Monday, 13 November 2017

The Rowntree Archives: Poverty, Philanthropy and the Birth of Social Science

In August 2017 the Borthwick Institute launched a new 27 month project ‘The Rowntree Archives: Poverty, Philanthropy and the Birth of Social Science.’  The project, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust, will arrange, describe, publicise and make publicly available the archives of the four Rowntree Trusts, the Rowntree family, the research papers of Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree and the follow up research into Seebohm’s groundbreaking study of poverty undertaken by Professor Sir Tony Atkinson in the 1970s.  

For many the name of Rowntree is synonymous with chocolate and confectionery.  The Rowntree Cocoa Works, founded by the family in York in the nineteenth century, produced internationally famous brands such as Kit Kat, Aero and Smarties and continues today as part of Nestle.  But equally central to the Rowntree name was the family’s commitment to philanthropy, social welfare and social action and it is this crucial aspect that underpins this new and ambitious archive project.  As members of the Society of Friends, (otherwise known as  Quakers) the Rowntrees believed that ‘wealth and property beyond the needs of the individual should be used for the common good.’  These principles were put into action in their family business.  The Rowntree Cocoa Works employed welfare officers and a works’ doctor, dentist and optician and introduced profit sharing and pensions schemes, social clubs, a library, and paid holidays for their workers.  

Henry Isaac Rowntree (rear left) and Joseph Rowntree (front centre)
with other apprentices at the Rowntree shop in York in 1858 [ARCH 02/5/8c]

The Rowntrees recognised however that broader social, economic and political efforts were needed to effect real change on a national, and even international, level. ‘I feel that much of the current philanthropic effort is directed to remedying the more superficial manifestations of evil or weakness,’ wrote Joseph Rowntree in 1904, ‘while little thought or effort is directed to search out their underlying causes.’  It was to these ‘underlying causes’ that the Rowntrees turned their attention, and their wealth, with far reaching consequences.

As early as the 1860s Joseph Rowntree had undertaken a detailed analysis of poverty in England, carefully gathering evidence from the development of the poor laws, public spending, and crime and literacy statistics to inform his essay ‘British Civilisation: In what it consists. And in what it does not consist.’  He followed it in 1865 with another essay ‘Pauperism in England and Wales’ which laid the blame for such stark inequality at the feet of church and state, calling it a ‘monstrous thing’ that so many should endure a daily struggle for existence in a land ‘rich beyond all precedent.’  His essays were so strongly worded that he was asked to tone them down before they could be read even to his Quaker brethren.

Joseph’s careful analysis of statistical evidence to inform his social and political arguments was adopted with great effect by his son Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree who is widely regarded today as one of the founders of empirical sociology.  Like his father, Seebohm was concerned with the underlying causes of poverty.  He had read the empirical research of Charles Booth into conditions in London and sought to apply similarly rigorous methods to the smaller urban population of York to examine the prevalence of poverty outside the capital and to assess to what extent poverty was due to the inherent vice and weaknesses of the poor (an enduring belief) or an inevitable result of insufficient income.  His 1901 book ‘Poverty: A Study of Town Life’ utilised evidence gathered from house to house inquiries in 388 streets, speaking to 11,560 York families. Their experiences were measured against Seebohm’s parameters for basic subsistence (based on evidence gathered from multiple nutritionists and physiologists and costs of rent, food and clothing in York) which was termed the ‘poverty line’ as well as statistics on public health and mortality.  

An illustration of Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree's 'poverty line'  - as used in his lecture tours [Rowntree Archive].

His work concluded that 27.84% of the city’s population lived beneath the poverty line, which equated to 43.4% of the working population, a higher figure than commonly believed at the time.  Moreover his analysis of the causes of this poverty, dividing families into primary or secondary poverty, showed that 9.91% of the total population of York had insufficient income to reach even the most basic level of subsistence, no matter how prudently they spent their wages.  As Seebohm freely acknowledged in his book, an existence on or even just above the poverty line was a cheerless and austere one, with few, if any, opportunities for education, affordable socialising, or participation in civic life.  York’s many public houses were understandably attractive in the absence of any alternative means of leisure or recreation and it was alcohol that too often contributed to pushing families into secondary poverty.

Seebohm’s York study was the first of many analyses of the conditions of the poor in the British Isles, all utilising the same mix of quantitative and qualitative evidence to reach conclusions based on sound scientific methods.  His work continued to challenge to prevailing notion that the poor were to blame for their own predicament and to suggest political and social measures to improve their health, education and living conditions.  He turned his attention to the unemployed in 1911, the condition of agricultural labourers in 1913-1914, and the way employers could better address the needs of their workers in 1918 and 1921.  In 1935 he followed up his first survey of York with ‘Poverty and Progress’, visiting every working class household in the city to assess what progress had been made since 1901.  He also produced influential studies of the needs of the elderly in 1946 and of ‘English Life and Leisure’ in 1947.  

David Lloyd George (left) and Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree
His work was enormously influential.  The 1901 book went through several editions and was followed by investigations of poverty in other regional towns and cities, for example by C. F. G. Masterman in 1909 and Arthur Lyon Bowley in the 1920s and 1930s, and much later by ‘follow ups’ to his work by Professor Tony Atkinson in the 1970s and Meg Huby, Jonathan Bradshaw and Anne Corden in the 1990s.  Crucially his work came to influence national policy.  Seebohm became a friend of Liberal politician David Lloyd George and advised him on aspects of public policy, including the Old Age Pensions Act of 1908 and the National Insurance Act of 1911.  His 1918 work ‘Human Needs of Labour’, which was revised in 1937, advocated for a national minimum wage, the introduction of a family allowance and regulation of working hours and conditions, and was lauded by the British Medical Journal as an invaluable aid for doctors and policy makers.  He worked for the Ministry of Reconstruction after the First World War, advising ministers on post war housing requirements and was part of Lloyd George’s Liberal Industrial Inquiry of 1926-1928.  During the second world war he corresponded with William Beveridge and contributed to the Beveridge Report which led to the founding of the post-war Welfare State.  

Seebohm’s work, and indeed the ideals of his family more generally, were bolstered financially after 1904 by the foundation of the Joseph Rowntree Trusts.  Believing that ‘money is generally best spent by persons during their lifetime’, Joseph invested half of his wealth into three Trusts: the Charitable Trust, the Social Service Trust and the Village Trust.  In keeping with his own work on poverty, it was his wish that their funds not be put to ‘remedying the more superficial manifestations’ of weakness or evil in society, but in seeking out their causes.  

Draft of Joseph Rowntree's 1904 memorandum setting out vision for the Rowntree Trusts [JRVT/MT93/1/2/a]

Initially overseen by Joseph’s sons and nephews, many of the Charitable Trust’s early grants went to Quaker run schemes; Seebohm’s research into poverty and the adult schools to improve literacy with which numerous members of the Rowntree family were involved.  The Village Trust in turn set out to make the case for decent affordable housing by overseeing the creation of New Earswick, a clean and sanitary model village outside of York with adequate living space, amenities and leisure facilities at a rent the average worker could afford.  

In contrast the Social Service Trust was designed to have a more overtly political role, as evidenced by its foundation as a limited company, not hampered by the rules that governed charities.  From the beginning it sought to challenge the ‘power of selfish and unscrupulous wealth which influences public opinion largely through the press’ by actively acquiring failing national and regional Liberal newspapers and launching new periodicals such as The Nation and the Contemporary Review.

In the 113 years since their foundation, the Trusts have gone through several name changes, with the Village Trust now the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust, and the Social Service Trust now the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust.  However the Trusts have continued to support social, economic and political research, to maintain the village of New Earswick, and to fund educational and political causes at home and abroad, most notably in Africa, South America and Eastern Europe.  They have played important roles in the establishment of the University of York in 1963 and given key early support to Amnesty International, the Electoral Reform Society, the Child Poverty Action Group and the Centre for Policy Studies, amongst many others.  

The archives of these groups and individuals therefore offer a unique opportunity to trace hugely influential ideas about poverty, public health, working conditions, political reform and pioneering scientific methodology from their genesis in private notes, minutes and correspondence to their investigation, analysis, publication and impact on public attitudes and political policy.  Parts of the archives have been at the Borthwick for some years but have yet to be fully sorted, arranged and described according to modern archival standards.  Further deposits of Trust and family material in recent years mean that there is now a substantial and internationally important body of material in one place, with enormous research potential that can only be fully unlocked once it has been properly processed and made available through our online catalogue Borthcat.

This, then, is the scope of the project.  In addition to new and augmented catalogues, the archives will be further contextualised by the creation of authority records, giving the histories of the people, families and organisations mentioned in the records, and by the creation of detailed subject and place access terms, under the guidance of an expert Project Board.  Once completed users will have access to eight complete catalogues, cross referenced with each other and with other archives in the Borthwick and elsewhere, and complemented by their accompanying historical information.  Some of its content is known already, but much is not and it is to be hoped that this project will improve our knowledge and understanding of the Rowntrees and their work as much as it will improve accessibility to the records they left behind.


Anne Vernon, ‘A Quaker Business Man: The Life of Joseph Rowntree, 1836-1925’ (York, 1982).

Paul Chrystal, ‘The Rowntree Family of York’ (Pickering, 2013).

Howard Glennerster, John Hills, David Piachaud and Jo Webb, ‘One Hundred Years of Poverty and Policy’ (York, 2004).

Brian Harrison, ‘Rowntree, (Benjamin) Seebohm (1871–1954)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 7 Aug 2017]

The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd, ‘Trusting in Change: A Story of Reform’ (2004).

The Joseph Rowntree Trusts, ‘The Joseph Rowntree Inheritance, 1904-2004’ (2004).

Chris Titley, ‘Joseph Rowntree’ (London, 2013).

Thursday, 20 July 2017

An English Socialite in Paris: The Letters of Lady Victoria Stanley

‘Fun like sunshine, mixed with sense like salt’ was how an anonymous correspondent in The Times described Lady Victoria Bullock following her untimely death in November 1927, at the age of only 35.   This description is borne out in the lively bundle of letters by Lady Victoria which were deposited at the Borthwick as part of the Hickleton Papers, the extensive archive of the Earls of Halifax, which include the papers of Lady Victoria’s eldest daughter, Ruth, wife of the 2nd Earl.

The 19 letters span 28 years of Lady Victoria’s life in all, with the majority dated between 1918 and the mid 1920s.  They provide a fascinating glimpse into the world of an aristocratic socialite in the years after the First World War, when continental Europe was once again accessible to those who could afford it and the Roaring Twenties brought new fashions, music and attitudes.  

Lady Victoria Stanley. Copyright: Daily Sketch, 1915.

The only daughter of Edward Stanley, son and heir of the 16th Earl of Derby, and Lady Alice Montagu, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Manchester, Lady Victoria was born into the privileged world of British high society in the closing years of the reign of Victoria.  

One of the earliest letters in the bundle, written to her ‘darling sweet Mamma’ in March 1902, describes a quiet country childhood at the family’s Coworth Park and Knowsley estates with her brothers Edward and Oliver, riding her pony Kruger, playing in the gardens and practicing the piano.

Lady Victoria to her mother, the Countess of Derby, in 1902
Borthwick Institute, Hickleton Papers

Wedding of Lady Victoria Stanley and Neil Primrose.
Copyright: Daily Mail Historical Archive, 1915

In 1915, at the age of 22, she married Liberal MP Neil Primrose, son of the 5th Earl of Rosebery, in a ceremony attended by Queen Alexandra and three of the royal Princesses, as well as David Lloyd George and a young Winston Churchill.  Their daughter Ruth was born in April 1916, but the marriage was cut tragically short by Primrose’s death in active service during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign in November 1917.

Thus at the age of only 25 Lady Victoria found herself a wealthy widow and when her father, to whom she was extremely close, was appointed Ambassador to France the following year, she went with him, arriving in Paris in the closing months of the war and at the very thick of the political and diplomatic action.  She found the city to be ‘the most wonderful place in the world’ and her 1918 letters are full of famous names and crowded social engagements as the great and the good began arriving in Paris for the post-war negotiations.  Sir Henry Wilson, Lloyd George and Admiral Hope attended her ‘England luncheon-party’ in late 1918. Sir Henry, she wrote, was so ‘terribly bored’ with his fellow politicians, or ‘frocks’ as he called them, that he ‘lunches, dines and comes to tea’ whenever he can. She played lawn tennis with Sir Eric Drummond, later the first Secretary-General of the League of Nations, and the Duc d’Albe invited her to go to Spain after the war. ‘As I have already made plans to go to Monte Carlo,’ she wrote, ‘I don’t believe I shall ever get back to England!’

She bought Parisian clothes and persuaded her friend Bee to do the same, admitting to her mother that she had ‘led her into temptation in the way of clothes,’ and that she herself had entirely lost her head in this direction and ‘bought masses’ of the new fashionable shorter skirts and thin silk stockings.

Her father’s post as Ambassador came to an end in 1920 but the surviving letters show that Lady Victoria was all too happy to remain, at least for long periods of time, in France.  In June 1919 she had married again, this time to Malcolm Bullock, a Captain of the Scots Guard and later Conservative MP for Waterloo.  The letters Lady Victoria wrote to him over the next 4-5 years, addressed always to ‘My own darling’ and signed from ‘ever your very loving wife, Victoria,’ reveal plenty of the fun and the salt described by The Times.  Her observations to him are often acerbic and rather funny. Writing from Paris in 1921 she describes the Duke of Marlborough and his bride as being ‘very much the young engaged couple, who have decided not to dance with each other but make googly eyes across the room instead.’  

Lady Victoria to her husband Malcolm Bullock, 1921
Borthwick Institute, Hickleton Papers

At another dinner she was made (as the only foreigner) to sit next to the King of Romania, who to her horror only wanted to talk about Bolshevism, meanwhile the Duchess de Guiche ‘evidently thought she should be next to him & sniffed round my place like a dog round a lamp post.’  On that occasion she seemed to rather admire her fellow guest Daisy Fellowes who managed to avoid having to stand all evening in the presence of royalty by immediately feigning a bad foot so she could retire to a chair in the corner and be left alone.  In a later letter, dated 1924, she wrote she was having ‘such a marvellous time that it is almost turning my head. I feel well dressed, I feel I am almost amusing, in fact all the things the Cadogans think they are & are not!’

Lady Victoria was evidently extremely popular, her letters chronicling a whirl of social engagements with numerous people, from lunches and dinners, to balls, plays, drives, dancing, golfing, horseriding and long evenings at the casino, sometimes until 4am.  ‘I am having a glorious time here & I feel quite mad,’ she told her husband in one letter of summer 1921, ‘I tremble to think what I shall be like with a mask on at the Bal de l’Opera on Saturday!’

Lady Victoria to her husband Malcolm Bullock, 1921
Borthwick Institute, Hickleton Papers

In a letter sent in April 1924 she sets out the numerous entertainments she has arranged for her husband’s imminent visit, including dinners out and trips to the theatre and the music hall.

Lady Victoria to her husband Malcolm Bullock, 1924
Borthwick Institute, Hickleton Papers

Her letters show that she continued to be a keen, though canny, shopper, writing to her husband that she had been ‘quite good about clothes,’ only buying an evening dress and skirt from Paton, an afternoon dress, two knitted skirts and some jerseys from the Russian ladies, which were ‘just like Chanel’s & quarter the price.’  In an unexpectedly modern anecdote, she also writes that she had her ‘nose done’ in January 1921, though it is not clear from the letter what exactly this entailed.  Rather startlingly, it involved her being given ‘a liberal application of cocaine’ to prevent her feeling anything during the procedure. ‘The doctor kept on warning me that I might feel faint or hysterical from the effects but I have a very odd constitution as I felt absolutely nothing!’ She concluded that the only remarkable thing it made her do was write some letters she had been avoiding.

Lady Victoria to her husband Malcolm Bullock, undated

Perhaps her most enduring interest however was horseracing.  This was perhaps hardly surprising given her ancestry.  The Epsom Derby was named for the 12th Earl of Derby and her father, the 17th Earl was a prominent owner-breeder, his horses winning the Epsom Derby, the Epsom Oaks, and the St Leger Stakes.  Lady Victoria’s 1902 letter to her mother references their horse Pellisson failing to win his race and the racing at Knowsley and even amidst the whirl of her new Paris life in 1918 she found time to ask her mother who she should back ‘for the Cambridgeshire’ and to wonder whether Cecily remembered to do her bets for her that week.  

Her 1920s letters are filled with further references to her own and her family’s horses chances at different races. Of the 1921 Prix de Diane she writes ‘It was rather a slap in the face to the French jockeys that the first three...yesterday were ridden respectively by Bullock, Donoghue & Childs. Maurice de Rothschild’s victory was received in stony silence.’ ‘I really think I must have seen thousands of horses,’ she writes in another undated letter from France, ‘I have been going around neighbouring stud farms in the mornings, then racing in the afternoon & yearling sales in the evening,’ adding that her expeditions had served to remind her just ‘how little I really know about horses.’  Only a year before she died she started a racing stable of her own in France with Major Dudley Gilroy.  

Lady Victoria to her husband Malcolm Bullock, undated [1920s]
Borthwick Institute, Hickleton Papers

Both of her daughters, Ruth Primrose and her child with Captain Bullock, Priscilla Victoria, shared their mother’s love of racing and would later become two of the first three women admitted by the Jockey Club in 1977. Priscilla’s grandchildren, Andrew and Clare Balding, are in turn well known today for their involvement with racing, as a trainer and an amateur jockey, journalist and television presenter respectively.  

Lady Victoria Bullock’s death in 1927 came as a devastating shock to her family.  Whilst hunting with the Quorn near Lowesby Hall, she struck her head on a low bridge and was thrown from her horse and found unconscious.  Her husband quickly arrived from London and her mother from Knowsley Park. An urgent message was sent to her father, who was on his way to Cannes, and he returned by aeroplane early the following morning, but to no avail.  Lady Victoria never regained consciousness and died at 3pm on the afternoon of the 26th November.  

The last two letters in the bundle were sent to Captain Bullock after her death. The first is a letter of condolence from fellow MP Winston Churchill, who sent his deepest sympathy to Bullock on the 10th December, ‘though well I know how useless words are, & how nothing but the passage of time mitigates gradually the pain & awful sense of deprivation.  You & Victoria were so suited to one another, so devoted to each other...that this separation & destruction of yr happiness seems doubly cruel.’  

Winston Churchill to Malcolm Bullock, December 1927
Borthwick Institute, Hickleton Papers

The second is from her father, written at the close of the year from France and accompanying ‘a photograph of our darling.’ ‘I can’t talk or write to you about her,’ the letter reads, ‘I am too great a coward, but I loved her - as no man has ever loved his daughter & with her has gone all joy from my life.’  Touchingly he adds that he wants Bullock to know that he will be to him ‘all that I tried to be to her’ and that he has in the earl ‘a friend to whom you can always turn & who would always try the best of his ability to help you.’ He ends by sending his son in law every good wish for 1928, knowing that ‘for you, as for me, no year in future can be a happy one - except the one in which I rejoin her.’

For her family and those who knew her, the words of the anonymous Times correspondent were all too true, ‘without her, the world was a duller and greyer place.’

The letters of Lady Victoria Bullock, nee Stanley, are part of the Hickleton Papers at the Borthwick Institute for Archives.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

The World’s Largest Telescope

Anyone attending the Great Industrial Exhibition in London in 1862 could have been forgiven for passing by the sight of two circular blocks of glass, 26 inches in diameter and two inches thick, standing on their edges being displayed by Messrs Chance of Birmingham. Impressive though they were these optical glasses could easily be missed alongside the great machines - such as Charles Babbage’s analytical engine, cotton mills, maritime engines, and London and North Western’s passenger locomotive, Lady of the Lake - being displayed by the 28,000 exhibitors from 36 countries.

However, there was one visitor to the event who saw the opportunity to create a lasting legacy. Robert Stirling Newall of Gateshead, whose fortune was made from the manufacture of wire rope,  purchased the glasses for £500 pounds each. They were the largest in the world at the time, being nearly twice the diameter of the previous largest, and Newall’s intention was that they would be the foundation of a telescope that would exceed in size all that had gone before.

The project would thrust England, and York in particular, to the forefront of the optical arts, ‘as we were in Dolland’s time’ according to the journal Nature. Contemporary commentators believed the optical art had been stifled in England by an ill-advised duty on glass, and for many years England had been dependent on foreign built telescopes, mainly from France and Germany. At the time of the Great Industrial Exhibition the telescopes with the largest object glasses in England - at Greenwich, Oxford and Cambridge - were all of foreign make. Newall, however, opted to use T. Cooke and Sons of York for his grand project.

Cooke had been at the forefront of resurrecting the art of optical manufacture in England. Samuel Smiles in Men of Invention and Industry relates that Cooke made his first object glass from the base of a glass tumbler, and from this unlikely beginning set up T. Cooke & Sons in 1837. Based at No. 50 Stonegate, York, he specialised in making telescopes and other optical instruments, such as surveying equipment, microscopes, turret clocks and later steam engines (for an unsuccessful steam carriage or motor car). He gained a reputation for excellence, and in 1860 constructed a 5.25 inch telescope for HRH the Prince Consort that was erected at Osborne House, and also provided Sir Norman Lockyer a telescope for his Wimbledon Observatory in 1861. In 1862 he exhibited his creations at the Great Industrial Exhibition in London, bringing home two First Class Medals, one for the excellence of the object glasses and mountings of his telescopes, the other for the construction and finish of his turret clock, and it was here that he came into contact with Mr Newall.

Newall sought quotes from both Cooke and Thomas Grubb of Dublin, but Cooke was so eager for the contract that he bid too low and underestimated how long it would take to construct. The project took far longer than the year he had anticipated. Newall became increasingly frustrated throughout the endeavour, whereas Cooke frequently sought advances to cover his costs. The project nearly caused the demise of Cooke’s business which was still suffering financial difficulties as a result several years after the completion of the telescope; Sir Norman Lockyer writing in 1878 stated, ‘Cooke did not hesitate to risk thousands of pounds in one great experiment, the success of which will have a most important bearing upon the astronomy of the future’.

The general design was the same as Cooke’s equatorials  but the huge size necessitated special arrangements. The main issue was the crafting of the glass lenses. Special equipment had to be designed to handle the discs, and the lenses had to be floated in mercury to prevent them breaking under their own weight. Lockyer stated that it took 1560 hours to grind the discs to the required shape, the thickness being reduced by an inch in the process. The work took place at Cooke’s Buckingham Works, Duke’s Hall, in the Bishophill area of York, but the scale of the project required the final assembly take place in the open near the city wall; Employee Mr Graham recalled the telescope “…..was a big undertaking and it had to be erected on the moat, near the City walls about the place where Newton Terrace now stands.”. It was 1870, and the telescope had taken around six years to complete. Once assembled it was taken to Newall’s observatory at Ferndene, Gateshead, and it was not until 1871 that it was fully installed in the observatory.

The resulting instrument weighed 9 tons and was 32 feet in length. At a time when the largest lenses in Greenwich, Oxford, and Cambridge were 15. 5 inches, the largest in Russia at Pulkova were 15 inches, and the largest in the U.S. were 18.5 inches, the step forward in manufacturing techniques required to produce a telescope with 25 inch discs, weighing 144lb, was considerable. The telescope was nearly twice as powerful as the 18 inch Chicago instrument, having a 485 inch area compared to 268, and had a focal length of 29 feet. The diameter of the object end was 29 inches, the diameter of the tube centre 34 inches, the diameter of the eye end 22 inches, and the support pillar was 19 feet high.

The tube was cigar shaped and made of steel plates riveted together in 5 sections. Inside there were five other tubes of zinc increasing in diameter from eye end to object end. The wide end of each tube overlapped the narrow end of the next with an inch of space left around the end of each to aid ventilation and prevent currents of warm air interfering with the light. The ends were lighter than the centre to prevent them destabilising the telescope.

Fixed above and below the eye end of the tube were two finders, each of 4 inches aperture, 12.5 inches in area, to aid accessibility. An additional telescope with an object glass of 6.5 inches was fixed between the two finders to assist the observation of objects (such as comets) for which the main telescope was not suited.

The observatory housing the instrument was between 40 and 50 feet in diameter and packed with apparatus to allow the telescope to be easily maneuvered, the temperature always the same inside and out to prevent currents of air interfering with observations. However, the atmosphere in England was ‘not the best suited for such an instrument’ and as early as 1870 the journal Nature was reporting that Mr Newall intended to move the instrument after preliminary testing to a location more suited to astronomical observation. This was taken to mean that it would not remain in England ‘every increase in the size of the object-glass or mirror increases the perturbating effects of the atmosphere, so that the larger the telescope, the purer must be the air’. However this was not to be the case, and Mr Marth, known for his work with the Lassel Reflector at Malta, was given charge of the instrument in Ferndene.

Newall’s telescope drew widespread attention, the US government sent Commodore BF Sands of the US Naval Observatory with a deputation of astronomers to examine it and this resulted in a commission of a telescope that would be one inch larger. Austria ordered one the same size.
Cooke never got to see the result of his work as he died in October 1868, whilst Newall was only able to claim to be the owner of the world’s largest refracting telescope for a short period, being overshadowed by the 26 inch Washington Naval Observatory telescope in 1873. However, the telescope was of such exceptional quality that it was used for years to come. On Newall’s death in 1889 it was moved from Gateshead to Cambridge University Observatory and by 1925 it was in the charge of Prof James Newall, Mr Newall’s son, director of the Polar/Solar Physics Observatory, Cambridge. There it stayed until the 1950’s when it was donated to the Greek National Observatory, Mt Penteli, Athens, where it can still be found today having undergone a complete restoration in 2013.

T. Cooke and Sons continued to produce telescopes and exported all over the world, eventually merging with Troughton and Simms in 1922, and Vickers Instruments in 1963. The records of the company can be found at the Borthwick Institute for Archives as part of the Vickers Instruments archive. An online catalogue for the archives of Vickers, Cooke, and Troughton and Simms can be viewed on Borthcat.

Further information:

A full technical description of the telescope can be found in Stargazing, past and present, by Joseph Lockyer.

Graham Hughes,
Archives Assistant.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

71 Years Wild: cataloguing and exploring the archive of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust

 Reed Warbler at Askham Bog in the 1930s, by Arthur Gilpin.
As we come into the last days of this year's #30DaysWild campaign, it seemed fitting to celebrate the end of my year-long project cataloguing the archive of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust - and what a year it's been! I've been lucky enough to delve right into the most detailed of archives, from the papers marking the establishment of the Trust and its day-to-day correspondence, right through to the note documenting the sighting of a single rare moth and a letter recording a daring dolphin rescue mission off Spurn Point. It's been a real dream come true for anyone with an interest in the natural world, the history of the conservation movement and also for me as an archivist at the start of my career. You can explore the 2000+ entries through our online catalogue, Borthcat.

When I started the project back in April 2016, there were 3.5 cubic metres of boxes to work through. A year later and there's almost double that amount as additional material has been sorted and deposited with us. Through the project we've also been able to develop new relationships with other organisations around Yorkshire which have led to the deposit of new archives relating to natural history, including Kit Rob's botanical notes and Dr Michael Thompson's bat recording study. It's really exciting to be able to build on our existing natural science records and to open these up as as research resource for everyone to use. 

Just part of one of  the lists of evocative
English plant names - among my favourite items!
As my first post as a qualified archivist, I felt equally excited and trepidatious to take on such a significant project and I feel like I've really learned a lot over the last year, not just about the incredible work YWT have been undertaking in Yorkshire over the last seven decades, but also about working on a collaborative project, balancing the different aims of the work across a fixed timescale and (on a practical level) learning my trade! I've been able to really get my teeth into some large-scale cataloguing work, and have also had the opportunity to blend these traditional archival skills with exploring the flexibility and functionality of  our cataloguing software, Access to Memory (AtoM), the open-source interface developed by the ICA and Artefactual Systems.

Perhaps most importantly, it's allowed me to share the archive with a wide range of user communities and to gather different perspectives on what archives mean to them. The YWT archive is so heavy with the histories of people across Yorkshire; the founders of the Trust, the pioneering staff who developed the Trust and cemented its position as a fearsome campaigning body at national and international level, and - crucially in an archive like this - documenting the vast contribution made by volunteers and members of the public who have been (and still are) dedicated to the landscapes of Yorkshire and to recording and preserving its wild places. 

Environmental data on Askham Bog, 1933.
Although the funded term of the project is now over, there is still a lot of scope to develop the YWT archive and to continue to unlock its research potential. The newly-catalogued material covers a wide range of disciplines and its relevance can be seen in the ongoing development of public policy. This is especially evident in the relationship between wildlife, habitats and agriculture - particularly in developing campaigns for raptor protection, in the control of bovine tuberculosis through badger culling and in the effects, and the mitigation of the effects, of coastal erosion. Even more recently, political changes in this country and America mean that records documenting climate and other environmental changes are ever more important. This project has allowed us to bring together an authoritative and accessible source of environmental data and to make it available to everyone. It has been a real privilege to work on this project and, although I am no longer working on the archive full-time, I will definitely be keeping things ticking over!

Lydia Dean
Project Archivist

Box count: 212/200 (couldn't resist!)

If there’s anything in particular you’d like to know about the project or how we approached it, do feel free to comment below or to get in touch through our Twitter or Facebook. You can also read other blogs on this project here.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Spotlight on the Retreat archive: An unexpected find

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts celebrating the Retreat archive and our digitisation project as it nears completion. The Retreat is one of the most important institutions in the care and treatment of mental health patients. Over the last two and half years, staff at the Borthwick have been working through the archive, preparing the documents for digitisation, carrying out conservation treatments where appropriate and photographing each item page by page.

This has been a huge task. Over 650,000 images have been created in total and the focus has been on handling each item with care and capturing a high quality image efficiently and effectively. Of course there have been many items that have caught our eye along the way. In this series of blog posts project staff pick out some of the interesting items that they have encountered.

Here Tracy Wilcockson, Conservator for the project discusses an image of York sculptor G.W. Milburn and links with other archives in our holdings.


I have had the pleasure of seeing many interesting documents pass through the studio as part of the Retreat Digitisation project and as a conservator it is not often that my interest in the image or text overshadows that of the physical makeup or condition of an item. But during my work on part of the Retreat archive, I was intrigued and excited to come across this.

Reference: RET/1/8/6/7/8

In the modestly sized silver based print on a paper support, I recognised a familiar face. Not of the York sculptor G.W. Milburn, as this was the first photograph I had seen of the famous sculptor, or of the patient Frederick Pryor Balkwill, whose records I had yet to assess and conserve. It was the statue of Queen Victoria that first caught my attention, having passed by this actual statue many times while walking in West Bank Park, Acomb, York, and knowing its sculptor to be G. W. Milburn.

The image shows the eminent sculptor working on the Queen Victoria commission in his studio, whilst his friend Frederick Pryor Balkwill looks on. The work was originally commissioned and sited in the Guildhall, but was moved to a number of locations before its final installation in West Bank Park.

I had a keen and personal interest in Milburn as prior to seeing this photograph, I had been fortunate to view Milburn’s Day book in a private collection, which documented many commissions for carvings in buildings throughout Yorkshire of architectural or ecclesiastical significance. Within this intriguing and fragile volume I had observed many of Milburn’s commissions but was delighted to recognise both concept drawings and photographs of final pieces from plans in the Atkinson Brierley Architectural Archive held at the Borthwick and recently conserved by our conservation volunteers, linking Milburn to another of our holdings. These carvings from Sherburn Church (possibly -in-Elmet), are just one occasion that we have speculated that Milburn’s work appears.

Reference: ATKB/6/98

Reference: ATKB/6/98

There is also evidence of his York firm in the 1930 additions and alterations to Harewood House (correspondence file ATKB/8/155) and estimates from his firm for the Canon Guy Memorial Stone in Fulford (correspondence file ATKB/8/156/7).

This is just a short example of where a single item within the Retreat Archive can provide unexpected avenues of personal interest and connection beyond the expected parameters of a mental health archive. The Retreat archive might not have been the first place (or even the tenth place) a researcher might look for an elusive picture of Milburn, but it displays quite eloquently the breadth of material now available and searchable for free online thanks to the Wellcome Trust funded project and how further research leading from the Retreat archive is supported by the wider holdings of the Borthwick.

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 are available via the Wellcome Library.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Saying goodbye to Project Genesis

Two years ago I embarked on Project Genesis.  It was my first professional job after qualifying as an archivist and I knew then how fortunate I was to find such a varied and interesting post when I was just starting out.  Over two years, my job would be to create collection level descriptions and authority records for as many of the Borthwick’s archives as I could, making these available on our new online catalogue.  Alongside this work I was expected to blog, tweet and facebook about my progress and the intriguing, exciting, or just plain unusual records I found along the way.

Two years on, our catalogue Borthcat is very much up and running.  It boasts 563 collection level descriptions, 914 authority records, 304 subject terms and 305 place names.  

You can find records of individuals and families, of great estates, large and small businesses, churches (of multiple denominations), societies, manors, hospitals and political and cultural groups and associations.  The scope of the full collection stretches out from right here at the University of York to North and South America, Australia and Japan, via continental Europe, South Africa, India, and Russia.  

Programme from a German POW camp in World War II (Alfred Peacock Archive)

As Project Archivist I have had access to all of the Borthwick’s fascinating archives, a dream come true for anyone with a love of history.  It was clear from the very beginning of the project that this was not straightforward retroconversion, a case of simply putting existing finding aids online.  To make sure the catalogue was as up to date, as complete and as user friendly as possible, I would need to become very familiar with the strongrooms!  I have counted thousands of boxes and rolls, checked hundreds of finding aids against existing holdings and delved into countless archives to find out more about their contents, check dates and even box list where necessary.  I’ve held the 17th century deeds to Clifford’s Tower in York, read a first hand account of the Charge of the Heavy Brigade at the 1854 Battle of Balaclava, and even unpacked a 19th century Quaker bonnet.

The deeds to Clifford's Tower, York (Munby & Scott Archive)

In turn writing the authority records (short histories of individuals, families and corporate bodies who are the creators or subjects of the records) has introduced me to a vast interconnected cast of people and organisations and uncovered more than a few surprising links.  From the Hickleton Paper’s Earl of Derby who donated the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup to the unexpected appearance of Sarah Harriet Burney, sister of novelist Fanny Burney, as governess to Lady Houghton of the Milnes Coates Archive, my research has taken many unexpected turns.  Closer to home, writing the histories of parish churches, Methodist chapels and various businesses in York has helped me to see the city in a new light and I’ve become a dab hand at spotting the signs of the chapel-turned-restaurant and the remnants of long lost shops and factories.

I’ve also learned a great deal about AtoM, the archives management system developed by Artefactual which forms the basis of the catalogue.  I had no experience of AtoM when I started the project in 2015 and the first few months were something of a crash course as I learned how to create basic descriptions and authority records, how to input hierarchical descriptions and how to link descriptions and authority records to draw out connections between creators, subjects and the records themselves.  

Records of the Earls of Derby in the Hickleton Papers

AtoM is an open source system that can be shaped by the needs of its users and, as the catalogue developed, we were able to put our own stamp on Borthcat.  With the help and expertise of colleagues at the Borthwick, the Digital Library and IT, we’ve inserted parish record finding aids into their collection level descriptions, introduced an option in the ‘free search’ box to direct users to information about our probate records, simplified the user interface and made the entire catalogue searchable via the university library’s main ‘Yorsearch’ database.  I’ve had the opportunity to share my knowledge and experiences of AtoM with colleagues both at home and abroad, delivering papers at the Archives and Records Association Conference in London and the International Council on Archives Congress in Seoul, South Korea.

Alongside all of this, I have enthusiastically blogged, tweeted and facebooked, sharing photographs and stories from the archives on a regular basis and using my growing knowledge of our holdings to contribute to our Christmas social media campaigns.

A favourite find tweeted for Christmas 2016 (Sessions of York Archive)

I hope that the catalogue is a resource all our staff and visitors can use and enjoy and that you find its contents as informative, interesting and surprising as I have.  Project Genesis, as the name suggests, is really only the beginning for the Borthwick’s catalogue and while I will miss my role enormously I cannot wait to see where Borthcat goes next.

Sally-Anne Shearn