On This Day: the execution of Edith Cavell, 1915

To accompany our posts on students who gave their lives during World War I, I thought it appropriate today to exhibit materials we have relating to Edith Cavell, the British nurse who is known to have helped save the lives of injured soldiers on both sides of the conflict without discrimination.

Front cover of The Illustrated London News Saturday 23rd October 1915 “the heroic Miss Edith Cavell”

Having been arrested by German forces for assisting with the escape of over 200 injured allied soldiers from Belgium, Cavell was executed by firing squad on October 12th 1915. Her story made front page news and there followed a number of articles and artistic impressions in subsequent editions throughout the war that, as well as celebrating Cavell’s wartime contribution, were also serving as propaganda pieces:

An article by the eminent journalist and novelist, G K Chesterton in the 30th October 1915 edition of ‘The Illustrated London News’

‘”Faith and Courage in Death”: An Allegory of Edith Cavell’ by A Forestier. As above.


Over the years, her impartial treatment of allied and German soldiers along with her martyrdom have been the source for many biographies and adaptations, with the first film being produced as early as 1916. In our holdings we have one such adaptation, a made for television play by Andrew Davies, titled Happy in War. Broadcast on the BBC in 1977, the programme is one of several biopic projects Davies worked on at the time.



One of the final pages of the screenplay featuring Cavell’s famous last words: ” Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”




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120 Years of the Hawthorn Building

The Hawthorn Building was officially opened on the 5th October 1897, 120 years ago today!

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Tales in Archive Stock Taking Part Three

Buried Treasure!

From the Special Collections that brought you such instalments as Tales in Stock Taking Parts One and Two comes the Third chapter in our trilogy! However, Ewoks and Eagles will not be making any appearances.

With this being the first stock take undertaken by the DMU Special Collections since the creation of the repository back in 2013 we have discovered many intriguing items. One that really caught our eye was this intriguing collection of three engraving.

The provenance of these prints is unknown and can only be guessed at. Most likely they were purchased by a member of staff possibly in Italy during the early years of the Leicester College of Art as it made efforts to travel across Europe to study the art and design being produced elsewhere such as Benjamin Fletcher’s visits to Germany and Austria.

The engravings pictured are from a series by Angelo Biggi who was active around 1870 and are made after Raphael frescoes. Some more investigating needs to be conducting but these three prints might be from a series of 38 of which the British Museum currently holds 10.


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Good Luck Helen

It is time to say good bye and good luck to our volunteer, Helen, today. We thank you very much for all your hard work and especially your enthusiasm for cataloguing our vast National Art Slide Library!

After a year with us Helen is now off to start the next part of her archive journey at Aberystwyth on the Archives and Records Management Course. Enjoy and keep in touch.

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Tales in Archive Stock Taking Part 2

How NOT to store your collections!

Following on from Tales in Archive Stock Taking Part 1, I thought I would counterpoint the beauty of the organised strong room with some horror stories of bad storage that would make any archivist wince.

While going through our Building Studies Collection we discovered many stationery pests in the form of rusty paper-clips and degrading elastic bands that demonstrate the importance of preservation while illustrating the damage that can be done from seemingly benign household items.

The next nuisance to come out of the average stationery cupboard is pressure/sticky tape.

Here you can see how degraded sticky tape has become brittle and fragmented taking a layer of the document with it (the little white bits on the tape).

By far the most shocking effect of a lack of preservation and re-packaging came during a spate of de-framing. While a picture frame may appear to be a good way of storing a picture, photograph, or document – it is behind glass and cannot easily become dusty or torn – they do bring their own hazards:

As well as the risk of photographs becoming stuck to the glass the acidity of the backing board here has started to draw out the ink so much from this framed notice board it has left a legible imprint.

I can thankfully report a happy ending for all our items as many de-framed photographs and pictures have been transferred to Secol sleeves

and rolled and oversized items, where possible, have been stored flat in bespoke folders.

Ahhh, what a relief!

For our final instalment keep a look out for Tales in Archive Stock Taking Part 3: Buried Treasure!




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Tales in Archive Stock taking: Part 1

Consolidation and Appraisal

We’ve been a little quiet on the blog of late and this is due to the fact that over the last two weeks we’ve been conducting our first ever stock take! While we counted and listed all the treasures the exercise gave us the opportunity to consolidate, appraise, re-package, re-arrange and in some cases re-discover our wonderful collections.

But before we could create this wonderful vision of archival Utopia we first (of course) had to make more mess. This included the unpacking and appraisal of one of our larger collections we have on a course that used to run at DMU in its poly days: the Building Studies collection was donated by its Head of Department, Janet Wood on her retirement and was in desperate need of some TLC.

And that’s just what it got!!! First of all, having suffered somewhat of a diaspora in the strong room we located all the boxes and set to work: all three of us, plus two volunteers, Ky and Helen, began unpacking, appraising and listing the contents, and then repackaging.

On the day, the process reminded me of the previous night’s TV viewing of Game of Thrones (Season 7 Episode 5, SPOILER WARNING) where Sam and Gilly are steadfastly trawling through the old books and records in search of some vital information on how to defeat the White Walkers. As Gilly recounts how one keen cataloguer makes a note of all of his bowel movements as well as how many stairs and windows there are in the citadel they overlook the importance of the recording of Rhaegar’s annulment. Dun Dun Duhhhh.

While demonstrating that archives might not always be glamorous they are often at the centre of a good narrative, and developing some sifting skills will certainly help sort the collections from the hoardings.

Building Studies degree show brochures from the 1980s

Now much more accessible (because we know what is in it and where it is) the collection  sits beautifully all in one place in the strong room awaiting the next stage – itemisation.

Several collections underwent a similar process of re-organisation, such as some of the university committee minutes and press cuttings:

The press cuttings were a particular challenge as I discovered three different systems of arrangement but I decided that the most obvious was best: Month and Year!!!

While beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder, for the archivist, beauty really does lie in organisation and orderliness!

Re-packaged textile boards from the D/067 McGeoch Collection

Coming soon: Tales in Stock Taking Part 2: how NOT to store your collections.



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375th Anniversary of the English Civil War

375 years ago today King Charles I arrived in Nottingham with his army and raised the royal standard (flag) above the castle officially declaring war on parliament. Charles was riding on his successful capture of Nottingham’s arms having failed to take the munitions of other cities, including Leicester.

However, two years later the Royalists returned and on the 30th May 1645 the Newarke, Leicester became the stage for one of the bloodiest sieges of the Civil War.

The buildings and fortifications that were once key features during the war now provide a part of the historical backdrop around DMU campus, such as the Magazine that housed the city’s weapons and ammunition and the Turret Gateway, also referred to as Rupert’s Gateway. Rupert of the Rhine was the nephew of Charles I and led the assault that burst through the Newarke fortifications and sacked the city.The gatehouse itself was destroyed so that now only the gateway survives.

Magazine Gateway, Magazine Square. Built in the 15th Century as an entrance to the Newarke religious presinct, this building later became the munitions store during the English Civil War.

John Player & Sons Cigarette Card in the “Celebrated Gateways” series, Nottingham. Depicting 17th century scene.

Turret Gateway, Castle View. Named after Prince Rupert who is said to have stormed the Gatehouse, however, some believe the name is inaccurate and refers to a neighbouring wall torn down in the 1800’s.


Turret Gateway was damaged during the Civil War and more so in a riot that took place in 1832, but the image above helps to illustrate what the Gatehouse may have looked like during the time of Charles I.

After three weeks occupation the Newarke saw military action once more, when the Parliamentarians arrived and Leicester was recaptured from the Royalists. DMU Special Collections holds the Town Armour belonging to Trinity Hospital and it is possible that it saw action in one or both of the Newarke sieges.

Town Armour Helmet, with curious hole, possibly from battle or from testing the helmets durability.


While the majority of the Town Armour  is accommodated in the DMU Special Collections, a selection of artefacts can be seen in the DMU Heritage centre.

The Town Armour collection consists of breastplates, back plates, gorgets and helmets that were typical of your standard pike-man

Also within the collection are nine halberds that are reminiscent of what the Uruk Hai would wield whilst storming Helm’s Deep (but that could just be me), as well as a ceremonial  sword complete with the Wyvern Crest of Thomas Crouchback that we are more familiar with from the Leicester Coat of Arms/City Arms.

Town Armour Collection, Ceremonial Sword with wounded white wyvern, 17th century.

Town Armour Collection, Ceremonial Sword, 17th Century.

Town Armour Collection, 17th Century Halberd.


John Player & Sons Cigarette Card in the “Celebrated Gateways” series, Nottingham. Depicting 17th century scene.


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New catalogues on the Archives Hub

DMU Special Collections was delighted yesterday to host the final Archives Hub Roadshow of this summer, rolling out the new interface to archivists so they can get cataloguing! Having online catalogues is a huge bonus to discoverability. Without them our collections would not get matched with the researchers who need to see them, so we are very grateful to the Hub for their hard work hosting so many catalogues (nearly 300 institutions have descriptions on the Hub) and collaborating with organisations like Archives Portal Europe to ensure our work has a Europe wide reach.

We have recently had 3 new catalogues go ‘live’ on the Hub.

S/003: Papers of England Boxing (formerly Amateur Boxing Association of England)

This exciting new collection boasts minute books that date back to the founding of the association in 1880 providing a rich insight into the amateur sport. There are also papers relating to selection committees, adjudication minutes, the Women’s Commission and the Youth Commission, the organisation and administration of tournaments both domestic and overseas, liaison with regional associations, the training of coaches, awareness programmes and membership.

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The collection contains a large amount of programmes dating from 1880 to the present for a variety of matches and tournaments across Britain and globally.  There is also a valuable assortment of trophies, a variety of medals, plates, belts, pennants, signed boxing gloves and commemorative ephemera for Commonwealth and Olympic Games; this includes toys, tracksuits, caps, lanyards and programmes.

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Another significant new collection relates to the Estates and Buildings on DMU’s campuses past and present. Spanning 1890 to the present the collection includes administrative papers, correspondence, reports, building plans, photographs and newspaper articles. These span not just the existing Central Leicester campus but former sites such as DMU Bedford, DMU Milton Keynes and the Scraptoft Campus.

Finally, D/068, Architectural drawings by P. D. A. Blakesley, comprise drawings reconstructing Bradgate House, the ruins of which are in Bradgate Park. Douglas Arthur ‘Peter’ Blakesley studied at the Leicester School of Architecture from 1934 before having to interrupt his studies due to the Second World War. After the war he took on a role as studio instructor at the School of Architecture. Blakesley is credited as being instrumental in setting up a Postgraduate Building Conservation Course (one of only three in Britain as of 1978), of which he was the principal lecturer. At the end of the academic year 1977-78, Blakesley retired following 44 years associated with the School.

Image shows The Queen opening the Milton Keynes Campus, March 1993.Queen milton keynes 002


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Away Day Display

Special Collections were asked to contribute to the Finance Department Away Day by giving a talk on the history of DMU as one of several optional activities for finance staff.

IMG_20170719_103529 We started with a warm-up activity based on old coinage – at least one person knew his bob from his groat and his sovereign from his crown, without needing the crib sheet!

Thoroughly in a historical mood, we then moved on to a presentation about the history of DMU since 1870. This was followed by the chance to look at a display of material from the Archive collection, illustrating the range of items we hold.

The display included our first register of students, press cuttings albums, examples of staff and student work, annual reports, prospectuses, student and staff magazines, a piece of Victorian physics demonstration equipment, events brochures, and the School of Architecture scarf from the 1940s.

We also found a few files of finance work to show the team how much their jobs had changed! Year end certainly seems to have been completed more quickly back then.



The Special Collections team are available to give talks and tours relating to the history of the institution, both internally and externally – please contact archives@dmu.ac.uk to discuss.


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Austenmania in the Archives

Today marks the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death and 200 years on her novels continue to be lauded among the best in the English language. Like Shakespeare and Dickens, even if you’ve never read one of her works you are sure to have heard of her and her novels as they have come to exist in the cultural collective imagination. Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Emma are undoubtedly the most well-known and evoke images of rolling English countryside, stately homes, drawing-room drama, Regency frocks, and Colin Firth in a wet shirt – no wait, that’s Andrew Davies’ 1995 television version!

Moving on… so to celebrate the occasion, I thought I would showcase a few treasures from our collections that are either related to her works or provide a window into her times.

Jane Austen  (1775 – 1817) was born in Hampshire and although a popular author in her day (the Prince Regent was a huge fan and asked for Emma to be dedicated to him) she did not receive recognition as a great novelist until long after her death. All her novels were published anonymously, by “A Lady”, but all offer a beguiling glimpse into Regency life in rural England. The images below, taken from The Lady’s Monthly Museum, aka Polite Repository of Amusement and Instruction, 1801,  and La Belle Assemble, 1817, depict Regency fashion, and could almost be illustrations:

You can easily project your fave Austen character onto these figures: the lady on the far-left bears a striking resemblance to Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet in BBC’s 1995 Pride & Prejudice. And the figures on the far-right could be the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne, in Sense and Sensibility.

From Regency fashion to furniture: some books from our Art Design and Architecture collection show a typical room layout and some furnishings and decorations from the day.

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The Dining Room in Jourdain, M. ‘English Decoration and Furniture of the Later XVIIIth Century 1760-1820’. 1982.

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Two arm chairs dating from around 1808.

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Escutcheons (decorative fittings used around keyholes and door handles) from a contemporary pattern-book.

While the the elegance of the Regency drawing room and the accomplishments of young ladies are often the topics of conversation in Austen’s novels, they are not without their social commentary and contextual references. One should always remember that Austen was writing during the height of the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) and a militia presence can be felt throughout her novels, reflecting the stationing of thousands of British Army troops along the South Coast of England in the early 19th Century as Napoleon continued his expansion across Europe and readied for an invasion of Britain.

While the naval Captain Wentworth in Austen’s final novel, Persuasion, cuts a rather dashing romantic figure whose love for Anne does not falter while he is away at war, the Redcoats (the army troops) do not always turn out so favourably, such as the dastardly Wickham in Pride and Prejudice. Again, this depiction reflects concerns of the time that not all the troops behaved in a moral and gentlemanly way while stationed in areas where no one knew them or their histories.

While all of this offers some wonderful insight into the construction of Austen’s novels, to round up my Austenmania trip I will finish by including some materials that relate to the adaptations of her works and their link with DMU. We are fortunate in the archive to be the custodians of the Papers of Andrew Davies, one of Britains most well-known television and film screenwriters who is considered an auteur in the field of classic novel adaptation. His most famous is of course the 1995 Pride and Prejudice but for something different I thought I’d dig out Northanger Abbey, as its journey from inception to production, taking nearly a decade, would make a fascinating case study.

As an an honorary graduate and visiting Professor of the university, Andrew Davies has been involved with many events at DMU, such as Cultural Exchanges week, and last year he gave a public Q&A and interview. DMU is also home to the Centre for Adaptations and Jane Austen and her works have long been the focus of many an interesting study day, such as this one from 1996:

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Davies was a speaker at this Jane Austen Study Day hosted by the School of Humanities following the success of the BBC’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’. Taken from ‘Annual Review: 1995-1996’.

Austen biopics and adaptations of her work have been plentiful in recent years and soon she will be more ubiquitous than ever – given her image is to feature on the reverse of the new Polymer £10 note that goes into circulation today. While there are many events across the UK celebrating Austen’s achievements, if you can’t get to one you can always have a marathon Davies DVD fest, come and see the scripts in the archive, or settle down to read one of her novels; perfect summer reading…


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