Finding Number (Click this to view full catalogue structure)US38/2
Extent14 volumes
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DescriptionSet of personal diaries of Raymond Priestley, kept on typescript pages and bound into hardback volumes with Priestley's bookplate on the inside cover. Pages have been numbered by Priestley, who also provided handwritten contents listings, described as indexes. Diary entries usually cover a week or two weeks and were written retrospectively to provide a summary. Some volumes also contain additional typescript or handwritten essays or copies of lectures, correspondence, and other ephemera, and most volumes include photographs and press cuttings relating to topics discussed by Priestley in the diary entries. The volumes in this sequence cover the period from October 1938, when Priestley took up his post as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, to February 1953, when he returned from one of his frequent visits to Jamaica as a member of the Council of the University College of the West Indies. Priestley kept detailed diaries for much of his life; other volumes are held in archive repositories in other institutions.

Diaries covering the period October 1938 to the end of 1943 contain detailed entries which provide a full record of Priestley's activities. During 1944 and 1945 He spent time away from Birmingham, giving lecture tours to Allied troops stationed in Scotland and in Italy and Malta during the final phases of the Second World War, and undertaking his first visit to Jamaica and Trinidad as a member of the Asquith Commission on Higher Education in the Colonies. He recorded detailed accounts of his travels, but became less concerned with keeping a consistent record of his more routine activities in his weekly diary. He continued to make retrospective entries until May 1945, marking the end of the war in Europe, and also made entries in August 1945 after the end of the war with Japan. From October 1945 the diaries take the form of scrapbooks and travel journals, documenting Priestley's activities through the inclusion of press cuttings, correspondence, copies of lectures and essays, photographs, and ephemera, together with detailed accounts of his journeys abroad, mostly to Jamaica and Trinidad, but also to other Caribbean islands, and to Malaya, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The majority of these visits were made in his role as a member of organisations concerned with the development of higher education in British colonies, which he continued after his retirement as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Birmingham in 1953. The diaries for these years also allow for the reconstruction of his activities in Birmingham as Vice-Chancellor, and of some aspects of his family and domestic life through the press cuttings and photographs

The weekly diary entries are primarily concerned with Priestley's university business, and with university administration in a broader sense, but also contain evidence of his other interests in polar research and in schools and adult education. They form a valuable record of the governance of the University of Birmingham, particularly for the years from 1938 to 1945, and provide evidence about the development of university policy during that period. Priestley regularly mentions the committee meetings he attended, and sometimes provides brief accounts of business discussed and details of conversations between members of academic staff. He often refers to his work with members of administrative staff at the University, and with members of the Guild of Students, and also writes about attending university receptions and social events. The entries contain information about Priestley's participation, as Vice-Chancellor, in civic business, including the management of hospital services in Birmingham, his interest in the management of local schools, and his involvement in planning for civic development for the post-war period. There are also details about his continued links with the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge and his visits there, his attendance at meetings of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors, and his meetings with representatives from local industries to discuss higher education funding. Priestley records details of his visits to give lectures and speeches, mostly on the topic of Antarctic exploration, to a large number of local organisations, as well as to local schools and to troops stationed in the West Midlands area during the Second World War.

The entries for this period are an important source for the study of the impact of the Second World War on Birmingham and on the governance and operations of the University, seen from the perspective of Priestley as Vice-Chancellor. There are details about the establishment of a Joint Recruiting Board to channel students into military service, the formation of a Home Guard, and the implementation of fire watching and air raid precautions duties for staff and students at university properties at both Edmund Street and Edgbaston. Priestley discusses staff shortages, the involvement of academic staff in government research connected with the conflict, and the evacuation scheme to Canada organised for the families of academic staff. He also comments on the arrival of refugee students, the temporary accommodation provided for medical students from Kings College, London at Birmingham, the effects of food rationing, and the establishment of the University Overseas Club and other social activities for members of other universities from Britain and overseas, serving with Allied forces and stationed in Birmingham. The diary entries describe some of his personal experiences and feelings about the war, and include descriptions of air raids, his work to grow vegetables in his garden and on the allotment, his own involvement in fire watching duties, and his separation from his elder daughter, Jocelyn, who was living with her husband in Australia and was only able to maintain contact with her family in Birmingham through sporadic letters.

The diaries give a full account of Priestley's social and family life during this time, and include details about his visits to Birmingham theatres and attendance at other cultural activities in Birmingham, as well as regular excursions and holidays in the surrounding countryside, particularly to the Malvern hills and to Bredon, but also to other parts of Worcestershire and Herefordshire, as well as visits to see family and friends in Tewkesbury. Many entries include references to his wife, Phyllis, and his daughter, Margaret, who was studying in London during the early 1940s, but also spent time in Birmingham, and who was undertaking teaching practice in Birmingham during the latter part of the Second World War.

The travel diaries are rich in detail about Priestley's travels in Jamaica and Trinidad, and include incidental information about friends and colleagues he spent time with there, who were mostly connected with the University College of the West Indies. Photographs in both the Birmingham diaries and the travel diaries complement the entries, and include images of several of those mentioned in the diaries. Priestley often gives news about friends from his time at Cambridge University and the University of Melbourne, where he had been Vice-Chancellor in the mid 1930s, as well as news about his siblings, and about his friends from his Antarctic expeditions. Anecdotes and observations about peoples characters and actions are a feature of the diary entries, and Priestley sometimes includes stories about his own bad luck or minor misfortunes, written with an obvious sense of humour, as well as comments about members of University of Birmingham staff.

It is clear that Priestley continued to reflect on his diary entries in later years; there are handwritten annotations added, with dates in the 1960s and early 1970s. A reference in one of these annotations to his 1968 diary suggests that he continued to compile some form of record of his activities well into his eighties
Access StatusOpen