RHUL’s Archive Collections

RHC PH/207/9
Students in a classroom at Royal Holloway College 1899

As Library Loves… Archives month draws to a close this post will tell you a bit about the collections we hold here at Royal Holloway. If you haven’t made it to one of our Explore Your Archive sessions you may still be in the dark as to what we actually have. The collections can be split into two main groups: institutional records and special collections.


Institutional Records

These are records which have been created by RHUL or its predecessors.  In the 1980s Royal Holloway and Bedford Colleges merged together to form RHUL and we have the records of both the Colleges in the archives. Bedford College was the first to open (in 1849 in central London) and was the first higher education college for women in the country. Royal Holloway followed a few years later and was opened by Queen Victoria in 1886. Both collections hold records from the opening of the Colleges including foundation deeds and trust documents as well as photographs, committee minutes, papers of student societies, student and staff records, College and student publications among many other things!

We also continue to collect records from the College today so that future researchers can look back at how the College operates now. This newer material isn’t always catalogued – it’s an ongoing process! So if you want to look at something which you can’t find in the catalogue get in touch and we can see if we have it.


Special Collections

Different repositories use the term ‘special collection’ to mean different things (something which puzzled me a lot when I first started working in archives!) but here we call any collection that has been created/collected outside the College and then donated to us a special collection. Our special collections include rare book collections as well as archives but I’m just going to focus on the archive special collections in this post.

Our main collecting area for special collections is theatre archives. We have three collections from theatre companies – Gay Sweatshop, Half Moon and Red Shift. All three contain similar records relating to the running of the company and the productions they put on. This includes administrative and financial records, scripts, promotional material (including flyers and posters) and photographs of productions. We also have two ephemera collections: the Coton collection which contains material relating to ballet and other forms of dance including photographs, postcards and programmes; and the Roy Waters collection which is the largest of our theatre collections. Roy Waters was a theatre enthusiast who spend 40 years of his life collecting anything and everything to do with the theatre. The collection is hugely varied and includes postcards, posters, playbills, programmes, autographed letters from famous actors and actresses and much much more!

We also have the Alfred Sherman papers which cover Sherman’s role as an advisor to Margaret Thatcher and the Anselm Hughes collection which are the personal and research papers of a liturgical music scholar.


You can find out more about all of our collections through our website: www.rhul.ac.uk/archives which also has a link to the online catalogue and our contact details.


If you don’t think our collections would be of use to you in your research but would like to find other collections which would be take a look at our previous blog about finding archives in the UK: http://libraryblog.rhul.ac.uk/2013/11/14/finding-archives-uk/

Annabel Gill, College Archivist

Drama Online

Drama Online contains hundreds of plays from some of the very earliest Greek works right up to the present day. In addition there are background and contextual works on playwrights, theatre movements, genres, practitioners and periods, as well as scholarly monographs, biographies, practical books on acting and stage craft, and over five hundred theatre production stills from the Victoria and Albert Museum Performance collection.

How to access it:

Go to the Drama Subject Guide and look under E-resources.


1. Go to the Databases A-Z guide on the library subject guides.

2. Go to D

3. Select Drama Online


Use the search bar at the top of the page to search for a play, a playwright, genre, or period – or use the links below to browse the collection.


Plays: this section contains full texts of plays to read online or download.
Playwrights & Practitioners: an alphabetical list of playwrights whose biographies and works you can read in the database.
Genres: a list of different genres, and links to plays in that genre.
Periods: a list of time periods, and links to plays in those periods.
Context & Criticism: access to books on drama, theatre, playwriting.
Theatre Craft: access to books on the production and acting.

The collection will continue to grow throughout the year. For the list of titles that will be included throughout 2013, visit the Content List.

Using the database

When you are reading a play, you can hover over the text to see which page of the printed edition you are on, and where a small speechbubble appears, you can read any notes on the text

If you click on a playwright, on the right of the screen are any plays you can read, and on the left of the screen is a short biography.

dramaonline playwright

Once you have selected a genre, or period, plays in that category appear on the right of the screen, and information on the period or genre appears on the left.

dramaonline genre

You can use this to find new writers, or new movements you may be interested in.

Play Tools include a Character Grid to help you view where characters appear and with whom they interact in the play. You can select particular characters and chart their appearances through the play – or use the Words and Speeches tool to see a precise word count.

dramaonline playtools

Focus on an Archive Researcher: Mel Stewart

Mel Stewart is a third year undergraduate in the History department.

What research are you carrying out at RHUL Archives and which collections are you using?

Currently I am a third year history undergraduate at RHUL and last year, as part of the preparation for my final year dissertation, I had to write a five thousand word essay based on independent archival research.  The essay was entitled “In what ways did wartime conditions influence experiences of domestic living space at Royal Holloway in the years 1939-45”.  The archive collections I chose to use were the Principal’s Correspondence, the Minute Books of the Student’s Union, the College Letter, The Papers of the Post-War Policy Committee and a selection of reminiscences of former students.

What do you enjoy about archival research?

I enjoyed carrying out my own archival research as up to that point my life as a student of history was largely and unsurprisingly taken up by reading about someone else’s historical research.  Annabel made my life very easy by highlighting documents which she thought would be of use, but at last, I had an opportunity to carry out some original research, to collate my findings and to assess where my work fitted within the current secondary literature.  I especially enjoyed reading the testimonies of students at Royal Holloway during the Second World War who brought to life the dry details of officialdom.

Have you experienced any difficulties in using archive for your research?

I did not experience any major difficulties in using the archives for my research although it was not always easy to decipher the handwriting in the reminiscences of former students.  Gaps in the chronology and unfamiliar terminology were problematical, but they are part of the challenge of historiography.

Any tips for other people thinking about archive research?

Always contact Annabel in advance of a visit, whom you will find endlessly helpful.  Be realistic about the amount of material you can look at and try to maintain focused on the aims of your research.  I found it very easy to ‘get lost’ in the archives, distracted by details not always relevant, but nevertheless fascinating.


To find our more about our archives visit out wesbite: www.rhul.ac.uk/archives

Five minutes with the College Archivist

College Archivist
College Archivist, Annabel Gill

Annabel Gill is the College Archivst for RHUL and is based in Founder’s library. Find out more about our collections at www.rhul.ac.uk/archives

How long have you been working at Royal Holloway?

I took over from the previous College Archivist in January 2012 so I’ve been here just under two years.

 Tell us a little about your role.

When I tell people I’m an Archivist the most common reaction is a blank look (although I have been mistaken for an Alchemist on more than one occasion), in the most basic terms I look after the historical records of the College but that description doesn’t really do the job justice. We hold collections from Bedford and Royal Holloway Colleges and from the merged College as well as special collections which include theatre archive material and collections of rare books. My work is really varied, some days I’ll be in the stores checking our pest traps for any unwanted insects or going through new material to sort, list and then catalogue it so it can be used by researchers. Other days are spent answering enquiries about our collections and supervising researchers who have come in to consult the material. I also promote the collections in a number of ways including writing our Archive Item of the Month feature, putting on exhibitions and events, giving talks on the collections and history of the College and running student sessions about using archives. Preservation of the collections is another important part of the job and I am currently working with other staff to find ways to preserve digital records as well as the more traditional paper material.

 What motivates you?

Helping people make connections with history through our collections – whether that is a theatre student in awe that she is holding a letter written by Ellen Terry, being told that your email has made someone’s year because the information in a student record has filled gaps in their family history or hearing current students discussing the similarities between Victorian student rooms and their own. The archives contain such a wealth of information and I’m here to help people discover it.

What do you love about your job?

The variety! No two days are the same and I’m constantly learning new things about the Colleges’ histories from the collections and also from people I meet who tell me about their research or their own experiences at the Colleges.

Focus on an Archive Researcher: Eve Smith


Eve Smith is a first year doctoral candidate in the Drama and Theatre department.

Roy Waters as a young manAbove: Roy Waters as a Young Man

Since August I have spent a lot of time sat in a room on the third floor of The Founder’s Building, looking out over the quad and listening to the clock chime the hours away. This room houses the archives of RHUL. It is due to one of the collections within the archive that I received a place to study for a Collaborative Doctoral Award with the Drama and Theatre Department and the Victoria and Albert Museum in January 2013. This collection is called the Roy Waters Theatre Collection and helped to inspire my PhD which is concerned with collectors of theatrical ephemera and the private and public spaces occupied by the collection. The Roy Waters Theatre Collection is a result of Roy’s collecting over a period of forty years. It contains an enormous number of objects related to the theatre such as playbills, posters, autograph letters and photographs, with a particular emphasis on ephemera concerning Oscar Wilde and Noël Coward. The notion that the archive is solely a resource for history students is a great misconception: the breadth and wealth of information contained in the Roy Waters Theatre Collection is an invaluable source for any drama student at RHUL. Indeed, the archives also contain Gay Sweatshop Theatre Company collections and RedShift Theatre Company collections amongst others. Similarly, Blythe House in West Kensington holds the theatre and performance archives for the V&A and is another fantastic archival resource for drama students that I often use.

At this point in my studies, I am more interested in who the collector is, and the motivations for collecting theatrical ephemera rather than the actual content of the collection itself. Since the summer, therefore, I have been working on the personal papers contained within Roy’s collection. Eighty boxes hold Roy’s old bank statements, family trees, diary entries and personal photographs. I have found this research absolutely fascinating and, at times, very amusing (Roy’s diaries and newsletters demonstrate his wonderful way with words and his weakness for gossip!) Roy died in 2010 and it is a privilege to be able to read through the personal papers of a man who, unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to meet. I am now aware of intimate details concerning Roy’s health, his friendships, his daily routine and, vitally, his motivations for collecting. Working with such collections in the archive, and particularly handling such objects, allows the researcher to feel a surprisingly strong connection to the past and develop a genuine relationship with the person behind the collection. This in-depth exploration of Roy has greatly enriched my own research on collections and collectors and I genuinely look forward to going up to the archive to see what I will discover next.

The scale of a collection can be daunting. Roy’s collection is very large. The material housed in just the very first box of Roy’s personal papers is so dense that I sometimes doubt I’ll ever get through all eighty of them! It is therefore incredibly useful to have a defined purpose or research question in mind when accessing the collections. Without this there is the real possibility of spending hours and hours looking through beautiful objects or reading hundreds of diary entries without any clear idea of what it is you hope to discover. Although this makes for a pleasant afternoon, you may come away with little idea of how this has impacted upon or benefited your research. It is also really important to access the online catalogue for the collections before you start work in the archives. The catalogues contain hugely detailed descriptions of the boxes within the collection and the contents found within them. This is a fantastic way to hone in on the specific objects that may be valuable to your work as well as providing a more general overview of the contents of a particular collection.

The romantic image of the dusty, silent archive may not be entirely accurate but there is something rather special about opening up a box and untying the cream ribbon from the individual folders to explore what is housed inside. I think that this is where the appeal of the archive really lies: the possibility of discovering something that has the potential to hugely inform, enrich, and even subvert your research. Whatever your subject area or research topic, the archive is an invaluable resource. Start by exploring the catalogues online to see what the collections at RHUL contain: you never know what treasures you may stumble upon.


You can find out more about our Roy Waters Theatre Collection in this online exhibition.


Oxford English Dictionary

The Oxford English Dictionary is the online version of the 20 volume dictionary, containing 60,000 words and charting the course of the English language over the past 1000 years. The online version is easier to search than the print, contains more words, and can do lots of interesting stuff!

How to access:

– Under Reference Resources in the E-resources tab on your Subject Guide


1. Go to The Databases A-Z guide on the library subject guides.

2. Go to O

3. Select Oxford English Dictionary

For a really good introduction to searching, and help understanding the interface, watch this video (best viewed fullscreen)

If you want to find out where words came from, click on the links on the quotations and you can find out

  • which other words that title contributed to English
  • when it was first, and subsequently, used
  • links to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for more information on the contributor/author
  • links to the RHUL Library catalogue

Advanced Search:

This is a very powerful search that combines all of the search functionalities available.

For example: you could combine terms, usage, dates etc to find out slang terms in 1990s, or 1690s search slang in full text + date of entry 1990-2000/1690-1700


Using Wildcards and the Advanced Search, or, Using the OED to solve crossword puzzles:

Using Timelines

The timelines are a way of visualising when words came into English language usage. They can be found from the OED homepage.

Although the timeline defaults to all words in the dictionary, you can refine it to subject/category

OED advanced

By region i.e. words used in an area

OEd - region

Or by origin i.e. where words came from


Follow the blog for essays on English Language, and try the quizzes– post your results in the comments below!

Finding Archives in the UK

The UKs archival collections are an incredibly rich resource and there are a significant number of tools online to help you discover and access them.  However, navigating these resources can sometimes be a bit tricky, because there is no national discovery service for archives, instead there are a number of regional and thematic archival networks which contain the descriptions of different types of collection.  The purpose of this blog post is to highlight all the main tools that are available to help users find archives.

The best place to start is the National Register of Archives (NRA).  The NRA contains information on the nature and location of manuscripts and historical records that relate to British history. It is structured around the creators of the records and contains information about records that have been created by some 53,000 individuals, 9,000 families, 32,000 businesses and 116,000 organisations.  The entries in the NRA range from major historical figures such as Winston Churchill (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/nra/searches/subjectView.asp?ID=P5659) to individuals who left behind records which give an interesting insight in day-to-day life in the past, such as the diaries of Daniel Duck, a Clergyman from North Yorkshire whose 10 volumes of diaries cover the period 1785 to 1824 (with some gaps) – http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/nra/searches/subjectView.asp?ID=P50679.

The descriptions in the NRA tend to be fairly brief; however they also contain links to fuller descriptions, either in other archival networks, or in an archive’s own catalogue.  They also contain links, where relevant, to an individual’s biography on the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  As an archival finding aid the NRA is unrivalled in its comprehensiveness and variety, containing entries from archives across the world.

The sister database to the NRA is ARCHON – http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/archon/.  If you are interested in visiting an archive in a region then ARCHON is probably the best place to start.  It allows you to view all the archives in a particular area, and see further information on their collections – with both links to the NRA and other archival networks.

A2Ahttp://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/a2a/ – is another archival database that is also maintained by The National Archives.  The A2A database contains a significant number of catalogues of local record offices in England and Wales.  While the NRA contains summary descriptions of records held at a large number of archives, A2A has far more detailed catalogues from a more limited number of institutions – it is therefore worthwhile searching both, if you are looking for something specific.

A number of other important archival networks also exist, providing the means of searching archives in a particular region, or a particular sector.

The Archives Hub (http://archiveshub.ac.uk/) and AIM25 (http://www.aim25.ac.uk/) are the two archival networks for University archives.  Royal Holloway’s archival collections are available through both services.

AIM25 contains summary descriptions of collections held by a rich variety of archives in the London area.  As well as University archives it also contains information on the holdings of a number of other London institutions which have archival collections, such as the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Geographical Society.

Archives Hub contains collection level descriptions of the records held by 222 Universities and Colleges across the UK.

Archives Network Wales (http://www.archivesnetworkwales.info/) is the archival network for Wales, containing information about more than 7,000 collections of historical records in the holdings of 21 archives in Wales.

SCAN (http://www.scan.org.uk/) is the Scottish archival network, which contains catalogues of collections from 52 repositories in Scotland, ranging from the National Archives of Scotland and Edinburgh University Special Collections to the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.

In addition to the archival networks the national institutions also hold incredibly extensive collections of archives and are mainly based in London, which makes visiting fairly straightforward.  The most significant are:

The National Archives – Their Discovery Service (http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI) is the best place to start if you are interested in the records of central government .

The British Library – Has an incredibly rich collection of archives and manuscripts, searchable through their catalogue of archives and manuscripts (http://searcharchives.bl.uk/primo_library/libweb/action/search.do?vid=IAMS_VU2)

Amy Warner, Associate Director (E-Strategy and Technical Services)

Explore your Archives!

Archives blog

Explore Your Archive free events           


As part of Library Loves Archives month we are running three sessions (an extra one just added) offering students and staff the chance to find out more about the College’s archival holdings. The archivist will show you a selection of our original material from the College archives and theatre collections. It’s also a chance to find out how we look after our historical collections.

This is a great opportunity to come up and explore the 3rd floor of Founder’s regardless of whether you have a research topic in mind or not. All you need is some curiosity!

The session on the 12th November is now sold out but there are still places for the sessions on Wednesday 20th November at 11am and Monday 25th November at 3pm. Click on the dates to book.


If you have any questions please email archives@rhul.ac.uk



ScienceDirect is one of our major databases. It contains thousands of Full text journal articles. Beyond its core collection of Science and Life Science titles, ScienceDirect also includes many Economic and Social Sciences and a few Arts and Humanities titles. Most subscriptions to titles go back to at least 1995 but in many cases we have purchased backfiles which take us back further.

Important Note: We don’t subscribe to every journal contained in ScienceDirect. If you find something we don’t subscribe to follow these steps to finding journal articles.



There are several help videos available on the ScienceDirect help pages.

Searching ScienceDirect

You can either use the Quick Search bar located on the top of every page with a navigation bar, or use the Advanced search button for a more enhanced search.

For Quick Search:

1. Enter your search term(s) in one or more of the following fields

  • All fields
  • Author
  • Journal/book title
  • Volume
  • Issue
  • Page

2. Click or press Enter to begin your search and display your article search results.

For Advanced Searching:

1. From the ScienceDirect homepage, click the Search button on the navigation bar.
The search page will open.
2. The search page offers several different search forms, including: All Sources, Journals, Books, and Reference Works, select your preferred search form
4. Enter your search terms and use the pre-defined Advanced Search fields to further refine your search. The search fields include:

  • Abstract, Title, Keywords
  • Authors
  • Specific Author
  • Source Title
  • Title
  • Keywords
  • Abstract
  • References
  • ISSN
  • ISBN
  • Affiliation
  • Full Text
  • All Fields

Note: The available Advanced Search fields vary depending on the type of content you are searching.

5. Search a specific publication type. Example: Use the Advanced Journals search form to search only journals or only books.
6. If desired, limit your search in the following ways:

  • document type
  • date
  • subject

7. Click or press Enter to begin your search and display your article search results.

Note: You can further refine, edit, and save your search, in addition to setting up search alerts from your results page.

Royal Holloway celebrates Open Access Week with doctoral students

The third week of October, 21- 27 October 2013, Royal Holloway celebrated International Open Access Week. More specifically, on 22nd of October the College’s Library Services planned an event dedicated to its doctoral students, entitled “Make your research stand out”.


The event turned out to be very popular, which mostly reflects the students’ interest in open access. If you are new to the open access concept, you can find plenty of information about open access on the library’s webpages.

We invited two guest presenters to this event; Tom Pollard, a PhD student at University College London and an open access advocate, who explained why he is supporting open access and how open access helps him by either acquiring access to research papers or ensuring his own research is open and available to everyone in the world.  Tom’s presentation can be downloaded from here.

Martin Donnelly, from the Digital Curation Centre, touched upon the importance of Research Data Management (RDM) and presented the drivers and best practices for managing research data. His presentation is available here.

The library staff gave a short presentation on the routes to open access, the RCUK Open Access Policy, which affects RCUK-funded students and the library services available to help. The presentation is also available online.

We are pleased that this event was so popular and we will be planning more open access events in the future.

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