Archive for the ‘Archives’ Category

Today is Candlemas which serves as the secondary feast-day of Corpus Christi College. The primary feast-day is of course Corpus Christi, generally in June. The Candlemas connection comes about because the college was founded in 1352 by a united guild of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary. The guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary was founded about a century before the college and celebrated its feast on Candlemas day.

To celebrate the feast, two of the items currently on exhibition relate to the guild. The first is a charter dated 1306 issued by Edward I confirming a grant of land in central Cambridge given to the guild by one of its members, Adam Elyot.

Charter of Edward I

Charter of Edward I (XXVII.16,1-2)

The charter still has its copy of Edward’s Great Seal.

Great Seal of Edward I

Great Seal of Edward I

In 1350, the guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary was taken over by the new guild of Corpus Christi which had been set up by Cambridge townspeople with the express purpose of founding a new college. To understand why that might have happened, take a look at the other document on show:

Bede roll of the Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Bede roll of the Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary

This is an extract of the bede roll of the guild, listing all the members of the guild who had died and were to be remembered in the prayers of the brethren. Names were added over the years but then, at the end of the roll are squeezed in the names of 92 members who died of the plague in 1349-50. At least one-third of the population of Cambridge died in the space of nine months and the guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary had very few members left to pray for their predecessors – but valuable land holdings in central Cambridge. This seems to be the reason behind the merger of the two guilds.

Within two years, the united guild had succeeded in founding a college and dissolved itself, handing over all its assets, including property and archives, to the college. The college also took on and has maintained the guild’s responsibility to pray for its proto-benefactors – including Adam Elyot, whose name can be seen on the bede roll between the splendidly named Argent Wolleward and Willelmus le spicer and his wife Elena.


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A guest post by Dr Lucy Hughes, the College’s Modern Archivist:

At a time when Tate Britain is running an exhibition on Picasso and Modern British Art (until July 15), it is interesting to be reminded that a piece of work by one of Britain’s foremost surrealists, Sir Roland Penrose, survives as a mural in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. The image of mythical beasts in combat is preserved behind perspex in a room in I staircase, where it was discovered during redecoration work in 1976. In the Modern Archive, a few steps from the mural itself, are preserved letters between Penrose and A. C. Clark-Kennedy, then Domestic Bursar, which shed light on how the mural came to be there in the first place. Penrose recalls that the architect T. H. Lyon, who was responsible for adding rooms to New Court in the 1920s, encouraged the young Penrose in his love of painting and invited him to decorate one of the new rooms. The mural is dated 1921. Penrose was an undergraduate at Queens’ College, where he studied architecture, and amused himself by creating similar murals in friends’ rooms, mostly in King’s College, during his student years. In his letter to Clark-Kennedy, Penrose writes that he thinks it unlikely that any of the other murals he created have survived, and that he is touched to be reminded of his youthful efforts, which he had all but forgotten.

Roland Penrose Mural in Corpus Christi College

Roland Penrose Mural in Corpus Christi College

Penrose’s archive of papers and books is now at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, but correspondence between Clive Bell and members of Penrose’s circle (including Picasso) form part of the ‘Charleston Papers’ at King’s College, Cambridge. Farley Farm House, Chiddingly, East Sussex – the home that Penrose made with his second wife, the photographer Lee Miller – is the subject of an article published in Country Life, June 13 2012. Farley Farm House, which is preserved as a museum, contains many artworks collected by Penrose, and became a centre for creativity, visited by numerous artists and writers over the years. The mural in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, is an interesting example of an artist’s imagination awakening.

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With reference to the Parker Library globes mentioned in my blog about Samuel Savage Lewis – it seems that Lewis did

Carey's Terrestrial Globe, 1815

not give these to the Library. Our Archivist, Dr Leedham-Green, has found a reference in the Library account for 1840 which shows that the college paid for them, presumably expressly for the newly-built Parker Library.  The two globes were made by John and William Cary of London.  Cary’s bill for the two globes was £21 1s 6d, plus carriage of 13s.

Carey's Celestial Globe, 1790

Globe covers were also bought, from Cambridge book binder H.R. Wiseman, and there is  a receipted bill dated 15 August 1840,which was  paid on 15 August 1841,  for Two  very large leather cases for globes in the library, with corded seams, and made in best style: £3 12s.

The Library at Ham House has similar covers on its globes.

These may not have been the first globes in the College, as the Chapter Book of 1632 records approval by the then Bursar, Nicholas Ganning, to spend money on globes, although no corresponding entry can be found in the Audit Book

Many thanks to Elisabeth Leedham-Green for this information.

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Dr Lucy Hughes, the College’s Modern Archivist writes:

The Modern Archive recently received an exciting donation of personal correspondence which casts light on the day-to-day life of a Corpus undergraduate in the 1930s. The letters by Eric Cooper (written on letterheaded College notepaper and in envelopes bearing the College crest) came with some photographs and also some embroidery from a sporting blazer, and were given by Cooper’s niece, who has been transcribing and studying the letters as part of a family history project. This donation is very good news for the College.

Writing to his fiancée, Patience, Cooper gives a vivid picture of the academic, cultural and social environment in which he lived and worked. It is interesting to note the many references to attending the cinema (called ‘flicking’) in the letters, with comments on the films seen. Eric had something of a background in the world of cinema as his father, Frederick Holmes Cooper, had set up a chain of the earliest cinemas in East Anglia in the days of silent film, and built a fortune in this way. There is a chapter about him and his achievement in a book called The Picture House in East Anglia by Stephen Peart (1980).

Eric attended Norwich School and thus followed in a tradition of Corpus men from that background. Until the nineteenth century, there was a rule that four of the College Fellowship elected were to be from Norfolk, and although this rule had been abandoned by the twentieth century, the Norfolk and Norwich connection lingered. Eric’s letters refer to meetings of ‘old boys’ of Norwich School, who considered themselves something of an élite club. Two of the current Fellowship – the eminent ecologist and landscape historian Oliver Rackham and the official historian of MI5 Christopher Andrew – were pupils of Norwich School, and so the tradition continues.

Eric went on to serve in the Royal Army Service Corps and, after the War, built a career with Telephone Rentals, eventually becoming Managing Director. He and Patience had a long and happy marriage. His letters from 1935-36 are full of youthful optimism and joie de vivre and thus make enjoyable, as well as interesting, reading. A sample quotation from 30 May 1935 will give a flavour:

I thought I deserved some recreation so decided to flick with Nigel. We went to the Rendez-Vous to see The Lives of a Bengal Lancer. I got out my bike and put Nigel on the back and went there like greased lightning – it’s some distance away – 2 miles. Six policemen yelled at us, but we took no notice (it’s illegal to take anyone on a step now, you know) and arrived there with a flourish. Well, we both fingered our old school ties, wept profusely, stood to attention for ‘God Save the King’ and decided to join up at the earliest possible moment!! We really did enjoy it, though, for it is an excellent film, the sort of film that affects one in a marked manner. To discuss the ethics of it now would be impossible and rather controversial, but this I will say ,the spirit which activated those officers is fine and right because they believed that what they were doing was right. We had an exhilarating ride back here along the backs. We made some tea and talked till 12 when we went to bed.

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This is a guest post by Lucy Hughes, the College’s new Modern Archivist.

My first two months as Modern Archivist at Corpus Christi have been very enjoyable. Learning about the College’s traditions, its possessions and – most of all – its people has been fascinating, and I look forward to learning more. Getting to know some of the people who have worked and studied here, either through reading about them in the archive or meeting them face to face, has been one of the highlights of the job so far. In fact, there are probably enough anecdotes and reminiscences to be gleaned to make up a full-scale oral history project, if only there were time! Going round chatting to people and recording them as they reminisce would certainly be pleasant, although the necessary day-to-day work of accessioning and answering queries should probably remain the priority for the time being. Then there is the question of cataloguing. So it is a fairly busy life.

View from Modern Archives

View from Modern Archives Office

I have particularly enjoyed the view from my office, high up on I staircase. The ancient tower of St Benet’s sits square and sturdy straight in my line of vision, a bit like a beacon. It is wonderful, of course, to be surrounded by so much history; for example, finding a note (written by Robin Myers, my extremely friendly and helpful predecessor) on a chapel service sheet from 2010 recording that the Corpus Christi Day procession from St Benet’s took place that year for the first time since probably the sixteenth century, was intriguing. Finding a box labelled ‘Treasures; Ghost’ among the stacks also raised a smile. I haven’t looked inside it yet! As spring arrives, I’m looking forward to visiting  Leckhampton Gardens on Open Gardens Day (3 April) and to observing the College’s yearly cycle as we move through the calendar.

Lucy Hughes

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Welcome to Lucy!

A month before Robin Myers retired from her post as the Modern Archivist, Lucy Hughes joined the College as her replacement.  She will also be responsible for managing the College records.

Lucy read English at Downing College, then did an MPhil at Darwin, and a PhD at Queen Mary College, University of  London in Medieval English Literature. She worked for ABELL for nine years, then retrained as an Archivist with Aberystwyth University.  Whilst studying for the diploma, she has worked on a voluntary basis at the Scott Polar Research Institute and Downing College.

Lucy can normally be found in the Archives on Monday, Tuesday and Friday mornings.

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Robin retires


Photo of Robin Myers and Oliver Rackham

Robin Myers and Professor Oliver Rackham

Last week we marked the retirement of Robin Myers, the College’s Modern Archivist. Robin has been at Corpus for 14 years and has been responsible for looking after the College’s Archives from 1900 to the present, dealing with an ever-growing stream of material, mostly documents, but also the odd oar, pewter tankard, wooden spoon and tortoise shell.

Before coming to Corpus, Robin was Archivist of the Stationers’ Company, one of the livery companies of the City of London and an institution almost as old as Corpus. She is, not surprisingly, a distinguished expert on the history of the book trade in England and was one of the founders of the annual conference on book trade history which has been running for over thirty years. She was president of the Bibliographical Society in 1996, was the recipient of a Festschrift in 1997  and was awarded an MBE in 2009 for services to bibliography.

We have been very fortunate to work with Robin – not only is she an extremely knowledgeable archivist, she has also been a kind and delightful colleague. We wish her all the best in her retirement, which we are sure will be extremely active.

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