Archive | January 2013

Beginnings: first steps in the Garden

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Reginald Radcliffe Cory on the French Riviera, 1933.  Cory’s generous bequest to the Botanic Garden enabled the development of the eastern section from the 1950s. 

The beginning of a research project is a particularly exciting time. There is the delicious element of the unexpected, not knowing what you may discover, which paths will appear or unknown connections may emerge from your explorations and questions.

Since my project focuses on the social history of the eastern section of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden through time, understanding the timeline of people and developments seems a useful navigational point to begin.  While historic people, decisions and events have influenced the development of the contemporary eastern garden, it was only after the second world-war that work began on this half of the garden, following a generous bequest from Reginald Radcliffe Cory (Trinity College).  Cory is a key figure in enabling the development of the eastern garden, therefore Cory’s story is an important one.  It dates back at least to the 1920s and his relationship with the first academic director of the botanic garden, Humphrey Gilbert-Carter.

The main emphasis of my project will be on key people and developments from the 1950s.  For example, since 1951 there have been six directors and acting directors – John Gilmour, Max Walters, Donald Pigott, Thomas ap Rees, John Parker and the current acting director and curator, Tim Upson.  The newly-appointed director, Beverley Glover, takes up her post in July 2013.  Each director has overseen a range of developments in the garden;  each has been influenced by prevailing ideas about the environment, biology and horticulture.

A serendipitous opportunity to attend a SHARE Museums East training day at the Cambridgeshire Archives (Shire Hall) and the Cambridgeshire Collection (Central Library) offers some additional fascinating resources to explore.  It is hoped that information from these local archives will add further colour and texture to the botanic garden history.

Pippa Lacey

Beginnings: getting to know your subject

My project is about King Arthur’s Table.  I described this in a previous post.  As I’ve explained on my own blog, it stems from my PhD research into a 14th-century manuscript, The Equatorie of the Planetis.

Yesterday I was in London, looking in the archives of the Royal Institution for information about how and why King Arthur’s Table was built according to the instructions in the manuscript.  I didn’t find any direct evidence, but I discovered plenty about its creator, Derek Price, and his relationship with Lawrence Bragg, the director of the Cavendish Laboratory where KAT was made.

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Derek de Solla Price, with a model of the Antikythera Mechanism

I was struck by how many of my research projects have included a strong biographical element.  Maybe it’s just the way my research interests push me, or perhaps there’s always a biographical aspect to every history.  Either way, I do think personal stories add some human interest.

Price’s story is an intriguing one.  I haven’t got to the bottom of it, but it seems that for him, coming to Cambridge was a new beginning.  His background was far from prosperous: his father was a tailor and his mother a singer, and he studied for his first degree and doctorate at South West Essex Technical College (part of the University of London).  After taking his doctorate in physics he moved to teach applied mathemetics at the then University of Malaya in Singapore.  This was in 1947, the same year he got married.  But in 1950 something changed.  He decided to change subjects from mathematics and physics to the history of science, and began to make enquiries about studying or working at Cambridge.  This was to lead to his second PhD, for which he researched the Equatorie manuscript he had discovered in the library at Peterhouse.

The archives show that several people in Cambridge were curious, even suspicious, about his reasons for leaving Malaya.  There are hints that he did not fit easily into life in Cambridge.  It’s tempting to suppose that this may have had something to do with his social or racial (Jewish) background, but there is no clear evidence on that point.  Either way, it is fascinating to see how, when he decided to make a new start in his career, he was prepared to work incredibly hard to make it happen.

As I’ve also come to Cambridge a little later in life, it’s something I can identify with.  And of course it’s been said that a biographer must be able to identify with their subject to some extent.  Is this the beginning of a beautiful biographical relationship?  We’ll see.

Beginnings: Casting the Net…

Brucciani 1889 Cover Cambridge SoA Classes

The first task of my research project was to identify the plaster casts in the collection of the Museum of Classical Archaeology that were acquired in the nineteenth century, which was possible through Charles Waldstein’s Catalogue of Casts in the Museum of Classical Archaeology (London: Macmillan, 1889). Waldstein was the Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum and although the Museum of Classical Archaeology had become a distinct entity in 1884, it remained under the jurisdiction of its first home.

I then set about isolating the plastercasts than had been manufactured by Brucciani, a formatore from Lucca who’s firm supplied the Department of Science and Art and the British Museum fromthe mid-nineteenth century onwards. Domenico Brucciani had died in 1880, but the use of his name and his moulds continued until the Victoria and Albert Museum acquired them in 1921 for the Department for the Sale of Casts, which operated until 1951. These particular casts are of interest because they represent a canon of objects used to transmit knowledge across the disciplines of fine art, industrial design and classical archaeology. They were an important part of nineteenth-century material culture, valued for their mobility, economy and fidelity.

I am now pursuing two parallel threads of research: sourcing representations of these particular casts from the Royal Academy Schools and the national network of Schools of Art and building an understanding of the position of art education in Cambridge through the establishment of the Cambridge School of Art in 1858. The culture of the school was shaped by the inaugural address delivered by John Ruskin, published in the same year. The school was superintended by the Department of Science and Art and presumably also supplied with a standardised teaching collection of plaster casts. Ruskin was openly critical of this centralised, codified system, which makes his presence and influence in Cambridge remarkable. The artist Richard Redgrave was also present at the inaugural soirée, in the capacity of Inspector General of the Department. He was responsible for the infamous ‘National Course of Instruction’, a rigorous curriculum of 23 separate stages that most students failed to complete. He expressed the hope that ‘the authorities would place at the disposal of the students that admirable collection which the University possessed at the Fitzwilliam Museum (applause), which would indeed afford facilities in the progress of Art’

1889 Museum Plan

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Beginning Research on School Samplers

It’s coming up to the fourth week since the Connecting with Collections internships began. How time flies! In that time, I have identified the samplers I will be researching, have read around the subject of educating the poor in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain, and I have contacted archivists, school librarians and local history group volunteers to track down any existing documents relating to the schools. The samplers came from St Clement Danes School in Drury Lane, London; The Royal Masonic School for Girls, Somers Place East (the school exists today in Rickmansworth), London; Ackworth School, Yorkshire; Bristol Orphan House; Haverhill School, Suffolk; Finchampstead School, Berkshire; Kirtling School, Cambridgeshire; Brierley Hill School, Dudley. I have also benefitted from the help and extensive knowledge of my mentor, Mrs Carol Humphrey.

The archivists, librarians and volunteers have been tremendously helpful in pointing me in the right direction. After visiting two record offices, London Metropolitan Archives and Westminster Archives, for information on The Royal Masonic School and St Clement Danes, respectively, I have a good idea about how children of the poor were selected into these schools. For example, to join St Clement Danes a boy or girl would be nominated by a subscriber, who provided financial support to the school. This person provided evidence that the child’s parents lived in the parish, that they were from an Anglican family, and that they were from underprivileged backgrounds. Existing records, however, do not tell us exaclty how poor these children were.

Account books for the St Clement Danes school revealed names and payments to singing masters, teachers, book and Bible binders, funeral bearers, shoe makers, which sheds some light onto the individuals involved in running the school and the types of instruction the pupils received. [1] Sampler maker Mary Derow (b.1713) attended the school from 1722-1724 under the care of school mistresses Mrs Amy Parsons and Mrs Armstrong. And in 1723, she completed her sampler at the age of ten, which was given to the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1928. (I do not have my own photograph of this sampler yet. If you would like to see it and read a description of it, please visit the Fitzwilliam’s Online Collection at: http://www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/explorer/index.php?qu=Mary Derow&oid=110670.) In his published history of the school, Peter Maplestone included a photograph of another sampler made by Mary Window, also in 1723 and aged ten years old.[2] The sampler is almost identical to Mary Derow’s, suggesting that the girls copied from a model sampler, probably made by the mistress. The girls presented their work to the Trustees at Christmas to show what they had accomplished for the year; their work was most likely sold to the benefit of both pupil and the school.[3] Unfortunately, we will never know if Mary Derow and Mary Window sat next to each other as they worked on their exquisite samplers, or even if they were friends. It is also unclear what happened to Mary Derow as her name disappeared from the records after 1724. Nevertheless, by placing Derow’s sampler into a historical background we have an idea of how she passed her time for a few years at St Clement Danes; we have the names of other girls in her class and teachers who gave her instruction in reading, sewing and singing; and we have her sampler, a testament to this young girl’s patience and skill.


[1] Westminster Archives, Standing Orders for St Clement Danes 2691/3/1; Account Books 2691/1/1 and 2691/1/2.

[2] Peter Maplestone, St Clement Danes School 300 Years of History (London: Trustees of the St Clement Danes Educational Foundation, 2000).

[3] Maplestone,  St Clement Danes School , p. 13.

Changing Perspectives: A garden through time

The Grass Maze in Cambridge University Botanic Garden

The Grass Maze in Cambridge University Botanic Garden

The Cambridge University Botanic Garden reflects the shifting perspectives of human relationships with our environment, our scientific priorities and our preoccupations.  Established in its present 38-acre (16-hectare) site south of Cambridge city centre in 1846, the first garden established at Cambridge University in 1762 as a small physic garden.  During the nineteenth century, the western half of the New Botanic Garden was planned and planted under the direction of John Stevens Henslow, Professor of Botany and mentor to Charles Darwin, and Andrew Murray, first Curator of the Garden. This Grade II heritage landscape is renowned internationally for its systematic beds and its ‘Gardenesque’ style.

During the 1950s, following a generous bequest from a former Trinity College student, Reginald Cory, development of the eastern half of the garden began.  Although this post second world war garden echoed the ‘Gardenesque’ layout of the existing western half of the garden, unlike the 19th century garden, the development of the eastern area was ‘in a piecemeal way without a master plan’.  The resulting garden therefore enables us to chart the changing perspectives echoed by the various plantings through the second half of the twentieth century and the early twenty-first century.  My project traces the social history of the eastern garden over seven decades – from the 1950s to the present – to examine contemporary social and scientific priorities and to document how people have responded to the changing gardenscape.

Pippa Lacey

Rebecca Wade’s Project

ImageThis project will investigate the nineteenth century plaster casts of the Museum of Classical Archaeology and the mechanisms through which casts were acquired until the Museum established its own discrete identity in 1884. The origins of the Museum have been addressed in an important article by Professor Mary Beard and in the two decades since its publication, scholarship on plaster casts and other facsimiles has proliferated and new approaches to the subject have been established.

Building on my doctoral research into teaching collections for mid-nineteenth century art and design education, this project aims to trace the particular conditions of production, acquisition and display related to this collection. It will be particularly useful to determine the degree to which the manufacture, circulation  and interpretation of these plaster casts intersected with those distributed to the national network of Government Schools of Design from the 1840s onwards, through which plaster casts of antique statuary were deployed as instruments for the instruction of industrial design.

It will also be important to establish the extent to which the Cambridge School of Art, founded in 1858 with the support of John Ruskin (1819-1900), appropriated the collection of plaster casts for the teaching of drawing. The intersections between classics, archaeology and the practice of fine art were embodied in Sidney Colvin (1845-1927), Slade Professor of Art at Cambridge from 1873 and Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum from 1876. Colvin’s donations to the Museum will therefore form a specific area of investigation.

I hope this body of research will extend the understanding of the early collections of the Museum of Classical Archaeology through their use as pedagogic objects across the disciplines of fine art, industrial design, classics, art history and archaeology. Although oriented towards the history and historiography of the collection, this study may also point towards new ways of interpreting these objects for different audiences.

University of Cambridge Museums

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