Nostalgia at Emerald Street: Historical Textbooks & Grenfell Collections

Rozz Evans (Collection Development Services Librarian and Chief-Food-Supplier) and myself (Research Support & Special Collections Librarian and Chief–Biscuits-Supplier) were joined at Emerald Street on June 26th by three former senior staff of the IOE: Stephen Pickles, the ex-Head of the Newsam Library & Archives, Judy Allsop who worked in Acquisitions and Peter Moss who was in charge of Systems. We had agreed to get together to unpack and sort hundreds of boxes of teaching materials  (mainly historical textbooks) which have been recently transferred to Emerald Street from the University of London’s Library Depository at Egham.

I had had the privilege of working with Stephen Pickles for a short time before he retired in 2012 but had only heard about Judy and Peter by reputation.  It was therefore a real pleasure to finally meet the people who had worked at the IOE for over 30 years.  As you can imagine, lunch time was a real treat – not just because the food was delicious but also because the company was wonderful. I had the privilege of finding out more about Judy and Peter and heard some delightfully funny stories about past times which I hope will be included in the underground version of the History of the Newsam Library & Archives!

Whilst unpacking we found many quirky items, and some the source of great nostalgia such as the Readers we had used to learn to read as children and in my case, ones that I had used to teach my own children to read. One item that caught my eye was a tiny book entitled ‘Swimming for School Boys’ published by The National Association of Schoolmasters.

This little book (13.5 x 10.5 cm) is a duplicate item in the Grenfell Collection which is one of  the Newsam Library & Archives’ Special Collections (more about the collection below). Capt. Francis H. Grenfell was the H.M. Inspector of Physical Training for the Board of Education’s new medical department in the early part of the twentieth century.  He wanted physical education to have a respected place in the curriculum, with fully trained teachers.  His library was donated to the Board of Education in 1934, added to until 1947 and deposited at the IOE in 1992.

The author of this book, W. R. Shimmin who was Principal of the Banks Road Council School in Garston, Liverpool, writes in the section entitled ‘The Crawl Stroke’:

 Only one generation ago the world’s leading swimmers were British. Nearly every world’s record was held in the British Isles or our colonies.  To-day we do not hold a single men’s record at any distance or in any style… Other nations have been more progressive partly because of greater earnestness, determination and application.  But the chief reason is that while we have been content to use the strokes which our fathers developed, swimmers in other lands have experimented with new variations and have evolved strokes which secure greater progress for less expenditure of nergy.  Englishmen are swimming as fast as ever … but we are left hopelessly behind because of the wonderful advance in the United States, Sweden, Hungary, Germany and even in far away Japan, the Argentine and the Philippine Islands (p. 7).

The author then goes on about how the English have been slow at adopting the crawl stroke as it was considered to be too exhausting and therefore unsuitable for scholars especially when in earlier times swimmers had their heads under the water for most of the time.  Line drawings provide visual instructions on the various strokes and a table on page 75 provides ‘standard times’ for school boys of different ages.  It is this kind of very specific and detailed record of and insight into the past that makes working with the special collections so rewarding –and so impossibly distracting!

The day at Emerald Street was delightful and a great success.  It goes without saying that we are grateful for the help from the ex-Library team and are already looking forward to a further day together in the near future.

Nazlin Bhimani

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