THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

7 posts categorized "Contemporary Britain"

08 December 2017

Hostess with the mostest… and so much more: introducing the Ishbel MacDonald Archive

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Imagine the Prime Minister having to pay to run Downing Street out of her own pocket – seems unreasonable from today’s perspective, but until fairly recently this was an expectation for the British Prime Minister. The recently acquired archive of Ishbel Peterkin née MacDonald (1903-1982) sheds light on the burdens of this. Ishbel was the eldest daughter of Ramsay MacDonald, the first Prime Minister for the Labour Party in the UK, first in 1924 and again from 1929 to 1935. When Ishbel’s mother Margaret passed away in 1911 Ishbel acted as her father’s host during his political career living alongside him at 10 Downing Street and running the house.

MacDonalds in Garden Hampstead
The MacDonald family in their garden in Hampstead, North London. Ishbel stands behind her father Ramsay. © With kind permission of Ishbel Lochhead.

Ishbel visited Downing Street prior to the family’s move and was perturbed by the big, empty house. Previous Prime Ministers had brought their own furniture – and then taken it away with them. The MacDonalds, however, were not moving from a grand residence but from their modest family home in Hampstead. To prepare, Ishbel and her sister purchased linen, crockery and cutlery with their own money, while Ramsay MacDonald arranged a loan of paintings from the National Portrait Gallery. These intimate domestic details reflect an interesting shift in 20th-century politics. MacDonald was of more humble origins than his predecessors in government who had set a precedent for running Downing Street as an extension of their wealthy homes.

Guestlist Thurs 11th Dec 1930

Guestlist Thurs 18th 1930
Guest lists for 11 and 18 December 1930 © With kind permission of Ishbel Lochhead.   

Ishbel’s effort to run Downing Street modestly did not stop with the furnishings but in hosting and feeding guests. Carefully preserved notebooks of guest lists and menu cards paint a vivid picture. We can see who was eating with the Prime Minister and when, including place settings inked on the left in red. The menus themselves suggest that the MacDonalds had to budget carefully and were unconcerned with the culinary fashions of the day. Typical menus of the period from society events showcased a classical, often ostentatious French repertoire, usually written in French. By contrast Ishbel’s menus contain simple dishes like ‘Nut Roast’ and ‘Roast Chicken.’

Menus 18th and 11th Dec 1930
Menus for 11 and 18 December 1930. © With kind permission of Ishbel Lochhead.

Ishbel MacDonald’s papers will offer researchers a fantastic insight into her efforts running 10 Downing Street as well as a record of her fascinating life more generally. Ishbel was an active politician in her own right, elected to the London County Council in 1928 and again in 1931. She was the subject of public fascination and when she decided to leave politics to run a pub in 1935 the move was covered by extensive media coverage. The archive contains correspondence, detailed diaries, and scrapbooks and notebooks relating to the family's time in politics.

Luncheon 2nd December 1930
Guest list and menu for luncheon on 2 December 1930. © With kind permission of Ishbel Lochhead.

The archive is currently being catalogued with the aim of making it available to researchers in the Manuscripts Reading Room by the middle of next year. In the meantime please contact eleanor.dickens@bl.uk with any enquiries.

Eleanor Dickens
Curator, Politics and Public Life

20 July 2017

Miss Jenny the cheetah visits England

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Miss Jenny and another cheetah came to England in 1764. They were part of a collection of animals despatched from India by George Pigot, the Governor of Madras, who had made a vast collection of foreign curiosities, ‘particularly wild beasts’. The cheetahs were fortunate to survive the long voyage which sadly proved fatal to many of the animals.

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Cheetah from Seringapatam, India, 1794
NHD 32/3


The cheetahs and their Indian handlers were temporarily taken in by the Duke of Cumberland who had been an enthusiastic collector of exotic animals which he kept at Windsor until a tiger escaped and mauled and killed a young boy. The tragic incident led him to send his exotic animals to the Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London. Sometimes he still took temporary care of animals on their way to new homes, including the cheetahs brought to England by George Pigot.
On 30 June 1764 the Duke of Cumberland organised an event at Great Windsor Park to put one of these visiting ‘tyger-cats’ on show. The cheetah was set loose to hunt a stag that had been placed in the Park but the demonstration of the cheetah’s hunting skills did not initially go well. After being tossed by the stag’s antlers the cheetah broke free, evaded the netting meant to confine it, and escaped into the forest where it proceeded to kill a roe deer. The Indian handlers caught the cheetah and let it feed on its prey. Manchester Art Gallery has a painting by George Stubbs of the cheetah at Windsor.


One cheetah was sold and one was presented to the King as a gift for the Royal Menagerie. A report on the Royal Menagerie from the early 1770s records not only that the cheetah was still there, but that it had been affectionately named by the Keeper of the Royal Menagerie as ‘Miss Jenny’. The two cheetahs’ Indian handler, known as John Morgan, had less respectful treatment. He was the victim of a theft while he was in England.


Miss Jenny now has a different incarnation as the cheetah guiding children around the History Detectives family trail in a new exhibition Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage.

Cheetah for Twitter

This family-friendly exhibition tells the story of the close connections between Britain and India, Pakistan and Bangladesh from 1600 to the present day. It shows how those connections have influenced our food, culture, fashion, politics and heritage and made us who we are today.

LANDSCAPE SCREENS 1920 x 1080 PXLS


The exhibition is at the Library of Birmingham until 04 November. It was created in partnership with the British Library and generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Details of opening hours, events and family days are on the Library of Birmingham website.


Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records and curator of the exhibition


Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records


Further information
Caroline Grigson Menagerie: The history of Exotic Animals in England, (Oxford University Press, 2016)
Old Bailey Online 
Asians in Britain web pages 
Library of Birmingham
#connectingstories
#brumpeeps

 

13 July 2017

Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage

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LANDSCAPE SCREENS 1920 x 1080 PXLS


This family-friendly exhibition, launching on 15 July, will tell the story of the close connections between Britain and India, Pakistan and Bangladesh from 1600 to the present day. It will show how those connections have influenced our food, culture, fashion, politics and heritage and made us who we are today.

Item 67 - Sophia Duleep Singh selling Suffragette 1913The exhibition continues the partnership between the British Library and the Library of Birmingham, bringing together their rich and complementary collections to illustrate this important but little-known aspect of British and local history. There will be over 100 exhibits which highlight many different voices from the past.

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh is one of many people who will feature in the exhibition. (Image from IOR/L/PS/11/52, P1608)

Exhibits include letters, posters, photographs, advertisements, surveillance files, campaigning materials, oral history,music, and even a children’s game and a 19th century paper bag for Indian sweets. I and my co-curator of the exhibition, John O’Brien, hope that the variety of exhibits will prompt visitors to consider the many ways that history is

recorded and how gaps and silences can be filled.

The exhibition aims to capture Birmingham's importance in global trade and as a centre of industry.

Item 85 - 14119_f_37__MBM_D B Harris_advert

Mirror of British Merchandise, 1888

The Library of Birmingham's collections include stunning images by local photographers past and present which will be showcased in the exhibition. The image below is a photograph by Paul Hill of the Dudley & Dowell foundry at Cradley Heath, 1972, Library of Birmingham MS2294/1/1/9/1. (Image courtesy of Paul Hill.)

Item 92 Foundry worker by Paul Hill

 Capturing images of Birmingham’s richly diverse community is an important part of the exhibition and engagement programme. A selection of photographs will be included in the exhibition to give a vivid picture of Birmingham and all the people who live there today. Anyone in Birmingham can get involved now by sending their photograph via Twitter #brumpeeps. Exhibition visitors are also invited to ‘make their mark’ and share their own stories. 


Please see the Library of Birmingham's website for activities throughout the duration of the exhibition, such as family days, oral history training and talks at local libraries. 

The exhibition and community engagement programme have been generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. 


Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records and exhibition curator 


Further information
Asians in Britain web pages
Library of Birmingham website for details of opening hours and events
#connectingstories
#brumpeeps

10 July 2017

Dame Anne McLaren: a noted career

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To publicise the upcoming event: Anne McLaren: Science, Ethics and the Archive, to be held at the British Library on 20 July, 6.30-8.00 pm, we are republishing this post examining the notable achievements of McLaren’s career. A longer article on McLaren by the biologist Marilyn Monk can be found on the BL Science blog along with this article on McLaren’s role on the Warnock Committee.

Dame Anne McLaren (1927–2007) was a developmental biologist who pioneered reproductive techniques that led to human in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

Dame_Anne_McLaren_©_James_Brabazon Dame Anne McLaren. Copyright © James Brabazon.

McLaren studied Zoology at Oxford and received a DPhil in 1952. In the same year she moved to UCL and began research with her husband Donald Michie into the skeletal development of mice. In 1955 she and Michie moved to the Royal Veterinary College and it was in 1958, while working with John Biggers, that McLaren produced the first litter of mice grown from embryos that had been developed outside the uterus and then transferred to a surrogate mother. This work paved the way for the development of IVF technologies and the birth of the first IVF baby Louise Brown some 20 years later.
 

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Detail from McLaren’s laboratory notebook dated 1955-1959 recording her experiments concerning embryo transplants in mice. (Add MS 83844). Copyright the estate of Anne McLaren.
 

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Detail from Mclaren’s laboratory notebook dated 1968-1976. (Add MS 83854). Copyright the estate of Anne McLaren.


In later years Anne’s career took her from Edinburgh to Cambridge via UCL where she continued her work into fertility and reproduction. As well as undertaking research she was a keen advocate of scientists explaining their work to the population at large and being involved in the formation of public policy. McLaren was a member of the Warnock committee whose advice led to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990 as well as the establishment of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which regulated in vitro fertilization and the use of human embryos, on which she served for over 10 years.
 

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Selection of lectures dating from 1977-78 including a ‘Lecture to girl’s school near York’ (Add MS 83835). Copyright the estate of Anne McLaren.

The Anne McLaren papers at the British Library consist of letters, notes, notebooks and offprints. These are currently available to readers through the British Library Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue at Add MS 83830-83981 and Add MS 89202.

Anne McLaren’s scientific publications and books, along with an oral history interview conducted in February 2007, are available to readers via the British Library Explore catalogue.

Jonathan Pledge
Curator of Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts, Public and Political Life

 

05 May 2016

Calculating Kindness Revisited

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To publicise our event Calculating Kindness: Chasing George Price, to be held Tuesday, 10th May, 6.30 – 8.00 pm at the British Library, we are republishing an edited version of Laura Farnworth’s post on the development of  Undercurrent’s production, Calculating Kindness, using archives held at the British Library.

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Adam Burton as George Price. Copyright Richard Davenport/Undercurrent.

I first stumbled across George Price in a Readers Digest article in 2011. Struck by his extraordinary story, which illuminates important questions about who we are, I was compelled to find out more. This led me to the British Library where his manuscripts are held, together with those of his colleague, evolutionary biologist William Hamilton.

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Neal Craig as William Hamilton, Adam Burton as George Price. Copyright Richard Davenport/Undercurrent.

Price was an eccentric American who arrived in London in 1968. He spent weeks going to libraries, until he discovered a paper by Hamilton.  One of the key ideas in Hamilton’s paper was that people are genetically predisposed to be kindest to kin. George found the idea bleak. Did real selfless kindness exist?

In an attempt to prove the idea wrong, George formulated an equation widely acknowledged as the mathematical explanation for the evolution of altruism. The Price Equation proved Hamilton right and was so extraordinary that University College London gave George an honorary position within eighty minutes of him walking in off the street.

George had been a militant atheist, but writing the equation had a strange effect on him. He began to calculate the probabilities of coincidences in his life, including the probability of him being the man to write the equation. The outcome was so remote, George decided the equation was a gift from God and converted to fundamental Christianity overnight.

RWD16_Calculating Kindness_117-s

Adam Burton as George Price. Copyright Richard Davenport/Undercurrent.

George then embarked on a radical phase of altruism - helping complete strangers. He gave away everything he had and ended up homeless. In America, George had undergone an operation for thyroid cancer. Now, testing God, he had stopped his thyroid medicine, which can contribute to depression. George was pushing the extremes of survival, living on a pint of milk a day and celebrating his last 15 pence.

A few years later, Price was discovered in a squat having slit his throat. Seven men attended his funeral - five homeless and two evolutionary biologists, William Hamilton and John Maynard Smith.

‘Calculating Kindness’ weighs up the question: was Price mentally ill, or consumed by a spiritual desire to disprove his own theory: that man is kindest to his kin?

Whilst reading through his papers George began to come to life for me - with each document I got to know him a little more. I started to understand what preoccupied George and how he thought about things. This invaluable research has formed the bedrock for developing the show. It is material I keep coming back to, and as my understanding of George’s science improves, so I see new things in his writings.

Laura Farnworth
Artistic Director of Undercurrent

 

16 March 2016

Dame Anne McLaren: a noted career

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Dame Anne McLaren (1927–2007) was a developmental biologist who pioneered techniques that led to human in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

McLaren studied Zoology at Oxford and received a DPhil in 1952. In the same year she moved to UCL and began research with her husband Donald Michie into the skeletal development of mice. In 1955 she and Michie moved to the Royal Veterinary College and it was in 1958, while working with John Biggers, that McLaren produced the first litter of mice grown from embryos that had been developed outside the uterus and then transferred to a surrogate mother. This work paved the way for the development of IVF technologies and the birth of the first IVF baby Louise Brown some 20 years later.

20160311_132857687_iOS

Detail from McLaren’s laboratory notebook dated 1955-1959 recording her experiments concerning embryo transplants in mice. (Add MS 83844). Copyright the estate of Anne McLaren.

20160311_142516336_iOS

Detail from Mclaren’s laboratory notebook dated 1968-1976. (Add MS 83854). Copyright the estate of Anne McLaren.

In later years Anne’s career took her from Edinburgh to Cambridge via UCL where she continued her work into fertility and reproduction. As well as undertaking research she was a keen advocate of scientists explaining their work to the population at large and being involved in the formation of public policy. McLaren was a member of the Warnock committee whose advice led to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990 as well as the establishment of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which regulated in vitro fertilization and the use of human embryos, on which she served for over 10 years.

20160311_132038083_iOS

Selection of lectures dating from 1977-78 including a ‘Lecture to girl’s school near York’ (Add MS 83835). Copyright the estate of Anne McLaren.

The Anne McLaren papers at the British Library consist of letters, notes, notebooks and offprints. There is currently one tranche (Add MS 83830-83981) available to readers through the British Library Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue with a second tranche planned for release later in 2016. Additionally one of Anne McLaren’s notebooks containing material from 1953 to 1956 (Add MS 83843) is on long-term display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery.

Anne McLaren’s scientific publications and books, along with an oral history interview conducted in February 2007, are available to readers via the British Library Explore catalogue.

This post forms part of a series on our Science and Untold Lives blogs highlighting some of the British Library’s science collections as part of British Science Week 2016.

Jonathan Pledge, Curator of Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts, Public and Political Life. 

21 April 2015

Memories of Reading needs you!

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Memories of Reading is the name of a new research project conducted by the School of Education, University of Sheffield. The project seeks narratives, stories and anecdotes from all sections of the community, focusing on reading experiences and adventures spanning the past 100 years. The project evolved from a Booktrust-funded evidence review, entitled "Attitudes to Reading and Writing and their Links with Social Mobility 1914–2014" (Levy et al, 2014). This evidence review was mainly based around literature searches and data drawn from the Mass Observation Archive, as well as a small number of intergenerational family interviews.

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During the interviews, we found that people came to life when they shared their stories about reading - whether they talked about visiting the library as a child, learning to read in school, or about their favourite books and stories, people's memories of reading are vivid and descriptive, linked to their identities and personal histories. In order to focus on these stories, "Memories of Reading", led by Dr Sabine Little, was launched at an event as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science at the University of Sheffield last November. In a "Story Hut", members of the public were invited to share their memories. The event led not only to a number of wonderful narratives, but also to intergenerational communication - grandparents took their grandchildren in and explained to them how they learnt to read as children, children spoke about their favourite books and explained to their parents what they liked about them. Together, the Memories of Reading form a social commentary on reading in school, in families and at home, using technology, visiting libraries, arriving in the UK, or establishing an identity as a reader. Spanning 100 years, some decades are obviously better represented than others, and the search is on to make sure that each decade is fully explored!

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Your input is needed!  It is intended for the Memories of Reading to be published in book format, alongside a narrative analysis and referenced commentary linking the memories to historical events. In order for the project to be successful, many, many more memories are needed! Anybody willing to be a part of the project can add their memory here   - Please share the link with any organisation, school or initiative you feel would be interested! Memories will be gathered throughout 2015, to maximise opportunities for the project to become known across all sections of the community. We will keep you posted on the results, or follow #memoriesofreading on Twitter!

Sabine Little
Lecturer in Educational Studies, University of Sheffield

Further reading:
Memories of Reading website
Levy, R., Little, S., Clough, P., Nutbrown, Bishop, J.,  Lamb, T., and Yamada-Rice, D. (2014a) Attitudes to Reading and Writing and their Links with Social Mobility 1914-2014 – An Evidence Review.  London: Booktrust.