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Monthly Archives: July 2011

The Choice of Stirling

This week has been mostly spent getting to grips with some of the university’s own archives. Over the years material has been transferred to the library from various departments and offices, with additional material being donated by graduates and former members of staff following an appeal made during the university’s 40th anniversary celebrations in 2007-08.

The planning documents, committee minutes and fundraising campaign publications produced in the mid to late 1960s provide a fascinating picture of the new university taking shape. The university opened its doors for the first time in September 1967. It was a brand new university, unlike many of its contemporaries it did not develop from an existing college or parent institution. Those involved in the planning of the university therefore had a blank sheet of paper on which to plan the new university (and also the untouched green fields of Airthrey Estate on which to build the physical campus).

Airthrey Castle before the arrival of the university in 1967.

So how did Stirling come to be chosen as the location for a new university? Well… in January 1964 the government announced that a new university should be set up in Scotland and the University Grants Committee was tasked with selecting its location. Campaigns were set up to lobby for this new institution in a number of towns across Scotland. In Stirling the Council submitted a proposal offering the Airthrey Estate as a suitable site. In April and May 1964 the UGC’s New Universities Sub-Committee visited the seven locations from which they had received serious submissions: Dumfries, Ayr, Cumbernauld, Falkirk, Inverness, Perth and Stirling.

The visits further strengthened the committee in its view that for reasons of geography and population the most suitable locations were those in Central Scotland (Cumbernauld, Falkirk and Stirling). The committee had been impressed with the possibilities offered by the Airthrey Estate (and the potential use of Stirling Castle for official ceremonies). The site, combined with Stirling’s excellent transport links, plentiful accommodation for staff and students and close proximity to industry led to Stirling becoming the unanimous choice of the committee – much to the surprise of the press who had considered Inverness and Falkirk the favourites to be chosen.

Taking the Long View

With the imminent move of a number of BBC programme-making departments from London to Salford Radio 4’s The Long View today took a look at another controversial move of a major media institution that happened 50 years ago – that of the Guardian newspaper from Manchester to London. One of the key figures in the move was the paper’s editor Alastair Hetherington. In later years Hetherington was Professor of Media Studies at the University of Stirling and the archives holds a collection of his personal papers. Hetherington was editor of the Guardian during some of the major events in the newspaper’s history including its criticism of the British government’s handling of the Suez crisis (1956), the dropping of ‘Manchester’ from the newspaper’s title (1956), moving the printing of the newspaper (1961) and its editorial offices (1964) to London. The papers held in the university archives cover Hetherington’s time at the Guardian as well as his early years as a young journalist in post-war Berlin and at the Glasgow Herald, and his later career at BBC Scotland.

Wordle image for the Hetherington collection.

The Documentary Film Mob

It’s always nice to see material from your collections featured on TV and radio and in the press. On Tuesday 19th July BBC 4 is screening Britain Through the Lens: The Documentary Film Mob, a programme about the pioneering British documentary filmmakers of the 1930s. One of the key figures in this group was John Grierson and a number of images from our Grierson Archive feature in the programme.

Often described as ‘the father of documentary film’ Grierson began his filmmaking career in 1927 when he persuaded the Empire Marketing Board that it needed to set up a film unit. Grierson’s unit set about making a string of promotional films extolling the virtues of various products made in the British Empire. It was while he was at the Board that Grierson made the film Drifters, a documentary about herring fishing. The film had a huge impact and created a template for documentary films which many others followed.


Scene from Drifters, 1929.

On the back of the success of Drifters Grierson moved to the General Post Office in 1933 where he ran their film unit and produced a string of documentary and public information films. Probably the best known of these films is Night Mail which followed the post train from London to Scotland. It featured music from Benjamin Britten and poetry from W H Auden (the final lines of which, when the train reaches Scotland, are read by Grierson). He was responsible for launching the careers of a generation of young British filmmakers who flourished under his watchful eye. The Stirling-born, Oscar-winning animator Norman McLaren was one of those who benefited from Grierson’s support and encouragement. He is fondly remembered in Canada where in 1939 he took on the huge challenge of setting up the country’s National Film Board. For many Scots however Grierson is perhaps best known as the presenter of This Wonderful World, a television programme which brought the best of the world’s documentary films into Scottish sitting rooms in the 1950s and 1960s.

This Wonderful World

John Grierson on the set of This Wonderful World, 1958.

Sax appeal

If a recent article in the Guardian is to be believed the saxophone is back in vogue with the instrument featuring unexpectedly in recent releases from artists as diverse as Lady Gaga and US indie-rockers Deerhunter. While the sax may have fallen out of favour in recent years it has enjoyed several periods of popularity. Sorting through a box of photographs in the Musicians Union Archive last week I came across a stack of promotional photographs of saxophonists from the 1930s and 40s, when dance bands played to huge audiences, to the 1950s and the birth of rock and roll.

The union’s membership registers provide the evidence for the ubiquity of the saxophone at the time these photographs were taken. The detailed information recorded in the registers includes valuable information on the instruments played by members. For example, a quick comparison of a register from say, 1930, and one from 1970 will provide a clear example of how the instruments played and the make-up of the union’s membership changed over the years.

Page from membership register of Manchester Branch of the Musicians Union.

 The various surveys and reports produced by the union over the years also provide snapshots of the musical make up of the nation. One particularly useful document is a fascinating report produced in 1947 which provides a breakdown of the various sections of the profession both regionally and nationally. The figures provide evidence of the high proportion of musicians engaged in playing in the ‘casual dance’ bands which featured many of the saxophonists whose portraits can now be viewed on our flickr pages.

Table from 'Report upon a survey of the fields of employment of members and potential members of the Musicians Union', March 1947.

Sport in Africa: History, Politics and the Archive

One of the side-effects of acquiring new collections is that they sometimes take your work in new and interesting directions. The recent deposit of the archives of the Commonwealth Games Council for Scotland with the University Archives has led to a growing awareness of the fascinating work that is being done in the area of the history of sport. This years SCOLMA (the UK Libraries and Archives Group on Africa) conference, held at the National Archives on the 29th June, was on the subject of Sport in Africa and it gave me the opportunity to promote our new sporting collection to an interested audience. Indeed, the SCOLMA conference is one of those very useful events which bring archivists, librarians and academics together to discuss current research and shared areas of interest.

My paper concentrated on the (unsuccessful) attempts to prevent a boycott of the 1986 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games led by African nations unhappy with the British government’s attitude towards the apartheid regime in South Africa. The archive holds detailed records of the planning, organisation and administration of the 1970 and 1986 Edinburgh Games and includes much material relating to the difficulties faced by the Games organisers in negotiating the choppy waters of sport and politics in the 1980s.

Cover of promotional brochure for the 1986 Commonwealth Games

The other papers presented on the day provided a very useful overview of the range of subjects being explored in this particular area of study. I came away from the day with an awareness of the central importance of cricket as a method of spreading the ‘virtues of Empire’ in the nineteenth century; the value of African newspapers (and in particular their sporting pages) for preserving first-hand, unmediated accounts of events; and the parlous state of the survival of records relating to community football in Senegal. The formal presentations and informal discussions throughout the day confirmed to me the research value of the latest addition to the University Archives.