Food Glorious Food: The upcoming exhibition at The Charles Dickens Museum

Hello, and welcome to another grad trainee blog post! This blog is what I will proudly call the first installment of Anna’s Adventures, as today I venture to the Charles Dickens Museum. What do the Charles Dickens Museum and the RCN Library and Archive team have in common you ask? That’s correct, a passion for rare books and an insatiable love of food.

On Wednesday 28th November, The Dickens Museum opens their new exhibition Food Glorious Food: Dinner with Dickens. The exhibition, guest curated by food historian Pen Vogler takes a look at the prolific Victorian novelist’s relationship with food both in the context of his writing, and within his social life. In 1837, the newlywed Catherine and Charles Dickens moved into their first home in London at 48 Doughty Street, a place which would become a hub of 19th century social affair, and eventually the museum it is today. The Dickens’, not shy from dinner parties or merriment, often invited friends, family, and other interesting characters to stay for dinner, a total occasion where the food, the table display, the guests, and the conversation were to be envied.

Various accounts of dinner with Dickens reference servants or wait staff, but discussion of the chef’s accomplishments remains strangely absent considering they were the ones who spent hours prepping and cooking the dinners. Dinners with lots of hot, delicious, on-time food. In his novels, Dickens wrote about food as a way to demonstrate how everybody regardless of income or class had the right to enjoy and share food and beverages. Through his depictions of various fictional characters and their relationships with food, Dickens also shed light onto the problem of poverty in Britain, raising awareness of the issue within the public sphere.

This exhibition is particularly exciting for us here at the RCN Library, as amongst the many special objects to see, including Dickens’ own grand silver fruit bowl and private letters to guests, we look forward to seeing two very special items loaned from our rare books collection on display. After learning about the loaning of the books, I immediately wanted to find out more about them. Both books were written by Alexis Soyer (1810-1858), a French chef who began his career in 1821 in Paris and quickly became well recognized, so much so that by 1830 he was working in the kitchen of the French prime minister. Towards the end of 1830, the 20 year old fled to England where he was employed in the kitchens of Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge. In 1837 he became the head chef of the Reform Club up until 1850, and during his time there he had cooked for thousands, including breakfast for Queen Victoria and guests on her coronation day. Throughout his career, he essentially reformed the Victorian kitchen leaving a legacy of historic cookery books in the process. Alexis Soyer died aged 48 in St. John’s Wood on August 5th 1858, and is buried in Kensal Green cemetery.

Soyer's Regenerator
Alexis Soyer’s Gastronomic Regenerator, 1846

One of these historic books soon to be exhibited is Gastronomic Regenerator (1846), a comprehensive guide of nearly 2,000 recipes made simple, for use by those from all different incomes and backgrounds. Illustrated with engravings and plans for how kitchens of any size “from the kitchen of a royal palace to that of the humble cottage” should be built and furnished. Soyer worked to improve the food that was given to British soldiers during the Crimean War, and his ‘Soyer Stove’ was still in use by the British Army until 1982. He even volunteered to go to Crimea in 1855 to support the cooks for the soldiers there. Together with Florence Nightingale and other nursing staff, Soyer helped in the vital reorganization of the hospitals there, eventually returning to England in 1857.

The second book on display is The modern housewife or ménagère (1849), a collection of a thousand recipes also beautifully illustrated with engravings, including those of the ‘modern housewife’s’ kitchen, and “magic stove”, a table top stove Soyer invented that allowed for cooking anywhere. “Puddings for invalids, garniture for omelettes, and conversation on household affairs” are just a few of the intriguing topics that Soyer covers in The Modern Housewife.

soyers modern housewif
Alexis Soyer, Soyer’s Modern Housewife, 1849
Soyer's Modern Housewife
The beautiful spine of Soyer’s Modern Housewife, 1849

I was very happy to be able to courier the books to the museum earlier this week, and knowing their importance I was only mildly terrified. Nonetheless, I guarded them with both my life and an Uber.  

The exhibition opens Wednesday 28th November 2018, and will be showing until Monday 22nd April 2019.


Overdue introduction…

Hello all!

My name is Anna, and I’ve been a part of the RCN Library and Archive team for very nearly two months now, working within Collection Development alongside the lovely Di, Nate, Chris, and the rest of the Library team, and so here is my first, very overdue graduate trainee blog post.

To briefly introduce myself, I graduated this summer from the University of Essex in History of Art, and between the times I spent rocking back and forth in one particular corner of the library which I had commandeered as my own, and admiring the Eastern Bloc accommodation situated opposite, I attended a talk regarding careers in libraries.

The Albert Sloman Anna Shipway Library
Warsaw Eyesore

Though art and its histories will always be a passion of mine, I felt overwhelmed with everything I had learned over an intense few years of lectures and essays. Feeling inspired by the careers talk, and wanting to explore something new, I researched graduate traineeships in various libraries and what it is they involve. When I finally saw the RCN’s position posted online, it was if a light bulb had been switched on in my head.

At the time, I was aware of only some of the important work the RCN did. I knew it was a trade union, I knew they had a library and heritage centre in London, and I also knew that my Mum, a nurse for over 30 years was a long-term member. After researching more about both the position and the RCN, I felt determined and applied.

After getting the amazing news that I was offered the job, it seemed like such a long summer waiting to start. Then, everything seemed to happen so quickly; I found a little flat in London just south of the river, and the weekend before I started my new job I moved everything I owned into it. So with a new job, a new flat, a new area, and new people, I was definitely nervous, but equally as excited.

Despite having only worked here for a relatively short amount of time, I have managed to get involved in a number of exciting projects and events. Back in October, for World Mental Health Day, I researched and gathered a variety of items that we have in our collection on the theme of mental health to be displayed for an event hosted by both the RCN Mental Health forum and the RCN Children and Young People Staying Healthy forum.

World Mental Health Day event, 2018

A few of the items I thought would be interesting to display included Aids to Psychiatric Nursing (1957), a handbook for nurses that was written by Annie Altschul CBE FRCN, with this particular copy being previously owned by Trevor Clay, the former RCN General Secretary. I also included various pamphlets from the 1960s and 70s that promoted mental health nursing, and of course the electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) machine from the 60s that makes everybody go “oooh” with equal intrigue and revulsion.

I was also able to assist Frances in the Events and Exhibitions team with installing objects for the current Wandering Womb exhibition that is on display now until late-March. I never really thought getting my hands on an award-winning French whirling spray vaginal douche from the early 20th century would be the highlight of my day, but alas, it was.

A few millimeters makes all the difference

Having visited galleries and museums my whole life from a visitors perspective, this was the first time I could input as to how I thought items might be displayed, and it was incredibly fun doing so.

Being able to interact and learn about items in the collection is one of my favourite aspects of the job so far, and luckily I can continue doing so with a few upcoming projects. In December, I will install the next display in the spotlight case, and there is lots of scope with the theme of fertility and IVF. Being able to liaise with Jane Denton CBE FRCN, and the Fertility Nursing forum is a great opportunity to ensure the display can be as interesting and informative as it can be. Similarly, preparations for the next temporary exhibition are already underway, and the next few months are sure to be exciting with the research and learning that comes with a new exhibition.

Until then…



Greetings! It’s another intro blog…

Dear all graduate trainee blog enthusiasts (myriad in number as you must be),

Prof Pic EL
This is me. They tell me I am stuck with this picture now.

I’m Emily, the other graduate trainee aside from the lovely Catherine working in the Customer Services team, and Anna in Collections Development. I began at the RCN exactly one month ago today, and have been kept so busy during that time that I am only just now finding a moment to introduce myself.

I graduated from the University of Exeter a long long time ago in 2016, with a degree in Classics. This is the kind of degree that is excellent fun and I would still recommend to anyone, but somewhat lacks any sort of vocational direction.

Having been plagued by questions and confused reactions throughout my degree such as, ‘what is that again?’ and, ‘why are you learning ‘dead’ languages?’ I was finally tasked to comprehend the answers to all of these at the conclusion of my degree. I consequently spent the past couple of years working in HR in sunny (for the most part anyway) Bournemouth, where the majority of my family are based.

Having worked in my own university library part-time as an undergrad which was a convenient way of pinching all the books on the reading list before anyone else, it occurred to me that as this was something I rather enjoyed at the time, and also since I have the unfortunate (and apparently irritating – who knew?) habit of alphabetizing my own books at home, that I really ought to consider working in libraries.

The graduate trainee job at the RCN came up, and it seemed like the perfect fit. Despite this I was utterly taken aback when I was offered the job some months ago just a few days after my interview, and it seemed like an age passed between the offer and the actual process of realising my new life in London.

A month in, and I am very glad to have made the plunge. It already feels as if I’ve been here for a long time, and I already suspect that they may have to drag me away at the end of the year.

Here are some of the lovely things I have been doing since I arrived…

On a daily basis, I work on the desk and in the library, helping users with their many and varied enquiries. There are also a lot of back room duties which complement this. These can be anything from postal loans to family history searches and article requests all of which are very diverse in themselves. For example I am currently hunting down some journal articles from 1919 on Influenza for one of our members which has been a really interesting experience in itself.

I have met with the Events & Exhibitions team who have kindly allowed me to join them in their planning of the next major exhibition for the RCN. Currently this entails a multi-coloured spreadsheet (the very best kind) and, without giving too much away,  trying not to get too distracted by Cherry Ames’ mysteries which are oddly addictive.

A couple of weeks ago I attended an afternoon tea with fellow graduate trainees from London at the Senate House Library. I realise as I write these words it seems like I am leading a rather luxurious lifestyle (indeed there were a range of satisfyingly bite-sized cakes) although actually it was a networking event and a very good opportunity to meet others starting out on the same path.

Senate house Library
This is the Senate House Library, which seems rather imposing from this angle.

One of the highlights for me so far was attending the launch of the RCN’s latest exhibition – The Wandering Womb – which is concerned with women’s health. Having spent quite a bit of time listing the events for November and December which all focus on women’s health, I was keen to see what it was all the fuss was about. All three speakers were excellent, and I learned a great deal about women’s health which was hitherto unknown to me from the lovely people at the Vagina Museum, whom I have since discovered have a fantastic Twitter account.

I am learning something new every day, and I would not be able to do so if it weren’t for the team around me being so willing to help me in my ignorance. I am excited to see how the exhibition planning unfolds over the next year, and there are already some new projects on the horizon!

All the Best,


Hello from Catherine!

It’s been a month since I’ve started the role of grad trainee with the customer service team at the RCN, so it’s about time I introduced myself and kick start the grad trainee blog! So……..


My terrible picture on my staff badge!

General intro from me, my name’s Catherine, I graduated back in 2012 (feels like ages ago) from University of the Arts London with a Painting degree. My dreams of becoming an artist somewhat dashed at the end, and slightly put off by the cold and damp of working in studios, I compromised with just my sketchpad on the side of my bed and pursuit into other endeavors and lines of work afterwards. I’ve done a multitude of things since, from working in care for 2 years with people with dementia- equally the hardest and most rewarding experience of my life. Whilst doing that though it gave me the opportunity to volunteer on the side in other fields and my interests- this ranged from volunteering at my county local studies and archives indexing, working my local museum in Rickmansworth with their online catalogue, and being part of the VIP project at the Museum of London’s Archaeological Archive.

From this I left my job in care and got a job working in a public library in Buckinghamshire. Working for public libraries was immensely enjoyable and gave me experience of customer service and enquiry work, to consider a career in library and information work and to study at post-graduate level

I wished to gain more experience of working within libraries and information management and work within different sectors. I saw a job advert for the graduate trainee role at the RCN, went for it and was amazed I got it, hoorah! It seemed like a good fit with my background working in care, I have huge respect for carers, health workers and of course Nurses! And obviously to pair this with library experience seemed like a fantastic opportunity and it is!

Like starting anywhere in a new role it’s been a bit of information overload at first and getting your head round certain processes and handling queries takes time, however the sheer range of projects and work that goes on within the library and Archive team is incredibly interesting and is exactly what I hoped for with a year’s placement at the RCN.

RCN building

So, I’ll share with you a few things I’ve been getting involved in so far, and the highlights-

To date I’ve been spending a lot of my time getting involved with the process for the RCN to apply for their second year rolling programme assessment for the Customer Service Excellence Award (bit of a mouthful)  uploading evidence for the assessor to look through. As a new comer it gives you an idea of all the good work and standards of the RCN Library and Archive. I’ve been working through the online listings for all the exhibitions and events that go on at the RCN, not just in London but Wales, Belfast and in Edinburgh. They host loads of interesting talks and events from workshops on publishing for clinical nurses, and event which I’m particularly interested in that’s coming up- Captured on Paper: Drawing with history workshops on drawing objects which tell a history of mental health. As for exhibitions they’re currently in the process of de-installing the Pandemic! 100 years of Nursing Infection, which will be making its way up to Edinburgh. The Wandering Womb: Women’s health nursing past and present exhibition will be then installed which sounds fantastic!

Nursing History room, where the current Pandemic Exhibition is







Here are some 2 highlights from my time here so far at the RCN….


BFI Reuben Library tour

BFI Southbank helpful arrows!

As part of the graduate traineeship, we have the opportunity from time to time for visiting other libraries. In September, we went along to the BFI Reuben Library. Along the Southbank, which I know well and have walked down nearly a hundred times, I’m ashamed to say I couldn’t remember where BFI Southbank was, as it’s somewhat hidden underneath waterloo bridge, away from the main strand. Finding signs on the walls to direct you down, you come to an impressive large glass building with the entrance to the BFI.



BFI Southbank

As soon as you walk in you have a huge centre with the BFI shop, bars and restaurants and signs for it’s cinema screenings showing classic and contemporary films every year. For people who love film, it’s a haven and you could easily spend a whole day in there. Particularly at the booths, where you can plug in your headphones and sit and watch screenings of short films.

Sit back and watch some videos and films in their booths on an afternoon!

Even though I knew some things about the BFI, from the film festivals particularly, I didn’t know much about the library. Over to the left hand corner to the building, there is glass doors with people studying, and you enter into the quiet and calmness of the Reuben Library away from all the other distractions.

BFI Reuben library







It’s filled with contemporary seating, walls lined with books and journals, and a few members of staff stationed in the middle at a desk. It has as scanners and microform readers available and six public research terminals for access to databases and searching collections, from the Film and Literature Index, BFI screen online, BFI In view and the Screen studies collection. There is no membership to the library which I didn’t know about. The staff don’t work with any kind of circulation module either as the library is entirely a reference library.

The seating is somewhat split into two- One side for reading of the materials within the library itself, the other side is kept for research desks where you can consult any material from closed access stack or multimedia vault. You would need to fill out a short registration form and place bags and other belongings into a locker for this a locker.

Joan Crawford display

They have display books in the centre of the library themed to compliment BFI Southbank seasons and events, currently on display books on Joan Crawford. Although quite a small library, you realise the vast collection of film and television from the birth of cinema to today they hold. There are many sited which hold the BFI collections-


BFI southbank, where you have the reading room and closed access storage in the basement for staff access only

BFI Stephen street- press screenings, presentations and where materials from their national archive are available for viewing.

BFI Conservation Centre- Gaydon is a Multi media vault. Designed to hold 190,000 canisters of volatile nitrate film at controlled humidity. For staff access and where advanced orders essential.

BFI national Archive- berkhamstead- collection of film and television from the birth of cinema to today.

The BFI national Archive hold one of the largest film and television collections in the world. The collection contains nearly a million titles- Established in 1935, it hold materials dating from the earliest days of film to the capture of television content, ranging from a huge collection of books, journals, digitised material about the world of film, tv and moving image, newspaper clippings, still images, scripts, the list goes on and on!

Computer terminals used for accessing our databases and searching collections, we were shown something that I wasn’t familiar with but can be accessed from home the BFI Player. Here you can rent the latest releases, subscribe to classics and cult films and explore the best from the BFI, national and regional archives. Something you can explore for free on the BFI player  is 1000s of films from the BFI and the Archive partners. There are films from across the UK with the Britain on Film Map which was fascinating to watch!


Black History Month Spotlight Case

October is Black History month, so handing over from Oliver (past grad trainee) who compiled some resources together from nursing history room, the store and photographs I put together a display of materials to celebrate black history and nursing. There are some truly inspirational people, both Nurses and health pioneers. (I had to be very selective with what I was able to fit into the case as there wasn’t room for everything) so here’s a bit about a few of the items on display….


Black History month display






One item I have on display is a News Article– Nursing standard 1998- account from Daphne Steele ‘Mother Country’- In 1964, Daphne Steele Became the first black matron in the national health service. In this news article you can see her account of late 40s and 50s Britain turned to the colonies for much needed NHS staff. Coming to Britain in 1951, after completing her training in Guyana the culture shock.

Many rivers to cross: Caribbean people in the NHS 1948-1969, Ann Kramer Here I’ve displayed a page of all the health pioneers from this era, here are but a few….

Mary Seacole. Born In Kingston. Using her own money, she went to the Crimea where she nursed the wounded on the Battlefield. Her autobiography, Wonderful adventures of Mrs Mary Seacole in many lands published in 1857 became a bestseller (another title I have in the spotlight case!)

Dr John Alcindor– Trinidadian born. Worked in many hospitals and in 1907, established his own practice in Paddington. Active member and president of the African Progress Union.

More recent health pioneer Elizabeth Anionwu, Professor of Nursing and head of the Seacole centre for Nursing Practice at Thames Valley University , who has campaigned for BME nurses and the late Daphne Steel.


Finally I have book on display titled Heroic Nurses by Robin McKown– Here I have opened a page with an extract on Princess Tsahai Haile Selassie, along with some photographs and quotes.

Princess Tsahai Haile Selassie

‘Against royal tradition, she began nursing in August 1936 as the only non-white probationer at the Great Ormonde Street Hospital for sick children in London…she enrolled in postgraduate courses at temporary wartime quarters…where she tended some victims of the blitz’

Princess Tsahai Haile Selassie

Historical Encyclopedia of Nursing, p.238




This is just a small taster, so if you have time, pop into the RCN library and heritage centre to have a look at all the items on display for yourselves!


That’s all from me on the blog post for this week, I will leave you next in the good hands of the other graduate trainees- Emily in customer services team and Anna in the collections team!