Thursday 19 January 2012

Animal, vegetable or mineral?

Despite its sheep-like appearance, our latest ‘monstrum’ is a member of the vegetable family. This 18th-century engraving shows Polypodium barometz, a fern native to China, whose animal-like appearance and distant location caused much wonder and excitement among European travellers returning from the East, who reported stories of a fantastical plant/animal hybrid.

The Bodleian counted among its treasure a coat supposedly made from the skins of such wonderful creatures, known as vegetable lambs of Tartary or Scythian lambs. These reports caused much debate among seventeenth- and eighteenth-century botanists. Sir John Sloan wrote a definitive memoir about it for the Royal Society in 1699, firmly relgating the fern to the plant kingdom.

Our engraving is from another work written for the Royal Society, Terra: a philosophical discourse of Earth, by the noted diarist John Evelyn. This 1825 London printing of the York fifth edition also includes Silva, Evelyn’s discourse of forest-trees, and includes notes on both works by Alexander Hunter. Hunter expands on Evelyn’s passing reference to the ‘Scythian lamb’ as one of a number of plants which ‘destroy the vegetable virtue where they grow'. He is at pains to point out that the image shown here, taken from Mrs Blackwell’s Herbal, was chosen because others have “too much the appearance of fancy”. The Natural History Museum Picture Library includes several of the more fanciful images of this plant as well as a startlingly lamb-like photograph.

Friday 13 January 2012

Criminal Manchester: Experiences of a Special Correspondent

This slim volume, published in Manchester in the 1880s, comprises ten chapters reprinted from the Manchester Evening News exploring Manchester's underworld. In each chapter, our man from the Evening News, having struck up an association with 'one who has returned but recently from penal servitude', explores various districts of the city under the cover of darkness.

Beginning his adventures not far from the Library gates on Long Millgate, our correspondent enters a world previously unknown to him, although judging from some of the chapter headings, things may not be much changed over a century later: 'Deansgate: Scenes on a Saturday night' describes the crowds 'spending Saturday night in the most approved English fashion - that is to say, they were recklessly getting rid of all their spare cash, and receiving in return various forms of drink'.

The scene soon darkens, however, describing 'criminality that can scarcely be touched upon', including dog-fighting, thieving, violence, prostitution, poverty, squalor and misery, and a cast of characters with unforgettable names that nowadays, sadly, would probably be unpublishable: Ginger Liz, Cockney Jim, Dirty Alf, Big Jack and Fat Ann.

To read more, view the pdf on the website.

Manchester of Today

As part of our ongoing digitisation work, we are pleased to make available Manchester of Today: an epitome of results and its sister volume Liverpool of Today, both dating from 1888.

Subtitled 'Business men and commercial interests, wealth and growth: historical, statistical, biographical' and illustrated with a series of particularly attractive engravings, these two volumes provide an introduction to the history, cultural attractions and commercial enterprise of Manchester and Liverpool, together with an indexed directory of manufacturers and tradesmen.

The work has been done for us by Charlotte Wells, an MA student on MMU's Library and Information Management course who is currently on placement with us. Our thanks to Charlotte and to the generosity of the Manchester Statistical Society whose Campion Fund grant has enabled us to purchase a specialist book scanner.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Conservation Grants

We are delighted to announce that the Library has recently been awarded two significant grants, which will enable the preservation of some of our most important and valuable books.

Restoring these works will have a significant impact on scholarship by making a number of exceptional works on the history of theology, science, medicine, literature and history usable once more. In addition, by concentrating on multi-volume sets, it will also have an enormous impact on the visual appearance of the Library, allowing us, for example, to remove the tape which helps keeps boards attached to the text, restoring them to the condition in which they were purchased three hundred years ago.

Read more on the website...

A window into the past

In the 1740s and 1750s two men named Russel Casson and John Berry produced a series of exquisitely illustrated maps of Manchester and Salford. This series has become one of the most important resources for studying the growth and development of our great cities, and remains in constant use by scholars. To find out more about the maps, visit our 101 Treasures page on the Library website.

Chetham's in the news

We are delighted to have been featured over at Mancunian Matters on this week's £10 Challenge, a weekly series devoted to getting the most of your money in the city centre.

The Library also gets a mention in Jonathan Schofield's piece for Manchester Confidential mourning the loss of Manchester Art Gallery's display on the history of Manchester.

Let us know if you mention Chetham's on your blog or publication!

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Calling all industrial archaeologists!

The Library has a fantastic collection of resources for anybody interested in the industrial archaeology of the region, including photographs, reports, papers and surveys, as well as a wealth of printed matter. This photograph of Barton Bridge is taken from the Mullineux Collection. Find out what's available here.

Happy New Year!

We are starting 2012 as we mean to go on here at the Library with the thirty-fifth of our 101 Treasures, which makes us over a third of the way through! Hope you are enjoying the series as much as we are.

This week its the turn of the Cologne Chronicle, a majestic tome with delightful handcoloured woodcuts and some interesting local colour to boot. Have a look here.