Monthly Archives: April 2015

Treasures of ecological history… the Southampton Historical River Data Archive

To mark Earth Day we have chosen to publish a piece from our upcoming newsletter on the Historical River Data Archive written by Terry Langford, Visiting Professor at the Centre for Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Engineering and the Environment.

The River Trent upstream of Burton on Trent, 2010

The River Trent upstream of Burton on Trent, 2010

“On the day the photograph was taken in 2010, the river water was clear, showing waving water weeds on a clean gravel bed. Large numbers of brilliant blue Beautiful Demoiselle damsel-flies (Calopteryx splendens) were flitting over the water and landing on the marginal vegetation prior to mating. An impressive sight for any conservationist or ecologist. Standing on exactly the same spot almost 50 years previously I had seen a flow of black, foetid, fishless water with a layer of foam up to 1m thick in places. A hand-net sample of the river bed produced nothing but a Gordian knot of writhing bright red sludgeworms, the product of millions of gallons of poorly treated sewage and untreated industrial effluents from Birmingham, the Black Country and Stoke on Trent all many miles upstream. Biological diversity was virtually nil.

The change over 50 years was almost unbelievable, but how had it come about and what were the processes involved? Although there were a few scientific papers from the 1950s and 60s, the processes of change had not been well described, mainly because there appeared to be no access to early data. However, as a result of some personal enquiries, a treasure trove of raw data was located, in the shed of one of the biologists who had worked on the rivers at that time. The hoard consisted of over 22,000 individual records of biological surveys in the River Trent Catchment all carefully organised in date order, plus reports and contemporaneous field notes. The material was retrieved very rapidly by staff in the Centre for Environmental Sciences.

Thanks to their foresight and the willing and enthusiastic assistance of the staff at the University of Southampton Archives and Manuscripts, these raw data from biological and chemical surveys, which were about to be ditched by the Agencies, were saved from destruction and the individual records, the products of thousands of man-hours work, are now safely stored and catalogued for academic analysis, future management planning and future work by students. In addition, similar data for eastern rivers were sent to the archive by the Environment Agency in East Anglia, again some dating back to the late 1950s and early 1960s. These data form the longest run of raw river ecology data in the England and perhaps in Europe. Added to this are reports and grey literature that augment the story of the cleaning up of rivers in the English east and west midlands.

Diagram showing pollution and biological conditions observed during 1951 in the River Trent and tributary streams, from MS 347 Historical River Data Archive

Diagram showing pollution and biological conditions observed during 1951 in the River Trent and tributary streams, from MS 347 Historical River Data Archive

The records kept so carefully catalogued and preserved in the Archives and Manuscripts based in the Hartley Library have so far formed the basis of two book chapters, one academic paper, eight MSc projects with a ninth in progress. Most of the work has been done with close collaboration and help by staff of the Environment Agency. As a regular user of the archive, I have found everyone there so helpful and professional both with me and the students. We in CES, intend to develop more work with the Archives and exploit, we hope, their contacts with other archives in Britain and perhaps in Europe. The work on the recovery of British rivers will, we hope, be of great assistance to countries such as China and India who have severe river pollution problems at the present time, mostly caused by exactly the same economic,technical and socio-political history as those of 1950s industrial Britain. There are other archive data round the country that could be linked with the Southampton Archives including those from the Environment Agency and local library archives. For example, much of the peripheral data for our studies came from the Birmingham archives, recently rehoused in the city and from the Lincoln City Archives. The work on rivers is based on the old adage that “those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it”. The return to the black, foetid fishless river in Britain cannot be contemplated. “From there to here” will be a pattern, we hope, for all the newer industrialised countries.”

Rundown of the Sixth Wellington Congress

With our specially designed bicentenary delegate bags stuffed, and some early birds arriving in Southampton on Thursday afternoon, the scene was set for Wellington’s World, the sixth Congress on the life and times of Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington.  2015 is a special year: not only is it 20 years since the University hosted the first Wellington Congress but this year we mark the 200th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo.

In total we had around 80 delegates with us over the three days.  Many, naturally, from Southampton, but people travelled from all over the UK as well as from as far afield as America and Australia.  The Congress was situated mostly at the University’s Avenue Campus with residential delegates able to stay at the nearby Highfield Hall of Residence. His Grace the Duke of Wellington opened proceedings and attended sessions on the Friday afternoon.

His Grace the Duke of Wellington opening proceedings.

His Grace the Duke of Wellington opening proceedings.

Delegates were offered a programme of 25 papers; on some days the itinerary was so full we were required to run parallel sessions.  Papers were wide ranging and focused on a variety of topics covering both Wellington’s military career and the battle of Waterloo as well as political, social and literary topics.

The Congress included four keynote papers.   Will Hay from Mississippi State University kicked off proceedings with his paper “Architects of victory: the partnership of Wellington, Castlereagh and Liverpool in winning Britain’s first great war” which discussed this unappreciated partnership between the military commanders and their political masters.

“Strategy, seapower and supplies: the British government’s resources in support of Wellington and the European allies, 1808-1815” was the topic addressed by Roger Knight of the Institute of Historical Research, London.  He considered the extent to which supply shortages were beyond the government’s control and how the resources of the Royal Navy were heavily stretched in keeping trade routes open.

Rory Muir and Charles Esdaile at a private view of the Wellington & Waterloo exhibition in the Hartley Library.

Rory Muir and Charles Esdaile at a private view of the Wellington & Waterloo exhibition in the Hartley Library.

Rory Muir, who is the author of a new two volume biography of Wellington, showed the depth and breadth of his knowledge on the vast amount research that has been conducted on the Duke’s life and career through his historiographical review “The Vicissitudes of Fame: Wellington’s Posthumous Reputation, 1852-2015”.  He discussed how and why Wellington’s reputation as a military leader and politician has evolved in the years since his death.

The Congress closed with a paper from Chris Woolgar who used his extensive knowledge and experience as a professor of History and Archival Studies to give an in-depth analysis of the under-studied Waterloo dispatch, held at the British Library.  We hope to publish a selection of papers in our Wellington Studies series.

On the Friday evening local group The Madding Crowd performed a programme of music specially selected for the bicentenary. Lively, amusing and informative “With Wellington we’ll go” looked at the Duke of Wellington’s roles in Hampshire, at Stratfield Saye, as Lord Lieutenant, and as Freeman of Winchester. Music included hymns and psalms connected with events in his life, and glees and songs written or performed in his honour.  We were also treated to square and Morris dancing.

Dancing at the With Wellington We'll Go concert on Friday 10 April. Photo: Alan Weeks

Dancing at the “With Wellington We’ll Go” concert on Friday 10 April. Photo: Alan Weeks

Five current and former Southampton History students entertained and educated us with their BBC Battles, Waterloo 200 presentation.  This was produced as a sequel The Battle of the Day: Salamanca 200, a collaborative production by seven undergraduates from Southampton University, which was created to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Salamanca in 2012.  This skit television programme was set in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Waterloo and included a BBC – that is, British Battles Corporation – news report, BattleGear, which compared  weaponry, in the manner of a certain car programme, and Battle of the Day where the possible future of the Allied campaign was assessed.

The delegates were treated to the first public viewing of the exhibition Wellington and Waterloo: “the tale is in every Englishman’s mouth”.  Original material from the Wellington Archive was showcased in the Special Collections Gallery and delegates were invited to browse and socialise with a glass of wine.

The catering was excellent throughout the three days with the highlight being the splendid 4-course conference dinner on Saturday night.

We are already making plans for the Seventh Wellington Congress which we anticipate will take place in 2018 or 2019 to commemorate the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle and the 250th anniversary of Wellington’s birth.

Waterloo 200: bicentenary events

The Sixth Wellington Congress takes place this week and is part of a number of activities and events organised by the University of Southampton to mark the bicentenary of the battle of Waterloo, including:


Wellington and Waterloo: “the tale is every Englishman’s mouth”
13 April – 19 June, 13-24 July 2015

The Battle of Waterloo, fought on Sunday 18 June 1815, between allied forces and the French forces commanded by Napoleon, brought to a close more than two decades of conflict. Drawing heavily on the Wellington Archive at the University, this exhibition captures the final act of these wars from the perspective of the Duke of Wellington. It considers the diplomatic background to the military campaign of 1815, the battle itself, its aftermath and the occupation of France and the commemoration of both Wellington and Waterloo. It includes descriptions of the battle in the official reports of Wellington’s commanders, and a poignant letter from Wellington to Lord Aberdeen informing him of the death of his brother Sir Alexander Gordon, one of Wellington’s aides-de-camp. Amongst the items relating to the commemoration of Waterloo and Wellington are the catalogue of the Waterloo Museum, an establishment opened in the immediate aftermath of the battle, exhibiting memorabilia, and a nautilus shell, engraved by C.H.Wood, dating from the 1850s, which contains an image of Wellington on one side and St George on the other.

The Special Collections Gallery is situated on Level 4 of the Hartley Library, University of Southampton. The Library is on the east side of the University Road, on the University’s Highfield campus.

During exhibitions the Special Collections Gallery is open to the public Monday to Friday 1000 to 1600. Admission is free. Visitors may be asked for proof of identity by Library Reception staff.

MOOC: Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo
8 June 2015 (for three weeks)

Wellington and the Battle of Waterloo MOOC

Led by Chris Woolgar, Professor of History and Archival Studies, and Karen Robson, Head of Archives, at the University of Southampton, this free online course will use the Wellington Archive as its basis to discover more about one of the great events of the nineteenth century from the perspective of the Duke of Wellington.

For more information and to register go to:

Special Collections blog: the road to Waterloo

Road to Waterloo

Regular readers of the blog will be familiar with our recent posts focusing on some of the key dates on the road to the battle of Waterloo. Using material from the Special Collections, including the Wellington Archive, future posts will also focus on the aftermath of the battle leading to the restoration of Louis XVIII.

To follow Wellington go to:

Sixth Wellington Congress
10-12 April 2015


Although registration has now closed for the Congress, it is still possible to purchase tickets for “With Wellington we’ll go” a concert of music from the period by the Madding Crowd at the Turner Sims Concert Hall.

For information and to book go to:

The road to Waterloo: Week 7 (6 – 12 Apr 2015)

Battle of Occhiobello
The Battle of Occhiobello took place on 8 and 9 April 1815. It was a turning point in the Neapolitan War which began on 15 March when Joachim Murat, King of Naples, declared war on the Austrian Empire.

70 Days to Waterloo

Murat was brother-in-law to Napoleon Bonaparte who installed him as King of Naples and Sicily in 1808. Following the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Leipzig in October 1813, Murat began to distance himself from Napoleon and signed a treaty with the Austrians in January 1814 as a means of protecting his throne. However, as the Congress of Vienna progressed he became increasingly aware of the European powers’ intention to remove him and return the Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily to their pre-Napoleonic rulers. On hearing of Napoleon’s return to France in March 1815, Murat aligned himself with the Bonapartist cause and made his declaration of war against Austria.

After issuing the Rimini proclamation on 30 March, inciting all Italian nationalists to join his cause and rise in revolt against their Austrian occupiers, Murat and his force of 40,000 men advanced towards Bologna. On 3 April, the day after capturing Bologna, Murat’s Neapolitan army defeated an outnumbered Austrian force on the banks on the Panaro River.

In a letter to Lord Castlereagh, the British Foreign Secretary, on 5 April, Wellington voices his concern over the possible implications of Murat’s threat, stating: “As for my part, I am convinced […] that, if we do not destroy Murat, and that immediately, he will save Bonaparte.” [MS 61 Wellington Papers 1/457/1]

However, Murat’s proclamation of 30 March did not have the intended effect and he received little support from the Italian populace. Despite this, on 8 April, he attempted to cross the bridge over the Po River at Occhiobello and enter Austrian controlled territory. By now, the Austrians had been reinforced and after repeated attempts to cross the river the Neapolitan’s were finally repulsed. By the end of the second day, Murat was compelled to retreat.

In a letter to Wellington, on 21 April, Richard Trench, second Earl of Clancarty, writes: “The Italian news is good: Murat retreated to Bologna, Ferrara débloqué. The only fear here stated is lest the Neapolitan force should retire so far that the Austrians, now reinforced, will not be able to have a fair fight with them in the open country.” [MS 61 Wellington Papers 1/455/29]

With the morale of his troops diminished, Murat would now have to establish a defensive position and prepare for the inevitable Austrian counterattack.

The road to Waterloo: Week 6 (30 Mar – 5 Apr 2015)

Wellington arrives in Brussels to take command of the Anglo-allied forces
The Treaty of Vienna was agreed on 25 March 1815, with Austria, Russia, Great Britain and Prussia each committing to put 150,000 men in the field against Napoleon. Wellington was commissioned to take command of the Allied forces and left Vienna on the morning of 29 March, arriving in Brussels on the evening of 4 April.

75 Days to Waterloo

In 1814 each of the Allied powers had agreed to keep 75,000 men on the Continent until a final settlement had been reached. However, over the course of the subsequent year, a significant portion of Britain’s forces, including those that had served with Wellington in the Peninsula, had either been disbanded or sent to America. As such, by the beginning of 1815, Britain had closer to 36,000 men in the Low Countries (more than a third of who were Hanoverians), with the troops being of generally poor quality.

Despite additional reinforcements and supplies being arranged prior to his arrival in Brussels, Wellington found the army under his command to be a far cry from the 150,000 men Britain had committed to. In a letter sent to Lord Bathurst, the British Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, on 6 April, Wellington voices his dissatisfaction with the situation, stating: “It appears to me that you have not taken in England a clear view of your situation, that you do not think war certain, and that a great effort must be made, if it is hoped that it shall be short […] as it is, we are in a bad way.” [MS 61 Wellington Papers 1/457/5]

Wellington’s complaints were heard and a significant number of additional men were raised in the subsequent two months. As both Britain and Ireland were stripped of their garrisons, a provision was made for Britain to pay for troops supplied by other powers through treaties of subsidy.

However, it was to prove an anxious time for the Allied powers. As preparations and negotiations were still underway, there were repeated reports of French movement on the frontier, together with warnings of an impending attack on Belgium. On the same day Wellington arrived in Brussels, Napoleon had written a letter to the European sovereigns announcing his restoration to the imperial throne, and expressing his desire for peace. The proposal was rejected and the bearers of the letter arrested. War had become unavoidable.