Q&A with Christine Reeves

Tell us about yourself

My name is Christine.  I’ve lived in Wigston since 2009 when I moved here for work. I’ve been retired since 2015.  I worked as a librarian for twenty-three years and was then made redundant so decided on a career change. I worked for a further eighteen years for HM Land Registry, initially in Harrow and then in Leicester.  I’ve two adult sons, living in Edinburgh and London.  My main interest is now in music; I play piano, organ, viola and recorder. The piano is my main instrument.  I started lessons as a child.  It wasn’t a very good start but then I got hooked as a teenager.

Steinway & Sons upright piano in mahogany finish, model K-52 (height: 132 cm / 52 in, width: 154 cm / 60.6 in, depth: 67 cm / 26.4 in, weight: 273 kg / 600 lb), manufactured at Steinway's factory in New York City.
Steinway & Sons upright piano in mahogany finish (Steinway & Sons, CC BY-SA)

Just before I retired, I decided I’d restart lessons and have a final attempt to improve my playing. The marketing brochure chose a snappy title to market it as ‘Speed dating for piano duet’.  I’m not sure if it improved or destroyed my reputation when I told younger work colleagues where I was going during my next week off!  I’m really missing the music groups I belong to in the current lockdown!

What do you enjoy most about Leicester?

I chose Leicester to move to in 2009 when the Harrow office shut.  This was because it was central for my sons to visit and for my parents and sister.  I also knew there was lots of amateur music-making.  I am really settled in now and like the fact that the city is large enough to support many special interest groups but small enough to get to know a large proportion of people who share my own interests.  I am pleased to be living in a university city and have enjoyed orchestral rehearsals in the Charles Wilson building and German classes at Languages at Leicester in the Attenborough Building.  This is really my motivation for getting involved with this project.

What do you know about the history of Leicester University?

I only know the broad outline of its founding as a memorial of the First Word War, its start as part of London University and the broad outlines given on the project website.  I am keen to find out more.

Have you volunteered before?

I’ve done a variety of voluntary work throughout my adult life.  It ranges from playing the organ for church services through acting as a treasurer and helping out in a youth group to serving coffee and washing up.  This is the first time I’ve been involved in a project like this one.

What are your views about volunteering?

I’ve found it a good way to get to know new people and ideas and to feel part of a community.

What do you expect to learn?

More about women in science at Leicester University and, particularly because of Covid-19, more about using IT.  I’m hoping to also learn things I don’t expect to, as that’s always a joy with learning.

Exploring hidden histories of women scientists, by Jacqui Sealy

Our latest volunteer blog post introduces Jacqui Sealy, who will be researching women scientists at Leicester.

I am looking forward to volunteering on the “So that they might have Life” project. I am particularly drawn to researching the women in science strand. This will involve conducting research, to uncover the hidden history of women scientists, at the University of Leicester

I have always had an interest in science but had little opportunity to pursue it, until I became an adult.

I attended a girls only secondary modern school in the mid-70s, which would not employ a physics or chemistry teacher to teach at G.C.E., because it was decided that not enough of us were interested in learning those subjects. The only sciences offered were maths and human biology.

I went to a sixth form that was transforming from a boys only school to a mixed sixth form. I was told that I could not do Biology A level, because studying arts and science subjects together was not allowed.  Obviously, this made no sense, but without encouragement, I did not have the confidence to challenge this decision and I ended up studying arts and social sciences, including at university.

I have always enjoyed many activities and interests in various arts but had a sense of missing out on science. As an adult, I successfully completed a G.C.S.E. Astronomy course at evening class and then did a couple of distance learning courses in Astronomy and Cosmology. I love the amazing, beautiful images of the solar system and the universe that we have from the telescopes in space.  I find them to be awe-inspiring and they are there for anyone to see. Though I haven’t studied the subjects recently, I still enjoy the challenge of trying to understand the new theories and discoveries.

Two of my science heroes are:

Dr Maggie Aderin Pocock: British/Nigerian space scientist, science educator and co-presenter of BBC’s The Sky at Night programme.  I had the pleasure of hearing her give an excellent talk at Loughborough University a few years ago, on the future of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). She reinforced my admiration of her as someone who challenges stereotypes of scientists, who has a passion for encouraging children’s interest in science and aims to make it more accessible to everyone.

Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE in the Dark Matter garden, RHS Chelsea 2015
Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE in the Dark Matter garden, RHS Chelsea 2015 (Science and Technology Facilities Council, CC BY-SA)
Susan Jocelyn Bell (Burnell), June 15, 1967 (Roger W Haworth, CC BY-SA)

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell: She is a British astrophysicist and astronomer, who discovered pulsars, providing the first direct evidence for the existence of rapidly spinning neutron stars. Her supervisor was awarded the Nobel prize for it in 1974, but Jocelyn was not. She did not complain but went on to receive many other awards and recognition. I admire her because of the way she carried on building her career, despite the huge slight of not being jointly awarded the Nobel prize and being determined to help people who would not usually have access to physics. She has received many awards and accolades since then, including a £2.3m Breakthrough prize which is being used to fund people under-represented in physics. She said in 2018,

A lot of the pulsar story happened because I was a minority person and a PhD student.  Increasing the diversity in physics could lead to all sorts of good things.

from an article by Ian Sample, in The Guardian on 06/09/2018

I have lots of interests, so volunteering with this project is a good opportunity to focus on one of them. I think that it may help me to decide what I want to do in the future.

Q&A with Mike Bates

Introducing another of our research volunteers, Mike Bates, Convener of History2 Group of Leicester U3A.

Photograph of Mike Bates.

Tell us a bit about yourself?

I am Convenor of History2 Group of Leicester U3A (University of the Third Age),   am in Leicestershire Field Workers, Oadby and Wigston Group and also in Hallaton Group (interests in field walking, which I do not do, and archaeology/research), have done a small amount of research work for Victoria County History, have been doing family history for a large number of years, but am ‘amateur’ with background as a Charter Engineer and now retired.   I attend the Council for British Archaeology East Midland conferences and am a subscribing Member. 

I am also involved with Leicestershire Local Access Forum (LLAF), which works in conjunction with Leicestershire County Council, in respect to The Lost Ways (footpaths, bridleways etc) research – involves a lot of records that I had not looked at previously – canal and railway maps and plans, revenue maps and records from early 1900s, tithe, enclosure, quarter sessions, parliamentary records, etc. 

The rights of way research is quite specific and specialised, and needs to accurate and of a ‘standard’.  Two years ago I also put together a Project Specification (based on VCH techniques) for the LLAF research on Lost Ways, taking information from others, and also put together some ‘how-to’ documents – that took about a month in elapsed time, but was not generally rolled out due to lack of a full-time Research Leader, but has been used and has been sent to Ramblers Association as supporting information to their national efforts.

I am not a trained historian, but have learnt a lot over the years, with some work done in conjunction with trained historians. My approach methods are somewhat different at times to that of historians to get quick results, but it always a matter of getting back to referenced reliable prime sources.

What do you enjoy most about being at Leicester

I came to Leicester in 1973 as a result of GEC work locations being rationalised.  I was brought up in Stafford, with University at Manchester, where I met my wife Pauline who was Nursing at Manchester Royal Infirmary, but originally from Preston.  Leicester was by necessity rather than choice and away from relations and then friends.

Having been here all that time since, we enjoy the advantages of the facilities and activities of a City, with surrounding good countryside, and a lot of interesting local history.

What do you know about the history of University of Leicester?

I have read some of University website. Having been in Leicester since 1973, I am aware and been to various Events at University over the years.

I have previously been involved with Victoria County History (VCH), based in the History Department.  I am currently involved in Leicester Fieldworkers with its interface with Staff of the Archaeology Department in respect to activities, training and lectures.

Have you volunteered before?

Yes.  In history terms, I have done a small amount of work for VCH on the ‘Charnwood Roots’ Project and some previous Projects. This gave some appreciation of professional historian working, of some additional source material appreciation, but also of some of the limitations of fixed methods and procedures when new modern methods are available.

I have been Treasurer for the Friends of Brocks Hill Country Park, Oadby, for just over nine years now; happy to pass it on but no one else has wanted the paperwork.  That has involved fund raising and applying for Grants.

What are your views about volunteering?

It is very much about mutual learning and sharing of information and research. In this case it is learning more about the history of Leicester, both of the University and the wider community that founded it and made it possible.

Elisabeth Somogyi, who is co-ordinating Volunteers from Leicester U3A and is U3A Research Ambassador, and Neil Taylor, Leicester U3A Groups Coordinator, are very keen on engaging in this Project, and to learn from it for future projects. Part of the history interest for me and many others, has been, and is, the work of W.G. Hoskins.  He was from Devon and originally a Lecturer in Economics.  In 1948 Hoskins founded the Centre of English Local History at Leicester University, where he was working at the time, and was encouraged by the Principal, Frederick Attenborough (father of Sir David and Richard).  He came to live in Wigston Magna, just over the boundary from Oadby, where I live. For more information of his then new approach looking at history in terms of landscape, local places and events, and of the Centre see https://le.ac.uk/english-local-history/about/history and the legacy of his well-known book ‘Making of the English Landscape’ see https://le.ac.uk/about/info/history/legacy-of-leicester.

He wrote many articles and books on local history, one of which has photographs taken by Frederick Attenborough, and made local history available to everyone. 

Although of their time, they make a very good read and lead one on to further modern research of the subjects. Some of his articles, can be read on-line in the Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and History Society https://www.le.ac.uk/lahs/publications/transactions.html.  He also appeared on television programmes.

Perhaps, some of the atmosphere and intimacy of the early days is conjured up by Hoskins’ days, and why we are looking at the early history to find Leicester past. This is a lovely photograph from the Special Collections of the 1932 University Staff.  Hoskins and Attenborough are there.  I have seen the comment that ‘half of them seem to be sharing a joke and the rest of them do not know what is going on’.

Black and white photograph of University College Leicester staff, 1932.
University College Leicester, staff photograph, 1932 (ULA/FG5/2/3/2).

Q&A with Barbara Birch

Our upcoming blog posts will feature Q&As with some of our Research Volunteers about their connection with the University and thoughts on joining the project. This post introduces Barbara Birch.

Tell us a bit about yourself?

I worked in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Leicester for 45 years. I retired at the end of 2014.

What do you enjoy most about being in Leicester?

Being in an exciting science research environment and working with and meeting people from all over the world.

What do you know about the history of University of Leicester?

Over the years I was there I learned some of the background. From the year I started there I worked in the Adrian Building and in the Maurice Shock Medical Sciences Building. In 2004 my department moved to the Henry Wellcome Building which had just been built. I attended many meetings in the Fielding Johnson Building, some of them in the Gimson Room which felt very special.

Colour photograph of the Gimson Room in the Fielding Johnson Building.
The Gimson Room in the Fielding Johnson Building at the University of Leicester. Source: Leicester Museums, https://gimson.leicester.gov.uk/

Have you volunteered before?

I have been a volunteer in the Macmillan Information Centre at Leicester Royal Infirmary for two days a week for the last four years.

What are your views about volunteering?

They are opportunities to provide support in a huge number of areas of society and to learn about pretty much every subject that is of interest.

What do you expect to learn?

The whole history of the University from its inception and the roles that the founders played particularly those who have buildings named after them; the contrast between the first students and the current ones.

Harry Peach and the educational and social role of handicraft, by Maria Chiara Scuderi

Colour photograph of Maria Chiara Scuderi

In the latest of our volunteer blog posts, Maria Chiara Scuderi explores the life of Harry Hardy Peach, one of our founders.

Did you know that Harry Hardy Peach, an important benefactor for the New Walk Museum, was also one of the founders of the University College Leicester?

The So that they may have life project has created an opportunity to examine the role Harry Peach played in developing the Arts & Crafts movement in Leicester. His passion and dedication to design and education is revealed through the fabrics, basketwork, wooden figures, and ornaments in the New Walk Museum. However, the lesser know aspect about the international networks and intellectual exchanges which created the collection, can be found in the University of Leicester Archives.

Photograph of Harry Hardy Peach
Black and white photograph of Harry Hardy Peach

I was working on my PhD proposal when I found out about the So that they may have life project. Although I knew about Harry Peach, within the global artistic context, I was surprised to find out about his role as a founding father of my University. I knew that the library at the School of Law is dedicated to him, I knew that the metalwork at the entrance of the Fielding Johnson Building was created by the business he established – the Dryad Handicrafts company. However, I could not imagine that he donated over 1600 books to the library and numerous other prints and objects. Among them is a Sikh manuscript, a beautiful example of material culture from the Anglo-Sikh wars which illustrated a fascination with the Indian world, along with many objects preserved in the storage of the New Walk Museum.

Conducting further research on Harry Peach is a great opportunity to deepen my knowledge about his wider contribution to life in Leicester. I decided to take part in the historical research, as I love to understand history through the relationships that the archive can reveal. This is a place where letters, catalogues and photography can make stories come alive. Using this perspective, I can discover and interpret contents, and shape new insights and narratives.

So, my research started with the analysis of three boxes of documents at the Special Collections of the David Wilson Library . What struck me at the first glance was the international aspect of Peach’s dense correspondence. He had exchanges with directors of important museums, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Historisches Museum in Hannover and the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Tervuren. Then, an interest in the international context of the Arts & Crafts movement clearly arises in the letters, especially the educational value of the manual work and its therapeutic potential to help people with physical and mental disabilities. This is common in Peach’s writings and practices. Let’s think about what he wrote in Craftmen all. Some readings in Praise of Making and Doing:

There are still, in these days of the machine, people who love their work and take pride in it for its own sake, no matter how humble their craft, and it is the spirit we must keep alive if we are to carry on the English tradition

H. H. Peach, 1926, Craftmen All. Some Readings in Praise of Making and Doing.

Art was conceived as a broader process of de-modernisation, the principle of a society where people have creative capacity, and ethics and aesthetics are complementary values. A very romantic idea that came from the Victorian age, and finds one of the main supporters in John Ruskin. When industrialisation and capitalism flourished, Ruskin campaigned against dehumanisation of society, machanistic education and climate change. He considered the process of making art the solution to social inequality and the best way to understand the world.

This philosophy was translated into practice during World War I, when Peach promoted the use of craft work as part of the rehabilitation programmes for wounded and disabled ex-servicemen treated at the Base Hospital of the 5th Northern General, now the Fielding Johnson Building. He donated large quantities of cane and craft materials for use in occupational therapy, before setting up Dryad Handicraft industry, which was the largest supplier of craft materials at that time in the world.

Black and white photograph of therapeutic basketry at the 5th Northern General Hospital, Leicester, during World War I.
Therapeutic Basketry at the 5th Northern General Base Hospital (Leicester Mercury Archive at the University of Leicester)

Now someone might ask: why are you interested in the Arts & Crafts movement if this has been considered unfashionable since the 1960s? The values of the Arts & Craft movement – such as simplicity, utility, creativity and beauty – are still revolutionary, now more than ever. It is no coincidence that Arts & Crafts movement emerged in England when the industrial revolution showed the limits of machine-based productivity. It was a resistance to the revolution, and a revolution itself. By proposing the social and community value of slow and manual production, the artistic movement aimed to oppose industrial mass production and the isolated work in factories. The big dream was to reorganize the world and society based on principles opposed to the emergent model of ‘success’. With radical changes in the daily life, the movement wanted to reverse the paradigm of success defined by the modern world, redefine priorities and rethink individual identities within the common good.

I am very much looking forward to working with other volunteers to discover micro-stories behind the Arts & Crafts movement in Leicester!

Maria Chiara Scuderi is an art historian and museum practitioner broadly interested in the role of museums as politically-engaged actors within the society, particularly colonial material culture and the power relationships in shaping controversial narratives of the Empire. She arrived at the University of Leicester with an AHRC scholarship for a Master in Art Museum and Gallery Studies, then obtained a collaborative PhD to analyse what linkages with the global and Imperial context the collections at New Walk Museum and Art Gallery can reveal. You can follower her on Twitter @MariaChiaraScu

Researching a living memorial, by Peter Lester

Colour head and shoulders photograph of Dr Peter Lester
Dr Peter Lester

In the first in our new series of volunteer blog posts Peter Lester describes his association with the University of Leicester and involvement with the So that they may have life project.

Did you know that the University of Leicester was founded to honour and remember those who had fought in the First World War? I didn’t. I studied here for four years: I grew up in Leicestershire and, having worked for many years in other parts of the Midlands, came back in 2015 to research for a PhD in Museum Studies. On my way to the university library during my studies I would regularly walk past the War Memorial, Edwin Lutyens’s monumental archway on the edge of Victoria Park, but had never made the connection between the memorial and the university. It was not until my graduation, earlier this year, that I learnt that the university had been established as a living memorial to those who had fallen in the war. I was moved when I read the words of Dr Astley Clarke, a local doctor who wrote to the Leicester Daily Post in November 1917 supporting its proposal to establish a university as a living memorial. He wrote:

To the honour of those who took part in the Great War
To the glory of those gallant fighters who came through, and
To the memory of those devoted heroes who gave their lives in the cause of freedom.
Now, every material asset a person possesses may flee; education alone is an asset of which an individual cannot be robbed. Let us, therefore, offer higher education as our war memorial.

This letter is featured in a newspaper cutting included in Dr Clarke’s scrapbook, ULA/D2/1, http://specialcollections.le.ac.uk/digital/collection/p16445coll9/id/595

I want to know more about the university’s history and uncover some of the stories around its foundation as a living memorial. As an archivist I am fascinated by stories of the past and how we understand and relate to our heritage. I worked for over ten years as an archivist in a local authority record office, uncovering stories of the past through exhibitions and public talks and helping other people to find out about their own histories. It was this interest and excitement around how we can interpret and share our history that led me to a PhD here at Leicester. I spent four years studying and writing about how archivists are exhibiting and interpreting their collections and telling stories about them in new and innovative ways. Taking part in the project So That They May Have Life is an exciting opportunity to uncover and share new stories about the university.

I am volunteering as a researcher for the project, focusing on the history and design of the university’s logo, which bears the motto Ut vitam habeant – that they may have life. The university’s crest features a griffin, derived from the coat of arms of Thomas Fielding Johnson, a local businessman and philanthropist who donated the site for the university (consisting of 37 acres of land and buildings) in 1919. For me, volunteering is an exciting opportunity to find out more about the institution that I have been a part of these last few years. It is a great way to share my enthusiasm about the past and to learn more from the university’s special collections and from other volunteers about their own knowledge and expertise.

I will also be giving a workshop about archive interpretation, drawing on my PhD research and professional experience around the exhibition and display of archives. In this workshop, we will examine some key ideas around exhibiting archives and visit different and exciting online exhibitions from around the world. The workshop will help inspire participants to think about how they can showcase their research discoveries to worldwide audiences.

For me, So That They May Have Life provides a vital and valuable opportunity to research, to unlock the past and to share ideas about how we can present and display these stories to new audiences. Uncovering new perspectives and narratives about the past helps shape and enrich our knowledge and understanding and sharing this with others helps all of us to learn more about the places in which we live, study and work. I hope to share more about my experiences on the project and the discoveries that I and the other team members make as we research the history of the university and its foundations as a living memorial.

Dr Peter Lester recently completed an AHRC Midlands3Cities funded PhD at the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester. His research examines the exhibition and display of archives and wider reshapings of physical archival spaces. Peter is also a professionally qualified archivist, having received a master’s degree in Archives and Records Management at the University of Liverpool in 2003. He worked at Nottinghamshire Archives until 2015 as Archivist (Public Services) and later Principal Archivist with responsibility for learning and outreach services, records management, electronic services and collections management. His journal article ‘Of Mind and Matter: the archive as object’ can be accessed via Figshare.

Contact Peter at pal23@le.ac.uk or pl202@le.ac.uk
Follow Peter on Twitter @pablester

Starting the project

Our community heritage project ‘So that they may have life’ will tell the story of the early history of the University of Leicester. During the course of the project we will: improve preservation and access to archive material; research the foundation and development of the University; conduct oral history interviews with alumni from the 1940s and early 1950s; run training activities; and organise events to celebrate our achievements and discoveries. We will publish regular blog posts on our work and findings. I am delighted to be writing the first article about our activities in the archives.

Improving access to archive material will be a key part of the project. Our first task was to identify areas to work on. This involved taking time to familiarise ourselves with the material. For example we looked at documents (mostly correspondence files) concerning the first three Secretaries – W. G. Gibbs (1920-29), L. M. Sear (1929-46), F. M. Dewery (1946-1947). We have prepared files for listing and set up spreadsheets to record data.  Now, we are looking forward to welcoming Archive Volunteers to help us.

Archive volunteers will help improve preservation to sections of the archives. This will involve: listing contents of files; repackaging files to prevent future damage and meet preservation standards; transcribing documents; and finally selecting material for digitisation. If you’d like to become involved in this part of the project click here.

Finally we are excited to announce our Heritage Skills Training Day on the 24th of March 2020. The Heritage Skills Training Day will cover topics including preserving, handling, cataloguing, and interpreting archive collections.

Posted by Charlotte Stokes, Engagement and Outreach Adviser.