Listening to Maureen Colquhoun

By Esther Gill – Hub project manager – Unlocking our Sound Heritage

It is Monday 1st February 2021, the UK is in lockdown and I am working from home, listening to a radio interview (UTK006/498) from 1973 with a councillor from Shoreham Urban District Council being interviewed by journalist Ivan Howlett. It’s from the Viewpoint series, part of the BBC Radio Brighton Collection held by the Royal Pavilion and Museum Trust, that is being preserved by the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) project. The councillor’s name is Maureen Colquhoun and she talks eloquently about her politics, why she is a socialist, about standing for Northampton North constituency for the Labour Party in the forthcoming 1974 general election. The interview lasts 30 minutes and touches on her commitment to encouraging more women into Parliament, the challenge of seeking election while being the ‘unfashionable age, for a woman, of 45’ and the isolation of the campaign trail:

“I don’t think people looking at politicians from the outside realise what an isolating experience it is. It’s very isolating to be a prospective candidate, you move into a town and you’re not really part of it, you’re something special to the Labour Party members and when you go into a room they are delighted to see you, tend to spoil you rather, but after the meeting you are more or less on your own in a hotel room. And this is a very lonely experience, in part, fighting for a parliamentary seat.”

She talks about the difficulty of being anti-Europe whilst your husband is pro-Europe:

He’s a great political ideas man. He’s someone whose opinions I very much respect – I try out my ideas on him. We’ve had a very difficult breakfast time lately because he is pro-Europe and I am anti. And the number of eggs that have got ruined on the breakfast table is absolutely incredible.

Black and white image of Maureen Colquhoun, 1978
Maureen Colquhoun, 1978
Credit: PA Images/Alamy stock

And she reflects openly on her own experience of being trapped, albeit happily, in the ‘career of marriage and motherhood’ that makes it hard for women to develop their own political careers. Somewhat uncomfortably for the listener, she also talks in a disparaging way about the ‘lower calibre’ of local politicians as opposed to national politicians. I am mildly interested and reflect on both how much has changed, along with how little, a common experience when listening to radio reporting from the 1970s. I then think no further of the interview.

The following day, Tuesday 2nd February 2021, still working from home, I read that a ground-breaking woman, the first out lesbian MP, has died at the age of 92. Her name was Maureen Colquhoun and before being selected as MP in Northampton, she was a councillor in West Sussex. Despite her significance and my own interest in women’s history and representation, I had never heard of her. The previous day I had listened with mild interest to the views of a 1970s county councillor and potential MP; now our Radio Brighton recording had suddenly grown in significance. Maureen Colquhoun was a committed politician with strong views and willing to stand her ground. In 1970 Shoreham Urban District Council tried to block her from being appointed to certain committee roles on the grounds that she ‘talked too much’![1] Happily for us today, she was willing to talk to the local radio station, Radio Brighton and she appears on local election day broadcasts (UTK006/440) and also a short piece from 1972 where she is critical of ‘piecemeal’ plans for the Saltings Bridge in Shoreham, the town that she represented (UTK006/428). However, the 1973 Viewpoint programme is a full half-hour interview, providing her with the opportunity to expand on her views, and to talk passionately and humorously at times, about the things that mattered to her. With my new knowledge, I re-listened with a different ear to the interview, slightly shamed by my only fleeting interest the day before and intrigued to hear more about this woman whose parliamentary career became significant, but perhaps not for the reason she would have chosen.

Maureen Colquhoun – Decision to go into politics

In 1974 Maureen Colquhoun was successful in her bid to become the MP for Northampton North and stood down from her Shoreham council seat in February of that year. While an MP she introduced the Balance of the Sexes bill, with the objective of requiring equal numbers of men and women on public bodies, and the Protection of Prostitutes Bill, campaigning for the decriminalisation of prostitution. She was an active socialist and feminist who came to Parliament to create change, but in 1979 she lost her seat and never returned to Parliament. The loss of her seat was due in no small part to the fact that she had been outed as a lesbian in 1975. Gossip columnist Nigel Dempster had reported in the Daily Mail that she had left her husband to live with Barbara Todd, the editor of Sappho magazine. In due course her local Labour Party de-selected her as their candidate for the 1979 election (subsequently overturned), apparently citing her ‘obsession with trivialities such as women’s rights’ and saying that ‘She was elected as a working wife and mother … this business has blackened her image irredeemably’[2]. Although she didn’t return to Parliament, she remained active in local politics and on driving change in public representation.

Image of poster with white background and red writing, advertising Maureen Colquhoun speaking for the Save the West Pier campaign.
Poster advertising Maureen Colquhoun speaking for the Save the West Pier campaign
Credit: RPMT

Working your way through a large preservation project, it can be hard to hold on to the sense of the value of the material that is being preserved. Some rare or very topical recordings are clearly going to be of significance to future generations, but a lot of the time we just don’t know. After many hours of work on a collection, you can wonder whether anybody will ever listen to it again! Then an interview like this pops up and we are reminded as to why we are preserving these recordings. Knowing of her future, I listen to her 1973 words with more intent, with closer attention. We don’t know what will be of significance to future audiences, but if we let this material decay, if it sits uncatalogued, nobody will have the chance to discover.


Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) is digitising and cataloguing the Radio Brighton collection for the Royal Pavilion and Museum Trust (RPMT). All material preserved through the UOSH project was selected against criteria of rarity, relevance and the risk it faced. The original tapes are stored at The Keep and a digital preservation copy of the audio files is now held at the British Library. Every digitised recording is also catalogued for the British Library’s Sound and Moving Image catalogue ( The catalogue for the interview with Maureen Colquhoun can be found on SAMI as UTK006/498.


  1. Langdon, Julia, ‘Maureen Colquhoun obituary’ (8th February 2021) [Accessed 14th June 2021]
  2. ‘Maureen Colquhoun’ (10th June 2021) [Accessed 14th June 2021]
Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in The Keep, UOSH (Unlocking Our Sound Heritage)

There ain’t no party like an East Slope party

By Karen Watson – University of Sussex Archivist

These days, most people know there ain’t no party like an S Club Party (well if you were born before 1990) but at Sussex in the early 1980s East Slope parties held that crown judging by a couple of photos from a new donation to the University of Sussex Collection.

Black and white photo of 4 people dancing at a party
East slope party Credit: Dave Biddlecombe photography
Black and white photo of 2 people dancing at a party
East slope party Credit: Dave Biddlecombe photography

These photos were taken by Dave Biddlecombe, an alumus who contacted us recently to donate 24 of his photographs to the collection. Dave was also the official photographer for Bright Red, a Brighton based drama company made up of SUDS (Sussex University Drama Society) graduates.

Black and white photo of SUDS rehearsing Oh what a lovely war! outdoors in the grounds of the University
Oh what a lovely war – 1983 – SUDS rehearsals around the grounds of the University Credit: Dave Biddlecombe photography
Black and white group photo of actors from Bright Red
Bright Red @ The Gardner Arts Centre Credit: Dave Biddlecombe photography

Dave also sent a photo of the poster for a SUDS production of Midsummer night’s Dream. Dave said “this was performed in the woods behind the Gardner Arts Centre with lighting in the trees and was one of the most magical performances I have seen”

SUDS Poster of Midsummer Night's Dream
SUDS Midsummer Nights Dream poster

So former students be warned even without Instagram and Facebook your party antics may well have been recorded and kept for prosperity at The Keep.

Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Posted in Special Collections, The Keep

We’ll meet again – or how I gambled away Vera Lynn’s autograph and ended up in a Zambian jungle with a bunch of hippies…

By Danny Millum – BLDS Metadata and Discovery Officer

Normally when you tell your family / friends about what you do, unless you’re a fireman or a nurse they just zone out (especially when your job title is Metadata Discovery Officer).

But it really seems as if the BLDS was actually my genetic destiny, as it turned out that not only was my dad interested in the project but it turns out that collecting African pamphlets runs in the family.

Buried in our loft were the following:

  • East African Annual 1934-35 – Tanganyika, Kenya, Uganda, Zanzibar
  • Table Talk Annual Review 1935 (Melbourne) – incl sections on Australia’s Overseas Territories
  • Holiday 1947 (Philadelphia)
  • Times of Ceylon Annual 1958
  • Zambia 1964-74 – celebrating ten years of independence

The East African Annual is just one of a set inherited from one of my great uncles, either Owen or Edward. Owen was in the Royal Navy and travelled out to New Zealand via East Africa more than once. He died when his ship was torpedoed in 1943.

Black and white image of Danny's Great uncle in Burma in
Danny’s great uncle in Burma
Credit: The Millum family

Those from 1947 and 1958 would be brought by Edward, who was in the Merchant Navy but served in the RAF during the war. During his time in the Navy he was memorably entertained by Vera Lynn in Burma. She apparently sang from the wing of the aircraft she’d arrived in and he got her autograph but subsequently gambled it away – certainly the picture of him hungover suggests that such dissolute behaviour (so atypical for a Millum) may not have been a one-off.

The Zambian materials are more recent – my parents taught out there in the early 1970s when the newly independent country was clearly so desperate for teachers that it was prepared to hire any old hippie that walked out of the jungle.

Colour photograph of Dannys parents in the Zambian jungle
Danny’s parents in Zambia
Credit: The Millum family

Anyway, my dad’s now threatening to donate all these boxes of material to the BLDS Legacy collection – really hope he doesn’t find much more buried in the attic or at this rate this project is never going to end…..

(First posted on The University of Sussex Library staff blog May 2020)

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in BLDS (British Library for Development Studies), IDS, The Library

You think blended flex with a touch of hybridity is tough? Try a Soviet-era correspondence course

By Danny Millum – BLDS Metadata and Discovery Officer

One of the many consequences of the pandemic has been to accelerate the development and adoption of new teaching methods, with all the associated stress for teachers and students of having to hurriedly adapt to new approaches and new buzzwords. It’s hard to know which has been more of a headache – having to understand the difference between asynchronous rotation and blended hybrid or to listen to people complain about them.

Image of front cover of Report on the system correspondence course for teacher training in the USSR 1968
BLDS India – Ministry of Education – Correspondence Courses USSR – 1968

So it is in fact a bit of a relief to retreat to our BLDS Legacy publications and come across a more old school approach from the late 1960s, an era of close Indo-Soviet ties and exchanges, and where the cutting edge was the humble correspondence course.

This rare pamphlet from the Indian Ministry of Education details the visit of a three-man delegation of Indian educationalists to the USSR between 30 March and April 27 1967, as the world’s second most populous nation sought inspiration in reducing its high rates of illiteracy. The reason they were looking to the Soviets was two-fold – the close relationship between the two countries during the Cold War and the apparent success of the USSR using correspondence courses to overcome their teacher shortage [1], a vital step in in eradicating literacy and one which the Indian government also needed to solve.

The delegation certainly seemed to be impressed by what they found, gushing that;

‘through this extensive campaign of adult literacy work, carried through numberless persons trained through correspondence course that illiteracy had been practically wiped out of the country in the course of two decades’

Propaganda? Almost certainly – evidence for this is that Russian correspondence material was being reported by the 1990s to be often unreadable![2] But were the Russians pulling the wool over their guests’ eyes? Or did the Indian delegation want to report the successes of socialism for their own purposes? And before we get too judgemental, examples of nauseating triumphalism – I mean ‘huge success’ [3]– are just a quick UK Department of Education Google away.

Anyway, for those sick of Zoom breakout rooms and interested in finding out more about the Soviet Zoom alternative, the BLDS team ( will be happy to answer any follow up questions. Asynchronously of course.


1. Myers, Peter, (no date). ‘Can the Soviet education system help developing countries now?’, [Accessed 6th May 2021]

2. Kourotchkina, Anna & Zawacki-Richter, Olaf, (June 2012). ‘The development of distance education in the Russian Federation and the Former Soviet Union’, The international review of research in open and distance learning, Vol 13, No 3, pp. 165-184.

3. Department of Education, (March 2016). ‘DfE strategy 2015-2020
World-class education and care’, pp. 1-39.

Tagged with: , , , , ,
Posted in BLDS (British Library for Development Studies), IDS, The Library

Well that’s a lot of pamphlets….

BLDS Legacy Collection

By Caroline Marchant-Wallis – BLDS Metadata and Discovery Officer

I was chatting to my Librarian mentor recently about how we approached starting the BLDS Legacy Collection project, and I realised it was a good question. What did we do? Having been caught up in the whirlwind of the project for the past 18 months, it feels like a good time to start looking at what we have been up to.

So this is the first in what will be a series of posts over the next year or so about the BLDS project; how we have been managing it, things that have caused us sleepless nights, the highs of seeing the collection coming together, and as with most things these days some chat about how we dealt with Covid and not being able to access our collection for 6 months.

For background information on the BLDS Legacy Collection, see our previous posts here)

In the beginning…

October 2019…feelings: overwhelmed….

Walking into the IDS basement – where the BLDS Legacy Collection is housed – and seeing stack after stack after stack of densely populated shelves of material that it is your responsibility to organise, rationalise and make accessible in 3 years is a daunting prospect. One which I can’t deny did for quite a few months leave us feeling slightly panicked. To help you picture the size of the collection, when we started the project it contained roughly 4,000m of pamphlets, censuses, annual reports, monographs, journals, government publications and more.

So where did we start?

Well with a bit of good old-fashioned tidying up of the space for starters, (tidy workspace tidy librarian brain) including removing all the extraneous material and matter that had found its way into the basement over the years. A good old declutter always makes things better (although my other half dreads it when I utter that word) Then we set about trying to understand what we had become custodians of. We did this by reading through documentation created by previous librarians and IDS academics, and by physically going through the collection a shelf at a time, creating a listing of what organisations and countries were represented in the collection.

Image of handwritten listing of countries contained in which stacks
BLDS – Initial listing of material – photo credit: Caroline Marchant-Wallis
Screenshot of BLDS Excel spreadsheet listing organisations contained in Chile in the collection
BLDS – example of listing of material in Chile

This listing had a number of purposes, firstly it helped us to know what we were working with, and secondly it ensured we were able to locate material and answer basic queries from those requiring items from the collection whilst we are working on the project.

Alongside this we were also thinking about the future preservation of the material and the physical space. We consulted with the conservator at The Keep who alleviated our fears over the condition of the material, and advised on what we could do in terms of storage. As with most projects, our budget is tight, so coming up with storage solutions that both supported and preserved the material whilst not breaking the bank was vital. We opted for pamphlet boxes, and luckily the library had a lot spare so we were able to use these for the first 300m – after that we sourced a cardboard acid-free option. I could go on and on about why pamphlet boxes instead of being straight on the shelves or closed boxes, but as I have been warned before, that might not be a very interesting topic.

Due to the location and nature of the material it was decided (in consultation with management and the project advisory board) that it would be a closed collection, making decisions regarding retrieval much easier, and also meaning we did not have to physically reorder the whole collection, which would have taken 3 years on its own. We were able instead to apply a structue on to the collection which allowed for both simple retrieval but also maintained the provenance of how the collection was originally ordered. The only exception to this was if a country had changed its name in which case we decided to move material to sit alphabetically under its current name. So for example, Ceylon changed, and moved, to Sri Lanka.

Image of library stacks with pamphlet boxes and pamphlets
BLDS Legacy Collection – reboxed and labeled material – image credit: Tracy Wilson

Once we had a greater understanding of what we physically had and how it would be stored, we were able to start thinking about our metadata schema, subject headings and themes which we wanted to apply to the material.

The University of Sussex (UoS) catalogues using Resource Description and Access (RDA) , Machine Readable Cataloguing Standards (MARC21), and Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), along with the Library of Congress classification scheme (LOC). As the collection catalogue would be hosted on the UoS Library catalogue it did not make sense to catalogue in a different way. We however needed to add in BLDS-specific information to aid discoverability. We did this in discussion with the UoS cataloguing team and decided to add in a 583 field to our schema, which would contain information on what we decided to call ‘themes’.

The collection is vast so we needed something which would help to aid thematic and longitudinal research as well as country-focused investigation. To solve this we created 19 themes, a combination of which which could be applied to each item we catalogue, with the information being entered into our bespoke 583 field.

Screenshot of list of themes in the BLDS collection. Themes are: Agriculture and rural development Conflict Culture and information Economy Education Energy and utilities Environment Gender and sexuality Government and politics Health and welfare Human rights Labour and trade unions Law Population Religion and belief Science and technology Towns and cities Trade and industry Transport
BLDS – themes
Screenshot of 583 field in MARC 21 record
BLDS – 583 field in MARC21

What this then allowed us to do was filter records based on theme, and create a Primo Discovery database through which users can easily search resources within a certain theme and across countries.

Screenshot of BLDS Legacy Collection  Primo discovery homepage
BLDS – Primo discovery homepage

With all of these decisions made, plus so many others which included: how to arrange skip hire (for disposals), what barcode numbering to use, pest control, and so many other tiny decisions it has been full on. With many unexpected challenges, but we are getting there, and having managed to keep on track despite Covid we pretty pleased with how things are going.

That’s a quick whistle stop tour through how we started the project and some of the decisions made. Look out for future posts on other aspects of managing the BLDS project.

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in BLDS (British Library for Development Studies), IDS, The Library

How the 12th May Diaries can help us to understand death and grief during the COVID-19 pandemic

By Chloe Daniel – Mass Observation Archive Assistant

Content warning: this post discusses the themes of death and dying

‘After she died, I fretted that I might not have been praying hard enough or in the right way or not asking God hard enough to keep her alive and let her recover from this terrible virus, Please don’t take her yet, we’re not ready for her to go. But it didn’t work and during the first days following her death I started to feel anxious that things might have turned out differently if only I’d prayed harder.’[1]

I was not sure how to begin this post. Having not lost anyone to COVID-19, I did not think that my own words would appropriately convey the grief and anguish that people across the world are feeling right now. Consequently, I chose to start with the quote above. The words of a person who lost a loved one to the disease. The sorrow throughout the diarist’s entry is palpable and highlights just how much devastation COVID-19 has caused.

As of today, 10th April 2021, 127,040 people in the United Kingdom have died within 28 days of receiving a positive COVID-19 test. 149,968 people have died with COVID-19 on their death certificate.[2] This figure is the equivalent of a city, somewhere between the size of Oxford and Cambridge vanishing. Over 149,968 families and friends are now having to adapt to live with loss. Unfortunately, by the time you read this, I expect these numbers will have increased again.

Even for those who have not had to directly deal with the loss of a loved one this year, death has still been ever-present. It has been impossible to escape the daily announcement detailing the number of people who have died. Scenes inside intensive care units of hospitals at capacity shown on the six o’clock news have also become a distressing addition to teatime television. Many writers have detailed how they have found the news coverage so intense and traumatic that they ‘rationed’ their daily news intake or stopped watching it entirely.[3] Several writers have discussed experiencing strange dreams during the pandemic. For some, these dreams have been distressing and highlight that even sleep does not allow an escape:

‘Last night I dreamt of two of the people I worked with closely for years. It was a sad dream as they both died during the dream from the virus.’[4]

I fear that the impact the virus has on the nations mental health will be as catastrophic as the impact it has had on physical health.

Unsurprisingly, many of the entries we have received discuss death. While it is a difficult topic for many, it would be wrong to avoid talking about it. The most obvious thing to note is that the pandemic has caused many people to rethink their plans regarding their death. Other entries discuss funerals and the grieving process. Below, I will discuss what these entries tell us about how people dealt with and felt about death during this period.

The pandemic and preparing for death

According to the Office for National Statistics, a baby born in the United Kingdom between 2017 and 2019 has a life expectancy of 79.4 years if it is male and 83.1 years if it is female.[5] Improvements in modern medicine have meant that infectious diseases, which may have been a death sentence to our predecessors, can now be cured by taking a simple course of antibiotics. Consequently, in modern Britain, death does not pose the same level of threat to us in the same way that it did to our ancestors.

COVID-19 changed this. There was no cure and when there is no cure to a disease, the fear of death becomes very real. It was not until the 2nd December 2020 that the first vaccine for COVID-19 was approved for use in the United Kingdom.[6] This was 254 days after the first lockdown was introduced. For many, this eight-month period was a time of immense concern as there did not seem to be an end in sight.

Some diarists began to make preparations detailing what they wished to happen if they were to die:

‘My husband and I […] have been discussing what we would like if we became very ill with Covid 19. We would not want intensive care unless we were very likely to survive it. We would prefer to die as gently as possible, with palliative care in our own house, and be with each other. We have been writing death plans.’[7]

Others thought about the legacy that they are going to leave behind and have touchingly begun to document family stories for future generations:

‘Tonight I also have a slight cold which immediately makes me worry as to whether I have got Covid. I don’t have any underlying health issues but I do worry about dying. I have started to write family stories for my granddaughter and daughters but I can’t really bear to think about not being here for them.’[8]

‘I am spending today going through my old photo albums and removing anything that will be of no interest to anyone else but us and writing on the back telling of the occasion and who the people are in the photos.’[9]

‘Continued to stick some photos into an album – they are of my younger daughter as a baby and toddler; I get very sentimental when I look at photos of my children when they were little. At the moment I sense a great urgency to finish things I have been meaning to do for a while. The thought that I might fall ill with Covid 19 is very much on my mind. So I want to feel that I have put my affairs in order as much as possible, in case I were not to survive.’[10]

The pandemic has also highlighted fears around what will happen to those who are left behind:

I’m much more aware of my own mortality since the pandemic began. In fact, I’ve been feeling anxious that neither of us have written a will yet, and we plan to do so soon. We are unmarried and I worry that if I died suddenly, my partner would become homeless.[11]

Others have had potentially lifesaving treatment stopped due to the pandemic. The below writer who has motor neurone disease and has sadly had their medical trials paused noted that:

My husband prays each night for a miracle cure, then cries and cries and cries. His sorrow is hard to bear, but I mustn’t grumble, far worse things happen every day in the hospitals and the streets and he must bear the burden of life when I am gone. He will have to live the years I will not have, although how he will cope is a moot point.”[12]

This heightened awareness of death is something that has been experienced across the country. Interestingly, in April 2020, The Independent reported that COVID-19 had caused a ‘surge in will writing.’[13]

While the pandemic has encouraged many people to address death, it has also prevented some people from coming to terms with inevitable loss.

A school student recorded how they were struggling with being unable to visit their grandmother, who had been diagnosed with cancer and was only expected to survive for a couple of months. The diarist noted that:

‘doctors can’t really do much for her apart from making her as comfortable as possible but I think the most upsetting thing for me is that I can’t see her because only adults can see her.’ [14]

The writer later noted that they were still hoping to have the chance to visit their grandmother before she passed away.

Therefore, it seems that in terms of preparing, the pandemic has forced people to think more deeply about death in a way that they may not have done previously. It has caused people to assess the impact that their passing would have on their loved ones both practically and emotionally and has encouraged people to open up and have more meaningful conversations regarding this subject. However, the pandemic and lockdown restrictions have also prevented many families from preparing when they know that a loved one is dying. It has fragmented the process of being able to say goodbye and having one final hug. This has been a very distressing time for many people and as I will detail below, is has not been made easier by the funeral process.

Funerals during the COVID-19 pandemic

The lockdown guidance for March 2020 also placed restrictions on funerals. This meant that funerals had to have social distancing in place and only ‘members of the deceased person’s household or close family members’ were permitted to attend. [15] At a time when a hug and a handhold is so necessary, being unable to demonstrate affection in this manner was clearly a very painful experience for many.

One writer attended the funeral of their cousin the day before sending in their entry and detailed the event in their diary:

‘I have to say the funeral was one of the most upsetting I’ve ever been to – only 10 mourners allowed and all with social distancing which meant the widow sat entirely on her own in the front pew without even her sons sitting with her. Not an experience I ever want to repeat.’[16]

Another unsettling reality of this period is that many funerals have had to take place via video link for friends and family who cannot attend in person. For those who live alone and are going through bereavement, the sense of isolation is staggering. Some chose to override the restrictions in this situation:

‘Whilst I was shopping I decided to recontact the friend I spoke to earlier to ask if she could come in person to watch the funeral together. Although this is definitely not allowed under the social distancing rules, we’ve made the call that contact around this funeral comes under the ‘care of vulnerable people’ clause. For example, the friend whose brother died came to my flat yesterday, and we finally hugged and cried together. Despite the risk of infection it was really worth it for both of us, I think.’ [17]

During this period, it can be seen that funerals have been additionally traumatic for many due to being unable to express physical affection. For many, this has removed the ability to process their grief naturally.

Coming to terms with loss

The final part of this article will think about how the pandemic has impacted people’s ability to come to terms with loss. As mentioned above, the restrictions around funerals have completely disrupted how many people deal with grief. Social distancing measures and regulations on the mixing of households have meant that the experience of loss has been amplified. This is because after the funeral, many people have had to learn to adapt to life after the death of their loved one alone. One writer who lost their wife and lives alone details the difficulty of living in an empty household:

Like the last 4 weeks since my wife died I wake up either thinking that she is still alive or knowing that she is dead. I wake up and already everything is different, not like they were in March, no one to ask me how I slept and I them, no one to ask if they would like a cup of tea. That eeriness of silence.'[18]

Usually, many people find solace from having the physical presence of their loved ones around them during this period to hold, talk to and comfort. The above writer explains how much harder this experience has become due to lockdown removing the ability to receive support in person from relatives.

Then my Mum and Dad call me, I’m very grateful for this contact. In the reality where we have to social distance, not mix etc when someone dies in the old world it is hard. But grieving for the loss of a loved one in these lock down days is (I imagine) like receiving a life sentence in prison when you didn’t do it.’ [19]

We also received an entry from the parent of the writer above who explains the heartache they felt at having to comfort their child from afar:

‘My own grief has been raw and supporting […] from a distance has been unbearably sad. Although we did manage to attend […]’s funeral, unlike some families who have not been able to do so, not being able to even hug […], only being able to watch him from a distance as he was supported by […] felt so desperate’[20]

Another writer expresses sorrow at being unable to mourn the death of her mother with her sister:

‘It’s okay, apart from how much I miss my sister now every day at the moment, because she has been my solace, and me hers. She was the person I saw outside of this house, the person I hugged tightly.’[21]

Others have reported feeling an increased sense of anxiety after losing a loved one and being unable to grieve with family:

‘My anxiety is up – perhaps, given that we’re in the middle of global pandemic, that death is very present, that my own Grandad died in hospital alone 7 weeks ago, that I couldn’t attend his funeral and that I haven’t seen friends of family for two months, that is to be expected.’ [22]

Forced isolation has added an increased burden onto the load of grief. It has made the process of coming to terms with loss harder due to the inability to receive comfort when it is most needed. It has intensified feelings of isolation. I imagine that during this period, people have not only had to come to terms with their loss but have been forced to face it relentlessly, day in, day out. The inability to have other people around, even simply as a distraction, may have caused some to overplay the horrific events they have had to experience repeatedly in their minds. Reading the diaries, it seems that for many, the pandemic has made grieving even harder as it has stripped people of their right to say goodbye as they wished and receive comfort how they desire.


1 Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_1602, 12th May 2020

2 Author Unknown, ‘Deaths in United Kingdom’ (10th April 2021) [Accessed 10th April 2021]

3  Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_913, 12th May 2020

4 Mass Observation Archive, MT _2020_ 989, 12th May 2020

5 Edward Morgan and Stephen Rozee ‘National life tables- life expectancy in the UK: 2017 to 2019’ (24th September 2020) [Accessed 10th April 2020]

6 Michelle Roberts ‘Covid-19: Pfizer BioNTech vaccine judged safe for use in UK (2nd December 2020) [Accessed 10th April 2021]

7 Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_1451, 12th May 2020

8 Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_1692, 12th May 2020

9 Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_1946, 12th May 2020

10 Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_2473, 12th May 2020

11 Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_1149, 12th May 2020

12 Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_1167, 12th May 2020

13 Kate Hughes ‘Covid-19 prompts surge in will writing’ (14th April 2020) [Accessed 10th April 2021]

14 Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_1856, 12th May 2020

15 Public Health England ‘New advice for safe funerals after discussions with faith leaders’ (31st March 2020) [Accessed 10th April 2021]

16 Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_1586, 12th May 2020

17 Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_1253, 12th May 2020

18 Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_759, 12th May 2020

19 Mass Observation Archive, Ibid, 12th May 2020

20 Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_1602, 12th May 2020

21 Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_1033, 12th May 2020 22 Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_1009, 12th May 2020

Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Posted in MO (Mass Observation), The Keep

Collections reading group

By Richard Wragg – Collections Manager

For the last few months, the Collections Team have been meeting for a reading group. The texts we have chosen to discuss have all had a focus on decolonisation, equality and diversity.

The reading group formed in response to the events of Summer 2020 – specifically the killing of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter protests and the wider conversations that developed around the role of the heritage sector in explaining contested histories. We wanted to undertake decolonisation work with our collections, but it soon became apparent that many of us lacked the knowledge that is required to make systemic changes.

I won’t write about what has been discussed in the reading group but would like to highlight some general principles to which we adhere. The first is that the group is a safe space to explore and challenge ideas. We recognise that we will make occasional missteps in both thought and language and that the reading group is an opportunity to develop our knowledge in a supportive environment without fear of criticism. Although reading groups are often a leisure activity, we also undertook to meet during work time, and to consider the reading a work activity. Finally, we all agreed that the reading group would be a catalyst for change within our working practices.

The reading group is one of a number of activities in the Library related to decolonisation. Gradually, we are developing the knowledge and confidence to approach our work and collections with fresh perspective. New consideration is being given to how our collections are acquired, catalogued and accessed. We hope to update you on this work over the coming months.

For those who would like to learn more, some of the texts we have found particularly thought-provoking include:

David Olusoga, Black and British Migration – (requires University of Sussex login)

David Osa Admadasun, Black People Don’t Go To Galleries –  

Rachael Minott, The Past is Now (requires University of Sussex login)

The Library has also developed a Decolonisation reading list

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in BLDS (British Library for Development Studies), Collection Development, Collections, IDS, Legacy collection, MO (Mass Observation), Special Collections, The Keep, Uncategorised, UOSH (Unlocking Our Sound Heritage)

Not as boring as they sound – reading the history of Zimbabwean independence from airline annual reports in the BLDS Legacy Collection

By Danny Millum – BLDS metadata and discovery officer

One of the many strengths of the BLDS Legacy Collection lies in its holdings of annual reports, from both government departments and public and private companies. While obviously vital source material for business and economic historians, these might appear a little dry to others, but on closer perusal the incidental details of their production are in fact often strikingly revealing of wider social, cultural and political developments.

One example of this which struck us during cataloguing were the runs of Air Rhodesia and Air Zimbabwe annual reports which run from 1968 to 1988/89. The fact that Zimbabwe only achieved independence relatively late gives it a unique place within our collection, as while for the majority of African countries our holdings only really begin with independence, here we have material which allows us to compare and contrast pre- and post-independence publications across a wide variety of organisations.

Just dipping our toe in the water with this one example affords us a fascinating visual insight into how the airlines saw themselves. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single black Zimbabwean in any of the images from the 1968 and 1973 issues [image 1, 2 & 3], whereas the 1981 picture is decidedly multi-racial [image 4] and by 1989 the vast majority of the office staff are black [image 5] (interestingly for much of the late 70s photographs have been replaced by cartoon images – this would probably take an entirely separate blog to explore though!)

Besides the pictures, there are also snippets of text in the reports which cast light on international political developments and their local ramifications.

As we can see from the extract below from the 1968 annual report on Traffic and Sales that the tensions between Zambia and Rhodesia following the latter’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965 were playing themselves out in the air industry as well, with Zambia banning air services between the two countries (and South Africa commensurately increasing its traffic).

“The new national airline of Rhodesia was born on the 1st September, 1967. Its birth was bedevilled by difficulties but it has come through the first few months of its life, not unscathed, but a great deal stronger than even the most optimistic had hoped for.

The Airline’s strength and resilience, in this important period of its life, stemmed from its predecessor’s proud heritage of service to Central Africa during the period 1946-1967… The difficulties facing the airline, and the country it serves, are by no means over; indeed the extent and degree of pressures from some quarters is increasing; however, Air Rhodesia faces the future with confidence…”

Air Rhodesia annual report 1968 – BLDS Legacy Collection

Post-independence we can see [image 6] that by 1989 routes stretched across Africa, to Europe and even to Australia.

Image of the route network of Air Zimbabwe
(Image 6) Air Zimbabwe route network – annual report 1989 – BLDS Legacy collection

Though Air Zimbabwe is still extant, mounting losses and the grounding of all flights due to the current Covid-19 pandemic mean its future is uncertain. It is unlikely that preserving its archive will be its priority, and therefore the preservation of this material by BLDS demonstrates in microcosm the importance of cataloging and conserving this type of material for histories of all kinds.

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in BLDS (British Library for Development Studies), The Library

12th May 2020 an introduction to the diaries

By Chloe Daniel – Mass Observation Archive Assistant

23 March, 2020. The country, along with life as we knew it, stopped. School’s out. Non-essential shopping is no longer permitted. Gatherings involving more than two people now prohibited. You may only leave your house for a small number of reasons and exercise outdoors is now limited to once a day. ‘Lockdown’ begins. Of course, reader, I probably do not need to explain the reasons behind this. If you are reading this in 2021, you will already know. If you are reading this in the future, this period was so momentously life changing that I imagine you would have learnt about it in school. Or maybe your grandmother or grandfather told you what it was like to live through this strange time. For the sake of clarity however, I will explain.

How the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded in the United Kingdom

COVID-19 is a disease which was identified in Wuhan, China in December 2019. Questions surrounding this illness, which seemed to attack the respiratory system, soon began circulating around the world. At first, the attitude amongst ordinary people in the United Kingdom generally seemed to be one of nonchalance (or at least from what I remember). In fact, as of 9 January 2020, health officials were still unsure if the virus even spread via ‘human-to-human transmission.’[1] As the month went on however, the cause for concern progressed. Alarming reports of a hospital in China being constructed in ten days to treat coronavirus patients began to cause anxiety.[2] If this new disease is nothing to worry about, what would be the need to panic build a hospital? On the 31 January 2020, the first two cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the United Kingdom.[3] Over the next couple of months, the number of confirmed cases in the UK continued to grow. It became clear that a serious problem was arising. On 5 March 2020, the first person to die of the coronavirus in the UK was announced.[4] Just six days after this, on 11 March 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that coronavirus was to be officially classified as a pandemic.[5] On 23 March 2020, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared on television sets across the country.[6] 27.5 million people watched his sobering message[7] The disease was spreading quickly and taking many lives. Something needed to be done. A national lockdown was announced and together we needed to adhere to the restrictions I mentioned above, in order to control the spread of the virus.

“Mass Observation has annually been asking for people to send in a record of their day on 12th May. The diaries provide an amazing insight into the lives of ordinary people across Britain”

The (ongoing) period that ensued would be life changing for many. For some, there would be periods of immense sorrow and loss. For others, this period would bring newfound happiness in areas previously unexplored. For the majority, I think it proved to be a mixture of the two. After all, our thoughts and feelings are not linear.

The 12th May 2020 collection

How do I know about how people were feeling, you may now be asking?

A Google map showing locations of MO diarists
12th May – Map detailing diary locations (sample size: 1000 diaries)

The Mass Observation Archive sent out a call for 12th May 2020 diaries. This was not a new directive. In fact, since 1937, Mass Observation has annually been asking for people to send in a record of their day on 12th May. The diaries provide an amazing insight into the lives of ordinary people across Britain.[8] The call for 12th May 2020 diaries occurred during the first lockdown. The responses will be a fundamental resource for those who wish to learn more about life for ordinary people during the coronavirus pandemic. The response rate was astonishing. Over 5000 people sent in a diary for 12th May 2020. Entries arrived from every corner of the United Kingdom, from Aberdeen in Scotland to Marazion in Cornwall. The youngest diarist I have so far encountered was just three years old whilst the oldest was ninety-one. Responses have arrived from people of all races, religions and genders. From those living in city locations to others in the countryside. Similarly, the range of occupations of our writers is also broad, from school children and students to nurses, teachers, lawyers, administrators, architects, archivists, photographers, bakers, civil servants and engineers, just to name a few.

12thMay Pie chart detailing age groups of the diarists
12th May – pie chart detailing age groups of the diarists (sample size: 1000 diaries)

As the Archive Assistant working on the 12th May 2020 collection, it is my duty to catalogue each diary and ensure that they are properly digitally preserved so that they can be made accessible. This means saving an original copy of each diary and then a second copy with any sensitive information redacted so that they can be used for research and other purposes. Of course, many diaries are deeply personal, and some writers do not wish for their submission to be used for research purposes, so these are stored separately and securely. Whilst cataloguing the diaries, I record any demographic data contained and I also record anything specifically notable about the diaries which may be of use to researchers. As you can probably imagine, almost every diary written during a pandemic has something very notable included.

Pie chart detailing gender groups of the diarists (sample size: 1000 diaries)
12th May – pie chart – gender groups of the diarists (sample size: 1000 diaries)

Reading the diaries is an emotional journey. Some entries provide very raw accounts of loss and death and detail the anguish of losing a loved one, as well as the difficult grieving process which follows.[10] These can be very hard to read and highlight the dark realities of living under the threat of a deadly virus. Many diaries also discuss separation and the heartache this causes. Grandparents who can no longer see their grandchildren, students unable to return to their parents and lovers kept apart.[11] Others detail financial worries or concerns around losing employment.[12]

There are, however, those who detail happy experiences during lockdown. One set of new parents have recorded how happy they were to be working from home as it meant they could experience precious time with their new-born baby.[13] Some have used this time as a period of self-development, to start new hobbies and even look in to setting up new businesses. Others have used this period has a time to connect with nature and appreciate the natural world.[14]

Photograph of a sunflower seedling
12th May – sunflower competition – writer MT_2020_589 – for her street sunflower growing competition… she said she hoped to maintain ‘the friendliness and support from neighbours and strangers.’

Some of the diaries have made me laugh, a few have made me cry, some I can relate to and some experiences seem to be a world away from my own. Even though each lockdown story is different, this period also seems to have brought people together. Of course, there are times that it has brought out the worst in people, panic buying being one of them.[15] Yet there also seems to be a tremendous sense of community spirit which has been documented in many of the diaries. Writers discuss shopping for their isolating neighbours or volunteering at foodbanks.[16] The main thing that I have taken from the vast majority of the diaries is that this experience has put into perspective what really matters for many people. Very few entries detail materialistic things such as how important it is to have the nicest car or newest phone. Instead, they discuss the food on the table, the importance of health, contact with friends and family and the need to treat the world and those around us with kindness. Many entries finish off with the writer stating that they hope that after this is over, we focus more on these things and continue to look after our communities. I sincerely hope so too.

Over the next few months, I plan to share more information from the diaries with you. I will be writing on the different themes and trends that I notice coming from the entries. I will also be discussing the ways in which I think they may be useful to future researchers and the areas that they can provide insightful information on. These diaries provide 5000 individual stories of what it is like to live through an event that changed history. To me, the beauty of the diaries is that they are not giving us a retrospective account but instead provide an expression, sometimes even an outburst of thoughts and feelings in the actual moment. I feel very privileged to be the first person to look at many of these diaries since they were sent in by the diarists almost a year ago and I look forward to sharing my findings with you.

[1] Author unknown, ‘Wuhan pneumonia outbreak: Mystery illness ‘caused by coronavirus’ (9th January 2020 [Accessed 20th February 2021]

[2] Author unknown, ‘Coronavirus: 10 days of hospital building in 60 seconds’ (2nd February 2020) [Accessed 20th February 2021]

[3] Author unknown/ James Gallagher ‘Coronavirus: Two cases confirmed in UK’ (31st January 2020) [Accessed 31st January 2020]

[4] Author unknown ‘Coronavirus: Woman in 70s becomes first virus fatality in UK’ (5th March 2020) [Accessed 20th February 2021]

[5] Author unknown/ Philippa Roxby, ‘Coronavirus confirmed as pandemic by World Health Organisation’ (11th March 2020) [Accessed 20th February 2021]

[6] UK government/ speech by the Prime Minister (Coronavirus: Boris Johnson’s address to the nation in full) (23rd March 2020) [Accessed 20th February 2021]

[7] Conrad Duncan ‘ Boris Johnson speech becomes one of the most-watched TV broadcasts in history’ (11th May 2020) [Accessed 20th February 2021]

[8] Author unknown, ‘Wednesday 12th May 2021: Would you like to keep a one- day diary for Mass Observation? (n.d) [Accessed 20th February 2021]

[9] Google Maps, Map data 2021 GeoBasis-DE/BKG 2009, Google, Inst. Geogr. Nacional

[10] Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_759, 12th May 2020.

[11] Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_1016 and MT_2020_858, 12th May 2020

[12] Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_834 and MT_2020_901, 12th May 2020

[13]  Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_1060, 12th May 2020 [1] Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_856, 12th May 2020

[14] Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_856, 12th May 2020

[15] Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_1235, 12th May 2020

[16] Mass Observation Archive, MT_2020_1208, 12th May 2020

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in MO (Mass Observation), The Keep

House bound

By Lisa Towner – Collection Development Library Assistant (and bookbinder extraordinaire)

Pile of bound notebooks with small mug
Bound books – Lisa Towner

When bookmaking during lockdown I think about a book by Mark Williams and Danny Penman, Mindfulness a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world. Making books has given me moments of peace and distraction from all that has been happening outside of my home. I have a tendency to over think and bookmaking has been the ideal remedy for me. I get lost in the act of doing and create a handmade item with purpose as a result of my endeavours.

Book binding tools
Book binding tools – Lisa Towner

Making a book involves quite a few techniques. Folding, cutting, stitching, measuring, gluing and pressing are all part of the therapeutic process the craft gives me. I can lose myself for an hour folding and cutting paper and then return at another time to mindfully stitch the pages together. Choosing paper for the cover and thread for the stitches always causes me some enjoyable deliberation. I marble paper for some of the book covers, or make paste patterns. The paste gives the paint a thicker consistency to enable you to print or mark with it.

Marble paper covered notebook
Marble paper cover – Lisa Towner
2 turquoise paste patterned covered notebooks
Paste patterned covers – Lisa Towner

A Coptic stitch method of binding allows the book to lay completely flat when open and the stitching is visible, ideal for sketch books. The stitching is decorative with Japanese Stab Binding but the book will not fully open. Case Binding is the traditional way to produce a hard backed book with a covered spine.

Coptic stitch bound notebooks upright on shelf, shelved among books
Coptic stitch – Lisa Towner
2 Japanese stab bound books 1 A4 landscape 1 A5 Portrait
Japanese stab binding – Lisa Towner
Pile of case bound hardback books
Case binding – Lisa Towner

Spending so much time at home over the past months has resulted in me being very productive. Friends and family have been gifted a selection of books, the latest batch are pocket sized sketchbooks. My stock resulted in an online stall at a Christmas Market Place run by Community Base in Brighton. I am preparing more books for another online sale in May.

Photo of 3 pocket sized sketchbooks
Pocket sized sketchbooks – Lisa Towner

Tea and biscuits, coffee and cake, a nice evening meal and bookbinding have all played an important part in my day whilst being housebound.

Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Posted in Collection Development, Uncategorised