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.

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!

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…