Chairs That Stand Empty: The men behind the names on the Hulme Hall First World War Memorial

Hulme Hall is a historic student hall of residence at the University of Manchester.  Over 250 students who passed through Hulme Hall fought during the First World War.  Forty were to lose their lives, with 33 remembered on the Hulme Hall War Memorial.  After research taken over a period of seven years, former resident James Hern has pieced together the men’s stories.  In 2017, he published Chairs that Stand Empty based on his research.  James was a student at the University of Manchester from 2001 to 2005 and resident at Hulme Hall for his first three years.  In this post, he reflects on using war diaries in his research.

Lies; deception; reluctant courage; absent without leave; rearguard action; administration errors; bravado; missing in action; a court marshal and victims of friendly fire and fate.

If it wasn’t such a tragic reminder of one of our low-points in recent human history, it would be easy to mistake the stories of many of the men who are remembered on the Hulme Hall War Memorial as having been lifted straight out of a novel or Commando Comic.

As we approach the hundredth anniversary of Armistice Day on 11 November 2018, I want to use this blog post to share how war diaries, written by individual Battalions whilst serving overseas, helped to piece together the stories of three of the men on the Hulme Hall War Memorial.  The diaries help indirectly to shape an understanding of where and how an individual would have fought in the war and provided a glimpse into some of the horror, bravery and sheer terror that men were exposed too; too often with tragic consequences.

Eyre Spenser Wilkinson
Hulme Hall 1908-09; Classical Studies

Wilkinson - Profile

Battalion ordered to advance – this done by platoon rushes – on leaving assembly trenches [right half of] Battalion met by heavy rifle and machine gun fire in enfilade & shell fire, both high explosive and shrapnel – during this advance, [right half of] Battalion lost 3 officers and 120 men

The [left half of] Battalion, which advanced at the same time, suffered very little.

This entry is from the War Diary of the 1st Battalion City of London (Royal Fusiliers) on 9 May 1915 at 6:10am.1  Reviewing the diary confirmed that the action at Aubers Ridge in France, in May 1915, was the first of two major offensives that Eyre Wilkinson was involved in with the Battalion.  The indiscriminate nature of warfare is captured in the entry.  With the Battalion split into two, one half advances with little loss of life whilst the other half is torn down within seconds of leaving the relative safety of their trenches.

Four months later Eyre was involved in the Battalion’s second major offensive, this time part of the opening attacks of the Battle of Loos. During the fighting, he was blown up in the blast of a high explosive shell, from which he survived, physically unscathed.  Shortly after being blown up, Eyre joined the Royal Flying Corps as an observer; perhaps having tried to escape the horrors of trench warfare he had witnessed.  He was shot down and killed in January 1916.

A letter from Eyre’s father to Professor Thomas Tout, shortly after Eyre’s death was confirmed, hinted at the toll ten months of fighting had taken.2

The boy is gone, indeed, but I know something of the inner battles that he had to fight to which I think he won. He was with us five days in mid-December radiant and tender and I think with some presentiment of what was coming

William Lawton
Hulme Hall 1913-14; Mathematics

Lawton

The 1 July 1916 is infamous as the first day of the Battle of The Somme; one that saw over 19,000 British soldiers lose their lives.

For Second Lieutenant William Lawton, and men of the 8th Battalion The South Lancashire Regiment, the morning proved uneventful.3

The “great offensive”, as long looked forward to, began at 7.30am; but in Tyler’s Redoubt at Millencourt, we could see nothing, and heard practically nothing.

The first hints of the horrors that had unfolded that day would have come later that evening when the Battalion was ordered to attack the village of La Boisselle at 10.30pm.

Battalion was fallen in, and all the Bombers collected at the front. Unfortunately no guide was obtainable to guide us up to the front line until 9.30pm. We then started up the one communication trench, which was found to be blocked with wounded, and odd men, chiefly from the TYNESIDE SCOTTISH, and others of the 34th Division, who had made an attack in the morning.

As a result of this, our bombers did not get up till 12 midnight, and the 10th Worcesters, who were going to help us in this attack, were in the same plight. The 3 Companies that were following, B, C, D (A being left behind) did not arrive up till 4.30am. As a result of this, we did not attack, because it was broad daylight then, and we were meant to attack in the dark.

The war diary confirms a similar occurrence happened the following night; Staff at Headquarters had agreed to ensure communication trenches were clear but the Battalion encountered a number of wounded men on stretchers which caused more delays.

Finally arriving at the front line at 4am on the morning of the 3rd July, the attack could not be postponed again, which meant the men were not fully briefed before they moved towards the village.

William was killed in the attack, with men of his company later writing to this family that:

Just before his death he was walking around the village (which was still held by the Germans) as if such things as bullets and shells did not exist.4

A victim of circumstances, William, as part of A Company, wasn’t assigned to be part of the original attacks on La Boisselle on the morning of 2 July.  How different would his story have been if the original attacks had taken place as planned?

Robert Southward
Hulme Hall 1915-16

Southward

Robert was killed during an attack on The Somme in August 1916 whilst serving with the 1st Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.

In trying to establish more details surrounding his death, Robert’s family were told by his Commanding Officer that he was killed whilst crossing no-man’s land and that he was buried on the spot where he died, near High Wood.

The description of Robert’s death had struck me as odd.  The Battalion suffered 190 casualties that day during the attacks: 30 were killed, 110 wounded and 50 were reported as missing.  Did they really have time to bury Robert?  Wouldn’t it have been too dangerous?  Robert had only been with the Battalion for four days before the attack – would he have known many of the men he was attacking with?

Included in the war diary for August 1916 was an account of the attack, written by Major Phillips.  He noted that:

The right platoon, which was detailed to attack trench X and to form a strong point at NW corner of High Wood, left their trenches and was seen to advance into our intense bombardment, which was not timed to lift until 2.48pm. Remainder of right appears to have followed on too quickly and suffered a similar fate.5

Reading the above account along with the information provided to his family, it seems certain that Robert was part of the platoon that advanced into their own bombardment, subsequently being killed by his own side.


It took me three minutes to read the names of the 33 names of men on the Hulme Hall War Memorial during the 2002 and 2003 Remembrance Services.  Names that once would have stirred memories of friendship, academic success or endeavours on sports pitches had become simply another unknown name on a memorial plaque.  Lives remembered for a fleeting moment.

If you do pause for a moment of silence on Remembrance Day, spare a thought for the men of Hulme Hall who never made it home.  Their stories serve a powerful reminder of the horrors and futility of war and send a clear message to future generations.  They should never be forgotten.

 

Endnotes:

[1] 1st Battalion City of London (Royal Fusiliers) War Dairies, held at the National Archive, Kew, reference WO/95/1730/0/397

[2] Letter written by Henry Spenser Wilkinson, father of Eyre, to Professor Thomas Tout dated February 1916, held at the University of Manchester Library, Manchester, reference GB 133 HHH/2/9/1

[3] 8th Battalion The South Lancashire Regiment War Diaries, held at the National Archives, Kew, reference WO 95/2081

[4] Extracts from letters received by the Lawton family following William’s death, sent to Rev T Nicklin, undated. Extracts held within Hulme Hall Administration Records 1907-1915, held at the University of Manchester Library, Manchester, reference GB 133 HHH/2/7/3

[5] 1st Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment War Diaries January 1916 to December 1916, held at the National Archives, Kew, reference WO 95/1270/3

Photographs of Eyre Wilkinson, William Lawton and Robert Southward: Hulme Hall Chronicle 1916-1920, held at the University of Manchester Library, Manchester reference GB 133 HHH/2/9/1

 

Henry Dresser and Victorian ornithology: birds, books and business

Dresser cover31_header

This post was contributed by Henry McGhie, head of collections and curator of zoology at Manchester Museum.  

The University of Manchester’s cultural institutions are home to millions of objects, specimens, artworks and books. Each of these tells a story, or can tell a story with a bit of detective work. Among these are a collection of bird skins and eggs from Henry Dresser (1838–1915), one of the leading ornithologists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Dresser had an exciting life: his father was engaged in the Baltic and New Brunswick timber trade, working in London. Henry was sent to Germany and Sweden, alone, as a teenager to be schooled and learn European languages. He worked in the timber business in Finland and New Brunswick, where his father owned an enormous forest and sawmill. Following on from this he spent 14 months in Mexico and Texas at the height of the American Civil War. He settled in the timber and iron trades in London. Throughout his life, Dresser was a most ambitious natural history collector and ornithologist. He played a leading role in scientific societies, at a time when these were being established, as the world’s birds were being discovered and described, and as the bird conservation movement developed. Dresser made extensive collections that formed the basis of over 100 publications, including great illustrated books that combined masterpieces of bird illustration with cutting-edge scientific information. Dresser’s life is explored in the book ‘Henry Dresser and Victorian ornithology: birds, books and business’, recently published by Manchester University Press. The book is also an exploration of transformations in 19th and early 20th century ornithology, and the role that private gentlemen naturalists played in a time without institutions or professionals.

Dresser cover31

Natural history blossomed in the nineteenth century, as imperial and colonial expansion made inroads into hitherto unknown lands (at least unknown to Westerners). Official collectors accompanied many government, geographical and military expeditions, while even greater numbers of people involved in the machinery of empire took up natural history as a hobby and participated in ‘informal empire’. The subject was dominated by the discovery, description and classification of the world’s wildlife and natural resources. This great endeavour involved enormous numbers of people in a kind of production line connecting those in the field—farmers, lighthouse keepers, indigenous peoples, gamekeepers, fishermen, entrepreneurs—with a natural history readership, mostly in the seats of empire. Great numbers of natural history specimens flooded into ports and cities, with London described as ‘a kind of emporium of the whole world’. Natural history discoveries were presented at scientific meetings, and published in societies’ proceedings and, more especially, in beautiful, hand-coloured plates in subscription books.

The great bird books of the late 19th century were a combination of close observational accuracy, artistic talent, and scientific illustration. They brought to life the preserved remains of birds, many of which still reside in museums today. Among the finest was ‘A History of the Birds of Europe’ by Henry Dresser (1838–1915), begun with Richard Sharpe and issued between 1871–82. The illustrations in the great natural history books were, arguably, among the most beautiful ever produced and brought great fame to their publishers. John James Audubon had his own illustrations produced for his famous (and extremely valuable) ‘Birds of America’, famous (infamous) for both its price and its scale, in Double Elephant Folio size. Among British naturalists, John Gould is especially famous for the beautiful books that he produced (with the assistance of a team of artists, including Edward Lear and Gould’s wife Elizabeth).

Illustrations had been important in ornithology in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, as specimens themselves were liable to be destroyed by clothes moths and other insect larvae. A reliable preservative was discovered, in the form of a bar of soap mixed with arsenic and camphor, the lather of which was painted on the inside of bird skins and which was a very effective deterrent. After this time, ornithology blossomed, aided by a number of instruction manuals with detailed instructions on how to prepare birds. For the most part, field collectors prepared birds as study skins: they removed the body via a shallow cut on the breast, cutting it off at the knees, shoulders and base of the skull. The ‘empty’ skin was filled with cotton wool or similar soft material, and positioned to lie on its back, with collecting information written on labels that were attached to the legs of specimens. This standardised preparation method meant that specimens from different places and different people could be amassed together in series of similar specimens, aiding comparison. Indeed, this preparation method is still used in museums, over 150 years later.

The great artists of the mid–late nineteenth century could do an amazing thing: in the days before photography or good-quality printing, and working in Europe, they could take a study skin and imagine what the bird had been like when it was alive, producing beautiful, detailed illustrations that captured the positioning, colouring and patterning of birds as they would have been in life. Joseph Wolf was especially famous and worked as the official artist at the London Zoological Gardens, but developed eye problems. A young Dutch artist, John Gerrard Keulemans, took over from Wolf, and worked at a time when great numbers of bird books were in production. Both Wolf and Keulemans made great use of visits to London Zoological Gardens, the original ‘zoo’, to study the form and attitude of birds when they were alive. The positioning of birds was standardised, so that the more colourful sex (usually the male) occupied the dominant position in plates. Joseph Wolf, who was criticised by some ornithologists as being ‘too much of an artist’, was similarly critical of artists who produced ‘nothing but a map of the animal’. Keulemans was in great demand, and illustrated many (most) of the great birds books produced in Britian in the late 19th century.

Dresser’s collections have much to tell us about both birds, and the ways people have studied and come to know what we know today. In a world where many birds face an uncertain, or all too certain future, Dresser’s collections are a testament both to the foundations of ornithology, and a priceless resource that continues to be made use of by researchers, who use these century old specimens as a source of DNA, to study changes in pollutant levels, and to understand the diversity of the world’s birds. They are very much the building blocks of ornithology.

‘Of the greatest practical importance’: Chinese Studies at the University of Manchester

David Woodbridge received a Cultural Engagement Fellowship from the British Inter-University China Centre, for which he undertook a study of the E. H. Parker Collection at the John Rylands Library. A summary of the collection, along with links to relevant handlists, can be found here: https://rylandscollections.wordpress.com/2016/12/22/from-consulate-to-classroom-the-e-h-parker-collection-and-the-development-of-chinese-studies-in-manchester/  For further information, David can be contacted on: dwoodbridge100@gmail.com

In September 2015, in a speech in Chengdu, China, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne invited Chinese investment in his Northern Powerhouse scheme. His visit formed part of a broader attempt to increase ties between China and the UK. During his speech in Chengdu, Osborne referred to an announcement, made a few days before, that the government would be investing £10 million with the aim of increasing the number of children in Britain learning Mandarin to an additional 5,000 by 2020.[1] This, Osborne claimed, would ‘give more young people the opportunity to learn a language that will help them succeed in our increasingly global economy.’[2]

This is not the first time that the study of Mandarin has been promoted in Britain in order to strengthen economic ties with China. Nor is it the first time that it has been done particularly with the economy of northern England in mind. In 1901 E. H. Parker (1849-1926) became Professor of Chinese at Owens College, Manchester (then a constituent part of the federal Victoria University, and reconstituted as the Victoria University of Manchester in 1903). Parker’s appointment was perhaps the first time that the study of Chinese was promoted in Britain with the stated intention of enhancing the country’s commercial prospects in China. As Henry Harrison, the Blackburn manufacturer who funded the chair, stated in 1903 in a letter to Owens College: ‘a knowledge of the Chinese Language has become of the greatest practical importance’.[3]

Henry Harrison (1834-1914), was a cotton manufacturer, and from 1887 also served as president of the Blackburn Chamber of Commerce. In 1896 this Chamber sent a commercial mission to China, and in its report the mission drew attention to the many potential export and investment opportunities, particularly in the cities inland recently made open to foreign trade. But the report also highlighted the challenges that presented themselves to British businesses in China. Prominent among these was the lack of foreign merchants with a good knowledge of the Chinese language, a deficiency which left them dependent on compradors who, according to the report, could not be relied upon to act in the best interests of the foreign firms they represented. ‘The want of a knowledge of the language was so frequently brought home to us in our journey through the country’, concluded the report’s authors, ‘that we are quite prepared to advise, that every junior attached to a mercantile house should be compelled to learn the language of the country’.[4]

Harrison appears to have taken this advice very seriously. In 1900 he donated £200 ‘for the study of Eastern Languages and ultimately for the establishment of a Chair in Chinese.’[5] His donation was recorded in a list of subscribers to the College’s commercial education scheme, which had been initiated the previous year. This scheme consisted of a series of evening courses, completion of which led to the award of the Certificate of Commercial Education. Candidates had to select from a range of courses on economics, commerce, geography and commercial law, and also to study at least one modern language. Initially students could choose from French, German and Spanish, but thanks to Harrison’s donation, Chinese was soon added to this list. Over the next few years, the courses offered in commercial education were expanded and formalised, and in 1904 a Faculty of Commerce was established, at that time only the second such faculty to be formed in a British university.

A professorship in Chinese was instituted in 1901, and further donations from Harrison safeguarded its future. Parker was appointed to the professorship, and would remain in position until his death, in 1926. This was not Parker’s first academic position. Since 1896 he had been Reader in Chinese at University College Liverpool (which became the University of Liverpool in 1903). Prior to this, Parker had worked for over twenty years for the British consular service in China. During this time, he had been a prominent member of what Norman J. Girardot has described as ‘a remarkable group of hyphenated missionary- and consul-scholars’.[6] These amateur sinologists undertook a range of enquiries, and their findings and disputes filled the pages of journals such as the China Review, and represented a first flourishing of English-language scholarship on China. Parker’s most distinctive contributions were in the field of Chinese dialectology, but he wrote on a wide range of topics, including history and religion.[7]

Parker’s classes were deemed a great success. As early as 1904, the University Council asserted that ‘the value of the classes has been demonstrated by the nature of the appointments obtained and of the work entrusted to those who have studied the Chinese language under Professor Parker’s instruction. The advantages offered by these classes ought to be more widely known in the mercantile community.’[8] Manchester’s professorship in Chinese was only the fifth to be founded in the UK, and the first outside of Oxford, Cambridge and London. But more significantly, it was distinctive in its focus on training students for an engagement with the China of contemporary times. As Parker proudly asserted a few years later, what set the University of Manchester apart from Cambridge, Oxford and London was that it was involved ‘actively in preparing students for China’.[9]

However, despite the attested benefits of offering instruction in Chinese, other universities did not follow Manchester’s example in establishing chairs. Neither did Manchester appoint a successor following Parker’s death in 1926, though Edgar W. Mead (1887-1941) was later employed for a while as Reader in Chinese Language and Social Economy. Following this, it was not until 2006 that Chinese studies again became a programme of study at the University of Manchester. This time, however, it is one of many such programmes that have commenced in British universities since the turn of the century. The courses offered predominantly have a contemporary focus, often with the option of combining Chinese language with business studies. It would seem that, though it did not catch on at the time, Harrison’s vision of Chinese studies as a practical training for those seeking to engage with contemporary China, and particularly with its commerce, has become the predominant model in British universities today.

Notes

[1]        https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/chancellor-speech-in-chengdu-china-on-building-a-northern-powerhouse

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/chancellor-announces-boost-to-mandarin-teaching-in-schools

[3] Vice-Chancellor’s Files: China, GB 133 VCA/7/31: Harrison to The Treasurer, 21 May 1903. University of Manchester Archives.

[4] Report of the Mission to China of the Blackburn Chamber of Commerce, 1896-7 (Blackburn: The North-East Lancashire Press Company, 1898), pp. 326-7.

[5] Vice-Chancellor’s Files: China, GB 133 VCA/7/31: Extract from Owens College Council Minutes, 10 October 1900. University of Manchester Archives.

[6] Norman J. Girardot, The Victorian Translation of China: James Legge’s Oriental Pilgrimage (London: University of California Press, 2002), p.7.

[7] For Parker’s work on Chinese dialectology, see: David Prager Branner, ‘The Linguistic Ideas of Edward Harper Parker’, Journal of the American Oriental Society 119:1 (1999), pp. 12-34. Many of Parkers books can be viewed at https://archive.org/

[8] Printed Minutes of Court /Reports of Council to Court, GB 133 OCA/8/3: 10 November 1904. University of Manchester Archives.

[9] Report of Council to Court: 1919, GB 133 UOP/2/16. University of Manchester Archives.

Image Credit: Historic Images, Lancashire

University Academics and the First World War

This entry is by Dr James Peters, Archivist at the John Rylands Library and member of the Research Group on University History. It originally appeared on the library’s Special Collections blog, and is reproduced here with Dr Peters’ kind permission.

The First World War not only dislocated the everyday work of the University’s academics, but also undermined some of their cherished beliefs about transnational scholarship. Long-established academic networks between Britain and Germany soon broke down.

At Manchester, few academics were either publicly jingoistic or pacifist; most seem to have agreed with the official policy on the War, and encouraged  students and colleagues to enlist. Some, especially those with German connections, experienced public hostility because of their previous links with belligerent states. One of the most eminent was the physicist Arthur Schuster.

Schuster (1851-1934), who held chairs in physics from 1881 to 1907,  had built up an international reputation for Manchester’s physics department.  He had been born in Germany, but moved to Manchester in the late 1860s, and became a naturalised citizen in 1875. He lived at Kent House, Victoria Park (now part of St Anselm Hall), before moving to Twyford, Berkshire  after his retirement.

schuster_study

Schuster was a passionate believer in international academic co-operation, particularly between national scientific academies, in support of free enquiry and scholarly communication. Like many other British academics, Schuster was a great admirer of the German university system and he helped organise British-German student exchanges in the years before 1914.

This made him a source of suspicion for some once War had broken out. Schuster had to remove radio equipment from his house after being accused of spying, and one of his brothers was forced to issue a public statement declaring the family’s loyalty to Britain.

In early 1914 Schuster had been appointed president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science’s meeting at Manchester in September 1915.  This was a great personal honour, but unfortunately, Schuster’s  German background was to become an issue.

Anti-German feeling in Manchester had been relatively muted in the early months of the War, but riots had occurred in May 1915, with German shops and homes being attacked. The triggers for these outbursts appear to have been the sinking of the Lusitania and the use of poison gas at the second battle of Ypres.

The British Association meeting became embroiled in these conflicts as this flier indicates.

Schuster (1)

The leaflet was discovered during the cataloguing of the papers of Henry Roscoe, another eminent University academic, who was using his good offices to support Schuster’s presidency.

In the event, the Meeting, which was held at the University, passed off without incident. Schuster’s presidential address, “The common aims of science and humanity”,  was a passionate assertion of the benefits of free scientific inquiry. Carefully avoiding controversy, Schuster hoped that scientists’ support for the War effort would not be self-defeating: “…only through victory shall we achieve a peace in which once more science can hold up her head, proud of her strength to preserve the intellectual freedom which is worth more than material prosperity, (and) to defeat the spirit of evil that destroys the sense of brotherhood among nations”. Poignantly, he learnt on the same day that his son had been wounded at Gallipoli.

Schuster’s experience was by no means uncommon. Academics who were German nationals and of military age faced internment, while others lost their jobs or faced ostracism from colleagues. By comparison, Arvid Johannson, the University’s professor of German and a Baltic German by background, was something of an exception, when he was appointed dean of the faculty of arts in 1916, apparently without controversy.

Books-in-Kind: Philanthropic Resources for a New 1960s University

This post has been contributed by Dr Triona Fitton, who has recently published a monograph on the hidden history of philanthropy at the University of Kent. Triona blogs about her research here, and will be speaking at this year’s ARNOVA conference in Chicago.

The universities of the 1960s started out exceptionally short on books and other library resources. They were especially sensitive to the fact that this set them back behind the long-established ancient and Red Brick universities in Britain and their vast, distinguished and often donated collections.

The first University of Kent library was housed one mile away from the campus, above a shop on Station Road West near to the Canterbury city walls. No provision was available for a library building at the time, so the library remained at that site until October 1964, when the need for further space for the library collection necessitated some resources relocating back up the hill to a hut on Beverley Farm.

The first Librarian at the University was a man called G.S. Darlow, himself a philanthropic donor to the University (a cup bearing his name and years of service sits in the silverstore of Eliot College, a gift from the librarian when he left in 1977).  Darlow recorded in his first report in January 1964 that, in addition to those purchased by the University, over 3,000 books had been donated to his catalogue. By 1970, donated books had risen to a formidable total of 36,638 – one fifth of the entire library collection[1].

An early appeal was made through the Kent Messenger Newspaper and through that over 12,000 volumes were collected by the arrival of the first intake in 1965.

Many volumes came from early benefactors, including Pfizer; from the Sponsors of the University, such as Lord Cornwallis, and from the first members of staff and early recipients of honorary doctorates such as Bonamy Dobrée.

Other early library donations of note include volumes from the Labour Party library, the French Foreign Office, London Transport, the Navy League, United Africa Company, Wye College (with whom Kent would later collaborate to host courses in the Medway area); even three of Kent’s fellow 1960s universities, Lancaster, Sussex and Essex, donated small collections of books to the library.

Library-e1426612753665Unpacking books arriving at the University Library, late 1960s.

However, perhaps the most esteemed donations to the University library were in the form of collections, including the T.S. Eliot Collection (given in part by Bonamy Dobrée, including some with inscriptions from Eliot himself), the Darwin Collection (given by Maidstone donor Jack Johns, a collector of books on evolutionary theory and biology), the Weatherill papers (some of which were given by Lord Weatherill himself, including many personal correspondence), the Melville Collection (given by Andrew Melville III’s widow Joan, featuring documents that span over 100 years of the Melville family’s theatrical history) and the John Crowe collection (a collection of Shakespearean texts that formed the basis for the University of Kent’s Special Collections archive back in the 1970s), among others.

The first Templeman library opened in 1968. It has continued to grow and and is currently undergoing a £12 million extension and a £10 million refurbishment. The early philanthropic gifts may well get forgotten as the library grows and far exceeds the University’s early plan for it to house 1 million books and room for 2,500 people to study. But these first books-in-kind – and the benefactors who gave them – are remembered here as part of the philanthropic groundwork of the University of Kent.

This blog contains excerpts from ‘Hidden History: Philanthropy at the University of Kent’

[1] King, P.G. (1970) “Progress and Developments in the Library of the University of Kent at Canterbury”, Masters in Arts thesis, University of Loughborough. p.44

Hannah Beswick, the ‘Manchester Mummy’

Guest Contribution by Robert McCombe

The history of the University of Manchester is far from straight forward, entailing physical relocations, mergers, separations and expansion. As might be expected, the ideas that underpinned the various bodies and institutions have shifted almost as much over the years. One way to approach these movements is through a particular aspect of the University – its Museum and the people associated with it. There are a large number of recognised and lauded figures who played prominent roles in this history, but this article approaches one very particular woman; Hannah Beswick (1688-1758). Her relationship to the University reflects its evolution, touching upon the unconventional and unsavoury through the merging of two very distinct entitles; Owens College and the Manchester Natural History Society (MNHS).

Hannah was wealthy Oldham resident who became recognised for her subsequent mummification following her death and the display of her remains at her surgeon’s house and latterly the Museum of the Manchester Society of Natural History, before her eventual burial in 1868. Her preservation was a reflection of a personal preoccupation with mortality and a fear of being buried alive. The use of her body traced the increasingly formal and respectable atmosphere engendered within museums as ideas of curiosity and morbid voyeurism became replaced with notions of education and respectable taxonomies.

As both a person and an object she was explicitly local in her context and her treatment encapsulates the development of University and Museum and the shifting boundaries between spectacle and science, boundaries that saw both physical and intellectual shifts. Yet unlike the numerous other human remains in Manchester Museum, she no longer remains on display, nor is any mention made of her. What I want to argue, in fact, is that there is a rich history of unseen objects and local history that eventually became literally reburied as it refused to fit emerging ideals of a morally respectable and civic culture that emerged through the establishment of the University’s predecessor, Owen’s College and the nascent Manchester Museum.

Charles White, mediumDr. Charles White, Manchester Surgeon

To return to the question of Hannah Beswick’s identity; she was the daughter of John Beswick of Failsworth, Hannah was born in 1688, into a wealthy family. Apparently increasingly fearful of being buried alive, following an experience of her brother’s near living burial in York, she commissioned her family physician, the Manchester surgeon Dr Charles White (1728-1813), to ensure that a similar fate did not befall her.[1] Popular stories indicate that Dr White was paid a significant sum of money to embalm Hannah. However, the lack of any such explicit mention of this process within the will suggests that a briefer period of close observation was intended rather than any more permanent solution such as embalming.[2] Nonetheless, White, a well-recognised collector of curiosities (such as the skeleton of highwayman Thomas Higgins) and student of the anatomist William Hunter (1718-83) was familiar with the principals of embalming and conducted the process upon Hannah.[3]

While the details of Hannah’s preservation are unknown, Hunter’s preferred process (and therefore White’s probable approach) consisted of injecting the body with a mixture of vermillion, turpentine, and oil of lavender and rosemary. Following this, organs were removed and cavities packed with plaster of paris. [4] Following her preservation at Cheetwood, Hannah was placed within a wooden case in White’s home in Sale, Ancoats Hall, where she remained until his death. She was bequeathed to a Dr Ollier, who then in turn donated the remains to the recently established NHSM Museum in 1828. The donation to what was ostensibly a collection focusing primarily upon Natural History was not as odd as it immediately appeared. Contributions to the Society provided a point of patronage and social recognition and covered a variety of objects from the obvious to the obscure and curious including other human remains such as a bitumen coated Peruvian mummy, a Maori head and one Egyptian mummy ‘Asroni’.[5]

The wider fascination with displays of human remains had continued into the nineteenth century in a variety of guises. At the more professional – and therefore respectable – spectrum was the philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s (1748-1832) desire to become an auto-icon and tool of anatomical education.[6] In stark contrast were the public unwrappings that formed part of an emerging trend known as ‘mummymania’. Taking place across the country, Egyptian remains were displayed and dissected in both private and public displays, designed to, nominally at least, inform, but primarily to entertain.[7]

The display of Hannah in Manchester fell somewhere between these two extremes mentioned above. Despite the Society’s focus upon fauna, flora and conchology, she highlighted the often arbitrary methods of collecting and her designation and display as a ‘curiosity’ emphasised this. Nonetheless, contemporary museum guides made some attempt to provide a little information about her origins, but were unable to place her within an obvious taxonomic framework. This uneasy situation continued until the collection in its entirety was sold to the recently established Owen’s College in 1868, as the Society was unable to continue financially or logistically.[8] The geologist William Boyd Dawkins, then head of the College’s own collections, expressed his dismay at the lack of obvious organisation of taxonomy with the Museum.[9]

As problematic as the collection itself and the display of remains such as Hannah’s may have been, the College itself was far from unimpeachable. At the point of sale, Owens College had recently relocated to its current site on Oxford Road, but its earlier establishment in 1851 on Quay Street had seen as variety of criticisms levelled at it. A Free Lance article of 4th January 1868 described the area as ‘difficult to imagine a public edifice in a less reputable and pleasing locality.’[10] Henry Brierly, a loyal member of the College agreed, observing that

‘the entrance from Deansgate was guarded by a very Scylla and Charybdis of disreputable licenced houses…traditions of our day reported that a former Owens College porter had been inveigled, robbed and ejected in puris naturablis[11]

Such an environment was greatly at odds with the aspirations of the College. Aware that other Institutions in Birmingham, Durham and even Kings College, London were in financial difficulties, the decision was made to move to more salubrious quarters and expand on Oxford Road under the auspices of Thomas Ashton.[12] It was also at this stage, well over a century after her death, that Hannah was permanently removed from display.

The use of a new site on Oxford Road from 1868 can be seen as a deliberate attempt to engineer a location towards the purpose of polite middle class discourse for the College and through this, the Museum.  Given Owens’ establishment of the College, a key figure in the role of patronage can be established, although his direction through his will was minimal, meaning that these decisions cannot be attributed to an individual, but rather the various governing bodies of the College. The relocation and design of the new buildings by Alfred Waterhouse can also been seen as part of a wider attempt to redefine the role of both College and Museum. With Waterhouse having designed the South Kensington Museum (Now the Natural History Museum), the choice of architect reflected ambition and aspiration in a specific museal context. Considered within the context of Manchester city itself, the Museum can be viewed as an extension of middle class control tied together by one architect. Waterhouse also designed the Assize Courts and Town Hall. While out on the city’s periphery, the Museum can be seen as an architectural shift from civic control towards a place of cultural control, or at least influence.[13]

As well as the upheaval of a physical relocation and architectural redefinition, Hannah’s removal was also due to the role of another significant individual from the Museum’s history. R.D Darbishire, one of the early members of the Museum Committee and its Commissioner, had been involved since the early days of the 1868 Commission that sifted the Natural History Society’s collections for ‘suitable’ material as well as acting as a personal donor. His most notable donation was the collection that became known by his name – the Darbishire lithics.[14] He was also a Legatee and Committee member of the Whitworth Institutive (later to become the Whitworth Art Gallery), and he played important roles in establishing both sites and the nature of their collections. Objects considered to lack an edifying or educational purpose were disposed of by the commissioner of the newly formed Manchester Museum.[15] The difficult and complex meanings placed around Hannah’s remains evoking troubling concepts of spectacle and entertainment, rather than morally certain education meant that her exclusion had always been probable. Yet others, such as Asru, emerged with the opening of the Museum in 1889, while predating the establishment proper of an Egyptian collection, reflecting the continuation of an ad hoc approach to the Museum’s collections.

Yet if she was not to be put on display, the troubling question of what to do with Hannah’s Christian remains…remained. Following consultation with the Bishop of Manchester, surviving relatives and the Home Secretary, a discreet and unmarked burial took place at Harperhuy Cemetery, near Manchester.[16] The reason given for the secrecy was the fear of grave robbers, who might seek to profit further from Hannah’s notoriety. Although the worries proved unfounded, descendants viewed the incident as a ‘scarcely creditable episode’.[17]

Hannah Beswick’s preservation, exhibition and movement through private to public viewing reflects the ability of the modern, as well as the ancient dead to have new meanings placed around them post mortem and for these in turn to evolve, become forgotten and rediscovered.  She went from being an individual, to a source of wealth and bequests, to a curiosity, and an inconvenience before finally being recognised as an individual again in the course of her final internment.

Selected Further Reading

Alberti, Sam (2009) Nature and Culture: Objects, disciplines and the Manchester Museum (Manchester, Manchester University Press)

Anon. ‘Response to Miss Ann Beswick’, The Manchester Guardian March 31st 1900

Dobson, Jessie (1953), “Some Eighteenth Century Experiments in Embalming”, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences (Oxford, Oxford University Press) 8 (4), 431–441

Fiddes, Edward (1937) Chapters in the History of Owens College and of Manchester University (Manchester University Press, Manchester)

Grimshaw, William (1900) ‘Miss Ann Beswick’, The Manchester Guardian, 4th May

Gunn, S. (1999) ‘Middle class. modernity and the provincial city: Manchester 1860-80’ in Kidd, A, and Nicholls, D, (1999) Gender, Civic Culture and Consumerism: Middle class identity in Britain 1800-1940 (Manchester University Press, Manchester)

MacGregor, Arthur (2008) Curiosity and Enlightenment (Yale, Yale University Press)

Rogers, Beverley (2012) ‘Unwrapping the Past: Egyptian mummies on show’, Popular Exhibitions, Science nad Showmanship, 18401910 (London, Pickering and Chatto), 199-218

Zigarovich, Jolene (2009), ‘Preserved Remains: Embalming Practices in Eighteenth-Century England’, Eighteenth-Century Life (Duke University Press) 33 (3), 65–104

[1] Grimshaw, Wlliam ‘Miss Ann Beswick, The Manchester Guardian 4th May 1900

[2] Ibid  and Anon. ‘Response to Miss Ann Beswick’, The Manchester Guardian March 31st 1900

[3] Dobson, Jessie (1953), ‘Some Eighteenth Century Experiments in Embalming’, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences (Oxford University Press) 8 (4), 433

[4] Zigarovich, Jolene (2009), “Preserved Remains: Embalming Practices in Eighteenth-Century England”, Eighteenth-Century Life (Duke University Press) 33 (3), 86

[5] Asroni (now Asru) is the sole survivor of the earliest human remains collected by the Society and is currently on display in the Egyptian Gallery at Manchester Museum.

[6] MacGregor, Arthur (2008) Curiosity and Enlightenment (Yale, Yale University Press), 279-80

[7] Rogers, Beverley (2012) ‘Unwrapping the Past: Egyptian mummies on show’, Popular Exhibitions, Science and Showmanship, 1840-1910 (London, Pickering and Chatto), 199-218

[8] Alberti, Sam (2009), 20-2

[9] Alberti (2009), 22

[10] Fiddes, Edward (1937) Chapters in the History of Owens College and of Manchester University (Manchester University Press, Manchester), 25

[11] Brierly, Henry Memories of Quay Street and Owens College (Private Printing), 6-7

[12] Fiddes (1937), 63-6

[13] Gunn, S. (1999) ‘Middle class. modernity and the provincial city: Manchester 1860-80’ in Kidd, A, and Nicholls, D, (1999) Gender, Civic Culture and Consumerism: Middle class identity in Britain 1800-1940 (Manchester University Press, Manchester), 116-118

[14] Manchester Museum Annual Report 1908-9, 9

[15] Alberti (2009), 22

[16] Grimshaw, Wlliam ‘Miss Ann Beswick, The Manchester Guardian 4th May 1900

[17] Grimshaw (1900)