March 12, 2019, by Sarah Colborne

Revisiting the Dark Side; the archive of the University of Nottingham Gothic Society

A guest post by Anja Rohde, Secretary of GothSoc 1997/98

In September last year I started working at Manuscripts and Special Collections as a Library Assistant, and soon found out about the current initiative to collect historic and current material from University of Nottingham student societies, the Tri-Campus Contemporary Collecting Project. The project really appeals to me, since my connection with the university is a long one, stretching right back into the mists of time (well, the mid-1990s) when I first arrived in Nottingham as a student archaeologist and ancient historian.

“Gather round, children, and let me tell you stories of the ancient past; of the magic potion known as Snakebite and Black, and the mystic ritual dance called the Gothic Two-Step…” Detail of frontispiece from ‘The English spelling book’, 1840. Briggs Collection LT310.PE/M2

As an undergraduate I was an active member of various student societies, and in my second year two friends and I decided that there was a gap in the SU market for a society dedicated to all things spooky and macabre. Thus, the following year, we formed the University of Nottingham Gothic Society, or “GothSoc” for short. Dave Scruton was our President, Cassandra Andrews-Kemp was President of Vice, and I was Secretary. We were a relatively small society (about 35 members, if I recall correctly), and not the most active socially, but we did run some fun events; we held parties, in the cave by Highfields Lake and in the function room on Broadgate Park, and we organised a film night. We also issued a newsletter, keeping our members informed about local clubnights, gigs, and events which they might be interested in. The newsletter was named “Last Exit for the Lost” after a song by Fields of the Nephilim, and we always signed off with the salutation “Boomshanka”, in homage to classic sitcom The Young Ones! In the summer of 1998 Dave, Cass and I graduated, and unfortunately none of the younger members were willing to take on running the society so GothSoc folded after just one year in existence, leaving us with good memories and many enduring friendships.

Anja in her student bedroom, wearing white goth makeup and a black dress, standing in front of a Marilyn Manson poster

GothSoc secretary in her natural environment; Broadgate Park January 1998. UU 22

I felt certain that I still had a few papers and other ephemera from the society tucked away somewhere at home, so shortly after starting work in Manuscripts I spent a very pleasant evening hunting through boxes and photo albums, and reminiscing about my time at university. I did find a few relevant items: a copy of one of our newsletters, a poster which we’d displayed at Freshers’ Fair to attract members, and photographs taken at GothSoc events. This small selection of items became the basis of the GothSoc archive in the collection of Manuscripts and Special Collections, and if anyone provides more items in the future they will be added to the same reference and kept together.

Looking through the items I wanted to donate was a lovely trip into nostalgia, and it also gave me the chance to think about the society and what it had meant to me. I was struck by how enthusiastically we embraced the clichés about goths which we later grumbled about; for instance one of the photos, taken in my student bedroom, shows another poster which we made for Freshers’ Fair, which reads “Are you miserable? Do you wear black? Enjoyed ‘The Crow’? Then join GothSoc!”, which I would cringe to read now! It’s also interesting how broad our definition of ‘gothic’ was; the events which we advertised to our members were not just from the traditional goth scene, but included all aspects of what could be termed alternative culture, from political folk bands, to classic sci-fi films, to electronic industrial music. On one level the items might seem frivolous, but I think they reveal a group of young people investigating art, music and culture, and discovering our identity. They show just how important and formative our undergraduate years, and the supportive atmosphere of the university was for us. I am very happy to think that these things will now be preserved for the future!

Student society collecting box in the societies area of the Portland Building

The Gothic Society archive can be accessed in the Reading Room at King’s Meadow Campus. Manuscripts and Special Collections would love to hear from anyone with similar materials from their time as a member of a student society. Current society officers can also use the new archive collecting box in the societies area in the Portland Building to drop off a spare copy of any flyers, posters, newsletters, etc., that they produce for distribution.

Posted in Time Capsule