The Digital Sikh Manuscript MS 241 and the journey from Punjab to Leicester

Guest post by Gurinder Singh Mann, with contributions from the So that they may have life project team

The Guru Granth Sahib is the holiest scripture of the Sikhs and is venerated by Sikhs across the world. The compositions were written by several of the Sikh Gurus together with compositions from holy saints and bards from India. These saints were Hindus and Muslims, hence making the Guru Granth Sahib a truly global scripture. The secondary scripture: Sri Dasam Granth Sahib composed by Guru Gobind Singh (1666 – 1708), contains martial undertones and represents the warrior strain of the Sikhs.

University of Leicester Sikh Manuscript

Harry Hardy Peach

The manuscript first came to my notice sometime circa 2013 when I was looking through various University Collections. The mansucript in question belonged to the prominent Harry Hardy Peach (1874–1936), who with his father had set up a bookshop at 37 Belvoir Street, Leicester, specialising in manuscripts and early printed books. He eventually set up a global business called Dryad Handicrafts in 1917, where he had created deck chairs on the Titanic as well as creating handicrafts to aid wounded soldiers in World War 1. At his death in 1936 Dryad Handicrafts was the largest supplier of handicraft materials in the world.

Many of the items he collected were given to the Leicester Museum in 1969. However he also gave over 1,600 books to the University with the Sikh MS being one of them. He was also President of the Literary and Philosophical Society and also a member of the Independent Labour Party and the founders of University College (later to become the University of Leicester). 

The manuscript can be dated to the early 1800 period and contains verses from the Adi Granth (Guru Granth Sahib) and the Dasam Granth. As a result, the breviary or Gutka was used for recitation. It would have been a personal volume held by a Sikh soldier, due it being found on the battlefield of Ferozeshah, Punjab. The original labeling and index card stated, “An original copy of the Granth, the holy book of the Sikhs.” The MS was inspected in 1958 by A.S Marwaha, who rightly pointed out that the volume was not the Guru Granth Sahib however he was incorrect on a number of salient points. He states that apart from the verses within Guru Granth Sahib, the remaining aspects are from the Bachitra Natak (wondrous drama) of the Tenth Guru’s writings. In fact there are number of writings included from Guru Gobind Singh’s Dasam Granth. The first section contains verses from the Guru Granth Sahib (with the exception of one set of verses by Guru Gobind Singh-Benti Chapaui contained with the Dasam Granth. The second section contains verses from the Dasam Granth and includes the opening composition of Jaap Sahib

*Some of the compositions commence in red denoting the start of the new composition.

*The manuscript was also referred to be used in a court case but never used.

Sikh manuscript
Opening folio: Start with the composition Japji Sahib by Guru Nanak

The manuscript was displayed at the commemoration day of University College, Leicester on Friday 29th May 1942. This was an opportunity by the University to display a number of rare books and manuscripts, the opening was addressed by Leicester West Member of Parliament, Harold Nicolson.

Anglo Sikh Wars

The Anglo Sikh Wars (1845-1849) were fought between the Sikh Empire and the East India Company, a number of battles took place leading to the annexation of the Punjab in 1849. These battles took place in India and Pakistan where the British were led by generals who had fought in many military campaigns, like the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), whilst the Sikhs were led by remnants of the Khalsa army created by Maharajah Ranjit Singh (1780-1839).

Battle of Ferozeshah (First Anglo Sikh War)

The Battle of Ferozeshah took place between 21 and 22 December 1845 in the Punjab, India.  It was a heavily contested battle. The British on the verge of defeat had sent for state papers to be burnt and the sword belonging to Napolean Bonaparte (1769 – 1821) in the hands of the Governor-General Henry Hardinge (1785 – 1856) was sent away. (1) With the fate of British India in the balance, some of the Sikh Generals colluded with the British to withdraw their forces. The manuscript was captured by an East India Company soldier however it is presumed that it was brought over to the UK the circumstances of which are not known. The flyleaf records,

Sikh `Grunth` taken from a tent in the Entrenchment of Ferozsheheir, Dec 24, 1845

Flyleaf: Denoting that the MS was found on the battlefields of Ferozeshah

The MS is similar to other Sikh breviaries in UK collections namely in the British Library. The MS has been kept safe in the collection since the 1920’s.

Anglo Sikh Wars Battles, Treaties and Relics Exhibition 2017

Interpretation work on this important manuscript was undertaken by the Sikh Museum Initiative and the Archives and Special Collections team. Considerations included, what was the best way to display the MS without causing any damage. As a result, it was decided that a special cradle be constructed where the manuscript would rest on. The cradle was constructed by the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.

After discussions consideration was given on how to display the breviary in a non-Gurdwara setting, after taking advice from numerous organisations, it was decided  the Manuscript would rest under a Rumalla or religious cloth. (2)  The cloth was donated by Guru Tegh Bahadur Gurdwara Leicester.  The display featured a number of Sikh weaponry  which mirrors traditional setting of a Gurdwara in reference to the Sikh scriptures. The swords included two talwars (Shropshire Regiment) and two chakkars (quoits) (The Royal Welsh Regiment Brecon) and a Sikh sword taken from the battlefield of Aliwal (The Royal Lancers And Nottinghamshire Yeomanry Museum ). As a result, the sanctity of the MS was maintained as best as possible. In previous exhibitions, curators of institutions have never gone to the lengths that the Sikh Museum Initiative and the University of Leicester went to ensure that the sentiments of the wider Sikh community were respected.

The manuscript was displayed at the exhibition Anglo Sikh Wars Battles, Treaties and Relics at Newarke Houses Museum, Leicester from 11th March to 4th June 2017. The MS was indeed one of the highlights of the exhibition. (3) The University of Leicester also held a mini display on the Anglo Sikh Wars at the David Wilson building with copies of the Illustrated London News on display which reported on the Anglo Sikh Wars during the time.

Anglo Sikh Museum

In 2018 the Sikh Museum Initiative commenced a project on the research and 3d digitisation of important Sikh relics and artefacts in public and private collections.  A project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, The project has catalogued jewelry, arms and armour and the team have worked with many museums like the Royal Armouries and the Victoria and Albert Museum. As part of the project discussion started on digitisation of MS 241. This was timely as there was existing work in the University department looking at the digitisation of (MS 210 – Ethiopic Manuscript). (4)

3d model of the Manuscript

Highly detailed Images of the Manuscript were sent to the ourselves. It was deemed that we would create a model of only the binding and the depiction of two angs of the MS.(5)

Taran Singh of Taran3d who created the 3d model describes the process as “mix of photography and traditional Computer aided design software to create an accurate 3D representation of the manuscript. The difficult part was to animate the opening of the manuscript so that the text could be seen and read. It was wonderful to be able to see the final model come together and the animation gave it a whole new level of interaction that would not be possible in a traditional museum setting.”

This work will hopefully lead to a larger project on the complete digitisation of the MS which incorporates a fuller 3d model.

We would like to thank Dr Simon Dixon, Head of Srchives and Special collections (University of Leicester), So that they may have life volunteers Tony Moore and Maria Chiara Scuderi, Jasmohan Singh Obhi,  the Leicester Museums Service for supporting the interpretation of the manuscript and the National Lottery Heritage Fund for the funding of both projects.

Notes

(1) The Sikh Museum Initiative has recreated this sword in 3d. Visit Henry Hardinge’s Sword, https://www.anglosikhmuseum.com/hardinges-sword/

(2) The rumalla was provided by Guru Tegh Bahadur Gurdwara, East Park Road, Leicester in 2017.

(3) Hear the radio Interview with Simon Dixon regarding the manuscript and the exhibition https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zlWGaa54L4

(4) https://staffblogs.le.ac.uk/specialcollections/2019/05/22/the-latest-adventures-of-ms-210/

(5) As the Sikhs consider the Guru Granth Sahib as a ‘Living Guru’ the so-called pages are referred to as angs or limbs hence representing the living body.

Calling University of Leicester students past and present

As part of the So that they may have life project Archives and Special Collections are hosting work placements from the School of Museum Studies. The Student Life team are appealing for help from students past and present to help tell the story of our campus. Dominic De Soissons explains:

Black and white photograph of some of the first students and staff, taken in 1922, (ULA/FG5/1/1).
Black and white photograph of some of the first students and staff, taken in 1922, (ULA/FG5/1/1).

Next year, the University of Leicester will be celebrating its centenary. We want to know what meant most to you about your campus-based student experience.

From the humorous to the heartfelt, all of us have stories that will last us a lifetime when we think about our time at university. We, the So that they may have life team, are composing a commemorative campaign which includes a celebration of ‘100 Years of Student Life’ at the university. One of the ways in which we are doing this is by collecting a series of recordings from you, the students and alumni, about a memory that you hold dear that we can include in a mobile based walking tour of the campus.

We feel that this is something that needs to be placed at the forefront of this project as students and the value of the experience are at the very core of the university itself and reflect our motto ‘Ut Vitam Habeant’ – So that they may have life’. With this in mind we ask that you send us a recording or script of an experience that you had on campus, primarily in:

  • The Fielding Johnson Building
  • The David Wilson Library
  • The Attenborough Tower
  • The Charles Wilson Building
  • Percy Gee (SU)
  • Maurice Shock Building
  • George Davies Centre
  • Attenborough Arts Centre
  • The Arch of Remembrance
  • The Archaeology and Ancient History Building
  • Henry Wellcome Centre 

Other stories will also be included.

If you could send your recording or a script to dgds1@student.le.ac.uk you will be at the centre of this celebration. Thank you for your time and your recordings. Please read our Information Sheet before submitting your story.  

Please send your story by 5pm on Tuesday 8 September. Contact dgds1@student.le.ac.uk for further information.

Q & A with Tony Moore

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born and raised in a working-class family in Tooting, south-west London, living with my parents, my older brother, my paternal grandparents and my aunt. Local grammar school, A-levels in French, English and Latin. Scholarship to Oxford University (St Edmund Hall) and degree in French and Italian. With a low boredom threshold, I needed to work in a changing environment, so went into advertising and found a job in an advertising agency in Leicester. It was named after Frank Gayton, a local graphic designer, and in doing the research on Harry Peach I have discovered that encouragement and patronage of young artists and designers was important to Peach, and he helped promote Frank Gayton’s career, commissioning him to design the front cover of the catalogue for the Design and Industries Association printing exhibition, held in Leicester in 1916, and persuading his friend Percy Gee to use him to design display cards and labels for his shoe company, Stead and Simpson, in 1913-14. 

After nine years in the advertising agency, in 1974 I broke away with two colleagues to start our own. That ceased in 1996, and I then went to work in Italy for a travel company as a tour manager taking British tourists round Lake Garda, Verona, Venice and the Dolomite mountains. Very enjoyable, but I stopped after seven years (even Lake Garda palls after over thirty visits). My wife and I have also visited Italy many times on our own or with friends, but we bought a house in France, between Agen and Toulouse in the south-west. We spent many happy times there but we sold it after 20 years, as there are lots of other places we wanted to visit. 

I have an annual reunion with five other friends from university and our wives, and that has led to travels to interesting places. The first few years we simply visited each others’ homes, but then we started going further afield. Now when we meet we decide where to go the following year, and so far we have been to Florida, Australia, Sicily, Italy and Portugal, but also to the New Forest and Brighton. All being well we will meet in Edinburgh in September.

What do you enjoy about Leicester?

Firstly, it gave me a job when I needed one. Secondly, I found a wife! Having arrived here in October 1965, I met Kate in December 1966 (through her sister, who worked alongside me). We got engaged in February 1967 and were married in July. We have just celebrated our 53rd anniversary. I like Leicester as it has all we want – restaurants, cinemas, theatres, hospitals, shops – and pleasant countryside within easy reach. I like walking into town across Victoria Park and down New Walk, a pleasant, traffic-free half-hour stroll. We enjoy just walking round different parts of the city, looking at the houses – we popped into the graveyard of St Mary’s, Knighton, and discovered the tomb of a man who died on board the Titanic. He was called Denzil Jarvis and was supposed to be going on a six-week business trip to America.

Have you volunteered before?

I am a member of a Methodist church, where I fulfil many roles: safeguarding officer, gift aid secretary, chair of the finance and property committee. I also give talks on behalf of the Woodland Trust. Many years ago I helped in an adult literacy programme, teaching adults to read.

What is the interest in this research project?

I have always been interested in art – I have a collection of hundreds of books on all sorts of art, from the Renaissance to Japanese woodblocks to abstract expressionism. My favourite artists are probably Henri Matisse and Piero della Francesca. We are members of the Royal Academy, the Tate, the Art Fund, the National Trust and English Heritage.

We go to exhibitions whenever we can, both in the UK and abroad (including a wonderful one on Piero in Forlì in 2016). As an Oxford graduate I get a discount on courses run by their Department of Continuing Education, and I have completed several 10-week online interactive courses – Impressionism, Islamic Art and Architecture, Art Nouveau, and two on the Northern Renaissance. 

I have the biography of William Morris by Fiona McCarthy and also the catalogue to the Morris exhibition at the V & A in 1996, so I was obviously aware of the Arts and Crafts Movement. I also knew about Dryad (they were actually a client of our advertising agency back in the 1980s) and was therefore keen to learn more about its founder, Harry Peach. Never having done this sort of project before, I thought it would be a change and a challenge.

Q & A Virginia Wright

Tell us a bit about yourself

I am a registered Blue Badge Tourist Guide and have been since 1976. Leicester was the first industrial city to have a team of nationally qualified tourist guides. Over the years I have immersed myself in the history of the city and county. The work has involved presenting the story of Leicester both historical and contemporary in an interesting and informative way to the public, residents, visitors, travel agents, employers etc. This has been mainly in the form of guided tours of areas and building but more recently has developed into presenting talks with PowerPoint presentations to groups who may no longer be able to go on walks.

I have also worked as a freelance, professional genealogist, carrying out research for people whose families have Leicestershire and Rutland roots and/or connections. Initially, the research was all based at the Record Office, using primary sources but as more local documents and records have become available online, I have made use of digitised images.

One of my current involvements is researching the South Knighton area between the wars, 1919 – 39. There is a group of us who have each taken on a specific topic; mine is the break-up of large estates and demolition of the large houses in the area and the subsequent building of smaller properties more suited to 20th century life.

What do you most enjoy about being in Leicester?

I am Leicester born and bred and have a great fondness for my home town. It has a long and varied history and over the centuries has embraced progress. Today many people seem to regard the city and county as a place to pass through on the way to elsewhere. I enjoy surprising them with details of who and what Leicester and county has produced.

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

Growing up in Leicester I have always known that Leicester has a University. Perhaps my first memory would be of being among the crowds welcoming the Queen as she drove down Gartree Road from Stoughton airport on her way to Leicester university to open the Percy Gee Building in May 1958.

During the course of my research into various aspects of local and family history I have become aware of many of the personalities who have been associated with the instigation and promotion of the University over the years. The social contact, networks between these individuals has always fascinated me.

Have you volunteered before?

In the past I have served on committees for the local Scout group, the Friends of the Record Office, the Castle Park Festival.

I have volunteered as a welcome at St Mary de Castro Church as part of their Open Door project.

Currently I am a volunteer house guide at Donington-le-Heath Manor House – the 1620s House, where I meet a variety of people, show them around the property and explain its history. To help me in this role I have undertaken to research the branch of the Digby family who lived in the house in the 17th century. This is an ongoing project.

What are your views about volunteering?

I think that the opportunity to volunteer makes people feel valued and that they, in turn, are a very valuable asset for the wide variety of resources they are able to bring to any project.

What do you expect to learn?

A lot more about the undiscovered networks and links that brought the University into being.

Archival and further research skills.

Q&A with Sam Dobson

Tell us a bit about yourself?

I would never have believed I could today be researching the history of the university music department. So how did I get here?

I have always been interested in history and music and have been a keen supporter of the Leicester Symphony Orchestra (LSO) since 1982. I retired 8 years ago and almost immediately got involved with a major project. The orchestra had commissioned a history and I was asked if I could find and arrange the illustrations for the book. I spent several enjoyable months steeping myself in the LSO archive. The orchestra was founded in 1922 and was central to music making in Leicester. It has a fascinating story and interestingly at least 4 of the main characters had a connection to the university. Please follow the links for more information:

  • Dr, later Sir, Malcolm Sargent, founded the LSO and did a huge amount for music in the city. He was destined to become one of the most well known and best loved musicians of the 20th century, with an army of admirers in Britain and throughout the world. He was appointed as head of the music department in  September 1921.
  • Karl Russell of William H Russell & Son, the business behind the orchestra. He generously donated a grand piano to the university.
  • Grace Burrows, a true pioneer; Leicester’s premier violinist who led and managed the LSO. She was appointed to the staff of the music department in 1924, and her brother,
  • Benjamin Burrows played for the orchestra on many occasions. He was appointed to the staff of the music department in 1924; a brilliant music teacher, organist, pianist, composer and inventor.

As you will see, I have already explored something of the background and characters in the story of the music department but I am sure there is a lot more to discover……  

What do you enjoy most about being at Leicester?

My circle of friends and contacts. It’s a great place for music; in fact it is great. Could just do to be a little nearer the sea.

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

Not a huge amount. Probably know more about the music department than any thing else.

Have you volunteered before?

I am / was active in my union branch for 30 years, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, my bowls club and the Elgar Society. Also I have given many many talks in support of Leicester Symphony Orchestra on the subject of the LSO, Malcolm Sargent and Edward Elgar. If interested in talks contact me at: samdobson69@gmail.com.

 What are your views about volunteering?

Great idea. Find something you are interested in and get stuck in.

What do you expect to learn?

The usual thing; I like to get to the bottom of the story.

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