Papers of Margaret Collin

Scope and Content

The most important element of this small archive comprises three exercise books in which Margaret Collin detailed her daily activities and observations during a tour of the Soviet Union in July and August 1937 (MEC/4). Collin witnessed Stalinism at its height, with rapid industrialisation, the collectivization of agriculture, and pervasive state control of all aspects of cultural and intellectual life, as well as the provision of welfare, improvements in housing, education and medical services. Collin spoke extensively to ordinary Russians, during train journeys and while visiting towns and cities, although their comments were always guarded.

In her journals Collin attempts to offer a balanced assessment of the Soviet experiment. Unlike some western visitors to the country, she was not blind to the shortcomings of Communism nor taken in by state propaganda. But neither does she report the worst aspects of Stalin's brutal regime: the mass deportations and disappearances, and large-scale starvation caused by collectivization, which were largely hidden from foreign observers. Instead, the real value of the journals lies in Collin's intelligent, acute and detailed observation of everyday life under Stalin.

Other parts of the archive include newspaper cuttings relating to Margaret's obtaining a Mary MacArthur Scholarship in 1930, which enabled her to study economics at Ruskin College, Oxford (MEC/2), and three photographs of Margaret and her fellow students at Oxford (MEC/3). There are also modern photocopies of Margaret Collin's certificates of birth, marriage, etc. (MEC/1).

Administrative / Biographical History

Margaret Elsie Collin (1907-1999) was born on 8 April 1907, apparently out of wedlock, to May Frankish, a stationer's assistant in Lincoln; her father was not named on her birth certificate. Some years later May Frankish married Herbert Richards and they had three sons. Margaret spent much of her childhood with her grandmother, who lived at Sincil Bank in Lincoln. She attended the nearby St Peter-at-Gowts School, leaving at the age of fourteen or fifteen to work at the Lincolnshire Chronicle. According to her daughter, Professor Marcia Pointon, she was a proof reader.

Margaret enrolled with the Workers' Educational Association in around 1926, studying psychology and political theory. In June 1930 she won a Mary MacArthur Scholarship to read economics at Ruskin College, Oxford, with aspirations of becoming a trades union organizer or a lecturer. She claimed that she and fellow scholarship recipient, Maisie Taylor, were the first women to enter Ruskin College. The scholarship came with a generous travel grant, which enabled her to visit Germany and Scandinavia each summer during her time at Ruskin.

In 1935 Margaret met James Robert Verrall Collin, an Oxford history graduate, then a teacher at King's College School, Wimbledon, at a meeting of a society for Anglo-German cultural exchange. Collin was the son of the noted entomologist James Edward Collin (1876-1968). They married on 27 July 1935. Both continued as enthusiastic European travellers. In 1937 Margaret made an extensive tour of the Soviet Union (her husband had already visited the country).

Margaret and James Collin had three girls, the first born in 1940. Their second daughter, Marcia Pointon (b. 1943), was Pilkington Professor of the History of Art at the University of Manchester.

James Collin died in 1976; Margaret Collin died on 19 May 1999.


The collection is arranged into four series: 

  • MEC/1: Photocopies of certificates of birth, marriage, etc., n.d. [1999], 4 items.
  • MEC/2: Newspaper cuttings relating to the Mary MacArthur Scholarship, 1930, 4 items.
  • MEC/3: Photographs taken at Oxford, n.d. [c.1930-1932], 3 items.
  • MEC/4: Travel journals describing a visit to the Soviet Union, July-August 1937, 3 items.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The collection was donated to the Library by Margaret Collin's daughter, Professor Marcia Pointon, in October 1999.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The collection is presumed to have remained in the possession of Margaret Collin until her death in 1999, when it passed to her daughter, Professor Marcia Pointon, Pilkington Professor of the History of Art at the University of Manchester.


No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

The Library also holds papers of Margaret Collin's daughter, the art historian Professor Marcia Pointon, ref. GB 133 MRP.