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Recent research for the Leech family exhibition has brought to light a new and unpublished eyewitness account of the bombing, which appears in a diary belonging to Ernest Bosdin Leech (1875-1950), Honorary Physician at Manchester Infirmary and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