Friday 30 November 2012

Politics and the Power of Print

We're pleased to welcome delegates to the Book History Research Network Study Day here at the Library today. The seminar is entitled 'Politics and the Power of Print' and those attending will be discussing the image of the book as a central element of political propaganda. Questions such as 'In what ways have cultures of books and reading shaped political action and ideologies?' and 'How has politics affected the form and understanding of texts?' will be discussed, and plenty of tea and biscuits consumed.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Brave women

This week we commemorate the 145th anniversary of the first vote cast by a woman in a British parliamentary election. Lily Maxwell, a shop-owner from Manchester, was added to the electoral register in error and cast a vote for Jacob Bright in the 1867 Manchester by-election. Although the vote was later discounted, it gave an enormous boost to the campaign for women's suffrage, which began in Manchester earlier that year with the founding of the Manchester Suffrage Committee, although it was not until 1872 that it became a national movement.

The secretary of the Manchester Suffrage Committee was Lydia Bright, an amateur scientist and early feminist who devoted her adult life to the cause of women's suffrage. Lydia, the eldest of fifteen children, was born in Chadderton to a middle-class family in 1827. She was educated at home and developed an interest in botany. In 1866 her book Botany for Novices was published. The following year she founded the Manchester's Ladies Literacy Society, a society for the study of scientific matters; the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society being at that time only open to men. In 1870 she founded and edited the journal Women's Suffrage and continued as editor until 1880. The Journal was the most popular publication relating to women's suffrage in nineteenth-century Britain.

Becker's role in the suffrage movement and her views advocating a non-gendered education system in Britain made her a frequent target of ridicule in newspapers and in cartoons. The Library has almost forty cartoons relating to Manchester politics and the general elections of 1868 and 1876, many of which are concerned to ridicule women's votes and suffrage, often featuring Jacob Bright, MP for Rochdale and a prominent advocate of women's votes in Parliament, as well as Lydia herself, who is frequently depicted washing clothes, darning, and doing other work believed to be more suitable for a woman.

For more information about Lydia and the early feminist movement in Manchester, we recommend a new book by radical historian and friend of the Library Michael Herbert, entitled Up Then, Brave Women: Manchester's Radical Women 1819-1918 and published by the North West Labour History Society.

Friday 23 November 2012

A Famous Conspiracy

On this day 145 years ago, three Irishmen who came to be known as the Manchester Martyrs were hanged outside Salford Gaol. William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin and Michael O'Brien were executed for the murder of a police officer who was guarding leaders of the Irish Republican Brotherhood to which they belonged.

The definitive story of the Fenian protests and the Manchester Outrages, as they became known, is told in Joseph O'Neill's recent work The Manchester Martyrs, but the events have attracted much attention over the years, including this 'penny dreadful' published by the Daisy Bank Printing and Publishing Company in 1909.

The Daisy Bank Printing Company was owned by Jesse Pemberton, who brought out about forty titles at the beginning of the C20th, mostly on magic, sport, and true crime. This slim volume is one of only two items of local interest, the other being Charles Bloomfield's police autobiography of his career in Manchester, the splendidly titled Dredging a City's Filth.

For more information on the Daisy Bank Press, you could do worse than consult Librarian Michael Powell's definitive study 'Do the Dead Talk?', in Worlds of Print: Diversity in the Book Trade, published in 2006 by Oak Knoll Press and available to view here at the Library.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

A Manchester Adonis

Sylvanus Hibbert’s snappily titled A Brief Inquiry into the State after Death, as touching the certainty thereof, and whether we shall exist in a material or immaterial substance, and whether the Scripture doctrine of a future state is supported by the light of reason: Flesh and blood cannot enjoy the Kingdom of Heaven, 1 Cor. 15 (Manchester : Printed for the author, 1771) is a pamphlet that deserves to be better known for three reasons.

Firstly, it advocates cremation some years before this became popular. The author had a morbid fear of burial and hoped that his remains should be burnt. The pamphlet ends:

Bury me not, for heaven’s sake!
In hopes that I may rise;
If that the object of my wish,
Why not now mount the skies?

Hibbert died in January 1776 January 1776, but sadly there is no record of his having had a funeral pile. It would have taken a cold heart to have plunged him into the ground.

Secondly, the pamphlet is quite rare. In a note in the Library’s copy of this book, James Crossley, Honorary Librarian of Chetham's and President of the Chetham Society, claimed that this was ‘perhaps the scarcest of Manchester tracts, certainly one of the most curious. Dr. Hibbert-Ware, Sylvanus's nephew, cashed in and destroyed every copy he could find. £2.10 has been given for a copy.’  Sadly Hibbert-Ware was not quite as thorough as he thought and copies still turn up in bookshops and at auction fetching a couple of hundred pounds at most.

Lastly, the book has an engraved frontispiece of the author, which shows that either he didn’t care about his physical appearance or that he was simply having a laugh. In a library that is populated by Greek gods, we can of course easily afford to scoff at our fellows but if anyone knows of a less flattering caricature of a Manchester man then please let us know.

Friday 16 November 2012

Prophetic utterings

This week in our 101 Treasures series, the spotlight rests on a number of works by an eighteenth-century religious sect known as the French Prophets, many of them illustrated manuscripts of extraordinary complexity and beauty. Read more on the website...

Christmas is coming...

...the goose is getting fat... and so are we all here at the Library, but at least we're all ready for Christmas with our lovely letterpress printed Christmas cards, now available in packs of ten for only eight pounds and on sale here at the Library until stocks run out.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Oh what a night!

We were delighted to welcome over fifty readers and friends of the Library to our private view of the 'Danger and Destiny' exhibition last night in the Baronial Hall. A great night was had by all, and everyone enjoyed a glass of wine and an interesting short talk by David Blamires, followed by a tour of the Library, a look at the exhibition and a chance to buy the beautiful books produced by Incline Press for the occasion. Thanks to all who came, we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.

Regretfully there are no photos to record the occasion, as the Library Assistant had had a glass of wine too, and they all came out blurry...

Friday 9 November 2012

Tick tock

We have a very special treat for our readers this morning - a video of a clock ticking! Yes, that's right, a clock ticking. But this is not any old clock... this is the Elizabethan one-fingered lantern clock currently on the wall in the Audit Room, which although in good working order, is not usually wound due to its noisy mechanics, which have a habit of disrupting music practice.

However on one occasion last week (at about quarter past four, as you can tell from the position of the single hand) the Librarian stumbled across it ticking away to itself and was compelled to produce this mesmerising short film for the benefit of all our many friends and readers unable to experience this phenomenon for themselves...

Wednesday 7 November 2012

We're on the telly!

The Library features not once but twice on TV next week, first of all on Monday on Flog It! and then the following day on Celebrity Antiques Road Trip... there are some nice shots of the medieval building and seventeenth-century interior, and of course the usual words of wisdom from the Librarian...

Don't miss us!

Private View

Readers are cordially invited to the Private View of our 'Danger and Destiny' exhibition of Grimms' Fairy Tales, next Tuesday 13th November at 6pm for 6.30pm. There will be wine and nibbles, and David Blamires, book collector and owner of many of the titles on display, will be talking and answering questions.

If you would like to be put on the guest list for this event, please get in touch and let us know by phone on 0161 834 7961 or by email:

In den beghinne was dat woert

We were pleased to have a visit from early modern history students from Manchester University yesterday, and among the items we showed them was this Fasciculus temporum printed in 1480.

The Fasciculus temporum is a 'universal chronicle' compiled by Werner Rolewinck (c. 1425-1502), a Carthusian monk. First printed in Cologne in 1474, it was an extraordinarily popular book, running to more than thirty editions in its author's lifetime, and being translated into all of the major European languages. The popularity is reflected in the fact that the Library has three copies of this work: Latin editions printed in Louvain in 1475 and Strassburg 1488 and the Dutch translation of 1480 printed in Utrecht, pages from which are shown here.

The printed version of the Fasciculus temporum is remarkable for its unusual and visually striking design. Instead of conveying the history of the world in a single column or set of vertical columns, the page is divided by horizontal lines into three sections. In the central strip are placed circles containing the names of Hebrew worthies beginning with Adam, together with each person’s life span and the number of children. Above this is shown the date anno mundi, calculated from the creation of the world in 5199 BC, and below, printed upside down, is shown the number of years before the birth of Christ.

The top section of the page carries extracts from Biblical history with a running commentary, whilst the lower section shows secular history. Following the birth of Christ, the names of the popes fill the circles in the centre strips, and lists of saints and church dignitaries occupy the pages of the book, with the occasional secular philosopher and writer. The second half of the book is full of references to signs and marvels, with accounts of earthquakes, floods and storms. Anyone reading the news today might feel that little has changed.

The result is a rather remarkable piece of typographic design, a wonderfully innovative way of tracking two different chronologies, the 'anno mundi' system and the ‘anno Christi’ system in graphic form.

Of the Library’s three copies, the most striking is the Dutch translation, because it is hand-painted and contains sixteenth and seventeenth-century annotations and marginalia. One of the owners, at least, was the Walrond family of Sea in Somerset and Dulford in Devon, for a shield containing their arms has been printed on one of the pages.

As a footnote for anyone who has managed to read this far and doubts their ability to read fifteenth-century Dutch, we offer this enlargement of the first page for your encouragement (click on the image to further enlarge it, just start reading and you'll be amazed at your sudden skill)

Friday 2 November 2012

A first look at the Clay Scrapbook

The newest addition to the Library's collection of 19th-century scrapbooks is this gloriously grangerized copy of George R. Catt's The pictorial history of Manchester. Catt's 41-page history forms the merest skeleton for this celebration of Mancunian history titled Manchester as it is and as it has been by Chas. Clay MD 1841. 

Charles Clay was no mere amateur scrapbooker, but an important Manchester gynaecological surgeon, described by the DNB as 'the father of ovariotomy'. Born in Ashton-under-Lyne in 1801, he spent his professional life in Manchester, retiring to Tower Lodge, Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire where he died in 1893. In 1861, he was elected as president of the Manchester Medical Society. He was a founder member of the Obstetric Society of London, and a member of the Gynaecological Society of Boston, USA.

He was a serious bibliophile; his collection of 1000 Bibles was sold in 1883 by Sotheby's and he owned more than 1500 rare books  on midwifery and gynaecology. In addition to writing medical texts, he had a longstanding interest in geology and numismatism, writing Geological sketches and observations on fossil vegetable remains from the great south Lancashire coal field (1839), and the History of the currency of the Isle of Man (1849).

Clay's scrapbook is a delightful source of information about mid-19th-century Manchester. It contains 45 extra pages of cuttings from newspapers and books, poetry and advertising broadsheets, maps, topographical engravings and lithographs, portraits, pamphlets, and several unusual pieces of ephemera tipped in.

Some of the interesting pieces include an engraved promissory note from the  Bridge St Family Savings Bank black-edged invitation to a Special Meeting of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society on the death of John Dalton (N.B. If you attend in a carriage, it may remain in George Street, until the Society goes to the Town Hall), an early 19th-century trade advert for 'John Ward, at Blakely, near Manchester', who 'stuffs birds and beasts of all kinds, in a curious improved manner, preserving the plumage and living likenesses', a lithographic trade card, and a previously unrecorded printing of 'The Queen's visit' by Elijah Ridings, c. 1857.

A special visitor

We had a visit from book artist Carolyn Trant recently, who came all the way from Lewes to see the Grimms' Fairytales exhibition and wrote a lovely blogpost about us and her experience of Manchester here. Carolyn owns and runs the Parvenu Press, and is author of Art for Life: The Story of Peggy Angus, published by Incline Press.

Thursday 1 November 2012

The only book you'll ever need

Edward Coote's The English School-Master was first published in 1596. A slender book, it was nonetheless designed to contain everything necessary for teaching students of all ages to read and write in English. It boasted extravagantly that 'he which hath this booke only, needeth buy no other to make him fit from his letters, unto the Grammar schoole, for an apprentise, or any other his owne priuate use, so farre as concerneth English'.

Edward Coote (1562?-1610), had been appointed head-master of the Free Grammar School of King Edward VI of Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, only a few months before the book was published, but, after serving only 11 months as head, resigned his post in May 1597. Little is known of his life after this.

The book is important because it contains the first substantial hard-word glossary to the English language, which gives an indication of the words an uneducated person probably knew (the common English words not found in his list) as well as those a literate person with a basic education would have been expected to know.

The English School-Master was remarkably popular for over a century after its publication, and by 1737 had been through over sixty-four printings from various printers, most of which were commissioned by the Stationer's Company. Of these sixty-four editions, only around half are extant, a very low survival rate which probably reflects its heavy use as a textbook, with individual copies being assigned to students.

The Library's copy of the 49th printing of 1700 is rare. According to the English Short Title Catalogue only one other copy of this edition exists, as far away as Columbia University. Our copy is of particular interest, the numerous annotations offering substantial clues as to how it might have been used.

Throughout there are pen-trials, marginal notations and doodles by 'James Darbyshire', who inscribed the book on many pages with his name, and others. The back page is filled with copy exercises, including a prayer. Unfortunately we know nothing about James Darbyshire other than what we find in this book.

Many of his scribbles are clearly the product of a bored student: he wrote out the word 'sycophant' from the dictionary, was prompted by the observation that 'a fowle can fly over a foul way' to draw birds and trees, painted pastel patterns in the margin and failed repeatedly to get his pen to work. We can only hope that he managed to concentrate sufficiently to avoid Coote's exhortation to his scholar:

My Child and Scholar, take good heed
unto the Words that are here set;
And see thou do accordingly,
or else before thou shalt be beat.

We are grateful to Jill Shefrin of Trinity College Toronto for drawing this copy to our attention and to the University of Toronto website for an account and edition of Coote's work.