The City Archive: Expect the unexpected

Leen Engelen, LUCA School of Arts and the Institute for Media Studies (KU Leuven, Belgium)

15 December 2017


For many years, I have been doing media historical research. My preferred research topic is visual culture (film, picture postcards, posters…) in the 1910s and 1920s. I have thus visited many different kinds of archives in several different countries. From the Belgian National Archives in Brussels to small unopened private and company archives, stored in dusty boxes in basements or attics. I would like to write however about my experience in city archives, which I came to know as treasure troves full of unexpected gems.

Of houses, police regulations and movie posters

Being a historian is hardly ever just a job. When I moved house a few years ago, I decided to check on the history of the house (built in the post-World War I era) in the local city archive. I requested the files and went to the reading room to look at the building plans and correspondence between the urban planning department and the architect. While looking at these documents, I dropped my eye on a series of film posters hanging on the wall somewhat hidden behind the registration desk. Upon inquiry, the librarian told me they had a whole bunch of these in the archive and if I cared to take a look at them. They were well-preserved in acid free folders, but were otherwise not inventoried. My interest was raised and I made an appointment with the head archivist. She showed me the whole collection and it turned out they had hundreds of posters in their vaults. A police regulation dating back to 1892 stipulated that one copy of every poster hung at the official billboards throughout the city had to be deposited at the municipal administration to enable verification by the police. The aim was to prevent offensive, illegal or inflammatory posters from provoking public outrage. Next to cinema posters, the collection included political posters, election propaganda, theatre and music posters. Because of the un-inventoried state of the archive, only few researchers had shown interest in this particular collection and virtually no one had looked at the film posters. This unexpected find initiated a collaborative project called ‘Cinema Leuven’ with the Leuven City Archive and the Heritage Department which resulted, two years later, in a book, an exhibition on the city’s cinema history at the local theatre, several student research papers and a completely inventoried and digitized film poster collection accessible online (www.cinemaleuven.be).

Figure 1: source: Leuven City Archive

Figure 2: source: Leuven City Archive

Talk to the archivist

After this experience, my interest in city archives was sparked. A few years later my colleague Roel Vande Winkel and myself embarked on a project that came about thanks to a wakeful and enthusiast archivist at the City Archive in Antwerp (also called Felixarchive because of its location in an old harbour warehouse called ‘Felixpakhuis’). We both had done research at the Felixarchive for cinema related research projects before and one day the archivist pointed my colleague to the archive of the Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp (Koninklijke Maatschappij voor Dierkunde van Antwerpen, KMDA), the society that operated the Antwerp Zoo since 1843. Not exactly an archive media historians like us would usually be interested in. What we found, when we took a closer look, however was quite amazing. A near complete business archive of ‘Cinema Zoologie’, the movie theatre that had been opened at the zoo’s premises in 1915 and remained in service without interruption until  1936. Not only did the archive hold detailed weekly programs (a treasure in itself for those interested in new cinema history), we also found administrative documents and correspondence with distributors, local authorities and musicians. The icing on the cake, were letters from members of the audience, commenting on specific films, on other members’ behaviour (unruly children, passionate youngsters or unfaithful husbands and wives). We were utterly surprised to find this in an archive that was produced by a zoological garden and hadn’t it been for the archivists, we probably wouldn’t have found out about this archive at all. Thanks to this large variety of documents, we have since been able to inventory the complete film and music program of ‘Cinema Zoologie’, from its founding in 1915 until it closure in 1936, and to reconstruct its complete history. From its founding during the German occupation of Antwerp in the First World War (which we published here), throughout the roaring 1920s and the transition to sound, to its decline due to increasing competition in the film exhibition sector in the years preceding the Second World War. We were not the only one to be surprised by the story of Cinema Zoologie. When we approached the Royal Zoological Society (that still operates – among other things – the Antwerp zoological garden today) in 2015, they were unaware of this particular part of the Society’s history. Their interest was sparked by this unusual story and we are currently setting up a Cinema Zoologie exhibition at the zoo’s premises (to be opened in 2018 to celebrate the Garden’s 175th birthday), a book publication and an online platform providing access to the archive and the programming database.

Figure 3: FelixArchief, Antwerp City Archive, Royal Zoological Society Antwerp

Boxes, Chocolate Wraps and Cinema Programs

While working with the Cinema Zoologie archive, the archivists mentioned another collection they had recently started working on: the papers of a man listening to the remarkable name Télésphorus Buyssens (1879-1945), an Antwerp railway administrator with a keen interest in… almost everything. It seems like throughout his life, he kept every piece of paper he could get hold of. This resulted in over 50 boxes filled with chocolate wraps, advertising brochures, bills, envelopes, letters, announcements, flyers, packages, political pamphlets… and film programs. This huge pile of papers (an optimistic archivist called it ‘papierotheek’) includes ephemeral documents that don’t usually make it to archives but that are relevant for researchers in many different fields: from economic historians researching price fluctuations of consumer goods to graphic designers and art historians interested in the design of wraps and packages of everyday products. His letters, many of which were written during the First World War, have been used by the archive for their public history project on the life of ordinary Antwerp citizens during the Great war. The collection of more than 1500 cinema flyers of over 70 different theatres in Belgium (mainly Antwerp) and France (the north), dated between roughly 1908 and 1942, is very valuable for cinema historians. Especially for the first decades of the 20th century this type of ephemeral sources rarely survives in such quantities. So once again, talking to the archivist brought very interesting and unexpected material to our attention. And who knows, the next project.

Figure 4: Felixarchief, Antwerp City Archive, Archive Télésphorus Buyssens


Leen Engelen is a media historian at LUCA School of Arts and the Institute for Media Studies (KU Leuven, Belgium). She is vice-president of IAMHIST.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

A day at the archives… The Stanley Kubrick Archives, University of Arts London (UAL)

James Fenwick, De Montfort University

5 December 2017


Tucked deep in the bowels of the London College of Communication is a discreet room behind frosted glass. Stepping into this room, first time visitors can be forgiven for thinking they are stepping onto the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). A sterile white environment with bold red furniture, this is the home of UAL’s University Archives and Special Collections Centre and the resting place of the Stanley Kubrick Archive. I have spent many hours at the Kubrick Archive over the past seven years, first visiting it as part of research for my Master’s degree and, more recently, for my PhD research into Kubrick’s role as a producer. But all these years later I still feel a shiver of excitement as I step into the Archive and find myself immediately confronted with the weight of cinematic history that it holds. Small glass cabinets are positioned around the central reading room and contain props and other ephemera from the Kubrick Archive: face masks worn during the orgy sequence of Eyes Wide Shut (1999); a 1964 letter from Kubrick to Arthur C. Clarke proposing a collaboration on a science fiction project; or Kubrick’s personal working copy of the A Clockwork Orange (1971) screenplay, replete with his handwritten notes on inserted music sheets for ‘Singin’ in the Rain’.

 

Figure 1: © Luke Potter, 2007, courtesy of the Stanley Kubrick Archive/Figure 2: © Paul Heys, 2012, courtesy of the Stanley Kubrick Archive

Kubrick retained the majority of his business papers, correspondence, and production documents from the 1960s onwards (the Archive does house material from the 1940s and 1950s, but the documentation for the likes of Fear and Desire (1953) through to The Killing (1956) are more sparse compared to Kubrick’s later films), all filed into a system at his home at Childwick Bury Manor. Upon his death it became apparent that this material was of such cultural historic importance that it needed archiving with a scholarly institution. And it is to the great fortune of the academic community that the Kubrick family allowed the Archive to be opened to the public in 2007.

The popularity of the Archive combined with the small space of the reading room means that anyone wanting to visit is advised to contact the archival team several weeks in advance to secure an appointment (archive-enquiries@arts.ac.uk). Reading times are between 1pm and 5pm Monday to Friday, with boxes being retrieved until 4pm. There are locker spaces for any personal items and I’ve even been allowed to store my suitcase at times. The Archive does have a strict copyright policy and I strongly suggest any researcher wanting to visit read it in advance (here). Photography is not permitted of any items that are part of the Kubrick Archive due to an agreement with the donors. Therefore, a laptop is highly recommended to take as many notes as possible.

I would also strongly advocate planning your trip using the online catalogue (here). The sheer size of the Archive is overwhelming (over 800 linear metres of shelving) and I have witnessed many rookies to the Archive over the years expect to find the Holy Grail to Kubrick’s genius. That is until they realise just how much Kubrick hoarded and how much of it is seemingly trivial in nature (financial receipts, commercial catalogues, dispatch notes, order forms etc). The online catalogue is easy to navigate and is broken down into nineteen separate categories, thirteen of which relate to Kubrick’s feature films, while the remaining six categories include entries such as ‘Unfinished Projects’ (contains material on projects such as Aryan Papers and A.I.), and ‘Documentaries’ (this contains material on the two projects Vivian Kubrick directed: Making the Shining (1980) and the unreleased Making of Full Metal Jacket). I usually make meticulous notes of the boxes that I want to look at in order to form the basis of a particular case study, but it does pay to sometimes select random boxes and to peruse their contents. I’ve often come across surprising revelations this way, such as a letter from Peter Schnitzler, the grandson of Arthur, written to Kubrick in 1959. Peter had visited Kubrick on the set of Spartacus (1960) and the two had clearly talked about the prospect of developing one of Schnitzler’s novels into a film (something not realised until Eyes Wide Shut (1999)). As such, Peter offered his grandfather’s notebooks to Kubrick for further research (SK/9/4/1).

Figure 3: © Paul Heys, 2012, courtesy of the Stanley Kubrick Archive

As a confessed Kubrick obsessive, I take absolute pleasure in coming across handwritten letters from the likes of Sir Laurence Olivier (turning down the role of Humbert Humbert in Lolita (1962)), or Vladimir Nabokov (insisting he must be present at the casting of the title role of Lolita). But that is not to suggest the Kubrick Archive is a depository of materials that will easily illuminate the processes of a Kubrick production. Firstly, and perhaps most frustratingly, is the illegible scrawl of Kubrick’s handwriting, which can be found on many items in the Archive, right down to some innocuous requisition form. Senior Archivist Richard Daniels may be at hand to attempt to decipher Kubrick’s writing, though more often than not I have abandoned such hope in ever understanding what on earth he was writing. Similarly, catalogue entries may build up your hopes of coming across an item that will utterly revise the scholarly approach to Kubrick, only to find that the item is in fact just a dog-eared old note filled with doodles and other musings rather than any kind of Rosebud. I found myself so duped at the beginning of my PhD when I came across a catalogue entry that read ‘Kubrick job list’, with a description that suggested Kubrick had outlined by hand a ‘Kubrick company chart’ (SK/16/2/15). I went into a nervous sweat feeling that this could be it; this could be the key to unlocking my PhD research in revealing Kubrick the producer. I made an advance order of the box and arrived prompt at 1pm. I watched one of the staff wheel out the box on a metal trolley ready for its dissection by me. I opened it up and rummaged through the files until I came to it, ‘Kubrick’s job list’, a slice of yellowing, crumpled A4 paper filled with more of Kubrick’s spidery handwriting. Four company names were listed next to a wonky table that had two black dots placed inside of it. Only two companies were decipherable, Peregrine and Polaris. The file told me nothing. My heart sank and, after several more hours in the Archive, I consoled myself in a nearby Elephant & Castle pub with a tepid beer.

This has pretty much been the pattern of my time spent researching at the Archive. I wade through boxes of dusty, dog-eared business papers while a group of students grin as they open a box that contains a jumper worn by Danny Torrance in The Shining (1980). I have to give myself a moment for pause as I gleefully join the students to gaze upon this battered, forty-year old piece of clothing, momentarily dropping my researcher façade and becoming just a fan. And this exemplifies the two halves of the Archive: one is the exciting journey of new ways to engage with Kubrick’s life and work, to touch the objects and clothes that animated his films, and to experience a tangible connection to the man himself. The other is boxes and boxes of paper that document the laborious process of actually making the films we now enjoy. My thesis has drawn heavily on the financial papers, business and production correspondence, distribution reports and other such material to piece together the managerial and administrative structures and functions of a Stanley Kubrick production. And it has revealed just how difficult and exasperating a process this could be for both Kubrick and for those who worked with him.

The hours I have spent researching have been alleviated by the surroundings of the Archive itself, where at any one time there is a hive of activity. If you like a quiet, peaceful research environment, then the Archive may prove quite distracting. I personally thrive off of the activity and at seeing the various researchers, journalists, and students respond to the items they find. Occasionally, Jan Harlan (Kubrick’s brother-in-law and long time executive producer) may stroll in, or you may encounter a volunteer with an amazing story to tell (Joy Cuff volunteers at the Archive and worked as a model maker on 2001: A Space Odyssey). And there is a team of helpful and insightful archival staff on hand to guide rookies around the catalogue and to lend an insight into the Kubrick mind.

I’d like to end by just pointing out a few helpful travel tips. The Archive is conveniently located next to the Elephant & Castle tube station, served by the Bakerloo and Northern Line. First time visitors may get confused at the tangle of subway tunnels at Elephant & Castle. The easiest thing to do is follow signs for the London College of Communication / the Imperial War Museum. The entrance to the University is set back a little from the roundabout, as if you were to continue onto St. George’s Road. During term time it is impossible to miss – just look for the gaggle of staff and students outside smoking. The University does have café facilities but I prefer to maximise my time in the Archive and leave refreshments until the end of the day. After all, the BFI Southbank is but a ten-to-fifteen minute walk away. What better way to end a day trawling through the Stanley Kubrick Archive than catching a 70mm screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey and finally realising just how much paper went into the making of it.


James Fenwick has been researching Stanley Kubrick’s role as a producer and of those producers Kubrick worked with. He has published several articles on Kubrick, including ‘Curating Kubrick: Constructing ‘New Perspective’ Narratives in Stanley Kubrick Exhibitions’ for Screening the Past. He has recently undertaken a research trip to the Kirk Douglas Papers in Madison, Wisconsin, funded by the EAAS.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

A day at the archives… The National Archives at Kew (UK)

Llewella Chapman, University of East Anglia

7 November 2017


Following Tobias Hochscherf and Roel Vande Winkel’s excellent blog on visiting the German National Archive (Bundesarchiv) in Berlin, I thought that I would write about my personal experience of visiting the National Archives at Kew. As a PhD student and a film historian, I have visited a small number of UK-based archives beyond the National Archives to conduct my research, including the BBC Written Archives Centre, the British Film Institute, Film Finances, the Stanley Kubrick Archive (University of the Arts, London) and the Consumer Culture Collection held in Southampton Solent University’s Mountbatten Library. The National Archives is one of my favourites so far. As stated by Sue Harper in her blog entitled ‘The Boundaries of Genre: History, Impendence and Flow’: ‘I am one of those sad creatures whose happiest hours have been spent in the National Archives’.

I first encountered the National Archives in 2016, which I admit was something of a fortuitous accident on my part. As part of conducting research for my PhD, which focusses on the historic relationship between Hampton Court Palace (where I used to work as a State Apartment Warder) and the film and television industries, I intended to visit the British Film Institute based on London’s Southbank while my fiancé visited the National Archives. It turned out that the BFI was closed on that particular day, so I joined my fiancé for a date at the National Archives.

After having had a quick browse on the archive catalogue ‘Discovery’, which I feel is excellently designed and very accessible, I discovered that the National Archives holds documents on the filming and photography policy relating to Hampton Court Palace (for anyone who is interested, these files are part of the Office/Ministry of Works department), and so off I went in search of discovering papers that might assist in my PhD research. I did not leave disappointed – it is where I received my first ‘eureka-in-the-archives’ moment, and this is a feeling that I will never forget!

The National Archives (originally the Public Records Office, and if I’m honest, I lament the change of its name) is, as its website explains, ‘the official archive and publisher for the UK government and guardians of over 1,000 years of iconic national documents’. It is based near Kew Retail Park, and is accessible either by train, bus or car. If you are arriving by train, from London you can either take the District tube line to Kew Gardens, or take a train to Kew Bridge from either London Waterloo or Woking via Hounslow and Staines. By bus, you can take the R68 from Hampton Court via Richmond which terminates just outside the archive itself. This is the route that I usually take, and I find that there something very satisfying about travelling on the entire route for £1.50 using an Oyster Card.

  

Views on the R68 bus route

Further details as to how to access the National Archives can be found here: [How to find us]. The National Archives is open between Tuesdays and Saturdays, and is open from 9 a.m. On Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, it closes at 5 p.m., and on Tuesdays and Thursdays 7 p.m.

On arrival, don’t be deterred by the appearance of the building (which I have anecdotally heard described as looking like ‘a large municipal carpark’)! The building, in my view, may not be particularly pretty in terms of design; but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and for me the beauty of the National Archives lies in the treasure offered within it, and not by the shell in which the documents are held.

You will need a reader’s ticket to view original documents within the National Archives reading rooms, and you can either register for this online within six weeks of your intended visit, or you can register for a reader’s ticket on the day of your visit. Further details can be found here: [reader’s ticket]. Personally, I recommend ordering your reader’s ticket online as you can order up to 12 documents in advance of your visit (provided you include your email address), and it saves time on entering the archive. When you arrive, whether you have ordered your reader’s ticket in advance or want to register on the day, you will be directed to the ‘reader registration area’, where staff will take a photograph of you for your reader’s ticket before issuing it to you. You will also need to place your belongings in a locker before entering the Document Reading Room, and the National Archives provides a handy list of what you are allowed to take in: [What can I take in to the reading rooms?]. Once you have swiped your reader’s card through the barrier to enter the Document Reading Room, then the fun can begin!

Unlike the fight for the elusive ‘locker key number one’ as reported by Tobias and Roel on visiting the Bundesarchiv, there is no such fight, as far as I am aware, for this at the National Archives. This may be because it is broken (at time of writing). I would suggest, however, that instead there is more a melée over the tables based in the Document Reading Rooms. This is combatted by the ability to pre-order documents and to be able to request seats at certain tables. You can pre-order documents and book which table you would like to sit at here: [advance order form]. I like to sit at table 44 or 46 in the ‘Quiet Zone’ as here you can get a lovely view from the window. As well as the ‘Quiet Zone’, there is also a ‘Main Zone’ and a ‘Group Zone’, which is useful for people working as part of a team on research projects so that they can discuss documents. If you don’t mind where you sit, then you can just turn up on the day and you will be automatically assigned a seat at random.

Study areas in the Document Reading Room: Green = Quiet Zone, Blue = Main Zone, Orange = Group Zone

Once the documents you have ordered arrive (this can take around 45 minutes if you order them on the day) they are placed in a cubby hole, which is numbered and lettered in relation to the seat you have been assigned.

 

Usefully, you can take out and replace files as and when you wish in case you want to review them later. The National Archives allows photography (without flash) in the reading rooms; you can either bring your own device (camera or mobile phone), and you can also choose to sit at a table specially designated for this purpose which include camera stands. Alternatively, you can use the ‘Self Service Copying’ space with cameras provided. You can either print copies of your documents out on the day (at a small charge), or alternatively email them to yourself, which is free of charge. The staff are brilliant – they have always been really helpful when I needed to ask them something, and most especially when I had to be locked in a special room to view sensitive papers held in a particular file (though that is a story for another time)!

One of my favourite files is WORK 19/1129: ‘Official attitude to photography and film crews within the Palace and grounds, 1919-1935’, which greatly assisted my PhD thesis in terms of understanding the historic policy in relation to allowing the production of film at Hampton Court Palace. In this file, there is some wonderful, and very humorous, correspondence between the Office of Works, the Lord Chamberlain’s Office and London Film Productions in relation to The Private Life of Henry VIII (Alexander Korda, 1933) in response to a request from the production company to film parts of it around Hampton Court.

The gist of the correspondence is that Sir Henry David St Leger Brooke Selwyn Cunynghame (known as David), production manager for The Private Life of Henry VIII, wrote to the Office of Works in May 1933 to obtain their permission to film at Hampton Court.

The Office of Works allowed permission to London Film Productions on the provision that filming would be conducted before 9 a.m. so as not to disturb residents and visitors at the Palace. Cunynghame was disappointed by this response, and attempted in several ways to be allowed permission to film during the day at the site. These included getting his father, Sir Percy Cunynghame, to approach Samuel Hoare at the India Office. When this proved unsuccessful, Cunynghame then appealed through his mother’s friend, Bertha Dawkins, to Sir Clive Wigram, Private Secretary to the Sovereign. The Office of Works were not particularly impressed by Cunynghame’s approach regarding this matter, as can be understood from the correspondence between Wigram and Sir Patrick Duff, Permanent Secretary at the Office of Works in relation to this matter:

What Mr. Cunynghame wants… is permission to photograph all day at Hampton Court Palace so as to get through the work in the very shortest possible time. This would save his Company expense, and, as he very reasonably observes, the fewer the visits which the Company paid the less trouble they would give. This might be alright if Mr. Cunynghame were the only pebble on the beach: but the fact is that we have other applications from film companies, and if one company is allowed to work at Hampton Court at any hour of the day one would have to give the same concession to anyone else who asked for it. [i]

Duff also expressed his concern about the possible disturbance which might be caused to residents and visitors if filming were to be allowed during the day: ‘I know that if I were paying a visit to Hampton Court Palace and found the place full of film people rehearsing and “shots”, as they call it, being taken, I should feel that the dignity and beauty of the place was destroyed’. Wigram concurred, responding succinctly:

Thank you for your letter regarding Mr. Cunynghame. He is, as I was afraid, a tiresome fellow and I will answer him on the lines you suggest. [ii]

Due to the refusal from the Office of Works and the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, The Private Life of Henry VIII was not filmed at the site except for the film’s opening shot of Hampton Court’s archway, and instead was filmed on location at Hatfield House and in studio at the British and Dominions Imperial Studios at Elstree. It was the discovery of this file which afforded me my first ‘eureka-in-the-archives’ moment!

Once I leave the National Archives at closing time, I like to pay a visit to the local establishment, The Tap on the Line, which is set on the platform of Kew Gardens Station:

This lovely pub is a great place to have a chat with colleagues about the research you’ve accomplished, or if you are a lone researcher, sit and unwind after a productive day trawling through documents. After reading this blog, if you happen to see me frequenting this pub after a spending time at the National Archives, do come over and say hello – mine’s a gin and tonic! Chin chin.


[i] TNA WORK 19/1129: Duff to Wigram, 14 June 1933.

[ii] TNA WORK 19/1129: Wigram to Duff, 15 June 1933.


Llewella Chapman is a PhD student at the University of East Anglia. Her doctoral research focuses on the use of film and television in the UK heritage industry with particular reference to the representation of Henry VIII and Hampton Court Palace. She has published on fashion and lifestyle as promoted in the James Bond films, and is currently under contract with I. B. Tauris to write a monograph entitled Fashioning James Bond: Costume, Gender and Identity in the World of 007. Her research interests include British cinema and television history, fashion, costume and gender, and hanging around a variety of archives and nearby bars.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

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