#Archives30 Day 30: Why Archives?

#Archive30 list created by @ARAScot

Day 30, the final day of the @ARAScot #Archive30 twitter event. This event has lasted for the 30 days of April and each day is given a theme. We then post something from our archives which fits best with the theme! The twitter event is an Archive Awareness campaign to give an insight into our collections and our jobs. For today, the theme is Why Archives? I could not answer this question with 280 characters, so instead I shall answer fully here!

For the past 30 days, Eton College Archives have been able to show off the weird and wonderful items which we hold in our collections, from seals of kings, signatures of Queens to records of boy’s attendance and house books, the archives here are certainly varied in its material. There’s a selection of the items shared below (hover over each picture to see which theme each item is a response to):

But back to the question, why archives? For this, perhaps a better question would be why not archives? Well, to put it simply, without archives, I would not be writing this post. I wouldn’t have a job, there would be no archives assistant here!  There would be no #Archive30 Twitter event, as there would be no material to show off. We wouldn’t be able to show you the signature of Queen Elizabeth I, or the entrance books, or anything for that matter!

Without archives, we wouldn’t know that items were given to the barber in the 16th century, to wipe over the imagery upon the walls of the church, with the intent of removal. But after 300 years they were able to be restored and are now the most considerable work of art in the College. We wouldn’t know the names of boys who attended the school from the date of its foundation (We can partially understand this, as no record survives of the Oppidans who attended before 1792, we only have the names of the Kings Scholars. But without the archives, we wouldn’t even have these).

Heck, without the archives, we wouldn’t know that F. C. Lacaita was able to drink a yard of ale in 19 seconds!

It’s clear to see, that without archives, important pieces of history would be lost, stories and tales would be unheard and memories would be forgotten.

So, why archives?

Archives allow people to feel connected to the past. To understand how people acted, what they ate, what they learned, how they dressed. Through diaries we can see the personal life’s of people who lived hundreds of years ago, what went on during their day, who their friends were, where they spent their youth. Through Housemaster’s papers, we can see what money was spent on, what activities boys took part in. Society books allow us to see what went on in meetings. Sports books show us who trained when and who won what. All these items allow us to see a piece of history which would otherwise be lost.

Whilst we use archives now to look at the past, the material of today shall be used in the future, to see what our lives were like in 2019, to give an insight to how times have changed, the same way we use the archives to compare the modern day to a period which can stretch from years to centuries ago.

Why archives? Because archives allow history and the past to live, and without the past, there is no future.

Eliza Kettle

Archives Assistant

Why Archives? Responses from around the Collections

You can’t respect the past unless you know about it, and if you don’t respect the past you won’t understand the present.

Roddy Fisher, Archivist, Photographic Archive

 

Archives are the threads that stitch everything together.

Bryan, Foundation & Collections

 

Archives make memory, and memory makes identity.  Archives define who we were and who we are.

Lucy Gwynn, Deputy Librarian & Deputy Director of Collections

 

They provide endlessly fascinating glimpses into the past! They make history tangible, and give access and evidence of the everyday life of people – not just kings and queens (although seeing the signature of famous monarchs always gives a thrill!).

Rebecca, Museums Officer

 

We’d love to hear your thoughts and responses to Why Archives? in the comments box below!

 

You can hear more from Eliza Kettle, Archives Assistant, who will be sharing another look into Eton’s Archives in June’s blog post.

Easter Egg Hunt!

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Tray of eggs from the Newall Egg Collection

duckling

Four-legged duckling

I once had to disappoint a very excited young Etonian who came into the Museum asking me where the four-foot duck was on display.  He had misheard one of his peers, of course: we don’t have a duck which is 1.2m tall!  But one of the most iconic specimens in Eton’s Natural History Museum, and certainly the most inquired after by Old Etonians who return to the Museum, sometimes after many years, is our duckling with four feet!  The duckling is an example of a conjoined twin, as is our equally iconic two-headed kitten.  Both are examples of what used to be known as Siamese twins but are now more properly referred to as conjoined twins.  This phenomenon occurs when a single embryo divides partially but not completely.  In humans this is a very rare event (say, 1 in 100,000 or so) but it is reported to be more common in ducks.

As we approach Easter, we might reasonably turn our thoughts from emblematic ducklings and kittens to eggs.  The Museum’s Newall egg collection dates from the last quarter of the nineteenth century and is drawn from around the northern hemisphere with eggs from Alaska to Archangel down to the Bahamas, Astrakhan, Texas and Southern Spain.

Data-rich historical collections such as this are especially important to scientists as a source of information on the lives and past distributions of bird populations.  Oologists use these collections to study phenology, the timing of the seasonal laying of eggs in relation to climate change and other factors.  Collections can also ascertain whether a species’ range has changed by examining where the nests were found.

Guillemot Eggs

Guillemot Egg display

Egg collectors were fascinated by the variety of sizes, shapes and patterns seen in eggs.  Guillemot eggs in particular were noted for their variability, and it is said that variations in pattern and colouring allow adults to recognise their own eggs within a dense colony of sea birds.  The Eton Natural History Museum has a collection of over 90 such eggs to make precisely this point.

You can watch the Curator talking about eggs on the link below.

Have a Happy Easter!

 

George Fussey

Curator, Natural History Museum

The Eton College Natural History Museum in South Meadow Lane is open to the public on Sundays, from 2.30pm until 5pm; we are closed Easter Sunday. It is Berkshire’s only dedicated Natural History Museum, a family friendly museum with over 17,000 objects and features numerous displays showing the wildlife of the Thames Valley.

Contact us: g.fussey@etoncollege.org.uk or by phone on 370602.

Collections Learning: Victorian Children at Eton

These students at Eton are not Eton students. They are four to seven year olds visiting for a school trip, to learn more about what life was like for Eton boys one hundred and fifty years ago.  As part of a new offer from Collections, local primary school students are being invited in to discover history through the lives of Eton students.

We started the session by trying to decipher an object from the collection of the Museum of Eton Life that even Collections had misidentified until recently.  With some observation and careful thinking the children were able to decide that the object had something to do with lights – it was indeed a rush light holder (and not for pinching people). This began a discussion of candles, rush lights and life before electricity, letting the children display their prior knowledge.

Now that their brains were warmed up, students divided into small groups for various hands on activities, investigating the clothes, living conditions, leisure activities and education of Victorian Etonians. They had the chance to be creative, designing their own pop waistcoats. They practiced their skills of observation with the period schoolroom. They used primary sources with photos and excerpts from the Chronicle about different sporting events. As the children rotated around the activities, they gained an idea of what life was like for Eton students of that time period, compared to the Victorian children they had already learned about in class.  When we came together at the end, the general agreement from the children was that although they liked the idea of having cake in their rooms, they would not have liked the birch!

 

Completed Waistcoats worksheets

This session is part of an exciting long term process of making Eton’s extensive and varied collections more accessible to local schools by turning the previous informal service into a standardised programme. Although it might seem counter-intuitive that the history of Eton, a fee-paying single sex secondary school, could be relevant to co-ed state primary schools, in truth the population of Eton has one great characteristic in common with these visiting students – they are all children. The boys who attended Eton were still just boys, living through the turmoil of their time. Thus Eton is a perfect example of the home front during the Second World War, with rationing, air raid shelters and even bombing raids. Old Etonians sacrificed themselves during the Great War, Tudor students toiled at their Latin, and Victorian boys were bound by the expectations of their class. This programme is not limited to history sessions. With two other excellent museums at hand, primary school students can also investigate various aspects of natural history as well as the Ancient Egyptians!

Looking at House Life in a historic boy's room display

It is recognised that learning done outside of classrooms and through the medium of original objects is unique and different to that done in the classroom. These education sessions, using replica images and objects and containing activities to appeal to different learning styles, allow students from age four to 11 to access some of the collection’s rich resources. Once the primary programme is up and running, we will develop and expand our offer to secondary schools, focussing upon exam level students and the unique opportunities the Collection can offer them.  These sessions make our objects accessible to more people, benefiting not only the students who attend but also the Collections.

Saskia Nesja

Education Officer

For more on Collections Learning, see the latest Collections Journal Summer 2019 for Saskia Nesja’s article on Outreach and Engagement

Conservation of Ancient Egyptian mummification: call the specialist!

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A highlight of the popular Antiquities collection at Eton College is the mummification display. Recently we noticed that some of the wrappings on the mummified heads were starting to shed and come loose. To understand why this was happening and to repair the damage we brought in Jenny Mathiasson who specializes in the conservation of antiquities and human remains. Over two days we worked together treating every object in the display. After initial examination of the objects we determined the likely cause of the deterioration was due to extreme changes in the humidity within the case. Organic specimens can react quite violently to humidity changes. This coupled with their age and fragility meant interventive treatment was necessary to stabilize them for the future and prevent the permanent loss of any original material.

The stabilization was carried out in two parts. First, areas of flaking linen wrappings were consolidated and once completed the larger strips of linen could then be relaxed back into their original places and re attached. It was important to work with adhesives that would complement the original materials and to test a variety of strengths until the best solution was found. In our case we chose to use cellulose based adhesives such as 2% methylcellulose in a 50/50 solution of IMS (alcohol) and deionized water and wheat starch paste in deionized water. The methylcellulose adhesive was low tack and could be wicked up easily by the linen so it was ideal for consolidating the flaking edges of the wrappings. The wheat starch paste was higher tack and more viscous so it was ideal for re-adhering the larger strips of linen back in their original positions.

The final stage of the treatment was to re-position the object on their mounts as some had shifted slightly over time. Overall we were able to stabilize three mummified human heads, a mummified falcon, a mummified kitten and two mummified human hands.

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To prevent damage like this from reoccurring there is a humidity control system installed within the case, which will keep our mummified objects comfortable for years to come.

A huge thanks to Jenny Mathiasson for her expertise and to David Goode and Hawtrey House for hosting Jenny during her time at Eton.

Aimée Sims

Conservation Steward

‘A great sense of mystery and tension’: Sophie Macfadyen responds to Gainsborough’s ‘A Rocky Road with Trees’

On 28th January 2019, 11 A-Level students and members of the History of Art Club from St George’s, Ascot visited the Watercolours exhibition in the Verey Gallery. Prior to their visit the A-Level students researched selected works on display and prepared presentations which each student delivered in front of the artwork to the Club. 
Below is Sophie Macfadyen’s presentation on A Rocky Road with Trees by Thomas Gainsborough.
Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788). A Rocky Road with Trees, 1785, black and white chalk, with stump.

Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788). A Rocky Road with Trees, 1785, black and white chalk, with stump.

This sketch is of a lone figure walking along a winding path into the distance. The path leads the figure as well as the viewer’s eyes through some woodland. There are buildings in the distance to the right which appear to be a manor house or farm and tall mountains beyond them. It is evening and the lighting gives the illusion that the moon is shining bright, illuminating the scene and dappling light through the trees and onto the ground.

The use of black and white alone in the picture gives a sense of eeriness as light and shadow are emphasised. It is the darkness that surrounds the figure that puts us on edge because it creates mystery as to what could be lurking around the corner. The open space which we see through also makes the figure seem vulnerable as they are alone in a wide, open space meaning that anyone and anything can jump out at them as well as be watching them, as the viewer is. The fact that the figure is so far away makes us feel helpless and as if we are about to watch something bad happen.

The tree on the right also adds to the eeriness of the scene as it twists and contorts as if to reach out to the figure. The idea of the trees having life and being able to watch and reach out to the lone figure gives the effect of the trees closing in on the person and trapping them. As well as this, the ground itself is also wrinkled and writhed making it seem like old skin, adding to the life-likeness of the landscape.

The use of linear strokes in the same direction creates a sense of unity. By pressing both hard and gently with the chalk, Gainsborough creates chiaroscuro, adding to the unsettling nature of the scene. This medium enables him to quickly and easily sketch out a complete scene either as a study for a painting or, as many were, just for fun. Overall, a great sense of mystery and tension is created, intriguing the viewer and drawing us in.

Gainsborough created over 1,100 drawings much like this in his lifetime. He had a huge interest in nature and depicting it. He often painted at night by candlelight which explains why the majority of his landscapes (especially the sketches) use tenebrism and appear to be set at dusk/night. This sketch was created at the end of his life therefore his technique and style is well established and the picture echoes his earlier works in both composition and subject. He is most famous for landscape compositions as well as detailed and delicate portraiture. His landscapes are typically of English countryside and are very effective at drawing the viewer’s eyes into the depth of the scene, usually via a path or open expanse of land. This technique is evident amongst many of his paintings and sketches such as Road From Market and Landscape in Suffolk. Gainsborough is renowned as being one of the best British landscape artists in history and I believe that he certainly deserves this title.

Sophie Macfadyen, St. George’s, Ascot

 

 

 

Current exhibitions in the Eton College Collections: the generosity of benefactors.

We have an engaging and varied exhibition programme running temporary exhibitions across two galleries, offering the chance to see holdings not shown in our permanent galleries and museum displays. The current exhibitions draw attention to the incredible generosity of benefactors to the Collections, and seek to share these works with others.

Watercolours from the Eton College Collections, Verey Gallery, Eton College

24 November 2018 to 24 February 2019

john frederick lewis, the patio de los arrayanes, alhambra, 1832. pencil, watercolour and gouache.

John Frederick Lewis, The Patio de Los Arrayanes, Alhambra, 1832. Pencil, watercolour and gouache.

 

john ruskin, capri, 1841. pencil and wash.

John Ruskin, Capri, 1841. Pencil and wash.

 

joseph mallord william turner, chateau d'arques, near dieppe, c.1834. pencil and watercolour.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Chateau d’Arques, near Dieppe, c.1834. Pencil and watercolour.

 

william daniell, eton from the river, 1827. pencil and watercolour.

William Daniell, Eton From the River, 1827. Pencil and watercolour.

 

The latest exhibition in the Verey Gallery is a display of some of the most significant 18th- and 19th-century watercolours from the Fine & Decorative Art collection. They represent many of the British artists of the golden age of watercolour painting, including Thomas Girtin, JMW Turner, John Ruskin and Paul Sandby.

This collection of more than 1,500 drawings and watercolours includes scenes of Windsor, Eton and their environs in addition to a considerable body of work depicting national and international subjects. Philippa Martin, Keeper of Fine and Decorative Art, has curated a display which highlights the quality, scope and beauty in the watercolour collection that has been acquired by the College by several generous donations. The collection has been used for teaching, research and various displays with the aim of opening up access.

This exhibition can be seen on Sunday afternoons, 2:30-5pm, entry is free. Alternatively, arrange a visit by appointment with collections@etoncollege.org.uk from Monday to Friday.

 

Treasures from the Nicholas Kessler Collection, Tower Gallery, Eton College Library

24 November 2018 to 29 March 2019

carl buddeus, volksgemälde und charakterköpfe des russischen volks. leipzig, johann friedrich gleditsch, 1820. depictions of russian peasants by an estonian artist.

Carl Buddeus, Volksgemälde und Charakterköpfe des Russischen Volks. Leipzig, Johann Friedrich Gleditsch, 1820. Depictions of Russian peasants by an Estonian artist.

 

henri gaudier-brzeska, two deer, c.1913. a study of two fallow deer, probably dating to a visit to arundel park in 1913.

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Two deer, c.1913. A study of two fallow deer, probably dating to a visit to Arundel Park in 1913.

hergé, tintin au tibet. paris, casterman, 1960. split board mosaic binding commissioned by nicholas kessler from shepherds in 2012, with binder_s metal plate.

Hergé, Tintin au Tibet. Paris, Casterman, 1960. Split board mosaic binding commissioned by Nicholas Kessler from Shepherds in 2012, with binder’s metal plate.

 

joachim bouvet, l_estat present de la chine, en figures. paris, pierre giffart, 1697.

Joachim Bouvet, L’estat present de la Chine, en figures. Paris, Pierre Giffart, 1697.

 

thomas hardy, the trumpet-major. london, smith, elder, & co., 1880. first issue of the first edition.

Thomas Hardy, The Trumpet-Major. London, Smith, Elder, & Co., 1880. First issue of the first edition.

 

Curated by Michael Meredith and Dr Stephanie Coane, this exhibition commemorates one of College Library’s most significant 20th-century benefactors, Nicholas Kessler OE, who died earlier this year. During his life Kessler gave over 900 rare books to Eton, including important works on China, Russia and the novelist James Joyce; his gifts to Eton also include autograph manuscripts by Thomas Hardy and contemporary sculptures. Without his gifts our nineteenth century collection today would be very much the poorer.

Primarily a memorial to Nicholas Kessler, this exhibition also enables us to display some of the interesting books, manuscripts and photographs he gave us. In so doing, the extent and range of his gifts can be appreciated for the first time, as he wished to remain anonymous during his lifetime. This exhibition is open by appointment and we welcome you to book a visit: contact us at collections@etoncollege.org.uk or 01753 370590.