Friday 25 April 2014

Courtney's blog post

Today we are continuing our series of blog posts written by the wonderful crew of volunteers who work tirelessly on the Library collections. This week it's the turn of overseas student Courtney, who has been working her magic on the Belle Vue collection for the last few months. Courtney writes:

Before I even stepped through the doors of Chetham's, I was head over heels for this library. Being a graduate of Library Science specialising in rare books and manuscripts, I was well aware of the importance of this long-lived treasure. I started communicating with the Librarian back in September when I first started looking at volunteering abroad, and he has been more than gracious in allowing me to share my knowledge and eagerness. I arrived soon after the Library had received a grant from the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund for its Belle Vue collection. The grant has allowed the Library to create digital images to be accessed globally, while also encouraging local involvement to enrich the collection's content. The dedication of staff members to this project has developed a strong connection with the community, and it has been exciting to see the enthusiastic response from Manchester people who remember this amazing place.

It has been a great honour to help with the work of digitising. I have especially enjoyed working with the collection of Brian Selby, who has graciously allowed his collection to be digitised. His postcard collection was a delight, as I collect postcards myself (one of the many collections I have accumulated over the years). I have equally enjoyed piecing together the history of Belle Vue through the various scrapbooks of news clippings. I will continue volunteering at Chetham’s until the end of May. I was accepted on the University of Manchester's Art Gallery and Museum Studies program and will be returning in September to gain more experience. My time at Chetham's has taught me so much about my future career as a librarian. I have enjoyed learning more about the city I walk through and have come to appreciate the the people and history this city has to offer. I feel unbelievably blessed to have had this opportunity and will always be grateful for the kindness that has been extended to me during my time at Chetham's.

Artists inspired by Belle Vue

Jenny Walker, a lecturer from the Three Dimensional Design programme at Manchester School of Art, has sent us links to three blogs written by her students who spent time with the Belle Vue Gardens archive earlier this spring. Part of their remit for this Belle Vue project includes keeping a blog where they can explain how they are reacting to what they learned here at the Library, at Manchester Museum, at the Histories Festival and in guest lectures at the School, including one given by Librarian Michael Powell. Blogging becomes a way for them to document the steps that lead to a finished project and to articulate the ideas and influences that get them working. It is fascinating to get a glimpse into how the design process moves from inspiration to creation, but there is an added fillip for us: these blogs provide a rare opportunity for us to see how our material and our teaching influences creative work. Who says libraries don't matter?
The students are working in small groups, so each blog is the work of several students. Pictured are some of the preliminary ideas from two of the students, Josh Till (above) and Joanna Piech (below).
  You can find out more by following the links to their blogs:

We look forward to seeing their ideas develop in the next few weeks weeks, and even more to seeing the finished work at their May Show.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

C16th plastic surgery

Gasparis Tagliacozzi was professor of surgery and anatomy at the University of Bologna in the late sixteenth century. In 1597 he published his most famous work De Curtorum Chirurgia, a guide for surgeons on reconstructive surgery for noses and ears. Tagliacozzi was developing techniques used by earlier Italian surgeons, the origins of which can be traced back to Arabic records of the fourth-century work of Sushruta Samhita in India.

Tagliacozzi's book is the first published work on reconstructive surgery and includes twenty-two plates providing a step-by-step guide to the surgical technique of rhinoplasty. These include detailed drawings of the instruments used, as well as drawings of the patient at various stages of the procedure. 

Several plates show a patient wearing a vest designed by Tagliacozzi. The patients arm has been immobilised and a piece of skin from the arm has been grafted onto the patient's nose. The arm had to remain in this position for two or three weeks while the until the graft adhered to the nose, and the whole process could take several months to complete.

The book went through several editions at the end of the sixteenth Century and appears to have been influential at the time. However it was also controversial and not endorsed by the Church authorities who considered it to be an interference with the works of God.


Happy St George's Day!

Slightly more 'My Little Pony' than fierce mythical monster is this friendly winged dragon from a late eighteenth-century broadside championing the heroics of St George. The broadside is from the Halliwell-Phillips collection which you can read more about here.

Thursday 17 April 2014

Paul's blog post

Here is the second in our occasional series of blog posts written by those who volunteer and do work experience at the Library. Today, it's the turn of Paul Carpenter, who has been working with us on a Wednesday over the last year. Paul writes:

"I remember very clearly the first time I visited Chetham’s Library. As I walked through the gateway I was astonished by the beauty of the medieval buildings. It seemed extraordinary to me that these wonderful buildings, relics of a much older, pre-industrial Manchester, could have survived only a stone’s throw from Victoria Station. While the Manchester rush hour continued apace outside the walls I entered the Library and was captivated by its calm, its beauty. It seemed to me to be the embodiment of endurance, of continuity and scholarship. On my first visit I was privileged to see and hold some of the Library’s treasures. The thrill of holding a first edition of Paradise Lost is a memory I will always cherish.

Over the course of my life I have had many jobs. I have picked fruit, smelted steel, worked on assembly lines and in hospitals. For the last thirty years of my life I worked in social work and
criminal justice. I ended my career as a senior manager in the prison service working at Strangeways and other High Security prisons throughout the country. One institution I have never worked in, until now, was a library. However, libraries have played a central part in my life. I left school at the age of fifteen without any qualifications. As a young adult I felt the lack of an education keenly and determined to educate myself, I spent many hours in the Central Library in Cardiff, my home town. There began a love affair with books and history which has continued to this day. It is no exaggeration to say that access to public libraries transformed my life. So when I took early retirement in 2012 and was looking for some productive activities it seemed appropriate that I should repay the debt I owe to this country’s public libraries. I remembered the wonderful visit to Chetham’s and asked Michael, the Librarian, if he could use my services as a volunteer.

My timing could not have been better.When I approached Michael in 2013 the Library had just acquired a remarkable set of diaries by an equally remarkable man. John Reed kept a diary from 1939, when he was ten years old, until just before his death at the end of 2012. These diaries covered over a hundred volumes and millions of words. They documented the life of a gifted and unusual man. He was a working class boy from London who won scholarships to public schools and Oxford. He studied with Tolkein and C. S. Lewis. He went to Rhodesia when it was a British colony and at considerable personal risk threw himself wholeheartedly into the struggle for African Independence. He went on to play a major role in establishing university education in newly independent Zambia.

My first job as a volunteer was to help the Library staff make some sense of the vast amount of material they had acquired. In the course of this I read some fascinating entries on a schoolboy’s experience of the Second World War, life in the RAF as a national serviceman, and some vivid insights into student life in 1950s Oxford. He has some wonderful descriptions of C. S. Lewis. However the most important aspect of the diaries are the insight they provide into the politics of African Nationalism in the 1960s when John Reed was rubbing shoulders with young men such as Robert Mugabe and other African leaders. As such the diaries are a fantastic resource for historians of this period. One of the highlights of my time as a volunteer was the opportunity to accompany Michael to Oxford to meet Emeritus Professor of History Terence Ranger, an old friend and colleague of John Reed, who has used the diaries extensively in his own research.

Since working on the Reed diaries I have worked on a diverse and fascinating range of Library materials, including books, photographs, letters, pamphlets, prints and ballads. I have sorted, listed, sifted, shifted and photographed them. Through these items I have been able to move through time from the twenty-first century to the sixteenth. Highlights for me have been reading a traveller’s guide to Europe and the Middle East written by an Elizabethan merchant, and sorting through an extensive collection of Hogarth prints. Later material I have particularly enjoyed working with from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has included the documentary photographs of the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal, produced for the original share holders and a wonderful series of photos of China and Japan taken at the turn of the twentieth century.

Being able to work at Chetham’s is both a pleasure and a privilege. From the first day I have been made welcome by the staff and encouraged to feel I have a role to play in the Library’s ongoing story. One of the great joys for me is sharing the staff’s knowledge of the collections. When I make a comment on some subject and Michael says ‘have you seen our book on…’ I know he is about to produce some rare and remarkable treasure, such as an atlas of Elizabethan county maps or some delicate and exquisite watercolours of volcanoes from the eighteenth century. I look forward to more days like those."

Wednesday 16 April 2014


Find us in the new Marketing Manchester magazine along with some of the city's other beautiful libraries including the revamped Central Library.

The bear necessities

The Belle Vue collection continues to grow in surprising ways. We have recently acquired a most unusual relic from the Zoological Gardens - a beautifully engraved red leather and chain bear collar.

In response to a Manchester Evening News article about our recent grant from the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Trust, Jill and Richard Salisbury of Derbyshire got in contact with the Library. Would we like the bear collar to add to our collection? We certainly would! Richard’s family had lived next door to the Jennison family in Hathersage in the 1930s and 40s and had been given the bear collar, which had disappeared into the attic for many years.

As far as we know, very few items like this survive from the zoo’s heyday. The name of Richard Jennison on the collar suggests that it dates from around the end of the nineteenth century, although we would be very glad to know more about this fascinating object. Do get in touch if you have seen one like it before, or have any more information.

Gertrude Neisen

Sadly we had no response to our query last month asking for information about the mystery monkey woman at Belle Vue. This is a pity, as the prize was going to be an all-expenses-paid holiday in the Maldives...

Anyway, this will have to go to the member of the Library staff who discovered her identity, for the mystery woman turns out to be Gertrude Niesen (1911-1975), an American torch singer, comedienne and actress. She was photographed at Belle Vue in May 1938, following a week of concerts at the Opera House in Manchester.

In the mid-1930s Niesen was at the height of her popularity. In 1933 she was the first to record ’Smoke Gets in your Eyes’ and three years later appeared in Ziegfeld Follies of 1936. What she made of her visit to Belle Vue isn’t known, although she looks ever so slightly uncomfortable holding these rare white monkeys which had been sent from Assam the day before. You might say she got off lightly, as other visiting celebrities were given boa constrictors or crocodiles to pet.
Those interested in hearing the amazing Gertrude, who incidentally was voted the greatest torch singer of 1935, should check out her performance of 'Where are you?' on You Tube. It’s weirdly wonderful and ever so slightly sinister.

Friday 11 April 2014

Space monkey

More slightly worrying fun from the halcyon days before the invention of health and safety...

This wonderful photograph is from the Belle Vue collection of Brian Selby, which he is kindly allowing us to digitise as part of our current project funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund.

Obviously a press image, the photograph, dated 2 November 1960, is captioned on the back, and reads:

 ‘Looking rather like a ‘space monkey’ climbing a rocket - is this rather curious Chimpanzee - from the Belle Vue Zoo, Manchester…. Actually he is just investigating an eight foot long firework rocket before it goes ‘whoosh’ - with thousands of other fireworks next Saturday - which is Guy Fawkes Day…'

Thursday 10 April 2014

Worse ways to die...

Among the items that we are getting ready for digitising as part of our Belle Vue project funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collection Fund is a ledger containing reports on animals in the zoo in the early years of the twentieth century. 
Written by George Jennison, the grandson of the founder, the book shows how the zoo’s curators faced an ongoing struggle to keep the animals healthy and alive in the face of Manchester’s smoky, cold and damp atmosphere. The book is full of fascinating detail - how much a rhino eats in a week (a half-grown specimen ate 19 stone of hay and 7 stone of bran), the sexual habits of polar bears and kangaroos (don’t ask), but is best for the accounts of things going wrong such as the time the monkeys escaped when a shell from one of the evening firework displays blew a hole in their cage. Six of the monkeys escaped but all were recaptured the following day, two apparently found walking around Longsight.
Whilst many of the animals died young, a problem with all animals in captivity, few were accorded a cause of death quite so unusual as the male bison who died in November 1913. The ledger entry is shown in the photograph and transcribed below. Look away now if you are of a delicate disposition:

Nov 15 1913: Male bison down unaccountably, we thought at first a broken leg - but from information received Nov 4th and seeing how easily it supports the weight on either side, I believe it is from 'beastly' ill use of itself, arising propably [sic] from the fact that the female will not stand for him. I have often remarked he was not as well as he ought to have been.

Nov 19 1913: Bison died after 3 days on the ground - a victim propably [sic] of self abuse.

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Up the chimney

Keeping priceless manuscripts up the chimney is certainly one of the less orthodox ways to archive material, but we'll try anything once here at Chetham's. Fortunately the private papers of Humphrey Chetham were later discovered and are now properly looked after and bound in guard books. Read more on the website.

Friday 4 April 2014

A literary photoshoot

We were delighted to welcome photographer Katie Dervin and author Katherine Clements to the Library recently, shooting publicity shots for Katherine's recent novel The Crimson Ribbon. Both Katherine and the Library look stunning, we're sure you'll agree.

Read more about Katie, Katherine, and Katie's blogpost about their day here, here, and here.

Thursday 3 April 2014

Laura's blog post

We are lucky to have a number of wonderful volunteers at the Library who come in week-in, week-out to do sterling work researching, cataloguing and assisting with the care of our numerous and diverse collections. We thought it would be nice to give them some space here on the blog to tell you what they do and what working at Chetham's means to them.

Our first blog post is written by Laura Bryer, a history and museum studies student who has been working on the Leech archive and the Belle Vue collection. Over to you, Laura:

"I first became acquainted with Chetham's Library during my undergraduate history degree at Manchester Metropolitan University, as my dissertation was based on the Leech family collection held at the Library. I became involved with transcribing the diary of Rachel Leech, wife of Thomas Leech, which was written shortly before her death in 1855. This fascinating journal offers a snapshot of daily middle class life in Manchester during the mid-19th century as well as referencing international affairs such as the Crimean War. In addition to my work on the diary, I was able to exploit Chetham's vast resources in order to make an in-depth case study of how typical the Leech family as a Victorian middle-class family. I also explored the wider history of the diary and its uses to the historian. For this project I received a first class grade, and my work is now a part of the Leech Diary Collection.

After such a positive involvement with the Library, I decided to begin working as a volunteer, and started in the of Summer 2013. I will be continuing to volunteer until I start my masters degree in museum studies this Autumn. The work I have done has involved hands-on archive work, helping to care for the books on display, and welcoming visitors. The majority of my archival work has been on the Leech family material, in particular cataloging various letters of the family rescued by Ernest Leech which date from as early as 1805 up to as late as 1991.

In the coming weeks I will be embarking on a new project based on the Manchester amusement park Belle Vue. This will involve helping the Library with their extensive material relating to Belle Vue, and volunteering at the Belle Vue Exhibition for the Manchester Histories Festival.

I hope to continue volunteering for Chetham's for as long as possible. I have gained so much from my time here, have met the loveliest people imaginable, gained invaluable work experience, and received amazing career advice. This place really is one of Manchester's gems."

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Creative Tourist

Creative Tourist have written a lovely article about us which is well worth a look, see it here.