A Prized Collection

We were recently rather excited to receive a significant accrual to an existing donation of records from Scottish Gymnastics. This includes over 100 books (some of them rare and inscribed), papers and photographs and an extensive collection of shields, trophies, medals, and other artefacts. A donation of objects like these in such a quantity is quite unusual for us and they make up by far the largest part of the Scottish Gymnastics archive. However the proportion of objects to paper records makes complete sense in the context of the organisation’s chief focus on local, national and international competitions.

The collection comprises a real mix of objects, including medals, shields, trophies and plaques, dating from the 1890s (when the organisation was new) right up to 2017. As well as objects which were given as awards, the collection also includes commemorative objects, particularly glassware, which were given to Scottish Gymnastics to mark their participation in particular events over the years.

Probably the most historically notable item in the collection is the Scottish Shield, an impressively decorated three-foot wide object bearing the Scottish Gymnastics logo and the names of the previous winners (picture below):

The shield was awarded as part of an annual competition between Scottish gymnastics clubs. The first winners, in 1890, were the Aberdeen Gymnastic and Rowing Club (the oldest of the Scottish gymnastics clubs). Jim Prestidge’s invaluable book The History of British Gymnastics also features this photograph of the shield in 1902, when it was won by the Dundee Gymnastic and Athletic Club (shield is on the far left).

At the time Prestidge was writing (1988), the Scottish Shield was still being awarded, and Prestidge states that it “is the longest serving Team Shield still in service”. It must certainly be one of the oldest gymnastics awards in Scotland, predating the famous Adams Shield (also featured in the above photograph, on the right) by nine years. We would like to find out more about the history of the Scottish Shield, so please do let us know if you have any information to share!

Artefacts like these form an important part of sporting heritage collections, but because of their unwieldy nature, they are often at risk of being discarded or forgotten, with institutions sometimes being reluctant to take them in. So it’s fantastic to now have this very tangible – and often downright beautiful – part of gymnastics history here at the Centre for Research Collections. The items are a valuable resource for understanding the material culture of gymnastics as well as giving precise information about individual, team and club achievements over time. It would be great to now see researchers begin to use this collection to its full potential.

The Scottish Gymnastics archives catalogue is currently being updated to include these new items. Once this is complete, the catalogue will be viewable here:

http://archives.collections.ed.ac.uk/repositories/2/resources/86677

Clare Button
Project Archivist

Sources

Prestidge, Jim, The History of British Gymnastics (British Amateur Gymnastics Association, 1988)

Margaret Morris and “La Divine” Suzanne Lenglen (1899-1938)

Suzanne Lenglen and Margaret Morris demonstrating a tennis exercise, c.1937. Margaret Morris Collection, Fergusson Gallery, Perth

Today marks the birthday of the tennis star Suzanne Lenglen, who was born in Paris in 1899. Regarded by some as the greatest female tennis player in history, Lenglen won 31 Championship titles between 1914 and 1926. She was also one of the first female international sports personalities and was nicknamed “La Divine” (The Goddess) by the French press. As a child however, she suffered numerous health problems including chronic asthma. Her father Charles suggested that it would be good for her to build up her strength by playing tennis and developed various exercises for her. Only four years later she was competing in the final of the 1914 French Championships, aged only 14.

Charles Lenglen’s approach would have found favour with Margaret Morris, who believed strongly that movement and exercise could be applied to improve the health, wellbeing and physical strength of anyone and everyone. She gave the first demonstration of her Margaret Morris Movement technique to doctors in 1925 and went on to train in Physiotherapy at St Thomas’s Hospital, London, passing with distinction in 1930.

Morris began to notice the striking similarity between the physical positions in her own exercises and those which occur in sports such as football, cricket and tennis. She demonstrated that all athletic movements were based on the opposition of one group of muscles to another. This idea of ‘opposition’ was fundamental to Morris’s technique – and indeed the development of free dance as a whole – and was heavily influenced by the teachings of Raymond Duncan (brother of the famous dancer Isadora) on the ‘Greek positions’ based on the Parthenon sculptures.

Dancer Jack Skinner and cricketer Donald Bradman. Illustrations from the prospectus of the Basic Physical Training Association, 1938. Margaret Morris Collection, Fergusson Gallery, Perth

Morris began to illustrate her demonstrations of opposition exercises with photographs of athletes, including Suzanne Lenglen. At one lecture in Paris, Lenglen, who by now had retired and was running a tennis school in the city, happened to be in the audience. Realising the potential for Morris’s exercises to be specially adapted for tennis and used as basic preparatory training, Lenglen invited Morris to collaborate with her. The pair developed exercises over a course of visits to Lenglen’s flat in Passy, where Morris was introduced to some of her tennis star friends.

Before leaving Paris, Morris taught the exercises to one of her teachers who worked each day at Lenglen’s school. It became compulsory for all of her pupils to learn the strokes by doing the exercises before they were allowed to pick up a tennis racket, as well as practicing the special breathing exercises developed by Morris. Lenglen apparently declared that results were obtained much faster and that the pupils had more endurance. Hearing of this, some of her tennis star friends, including “Bunny” Austin, began private lessons with Morris to improve their own style and technique.

Encouraged by this, Lenglen and Morris approached Heinemann’s to publish their exercises in book form and Tennis By Simple Exercises first appeared in 1937. It went into two editions and was later published in France under the title Initiation au Tennis. The Margaret Morris archive at the Fergusson Gallery in Perth has a number of first editions of the book, including Morris’s personal copy, as well as draft manuscripts, notes and correspondence between Morris and Lenglen.

‘Tennis By Simple Exercises’, Suzanne Lenglen and Margaret Morris (Heinemann, 1937), 1st edition. Margaret Morris Collection, Fergusson Gallery, Perth

‘Tennis By Simple Exercises’, Suzanne Lenglen and Margaret Morris (Heinemann, 1937), 2nd edition. Margaret Morris Collection, Fergusson Gallery, Perth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Morris later recalled being invited with Lenglen to a tennis party given by the politician and tennis player Domini, Lady Crosfield, and asked to demonstrate the exercises for the guests. When they had finished, Morris was surrounded by an admiring crowd clamouring “Now, of course, we are just longing to see you play!” Embarrassed, Morris was obliged to reply “But I don’t!” and had to explain to a sea of astonished faces that her varied and busy career gave her little opportunity to play any games herself!

Sadly, Suzanne Lenglen was diagnosed with leukemia in June 1938 and died only a month later, aged just 39. Reminiscing about their collaboration, Morris recalled:

She was a dynamic personality, stimulating to work with, and I never saw a sign of the violent temper she was reputed to possess.

 

Suzanne Lenglen and Margaret Morris demonstrating a tennis exercise, c.1937. Margaret Morris Collection, Fergusson Gallery, Perth

References

Margaret Morris, My Life in Movement (London: Peter Owen Limited, 1969)

“Suzanne Lenglen”, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzanne_Lenglen, accessed 17 May 2018.

Clare Button
Project Archivist

Scottish Gymnastics collection catalogued

Coll-1842/6/1: Photograph of five male boxers [?] standing in a line, c.1950s

As well as cataloguing the Margaret Morris collection in Perth, I have also been working with the records of Scottish Gymnastics, which were donated to the University of Edinburgh last autumn. At 14 boxes, the collection is compact but extremely varied, giving a rich flavour of the organisation’s long history.

The Scottish Amateur Association of Gymnastics, Wrestling and Boxing, as it was originally named, was founded on 24 May 1890 by representatives of five Scottish gymnastics and athletic clubs. Prior to this, gymnastics in Scotland had close links with the British military, specifically the Army Physical Training Corps.

However, over the decades, Scottish Gymnastics increasingly broadened its remit to encompass the wider health and wellbeing applications of human movement. It has since gone on to compete successfully in many international competitions and to widen participation in gymnastics to school and pre-school children and people with disabilities.

The records catalogued include early minutes, a collection of publications, including some very early books on gymnastics and physical culture, photographs, audiovisual material, awards and medals. They are a fantastic resource for historians of sport and physical culture, revealing a century of shifting attitudes towards gender, fitness, exercise and education.

Coll-1842/5/6: ‘Pyramids for Strong Men Gymnasts &c’ by F.J. Harvey (Exeter, The Physical Training Publishing Company, 1907); Coll-1842/5/1: Coll-1842/5/3: ‘Manual of Physical Culture and System of Musical Drill’ by George Cruden (Aberdeen: Alexander Murray, 10th edition, 1902); ‘Gymnastics’ by A.F. Jenkin (London: George Bell and Sons, 1890).

We are also working with Scottish Gymnastics to encourage members to donate material, and are planning to host an event for members to view the collection and to help us identify some photographic material.

Parts of this collection will also receive conservation treatment and be selected for digitisation.

Coll-1842/8/6: Scottish Amateur Gymnastics Association Honorary Life Member pendant in presentation box, undated

The records of Scottish Gymnastics can be consulted at the Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh Main Library. The catalogue can be viewed here:

http://archives.collections.ed.ac.uk/repositories/2/resources/86677

I am now looking forward to beginning work on the records of Dunfermline College of Physical Education, and continuing to catalogue the Margaret Morris collection.

Clare Button
Project Archivist

 

Bombs, Bins and Burglary: The Miraculous Survival of the Margaret Morris Collection

The Fergusson Gallery, Perth.

A fortnight ago I paid my first visit to the Fergusson Gallery, Perth, to begin assessing and listing the Margaret Morris Collection which is housed there. This is the first step towards what will eventually be full cataloguing, rehousing and conserving of the archival collection, and I enjoyed my introduction to the remarkable life of movement and dance pioneer Margaret Morris (1891-1980) and, what’s more, the astonishing story of her archive.

The collection encompasses an array of materials relating to Morris’ life and career as well as the organisation she established, Margaret Morris Movement (which expanded to become the International Association of Margaret Morris Movement). Things get a bit complicated – not to mention dramatic – once we start looking at the variety of people who have added to this collection over the years, and ensured its survival against the odds.

Margaret Morris, anatomical drawing of a hand. Courtesy of Culture Perth and Kinross.

Alhambra Theatre programme, 1928. Courtesy of Culture Perth and Kinross.

Margaret Morris reciting aged five, c.1904. Courtesy of Culture Perth and Kinross.

The earliest parts of the collection were amassed by Victoria Bright Morris, Margaret’s mother. She collected photographs, posters and promotional material relating to her daughter’s performing career (which began aged three, when Margaret would recite poetry and stories in both English and French). Margaret herself kept a lot of material relating to her life and work: programmes, brochures and posters from her famous summer schools, demonstrations and performances; lecture notes and anatomical drawings from her training as a physiotherapist, and voluminous correspondence with her mother, her husband the artist J.D. Fergusson and friends and associates, including numerous literary, musical and theatrical names. The archive also includes items originally created by or belonging to Margaret’s students and colleagues. One of them, Margaret’s personal secretary, dresser and costume maker, Isabel Jeayes, who stored the archive in her London home during the Second World War (when Margaret and Fergusson relocated to Glasgow). Here the first of many disasters struck the collection when it was damaged during the Blitz.

What survived the bombing was moved up to Glasgow, partly to Margaret’s home and partly to the premises of her Margaret Morris School. When J.D. Fergusson died in 1961, Margaret decided to close the School and sell the building. One of her former students, the dancer Jim Hastie, received an urgent call to tell him that the archive was being rapidly disposed of in three skips outside the building. Jim travelled by bus overnight from London and spent two days rescuing as much material as he could before the refuse collectors arrived, storing the surviving material at Margaret’s home.

Margaret Morris Method Canada newsletter, winter 1986. Courtesy of Culture Perth and Kinross.

More upheaval followed during the 1970s when Margaret relocated back to the south of England. Hastie took the archive in to his own home in Glasgow before moving it to the Head Office of Margaret Morris Movement (also in Glasgow) following Margaret’s death in 1980. Catastrophe struck when burglars entered the building and set it on fire. The surviving items were moved to another part of the building only to be damaged again (mainly by water this time) when the adjoining hotel was also set on fire. At this point, Hastie took the archive back into his home before donating it to Perth and Kinross Council (now Culture Perth and Kinross) in 2010. Jim, who became Life President and Artistic Director of the International Association of Margaret Morris Movement, added many items to the collection relating to his own career as well as the operation of the organisation.

The archive is now housed in a building dedicated to the work of J.D. Fergusson and Margaret Morris, and forms part of a wider set of collections of artwork, costumes, sculpture and furniture (as well as Fergusson’s own archive). My first tasks are to begin to untangle the complicated provenance of Morris’ archive and identify those items requiring urgent conservation treatment. Thanks to Wellcome Trust funding, Margaret Morris’ archive will be made fully accessible for many decades to come, but it is thanks to all those who have gone before that it is here today at all.

Clare Button
Project Archivist

With grateful acknowledgement to Jim Hastie’s own reminiscences, ‘The Story of the Margaret Morris Archive.’

 

Introducing ‘Body Language’

‘Body Language: movement, dance and physical education in Scotland, 1890-1990’ is a new Wellcome Trust Research Resources-funded project between Edinburgh University Library Special Collections and the Fergusson Gallery, Perth  with the support of Moray House School of Education, Margaret Morris Movement International and Scottish Gymnastics. I am the archivist on this project and over the next two years I will be cataloguing, preserving and making available these three significant collections relating to movement, dance, physical education and gymnastics in Scotland:

  • The archives of Margaret Morris Movement International

Margaret Morris (1891-1980) established her own system for dance training, Margaret Morris Movement, which focuses on breathing techniques, posture and strength training with co-ordinated movements. Margaret Morris Movement International works today with mentally and physically disabled persons using Morris’s systems and techniques. The archives contain costume designs, music scores, choreography notes, scripts, sketchbooks, diaries, teaching and publicity materials, photographs and around 8,000 items of correspondence from individuals including Edward Elgar, Stanley Baldwin and Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

  • The records of Dunfermline College of Physical Education

Dunfermline College of Physical Education, founded in 1905, was one of the first training colleges for women students of physical education and had an important influence on developing the role of movement and the body in educational practice. The records comprise governance, staff and student records, teaching materials, artefacts
including costumes and uniforms, photographs, and a collection of performance and
educational films. It also incorporates the records of DCPE’s Old Student Association.

  • The archives of Scottish Gymnastics

Scottish Gymnastics was founded in 1890 as a voluntary organisation representing a number of Scottish gymnastic and athletic clubs. Broadening its initial focus from military fitness to general health and wellbeing, it was significant for promoting and supporting gymnastics in Scotland and abroad. The archives contain minute books, correspondence, instructional material, photographs, rare books, journals and other printed material.

We are fortunate to have the support and collaboration of a number of academics on our Project Board who will be using the collections for research and raising awareness of this material to wider academic and public groups.

I’m looking forward to getting started working with these collections and sharing what I find in this blog!

Clare Button
Project Archivist