From Medieval manuscripts to the Brunel bridge construction – take a virtual tour of the Special Collections

The University of Bristol Special Collections team has been hard at work to make finding items in the collection and researching them easier.

The collections, which make up the Cultural Collections together with the Theatre Collection, holds more than 5km of books, archives, photographs, and artefacts dating from the eleventh to the twenty-first century.

A view of Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol, from St Vincent’s Rocks, showing the piers under construction. One of many images held as part of Special Collections at the University of Bristol.

The new University Library building, proposals for which are currently submitted to Bristol City Council for planning consent, will for the first time bring both collections together in one, more accessible, space.

Here are some top tips for accessing the collections:

  • Use the library catalogue to find out about our book holdings. Some may only be for University of Bristol people, but there is a wide variety of material available for all.
  • Take a digital tour of our Online Archive Catalogue, where you’ll find a wealth of digitised materials you can investigate.
  • Remember if you need advice, or want to find out more, do email the team at special-collections@bristol.ac.uk and we will try and help.

For some inspiration of the kinds of things you might find, visit the latest Special Collections blog.

A new University Library; reaching another milestone, what’s exciting about this, and sharing your thoughts

February has seen us reach a key milestone in submitting a planning application for our new University Library and improvements to the public spaces around the site. Following a period of consultation with students, staff and the wider local community, we have submitted the planning application to Bristol City Council. The new building will feature purpose-built exhibition galleries, reading rooms, event spaces, and a new home for the Centre for Cultural Collections, making them accessible to all.

The Centre for Cultural Collections is made up of the Theatre Collection, which is an accredited museum and has recently been awarded Designated status by Arts Council England; and Special Collections, which is a nationally important collection of rare books and archives with particular strengths in politics and campaigning, literature and publishing, and science and medicine.

The collections are tangible reminders of the past, and bear witness to events that have helped shape our communities into what they are today. The items in the collections are an invaluable research resource and are also a source of inspiration for new work and initiatives across Bristol and beyond. Items held by the Theatre Collection include treasures such as autographed gloves worn by Sir Laurence Olivier in ‘The Entertainer,’ designs by renowned designer Oliver Messel, as well as personal effects, photographs, posters, props, scripts, and much more. Special Collection materials include an annotated copy of DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover used by the judge in the landmark 1960 obscenity trial and a silver trowel used by Winston Churchill to lay the foundation stone of the Engineering building at the University of Bristol, where he was Chancellor from 1929-65.

Gloves worn by Sir Laurence Olivier in his comeback performance of ‘The Entertainer’ in 1960. Signed for his costume designer and then gifted to the University of Bristol Theatre Collection.
The handbag of Vivien Leigh, Sir Laurence Olivier’s long term wife as gifted to the University of Bristol Theatre Collection.
Sir Lawrence Byrne’s copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover with associated notes – University of Bristol Library, Special Collections

We are very keen to receive your comments on plans for this flagship new building, external public realm, the services we’d like to provide from it, and the proposals for the external public spaces, including a new civic square. You can share your thoughts via the Bristol City Council website or via development.management@bristol.gov.uk.

New University Library, view from Royal Fort Gardens looking north.
Copyright HawkinsBrown & Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects.
Planned external Public Realm. Copyright HawkinsBrown & Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects.

Landmark copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover will reside in New University Library

Sir Lawrence Byrne’s copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover with associated notes – University of Bristol Library, Special Collections

When the full, unedited edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover was first published by Penguin Books in Britain in 1960, it prompted a trail so substantial that it helped define a publisher’s freedom to print explicit material in the United Kingdom.

Penguin Books was taken to court under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959 – an act of law that made possible for publishers to escape conviction if they could show that a work was of literary merit.

Significant literary experts were called in to testify during the trail, including EM Forster, Helen Gardner, Richard Hoggart, Raymond Williams and Norman St John-Stevas, and it took a jury three hours to reach their verdict; ‘not guilty’.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover went on to sell 2m copies in just two years.

The original copy of DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover used by the judge in the landmark obscenity trial of 1960 was sold at auction by Sotheby’s in October last year, to a private individual in the US.

It has since been acquired by the University of Bristol, after a crowdfunding campaign backed by the likes of Stephen Fry and Neil Gaiman was launched to ensure it didn’t leave the country.

The book, which bears notes from Mr Justice Byrne’s wife, Lady Dorothy Byrn, will be a focal point in the New Universtiy Library as part of the Penguin Archive, held by the University’s Special Collections.

This copy also includes personal papers, notes and correspondence relating to the Chatterley case by Sir Allen Lane, publisher and co-founder of Penguin Books as well as editorial files and proof versions of the book.

It also features the archives of Michael Rubinstein, Penguin’s lawyer in the trial, including his working papers, witness statements and correspondence with witnesses and potential witnesses.

Rebecca Sinclair, Brand and Communications Director at Penguin Random House UK, added:
“The book marks a cornerstone of Penguin’s heritage and our continued dedication to freedom of expression. We’re pleased that this copy will find a home in the University of Bristol’s archives, alongside the Penguin Archive and many other materials relevant to the trial, where it will remain accessible to the public for years to come.”

Come along and have your say on proposals for our new University library

We have developed our latest design for the landmark new University Library, including exciting plans to transform the area around Tyndall Avenue in Clifton. The plans include a new civic square, with proposed new road layouts to improve traffic flow, enhance the pedestrian and cycling routes and make the whole area enjoyable, safer and accessible for everyone.

Following feedback from University staff, students and local resident groups on the initial plans, the updated pre-application planning proposals, which have been submitted to Bristol City Council this week, will be open for public consultation, with design plans being displayed in Beacon House reception and in The Hawthorns, from 1 October until 21 October.

Staff and Students preview drop-in events

  • Monday 30 September (4.00pm – 5:30pm) – Beacon House, seminar room, ground floor.
  • Tuesday 1 October (11:30 – 1.00pm) – Beacon House, seminar room, ground floor.

Public drop-in events

These events will be an opportunity to talk to the University Library team, alongside architects, Hawkins Brown, transport consultants, Arup and landscape architects, Grants.

  • Tuesday 1 October, (5.00pm – 8.00pm) – Beacon House foyer/café, ground floor
  • Tuesday 15 October (3.00pm-5.00pm) – Beacon House foyer/café, ground floor

Following feedback from the consultation exercise and Bristol City Council, the University is aiming to submit the full planning application in January 2020.

New University Library, view from Royal Fort Gardens looking north. Copyright HawkinsBrown & Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects.

New University Library, view from Elton Road looking east. Copyright HawkinsBrown & Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects.