Thursday, 18 December 2014

Deck the Halls

The torrential rain this past couple of days on top of last week's 'weather-bomb' sent us to volume viii of The Boys Own Bookshelf, Indoor Games and Recreations: A Popular Encyclopaedia for Boys (1891) to re-think our holiday amusement plans. Although there are plenty of women on the Library staff, we haven't let that deter us from using this entertaining, if sexist, book to get some ideas for fun indoor activities. The fat volume is filled with a wondrous array of delightful poems, stories, games, puzzles and projects, all embellished with intricate wood engravings; plenty to keep us occupied over the stormiest Christmas week. 

We were first caught by the idea of 'the very useful and instructive pastime' of 'the construction of a sundial', but we regretfully concluded that it would get little use before next June. The chapter titled 'Fire-balloons and Gas-balloons: How to make and use them' also tempted us, especially since the new exhibition at Manchester Central Library has prompted us to admire some of our own balloon broadsides. 

But in the end, we've settled on 'How we made a Christmas ship' by C. Stansfeld-Hicks, author of Yacht and Canoe Building, etc., etc. What could be better for those of us who are 'tired of Christmas trees', as Mr S-H, so trenchantly phrases it? An elegant ship on the sideboard, small gifts hung from its rigging, presents an intriguing alternative to the more common Christmas tree. A quick trip around Google shows us that there seems to be a persistent maritime tradition around Europe which connects St Nicholas's gift delivery system with a ship rather than a sleigh. 

The good people of Ormseby Hall (picture above) are well ahead of us with this Christmas ship lark. They got the idea from former resident James Stovin Pennyman, who was raised in Greece, and who relates in an 1868 diary entry how he and his family spent the days of Christmas rigging out their own Christmas ship. You can see the replica of the Pennyman Christmas ship at Ormesby Hall this month, since theirs is ready to go.  

Taking note of the above warning from earlier in the book, we include a pdf of 'How we made a Christmas ship', in case you too find yourself stuck indoors with time on your hands. If you are making your own Christmas ship, we'd be pleased to receive a photo of the completed vessel.

Friday, 12 December 2014

A fresh look at the Belle Vue project

Today we are delighted to introduce another of our work placement students, Courtney Stickland of the University of Manchester, who is working alongside Kathy on the Belle Vue Project funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund. Courtney writes:

"I studied for my undergraduate degree in History and Human Geography at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada), during which I spent a term studying abroad at the University of Manchester. I fell in love with the city, returned to pursue my Master’s degree, and am now  on a work placement for UoM’s MA (Modern British) History program, working on the Belle Vue Gardens Project at Chetham’s Library.

When I arrived at Chetham’s for the first time I was amazed by the building and the collection - so much so that I accidentally ended up on a mini-tour with guide Jess for fifteen minutes before eventually managing to pipe up that I was meant to be helping out in the office and was not a tourist. After a stream of apologies and nervous laughter, I got down to business with Chetham’s Cataloguing Librarian Kathy Whalen, and was introduced to the Belle Vue Gardens Project.

Obviously, being from Canada, I had never heard of Belle Vue, but was immediately interested in this place that was so prominent in Mancunian life and memory for nearly 150 years. Over the next few days I began to tell my course mates about the placement, and they all commented how their parents and grandparents used to go there, confirming to me how big a deal Belle Vue had once been.

Given my background in geography, I quickly took to Google maps with old Belle Vue guidemaps in hand to get a spatial image of the place in my mind but with no luck: few remnants of the area’s heyday as an entertainment mecca remain. The trapezoidal site from the guide maps of years past is roughly recognisable, bounded by Hyde Road, the A6010 and Kirkmanshulme Road, and the greyhound stadium is still there, but beyond that Belle Vue has been completely transformed into commercial and residential space.

While my geographical side was disheartened by the lack of built heritage to scour (who doesn’t love before and after photos of old buildings?), I was consoled by the wealth of visual and textual material in the Belle Vue Collection from which I can rebuild an image of the park’s past. And thanks to the toil of previous volunteers on the Belle Vue Gardens Project, I have a massive amount of material available to work with, much of it already digitised. My work placement partner Jacob and I are continuing to help with this important task of digitising and organising the Omeka database, but also in opening up the collection to the public, particularly those who experienced Belle Vue first hand and remember its glory days. In order to do this, Jacob and I are simultaneously uploading material from Omeka and the library’s holdings to a variety of social media websites, including the existing Chetham’s Library Flickr and Twitter, as well as a Tumblr page specifically for the Belle Vue Gardens Project which I have created.

View of the dashboard of the bellevuegardensproject Tumblr dashboard, already making use of the park’s great visual materials

I decided that Tumblr would be a beneficial social media platform for dispersing the Belle Vue Collection because of my own personal experience with the site. Amongst the sea of hipster pictures and fan posts about Harry Potter, one can find a variety of history-related accounts that share interesting information about the past, usually highlighting the humorous and bizarre bits of history that don’t typically make it into textbooks (some of my personal favourites are Oxford University Press, This Day in History and Mad History). Furthermore, like Flickr, the microblogging platform of Tumblr favours visual material - a perfect outlet for the myriad of striking images contained in the Belle Vue Collection. By using relevant hashtags on uploaded images, a wider range of users can be introduced to Belle Vue who would otherwise not know about its existence or its interaction with certain aspects of history. For example, one of the site’s first visitors was a Davy Jones fan page which reblogged a photo set of Jones, Pelé and Gracie Fields casting their hand and foot prints in the 1960s for Belle Vue’s Wall of Fame, subsequently sharing the Belle Vue page with all of their followers and increasing awareness of the park’s history of celebrity appearances. I am hoping that by highlighting the visual history of Belle Vue, I can lure new audiences to the Belle Vue Collection (using links to the Omeka database, the Chetham’s Library blog and Flickr page), particularly local Tumblr users who are unfamiliar with the park or the Library’s collections.

Some challenges I am anticipating with the Tumblr page are maintaining a regular posting schedule, striking an even balance of content and establishing a visible web presence. Thankfully the Tumblr platform includes a queueing option, so I can upload and schedule a number of posts on my days in Chetham’s. In regards to content, I will need to suppress my intense interest in nineteenth-century British history and include material across the park’s long history, but also use a wide array of sources, including photos, maps, pamphlets, newspaper articles, videos and ephemera. Lastly, increasing traffic to the site will be largely reliant on effective tagging of posted material (it was jokingly suggested that I tag everything with ‘baby animals’ to increase traffic, though this will definitely be employed in zoo-related posts) and advertising the Tumblr through the Chetham’s Library Twitter and Facebook accounts.

I am looking forward to working with the collection and staff at Chetham’s in the upcoming months, and learning more about Manchester’s local history!"

You can find out more about the Library's Belle Vue collection here, and visit our Omeka site here.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

The Ariel Poems

In 1927, long before the Christmas shopping frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, a young director from the publishing company Faber and Gwynne came up with an innovative and elegant idea for the Christmas gift market.

His name was Richard de la Mare, the son of the famous poet Walter and his idea was to produce a series of small illustrated pamphlets which would combine a single, previously unpublished, poem by a major poet with an appropriate illustration. The poems were christened the ‘Ariel Series’ and all were to have a seasonal or Christmas theme. The format was simple: a folded card cover featured the title, author and illustrator and occasionally a small line decoration. The two inside sheets were folded to give four pages for the poem and an original illustration, which was printed in three colours only. The poems were printed by the Curwen Press and, apart from a small limited edition which were sent as Christmas greetings to important clients, were priced at one shilling.

When Richard de la Mare began to approach poets he was able to say not only that his father Walter had promised a poem, but so had his fellow director at Faber, T.S.Eliot. Those who eventually agreed were a stellar list, including Thomas Hardy, G.K.Chesterton, Siegfried Sassoon, Edith Sitwell, W.B.Yeats and D.H.Lawrence. The resulting poems were wonderfully varied and range from overtly religious themes to meditations on winter and the magic of Christmas seen through the eyes of a child.

Interestingly, the poets did not know which artist would be chosen to respond to their poems. Richard de la Mare consulted with the printer Henry Curwen and selected a number of up-and-coming young artists as well as some established names, including David Jones, Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden, Paul and John Nash, and Eric Gill. Many of the resulting combinations of poem and image are inspired.

Between 1927 and 1931 Faber published thirty-eight poems in the Ariel series and then, in the early 1950s, after a gap of twenty years, it was decided to revive the series. The library has five of the later series, all published in 1954, two by Eliot, one by De la Mare, one by Edwin Muir and one by Cecil Day Lewis. They each have great charm and have been illustrated by renowned artists including Robin Jaques, E.McKnight Kauffer and John Piper. They are part of the Pickles Collection which was donated to the Library by Anne Pickles in memory of her late husband.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Manchester: Alchemical City

Don't miss Jeanette Winterson's new documentary 'Manchester: Alchemical City', which airs on Radio 4 next week. Jeanette, who is one of our Honorary Patrons, takes a personal look at the history of the city which shaped her young life, and visits Chetham's Library as part of her investigations.

The programme is on daily at 1.45pm.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

An early work of botany, and a political cow


A reader recently requested this splendid folio work by the seventeenth-century French physician and botanist Dionys Dodart in collaboration with the engraver Nicolas Robert. Dodart (1634-1707) was elected to the French Academy of Sciences in 1673 and was notable for his early studies of plant growth and respiration, working with Robert on several illustrated works. 

This is a first edition of one of the most important books in the history of botanical illustration, a work which grew out of an idea first proposed to the Academie Royale des Sciences by Claude Perrault in 1667. Following Dodart’s election to the Academy, he set to work on the task of representing thirty-nine species of plant, with descriptions, attributes and sources. Robert made the drawings for the engravings from life, and the intention was to reproduce the images as large as possible to allow maximum detail.  Gavin D.R. Bridson and Donald E. Wendel, in their Printmaking in the Service of Botany… describe the plates as ranking ‘among the best botanical engravings ever produced’. 

The volume has a beautiful contemporary red calf centrepiece binding by the Imprimerie Royale, with a stamp of the French royal arms surrounded by a wreath. The endpapers are of magnificent marbled paper. 


Our copy has an eighteenth-century Jacobean armorial bookplate belonging to Phillip Carteret Webb (1702-1770), an English barrister and antiquarian who sat for the rotten borough of Haslemere from 1754-1768 and inspired a ballad entitled ‘The Cow of Haslemere’ which had eight calves, each eligible to vote in Webb’s interest.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Lunchtime closure

Some of you may know that we have been trialling lunchtime openings since the beginning of the academic year. Regrettably we have now made the decision to revert to closing for an hour between 12.30 and 1.30, but hope to be able to revise this at some point in the new year. We will of course keep you posted of any future changes to the opening hours.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

From Flanders Fields to Worsley Hall

One hundred years ago many of the great houses of Great Britain were converted into temporary hospitals to treat wounded servicemen home from the fighting on the Western Front. Worsley Hall in Greater Manchester was one of these. In 1914 Lord Ellesmere loaned his property to the British Red Cross which opened up a hospital unit of around one hundred beds to treat wounded and sick soldiers. The staff, many of whom were distinguished in their field, were drawn from local hospitals. One of these was Ernest Bosdin Leech. During the last months of 1914 and the early months of 1915 he treated a number of patients at Worsley Hall. Not only did he keep a diary of this time, part of the extensive Leech Family Diaries, he also kept a notebook in which his patients wrote their names, regiments, and in some cases their home address in their own handwriting. They often noted the battles they had fought in, the reason they were in hospital, and in some cases a more detailed description of their experiences, or some verses of poetry. In a few cases they made a drawing. There is something uniquely powerful in reading these accounts of the war in the handwriting of men so recently returned from the front.

The patients of 1914 were largely from Britain’s professional army which bore the brunt of the fighting alongside the French and Belgium armies. Many of them were involved the the bloody fighting around Mons and the weeks of rear-guard action that followed. Herbert Rhodes of the 60th Battery Royal Field Artillery left England on 8 August and fought throughout the 'retirement' from Mons. 'I was on my horse’s back for a week and when I did get off my horse I could not stand and was very sore'. He had little time to recover. The German Army was defeated at the Battle of the Marne and withdrew to the high ground. This marked the end of the mobile war and the beginning of trench warfare. The first battle of this new type of warfare was the Battle of Aisne. Herbert Rhodes was there: 'I then went to the Battle of Aisne where we were in action for a month and two days and blew the Germans out of the caves where the French were defeated in 1870'. He went on to Ypres where he was wounded in the leg.

Not all the patients had suffered physical injuries. Even at this early stage of the war the psychological strain was manifest. Private John Purdy of the Leinster Regiment wrote, in a shaky hand, that he 'took fits over three of his chums getting killed by a Jack Johnson' (a type of shell). A contemporary newspaper report of the hospital remarks that although the soldiers make light of their experiences by day, at night the depth of their trauma emerged. 'Though their waking hours are very light, at night time many of the men suffer terrible nightmares. They imagine themselves back again in the trenches fighting phantom hosts and frequently the nursing staff have much difficulty in calming the poor fellows.'

A surprising number of patients were admitted not as a result of enemy action, but because of that other fight against the elements. Living outside through the cold and wet of a northern European autumn and winter, in a constant state of anxiety and physical exhaustion, took its toll. One such victim was Private W. Hilton of the Sutherland Highlanders: 'Went to the front on August 12. Was at the Battles of La Cateaux, Aisne and Messines. Sent home with ague, rheumatism and nervousness through sleeping out in the wet'. As the war dragged on through the first winter an increasing number of men were admitted with frostbitten feet. Other soldiers were admitted because of the inadequacy of their equipment. Private Irving of the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment was invalided home on 2 January 1915 with a septic ankle caused through 'marching with bad boots'. How many fighting men were lost to the British Army through lack of warm socks and properly fitting waterproof footwear?

Most of the patients wrote entries that were positive or neutral in tone. Some were humorous. Bertie Caldwell of the 21 Sherwood Foresters, who had received six bullet wounds at the battle of Aisne on 20 September, obviously wanted to make the nurses smile with a cheeky ditty:
'The Sultan got sick of his harem
And invented a scheme for to scarem
So he caught him a mouse
Which he loosed in the house
The confusion is caused harem scarem'.

However sometimes their despair comes through as in this entry from Private H. Mace of the 1st Glosters Regiment: 'Wounded in the Battle of Aisne September 22nd, left leg amputated. Sent back to Worsley Hall as nobody else wanted me.'

A number of patients at the hospital were from the Belgian army. These men had fought in a desperate delaying action from the first days of the war. They succeeded in preventing the German army from gaining control of the channel ports, a critical strategic defeat for the German High Command. Many of these men were conscripts rather than professional soldiers. Pierre Walbroeck and Henry Robins both of the 7th Regiment of Infantry, were cousins wounded at the Battle of Yser in October 1914. Henry, who had been a student at Ghent University, was wounded by rifle bullets in both legs and received a fractured tibia, an injury which in itself often proved fatal due to the difficulty of moving wounded men in battlefield conditions. One of their comrades Guillis Georges Fergeus of the 2nd Regiment of Sisjue had been wounded on 22 October and drew this accomplished but rather prematurely optimistic picture of a terrified Kaiser Wilhelm fleeing the fighting.

The contradictory attitude to the war held by these men is evident in verses written by two men. One a call to arms, the other a plea to just end it and go home.
John Beckett of the Worcestershire Regiment wrote:
'Why do they call sonny, why do they call
For men who are brave and strong
It is naught to you if your country falls
And right is smashed by wrong
Is it football and the picture show?
The pub and the betting odds
When your brother stands to the tyrant’s blow
And Britain’s call is God’s.'

Sergeant Green of the XII Royal Lancers, who was wounded at the Battle of The Marne on 2 November drew a picture that could be seen as reflecting this martial spirit and the need to fight to the end.

However some of these men were already deeply weary of the war and Lance Corporal Mills of the 1st Loyal North Lancashire Regiment wrote:
'I want to go home
I want to go home
I don’t want to go to the trenches no more
Where the Jack Johnsons go whistling over
I want to go home to the sea
Where the Kaiser he won’t catch o ’me
Singing ho my'.

One wonders how many of these men had to go back and how many lived to witness the peace of 1919?

Many thanks to our volunteer Paul Carpenter for taking the time to write and research this blogpost.