Sound and vision blog

274 posts categorized "Oral history"

01 August 2022

Recording of the week: Women’s work on the record

This week’s post comes from Myriam Fellous-Sigrist, Data protection and Rights Clearance Officer.

Women picking netted gooseberries in Bedfordshire  1941

Above: Wartime Activities, women picking fruit, Bedfordshire, 1941. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Source: LSE Library.

One of the many joys of oral history is learning about unexpected topics. Whether recording an interview or discovering another interviewer’s work, oral history - and especially life story recordings - is full of information that we would not suspect if we were to only read the catalogue records and summaries.

In the last few months, I have worked on three collections of interview cassettes that were preserved by the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project. These are An Oral History of British Horticulture (British Library ref. C1029), An Oral History of the Post Office (C1007) and the Hall-Carpenter Oral History Archive (C456). Most of the interviews are several hours long, sometimes up to 13 hours. Unsurprisingly, they cover much more than the topics of horticulture, the Post Office, or gay and lesbian experience in the United Kingdom. Some of the transversal themes are fascinating to observe, and one of them is women’s work in the mid-20th century, across social classes and geographical areas.

A large part of my work as an UOSH Rights Officer is to review newly digitised and catalogued sound recordings before deciding whether they are suitable for online open access. When it comes to oral history recordings, conducting a sensitivity review requires paying attention to the interviewee’s family members, key life events and relationships. Each time, I am reminded of the wealth of sociological and historical information that is usually captured in the first hour of most interviews, which often depicts the origins of two parents and four grandparents, as well as their occupations and roles inside and outside the home.

Listening to these recordings shines a light on the power of sound archives, and on the limits of their written description. The four extracts below show the importance of diving into the audio version of any interview, to go beyond the misleading categories that are inevitably created by cataloguing and summarising. This includes the simplistic, and often wrong, category of 'housewife' used to describe an interviewee’s mother. Often the interview summary also hides the many paid and unpaid occupations that many women had in the 20th century. These jobs are revealed when oral history narrators talk about their mothers, aunts, grandmothers and themselves. Although my selection is only of female narrators, the shift in women’s and men’s roles is also described through these personal accounts, as can be heard in the last extract.

My selection starts with Pamela Schwerdt, who was co-interviewed for the Oral History of British Horticulture project in 2002. She was born in Esher, Surrey in 1931. Her father was a naval officer and her mother’s occupation is described as 'none given' in our catalogue. Yet, the first part of the interview unveils a busy trio of women who, between themselves, set up and chaired for a century the National Wildlife Society. Its success culminated in Pamela’s mother receiving a CBE in 1986 for her work as President of this Society.

In this clip Pamela talks about the three Presidents of the National Wildlife Society. The British Library ref. is C1029/08.

Listen to Pamela Schwerdt

Download Pamela Schwerdt transcript

In the same oral history collection dedicated to horticulture, Peggy Cole described in 2003 the many paid jobs that her mother had in the 1940s and 1950s. Despite being catalogued as a 'housewife', her mother worked as a hospital cleaner, a woodcutter and fruit picker. In this extract, Peggy, who was born in 1935, recounts how her mother worked after the birth of her last son in 1950 as one of a hundred other female seasonal workers near Easton, Suffolk. The British Library ref. is C1029/11.

Listen to Peggy Cole

Download Peggy Cole transcript

In the third extract, we hear about Gladys Hillier who worked as one of the few postwomen in the 1940s in Gloucester, where she was born in 1917. In the interview that she gave in 2002 as part of the Oral History of the Post Office project, she described how she went from working in an aircraft factory during World War II, to delivering the mail in 1947 until her retirement in 1982. The British Library ref. is c1007/57.

Listen to Gladys Hillier

Download Gladys Hillier transcript

Women’s new paid professional activities during World War 2 are discussed in our fourth interview. Jackie Forster, who was born in 1926 in London, reflected on the impact this social change had within her own family. In an interview for the Hall-Carpenter Oral History Archive, she explained how her mother worked as an ambulance driver during the war and started making money in the Stock Exchange to support her two children. Jackie’s mother became the breadwinner after her husband, who was an army doctor posted in India, was declared missing in 1939. In this extract, Jackie describes the new family roles and dynamic, and how these had to be accepted by her father, who eventually returned to England in 1945. The British Library ref. is C456/87.

Listen to Jackie Forster

Download Jackie Forster transcript

18 July 2022

Recording of the week: ‘Living open-handedly’

This week’s selection comes from Holly Gilbert who was, until recently, Cataloguer of Digital Multimedia Collections at the British Library.

Colour photograph of Michael and Paddy

Photo of Paddy Taggart & Michael McEvoy © BBC

One of the many highlights of working with the Listening Project collection for nearly a decade has been the joy of hearing the wisdom that other people have gained from their own lived experiences.

The recordings are mainly conversations between two people who know each other well so it is almost inevitable that some profound insights are made in the course of what can often be quite deep and personal discussions.

As I leave the British Library for a new path in life I’m thinking about the parallels between meditation and wild swimming that two friends, Michael and Paddy, discuss in their Listening Project conversation in Belfast. They talk about how they met through their shared interest in both these activities and remember some of the swims they have been on together.

They describe the magical experience of being immersed in nature and the wildlife they encounter in and under the water.

They also discuss how being in water allows you to see things from a different perspective, and reflect on the meditative and philosophical side of swimming as well as how much fun it can be.

In this extract Paddy describes very eloquently what you can learn from the nature of water and how it can be applied to life on land as well. I invite you to turn up the volume, let go and jump in!

Listen to Michael and Paddy

Download 'Living open-handedly' transcript

Listen to the full conversation on the British Library Sounds website

11 July 2022

Recording of the week: Trailblazers in women’s sports

This week’s selection comes from Sarah Kirk-Browne, Cataloguer of Digital Multimedia Collections.

EURO 2022 promotional flyer

Last week, the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 competition kicked off in Old Trafford. This is the second time England has hosted the tournament, and there are live matches in stadiums across the country. With an exciting and inspiring summer of women’s sport ahead, I would like to highlight this conversation recorded for The Listening Project in 2021.

The Listening Project is an audio archive of personal conversations, collected by local and national BBC radio stations. Since 2012, people have been invited to have a conversation recorded and broadcast (in edited form) by the BBC and archived by the British Library. You can listen to over one thousand recordings in full on our Sounds website, and learn more about the ongoing project on the BBC website. In this recording, archived in full as British Library call number C1500/2124, two pioneering sportswomen discuss their successes and experiences.

Leah Caleb started playing football at infant school, joining in with the boys in the playground. As her love of football grew, her mum heard about a new women's football team called Chiltern Valley run by Harry and June Batt. Leah joined the club aged 11, and at just 13 she went to Mexico to take part in the 1971 Women's World Cup. At the time, the media were comparing her footballing skills to George Best, and interest and ticket sales for the competition exceeded all expectations. 

Although she was representing England and played in front of crowds of 90,000, the team was not recognised by the Football Association or the then Women's Football Association (WFA), and on their return home they were banned from playing for three months. You can read more about the WFA’s reaction to this event in the WFA Archive held by the British Library at call number Add MS 89306. However, this sequence of events paved the way for much greater recognition and support for women’s football, leading to the huge popularity and excitement for the 2022 Euros that we are seeing today.

In this clip, Leah describes her love for the game:

Listen to Leah Caleb

Download Leah Caleb transcript

Joining Leah in this conversation is Dana Abdulkarim, who was the first Muslim and Arab woman to represent England in any sport. Like Leah, she was also 13 when her football career was taking off. She was encouraged to go for trials to play for England, but an injury combined with attitudes around her faith and participation in the sport proved to be a challenge. Instead she focused on rounders, which at the time felt more inclusive. She had great success and subsequently gained 67 England caps. She then went on to become Britain's first hijabi Muslim PE teacher, encouraging future generations of girls in sport. She is also a speaker, writer, and trustee at the Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation and the Chance to Shine charity.

Leah and Dana talk together about their trailblazing experiences as women in sport across different generations. They also discuss the challenges they have faced and their hopes for the future.

In this second clip, Dana talks about how things are changing for the better in school sports, and how much she is looking forward to the Euros:

Listen to Dana Abdulkarim

Download Dana Abdulkarim transcript

Get involved with preserving women’s football online:

The British Library is part of the UK Web Archive, which has an extensive collection of content from sports clubs (amateur and professional), fan sites, football research and events. There is no distinction in the collection based on gender, and we are working to ensure that information, discussion and creative output related to the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 competition is preserved for future generations. Anyone can nominate UK published websites for inclusion in the UK Web Archive by filling in our nominations form.

You can read more about the UK Web Archive’s UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 collection in this recent blog post by Curator of Web Archiving, Helena Byrne

04 July 2022

Recording of the week: The NHS turns 74

This week’s post comes from Hannah Tame, Oral History Cataloguer for the Voices of Our National Health Service collection.

On 5 July 2022, the NHS celebrates its 74th anniversary. It seems appropriate then, that this week’s selection is taken from the Voices of our National Health Service oral history collection. I am currently cataloguing this at the British Library. The collection of interviews is one of the largest collections of oral histories to ever be deposited at the British Library, with interviews captured from over 1200 different interviewees.

The collection consists of interviews from the University of Manchester’s 'NHS at 70' and 'NHS Voices of Covid-19' projects combined. NHS at 70 was initially set up in 2017 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the formation of the NHS (funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund). It recorded first-hand experiences, memories and reflections of the NHS from staff, patients and members of the public. Then, with a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council - part of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Covid-19 Urgency call - interviews continued remotely during the pandemic for ‘NHS Voices of Covid-19’.

This week’s clip is taken from one of the pre-Covid interviews in the collection. Interviewee Margaret was born in 1935 and was interviewed in March 2019. Sadly Margaret passed away last year. Her interview captures her career as a dressmaker for the NHS, as well as her childhood reminiscences of healthcare. Margaret recalls a pivotal moment for her family in 1940 (before the creation of the NHS in 1948) when she was just five years old and her mother contracted tetanus.

Listen to Margaret Southey

Download Transcript

Illustration of couch grass

Above:  Couch grass, how Mary's mother contracted tetanus. Image credit: Wellcome Library, London. See Wellcome Images. Used under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0.

This experience captured in Margaret’s interview offers a unique insight into an infection that less than 100 years ago would have been life threatening. Treatment for tetanus was relatively new when Margaret’s mother received it. Before the Second World War (when developments advanced for the treatment of tetanus) around 200 people in the UK died of tetanus each year. In 2019 there were only 4 cases of tetanus reported in England. The number is low thanks to the effective tetanus vaccine given since 1961 as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme.

Margaret’s story is just one of many interviews in the collection that demonstrates how direct and in-direct healthcare experiences can impact all aspects of people’s lives. There are numerous other interviews in the collection that include experiences of tetanus. Whether that be from a nurse who treated babies with tetanus or someone’s first healthcare memory of receiving a tetanus vaccination at school. In my eyes, the huge variety of perspectives is one of the things that makes the Voices of Our National Health Service collection so valuable and interesting to listen to. Each interview, and each person’s experience allows us to see the NHS from a different viewpoint.

The full interview with Margaret Southey is catalogued at our reference C1887/281 and is available to listen to on-site at the British Library.

Facts and figures from the Vaccine Knowledge Project.

Follow @BL_OralHistory for all the latest news.

27 June 2022

Putting 'AIDS: The Unheard Tapes' in context

Mary Stewart, Lead Curator of Oral History, gives more information on the interviews used in a new BBC documentary series.

Broadcast tonight on BBC2 is the first in a three-part documentary series entitled AIDS: The Unheard Tapes (27 June, 9.30pm BBC2). The series is a powerful showcase of selected recordings from the British Library’s extensive collection of oral history interviews with people living with HIV and those directly affected by the HIV epidemic. All three episodes will be available on BBC iPlayer.

AIDS: The Unheard Tapes uses personal testimonies to tell the story of the HIV epidemic in the UK from the early 1980s until the mid 1990s as experienced by the UK’s gay community, tracking a similar time period to the award-winning 2021 Channel 4 drama series It’s a Sin. Alongside new filmed interviews, each one-hour episode forefronts testimony from the British Library’s oral history collections recorded in the 1980s and 1990s. The documentary uses the audio from the archived interviews with each narrator's voice lip-synched for television by an actor. Sadly, many of the interviewees whose powerful testimony features in this series have since died.

 

Which oral history collections are featured in the documentary?

The programmes use selected interviews from two pioneering oral history projects, one recorded in the late 1980s and another from the mid-1990s onwards. Both were archived at the British Library for long-term preservation and public access.

The Hall-Carpenter Oral History Project features over 100 interviews conducted from 1985 until the early 1990s with gay and lesbian people in Britain. The testimonies contained in this rich and diverse collection were recorded as the HIV epidemic unfolded, so many of the interviews have stories from people living with HIV or from those who saw its effects on friends and their communities. Researcher Margot Farnham played a key role in organising and interviewing for the project and in the publication of two books* based on the testimonies. Margot’s voice features as one of the interviewers in AIDS: The Unheard Tapes.

HIV/AIDS Testimonies is a collection of life story interviews with people with HIV and AIDS recorded by researchers Wendy Rickard and Babs Gibson. 30 interviews were recorded between 1995-2000. In 2005 Wendy and Babs returned to re-interview as many of the original participants as possible, adding to the collection a second set of interviews capturing people’s experiences in the intervening decade. Where interviewees had since died, recordings with loved ones were made, where possible. The voices of Wendy and Babs also feature in AIDS: The Unheard Tapes.

 

What makes these collections stand out?

The power of life stories

The recordings in these collections are long and in-depth life stories in which the interviewees were asked to reflect on the entirety of their life experience: childhood, education, family, work, their social lives, communities and their relationships. This means that each recording captures a rich audio biography of the narrator in their own words recounting their experiences in vivid detail, drawing us into their emotional world, their humour and their turn of phrase. The documentary has, of course, used excerpts that are relevant to each interviewee’s experience of HIV, but the testimony is so compelling because it is drawn from the long life stories held in the archive. These interviews are a powerful reflection of their time – when knowledge of HIV had to be built from scratch and the prospect of effective treatment was at best experimental. This means that the recordings capture the uncertainty and emotion of the era, when no-one knew what the immediate future would hold.

Archiving the material for future listeners

The researchers leading these projects worked from the outset with the oral history team at the British Library to archive these frank and in-depth interviews (led by Curator Rob Perks, who worked at the Library 1988-2021). As with all oral recordings, each interviewee decided when and how their interview was made available, but everyone was interviewed in the knowledge that their recording would one day be publicly accessible. Many interviewees placed no restrictions on public access and these interviews have been accessible in the Library’s Reading Rooms for decades. There are still a number of interviews that are currently closed at the interviewees' request, and the Library will make these powerful recordings available to researchers in the future as soon as the access restrictions cease.

Without the Library's commitment over 30 years ago to archive and provide public access to these highly sensitive interviews there is little chance that they could be used in this documentary series. The production team at Wall to Wall Media listened to many hours of testimony in the Library’s Reading Rooms, selecting the material that they wished to broadcast. Where possible all of the interviewees or their loved ones were then re-contacted to ensure that they were happy for the audio to be broadcast.

 

What other oral history material is available at the British Library on HIV in the UK?

It is vitally important to recognise that this documentary series and the interviews selected to feature in it represent only some of the communities and individuals affected by HIV in the UK. This diversity of experience is reflected in the other testimonies held in the HIV and AIDS Testimonies collection and also in the wider body of material archived and made accessible by the Library’s oral history team – work which continues today. 

Here is a brief overview of the oral histories of people living with HIV, or working in HIV specialisms, within the British Library collections. You can search the detailed catalogue records for all of the interviews on the Sound and Moving Image catalogue. There are search tips available on the British Library website. The Library's Listening and Viewing Service can provide assistance and information on how to listen to recordings. 

Invisible Women: Positively Women HIV Interviews is a collection of 16 oral history interviews with women living with HIV. The interviews reveal how HIV has affected them socially, at work and in their family lives. The project was carried out by Positively UK as part of a project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2007 and 2008.

Imagining Patient Zero: interviews about the history of the North American HIV/AIDS epidemic is a collection of 50 interviews recorded by Richard McKay between 2007 and 2008 as part of his research investigating the concept of ‘patient zero’ and the early years of HIV in North America.

Haemophilia and HIV Life History Project and HIV in the Family: an oral history of parents, partners and children of those with haemophilia and HIV comprise nearly 80 interviews and document the history and lives of those living with these conditions, as well as the experiences of the families of those infected. Extracts from both projects are available on the Living Stories website. These powerful oral history interviews are being used in the ongoing Infected Blood enquiry.

Listen here to interviewee Paul reflect on recording his story about living with haemophilia and HIV:

Paul interviewed by Sian Edwards, 2004, Haemophilia and HIV Life History Project C1086/12 © British Library

Download Transcript

The AIDS Era: an oral history of UK healthcare workers is a collection of interviews with 61 healthcare workers who cared for people with HIV at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s. Jane Bruton, an interviewee and one of the project leaders, is also interviewed for AIDS: The Unheard Tapes.

Geraldine was a staff nurse and then the Community Liaison Nurse on the HIV ward. In this clip from her interview she talks about the vital role of volunteers in the 1980s and 1990s:

Geraldine Reilly interviewed by Fiona Clampin, 2018, The AIDS Era: an oral history of UK healthcare workers C1759/51 © British Library.

Download Transcript

The oral history team are absolutely delighted to be currently working with CHIVA: the Children’s HIV Association on their interviewing project Positively Spoken. The project team are recording 50 interviews with young people about their experiences of growing up with HIV. The project is participative and includes peer interviews. Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Positively Spoken is gathering powerful testimonies from young people, many of whom are speaking on record for the first time about their experiences of living with HIV.

 

Making AIDS: The Unheard Tapes possible

The production company for this series, Wall to Wall Media, liaised extensively with the oral history team as we worked through the permissions, rights and ethics for each recording considered for broadcast. This has been supported by colleagues from the Listening & Viewing Service, Soundcopy Service, Sound Licensing team and British Library Press. Both collections featured in the documentary have been digitised by Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, so thanks are due to the UOSH team and project funders the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Considerable thanks are also due to Wendy Rickard, Babs Gibson and Margot Farnham for their collaboration and consultation.

Finally, and most importantly, a massive thank you to all of the interviewees, interviewers and project leaders for their time, effort and generosity in helping the Library build and provide access to such an amazing array of personal testimonies.

 

Find out more

The Library’s LGBTQ histories web resource highlights material from across the collections. From Tuesday 28 June 2022 visit the Treasures Gallery in St Pancras to see the new case ‘Proud Words’ which showcases newspapers, books, leaflets and manifestos authored by LGBTQ+ people in the 1970s and 1980s - creating and claiming words for their community.

*Walking after Midnight: Gay Men's Life Stories (The Hall Carpenter Archives, 1989).

*Inventing Ourselves: Lesbian Life Stories (The Hall Carpenter Archives Lesbian Oral History Group, 1989).

Margot Farnham and David Ruffell, ‘Scenarios of Departure: the AIDS Paintings of David Ruffell’ in Ecstatic Antibodies, Resisting the AIDS mythology, edited by Tessa Boffin and Sunil Gupta (Rivers-Oram Press, 1990).

Wendy Rickard, ‘HIV/Aids Testimonies in the 1990s’ in Oral History, Health and Welfare edited by Joanna Bornat, Rob Perks, Paul Thompson and Jan Walmsley (Routledge 2000), pp 227-248. 

Richard A McKay, Patient Zero and the Making of the AIDS Epidemic (University of Chicago Press, 2017).

 

07 June 2022

Chance patrons: Sir Nikolaus Pevsner and the pioneering age of British architectural history

'An Oral History of British Architectural Historians', is a new oral history project, recently deposited at the British Library Sound Archive. The collection was recorded by the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain (SAHGB) and documents the work of historians of British architecture from the mid twentieth century to the present day. In this blog Jake Bransgrove uses the oral history interviews with John Harris (British Library catalogue reference: C1804/03) and John Newman (British Library catalogue reference: C1804/04) to look at the life of Sir Nikolaus Pevsner (1902-1983) and 'The Buildings of' series of architectural guide books.

Portrait photo of the nave of King's College Chapel, CambridgeThe nave of King's College Chapel, Cambridge. The late Perpendicular Gothic flourishes were much admired by Nikolaus Pevsener. Copyright: Chris Boland

Between 1951 and 1974 Sir Nikolaus Pevsner published 'The Buildings of England', a forty-six volume series of architectural guide books. This was followed by successor series on Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Pevsner’s guides compiled historic buildings with unique or representative architectural value, bringing together formal analysis with wry observations. The books remain essential resources for those curious about their built heritage. For architectural historians in Britain, they are a landmark in the development of the discipline.

Pevsner was central to the project and personal reflections on his character, life and method help us to understand the guides’ significance. Evocative examples come from those with whom Pevsner worked. These include individuals like John Harris and John Newman who helped him at early stages to execute his daunting task. Their involvement with the guides also lead to later careers as researchers, writers and teachers in their own right. Both Harris and Newman have been interviewed for 'An Oral History of British Architectural Historians'.

Harris’s relationship with the 'Buildings of England' began with a period researching the first edition of the Lincolnshire volume (1964). Having previously worked as an upholstery apprentice and an antiques dealer, he was an unlikely choice for the position. Yet, energised by the thrill of the open road, Harris spent a contented period researching for Pevsner. Harris traced Lincolnshire’s sprawl of byways on his Lambretta motorcycle with his future wife Eileen on the back. He also snooped amongst grand if run-down houses – an experience he chronicled in a later memoir, 'No Voice From the Hall' (1998). In the following excerpt, Harris reflects on the reasons for his involvement in the project. At the same time he discusses the limits of his employer’s method:

John Harris on Pevsner's method (C1804/03/01 [00:39:41 - 00:41:11])

Download John Harris on Pevsner's method Transcript

In Harris' view, Pevsner had a less-than-intrepid approach to research, and did not fully consult topography, English social mores and archival material. On all these points, many others have since agreed.

Yet Pevsner had taken a chance in employing Harris, who had received no formal training in architectural history at this point. The path Harris subsequently took led him to the role of Head Librarian and Curator for the Royal Institute of British Architects. In this he was assisted by interventions from the likes of James Lees-Milne, connoisseur and writer for 'Country Life', and the collector Geoffrey Houghton-Brown. However, it was Pevsner’s patronage that had stamped Harris as approved in matters of architectural history. When considering his life story in perspective, it presents a noticeable fork in the road. As a result, he found himself working with prominent scholars like Sir Howard Colin, Sir John Summerson, Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Rupert Gunnis:

John Harris on working with prominent scholars (C1804/03/01 [01:31:07 - 01:35:57])

Download John Harris on working with prominent scholars Transcript

For John Newman, Pevsner’s editor for the two 'Buildings of England' volumes on Kent (1969) and long-time professor of post-medieval British architecture at The Courtauld Institute of Art, Harris’ story proved a kind of precursor. Newman had been a Classics teacher at Tonbridge School when he wrote to his future patron on a whim. He expressed an interest in the guides and asked for advice on how he might become involved in their preparation. This led to Newman meeting with Pevsner and then enrolling for an MA at The Courtauld on his recommendation. Whilst a student, Newman found himself working for Pevsner as a driver on research trips between terms. He would shuttle Pevsner from rural church to rural retreat, at the same time honing his own powers of formal analysis and interpretation. Newman eventually gained the opportunity to compile the volumes on Kent. Pevsner himself considered these books the best of the series.

The inspiration and influence of Pevsner was crucial in kickstarting Newman’s career as an architectural historian, as he recalls in the following clip:

John Newman on Pevsner's influence (C1804/04/01 [00:43:08 - 00:47:57])

Download John Newman on Pevsner's influence Transcript

Employment on such informal terms was, as Newman himself is quick to note, a feature of the period. It is notable that neither he nor Harris ever received (or expected to receive) a doctorate. In its pioneering days, architectural history built itself up as a profession through acts of patronage much more than is the case today. For Newman, encounters of the Pevsner sort continued to shape his career. This proved the case when he was approached at the end of his MA by the then Director of The Courtauld, Sir Anthony Blunt – infamous ever since for his public unmasking as a Soviet spy in 1979 – to join the staff after graduation.

Accepting Blunt’s offer, Newman went on to teach at The Courtauld until retirement. He guided a generation of British art and architectural historians and supervised around twenty-seven PhDs. Unlike Harris, he maintained a relationship with the 'Buildings of' series through work on the early Wales volumes and in his role as advisory editor from 1983. He also worked as editor for 'Architectural History', the journal of the SAHGB, between 1975 and 1985. Newman emerged as an influential scholar-facilitator: an editor, advisor and teacher who was, in many ways, cut from the same cloth as Pevsner. Both were aware of their position in a community of scholars and built upon the work of their predecessors. They were as concerned with their own contributions as with supporting those of the future. As Newman recalled of Pevsner’s views on later editions of his guides:

John Newman on later editions of the guides (C1804/04/04 [00:31:17 - 00:32:30])

Download John Newman on later editions of the guides Transcript

For all the stories they contain, Pevsner’s guides have a story of their own too. History, even that of buildings, is ultimately the product of people, and of their personalities. For Harris and Newman, and many like them, involvement with the 'Buildings of England' and its Welsh, Scottish and Irish companion series was a pivotal experience. In the early days of architectural history the field was even smaller than it still is. Leading figures took on the stature of giants, with their shadows casting right down to the present. Their influence was disproportionate, and could have career-defining consequences. Such is the case with pioneers.

Blog by Jake Bransgrove, Project Assistant for the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain’s project ‘An Oral History of British Architectural Historians’. The collection can be found by searching C1804 at sami.bl.uk. For similar collections please see the collection guide on Oral histories of architecture and landscape design.

Further Reading:
Harries, Susie. 2011. Nikolaus Pevsner: The Life. London: Chatto & Windus. [British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection YC.2012.a.5930]
Harris, John. 1998. No Voice From the Hall: Early Memories of a Country House Snooper. Oxford: John Murray. [British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection LT.2013.x.3394]
Newman, John. 1969. The Buildings of England: West Kent and Weald. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. [British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection W.P.429/38]
Newman, John. 1969. The Buildings of England: North East and East Kent. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. [British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection YC.2003.a.2775]
Pevsner, Nikolaus, and John Harris. 1964. The Buildings of England: Lincolnshire. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. [British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection W.P.429/27]

23 May 2022

Recording of the week: an intriguing description of a legendary media figure

This week’s selection comes from Mary Stewart, Lead Curator of Oral History and Director of National Life Stories.

A photograph of the outside of the Victorian neo-classical mansion, Cherkley Court.Cherkley Court, home of Lord Beaverbrook and the setting for his meeting with Bob Edwards described in this audio clip. Photo by Ian Capper via Wikimedia, Creative Commons attribution CC BY-SA 2.0.

As the Library’s Breaking the News exhibition is in full swing, it seemed apt to feature a Recording of the Week from An Oral History of the British Press. Listen to this very amusing anecdote from Bob Edwards, as he recalls meeting the famous newspaper owner Lord Beaverbrook. To me this extract humanises these two prominent people, giving us an insight that I don’t think you’d find anywhere but in an oral history interview!

Bob Edwards recalls his first meeting with Lord Beaverbrook [BL REF C638/10]

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Bob Edwards (1925-2012) was a seasoned and respected journalist who worked at an array of regional and national newspapers, including time as editor of the Glasgow Evening Citizen, the Daily Express, the Sunday People and the Sunday Mirror.

Canadian-British William Maxwell Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook, (1879-1964) was a powerful newspaper proprietor, owning the Daily Express. Beaverbrook served in Churchill’s cabinet in World War Two. Can you spot the mention of Churchill in the audio clip?

Oral historian Louise Brodie recorded nearly nine hours with Bob Edwards over three sessions in 2007, to add his life story to An Oral History of the British Press. This National Life Stories project began in 1994 and was revived in 2006 thanks to support from the British Library as part of the Front Page exhibition, which was also based on the Library’s amazing news collections. Listen to this interview in full and others from the collection at British Library Sounds

Follow @BL_OralHistory and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

16 May 2022

Recording of the week: On climbing mountains - a woman's view

This week’s selection comes from Giulia Baldorilli, Sound and Vision Reference Specialist.

Woman wearing a long sleeved black shirt, trousers, and a climbing harness with gear attached, climbing an outdoor rock facePhoto by Cade Prior via Unsplash

In this oral history interview, Jean Drummond looks back at the times when she used to rock climb as part of the Pinnacle Club, a UK based club of women climbers that celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2021.

Jean Drummond describes changes to climbing [BL REF C1876/24]

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I was quite intrigued to listen to a recount of a climbing experience from a woman’s point of view.

Jean describes climbing as a social practice as well as an exercise; climbing requires a partner, and she (almost annoyingly) tells how her body doesn’t allow her to be the leading companion anymore.

Jean describes the technical components of climbing these days, starting from the climbing gear, which became more practical and easy to buy as shops to buy equipment from multiplied.

She admires the scientific aspects of this change, although there is a nostalgic nuance in the admission that it is not the sport she used to love. Perhaps the adventure side has been lost with the proliferation of climbing walls, very much a different experience of being out there, in nature.

She describes climbing nowadays as something more similar to gymnastics, while recalling memories of when she saw mountains as her friend. This summarises in one simple image the core essence of the discipline: the challenge of reaching the top, a sense of accomplishment that accompanies the final step.

On a personal note, climbing could be a metaphorical wall, a way to push our limits; it helps with being centred in the present moment, and gives a sense of reward when reaching the top.

With self-motivation, mountains can be our friends, a genuine escape from our inner fears.

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