what the Borthwick Institute has to offer.
 Sally-Anne Shearn

Friday, 27 March 2015

Rehabilitating John Summerland

It really is a privilege to start blogging for the York Retreat Archive digitisation project. The Retreat captured my imagination as a History undergraduate but I never had the opportunity for in-depth research, for want of an original hypothesis. It seemed like it had all been done before. But somehow an idea came to me, I followed it up and here I am writing a PhD on the Retreat nearly a decade later. The more time I spend with this material, the more I realise there is still a great deal to say about the Retreat. Making these archives available online will enable a new generation of research. So I had better get writing quickly lest someone steals my thunder!

Like so many undergraduates, the first time I came across the Retreat was in Michael Foucault’s Madnessand Civilisation. One moment of the Retreat’s early history particularly resonated with me, and has stuck in my mind ever since;

Samuel Tuke
Samuel Tuke
‘Samuel Tuke tells how he received at the Retreat a maniac, young and prodigiously strong, whose paroxysms caused panic in those around him and even among his guards. When he entered the Retreat he was loaded with chains; he wore handcuffs; his clothes were attached by ropes. He had no sooner arrived than all his shackles were removed, and he was permitted to dine with the keepers; his agitation immediately ceased; "his attention appeared to be arrested by his new situation." He was taken to his room; the keeper explained that the entire house was organized in terms of the greatest liberty and the greatest comfort for all, and that he would not be subject to any constraint so long as he did nothing against the rules of the house or the general principles of human morality. For his part, the keeper declared he had no desire to use the means of coercion at his disposal. The maniac was sensible of the kindness of his treatment. He promised to restrain himself.’ (pp233-234, Routledge Classics, 2001)

Naturally, having been let loose myself as it were in the asylum archives, I wanted to know more about this incredibly powerful and important moment.

Whilst we may question Foucault’s analysis and style, he cannot be accused of hyperbole in this instance; the passage paraphrases Samuel Tuke’s account of the incident in his 1813 Descriptionof the Retreat, save for the fact that Tuke probably didn’t witness the incident himself and made no claim to have done so;

‘Some years ago, a man, about thirty-four years of age, of almost Herculean size and figure, was brought to the house. He had been afflicted several times before; and so constantly, during the present attack, had he been kept chained, that his clothes were contrived to be taken off and put on by means of strings, without removing his manacles….’

Tuke added that ‘the patient was frequently very vociferous, and threatened his attendants, who in their defence were very desirous of restraining him by the (straight) jacket.’ (Description pp.93-94)

Examples of early nineteenth-century restraints from the Retreat Archives
However, the patient’s case notes (RET 6/5/1A p.77) and correspondence from the family (RET 1/5/1/7) give a different angle to these events. We assume from how Foucault and Tuke use this incident that the ‘maniac’ (whose name was John Summerland) had been under restraint in another institutions for some time before admission to the Retreat. The moment of Summerland’s release is often used to illustrate a liberating shift in psychiatric methods as patients were brought out of the darkness of Bedlam dungeons and into the light of ‘moral treatment.’ Yet the reality is less straightforward. Summerland’s case notes reveal he had indeed been restrained, ‘fastened with chains’ and ‘repeatedly bled with cathartic medicines’ whilst under confinement in Philadelphia. But he then returned to England on a voyage which would have taken weeks, and would not have been possible under restraint. Upon his return to England he lived with his parents in Staffordshire for over two months and again there is no mention of him being under restraint here or on his journey to the Retreat. Summerland’s case notes add further information which seems to contradict Tuke’s version ‘he frequently converses rationally, tho in a high strain… It does not appear that he has ever attempted to injure himself or others.’ And whilst Summerland was indeed ‘a large man of great muscular strength and power’ he was ‘much reduced in flesh on his admission.’

Letters from his family to the Retreat show that Summerland, despite his vague diagnosis of ‘derangement’ managed to attend Quaker Meetings for Worship before his admission. This involved sitting in silence for a considerable amount of time. Again, hardly the place for a raving maniac.

Samuel Tuke had access to all the Retreat case notes and used them to statistically demonstrate the Retreat’s success in Description of the Retreat. It seems that Tuke exaggerated Summerland’s symptoms to promote the Retreat’s therapeutic methods. This well-intentioned exaggeration has gone largely unquestioned by history, leaving poor John Summerland with a bad reputation. Happily he was discharged after only four months and suffered no relapse. Yet it was hardly the miracle cure that Samuel Tuke claimed, ten years later in Description of the Retreat; as he was sent on his way to the Retreat, John Summerland’s brother William wrote to William Tuke that John ‘seems much better and I make no doubt with your regular treatment and attention he will soon be well.’ 

This is one of a series of blog posts published as material from the Retreat archive is digitised and made available online. More information about the Wellcome Library funded project to digitise the Retreat archive can be found on the project pages of our website. Digital surrogates from the Retreat archive project so far are available via the Wellcome Library

This blog post was written by Jon Mitchell who is a doctoral student in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Leeds. His thesis relates to eighteenth century Quaker attitudes to mental illness, and is funded by The White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities. He can be contacted at  

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Continuity and change at the Retreat

Arranging a tour of the grounds of the Retreat for a morning in January was a bit of a risk. We were truly at the mercy of the elements! We were fortunate however to have picked a day when there was no snow or ice on the ground and nothing falling from the sky. Saying that, this was one of the coldest weeks for a while and the temperatures only just peaked at a chilly 1 degree celsius as we were shown around the extensive grounds of the hospital.

We have been lucky enough to receive funding from the Wellcome Library to digitise the archive of the Retreat (a psychiatric hospital that is situated right next to the University of York where the Borthwick is based). We are several months into this project now and are in the process of delivering the 3rd of 10 batches of digital images to Wellcome for ingest and processing before inclusion in their library catalogue.

Last week our in-house resident expert on the Retreat archive, Kath Webb took the project team around the grounds of the hospital and gave us a talk on its buildings, history and on some of the key figures involved with shaping the institution since it was opened in 1796.

It really is a fascinating place and has a key position not only in the history of mental health care, but in Quaker history and the history of York. It was great to see the full extents of the grounds, and hear how the land and its buildings have evolved and developed over time. Lots has changed but there was also a surprising level of continuity. Landscape features and plantings that are visible on early plans and images of the Retreat and are now being re-established. Some of the ‘newer’ additions to the archive held at the Borthwick Institute are a set of large 20th century plans of the Retreat grounds, showing planting and marking positions of trees, and allied to these there are some Retreat ‘tree books’ noting trees and plantings - a rich source of information for the modern gardeners.

A cricket match in progress in the Retreat grounds in the early 20th century (reference RET 1/8/4/16/2)
 We were taken to the sports fields at the back of the Retreat and later in the day were shown old black and white photographs of the staff cricket and hockey teams that played there. We went into the burial ground where local Quakers and Retreat residents had been buried. Very simple headstones stood in rows, but recognisable names from the archives were all around us.

The project team are used to the cold (working as they do in an archive where we try and maintain temperatures that will cause the least stress to the documents within our care) however by the end of the tour we were starting to lose feeling in our fingers and toes and were glad to get back to the office and get the kettle on. It was great to have some time out to understand and appreciate the character of the Retreat and put the work we are all doing on this project into context.

The Wellcome Library will be releasing the digital surrogates that we create on a rolling schedule as we deliver them. We are excited to be able to announce that the first small batch is already available via the Wellcome Library Catalogue.

The women’s staff hockey team in 1902 in the grounds of the Retreat (reference RET 1/8/4/15/1)

We are working through the Retreat archive in the order it appears within our catalogue so the first small test batch falls within the general administrative section and consists primarily of minute books from directors meetings from 1792 to 1928.

See for example the first item within the catalogue (archival reference RET 1/1/1/1), a minute book from 28 June 1792 to 24 June 1841. On the Wellcome Library catalogue we can see both the catalogue description of the item and the digital surrogates produced by our digitisation team and displayed within a viewer that allows you to move to the page of interest, zoom into the text and pan around the document.


This is just a taster of what is to come. We hope to highlight other interesting items from the archive as the project progresses so watch this space.

Jenny Mitcham, Digital Archivist, Borthwick Institute

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Slow and Steady Wins the Pace

The renowned ecclesiastical architects Pace and Sims were prolific. Both were involved in a wide range of projects, from restoring Castle Howard, to designing memorials at churches and cathedrals, and constructing imposing new buildings such as Keele University chapel. During our work experience project, we unfortunately did not see any of the plans for the new builds. However, we were lucky enough to get the opportunity to catalogue renovations and extensions, which showed their subtle skill in combining modernism with medievalism. Indeed, Durham University’s Palace Green library bears witness to this. Another aspect revealed through the archives is the careful, methodical way in which they worked; it often took many years for projects to be completed for they were known for working at a slow pace. In fact, George earned the nickname ‘Snail’s Pace’ for this very reason! 

The firm became one of the Europe’s most productive ecclesiastical architecture practices in Europe, with over 700 churches and cathedrals being built, extended, and updated by Pace and Sims. This is certainly reflected in the Borthwick’s collection. Whilst they did work for larger and more famous churches such as Armagh and Newcastle cathedral, the majority of their work focussed upon the parish church, like St Mary’s, Beverley, St Giles’, Copmanthorpe, and St Mary’s, Northchurch. 

St Mary's Northchurch Church Elevation
St Mary’s, Northchurch has an ancient history; the church claims to be one of the oldest in Hertfordshire. It is believed that a Saxon church was on the site and some Saxon stonework can still be seen in the west and south walls. The majority of the building is related to the 13-15th century, which matches the parish church expansion pattern seen nationally, as well as some Victorian additions (a vestry, a porch and a new north aisle). Sims was involved in quite a radical alteration of the interior of the church: the choir stalls and organ were moved from the north transept to the west end of the church. This significantly altered worship as it affected the acoustics and the procession. However, the changes did not end here as a new nave altar was built underneath the crossing. The Victorian interior was thus heavily impacted upon by Sim’s efforts. The simple but robust style effortlessly blends into the sensitive Victorian-cum-Medieval d├ęcor. 

Copmanthorpe Church in York has a similarly extensive history with its Roman and Saxon roots. It began life as a Norman single cell church but slowly expanded over time; its plain outside does not continue inside as the elegant beamed roof adds a touch of symmetrical sophistication. St Giles’ church required some more modern features and hence, Sims was called upon. He designed a new vestry and kitchen. Whilst searching through the archive we discovered extensive sketches and photographs of what the interior was to look like as well as being treated to a photograph of the finished product. 

St Mary's Beverley floor plan 1985
 In Beverley stands the beautiful church of St Mary’s, called by Sir Tatton Sykes in the 19th century, “Lovely St Mary’s, unequalled in England and almost without rival on the continent of Europe!” It has undergone numerous building phases. Indeed, in the medieval period building work was almost continuous. This is reflected in a plan, from 1895, catalogued by us whilst on the placement, which dates each section of the church. Both Pace and Sims worked on the Beverley church but the archive contains plans from Leslie Moore and John Bilern too. Therefore, we were able to see the metamorphosis of the interior and exterior over a period of 100 years. The new roof for the south chapel in its rich blue effortlessly works alongside the stained glass and other decorated ceilings. 

The Pace and Sims archive therefore allows the transformation of churches to be investigated, illluminated, and inspected. By just briefly analysing three parish churches, it is possible to notice how much of an impact, whether subtle or sublime, both architects made upon the ecclesiastical fabric of England.  

This post was written by students from the University of York on a work experience placement.

You can read more about the experience of earlier students on the work experience programme and the Pace and Sims Archive at Keeping Pace and Keeping up the Pace (and Sims) at the Borthwick

Friday, 24 October 2014

Keeping Up the Pace (and Sims) at the Borthwick

Death and Dairies at Castle Howard
Loooong drawing of pillar at Castle Howard Mausoleum
Our week began with a brief introduction and tour of the Borthwick Institutes archives and stores. The collection is massive and the works are housed in strong rooms which we were certain could survive the apocalypse! The collection varies from maps and photographs to books, wills, church registers and architectural plans which is what we focused on for the week. The Pace and Sims collection includes plans and sketches to English landmarks like Castle Howard. The works we were assigned are relatively contemporary, primarily dating between the 1960s and the 1980s with our most recent plan dating to 1999. The plans include designs for everything from entire buildings to notice boards and toilets. We even came across a full size sketch of a pillar in the Castle Howard Mausoleum which, at nine meters, stretched the length of the large Lifelong Learning Room!

 The sketch was not very detailed and we believe this was because the architect may have been attempting to get a better idea of the height of the column.

The collection also included sketches of the Mausoleum on the grounds, originally designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor. These photos are copies of the original plans by Hawksmoor. These were interesting in that they included a stamp and address of where they were kept as well as, presumably, a signature from the person who kept or collected these plans. With these copies we were able to see the differences and similarities between older and more modern plans. Here, we observed likenesses in handwriting between eighteenth-century architects and twentieth-century architects. Most interesting was the stamp from National Buildings Record Office in Swindon. This was interesting as we discovered that the office in Swindon housed records and archives from various collections that were thought to be at risk from bombing during the Second World War. 

Some details the drawings for of Hawksmoor's mausoleum at Castle Howard
 Memorials and Mysteries at Newcastle Cathedral

Amongst mountains of architectural plans emerged designs in a language which we could not decipher.Danish! These were plans for the organization of text for Danish memorials at St.Nicholas Cathedral in Newcastle at which Ronald Sims was Cathedral Architect for a time. In researching, we discovered that the memorials are still displayed at the cathedral in recognition of the Danish merchant navy which made Newcastle its home port during World War II (see for more information).  We found these plans to be poignant as we were not expecting to handle documents for World War II memorials, especially to those outside of England.

The plans for Newcastle Cathedral also included sketches for a stolen noticeboard which was replaced in 1999. It was interesting to watch the progression of designs from the original board to the creation of a new board. This included many revisions which allowed us to experience the evolution of something that is seemingly insignificant.

 A Canadian in England!

Detail of the Canadian inscription
In the first roll of plans from Clifton Campville Church we found plans for memorials and various inscriptions for the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Prince Edward Island. We have tried to make a connection between Prince Edward Island, Canada and Clifton Church in Staffordshire (a tiny parish in English midlands) but have not been able to find its relevance. This was particularly significant for one member of our team as she is a Canadian. It was fun to come across something that was tied to Canadian heritage and history within mounds of rolls of English architecture.

This week has been particularly useful and full of surprises. Not only were we given the opportunity to handle and catalogue archival materials but also learned how to clean these sketches (rolls from the Atkinson Brierley drawings). We were given the opportunity to view and handle doodles, names and scribbles within the margins of these plans giving us insight into the personality of the architect and the day-to-day management of a major architectural firm.

One of our volunteers in action!
This post was written by students from the University of York on a work experience placement. 

You can read more about the experience of earlier students on the work experience programme at Keeping Pace