Thursday 22 August 2013

Turning on the waterworks

On this day in 1890, Alderman Sir John James Harwood laid the foundation stone of the dam at Thirlmere, the first stage of the project to take water from the Lake District to the growing city of Manchester. Also present at the ceremony was Councillor Bosdin T. Leech, Deputy Chairman of the Waterworks Committee and a major player in the great engineering extravaganza that was and still is the Thirlmere Aqueduct.

The ninety-five mile aqueduct runs from Thirlmere to Heaton Park reservoir and is the longest gravity fed aqueduct in the world. The level drops by 30cm per km and water takes a day to make the journey entirely by gravity and with no need for mechanical pumps.

Bosdin Leech writes at length about the project to dam Thirlmere in his many volumes of diaries, which are part of the Leech archive. Although Bosdin began writing diaries as a child, encouraged by his father, the bulk of the diaries cover the later part of the nineteenth century, when he was a major civic figure, becoming Lord Mayor in 1891-2.

As well as the inevitable commentary on civic events and political gossip, he also records his family life and feelings about a wide range of matters, which often make hugely entertaining reading, Bosdin being something of a likeable buffoon. He often writes of his visits to the Lake District on reconnaissance trips for Thirlmere, where he takes boating trips on the lake and goes out for substantial dinners with his fellow councillors. On the occasion of the ceremonial turning on of the tap, the water is slow to emerge, causing concern to Bosdin and the other dignitaries, who, predictably, end up being liberally sprayed by the ensuing rush of water.

You can find out more about the Leech collection here.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Swinging on a star

On this day in 1893 the Barton Swing Aqueduct carried its first barge along the Bridgewater Canal and over the top of the soon-to-be opened Manchester Ship Canal. The aqueduct is an extraordinary feat of Victorian engineering which allows large ocean-going ships to pass along the Ship Canal by means of a rotating pivot which turns the aqueduct by 90 degrees. It is the first and only swing aqueduct in the world and is a Grade II listed building. 

One hundred and twenty years after the opening of the aqueduct it is still in regular use by narrow boats and pleasure cruisers.

These photographs of the aqueduct are from the J. J. Phelps collection of glass slides, which together with the Frank Mullineux photographic collection contain a large number of images of both the Bridgewater Canal and the Ship Canal. 

The Leech collection also contains material relating to the Ship Canal, including the first history of the canal written by Sir Bosdin T. Leech, who was one of the directors of the Manchester Ship Canal Company.

Come and see the Reading Room!

The Reading Room is now open after several weeks of major structural work. The furniture is back in place and everything is clean and polished and ready to receive visitors, so come along and see!

Friday 16 August 2013

Last chance to book for Hidden Treasures!

In two weeks we will be holding a special event in conjunction with the Hidden Treasures initiative - please book NOW if you'd like to come!

Hidden Treasures Special Event: Friday 23 and Saturday 24 August 2013

Chetham's Library is proud to be taking part in this year's Hidden Treasures initiative run by Collections Trust and the Independent newspaper. Over August Bank Holiday weekend 2013, over 70 museums and galleries nationwide will be offering a unique opportunity to see collections not usually on public display.

Join Librarian Michael Powell behind the scenes to take a closer look at the Library's collection of printed material, including single-sheet ballads and broadsides. There will also be a chance to work with letterpress printer Graham Moss on the seventeenth-century common press, learning about early printing techniques and helping to reprint a ballad written in celebration of a visit to Chetham's in the early nineteenth century.

The free workshop is suitable for all ages, although you would probably need to be over about eight years old to get the most from the afternoon. Access is via a short flight of stairs and is regrettably unsuitable for wheelchair users.

There are two bookable sessions from 2pm-4pm each day, with 20 places available on each. To book, please email the Librarian or phone us during office hours on 0161 834 7961

Remembering Peterloo

Our first readers today were looking at material relating to Henry Hunt, a neat coincidence as today is the anniversary of the Peterloo massacre which took place in St Peter's Fields in Manchester on August 16th 1819.

The Librarian did go to see Maxine Peake read the names of the dead at lunchtime, but we are unable to offer a visual report of this event as he failed to make the camera work properly, bringing back a series of shots of people's feet and a blurred video of the coffee shop opposite.

Meanwhile, for more information about the Library's holdings on Peterloo, visit our 101 Treasures page.

The Reading Room re-opens next week!

We're pleased to report that the Reading Room floor has now been replaced. A team of cleaners are now hoovering up all the dust and debris, and polishing all the surfaces with beeswax.

We fully expect the Reading Room to be open to the public once more from the middle of next week, so do get in contact to check if you're planning a visit.

Views in Egypt

Views in Egypt, from the original drawings in the possession of Sir Robert Ainslie, taken during his embassy to Constantinople by Luigi Mayer; engraved by and under the direction of Thomas Milton; with historical observations and incidental illustrations of the manners and customs of the natives of that country. Printed by T.Bensley for R.Bowyer, 1801  

This eclectic mixture of torchlit tombs, shadowy sarcophagi and bearded dancing girls, captured the public imagination and became a best seller when it was published in 1801, following Napoleon's invasion of Egypt.


The sketches of life and landscapes in Egypt, Turkey and Palestine were commissioned from Luigi Mayer by Sir Robert Ainslie, the somewhat eccentric, British ambassador to Constantinople, from 1776- 1794. Ainslie enjoyed life in Constantinople, where it was reported that he 'became strongly attached to the manner of the his house, his garden and his table he assumed the style and fashion of a Musselman of rank...and lived 'en Turk'. He also amassed a significant collection of coins and drawings.

 'Dancing Girls'

Mayer, about whom little is known, had studied in Rome under Piranesi. His working method was apparently to make on the spot pencil sketches of the subjects chosen by Ainslie, later adding water colour and gouache. The text which links the views was presumably taken from notes made by Ainslie,but, although it contains much detail, lacks sparkle.

 'Mamaluke exercising'

The aquatints produced from Mayer's original images were executed by Thomas Milton, great-nephew of John Milton, who specialised in the printing and engraving  of topographical works.

 The 'Nilometer', an instrument for measuring the water level of the Nile during flood season.

 'The passage from the second to the third gallery of the Great Pyramid'

Thursday 15 August 2013

Happy Birthday Thomas De Quincey

Today is the birthday of Thomas de Quincey, who was born in Manchester on August 15th 1785. His father, a textile importer and a founder member of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, was an abolitionist with liberal views, and had a mansion built in Moss Side called Greenhay, now known as the Greenheys area of the city.

Thomas's father died in 1793 and the family moved to Bath, where he attended Bath Grammar School, but then returned to Manchester. He disliked Manchester Grammar School, and absconded in 1802, having experienced a somewhat troubled childhood. In 1803, however, he gained a place at Worcester College, Oxford. From here he made frequent trips to London, where in 1804 he began to drink heavily and started taking opium, initially as a remedy for toothache but later for the sake of 'the abyss of divine enjoyment'. According to Confessions of an English Opium Eater, he became destitute, sleeping in an abandoned building and making the acquaintance of prostitutes. On coming of age in 1806, De Quincey came into his inheritance, much of which was swallowed by debts incurred in London.

By 1807, De Quincey had begun a correspondence with his great literary hero William Wordsworth, and even made a couple of visits to the Lake District, intending to call upon him but losing his nerve at the last. Later that year, however, he made the acquaintance of Coleridge, who introduced him to his friend, thus beginning their much-documented association.

This letter from the Chetham's Library archive was written by De Quincey in 1807 during his time at Worcester College, and as well as providing one of the best excuses for failing to write a thank-you note ('rheumatism in the head'), also displays some of the neatest handwriting of someone under the influence of large quantities of opium that we think we've ever seen.

Wednesday 14 August 2013

It was all yellow

The Library's copy of William Tyndale's New Testament takes centre stage on the website this week. Apart from being the first English translation to be taken directly from the Greek and Hebrew, it is also the first printed English edition of the Bible, and as if that wasn't enough, it is yellow. Whether it was printed on yellow paper, or whether the paper was treated afterwards, we don't know, neither do we know why. There are a few instances of other yellow sixteenth-century Bibles, but nobody seems certain as to why this might be, so if you know anything about yellow Bibles, do get in touch!

Welcome to Catriona!

Welcome to our newest volunteer, Catriona Graffius, who is working on listing the newly acquired Sir Edward Watkin collection.

Catriona is reading English at Christ Church, Oxford, and will be with us for the next couple of weeks. We are very grateful to her for giving up part of her summer to help with the listing project, and are delighted to work with her.

More to come on Edward Watkin in the near future, including a blog post by Catriona on the highlights of the collection.

Thursday 8 August 2013

Six Degrees of Separation?

Rather surprisingly, the first book ever published in Manchester was a mathematics book, Mathematical Lectures: being the first and second that were read to the Mathematical Society at Manchester. By the late ingenious John Jackson. Printed by Roger Adams in the Parsonage, and sold by William Clayton, Bookseller at the Conduit, 1719.

Sadly, nothing is known about the 'late, ingenious John Jackson' but we have been inspired to look at some of our other mathematical books which have special links to Chetham's library and, in the spirit of  'Six Degrees of Separation,' to connect them all to Mathematical Lectures.

Our first link is from Mathematical Lectures through William Clayton, the bookseller named on the title page of Mathematical Lectures, whose son, John, was ordained, became perpetual curate of Sacred Trinity Church Salford in 1733, fellow of Manchester Collegiate Church in 1760, and a feoffee of Chetham's Hospital and Library in 1764.

The most famous mathematician (and philosopher, alchemist and astrologer) to be connected with Chetham's Library is undoubtedly Dr John Dee (1527-1609) who was appointed warden of the college at Manchester in 1595. The book we have chosen to represent him is The elements of geometrie of the most auncient phiosopher Euclide of Megara. Faithfully (now first) translated into the English toung by H. Billingsley.....with a very fruitfull praeface made by M.I.Dee...1570

Dr Dee provides the connection with three other mathematical books. The first two are by father and son, Leonard and Thomas Digges. Leonard Digges book, Tectonicon,was advertised as a book for surveyors, landmeters, joiners,carpenters and masons:

A boke named Tectonicon: briefly shewynge the exacte measurynge, and speady redkenynge all maner lande, squared tymber,stone,steaples,pyllers,globes etc.....published by Leonarde Digges gentleman in the yere of our Lorde. 1556

When Leonard died, Dee became mentor and teacher to Thomas and referred to him as 'my most worthy mathematical heir'. Thomas Digges completed and published his father's second book Pantometria, including with it a work of his own about geometry.

A geometrical practise, named Pantometria...containing rules manifolde for mensuration of all lines,superficies and solides...framed by Leonard Digges gentleman, lately finished by Thomas Digges his sonne...1571.

The next book, an introduction to basic arithmetic written in dialogue form, was first published in 1543, and later edited by John Dee:

The ground of arts: teaching the perfect work and practise of arithmetick, both in whole numbers and fractions...made by M.Robert Record, D in physick. Afterward, augmented by M.John Dee. Chetham's copy dates from 1646 - the book became a best seller, eventually running to at least forty-five editions.

The final connection is a leap of the imagination from our copy of The ground of arts... back to Mathematical Lectures...

There are some manuscript inscriptions in the front of our copy of Robert Record's book which include the names 'Robert Jackson his boock 1734' and later 'October John Jackson D D December Januwary the first September'

We just wonder....could they possibly be descendents of  'the late ingenious John'...?

Wednesday 7 August 2013

Who's been eating my book?

We recently had a book returned to us from the bookbinders with an unusual warning: over thirty leaves of our copy of Lactantius’s works, printed in Venice in 1478, had been eaten by a mouse or a small rat. The Library, thankfully, is not prone to infestation from either vermin or from insects. For one thing, it’s simply too cold for most creatures, with the exception of librarians and other hardy humans. But Chetham’s, like many other libraries, has numerous examples of damage caused to the books by micro-organisms, insect pests and vermin. It’s not hard to identify books with worm holes; fortunately it’s a more unusual matter to find books damaged by rodents.

In any old building mice and rats were a constant problem and Chetham’s is no exception, being situated only a few meters away from two of Manchester’s rivers, the Irk and the Irwell. In fact, two of the original medieval doors in the cloisters still have cat flaps, and some years ago we managed to find the bell and collar worn by one of the Library cats in the 1960s. Until relatively recently, the site was populated by a litter of feral cats who survived on whatever they could catch. The fact that they were large and capable of breeding indicated that the pickings were good.

Look closely at the bottom of the door to see where the medieval Library cats got in and out of the cloister:

We are pleased to say that it’s likely that a mouse ate the copy of Lactantius sometime before we acquired it in the 19th century. Ever since it has been here it’s been on a high shelf at least a couple of meters off the ground, keeping it well out of the way of nibbling teeth.

Thursday 1 August 2013

All that's best in the world of jazz...nice!


You may think that this is only the seventeenth Manchester Jazz Festival, and in a way it is... but in a way it isn't, because in June 1963 the Daily Mail International Jazz Festival took place in Manchester's very own Belle Vue.

Between 1956 and 1961 Lord Montagu of Beaulieu organised an annual jazz festival in the grounds of his stately home in Hampshire, but unfortunately, these had to be discontinued because of the violent behaviour of some of the audience. Tsk tsk. Those jazz types.


In 1963, then, the event was moved to the more robust surroundings of Belle Vue in Manchester, still organised by Lord Montagu, and now sponsored by the Daily Mail. This brought some of the biggest names in jazz to Manchester, including Dizzy Gillespie, Buck Clayton, Bud Freeman and Joy Marshall from the USA and British bands Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball, Chris Barber, Ronnie Scott, Ronnie Ross and the Johnny Dankworth Orchestra. We can only hope that there was not too much disruptive behaviour. 


Many thanks to volunteer Paul Carpenter for his research on this blog post.These images are part of the Belle Vue image collection.

The ticking of the death watch

It's not easy to make a piece of rotten wood interesting, but perhaps we might make an exception for this ancient and venerable timber which was once part of one of the medieval beams supporting the Reading Room floor.

Regular readers and visitors will be aware that major structural works have been taking place this summer to strengthen and support these enormous old beams, and these photos give a good indication of why this work was necessary. Riddled with holes made by the enthusiastic burrowings of death watch beetle, these were certainly not going to offer much support for the readers and visitors of the future.

We are pleased to say that all of the damaged timber has now been removed and replaced by several gallons of resin which has now cured and hardened and is ready to have the oak floorboards replaced. This work should not take more than a couple of weeks and the Reading Room will soon be open for business once more, ready to support the next six hundred years-worth of visitors.