Thursday, 20 July 2017

An English Socialite in Paris: The Letters of Lady Victoria Stanley

‘Fun like sunshine, mixed with sense like salt’ was how an anonymous correspondent in The Times described Lady Victoria Bullock following her untimely death in November 1927, at the age of only 35.   This description is borne out in the lively bundle of letters by Lady Victoria which were deposited at the Borthwick as part of the Hickleton Papers, the extensive archive of the Earls of Halifax, which include the papers of Lady Victoria’s eldest daughter, Ruth, wife of the 2nd Earl.

The 19 letters span 28 years of Lady Victoria’s life in all, with the majority dated between 1918 and the mid 1920s.  They provide a fascinating glimpse into the world of an aristocratic socialite in the years after the First World War, when continental Europe was once again accessible to those who could afford it and the Roaring Twenties brought new fashions, music and attitudes.  

Lady Victoria Stanley. Copyright: Daily Sketch, 1915.

The only daughter of Edward Stanley, son and heir of the 16th Earl of Derby, and Lady Alice Montagu, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Manchester, Lady Victoria was born into the privileged world of British high society in the closing years of the reign of Victoria.  

One of the earliest letters in the bundle, written to her ‘darling sweet Mamma’ in March 1902, describes a quiet country childhood at the family’s Coworth Park and Knowsley estates with her brothers Edward and Oliver, riding her pony Kruger, playing in the gardens and practicing the piano.

Lady Victoria to her mother, the Countess of Derby, in 1902
Borthwick Institute, Hickleton Papers

Wedding of Lady Victoria Stanley and Neil Primrose.
Copyright: Daily Mail Historical Archive, 1915

In 1915, at the age of 22, she married Liberal MP Neil Primrose, son of the 5th Earl of Rosebery, in a ceremony attended by Queen Alexandra and three of the royal Princesses, as well as David Lloyd George and a young Winston Churchill.  Their daughter Ruth was born in April 1916, but the marriage was cut tragically short by Primrose’s death in active service during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign in November 1917.

Thus at the age of only 25 Lady Victoria found herself a wealthy widow and when her father, to whom she was extremely close, was appointed Ambassador to France the following year, she went with him, arriving in Paris in the closing months of the war and at the very thick of the political and diplomatic action.  She found the city to be ‘the most wonderful place in the world’ and her 1918 letters are full of famous names and crowded social engagements as the great and the good began arriving in Paris for the post-war negotiations.  Sir Henry Wilson, Lloyd George and Admiral Hope attended her ‘England luncheon-party’ in late 1918. Sir Henry, she wrote, was so ‘terribly bored’ with his fellow politicians, or ‘frocks’ as he called them, that he ‘lunches, dines and comes to tea’ whenever he can. She played lawn tennis with Sir Eric Drummond, later the first Secretary-General of the League of Nations, and the Duc d’Albe invited her to go to Spain after the war. ‘As I have already made plans to go to Monte Carlo,’ she wrote, ‘I don’t believe I shall ever get back to England!’

She bought Parisian clothes and persuaded her friend Bee to do the same, admitting to her mother that she had ‘led her into temptation in the way of clothes,’ and that she herself had entirely lost her head in this direction and ‘bought masses’ of the new fashionable shorter skirts and thin silk stockings.

Her father’s post as Ambassador came to an end in 1920 but the surviving letters show that Lady Victoria was all too happy to remain, at least for long periods of time, in France.  In June 1919 she had married again, this time to Malcolm Bullock, a Captain of the Scots Guard and later Conservative MP for Waterloo.  The letters Lady Victoria wrote to him over the next 4-5 years, addressed always to ‘My own darling’ and signed from ‘ever your very loving wife, Victoria,’ reveal plenty of the fun and the salt described by The Times.  Her observations to him are often acerbic and rather funny. Writing from Paris in 1921 she describes the Duke of Marlborough and his bride as being ‘very much the young engaged couple, who have decided not to dance with each other but make googly eyes across the room instead.’  

Lady Victoria to her husband Malcolm Bullock, 1921
Borthwick Institute, Hickleton Papers

At another dinner she was made (as the only foreigner) to sit next to the King of Romania, who to her horror only wanted to talk about Bolshevism, meanwhile the Duchess de Guiche ‘evidently thought she should be next to him & sniffed round my place like a dog round a lamp post.’  On that occasion she seemed to rather admire her fellow guest Daisy Fellowes who managed to avoid having to stand all evening in the presence of royalty by immediately feigning a bad foot so she could retire to a chair in the corner and be left alone.  In a later letter, dated 1924, she wrote she was having ‘such a marvellous time that it is almost turning my head. I feel well dressed, I feel I am almost amusing, in fact all the things the Cadogans think they are & are not!’

Lady Victoria was evidently extremely popular, her letters chronicling a whirl of social engagements with numerous people, from lunches and dinners, to balls, plays, drives, dancing, golfing, horseriding and long evenings at the casino, sometimes until 4am.  ‘I am having a glorious time here & I feel quite mad,’ she told her husband in one letter of summer 1921, ‘I tremble to think what I shall be like with a mask on at the Bal de l’Opera on Saturday!’

Lady Victoria to her husband Malcolm Bullock, 1921
Borthwick Institute, Hickleton Papers

In a letter sent in April 1924 she sets out the numerous entertainments she has arranged for her husband’s imminent visit, including dinners out and trips to the theatre and the music hall.

Lady Victoria to her husband Malcolm Bullock, 1924
Borthwick Institute, Hickleton Papers

Her letters show that she continued to be a keen, though canny, shopper, writing to her husband that she had been ‘quite good about clothes,’ only buying an evening dress and skirt from Paton, an afternoon dress, two knitted skirts and some jerseys from the Russian ladies, which were ‘just like Chanel’s & quarter the price.’  In an unexpectedly modern anecdote, she also writes that she had her ‘nose done’ in January 1921, though it is not clear from the letter what exactly this entailed.  Rather startlingly, it involved her being given ‘a liberal application of cocaine’ to prevent her feeling anything during the procedure. ‘The doctor kept on warning me that I might feel faint or hysterical from the effects but I have a very odd constitution as I felt absolutely nothing!’ She concluded that the only remarkable thing it made her do was write some letters she had been avoiding.

Lady Victoria to her husband Malcolm Bullock, undated

Perhaps her most enduring interest however was horseracing.  This was perhaps hardly surprising given her ancestry.  The Epsom Derby was named for the 12th Earl of Derby and her father, the 17th Earl was a prominent owner-breeder, his horses winning the Epsom Derby, the Epsom Oaks, and the St Leger Stakes.  Lady Victoria’s 1902 letter to her mother references their horse Pellisson failing to win his race and the racing at Knowsley and even amidst the whirl of her new Paris life in 1918 she found time to ask her mother who she should back ‘for the Cambridgeshire’ and to wonder whether Cecily remembered to do her bets for her that week.  

Her 1920s letters are filled with further references to her own and her family’s horses chances at different races. Of the 1921 Prix de Diane she writes ‘It was rather a slap in the face to the French jockeys that the first three...yesterday were ridden respectively by Bullock, Donoghue & Childs. Maurice de Rothschild’s victory was received in stony silence.’ ‘I really think I must have seen thousands of horses,’ she writes in another undated letter from France, ‘I have been going around neighbouring stud farms in the mornings, then racing in the afternoon & yearling sales in the evening,’ adding that her expeditions had served to remind her just ‘how little I really know about horses.’  Only a year before she died she started a racing stable of her own in France with Major Dudley Gilroy.  

Lady Victoria to her husband Malcolm Bullock, undated [1920s]
Borthwick Institute, Hickleton Papers

Both of her daughters, Ruth Primrose and her child with Captain Bullock, Priscilla Victoria, shared their mother’s love of racing and would later become two of the first three women admitted by the Jockey Club in 1977. Priscilla’s grandchildren, Andrew and Clare Balding, are in turn well known today for their involvement with racing, as a trainer and an amateur jockey, journalist and television presenter respectively.  

Lady Victoria Bullock’s death in 1927 came as a devastating shock to her family.  Whilst hunting with the Quorn near Lowesby Hall, she struck her head on a low bridge and was thrown from her horse and found unconscious.  Her husband quickly arrived from London and her mother from Knowsley Park. An urgent message was sent to her father, who was on his way to Cannes, and he returned by aeroplane early the following morning, but to no avail.  Lady Victoria never regained consciousness and died at 3pm on the afternoon of the 26th November.  

The last two letters in the bundle were sent to Captain Bullock after her death. The first is a letter of condolence from fellow MP Winston Churchill, who sent his deepest sympathy to Bullock on the 10th December, ‘though well I know how useless words are, & how nothing but the passage of time mitigates gradually the pain & awful sense of deprivation.  You & Victoria were so suited to one another, so devoted to each other...that this separation & destruction of yr happiness seems doubly cruel.’  

Winston Churchill to Malcolm Bullock, December 1927
Borthwick Institute, Hickleton Papers

The second is from her father, written at the close of the year from France and accompanying ‘a photograph of our darling.’ ‘I can’t talk or write to you about her,’ the letter reads, ‘I am too great a coward, but I loved her - as no man has ever loved his daughter & with her has gone all joy from my life.’  Touchingly he adds that he wants Bullock to know that he will be to him ‘all that I tried to be to her’ and that he has in the earl ‘a friend to whom you can always turn & who would always try the best of his ability to help you.’ He ends by sending his son in law every good wish for 1928, knowing that ‘for you, as for me, no year in future can be a happy one - except the one in which I rejoin her.’

For her family and those who knew her, the words of the anonymous Times correspondent were all too true, ‘without her, the world was a duller and greyer place.’

The letters of Lady Victoria Bullock, nee Stanley, are part of the Hickleton Papers at the Borthwick Institute for Archives.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

The World’s Largest Telescope

Anyone attending the Great Industrial Exhibition in London in 1862 could have been forgiven for passing by the sight of two circular blocks of glass, 26 inches in diameter and two inches thick, standing on their edges being displayed by Messrs Chance of Birmingham. Impressive though they were these optical glasses could easily be missed alongside the great machines - such as Charles Babbage’s analytical engine, cotton mills, maritime engines, and London and North Western’s passenger locomotive, Lady of the Lake - being displayed by the 28,000 exhibitors from 36 countries.

However, there was one visitor to the event who saw the opportunity to create a lasting legacy. Robert Stirling Newall of Gateshead, whose fortune was made from the manufacture of wire rope,  purchased the glasses for £500 pounds each. They were the largest in the world at the time, being nearly twice the diameter of the previous largest, and Newall’s intention was that they would be the foundation of a telescope that would exceed in size all that had gone before.

The project would thrust England, and York in particular, to the forefront of the optical arts, ‘as we were in Dolland’s time’ according to the journal Nature. Contemporary commentators believed the optical art had been stifled in England by an ill-advised duty on glass, and for many years England had been dependent on foreign built telescopes, mainly from France and Germany. At the time of the Great Industrial Exhibition the telescopes with the largest object glasses in England - at Greenwich, Oxford and Cambridge - were all of foreign make. Newall, however, opted to use T. Cooke and Sons of York for his grand project.

Cooke had been at the forefront of resurrecting the art of optical manufacture in England. Samuel Smiles in Men of Invention and Industry relates that Cooke made his first object glass from the base of a glass tumbler, and from this unlikely beginning set up T. Cooke & Sons in 1837. Based at No. 50 Stonegate, York, he specialised in making telescopes and other optical instruments, such as surveying equipment, microscopes, turret clocks and later steam engines (for an unsuccessful steam carriage or motor car). He gained a reputation for excellence, and in 1860 constructed a 5.25 inch telescope for HRH the Prince Consort that was erected at Osborne House, and also provided Sir Norman Lockyer a telescope for his Wimbledon Observatory in 1861. In 1862 he exhibited his creations at the Great Industrial Exhibition in London, bringing home two First Class Medals, one for the excellence of the object glasses and mountings of his telescopes, the other for the construction and finish of his turret clock, and it was here that he came into contact with Mr Newall.

Newall sought quotes from both Cooke and Thomas Grubb of Dublin, but Cooke was so eager for the contract that he bid too low and underestimated how long it would take to construct. The project took far longer than the year he had anticipated. Newall became increasingly frustrated throughout the endeavour, whereas Cooke frequently sought advances to cover his costs. The project nearly caused the demise of Cooke’s business which was still suffering financial difficulties as a result several years after the completion of the telescope; Sir Norman Lockyer writing in 1878 stated, ‘Cooke did not hesitate to risk thousands of pounds in one great experiment, the success of which will have a most important bearing upon the astronomy of the future’.

The general design was the same as Cooke’s equatorials  but the huge size necessitated special arrangements. The main issue was the crafting of the glass lenses. Special equipment had to be designed to handle the discs, and the lenses had to be floated in mercury to prevent them breaking under their own weight. Lockyer stated that it took 1560 hours to grind the discs to the required shape, the thickness being reduced by an inch in the process. The work took place at Cooke’s Buckingham Works, Duke’s Hall, in the Bishophill area of York, but the scale of the project required the final assembly take place in the open near the city wall; Employee Mr Graham recalled the telescope “…..was a big undertaking and it had to be erected on the moat, near the City walls about the place where Newton Terrace now stands.”. It was 1870, and the telescope had taken around six years to complete. Once assembled it was taken to Newall’s observatory at Ferndene, Gateshead, and it was not until 1871 that it was fully installed in the observatory.

The resulting instrument weighed 9 tons and was 32 feet in length. At a time when the largest lenses in Greenwich, Oxford, and Cambridge were 15. 5 inches, the largest in Russia at Pulkova were 15 inches, and the largest in the U.S. were 18.5 inches, the step forward in manufacturing techniques required to produce a telescope with 25 inch discs, weighing 144lb, was considerable. The telescope was nearly twice as powerful as the 18 inch Chicago instrument, having a 485 inch area compared to 268, and had a focal length of 29 feet. The diameter of the object end was 29 inches, the diameter of the tube centre 34 inches, the diameter of the eye end 22 inches, and the support pillar was 19 feet high.

The tube was cigar shaped and made of steel plates riveted together in 5 sections. Inside there were five other tubes of zinc increasing in diameter from eye end to object end. The wide end of each tube overlapped the narrow end of the next with an inch of space left around the end of each to aid ventilation and prevent currents of warm air interfering with the light. The ends were lighter than the centre to prevent them destabilising the telescope.

Fixed above and below the eye end of the tube were two finders, each of 4 inches aperture, 12.5 inches in area, to aid accessibility. An additional telescope with an object glass of 6.5 inches was fixed between the two finders to assist the observation of objects (such as comets) for which the main telescope was not suited.

The observatory housing the instrument was between 40 and 50 feet in diameter and packed with apparatus to allow the telescope to be easily maneuvered, the temperature always the same inside and out to prevent currents of air interfering with observations. However, the atmosphere in England was ‘not the best suited for such an instrument’ and as early as 1870 the journal Nature was reporting that Mr Newall intended to move the instrument after preliminary testing to a location more suited to astronomical observation. This was taken to mean that it would not remain in England ‘every increase in the size of the object-glass or mirror increases the perturbating effects of the atmosphere, so that the larger the telescope, the purer must be the air’. However this was not to be the case, and Mr Marth, known for his work with the Lassel Reflector at Malta, was given charge of the instrument in Ferndene.

Newall’s telescope drew widespread attention, the US government sent Commodore BF Sands of the US Naval Observatory with a deputation of astronomers to examine it and this resulted in a commission of a telescope that would be one inch larger. Austria ordered one the same size.
Cooke never got to see the result of his work as he died in October 1868, whilst Newall was only able to claim to be the owner of the world’s largest refracting telescope for a short period, being overshadowed by the 26 inch Washington Naval Observatory telescope in 1873. However, the telescope was of such exceptional quality that it was used for years to come. On Newall’s death in 1889 it was moved from Gateshead to Cambridge University Observatory and by 1925 it was in the charge of Prof James Newall, Mr Newall’s son, director of the Polar/Solar Physics Observatory, Cambridge. There it stayed until the 1950’s when it was donated to the Greek National Observatory, Mt Penteli, Athens, where it can still be found today having undergone a complete restoration in 2013.

T. Cooke and Sons continued to produce telescopes and exported all over the world, eventually merging with Troughton and Simms in 1922, and Vickers Instruments in 1963. The records of the company can be found at the Borthwick Institute for Archives as part of the Vickers Instruments archive. An online catalogue for the archives of Vickers, Cooke, and Troughton and Simms can be viewed on Borthcat.

Further information:

A full technical description of the telescope can be found in Stargazing, past and present, by Joseph Lockyer.

Graham Hughes,
Archives Assistant.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

71 Years Wild: cataloguing and exploring the archive of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust

 Reed Warbler at Askham Bog in the 1930s, by Arthur Gilpin.
As we come into the last days of this year's #30DaysWild campaign, it seemed fitting to celebrate the end of my year-long project cataloguing the archive of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust - and what a year it's been! I've been lucky enough to delve right into the most detailed of archives, from the papers marking the establishment of the Trust and its day-to-day correspondence, right through to the note documenting the sighting of a single rare moth and a letter recording a daring dolphin rescue mission off Spurn Point. It's been a real dream come true for anyone with an interest in the natural world, the history of the conservation movement and also for me as an archivist at the start of my career. You can explore the 2000+ entries through our online catalogue, Borthcat.

When I started the project back in April 2016, there were 3.5 cubic metres of boxes to work through. A year later and there's almost double that amount as additional material has been sorted and deposited with us. Through the project we've also been able to develop new relationships with other organisations around Yorkshire which have led to the deposit of new archives relating to natural history, including Kit Rob's botanical notes and Dr Michael Thompson's bat recording study. It's really exciting to be able to build on our existing natural science records and to open these up as as research resource for everyone to use. 

Just part of one of  the lists of evocative
English plant names - among my favourite items!
As my first post as a qualified archivist, I felt equally excited and trepidatious to take on such a significant project and I feel like I've really learned a lot over the last year, not just about the incredible work YWT have been undertaking in Yorkshire over the last seven decades, but also about working on a collaborative project, balancing the different aims of the work across a fixed timescale and (on a practical level) learning my trade! I've been able to really get my teeth into some large-scale cataloguing work, and have also had the opportunity to blend these traditional archival skills with exploring the flexibility and functionality of  our cataloguing software, Access to Memory (AtoM), the open-source interface developed by the ICA and Artefactual Systems.

Perhaps most importantly, it's allowed me to share the archive with a wide range of user communities and to gather different perspectives on what archives mean to them. The YWT archive is so heavy with the histories of people across Yorkshire; the founders of the Trust, the pioneering staff who developed the Trust and cemented its position as a fearsome campaigning body at national and international level, and - crucially in an archive like this - documenting the vast contribution made by volunteers and members of the public who have been (and still are) dedicated to the landscapes of Yorkshire and to recording and preserving its wild places. 

Environmental data on Askham Bog, 1933.
Although the funded term of the project is now over, there is still a lot of scope to develop the YWT archive and to continue to unlock its research potential. The newly-catalogued material covers a wide range of disciplines and its relevance can be seen in the ongoing development of public policy. This is especially evident in the relationship between wildlife, habitats and agriculture - particularly in developing campaigns for raptor protection, in the control of bovine tuberculosis through badger culling and in the effects, and the mitigation of the effects, of coastal erosion. Even more recently, political changes in this country and America mean that records documenting climate and other environmental changes are ever more important. This project has allowed us to bring together an authoritative and accessible source of environmental data and to make it available to everyone. It has been a real privilege to work on this project and, although I am no longer working on the archive full-time, I will definitely be keeping things ticking over!

Lydia Dean
Project Archivist

Box count: 212/200 (couldn't resist!)

If there’s anything in particular you’d like to know about the project or how we approached it, do feel free to comment below or to get in touch through our Twitter or Facebook. You can also read other blogs on this project here.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Spotlight on the Retreat archive: An unexpected find

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts celebrating the Retreat archive and our digitisation project as it nears completion. The Retreat is one of the most important institutions in the care and treatment of mental health patients. Over the last two and half years, staff at the Borthwick have been working through the archive, preparing the documents for digitisation, carrying out conservation treatments where appropriate and photographing each item page by page.

This has been a huge task. Over 650,000 images have been created in total and the focus has been on handling each item with care and capturing a high quality image efficiently and effectively. Of course there have been many items that have caught our eye along the way. In this series of blog posts project staff pick out some of the interesting items that they have encountered.

Here Tracy Wilcockson, Conservator for the project discusses an image of York sculptor G.W. Milburn and links with other archives in our holdings.


I have had the pleasure of seeing many interesting documents pass through the studio as part of the Retreat Digitisation project and as a conservator it is not often that my interest in the image or text overshadows that of the physical makeup or condition of an item. But during my work on part of the Retreat archive, I was intrigued and excited to come across this.

Reference: RET/1/8/6/7/8

In the modestly sized silver based print on a paper support, I recognised a familiar face. Not of the York sculptor G.W. Milburn, as this was the first photograph I had seen of the famous sculptor, or of the patient Frederick Pryor Balkwill, whose records I had yet to assess and conserve. It was the statue of Queen Victoria that first caught my attention, having passed by this actual statue many times while walking in West Bank Park, Acomb, York, and knowing its sculptor to be G. W. Milburn.

The image shows the eminent sculptor working on the Queen Victoria commission in his studio, whilst his friend Frederick Pryor Balkwill looks on. The work was originally commissioned and sited in the Guildhall, but was moved to a number of locations before its final installation in West Bank Park.

I had a keen and personal interest in Milburn as prior to seeing this photograph, I had been fortunate to view Milburn’s Day book in a private collection, which documented many commissions for carvings in buildings throughout Yorkshire of architectural or ecclesiastical significance. Within this intriguing and fragile volume I had observed many of Milburn’s commissions but was delighted to recognise both concept drawings and photographs of final pieces from plans in the Atkinson Brierley Architectural Archive held at the Borthwick and recently conserved by our conservation volunteers, linking Milburn to another of our holdings. These carvings from Sherburn Church (possibly -in-Elmet), are just one occasion that we have speculated that Milburn’s work appears.

Reference: ATKB/6/98

Reference: ATKB/6/98

There is also evidence of his York firm in the 1930 additions and alterations to Harewood House (correspondence file ATKB/8/155) and estimates from his firm for the Canon Guy Memorial Stone in Fulford (correspondence file ATKB/8/156/7).

This is just a short example of where a single item within the Retreat Archive can provide unexpected avenues of personal interest and connection beyond the expected parameters of a mental health archive. The Retreat archive might not have been the first place (or even the tenth place) a researcher might look for an elusive picture of Milburn, but it displays quite eloquently the breadth of material now available and searchable for free online thanks to the Wellcome Trust funded project and how further research leading from the Retreat archive is supported by the wider holdings of the Borthwick.

More information about the Wellcome Library funded project to digitise the Retreat archive can be found on the project pages of our website. Digital surrogates from the Retreat archive project are available via the Wellcome Library.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Saying goodbye to Project Genesis

Two years ago I embarked on Project Genesis.  It was my first professional job after qualifying as an archivist and I knew then how fortunate I was to find such a varied and interesting post when I was just starting out.  Over two years, my job would be to create collection level descriptions and authority records for as many of the Borthwick’s archives as I could, making these available on our new online catalogue.  Alongside this work I was expected to blog, tweet and facebook about my progress and the intriguing, exciting, or just plain unusual records I found along the way.

Two years on, our catalogue Borthcat is very much up and running.  It boasts 563 collection level descriptions, 914 authority records, 304 subject terms and 305 place names.  

You can find records of individuals and families, of great estates, large and small businesses, churches (of multiple denominations), societies, manors, hospitals and political and cultural groups and associations.  The scope of the full collection stretches out from right here at the University of York to North and South America, Australia and Japan, via continental Europe, South Africa, India, and Russia.  

Programme from a German POW camp in World War II (Alfred Peacock Archive)

As Project Archivist I have had access to all of the Borthwick’s fascinating archives, a dream come true for anyone with a love of history.  It was clear from the very beginning of the project that this was not straightforward retroconversion, a case of simply putting existing finding aids online.  To make sure the catalogue was as up to date, as complete and as user friendly as possible, I would need to become very familiar with the strongrooms!  I have counted thousands of boxes and rolls, checked hundreds of finding aids against existing holdings and delved into countless archives to find out more about their contents, check dates and even box list where necessary.  I’ve held the 17th century deeds to Clifford’s Tower in York, read a first hand account of the Charge of the Heavy Brigade at the 1854 Battle of Balaclava, and even unpacked a 19th century Quaker bonnet.

The deeds to Clifford's Tower, York (Munby & Scott Archive)

In turn writing the authority records (short histories of individuals, families and corporate bodies who are the creators or subjects of the records) has introduced me to a vast interconnected cast of people and organisations and uncovered more than a few surprising links.  From the Hickleton Paper’s Earl of Derby who donated the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup to the unexpected appearance of Sarah Harriet Burney, sister of novelist Fanny Burney, as governess to Lady Houghton of the Milnes Coates Archive, my research has taken many unexpected turns.  Closer to home, writing the histories of parish churches, Methodist chapels and various businesses in York has helped me to see the city in a new light and I’ve become a dab hand at spotting the signs of the chapel-turned-restaurant and the remnants of long lost shops and factories.

I’ve also learned a great deal about AtoM, the archives management system developed by Artefactual which forms the basis of the catalogue.  I had no experience of AtoM when I started the project in 2015 and the first few months were something of a crash course as I learned how to create basic descriptions and authority records, how to input hierarchical descriptions and how to link descriptions and authority records to draw out connections between creators, subjects and the records themselves.  

Records of the Earls of Derby in the Hickleton Papers

AtoM is an open source system that can be shaped by the needs of its users and, as the catalogue developed, we were able to put our own stamp on Borthcat.  With the help and expertise of colleagues at the Borthwick, the Digital Library and IT, we’ve inserted parish record finding aids into their collection level descriptions, introduced an option in the ‘free search’ box to direct users to information about our probate records, simplified the user interface and made the entire catalogue searchable via the university library’s main ‘Yorsearch’ database.  I’ve had the opportunity to share my knowledge and experiences of AtoM with colleagues both at home and abroad, delivering papers at the Archives and Records Association Conference in London and the International Council on Archives Congress in Seoul, South Korea.

Alongside all of this, I have enthusiastically blogged, tweeted and facebooked, sharing photographs and stories from the archives on a regular basis and using my growing knowledge of our holdings to contribute to our Christmas social media campaigns.

A favourite find tweeted for Christmas 2016 (Sessions of York Archive)

I hope that the catalogue is a resource all our staff and visitors can use and enjoy and that you find its contents as informative, interesting and surprising as I have.  Project Genesis, as the name suggests, is really only the beginning for the Borthwick’s catalogue and while I will miss my role enormously I cannot wait to see where Borthcat goes next.

Sally-Anne Shearn

Friday, 28 April 2017

Spotlight on the Retreat archive: a satirical sketch of the Retreat in the early twentieth century

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts celebrating the Retreat archive and our digitisation project as it nears completion. The Retreat is one of the most important institutions in the care and treatment of mental health patients. Over the last two and half years, staff at the Borthwick have been working through the archive, preparing the documents for digitisation, carrying out conservation treatments where appropriate and photographing each item page by page.

This has been a huge task. Over 600,000 images have been created so far and the focus has been on handling each item with care and capturing a high quality image efficiently and effectively. Of course there have been many items that have caught our eye along the way. In this series of blog posts project staff pick out some of the interesting items that they have encountered.

Here Kath Webb, our resident expert on the Retreat archive introduces ‘Dr. Selfopinion’, ‘Dr. We’llsee’ and the ‘Paying Guest’

One of the delights of sorting and cataloguing any archive is that you never know what you are going to find. One gem, which I discovered just a couple of years ago, consists of a small but perfectly formed satirical sketch of the Retreat, written in June-July 1922 (RET/6/19/1/79).

‘A Mock Trial between a patient and the Medical Officers at one of the best and largest mental institutions in the country’, written by ‘Paying Guest’, is an 11 page typescript. The scene is a London law court, midsummer 1922, and the characters include a judge (‘Mr Justice Longhead’), a counsel for plaintiff (‘Miss Cocksure, KC’), two defendants (‘Dr. Selfopinion’ and ‘Dr. We’llsee’) and the plaintiff (‘Paying Guest’ himself).

RH characters.jpg
List of Characters in ‘A Mock Trial’
It opens thus:

Mock Trial 1.jpg

The sketch focuses on Miss Cocksure’s examination of ‘Dr. Self Opinion’ and then ‘Dr. We’llsee’, who justify their treatment of Paying Guest’, their patient. After their interrogations are complete, the judge declares:

Mock Trial 33.jpg

And he delivers his sentence:

I pronounce sentence on each of them, namely – To be imprisoned with hard labour, for life. They must also pay all the claims made upon them by the Plaintiff, so far as their bankers will allow them still to overdraw their accounts with them.

The sketch ends with the court being cleared ‘with much fighting amongst the blackguards’ and orders relating to visiting of the ‘gaolbirds’ and their special prison clothes.

The sketch is beautifully written and it is very funny but its humour is biting – it is a black comedy.  It isn’t hard to spot that the two doctor defendants are - only thinly disguised - Dr. Bedford Pierce, Medical Superintendent of the Retreat (he is ‘Dr. Selfopinion’) and Dr. Henry J. Mackenzie,  the Retreat’s Assistant Medical Officer (caricatured as ‘Dr. We’llsee’). The plaintiff and author – the ‘Paying Guest’ – is Ralph H., who was a patient at the Retreat in 1922. The sketch focuses on the relationship between the doctors and their patient and it is really intended as an indictment by a patient of his two doctors – a patient’s revenge, if you like. This makes it not only a funny sketch but also a particularly interesting document – reflecting the mind and thoughts of a patient and shining a light into the life and people at the Retreat at that time.

Ralph H. - the ‘Paying Guest’

Who was Ralph H.? His case notes are in RET6/5/1/24A and there are also files of correspondence in RET/6/20/1/8.

He was a patient at the Retreat no less than six times between 1919 and 1930 – dying during his last stay.  He first arrived as a voluntary boarder aged 54 in 1919, suffering from depression. After returning home he made a suicide attempt in 1920, and was sent to Ashwood House, a private hospital in Kingswinford near Dudley, under the care of its doctor, Dr. Pietersen. Whilst there, he became manic and unmanageable, and in September 1921 he was transferred to the Retreat, where he stayed until October 1922. He came to the Retreat, as a voluntary boarder, on three further occasions: January – June 1923, August – December 1923 and March – May 1925. For most of this time he was suffering from depression. In August 1929 he was admitted to the Retreat under an Urgency Order. He was then suffering from cancer of the larynx and he had been in London, being prepared for an operation, when he began to suffer once again with an attack of “elation and general over-activity” which made his behaviour difficult to control; in the circumstances the operation was postponed and he returned to the Retreat for his mental recovery. However he died there, of cancer, before the operation could take place.

What was wrong with Ralph? Nearly all the doctors who saw him were agreed that this was a manic depressive psychosis – we would say today that Ralph suffered from bipolar disorder. He had periods of clinical depression alternating with periods of manic behaviour. During his manic phases he was excited, difficult and troublesome. He had a persecution complex, which was manifested primarily against his carers. At Ashwood House in 1920 he had been “writing reams of libellous screeds, novels, diaries etc” against Dr. Pietersen and his staff. After his transfer to the Retreat, Dr. Bedford Pierce noted in October 1921, “He says exactly the same in speaking of me and Dr. Mackenzie as he has done of Dr. Pietersen”.  

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Letter from Ralph H, filed in his case notes,
accusing Dr Mackenzie of defamation of character, dishonesty and theft

He was noisy, abusive, swearing at the doctors and nursing staff. He was frenetically busy in devising nonsensical inventions and trying to send out letters to people who might promote them.  He also sent amorous letters to ladies. In return for his freedom to walk into the city of York, the Retreat made him promise not to post letters or make purchases, but these were issues hotly contested between Ralph and his doctors, because he believed (wrongly) that his letters were censored, or stopped, that there was a plot against him and that all doctors were dishonest. On one occasion he walked out of the Retreat and went to Tadcaster to see a solicitor friend. The Retreat was soon contacted and two attendants were sent to escort him back. His liberty was reduced and he was placed for the next three days in a more secure ward, away from his usual room in the Gentlemen’s Lodge which had an ‘open door’ policy.

Once you know this context, you can understand more of the details of “A Mock Trial”. The sketch, for examples, alludes to the issue of letters being opened:

COUNSEL: Now tell me this, doctor. Did my client write a letter to his Solicitor, about the 17th December last, and did he post it?

Dr. WE’LLSEE: He did, I believe, and he posted it in the hall box kept for the purpose, so that the spelling and expressions of delight at being there, should be verified by me.

COUNSEL:  Was the letter sealed by my client, with his crest on?

Dr. WE’LLSEE: It was, but as I had an impression of the seal taken in sulphur I opened the letters to check the contents….

The story of Ralph’s escape to Tadcaster follows:

COUNSEL: What happened next?
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Dr.WE’LLSEE: Yes I did. I thought it my duty to his wife. Further, I and my colleague, decided we would put him in the “drying chamber” on arrival, commonly called the “Egg Pit”… it took us three days to get him thoroughly dry…

As one can see from this extract, the ‘allegations’ in the court scene are amusing, and yet have a serious side: they make more sense set alongside the narrative in the case notes and correspondence, and also in Ralph’s letters to the doctors, where the same complaints and topics are aired. “A Mock Trial” is very much the product and the story of Ralph H.’s illness.

When Ralph was not in his manic phase, he appreciated the care at the Retreat. He was keen to come back to the Retreat in 1921 of which he “retained a kindly recollection”: the doctor at the Retreat, he said was “an honourable, straightforward gentleman”.  The Retreat had the sports and facilities he liked: he could garden, play croquet, bowls and tennis. Ralph was a wealthy man: a Birmingham businessman, who occupied a room in the Gentlemen’s Lodge which cost between 7 and 10 guineas per week. The standard of accommodation was that of a comfortable, high class hotel.

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Dining room at The Gentlemen’s Lodge

Ralph was a typical well-to-do patient: he enjoyed golf and fishing (there was correspondence over whether he was well enough to have his fishing tackle). He was naturally articulate and demanding, whether he was well or ill. His family too, as evidenced by the letters, were caring, but also assiduous and exacting. Part of the fascination of the correspondence is in how it reveals that the psychiatrist in a middle class asylum always had to act in concert with the patient’s friends and family, who could (especially if the patient was there on a voluntary basis) simply remove the patient elsewhere. The Retreat depended on the sizeable fees of the wealthy, and also on its reputation. The evidence shows that Dr. Pierce dealt with patients and family alike in a courteous and unflappable manner. This was not, however, the attitude of the Harley Street consultant who, at Mrs H.’s request, and with the consent of the Retreat, examined Ralph in July 1922. He afterwards wrote a confidential ‘doctor-to-doctor’ letter to Dr. Yellowlees (who had just succeeded Dr Bedford Pierce as Retreat Superintendent), saying, rather naughtily: “All I have to say in conclusion is that if you could persuade Mr H. that on dismissal [from the Retreat] he would have to live with his wife, you might find him quite ready to remain on indefinitely”.  The Harley Street doctor plainly thought Mrs H. interfering. But a much fairer conclusion would be that life for Mrs H. must have been very difficult and she worked admirably and relentlessly to see that her husband was cared for, with everything possible done to alleviate his condition.

Dr. Bedford Pierce - ‘Dr. Selfopinion’

Above all, “A Mock Trial” is one of my favourite items in the Retreat archive because it paints a perfect little picture – which may be satirical but is also rather touching – of two men: ‘Dr. Selfopinion’ and ‘Dr. We’llsee’ or in other words, Dr. Bedford Pierce and Dr. Henry Mackenzie.  At the time this sketch was written, they had worked together at the Retreat for nearly thirty years. Dr. Pierce was a young man of 30 when he arrived to head the Retreat in 1892. Dr. Mackenzie joined him just one year later. 1922 would be a year of significant change, because it was the year Dr. Pierce retired: by the time Ralph finished his sketch Dr. Yellowlees was already in charge. Dr. Mackenzie stayed on for a while, and retired in 1924. This sketch presents a picture of two doctors at the end of a long, successful and satisfying professional partnership.  The text even alludes to the closeness of this partnership:

COUNSEL: I think on his [the Plaintiff’s] arrival, you and your bosom chum, Dr. We’llsee, who has lived in your house for a great number of years (probably fifty) met my client with open arms.

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Dr. Bedford Pierce, centre and Dr. Henry J. Mackenzie on the left, c.1900

Dr. Bedford Pierce was one of the great figures in the history of the Retreat. A remarkable man, he was handpicked to lead the Retreat at the ages of thirty, despite having no previous experience of psychiatry. The confidence vested in him was not misplaced: under his guidance the Retreat entered a ‘golden age’. Not only did he oversee the expansion and enhancement of the interior but he saw the extensive reconstruction and opening up of the grounds and gardens, and the introduction of more varied and interesting programmes of activities, entertainments and sports for patients and for staff. He encouraged greater parole for patients so they could venture beyond the Retreat grounds for walks. A talented artist himself, he promoted art and tasteful decoration which brightened the hospital.  He began a pioneering course of mental nurse training at the Retreat, he opened the home nursing department, through which the Retreat sent nurses into people’s homes, and he started the Retreat pension scheme. He was a notable psychiatrist: President of the Medico-Psychological Association in 1919, he was also the first Retreat doctor to be allowed to open his own consulting rooms for his own private patients. He was clever, charismatic and authoritative, and yet also reassuring, approachable, and immensely well loved.

Ralph H.’s portrayal of Dr. Pierce was at once fantastical and yet in some respects based on reality. (This parallels the way Ralph treats his own story in the sketch). His portrayal of ‘Dr. Selfopinion’ is embellished with outlandish detail which plays ‘topsy-turvy’ with the actual Dr. Pierce, but sometimes the real man peeps out. Here is ‘Dr. Selfopinion’ being described physically:

DEFENDANT Dr. Selfopinion: (A tall, thin, shifty-eyed looking man, dressed in a black frock coat, looking very shiny with wear)

The black frock coat was realistic, and Bedford Pierce was tall and thin – the phrase ‘shifty-eyed’ is Ralph’s embellishment. As is the following:

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The topsy-turvydom here lies in the fact that Bedford Pierce was a Quaker – racing, card playing and financial fraud were opposite to the figure of the real man.  And yet, ‘Dr. Selfopinion’ is presented as the figure of authority that he was. There is also a long speech in the sketch where ‘Dr. Selfopinion’ describes how he is acting in accordance with the plaintiff’s wife’s instructions (‘I was to keep him in cotton wool’), which as the correspondence file shows was based on truth. And ‘Dr. Selfopinion’ is described as ‘playing a strenuous game at billiards’ and being in the hockey field, which also reflects Dr. Pierce’s participation in sports – both he and Dr. Mackenzie played in the Retreat men’s hockey team.

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Retreat men’s hockey team, 1902:
Dr. Mackenzie, centre back row and Dr. Pierce, front left (with dog) - RET/1/8/4/15/1

‘Dr. Selfopinion’ also says:

At the end of March I was obliged, owing to a temporary attack of senile decay to retire from my activities, but the Government Department who keep an eye on my house, asked me just to look in once a week, to see that the garden vegetables were getting on all right, so I consented.

This must refer to Dr. Pierce’s retirement in summer 1922, after which he became a Lord Chancellor’s Visitor to asylums (he was later a Commissioner of the Board of Control).

Dr. Henry Mackenzie - ‘Dr. We’llsee’

Ralph H.’s portrait of Dr. Henry Mackenzie is also composed of the same mixture of fantastical and real. Dr. Mackenzie was Bedford Pierce’s right-hand man – reliable, loyal and efficient. Dr. Marjorie Garrod, the daughter of Dr. Pierce, who grew up at the Retreat, describes Dr. Mackenzie in her short but valuable reminiscence, ‘The Retreat was my Home’ (RET/1/9/2/1).
In this, she describes him as ‘a dour, solemn Scot’. In his overflowing study, he would ‘solemnly stand and talk to us cracking each of his finger joints in turn and blowing through his moustache ’. In ‘A Mock Trial’ Ralph adds to ‘Dr. We’llsee’ a touch of incongruous, fantastical frivolity:

COUNSEL: I should like your colleague, Dr. What’s his name? Oh, I remember now – Dr. We’llsee, to step forward.
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However, Ralph mocks Dr. Mackenzie’s Scottish accent, presenting it in an exaggerated way, and with an additional dark undertone:

COUNSEL: Well! My client came to stay in the house in which you live part of the day, but sleep outside, on the front door mat.
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Dr. Mackenzie was the doctor whom Ralph saw most of, on a day to day basis, and the doctor who wrote up Ralph’s case notes. For this reason, the examination of ‘Dr. We’llsee’ in the witness box concentrates much more on Ralph’s detailed grievances, and perhaps he is treated less sympathetically. One wonders if the phrase ‘we’ll see’ was one that Dr. Mackenzie frequently used to mollify Ralph’s more outlandish or abusive claims. But in other respects, Ralph also captures the real man: ‘Dr. We’llsee’ is said to be ‘always busy in looking for eclipses of the sun, catching mosquitos, etc’. In reality, Dr. Mackenzie kept accurate statistics of meteorology through his rain gauges and thermometers and had, according to Marjorie Garrod ‘an unending fund of knowledge about scientific and mechanical things’.

...and finally

My last thought about ‘A Mock Trial’ is a question: why does it exist in a typed version? Who typed it up and why? Ralph’s original would certainly have been in manuscript. When he came to the Retreat in September 1921 he was busy writing a book, apparently about asylums. This seems to have been sparked by his experience at Ashwood House, whose doctor and staff first bore the brunt of his persecution mania. Dr. Mackenzie noted that he ‘spends much of his time here in writing a book to expose the iniquities of Ashwood House’; though there was also an indication that it would contain ‘no names’. Dr. Pierce told Mrs H. in September 1921 that Ralph was demanding a typist to make a fair copy of his book, but Dr. Pierce thought it looked ‘feeble, disconnected and uninteresting’, and so he had told Ralph that no publisher would want it. Clearly ‘A Mock Trial’ is not that book. Written during the following summer, one wonders if its form was actually inspired by Ralph’s experiences at the Retreat, whose stage entertainments and shows, as Harold Hunt describes in A Retired Habitation, often included ‘topical jokes’, sketches and allusions to staff. Ralph’s writing had also improved – ‘A Mock Trial’ is tightly written and to the point. One must conclude that the Retreat sanctioned its being typed up. No doubt the doctors would have found it valuable as a record of Ralph’s mind. But one also hopes that, accustomed to those jokes in Retreat shows, they also laughed and appreciated its humour.

More information about the Wellcome Library funded project to digitise the Retreat archive can be found on the project pages of our website. Digital surrogates from the Retreat archive project are available via the Wellcome Library.