Blog 3: Items of Interest chosen by Jenni Hunt.

Over the past few months I have been working on listing the University of Leicester’s Administrative Archive. This work, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, is part of the “So That They May Have Life” project, carried out in order to celebrate the centenary of the University of Leicester.  

View of Victoria Park, Leicester, 26 January 2021, showing show on the ground and in the trees
View of Victoria Park, Leicester, 26 January 2021, showing snow on the ground and in the trees. Taken by Vicky Holmes.

My work involves exploring those early few decades of the university’s life, from its founding until after the end of the Second World War, showing the detail that goes into running a University. I have leafed through huge amounts of paper, trying to summarise what they contain so that it can be added to a catalogue which will help researchers and other potential users locate any information they might need, and help them to work out how the archive can be of most use to them. After a start heavily impacted by Covid and snow, so far this year I have added over four hundred and fifty descriptions to the listings, enabling more information to be discovered. 

My previous blogs have considered the role of advertising, and how the Second World War permeated through the University, impacting on different aspects of the work that was done there. Today’s blog is going to be picking out ten highlights that I found as I was searching through the archive, now all listed which will make them easier to find. 

Ten – Sample of zinc. (ULA/ADM/4/1/E/ESEQ/3) Looking through orders of equipment for the college meant that I came across a huge range of information, orders for clocks and chairs, but also samples of paper, book coverings, and most surprisingly a small sample of zinc. 

Nine – Lifts (ULA/ADM/4/1/L/LIF). Correspondence relating to service lifts included information about tenders and servicing agreements, but also blueprints, and an explanation of the necessity of a small lift to make the life of domestic staff at the hostel easier. 

Section of blueprint of lift, from file ULA_ADM_4_1_L_LIF.

Eight – Stray sheep (ULA/ADM/4/1/R/RN). Among the regulations around the use of the billiard table and phone calls, there was guidance relating to stray cattle, sheep or horses found in college grounds, including details of fine rates per day for those not collected within twenty-four hours. The concept that this was a common enough problem to require regulation shows a rurality to this area of Leicester, and shows how it has changed in the past hundred years. 

Seven – Student pranks (ULA/ADM/4/1/L/LAW/2). While Leicester may have changed over the past hundred years, the actions of students glimpsed in these pages feel somewhat familiar. There was a letter complaining about law school students hiding lightbulbs and throwing chalk from windows, and after a student event the “kitchen was left in a very untidy state, that students had apparently been having a fight with a pan of toast, making a shocking mess all over the floor; and that pieces of soap had been placed in the urn used for boiling water” (ULA/ADM/4/1/S/S). 

Six – Student protest (ULA/ADM/4/1/S/SU). Showing a more serious side to student life, I was interested to see the coverage of a student strike for several days following the appointment of lecturers. Cuttings from the Leicester Evening Mail and Leicester Mercury had photographs of the strikers, and information about two students who passed the picket-line. 

Front page of Leicester Mercury, 5 December 1946, re student strike at University College Leicester
Front page of Leicester Mercury, 5 December 1946, showing article and photographs of University College Leicester students on strike over newly-appointed academics. From ULA_ADM_4_1_S_SU

Five – The Old Students’ Association (ULA/ADM/4/1/O/OSA/8). I was particularly delighted by an event which offered non-dancers “ample opportunities for gossip”, which is a phrase I plan to make much use of. 

Four – Other Colleges. The University College early on was eager to join with Westminster training college (ULA/ADM/4/1/W/WTC), however this fell through. Later, during the Second World War, schemes were put in place for the evacuation of Hull University College ((ULA/ADM/4/1/H/HULL/1940) which were again dropped, and then finally the successful hosting of Kings’ College of Household and Social Science (ULA/ADM/4/1/K/KCHSS) for several years during the conflict. 

Three – Unusual Gifts (ULA/ADM/4/1/G/GIFTS/BOOK). This book contained records of various gifts to the college, including the donor and date of the gift. Among expected books and science equipment, there were gifts of plants, a croquet set, paintings, medals, swords, glasswork, a hot plate, a printing press and the jaw bone of a sperm whale. 

Black and white photograph of the wooden 'Cholerton' chair and a table and 2 chairs made by Ernest Gimson. These were gifts made to University College, Leicester.
The Cholerton Chair (centre) and table and chairs made by Ernest Gimson, gifts to the College. Photo ref. ULA_FG1_3_26

Two – Leicester Museum (ULA/ADM/4/1/M/MSM/3). With a strong interest in museums myself, I was fascinated by the agenda of the Museum and Art Gallery sub-committee in 1944, which included reports from various departments, including geology, entomology and archaeology. I was particularly struck by the report from the School Service department, discussing loans, children’s clubs, and visits by families and schools – all work familiar to those currently involved in the profession. 

One – Lists of people. Membership lists of old students (ULA/ADM/4/1/O/OSA/4), complete with addresses, were of interest, as was information about the Industrial Ten clothing coupons which provided records of the work of various manual labourers who were entitled to extra coupons to buy overalls (ULA/ADM/4/1/S/SC). Sadly, I never found my own address among the list, but I did find a clerk during the 1930s who lived a couple of doors down from a close friend. Such lists help give an idea of the number of roles there were behind the scenes at the college, and showed the range of destinations and roles taken by students upon leaving the college.  It also helps populate my image of Leicester with past lives.

Hopefully these highlights have given you a better idea of the sheer range of objects which are contained within the University Archives, and offered a glimpse of the range of topics that are touched upon. Some of these records might feel strange, even out of place, but I feel that all of them fit in the archive together, in order to give a deeper understanding of the early life of the College. These collections expose the colourful nature of that time, and have humanised the people involved – these are real stories about real lives. That tangibility is clear in handwritten letters and typos.

Due to Covid, this role has ended up quite different from initially envisaged, with the entire country going into lockdown the night before I was due to start work. Despite this, I have received a lot of support from the archive team, and want to thank them for the support and encouragement they have given me. I am particularly thankful to Vicky Holmes, who has supported and encouraged me throughout.

I hope that reading this article has been interesting, and that if in the future you might make use of the catalogue, my work is of help. What have been your strangest archive finds? 

Jenni Hunt, Temporary Archive Assistant. 26 March 2021.

Blog 2: Impact of the Second World War on University College Leicester. Guest post by Jenni Hunt.


I am currently working on listing the University of Leicester’s administrative archive, as part of the National Lottery Heritage Fund supported “So That They May Have Life” project, celebrating the University’s Centenary. The papers that I have been looking at cover the first thirty or so years of the University’s life, covering the founding, the development of various courses and departments, fundraising and much of the day-to-day minutiae that goes into the creating and running of a University. 

There are a range of interesting stories that have come to light as a result of this blog post: my previous post examined the role of advertising in those early years, and my third and final post will examine some of my favourite discoveries in the archive. In today’s blog, I wanted to explore one area that I found repeatedly cropping up as I worked through the collection – the impact that the Second World War had on what was at that time University College, Leicester. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly for such a large and all-consuming event, the impact of the war reverberated through all aspects of college life. I have tried to pick out here some of the key impacts it had – surrounding preparations for bombing, evacuations and postings, supplies and international friendships. 

Preparing for Bombing 

Whilst Leicester itself suffered some bombing during the War, the University College was spared. Despite this good fortune, preparations for potential bombing needed to be put in place, to try and keep those who lived and worked in the University College safe if the worst were to happen.  

This involved practical changes to the structure of the buildings; developing safe locations that could be used as air raid shelters, often requiring the reinforcing of walls (ULA/ADM/4/1/ARP). The archive contained a sample of black-out material, as black-out curtains were created and fitted, and heating was introduced to the basement underneath the Domestic Science Hostel so that it could serve as a refuge (ULA/AD/H2/4/5). The equipment records of the University College record the fitting of Air Raid Bells (ULA/ADM/4/1/ESEQ/6), and provisioning of shelters. 

Lists of fire watchers were drawn up (ULA/ADM/4/2/FWS) consisting of staff and student volunteers. Insufficient staff could be found to cover college holidays, and occasionally individuals were found to be absent from their posts. Despite this, when the call went out for volunteers to serve shifts at local primary schools (ULA/ADM/4/1/ARP), helping to evacuate were it to become necessary, many people signed up. 

This eagerness to help can also be seen in correspondence from F.L. Attenborough (ULA/AD/A8/1A) – His son David wished to enlist in the A.A. Battery of the Home Guard. However, this request was refused by F.L. Attenborough, both because David needed to study for his exams, and because he would then go away to university. Despite all the preparations made, Leicester was itself much less badly affected than several other areas of the country. 

Typewritten letter from F. L. Attenborough, Principal of University College Leicester, 1944
Letter from Frederick Attenborough, 1944

Evacuations and Postings

Considered a relatively safe location, various groups found themselves evacuated to Leicester. Initial plans to relocate University College Hull (ULA/ADM/4/1/HULL/1940) were abandoned after a rapid flurry of cost estimates, but students from King’s College of Household and Social Science were evacuated to Leicester, sharing the University’s premises (ULA/ADM/4/1/KCHSS) for six years. (For more information on this please see this exhibition hosted by King’s College London). A number of refugee students also joined the college (ULA/ADM/4/1/R/REF), many with reduced fees or free places.

The University College played host during the war to the BBC (ULA/ADM/4/1/BBC), with an aerial mast being constructed in the college grounds, and rooms being rented. Furthermore, the Station Director of the BBC took advantage of the wealth of knowledge surrounding him, arranging for talks by members of college staff (ULA/ADM/4/1/BBCT). Between 1942 and 1944, the University was also the host of Commandant R. Foulquies, the local Free French Representative. Far from the University being emptied by the hostilities, it ended up with a wide range of people calling it home. 

At the same time, courses were supplied for a range of soldiers from Canada and America (ULA/ADM/4/1/CAL, ULA/ADM/4/1/CDA), alongside for the British Auxiliary Territorial Service – the women’s branch of the Army (ULA/ADM/4/1/ATS). Generally such agreements seem to have gone well, although there was an issue with American soldiers regularly missing class as they had to “buy their cigarettes and candy from the U.S. Army’s travelling store every other Thursday”, a task which would often take the whole afternoon. Despite this, the courses appear to have been popular and well received.

Such was the demand for these courses, that often only limited numbers could be supplied. After the war, the college played host to returning accountants and others whose qualifications may have lapsed during the fighting (ULA/ADM/4/1/HVS/1936). This helped local businesses resume their operations following the de-enlistment of their workers. 


Throughout the war, and in the years immediately following it, many items were rationed. Ensuring a working fire pump required requesting fuel from the Ministry of Fuel and Power (ULA/ADM/4/1/FGP), and a similar request was needed to heat the greenhouse (ULA/ADM/4/1/GRE). Paper supplies were also limited, with advertisements in newspapers being reworked and unnecessary words removed in order to try and fit within strict size limits, and with only limited repeats (ULA/ADM/4/1/Adv/G/2). 

The supply of academic dress was also limited, as material for robes was in short supply (ULA/ADM/4/1/GOWN). Academic robes also initially needed clothing coupons – 8 for a standard robe, and 32 for a Doctor’s Robe and Hood. However, this was later relaxed, and therefore the only difficulty lay in ensuring a supply of the material. During this time, often orders were only partially fulfilled. Meanwhile University railings were removed for the war effort (ULA/ADM/4/1/R/RAI), leaving only those around the allotments in place. Much of the University’s green space was used to grow food (see poster below for Government encouragement to be self-sufficient). Damage to buildings could also cause problems in getting supplies, with some confusion over accounts held with Eyre & Spottiswoode publishers, as “the whole of (their) premises were destroyed by enemy action” (ULA/ADM/4/1/E) and so it was unclear which of their orders had been fulfilled.

Colour 2nd World War poster showing a table top with a plate of food flanked by a knife and fork; below the table top is a garden fork and spade (as the table legs) and
Grow Your Own Food (Art.IWM PST 2891) PR 62 51-4749 PST 2893 is the master copy of a larger format version Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

International Friendships

Despite the constant threat of bombs, new arrivals and limited resources, the University and individuals within it formed strong friendships during the war. F.L. Attenborough’s private correspondence (ULA/AD/A8/1A) reveals both his support for the Polish Children Rescue Fund, and his concern for securing a ballet scholarship for Helga Bejach (one of two Jewish refugee sisters taken in by the family).

There was also clear friendship between Attenborough and Captain Dawes of the American Forces, thanking him “for the two volumes of songs you have sent me. At the moment I am not sure whether I ought to be grateful or not because from early morning until late at night I am hearing about “The Cowboy who wanted to be buried on the Prairie” or “Who Done ‘er Wrong”” (ULA/ADM/4/1/CDA). These gifts and connections between staff and their visitors show a sense of connection across countries.  Both before and after the war, there were attempts to encourage students to spend time abroad – with discussion with Dr. Kurt Blohm of the Deutsh-Englischer Kreis regarding summer camps during1938, and a decade later the Foreign Office enquiring about the possibility of British Students spending a semester in Germany (ULA/ADM/4/1/GER). There was also a request to supply Chinese Universities with books in 1939 (ULA/ADM/4/1/CUAB), part of an ongoing Chinese-Anglo relationship. Over the following years, connections between the University of Leicester and other universities abroad have only strengthened.

Black and white photograph of 3 Chinese students in uniform. They are standing outside a building talking to F. L. Attenborough, Principal of University College Leicester, 1945
Black and white photograph of 3 Chinese officers who visited the College as they were studying for a course, and F. L. Attenborough, 1945

Finding information in an archive can be challenging – it might be obvious that information about the war’s impact would be contained within topics such as War (ULA/ADM/4/1/WAR), or Air Raid Precautions (ULA/ADM/4/1/ARP), but it’s presence in topics such as Gowns, Caps & Badges (ULA/ADM/4/1/GOWN) or the BBC (ULA/ADM/4/1/BBC) may be less expected. The war had an impact on all aspects of University life, and evidence of this is threaded through files from the time. This chance to make discoveries and links is part of the true magic of archives, revealing stories from the past and showing an image of a university facing adversity driven by co-operation. Without these records, such stories might well be lost. 

Jenni Hunt, temporary Archive Assistant, 25 March 2021.

Blog 1: Advertising files: Guest post by Jenni Hunt

The University Archives

The University Archives at the University of Leicester are, perhaps unsurprisingly, boxes and boxes of files relating to the history of the University of Leicester. Part are stored in the basement of the David Wilson building, in temperature and humidity-controlled secure storage, alongside collections of rare books and photographs, and contain papers from the founding of the University to the present day.   

There is a huge amount contained within these boxes, and so for researchers to make the best use of them the archives are catalogued, and then the descriptions placed online, with descriptions listing what is in each file (a collection of papers) within each box. 

ULA/AD boxes on shelves
Some of the boxes of Secretary / Registrar files in the archive store.

My role

My role has been supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of the “So that they may have life ” project. As the University approaches its centenary, I have been lucky enough to be going through the papers we have from the very founding of the site as a place of education. I have been looking through the administrative papers relating to its founding, roughly up until the end of Frederic Attenborough’s role as Principle of the University (which he held from 1932 to 1951), and listing them individually to make them more usable for researchers. Listing the information involves reading through it, and filling in a spreadsheet explaining what each file contains, including picking out key names and dates. 

The coronavirus pandemic has had a great impact on the project, as this listing was originally going to form the archive volunteer strand. This activity was stopped in March 2020 due to the national lockdown, and the money that would have been spent on volunteer travel expenses, hire of rooms, creating physical promotional material etc, was repurposed to create this opportunity for someone interested in a career in archives or heritage, to complete the listing. Special dispensation has been given to complete this work despite the third lockdown.   

The collection that I am working with is held in a set of approximately fifty boxes, which we think were kept in alphabetical order of correspondent. There are a large number of files for subjects relating to the letters A (Advertising, Appeals and Attenborough) and B (Bequests, BBC, Botanic gardens), and far fewer for Z (Zoology) or S (Supplementary Clothing and Bread Coupons). 

Rather than try and cover the vast amount contained within these collections in this blog article, I decided to narrow down my focus further, and to talk about what I discovered under the sub-series, advertising. 


Being presented by multiple folders full of information relating to advertising, much of it from nearly a century ago, was at first intimidating. I was new to archival listing at this point (Advertising being the first topic I came to in the alphabet), and had no idea of really what to expect. 

I opened the first folder, and began to read. Before long I was utterly fascinated by what I was uncovering. There were three key areas that I wanted to talk about in this post – the information uncovered, the physicality of the files, and the humanity of them. 

Information – First off, one of the major things that was revealed was the sheer level of information that the archive holds. Within the drafts of advertisements and the correspondence being written, you could uncover the newspapers that were being advertised in, fees that were being offered to staff (from professors to gardeners, clerks, cleaners and laboratory assistants), and explanations of which courses were being offered. This served to give a glimpse of the early history of the university, explaining what was needed in the set up. It also provided information about wider society at the time, with information about the University College being supplied to publications with names such as “The Yearbook of Universities of the Empire” and “Women’s Employment”. 

Newspaper clippings of adverts for staff for University College Leicester, 1943
Clippings from newspapers showing several adverts placed by University College, Leicester, for women and boys to work in the kitchen, as a cleaner and for the Head Caretaker, 1943

Physicality – Alongside the vast amount that could be learned from the archive, I was also struck by the sheer physicality of what I was holding in my hands – pieces of paper that were often close to a century old. The papers came in a vast number of different textures, from the translucent flimsy copies created for use with typewriters, to the thick and highly illustrated paper used in formal legal agreements. There were even occasional pieces of paper that had been secured by wax seals. 

World War Two brought with it rationing, which led to arguments over column inches, and advertisements being rewritten to meet strict word-requirements. Due to the shortage of paper, letters from this period are often on the back of already-used sheets, with that information scribbled out.

 At a time before word-processors, when any error meant that the page needed to be written out again, it is common to find pages that have been corrected by hand – either to be retyped, or else sent with minor corrections. I found myself smiling at a piece that read. “I apologise for any trouble that you have caused”, with a pencil note on top adding in the missing ‘been’. 

Humanity – Stories such as that typo bring me on to the sheer humanity that shines through in these papers. Often, the writing is formal – after all, these are to do with the founding of the university, and were within a professional environment. And yet moments of humour and humanity shine through. I found myself captivated by correspondence with an advertising agent desperately trying to entice the College into continuing to advertise with them, as the budget allocated to that publication slowly shrunk. 

I was also struck by moments of history on those pages. A guest lecturer from the University of Jerusalem, speaking of “The Present World Situation and the Jews” during 1937, alongside lectures from the Eugenics Society. Appeals to the local community to provide lodgings for students who were veterans. The closure of parts of the college for the war, and age restrictions on cleaners being hired to try and ensure they wouldn’t be called up to serve. 

The archives contain a great deal of information about the people whose lives they affected, and give clues to a broader understanding of the experience of the University College in the first thirty years or so of its existence. 

All of this was contained within Advertising. Within the boxes for A, there is also information about Appeals, Attenborough’s personal correspondence, Academic staff, Agriculture courses, Adult Education, Avery Hill Training College, Air Raid Precautions, Accountants and Address Changes (these descriptions will all be available to view on the Archives & Special Collections catalogue, in due course). And then there is the rest of the alphabet. 

The discoveries I have made, whilst small-scale, have given me an idea of the extent of work involved in the initial setting up of the university. They show moments of humanity, and emphasise the complexity involved, alongside the minutiae and realities of trying to set up what was first the Leicestershire and Rutland University College, then University College, Leicester, and now the University of Leicester. 

This opportunity has helped me to understand the true value of archives, allowing glimpses of the past, and revealing information which I am sure will be useful to researchers in a wide range of researchers in the years (and indeed centuries) to come. 

With grateful thanks to the East Midlands National Lottery Heritage Fund. 

Jenni Hunt, Temporary Archive Assistant, “So that they may have life”.

Leicester’s Anti-Vaccination League by Caroline Wessel

So that they may have life steering group member, Caroline Wessel, draws parallels between the COVID-19 pandemic and Smallpox in 19th century Leicester.

We continue to struggle with the anxieties of Covid, but the recent start of Covid vaccinations has now given us hope. So it might be of interest to learn how Leicestershire people dealt with a “pandemic” in the nineteenth century and how one doctor used shock tactics to convince the population.

J. T. Biggs, Leicester : sanitation versus vaccination (1912), from
Title page from Leicester: Sanitation versus Vaccination (1912),

Many people in the town of Leicester, who traditionally held Liberal and Radical views, were particularly strong in their objection to compulsory vaccination against Smallpox, although one of the most contagious, deadly and disfiguring diseases of that time. The Leicester Anti-Vaccination League (AVL) was founded in 1869, with prominent citizen Mr J.T. Biggs as its Secretary. However an Act of 1871 Act enforced even more stringent punishment on those who refused vaccination for their children. In Leicester many parents flouted the Act and the number of prosecutions there rose from 2 in 1869 to 1,154 in 1881. They included 61 imprisonments, as in many cases parents deliberately chose gaol, rather than a fine, as a means of protest.

However the Leicester Corporation Act of 1879 permitted an alternative measure to vaccination and this soon became known nationally as ‘The Leicester Method’. It involved six principles –

            (i) prompt notification of the disease

            (ii) isolation and segregation of cases in hospital

            (iii) quarantine of those who had been in contact with the patient

            (iv) vigilant supervision of all contacts during the incubation period of 14 days

            (v) cleansing and disinfection of clothes, bedding etc

            (vi) burning of clothes, when necessary.

Does this all sound rather familiar to us in late 2020? We have seen it happening all around us, and read in the newspaper that some of the rules are being slightly or at times flagrantly disobeyed. However there was a good deal of evidence in the 1880s that ‘The Leicester Method’ was often successful, so we need to convince people of this now in 2020.

In 1885 a massive popular demonstration in Leicester attracted delegates from over fifty other nationwide Anti-Vaccination Leagues. They demonstrated by marching with flags and banners and were then addressed by various speakers who developed the theme of the futility and injustice of vaccination. One of those who addressed the crowd maintained that “the system of vaccination was a mere delusion – a baseless superstition; that it afforded no protection from smallpox”. Several councillors realized the Anti-Vaccinators could make them lose their seats, so “moderated their language” and said they would support the repeal of the Compulsory Vaccination Acts. Because of the strenuous efforts of Leicester’s AVL it forced the government to look anew at the issue. Although the law abolishing compulsion was only dropped after the National Health Service Act of 1948 the strenuous opposition from Leicester did in 1889 secure an amendment in the law.

Dr Allen Warner came to Leicester in 1901 as Resident Medical Officer of Leicester Isolation Hospital, and witnessed many Smallpox cases of those who had not been vaccinated. He believed that he must show the alternatives of pro-and con-vaccination to the general public, so published a series of shocking photographs demonstrating this. He became Assistant Medical Officer of Health for the Borough of Leicester, Medical Officer for Leicester Education Committee, Medical Officer for the Mental Defectives Committee and was a Public Vaccinator.

In early 2021 we shall eagerly await our own Covid vaccinations, but I am sure you will agree that meanwhile we should continue to embrace “The Leicester Method” to save the lives of others and spare the NHS.