ON THE ROAD: Topping Up!

by Suzanne Francis-Brown, Curator

One major reason for going on the road was to do, close up, research on some UWI artifacts that we’ve been trying to do from a distance for some time.

Which artifacts? Well there’s the lost Charter, and the Coat of Arms, the university standard or flag, and more diaries than we knew existed. And that’s not quite all.

So we’ve written blog posts about the university’s three Royal Charters, the first of which, sealed in January 1949, was days later lost aboard the aircraft Star Ariel which disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle en route to Jamaica. The National Archives at Kew, London UK, has several files relevant to the original grant of the Charter and to the efforts to replace it after it was lost. These include files of the Privy Council, the Lord Chancellor’s Office and the Colonial Office. Working through these files to clarify exactly what happened in this regard nearly 70 years ago was one task at hand.

Getting behind the artifacts of the early UWI

Getting behind the artifacts of the early UWI

A second involved a trip to the College of Arms in London, where the Rouge Croix Pursuivant, a third-tier herald, showed me the book in which the original grant of arms to the UCWI in 1949 is recorded. The original grant document, on parchment with the seals of the senior heralds of the day, is one of the university’s artifacts for which we continue to search. In the meantime, a requested photographic copy of the grant will provide us with the text of the original grant as well as the image of the coat of arms as it was first presented.

One interesting clarification made at the college is that the description of the UWI crest, the pelican, as a ‘pelican propre’ allows it to be rendered in any colour. UCWI correspondence shows that the   then Principal had requested a brown Caribbean pelican, but this is not specified in the description of the grant.

The College of Arms and Ede & Ravenscroft

The College of Arms and Ede & Ravenscroft

Other voyages of discovery, by foot, bus or train, included a long visit at Ede & Ravenscroft, robe maker to the university for many decades, where Export Manager Andrew Foustanos facilitated a tour, answered many questions and channeled information on UCWI/UWI gowns from the company archive.

At Windsor Castle, Curator of Photographs Lisa Heighway   provided access to a number of photos of the early university from the collections of UWI’s first Chancellor, Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother who received the UWI’s first Honorary Degree in 1965.

And at the Royal College of Physicians, Archivist Pamela Forde showed me around their exhibition spaces as well as discussing their archive/museum collaborations. That conversation needs its own post.

Then there was a very fertile trip to Birmingham to see diaries and scrapbooks by former Birmingham University Vice-Chancellor and UCWI Council Member Sir Raymond Priestley, that include references to the early UCWI. We have just one Priestley Diary, from 1944, on display, on loan from the UWI Main Library.

A trip to Liverpool’s Maritime Archives, repository of two thick order books of Porter Bros, original makers of the UWI flag, drew a disappointing blank. But it did provide an opportunity to visit the International Slavery Museum which is located in the same building.

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