Working with Wikipedia to make collections more discoverable



418px-Wikipedia-logo-v2-enDr James Peters writes:

A small project has recently been undertaken to improve links between Special Collections catalogues and Wikipedia articles. This will enhance the discoverability of our collections by representing them in an information resource which is used by millions every day.

Wikipedia is now recognised as a key Web-based information resource; the online encyclopaedia contains millions of articles, and has become a respected and trusted source of information for its users.

An online global community of authors and editors – Wikipedians – is continuously engaged in adding to and updating entries. Wikipedia articles are the product of many hands, and this is generally a strength as it brings together and refines information from diverse sources.

Wikipedia articles can link to external information resources, such as online archive catalogues. This is a useful way of indicating the additional sources of information available for the individual or organisation that is the subject of a Wikipedia article

I have been looking at how the Library’s archive collections are represented on Wikipedia. The issue first came to attention when I noted that some Wikipedia articles which referenced our collections often did so inaccurately or had broken links to the relevant archive catalogues. I decided to investigate the issue more systematically by checking Wikipedia articles on 700 individuals and organisations whose archives we look after.

The findings were interesting. Only around 5% of articles referenced a related archive collection held by Special Collections.  In a further 300 cases, there were Wikipedia articles for individuals and organisations, but without any information about related archival resources.  Perhaps surprisingly, over half the individuals or organisations whose archives we look after have no Wikipedia entries. Admittedly some of these are very obscure or not appropriate for Wikipedia treatment, but there were also some well-known names missing.

Having had some basic training as a Wikipedia editor, I have begun to remedy this situation. Where collections are already referenced in a Wikipedia article, information has been checked for accuracy and working links created to our archive catalogue, ELGAR or the Guide to Special Collections. A further hundred or so articles now have information about a related archive held by us; this information is usually added to the External Resources section of the article, and linked to ELGAR or the Guide. In some cases links were created instead to the relevant entry in the National Archives’ Discovery catalogue, which is better for conveying information about archives which are held by multiple repositories.  Some important archives such as the papers of Samuel Alexander, T.F. Tout and Annie Horniman are now referenced in their Wikipedia articles.

There is still work to be done. In some cases, although Wikipedia articles exist for an individual or organisation, the Library does not have a public description of the archive associated with them. This is hopefully something which can be tackled in future, as more material is catalogued. We can also contribute to new Wikipedia articles for those individuals and organisations that currently lack them, and in the process help to ensure that our collections are properly publicised.

Christian Brethren Magic Lantern Slides now online


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Dr Graham Johnson, Christian Brethren Archivist, writes:

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Magic lantern slide shows (known as phantasmagoria) were produced from at least the seventeenth century and became popular in the late eighteenth century. In the 1870s the development of gelatin silver slides made possible the creation of photographic magic lantern slides and such shows were widespread from the late nineteenth century, when religious and moral organisations adopted them on a wide scale.

Their use in the mission field was appreciated by David Livingstone, who with great difficulty, and at great expense, transported fragile glass slides and cumbersome heavy projection equipment (which he described as his ‘most valuable travelling friend’) into Central Africa.

Their use at home as mission propaganda was even more widely appreciated: they raised awareness of missionary activity, encouraged financial support, and in an age before television, were a good night out, a useful supplement at a Sunday school, or an exciting addition to a regular chapel meeting. In the words of the popular Victorian journalist W.T. Stead, ‘Photography and the magic lantern are going to democratise sects, educate the masses and contribute to the evangelisation of the world’.


Magic Lantern Slide Projector

A collection of 100 glass slides was discovered on the shelves of the Christian Brethren Archive by the current archivist, where they had been donated before his arrival at some point between 1979 (when the archive was created) and 2003. They had originated from Newmilns in Ayreshire. Alongside the slides on the shelves, in an old battered suitcase, was the impressive projector (see illustration) which had been fitted with a modern plug, suggesting use well into the twentieth century.

The collection is made up of a number of purchased commercial slides, including many from ‘The Life and Work of David Livingstone’ produced by the London Missionary Society. There are slides of exotic places of a kind that could be found in any Victorian travelogue. However, the unique appeal of this collection is the slides produced specifically for a Brethren audience. Among the latter are photographs from the mission field, and coloured montages illustrative of the work of Brethren missions in India, Spain, the Faroes, Central and South America, Russia, Italy, British Guiana and Malaysia.

There are photographs of Brethren worthies including George Müller and Henry Groves, and slides illustrative of particular events in Brethren history such as the early get-togethers in Dublin usually considered foundational, and the fabled meeting of the missionaries Arnot Swan and Faulkner in Garanganze in Central Africa during 1888. The collection also includes the opportunity for a sing-along, incorporating hymn lyrics: ‘Throw out the life Line’ illustrated by a turbulent seascape and ‘There’s a call comes ringing’ illustrated by gloomy skies and a boat coming to the rescue.

The slides provide a fascinating insight into the evangelising activities of Brethren assemblies and their attempts to popularise the activities of the missionaries working in the field.

The lanterns slides have recently been digitised at ultra-high resolution by the Library’s expert Heritage Imaging Team, thanks to generous funding from the J. W. Laing Trust. They are now available to view online via Luna.

You can also download a pdf copy of the catalogue, incorporating all the images, here (13Mb).

Neurosurgery & Long-term Medical Effects of WWI


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The case files of neurosurgeon Geoffrey Jefferson survive for patients admitted between 1927 and 1940 and inevitably a number of his patients were soldiers during World War One, and in one case the Boer War. Despite dating from over a decade after Armistice Day the effects of the war tend to play a part in these individual’s medical histories, some much more than others. Very often reference to a patient’s military past is brief and simply part of a thorough medical history, however there are a handful of patients who were still suffering the direct after-effects of their injuries many years later.

Jefferson himself was a member of the RAMC during World War One and spent time working as chief surgeon to the Anglo-Russian Hospital in Petrograd before heading to the 14th General Hospital of the British Expeditionary Force in Boulogne, France as surgical specialist. He published a number of articles relating to his time in the RAMC largely relating to gunshot wounds to the head.

Examples of war injuries from Jefferson’s patient files include:

Head Injuries

Both patients 1928/7 and 1935/168 had received direct injuries to the head during the war which were believed to be the cause of their subsequent attacks of epileptiform fits. The former had received a gunshot wound to the temple whilst the latter had been injured by a hand grenade, small fragments of which could still be identified in the patient’s head on x-ray examination in 1953. There a number of patients amongst Jefferson’s case files that developed seizure disorders as a result of traumatic head injuries and very often little could be done surgically to treat them.  Patient 1935/168 was one such case and was discharged home in status quo and treated medically and his seizures ceased naturally about three years later. Patient 1928/7, however, developed an abscess in the right temporal region and following surgical efforts to drain the abscess died in December 1928.

V0047844 WWI: face of soldier suffering effects of gas poisoning Credit: Wellcome Library Copyrighted work available under CC BY 4.0

Gas Poisoning

In September 1933 patient 1933/115 came under the care of Jefferson owing to a metastatic cerebral abscess. Central to this man’s condition was the bronchiectasis (disease of the lungs) he had suffered from since being gassed in the army. His condition quickly deteriorated and a post mortem examination confirmed the diagnosis and also identified multiple abscesses in the right lung.

Strangely the medical effects of toxic gases, and particularly mustard gas, went full circle following World War Two. Manchester haematologist John Frederick Wilkinson worked closely with workers in the toxic gas factories during World War Two and his observations contributed to his work on the development of chemotherapy utilising nitrogen mustards to treat leukaemia. More information on his work can be found amongst his research papers also housed at the University of Manchester Library.

Shell Shock

Patient 1934/110 had been demobilised from the army in 1918 suffering from deafness and shell shock and was still receiving a pension as a result of this when he came to see Jefferson in 1934. A few months before his admission his condition deteriorated significantly with alteration in behaviour and severe lapses of memory. His wife reported that he would sit in a chair doing nothing and when asked what was wrong replied “my head is going wrong”. He only remained an inpatient under Jefferson for a couple of days and no treatment was recorded during this period and he was discharged as suffering from cerebral degeneration complicated by syphilitic periarteritis.

Patient 1937/151 JCN/12/138

Phantom Limbs

Whilst with the British Expeditionary Force in France in 1916 patient 1937/151’s left leg was blown off during a battle on the Somme and was amputated shortly afterwards. The patient reported that he was still able to feel his left foot immediately after the operation but was not troubled by pain. By the time he saw Jefferson in 1937 he had been experiencing regular episodes of extreme pain in his phantom limb, which had led him to contemplate suicide. A surgical root section of nerves affecting the pain pathways to the limb, or cordotomy, was performed after which his pain subsided, although he was still aware of the presence of the limb. At first considered a success, a return of the patient’s pain was regrettably reported only a few months after his discharge.

See an earlier posting by Dr Rebecca Wynter for further information about Jefferson’s involvement with phantom limbs during WWI.

In conjunction with Jefferson’s personal papers relating to his work during WWI (including his time in Russia and research into amputations) and the works and publications of many of his contemporaries it is possible to gain an insight into the methods employed to treat war injuries, the medical research they informed, and how this influenced developments in the practice of medicine.

Finding Delian Inspiration at the John Rylands Library


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Below you can read a guest blog by two artists, Manuella Blackburn (composer) and Tracey Zengeni (visual artist), who are using the Delia Derbyshire Archive as a source of inspiration for their own creative work.  Delia Derbyshire (1937-2001) was a pioneer of electronic music, most often remembered for her work on Ron Grainer’s theme tune for Dr Who (1963).  The year 2017 marks what would have been Delia’s 80th birthday and to mark the occasion the charity Delia Derbyshire Day is organising a range of events. As part of these celebrations Tracey and Manuella will showcase their creative response to Delia’s work on 10 June 2017 at a Band on the Wall event organised by Delia Derbyshire Day.  To find out more visit

Tracey Zengeni and Manuella Blackburn

Tracey Zengeni (left) and Manuella Blackburn exploring the Delia Derbyshire Archive.

Tracey and I started getting to know the Delia Derbyshire archive at the John Rylands Reading Room, Deansgate. The sound archive is a fascinating collection of tracks, snippets and sonic ideas all inspiring in their own way. I’ve been particularly drawn to the rhythmic sonic patterns Delia has created. Some of these rhythms are beat-based and almost techno-like! I’m enjoying hearing Delia’s exploration of looped patterns, pulses and oscillations; these are quite humorous, bloopy and clever at the same time – I’d love to create something similar, a bit like pastiche to honour her quirky style.

Tracey and I have been discussing the interesting things about Delia’s style that is also reflected in her childhood artwork, also held at the John Rylands Special Collections. These juvenile papers show Delia working with quite block-like colours, the objects and images she draws always appear to be isolation, never surrounded by a backdrop – I see the parallel in her electronic music work too – sounds appear in series, one after the next, often void of background sounds or sustained texture – possibly a consequence of the technology of time, which would have been more conducive to linear sound creation. Some of her sound ideas feel like miniature experiments, for example, rhythms do not last for very long as she bluntly cuts to a new idea or collection of sound. This is fascinating and gives me inspiration for handling eclectic materials.

Delia Derbyshire Pattern Picture

Pattern picture created by Delia Derbyshire as a child. By kind permission of the Delia Derbyshire Estate.

Tracey enjoys seeing Delia’s use of colour in her artwork. This is something which can translate into Tracey’s painting – we discussed how bold, striking colours could appear in our new work together for the Delia Derbyshire Day commission we are working on.

Other sounds, which immediately jump out at me, are the extended sine tone materials that sound quite ethereal and sometimes slightly melancholy. These types of sound show a different side to Delia, and something that was quite unexpected from a listener’s perspective. I’m hoping to re-create some of these longer sounds in various pitches for Tracey to respond to in her live painting work. I’m thinking about stacking these longer sounds up to create a rich, layered effect all in keeping with the synthetic sound world Delia explores.


JRRI Medieval and Early Modern Research Seminar Series

Latin MS 182

Rylands Latin MS 182, fo. 4r

JRRI Medieval and Early Modern Research Seminar Series

(Re-)Framing Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica in Twelfth-century Germany:
Rylands Latin MS 182

Dr Benjamin Pohl
Lecturer in Medieval History c. 1000-1400
University of Bristol

Thursday 16 March, 5.45pm
Christie Room, John Rylands Library Deansgate

For info, email:

Illustrated scrapbook of Leonard Sheldrake in the Christian Brethren Archive now online


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Dr Graham Johnson writes:

This extensive annotated scrapbook was produced by Leonard Sheldrake (1885-1952) during his travels around the United States as an itinerant preacher in the 1930s. It contains photographs of individuals, groups, chapels, gospel vans, gospel tents and motor cars. There are advertising leaflets and notices drawing attention to gospel meetings, alongside cards, photographic postcards and evangelical tracts. Sheldrake collected newspaper cuttings of the meetings and activities he was involved with, as well as cartoons, obituaries, and records of interesting incidents and events coinciding with his visits. Included are photographs and press cuttings of missionaries in Northern Rhodesia [Zambia], China, Syria, France, Angola and Czechoslovakia. There are also maps, tickets and travel details, printed records of services and letters to Sheldrake related to his activities.

Leonard Sheldrake was a Brethren preacher, author and editor. He was born in England in 1885 to John and Susan Sheldrake. His immediate family was not religious, but after the death of his father he came into contact with family members who were Baptist, and was himself baptized. As a young man he became a Sunday school superintendent, standing in for the local preacher during his absence. He moved to Canada in 1905 beginning his association with the Brethren through the Broadview assembly in Toronto. Here he became an active gospel preacher. Moving to Winnipeg, he abandoned his job working for a mail order company in 1911 to devote himself to full-time ministry. He married Ada Pearl Clapp on 20 September 1911. They moved to America in 1913 where he began writing gospel tracts, publishing them in the magazines Words of Peace and The North American Evangelist, both of which he edited. The former brought him into contact with William J. Pell who set up the Gospel Folio Press to produce this and other evangelical literature. In 1927 they created Look on the Fields to encourage missionary work abroad. He also produced three books: The Other Side of the Wall (a collection of articles reprinted from Look on the Fields), Tabernacle Types and Shadows, and Our Lord Jesus Christ: a Plant of Renown, which is still in print. He died on 8 May 1952.

The scrapbook is now online at

Behind the scenes of an Exhibition: Come and Join Us!


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Gemma Henderson, Visitor Engagement Co-ordinator for Public Programmes, writes:

Clare and Karen asked me to write about my involvement in The Life of Objects Exhibition.

Where to start?

Devising and developing a programme of events for an exhibition can often be complex. The programme not only has to be steeped in the content of the exhibition but offer something extra and deeper for the audience to engage with. It can be a bit like internet dating, matching audiences with events and hoping they get along.

Being part of the exhibition working group is essential as it gives you real understanding of the exhibition and what it is trying to say (and who to attract). Working with people across Special Collections is also integral, as they bring their own ideas and expertise. Often it’s their passion that makes the exhibition come alive and that helps me understand how to create a programme that will transmit this passion to an audience.

Our Young Visitors

Our Young Visitors

I have a “toolbox” of event types that I can choose from that we know work well with our audiences, for example our Collection Encounters which give visitors an amazing opportunity to get close to items from the collection. This is a dialogue, so not us telling people about the material (although having simple background knowledge is good) it’s more about creating conversation and building a connection between the items and the people viewing them. They are often exciting and unpredictable and are a unique way to connect our visitors to the Library. However, sometimes I get the opportunity to be daring so for The Life of Objects we’re hoping to have some life drawing classes in the Historic Reading Room. I’m not sure what Mr and Mrs Rylands would think of naked people in the Library!

Gather round

Gather round

At the start of an exhibition I often have a brainstorming session with the Public Programmes champions from the Visitor Engagement Team. Once we’ve looked at the content hierarchy to understand to message of the exhibition we can then start to think about our audiences and what events we can create that would motivate them to visit and participate in an event. From then on it’s planning, which can range from co-opting curators from Special Collections to give talks to buying ribbon and glue for a family workshop.

Being Creative

Being Creative

It’s always a team effort, so from the inception of an exhibition idea to the curators and archivists who seek out the material to the Visitor Engagement manager who looks after deadlines making sure we have exhibition to open to the Visitor Engagement team who deliver the programme plus a thousand steps in between. It is always enjoyable and gratifying when an event is a success. If visitors come away from the Library with more than they came in with, whether that be some new knowledge or a strange handmade craft object covered in glitter and pom-poms…our job is done!

With the opening date fast approaching everyone is busy getting their element of the project ready.  There’s a real sense of excitement about how the exhibition will be received by the public and what their reaction will be to the objects and stories on display. Details of all the events accompanying Life of Objects are to be found here:  What’s On Guide.

If you would like to see and hear staff discussing Stories Behind the Exhibition why not have a look here:

Stella Halkyard, Joint head of Special Collections and Visual Collections Manager, discussing the Library’s Changing Collections.

Anne Anderton, Collection and Research Support Assistant, discussing Walt Whitman.

Jamie Robinson, Special Collections Photographer, and Clare Baker, Collections Assistant, discussing Li Yuan-Chia.

Share your experience of The Life of Objects: #jrlobjects @TheJohnRylands

All images unless otherwise stated are copyright of the University of Manchester.


JRRI Medieval and Early Modern Research Seminar


‘Logic, Rhetoric, Arithmetic’ in Myrrour of the Worlde (Westminster: William Caxton, 1480) Rylands 3469, c4v-c5r

JRRI Medieval and Early Modern Research Seminar Series

Thursday 9 March, 5.30pm

Rosie Shute, University of Sheffield

William Caxton (c. 1422-91) began printing in England in 1476, publishing over one hundred texts throughout his lifetime.  We tend to think that Caxton’s texts represent Caxton’s language; however this talk demonstrates the influence of the type-setter on the language of Caxton’s printed work, focusing on spelling in particular and drawing on methods from mathematics, computer science, and the history of the book.

Christie Room, John Rylands Library Deansgate

For info, email:

Edward Schunck and the history of dyeing


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Dr James Peters writes:

As reported in a recent blog post, the Library has acquired the archives of the ICI dyestuffs division. This provides a vital record of the synthetic dyestuffs industry in Britain, and some of this archive will shortly be on public display in the Rylands Gallery. These dyestuffs were a novel industry of the Victorian age, and their development depended heavily on expert chemists and laboratory research.

Traditional dyes were vegetable-based; not much was known about their chemical make-up until they were systematically analysed in the mid-19th century. The resulting findings on their chemical composition played an important part in creating synthetic dyes.


Edward Schunck (right) with Henry Roscoe, Dmitri Mendeleev, and Georg Hermann Quincke, British Association meeting, Manchester 1887.

One of the most important figures in this field was the Manchester chemist, Edward Schunck (1820-1903). Of German origin (his grandfather had fought with the British in the American War of Independence), Schunck started work in his father’s calico printing business. Unlike other Manchester businessmen of the time, he received an excellent scientific education in Germany, studying at the universities of Berlin and Geissen.

On completing his Ph.D., Schunck  returned to work at the family firm. He became sufficiently wealthy to be able to spend time in private research, and his laboratory at his Kersal residence was considered one of the best in the country.

Schunck’s special interest was the chemistry of colouring matters found in natural products. He successfully identified the chemical constitution of dyes yielded by plants such as madder and indigo, and although Schunck did not manufacture dyes himself, this research was commercially valuable to the dyeing industry. His work on alizarin, the colouring agent present in madder, paved the way for the synthetic dye alizarine in the 1860s and 1870s.

In the late 1880s, Schunck became interested in the dyes used in ancient fabrics. Flinders Petrie, the leading Egyptologist of the time, gave him fabric samples he had excavated at Lahun, Egypt  in the late 1880s, which Petrie dated to the 7th century AD. Several such textile samples are present in Schunck’s analysis book (Eng Ms 1552), which has recently been uncovered at the Library.


Egyptian cloth sample, English MS 1552.

The samples are likely to be similar to those discussed in  Schunck’s paper, “Notes on some ancient dyes”, delivered to the Manchester Literary & Philosophical Society on 8 March 1892  (Memoirs and Proceedings of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, 4th series, volume 5, 1892). The paper reported his analysis of the Egyptian fabrics , and he concluded that madder had been used for red and maroon dyes  and indigo for blue dyes, with various combinations of both combined with mordants to produce other colours. Schunck’s research was testament to his passionate interest in the history of dyestuffs

Schunck left generous legacies to the University for  scientific research. He also bequeathed his laboratory, which was moved to the University campus in 1904, and a fine library, and it seems likely that this volume of samples was part of that collection. Images of both the laboratory and the library are available on Luna.

I am grateful to Dr Alice Stevenson, UCL Institute of Archaeology, who provided information for this article.

The Suffragettes Incarcerated


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Jane Donaldson writes:

Working through the letters from the Pankhurst family to C.P. Scott in the Guardian archives, I have come across a number of letters concerned with Suffragettes in prison. They comment on the length of sentences of imprisonment, hunger strikes, forcible-feeding and also on the prison division that the prisoners have been placed in. I have undertaken further research into these divisions, as I had no knowledge that prisons were divided at this time, and that each division would give prisoners different rights.

Prisons were divided into three divisions, with criminals being placed into each division according to their crime. Suffragettes argued that they were political prisoners, rather than criminal, and therefore should be placed into the first division. Letters from the Pankhurst family cite Russia and Turkey as examples of where militant action has taken place and has been successful in changing the political landscape, and therefore that their militant action should be seen as political too. If the Suffragettes gained acknowledgement as political prisoners, and were placed in the first division, they would be allowed to have visitors, write and receive letters, read books and to see other prisoners. Parliament reports from 1906 show that, at first, this campaign was successful, as supportive politicians Keir Hardie and Lord Robert Cecil were able to get the home secretary, Herbert Gladstone, to agree that a group of women, which included Sylvia Pankhurst, would be treated as political prisoners and placed in the first division.

Those in the second division were often kept in solitary confinement, had no access to reading or writing materials and allowed a visitor and letters only after a month. As the majority of Suffragettes belonged to the middle or upper classes, they were usually placed in the second division. Working class women were generally placed in the third division, and would sometimes undertake work such as the cleaning of cells for women prisoners in other divisions, especially if they were unable to do this themselves following forcible feeding.

Emmeline Pankhurst wrote to C.P. Scott on 7 January 1909 from Holloway prison, following her arrest, and placement in the second division of prisoners. Despite being placed in the second division, Emmeline Pankhurst was still afforded certain rights. Whilst serving her sentence, she wrote about her reading, and visits from Kier Hardie. She mentions that Scott had visited her daughter, Sylvia, and had: Interested [himself] in the treatment of the women political prisoners.


reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd

However, these rights were not extended to other prisoners. In a later letter, Herbert Gladstone discusses the privileges given to Mary Clarke, Emmeline Pankhurst’s sister, whilst in prison in Holloway. Gladstone wrote that Emmeline Pankhurst’s rights whilst in prison were exceptional, and that Mrs. Clarke would not be allowed the same rights, as this would set a precedent.

As more Suffragettes were imprisoned and their treatment became more consistent, there are letters to Scott asking for his help to pressure politicians to allow greater rights to those in prison, and examples of letters from Scott questioning MPs on the treatment of prisoners.

A letter from Emmeline Pankhurst on 17th February 1909, mentions a visit C.P. Scott made to Holloway. She refers to his being able to get an understanding of the conditions in prison, of why the Suffragettes are using militant action and why their action should be seen as political.



reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd

In 1910, Winston Churchill, passed rule 243a which meant that all Suffragette prisoners would be placed in the second or third divisions. They would have much the same comforts as those in the first division, but were not awarded political status and so denied any rights as such. By placing them in the second division, Churchill was trying to ensure that suffragettes would not be able to continue with propaganda for their cause whilst incarcerated, as is discussed in the letter below from Reginald McKenna, who succeeded Churchill as home secretary.


The treatment of Suffragettes in prison would become a notorious and infamous part of the history of the movement, with women subjected to forcible feeding, and the introduction of the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’, in 1913, where women who went on hunger strike were released and then imprisoned again when their health improved.

The refusal to acknowledge the Suffragettes as political prisoners, to class them in the first division, and to allow them to communicate with the outside world, provide clear illustration of the attempts made by the government to silence the protests of the Suffragettes.