Wednesday 7 September 2016

The Last Post

Friends and followers, this will be the last post on this blog platform. You can read all our new blog posts and a full archive of previous posts on our beautiful new website here. See you there!

Friday 5 August 2016

Cats vs Dogs

The image is taken from Johannes van Meurs, Athenae Batavae (Leiden: Elzevir, 1625) and is one of the most famous images of the interior of a seventeenth-century library.

The University Library of Leiden was divided into two rows of bookcases for folios, with the smaller books arranged at the back. On the left is mathematics, philosophy, literature and theology, with history, medicine and law on the right. Each row of books had a table at which readers might stand to study a chained volume.

The image shows tourists as well as scholars - the rows of chained books, the portraits of Willem and Maurits of Orange, a picture of Constantinople, portraits of Erasmus and Janus Seconds, a cabinet containing manuscripts donated by the great scholar Joseph Scaliger, two men examining a globe and visitors courteously greeting and conversing with one another.

Chetham’s Library was housed in a building that was too narrow to allow a central aisle between rows of books. Instead the original bookcases were arranged against the outside wall leaving the passageways against an internal wall (the wall bookcase dates from the middle of the eighteenth century). Where as in Leiden, readers would work where the books were shelved, like Leiden the books were chained, but in Manchester, we made stools so that readers could sit rather than stand to read the books. The arrangement differed from Leiden. At Chetham’s the order was theology, history, mathematics and physics, and then literature. Where the law books were shelved is anyone’s guess. As in Leiden, readers and visitors would mingle: all useful learning, which was universal in its scope, would be housed under one ark of a roof as a statement of civic pride. Unlike Leiden we were less tolerant of dogs, although the number of cat flaps in the building indicates that cats and their ability to keep down vermin were more highly valued.

Wednesday 3 August 2016

Calendar Girls...and Boys

Whilst we pride ourselves in the fact that the collections at Chetham's were built up in a very deliberate, conscious manner, with each book being selected by governors and librarians because it fulfilled Chetham's purpose of establishing a library for the use of scholars, we don’t always know where each book came from, or why or how it was acquired. 

This is illustrated by a large folio volume housed in the gallery, a part of the library not normally open to the public, which is lettered on the spine Oxford Almanacs. When a recent visitor asked what it was, we could answer, large sheet almanacs published each year by Oxford University. When asked why we had it was more difficult to explain.

The volume contains 92 almanacs that were printed annually at the Clarendon Press in Oxford. Our set began in 1716 and continues with some gaps until 1854, but the first Oxford almanac was brought out for 1674 and the series has been continuous since 1676. Each contains a calendar and information relating to the University as well as other more general information. But their interest and appeal lies in the fact that each almanac contains a large picture. They began with allegorical subjects in the seventeenth century but then continued with designs for college buildings and portraits of college founders and benefactors. Later they shifted to topographical subjects.

They are both beautiful and occasionally baffling. The almanac for 1755 is described in Helen Petter’s 1974 catalogue of the series as: ‘A young man is being led by a woman with wings on her head towards two figures seated on clouds; one holds a cross an the other the reins of a lion. Above them three angels hold a book which is flooded by light from the sky. Beneath them putti play with instruments and books. The young man is restrained by two figures at the mouth of a cave; the man has ass’s ears and the woman holds a cup. Behind them is the head of a sleeping figure.’ Thankfully the official explanation accompanying the picture makes it all crystal clear: ’Science or Learning conducting Mankind from Sloth, Ignorance, and Sensuality to the knowledge of divine and Moral Truths, personified by the two women who represent the Christian Faith and Morality, and together make the whole of the Religion, signified by the open Bible.’ Yep. Much clearer.

What's our favourite? Easy, the almanac for 1752 - the opening of the Radcliffe Library. The last almanac engraved by George Verytue (1684-1756), who was engraver to the Society of Antiquaries as well as to the University. The picture is of the Library as designed by James Gibbs which opened in 1749. The official explanation describes the scene as a 'Representation of the Solemnity at the time of opening the said library'. Too right. For any library groupie, and for us that cap really does fit, this image is hard to beat, and solemnity is our middle name…

Thursday 21 July 2016

Fashionable Amusements

One of our wonderful Manchester scrapbooks is always referred to as ‘Cambrics’ - a rather curious name which simply describes the original fabric which covered the scrapbook. Within the book is a rich assortment of what the donor refers to as ‘handbills’ which cover topics as diverse as theatrical performances, a set of rules for the Coffee House, notices and reports of political and trade meetings, and a small collection of very early bills advertising local circus performances.

The term circus comes from the Latin for circle and was first used by the Romans to describe the entertainments staged in their amphitheatres. Our modern usage dates from the eighteenth century, when the showmen Philip Astley and Charles Dibdin developed equestrian entertainments which were performed in circular spaces with the audience seated around the sides (Dibdin was actually the first to use the word ‘circus’ in his advertising). Animals were popular but demonstrations of equestrian skills or ‘trick riding’  were always at the centre of these shows.

Three of our circus bills advertise the performances of Philip Astley’s ‘troop’. The earliest is dated 5 March 1773 and announces:
‘Horsemanship. Mr Astley and pupils will exhibit their various feats, in a manner quite new and surprising, in a field opposite to Strangeways gardens, this afternoon, being Friday, exactly at three o’clock’. The images of the horses and riders have great charm, although the animals do tend to resemble rocking horses. One of the riders has a banner flying above his head which says ‘I’m only five years old’.
By December of 1787, Astley is describing his show as being ‘By his majesty’s royal letters patent. At the riding house in Tib-street…a grand display of various exercises, by Astley’s company of dancers, tumblers, vaulters, and musical performers, on several horses.’ The individual acts are all listed and include ‘a minuet by two horses’ the ‘Metamorphose of the Sack by Mr Lansdale’ and ‘several feats on horseback by a young lady, Miss Vangibles. Performances are peculiar to herself - first appearance in Manchester…’

Philip Astley (1742-1814) is usually credited with the invention of the first circus. He had joined the dragoons at the age of 17 and became famous for his prowess at riding and breaking in horses. In 1768 after leaving the army he set up his own riding school and he and his wife began performing various tricks  and equestrian feats, for which they charged spectators 6d or a shilling to watch. The business flourished and Astley toured his performers to fairs, markets, race meetings and pleasure gardens all over the country.

Horses moving around a circular space are much easier for equestrian performers, as centrifugal force helps them to balance. Over the years Astley developed covered rings and tiered seating and constructed temporary rings for use when travelling.

Other circus shows in Manchester were from Mr Jones in 1784, whose show was to be staged ‘at the riding school near the Infirmary’ and two bills for the New Circus in 1793. One features Mr Parker ‘on his young charger’ demonstrating for one night only the ‘various evolutions of the Broadsword’. The dramatic image depicts Mr Parker, dressed as a hussar, brandishing his sword on his rearing steed.
 The other New Circus poster shows Mr Smith who ‘leaps thro a balloon and lights on the saddle’ although he looks strangely immobile and appears to be weighed down by the huge feathers crowning his hat.
The poster for the Olympic Circus at the Minor Theatre is a later date, 1817, and offers the spectacle of ‘a Country Dance by Six Horses’ and also ‘Miss Bannister the intrepid female Equestrian’ who, in an encouraging example of female emancipation, is demonstrating the Six Divisions of the Broad Sword Exercise.
Circuses remained hugely popular over the next hundred years and Brenda Assail, in her book The Circus and Victorian Society, records that Lancashire had more circus performances in the nineteenth century than any other county and that in Manchester between 1847 and 1848 alone, the public enjoyed 120 performances.

We’ve recently had some very good news relating to Cambrics and our circus posters, as the library has received a grant from the Arts Council’s Designation Development Fund which will enable us to digitise our collection of single sheet material (broadsides, ballads and ephemera).

Wednesday 13 July 2016

The Ballad of Chetham's Library

We are delighted to announce we have recently been successful in our application to the Arts Council’s Designation Development Fund. The money we will receive means we can now digitise our incredibly popular collection of single sheet material comprising broadsides, ballads and ephemera.

The collection is a rarity amongst museum collections consisting largely of sixteenth to nineteenth century printed ephemera such as song sheets, posters, proclamations and trade cards. These materials were largely produced for a quick sale or distribution and not intended for long term survival. Stuck to walls or crammed into pockets, torn and lost, the surviving pieces are rare and yet many thousands of examples lie within our archive.

The collection we are now fortunate enough to make available online includes:

Halliwell-Phillips Collection: 3,100 items of printed ephemera including royal proclamations, broadsides, ballads, poems, sheet music, trade cards, bill headings and advertisements. The proclamations date from the reign of Charles I, but most of the items are from the end of the seventeenth and early eighteenth century.

The Cambrics Scrapbook: One of the most important collections of broadsides, broadsheets, and single-sheet pamphlets in the Library, most of which are unique. Its 254 broadsides range from light-hearted theatre posters and entertainment handbills to discussions of some of the most serious political issues facing England at the end of the eighteenth century. The earliest piece dates from 1739 and the latest 1848; over two-thirds of them, especially the more political broadsheets, come from the years 1789-1800, the turbulent decade of the French Revolution, when Manchester's populace was also stirred by the spirit of Republicanism.

The Holt Ballad sheets: Collection of street songs and ballads published in Manchester and the North West during the mid-nineteenth century, containing over 400 broadsides with around 940 individual songs, many being in local dialect or relating to specific local characters and events.

The Axon Ballad collection: The Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society's Axon Ballad collection. The collection consists of 132 sheets containing 280 ballads. This collection already has good digital surrogates online, and so we will focus on providing them with essential metadata through this project. 

The William Robert Hay Collection: Collection of 286 broadsides, ballads and poems, many of which are rare examples of provincial printing. Hay (1761-1839) was a clerical magistrate and stipendiary chairman of the Salford Quarter Sessions acting at Peterloo and the material is recognised as one of the most significant collections in the country relating to the build up and aftermath of the Peterloo massacre. As we approach the 200th anniversary in 2019, this collection takes on added significance; making it available digitally will make a significant impact on the continuing scholarship of early C19th radicalism and loyalism.

The rarity and fragility of these works, in addition to their use by people such as artist Jeremy Deller, singer Jen Reed and musician Eliza Carthy, has generated a fervent interest; interest that, due to the delicate nature of the pieces and the capacity of the Library staff, we have often been unable to meet.

Furthermore, the collection has already proved a rich source of knowledge, having been the subject of numerous academic publications on Baroque music and used for teaching classes within the Library at undergraduate and postgraduate level. However, these have all required scholars to be able to physically access the pieces. We have separately received over 50 academic research requests in just the last few years directly requesting digital surrogates of the collection.

The digitisation of these works, thanks to the generosity of the Arts Council, will now allow us to make the collection available to academics, students and the general public, worldwide.

Tuesday 5 July 2016

Thursday Lates

We're open again this Thursday until 8.30... come along and enjoy wandering through the medieval buildings in the early evening light, see some books, relax in the Library. We'd love to see you there!

Tuesday 28 June 2016

Waste Not Want Not

The collection of John Byrom, which we acquired in 1870 from a descendant of the poet,  is especially interesting for a number of reasons. 

First, it contains some of the Library’s best manuscripts, including the Aulus Gellius that belonged to Matthias Corvinas, King of Hungary, Humphrey Duke of Gloucester’s copy of Coluccio Salutati, and a C15th hymnale produced for the brothers at Syon Abbey which was later bound at the Caxton bindery. Second, it shows how a collection was put together. Byrom’s journal documents his sickness of book buying, with numerous accounts of visits to booksellers and auctions. Many of the books in his collection can be matched against his journal entries, showing when and where he acquired a particular book and how much he paid for it. Third, and perhaps more importantly, Byrom did not go in for much in the way of rebinding and many of his books are in the same condition today as they were when he acquired them. Often this means the same tatty condition. Byrom was certainly never likely to have got worked up over pristine condition. The result is that Byrom’s books often contain fascinating provenance information.

This is illustrated by two books. First a two volume edition of the works of Origen, printed in Paris in 1530 by Jean Petit and Josse Badius. Both volumes Byrom’s signature on the front pastedown and also signatures of two previous C17th owners: Jo: Wold and  Jo: Jackson. The volumes were bound in a contemporary full calf binding on wooden boards and blind tooled to a panel design. The design consists of a central panel composed of three vertical strips of a metal roll with a design of griffins, wiverns and lions surrounded by an intersecting border of the same roll which continues to edges of boards. The roll contains the initials N.S. (possibly the Cambridge binder Nicholas Spierinck: the roll was used in Canbridge bindings from 1521-33). There is evidence of clasps and both volumes have a contemporary manuscript fore-edge titles; one reading "Tomi duo priores Origens" and the other reading "Tomi 3⁰ & 4⁰ Origens”.

Volume 1 has a leaf of a 15th-century English manuscript on civil law bound as back pastedown, whilst the second volume has another leaf of the same manuscript bound as front pastedown and a leaf from a different 13th or 14th-century manuscript on canon law bound as back pastedown. Both volumes have extensive manuscript marginal annotations in Latin in a variety of 16th century hands throughout.

The second example is an edition of the Catecheses of Saint Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, which was printed in Antwerp in 1564 as a co-edition of Christopher Plantin and the Cologne bookseller Maternus Cholinus. Byrom signed the copy on the title page giving the date of its acquisition as 'Ap. 18. 1722'. The book  is bound in a late 16th-century dark calf binding, with blind thin thick thin fillet border, and blind floral centrepiece on both boards. There is one leaf of vellum manuscript waste at front and back containing part of a breviary, in red and black, with many musical notations, and initials alternately rubricated in red and inked in blue.

So what lessons can we draw from Byrom’s book collection? One very important one for book historians and librarians and that is that that we should not rebind books and lose valuable provenance information. Keep material in original condition wherever possible, even if this is tatty condition. Rebinding books is for suckers.