Tuesday 21 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

We would like to wish all our readers both real and virtual a very Merry Christmas and great strides towards success in 2011! This simple folded card is one of our favourites - open it up and the gentleman's leg stretches out comically to an enormous length. The back is inscribed 'from Harry to Frank' - two friends or perhaps relations who obviously also enjoyed a good joke.

The Library will be closed from 22 December until 4 January and the blog will be taking a rest of similar duration. Until then, enjoy the pleasures of the season and keep warm!

Wednesday 15 December 2010

A terrible night for Manchester

Next week is the 70th anniversary of the Manchester and Salford Blitz in 1940, when the two cities experienced the heaviest bombing of WW2, killing nearly a thousand people.

Recent research for the Leech family exhibition has brought to light a new and unpublished eyewitness account of the bombing, which appears in a diary belonging to Ernest Bosdin Leech (1875-1950), Honorary Physician at Manchester Infirmary and resident of Victoria Park. His account reads as follows:

"It has been a terrible night for Manchester, and it is only just come to us what has been done. The Free Trade hall is a shell, and the big warehouse behind it across Windmill Street is the same. It was smoking as I passed it and they were pouring water into it. The Royal Exchange has also gone; I am told also the Victoria Hotel and parts of the Cathedral. Deansgate is badly hit, I'm told. The building between Lewis's and the Piccadilly garden is also a shell; also a big warehouse in Portland Street near Princes Street (left side looking down). The building across Mosley Street from the Art gallery, that was the place one paid taxes is also burnt out. Lots of the streets have water pipes along them. So much for the town. The big bang last night was an explosion at the Longsight entrance of the Park, some 250 yards away, which knocked down about half the large house on the left near the entrance. The part behind is desolation and the street, Plymouth Grove, full of debris. They are demolishing the big house just to the left along Plymouth Grove. About half the windows in Stockport Road are broken and, all along, there are heaps of broken glass. In lots of places main roads are blocked and one has to go by devious ways. Oxford Road and Stockport Road are both blocked ... It's hard to think it's not a dream; our Free Trade Hall, our Royal Exchange, and our Cathedral. Pray God we may win this war."

The following day, Leech drove through the town surveying the damage. The round trip from Victoria Park to Victoria Station took over three hours:

"My chief view was of broken windows, occasional burnt out shops and heaps, for I had to keep my eyes on the preceding car and on the glass in the road. The whole way along it was the same; but what glimpses I did get of the bigger buildings was sad; huge buildings all burnt out, some of them still smouldering and occasionally flames rising out of them. I saw the Cathedral which has been knocked about, but I could not see the damage, the outline was not so bad..."

After the war the Cathedral was rebuilt and the statue of Chetham was moved from its place at the east end of the north aisle of the choir to its new home in the North West corner. Though some repairs were carried out to the damaged statute, it still shows the marks of the blitz, notably a sizeable hole to Chetham’s left knee, and serves as an obscure yet permanent memorial and reminder of the damage that the Cathedral suffered some seventy years ago.

Monday 13 December 2010

Who do you think they were?

The Library's latest exhibition is now open and is entitled 'Who do you think they were? The story of a Manchester family'. The Leech family archive is one of the most remarkable collections at Chetham's Library, and through the use of diaries, photographs and personal ephemera, the exhibition chronicles the story of a middle-class Manchester family over two hundred years.

In recent years, members of the Leech family of Manchester and Ashton-under-Lyne have presented the Library with a large and diverse collection of personal and business memorabilia stretching over two centuries. The family papers comprise many hundreds of letters, business and household accounts, cashbooks, photographs and sketches, as well as an enormous amount of carefully hoarded ephemera, juvenalia, genealogical research, travel documents, souvenirs and postcards.

This extraordinary family kept diaries throughout their lives and the collection numbers over two hundred bound volumes. Included in the exhibition are an eyewitness account of the days leading up to Peterloo, over five hundred love letters written during WW1, photographs and letters of Iris Murdoch and a clutch of diaries written whilst working at Bletchley Park, as well as a first-hand account of the WW2 Blitz in December 1940. It is a truly absorbing insight into life in Manchester in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and certainly not to be missed.

The exhibition is open now and can be seen in the Priest's Wing during usual opening hours: 9am-12.30 and 1.30pm-4.30.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Anyone for chess?

As the magic of the season begins to fall, we are reminded of the importance of enchantment, deception and curiosities in the making of holidays and special occasions. In this post-modern age, it is difficult to be truly amazed or mystified but in times past, oddities and magical events were part of everyday life. Everything seemed new and exciting and often quite unexplainable, leading the observer to assume magic or divine intervention.

Even someone as apparently worldly wise as Benjamin Franklin, it seems, was able be fooled once in a while. On a visit to Paris in the late nineteenth century he was unable to resist the opportunity to challenge the remarkable mechanical curiosity known as Kempelen’s Chess-Playing Turk. Underneath an 'imposing turban that added to both his high stature and his mystique', an automated man sat behind a cabinet with doors that stood open before each match to disprove any scepticism about its contents. The appearance of the Turk caused enormous excitement wherever it went, as people attempted to beat the oddity at a game of chess. What they didn’t know, of course, was that Kempelen had hidden a short and very astute chess player to sit in the cabinet for hours on end to move the pieces about with a magnet. Predictably, Franklin lost the match.

The obsession with Kempelen's Turk began at the court of Empress Maria Theresa in 1769 and lasted for many years, even crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Kempelen made his fortune, which he used to develop a machine that could replicate human speech, and sold the Turk.

Over the years, many people had a go at owning and displaying the Turk, but mostly people made one-off replicas of it and began to travel with those. None of the replicas were as famous as the original, but the copied concept kept the chess-playing Turk’s novelty fresh and exciting even after the original burned in 1853.

An original broadside advertisment for Kempelen’s Turk in Manchester can currently be seen at the Library as part of the Central Library collection, which includes many others with similarly obscure content. One of our favourites is the Learned Pig, which became so popular that it was duplicated many times over, sometimes with more than one pig in the same performance. The Learned Pig routine captured the attention of audiences for even longer than the Turk, and the epithet 'smart swine' is still sometimes used.
Hopefully you’ll find some magic this holiday season. But if you need a bit of inspiration, the library is always a good place to start. The Turk itself inspired quite a following including P.T. Barnum, the Reverend Edmund Cartwright, who went on to invent the powerloom, and Joseph Faber whose Euphonia was able to sing God Save the Queen.

We are grateful to Tonya Albert for researching and writing this post. Tonya is currently doing a postgraduate placement at the Library and has been working on the Central Library collection.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Two gentlemen of Manchester

These two well-dressed gents are taken from the Manchester Scrapbook, a remarkable compilation of sketches, prints, maps and topographical views put together in the early years of the nineteenth century by Francis Egerton, the 1st Earl of Ellesmere.

Ellesmere was widely travelled, and an enthusiastic patron of literature and the arts as well as being a politician and writer. The Manchester Scrapbook is one of several early nineteenth-century attempts to record the town in the face of the rapid changes that catapaulted Manchester from a market town to the world's first industrial city. It includes prints and sketches of significant figures as well as recording some of the smaller buildings and public spaces that disappeared to make way for the huge cotton mills that now define the city.

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Desert Island Poems

It's been all go here at the Library recently, and on Friday night the beautiful Baronial Hall again provided the setting for an absorbing literary event. The poet Michael Schmidt OBE, founder of Carcanet Press and the Library's only Mexican governor, shared his 'Desert Island Poems' in the company of the poet John McAuliffe and an enthusiastic audience.

The Library was open for visiting at the end of the event and many people took the opportunity to see the historic interior in the romance of an evening setting. Several of these were first-time visitors and we look forward greatly to welcoming them back in daylight hours.

The event was part of the very successful Manchester Literature Festival which has now come to the end of its run but promises to be back next year with more fascinating literary occasions. You can visit their website for a review of this year's highlights.

Michael Schmidt is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, founder and editorial director of PN Review, and Professor of Poetry at the University of Glasgow. John McAuliffe is co-director of the University of Manchester's Centre for New Writing and has published two books with The Gallery Press, A Better Life and Next Door.

Friday 8 October 2010

Manchester Fourteen Miles

Margaret Penn's classic title Manchester Fourteen Miles was published in this Guild Books edition in 1950. The cover illustration beautifully reflects the popular style of graphic art of the early 1950s, with its modernist, almost constructivist representation of a glamorous gown on the right of the picture. The semi-autobiographical novel tells the story of a young girl growing up in the countryside surrounding Manchester in the early part of the twentieth century.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

An evening's entertainment

Chetham's Library had fun hosting a splendid concert given by Laetitia Sadier on Sunday. The event was part of the Abandon Normal Devices Festival and Laetitia was introduced by Phil Collins (no, not that one, the artist and film-maker), who recently collaborated with Laetitia on the short film 'marxism today (prologue)'.

The event was organised by Cornerhouse staff, to whom much thanks is due, and quickly sold out. We and Laetitia's avid fans greatly enjoyed the evening and all doubtless would have wished for more than the single encore that time allowed. Find out more about Laetitia's music here, and about Stereolab, with whom she has had a long musical partnership, here.

The film-maker Phil Collins introduces Laetitia Sadier to an enthusiastic audience.

Friday 1 October 2010

"I have thought of the days of old and the years that are past"

This hand-tinted engraved self-portrait by Thomas Barritt (1743-1820) is to be found pasted into the front of one of his small scrapbooks, of which the Library holds several. Barritt, a saddler by trade, was an enthusiastic local historian and one of the pioneering antiquarians of the Manchester region. His scrapbooks contain page after page of genealogical notes, drawings of coats of arms, memorial inscriptions and people and places in Manchester and Lancashire. The motto above the likeness reads 'profert antiqua in apricum', that is, 'he brings ancient things to light'.

One of the more unusual items is this scrap of Chinese paper weaving, an exquisitely detailed piece of hand-coloured construction:

A later page displays this delicate pen and ink representation of the dance of death:

We continue to examine the manuscript notebooks of Thomas Barritt with the hope of 'bringing to light' more of his fascinating and valuable observations.

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Laetitia Sadier

We are pleased to be hosting an exclusive performance by legendary musician Laetitia Sadier at the Library on Sunday evening. Laetitia, a founder member of the post-rock outfit Stereolab, recently created an inspired and evocative soundtrack to the short film 'marxism today (prologue)', showing at Manchester's Cornerhouse until November 28th. Renowned for audacious formal experiments in a wide range of musical styles and for the socio-political concerns which permeate their lyrics, Stereolab have historically been termed ‘Marxist pop.’ Since 2003 Sadier has been recording and releasing music with her side-project Monade.

The concert is taking place as part of the Abandon Normal Devices Festival and will be held this Sunday 3rd October at 8pm for a 9pm start, with complimentary drinks included in the ticket price of £10.50/£8.50. Advanced booking is essential.

Friday 24 September 2010

A book of emblems

More madness from the shelves at Chetham's Library, this week in the form of these delightful engravings from Francis Quarle's Emblems. The idea is to represent Christian truths using verse and imagery but to the twenty-first century eye it is not always crystal clear exactly what is going on. We especially liked the apparently random inclusion of various regional towns and villages in the image above, probably places known to Quarle himself.

Below, a rather strange game of tennis seems to have ended badly...

An unusual game of celestial bar billiards is taking place in this plate...

Some of the images are simply to be enjoyed for their composition and quality of line...

Still confused? Perhaps the concept of the emblem is best expressed by Quarle himself in his note to the reader:

"An embleme is but a silent Parable. Let not the tender Eye check, to see the allusion to our blessed Saviour figued in these Types. In holy Scripture, he is sometimes called a Sower; sometimes, a Fisher; sometimes a Physician: And why not presented so as well to the eye as to the ear? Before the knowledge of letters God was known by Hieroglyphicks: And indeed, what are the Heavens, the Earth, nay every Creature, but Hieroglyphicks and Emblemes of His Glory? I have no more to say, I wish thee as much pleasure in the reading, as I had in writing. Farewel Reader."

As usual, please click on any of the images to see a larger size.

Friday 10 September 2010

We shall be pleased to accept the polecat

We are still adding to our collection of material about Belle Vue Zoo and Pleasure Gardens. Until this remarkable and well-loved establishment closed in the 1970s, it was Manchester's principal centre of entertainment, attracting numerous stars of screen and vinyl as well as new recruits to the Zoological Gardens, as this letter from 1930 shows. Quite what Miss A.T. Davies of The Bungalow was doing with a polecat we shall perhaps never know, but it is reassuring to know that he or she went to a good home.

We are always interested in receiving additional items relating to Belle Vue or the Jennison family, so do please get in touch if you have anything that, like the polecat, could do with some 'care and attention'.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Wife in a bag

This wonderfully mad illustration is taken from The Economy of Beauty, 'a series of fables addressed to the ladies', which is one of the books we are currently minding for Manchester Central Library while they undergo building works. Over the past fortnight, a good number of these have been catalogued by Alexandra Tyler, a third year English student at New College Oxford, who has kindly given up a part of her summer vacation to help out here at the Library. Before she left she was good enough not only to leave us a large box of delicious chocolates, but also to jot down a few words for our blog readers. Alexandra writes:

"Several months ago, the combination of a looming (and excessively long) university vacation and a love of all things book-related led to my getting in touch with Chetham's Library, in the hope that they could find me something useful and interesting to do during the summer. Undeterred by Michael's dire warnings about the future of librarianship, I arrived at the library ready and eager to make a hopefully quite significant dent in the rather intimidating task that was cataloguing the mountain of Central Library tracts, currently taking refuge at Chetham's during the former's three-year facelift.

The tracts, which range from the literary to the scientific, form part of a large body of uncatalogued works within the library's collection; my job was to identify the pre-1800 tracts and add them to the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC), thus establishing their presence at the library for those who might have need of them.

After two weeks there remains plenty to be done, perhaps partly because of the distracting nature of the writings themselves - brimming with the charming and the downright wacky - but it's definitely a start!"

Thanks very much to Alexandra and all good wishes for her future studies.

We all particularly enjoyed this work from a collection of tracts relating to the Poor Laws. The word 'care' in the title, however, does not perhaps represent quite the sort of care we might wish to offer today, as a glance at the second image will reveal...

On the radio

Chetham's Library features on the BBC Radio 4 programme What's the Point of... the Public Library, broadcast yesterday but available on BBC iPlayer until Tuesday 7th September and well worth a listen.

In the programme, Quentin Letts looks at how public libraries have changed since their earliest beginnings, asks whether they carry any validity in today's society and comes to some surprising conclusions.

Wednesday 25 August 2010


Chetham's Library has been included in the Guardian's latest TwiTrip! In this series, Guardian journalist Benji Lanyado journeys around England, guided by tweeted suggestions from Twitter followers, and live-blogging about his experiences.

Although we were delighted that Benji stopped to say hello, we were not too sure about his description of our books as 'dusty'... A lot more vacuuming goes on here than you might think Benji, honest.

Monday 23 August 2010

A pressing situation

The wooden hand printing press which has stood for many years at the top of the Library stairs was this week dismantled and removed to Alan May's workshop in Stone, Staffordshire.

Years of use as a working press and demonstration model coupled with poor quality nineteenth-century alterations mean that the press is extremely unstable and not safe for use. Alan, who was seen last year creating a working replica of the Gutenberg Press on BBC Four with Stephen Fry, will restore the press to working order, allowing printing processes to be demonstrated to Library visitors.
The press is believed to date from the early seventeenth century, and was donated to Chetham’s in 1900 by George Falkner and Sons, printers of Deansgate, Manchester, along with some additional equipment including a type-casting mould, printing ink balls, a number of typecases in an old random, and a compositor’s stick. The press is one of only five seventeenth-century presses in England, and the only specimen in the North West. Fewer than seventy survive globally, and there are no surviving examples of presses produced before the seventeenth century.

The wooden hand press, which is also known as the common press, is operated by a heavy iron screw held in a wooden frame. It was first developed in the fifteenth century and continued with only slight variations until the nineteenth century when wooden presses were gradually replaced by metal ones. The Chetham’s press is of special interest to the Library since all the books housed in the part of the library where the press and equipment are displayed were made on wooden hand presses of similar construction. It is believed to have been in actual use in Manchester until the nineteenth century.

Friday 20 August 2010

Fountains galore!

Among the library's early printed German books can be found the Nova architectura curiosa or Bau und Wasser-Kunst by Georg Andreas Boeckler, printed in Nuremberg in 1704.

This lengthy work on palace and monumental architecture pays particular attention to the construction of every possible kind of fountain.

Numerous engravings illustrate the patterns and designs for many hundreds of public fountains, more than enough to keep a race of water engineers busy for many decades.

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Norman wisdom

The BBC's excellent Norman Season continues to explore ways in which the Normans influenced our civilisation, beginning of course with the invasion of William of Normandy and his subsequent coronation as King of England, pictured here by Matthew Paris in his Flores Historiarum.

The Flores Historiarum is an epitome of Matthew Paris's Chronica Majora and was intended to provide lighter reading. The printed edition, however, still extends to three thick volumes in royal octavo. Chetham's Library copy of the Flores is that which was written in part in Matthew Paris's own hand in the Benedictine house of St Albans in the mid-13th century. The volume was presented to Westminster Abbey as part of the commemoration of the rebuilding of its church to house a new shrine to King Edward the Confessor. It contains continuations of the history written by Westminster monks that take the narrative until the fall of Edward II.

Friday 13 August 2010

Some unusual bindings

These two illustrations are examples of the ingenious ways in which books have often been bound.

The first is often known as a dos-à-dos binding (from the French meaning 'back-to-back') but is more properly termed tête-bêche (from the French meaning 'head-to-toe'). Here two separate books, a 1633 New Testament and a 1629 Book of Common Prayer, have been bound together with the text of one text rotated 180° relative to the other, so that one text runs head-to-tail, the other runs tail-to-head. Technically this volume doesn’t have a back cover but rather has two front covers. When a reader reaches the end of the text of one book, the next page is the last (upside down) page of the other. The two works have been bound in red morocco. Both boards have a gilt floral stem border and a gilt floral centrepiece stamp, with all edges gilt.

The second example consists of a single work, a Bible of 1756, which has been separated into two equal parts part way through the Book of Psalms. These have then been bound side by side, so that the second part opens back-to-front. The effect is of two separate books, bound fore-edge to fore-edge, on a common lower board, with separate spines. The front cover opens in two halves from the centre, rather like a cupboard. The left-hand label reads: 'Oracula sacra William Freemantle's 1765'. The right-hand label reads 'Si quis loquitur, loquatur ut eloquia dei I. Peter. 4. II.' The join on the upper board(s) is fastened by two metal clasps, with heart-shaped clasps and catches. The binding is 18th-century English black goat, with a red morocco label in the centre of each half of the upper board, lettered lengthwise in gold.

Monday 9 August 2010

Make do and mend

We sometimes tend to equate early printed books with ‘fine printing’, but often books printed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries exhibit all the flaws of a handcraft practised carelessly, whether from inexperience, rushing to finish a job, or even the need to save money - paper, ink and time all being expensive commodities.

Pierre Chouët was an established printer in Geneva in 1675, the year he produced the first edition of Pierre Mussard’s Historia deorum fatidicorum, vatum, sibyllarum, phoebadum…, the first edition of a book which argued that Roman Catholic customs were derived from paganism. The book includes fifty engravings showing portraits of gods and hermetic writers including Apollo, Jupiter, Pythagoras, Hermes Trismegistus, Iamblichus, and the sibyls.

But combining letterpress and engraving is no easy task, and even in the most experienced of print shops things can go awry. The plate on page 48 looks like all the others, but unlike the others it has not been printed directly on the page but has been printed separately, and then pasted onto the page. Why wasthis print treated differently? Holding the page to the light reveals the answer: underneath the plate, another image of Trophonius - this time upside down! Paper was too valuable to waste, and this was a rather clever way to fix a mis-fed sheet.

It was easy enough to repair that mistake, but unfortunately pages 232 and 237 show working practices that were less easy to hide. These sheets display what printers sometimes call set-off, when the still-wet ink from a printed sheet transfers onto another sheet producing a reverse image of the printed page. Again, perhaps, to save paper, the letterpress text was simply printed over the set off, and the page then treated as good.

Mistakes like these help to explain the practicality of how printing was done. It is clear from these errors that the engravings were printed before the letterpress, and that rather noticeable errors were not necessarily a cause for waste.

Thursday 5 August 2010

De monstrorum caussis, natura, et differentiis

Among interesting works catalogued this week is this remarkable work on monsters published in Padua in 1634 by Paulus Frambottus.

The author Fortunius Licetus, a physiologus or medical researcher, offers to tell the reader about such deviations from the natural order as women becoming men, a sow who gave birth to a human head, hermaphrodites, the remarkable fertility of castrated persons, a boy who turned to stone and 'many other remarkable things'.