Charlton Heston, Vietnam and the NUS Grants Campaign

City has a long tradition of its student publications featuring strong and politically charged editorials stretching right back to its founding as the Northampton Institute in the 1890s.

Take this edition of Beacon from May, 1968 as an example:

Black and white front cover of The Beacon, May 1968, featuring the headline 'Vietnam No'
Beacon Front Cover, May 1968

The front cover features a quote from a Royal Shakespeare Company production of a play called ‘US’, used to help illustrate the publication’s anti-Vietnam War stance: and there is a two-page spread inside on pages 6 and 7 which deals with some of the issues involved in the conflict, including examining some of the facts behind the headlines.

But arguably it’s the Editorial which is most interesting. It talks about the dehumanising aspect of war and how it can be easy to forget that it’s not organisations or countries fighting or being bombed, but people- human beings affecting the lives of others. It also talks about the impact of geography on how we understand and interpret events, suggesting that because a country like Vietnam is so far away people don’t see it as having much impact on their lives and so care less about the war and more about what are, by contrast, trivial matters local to them, commenting that “sometimes we should perhaps remember that there is a world outside.”

The piece concludes with a rather stark assessment of the political climate and a hint at the dangers of apathy which often prevails on such matters:

“Thus we look at the gathering storm of protest. The songs, the speeches, the banners. We try and stir the conscience. Not just because a baby was burnt to a cinder by napalm yesterday, but because we let it happen.”

This powerful statement demonstrates the importance of giving voice to people and facilitating freedom of speech and expression, even during the most challenging of times: and how local journalism, including student newspapers, have often provided such an opportunity.

In the classic tradition of tabloid newspapers and The One Show though, the Beacon did like to offer its readers a lively mix of politics, Union society updates and photos of students being silly. In addition, there was regular content such as these film reviews featuring the Charlton Heston classic Planet of the Apes, although evidently the concept of ‘Spoiler Alert’ wasn’t a thing back then:


Film reviews from Beacon including for the film Planet of the Apes, May 1968
Beacon Film Reviews, May 1968


Finally, from this edition, there’s some handy guidance on how to write a letter to your local MP to complain about the cost of going to university and advocate to back the proposals of the NUS campaign for better student grants- although it’s not clear if the Secretariat covered the costs of stamps as well…


A letter template from Beacon in May 1968
Guide to Writing to Your Local MP, Beacon May 1968

From the archives: Decline and Fall

Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

One of the gems of our rare books collection is a complete copy of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire which was published in 1789.

12 beautiful leather bound books
Twelve books of Decline and Fall

It’s a six volume work. Each volume is split in two making twelve books in total. The complete work covers the story of the Roman Empire from the second century CE (the time when Gladiator was set) to the fifteenth century. It’s not just a history of the Roman Empire but the history of much of Europe, Africa and Asia during this long period.

The first volume was published in 1776, the same year when the United States of America declared Independence. The final volume was published in 1788 (the year before the French Revolution). This was a time of both great change and disruption, but also continuation and tradition.

This period is sometimes called the Enlightenment. During this time scholars around the world (especially in intellectual centres like Birmingham, Edinburgh, Paris, London and Boston) wrote books and articles which challenged previous ways of thinking. Gibbon was part of this movement. He  believed that the fall of the Roman Empire was caused by, and caused, the growth of medievalism. He thought this was a bad thing and that the Roman Empire was a good thing. The Roman Empire was built on colonialism and slavery and saw massive inequality.

Decline and Fall is both an epic work and a piece of sustained scholarship, however it is of its time. Some of Gibbon’s conclusions are not necessarily followed today, but he is still praised for a fine and vigorous prose style.

frontispiece image
The frontispiece

The state of scholarship

This map shows the relative knowledge of Italy and Egypt. Italy was a stopping point on the infamous Great Tour and many rich Britons would have visited it. Very few Europeans had traveled to Egypt at the time Gibbon was writing his work. Now a days a lot more is known about Egypt, almost more than Italy or Greece, due to discovery of extensive papyrus records.

A line drawing map of Eastern Mediterranean
A map of the Eastern Mediterranean
Greece and Italy map line drawing
A map of Greece and Italy
Egypt map line drawing
A map of Egypt

The author

Gibbon was briefly an MP in parliament but his greatest achievement was this history. He was noted for the critical use of primary sources and was a great example of the value and importance of a solid underpinning of information literacy.

He was also a very well traveled man and a part of that great European Republic of Letters which has survived even to this day in places like City, University of London which value and support the importance of internationalism.

Author portrait from frontispiece

For many people, perhaps, Gibbon’s legacy can be summed up in the apocryphal words of King George III ”Another damned big black book, Mr. Gibbon. Scribble, scribble, scribble – eh, Mr. Gibbon?” It’s certainly a big book, bigger than anything by Tolstoi, but just as readable.

In the 240 odd years since its publication, even though few have read it and the world has changed, many of Gibbon’s presumptions and ideas have become commonplace. Returning to the beginning and learning good information literacy, we can learn to challenge many of these ideas and begin to write our own histories.

The Prospects for Women’s Suffrage

Many of you will have come across the New Statesman, the liberal left-leaning magazine featuring writers such as Laurie Penny, Will Self and the late Christopher Hitchens. But most of you probably haven’t heard of its forerunner, The Athenaeum.

Image of the hard bound spines of The Athenaeum
The Athenaeum

Published weekly between 1828 and 1931, The Athenaeum was a highly influential periodical covering topics such as literature, fine arts, music, theatre, politics and popular science and is noted for publishing anonymous reviews, often written by famous and/or influential people.

Here at City we are fortunate to hold an editor’s copy of The Athenaeum featuring handwritten notes identifying who the authors of various articles were, and this makes it one of our most frequently accessed Special Collection items.

The Athenaeum is also available online via CityLibrary Search and our subscription to Proquest’s British Periodicals Collection: you can search the full-text simply by logging-in with your City username and password.

One of the other features of The Athenaeum was the amount of personal correspondence printed, and the image (below) is a scan of a letter sent to the editor in April 1917 from a John Darbyshire in response to an article written on proposals for giving women the right to vote.

Image of the letter 'The Prospects for Women's Suffrage'.
DARBYSHIRE, J., 1917. THE PROSPECTS FOR WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE. The Athenaeum, (4616), pp. 192.

To the Editor of The Athenaeum.
SIR,-Allow me to comment briefly on Councillor Eleanor Rathbone’s article on the above subject in your last issue. It will be a pity if the issue is to be decided as between married v. single; we have had enough of that sort of thing in the conscription business. Miss Rathbone says: “On no account must an opportunity of securing the protection of the Parliamentary vote for five or six million women, married and widows, be sacrificed to the supposed interests of the woman wage-earner.” Well, in the first place, there is no call to sacrifice the opportunity. The problem is: Why not both ? Even Mr. Asquith has emphatically declared that if women are to be enfranchised at all it should be on the same terms as men. Miss Rathbone further says: ” The married women and working mothers stand, after all, not only for themselves, but for their children.” Of course, but does this only apply to married women over 35 ? Are the young married mothers not even more concerned to…’

The letter is a passionate plea for equality and for all women, regardless of age, marital status or financial disposition, to be granted the same democratic rights as men. John Darbyshire goes on to write:

“We are in the present mess not only because of one-sex government, but because of this assumption of age-wisdom, and of the right of one generation to make the laws under which their grandchildren will live.”

As we reflect on the centenary of The Representation of People Act 1918 and some of the continuing challenges we face as a society today, it’s always fascinating to explore the past in order to gain new insights and understanding about our present and future.

From the Archive: fond memories of graduation

This week the latest round of City, University of London Graduation Ceremonies has been taking place at the Barbican Centre with students from all five schools marking the successful completion of their courses.  These ceremonies are steeped in tradition and date back a long way, as this programme from 1899 shows.

 Programme, Northampton Institute Presentation of Certificates and Prizes from Friday 8th December 1899

Red and Yellow PhD graduation robes front

All staff (your lecturers attending to award your certificate as well as others who will lead the procession into the hall) and students will all be wearing academic dress.  For students this will show the level they have attained (see this guide on the City website) and are in the University’s colours of red and gold, which were approved in 1966 after the institution received its Royal Charter and became a University– the robes pictured above are for those who have been awarded a PhD, of which there will be many including Ludi Price, who wrote about fan communities, and will received her degree this afternoon (Well done, Ludi!).  While the photo below is the one undergraduates will be wearing (there will be many more of these!).
City Bachelor graduation robes black robe with red and yellow hood, back view.
The ceremonies will take place at the Barbican Centre but have not always done.  They may well have started life in the Great Hall here in the College Building but, by 1966, as this picture shows, they were held at the Guildhall in the City of London. 
Programme The City University Graduation Day Service in the Guild Church of St. Lawrence Jewry Next Guildhall at 11.15 a.m 5th December, 1966
We hope everyone graduating enjoys their big moment walking across the stage – this is what it has all been for!  I know I enjoyed my own moment in July 2016 when my Dissertation Supervisor and course leader called out my name and I set forth into the future.  This was me outside the Barbican before the ceremony:
James Atkinson graduating at the Barbican
Congratulations everyone!
James Atkinson, CityLibrary

Christmas from the Archive

Whether through tradition, faith or common experience, Christmas is a time when family, friends and strangers come together to celebrate, remember, and look forwards with optimism to the new year approaching.

Never more is this optimism tested than when suffering hardships such as poverty, illness, or experiencing and surviving conflict: and sadly the latter has proved particularly challenging throughout history, throughout the world.

Photo of children at a Christmas party during an air raid
Christmas party sheltering from an air raid in World War II

The photo included, from our Archive, shows children having a Christmas party- but look closely at some of their faces and you begin to sense it’s no ordinary scene. The photo was taken during World War II and the young people featured are sheltering from the horrors of an air raid in the basement of what we assume is College Building (the annotations on the reverse of the photo are limited).

Many higher education colleges and universities closed during the war, but the Institute carried on, determined that normal life should continue as much as possible for everyone involved: one example of this spirit of determination being that the timetable was altered to allow students to get home safely before nightfall heralded the inevitable menace of bombings and gunfire.

The Northampton Institute (City’s previous name) played a vital role supporting both the war effort and the local community. Various armed forces were stationed here, including the RAF- and there are entries in the Alumni magazine of the time, the N’ION, detailing the Morse Code classes that students were invited to attend.

Among the other entries in the N’ION include stories from those escaping the terrors of internment camps, lists of alumni who gave their lives in defence of the freedoms many of us now take for granted, and a passionate editorial outlining the importance of the National Union of Students coming together to fight for a hopeful future based on respect, equality and above all peace: a sentiment still utterly relevant today.

Merry Christmas and a happy, peaceful to new year to all.

(If you know anything more about the photo, or persons featured, we’d love to hear from you)




From the archive: The Lord Mayor’s Show

Tomorrow (Saturday November 11th), City, University of London students will be taking part in the Annual Lord Mayor of London’s Procession.  Although our involvement in the procession goes back many decades, the history of the procession dates right back to the reign of King John in the 12th Century.

A Short History

King John, having done enough to become known as Bad King John, conceeded to the people of London the right elect their own Mayor.  Part of this deal was that the Mayor would have to be presented to the King each year (although this soon changed to the King or his Justices in Westminster).

Over the centuries, the procession of the Lord Mayor and his colleagues to be presented, changed from a simple matter of a bunch of men on horseback to a grander procession involving musical accompaniment in the form of trumpets that would take place partly on land and partly along the Thames (in 1453 Sir John Norman built himself a stately barge for the occasion).

From the 16th century, the procession became more of a pageant and would include figures from London mythology such as the giant Gogmagog and its slayer, Corineus.  After the Second World War, the procession expanded to include such organisations as the Scouts and the Territorial Army alongside the various City Companies that had always taken part.

One of the highlights of the show is the Lord Mayor’s Coach – one made in the 18th century and elaborately adorned with paintings and gold.  It spends most of the year on display at the Museum of London but is brought out each year on the second Saturday in November for the Lord Mayor’s Show.

The coach brought an end to riding on horseback and travelling by boat for a long time.  However, this year, before the main procession, the Mayor will travel along the Thames in the Queen’s barge, QRB Gloriana.

The Involvement of City

The involvement of City’s students dates back many decades and involved the creation of a float adorned by all kinds of creations and fancy dress costumes – as can be seen in these newly digitised photos from the CityArchives.

float under construction
Lord Mayor’s Show float under construction at Wapping Nov ’66

This photo from 1966 shows students at a secret location in Wapping building a float to demonstrate the pursuits of the (then brand new) University’s scientific departments, including a nice representation of 1960s computers.

Here, at an unknown date that looks like it might be about the same time, a student demonstrates their acrobatic skills as people watch on from above a City branch of the National Westminster Bank.

A person in a tracksuit somersaulting with National Westminster Bank in the background.
The Lord Mayor’s Show (Student Rags and Carnivals)

Also in the late 1960s, outside St Paul’s Cathedral, the University’s “Welcome to Britain” themed float gives a flavour of late-60s Britain including a large tin of Baked Beans, Fish and Chips, miners, schoolboys and various historical figures.


In the same year, the University organised a fun fair not far away – which can be seen here.

Lord Mayor's Show float in front of St Paul's Cathedral.
Lord Mayor’s Show c. 1969.

In the early 70s, the float was what seems a slightly madcap affair and features, among an assortment of costumes, a dangling carrot, aeroplane, a giant telephone and Tower Bridge complete with a ship underneath.  The number on the telephone, incidentally, is for Scotland Yard and was the number to call before 999.

Lord Mayor's Show Procession City University float
Lord Mayor’s Show Procession City University float c.1970

By the 90s, the idea of a mechanical float seemed to have been disappeared.  Instead, in 1993, students formed a centipede decorated with the flags of nations represented by the University – displaying the wonderful diversity that is still evident at City today.  While, in 1996, our representatives took to the streets dressed as bright orange carrots.

Lord Mayor's Show students in centipede costume in front of St Paul's
Lord Mayor’s Show 1993 The Centipede.

Lord Mayor's Show arial shot students with huge City University balloon dressed as carrots
Lord Mayor’s Show 1996


This year, City, University of London will be the 106th participant in the procession this year, just behind the United Wards’ Club with Rotary International in GB & Ireland but just before the British Red Cross.

What they will get up to this year is a closely guarded secret but you can watch them proudly walk through the City either in person or on TV – The Lord Mayor’s Show will be broadcast on BBC One from 10.45-12.05.  Full details (including for the Fireworks later in the day and the route) can be found on the Lord Mayor Show’s website and this post on our own website (which actually reveals that closely guarded secret!).

Enjoy the show!

From the archive: The Beacon

The Archives Group at City Library are responsible for maintaining and preserving City’s Archives and Special Collections. We are currently working on a number of exciting projects to make the content more accessible to staff, students and external researchers.

In our new series From the archive, each month we’ll be selecting a collection from the archive to share with the world via the News Hub. This month it’s the turn of the beloved student magazine The Beacon. Edited and written entirely by students we hold print runs of The Beacon from the late 1940s until the early 1980s.

The Beacon provides a fascinating insight into the lives of City students throughout this period; the things which were important to them at the time and local political issues of the day. We can also see the activities of the student’s union reflected in the pages, with concerts, theatre productions, dances and sports all recorded or advertised.  

If you would like to find out more about City’s Archives and Special collections please visit our Archives Guide or email 

Calling all freshers

Have you collected your official tie? Fancy being a cox? Ready to share with the world your moderate singing voice usually confined to the shower?

Well you’re in luck because Welcome Week can meet all your needs. At least it did fifty years ago.

The images featured here are taken from September and October 1967 editions of Beacon, the Student Union Magazine, copies of which are kept in the City Archive.

Beacon, the SU Magazine

In those days Beacon was almost Berliner sized and monochrome, but over the years it was printed in various shapes and colours and regularly featured an array of announcements, reports and displays of wit, although some of the editorial choices and humour were very much of its time: I doubt today’s Union would feature a ‘Miss Fresher’ winner on the front page, for example.

Picture 1: last minute supplement

In picture 1, the inserted supplement shows just how hot off the press the publication was, one highlight being the section where interested choristers are assured that “a high standard of voice is not necessarily expected”, no doubt giving hope to many.

Picture 2: vacant editorial posts

Picture 2, from the September issue, identifies many of the magazine’s vacant posts, reflecting the fact that at the start of each new academic year departing graduates create opportunities for new students to get involved- and this hasn’t changed, anyone attending Freshers Fair this year should keep an eye out for any clubs or societies which spark their imagination.

Sport has always featured strongly at City, dating right back to our founding as the Northampton Institute in the late 1800s. Over the years we’ve had football, rugby and cricket teams, people swimming in the Pool in College Building, whilst the old Saddlers’ Sports Hall even once hosted a European shooting championships; and societies too, be it drama, photography or Winnie-the-Pooh focused, have a long established history.

Picture 3: advert for the Fencing Club

Picture 3 is an advert for the Fencing Club who were, like all of the groups at the time, seeking new members. It describes Fencing as being the ‘politest’ of sports, though suggests that “gentlemanly would have been a better word but women also fence”: presumably a satirical observation, emphasised by the recent photo of fencers on City’s Sports Club website. In 1967 the club met on Wednesday afternoons, but a quick look online shows that the current Fencing Club will next get together on Saturday the 30th of September for both training and taster sessions.

It’ll be fascinating to look back in another 50 years to see what our current students got up to…

Building the Vision

From our Archives

City has been in the news recently for building plans. The handsome design for the new Sebastian Street Building took centre stage at the prestigious Summer Exhibition 2017 at the Royal Academy on Piccadilly. Yet City’s history of gorgeous architecture has a rich heritage and her buildings have added lustre to London over a long period.

An arty and crafty City

City’s first building was the College Building, designed in the Arts and Crafts style by Edward Mountford. It was opened in 1898 .


The College Building taken from the Finsbury Library / Islington Museum (over the road)


In the 1920s the building was getting small for the growing institution and extensions were needed.

City’s flirt with Art Deco

In 1932 the building was opened by H.R.H. The Prince George. This was not the later King George VI, but his brother a good time prince who knew how to make a celebration go with a bang.

A program for the reopening of College Building.

A new building was opened across the road, called the Connaught Building.

A photo of the newly opened Connaught Building
Photos of the new entrance way and automobile laboratory


Les trente glorieuses

Due to growing numbers of students after the second world war an extension was needed.

Graph to illustrate growth of Polytechnic work 1913 – 1947
College Building architect’s drawing of Schemes II and III
The original plans for proposed building work on College Building are carefully unraveled by the expert hands of a member of the City Archive and Special Collections group.
A delicate scroll is opened for the first time in many a year.

An area plan of the area and not a single gastro-pub in sight. Times have changed?

Note the difference between the original pencil draw plans and the printed version.

Block plan of proposed development.
Printed site plan showing proposed development of Schemes I – VI


A booklet outlining building plans for College Building from 1956.

In 1964, the third floor of College Building was further extended.

Plans for the extension to the third floor of College Building in 1964.


Mid-century classic City

After receiving her Royal Charter, The City University needed to extend once again. In 1976 the Tait Building was opened by Dr O A Kerensky, the brilliant bridge designer (and son of Aleksandr Kerensky).

A program for the opening of the Tait Building in 1976

We look forward to more architectural adventures in the future as City strives to be bigger and better.

More detailed information about the City Archive and Special Collections can be found on our library guide.


What’s you favourite City building (past or present) and why? Let us know in the comments below.

Photo of Abu Simbel temple

One of the many unique pieces the City archive holds is a photographic print of the Abu Simbel temple in Egypt. Taken by A Barton Kent, it was donated to the Northampton Institute Camera club.

Abu Simbel Photo
A photo of Abu Simbel dated from c. 1920s

The photo shows an image of the Abu Simbel Great Temple. The Great Temple was dedicated in 1244 BCE by Ramesses II. The two statues here are both of Ramases II. They measure 67 feet.  It is a very grand temple in the Egyptian style, with four colossal statues of the pharaoh. The temple is dedicated to Ptah, Re-Horakthy and Amun. The temple may have been built to celebrate Ramesses II’s success in the battle of Kadesh against the Hittites. This battle was indecisive and both powers signed a peace treaty to conclude hostilities, a copy of which can be found on the walls of the UN Headquarters in New York. This temple is also very close to other temples including the Isis temple at Philae, which is notable for containing the very last hieroglyphics in use in Egypt (dated to 440s CE).

This image now preserves a lost world. The temple which survived from ancient times was moved in 1967 as part of the Aswan High Dam engineering project. The dam project was a major initiative for the government of General Nasser. The temple is in the south of Egypt, although the photo identifies the region as Nubia.  Nubia was the historic name for what was the region around the southern border of Egypt. In 1956 a large part of the region called Nubia formed the independent country of Sudan, following a referendum. In 2011 South Sudan became an independent country.

So much history reverberates in this object.

Photography became a very popular hobby in the first half of the twentieth century with the advent of the Kodak box camera. It was a very cheap camera and made photography more accessible. It is possible that several members of the photography club used these cameras and a darkroom on campus. The photographer of this print was likely a professional. He may have been invited to the Northampton Institute to talk on photography.

Travel to Egypt from Europe (and vice versa) was relatively common, but only for wealthy individuals. The interest in Egypt was likely piqued by the dramatic discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. The sensational news reports ignited a trend in Egyptian style objects, films and furnishings around the world. The first mummy film dates from this period.

If you are inspired to find out more about Egypt, you don’t have far to go. Islington has many notable Egyptian style buildings. The old Carlton Cinema on Essex Road and the old Carreras Cigarette Factory are both stunning examples of Egyptian-revival architecture on our doorstep. Richmond Avenue, once home to City alumnus Tony Blair, is notable for its Sphinxes and even the Mount Pleasant sorting office shows more than a passing resemblance to an Egyptian temple. You can also head to the British Museum and Petrie Museum for more information.