University of Stirling Archives

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The first day…

The University of Stirling opened its doors to its first intake of students on Monday 18th September 1967. The 164 undergraduates and 31 postgraduates were welcomed into the brand new Pathfoot building where all lectures took place and the library was temporarily located. On the evening of the 18th September staff and students celebrated the opening of the university with a dinner dance and firework display.

The following morning students met the academic staff in more formal surroundings at registration and lectures began at 8.30 am on Wednesday 20th September. For the university’s first group of undergraduates the most popular subjects were Sociology, Psychology and English with a smaller proportion of students (21%) choosing to specialise in science subjects.

Construction of Pathfoot Building, 1967.

The new Pathfoot Building, 1967.

Staff and students at the Chancellor’s Ball, held in April 1968.

The archives of the university contain a wealth of material tracing the growth and development of the institution including minutes, correspondence, reports and photographs. The story of how Stirling came to be chosen as the site for a new Scottish University can be found here.

Into battle with Monty Python!

Last week the archives welcomed a visit from the university’s retired staff association. As part of their ongoing oral history project they invited their members to a ‘memory day’ in the reading room. Over 30 former staff of the university turned up for what proved to be a very enjoyable afternoon. The event gave us the opportunity to showcase some of our holdings relating to the history of the university. One item which sparked much interest was a copy of Campus, the university newspaper, from May 1974. The front page story headlined “Into battle with Monty Python!” reported that the film makers were looking “for 175 students to take part as extras in a battle scene in the new Monty Python and the Holy Grail film.”

The Pythons arrived in Stirling in April 1974. Location shooting took place at Killin and on Sherrifmuir but the bulk of the film was shot at Doune Castle. The castle was used as the location for a number of key scenes in the film including the memorable ‘Knights of the Round table’ song and dance routine. The invitation to students to appear in the film as extras offered a number of inducements (to make up for the early starting time of 8am on a Saturday morning) including £2 pay, free transport, food and refreshments, and “an added attraction… of an abundance of crazy antics.”

Student extras on location with Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Student extras on location during the filming of Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Doune Castle is now a popular destination for movie buffs and Python fans. Indeed it has been estimated that up to a third of its 25,000 visitors a year are there because of the film. It now hosts a very popular Monty Python day every September (coconut shells optional…).

Lindsay Anderson’s Wuthering Heights

This month sees the release of a new adaptation of Wuthering Heights, in which the director Andrea Arnold moves from the contemporary council estates of Glasgow (Red Road) and London (Fish Tank) to the wild countryside of nineteenth century Yorkshire.

In 1964 Lindsay Anderson unsuccessfully attempted to film his own version of the novel. Buoyed by the success of his 1963 film This Sporting Life Anderson developed the project with the film’s writer, David Storey, and star, Richard Harris. Anderson’s experience of directing Harris on This Sporting Life had been an explosive, bruising affair but such was his desire to work with the actor that he noted in his diary his “inability to think concretely of any project – except in terms of Richard Harris”. Anderson saw Harris as the perfect lead for his version of Wuthering Heights, as indeed did the actor. In April 1964 Anderson visited Harris in Mexico City, where he was shooting the western Major Dundee, to discuss the project. After being shown to his room Anderson found a note on his pillow written by Harris – it read “I am Heathcliff”.

Lindsay Anderson and Richard Harris filming This Sporting Life.

Anderson’s papers include some fascinating material relating to this proposed adaptation including correspondence, scripts, progress reports and location photographs. Anderson’s diaries also provide an account of the project’s development. In David Storey’s adaptation the doomed romance at the centre of the story ends in a rather dramatic fashion with Heathcliff stealing Cathy’s body from her coffin and taking her to Wuthering Heights. He is followed by an angry mob that sets fire to the house, Heathcliff dying in a raging inferno with Cathy in his arms. Notes written by Richard Harris in April 1964 commenting on Storey’s script are also present. Harris didn’t like the ending devised by Storey – he instead suggested a more romantic end for Heathcliff and Cathy. The mob burns an empty Wuthering Heights and the following morning, when their anger has subsided, they find Heathcliff lying dead, next to Cathy’s body, on the moors.

By the summer of 1964 Harris began to succumb to the lure of Hollywood and started to show a reluctance to work with Anderson in England. His behaviour increasingly annoyed and frustrated Anderson. In a letter to his agent Sandy Liberson in April 1965 Anderson reflected on the change in his relationship with Harris, noting that “It really seems to me that his ‘success’ of the past eight or nine months has changed Richard. Or shall I say taken him beyond the sphere in which he and I can work together?”

It was around this time that Anderson (reluctantly) came to realise that the projects he was developing for Harris would not come to fruition and gave up on the idea of directing Harris in Wuthering Heights – indeed after months of planning he never even got as far as casting a Cathy to Harris’ Heathcliff. The material relating to Wuthering Heights is part of a fascinating series of files detailing the various unrealised projects which Anderson attempted to produce including historical epics, noir remakes, literary adaptations and a sequel to his 1968 film If…. For those interested in the ‘what ifs’ of cinema history a chapter on Anderson’s unmade films can be found in the book Sights Unseen: Unfinished British Films.

Let’s spend a million! The Communist plan for building a better Edinburgh

Giving seminars to students which introduce them to the wide range of materials held in our collections allows us to open up the boxes and display some of the items we hold. When putting together a selection of material for a seminar this week I came across this wonderful pamphlet in our Tait and Watson collection. Written in 1938 it lays out the ambitious plans put forward by the Communist Party for the improvement of Edinburgh. Buoyed by a huge increase in the Labour and Communist vote in Edinburgh municipal elections the pamphlet proposed “ten years of construction for the capital.” The improvements suggested included an extension of Princes Street and the creation of boulevards, gardens and floodlit fountains like those in Brussels; the removal of the slums found in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat and the construction of 3,000 new municipal houses every year; and the development of Portobello’s seaside attractions with the addition of a new pier and a tower to rival those in Blackpool and Paris.

A selection of pamphlets from the Tait and Watson Collection.

The Tait and Watson collection consists of material relating to the history of left wing politics in Scotland collected by William Tait, son of the Scottish Socialist pioneer Thomas Tait, and William Watson, a politically-active Clydeside welder and collector. It includes books, newspapers, pamphlets and the archives of a number of small Edinburgh-based left wing parties who were active in the first half of the twentieth century. The pamphlet collection includes over 3,000 titles on a variety of national and international topics and provides a first-hand illustration of the political debate that was generated by such major events as the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War. Full details of the pamphlets can be found on our library catalogue – do a classmark search for ‘Watson pamphlet’ or ‘Tait pamphlet’ to get an idea of the range of title and topics included.

Norman McLaren’s Chinese Odyssey

The University Archives holds a collection of material relating to the Stirling-born filmmaker Norman McLaren including over 400 letters he wrote to his parents in Stirling over a 30 year period beginning in 1936. The letters were written on a regular, sometimes weekly, basis and include information on the development of his career, accounts of his travels and discussions of his work, alongside family business and personal information.

In 1949 McLaren was invited by UNESCO to travel to China to teach young Chinese artists how to make animated films as part of a project to improve the health of China’s rural population. McLaren’s adventure started pleasantly enough, travelling from his home in Ottawa, Canada, (where he worked at the National Film Board) west across the Pacific. He stopped off at Honolulu which he described in a letter to his parents as “utterly bewitching, no place for a Scot with a buried Presbyterian conscience to remain!” From the tropical paradise of Hawaii McLaren continued on to Tokyo, a city still struggling to rebuild itself in the aftermath of the Second World War. He kept a detailed journal of his trip and noted the poverty and destruction still clearly visible in Japan’s capital.

Norman McLaren

Photograph of Norman McLaren taken during his trip to China.

From the dust and rubble of Tokyo McLaren continued onwards to the heat and humidity of Hong Kong and into China to the small town of Pehpei in Szechuan province. Unfortunately for McLaren he arrived in China as the conflict between the Nationalists and Communists swept through the country. For several months life continued as normal in the sleepy rural town of Pehpei where McLaren got on with his job of educating his Chinese pupils. In December 1949 the Communist revolution arrived on Pehpei’s doorstep. In an article he wrote for a Canadian magazine on his return McLaren recounted the efforts made by the town’s mayor to prevent the retreating Nationalist forces from ransacking the town by welcoming them, feeding them and providing them with transport to help them on their way. With the Nationalists gone the town prepared a big welcoming show for the advancing communist troops – which had to be quickly cancelled when a further group of Nationalist soldiers appeared on the horizon! After entertaining thousands of retreating nationalist troops the town put up it’s bunting and held its breath for the victorious communist army. However the expected red army didn’t appear and the town was entered by a single truck of slightly bemused soldiers.

The arrival of the communists made McLaren’s departure difficult as the country closed its doors to the outside world. With no way home McLaren was forced to remain in Pehpei and extend the educational project. After the initial upheaval of the Communist take-over life in Pehpei appears to have returned to quiet normality. In a letter written on 22 Jan 1950 McLaren noted “life here is very quiet and simple, with little to do, little to read, and no radio.” A new regime brought new bureaucracy and it took McLaren five months to get a travel permit to leave. In March 1950 he received an official invitation from the Ministry of Culture to visit them in Peking. It was his ticket out of China. He left Pehpei and travelled across the country by train where he witnessed “many evidences of the battlefields of the past twenty years of war”. Following a brief stop-off in the capital he finally reached Hong Kong in May 1950.


Letter from Norman McLaren to his mother, 26 September 1949.

Despite the conflict he witnessed and the virtual imprisonment he suffered McLaren appears to have enjoyed his time in China and gained a great respect for its people. Reflecting on his experiences he wrote, in a letter to his parents, “Chinese civilisation in many ways is superior to our recent western civilisation. I am sorry in many ways to be leaving it. It is not in its plumbing or mechanical gadgets that China is superior, but in its simple human attitudes.”

Musical Toons

The Musicians Union Archive includes a full set of the various journals, reports and bulletins produced by the union over the years for its members. These publications provided information relating to union activity and reported on the major issues affecting musicians. From 1921 – 1931 the union produced the Musicians Journal. This publication is notable for the cartoons which featured in many of its issues, these images both entertaining the journal’s readers and illustrating many of the threats to the livelihoods of musicians in the period.

Cartoon from the October 1925 issue of the Musicians Journal

The first cartoons, which begin to appear in 1923, reflect the working conditions of many of the union’s members with amusing scenes depicting such common complaints as overcrowding in orchestra pits. The benefits of union membership begin to be stressed in the aftermath of the General Strike of 1926 with a number of cartoons illustrating the valuable role played by the union and urging members to renew their (increased) subscriptions.

Towards the end of the decade technological advances in film and sound presented a major threat to musicians employed in cinemas and the Journal includes a series of cartoons which reflect the concerns felt by its members by these new developments. A number of these cartoons also illustrate the views expressed in a number of journal articles that the ‘talkies’ were a passing fad. Facing the new decade of the 1930s the fears of an uncertain technological future were summed up in the Journal in this striking image from the January 1930 issue…

Cartoon from January 1930 issue of the Musicians Journal

The Edible Archive

The Scottish Council on Archives is currently running a campaign called The Edible Archive which is seeking recipes from archive collections (and family cookbooks) across Scotland. They hope to create an archival cookbook from the recipes collected and also stage a feast featuring selected recipes. It’s a fantastic idea for raising the profile of archives and the campaign has already caught the attention of STV. We were keen to contribute but unfortunately our collections don’t have much of a culinary flavour. However while sorting through some uncatalogued boxes of material in our Tait & Watson collections this morning I came across an interesting recipe at the back of a notebook containing notes on religious subjects and popular songs. I’m guessing it won’t make it into the cookbook… or feature in the feast…

Potted Head

Ingredients – 1 ox head, 2 cow heels, pepper, salt and mace Mode soak the head in salt and water till it is quite free of blood and cleanse the heels thoroughly then put into a large stew pan and boil for 4 hours, then strain off the liquor then put the meat back into it and simmer the whole slowly for 5 ½ hours till it is thick and tender Now boil up quickly add salt pepper and pounded mace to taste then put into pots Time 9 ½ hours Average cost 4α per lb cow heels 6α each Season at any time

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.