Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Shelf Life

In 1655 when the first books started to arrive at Chetham’s Library they were shelved according to size, with little books on the top and the biggest books on the lowest shelves. It was a very space-efficient system, however, it did mean that eventually books on a particular subject, law or medicine for example, could be scattered across many shelves from one end of the library to the other. It must have been quite a challenge to locate books in the early days of the Library as, until 1791, the only catalogue available was a handwritten list in Latin. Fortunately, although we still use the ‘fixed location’ system, we now have an electronic catalogue, so it is easy for remote library users (and those who aren't fluent in Latin) to 'browse by subject' online before travelling to the Library.

One of the serendipitous aspects of the fixed location system is the curious mixture of books which can be shelved side by side - retrieving an item from shelf 8.5.F a couple of weeks ago became quite a voyage of discovery!

8.5.F is a shelf in our rolling stacks which contains 48 very small books . The books are printed in several languages - 35 of them in English, two in French, two in Latin, one in Greek, and eight somewhat mysteriously classed as ‘undetermined’.The earliest book dates from 1638 and the most recent from 1970. The following is a selection of some personal favourites from the shelf.

The oldest book on the shelf  is a modest looking catechism, written by Alexander Nowell in Greek and Latin. It was published in 1638 and is in its original binding, described as ‘brown calf with plain, blind-tooled double fillet border’. However, pasted inside its cover is a splendid armorial bookplate, which indicates that a former owner was Edward Howard, Duke of Norfolk (1686-1777).

The newest book is Six fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm / with original etchings by David Hockney. Hockney's distinctive, spidery, black and white etchings illustrate stories such as Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltskin, which the artist described as ‘really quite mad when you think of it …’

An unpublished MS notebook with English and Japanese phrases, 1890s? Handwritten in a slim orange notebook, this is a personal phrasebook, but we have no clues as to who it belonged to or why they were learning Japanese.

On the first page listed under ‘A’ are:

Ame- rain
Amma - shampoo
Anzu - apricots
Adzuma - my wife
Amedo - wooden shutters (rain doors)
Amedo shoji - paper screens

The smallest of all the books on 8.5.F is entitled Les delices de la mode et du bon gout, which roughly translates as ‘the delights of fashion and good taste’. Bound in crimson and gold leather, with gold patterned end papers, this French almanac contains a selection of popular songs, with charming illustrations of fashionable ladies and gentlemen, and ‘fold outs’ for both Republican and Gregorian calendars for 1805 (see illustration at top of page).

Published by HMSO, Infantry section leading, 1934: a guide for non-commissioned officers commanding rifle and light automatic sections is a fairly basic handbook, of which thousands  were probably issued. However, there is a brief addition, written in pencil, in a section entitled ‘Wire’ which, with a date is between the two World Wars, strikes a chilling note…

‘Decontamination from mustard gas
    1.    By hosing with water. By paraffin or petrol. By mopping up with rags, sawdust etc or by evaporation if time no obj.
    2.    By boiling in water 1/2 hr (can be done to cotton clothing)

Our final selection was published in Halifax in 1853, the essential Every man his own farrier: containing the mode of treatment and cure of the various diseases incident to that noble animal the horse. with an appendix ... to which is added a variety of useful receipts / by an old farrier. The majority of chapters in the book are indeed relating to the care and maintenance of horses: ‘On shoeing’, ‘The Windy or Flatulent Colic’ or ‘Grease, Crown-Scab and Rat Tail’. However, the last section - the ‘useful receipts’ - is a truly curious mixture, which begins with the memorable sentence ‘It may be useful to know the value of burnt rhubarb in diarrhoea…’ It goes on to provide recipes for blackberry wine and preparing a ham, advice on sheep husbandry, shoe blacking, avoiding nightmares, how to escape the effects of lightning and how to ‘extinguish female’s clothes when on fire’. Invaluable stuff.

Monday, 9 November 2015

An early selfie of Chetham's

Like many a star who's had a long and varied career, Chetham's as an institution has hoarded many a picture of itself, produced over years of more or less artistic activity.  We did think we had seen all the early examples, often many times over, and copied in various ways, redrawn, cropped and copied, prepared for newspaper publication, or badly photocopied and browning in files of old papers.

So a minor stir this week, when we received a splendid print entitled 'Cheetham College and Library, Manchester' (yes, the spelling-and-pronunciation headache rears its hoary head again). 

A detail from the 1821 print - click here for the rest (big file!)

The imprint tells us it was 'drawn and engraved by James Parry, 52 Piccadilly, for T. Rogerson, and sold by T. Sowler St Anne's Square, 1821'. How are we to read it?

Only two years after Orator Hunt's presence created the official panic, widespread interest in sweeping state reforms, controversy and finally the cavalry charge of Peterloo (often seen then as now as the anti-Waterloo of massacre at home for business as usual, rather than victory abroad over tyrants), the scene is tranquil. Ancient stones, leaf shadowed, fenced in and with its back turned to the world, it is peopled by figures from a time of peace.

Boys at play
The Chetham's charity boys, in their quaint garb and Tudor caps, are playing in the yard - marbles?

Barrow boys
Two more in the shade of the trees have a barrow that seems to speak of rural rather than urban duties, the unburdened one points back towards the sunlit walls as if to stop his friend wheeling himself out of the idyll by way of the corner of the print.

Lucky chap?
By the porch a gentleman - who else could be idle during the day? has a Jane Austen lady-in-bonnet on each arm, captivated by the buildings and the figure entering the doorway, a servant of Chetham's, perhaps.

Only in the haze beyond the sunlit courtyard does modernity seem to loom, in the shape of factory chimneys.

The march of progress is still slow - perhaps
But right at the left-hand margin, gates stand open - to let the boys out, or the world in?

A gate in, or a door out?
We're often asked if we have illustrations of the industrial revolution in its early and formative stages. Readers know we have a great body of prints and other visual material, which often find their way into books, broadcasts and lectures. But this scene, commercially produced for sale, rather echoes the view Chetham's seems to have taken of itself at this date. Much as swathes of unique material was collected here on Peterloo and the life of the town, including its vital and nationally influential politics, no-one ever wanted to draw the workers, or the factories that sucked them in by the hundred thousand.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Baroque and Roll - Can you Handel it?

More concert excitement follows thick and fast on the blog this week, as we encourage you to come down on Wednesday evening and enjoy a performance of Baroque music, some of it from very rare printed music in the Chetham's Library's collections, in the medieval splendour of the Baronial Hall.

Time: 17.30, Wednesday 11 November 2015
Place: Baronial Hall at Chetham's
More, and Tickets 

The Baronial Hall - but fear not, there will be seats!

Our Dr Martyn Shaw, the presiding scholar and musician for the project, tells us:
"This concert forms part of Chetham’s English Baroque Project 2015, in association with The Early Music Shop and Chetham’s Library. The concert will feature chamber-music works by celebrated English composers including Thomas Arne (1710-1778), Charles Avison (1709-1770) and the adopted Englishman George Frideric Handel (1685-1759).

Daniel Purcell deciding Venus is the 'suitest' of the planets ...
"Also included in the concert will be performances of music from the Halliwell Philips Collection, housed at Chetham’s Library.  Highlights include virtually unknown cantata works by Henry Purcell’s brother, Daniel Purcell (1664-1717), and by Henry’s son, Edward Purcell (1689-1740).

"The performance takes place in the atmospheric setting of Chetham's 600 year old Baronial Hall. Parts of the evening's programme will later be taken to Greenwich International Early Music Festival."

Friday, 30 October 2015

Winter Journeys - St Cecilia Day concerts by the Hepton Singers

You are warmly invited to an afternoon of Russian music by the Hepton Singers, directed by Alison West, on Sunday 22 November here at Chetham's Baronial Hall.
The concerts will present music from the Baltic to the Black Sea: performing a programme of stirring song by Rachmaninov, Pärt, Bruckner and others:

Alison West, the director of the Hepton Singers said:

In November 2012 the Hepton Singers performed a concert entirely of Russian music. For our St Cecilia concert this year we are re-visiting some of the gems from that concert, in particular a group of four pieces by the contemporary Ukrainian composer Galina Grigorjeva from her exquisitely beautiful composition “On Leaving”. Although this music is recent, the influence of the music of the Russian Orthodox church, and of earlier composers such as Rachmaninov, shines through her work, and some of her harmonies are spine-tingling. We shall accompany these pieces with works by Sergei Rachmaninov, Alfred Schnittke, Arvo Pärt, Josef Rheinberger; and an old favourite of ours, Three Graduals by Anton Bruckner.

The result is a heady mix to warm the toes and heart in the darkness of November.’
Come and hear the Hepton Singers:
Sunday 22nd November 2pm
the Baronial Hall, Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester M3 1SB

Ticket information:
£9/£6/£1 (under 18s)
available on the door and online from

Thursday, 29 October 2015

How are things in London, Old Man?

Can you be an old man the moment you're born? You can if you're this week's blog-hero, John Senex (1678-1740), whose name is Latin for 'old man'.

The hand of the master engraver

Ludlow-born Senex was drawn to London for his apprenticeship to the bookseller Robert Clavell, and had set up on his own account by 1702. He was to become one of the most prominent scientific engravers, map-makers and booksellers of his age, produced a famous and influential series of globes celestial and terrain, and died a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Cataloguing at Chetham's in recent years reveals what must be true in so many libraries with significant map or scientific collections: Sensex's imprint, work and often minute engraved signature crops up in many places.  The Library is modestly famous for its early North-West and Manchester maps, and despite his London centre of operations we find Senex being commissioned to undertake work such as this map of the Irwell and Mersey, designed to explore possible locks and navigational improvements.

Detail of Senex's map of the Mersey and Irwell, 1712
We've already had a look at some more work of his in another post on this blog, when this year's eclipse panic struck back in March, although we were concentrating on Halley's astronomical achievements at that stage. At the foot of the Description of the Passage of the Shadow of the Moon over England in 1715 we find Senex reminding both astronomers and astrologers that he 'makes, and sells the newest and correctest maps, and globes of 3, 9, 12, and 16 inches diameter, at moderate prices'.

Turning over the Library's collection of maps of places further afield is what put us in mind of Senex today, however. For example, Senex worked on a splendid folding pocket-map of the major routes around the country, designed for carriage or horseback, and treating the routes as a linear set of waypoints to navigate by, and inns to refresh at:

Detail of the title page of the 18th century's version of the AA road map

London to Dover, the Ogilby and Senex way

A particularly splendid map of London from 1720 combines good survey work, clear representation and serious engraving artistry. You can see an overview of the centre section of the map here. Some of its ambition as a piece of art work is visible in the title and its decoration:

Cornucopia and dragons - streets paved with gold, but not altogether safe?

The greatest testament to the skill and application of the engraver comes when you look magnifying-glass close at the detail, covered on only fractions of an inch of paper each:

St Paul's

Westminster Abbey and the Old Palace Yard

The Tower, complete with wet moats

By the time of his death in 1740, Senex was both an enthusiastic consumer (as we know from his many subscriptions to important scientific publications) and a consummate contributor to Enlightenment England and its learning. His widow carried on his trade, and we as his readers and admirers can marvel and study for ourselves.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Eliza Carthy at Chetham's

One of the things we've been doing over the last few weeks is helping to make a Radio 4 programme about nineteenth-century broadside ballads with Eliza Carthy, and this will be broadcast next Monday 5th October at 4pm. Don't miss it!

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Medieval Manchester

This Saturday afternoon, tour guide Anne Beswick is taking a look at medieval Manchester, starting at the Cathedral and taking in our beautiful Baronial Hall and medieval buildings. Find out more on her website.