Monthly Archives: March 2017

Researching the life of Pamela Frankau

This week’s blog post looks at two literary figures who are the subject of a recently catalogued collection in Special Collections.

Pamela Frankau
Pamela Frankau was born on 3 January 1908. She was the younger of two daughters of the novelist Gilbert Frankau (1884-1952) and his first wife Dorothea Frances Drummond Black. After Gilbert left the family in 1919, Pamela and her sister, Ursula, were sent as boarders to Burgess Hill School for Girls in Sussex. While initially keen to pursue the stage, her gift for writing soon took over.

Photograph of Pamela Frankau [MS 412 A4104/3/1/3]

Photograph of Pamela Frankau [MS 412 A4104/3/1/3]

Pamela’s paternal grandmother, Julia Frankau (1859-1916), was also a successful novelist, writing under the name ‘Frank Danby’. According to Pamela’s cousin Diana Raymond, it was through her grandmother that she inherited a strong Jewish literary inheritance. Pamela published her first novel, Marriage of Harlequin (1927), at the age of nineteen at which time she was recognised as the “talented daughter of a famous father”. Over the years, however, her success would match that of her father and by the time she was thirty she had already written twenty novels.

In 1931 she met the poet Humbert Wolfe, with whom she had a long term relationship which lasted until his death in 1940. In the years following Wolfe’s death she spent much of her time in the States and didn’t publish another novel for almost a decade. It was during this time that she converted to Roman Catholicism. She married Marshall Dill (1916–2000), an American naval intelligence officer, in 1945 but the marriage foundered, and ended in divorce in 1951. She also had a number of intimate relationships with women throughout her life, including theatre director Margaret Webster, which began in the mid-1950s.

In 1949, she published her most successful novel, The Willow Cabin, which was partially based on her relationship with Wolfe. While many of her novels received high acclaim during her lifetime, A Wreath for the Enemy, first published in 1954, remains arguably her most enduring work. It tells the story of a young couple whose paths cross one summer on the French Riviera. However, Diana Raymond notes that Pamela’s favourite of her own works was The Bridge, published in 1957, which examines the imperatives of the Roman Catholic faith.

After a long struggle with cancer, Pamela Frankau died on 8 June 1967, at the age of fifty-nine.

Diana Raymond
Diana Raymond was Pamela’s cousin and the two women had a strong personal relationship. Born on 25 April 1916, Diana started writing at the age of sixteen. While her first novel, ‘The Lovely Travellers’, was turned down by publishers, Pamela encouraged her to continue writing. Her second novel, The Door Stood Open, was published when she was nineteen. During her long career, she wrote more than twenty novels, as well as an autobiography and the play John Keats Lived Here.

Photograph of Diana Raymond [MS 412 A4104/2/1/4]

Photograph of Diana Raymond [MS 412 A4104/2/1/4]

In 1940 she married the novelist Ernest Raymond. While initially overshowed by his reputation, over time she developed her own distinct voice with her obituary in the Independent describing her novels as being “infused with wit and metaphysics”. Her novels include Are You Travelling Alone, a political novel published in 1969; The Dark Journey, a haunting romance published in 1978; and her most popular novel, Lily’s Daughter, a social satire published in 1988. The latter novel tells the story of a young woman’s coming of age in 1930s England and contains many biographical elements.

After Pamela’s death in 1967, Diana completed and provided an introduction to her final novel Colonel Blessington, a thriller, published in 1968. Diana also provided the introduction for a reissue of Pamela’s novel The Winged Horse and, in 1988, was commissioned to write a biography titled ‘Pamela Frankau: A Life’. However, as her research progressed Pamela’s popularity was on the wane and the project was eventually abandoned.

The collection
The material in MS 412 primarily relates to Diana Raymond’s research for her biography of Pamela Frankau. In addition to research notes, the collection contains a range of correspondence. This includes correspondence between Diana and Timothy D’Arch Smith, the son of Pamela’s older sister Ursula. Timothy is a bibliographer, author and antiquarian bookseller. After her death, he became Pamela’s literary executor and was a strong supporter of Diana’s research. There is also a selection of earlier correspondence between Pamela, Diana and others, primarily concerning the publication of Pamela’s novels.

The collection also contains a number of works by Pamela Frankau. These include scripts for Ask Me No More, The Duchess and the Smugs, Time to be Going and To The Moment of Triumph. Stories include ‘The Giant-Killer’, ‘Shakes the Stars’, and ‘Marriage of Minds’, alongside a number of pieces written by Pamela’s sister Ursula, including ‘The Clausewitz Report’, an unfinished novel.

Other collections relating to Pamela Frankau can be found at the BBC Written Archives Centre, Boston College, and the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin.

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The trade in slaves and its abolition

On 25 March 1807 the royal assent was given to an Act of Parliament abolishing the slave trade. To commemorate the bicentenary in 2007 many events took place in the UK, including an exhibition in the Special Collections Exhibition Gallery. In this week’s blog post we draw on material from the exhibition to explore some of the key issues surrounding abolition.

The origins of slavery and the case for abolition
Why had there been slavery in the first place? To late eighteenth-century Englishmen, the notion that their own countrymen might be slaves was abhorrent. Slavery had been widespread in the Roman empire, and there had probably been slaves in Anglo-Saxon England. The unfree villeins of medieval England had a status that was in some ways similar; but the idea that humans might be chattels had been put aside after the Black Death, in changed economic circumstances. Slavery was uncommon in northern Europe, but it was not so in southern Europe and Africa. Here it had a different basis and it may be closely linked to the growth in the trade in tropical commodities, especially those of great value — sugar, coffee, chocolate, tobacco, rice and cotton. Some of these crops were grown in Europe in the Middle Ages: for example, the cultivation of sugar moved westwards through the Mediterranean during the medieval period. Slave labour, at least on a small scale, had been used in cultivating these commodities before the European discovery of America. On the Cape Verde Islands (about 300 miles west of Senegal), in the 1460s, a Genoese, Antonio da Noli, failing to attract European settlers to these territories, recently discovered by the Portuguese, established a sugar plantation that was entirely dependent on slave labour. The extension of this enterprise westwards — and the slave economy with it — first by the Spanish and the Portuguese, and then by northern Europeans, was not an inexplicable step.

Illustration from an album containing anti-slavery tracts and pamphlets, late 1820s [Rare Books HT1163 71-082284]

Illustration from an album containing anti-slavery tracts and pamphlets, late 1820s [Rare Books HT1163 71-082284]. During the 19th century, examples of the outrages of the trade served to maintain anti-slavery as a cause at the forefront of the public mind. Among the contents of this album were passages drawn from the works of Granville Sharp and Charles James Fox.

The slaves of the Mediterranean derived from a long-standing trade in humans as chattels especially within Africa, but also within Ottoman and Asian territories. In the medieval period, slaves had been brought up to the Mediterranean from sub-Saharan Africa; from the sixteenth century, a direct trade was opened up between the West African coast and the Americas. Slavery was usually the result of legal and other penalties, and resulted as well from capture in warfare. It was a trade of many nations and was an established part of many societies. The exception was northern Europe, and it was from here that the challenge to slavery came. If it was reprehensible for there to be slaves in Britain, why should there be slaves in British colonies?

Slavery and the West Indian economy: Jamaica
Between the seventeenth century and Abolition in the region of 12.5 million slaves were traded from Africa. The numbers and pattern can be established with some certainty, especially from financial records. These point to significant differences in the use of slaves. Many worked with tropical goods: some 3.5 million slaves, for example, went to Brazil, whereas as few as 500,000 went taken to North America. The disparity arose partly because of the type of work undertaken: in tropical climates, the slaves were used for hard manual labour, particularly with sugar cane, and they had a low life expectancy — here the slave population could be sustained only by continued import of labour. In North America, on the other hand, where the slaves were primarily used for cotton and tobacco growing, the dynamics of the slave population were similar to the white population, even increasing modestly.

In 1788, there were on Jamaica some 250,000 slaves, who provided heavy labour crucial to the success of the plantation economy. The West India merchants constituted a powerful interest, to which governments might defer. The resolutions of the Jamaican House of Assembly, faced with the prospect of abolition, refuted charges of improper and inhuman treatment of slaves. They noted, however, that the labour force would be reduced; that it was impossible to cultivate the West Indies with white labour; and that the wider economy of Great Britain and its empire was closely bound to the West Indies. Credit, mortgages and annuities required stability. The property and slaves on Jamaica were valued at £39 million: ‘The whole profits and produce of which capital, as also of the various branches of commerce to which it give rise, center in Great Britain, and add to the national wealth; while the navigation, necessary to all its branches, establishes a strength which wealth can neither purchase nor balance.’ Changes in slave ownership would require compensation.

‘Trelawney Town, the chief residence of the Maroons’

‘Trelawney Town, the chief residence of the Maroons’: plate from B.Edwards History of the British West Indies … with a continuation to the present time (5 vols., and plates, London, 1818-19) [Rare Books F2131 52-045439]. The Maroons were in origin free or runaway negro slaves. After the British captured Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655, the Maroons remained at liberty and were able to harass the British for sustained periods of time. Their numbers were never large, but their effectiveness at guerrilla warfare forced the British to conclude a peace treaty with them in 1739, which guaranteed them land and some freedoms, including exemption from taxation.

Abolition brought severe economic consequences to the West Indies, where new slaves had been important to maintain the size of the labour force. Prohibition on the importation of slaves into the United States of America, in 1808, however, had a very different impact, as new slaves were not continually required to replenish the work force, which was already self-sustaining.

Abolition: 1807
Despite considerable parliamentary support in 1792 — in that year the Commons resolved that the trade should be gradually abolished, concluding in 1796 — there were significant setbacks. The climate engendered by the outbreak of revolution in France and slave revolts, particularly in St Domingue (Haiti), a French colony, made the early 1790s unpropitious for the cause. There was some anxiety that the anti-slave trade movement was a cloak for sedition and radicalism, and there was a real concern at the destabilising effect that might be brought by abolition. Although these fears were allayed, the political climate at the turn of the century was not one fertile for the aspirations of the abolitionists. It was not until 1804-5 that the balance of interests in Parliament had shifted sufficiently far for Wilberforce to bring an abolition bill successfully through three readings in the Commons; but it proved too late in that parliamentary session for it to be taken through the House of Lords. Pitt was able to promote the cause of abolition in other ways: significantly, at this point, in September 1805, the government made an Order in Council which put an end to the slave trade in the former Dutch Guiana, a precursor of later orders managing the condition of slaves in the West Indian colonies. A procedural measure in mid-1806, designed to enable Parliament to confirm the Order in Council, passed both Houses; and on 10 June 1806 Fox, the leader of the government in the Commons, moved a resolution for the general abolition of the trade, which Lord Grenville (the Prime Minister) also moved in the House of Lords. An Abolition Bill followed in early 1807, receiving the royal assent on 25 March.

Substance of the debates on a resolution for abolishing the slave trade (1806)

Substance of the debates on a resolution for abolishing the slave trade … (London, 1806). [Rare Books HT1163 71-082480] After nearly twenty years of debate in Parliament, Lord Grenville was able to move in the House of Lords the order of the day, the resolution of the House of Commons for the abolition of the African slave trade. A further resolution was carried, as in the Commons, for an address to the Crown, to invite other powers to concert with Great Britain the best means for abolishing the trade.

After 1807, there was continued pressure for further measures against slavery. Parliament increased the severity of penalties for British involvement in the slave trade: in 1811, a bill introduced by Brougham made it a felony, for which the punishment was transportation; and, from 1824, it was a capital offence. Other measures involved slave registration, to curb interisland traffic in the West Indies, starting with the creation of a registry for Trinidad in 1812, and culminating in an Act of 1819 which established a central registry in London. Bilateral agreements were concluded with other powers, European, American and African, in order to bring the trade to a halt. This was a long process and little progress was made until after the defeat of Napoleon. Typical was the Treaty of Ghent, 24 December 1814, between Great Britain and the United States, which declared:

Whereas the traffic in slaves is irreconcileable with the principles of humanity and justice, and whereas both His Majesty and the United States are desirous of continuing their efforts to promote its entire abolition, it is hereby agreed that both the contracting parties shall use their best endeavours to accomplish so desirable an object.

Not all countries believed that British altruism was a credible explanation for what was happening. Some alleged that motivation centred on British concern at the numbers of slaves, which, given unrest and rebellion, might have placed her colonial empire in jeopardy. That notwithstanding, work to suppress the trade continued in the international congresses that followed the Napoleonic wars. Thomas Clarkson was present to apply pressure at both the Congress of Paris in 1814 and the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1818, and the theme was revisited at Verona in 1822.

The process of abolition: the 1820s
The formation in 1823 of the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Improvement of Slavery Throughout the British Dominions, popularly known as the Anti-Slavery Society, assured continued public interest in the cause in Britain. Its establishment defined two contrasting approaches: ‘gradualism’, the Anti-Slavery Society’s aspiration, seeking an on-going amelioration of the position of the slaves, a stance criticised by those who believed this was in the interest of the plantation owners in the colonies; and ‘immediatism’, favoured by those who wanted an immediate end to slavery — a position which drew together the younger and more radical supporters of the cause, especially from the early 1830s.

Copy of a letter from Wellington to Sir George Murray, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, about instructions to the governors in the West Indies, the slave trade and the colonies in Africa, 20 August 1828: contemporary copy [MS 61 Wellington Papers 1/951/14]

Through the 1820s, the British government put in place practical measures to assist slaves, to address the questions of compensation of slave-owners. Progress could also be made through administrative measures; Orders in Council could direct local governors, where they had authority, to advance reform in colonies; elsewhere colonial legislatures might be encouraged to adopt measures that ameliorated the position of the slaves. The government of the first Duke of Wellington, 1828-30, made a number of direct contributions to this end. The Royal Navy might also be employed more effectively to enforce the ban on the slave trade.

Abolition: 1830 to 1865, and beyond
The Jamaican House of Assembly and the West Indian planters overplayed their hand in failing to embrace the Orders in Council. In 1833 the British Parliament passed legislation to emancipate the slaves of the British West Indies, and the Jamaica House of Assembly adopted the Act with considerable ill grace, rather than lose its share of the £20 million compensation that had been provided for slave owners. The institution of slavery was thereby abolished in the British West Indies, with compensation for slave owners — but not for slaves. Apprenticeship systems effectively delayed economic changes in the plantation systems. Further pressure, particularly from Daniel O’Connell and Joseph Sturge, brought apprenticeship to an end in 1838.

Letter from Stratford Canning to Palmerston on Ottoman actions against the slave trade

Letter from Stratford Canning, the British ambassador at Constantinople, to Palmerston on Ottoman actions against the slave trade, 3 January 1851 [MS 62 Palmerston Papers GC/CA228]

Slavery had not been abolished outside the British empire. Anti-slavery societies, the British government, the Royal Navy, enforcing anti-slavery conventions, and the governments of other Western powers continued to work for general abolition into the second half of the nineteenth century. Cases of British subjects in slavery continued to cause widespread outrage, a litmus test of the commitment of government to abolition of slavery wherever it occurred. A guide for naval officers set out for them the legal framework that was created for abolition, listing some twenty-seven groups of treaties, conventions, engagements and declarations from 1817 to 1842, with European and American states, and African kingdoms and chiefdoms. Putting this into operation was complex. By about 1865, however, very substantial progress had been made; the trade to South America was largely stopped. If the British government had been able to make progress by compensating its slave owners, however, the United States faced a much larger problem; and without a central government that was able to resolve the issue, the ordeal of civil war almost destroyed the country. The Atlantic trade abolished, the British government turned from the 1870s onwards to the trade from the east coast of Africa. The European powers came together in Brussels in 1889-90 and their conference produced a general act suppressing the trade, not only at sea, but also within Africa.

International observances
In 2007 the United Nations designated the 25 March the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, offering an opportunity to honour and remember those who suffered and died at the hands of the brutal slavery system. The International Day also aims to raise awareness about the dangers of racism and prejudice today. Other international observances include the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition on 23 August and the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery on 2 December.

Material on the slave trade can be found in two of the archive collections nineteenth-century politicians held at Southampton: that of the first Duke of Wellington (MS 61) and of third Viscount Palmerston (MS 62). The most notable printed collection is the Oates collection of over 220 books and pamphlets on the West Indies and the abolition of slavery, dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. The 1820s and 1830s are particularly well represented as are works of prominent abolitionists such as Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce.

“A friend of science”: the first Duke of Wellington

In honour of Southampton Science and Engineering Week at the University (10-19 March), in conjunction with British Science Week, and the anniversary of the arrival of the Wellington Papers at the University on 17 March 1983, this blog will look at science and technology material within the Wellington Archive (MS 61).

The victory at Waterloo raised the first Duke of Wellington to a level of fame and prominence that ensured a tidal wave of correspondence, elements of which came from those discussing new discoveries or inventions, or seeking Wellington’s patronage and support. The material relating to scientific developments within the Wellington Archive ranges from a copy of the minutes of the council of the Royal Society relating to Charles Babbage’s calculating machine [MS 61 WP1/996/3]; correspondence regarding the discovery of the cause of magnetic variation in the compass and a law to predict the variation [MS 61 WP1/814/16]; to material on new medical apparatus to treat complaints such as headaches, gout or rheumatism [MS 61 WP2/110/52].

Lorenzo Giordano medical apparatus to treat rheumatism

Lorenzo Giordano medical apparatus to treat rheumatism [MS 61 WP2/110/52]

As a career soldier who rose to be the Commander in Chief of the army, Wellington had a interest in developments in military technology. He served as Master General of the Ordnance in the 1820s, a department that he described as being specially charged with “all military equipments, machines, inventions thereof and their improvement”. The archive includes correspondence with Colonel Shrapnel, the inventor of the shrapnel shell, and with Sir William Congreve, together with material relating to improvements in artillery. In a letter of August 1822, Congreve describes the results of experiments of his rockets and concludes that “under Your Grace’s patronage and protection, I feel confident of giving complete perfection to the rocket system in a very short time and making it not only the most powerful but also the most economical weapon that can be used”. [MS 61 WP1/718/6]

Not all inventions, however, were considered to have such potential. An artificial hill, suggested by a Captain of Marines in 1812, “which was nothing more than a high pole” on which Wellington might be hoisted to overlook the movement of the enemy forces, elicited the objection from Wellington: “Damn me, sir, I may tumble down to break my neck”. [MS 61 WP1/361 f. 1]  A steam war chariot designed by John George and Sons, although fascinating and frightening, does not seem to have progressed beyond the design stage.

John George steam war chariot

John George’s steam war chariot [MS 61 WP2/40/119]

Developments in steam and steam transportation in the early part of the nineteenth century are represented in the archive. There is material relating to the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in September 1830 which Wellington, as Prime Minister, attended. The event was sadly overshadowed by the tragic death of William Huskisson, the popular Member of Parliament for Liverpool, an occurrence that shocked the other dignitaries present and potentially coloured Wellington’s opinion of trains henceforth. His archive also contains correspondence relating to the development of steam coaching as an alternative to steam trains, and includes correspondence from Sir James Caleb Anderson, first Baronet, an inventor much interested in the development of steam coaching [MS 61 WP1/1003/21], as well as material on the journey made by one of Sir Goldsworthy Gurney’s steam carriages.

Sir Goldsworthy Gurney (1793-1875) was a surgeon and chemist as well as an inventor. During the period 1825 to 1829, Gurney built a number of steam-powered carriages intended to commercialise steam road transport. Whilst the earlier versions were not a success, a version designed to provide a separate carriage hauled by an engine made the journey from London to Bath in July 1829. Reaching an average speed of 15 mph, the journey is reputed to be the first undertaken by a mechanised vehicle at a sustained speed and pre-dated the journey of the Stephenson’s Rocket.

Steam carriage journey from London to Bath

Journey of Gurney’s steam carriage from London to Bath [MS 61 WP1/1034/29]

Wellington had connections with the engineer and inventor Marc Isambard Brunel (1769-1849), the father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, from the period of the Peninsular War, when Brunel undertook contracts for the government, including the supply of soldiers’ boots. Brunel was subsequently to suffer imprisonment for debt due to several unsuccessful projects and Wellington was one of those who pressed the government to secure his release. Brunel’s designs included the Île de Bourbon Suspension Bridge and the operation to build a tunnel under the River Thames. Work on the Thames Tunnel began in 1825 and was eventually completed in 1842.

Drawing of the elevation of a chain bridge over the River Tweed, and of a chain bridge designed by Brunel for the Île de Bourbon

Chain bridge over the River Tweed and a chain bridge designed by Brunel for the Île de Bourbon [MS 61 WP1/679/8]

For anyone wishing to explore a more modern take on science and technology the University of Southampton Science and Engineering Day, is on Saturday 18 March and will be a fitting finale to the week’s events. We hope you enjoy the day.

Celebrating the contribution of women: Lady Swaythling

Today marks International Women’s Day which 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 post we will focus on Gladys Helen Rachel Montagu, Baroness Swaythling (MS 383).

Photograph of Gladys, Dowager Lady Swaythling, taken by Dorothy Wilding [MS 383 A4000/6/1/5 f2]

Photograph of Gladys, Dowager Lady Swaythling, taken by Dorothy Wilding [MS 383 A4000/6/1/5 f2]

Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1879, she was the eldest daughter of Colonel Albert Edward Williamson Goldsmid, MVO, and Ida Stewart Beauclerk Hendricks. In 1898 she married Louis Montagu, the eldest son of Samuel Montagu, first Baron Swaythling (MS 117), founder of the banking firm Samuel Montagu and Company. Louis succeeded as second Baron Swaythling in 1911 and inherited the office of president of the Federation of Synagogues (MS 248), an organisation created by his father to promote the acculturation of Jewish immigrants.

Following their marriage they lived at Townhill Park House, Southampton, purchased by the first Baron Swaythling in 1897. Originally dating from the 1790s, they had the house extended and re-designed by architect Leonard Rome Guthrie in the Italianate style. Guthrie also designed the terraced gardens to complement the style of the house, with the plants laid out by the renowned garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. As Lord and Lady Swaythling they were leading members of the Anglo-Jewish community and leading figures in English society, hosting dinner parties and other social events at Townhill Park where visitors included Princess Alice and Queen Mary (with whom Lady Swaythling had a lifelong friendship).

Belgian soldiers and staff at Allington Manor

Belgian soldiers and staff at Allington Manor [MS 383 A4000/6/1/13 ]

They were also active communal workers, with Lady Swaythling applying much of her energy to the local Southampton area. During the First World War she became President of the Women’s Southampton branches of the Auxiliary of the YMCA and Women’s Emergency Corps, as well as the War Hospital Supply Depot, Southampton. In addition, she served on eighteen different committees, including as chair of the Wounded Allies Relief Committee, established for the provision of convalescent homes for wounded Belgian soldiers.

Country houses were required for medical use as the large numbers of wounded meant there were not enough hospitals able to cope with the seriously disabled or even those simply convalescing. These houses were pressed into service or were donated for the purpose, as their clean country air and fine grounds were considered most helpful to rest and recuperation. Allington Manor, a country house in Eastleigh owned by the Swaythlings, was one of the houses donated as a military sanitorium. Lady Swaythling took a deep interest in the welfare of the sanatorium and would sing to the patients during her visits. Later, she was involved in organising hospitality for American soldiers and sailors, with her efforts leading to her becoming known as the “British godmother” among American naval enlisted men. Other activities included working on the executive committee of Queen Mary’s Governess’ Home in Surrey, and assisting the British Women’s Patriotic League.

Certificate granted to Lady Swaythling [MS 383 A4000/2/1]

Certificate granted to Lady Swaythling in recognition of her
charitable services during the First World War [MS 383 A4000/2/1]

After the war she continued her communal actives, with her roles including President of the Southampton Hostel for Unmarried Women and the Southampton branches of the National Society for Combating Venereal Diseases and the University Extension Lectures movement. She was also chair of the conjoint committee of the British Red Cross and the Order of St John of Jerusalem. In 1919 she joined the Council of the Anglo-Belgian Union and continued to support Belgian exiles during the Second World War. She was an active supporter of refugees throughout her life and, in 1925, addressed a letter to President Coolidge pleading for the admission to the United States of Jewish refugees stranded in Southampton.

Other public offices she held included President of the Electrical Association for Women, established in 1924 to interest women in the electrical development of the country; Honorary President of the Jewish Lads’ Brigade (MS 244), a Jewish youth organisation founded by her father in 1895; President of the Southampton branch of the Girl Guides Association; and Vice-President of the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children). She travelled widely, touring countries such as India, Australia, China, Japan, the United States, and Canada, and was the recipient of many overseas honours. She was made OBE in 1953.

Lord and Lady Swaythling had had three sons and a daughter. Their eldest son Stuart became the third Lord Swaythling in 1927 on Louis’ death. The family continued to live at Townhill Park until 1939 when the house was handed over to the Red Cross and used as a convalescent home for British and American soldiers during the Second World war. Lady Swaythling died in 1965 at the age of 85.

This year, Southampton is joining in the International Women’s Day (IWD) celebration theme by ‘Being Bold’ and inviting everyone to West Quay and fringe events in town on Saturday March 11 to promote and celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, both locally and worldwide. For further details visit:
https://www.southampton.ac.uk/blog/sussed-news/2017/02/28/celebrate-international-womens-day-on-11-march/

“Perfecting … that most important communication”: the London-Holyhead highway

1 March is St David’s Day, the patron saint of Wales. To mark this day we will look at a great technological feat of the early nineteenth century – the building of the London to Holyhead highway. A testament to Thomas Telford’s engineering and road building skills, the highway was considered the most sophisticated and advanced roadway of the period.

Nant Ffrancon

Highway at Nant Ffrancon

The Congleton family archive (MS 64) contains correspondence of Sir Henry Parnell, later first Baron Congleton, and Thomas Telford relating to construction of the highway. Parnell, Member of Parliament for Queen’s County in Ireland, as chair of London and Holyhead Road Committee set up under the Holyhead Road Act of 1815, oversaw the project.

The sea passage from Holyhead to Dublin had developed as the primary route to Ireland since the journey from Liverpool to Ireland was long and dangerous in rough weather. This route gained significance after the Act of Union when large numbers of politicians and civil servants had to make the journey regularly. Having landed in Holyhead, the journey by road Holyhead to London took 41 hours on poor quality roads, described as “miserable tracks” in places. Road-weary Irish politicians continually raised the problem in Parliament. Finally, under the Holyhead Roads Act of 1815, together with subsequent acts, loans were provided to improve the route. Thomas Telford was invited to survey the route and to supervise construction.

Thomas Telford

Thomas Telford

Thomas Telford (1757-1834) was born in Scotland and began his working career as an apprentice stonemason at the age of 14 years. By 1787 he was surveyor of public works for Shropshire and established a reputation as an engineer. In 1790 he was given the task of building a bridge over the River Severn at Montford, the first of around 40 bridges he built in the county. This led to his appointment in 1793 to manage the design and construction of the Ellesmere Canal, which included the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. After the completion of the Ellesmere Canal, Telford moved back to Scotland where he was involved in a massive project to improve the communications across Highland Scotland, including the building of Caledonian Canal, as well work on the construction of roads, bridges and harbours. It was this expertise that Telford brought to the London-Holyhead project. The project which began in 1815 was to take 11 years and involved the construction of various bridges, most notably the Menai Suspension Bridge and the suspension bridge at Conway, as well as the highway itself.

Parts of the road that were considered most dangerous were tackled first, with Telford applying methods that he had already put into practice in Scotland. In 1817 he noted in a letter to Sir Henry Parnell that although “much still remains to be done in order to ensure the perfecting and maintaining that most important communication” he was confident that Parnell would find “satisfactory progress on your return”. [MS 64/22/1/1 Telford to Sir Henry Parnell, 8 November 1817]

To resolve the danger for travellers crossing the Menai Straits using ferries, often battling the dangerous currents and high winds, Telford designed the Menai Suspension Bridge. Completed in January 1826, the Menai Bridge, was the biggest suspension bridge in the world at the time, with sixteen huge chains suspending nearly 600 feet of deck.

In a letter from April 1825, Telford describes the operation putting the first chain across the Straits:

“The first chain has been put across as quietly and as easily as I can wind my watch. From the time the first pin was put in on the Caernarvon shore to when the last pin was put in the top of the pyramid on the Anglesea shore, took just one hour and fifty minutes. The whole operation from moving the platform with the chain from the Caernarvon shore to final fixing in its situation 2h 10 m….”

[MS 64/22/1/4 Letter from Telford to Parnell, 26 April 1825]

Menai Suspension Bridge

Menai Suspension Bridge

A report of the official opening of the bridge in 1826, noted: “The horses trotted over it in their regular pace; and although a heavy gale of wind was blowing at the time, there was no perceptible difference in the motion of the coach, whether on the suspended road-way or on the masonry arches. About nine o’clock Sir Henry Parnell and Mr Telford crossed over the bridge in the travelling coach of the latter; and during the whole day visitors from all parts of Carnarvonshire and Anglesey passed over in their carriages, besides numerous foot passengers. In the evening the workmen who had been employed at the bridge were regaled with a substantial dinner and abundance of cwrw da [good beer]…”

The Menai Bridge is one, and certainly a notable example, of nearly 80 percent of ancillary structures constructed by Telford as part of the highway project that still survive today. Telford’s original embankment terraces still enable the modern A5 road to cling to the hillsides. And modern road surface is built on top rather than replacing Telford’s original foundation and surface.

So on this St David’s Day we celebrate the contribution of a great civil engineer and the enduring legacy he has made to the transport infrastructure of North Wales.

Signature of Thomas Telford

MS 64/22/1/1 Signature of Thomas Telford