Monthly Archives: June 2016

Celebrating our meadows and grasses

National Meadows Day, which takes place on the first Saturday of July, has become an annual event to celebrate our meadows. There are over 100 events planned across the UK on Saturday 2 July providing the chance to visit meadows and raising awareness of this overlooked habitat. For further information go to:

While it is not uncommon to find pressed flowers within the pages of an older book, finding books in which plant specimens were part of the original publication is relatively unusual. The Perkins Agricultural Library is fortunate in having seven such books of dried grasses, ranging in date from 1790 to 1896. The publications resulted from the ongoing drive to improve the quality of pastures in order to support more livestock; farmers needed to be able to identify pasture grasses accurately and for this purpose dried plant specimens were preferred to botanical illustrations.

Only one author mentions in any detail the practical problems involved in producing such a book. In his introduction to Natural Illustrations of the British Grasses (Bath, 1846), which contained sixty-two specimens, Frederick Hanham wrote that 62,000 plants had to be collected and prepared, with half as many again to ensure successful specimens. Not surprisingly he described the undertaking as involving “no slight or ordinary anxiety and exertion”.

Rye-grass or Lolium Perenne in Frederick Hanham Natural Illustrations of the British Grasses (Bath, 1846) Perkins f. SB197

Rye-grass or Lolium Perenne in Frederick Hanham Natural Illustrations of the British Grasses (Bath, 1846) Perkins f. SB197

Broadly similar in aim, the books differ in approach. In John Milne & Sons’ British Farmer’s Plant Portfolio (1896) there are only a few pages of written description, but the grass specimens are superb and well displayed. David Moore in Concise Notices of British Grasses Best Suited to Agriculture (1851) also includes tables of the quantities of seeds of different grasses required for various purposes, whilst Hanham’s Natural Illustrations of the British Grasses (1846) is an altogether different undertaking. As well as describing the plants, he also includes “instructive and appropriate extracts from the best authors”, and hopes that the reader, through nature, may look to nature’s God.

Zig zag clover in John Milne & Sons’ British Farmer’s Plant Portfolio (1896) Perkins f. SB193

Zig zag clover in John Milne & Sons’ British Farmer’s Plant Portfolio (1896) Perkins f. SB193

Hortus Gramineus Woburnensis (1816) by George Sinclair is the only book of the seven to report the results of experiments involving grasses, in this case a comparison of the nutritive qualities of grasses sown on different soils. This lavish folio volume is also unusual in containing dried seeds as well as dried grasses.  In his introduction, Sinclair wrote that the scientific study of grasses had been neglected in favour of other branches of agriculture – exactly the same opinion being expressed by Milne some eighty years later.

We do hope you enjoy taking part in National Meadows Day and perhaps you will participate in events identifying some of the grasses on view in these neglected habitats.

World Refugee Day

Today is #WorldRefugeeDay and the start of @RefugeeWeek.  This UK-wide programme of arts, cultural and educational events and activities celebrates the contribution of refugees to the UK and promotes better understanding of why people seek sanctuary.

The University’s Special Collections documents stories of millions of refugees who have sought sanctuary in the UK from Spanish refugees seeking assistance from the first Duke of Wellington after fleeing their country in the 1820s, to those who have been victims of more recent wars.

For example, in 1922 Atlantic Park opened in Eastleigh, at the time one of the biggest transmigratory camps in the world. Its purpose was to bring migrants together in one place, provide them with better conditions and protect them from unscrupulous people. A large proportion of the people at the camp were Ukrainian Jewish refugees.


Booth in the interior of the hall at Atlantic Park, Eastleigh, with a number of the refugees in residence at the transit camp, 1920s [MS 311/53]

Conditions in the camp, however, were generally far from acceptable and deaths were not infrequent. Due to increasingly strict immigration laws, many refugees remained in the camp for longer than intended, unable to settle in a new, safer home.  A report on condition in the camp can be found in the minutes of the Executive Committee of the Union of Jewish Women. [MS 129/B/6 AJ 26]

The Kindertransport is perhaps one of the more famous humanitarian efforts of the Second World War.  Chief Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld – executive director of the Chief Rabbi’s Religious Emergency Council from its foundation in 1938 until 1946 – supported children coming to the UK in 1938 and was personally involved in escorting groups of Jewish children from the ghettos in Poland to Great Britain in 1946-7.


Polish refugees (oldest and youngest) brought to the UK by the Chief Rabbi’s Religious Emergency Council, c.1946 [MS 183/1006/1]

The archive (MS 183 section F) contains a great deal on the administration and organisation of CRREC’s work in the field of both the rescue and support of refugees, particularly child refugees, 1938-49.  For refugees brought over to Great Britain by the Council, for example, information can be found in the form of photographs, biographical profiles, correspondence and refugee fund assistance cards.  Landing cards and identity cards complement the block passport and other mass travel documents which exist for child refugees who travelled with the Council.

This collection is one of a number of archives relating to Jewish refugees in the 1930s and 1940s – detailing both the work of organisations and providing individual or personal accounts. Other collections include the Polish Jewish Refugee Fund (MS 190); papers of Diana Silberstein, 1936-46, a native of Sarajevo, who came to Britain as a refugee (MS93) and a typescript autobiography of Dr D.Fuerst, a refugee dentist from Nazi Austria (MS116/68).

The world is currently experiencing the largest refugee crisis of recent times and questions surrounding asylum and immigration are more topical than ever.  These stories – some inspiring, other distressing – must serve to provide some lessons from history.  This is undeniably an important part of the history of the United Kingdom which should be preserved and remembered.

Waterloo & MS 300: Peninsular War papers of S.G.P. Ward

Last year’s celebrations for the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo saw many commemorative events to mark the famous Allied victory of 18th June 1815. Conferences, lectures and new publications continued the historical debate on the history and significance of the Peninsular War. Waterloo has exerted a powerful influence on the public imagination for over 200 years – many contemporaries visited the battlefield as tourists, recording their experiences in works of art and literature. Souvenir engravings and maps, and exhibitions of paintings and artefacts relating to the battle, were popular at the time:

Chateau of Hougoumont

‘An entrance to the Chateau of Hougoumont: “It was here that the great battle of the 18th began…. the house was set fire to… and all the wounded perished in the flames.”’

The Barn at La Haye Sainte

‘The Barn at La Haye Sainte: “It was in this extensive building that more than 500 hundred limbs were amputated – what hospital of contemporary establishment can vie with it.”’

MS 300 A4011/16/2: sketches by Robert Hills of the ‘important scenes of action about the plains of Waterloo’, c. July 1815, published in The Illustrated London News, December 1945

These sketches are part of a series drawn by Robert Hills a few weeks after the battle. Note the slightly sensational captions which he has added to the scenes!

The Hill sketches were published in the Christmas 1945 edition of The Illustrated London News. A copy can be found in MS 300, the Peninsular War papers of Stephen George Peregrine Ward, military historian. These were donated to the University of Southampton along with his notable Peninsular War library. It is no coincidence that there was renewed interest in the study of the Napoleonic Wars in the post-WWII era: Mr Ward had served in Western Command during the Second World War, during which time he was introduced to the administrative problems of running a general staff and to the Murray papers in the National Library of Scotland. This, together with the acquisition of many of the Peninsular War items from the library of Sir Charles Oman, c. 1946, was the genesis of Ward’s work on the Peninsula, leading to his Oxford B.Litt. thesis, published as Wellington’s headquarters: a study of the administrative problems in the Peninsula, 1809-1814 (Oxford, 1957) and Wellington, (London, 1963).

Sir George Murray

Sir George Murray

MS 300 A4011/15/8ix: an engraving of Rt. Hon. Gen. Sir George Murray G.C.B., F.R.S., painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence, engraved by H.Meyer, published by Fisher, Son & Co., (London 1831)

We have recently catalogued an additional deposit of S.G.P. Ward’s papers held in the Special Collections at the University of Southampton. MS 300 A4011 includes a copy of his B.Litt. thesis and a number of his publications, articles and lectures. Ward was working on a biography of Major General Sir George Murray, Wellington’s Quartermaster General in the Peninsula. The work remained unfinished at his death, but Ward’s typescript draft – which includes complete chapters – as well as many of his research notes, form a valuable resource for historians. An acknowledged expert, Ward wrote the Oxford D.N.B. entry for Sir George Murray – which is current today.

Another useful part of this collection is the large number of photographic prints of portraits and paintings – both of Murray and his family, as well as of generals and military figures of different nationalities – from the Napoleonic period.

Ward acquired original manuscript material as well as copies and transcripts of archive sources relating to the Peninsular War. An unusual example is the Commissariat papers of Henry Whitmarsh c. 1812-14, (MS 351/7 A4237). These shed light on the logistical problems involved in moving large numbers of cattle between army depots in the Iberian Peninsula – essential for the maintenance of Wellington’s army. We learn that Henry had expected promotion, but was disappointed, and he complains that many gentlemen were obliged to return to England for their promotion.

In ‘Notes by Brigadier General Pack respecting Almeida’ (MS 351/9 A4242) we read a first-hand account of Brigadier General Sir Denis Pack’s experiences in the Peninsula in April and May 1811. The notes were enclosed in a letter to a friend dated 22 May 1811 and both are full of interesting detail. Pack’s Portuguese brigade, under the orders of Major General Campbell, was to support the blockade of the French garrison at Almeida: “On the 3rd [May] about 2 o’clock a.m. I received orders to relieve all the picquets of [Campbell’s] division with my brigade to which, with the addition of an English battalion (the Queen’s 400 strong) and 2 guns, I was informed the blockade was intrusted under my direction. A more distressingly anxious command I never had – Massena’s first attack on Lord Wellington’s lines (distant about 5 miles) commenced at 10 o’clock that day. The garrison almost immediately became emboldened, stronger picquets than usual were sent out from it; frequent skirmishes ensued and signals were distinctly made by rockets, guns, and lights, which were answered by the enemy’s army or from Ciudad Rodrigo.” When the French garrison escaped, Pack and his picquets pursued them all the way to the bridge over the River Aguedo at Barba de Puerco. General Campbell and his men arrived “most critically at the moment [the enemy] was making good his retreat across the Agueda – ten minutes sooner would have placed him in safety – ten minutes later, and his destruction would have been inevitable; as it was in killed, wounded, drowned and prisoners I should imagine he lost nearly half his men.”

To find out more, why not visit the Archives and Manuscripts to view the manuscript collections.

International Archives Day

As today is International Archives Day we have decided to ask staff members (past and present) to give their views on the archives profession and their experience working in Special Collections…

Firstly, how do the archives fit into Special Collections?

At Southampton, Special Collections is used as an overarching term to encompass the Archives and Manuscripts and the Printed Book Collections. The Archives and Manuscripts are unique collections of original historical records and documents which provide a permanent record of the past. The Printed Book Collections are primarily published material, often held in named collections, which have a specific subject focus, such as the Parkes Library or Cope Collection.

Conducting research in the Special Collections reading room

Conducting research in the Special Collections reading room

The following Q&A relates to the work of the Archives and Manuscripts team (Pearl Romans, Sarah Maspero, John Rooney, Tace Fox and Lara Nelson):

What attracted you to archives?

LN: I have always enjoyed learning about the past and how it has led to the world we have today. Engaging with history through interacting with primary sources was an activity I much enjoyed at primary school, secondary school and university, due to it strengthening my understanding of a particular period. One of my earliest memories of engaging with history is a primary school trip to St John’s Museum in Warwick, where one aspect involved hiding under a table with a helmet on when an air raid siren sounded.

JMR: I enjoy the depth and diversity of archive collections. Archives cover such a broad range of human activities you never know what types of materials you may end up working with. For example, after my post graduate studies I ended up managing corporate archives, an area in which I had no prior knowledge. I found it fascinating to immerse myself in the rich history of the companies I worked for. That said, I have always had a particular interest in religious communities and institutions and was immediately attracted to the impressive range of Anglo-Jewish collections held by the University.

PMR: History was my favourite subject from a very early age. I was fascinated by historical questions: How did we know the ‘truth’ about the past? Where was our evidence for that truth? That led me to my local record office to use primary archive sources to write my dissertation. Everyone there was a fantastic help but I hadn’t thought of archives as a career. I enjoyed research; I wanted to work with people; I had liked working in my local library. It was only after my degree that I heard about a post in the University Archive… and I found out, on the job, that it was the one for me.

What qualifications do you need?

JMR: In order to become a qualified archivist I studied the MA in Archives and Records Management at University College Dublin. While it is often assumed that a background in history is required to become an archivist, my undergraduate studies were in Biblical and Theological Studies and Early Irish. Through studying both of these subjects I was made acutely aware of the importance of preserving and enabling access to original sources.

SJM: I chose to do my postgraduate studies at University College, London.  Experience of working in an archive (either paid or voluntary) is key to getting accepted onto the course. Prior to my MA, I volunteered at Portsmouth City Records Office and the Glamorgan Records Office before getting a job as a Records Assistant at Hampshire Records Office.

PMR: I studied for an M.A in Archives and Records Management at Liverpool University. I was fortunate to work as an archive assistant in my University Archive for a year. Prior to that I had worked as a library assistant.  Before starting the M.A. I carried out a work placement at a city record office and completed a course in Latin palaeography.  There is a lot of helpful information about training and placements on the Archives and Records Association website at

Special Collections staff member fetching material from the strongrooms

Special Collections staff member fetching material from the strongrooms

What sort of people visits you?

SJM: The Special Collections is open to everyone, and no charge is made for use. People from all sorts of walks of life use our collections including family, local and amateur historians as well as depositors. As you might expect, most of our users are academic – undergraduate, post graduate and lecturers – both internal and from other universities. People tend to think of the archives as only being of use to students of history, but we have visitors from various academic departments including Music, English and Engineering as well as Communication & Marketing and Development & Alumni Relations.

PMR: We have a strong focus on public access, helping staff and students, and supporting teaching and research. It is very rewarding to see students discovering the resources here and going on to do well in their dissertations and degrees. We have a great many visitors from abroad, as our collections are international in scope. We look after the historic archives of the University and its predecessor organisations and this involves us in commemoration, publicity, and alumni relations. Some visitors come to see our exhibitions or are attending conferences on subjects related to the archives; others are guests of the University and we often provide tours and displays of documents on subjects of interest.

What is the best thing about the collections?

TF: There are so many great things about the collections held here. First and foremost they are entirely unique and hold so much research potential for academics or genealogists and historians that their worth is inexpressible. In terms of how special the collections are, no other archive will have a copy of a poem by Lord Byron written down by Jane Austen from memory. Then there are the famous collections such as the Palmerston Papers or the Wellington archive, the latter of which includes the letters sent to and from the Duke of Wellington during the Battle of Waterloo! Historically to me these collections are priceless and I think the fact that so many people visit us every year suggests that many others feel the same.

JMR: I am continually amazed at how rich the resources housed by the Archives are and just how much information is held within them. The collections are entirely unique sources of information and attract people from all over the world for a variety of research purposes. I really enjoy the fact that you never know what types of enquiries you will receive, whether it’s someone trying to trace the ownership of a Vermeer painting or someone trying to find out whether the car they bought once belonged to Lord Mountbatten!

SJM: We hold the raw materials for the study of history; the primary sources for researching what was said and done by people in the past.

PMR: I agree with all that my colleagues have said: our collections are unique – diverse – useful – and valued for many reasons. I think they shed light not just on the past but on how we live in the present. The best thing is that anyone can see these records today, and know that they will be preserved safely for tomorrow.

History students consulting the Wellington Papers

History students consulting the Wellington Papers

What is your favourite item in the collections?

TF: My favourite item would be Byron’s poem written in Jane Austen’s hand. I have to admit I find the idea that you are holding something written and held by Austen herself pretty cool! I also like the Samuel Rich diaries, because I have worked with these diaries to find quotes relating to the Second World War for the Special Collection’s blog and I love the detail in them. Samuel Rich never missed a single day when writing his diaries during the war which means there is a wealth of contextual, historical and social information available for this period. However, these diaries also offer a personal insight into war that we sometimes lose in text books. So these are perhaps my favourites.

LN: The handcuffs within the Papers of the Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry (MS 254). They act as a symbol of the efforts that the pressure group went to in demonstrating for the rights of Jews refused permission to leave Russia.

JMR: There are really too many to choose from. However, I have really enjoyed cataloguing the letter books of the secretary of the Jewish Board of Guardians. The physical nature of the collection meant that, prior to being catalogued, much of the content was obscured. It’s really exciting to enable greater access to the records of this pioneering Jewish charity and help users engage with what had been a largely hidden resource.

PMR: There are many wonderful collections here but I have particularly enjoyed working on the Hampshire Lieutenancy papers within the Wellington archive. They are a fascinating source for life in Hampshire during the period 1828-1852 when Wellington was Lord Lieutenant. In that role he appointed magistrates (a coveted position of power and responsibility) and deputy lieutenants. The papers provide wonderful insights into local issues and individuals at the time – their ambitions and concerns – not to mention their disagreements! The scope of the records is a constant surprise: crime and peace keeping, the Swing Riots, elections, politics and the Government of the day, poverty and the Poor Law, agriculture, the yeomanry cavalry and militia, local families, schools, transport, there are even references to racing and hunting.

How is the world of Archives changing?

TF: That’s a tricky question. In some ways the world of archiving is very much the same, we collect, we preserve and we make available these collections for future generations. However, perhaps it’s more the world we live in that is starting to affect change in archives. There is more technology available, records are being produced in a variety of electronic formats and information is being stored in a variety of places (including social media such as twitter and Facebook). How we capture that information and present it is perhaps one of the key issues that archivists are currently faced with. Even with collections hundreds of years old, we have to consider how to raise awareness for those collections, possibly by writing a blog or a tweet and so on. Also what kind of information is made freely available on the web or how you access data from outdated technology are further issues we must consider. Therefore I would say that the archival world is changing in the way that, despite our ambitions being the same, we must continually adapt to our ever shifting environment.

SJM: Many people today expect everything to be digitised and freely available to everyone online. Twenty-first century technology provides amazing opportunities for making material more widely available but it’s important to remember that it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution to problems of access and preservation.  Not only are there challenges in the areas of data protection, copyright and confidentiality but digital solutions are as yet untried in terms of providing long term sustainable solutions.

PMR: Online catalogues and digital copies of records have raised the profile of collections and improved access to them: visits, enquiries, and demands for service have all increased. Our user community is now global, as well as local; online, as well as face-to-face in the search room. Instant communication is driving demand for instant service, and expectations have never been higher. This is exciting and challenging. New technology has added focus to a very longstanding debate in the archive world about balancing preservation, access and resources.