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Yearly Archives: 2013

2013: End-of-year review

As we approach the end of the year it’s time to look back and discover what have been our most popular collections in 2013. As in previous years we’ve combined the information recorded in our enquiries database with the records of visitors to our reading room to create our end of year chart. It’s all change at the top with a new No. 1 pushing last year’s chart topper, the Musicians’ Union Archive, into second place.

In 2013 our most used collection was the NHS Forth Valley Archive. This collection, which was transferred to the University Archives in 2012, contains the historical records of two local hospitals, the Stirling District Asylum (Bellsdyke Hospital) and the Royal Scottish National Institution, Larbert. Over the past year a team of student volunteers has helped to make the archives of Stirling District Asylum accessible to researchers through a programme of cleaning and cataloguing. The material has been particularly heavily used by family historians, keen to explore this previously inaccessible material.

The records of Stirling District Asylum have proven very popular with family historians in 2013.

The records of Stirling District Asylum have been well-used by family historians in 2013.

The Royal Scottish National Institution Archives were recognised by UNESCO this year, being designated a collection of national importance and added to the UK Memory of the World Register. We have also recently received funding from the Wellcome Trust for the conservation and cataloguing of the RSNI Archive. We hope to start this work in the spring of 2014 and will post further information about the project on the blog in the new year.

The Musicians’ Union Archive continues to be heavily used by researchers, particularly Glasgow University’s History of the MU project. 2013 was the 120th anniversary of the union and the MU also made great use of their archive during the year. An exhibition featuring images from the collection was put together for the union’s conference in June in Manchester (where the Amalgamated Musicians’ Union was founded in 1893) and was also displayed at the TUC conference, while articles on the history of the union featured in The Musician magazine.

A new entry in our end-of-year review at No. 3 is the Norman McLaren Archive. McLaren’s presence in the Top 3 reflects the increased interest in the life and work of the Stirling-born filmmaker in the run-up to the centenary of his birth in 2014. Our McLaren Archive has continued to grow in recent years with letters to friends and family, artwork and family photographs being added to the collection. In April 2014 a major celebration of McLaren’s career will begin in Stirling with the unveiling of a heritage plaque on his childhood home and an exhibition of material from our collection at the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum. McLaren 2014 will present an exciting programme of events across Scotland including educational workshops, film screenings and public events culminating in a celebration of his ground-breaking, award-winning films at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

The filmmaker Norman McLaren at work. 2014 will see a major celebration of his life and films in Scotland.

The filmmaker Norman McLaren at work. 2014 will see a major celebration of his life and films in Scotland.

Those results in full:


  1. NHS Forth Valley Archives
  2. Musicians’ Union
  3. Norman McLaren


  1. Musicians’ Union
  2. John Grierson
  3. Lindsay Anderson


  1. John Grierson
  2. Lindsay Anderson
  3. University of Stirling


The Grierson Factor

The John Grierson Archive has been held at the University Archives since the early 1970s and continues to be one of our most popular collections. This reflects Grierson’s importance in cinema history, often being described as ‘the father of documentary film.’

A bust of John Grierson by the sculptor Kenny Munro at Stirling Train Station.

A bust of John Grierson by the sculptor Kenny Munro  at Stirling Train Station.

There seems to be a renewed interest in Grierson in the ether at the moment. His bust now stands proudly in Stirling Train Station, placed there as part of the great efforts of the Stirling Rotary Club to improve the building. The choice of the station is apt as one of Grierson’s best known films is Nightmail, the 1936 documentary tracing the journey of the post train from London to Scotland made by the GPO Film Unit. The film has also recently been the inspiration for a new track by Public Service Broadcasting, a musical project inspired by old public information films:

Nightmail – Public Service Broadcasting

Another musical response to Grierson’s work was recently created by the band Field Music who composed a new live score to accompany Drifters, Grierson’s 1929 documentary about North Sea fishermen. The band premiered this new soundtrack at the Berwick Film Festival and plan further performances in the coming months.


Scene from Drifters, 1929.

Drifters was originally a silent film, but Grierson was aware of the potential of music to heighten the dramatic intensity of the heroic struggles of the fishermen he recorded. He laid out very clear instructions for his suggested musical accompaniment to the film, choosing pieces of stirring classical music such as Mendelssohn’s Fingal’s Cave to accompany the action.

Et in Archiva Ego – artists in the archive

The Scottish Records Association and ARA Scotland are holding a conference on Friday 8 November on the fascinating topic of artists in the archives. Et in Archiva Ego will be held in the Norrie-Miller Studio, Perth Concert Hall, and feature a range of speakers including artists, researchers, curators and archivists who will look at how artists have been inspired by archives and also provide advice on how to carry out research into the life and works of artists.

Artists in the Archives poster lge

We’re always keen to see our collections used in new, interesting and innovative ways and in recent years we’ve been involved in a number of projects with artists. These collaborations have resulted in a range of exciting (and sometimes unexpected) outcomes including live musical performances, interactive websites, new artistic works and curated exhibitions of archive material. Further details of these artistic adventures can be found in an article written with the Glasgow School of Art Archives about our experiences working with artists and designers in the Journal of the Society of Archivists (Volume 32, Issue 2, 2011).

Battleships and Drifters

On Sunday 10th November 1929 Battleship Potemkin, Sergei Eisenstein’s rousing work of cinematic drama and revolutionary propaganda, received its first public screening in Britain at an event organised by the Film Society at the Tivoli Palace, London. Made in 1925 the film tells the story of the mutiny of the crew of the Russian naval ship Potemkin in 1905, an event celebrated as an inspirational precursor to revolution in the new Soviet Russia of the 1920s. The screening was part of a programme which also included the premiere of John Grierson’s first film Drifters, a documentary about the heroic lives of North Sea fishermen. Grierson’s film had a huge impact and created a template for documentary films which many others followed, its success contributing to his reputation as ‘the father of documentary.’

Grierson had seen Potemkin on a visit to the US and its style heavily influenced his editing of Drifters. Writing in The Clarion on the eve of the film’s first London screening Grierson noted:

“I saw Potemkin first, rather more than three years ago. It was running in New York and making a noise among silents, which it will hardly do now. All of us who scribbled made a job of it. We wrote about tempo, about images, about mass character (crowds as personalities, streets, towns, peoples as corporate personalities) and on all these things which cinema could do that the stage could not do. It appears in company with my own Drifters, but I am not in competition. Eisenstein is a very great director and the master of us all.”

Grierson’s gift for promotion and marketing can be seen in the arrangements he made for the premiere of Drifters. Keen to promote his film to maximum effect Grierson insisted that Drifters should be shown before Eisenstein’s work and it stole the Russian film’s thunder. Grierson’s film impressed both audience and critics with a style and energy that was greatly indebted to Eisenstein, the Daily News reporting that it had ‘more real art that the much-belauded Russian picture.’

Forsyth Hardy in his biography of Grierson notes that Eisenstein was present at the London premieres. He recalls a conversation between the two filmmakers after the screening. ‘Why,’ said Eisenstein to Grierson, ‘you must know all about Potemkin.’ ‘Foot by foot and cut by cut’, replied Grierson.

Review of Drifters in The Film Weekly (November 1929).

Review of Drifters in The Film Weekly (November 1929).

Bee bibliography

There is a list of the books to be featured in the Nether hive at^bib10%2C1%2C0%2C29/mode=2

Bzzz…. bees in the library

The Library has two new exhibitions.

Artist and poet, Alec Finlay, is currently Leverhulme artist-in-residence at the University of Stirling, working in collaboration with Professor Kathleen Jamie in the School of Arts and Humanities.

The installation adapts a 19th century Nether hive system for beekeeping. In this Nether hive the knowledge of books is exchanged for the sweetness of honey as, each week, a different book relating to bees is displayed. Some of the ideas and images in these books will appear in a series of poems composed by Finlay during his residency, published online:


Discussing this new work the artist recalls his memory, “of wandering through the library during my last few weeks at Stirling, having completed the required work of my degree, making my own flights between different book stacks: poetry, geology, oriental studies, psychology, like a bee, moving from blossom to blossom. This still represents a kind of ideal to me, and is a practice that underlies my art to this day”.

Accompanying the installation, there is a display of books from the Archives and Special Collections, all of which have some connection to bees.



Plate from J. G. Wood, The common objects of the country, 1858

Hospital archive receives UNESCO award

UNESCO award

The University of Stirling Archives is delighted to announce the addition of the archives of the Royal Scottish National Hospital to the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register. Administered by the UK National Commission for UNESCO the UK Register was established in 2010 to highlight documentary heritage which holds cultural significance specific to the UK. Every year a small select group of collections is added to the Register and the RSNH Archive was one of only 11 to receive this accolade as part of the 2013 inscription which was officially announced at a ceremony in Tamworth on Tuesday 9th July. The full list of the 2013 inscription, which includes the Domesday Book, the Churchill Archive and Alfred Hitchcock’s silent films can be found here.

Established in 1862 the RSNH (originally known as the Royal Scottish National Institution) was the foremost hospital providing custodial care for mentally impaired children in Scotland in the 19th and 20th centuries. It gained an international reputation for its enlightened approach to care and treatment attracting patients from England and across the British Empire. The extensive archives of the institution which survive provide a comprehensive record of the management and operation of the hospital. These documents provide a wealth of information about children from all across Scotland who required treatment and care; the lives of their parents and families; and the figures in their local communities who supported their applications. The stories of these children are recorded in the case notes and other hospital records which document their treatment and care. Unsuccessful applications were also retained by the institution resulting in an archive which provides a wider historical picture of the mental health of children across Scotland. The records of the RSNH provide a valuable new resource for the study of the history of medicine and society in Scotland. It is also a hitherto untapped genealogical resource for families all across Scotland and further afield, its records containing the stories of forgotten or hidden members of families who relatives today are keen to (re)discover.


The award provides public recognition for the importance of the RSNH’s archives. NHS Forth Valley Chief Executive Professor Fiona Mackenzie said: “I am delighted to hear that the fine work carried out by the Royal Scottish National Hospital has been considered worthy of recognition by UNESCO. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the hospital challenged prejudice and influenced social change. There is no doubt that the hospital was a trailblazer and its legacy is one of care and compassion. Although now demolished, and the site of the new Forth Valley Royal Hospital, its memories live on, and it is still held in affection both by NHS Forth Valley staff and the local community.”

The RSNH archives was part of a larger transfer of historical material from NHS Forth Valley to the University Archives in 2012. This material also included the archives of Stirling District Asylum (Bellsdyke Hospital) which are currently being catalogued and conserved. You can read more about the UNESCO award here.

Continuity of care #4

From Iowa to Alloa, a patient’s story…

Last week David, one of our project volunteers, came upon a particularly unusual entry in the earliest admission register for Stirling District Asylum. While transcribing the information recorded in the volume onto a database which will greatly improve access to the material he noted that the “Previous place of abode” given for James Dempster, a patient admitted to the hospital in August 1881 was Iowa.  The normal locations recorded for patients are the towns and villages of Central Scotland, not the American mid-west. The register recorded James’ occupation as “Farmer”, the Parish to which chargeable” as Alloa and gave his “Supposed cause of insanity” as “Sunstroke.” It also noted he remained in the hospital until February 1909 when he was briefly discharged before being re-admitted in March 1909.

Armed with the information contained in the admission register we were able to locate James’ case notes in the asylum’s case books, shedding further light on his case. Unusually for the Stirling Asylum James was recorded as being a private patient. His uncle provided an account of James’ unstable behaviour while staying at the family home in Clackmannan, where he threatened both his sister and a servant.  Described as suffering from “recurrent mania” James was admitted to the asylum on 20 August 1881. His case notes recorded that James “went to America at 24 years of age. Has been insane probably since the age of 32 as a result of sunstroke and has never recovered. Had been three years in a US asylum before return.” James’ farming skills were put to good use in the asylum and he was put to work on the hospital farm. The hard physical labour took its toll and by 1901 he had been moved to the less strenuous surroundings of the hospital garden.  Described as being a “good worker, very quiet and no trouble” James spent much of his time in the grounds of the hospital, a note written in September 1909 recording that he “takes a great interest in the small stream beyond the house and says that fairy children play there and gets wildly excited if a horse is driven through the stream as it may kill his fairy children.”

James’ story is one of thousands contained in the 50 volumes of case books for Stirling District Asylum which cover the years 1869-1918, many of which are brought to life by the evocative photographs of the patients which are pasted into the pages of the volumes.  The fantastic work being done by our team of volunteers who are cleaning and cataloguing the asylum records is making these stories accessible for the first time.

The 50 volumes of case books for Stirling District Asylum covering the years 1869-1918 contain thousands of stories.

The 50 volumes of case books for Stirling District Asylum covering the years 1869-1918 contain thousands of stories.

SWIG 2013: Celebrating Lindsay Anderson

On Saturday we had the opportunity to talk about the Lindsay Anderson Archive at a fantastic conference organised by the Scottish Word and Image Group at the University of Dundee. The conference examined the interdisciplinary relationship and crossovers between live performance, film and television and included a special event celebrating the work of Lindsay Anderson at the DCA.

Our paper was a collaboration with Prof. John Izod from our film studies department which looked at how Anderson directed David Storey’s play In Celebration on both stage and screen. Anderson had a long and fruitful working relationship with Storey. They first worked together when Anderson adapted Storey’s novel This Sporting Life for the screen in 1963. Over the next 30 years Anderson directed 9 of Storey’s plays including Home (1970), Early Days (1980) and Stages (1992). In Celebration was the first of Storey’s plays that Anderson directed. It opened at the Royal Court Theatre in London on 22nd April 1969 and proved to be a critical and commercial success. In a terraced northern house a miner Harry Shaw (Bill Owen) and his wife (Constance Chapman) welcome their sons home to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary; but the reunion brings to the surface long-repressed tensions and conflicts which threaten to wreck the event.  The father, last in a family of coal miners, has given everything to ensure that his sons escape the pit.  However, the boys’ educational achievements have pushed them into worlds remote from their parents, and severed them from their roots.  Andrew (Alan Bates), the ungovernable eldest, is a lawyer who has abandoned his profession to paint.  Colin, the second (James Bolam), has risen to join middle management in a car factory.  Meanwhile the youngest, Stephen (Brian Cox), is an introverted writer who, riven by unresolved family tensions, has suppressed his account of their youth.

A scene from the 1969 Royal Court production of David Storey's In Celebration, directed by Lindsay Anderson.

A scene from the 1969 Royal Court production of David Storey’s In Celebration, directed by Lindsay Anderson.

Anderson and Storey returned to the play in 1974 to direct a film version for the American Film Theatre, a company which adapted plays to be shown in cinemas in the United States. In our talk Prof. Izod used Anderson’s production notes, correspondence and diaries to illuminate the process of transforming the theatrical into the cinematic. One of the key elements in the success of the film was Anderson’s insistence on reuniting the original cast of the 1969 Royal Court production for the film. Anderson noted that the actor’s performances had matured, partly because five years on they were closer to their characters’ ages, whereas some had been a little young for their roles in the original production. Their familiarity with the production also contributed to a sense of real family between them.

A photograph of the cast of In Celebration reunited for 1974s film adaptation.

A photograph of the cast of In Celebration reunited for 1974s film adaptation.

Saturday’s conference sessions were followed by a screening of Anderson’s film version of In Celebration at a packed DCA which was introduced by the actor Brian Cox. In Celebration was Cox’s first major film role and in an enlightening and entertaining Q&A session after the film he talked about the importance of the film in his career and his experiences working with Lindsay Anderson. He noted Anderson’s skill in getting the best out of his actors and he was struck, as were the audience, by how well the film stood up almost forty years after its original release. In the small claustrophobic sitting room of the family home the dramatic tension was built by the powerful performances of a cast led by a director who understood both the play and the actors, Cox referring to Anderson as “the best psychological director he’s ever worked with.”

Continuity of care #3

As our project team continues to clean and prepare for use the case books of Stirling District Asylum we are discovering a wealth of additional information in the enclosures which are pinned, fastened or interleaved throughout the volumes. The case notes written in the pages of the case books record the initial personal and medical information collected at the time of admission and go on to provide regular updates on the treatment and condition of patients during their stay in the asylum. The enclosures, which are being carefully removed and catalogued, provide further medical and personal information relating to the patients.

Removing enclosures from a case book.

Removing enclosures from a case book.

Detailed accounts of the condition and behaviour of patients prior to admission are recorded in official correspondence from doctors, parish councils and other asylums from which patients have been transferred. Extracts from the medical certificates which were completed prior to admission are also sometimes included. Occasionally the incidents that triggered admission to the asylum were reported in the local press and press cuttings of such events were often placed alongside the case notes. Evidence of the care and treatment of the patients can be seen in the various hospital forms and records which are present including temperature charts, eye-test forms and additional loose case notes.

Alongside these official records the case books also include the personal correspondence of the patients themselves, an additional layer of evidence which brings their stories alive. The letters written by patients were intended for family and friends but these handwritten messages never left the asylum, instead being added by the hospital authorities to the case notes as evidence of the patient’s state of mind. Indeed some of these letters provide vivid first-hand accounts of the delusions and hallucinations suffered by patients. Many write of being kidnapped and held against their will, or ask for help to escape their incarceration. Other letters, however, are more measured and considered, apologizing to parents or spouses for their recent behaviour and asking loved ones to come and visit.

It is heartening to note that not all patient correspondence was confined within the walls of the asylum. The enclosures also include the occasional letter written by a recovered patient to the doctors in the asylum thanking them for their treatment and providing an account of life since their return home.