Friday 27 September 2013

Bishop Fraser

In the process of returning items to the Reading Room, we have been re-examining the Bishop Fraser collection, an assortment of papers by and about the second Bishop of Manchester. He was actively involved with the social and political issues of his day, and the twelve volumes of newspaper clippings from the 1870s and 1880s provide an illuminating insight into the life of Manchester and Lancashire in that period.

Much of the material is related to the Church, but Bishop Fraser was also renowned for his work in education and was commissioned by the Government to report on the state of education and on agriculture. He was a great supporter of the Temperance movement, and had reservations about the new trend for 'respectable' women to socialise outside the home:
The Right Rev chairman in his address said he had heard that there was a town near Manchester, where lately the publicans were so obliging, and so wishful to accommodate their customers, that they had opened private rooms for ladies inclined to drink, in which persons of the coarser sex were not admitted to see what was going on; and he had heard many honest artisan's wives, starting on the Saturday afternoon for purposes of marketing in the town, found their way to those places where the met numbers of congenial neighbours and where the afternoon was spent in a way not altogether edifying. 

27 Nov 1877

There are many clippings that resonate strongly with the present day. Fraser writes about urban riots and the influence of 'outsiders'. There were tensions between Russia and Britain in Asia, and a strong lobby both inside and outside parliament for war, which he vehemently opposed. The many industrial disasters during this period with a loss of many lives provoked a response which was not always appreciated by contemporaries and does not make comfortable reading today. Similarly his attitude to the great industrial disputes of the day is complex: he is genuinely moved by the hardship and very real suffering of striking workers and their families, but is also convinced that their demands for no cut in pay pose a threat to the continuance of their industry.

Thanks to our volunteer Paul Carpenter for his work on the Fraser collection and for writing this post.

Thursday 26 September 2013

Lucky wedding rings!

The Library, of course, has very few dusty corners, but we did recently discover, at the back of a rare cobwebby shelf, a copy of a mail order catalogue, still in its original envelope, dating from March 1905.

H. Samuels, the well-known high street jeweller, was founded in 1862, when Harriet Smith took over her father-in-law's Liverpool-based clockmaking business and moved it to Manchester. From here she and her son developed a retail and mail order jewellery business, with stores throughout Lancashire and beyond.

The cover depicts the 'Main Depot' on Market Street which seems to have been an extensive site, with the warehouse and offices at Marsden Square and Palace Street. The catalogue also includes scenes from the watchmaking factory and the order and despatch section.

H. Samuels offered an astonishingly wide range of personal and household effects, ranging from watches and jewellery to gold and silver toothpicks, electroplated fern pots, 'violins, mandolines, and autoharps'.

Included in the catalogue is a charming little 'standard ring size card for measuring exact size of finger' and a page of 'lucky' wedding rings (we wonder what kind of benefits these might deliver - a long and happy marriage? A short and happy marriage? A mother-in-law who kept her opinions to herself...?

However, the main business was clearly considered to be their 'world famous watches', with great numbers of 'testimonials' and 'tributes' from satisfied customers. These include a slightly unsettling explanation for the late running of trains from a signalman in Croydon, who declares 'so firm has been my confidence in the watch that I have kept trains standing for time, even against the wishes of their guards'.

John Byrom

John Byrom, who died today, is perhaps the most famous Chetham's Librarian that never was. He was offered the job in 1718 but declined to accept, although his friendship with Robert Thyer, who took up the post several years later in 1732, meant that he retained an association with the Library, often acting on its behalf to buy books in London.

We have a large collection of material belonging and relating to John Byrom, including around 40 manuscripts and 2,800 printed books from his own library, and a great deal of material relating to his pioneering work on shorthand. Read more on the website.

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Jeremy Deller becomes our new Honorary Patron

It has been a pleasure to work with Jeremy Deller and his team over the last few weeks, in preparation for his exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery. Fortunately, Jeremy has enjoyed working with us too, and we are delighted to announce that he has agreed to become an Honorary Patron of the Library.

If you would like to follow in Jeremy's footsteps, you will be pleased to hear that anyone can become a Patron. Your help will ensure that the Library continues to flourish, allowing us to fund special projects, acquire new equipment, and add to the Library's collections. Find out more here.

Friday 20 September 2013

Location, location, location...

More filming in the Library today, this time for Jeremy Deller's exhibition 'All that is solid melts into air' which opens at Manchester Art Gallery next month. Here, Jeremy and our lovely volunteer Jen are making a short film about some of the broadside ballad collection, which Jen is singing. Also featuring will be Librarian 'one-take' Powell, who is now in serious danger of exceeding his fifteen minutes of fame.

RIP Humphrey Chetham


Our founder Humphrey Chetham died on this day 360 years ago. Chetham wrote at least nine different wills during the last years of his life, each varying slightly from the last as he refined his philanthropic vision. Although education remains a strong theme throughout, the foundation of a library does not appear until Chetham's final will, replacing his initial ideas for almshouses for the elderly.

For more about Humphrey Chetham, visit the History page on our website.

Thursday 19 September 2013

Please raise your glasses!

As part of the Laurence Sterne tercentenary, Shandy Hall are holding an evening talk by Professor Judith Hawley on eighteenth-century clubs and toasting. We would be happy to provide suggestions for toasts, as we hold the records of the Manchester Pitt Club, which once had fifty-eight toasts in an evening at one of their annual dinners.

The Manchester Pitt Club was founded in 1812 with the aim of putting down Levellers and Republicans. Their Annual Dinner, held on Pitt the Younger's birthday on 28th May, was an opportunity for members to voice their loyal and anti-republican sentiments, which they did in the form of toasts.

Many of these toasts were distinctly xenophobic, including one to 'the Land we live in, and may those who don't like it, leave it', and 'the best process to bleach the tricolour white'.

The records of the Annual Dinner of 1820 lists fifty-eight toasts, several of which concern recent events at Peterloo the year before. They thanked the Committee of Magistrates, 'Mr Hay and the Magistrates of the Division, with thanks for their past and confidence in their future services', and 'Mr Birley and the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry Cavalry'.

The Shandy Hall event, which will be well worth attending if you are in the York area, is being held at York Medical Society on Friday 27th September.

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Edward and Absolom Watkin: Hidden Heroes of Radical Manchester

We are privileged to have received a unique donation of material relating to Sir Edward Watkin by his great-granddaughter, Miss Dorothea Worsley-Taylor. Watkin, one of the most extraordinary men of the Victorian age, is often forgotten by the city he helped to shape. Watkin and his father Absolom played a considerable part in Manchester's history as the powerhouse of political reform in the nineteenth century, and Edward went on to achieve national and international fame as one of the most important railwaymen of the nineteenth century.

This Sunday at 2pm, local historian Geoff Scargill will give a talk at the People's History Museum entitled 'Edward and Absolom Watkin: Hidden Heroes of Radical Manchester' which will then be followed by a tour of relevant museum items led by Museum Director Katy Moss.

In addition, a free-entry exhibition of related material will be on display at the Museum from 12-15 September and will include newspapers published by the Anti-Corn Law League, letters from Richard Cobden and John Bright to Absalom and Edward Watkin, as well as photos and obituaries.

After the close of the exhibition the material will return to us here at Chetham's and will be available for research.

Edward and Absolom Watkin: Hidden Heroes of Radical Manchester
People's History Museum 15 September 2013

Further information: People's History Museum, Left Bank Manchester, M3 3ER, 0161 838 9190,

Animal Magic

It is always a pleasure to receive a catalogue from Sokol Books in the post and the latest edition LXIII is no exception. We are privileged to hold a number of items offered in the catalogue here at the Library, including John Eusebius Nieremberg's Historia Naturae Maxime Peregrinae of 1635, some photographs of which are shown below. The excellent catalogue description of this beautifully illustrated work can hardly be bettered:


"The first and only edition of Nieremberg's important and encyclopaedic natural history, devoted for the most part to the flora and fauna of the New World and particularly Mexico.

There had been earlier accounts of the natural history of the New World, mostly in passages of travel books, but this was the first attempt to order them and can properly be described as the first American Natural History. Many species are described or illustrated here for the first time and in supplying the indigenous names for the plants and animals described, the work is an important linguistic source for the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs. There is also much information on the culture and rites of the Aztecs and Incas and of Mexico before the conquest.

Nieremberg’s sources are various but its seems certain that much of this work is derived from manuscripts brought back by Francisco Hernandez who had made a large compendium of Aztec flora and fauna, using a group of Aztec artists and draughtsmen; this work is all the more important in that the original drawings were destroyed along with a large part of the famous library at the Escorial, and perhaps the charm of the boldly stylised illustrations reflect their manuscript origin.

The woodcuts were made by the Flemish artist Christoffel Jegher who worked as Rubens’ engraver and extensively for the Plantin-Moretus publishing house. They include the raccoon, rattlesnake, dodo, toucan, birds of paradise, water lily, coconut tree, cactus, iguana, amongst others, a great deal of them in their first representation in a printed work.

The text is scientifically organised by Genus; plants, fish, birds, minerals etc. with much technical observation of animals, minerals and plants and their properties. (There is also a chapteron tobacco and its therapeutic use). The book ends with two fascinating chapters on Nieremberg’s observations on miraculous events in Europe and the Holy Land, followed by an extensive and very useful index.


Nieremberg was a noted theologian and prolific writer, born of German parents at Madrid in 1595, who taught humanities and natural history for sixteen years at the Imperial College, having joined the Society of Jesus in 1614. His writings on occult philosophy and natural magic were influential. The book is dedicated to Gaspar de Gusman, Count of Olivares, Grand Chancellor to the Indies."

For more photographs and information visit the Sokol Books website.

Thursday 5 September 2013

New digitised material on the website!

Our Digital Resources page is growing apace, and we have just uploaded two new pdfs to the website.

The first is Sir Henry Knyvett's manuscript 'A breefe treatis or rather a project for a course to be taken for the defence of this Realm...', a proposal for reorganising the military written in 1596 to be presented to Queen Elizabeth I. 

The second item is a newly acquired run of six copies of The Anti-Monopolist, a rare journal published by the National Operative Anti-Bread Tax Association, which forms part of the Edward Watkin collection.

These have been added to the wide-ranging collection of pdfs which includes several locally interesting works such as Criminal Manchester and Fishwick's History of Rochdale, as well as the more light-hearted Cup of Destiny. Do go and take a look!

Catriona meets Edward Watkin

Before she left, our recent volunteer Catriona Graffius wrote a short piece for us about her experience of working with the Edward Watkin collection.

Catriona writes:

"Coming to Chetham's for the first time to do some summer volunteering I was faced with the daunting prospect of a desk laden with beautiful Victorian leather-bound books with gilt edges and elaborate printed illustrations. I was told that they were the property of Sir Edward Watkin, 'the second railway king', and a man of whom, to my complete shame, I had never heard. This collection, it seemed, comprised of a number of his books, newspaper clippings about his illustrious industrial and political careers, his family photo albums and autograph books, and, importantly, fair copy of the letters sent to him by Richard Cobden (another great figure I had failed to know existed), the politician who managed after many years to abolish the 1815 Corn Laws, paving the way for free trade.

My first task was simple: to find out who Edward Watkin was. As I flicked through David Hodgkins' extensive biography of Watkin and the DNB's three-page summary of his life I began to get a measure of the man. Sir Edward William Watkin, (1819-1901) was born in Ravald Street, Salford, in September 1819 to the cotton merchant Absolom Watkin (1787-1861), and his wife, Elizabeth. Although little is known of his childhood, from 17 years of age, Edward threw himself into the politics. By the time he was 24 he had become a director of the Manchester Athenaeum, funded the opening of three public parks in Salford and Manchester, campaigned for the Saturday Half-Holiday movement, campaigned for the anti-corn law league and married his first wife Mary Briggs (d.1887). This was evidently a man with great energy, motivation and dedication to the liberal cause.

However, his achievements didn't stop there. A week after his marriage, Edward left his father Absolom's cotton company to take on the secretaryship of the Trent Valley Railway company. Within the year he had assisted its transferral to the London and North Western Railway Company ensuring a profit of £438,000 and deftly secured himself a job with the new owners. Watkin went from strength to strength. In 1853, Watkin was appointed the general manager of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway. In this position he managed to weather a number of difficult storms and  became respected enough for the colonial secretary, the Duke of Newcastle (1811-1864), to send him off to Canada in 1861 with the mammoth task of planning railways across the country and bringing the Hudson Bay Territory into the government's control. Watkin's success in Canada was great enough to gain him a knighthood in 1868.

Following his Canadian triumph, Watkin returned to England and once again threw himself into a flurry of activity. He became chairman of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Company, a company which he managed to expand to three times its size whilst building several important railway lines across England. In politics too Watkin continued his climb to success. He was elected MP of three different constituencies over 25 years and became High Sheriff of Cheshire in 1874. Even his failures seemed to me impressive. His dream of building a tunnel to France may have been ridiculed at the time, but it demonstrated his audacity and vision, a vision that it would take another century to bring to reality. Edward Watkin died a baronet and a wealthy man. As I look at his photo in his daughter Harriette's album, I see a distinguished, rather proper Victorian man, no doubt aware of his public image and duties. However, what has fascinated me about this collection is the light it sheds on his private character and family life. Page after page of his scrapbook is filled with letters, autographs, photos and invitations."

We are very grateful to Catriona for her sterling work on this important archive, and for writing about her experiences here at Chetham's. Look out for more on Watkin and his life and work on the website soon.