Manuscripts and Special Collections

Hydrometric data in the archives

September 23rd, 2011

One of the problems facing an archivist when cataloguing the papers of a business or organisation is the presence of material of a technical nature. The files of the Hydrology/Water Resources Section of the Trent River Authority include series of hydrological data in a range of technical formats that are going to prove challenging to identify and describe!

Weir gauge charts


The administrative files show how the Authority constantly sought new technological solutions, replacing its network of voluntary observers (often recruited via appeals in local newspapers), whose data might arrive at the Nottingham Office weeks after it had been collected, with a radio-based telemetry scheme system of logging and alarming as part of the Authority’s Flood Warning System. The Authority went on to install a large network of automatic measuring stations capable of monitoring river levels, rainfall, evaporation and water quality.

Meteorological observations

Meteorological observations

Connie Ford: Keepsakes of an Activist

September 7th, 2011

Tom Kew, our guest blogger, has been working with Manuscripts and Special Collections on the Connie Ford archive on placement from the Arts Graduate Centre at The University of Nottingham.

A badge from the Connie Ford collection

A badge from the Connie Ford collection

Through my placement with the Arts Graduate Centre, I was recently thrust onto the front lines of revolutionary politics, armed only with a pencil and acid-free paper. The poetry of Connie Ford may not be widely read today, but her legacy as one of Britain’s first female vets and a tireless supporter of the communist party, remains intact. My assignment entailed a trawl through decades of personal artefacts, the keepsakes of a voracious collector and compulsive hoarder: the kind of character beloved of archivists.

Until her death in 1998, Connie resided in West Bridgford, where she relished easy access to the River Trent and its opportunities for sailing. She used the district as a launch pad for her adventures into folk dancing, bird-watching, geology and Anglo-Hungarian solidarity. Connie left behind relics of her many political endeavours, including a large collection of pin-badges, my personal favourites being ‘Only Rotters Hunt Otters’ and ‘Cat Lovers Against the Bomb’. On a personal level, we have notebooks containing comprehensive lists of presents given and received over 50 consecutive Christmases, prizes for captaining the school Gardening Club and perhaps most impressively, the MBE awarded for outstanding contributions to Veterinary Science.

Embarking on a placement with Manuscripts and Special Collections has eradicated many of my preconceptions about archival work. The breadth of material at King’s Meadow reaches far beyond rustic scrolls and disintegrating charters: it is a goldmine of accessible history, both ancient and modern.

Recipe of the Month: Curry and mango pickle

September 1st, 2011

Last month’s pickled cauliflower recipe made use of exotic spices from the East and West Indies. British people who lived and worked in the colonies often brought back ‘foreign’ recipes and adapted them for home use. Curry was very popular. These recipes are taken from Elenor Mundy’s book, begun in 1728. The curry recipe was written down at that time, but the pickle recipe was added to the book at a later date, possibly as late as the 1760s. [...]

It never rains but it pours…

August 30th, 2011

Uncatalogued water accessions in the archive store

Uncatalogued water accessions in the archive store

It has emerged that one of the largest collections of material within the uncatalogued accessions I am responsible for appraising and describing, are records of the Hydrology Section (later the Water Resources Section), of the Trent River Authority’s Engineer’s Department.

This material comprised an intimidating accession of over 250 boxes of very mixed files in no apparent order. On closer investigation, some of these files were marked with a mysterious ‘WR’ reference. Armed with a basic box list of file titles prepared by a volunteer some years ago, I set about trying to determine the provenance of this material. The major breakthrough came with the discovery in one of the boxes of a photocopy of a filing system, which not only revealed the meaning of the ‘WR’ markings and the original order of the files, but also went a long way towards explaining the work of the Section.

The Water Resources Section of the Trent River Authority (and its predecessor bodies) was responsible for collecting meteorological and hydrological data (on rainfall, evaporation, river gauging, groundwater levels, etc.), for developing flood forecasting systems, conducting surveys of abstraction and usage, and most significantly, for preparing the Water Resources Development Plan. This Plan was a requirement of the 1963 Water Resources Act and would be central to the work of the Trent River Authority up until the creation of the Severn Trent Water Authority in 1974. It involved estimating future demand and formulating proposals for action, including investigating the possibility of purification of water from the River Trent, the artificial re-charge of water in sandstone found with the Trent catchment area, and the development of the River Derwent, which would ultimately lead to the controversial construction of a reservoir at Carsington in Derbyshire.

So far around 175 boxes fit neatly into this filing system; that just leaves me with another 80 ‘unlabelled’ files to deal with, some of which are contain batches of ‘raw’ hydrological data. After that there’s only another 15 or so accessions to go. It never rains but it pours…

On this day in the archives

August 11th, 2011

Today marks the 92nd anniversary of the death of the Scottish born industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Probably best known now for his funding of around 3,000 public libraries and educational institutions, he was born in Dunfermline and emigrated with his family to the United States in 1848 where he worked in a cotton mill from age 14. From this point he rose through hard work and shrewd investments in the railroad and telegraph business to make his fortune in the iron and steel industry in America.

Andrew Carnegie was deeply influenced by the work of John Bright, the radical reformer and politician who is recorded in the archive of Priscilla McLaren, his sister, here at Nottingham (N Mc). Carnegie also corresponded directly with Sir Henry Norman (1858-1939), the husband of McLaren’s granddaughter, Liberal MP and an influential journalist in Britain.

In a letter to his mother on 6 April 1885, Norman describes his visit to America where he hoped to have an interview with ‘the new President’ [Grover Cleveland] and reports on visit to the iron-works of Andrew Carnegie and partner. Also included in the collection is a letter of introduction from Carnegie to Norman which allowed him access to the foundries. In this document (N Mc 4/80), Carnegie gives Norman permission to view the factory and Norman has noted on the letter that Carnegie owned a number of British newspapers and had recently given a coaching tour of England in the company of the poet Matthew Arnold and novelist William Black.

Coming soon… ‘The New State of England’?

August 5th, 2011

The New State of England?

Based on Edward Chamberlayne’s year book Angliae Notitia (first published in 1661), Miege’s popular handbook went through many editions. Special Collection DA460.M4.





At the dawn of the eighteenth century a Dutch king was sitting on the English throne. A new era in British politics and cultural life had begun. This exhibition showcases the early archives of the Portland family held by Manuscripts and Special Collections to chart a journey through the tumultuous decades 1685-1720.

William of Orange was the Dutch replacement for the Catholic James II, placed on the throne as a result of the political turmoil of the Glorious Revolution. This exhibition explores some fierce and strikingly familiar sounding, eighteenth-century debates. Could a Catholic inherit the British crown and how should the nations of England and Scotland be governed under the crown? What were the rights and wrongs of free speech, and was the press dangerously powerful? How could the economy respond to a stock market bubble and crash? Amidst these discussions, playwrights, poets and authors revelled in the scandalous behaviour of certain monarchs and politicians.

The displays follow the figure of William Bentinck, one of William of Orange’s closest confidantes and advisors whose service was rewarded with the title Earl of Portland. He was the founder of a powerful political family, based at Welbeck Abbey in Nottinghamshire. The Portland papers with their letters and literature, poems and pamphlets, squibs and satire are a key source for this fascinating period in British history.

Monday to Friday 11am – 4pm

Saturday and Sunday 12 noon – 4pm

Admission Free

For further details phone: 0115 846 7777

Recipe of the Month: Pickled cauliflowers

August 1st, 2011

18th-century recipe books are full of pickles and preserves. Before refrigerators and freezers were invented, fresh food went off very quickly. The summertime glut of fresh produce needed to be managed, and made into jams and savoury pickles. Most of the traditional pickle recipes, like this one, were quite time-consuming, involving a number of separate boilings and coolings of the pickle mixture before it was finally bottled and sealed.

This recipe comes from Elenor Mundy’s book, which was begun in 1728. [...]

The animals of Stoke Bardolph and Bulcote Farm

July 22nd, 2011

Horse work ledger detail

Bulcote Farm Horse Work Book 1912-1913 (RSB 19/4)

Ledgers recording employment and wages which name employees can be used to trace relatives and gain an insight into their working lives. A small series of registers in the Records of Stoke Bardolph and Bulcote Model Farms, 1892-1975, list the names of some of the horses at the farms, detailing their daily work. Peggie, Constance, Fortitude and Policeman were involved in ploughing, carting manure, taking turnips to Nottingham, and when not required for farm work, they might be resting or be on hire to the Gas Department.

The records show how the use of motor vehicles and tractors took over from horses in terms of transportation needs, but animals continued to play an important role and at times, the farm has been a centre of pedigree shire horses, pigs and cows. Aeration units completed in 1960 provided a further stage to sewage treatment, allowing rotation of the land receiving digested sludge, which created growth in dairy farming; by 1980 it was one of the largest milk producers in the country, supplying many local businesses and institutions, including some of the University’s own halls of residence.

Cow at Bulcote Farm

Cow investigating machinery at Bulcote Farm 1977 (From Acc 2172)

Colin Wilson event

July 20th, 2011

Last Friday afternoon we hosted an event  to publicise one of our recent acquisistions – the Colin Wilson Collection of books and original materials. Academics and enthusiasts, and fellow-writers from as far afield as Cornwall, Aberdeen, and Sydney Australia gathered together to enjoy a private preview of items from the collection.

Colin Wilson was born in Leicester in 1931. His first book The Outsider , a work of non-fiction exploring the nature of the “outsider” in society,  was published in 1956, and was immediately acclaimed by the critics. Wilson became an overnight celebrity, and was linked with writers such as John Braine and Kingsley Amis as one of the “Angry Young Men” of the 50s. Since then he has gone on to write over 150 books, interspersing works on philosophy, psychology, music, writing, the occult, and crime, with a string of novels. He has also contributed generously to other writers’ works, with over 170 forewords, introductions, afterwords and prefaces.

The University acquired the Colin Wilson Collection from Colin Stanley, librarian, publisher, and freelance writer, who had built it up over many years. As managing editor of Paupers’ Press, Colin Stanley edits the series Colin Wilson Studies and is the author of The Colin Wilson Bibliography 1956-2010 (Nottingham: Paupers’  Press,  2011).

The Collection records Wilson’s long literary career and its reception from the 1950s to the present.  It includes comprehensive coverage of his wide range of writings alongside biographical resources and secondary critical literature.  Some archival source material has already been added and we hope to build on its strengths in future years. The Collection is in the process of being catalogued, and will not be accessible in the Reading Room until this has been completed.

The timing of this event was intended to enable us also to celebrate Colin Wilson’s recent eightieth birthday (26 June). While illness prevented him from attending in person, we were glad to welcome his son Damon Wilson to the University of Nottingham. As seen in our photograph, Damon received, on behalf of his father, a copy of a festschrift volume entitled Around the Outsider: essays presented to Colin Wilson on the occasion of his 80th birthday (Winchester: O Books, 2011), which has been edited by Colin Stanley.  With its twenty essays contributed by widely dispersed authors, the volume illustrates the international recognition that Wilson’s writing enjoys.

This is a welcome addition to our extensive manuscript and published holdings of modern literary figures, represented most strongly in the works of D H Lawrence.

On this day in the archives…

July 14th, 2011

Today sees the 313th anniversary of the Kingdom of Scotland’s attempt at colonisation. The ‘Darien Scheme’ as it was known was intended to create an overseas colony for Scotland on the Isthmus of Panama called New Caledonia. The hope was that New Caledonia would be a stopping point and important intermediary in trade between Europe and the developing market of the Far East.

Subscriptions were raised in Edinburgh in order to finance the expedition to the new colony and the first ship set sail on this day in 1698. The colony was a disaster: agriculture was poor, the local tribes refused to purchase the trinkets offered by the colonists and disease was wiping out settlers at the rate of ten a day. Moreover, the English colonists in America and the Caribbean were ordered not to come to the aid of the Scots to prevent antagonising their Spanish allies in the region.

In July 1699 the colony was abandoned and Scots colonialism came to an end.

The Darien Scheme is noted in a few interesting passages in the collections here at Manuscripts and Special Collections, in particular relating to the diplomacy between the Spanish and English courts that meant the Scots were not supported by their English neighbours. Pw A 2675 is a formal complaint from the Spanish Ambassador in which he asks Mr Vernon to convey to the king [William III] the Spanish king’s [Charles II] displeasure at the insults suffered from Scottish ships in the Americas, in particular in relation to the [...]