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Special Collections - archives and rare books: Unboxing The Boxer

About the Project

In 2018 Special Collections was delighted to receive a Wellcome Trust Research Resources Award to catalogue four significant sports collections: England Boxing, Ski Club of Great Britain, Special Olympics Leicester and the papers of Sir Norman Chester.

Archivist Louise Bruton was hired in 2019 to work on creating detailed catalogues and has been writing blogs to record her progress. These are collated below.

Unboxing the Boxer Blog Posts

I’m afraid you can expect a few more poor winter-related puns over the next six months because I have just started work on the Ski Club of Great Britain (SCGB) collection, the first of four sports archive collections I will be cataloguing over the course of the next two years for the ‘Unboxing the Boxer’ project.

In 2018 DMU Special Collections was successful in its bid for a grant from The Wellcome Trust under the Trust’s Research Resources Awards In Humanities and Social Science funding scheme, which helps “collection and information professionals develop library and archive material for humanities and social science researchers”. DMU is a leading centre for the study of sport history and academics and students from the International Centre for Sports History and Leicester Castle Business School’s Business Management in Sport MSc have already been conducting research into the Ski Club collection since its arrival in March 2018. Cataloguing the collection in detail will develop the material for further research by making it easier in future to navigate, understand and search.

I began the process of cataloguing by physically looking at the collection to get an overview of the kinds of material I could expect, which is very varied! There are lots of objects in the collection, from trophies to skis, as well as the administrative records you would expect to find in the archive of an organisation which is over one hundred years old.

My next step was to analyse the existing box list (a sequential list of everything in the collection) to identify like material and patterns which would suggest the main functions and activities of the organisation. I used colours to distinguish different areas.

From this, I sketched out a rough hierarchical structure for the catalogue, to reflect as far as possible the way the organisation arranged its own records while they were in use. The benefit of such an arrangement is that the researcher can get a sense of how the organisation operated and how different documents are related to each other, preserving connections which might be lost if the items were catalogued as isolated entities.

With my rough structure in place, I began the cataloguing of individual items. I have started with the corporate administrative records because they tell me a lot about the formation of the Club, its purpose, its rules and its key figures, which is the essential background information I need in order to understand the meaning of all the other items I will go on to catalogue over the course of the next six months. Corporate records also give information about high-level decision-making and changes in policy, which I also need to be aware of because I am likely to find evidence of the impact of those decisions in the records of the day-to-day activities of the organisation.

There are about 150 administrative items to catalogue and I have made a start by physically arranging them into their different series. There is not always the space to do this with a large number of volumes, but I am lucky enough to have a spare couple of desks to spread out on!

I am now working on creating a description for each item from scratch and assigning each a unique reference number using our cataloguing management system. I am also adding in key names, places and subjects as access points so that future researchers can browse the catalogue by theme or person as well as by keyword searching. You never know when there might be a name you don’t expect to find!

This is the first in a series of blogs, so watch this space for more winter fun as the cataloguing progresses!

Louise

NB- this post was originally published here on 04 April 2019.

Like all the best start-ups, it began in a café with a small group of people, a shared interest and a new idea. The Ski Club of Great Britain was born at the Café Royal, London on 6th May 1903. One hundred and sixteen years later, the tradition of celebrating important moments and sporting activities over a good meal is still going strong as the Ski Club hosts this year’s End of Season Party on 18th May.

That first meeting was a genteel and informal affair as fourteen well-heeled gentlemen enjoyed the fine food, fine wine and fine surroundings of one of the most fashionable establishments of the day. Over dinner,

“it was agreed to found a ski club…[as] It was pointed out by those who spoke, that the sport had now gained considerable ground in this country, and that an institution was needed which could assist its members in such matters as where to go, what sort of ski to purchase, from whom initial instruction could be had, and what the general condition of the snow was in such and such a place at such and such a time of year, &c.”

(From a letter to the press entitled ‘Ski Club of Great Britain’, signed by E. Syers, E.H. Wroughton and E.C. Richardson).

The original menu for this dinner, signed by the founding members, is a prized piece of the Ski Club archive.

 

S/006/A/01/01/001 Committee and Annual General Meeting Minutes 1903 – 1909

The following year, another dinner was held at the Café Royal, this time following the Annual General Meeting, a tradition which was to be upheld for decades to come and which brought members of the Committee together with ordinary members, often with a noted guest speaker. As the detectives amongst you may have spotted in my last blog post, in 1912 it was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The cuisine on offer in 1904 included ‘Bombe Nesselrode’, the most popular ice pudding of the nineteenth century according to historicfood.com and a clear inheritance from the bygone Victorian era.

Underlining the importance of dinners to the Ski Club and assuring its place in history, the dinner menu was once again used as an attendance record and firmly stuck into the minute book for safe keeping.

S/006/A/01/01/001 Committee and Annual General Meeting Minutes 1903 – 1909

In 1924 the Club held a dinner to celebrate an important milestone in its history: its twenty-first birthday. The location this time was the Hotel Cecil, another renowned venue for dining and dancing, once the largest hotel in Europe. The cover of the menu has been specially designed to incorporate the trefoil logo of the Ski Club of Great Britain in its border and it features an image of a skier. Inside, we learn that toasts were raised to the King, to the Club’s founder members, some of whom were still involved in the running of the Club, and to the Club itself. Perhaps the Coupe Glacée on offer for dessert was the first ever ski sundae?

S/006/A/01/02/001 Circulars to Members 1910 – 1924

S/006/A/01/02/001 Circulars to Members 1910 – 1924

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Club logo has been incorporated into menu design many times since, as in this example (undated).

 

By the 1930s there was an Entertainments Committee to organise formal dinners and much more besides. In this report from 1934 the music suggested for the Spring Dinner seems to range from a dance band (Ted Sommerfield’s No. 1 Band of seven musicians – does anyone know anything more about them?) to Swiss waltzes and an accordion, an interesting mix of traditional and more current musical styles of the time. The Report also mentions an Exhibition of Skiing Films and a lectures by two great figures in skiing history, Gerald Seligman and Arnold Lunn.

S/006/A/04/06/002 ‘Committee Minutes II’ 1929 – 1952

An orchestra, a steel band and a discotheque provided the entertainment at the 1971 Ski Club Ball, continuing the Club’s penchant for mixing musical styles, but this time there was an opportunity to rest weary dancing legs and regain some energy before the journey home: hot soup was served to all attendees from 2 to 2.30am!

Auprès-ski rather than après-ski, the Ski Club dinner has a long and joyful history of bringing members together to celebrate their Club and their sport. If photographs could talk perhaps the attendees at this Ski Club Dinner eighty years ago would raise this toast to all those current members who will be at the End of Season Party on 18th May: cheers!

Ski Club of Great Britain Dinner, London, 4th May 1939

Louise

NB-this was originally posted at https://dmuheritage.our.dmu.ac.uk/ski-sundae-cafes-and-cocktails-in-the-ski-club-of-great-britain-archive/ on 17 May 2019.

As I’ve mentioned before, the Ski Club of Great Britain collection is very varied, comprising not only the administrative record of the organisation but also photographs, skiing equipment, competition awards, a library and a film collection dating from the 1930s to the 1970s.

There are about 90 film reels in the collection. When the Ski Club collection came to DMU Special Collections a list was made, but there is significant information missing from it. Not having the equipment to show the films ourselves, we had to rely on what was physically written on the film reel or tin for a clue as to its contents. We found that some films had no title at all, some films had titles which had been crossed out and replaced with a new title, several films had the same title and very few had dates. Without watching the films it is impossible to tell if the films with the same titles are duplicates, what the contents of the untitled films might be, and what their age is.

We realised we needed specialist help.

The Media Archive of Central England (MACE) is the specialist public film archive for the East and West Midlands, an independent company and registered charity based at the University of Lincoln. MACE has the equipment and, most importantly, the expertise to carry out an assessment of the Ski Club films and provide us with the vital information that we are missing. Not only that, casting an expert eye over the films will enable MACE to report on their condition, give us guidance regarding their future storage, and identify film gauges and formats.

So last month Katharine and I took a trip to Lincoln to deliver the films to MACE.

 

We were lucky enough to be given a tour around the facility and were very impressed! We saw our films safely into the very cold specialist storage room with its banks of roller racking…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and then gazed in wonder at the collection of historic film recording and playing equipment on display in the reading room.

 

 

 

We met the members of the MACE team who will be working on the Ski Club films and listened with increasing perplexity and admiration as they explained the work they proposed to do on the collection with equipment like this:

Understanding all of the individual words but little of the overall meaning of the explanation, Katharine and I were impressed with the specialist technical knowledge of the staff, which only confirmed our belief that this was definitely not something we could have attempted ourselves.

One thing we did understand was a comment that white is a tricky colour to work with, meaning that a collection of skiing films presents a real (reel) challenge of technical skill!

We look forward to seeing the results.

Louise

NB- this was originally posted at https://dmuheritage.our.dmu.ac.uk/reel-cool-expert-assessment-for-ski-club-of-great-britain-films/ on 19 June 2019

To shee or to ski? That was the question puzzling winter sports enthusiasts in 1928. Ski Club of Great Britain (SCGB) member Mr. G. D. Greenland was so concerned that he raised the matter in a meeting.

S/006/A/04/05/001 Affiliated Clubs Sub-Committee Minutes, 21 November 1928

 

The meeting minutes, which are preserved in the SCGB archive held by De Montfort University Special Collections, record that he “asked for an official ruling on the pronunciation of the word “ski”. The Meeting were of the opinion that either of the usual forms might be used.”

Ski history buffs will note that this answer was endorsed by the famous Arnold Lunn, an important figure in the development of the sport, as Chair of the Committee.

 

While Mr. Greenland may have been reassured to know that he could use “either of the usual forms” of pronunciation of the word ski, today the answer leaves us a little confused. Surely the word is pronounced ‘sKi’ with a hard ‘k’ sound in the middle? Given the spelling, how could there ever have been any doubt?

Go back twenty years to 1908 and the cause for uncertainty begins to emerge. Skiing was a new sport in the midst of development from a Nordic way of life to a codified competitive pastime enjoyed initially by a wealthy elite of mainly British pioneers. The Ski Club of Great Britain itself had been in existence only five years. British skiers looked to Norway’s long history of skiing for inspiration.

 W. R. Rickmers, ‘On the Pronunciation of the Word “Ski”‘, Alpine Ski Club Annual 1908, pp56-58

 

 

In the Alpine Ski Club Annual of 1908 W. R. Rickmers, another pioneer of skiing, wrote an article ‘On the Pronunciation of the Word “Ski”.’

Here he explained that ‘ski’ is a loanword from Norwegian. Britain not having historically been a nation of skiers, there was no existing word in English.

The debate over pronunciation was a debate about whether to use the original Norwegian pronunciation, which approximates to “shee” in English, or to read the word as the spelling would suggest it to sound in English: “skee”.

In spite of the fact that twenty years later Mr. Greenland remained unsure, in 1908 a consensus seemed to have been reached and Rickmers was not happy about it:

“There is no scientific excuse for the adoption of the Norwegian pronunciation of the word “ski”… The same root word is found in the English “skid,” and ski pronounced s-k-ee would have been easy and natural…”

Rickmers sees the preference for Norwegian pronunciation as a “laudable wish” but ultimately “mistaken pedantry” and even “snobbishness” which makes little sense and is inconsistent with historical precedent since “[f]or centuries the Englishman has loftily ignored the sound of the foreign tongue”.

Rickmers himself had been using his preferred pronunciation of ski (as we say it today) for years, and had even formulated his own spelling. On 5th May 1903, the day before the Ski Club of Great Britain was founded, Rickmers delivered a speech to The Alpine Club entitled “The Alpine Skee and Mountaineering.”

 

The “shee” pronunciation still found favour, however. Key figures in the history of the sport took the opposite view to Rickmers. The very first sentence of ‘The Ski-Runner’ by E. C. Richardson (1909), a classic text written by a founding father of skiing, reads:

“Let us begin with a brief description of the ski themselves, premising that the way to pronounce ski is “she”, as in “he, she or it.”

 

The matter settled, Richardson moves on to other concerns. Given so definite a verdict by so notable and influential a figure, in a book so widely read, it becomes easier to understand how the “shee” pronunciation took hold in the first few decades of the twentieth century.

But it was not to last. Skiing grew in popularity and by the late 1920s when Mr. Greenland asked his question, the Ski Club of Great Britain had grown from a founding committee of 6 men to a membership of nearly 3,000. Members learned about the latest skiing techniques, equipment, resorts, tours, competitions and social events through Club publications such as Ski Notes and Queries and the British Ski Yearbook. In an era without television and in the very early days of radio, the chances are that many skiers seldom heard anyone talking about skiing before they read someone write about it. It can be difficult to pinpoint when and why language change occurs, but perhaps Rickmers was right when he observed that it is

“…the common sense habit of all peoples…to follow the line of least resistance, and to knock the foreign importation into shape, as it were, for immediate use at home.”

It appears that not even the authoritative instructions of well-respected pioneers were enough to counteract the phonetic temptation to say it like you see it. Language evolves through use and the ‘shee-ers’ of the early twentieth century evidently found sentences such as “she shees down the shee slope” too much of a tongue-twister to cope with.

Louise

NB-this was originally posted at https://dmuheritage.our.dmu.ac.uk/to-shee-and-not-to-ski-that-was-the-question/ on 6 August 2019

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