Friday 31 October 2014

A ghost-cat for Halloween

Haunted England: A survey of English Ghost-lore by Christina Hole, illustrated by John Farleigh, Batsford, 1940.

This fearsome moggy is the subject of a local legend relating to the parish church of St Andrew at Leyland. The villagers of nearby Whittle-le-Woods had attempted to build a church in their village on land donated by a local miller, but night after night the stones were moved to Leyland by the devil in the form of a huge cat. The cat sprang upon anyone who had the misfortune to catch it at work and killed them. In another version of the story, the parishioners actually completed the church and it was then moved in its entirety 'by a huge cat with unearthly looking eyes and a tail with a barbed end'. Quite why the devil should have intervened in the location of a church is not clear, although it appears to have been quite a common phenomenon in Lancashire: apparently a flock of demons in the form of pigs prevented St Peter's church in Burnley from being erected in Godly Lane…

The author of the book, Christina Hole, had connections with the North West, for she had worked in Cheshire before the Second World War as an organiser and speaker for the Conservative Party. She became fascinated by folklore, published her first book Traditions and Customs of Cheshire in 1937, and became an active member of the Folklore Society. Her obituary describes her as 'rather eccentric' on the grounds that  she refused to have a telephone installed in her home and 'was surrounded by well-behaved cats whose idiosyncracies gave her great pleasure'.

It is the bizarre and beautiful black-and-white line drawings by John Farleigh (1900-1965) which are the most striking feature of the book. Far from being the folksy, gothic images that one might have anticipated, many of these elegant wraiths and spectres have a distinctly surrealist look to them.

Farleigh was renowned as a wood engraver, and famously illustrated George Bernard Shaw's The Adventures of the Black Girl in her Search for God, published in 1932. He was a great campaigner for crafts and became chair of the Crafts Centre of Great Britain, publishing articles, lecturing and broadcasting.

Special Collections at Manchester Metropolitan University have an archive collection of Farleigh material including a hundred wood blocks, prints and drawings and copies of articles, lectures and texts.

Monday 20 October 2014

Travels and discoveries far and near

We are very sorry to be saying goodbye to David Thomas, who has been volunteering with us on the Belle Vue project over the last few months. David is headed to Reading to begin a new adventure as a graduate trainee at the University Library, and we wish him all the best with this new chapter in his life.

Meanwhile, David has written a wonderfully engaging review of one of the books from our collection which caught his attention, Denham and Clapperton's expedition to Africa, published in 1826. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did:

Narrative of Travels and Discoveries in Northern and Central Africa, in the Years 1822, 1823, and 1824

This is an account of a British expedition to encourage trade in Northern and Western Africa organised by Henry Bathurst, 3rd Earl Bathurst (and a Knight of the Garter) who was Secretary of State for War and the Colonies. With the dust barely settled after the Scottish referendum, it is a reminder that even in Britain’s imperial heyday the Scots and the English didn’t always get on. It was written by the English Major Dixon Denham, who was accompanied by two Scots, Captain Hugh Clapperton and Doctor Walter Oudney. Alongside the British North-South bickering, the expedition is notable in that they were the first Europeans to successfully complete a North-South crossing of the Sahara desert.

The principal reason for the group’s falling out was that Denham was late to the party and then tried to impose his leadership. One of Denham’s friends said that 'he was the kind of man who must have adventure or he rots'. Clapperton and Oudney were down as the original leaders before Denham used his connections to join at the last minute. The group arrived in Tripoli in November 1821 where for an unknown reason, Denham was kept from leaving until March 1822 while Oudney and Clapperton went on ahead in February. Luckily Denham eventually left with over 200 Arab horsemen to find that his colleagues in Murzuk (known along with Marrakech, as the ‘Paris of the Sahara’) had fallen ill and the local bey (tribal leader) had taken their camels away. Denham had to return to Tripoli to raise funds and try and get the Pasha Yusuf Karamanli to provide an armed escort for the expedition. Clapperton showed little appreciation, writing that 'His absence will be no loss to the Mission, and a saving to his country, for Major Denham could not read his sextant, knew not a star in the heavens, and could not take the altitude of the sun'.

After this false start the expedition finally left Murzuk a year after they had reached Africa, in November 1822. The three men were now accompanied by a carpenter by the name of Hillman, four camel drivers and five servants. They became the first Europeans to see Lake Chad on 4 February 1823 and then reached Kuka (now Kukawa, Nigeria) in the Bornu Empire on 17 February. It was at this point that relations really soured. Ignoring Clapperton’s protests, Denham went on a slave-raiding expedition and was nearly killed himself. He then proceeded to write false reports to London accusing Clapperton of having an inappropriate relationship with one of the servants.
Things only got worse when Denham surveyed Lake Chad (see map) and Clapperton and Oudney left him to travel to the Hausa states. Oudney succumbed to an illness in January 1824 but Clapperton reached Kano and Sokoto before returning to Kuka. Reuniting with Denham the two men set out back across the Sahara to Tripoli without talking to each other once for the entire journey of 133 days. They finally returned to Britain on 1 June 1825.

Clapperton quickly returned to Africa which allowed Denham to write (as you may expect) rather one-sidedly about the expedition. He did acknowledge that the artist Sir Robert Ker Porter ‘perfected several drawings’ (shown here). Porter was very well-travelled himself; he had been Alexander I of Russia’s historical painter, toured the Middle East and eventually became the British consul in Venezuela. Clapperton died in 1827 and his journals were thought lost but they were found in an archive in South Africa and published in 2000. It is arguable that he had the last laugh; whereas Denham is largely forgotten, Clapperton is often counted as one of Britain’s leading early explorers of Africa.  

Friday 17 October 2014

Men and the Fields by Adrian Bell, with drawings and lithographs by John Nash

In addition to the exceptional collections of early printed books in the Library we also have a huge variety of more modest volumes with their own quirky charm and which often provide interesting glimpses into social and publishing history.

Men and the Fields was published in the summer of 1939, just before the outbreak of World War Two. The gentle, nostalgic scenes of country life described by the author Adrian Bell and the delightful colour lithographs and black and white drawings by the artist John Nash evoke an idyllic rural world which was soon to be lost. Nash illustrated three other books for Batsford and unusually all four titles were printed by the Curwen Press, who were renowned for the quality of their lithographic printing.

The book was actually the result of a radical new publishing strategy adopted by Batsford, a traditional family firm founded in 1897, who were renowned for their high quality books on architecture and building. As Charles Fry, one of the directors, wrote in 1943 'the financial depression of the thirties brought a crisis which we had to weather, and the only way to do it was to change our fashion to suit the times. A wider public had to be reached with books of a cheaper price'

Fry goes on to describe how the three directors: himself, Harry Batsford and Brian Cook, took the decision that they 'would begin an entirely new kind of book...Britain, its churches, its houses and its landscape. But we planned to put more than a hundred illustrations in each book, to present them with Brian's attractive wrappers, and in editions so big that we could afford to sell the books for as little as seven shillings and sixpence each....'

They began with the 'British Heritage' series and went on to establish the 'Face of Britain', the 'Pilgrims Library', and 'British Nature Library'. The books were a huge success, although Fry commented that 'elderly architects and some old customers said quite frankly that Batsford were going to the dogs and... prostituting architecture and history by making it available to the general public'.

Batsford, Fry and Cook actually travelled up and down the country in Fry's old Austin gathering material, drawings and photographs for some of the books. The Cathedrals of England, published in 1934, includes an amusing acknowledgement in the preface: 'we owe much to the patience and courtesy of the cathedral vergers who have led us conscientiously over roofs and up towers, along the dark ridge-passages of vaults and the giddy footwalks of triforiums and clerestories'.

Between the wars a strong conservationist lobby had developed which campaigned on country issues. The Council for Preservation of Rural England, Ramblers Association, Footpaths Preservation Society, and National Trust all sounded warnings that rural life was fast disappearing under a tide of modernity. Batsford's initiative in publishing their various heritage series tapped into the zeitgeist, and by the mid nineteen-thirties, the developing political situation and threat of war heightened the mood of nostalgia for pastures green and chocolate box cottages.

The 1937 Batsford book North Country by Edward Vale, however, includes some images which paint a much darker picture of changes which had already happened and hints of worse to come. The black and white photographs with titles such as 'The street of unemployed,Tyneside' and 'Derelict industry Co. Durham', are a sombre contrast to the other scenes of lakes, farms and fells. In his foreword, Vale speaks of the state of flux in the region amongst industry, agriculture and workers and goes on to remark that 'at the same time the outside world is in a greater state of flux than has been known for a long while in history and, whatever turn things take the results are bound to have what politicians call “important repercussions”'...

We are very grateful to Patti Collins for researching and writing this blogpost, as well as many others on this page. Patti has volunteered at the Library for many months and has unearthed numerous treasures from the collection as well as undertaking sterling work with exhibitions and general library housekeeping work. We couldn't manage without her!

If you would like to volunteer at Chetham's Library we would be delighted to hear from you. We are particularly interested in people for front-of-house roles, so if this sounds like you, do get in touch with us at or ring us for a chat on 0161 834 7961.

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Belle Vue Event

Thursday 30 October, 6.30 pm to 8.00 pm
Spend an evening at Chetham's Library with artists, illustrators and authors 
    Inspired by Belle Vue

Livi Michael & Anna Mainwaring from the Manchester Writing School will be reading their stories 'For one day only' and 'Maharajah: the elephant who walked to Manchester'.

The original illustrations for these stories which were created by Bethany Thompson & Nabihah Shireen will also be on show.

Meet some of the artists from Manchester School of Art who created the work in our current exhibition Sampling Belle Vue. 

Preview our new 'Digital Belle Vue' website & talk with Belle Vue Project Volunteers.

Autographed copies of the short-story anthologies Timelines and Crimelines, where Livi and Anna's stories may be found, will be available for purchase.

Wine, juice and snacks will be served.

Eventbrite - Inspired by Belle Vue

Thursday 2 October 2014

Manchester Literature Festival 6-26 October

We will be hosting two events for the Manchester Literature Festival this year, and both will be held in the atmospheric Baronial Hall.

The first event, on Monday 13 October, will be 'The History Girls', a discussion by the novelists Suzannah Dunn and Maria McCann on the historical novel. Tickets are £6/£4 and the event begins at 6.30pm. More information here.

Then on Friday 17 October we host the glittering prizegiving ceremony of the Manchester Writing Competition. The event will be hosted by James Draper and Matthew Frost and tickets include entry to a pre-event drinks reception. Tickets are £5 and the event begins at 7pm. More here.

We hope that lots of you will be able to come and enjoy the combination of cultural excellence with the wonderful atmosphere of the lovely medieval buildings.