From the archives: Senate House as The Ministry of Information

“Popular imaginings of the Ministry of Information in an Orwellian styled Ministry of Truth, however, doesn’t tell the real story nor necessarily represents the opinion of people about Senate House as home to war time news and propaganda.” A look to the past for BloomsburyFest 2013 This year’s Bloomsbury Festival takes a look back at the role Senate House played in World War II. We are turning its role as the Ministry of Information on its head and creating a Ministry of Communication – a place for communicating information and knowledge, not hiding or revising it. Over the next few weeks we will explore the role of Senate House and Bloomsbury as a location for information and misinformation during the Second World War. Senate House: From Controversy to Nanny McPhee Senate House; an art deco monolith towering high above Russell Square is a warren of corridors and open spaces. It is also full of history. During the Second World War the building was home to the controversial Ministry of Information. As a place it is fair to say that it is one part fictional, and one part real. George Orwell’s 1984 forever tinged Senate House with the accolade of authoritarianism. Hollywood and British television too has granted the building a fictionalised authoritarian stature by using it as a location of authority in such films as Batman Begins (as the lobby of the imposing Gotham Court of Justice) and Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang (a war office); and in television shows such as Dr Who and the 1981 adaptation of The Day of the Triffids. Popular imaginings of the...

‘For the Greater Glory of God and the More Universal Good’: a conference exhibition

Karen Attar (Senate House Library) For several years now Senate House Library has been supporting conferences hosted by SAS Institute’s wherever possible. Usually this is through small displays of books pertinent to the conference theme, to enhance the experience of conference delegates and demonstrate the relevance of library holdings – especially special collections holdings – for research. We are marking an exciting new departure with the conference organised by the Institute of English Studies and Heythrop College to celebrate the 400th Anniversary of the Foundation of  Heythrop College and of the Jesuit Educational Tradition. For one thing the display is much larger than usual conference displays, filling six display cases and being represented in the Senate House Library website’s exhibition gallery. For another the collaboration between Senate House Library and SAS has taken on an additional dimension with the exhibition being a joint one between Senate House Library, Heythrop College and the Warburg Institute. The books shown in the exhibition fall into five themes: Founding the Jesuits Anti-Jesuit Sentiment Jesuit theology Jesuit scholarship Jesuit creativity Missionary work crept in via the scholarship, with Guy Tachard’s Voyage de Siam des Peres Jesuites, Envoyés par le Roy, aux Indes & à la Chine (1687).  The greatest emphasis, however, is on Jesuit scholarship, appropriately so as scholarship and education have been at the heart of the Society of Jesus’s activities since its foundation in 1540 and are also at the core of University activity, and as the conference celebrates above all the Jesuit educational tradition. Books range from Irish history (by Edmund Campion) to mathematics (Christoph Clavius), architecture (Gaspar Schott), philosophy (the...

From the archives: The end of the war and the return of academics to Senate House

The continuous day-and-night occupation with no break at week-ends or holiday times, made routine maintenance difficult. This year’s Bloomsbury Festival takes as a theme the idea of subverting the Ministry of Information as a Ministry of Communication.  We talked in detail about this theme in an earlier post (The Ministry of Communication at #BloomsburyFest 2013). This post, the last in a line where we dip into the archives held at the Senate House Library, focuses on the end of the war, and on the process of the Ministry of Information leaving the university buildings, and the academics returning. Congratulations to the King When the Second World War ended the University of London sent the following message to George VI (recorded in the Senate Minutes for 20 June and 18 July 1945): “We, the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Court, Senate, Graduates, and Students of the University of London, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal Subjects, desire respectfully to convey to Your Majesty our whole-hearted congratulations on the victorious conclusion of the War in the Far East thus bringing to completion the defeat of the armed forces of the aggressor nations and heralding the re-establishment of peace throughout the world. In tendering our congratulations we venture to re-affirm to Your Majesty our most loyal devotion to the Thorne.” Thanks and relief continued, but so also begun the torturous road to re-establishing the University in its own buildings as the Ministry of Information prepared the way for its exit. Moving out of Senate House With peace officially reinstated the Ministry of Information prepared itself to move out of its premises in Senate House.  The...
From the archives: First Aid at the Ministry of Information – J. Hunter Dunn’s First Aid Book

From the archives: First Aid at the Ministry of Information – J. Hunter Dunn’s First Aid Book

Miss J. Hunter Dunn, Miss J. Hunter Dunn, Furnish’d and burnish’d by Aldershot sun – John Betjeman, A Subaltern’s Love Song In preparation for this year’s Bloomsbury Festival we are exploring various documents in the Senate House Library archives that look at Senate House during its occupation as the Ministry of Information. In our previous post we looked at how University workers were used by the Ministry during the Second World War. This post continues that theme in an abstract way by examining an artefact once belonging to Joan Hunter Dunn, the catering manageress for Senate House. Joan Hunter Dunn and her First Aid book After the war, Joan Hunter Dunn became something of a minor celebrity figure becoming the muse for Sir John Betjeman.  She is best known as being the subject of Betjeman’s poem “A Subaltern’s Love-song” (to read this poem have a look at it on the Poetry Archive website). Amongst items that once belonged to Dunn the Senate House Library has a copy of a small pocket-sized first aid book stamped with the Ministry of Information on the front cover.  The advice given within it hasn’t changed too much over the decades, but there are variations of emphasis and some changes to practice.  Most noticeable in this edition (the 39th edition of the authorized textbook of the St John Ambulance Association) is the consistent emphasis on the male gender.  Women are barely mentioned.  Both patient and carer are assumed to be male.  The language, also, is antiquated, attempting to appeal to the office worker of modern day 1930s/40s. What is First Aid? The book begins...
From the archives: University workers conscripted by Ministry of Information

From the archives: University workers conscripted by Ministry of Information

It will be seen that the requirements of the Ministry over the last seven years, including six most difficult years under war conditions, have been very exacting, and far beyond those of the University in normal times In preparation for this year’s Bloomsbury Festival (15-20 October 2013) the School of Advanced Study have been searching through the University archives to find out a little more about Senate House during its occupation as the Ministry of Information during the Second World War.  In this post we continue to look at the minutes of the Senate (as in Senate House), this time looking at how various University workers continued to operate for the University but under the demands of the Ministry.  This includes workers such as the Steward, catering managers, messengers, and engineers. The Steward The Steward took care of supervisory matters in Senate House, organizing events, meetings and much more.  During the war that task became more difficult as the Steward no longer just had to cater for the needs of the University itself, but also for the Ministry of Information.  As of 18 July 1940 the Ministry agreed to increase their contribution to the Steward’s salary from 50% to 75% and to refund to the University 75% of the special payment of £10 per annum that had been granted to the Steward quarterly for overtime (above the normal hours of 48 per week).  It was hoped that these sums would better enable the Steward to carry out their often complex tasks.   The Catering Manageress Miss J. Hunter Dunn was responsible for managing catering in Senate House and thus...
From the archives: What to do with the libraries?

From the archives: What to do with the libraries?

In our previous post about the Ministry of Information (see here) we noted that the ‘exigencies of war’ alongside the occupation of Senate House by the Ministry caused various problems for the University of London.  One of these was a question over what to do with the libraries.  In the lead up to this year’s Bloomsbury Festival (15-20 October 2013) which takes as one of its themes the idea of the Ministry of Information transformed into a Ministry of Communication, we decided to have a look into the University archives to find out a little more about what happened during the Second World War. What to do with the Libraries? The question over what to do with the University’s extensive, comprehensive and in many cases rare and unique collections of books, manuscripts and ephemera became all the more urgent in 1940 after an incendiary bomb gutted several university buildings housing parts of its library.  In the Senate Meeting the Court reported that: “on receiving the Report by the Librarian of 4 December 1940 on the damage suffered by the University Library through enemy action decided that steps should be taken to remove some of the sections from London to places of greater security.” The report suggests that the Bodleian Library and Cambridge University Library should be approached to see if they could “render any help”.  Success was found at Oxford.  The Bodleian offered shelving space underground which was “well protected against damp” which by “close packing” could take the greater part of the Goldsmith’s Library, the rarer books of the Harry Price Library, and several important sets and works...

From the archives: The Ministry of Information moving into Senate House

This year’s Bloomsbury Festival (15-20 October 2013) takes a look back and forward with the University of London’s Senate House as its focus.  Built in the 1930s as the second tallest building in London (second only to St Paul’s Cathedral) Senate House soon became home to the newly established Ministry of Information at the outset of the Second World War. With kind permission of the Senate House Library we have been looking through some of the archives to find out a little bit more about what happened when the Ministry moved in and the academics moved out. A message from the Minister of Information Amongst the records of the Senate House committee is a letter dated 19 November 1940 from Lt. Col. N. G. Scorqie, secretary to the Minister of Information who at that time was Alfred Duff Cooper.  The letter is directed to the Chairman and states that the minister wishes to: “…convey to the University Staff his personal appreciation of all that they have done under the most difficult circumstances to make things as comfortable as they can for the Ministry.” Scorqie goes on to recognise the difficulties that war brings leading to unreasonable demands: “You might have had many departments who would have been easier guests for the University than this Ministry, and I am only too conscious that sometimes the exigencies of war make us rather unreasonable in our demands on your staff. If any echo of that has reached you it is pleasant to be able to set against it the minister’s own appreciation of what they have done for us.” Provision of food...

From the archives: The Ministry of Uncertainty

“The puzzle is that during the initial two years of war this department was roundly and widely condemned for inefficiency, for comic blunders and for irritating rather than reassuring the public. How could it be that morale was sound and yet the department responsible for it so bad?” One of the key themes for this year’s Bloomsbury Festival is the idea of the Ministry of Information (the government department housed in Senate House during World War II) being transformed in the modern day as a Ministry of Communication. This is the second in a series of posts (see here for the first post) looking back to the late 1930s and early 1940s to find out a bit more. Half-truths or inept?  Was the Ministry of Information really a place of half-truths and disinformation?  On a certain level it was of course – part of its role was propaganda – but in its first few years the general public ridiculed it as a place of farce, ineptitude and inefficiency.  According to Ian McLaine (who, in 1979 studied the Ministry of Information and morale on the home front): “‘the puzzle is that during the initial two years of war this department was roundly and widely condemned for inefficiency, for comic blunders and for irritating rather than reassuring the public.  How could it be that morale was sound and yet the department responsible for it so bad?” Let’s deconstruct that a little. In his autobiography, Duff Cooper, 1st Viscount Norwich, Conservative Party politician, diplomat and author, and most importantly briefly minister in charge of the Ministry of Information, recalled his opinion of...