Monday, 20 October 2014

Travels and discoveries far and near

We are very sorry to be saying goodbye to David Thomas, who has been volunteering with us on the Belle Vue project over the last few months. David is headed to Reading to begin a new adventure as a graduate trainee at the University Library, and we wish him all the best with this new chapter in his life.

Meanwhile, David has written a wonderfully engaging review of one of the books from our collection which caught his attention, Denham and Clapperton's expedition to Africa, published in 1826. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did:

Narrative of Travels and Discoveries in Northern and Central Africa, in the Years 1822, 1823, and 1824

This is an account of a British expedition to encourage trade in Northern and Western Africa organised by Henry Bathurst, 3rd Earl Bathurst (and a Knight of the Garter) who was Secretary of State for War and the Colonies. With the dust barely settled after the Scottish referendum, it is a reminder that even in Britain’s imperial heyday the Scots and the English didn’t always get on. It was written by the English Major Dixon Denham, who was accompanied by two Scots, Captain Hugh Clapperton and Doctor Walter Oudney. Alongside the British North-South bickering, the expedition is notable in that they were the first Europeans to successfully complete a North-South crossing of the Sahara desert.

The principal reason for the group’s falling out was that Denham was late to the party and then tried to impose his leadership. One of Denham’s friends said that 'he was the kind of man who must have adventure or he rots'. Clapperton and Oudney were down as the original leaders before Denham used his connections to join at the last minute. The group arrived in Tripoli in November 1821 where for an unknown reason, Denham was kept from leaving until March 1822 while Oudney and Clapperton went on ahead in February. Luckily Denham eventually left with over 200 Arab horsemen to find that his colleagues in Murzuk (known along with Marrakech, as the ‘Paris of the Sahara’) had fallen ill and the local bey (tribal leader) had taken their camels away. Denham had to return to Tripoli to raise funds and try and get the Pasha Yusuf Karamanli to provide an armed escort for the expedition. Clapperton showed little appreciation, writing that 'His absence will be no loss to the Mission, and a saving to his country, for Major Denham could not read his sextant, knew not a star in the heavens, and could not take the altitude of the sun'.

After this false start the expedition finally left Murzuk a year after they had reached Africa, in November 1822. The three men were now accompanied by a carpenter by the name of Hillman, four camel drivers and five servants. They became the first Europeans to see Lake Chad on 4 February 1823 and then reached Kuka (now Kukawa, Nigeria) in the Bornu Empire on 17 February. It was at this point that relations really soured. Ignoring Clapperton’s protests, Denham went on a slave-raiding expedition and was nearly killed himself. He then proceeded to write false reports to London accusing Clapperton of having an inappropriate relationship with one of the servants.
Things only got worse when Denham surveyed Lake Chad (see map) and Clapperton and Oudney left him to travel to the Hausa states. Oudney succumbed to an illness in January 1824 but Clapperton reached Kano and Sokoto before returning to Kuka. Reuniting with Denham the two men set out back across the Sahara to Tripoli without talking to each other once for the entire journey of 133 days. They finally returned to Britain on 1 June 1825.

Clapperton quickly returned to Africa which allowed Denham to write (as you may expect) rather one-sidedly about the expedition. He did acknowledge that the artist Sir Robert Ker Porter ‘perfected several drawings’ (shown here). Porter was very well-travelled himself; he had been Alexander I of Russia’s historical painter, toured the Middle East and eventually became the British consul in Venezuela. Clapperton died in 1827 and his journals were thought lost but they were found in an archive in South Africa and published in 2000. It is arguable that he had the last laugh; whereas Denham is largely forgotten, Clapperton is often counted as one of Britain’s leading early explorers of Africa.  

Friday, 17 October 2014

Men and the Fields by Adrian Bell, with drawings and lithographs by John Nash

In addition to the exceptional collections of early printed books in the Library we also have a huge variety of more modest volumes with their own quirky charm and which often provide interesting glimpses into social and publishing history.

Men and the Fields was published in the summer of 1939, just before the outbreak of World War Two. The gentle, nostalgic scenes of country life described by the author Adrian Bell and the delightful colour lithographs and black and white drawings by the artist John Nash evoke an idyllic rural world which was soon to be lost. Nash illustrated three other books for Batsford and unusually all four titles were printed by the Curwen Press, who were renowned for the quality of their lithographic printing.

The book was actually the result of a radical new publishing strategy adopted by Batsford, a traditional family firm founded in 1897, who were renowned for their high quality books on architecture and building. As Charles Fry, one of the directors, wrote in 1943 'the financial depression of the thirties brought a crisis which we had to weather, and the only way to do it was to change our fashion to suit the times. A wider public had to be reached with books of a cheaper price'

Fry goes on to describe how the three directors: himself, Harry Batsford and Brian Cook, took the decision that they 'would begin an entirely new kind of book...Britain, its churches, its houses and its landscape. But we planned to put more than a hundred illustrations in each book, to present them with Brian's attractive wrappers, and in editions so big that we could afford to sell the books for as little as seven shillings and sixpence each....'

They began with the 'British Heritage' series and went on to establish the 'Face of Britain', the 'Pilgrims Library', and 'British Nature Library'. The books were a huge success, although Fry commented that 'elderly architects and some old customers said quite frankly that Batsford were going to the dogs and... prostituting architecture and history by making it available to the general public'.

Batsford, Fry and Cook actually travelled up and down the country in Fry's old Austin gathering material, drawings and photographs for some of the books. The Cathedrals of England, published in 1934, includes an amusing acknowledgement in the preface: 'we owe much to the patience and courtesy of the cathedral vergers who have led us conscientiously over roofs and up towers, along the dark ridge-passages of vaults and the giddy footwalks of triforiums and clerestories'.

Between the wars a strong conservationist lobby had developed which campaigned on country issues. The Council for Preservation of Rural England, Ramblers Association, Footpaths Preservation Society, and National Trust all sounded warnings that rural life was fast disappearing under a tide of modernity. Batsford's initiative in publishing their various heritage series tapped into the zeitgeist, and by the mid nineteen-thirties, the developing political situation and threat of war heightened the mood of nostalgia for pastures green and chocolate box cottages.

The 1937 Batsford book North Country by Edward Vale, however, includes some images which paint a much darker picture of changes which had already happened and hints of worse to come. The black and white photographs with titles such as 'The street of unemployed,Tyneside' and 'Derelict industry Co. Durham', are a sombre contrast to the other scenes of lakes, farms and fells. In his foreword, Vale speaks of the state of flux in the region amongst industry, agriculture and workers and goes on to remark that 'at the same time the outside world is in a greater state of flux than has been known for a long while in history and, whatever turn things take the results are bound to have what politicians call “important repercussions”'...

We are very grateful to Patti Collins for researching and writing this blogpost, as well as many others on this page. Patti has volunteered at the Library for many months and has unearthed numerous treasures from the collection as well as undertaking sterling work with exhibitions and general library housekeeping work. We couldn't manage without her!

If you would like to volunteer at Chetham's Library we would be delighted to hear from you. We are particularly interested in people for front-of-house roles, so if this sounds like you, do get in touch with us at or ring us for a chat on 0161 834 7961.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Belle Vue Event

Thursday 30 October, 6.30 pm to 8.00 pm
Spend an evening at Chetham's Library with artists, illustrators and authors 
    Inspired by Belle Vue

Livi Michael & Anna Mainwaring from the Manchester Writing School will be reading their stories 'For one day only' and 'Maharajah: the elephant who walked to Manchester'.

The original illustrations for these stories which were created by Bethany Thompson & Nabihah Shireen will also be on show.

Meet some of the artists from Manchester School of Art who created the work in our current exhibition Sampling Belle Vue. 

Preview our new 'Digital Belle Vue' website & talk with Belle Vue Project Volunteers.

Autographed copies of the short-story anthologies Timelines and Crimelines, where Livi and Anna's stories may be found, will be available for purchase.

Wine, juice and snacks will be served.

Eventbrite - Inspired by Belle Vue

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Manchester Literature Festival 6-26 October

We will be hosting two events for the Manchester Literature Festival this year, and both will be held in the atmospheric Baronial Hall.

The first event, on Monday 13 October, will be 'The History Girls', a discussion by the novelists Suzannah Dunn and Maria McCann on the historical novel. Tickets are £6/£4 and the event begins at 6.30pm. More information here.

Then on Friday 17 October we host the glittering prizegiving ceremony of the Manchester Writing Competition. The event will be hosted by James Draper and Matthew Frost and tickets include entry to a pre-event drinks reception. Tickets are £5 and the event begins at 7pm. More here.

We hope that lots of you will be able to come and enjoy the combination of cultural excellence with the wonderful atmosphere of the lovely medieval buildings. 

Friday, 26 September 2014

The Theatre of Insects, or the tangled web of Elizabethan entomology

We know that many of you enjoyed our recent tweet of the bumble bee woodcuts from Thomas Moffett's Insectorum… so we decided to take a closer look at the book.

Published in 1634, the Latin title translates as 'The Theatre of Lesser Living Creatures'. It has a curious and tangled publishing history, as, of the four authors listed on the title page (Edward Wotton, Conrad Gesner, Thomas Penny and Thomas Moffett)  not one of them lived to see the book actually printed.

Thomas Moffett and Thomas Penny were lifelong friends who first met at Cambridge as medical students. Although Moffett had a close brush with death from food poisoning after dining on mussels, both men eventually graduated and established successful medical practices in London. They shared a passion for natural history and were part of a group of young men living in the Limehouse area who collected all manner of exotic plants, animal specimens and drawings from travellers and explorers, including Sir Francis Drake, who allegedly showed Moffett a flying fish.

Thomas Penny had aspirations to publish a magnum opus on insects. To this end he acquired the papers of Gesner (with whom he had worked briefly) and Wotton, both of whom had planned books on insects but died before completing them. Penny spent years adding his own observations and researches but he also died before finishing his book. He left his manuscript to Moffett, who complained that the manuscript was 'delapidated' and that getting the torn sheets repaired 'cost a great sum of money'. He was not at all impressed with the literary style of his friends and decided he could improve it, commenting, ‘I have amended the method and language…’ Moffett also added all manner of myths, legends and unsubstantiated accounts to the scientific research. The length of the manuscript and his plans for quantities of elaborate copper engraved illustrations meant that he struggled to find a printer willing to take the financial risk of producing such an expensive work. In 1590 Moffett finally arranged to have the book printed in The Hague but he could not stop adding more and more material, and eventually in 1604 he died without completing it. The book which we have in our collection was finally published by Sir Theodore Mayerne in 1634, but is a smaller and cheaper edition than that which Moffett had planned, and the detailed engravings were replaced with 'rude but spirited' woodcuts (including the charming bees).

There is an intriguing footnote to the story of Dr Moffett and his book of insects. Moffett was apparently particularly fond of spiders, and he also had a small daughter called Patience upon whom he doted. Legend has it that this was the source of the nursery rhyme ‘Little Miss Muffet’, and it would certainly be a delightful memorial to a man who spun quite a scholarly web.

As a further footnote, it is worth pointing out that in our Incline Press collection we have a copy of their 1993 edition of Enid Marx's beautiful book of nursery rhymes, first published in 1954 by Chatto and Windus. The woodcut she has made to illustrate Little Miss Muffet does look strangely familiar…

Friday, 19 September 2014

A closer look at the Palatine Building

The Palatine building which stands on the west side of the Chetham’s site was not originally built as one single structure, but was constructed in three distinct parts between 1837-45 by the Manchester and Leeds Railway Company. These consist of the south building nearest the Cathedral, which operated as livery stables and offices, the middle building, which was offices and shops, and the most significant section, that to the north of the site next to Hunt’s Bank, which was built as a railway hotel. This was designed by J.P. and I. Holden, architects, and constructed in 1842-43 as a railway hotel for the newly opened Victoria Railway Station - one of the earlier hotels of its kind, although not the first.

The Palatine buildings, then, were not constructed as part of the School and Library and were not part of the site either of Chetham’s or of its predecessor, the College of Manchester. The buildings have not been granted listed status, unlike the medieval buildings to which the Palatine buildings are attached, which are Grade I-listed. Nowadays it would be inconceivable for a building to be placed right up to a Grade I-listed building, but the Palatine building not only runs right up to the medieval building but is physically joined to it at one point, with the sandstone wall embedded within it.

Putting a hotel next to a school created problems, and Chetham’s was forced to build enormous wooden hoardings to prevent hotel patrons from overlooking the school. By 1911 the Palatine Hotel had closed for business, and the buildings were converted for retail use. Since then, the buildings have undergone many changes to accommodate a variety of different uses and have been stripped externally and internally of their original architectural features. All the original glazing and all the chimney stacks have been removed.

The Palatine buildings were acquired by the Trustees of Chetham’s Charity in 1969 and were intended to provide accommodation and school rooms for the newly founded Chetham’s School of Music. They were converted by the architects Thomas Worthington and Son as a temporary refurbishment intended to last no more than ten years. The buildings were completely unsuitable for their new purpose: they had no sound-proofing and they provided very poor residential space. They were also extraordinarily expensive to maintain. The basements regularly flooded and the roof leaked. But Chetham’s made use of them not for the ten years they imagined but for over forty years until they were eventually vacated in favour of the new school building, opposite Victoria Station, which opened in 2013. In 2009 Chetham’s trustees put the Palatine buildings up for sale to see if a developer or builder would take them on, but the proposed sale attracted no interest. They are now completely empty and are unsustainable, and are scheduled for demolition in the next twelve months.

We recognise that taking down the Palatine buildings is only justified if the results are a significant improvement on what was there before, and in this instance there is no question that the demolition has two huge positive outcomes. Firstly it opens up what is arguably the most important archaeological site in the city: beneath the Palatine buildings lie the House of Correction, the great tithe barn, the inner ditch and the castle, and some of the lost buildings of the medieval town. Our aim is to ensure that by removing the Palatine buildings we are able to open up the archeology that remains beneath them to the community. We have been in discussions with archaeologists for some time to make sure that these sites are sensitively and appropriately investigated. Secondly, their removal opens up the medieval College House to Manchester and Salford, a view that has been hidden since the 1840s. We have no wish to open up the site to improve our own view, which will be of a car park, and, if proposed developments take place, two large tower blocks, but we do think that opening up one of Manchester’s very few remaining medieval buildings to public view is important. By taking down Palatine we are able to open up the medieval College House and the Library as a proper visitor attraction, and we are working in consultation with the City, the Cathedral and architects to put this site to the best possible use. We are currently in the process of making an application for a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to update and improve the medieval buildings as well as to restore and adapt the Grade II-listed nineteenth-century Alfred Waterhouse building which is currently hidden from public view by Palatine. It is our intention to create new public space as well as improving accessibility to the medieval buildings, and we welcome constructive suggestions for future developments. We are also working with artists-in-residence as well as photography students from Bolton University on a project to properly record the building and document the regeneration of the site.

We recognise that the heritage of the site on which Chetham’s stands is of great significance and is valued by many, and it is our full intention to take each decision about its future intelligently and sensitively. Naturally, the loss of an early nineteenth-century railway hotel is regretted by all who have worked in and around it as well as by members of the wider community and those who care about its architectural importance, and we understand that any decisions made regarding its future will have detractors as well as supporters. We are, however, confident not only that all possibilities for the realistic survival of Palatine have been exhausted, but that the decision to demolish it will make way for developments and improvements which will have a very positive effect on this part of the city and all who love and appreciate it.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

A warm welcome to George Jennison


George Jennison, grandson of the founder of Belle Vue Zoological Gardens and author of its history, relaxing in the passenger seat on his way to Chetham's this morning.

Thanks to a generous donation by Jean Hill of High Lane, George is now making himself comfortable here at the Library after his short journey, and will be looked after as part of our extensive collection of material related to Belle Vue.

You can read Zoe Willocks's ebook of George Jennison's history of Belle Vue here.