Senate House Library treasures volume: featuring the young George Grote



For the University of London, the classical historian George Grote was an exceedingly important figure: not merely as an authority on Greece but as an administrator and innovator, a member of the University of London Senate from 1850 onwards and Vice-Chancellor 1862-1871. He further bequeathed to the Library its second significant collection of books: about five thousand volumes on Classics, history, economics, philosophy and other matters.
Thus Grote’s representation in the treasures volume was partly a celebration of corporate identity. Representation emerges here in a very personal way, in a letter about him by his fiancée, Harriet Lewin, to her sister. It is an atypical letter among the Lewin Papers (MS811), an archive which focuses on Harriet’s nephew Thomas Herbert Lewin (1839-1916), an administrator in India.
Grote’s courtship and marriage to Harriet were problematical. The relationship began with a misunderstanding when a rival led Grote to believe that Harriet was already engaged to somebody else (see here), and continued under a cloud of parental disapproval which meant that sole contact was by correspondence. The letter is dated 25 August 1818, shortly after her engagement, and indicates something of the relief of the written word and the general lack of sympathy towards the young bride to be: “You know him, and have the capability of appreciating those qualities which ‘pass outward shew’, whilst the rest of my family judge entirely of him by exterior qualities”.
Ultimately the couple married clandestinely in 1820. They were very happy, despite Harriet’s poor health and the disappointment of remaining childless. Although Harriet was unable to ensure Grote’s posterity through offspring, she compensated by becoming his first biographer (1873).


Thomas Flowers and the class of 1933

Amongst the University of London students who graduated in 1933 was Thomas Harold Flowers. Flowers is remembered today for playing a crucial role in code-breaking efforts during the Second World War. He was the architect of Colossus, the giant electronic computer which used 2,400 valves and was brought into service at Bletchley Park in June 1944. Colossus immediately proved its worth. Eisenhower and his staff had a crucial meeting on 5 June 1944 during which a courier handed Eisenhower a decrypted German message. This confirmed that Hitler had ordered no additional troops to Normandy. Eisenhower handed back the decrypt and told his staff “we go tomorrow”.


Colossus, circa 1943

Colossus had already made a significant impact by this point. A decoded report from Field Marshall Rommel on the western defences revealed that one of the sites chosen as the drop site for an US parachute division was in fact the base for a German tank division. Nor surprisingly, the site was changed.

Thomas Flowers was born in the East End of London in 1905. His connection with the University of London began when he registered at Woolwich Polytechnic in September 1922. He passed the intermediate exam in engineering as an external student in 1925 and left Woolwich after the academic session 1925-6. Flowers registered at Northampton Polytechnic Institute in September 1928 and went on to gain a first class honours degree in engineering as an internal student.

Students at Presentation Day, 1930 (reference UoL/FG/5/2)

Students at Presentation Day, 1930 (reference UoL/FG/5/2)

The list of University of London graduates of 1933 has just been added to the University of London students webpage, which now includes lists of students 1836-1933.

Pacifist archives

The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 caused euphoric crowds to gather in the capitals of several combatant nations.  Notoriously, Hitler was photographed in the midst of a huge, jubilant crowd in Vienna. 

Second World War leaflet (MS1190/2/144)

Second World War leaflet (MS1190/2/144)

But there was also notable opposition to the war.  Keir Hardie addressed large crowds of protestors in London as war loomed.  Hardie was the first leader of the Labour Party.  His successor but three, Ramsay MacDonald, who also opposed the war, stepped down from the leadership once hostilities had begun.  In Britain, several pacifist organisations continued the campaign.  The introduction of military conscription in 1916 boosted the appeal of the No Conscription Fellowship (NCF), which had been founded by Fenner Brockway in November 1914. 

Brockway, like many pacifists of this era, was imprisoned for his beliefs.  Pacifism was a significant political force in the inter-war period although the increasingly obvious menace of Nazi Germany in 1930s convinced the Labour Party, for instance, to abandon its quasi-pacifist position and support re-armament.  Nevertheless, the build-up to the outbreak of the Second World War was accompanied by a significant amount of pacifist activity.  Anti-war campaigners included Christian groups and members of far left and extreme right-wing organisations.  Campaigns against the war continued after the declaration of war on Germany by Britain on 3 September 1939.

Undated Second World War leaflet (MS1190/2/163)

Undated Second World War leaflet (MS1190/2/163)

Senate House Library’s archives include some rich sources on pacifism.  Amongst these are newly catalogued archives on First World War era pacifism and anti-war movements in the run up to the Second World War.

Anti-conscription leaflet, c 1915

Anti-conscription leaflet, c 1915

  These collections and other pacifist archives at Senate House Library are described in more detail in a new archive subject page on pacifism and anti-war movements.

Revisiting a mysterious manuscript

Cowell manuscript


On Wednesday 19 June four panellists gathered to discuss Senate House Library’s MS294, the so-called “Cowell manuscript”. Was this manuscript ascribing Shakespeare’s plays to Bacon the record of two lectures delivered by James Corton Cowell to the Ipswich Philosophic [sic] Society in 1805, as it purports to be, or was it a much later creation? If the former – assumed from the time that the manuscript entered public ownership and was publicised by Allardyce Nicoll in the Times Literary Supplement of 25 February 1932 – it is the earliest written evidence of the Baconian theory of Shakespearean authorship. If not, the earliest evidence for the theory remains Joseph C. Hart’s Romance of Yachting (1848), and mystery surrounds the Cowell manuscript: who forged it and why?

James Shapiro of Columbia University used vocabulary (the phrase “very unromantic”) and the presence of information about Shakespeare in the manuscript which was unknown in 1805 to expose it as a fake in his book Contested Will (2010). In the symposium he expanded upon evidence from the book, showing use of the terms “unromantic” and “very unromantic” from 1700 to 1930 to demonstrate how minimal the use was before the 1820s, and showed how the lectures used material first published by Sir Sidney Lee in 1880. The manuscript was bequeathed to the University of London by Edith Jane, Lady Durning-Lawrence. How it entered her, or her Baconian husband Edwin’s, possession, is unclear. Drawing upon previous publications, especially her transcript of the manuscript with an editorial introduction in Shakespeare Survey, 65 (2012), Karen Attar talked about the Durning-Lawrences and the manuscript. Nicholas Eastaugh of Art Access & Research had examined the ink used to write the manuscript. It was iron gall with silver in it, attributable to the manuscript having been written by a pen with a silver nib. Iron gall ink and pens with silver nibs were used in 1805 and have been used since, such that tests were inconclusive.

Paper analyist Peter Bower talked fascinatingly about the strong, stable wove drawing paper used to write the manuscript. It does not fit the standard paper sizes of the early nineteenth century, and contains no watermark. The paper is identical to paper produced after 1815 by Smith and Allnutt at the Great Ivy Mill in the Loose Valley, near Maidstone in Kent. Bower’s thesis is that the date and name in the watermark had been cut off, and that the reason the paper is not a standard size is because it was cut. Curiouser and curiouser …

The fascination of the topic was evidenced from the fact that the audience remained alert for two hours. Questions evidently remain, and further investigation remains to be done.

Underground working

It is 150 years since the London Underground began. Eighty years ago public control was significantly extended over London transport. A file in the archives contains intriguing information about the Underground in the late 1920s. It was compiled by a young official, James Earle Edwards and includes detailed summaries of rolling stock, diagrams of depots and equipment. Edwards also compiled a series of reports from divisional offices.

James Earle Edwards' file (MS1196)

James Earle Edwards’ file (MS1196)

There is a detailed report about the Arsenal match against Blackburn in March 1928, for instance, and its implications for what was then Gillespie Road. Not surprisingly, six booking clerks were needed rather than the usual one for a Saturday afternoon. James Earle Edwards went on become Superintendant of Waterloo station by 1959. A photographer of the same name took some wonderful photographs of ocean liners in the 1940s. Could they have been one and the same?

The Dingwall Papers: Conservation of a Diverse Collection

EJD cropped 1Welcome to the Dingwall project blog! This blog will follow a project funded by the Wellcome Trust to catalogue and conserve just one of the University’s diverse collections held in the archives of Senate House Library.

First off, a brief introduction to the life of Eric John Dingwall with some key points from his life:

  • Born in Ceylon in around 1891 (Dingwall was unsure of his actual date of birth)
  • A Graduate of Pembroke College, Cambridge, he joined the staff of the Cambridge University Library in 1915 as a volunteer and went on to become an assistant librarian, leaving in 1918
  • In his youth he developed an enduring interest in magic and was eventually elected to the Magic Circle.
  • This informed his approach to the investigation of the physical phenomena of mediumship, his major contribution to the Society for Psychical Research which he joined in 1920.
  • In 1921 he spent a year in the United States as Director of the Department of Physical Phenomena at the American Society for Psychical Research
  • He was then appointed research officer to the British Society in 1922. He also had an interest in sexual deviation and peculiar sexual practices, which annoyed some of his colleagues at the Society and led to the termination of his appointment in 1927
  • Released from his responsibilities at the SPR he continued to publish books
  • In 1932 he was awarded his DSc from University College London
  • After the war he became Honorary Assistant Keeper at the British Museum Library (later the British Library) where he became a recognised authority on historical erotica, as well as on magic and psychical research
  • He also continued to publish books including two collections of short biographies of strange characters
  • Married twice, his first wife left him and his second died in 1976. Dingwall spent his remaining years independently and alone until his death on 7 August 1986.

In his will, Dingwall stipulated that his collection of notes and press cuttings be gifted to the University of London on his death. The collection arrived at the University in 1990, and is housed in the Historic Collections department of Senate House Library. It includes slip indexes, scrapbooks, albums and technical correspondence files. After a successful application to the Wellcome Trust, a grant was given to enable the cataloguing and conservation of the collection.

Once catalogued the collection will be open to viewing for research under supervision with the exception of the technical correspondence, which will remain closed until 2025 (as requested by Dingwall in his will).


From the Reading Room.

John Tosh (Why History Matters and The Pursuit of History amongst much else besides) has been in this week looking at the A. F. Pollard Papers (MS860). I asked him why the material was of particular interest and how it related to his wider research.

‘I am consulting the papers of A.F. Pollard because, in addition to founding the Institute of Historical Research, he was an early protagonist of Public History, especially during World War I.

The IHR was the first occupier of the site upon which Senate House now stands. It was founded in 1921 and was the first of the Senate Institutes. Its notorious temporary accommodation was named by historians as the ‘Tudor Cottage’.


Public History is a broad set of ideas – loosely it is history that is not singularly owned by professional historians and it also draws on a multiplicity of sources: oral, material, film, web, video, as well as the more traditional primary sources.  Justin Champion sketches the idea at The Historical Association.’

John Tosh is one of the convenors of the recent and ongoing series of seminars at the IHR concerning Public History and at the time of writing there are three seminars to go.