Thursday, 27 August 2015

Tea with Chimpanzees: Hannah Weaver's perspective on Belle Vue

Whilst working on the Belle Vue collection this summer on a work placement I have come to understand the history and indeed the vast legacy of Belle Vue amusement park. During the cataloguing of the collection the inner workings of the park have become clear, and in particular the strange, at times disturbing, actions and perceptions of the zoological gardens. 

By focusing primarily on the collections of Gerald Iles, the zoological superintendent of the park, I have become acquainted with the zoo animals who were considered celebrities in every sense of the word. Although it is hard to believe today, the newspapers of the time reveal that the animals of Belle Vue had A list status; appearing in movies, photo shoots and even a regular newspaper column.

Every detail of their lives were revealed to the public and the media manipulated each zoo event into dramatic exhibits which complied with human social norms. Each animal's birthday was celebrated with a party and cake, whilst the mate of each animal was deemed a 'husband' or 'wife'. Thus the newspapers started to reveal a strange obsession with the link between animal and human behaviour.

When comparing the present day zoological approach with that of Belle Vue in the 1900s, it is alarming to see how desperate the media and the park was to anthropomorphise their animals. Their actions went beyond just giving animals 'human' names such as James and Charlotte. Belle Vue pushed their animals to exhibit human behaviour and subsequently animals performing human activities became an attraction for visitors. 

For instance there was an allotted time for people to watch a chimpanzee tea party in which they would sit at small wooden chairs all dressed up in children's clothes and drink tea, bears were paraded around a stage riding bicycles, even monkeys were trained to smoke cigarettes. Many people nowadays would see this as cruel, bizarre and unnecessary.

Although it is clear in some cases this was for humorous motives, it does expose a curiosity and fascination towards animals' potential for human characteristics. One example of this is Peter, the chimpanzee raised by a Northern housewife as her own private social experiment, a case closely followed by Belle Vue. The woman wanted to raise Peter like a child to see if he exhibited human behaviour. Yet this experiment did not mention what would happened if that was actually achieved or the effect on Peter.

This case sums up Belle Vue's approach and perception of the animals in their care. Whilst they seemed genuinely curious about the animals behaviour and links to human mannerisms, they did not think of the end result. What was anthropomorphism doing to people's perception of the animals and most importantly to the welfare of the animals themselves?

The evidence suggests that in former zoological history people seemed fascinated by animals' potential for human characteristics. Comparing this with the modern zoological approach reveals how much the perception of animals has changed. The experimentation with anthropomorphising animals has faded into the background and we have become much more concerned with conservation and protection.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Thanks and Farewell. Jack Harris

As summer draws to a close, we find ourselves bidding farewell to another of our invaluable university work-placement students. Jack spent almost three months here at the Library working on our Belle Vue Project, cataloguing an amazing number of Belle Vue images. Before leaving he also created our first Virtual Belle Vue exhibition on Belle Vue's famous fireworks extravaganzas. We are sorry to see him go, but wish him all the best in his final year. Here is Jack's report on his summer in Belle Vue Gardens:

Despite having grown up just a short train journey away from the center of Manchester, it was only quite recently that I had the good fortune of coming across Chetham’s Library. As a History student with the Summer months on the near horizon, the idea of volunteering at the library and learning more about how history can be put into practice soon became compelling. 

From my first day at the library I found plenty to absorb and plenty to contribute. Perhaps naively, I had always thought of Manchester as a city that was born in the factories and the mills of the Industrial Revolution, thinking little of the settlements that preceded this era. It thus came as a surprise as I walked through the echoing passages of the library to learn that parts of the building dated back to the 15th century. To spend time in such a library with such distant origins was an experience in itself. 

My work revolved around the library's extensive collection regarding the Belle Vue Zoological Gardens. While the name certainly rang a bell, I was admittedly quite unfamiliar with the pleasure garden. However, given a Summer of cataloguing and digitising the various forms of fascinating ephemera, I was able to develop an appreciation for the role Belle Vue had played in the lives of Mancunians across a number of generations.  

Besides cataloguing and digitising, I was also able to produce a virtual exhibition on a specific attraction that was offered by Belle Vue over 100 years or so: the Pyrodrama. Belle Vue's pyrodramas re-enacted historic clashes of civilisations from the age of imperialism, featuring fireworks, pyrotechnics, cannons, evolving scenery and hundreds of actors. To work on such a project was especially rewarding, as it allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of a feature I found particularly interesting. It also allowed me to use and develop the researching skills I have acquired as a History student as I delved into the primary and secondary sources Chetham's had to offer. 


For myself, my Chetham's volunteering experience has been a success. I have made what feels like a meaningful contribution to the digitisation and preservation of an important chapter in Manchester's history. I have furthered my understanding of what characterised Manchester in previous generations. In addition, I have gained an insight into the role history, libraries and archives play in the public sphere, and what a 'History oriented' career could potentially look like. With graduation less than a year away, such experience is invaluable. 

I'd finally like to thank the staff at Chetham's for the opportunity and for supporting my efforts over the Summer. I'd thoroughly recommend volunteering to students in a similar position to myself.

Friday, 21 August 2015

"What's your favourite book?"

The first question visitors invariably put to library staff is ‘Have you read all these books?’, to which the answer is always an automatic ‘Yes of course!’. The follow-up question, by contrast, requires more consideration: 'What’s your favourite book?’ 
The usual answers - ‘It all depends', or ‘It varies, I change my mind all the time’- are proof that books, like loves, change over the course of time. The attraction of a particular book is hard to quantify but for those of us who work with rare books every day of our lives, the reasons why some books are more interesting than others is usually because their appeal is multi-layered, and because there is always more to say and discover about them. 

Take, for instance, this week’s favourite. The work is a sammelband - a composite volume of two or more texts. In this case there are two works: a Latin herbal printed in Louvain by Jan Veldener in 1485-86 and a copy of De urinis et pulsibus, written by Gilles de Corbeil around 1200 and printed in Lyons by Martin Havard in 1500. The two texts are interesting in their own right: early printed herbals are rare, and remarkable for what they tell us about the history of science and of scientific illustration. They are practical texts rather than theoretical and show how nature could be used to benefit people. This particular work was one of a number of herbals put out by Veldener in the 1480s  derived from the first printed herbal, published in Mainz in 1484 by Peter Schoeffer. Veldener’s text is identical to the Mainz edition, except that the German names for plants were replaced with Netherlandish names. Almost all of the woodcuts are identical, although they have been mostly reversed in the Louvain work. 

The second text was written at the turn of the thirteenth century. The verses were intended as mnemonic aids for de Corbeil’s students and were widely studied and copied. The book is the only one in our collection to have a Library of Congress subject heading 'Urine - Analysis - Early works to 1800'.

The two works were bound together in the early sixteenth-century, probably in Cambridge. The remarkable binding of blind-tooled reddish leather over wooden boards is by the 'Unicorn Binder, so-called for the distinctive unicorn tool used on his bindings. He is known to have bound at least seventy volumes between 1484 and 1505, and this is the only example of his work in our collection.

The catalogue description of this is one of the Library’s better and certainly fuller descriptions:

Blind tooled to a rectangular panel design, with an intersecting frame consisting of triple fillet borders filled with a repeated, characteristic foliage stamp (Oldham, J.B. Blind stamped, plate XI, stamp no. 50). At each corner, where the edges of the frame intersect, is a dromedary stamp (stamp no. 73). The central panel is divided into four triangles by double fillet intersecting diagonals. Each triangle is filled with small cinquefoils (stamp no. 61) and with half of a large pineapple stamp (stamp no. 72), which according to Hobson, G.D. Bindings in Cambridge Libraries, p. 42, is typical of the Unicorn Binder's third and final phase, not coming into use until after 1500. Between the intersecting frame and the double fillet border, four tools are used. The cinquefoil and foliage stamps (stamp nos. 61 and 50) are found again, together with a sacred monogram scroll, (stamp no. 66) and a barbed rosette within a lozenge (stamp no. 63). The spine is divided by three raised bands into four compartments. Characteristic of the Unicorn Binder, is the positioning of a foliage stamp (stamp no. 50), on each side where the bands end, and the four vertical lines ruled down the spine. Rebacked, with remains of the original spine superimposed. Two incomplete metal clasps, with catches on the lower board.

What else can we say about the book? It’s one of a number of books in the Library that contain the owner’s inscription ‘Jo Hartleyus’. Twenty books with this ownership have been identified, most of which are of medical interest, and include another incunable, Johannes de Sacro Bosco’s Sphaera mundi, printed in Venice in 1491, and an edition of Hippocrates dating from 1597. We would love to discover more about Hartleyus or Hartley. An additional fact is that all of his books came to us through a subsequent owner, the poet and shorthand writer, John Byrom (1691-1763), whose collection was given to Chetham’s in 1870. What is the connection between Byrom and Hartley?

Finally, sammelband contains additional marks of ownership in the form of sketches and recipes for various ailments. The first fly-leaf contains sixteenth-century pen sketches of deer and a swan together with a recipe for the toothache. This has yet to be transcribed, and if anyone feels an urge to test their palaeography skills on this page, we would be delighted to hear from them.

Theophila and a curious letter M

Edward Benlowes’ Theophila (1652), a 268-page poem in Latin and English, is a remarkable book for several reasons. It is said that no two copies of the Theophila are identical. Benlowes installed a rolling press, necessary for engraving and etchings, in his house in Brent Hall in Essex, and copies of the book were made up as individual presentation copies, varying in the order in which the prints appeared and in the number of illustrations in each copy. 
Not only are no two copies of the book the same, no copy of Theophila survives in good condition. Benlowes’ insertion of plates, some of which were originally intended for other publications, and some simply too big for the volume, made the book unstable and the sewing and binding were invariably compromised. Our copy is typical. Benlowes’ gold tooled armorial stamp remains on the front and back covers but the leather on the spine has deteriorated and the sewing is starting to unravel.

Also of some note, the book contains a striking series of etchings by Francis Barlow (1626?-1704), the first master of English book illustration. Barlow’s illustrations, the best of which trace the mystical progress of the soul, are in the tradition of the emblem book, but are both more complex and more naturalistic than typical emblematic imagery. They are among the greatest of interpretive book illustrations and like all good illustrations are exquisite in their design and also challenging and unsettling in their impact. The image of a woman representing winter was originally intended for Wenceslaus Hollar’s set 'The Four Seasons' of 1644 but she has an erotic charge and a seductive quality as well as a sense of foreboding and mystery that are ultimately disturbing. 
Barlow’s etchings are well known and copies of Theophila are not scarce but are valued for the prints and as a somewhat curious example of an antiquarian form of vanity publishing. The poem is borderline doggerel, a dreary confused work written in a stumbling rhyme scheme with probably more exclamation marks than any other poem in the English language. At one point however, it contains two pages of fourteen six-line verses each of which is headed by a human letter form woodcut. Some of these are charming, such as the man and child G,

 the embracing Adam and Eve making up the letter A,

and the coy couple N.

 The letter M however, leaves something to be desired.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Conjuring spirits in the 'Tractatus de Nigromatia'

We are delighted to publish a guest post by Stephen Gordon, a post-doctoral research associate who has been researching the Tractatus de Nigromatia here at Chetham's Library. Foliation is Stephen's own.

The Tractatus de Nigromatia is one of the most interesting and puzzling items in the Chetham’s collection. As suggested by its title, the Tractatus is a book of necromancy. In the Classical tradition, the term was used to describe the act of divination (mantia) through the conjuration of the dead (nekros). In the medieval and early modern world, ‘necromancy’ (corrupted here into ‘nigromatia’) referred to the more generalised concept of the conjuration of demons, although this did not mean that practitioners of ritual magic did not also call upon other kinds of spirits.

 Fol. 4r: close-up on the signature ‘F. Ro. Ba’ (Friar Roger Bacon) 

The provenance of the Latin portion of the text (that is to say, the Tractatus itself rather than the English additions) is difficult to ascertain. As noted in the top right-hand corner of the title page, it has sometimes been attributed to Roger Bacon (d.1292), the Franciscan friar and philosopher whose reputation as a practitioner of dubious magic only increased in the centuries following his death. It was a common practice to ascribe the authorship of necromantic handbooks to famous magicians, usually as a way of bestowing a sense of authority on the text. To muddy the waters still further, the Tractatus also circulated as the Thesaurus Spirituum (‘Storehouse of Spirits’), the title by which it was mentioned in Johannes Trithemius’ catalogue of books of black magic, the Antipalus Maleficiorum (‘Enemy of Witchcraft’, c.1508). Trithemius records that the author of the work was a certain ‘Rupertus Lombardus’. Other versions of the text give the author as ‘Robert Lombard’ (British Library Sloane MS 3885) and ‘Robertum Furconem’ (Sloane MS 3853). Still some testified that the prototype copy came from Alexandria. Providing the Latin ‘translation’ with an ‘ancient’, non-Christian provenance was another form of textual validation.

The evidence indicates that the Chetham’s copy was written in the latter half of the sixteenth century. Its status as a working manuscript can be confirmed by the wear and tear on the pages and its transcription in a rough secretary hand. The practical − perhaps secretive − usage of the text may explain its absence from the historical record until it became part of the library of the noted poet and stenographer, John Byrom (1692–1763). Best known for developing a system of shorthand writing that remained in use well into the nineteenth century, Byrom also maintained a keen interest in the occult. His membership of the so-called ‘Cabala Club’ (as mentioned in his diary entries for 25 February and 9 March, 1725) and friendship with prominent Freemasons such as the mathematician Martin Folkes (1690–1754) and the royal physician, Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753), certainly point towards  an affinity for the arcane. While Byrom’s diaries give no account of his purchase of the Tractatus (or, indeed, any other books of necromancy), they nonetheless mention his familiarity with the Cabala, numerology, and other such mystical textbooks. Byrom, then, may have had more than just a passing interest in the Tractatus’ contents.

Handwriting comparison between John Byrom’s autograph copy of ‘Christians Awake’ and one of the English conjurations from the Tractatus de Nigromatia fol. 40v

The contents of the extant versions of the Tractatus are just as fluid and unstable as the identity of the text’s author. No two books of necromancy were ever truly the same, with the experiments contained within often changing depending on the aims, interests, and intentions the owner/copier. While grimoires could be copied by rote or abide by a known textual template, sometimes the changes to the text could be so severe that only the title remained the same. Most books of necromancy occupied a place between these two extremes. The Chetham’s Tractatus is no exception, with the ‘template’ text interspersed with prayers, astrological tables, and invocations in English, some of which are likely to have been later additions. While it is tempting to speculate that some of the extra material was written in Byrom’s own hand, a comparison with another Chetham’s Library ‘treasure’ – the 1749 autograph copy of Byrom’s hymn, Christians Awake – makes this seem tenuous at best (see above).

The operation to consecrate the ritual sword, fol. 10r; right, the operation to create and consecrate the sceptre, fol. 11v

Across its various incarnations, the Tractus de Nigromatia was one of the most popular and widely read books of magic in the medieval and early modern periods. It is a stereotypical example of a necromantic textbook. The images above are taken from one of the preparatory rituals that had to be undertaken before the conjurations could commence. The text describes how the magician had to consecrate and spiritually cleanse the ritual paraphernalia to be used in the experiments. These included a copper plate inscribed with a pentangle, a signet ring, sceptre, and a sword (pictured).  To aid the process, the experiments also had to be conducted at astrologically efficacious times of the day, month and year, with the magician also being advised to use holy names in his magic circles, to prevent the conjured spirits from answering falsehoods instead of truths. The left-hand page, below, shows a rendering of the Tetragrammaton (the Hebrew name of God transliterated from YHWH, or יהוה), while the right lists the characters of the planets.

 Fol. 8v-9r: Preparatory instructions and the sigils of the planets. 

Astral magic was a prominent feature of necromancy. The page below, written in English and inserted between two Latin experiments near the beginning of the text, shows a rough version of a zodiac table, with each zodiac sign assigned to a particular cardinal direction/wind. The second row from the top, for example, indicates that Virgo, Capricorn and Taurus were assigned to the southerly direction. This information, while part of the common repertoire of astrological knowledge, may well have been taken from the influential and widely-read De Occulta Philosophia (1531) of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1485–1535).

Fol. 28r: Zodiac table in a rough, cursive hand. Note the symbols of the planets in the bottom left hand corner of the page

One of the most complicated experiments in the Tractatus concerns the operation to create an oil to allow the magician to see and converse with spirits (see below). The magic circle comprises two concentric rings traced out in chalk, the outer of which should be a maximum of fifteen feet in diameter. Within this band, the names of Jesus Christ, and Saints Mary, Peter, Paul, Lawrence and John the Baptist should be inscribed. The names of the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael should be written within the borders of the triangle, along with stylised representations of the Tetragrammaton. Deus Spiritus Sanctus (‘God the Holy Spirit) and Deus Pater (‘God the Father’) should be written in the space between the circle and triangle. The objects in the centre of the circle relate to the items to be used during the experiment.

 Fols. 31v-32r: The conjurations and the circle for the experiment to create a vial of magic oil 

In brief, the magician must first create an unguent by adding various esoteric ingredients to a portion of oil. This concoction should then be placed in a glass vial and taken into the centre of the circle, along with a piece of clean copper and the consecrated items mentioned above. Following the recitation of a lengthy conjuration, the magician is then advised to place the sceptre and sword on the ground in the shape of a cross, adjacent to the vial of oil (as depicted in the diagram). Ultimately, spirits of the air will arrive to anoint the oil, the application of which in the magician’s eyes will allow him to see, hear, and converse with them on a regular basis. The inscription along the bottom of the left-hand page refers to the image on the opposite page and states, roughly, that ‘this is the form the circle should take’. Similar experiments to create magical oils can be found in other versions of the Tractatus/Thesaurus Spirituum, including Sloane MSS 3853 and 3885. Folger Shakespeare Library MS V.b.26 (c.1577–83), a manuscript that is contemporaneous to the Chetham’s text and written mostly in English, also contains a formula to create 'a rare and excellent' oil to see spirits of the air.

Fol. 51v: English conjuration to communicate with a spirit using a crystal

The Chetham Tractatus contains additional material that betrays the copyist’s own personal interests. The experiment ‘to make a spirit appear in a crystal’, above, was a common form of divination, one that was made famous by John Dee and his scryer (medium) Edward Kelley, who spent many years communicating with angels.

 Fol. 37r: The Operation to conjure Micob and the Seven Sisters of the Fairy Court 

Fol. 37v: Note in English, ‘to call the queen of the pharies’
Angels and demons weren’t the only type of spirit that could be conjured. Fairies were a separate albeit related class of supernatural entity, whose ambiguous status in the eyes of the Church meant that their use in magical rites had much less negative connotations than those involving demons. Operations to conjure fairy folk increased in popularity in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, suggestive of the diffusion of popular beliefs into the learned sphere, the influence of literary sources such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream (c.1590s), and the percolation of the knowledge of necromancy to all levels of English society. The images above detail the experiment to conjure ‘Micob’, the queen of the fairies, and the ‘Seven Sisters’ of her royal court. Folger Shakespeare Library MS V.b.26 also includes reference to the ‘Seven Sisters of the Fairies’ (fol. 67).

Ultimately, books of necromancy should not be seen as static, stately objects, curated rather than used. They were practical manuals that helped the operator achieve practical outcomes. While the convoluted textual history of the Tractatus de Nigromatia (Thesaurus Spirituum) must indeed be acknowledged, the fluid nature of the text’s dissemination exemplifies the inventiveness of the early modern magical practitioner. John Byrom’s copy of the Tractatus contains many of the experiments found in the ‘template’ medieval text, albeit with some notable additions, redactions and amendments. The inclusion of astrological tables, vernacular invocations, and rites involving the ‘Queen of the Fairies’ speaks to the idiosyncratic character of the original owner: an Englishman, conversant in the traditions of magical theory, with a secondary interest in the beliefs of the common folk.  In any case, the Tractatus de Nigromatia provides a tantalising glimpse into a belief system where supernatural agents were seen to hold a powerful, active influence in the world

Find out more:

Stephen Gordon is a Postdoctoral Research Associate on Jennifer Spinks’s Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project ‘Magic, Diabolism, and Global Religion in European Print Culture, 1500-1700’ (grant number AH/L015013/1). One of the major outcomes of the project will be the exhibition ‘Magic and the Expanding Early Modern World’ at the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, from late January to June 2016. The exhibition will be co-curated by Jennifer Spinks and Sasha Handley, who both lecture in early modern history at the University of Manchester, and it has also been supported by the John Rylands Research Institute. It will feature the Tractatus alongside several other works kindly loaned by Chetham’s Library.

Folgar Shakespeare Libray MS V.b.26

101 Treasures of Chetham's

101 Treasures of Chetham’s: Tractatus de Nigromatia

John Rylands Library

The John Rylands Research Institute

Dr Stephen Gordon's Webpage

Dr Jenny Spinks’s Webpage

Dr Sasha Handley's Webpage

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

A very private war

Amongst the manuscript volumes housed in the library there sits a fascinating record of the early months of World War Two. The journal was written by a young lady but her identity is unknown. Within the pages of a large notebook she detailed political developments from Wednesday 23 August to Thursday 30 November 1939. What make this volume particularly poignant is the author's inclusion of brief diary entries alongside her detailed record of the cataclysmic events being played out on the world stage. Her entry for Saturday 26 August is a perfect example of this:
'Sir Neville Henderson flew to London with a message from Hitler. The reply was considered at a meeting of the Cabinet at which Sir Nevile was present. Hitler received the French Ambassador after day of consultation with his advisers. The Nazi Party "Congress of Peace" at Nuremberg was cancelled. Germany gave assurances of respect for the frontier of Belgium, Holland and Switzerland. Further messages exchanged between Hitler and Mussolini. Roosevelt made a second appeal to Hitler for the maintenance of peace, enclosing the reply from the Polish President.
We went down to the farm for the week-end and Peggy went away with Keith.'
Daily life was already being affected, and the following day she travels back to London during a blackout:
'Mother and I returned to London by train. Rather eerie as we could not even see each other in the train.'

Cuttings from newspapers and magazines fill the journal, illustrating the author's commentary. These include reference maps of Central Europe and the Western Front showing the Maginot and Siegfried lines. She also includes four cuttings of cartoons, light relief amidst the rest of the content.

On Friday 1 and Saturday 2 September 1939 she reports
'The evacuation of British school children from exposed and congested areas was begun, and nearly 500,000 were moved ... Peggy, Eileen and I drove down to the village, as Eileen had promised to help with the 60 evacuated children who arrived here today ... Eileen drove the children to their homes.'
The following day the family
'Went round the house doing all the windows with black paper etc.'
Three days later there was an air-raid warning
'all congregated in the dining room. Two alarms given within half an hour of each other - saw fighting overhead.'

The authoress signs up to become an auxiliary nurse and begins first aid training. Her final entry in her exercise book, dated Thursday 30 November 1939, contains details of R.A.F. fighter planes chasing enemy aircraft, the sinking of an enemy submarine, and the loss of the H.M.S. Rawalpindi:
'Reported that two British destroyers, one towing a damaged submarine, had anchored off Mastrafjord, near Stavanger. The destroyers left later, and the submarine was taken to a shipyard for repairs. Admiralty announced the names of 39 officers and 226 ratings missing as result of loss of H.M.S. "Rawalpindi" ... Mother and Peggy went to town as Keith had leave again ... Practised bandages all the evening.'