Friday, 24 October 2014

Keeping Up the Pace (and Sims) at the Borthwick

Death and Dairies at Castle Howard
Loooong drawing of pillar at Castle Howard Mausoleum
Our week began with a brief introduction and tour of the Borthwick Institutes archives and stores. The collection is massive and the works are housed in strong rooms which we were certain could survive the apocalypse! The collection varies from maps and photographs to books, wills, church registers and architectural plans which is what we focused on for the week. The Pace and Sims collection includes plans and sketches to English landmarks like Castle Howard. The works we were assigned are relatively contemporary, primarily dating between the 1960s and the 1980s with our most recent plan dating to 1999. The plans include designs for everything from entire buildings to notice boards and toilets. We even came across a full size sketch of a pillar in the Castle Howard Mausoleum which, at nine meters, stretched the length of the large Lifelong Learning Room!

 The sketch was not very detailed and we believe this was because the architect may have been attempting to get a better idea of the height of the column.

The collection also included sketches of the Mausoleum on the grounds, originally designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor. These photos are copies of the original plans by Hawksmoor. These were interesting in that they included a stamp and address of where they were kept as well as, presumably, a signature from the person who kept or collected these plans. With these copies we were able to see the differences and similarities between older and more modern plans. Here, we observed likenesses in handwriting between eighteenth-century architects and twentieth-century architects. Most interesting was the stamp from National Buildings Record Office in Swindon. This was interesting as we discovered that the office in Swindon housed records and archives from various collections that were thought to be at risk from bombing during the Second World War. 

Some details the drawings for of Hawksmoor's mausoleum at Castle Howard
 Memorials and Mysteries at Newcastle Cathedral

Amongst mountains of architectural plans emerged designs in a language which we could not decipher.Danish! These were plans for the organization of text for Danish memorials at St.Nicholas Cathedral in Newcastle at which Ronald Sims was Cathedral Architect for a time. In researching, we discovered that the memorials are still displayed at the cathedral in recognition of the Danish merchant navy which made Newcastle its home port during World War II (see for more information).  We found these plans to be poignant as we were not expecting to handle documents for World War II memorials, especially to those outside of England.

The plans for Newcastle Cathedral also included sketches for a stolen noticeboard which was replaced in 1999. It was interesting to watch the progression of designs from the original board to the creation of a new board. This included many revisions which allowed us to experience the evolution of something that is seemingly insignificant.

 A Canadian in England!

Detail of the Canadian inscription
In the first roll of plans from Clifton Campville Church we found plans for memorials and various inscriptions for the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Prince Edward Island. We have tried to make a connection between Prince Edward Island, Canada and Clifton Church in Staffordshire (a tiny parish in English midlands) but have not been able to find its relevance. This was particularly significant for one member of our team as she is a Canadian. It was fun to come across something that was tied to Canadian heritage and history within mounds of rolls of English architecture.

This week has been particularly useful and full of surprises. Not only were we given the opportunity to handle and catalogue archival materials but also learned how to clean these sketches (rolls from the Atkinson Brierley drawings). We were given the opportunity to view and handle doodles, names and scribbles within the margins of these plans giving us insight into the personality of the architect and the day-to-day management of a major architectural firm.

One of our volunteers in action!
This post was written by students from the University of York on a work experience placement. 

You can read more about the experience of earlier students on the work experience programme at Keeping Pace

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Borthwick Move 10 years on - Gazing back at St Anthony's

Gary Brannan (Access Archivist and formerly Archives Trainee 2004-5)

I was just 21 (horrifically young, with a taste in fleeces and baggy cargo trousers – it was the early 2000’s, we did things differently there) when I arrived at the Borthwick Institute for Historical Research at the start of a warm September in 2004. 

I was the new Archives Trainee, and I was nervous. St. Anthony’s Hall on Peasholme Green, York, was somewhere where I had spent a few happy months researching my undergraduate dissertation the previous summer, and during that period something had got under my skin that had made me come back.

I knew that I was starting at a pivotal time in the Borthwick’s history. The Institute, as the sign on the door reminded me, was closed, about to move to brand new premises on the Heslington campus.

Well, that's me told.

It’s strange to think that it’s just about 10 years today since the first documents were carried from the old building to the new. The moving process had started in early October with the move of a lot of furniture and library stock, but the 15th October 2004 was the last day for the collections at St. Anthony’s. Monday 18th was The Day the Documents Moved. And they didn’t stop moving for well over a month and a bit, to 2 miles of new shiny shelving.

I was there that day, with my tiny digital camera - a very small (but at the time, really quite cool) item– hence the quality (or lack of) of the images. The camera didn’t have a flash and had a ridiculously long exposure, so a steady hand - and subject – was required, especially when shooting in low light levels. Really, the lens and processing in the camera will now be beaten by the cheapest smartphone – but I’ll wager that they don’t come with a cool like LCD screen you can slide over the viewfinder! 

Obviously,  22-year-old-me was a bit snap happy, but the images below give a flavour of that heady time, of the old Borthwick, its creaking floors, draughty windows, beams soaked in history, and mysterious, untraceable footsteps in the distance.

Lots of people were taking photos at the time, so I’m sure over the next few months of other photographs will emerge, but these images mean a lot to me. For once thing, they mark the start of my journey in this career.

10 years later I’m back as Access Archivist, and it’s really quite an odd experience - as an Archivist – looking back on the images. Day to day I’m dealing with our medieval collections dating back to the 11th century, but the images I made then remind me that we’re all making, shaping and recording our personal life stories and sometimes, it’s fun to look back – before looking forward.

The images below are only a small part of our story - you can find much more on our website

The Hall - full of boxes as part of the packing up process!

The view through the cage door into the bottom of strongroom 1

The downstairs of strongroom 1 - all our parish collections ready to go

The see-through floor, which I never really got the hang of...

Map storage

Conservation, pretty much all packed up and ready to go...

The courtyard, accessible only by a very narrow passageway to the right

And there she lies - the searchrooms were the line of windows facing the camera!

Friday, 10 October 2014

The York Lunatic Asylum Scandal

Examples of early nineteenth century restraints for use with insane

The York Lunatic Asylum opened in 1777, at a time when little was understood about mental illness. Without organised institutional care available, families were left to deal with the mentally ill at home as well as they could. It was usual to chain lunatics to the walls and to leave them naked (it was not thought possible for mentally ill people to feel cold) and alone. Madness turned people into animals.

William Tuke, 1732-1822
 Although there were grand ideals when it was first conceived of providing 'relief to those unhappy sufferers who are the objects of terror and compassion to all around them', York Lunatic Asylum soon fell onto a darker path. In 1790 a Quaker woman called Hannah Mills died at the York Asylum. No Friends had been allowed to see her during her six-week residence, to support her faith or to see the conditions in which she was being held. This led William Tuke to encourage the foundation of the Retreat in York, an institution built upon the Quaker idea that everyone should be treated kindly, and as an equal.

Concerns about the York Asylum continued to grow. After William Vickers was badly treated by the staff at the asylum, a Justice of the Peace for the West Riding called Godfrey Higgins interested himself in the case. Vickers had been released from the hospital bruised, lousy, dirty and so weak he could hardly stand. Other poorly-treated patients were discovered: Reverend Schorey who had been kicked down the stairs by his keeper, and Martha Kidd whose hip was dislocated during her stay. A meeting was called to examine Higgins' accusations and nearly 40 local gentlemen (including members of the Tuke family and a number of their friends) took advantage of an old rule and paid £20 in order to qualify as governors of the asylum and effect change.

Miniature of Godfrey Higgins
Investigations discovered that the number of patients at the Asylum had been growing, but poor financial management meant that the institution was struggling and conditions for the patients were poor. This should have caused a higher death rate but the figures published in the Asylum's annual reports did not reflect this. Closer examination of the steward's books made it clear that deaths had been concealed. In addition, it was discovered that the physicians at the Asylum had misappropriated significant sums of money from the institution. Before further assessments could be made, a fire began which destroyed one wing of the asylum and all of its early records. Four patients died. Rumours said it had been set by the steward deliberately to conceal the truth but this was never proven. Dr Best was never charged for his fraud but was forced to resign due to ill health.
Affluent patients at the Asylum were generally well treated. It was the poor who suffered. On a surprise inspection in March 1814, Godfrey Higgins insisted that the staff opened locked doors near the kitchen. When the key could not be found he threatened to break open the doors with a poker. Finally he gained entrance and found 'a number of secret cells in a state of filth, horrible beyond description', full of female patients, 'the most miserable objects I ever beheld'. Elsewhere, 'you might see more than 100 poor creatures shut up together, unattended and uninspected by anyone'.

The Retreat, c.1812
 In August 1814 at the governors' annual court, new rules were made and the officers of the asylum were all dismissed. The staff were replaced with help from the Retreat Hospital.

In the aftermath, there was a full parliamentary enquiry to which Godfrey Higgins, Samuel Tuke and others contributed. The report was published in 1815 and can be read for free via GoogleBooks

Alexandra Medcalf, Archives Assistant


You can read more about the Retreat here and more about the Tuke family here here and here