Thursday 18 December 2014

Deck the Halls

The torrential rain this past couple of days on top of last week's 'weather-bomb' sent us to volume viii of The Boys Own Bookshelf, Indoor Games and Recreations: A Popular Encyclopaedia for Boys (1891) to re-think our holiday amusement plans. Although there are plenty of women on the Library staff, we haven't let that deter us from using this entertaining, if sexist, book to get some ideas for fun indoor activities. The fat volume is filled with a wondrous array of delightful poems, stories, games, puzzles and projects, all embellished with intricate wood engravings; plenty to keep us occupied over the stormiest Christmas week. 

We were first caught by the idea of 'the very useful and instructive pastime' of 'the construction of a sundial', but we regretfully concluded that it would get little use before next June. The chapter titled 'Fire-balloons and Gas-balloons: How to make and use them' also tempted us, especially since the new exhibition at Manchester Central Library has prompted us to admire some of our own balloon broadsides. 

But in the end, we've settled on 'How we made a Christmas ship' by C. Stansfeld-Hicks, author of Yacht and Canoe Building, etc., etc. What could be better for those of us who are 'tired of Christmas trees', as Mr S-H, so trenchantly phrases it? An elegant ship on the sideboard, small gifts hung from its rigging, presents an intriguing alternative to the more common Christmas tree. A quick trip around Google shows us that there seems to be a persistent maritime tradition around Europe which connects St Nicholas's gift delivery system with a ship rather than a sleigh. 

The good people of Ormseby Hall (picture above) are well ahead of us with this Christmas ship lark. They got the idea from former resident James Stovin Pennyman, who was raised in Greece, and who relates in an 1868 diary entry how he and his family spent the days of Christmas rigging out their own Christmas ship. You can see the replica of the Pennyman Christmas ship at Ormesby Hall this month, since theirs is ready to go.  

Taking note of the above warning from earlier in the book, we include a pdf of 'How we made a Christmas ship', in case you too find yourself stuck indoors with time on your hands. If you are making your own Christmas ship, we'd be pleased to receive a photo of the completed vessel.

Friday 12 December 2014

A fresh look at the Belle Vue project

Today we are delighted to introduce another of our work placement students, Courtney Stickland of the University of Manchester, who is working alongside Kathy on the Belle Vue Project funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund. Courtney writes:

"I studied for my undergraduate degree in History and Human Geography at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada), during which I spent a term studying abroad at the University of Manchester. I fell in love with the city, returned to pursue my Master’s degree, and am now  on a work placement for UoM’s MA (Modern British) History program, working on the Belle Vue Gardens Project at Chetham’s Library.

When I arrived at Chetham’s for the first time I was amazed by the building and the collection - so much so that I accidentally ended up on a mini-tour with guide Jess for fifteen minutes before eventually managing to pipe up that I was meant to be helping out in the office and was not a tourist. After a stream of apologies and nervous laughter, I got down to business with Chetham’s Cataloguing Librarian Kathy Whalen, and was introduced to the Belle Vue Gardens Project.

Obviously, being from Canada, I had never heard of Belle Vue, but was immediately interested in this place that was so prominent in Mancunian life and memory for nearly 150 years. Over the next few days I began to tell my course mates about the placement, and they all commented how their parents and grandparents used to go there, confirming to me how big a deal Belle Vue had once been.

Given my background in geography, I quickly took to Google maps with old Belle Vue guidemaps in hand to get a spatial image of the place in my mind but with no luck: few remnants of the area’s heyday as an entertainment mecca remain. The trapezoidal site from the guide maps of years past is roughly recognisable, bounded by Hyde Road, the A6010 and Kirkmanshulme Road, and the greyhound stadium is still there, but beyond that Belle Vue has been completely transformed into commercial and residential space.

While my geographical side was disheartened by the lack of built heritage to scour (who doesn’t love before and after photos of old buildings?), I was consoled by the wealth of visual and textual material in the Belle Vue Collection from which I can rebuild an image of the park’s past. And thanks to the toil of previous volunteers on the Belle Vue Gardens Project, I have a massive amount of material available to work with, much of it already digitised. My work placement partner Jacob and I are continuing to help with this important task of digitising and organising the Omeka database, but also in opening up the collection to the public, particularly those who experienced Belle Vue first hand and remember its glory days. In order to do this, Jacob and I are simultaneously uploading material from Omeka and the library’s holdings to a variety of social media websites, including the existing Chetham’s Library Flickr and Twitter, as well as a Tumblr page specifically for the Belle Vue Gardens Project which I have created.

View of the dashboard of the bellevuegardensproject Tumblr dashboard, already making use of the park’s great visual materials

I decided that Tumblr would be a beneficial social media platform for dispersing the Belle Vue Collection because of my own personal experience with the site. Amongst the sea of hipster pictures and fan posts about Harry Potter, one can find a variety of history-related accounts that share interesting information about the past, usually highlighting the humorous and bizarre bits of history that don’t typically make it into textbooks (some of my personal favourites are Oxford University Press, This Day in History and Mad History). Furthermore, like Flickr, the microblogging platform of Tumblr favours visual material - a perfect outlet for the myriad of striking images contained in the Belle Vue Collection. By using relevant hashtags on uploaded images, a wider range of users can be introduced to Belle Vue who would otherwise not know about its existence or its interaction with certain aspects of history. For example, one of the site’s first visitors was a Davy Jones fan page which reblogged a photo set of Jones, Pelé and Gracie Fields casting their hand and foot prints in the 1960s for Belle Vue’s Wall of Fame, subsequently sharing the Belle Vue page with all of their followers and increasing awareness of the park’s history of celebrity appearances. I am hoping that by highlighting the visual history of Belle Vue, I can lure new audiences to the Belle Vue Collection (using links to the Omeka database, the Chetham’s Library blog and Flickr page), particularly local Tumblr users who are unfamiliar with the park or the Library’s collections.

Some challenges I am anticipating with the Tumblr page are maintaining a regular posting schedule, striking an even balance of content and establishing a visible web presence. Thankfully the Tumblr platform includes a queueing option, so I can upload and schedule a number of posts on my days in Chetham’s. In regards to content, I will need to suppress my intense interest in nineteenth-century British history and include material across the park’s long history, but also use a wide array of sources, including photos, maps, pamphlets, newspaper articles, videos and ephemera. Lastly, increasing traffic to the site will be largely reliant on effective tagging of posted material (it was jokingly suggested that I tag everything with ‘baby animals’ to increase traffic, though this will definitely be employed in zoo-related posts) and advertising the Tumblr through the Chetham’s Library Twitter and Facebook accounts.

I am looking forward to working with the collection and staff at Chetham’s in the upcoming months, and learning more about Manchester’s local history!"

You can find out more about the Library's Belle Vue collection and see the images on the Virtual Belle Vue site here.

Thursday 11 December 2014

The Ariel Poems

In 1927, long before the Christmas shopping frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, a young director from the publishing company Faber and Gwynne came up with an innovative and elegant idea for the Christmas gift market.

His name was Richard de la Mare, the son of the famous poet Walter and his idea was to produce a series of small illustrated pamphlets which would combine a single, previously unpublished, poem by a major poet with an appropriate illustration. The poems were christened the ‘Ariel Series’ and all were to have a seasonal or Christmas theme. The format was simple: a folded card cover featured the title, author and illustrator and occasionally a small line decoration. The two inside sheets were folded to give four pages for the poem and an original illustration, which was printed in three colours only. The poems were printed by the Curwen Press and, apart from a small limited edition which were sent as Christmas greetings to important clients, were priced at one shilling.

When Richard de la Mare began to approach poets he was able to say not only that his father Walter had promised a poem, but so had his fellow director at Faber, T.S.Eliot. Those who eventually agreed were a stellar list, including Thomas Hardy, G.K.Chesterton, Siegfried Sassoon, Edith Sitwell, W.B.Yeats and D.H.Lawrence. The resulting poems were wonderfully varied and range from overtly religious themes to meditations on winter and the magic of Christmas seen through the eyes of a child.

Interestingly, the poets did not know which artist would be chosen to respond to their poems. Richard de la Mare consulted with the printer Henry Curwen and selected a number of up-and-coming young artists as well as some established names, including David Jones, Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden, Paul and John Nash, and Eric Gill. Many of the resulting combinations of poem and image are inspired.

Between 1927 and 1931 Faber published thirty-eight poems in the Ariel series and then, in the early 1950s, after a gap of twenty years, it was decided to revive the series. The library has five of the later series, all published in 1954, two by Eliot, one by De la Mare, one by Edwin Muir and one by Cecil Day Lewis. They each have great charm and have been illustrated by renowned artists including Robin Jaques, E.McKnight Kauffer and John Piper. They are part of the Pickles Collection which was donated to the Library by Anne Pickles in memory of her late husband.

Wednesday 3 December 2014

Manchester: Alchemical City

Don't miss Jeanette Winterson's new documentary 'Manchester: Alchemical City', which airs on Radio 4 next week. Jeanette, who is one of our Honorary Patrons, takes a personal look at the history of the city which shaped her young life, and visits Chetham's Library as part of her investigations.

The programme is on daily at 1.45pm.