With the upcoming coronation of King Charles III, here at the University Archives we wondered what we might have hidden amongst the collections that related to coronations past. It turns out we have a small but interesting selection of material.
As we might expect, there were a number of nationally produced commemorative publications and souvenir programmes. However, the items that caught our eye most were programmes which captured local celebrations, demonstrating how the people of Hull and the East Riding chose to mark these occasions.
Partying it up in the regions, 1937 and 1953
For instance, this small souvenir programme was produced by Withernsea Urban District Council. It records the official events that were held to mark the occasion of the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on 12 May 1937.
The day kicked off at Pier Towers with a fanfare of trumpets played by the Gospel Mission Band. This was immediately followed by a pageant procession and distribution of souvenirs. In the afternoon, sports were played on the Central School playing fields and a tea was held for over-65s at the Queen’s Ballroom. The evening’s events included tree planting at Municipal Buildings, a presentation of pageant prizes, and a young people’s dance at the Central School. The day ended with a torch light procession to Hull Road playing fields, where a bonfire was lit and the crowd was treated to a fireworks display.
Similar celebrations were held in Swanland. Children of the parish were presented with commemorative cups. After a service and an official opening of the celebrations, both adults and children were invited to take part in a fancy dress parade. Prizes were awarded for best decorated cycle, best costume, and most original costume. Additionally, prizes were awarded for the best decorated houses in the parish, although these presumably were not part of the parade! In the afternoon, sports were organised, including children’s races and high jumping, alongside adult events, such as the ‘married ladies’ egg and spoon race and the ‘gents’ sack race. At 4pm, children were treated to a tea in the Memorial Hall. To finish the day, a ‘talkie cinema show’ was held in the Memorial Hall, followed by a coronation dance with live band and MC.
Sixteen years later, Swanland parish marked the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II with an extravagant programme of events lasting a full week.
Residents were encouraged to decorate their houses and keep the village tidy, Girl Guides distributed souvenir programmes to all residences, and souvenir beakers, spoons, cups and saucers were available to purchase. Events included the unveiling of a specially constructed village sign by the pond, a whist drive with free admission for pensioners, a coronation dance and buffet ‘at moderate charges’, the lighting of a beacon in the parish field by members of local youth groups as part of a national chain of beacons, a village concert, sports, and the presentation of three one act plays by the Swanland Drama Group.
The party boat, 1953
One item from the collections illustrates how people from Hull and the East Riding have contributed to coronation events on a national stage.
Amongst the records of the Ellerman’s Wilson Line, we discovered a file relating to this shipping company’s involvement in the Spithead Naval Review, staged as part of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
Ellerman’s Wilson Line was once one of the largest shipping companies in the world, and was asked to participate in the review by nominating and sending a ship from their own fleet. The company selected the S.S. Borodino.
The S.S. Borodino was captained by a Humber Pilot, Captain E. Ford, who had worked for the company since 1911. He was asked to write an account of his life at sea for use in publicity material for the review. In the opening passage he describes how his first experience of ships was being onboard a small Wilson Line steamer captained by his father, and how this experience had a royal connection.
The file also contains a full list of crew members who were present onboard the S.S. Borodino during the event.
One of the additional support staff employed for the occasion was 25 year old steward, Fred Young. When a launch from the royal yacht was sent to collect Captain Ford for a sherry party being hosted by the newly crowned Queen, Young heroically dived into the river to rescue two sailors who had been knocked off the launch into the water. Slightly more excitement than was expected on the day!
The rest of the event appears to have gone off without a hitch. The S.S. Borodino sailed from Hull on the 12th June 1953 with a full complement of guests, each of whom were allocated their own private rooms.
Having had a thoroughly good time, all involved returned to Hull onboard the ship, which arrived back in port on the 17th June. The file contains numerous letters thanking the directors of the company for their hospitality and for the chance to participate in such a notable occasion.
This quick search through the archives for coronation related material just goes to show that, if you can think of a subject, there’s probably something hidden away waiting to be discovered.
And so, with a brief nod to coronations past, we move forward into a new royal era.
Prior to 2017, the Library exhibition space was originally used in a more corporate fashion; university events, networking events and lunch gatherings were popular within the Academic and University community. It hosted a lectern and chairs most of the time – very formal and most of the time pretty empty.
In order to prepare for the exhibitions to come we needed to meet a higher level of security requirements. The space had additional security installed over its windows and doors to ensure it became a secure space and the lectern unofficially retired to the back closet.
In January 2017 we hosted Lines of Thought from the British Museum, drawings from Michelangelo to now.
It drew the largest crowd we had ever seen! Everyone wanted to be part of the buzz of City of Culture and we excitedly scanned tickets and ordered some barriers to manage the queues which were rapidly forming.
There were also workshops to engage students in drawing their own pieces, coordinated by Heidi Wigmore.
The end of February saw the end of Lines of Thought. The newly erected walls in the center of the room were pulled down and the decorators intensively patched and repainted the space to its former glory. The floor underwent an intensive clean – after so many visitors (approx. 20,000) it hosted track marks where people had walked through the space – like an unofficial directional route.
The exhibition was a huge success for the Library. The first we had supported from an operational perspective, helping host invigilators, Art History student volunteers, City of Culture volunteers, manage ticket sales and queues. It was eye opening to what the space now was and could continue to be for the future of our cultural program.
Following lines of thought we hosted Paul Smith to J.K. Rowling: BP Portrait Award commissions from the National Portrait Gallery, 29th March to 11th June 2017. The works were all commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery as part of the first prize of the BP Portrait Award.
We were all stunned by the realism of these paintings, they were truly real to life and showed so much expression. Having Sir Ian McKellen stare directly back at you was an experience. The paintings themselves were absolutely huge too, a juxtaposition of the Michelangelo we had previously exhibited.
It was sad to see the exhibition move out in June. Despite the luxury of being able to visit the space often, there was always something new which had you captured each time. It was one of my favorites to walk through.
Our next exhibition, Phillip Larkin: New Eyes Each Year was our first immersive experience curated by Anna Farthing from 12th July – Oct 2017. Book shelves wound around the space showcasing artifacts from Larkin alongside his doodles.
Yes, that is right ties from the ceiling and a lawnmower on the wall. There was many a health and safety conversation about that one! The space was full to the brim with Larkin’s personal possessions – he was certainly a collector. Larkin was the University Librarian at the University of Hull from 1955-1985 and so this one felt close to home for us. It was a rare opportunity to see the man behind the poetry and we offered tours of his library office and showcased his works kept at the Hull History Centre archives alongside. Visitors commented how the whole experience felt very ‘Library’, the atmosphere which was created encouraged people to sit and spend time within the space – you often saw someone perched on the bench just taking some time.
During de-installation, the Library, Hull History Centre and the Larkin Society got to keep many of the artifacts for safe keeping. Larkin’s doodle from this exhibition found a much loved home in the Reading Room next to the Spotlight display.
The 20th October to 26th November 2017 saw us host An Eyeful of Wry, works from the UK Government Art Collection. It was very much centered around humor and it certainly raised a smile within the Library.
Students absolutely loved this exhibition! I think mainly because each day we placed a set of joke posters in the space and the students focused on collecting them all to decorate their dorm rooms.
The musical piano resembling something from the In the Night Garden’s Ninky Nonk played a tune triggered by the push of a big red button. It was loved by some, hated by others – most Library staff being the latter as you often left work humming along to the tune.
We rounded our City of Culture year with Painting Power: The Art of Terence Cuneo from the Science Museum Group, curator Ian Blatchford and National Railway Museum’s curator Andrew McLean – December through to April 2018. It featured railway paintings, industrial power alongside sovereign and state. It intrigued many that Cuneo painted a mouse into his works and lead to a spot the most mice competition for anyone working within the space. His works were so detailed it often took some time or multiple attempts to find them.
In wrapping up our City of Culture exhibits we had played host to hundreds of volunteers who had all dedicated time to the Library to ensure our loaned collections were safe and to engage with our visitors. They all helped shape our experience within this cultural programme and we wanted to make sure we gave them something back. We hosted a volunteer event up on the 7th floor to celebrate our year and to plan for our future in hosting further exhibitions at the Library.
The Library has continued to host exhibits within its spaces collaborating with the Science Festival, the University Spaces of Sanctuary group, individual curators such as DJ Roberts with another exciting nod to Larkin. Most recently we have hosted Peter Huby, Hull and Back and continue to build an exciting program into 2023 and beyond.
The current Art collection, any visiting exhibitions and opening times can all be found advertised through the Library webpage.
When the library was built in 1959 and then extended in the late 1960’s, talk of mobile phones, computers, eBooks, the Internet, and such like would have seemed like the stuff of science fiction. But in 2012, the world was a very different place. This was the year of the London Olympics. We had our Apple iPhone 5 or Samsung S3 and our computers were running Windows 8. It became clear that the library needed to be brought up to date. The furniture was past its best. We had one printer on each floor and two on the ground floor. The printing came out automatically. At assessment time, there was a scrum of people at the printers trying to retrieve their work. There were very few electrical sockets in the library. Members of the shelving team were constantly faced with trailing wires at knee height all over the library floors as students plugged in their laptops. The floors in the tower block were crumbling with several potholes down some of the aisles.
Work began in the summer of 2012. We started by moving all the closed run journals from the basement and the floors into some unused buildings on the west campus. A removal firm was brought in, and a plan was put in place for everything to be packed up in classmark order. Items of the same classmark were picked from the basement, collected from the floors, and boxed up together and put into storage. Once the redevelopment was complete, it would then be a simple process of having the stock returned to the library and being able to put it straight back out on the shelves in classmark order. How wrong we were!
The closed run journals were moved to another building using a conveyor belt. This process was short lived once the Health and Safety team saw the conveyor belt balanced on pallets. In July 2012, work began on moving all the books from second floor east and re- shelving them on the seventh floor. Working in teams, trolley loads of books were shuttled from floor to floor
On 6th August 2012, back-office staff moved out of the library to temporary accommodation in Salmon Grove. The frontline customer service staff stayed behind to experience what it was like to work on a building site. The library remained open throughout this time. It was cold, it was dusty, and it was noisy. There wasn’t any heating in the building and due to several walls being missing, the temperature was often as low as 8 °C. Staff could often be seen sporting woolly hats when working at the reception desk. There was a large fan to disperse the copious amounts of dust in the air. Walls were knocked down around us, sometimes with concrete falling unexpectedly. Some new choice language was heard, which on occasion came over the tannoy or echoed round the silence of the Reading Room when the drilling stopped but the workmen carried on shouting.
The evacuation of the library became a matter of routine as the fire alarm went off on a near daily basis, often more than once a day. Pipes leaked all over the pamphlet stock that had been moved to what was thought a safe location. A hoist was attached to the outside of the building to allow the easy delivery of building materials. It also allowed the easy access of pigeons.
All of this happened around our students continuing to use the library. A decant area, often referred to as “the decadent area” by some of our students, was created on the ground floor for us to store books from the floors in the tower block.
In late August 2013, the books started to be moved to the newly created Reading Room.
A few weeks later, the third and fourth floors reopened. Meanwhile, books from the second, fifth, sixth and seventh floors were moved to the decant area.
In December 2013, the new first and second floors of the east building were opened. By April 2014, all the floors in the tower block, except the first floor, had reopened. Finally in August of that year all the work had been completed. The library was officially opened on 15th September 2015 by the then poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy.
Although it was not easy working in the library during this time, the camaraderie in our team is something I will always remember. I wish I had kept a daily diary of the events that took place along with daily photos. It would have been a good way to document all that happened. Finally, we have library that is fit for the 21st century. Our students can plug in their devices in numerous sockets in the building- even our furniture has plug sockets. We have super-fast Wi-Fi, printers throughout the building and more computers than ever before, laptops that can be loaned, a silent study area, group learning rooms with large computer screens, a postgraduate lounge, a Rare Books Room, a large cafe and an art gallery. It took a while to get there but it was worth the journey.
Starting university can be quite a daunting prospect. There is a lot to learn in a short space of time. When I started at The University of Hull in 2018 I had to find my lecture rooms, meet new friends and discover new learning styles.
It is for this reason that I missed out on some of the excellent features of the Brynmor Jones Library. Now don’t get me wrong, I spent a lot of time studying in the library and took books out often. But, I definitely didn’t utilise the full potential of the library when I had the chance.
Now I am an intern at the university library and I have finally had the opportunity to explore the space and all it has to offer.
So here are a few things I wish I knew as a student about the Brynmor Jones Library. I hope that this encourages you make the most of your time here and enhance your studies.
My tour of the Brynmor Jones Library started all the way up on the 7th floor in a room called The Cube. No, I am not talking about the gameshow hosted by Phillip Schofield. Rather, The Cube is where the library houses its rare book collection in a temperature-controlled environment.
According to my guide, Helen, the rare book collection was started by the Vice-Chancellor at the time, Brynmor Jones, after who the library was named.
The collection boasts titles that are over five hundred years old. As well as many rare, first-edition and signed copies of texts. Some of my personal favourites housed in The Cube include a first edition, signed copy of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a signed Rudyard Kipling collection and first edition copy of Peter Pan (University of Hull, 2020b).
The Cube also has ongoing project work that you can see. Here, work experience students and library volunteers get to create themed displays and highlight the variety of rare texts that are available in the library. One display focuses on tragic love and the other, war. This emphasises that it is possible for many students to find a rare book that may enhance their studies at the university. As well as giving students the opportunity to get involved with archive work.
I think one of the most important things to note about the Brynmor Jones Library rare book collection is how accessible it is to students. All you have to do is fill in a form online to arrange an in-person viewing of these marvelously preserved texts.
During my own time at the university, I missed on utilising this collection due to a sense of nervousness surrounding these fragile pieces of work. But, when I did finally see this collection my worries dissipated almost instantly as the staff were welcoming, approachable and passionate.
So, do not miss out on your chance to visit the rare books held at the Brynmor Jones Library and get to hold a piece of history in your hands and enhance your academic research
Philip Larkin’s Office
Next on my tour of the Brynmor Jones Library was the office of Philip Larkin.
In 1955, Larkin joined the University of Hull as a librarian (Orwin, 2021). There he played a vital role in the redevelopment and expansion of the library (Hull History Centre, 2022). To this day, his office is preserved in the library and well worth a visit.
Stepping into this room was like stepping back in time. Here you will find the original electrical fire place and Larkin’s own type writer. Its charm comes from Larkin’s more personal items such as his collection of rather stained, well used mugs and the selection of vinyl records.
My time in this room was brief, but certainly very interesting. More Larkin memorabilia can be found at the Hull History Centre which has strong connections with the library. You can also click here to read more about Larkin’s office and his time at the library.
Down in The Basement
One thing I did not know about the library when I was a student was that as well as having eight floors above ground, there is also an extensive space below the library.
Next time you grab a coffee in the university library, just think about what could be below your feet. There is a labyrinth of old journals, books and pamphlets. Most of these have be digitalised or replaced with newer version, and some have been considered too controversial to access. Additionally, there are rooms full of different art works from the gallery and boxes quirky of items.
What I enjoyed when visiting the basement was the sheer magnitude of it. I believe you could spend all day down there and not have the chance to discover everything it stores. My guide also told me some eerie stories from staff who have felt and heard strange happenings in the basement.
Most of the material found in the basement can be accessed by the Library Search. This gives students an even larger option for sources and research.
On the ground floor of the Brynmor Jones library is the art gallery. This space is free to access whether you are a student or member of the public.
The collection of art held in the library began with a yearly fund of just £300 (University of Hull, 2022a). Despite this, the gallery is an impressive feature to admire.
The gallery has its staple collection of pieces and an exhibition space that changes regularly. Currently, you can see Larkinworld 2 by D J Roberts, which is part of Larkin’s centenary celebrations by the library (The Philip Larkin Society, 2021). This exhibit is available to view until the 25th of September, but I already look forward to seeing what is there next.
That concludes my list of things I didn’t know about the Brynmor Jones library when I studied at the university. I suggest you make the most of these fantastic facilities when you can. Whether you need to access rare materials for your studies or just fancy a cultural day out.
If you’re anything like me, you might not have explored archives in your life. They’re just of dusty old documents anyway aren’t they?
Well some may think so, but I certainly don’t!
I went on a tour around the Hull History Centre and got to explore its archive material. Here is my experience of the the archives and how you can use them.
What is the Hull History Centre?
The Hull History Centre is situated in the heart of the city. It’s a building that definitely stands out with its unique architecture and swirly logo. But what actually is it?
The Hull History Centre is a collaboration between the University of Hull and the Hull City Council (Hull History Centre, 2017). It houses the archive material from both of them (Hull History Centre, 2017). Their aim, as stated on their website, is to “make history available to all, for research, for learning and for leisure” (Hull History Centre, 2016).
So, what counts as archive material? Archive material includes: dairies, photographs, maps, books, wills and everything in between (Hull University Archives, 2022a). What they all have in common is their “historical significance” (Hull University Archives, 2022b) as they give us a glimpse into the past and how people lived.
Are Archives Useful?
I’ve laid out in simple terms what archives are, but maybe you are wondering why archives are useful.
To put it simply, archives are there to be used! Whether you want to find out a little bit more about your family history, explore the exhibitions or research collections for your studies, there is something for everyone.
For Research and Learning
As I have mentioned, I never used archive material or the Hull History Centre when I went to university. But, I wish I did. After searching through the archives last week, I know there is definitely material that could have enhanced my studies as an English and Philosophy Student. Specifically, the material on Hull’s animal rights activism given that my thesis focused on animal ethics.
The SkillsGuides lay out some reasons why you may want to use archive material in your own studies. This includes to develop or critique an argument and to add historical, realistic context to your writing (Hull University Archives, 2022c). There are also more creative uses listed here which include using raw materials for films, artwork or for character development (Hull University Archives, 2022c). It is clear that archive material can come in handy for lots of different subjects. It is not just limited to history students.
The Hull History Centre isn’t just open to researchers, students and historians. Anyone can go and enjoy the facilities on offer. There is a small library collection of books concerning Hull on a variety of different subjects. Families can visit and see the exhibitions that are currently on display, or find the online exhibits here. There are also refreshments available in the small café.
If you’re interested in researching your family history, you can use their computers and different family history tracing websites. You can then request archive material based on any distant relatives that you find.
I have already planned to take my grandma on a day out!
The Archives Made Easy
In an effort to make sure that you use the archives, here I will highlight the things that I found useful when searching the archives for the first time.
For a more in depth look at using the archives, the Hull University Archives team have created a fantastic, in depth SkillsGuide on the archives that you can find here. But, this is what helped me the most.
1. Firstly, you can find guides on the different themes that are prevalent in the archives
This is a great place to start if you’re unsure of what is available in the archives.
Within each of these themes, there is a list of key subjects and collections. These lists give you a place to start when it comes to searching the archives. This will further narrow down your research and help you find what material could be useful to you.
For example, within the theme of ‘Women’, there is a collection of materials on Winifred Holtby. I could then use this reference (L WH) to search the Hull History Centre catalogue for all material related to Holtby. This can cut down your search time massively.
2. There is a specific SkillsGuide to help you find diverse voices within the archives
Given the way that history has been recorded, it can be even more difficult to find diverse voices within archive materials. This includes the voice and perspective of women, members of the LGBTQIA+ community and people of different ethnicities. These are the voices that have often been erased or deliberately omitted from the records.
In order to highlight these voices there is a SkillsGuide on them. Once again, this provides a good starting point for how to search for these voices at the Hull History Centre. There are also external links to other online archives that included them.
3. How to request archive material
I think one of the most nerve-wracking part of the archives is requesting the archive material. But like all things, it seems like a daunting task until you actually do it.
Let’s say you have found something in the archive collection that you think is useful to your studies or an interesting piece of family history. How do you go about requesting it? And why can’t you just pick it up off a shelf?
I recommend requesting archive material from the Hull History Centre in advance. The best way to do this is to directly contact the team there. Don’t worry, they’re all friendly! With the team, you can directly arrange to visit when it’s best for you within their opening times.
In order to preserve the material that is housed at the Hull History Centre, it has to be stored in a controlled environment. This includes the temperature and humidity. Trust me, having a jumper is a must when it comes to visiting the Hull History Centre. Especially if you’re like me and start to feel the cold very quickly. But, for these reasons, you can’t just wander in and pick up a pamphlet from the 1600s.
I think this is part of the reason why students and people in general may not use the archives. These items seem untouchable when they’re all locked away. But, I found last week that this isn’t the case. In fact, the materials are there to be used! They just have to be looked after so that future generations can also use them.
4. What to expect on the day
So, you have requested your archive material by having a lovely chat over the phone with one of the team. But, what will it be like on the day?
I can guarantee you one thing and that is, you will get cold, so take a jumper first and foremost! This is because the Searchroom, the place where you view the archive material, is also temperature controlled.
In the Searchroom, you can have your laptop, paper and a pencil (no pens!) (Hull History Centre, 2017b). The rest of your personal items can be stored in the lockers (Hull History Centre, 2017b). If you get a little hungry, then you can leave the room and buy some snacks or a coffee in the café. You’re going to have to fuel your brain for a day of research.
And like all things, it is not as scary as you think.
What I Found
Finally, I am going to end this post on my experience of the Hull History Centre.
Exploring the archives for the day and getting to see behind the curtain can only be described by me in one way. It’s like when you clean your messy room or start packing to move house. Bare with me on this analogy, you will see where I am going. As you’re cleaning or packing, you’re rediscovering different trinkets, old gadgets, books and pictures. Maybe you find a Now That’s What I Call Music CD and have to listen to the pop hits from 2007. All of these items are things you have forgotten about. But now, all the memories of your past are coming back to you. As soon as you put down one item, you find another and the cycle continues. Then, when you look at the time, you see that you’ve spent hours looking at a pile of belongings.
Well, that was my experience of the archives.
Now, that’s not to say that all of the material held in the archives will bring the same level of joy as finding your old Tamagotchi. It is history after all. As I have previously highlighted, many voices have been deliberately omitted and some material is shocking and even offensive. But, it is preserved as one account of the past. My analogy of the archives only serves to highlight how it felt to explore the Hull History Centre as a whole and the curiosity that comes with searching the archive material. I was intrigued by the volume and variety of the items housed there. Though I realise that not everyone will feel the same way that I do.
Some of my favourite pieces in the material include one of George Gray’s microscopes and Larkin’s personal book collection (there is a lot of Shakespeare). I also enjoy listening to true-crime podcasts, so the different crime and trial records were fascinating.
That concludes my day of searching the archives at the Hull History Centre. I hope this has highlighted how accessible and useful archive material can be, whether you’re a student, a historian or just want to know a little bit more about the past.
Hull History Centre (2017a) Our policies. Available online: https://www.hullhistorycentre.org.uk/about-us/about/policies.aspx [Accessed 07/09/2022].
Hull History Centre (2017b) Searchroom. Available online: https://www.hullhistorycentre.org.uk/about-us/about/policies.aspx [Accessed 07/09/2022].
Hull History Centre (2016) Our vision and mission. Available online: https://www.hullhistorycentre.org.uk/visit-us/our-facilities/searchroom.aspx [Accessed 07/09/2022].
Hull University Archives (2022a) Understanding Common Record Types, SkillsGuides, University of Hull. Available online: https://libguides.hull.ac.uk/common-record-types [Accessed 07/09/2022].
Hull University Archives (2022b) What are Archives, SkillsGuides, University of Hull. Available online: https://libguides.hull.ac.uk/archives-basics/what-are-archives [Accessed 07/09/2022].
Hull University Archives (2022c) Archives- The Basics: Using Archives, SkillsGuides, University of Hull. Available online: https://libguides.hull.ac.uk/archives-basics/using-archives [Accessed 07/09/2022].
Philip Larkin, 1983. On the Brynmor Jones Library, from Collected Poems, 1988.
Larkin at 100
Given what would have been Larkin’s 100th birthday on the 9th of August 2022, our latest blog post focuses on Larkin’s career as head librarian at the Brynmor Jones Library. This includes what Larkin contributed to the library during his employment, and how his presence can be observed within the building today.
Hull University Library in the 1960s
Larkin’s biographer, and a poet in his own right, Andrew Motion wrote that ‘in all the libraries which employed him. Larkin combined the roles of scholar, technician and administrator’ (Goodman, 1999). At the time in which Larkin was employed at the University of Hull in 1955, he had held previous employment at several libraries from 1943 onwards. These being: Wellington Public Library (1943-1946), University of Leicester (1946-1950), and Queen’s University in Belfast (1950-1955). As Andrew Motion states, Larkin’s role as librarian involved multiple duties as part of the position.
This can be evidenced through Larkin’s career at the University of Hull, as he oversaw the transformation of the library alongside the university’s vice-chancellor of the time Professor Brynmor Jones, from which the library now takes its name. As of Larkin’s employment in 1955, the library contained 124,000 items and employed just 12 staff to support the 727 students of the university at this time. Larkin ‘presided over its transformation during the next two decades. A new purpose-built library was opened in two stages in 1960 and 1970, and by 1985 there were over 750,000 items in stock, a computerised catalogue and circulation system, and over 80 staff’ (Hull History Centre, 2017).
Larkin and the Library’s Transformation
At the time, the university library was one of the first to be redeveloped in post-war Britain. The task was understood to be challenging, given that Larkin had no previous experience in the architectural field. Larkin’s muse and co-worker Maeve Brennan recalled that Larkin worked on the project ‘far removed from library staff…he spread out the plans for the new building and worked on them most afternoons. We had strict instructions that his whereabouts were not to be revealed nor was he to be interrupted except on matters of urgency’ (Goodman, 1999).
During this construction, the progress was split into two stages and would involve the production of a three storey building complete with the addition of reading rooms. It was Larkin who made several suggestions to the university concerning the library’s layout during this period. This was specifically in regards to the university’s initial idea of separating the book stacks from the students within the building. The university accepted these recommendations, and certain aspects of Larkin’s attention to detail can be observed in the building’s inspired modern lighting and coloured stacks to this day. During this period, Larkin worked closely with the architect for the project and photographed the progress as the building was constructed.
Larkin as Poet and Librarian
It is evident that during Larkin’s time at the University of Hull, his role blended between librarian and poet. It was during this period where Larkin produced his celebrated works The Whitsun Weddings (1964)and High Windows (1974). Despite the critical acclaim, Larkin chose to remain a private individual, even turning down the position of Poet Laureate in his attempts to avoid the limelight.
The poet seemed to prefer his role as librarian, once stating in an interview that ‘librarianship suits me…it has just the right blend of academic interest and administration that seems to match my particular talents’ (Goodman, 1999). The university staff and students that interacted with Larkin during this period have given a mixed retelling of their experiences, many of which can be observed in the University of Hull Alumni Association’s blog which highlights particular memories of Larkin.
Larkin’s Presence Today
Larkin’s presence in the Brynmor Jones Library remains to this day, within the preserved location of the librarian’s office. This has been the office of the University of Hull librarian since 1959, when the first phase of the library was built under Larkin’s supervision. It was used by Philip Larkin from 1959 until his death in 1985. He wrote to his mother that ‘my room is so beautiful I can hardly believe it. I’m afraid it will make everyone so green with jealousy that I shall be the most hated person in Hull’ (Pearman, 2014). After Larkin’s death, his secretary, Betty Mackereth, with whom he had a secret love affair with, shredded the thirteen volumes of his diary in this office, in accordance to his wishes.
A number of things are original to the room to this day: the bookcase; the electric fire and its surround, the parquet flooring and the desk. The desk has a brass plaque commemorating its use by Larkin. He boasted that it was ‘larger than that of President Kennedy’(Pearman, 2014). It was restored as part of the redevelopment of the library, and improved. The top of the desk is now real leather in place of the original leatherette. The typewriter is Larkin’s personal Olivetti Lettera DL.
The collection of books in the bookcase is the Brynmor Jones Collection. It was assembled by the library in honour of the university’s Vice-Chancellor Sir Brynmor Jones when he retired in 1972. It consists of first editions of titles published between 1890 and 1940 that were nominated by the university’s academic departments as being of particular importance. The period of 1890 to 1940 is also the focus of the University Art Collection. The ‘Librarian’ sign on the door, pictured above, leads directly into the office from the first floor of the library and is original to the 1959 building.
There were some particular objects that Larkin kept in his office during his employment, one of these being the pottery frog money box from circa 1970. This is a reminder of Larkin’s poems Toads, written in 1954, and Toads Revisited, written in 1962, about the necessity of going to work to earn a living. When asked by an interviewer, ‘how did you arrive upon the image of a toad for work or labour?’ he replied, ‘Sheer genius’ (Phillips, 2003). There is also the Hermes 3000 office typewriter situated near the bookshelf, circa 1969.
As pictured below, there are also three mugs of Larkins on display: a Queen Elizabeth II coronation mug, a D.H. Lawrence mug, and a lettered ‘P’ mug. Larkin’s nameplate can also be observed, as well as a collection of vinyls of Larkin reading his poetry.
The Modern Day Brynmor Jones Library
Following Larkin’s involvement in the transformation of the library, the building has since had another upgrade. Work began in 2012 and was completed by 2015, with the Poet Laureate of the time, Professor Dame Carol Ann Duffy opening the site. The library’s collection is now slightly larger since Larkin’s time. We now house over one million books in the building, alongside other physical and digital resources. Larkin’s presence within the Brynmor Jones Library is important to discuss, as are the contentious aspects of his character.
This month, the University Library’s Twitter Conversation highlights the contentious aspects of the poet’s life and challenges us to consider how we feel about his poetry in this context. The University Archive and the Hull History Centre contain manuscripts, drafts of poems and novels, photographs and Larkin’s jazz record collection. These materials can be requested at the Hull History Centre for viewing. If you would like to follow the Conversation, you can do so below.
Every now and again we uncover a small collection of records at Hull University Archives that really bring life to years gone by. One such discovery was made in 2019 whilst staff were preparing an exhibition and source guide on Second World War records. Amongst the early records created by the University of Hull, we found a series of Second World War firewatchers’ report books with associated papers.
These records give us a fascinating glimpse into some of the air raid precautions that were taken by the University.
A fire-watching scheme
The University initiated a scheme for fire-watching in February 1941. The need for such a scheme was driven by heavy bombing raids on the city. These bombing raids often caused fires to spread in areas where bombs fell.
75 staff and students signed up for the scheme in the initial months, indicating a clear enthusiasm at the University to support Civil Defence efforts. This, however, was not enough to ensure that each volunteer only worked the maximum 48 hours per month suggested by the government’s Fire Prevention (Business Premises) Order 1941. The average number of hours worked by fire-watchers at the University was 63 per month. By 1942 staff and student numbers were depleted as a result of enlistment. It was only possible to continue the fire-watching scheme because many men carried out both fire-watching and other civil defence duties. Female students stepped into the gap, undertaking fire-watching duties at the Needler Hall accommodation building.
The University provided equipment for the use of firewatchers on duty, along with instructions for what to do:
‘If a fire bomb has lodged above ground, use the rake to pull it down to the floor, then apply sand’; and ‘Dustbin lids are to be used as shields when dealing with incendiary bombs’.
Excerpt from instructions given to firewatchers by the University
Staff established fire-watching posts on top of the Science and Arts Buildings. Fire-watching duties included raising the alarm if a fire was spotted, as well as making a record of any air raid alerts, plane sightings, anti-aircraft activity, and all clear sirens.
Shifts were long, lasting from 6pm to 9am the following morning. Four fire-watchers were on duty each night. The four fire-watchers were to consist of one staff member and three students. At least one individual had to be on look out at all times.
It is unclear as to whether the above suggestions were granted…probably not! To pass the time more soberly the fire-watchers played games:
In addition to their duties as fire-watchers, the volunteers also served as blackout officers. If any light could be seen emanating from windows or doors, the University buildings might become a target for enemy planes flying overhead. Blackout infractions are detailed in the fire-watchers’ report books:
The volunteers were provided with meals and hot drinks by the University. Comments entered into the report books show that provisions weren’t always considered ‘up to scratch’ by those on duty:
But we must remember that there was a war on and supplies were short, although this doesn’t appear to have prevented the volunteers from complaining:
Close but no cigar
Other than a few near misses and a bit of superficial damage, the report books show that the University campus escaped any major incidents during the Hull Blitz of 1941-1942.
Fire-watching at the University continued throughout the war, only finishing on 24 March 1945. However, the report books show that the initial enthusiasm for volunteering had worn off by late 1942. After this time, we find various notes indicating that fire-watchers were turning up late or not at all for their registered duty. However, given the difficulties faced by fire-watchers we can perhaps understand a dip in levels of enthusiasm. Volunteers were having to contend with faulty equipment, lack of food, loss of vacation time. By 1942, the situation was no longer novel. War-weariness had set in and the initial excitement of something quite out of the ordinary had warn off. Fire-watching had become a dull task, made worse by the drudgery of having to repeat it month after month.
These books offer us a valuable opportunity to examine the experiences of those who remained behind during the Second World War. The descriptions recorded in their pages help us to understand how the city must have looked, sounded and smelled during an air raid. And the comments made by the fire-watchers give us a glimpse at their personalities.
Check out our guide, to find out more about Second World War records at Hull History Centre.
Born 1908, Philippa was a writer and the daughter of the English painter, Louie Burrell. Philippa spent much of her childhood travelling the world with her mother, as Louie tried to make a living by painting portraits for wealthy individuals. Philippa made friends easily and was often a hit with her mother’s wealthy clients. She appears to have been a strong-willed and resourceful woman, one who did not like to be tied down. She had many relationships, often with married men, each a ‘great romance’ lasting a short time before she moved on to another phase in her life.
Her life and loves are recorded in an autobiography consisting of three parts: The Golden Thread; The Horses & the Charioteer; and The Dance of the Opposites. But Philippa’s life and loves are also captured in the original letters that have survived and are held by Hull University Archives at Hull History Centre.
Inspired by Valentine’s Day, we’ve selected extracts from her letters of love and heartbreak, each giving a small glimpse of this intriguing woman’s life.
Sir Vincent Caillard
The earliest reference to a relationship in Burrells papers relates to Sir Vincent Caillard, with whom it appears she started corresponding around the time she finished her exams and left school. Louie had painted Sir Vincent and Lady Caillard in 1922, and it is during this period that Philippa must have first met him. Caillard wrote to invite Philippa and Louie to visit him in 1924, which they did, and in January 1925 he wrote to arrange a meeting with Philippa. A few months later, Philippa received a love letter from Caillard:
This correspondence appears to have initially lasted a year, with Calliard’s final letter to Philippa written in January 1926. A few later letters were exchanged in 1928 and 1929, but by this time, another man was in the picture.
Lieutenant Harold Clements
In 1928, Philippa and Louie travelled to Delhi, where they met Lieutenant Harold Clements of the Gordon Highlanders. Just a few months later, they were engaged. However, this relationship was not to last either. In May 1929, Clements returned home to Ireland on leave from the army and Philippa took the opportunity to break off the engagement.
Clements last letter to Philippa was sent in September 1929.
Lieutenant John Gage
Next, Philippa met Lieutenant John Gage of the 4th Hussars whilst in India. Gage was a devorcee stationed in Meerut. She quickly fell in love and the pair became engaged.
This time, there appears to have been concern about the suitability of the proposed marriage. Louie and Colonel Gage corresponded on the subject, both expressing their relief when the engagement was broken off and their belief that it would have been a disastrous marriage. Letters between Gage and Philippa survive for the period January to October 1929.
After the initial flurry of romantic entanglements, Philippa’s relationships seem to have subsided, at least for a few years. And then, in September 1936, Philippa attended the Forth World Theatre Festival, held in Moscow and Leningrad. It was here that she met the conductor Vladimir Shavisch.
Despite Shavisch being married with a daughter, the two began a relationship. But Philippa began to feel trapped by the situation and returned to London to escape.
A few years later, with the threat of war looming, Philippa made the decision to go to Berlin in 1939 to immerse herself in what was to enfold in order to further her writing. Whilst trying to find a literary agent, she became acquainted with Adolf Kohler, who was head of an office established to give advice to foreign visitors. The pair grew close, and Philippa’s relationship with Kohler ensured she was kept informed with how the war was developing. Through his efforts, she was able to board the last Warsaw to Paris Express before the outbreak of war. After passing through Paris, Philippa arrived in London on 31 August 1939, where she received a letter from Kohler:
For the next two years, he continued to write. After a gap of several years, he writes again in 1947 to give an account of his actions during the war, denying having any link to the Nazis, and describing a prevailing sense of collective guilt in Germany. But the relationship was long dead.
Major Gordon Hannan
Philippa’s next great love developed in December 1943, after meeting the married Major Gordon Hannan. She fell in love with him whilst undertaking war work at the Newport headquarters of the Bristol Channel Ports.
In 1945, Philippa suffered a nervous breakdown and Hannan arranged for her to be invalided out of the army. After the war the pair returned to London and he began divorce proceedings. But the relationship eventually fell apart, with Philippa moving to Kent and Hannan returning to his wife. Their correspondence, which begins in 1943, ends in 1947.
In 1947, Philippa published her book ‘He was like a continent’. It failed to raise any interest but spurred her to write a play, titled ‘The Brothers’. Attempts to persuade a renowned scenic designer, Gordon Craig, to produce the play resulted in a brief relationship in 1950.
The letters exchanged between them were eventually stolen when, in 1976, Philippa attempted to sell them through Sotheby’s. However, photocopies of the letters survive in the collection, along with an account of the relationship.
Sir C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar
In 1951, Philippa attended the last night of a PEN Club Congress in Edinburgh, an organisation concerned with freedom of expression. At the congress dinner, she was accompanied by the prominent lawyer Sir C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar, whom she had met some time previously. In him, Philippa found the partner that she had been looking for.
Their relationship endured until his death with meetings and weekly letters.
Fantastic Study Resource
Aside from helping us to understand one person’s personal relationships, this collection provides us with an opportunity to study key historical events and periods through the personal experiences of people who were there.
The literary evidence of the Burrell’s movements around India in the 1920s and 1930s can help us explore questions relating to the experience and operation of colonialism. Surviving letters from the period of Philippa’s stay in Berlin (just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War) can help us to understand some of what was happening in Germany in the 1930s. They can also tell us about the experiences of people trying to move around Europe at this time. Finally, records of Philippa’s time in Russia during the 1930s offer us the opportunity to glimpse what life was like inside Soviet-era Russia.
The incidental details and occurrences recorded in casual letters are not usually included in official reports and releases. Details such as who was at a particular social gathering or political event, what leisure activities were undertaken, and what sights and sounds were experienced can generate a contextual picture of a period or place that would otherwise be lost to us. This is why letters can be such a useful resource to any researcher.
Looking to be inspired for our January Hull University Archives blog, we started browsing online content for January anniversaries.
It turns out there’s a huge number of food and drink related celebrations; there’s Chocolate Brownie Day on the 8th, Hot Tea Day on the 12th, Hot and Spicy Food Day on the 16th, Gourmet Coffee Day on the 18th, Cheese Lover’s Day on the 20th, Chocolate Cake Day on the 27th and Croissant Day on the 30th!
This got us thinking about a small collection of household recipe books contained within one of Hull University Archives’ collections….
The Hotham Family
The Hotham Family of Scorborough and South Dalton represents part of the Yorkshire landed gentry. Pedigrees from the collection suggest the family’s roots lie in the 12th century, possibly beginning with one William de Hotham who lived c.1100-1166. Originally associated with Scorborough, the family relocated to South Dalton after a fire destroyed the old family home in 1705.
As with many such families, their lifestyle and the size of their household necessitated the appointment of various housekeeping staff, including a cook who would have catered for the family’s daily meals and evening entertainments.
Lady Frances’ Recipe Books
Amongst the records left by the family, there are several recipe and medicinal books belonging to Lady Frances Hotham.
Lady Frances married into the Hotham family in 1816, bringing her own mother’s cookery and nursing books with her, and beginning her own recipe books to help her manage her new household. These records provide us with a history of cooking stretching back to the mid-17th century.
The books contain recipes for preserves, biscuits, sweet and savoury pies, stews, cakes, and drinks. They also contain recipes for medicines purporting to cure gout, fever, coughs, and even hair-loss!
With such fascinating resources you could carry out some really interesting research projects; anything from trends in cooking, to a history of traditional home remedies.
Back in 2015-2016 a few of us at Hull History Centre used Lady Frances Hotham’s recipe books to create ‘History Bakers’.
The basic premise was: choose a recipe (so many options!), decipher it (the writing could be quite tricky), work out the measurements (Imperial to Metric, and some we’d never heard of!), source the ingredients (including some uncommon items), try to discern a method (scant details provided in many instances), make the recipe, and report back on the results. We shared the bakes with our colleagues and reflected on our experiences using social media.
It was such a popular campaign that we thought we’d share some of our attempts in this blog (please forgive the repurposing of content!)…
Curry Powder, c.1860 [U DDHO/19/8]
Written by Pete Dixie, Archives Assistant
The recipe for the curry powder is quite simple but shows some of the spices that were available to well-to-do households in England as far back as the Georgian period.
And to my method: The spices were ground together in a mortar and pestle, then dried in a warm oven for about 20 minutes. Easy. Too easy. So, having made the curry powder, I decided to use it to flavour some vegetable samosas.
There are plenty of recipes available on the internet for samosas. I picked one that took my fancy and replaced the recipe spices for my History Bakers curry powder. First, I boiled three small potatoes and a cup of frozen peas to make the vegetable filling. Next, I fried the onion in a tablespoon of oil adding the whole spices, the ground spices and the grated ginger chilli and garlic. I then added the potatoes, which I had broken up with a fork, the peas and herbs and continued to fry the filling for about ten minutes. Finally, I made the pastry with chapatti flour, which was better in taste and appearance than ones I had made previously with plain flour.
After resting in the fridge for half an hour (the pastry not me), I rolled it out and cut it into approximately six-inch circles. I then cut the circles in half and made them in to cone shapes, which I filled with the samosa mixture before deep frying them in oil for about five minutes until brown.
They came out really well, but the spice mix was very mild. I had no complaints from my taste testers, though several noted the ‘pleasant but mild’ spice.
Prince Albert’s Pudding, c.1860 [U DDHO/19/8]
Written by Claire Weatherall, archivist
Although the book from which this recipe comes is dated 1860, some of the recipes, like this one, have earlier origins. The original recipe is thought to be by Eliza Acton. It first appeared in ‘Modern Cookery for Private Families’, which was compiled in 1845. This recipe shouldn’t be confused with another Prince Albert inspired recipe for Plum Pudding. The Prince Albert Plum Pudding also appeared in Eliza Acton’s recipe book under the heading ‘Christmas Pudding’.
As you can see from the photograph of the recipe, there isn’t much by way of method. So, I improvised by using the ‘measure it out and chuck it all in a mixing bowl’ approach. There was no measurement for the cinnamon and mace so I ‘guestimated’ half a teaspoon of cinnamon and a teaspoon of mace. Not being able to find mace whilst buying the ingredients I had to substitute it for ground mixed spice, which I already had in my cupboard.
Once the ingredients were mixed, I buttered the pudding basins. I divided the mixture in two, as I only had small basins, and layered the bottom with candied peel. Next, I added the mixture and then came the actual cooking process.
And it is here that it might have gone a bit wrong. After three and a half hours of steaming the puddings on an electric hob they still hadn’t cooked through. I decided to finish them in the microwave (not historically accurate I know but it was late and I wanted to sleep). Unfortunately, they came out overcooked and quite dry.
Colleagues were very polite and tasted my attempts. All who were brave enough to taste the pudding noted that the flavours were great. One colleague made the helpful suggestion that custard might help with the dryness issue!
Baked Apple Pudding, c.1820 [U DDHO/19/5]
Written by Verity Minniti, archives assistant
I chose a recipe for Baked Apple Pudding, which dates from around 1820. As you can see from the picture of the original recipe, there is limited advice for the modern cook on the exact method of preparation.
Consequently, I did some further research and found other contemporary recipes for Baked Apple Pudding online. These really helped when it came to the cooking! As no type of apple was specified, I decided on Granny Smiths. I thought the sharp taste of the Granny Smiths would be a good balance to the sweetness of the pudding. Also, I discovered that cooking apples hadn’t been developed by 1820. The number of eggs in the original recipe also alarmed me a little. When looking at similar recipes it seemed that 6 eggs was a standard amount. So I decided to use just the 6 eggs and not add a further 3 whites.
Having seen other recipes suggesting serving the pudding in a ‘pastry dish’, I chose to bake some of the mixture in a pastry case and some in a normal glass dish. Having also needed to estimate the oven temperature, I was pleasantly surprised when both attempts turned out rather well!
All in all, I had a great time cooking the pudding, even if there were a lot of fingers crossed hoping it would turn out ok! Oh, and all at Hull History Centre seemed to enjoy eating the puddings.
Gingerbread, c.1777 [U DDHO/19/2]
Written by Verity Minniti, archives assistant (she really loved this campaign!)
To celebrate the Hull Fair and Bonfire Night season, I thought it would be only fitting to make some gingerbread.
I selected a recipe in a book dating from around 1777. This particular example caught my eye, as it was very different to the gingerbread recipes I had tried before.
As you can see from the picture of the recipe, this gingerbread contains black treacle, cream and brandy! The recipe was fairly detailed, considering it’s age, and provided me with clear weights for each ingredient. I even had a something of a method to work with!
However, I still had to estimate the oven temperature, cooking time and amount of flour. Luckily, my estimations were correct and the gingerbread turned out really well. However, colleagues were disappointed that the cooking process had evaporated the alcohol from the brandy… probably for the best!
Over to you…
Think these resources could help you with your studies, research or learning development? Email us firstname.lastname@example.org for a chat or to make an appointment to use them at Hull History Centre.
With just a few days to go, we’re starting to get that Christmas feeling at Hull University Archives! So we’ve been looking through the collections for references to Christmases past. These are some of the things we found…
Send a card
To get us started, here’s a Christmas card printed by our University for the year 1946. The ‘Donald’ who sent this card was a former student, so we can presume that these cards were available for purchase in much the same way Uni branded merchandise is sold by the Student Union today.
Receive a card
A much more visually interesting Christmas card from 1868 next. This one was sent to William Mortimer Baines by his son Henry Verdon Baines.
Order the turkey (or nut roast!)
A slightly left of field offering here, perhaps relating to Christmas dinner…. This is a draft agreement stating the terms under which Henry Southerne was able to rent a house and land in Everingham from John Rushworth. As well as paying a monetary rent, Southerne was responsible for providing Rushworth with a ‘fat hen’ every Christmas. Not something your modern student landlord asks for!
Deck the halls
Whilst we are on the subject of land ownership, this letter is an extremely contrite apology sent by Lady Constance Lawley of The Villa, Escrick, to Mrs Baines of Bell Hall on Boxing Day. It appears Lady Lawley trespassed on the Baines’ land in order to collect ivy to decorate her house for Christmas, scaring their game in the process.
Attend a service
Order of service for Christmas services held at the Church of the Holy Sacrament, Arras, on the Western Front in 1917
Write thank you notes
After the presents come the thank you notes. This one is from a daughter to her mother thanking her for the gift of a writing pad and fountain pen. The daughter would grow up to become a successful author.
And finally, a mix of Christmas cheer and bah-humbug in this memorandum from former University of Hull librarian Philip Larkin:
On behalf of the University Archives team, we hope you have a restful Christmas break and we’ll see you in the New Year!