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 through hundreds of boxes of teaching materials (mainly historical textbooks) which have been transferred to Emerald Street from the University of London’s Library Depository at Egham.

I had worked with Stephen Pickles for a few months before he retired in 2012 but had only heard about Judy and Peter. It was therefore a historical moment for me to meet the people who had worked at the IOE for over 30 years. Lunch time was a 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’s roles and heard some delightfully funny stories about past times. I hope these will be included in the underground version of the History of the Newsam Library & Archives!

Whilst unpacking we found many quirky items including the ‘Readers’ that we, as children, used to read. One item that caught my eye was a tiny book entitled ‘Swimming for School Boys’ published by in 1930 by the National Association of Schoolmasters.

This little book (13.5 x 10.5 cm) is now in the Grenfell Collection. 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. Grenfell’s personal library of books on physical education was donated to the Board of Education in 1934. The library was added to it until 1947, and in 1992, gifted to the IOE.

The author of this book, W. R. Shimmin (!) was the Principal of the Banks Road Council School in Garston, Liverpool. For the section entitled ‘The Crawl Stroke’, he wrote:

 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 energy. 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).

Principal Shimmin explained why the nation has been left behind in swimming competitions: the English have been slow at adopting the crawl stroke as it is not just exhausting but clearly unsuitable for scholars! This was because, he continued, in earlier times, swimmers had their heads under the water for most of the time.

The book has some wonderful line drawings which are used for visual instruction. A table on page 75 gives the ‘standard times’ for swimming for schoolboys of different ages. It does not, however, have heights and weights which suggests that a raw form of standardisation had filtered into physical education too, just as mental testing had become normalised in schools. Quantification of differences was prevalent in schools by the interwar years.

Coming back to our day at Emerald Street, I believe we crawled our way through the boxes. Despite this, it was a successful day and we are grateful for the help we received from the ex-Library team.

Nazlin Bhimani

About Nazlin Bhimani

Research Support and Special Collections Librarian, UCL Institute of Education, London
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