Outline online

By , September 30, 2010 12:13 pm

A quick post to alert readers to the URL of the beginnings of the online version of the catalogue that I am producing for the ‘new’ Sassoon deposit. The collection’s classmark is MS Add.9852 and the catalogue to it may be found at:

Readers may also be interested to see catalogue entries for Sassoon items held in various other Cambridge repositories which are made available on the same website. They are indexed as part of the unified Cambridge online archival catalogues initiative at the Janus website:

A freetext search for ‘Sassoon’ using the site’s search function will also turn up further references.

Cups, costumes and a candelabrum

By , September 21, 2010 2:56 pm

Being an archivist, I naturally tend to think that the most effective way of understanding the life of a literary or historical figure will usually be through the documentary record. All the same, there’s no denying the fascination which can attach to objects closely associated with the person in question.

From time to time such artefacts do find their way into archives: it has been reported that the Humanities Research Center in Austin, Texas, preserves the pair of bed-socks in which the novelist Compton Mackenzie died, and here in the U.L. we keep the composer Sir Arthur Bliss’s Companion of Honour badge along with his papers. In October, a collection of items associated with Siegfried Sassoon will be offered for sale by the Salisbury auctioneers Woolley and Wallis (www.woolleyandwallis.co.uk). Although these objects fall outside the Library’s collecting policy, there are interesting links with documents on display in the ‘Dream Voices’ exhibition.

The second display case in the exhibition contains a notebook kept by Sassoon (MS Add. 9852/3/2) titled ‘Details of point-to-point races –1911–12–13–14–’. Sassoon turned to point-to-point racing in 1911, riding his newly-acquired horse Cockbird. The description in the Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man of George Sherston carrying off the Colonel’s Cup in the Ringwell Heavy Weight Race is based on Sassoon’s experience competing for the Southdown Heavy Weight Cup in April 1911, and the notebook is opened to show the account of this race. Compared with the fictionalised version, it gives a sparse factual record, noting that the event took place at Cooksbridge, was open to subscribers of fifteen guineas to the Southdown Foxhounds, and attracted ten entries. ‘Won easily’ was Sassoon’s laconic statement of the result.

 The Salisbury sale will include the Southdown Heavy Weight Cup itself, inscribed with the names of the winning horse and rider.

Southdown Heavy Weight Cup, 1911.

Southdown Heavy Weight Cup, 1911. Image: Woolley and Wallis.

The inscription confirms what has to be surmised from the notebook, that the ‘b.g.’ given after Cockbird’s name stands for ‘bay gelding’. The 1911 Southdown was Sassoon’s first victory, in his third point-to-point, and he was sufficiently proud of the performance to have photographs taken of himself posing with Cockbird and the Cup, examples of which are reproduced in the biographies. Sassoon and Cockbird went on to win several more races, including the Atherstone Hunt Point to Point in March 1914, the trophy for which is also in the sale.

Atherstone Hunt Point to Point Cup, 1914.

Atherstone Hunt Point to Point Cup, 1914. Image: Woolley and Wallis.

Perhaps the documents in the exhibition with the greatest associative power are the diaries and journals kept by Sassoon on active service: the small pocket notebooks he carried with him in France and Palestine. The Salisbury sale will include Sassoon’s Royal Welch Fusiliers service dress jacket, with Military Cross ribbon and Sassoon’s name inscribed on an inside label.

Sassoon's service dress jacket.

Sassoon's service dress jacket. Image: Woolley and Wallis.

Label inside Sassoon's service dress jacket.

Label inside Sassoon's service dress jacket. Image: Woolley and Wallis.

The sleeves show Sassoon’s rank as captain, and therefore in its current state the jacket cannot be earlier than 1918, but although there is no proof one way or another, it is easy to imagine one or more of the notebooks on display in the exhibition having at one time nestled in one of its breast pockets.

The sale, which will also include hunting costumes, and a candelabrum mentioned in one of Sassoon’s post-war poems, takes place on Wednesday 27 October.

Sassoon and birth

By , September 7, 2010 3:27 pm

Hard of the heels of the anniversary of Sassoon’s death comes the 124th anniversary of his birth. He was born on 8 September 1886 in at the family home in Weirleigh, Kent.

Although there are some family items in the new acquisition there does not at this stage appear to be anything directly related to Sassoon’s birth. Sassoon’s diaries are patchy at the time of his own son’s birth, perhaps owing to anxiety about the health of his wife Hester following an earlier miscarriage. However here is part of the first entry in a new diary begun by Sassoon on 12 December 1936 when George would have been just six weeks old:

And George, of course, is a thought which satisfies my whole being. I love him so much already, & long for the time when I can converse with him – watching myself as a child again – for he is exactly like me.
MS Add.9852/1/39

George Thornycroft Sassoon was to remain Sassoon and Hester’s only child.

Sassoon and death

By , September 1, 2010 3:45 pm

As a brief nod to the anniversary of Sassoon’s demise (he died at home in Heytesbury on 1 September 1967) I should like to draw your attention to three resources that throw light on how Sassoon thought about death at two very different points in his life.

In July 1916 Sassoon was involved in the bloody battle of the Somme and fully expected to die. An item in the new accession shows an extraordinary sketch of monument he wanted erected to him on Market Hill, Cambridge. There is an image of the sketch on the exhibtion webpages at:

Sassoon, of course, survived the war. His demise was a slow one; a decline in his health was noticeable from the age of 74 and he died from stomach cancer just before what would have been his 81st birthday. Sassoon had converted to Roman Catholicism as a direct result of a correspondence with Revd Mother Margaret Mary McFarlin and his faith brought him much comfort in his final years. A brief catalogue to the correspondence can be viewed at:

The importance of Catholicism in the last years of Sassoon’s life is also demonstrated by an item from the Cambridge University Library’s Keynes collection. It is a collection of four poems composed in 1962 and 1964 entitled Ave, Atque Vale (Hail and farewell). The poems were produced posthumously as a small, fine pamphlet by the Stanbrook Abbey Press. The catalogue record is at:

The sketch and copy of Ave, Atque Vale may currently be viewed by anyone who is able to visit the free Dream Voices exhibition (open until 23 December 2010).
The letters can be consulted by anyone with a Cambridge University Library reader’s card validated for the Manuscripts Reading Room. Information on how to apply for reader status is online on the Library’s Admissions pages.