All posts by Annabel

Archives for Everyone!

Archive blog post image

In the past we’ve written blog posts about the collections we hold in the archives and also how to find archive collections in other UK repositories. In this post I want to introduce some of you to the archives just for fun or personal interest, not necessarily for your coursework or research. I think often the archives seem like an impenetrable fortress that only people with a proven academic reason can visit – that is not the case! Throughout the year we take part in lots of events which help us to showcase our collections to people who may not have been to an archive before. We run tours of the archives on Heritage Open Day and at the annual Garden Party and we also provide exhibitions for various events going on on campus. Last year we provided a display for the Play Festival about our theatre collections which is now on display on the 2nd floor of Founder’s library and earlier this term we held two sessions for the Feminist Society looking at the history of the College at the forefront of women’s education.

Next week we will be holding an event looking at the effect World War One had on the lives of students and staff at both Bedford and Royal Holloway Colleges. The event will have two short talks from Stella Moss (History) and Anne Varty (English) on life at the College during the War and student poetry written during the war. The event will also include a display of items and information from the archives. If you’d like to come along (the event is free and includes tea and biscuits!) you can book a ticket here.

In addition to events and displays we also have lots of examples of items from the archives on our website. There are online exhibitions on College Fashions (including sections on clothes for sport and academic and evening dress), College Community and Sustainability (including sections on the introduction of men and the infamous College fire drills) and Social Life at the Colleges (including sections on the importance of tea and student discos and balls).

We also have an exhibition which includes highlights from the Roy Waters Theatre Collection. The Collection contains Roy’s lifetime collection of theatrical ephemera including material on the backstage workings of the theatre and satirical productions.

The website also contains all the items of month (now in its thirty eighth month). These are a chance for us to show items from the archives, rare books and art collections that we think are interesting or are related to a current event or news story. This month’s relates to World War One and the event we are holding. Some of the most popular editions are the polar bear painting from May 2013 and these dashing chaps from November 2012.

Hopefully these little insights into the archives will give you an idea of the kinds of things we hold. Don’t be shy if you want to find out more about the archives, our contact details are on the website and we are on the third floor of Founder’s library if you want to pop up and take a look at the display we have up here about the opening of Royal Holloway College.

Annabel Valentine, College Archivist

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: 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:

Annabel Gill, College Archivist

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:

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

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.