Monthly Archives: March 2016

End of the Crimean War

Today marks 160 years since the end of the Crimean War, the most important Great Power conflict fought between the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the outbreak of World War One in 1914.

The war took place mainly on the Crimean Peninsula between an alliance of Britain, France, Turkey and Sardinia on one side, and Russia on the other. Beginning in 1853, the immediate cause of the conflict resulted from religious tensions in the Middle East, including a dispute between Russia and France over the privileges of the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches in the Holy Land. The Holy Land was then part of the Ottoman Empire ruled by Turkey and Tsar Nicholas I demanded that the Turks resolve the dispute in favour of the Orthodox Church. Nicholas’ demands, however, were not met, leading to the mobilisation of Russian forces against Turkey.

‘Siege of Sebastopol – General View’, Illustrated London News, 18 November 1854 [quarto per A]

‘Siege of Sebastopol – General View’, Illustrated London News, 18 November 1854 [quarto per A]

Turkey, by this time, was beginning to lose its grip on its empire and both Britain and France were concerned about Russian expansion and the potential danger posed to their trade routes. Turkey declared war on Russia on 5 October 1853, in response to initial Russian operations. The following month the Russian Black Sea fleet destroyed a Turkish squadron at Sinope, on Turkey’s Black Sea coast. The British and French responded by aligning themselves with Turkey and both declared war on Russia in March 1854.

An allied army of over 60,000 British, French and Turkish troops was initially stationed in Turkey, ready to defend Istanbul from attack. In a letter from Major Edward Wellesley to his wife, Annot, dated 4 May 1854, he complains of the inexperience of staff and attendant confusion of arrangements as the British and French forces set up their bases in the Bosphorus:

A number of our Artillery Transports are hourly arriving and are stationed about 4 miles from here, the bustle and confusion attendant on all these arrivals are immense more particularly as all the staff nearly are new and there is too much discussion and too little actual work. You can imagine I have had enough to do and undo.
[MS 63 A904/4/18]

In order to strengthen their naval supremacy, the allies adopted a plan to land in the Crimea and conduct an all-out attack on Russian forces in the region, with the aim of seizing the naval base at Sebastopol and destroying the fleet and dockyard. In mid-September 1854, the joint allied invasion force landed at Kalamatia Bay. In order to advance on Sebastopol, the allies first had to cross the River Alma and attack heavily defended Russian positions on higher ground. With the advantage of new rifled muskets, together with superior skill and numbers, the allies were able to conduct a powerful offensive and force the Russians to flee their positions.

However, they failed to pursue the Russians directly, losing an opportunity to easily capture Sebastopol. This provided time for the Russians to fortify the city and stage two flank attacks. The first of these took place on 25 October, with Russian forces moving towards the British position at Balaclava. The Battle of Balaclava is best remembered for the infamous ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ in which miscommunication in the chain of command led to the British Light Brigade conducting a frontal assault against well-fortified Russian artillery. The brigade suffered heavy casualties under a bombardment of direct fire. While criticised as a major blunder at the time, the charge also came to symbolise the valour and bravery of the British cavalry. The result of the battle was indecisive, with the Russians failing to break through the British lines. A further attempt was made to defeat the British with a surprise attack at Inkerman on 5 November 1854. The intense fighting resulted in massive losses, mostly on the Russian side, and ended with the allied troops continuing to hold their ground.

‘Charge of the Light Cavalry, at Balaclava’, Illustrated London News, 23 December 1854 [quarto per A]

‘Charge of the Light Cavalry, at Balaclava’, Illustrated London News, 23 December 1854 [quarto per A]

Soon after the Battle of Inkerman, winter set in. The winter of 1854 was a harrowing one for the troops. Not only were living conditions extremely poor, but medical supplies in the field were also inadequate. Media reporting from the front line highlighted the dreadful conditions and the level of maladministration in the army which led to widespread public outrage.

Even before the first significant battle of the war the allied forces found their numbers depleted by a wave of fever and cholera, as is noted by Major Edward Wellesley in a letter to his sister-in-law, Mary, on 25 August 1854:

The troops have suffered much from fever and cholera and the French army most dreadfully, we have lost many officers and soldiers and the fleet has also suffered materially… There is no doubt this is the most unhealthy place at this season of the year, in fact the Russians lost half their army when they besieged the town in 1828 and we are fortunate in escaping as we have…
[MS 63 A904/4/34]

Having twice acted as Foreign Secretary between 1830 and 1851, Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, was serving as Home Secretary when the Crimean War broke out. As such, he had limited control over British policy during the lead up to the war. In a memorandum, date 20 January 1855, Palmerston writes of the “present lamentable condition of our army in the Crimea” and places the blame on those in authority. He suggests that they should be removed with the exception of Lord Fitzroy James Henry Somerset, first Baron Raglan, despite his having shown himself to be “deficient” in caring for his officers and troops. Palmerston continues by declaring that if a remedy is not found, the reinforcements would be “victims sent to the slaughter” and that “defeat and disgrace must be the inevitable result”. He also criticises the decision to attack Sebastopol, believing that the “first thing then to be done is to put the army into a good condition”. [MS 62 Broadlands Archives BR22(i)/1/96]

The public outcry eventually led to a number of organisations and individuals setting out for the war zone to minister to the troops. Among the nurses was Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. She emphasised the need for well trained nurses and clean hospitals to aid in the recovery of the sick and wounded. Following the war she continued to campaign tirelessly to improve health standards.

In the spring of 1855 the allies, now joined by the Sardinians, resumed their siege of Sebastopol. The siege continued until September 1855 when, having defended the city for almost a year, the Russians finally evacuated. By now Palmerston had become Prime Minister and was involved in negotiating the terms of peace. The Crimean War ended in the spring of 1856 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on 30 March.

In his diary entry, dated 31 March 1856, Anthony Ashley Cooper, seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, writes:

Yesterday Sunday. Peace was signed and the intelligence sent by electric telegraph. The guns announced it to the people. Let us bless the Lord who has brought us out of so many and great dangers, who has shown us such unspeakable and undeserved mercies, and who has taught us how and why to thank Him! May it be a true peace, a lasting peace, a fruitful peace. May it give double energy and double capacity to our thoughts, desires and efforts.
[MS 62 Broadlands Archives SHA/PD/7]

Alongside the Palmerston Papers, Special Collections houses a range of other material providing perspectives on the Crimean War. These include the diaries of Anthony Ashley Cooper, seventh Earl of Shaftesbury (MS 62); the letters of the Major Edward Wellesley (MS 63); a diary and notebook of General Sir John St. George, who served as an artillery officer in the Crimea (MS 59); and the Crimea journal of Henry Parnell, fourth Baron Congleton (MS 64). Parnell joined the Buffs or the Third Regiment of Foot in 1855 at the age of 16 years of age. He served with them in the Crimea after the fall of Sebastapol in 1856 and his journal presents a very different picture from the records of officers in a combat situation.

Celebrating Easter

Easter Sunday falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. It marks the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and is considered the most important day in the Christian calendar and is the most joyously celebrated.

Easter card [MS 62 Broadlands Archives MB2/F1/43/1]

Easter card [MS 62 Broadlands Archives MB2/F1/43/1]

The celebration of Easter differs across the world. To this day it remains an important festival in Latin America, but here Alfred Salinger, in a letter to his brother Samuel, gives his observations on processions and religious observances in Paraguay during Easter week back in the late nineteenth century:

“During Holy week (Easter) I accepted an invitation from a friend of mine in Asuncion to visit his estate and as one cannot do any business during that week on account of the religious observances which include burning effigies of Judas Iscariot and other ancient notabilities in the principal streets besides other religious processions….”

[MS 209 A1810/1/3 17 April 1896]

Many people celebrate Easter Sunday by decorating, exchanging or searching for eggs. The oldest traditions used dyed eggs, but this has transmuted into the modern one of chocolate eggs. There has remained a strong tradition of decorating eggs in Eastern European cultures. Eggs are not simply dyed, but might be decorated with batik, applique or carving. Taken to quite another level, the House of Fabergé produced beautifully decorated eggs of gold and precious stones for the Russian royal family.

The tradition of sending Easter cards developed from the late nineteenth century. The example above, sent by the Tsarina Alexandra of Russia to Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden, her lady in waiting, dating from 1915, depicts a Fabergé egg surrounded by yellow daisies

[MS 62 Broadlands Archives MB2/F1/43/1]

Centenary of the Easter Rising

This year marks the centenary of the Easter Rising.  This was an armed insurrection mounted by Irish republicans to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic. It took place over the Easter weekend – back in 1916 this was 24-29 April – Easter is a movable feast and it fell later in the year.


During the Easter Rising the rebel headquarters was the General Post Office (GPO) on Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street).

The Special Collections hold material relating to Ireland spanning five centuries.  This image comes from one of Hartley Library’s rare books Ireland: its scenery, character (vol. 2) by a husband and wife team, Anna Maria and Samuel Carter Hall published in London, in the early 1840s.

If we delve into the Broadlands archives we find, among the papers of the Tory politician Colonel Wilfrid Ashley, Baron Mount Temple, correspondence relating to those active in the uprising. General Sir John Grenfell Maxwell was sent to Dublin under orders from the British Government to quell the Rising and pacify Ireland. He writes to Ashley a private secretary in the War Office the following year about Constance Markievicz, the revolutionary nationalist, suffragette and socialist:

I have little doubt that she exercised a personal attraction and appealed to the emotional side of many young men who joined up with her, and took part in the rebellion who might otherwise not have done so […] She was tried and convicted, had her sex been different the sentence would have probably been confirmed. The kindest thing is to look on her as mad, but dangerous.  [MS 62 BR 77/11]

Markievicz had been sentenced to death but this was commuted to life imprisonment on account of her gender. She was released from prison in 1917 as part of a general amnesty; in 1919 she became the first Irish female Cabinet Minister as Minister for Labour. She died, of peritonitis, in 1927.

Mary Gilmartin from Creevykeel wrote to Wilfred Ashley in June 1916 thanking him for the character references Ashley gave to “the boys”, including her own arrested during the rebellion. Seven have been released and eight have been sent to Bala, Wales; she hopes Ashley will help to have them released:

They [have] done nothing and its terrible to think the Government are keeping them so long; the most of the boys are the support of their widow mothers.  [MS 62 BR150/12/14]

Ashley was a unionist and active in promoting opposition to the creation of an Irish free state; maybe he felt that young men from his family’s Co Sligo estates must have been arrested unjustly.


Rebel forces took up positions elsewhere, including at the Four Courts. The Four Courts building was later occupied by Republican forces during the Irish Civil War in 1922. The building suffered heavy damage during the subsequent bombardment with a massive explosion in the west wing of the building resulting in the destruction of the Irish Public Record Office.

More than 2,000 were killed or injured and the leaders were executed.  The Rising is often seen as a key catalyst in the foundation of the Republic of Ireland.

The Special Collections contains two substantial collections of papers relating to the Irish estates owned by the Temple and the Parnell families. As well as a rich source for the study of estate management, these two collections provide a wealth of material relating to the politics, social and cultural history of Ireland. Further Irish political material can be found in the semi-official papers of the first Duke of Wellington, who was Chief Secretary, 1807-9, and Prime Minister, 1828-30. Two other small collections, those of the Earls of Mornington and Richard Wellesley, first Marquis Wellesley, contain complementary material on estate management. For further information about all these collections, please see our research guide.

Celebrating the contribution of women

Held annually on 8 March, International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women throughout history and across nations.

The Special Collections at the University of Southampton holds material for a range of women whose contribution in many spheres is worthy of mention. For this blog we will focus on Sarah Laski (née Frankenstein). Born in Manchester in 1869, Sarah Laski married Nathan Laski in 1889, becoming the mother of two sons – Neville John, the future QC, and Harold, who became Professor of Political Science at the University of London – and a daughter Mabel. Her husband played a prominent part in Manchester Jewish life and its welfare and Sarah Laski was to dedicate considerable time and effort throughout her lifetime to social work in the city of her birth.

Mrs Laski, 1933

Mrs Laski, 1933

Initial work confined to Jewish charities, such as the Ladies Visiting Committee and Soup Kitchen, but in 1914 Sarah Laski became a member of the Manchester Board of Guardians, and was its chairman, 1926-9. From 1926 onwards, she served as a member of the Manchester City Council representing Cheetham ward. She was elected an alderman in 1942.

Sarah Laski was remembered as one of Manchester’s “foremost citizens”, for her “fine record of [40 yrears of] quiet, unselfish, public service”” and her “wide and understanding sympathy with the problems of poverty.” [MS 134 AJ 33/51]

She was particularly interested in the welfare of women and children, in youth and in education. She was an advocate of education opportunities for women, urging girls, in an address in October 1916 to “learn to fit ourselves for the new era that is slowly but surely dawning” [MS 134 AJ 33/39].

The University of Southampton will be hosting a number of events to mark international women’s day and details can be found at the following links:

University blog –

Events page –

80th Anniversary of the first flight of the Spitfire

The first flight of the prototype Spitfire took place on 5 March 1936 from Southampton Airport. It was designed by Reginald Joseph Mitchell, chief designer at Supermarine Aviation Works in Woolston, as a short-range, high-performance interceptor aircraft and was to become the most iconic aircraft of the Second World War.

Spitfires lined up on the fields at Tully Hall in Imphal, 15 December 1944 [MB2/N12]

Spitfires lined up on the fields at Tully Hall in Imphal, 15 December 1944 [MB2/N12]

R.J. Mitchell was born on 20 May 1895 in Butt Lane, near Stoke-on-Trent. He attended Hanley High School where he first became interested in aviation and spent much of his free time designing and building model aeroplanes. He left school at the age of 16 and began an apprenticeship with Kerr Stuart & Co., a locomotive engineering works at Stoke, where he trained in the engine workshop. Following his apprenticeship he progressed to the drawing office at the firm, during which time he attended evening classes in engineering and mathematics.

In 1917, at the age of 22, he joined the Supermarine Aviation Works where he acted as personal assistant to Hubert Scott Paine, the owner of the company. He advanced quickly and within three years of joining the company was made chief designer and engineer. During his time at Supermarine he designed and developed a range of aircraft. As the company specialised in flying-boat manufacture, these included racing seaplanes such as the record-breaking Supermarine S.6. However, his greatest legacy was to be the legendary Supermarine Spitfire.

The aircraft’s ground-breaking design and superior specifications gave the British a distinct advantage against the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain. The design also meant that the plane could be upgraded with new engines and armaments as the war progressed. As a result, the Spitfire came to hold a special place in the hearts of a generation living through uncertain times and became synonymous with British determination and resistance during the war. However, Mitchell did not live to see the success of the Spitfire. He died from rectal cancer in 1937, at the age of 42, and was buried four days later at South Stoneham Cemetery.

Spitfire fighter escort photographed from “Sister Ann” flying through Monsoon weather to Imphal, 9/10 September 1944 [MB2/N12]

Spitfire fighter escort photographed from “Sister Ann” flying through Monsoon weather to Imphal, 9/10 September 1944 [MB2/N12]

During the Blitz, the Southampton docks and the Supermarine works were key targets for air raids and the main reason why the city became such a major focus of attack. The Supermarine works at Woolston and Itchen were bombed in raids on 24 and 26 September 1940. Following the bombing, manufacturing was dispersed to sites across the South of England, while management operated out of the Polygon Hotel in Southampton and the design department occupied huts at the University. Soon after, the headquarters was moved to Hursley Park, near Winchester, where it remained into the post-war period.

While the Spitfire remains the iconic British fighter of the Second World War, it has taken a long time for its inventor to be properly honoured. Memorials commemorating Southampton’s links with Mitchell can be found both across the city and at the University. Examples of the University’s commemoration of Mitchell include the Spitfire Mitchell Memorial Scholarship [MS 1/3/476/213], awarded for research in the field of aeronautics, and the R.J.Mitchell Wind Tunnel.

UAV in the R.J. Mitchell wind tunnel

UAV in the R.J. Mitchell wind tunnel

The R.J. Mitchell Wind Tunnel, originally the Farnborough No. 2 tunnel, was built and used at the Royal Aircraft Establishment in the 1920s and donated to the University in the 1980s. Over the years the wind tunnel has been used extensively by industries including motorsport, automotive, aerospace, marine, maritime and performance sport. Today the tunnel serves many purposes including commercial testing, research and teaching.

The Annual R.J. Mitchell Memorial Lecture Series was established by the Southampton Branch of the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1954. A special extension of the series came in the form of the 40th Anniversary Mitchell Memorial Symposium which was held at the University on Saturday 6 March 1976. Along with papers delivered by speakers who actually participated in the Spitfire story, the event included a Spitfire flying display at the College of Air Training, Hamble.

For those in the Southampton and Solent area for the 80th anniversary, the Solent Sky Museum showcases the international importance of aviation history in the region. It houses over 20 airframes on display from the golden age of aviation, including the Spitfire and the Supermarine S.6. The museum will be open on 5 March for special anniversary celebrations. Subject to weather and air traffic, the museum has also arranged for two Spitfires to perform a flypast over Mayflower Park in Southampton to mark the occasion. For more information see:

Further information on R.J. Mitchell can be found at: