The Story of City exhibition – ending soon

Thank you for helping us celebrate 125 years of City. As our anniversary year draws to a close we would like to remind you that Part 2 of the exhibition The Story of City: life, learning and legacy will run until the end of December, so please visit while you can. The exhibition is open to all and is located at the foot of the Great Staircase in the Pavilion, University Building.

The second part of the exhibition explores everyday life during the early years of the Institute. Find out more about the academic and social activities of the Institute. Learn about the origins of Student Union Mascot, King Carrot and travel back to the 1896 opening to the general public of Clerkenwell who enjoyed access to the swimming baths and entertainments in the Great Hall.

On display are items from the City Archive including student exercise books and early prospectus.  You can also see a reproduction of the time capsule which was buried under the Foundation Stone of the College Building in 1894. Visit the online exhibition where you can find out more and examine in detail digital replicas of a selection of documents, such as this 1923 laboratory workbook of Telegraphy student Philip de la Haye le Marquand.

We would love to hear your thoughts on the exhibition, please share your feedback or your memories of City in the comments below.

Life in the Archives and Special Collections

One of the great things about working with archive materials is never knowing what treasures you might discover in the depths of a storage box untouched by human hand since the dawn of time (well, a few years maybe).

Today’s exciting (and timely) find is this photograph which shows Sir David Attenborough receiving an Award of Doctor of Science honoris causa at a degree ceremony in May 1972.

Landscape image of a man in full academic dress stooping in front of a table (back to camera at an angle), shaking hands with another man in academic dress who is standing facing him: two other men in academic dress are sat at the table to the man standing's left. A man is stood further away in the background to the left (also in cap and gown) watching, and there are smartly dressed people sat in rows behind.
Sir David Attenborough receives his award, May 1972.

Sir David is one of a number of notable individuals who have been awarded honorary degrees by City, University of London, including the Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman (who was also recognised at the same ceremony as Sir David), former Speaker of the House of Commons Baroness (Betty) Boothroyd and the journalist Sophie Raworth.

The photo was uncovered as part of our project to digitise the (approx.) 6,000 images in our collection for preservation purposes. This work is being carried out by staff from across Library Services – plus we’ve had some terrific help from the Department of Library and Information Science‘s CityLIS students too.

As today is Sir David’s 93rd birthday, we’d like to offer our congratulations and best wishes to him, and share this marvellous image with you.

For more information on our Archives, Special Collections, and how to access materials, please visit our Archives and Special Collections Guide.

The Law Library in College Building is now open

The Law Library in College Building is now open!

Where is it?

The Library is situated in AG17, College Building, on the ground floor. If you can’t find it, please check the campus map:

Who can access it?

Access is restricted to City Law School students and staff.

What about the Innovation Centre Library?

The Innovation Centre Library is now closed. All textbooks have been moved to College Building, along with law reports and journals. If you have trouble locating the resource you need, please ask a member of staff at the Help Desk.

Further questions?

Please come and visit us, we will try to answer all the questions you might have. Alternatively, please contact us at:

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

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.

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)




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…

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.




Dramatic discovery of medieval manuscript

Last year two members of library staff discovered an unknown manuscript in the City Library Special Collections. The two members of staff, Rob Hodgson and Simon Bralee, unearthed the manuscript whilst auditing the collections.

An illustrated calendar from the manuscript. Note the number of the days in each month in the inner circle, the names of the months in the middle circle and the names of the Zodiac signs in the outer circle.

The text

The manuscript contains two texts – the Algorismus (or De Arte Numerandi) and the De Anni Ratione – written by Johannes de Sacrobosco (aka John of Holywood or Halifax) The Algorismus was the first major text of the Western tradition that dealt with, and examined, the use of Hindu-Arabic numerals. It became a key text of the medieval European university curriculum. Before this date, roman numerals were used. Hindu-Arabic numerals allowed a major advance in mathematics and made possible developments like mathematic calculation of physical properties, double entry bookkeeping and the Dewey Decimal Classification.

The De Anni Ratione is a criticism of the Julian calendar. The Julian calendar was the calendar introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE. Due to the complexity of calculating when to add intercalary days (think 29th February), the Julian calendar was prone to error. Sacrobosco was influenced by medieval Arabic astronomy. His theory – to take a day out every 288 years – was later largely discredited probably because he did not have access to more accurate astronomic data (also based on Arabic astronomy). The Julian calendar was replaced by the Gregorian calendar, country by country in a slow process over a period of 350 years from 1582 to 1923. The changes did not take place in Great Britain until 1751-2.

Both texts were very popular. This means that copies of the text were not uncommon.

An arithmetic circle


The manuscript

Both texts are in Latin. This was usual in the medieval West until a very late date. For example Newton’s Principia, published in 1687, was written in Latin. The opening words of De Anni Ratione are: ‘Compotus est scientia considerans tempora ex solis et lune motibus’ [‘The science of calculation are considered from the motions of the sun and moon…’].

Throughout the text the scribe of the manuscript used abbreviations. This allowed more text to be placed on less parchment and made the book cheaper. The abbreviations followed standard practice that was used throughout the medieval period in various languages. The word Compotus has been abbreviated to Compot with a superscript symbol looking (“like a backward ‘c’ or an exaggerated apostrophe”) to represent the final letters ‘us’. First lines are written with red ink. This is called the rubric and makes it easier to read.

Note the fancy initial letter on the first page and splashes of red throughout the text.

The book shows two different styles of handwriting (called hands); one in black and red and another one in a chocolate brown ink. The chocolate brown ink seems to be written around the black text and may be the notes of the first reader. This kind of text, found in manuscripts, is called marginalia. It can be very valuable to historians to reconstruct the histoire des mentalités or weltanschauung of a medieval university. You may sometimes see this form of writing called scholia. These are comments or explanations on the text intended for future reading. Scholia is sometimes copied alongside the main text.

Some learned marginalia at the side of the main text.

At the side of the manuscript you can see several regularly placed holes. These would have been placed there by a copyist or more often the apprentice. The copyist could then draw lines across the page to help them write neatly.

Notice the holes pricked into the right hand side of the page. These are to help the scribe write in straight lines

The book contains several holes. Manuscripts are notoriously easy prey to parasites. The word bookworms originally referred to insects who bored through pages of the book. You can sometimes trace their routes through books. Holes that appear after the creation of a manuscript are called lacunae (a single hole is called a lucuna). The word lacuna is sometimes used for gaps in text or missing words. If you look closely at the holes in this manuscript however, you will notice two very interesting things. First the text has been written around the hole and secondly the holes show signs of repair. These holes are not lacunae but were in existence when the book was written. The reason for this is because during the preparation of parchment the skin of the animal was dried and stretched. Any miniscule holes in the animal’s skin at the time of death would stretch in size. The older the animal, the more holes the parchment would likely show. Expensive manuscripts would often use younger animals. Vellum, the luxury writing material of the medieval period, was prepared from calf’s skin.

A rip that shows signs of having been in position at the time of writing.

The book is 18 cm by 12 cm book of 10 pages. The two texts are quite short. The Algorismus is about 5 to 10 folios.  Given its small size and relatively cheap manufacture the book is likely to have been the edition used by a University teacher or even student.

A most learned image

The discovery

Rob Hodgson who discovered the book is the City Law School Law Librarian. A barbate, well-dressed scholar with intelligent keen eyes, he did not expect to find such a treasure as he began auditing the special collections. Asking him about his discovery he says Truth be told whenever I catch the heady aroma of red rot in the air I’m always on the look-out for manuscript leaves used as pastedowns or a Wynken de Worde printers mark … but I never expected to find a full manuscript!” He was trained as a Rare Books librarian at UCL and has had substantial knowledge and experience of rare books. His previous role at The Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn Place Inn Library saw him supporting legal practitioners (barristers) and students. The Library also contained a collection of manuscripts and rare books upon which Rob cut his teeth. At City Library he curates the Rare Books collection.

Rare Books as a term correctly means books printed between 1500 and 1800. Books printed before this are called incunabula. Movable-type printing in Europe was developed by Johannes Gutenberg from around 1450. Similar technologies had existed previously in China. Printing in this manner made the production of books quicker, easier and cheaper. Before printing, books were hand copied. Handcopying was more expensive in terms of time. It was also prone to mistakes. As it is felt mistakes accumulate over time, medievalists often trace the mistakes found in different manuscripts of the same text to form family trees (or stemma) from the surviving manuscripts. Through this they can identify, as closely as possible, the original texts. Not only were Sacrobosco’s texts popular enough to be regularly copied they were also printed at a very early date. Algorismus was printed in 1490.

His apprentice Simon Bralee was even more shocked by the discovery. A Coptologist by training, his schoolboy Latin nevertheless helped crack the code and identify the texts found in the books. “Nothing like this was ever to be expected in the Special Collections”, he says when I meet him over a coffee at the Courtyard Cafe. “What struck Rob most about the book was not that it was old, but that the spine looked so new in comparison with the other books on the shelves. Even before he opened it, he had said he wondered whether it was a manuscript”.

Librarian holding book.
Simon reading the manuscript.

Taking the book down from the shelves and opening it carefully, turning the pages of front matter Rob realised straight away it was a genuine manuscript. The hair on the pages, the smell of the pages and the holes at the edges all identified it as a manuscript. After a brief examination of the manuscript the Archives group sought the professional advice of Justin Clegg from the British Library. Justin identified the date and provenance of the manuscript from the handwriting found in the text. He gave a date of late fifteenth century and suggested it was likely from a university setting. The text has not yet been professionally edited.

Rob is sanguine about discovering more rare gems. He says “This may be the springboard I need to start my quest to locate one of the missing copies of Codex Amiatinus and return it to Tyneside… you never know what might be hidden inside a generic Victorian library binding !” Here’s hoping.

“Am now in the trenches for the first time, and it is d— cold.”

City, University of London was founded as The Northampton Institute, and over the years its staff, students and Alumni have sadly, like most people, been unable to escape the ravages of war.

Whilst academics provided training for members of the armed forces during World War II, local people sheltered in the basement as bombs fell. The Engineering Faculty facilities were used to produce munitions and communication tools during the First World War, and the Institute was involved in helping injured former service personnel following the conflict.

The Archive collection here at City contains records and images from the Institution’s history, and many of you will have seen the commemorative display on the wall of the College Building (opposite the Saddlers Common Room) as you pass through, which features photographs and stories from those times of crisis; events also well documented in the Student Union and Society publications of the day.

An Editorial from the Northampton Engineering College Magazine in November 1914 considers the dilemma of students at the time and reports on a Student Union debate concerning whether “students should enlist” or “students ought not to enlist” (they concluded they should). It then describes how the governing bodies, including the University of London:

“are making it as easy as possible for a student who enlists now to resume his studies again after the war, but it is doubtful whether after months of the glorious and free life of a soldier one could again settle down to the ceaseless poring over ponderous tomes which is so characteristic of our student life…”

In February 1915 the Editorial of The Northampton Gazette featured several appeals: one was for subscriptions to keep the publication going during those tough times, another was for correspondents to send in stories from the Front, and a third was asking soldiers overseas to send a postcard home confirming they had received their copies of the Gazette in the post. ‘Our Letter Bag’ featured some of this correspondence:

The Northampton Gazette 1915How time, hindsight and records from the past shed light on historical events, particularly those we remember on days like this.