Thursday 24 December 2015

Christmas with a splash - and what the Dickens?

What does Christmas mean to you? Peaceful time spent with family and friends; long journeys to be with those you love; solitary rage and alcohol abuse; a one day gap in the retail opportunities; the coming of the Saviour? It means many things to many people. Most librarians use the time to take a break from their lavishly paid work and get away from the fast cars, the gaming tables, the endless social whirl and the Hollywood glitter of the working year and avoid books at all costs. 

What on earth am I going to get Cook for Christmas?
Before our chauffeurs come to pick us up, whisk us to Asprey's for last-minute presents and drive us to our respective estates, however, let's give the Taittinger another minute or two in the bucket and glance briefly through the grimy window of the past to a couple of oddities from the Victorian and Edwardian Christmases we so often see portrayed. Since we have all probably seen enough of Tiny Tims, of Ghosts of Christmases past, present and future, of Marley's Ghost and of Mr Fezziwig's balls, we'll glance first at wood engravings done by Edward Dalziel (1817-1905) for the Chapman and Hall 1863 edition of Dickens' Christmas Books. We eschew A Christmas Carol itself:

Stunningly detailed work - the originals are no more than an inch or two in height. As a change of pace from the tender and domestic, a scene from Edelweiss, the Good Words Christmas Story for 1886, and a roistering company reminiscent of that in the Library staff room pictured by artist Harry Furniss:

Your humble reviewer has only had time to scan Edelweiss briefly, and since the remainder of the scenes, while affecting, chiefly appear to concern people expiring in garrets, we shall move on.

The Keeping of Christmas at Bracebridge Hall, by Washington Irving, imagines Christmas on the lower floors of the house, and to much better cheer in the illustrations of C.E. Brock, picturing the festive season for the 1924 edition of William Glashier in London:

It is the proposal of this blog that tasting home made wines is to be preferred to any number of garret-hauntings and nocturnal sempstressing exploits.

Back out of the '20s to a real Edwardian Christmas card: surely here our latter-day Dickens Christmas, our Sunday evening television dose of poke bonnets and ruddy-faced cherubs; perhaps a turkey? Not so, Christmas bloggeteers. Our young correspondent's message first:

Victor has not decided on the obvious route, as indeed neither had Tuck's Postcards, despite their proud boast of Royal patronage for their series of Christmas cards, even if they were less patriotically printed in Saxony. Was Kenneth Brandon at all surprised to find that Christmas for Victor was all about cats splashing about in the sea? Not a mince pie for miles.

A very Merry Christmas to all, and a Happy New Year!

Monday 21 December 2015

Christmas magic - Rylands new exhibition casts a few of our spells!

Our friends at the John Rylands Library have found the midnight of the year - the shortest day and eve of the longest night in twelve months - the best time to launch their exhibition on the dark arts,
Magic, Witches and Devils in the Early Modern World, curated by Jenny Spinks and Sasha Handley. We've been able to lend one or two items to add to the mix: here are a few examples of the kind of thing we're talking about:

John Dee's copy of De Remediis Secretis, Lyon, 1555
This is the title-page of a tiny printed book, evidently bought by John Dee, polymath, astronomer,  mage, astrologer, adventurer, scientist, bibliophile and talker to the angels, as soon as it came out. He covered his copy with notes and sketches as well as signing and dating the title page firmly in his fashionable Italianate scholar's hand. Wisely so, if not necessarily effectively, as the huge library he built up over the course of his life was pillaged more than once. He may not have seen himself as a   sorcerer, but whispers abounded, and the knowledge he and a very few others in the western world  were exploring seemed like magic to most. Dee's remarkable role in the academic life of his age is about to be the subject of another interesting exhibition, Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee at the Royal College of Physicians.

While Dee may have been at one or more removes from actual Black Sabbaths and midnight excavations, our manuscript of Tractatus de Nigromantia could slot very neatly into a Hammer Horror set.  Much as the scholar Konrad Gesner hid behind the pseudonym 'Euonymus Philiater' in writing of his secret remedies in Dee's book, a series of magical works falsely claiming to be the work of the Franciscan philosopher  Roger Bacon were circulated, including this with its fantastic scripts and impenetrable diagrams. We've already given it some airtime on our website as part of our 101 treasures, so we'll let the pictures speak for themselves - go to see the exhibition, but be safely in bed by midnight on Christmas Eve ...

All a little baffling? Scroll on ...
Beginning to get any clearer?
Now this diagram evidently explains Ezechiel.
But would Ezechiel himself be any wiser for it?
A Happy Christmas to one and all!

Wednesday 16 December 2015

Pop-up Afternoon Tea at Chetham's!

We are thrilled to be working with the lovely people at the Tea Alchemist to offer a pop-up Afternoon Tea event in January next year. It will be a wonderful opportunity to enjoy gorgeous tea, sandwiches and cakes in the stunning surroundings of the Baronial Hall, with time to wander around the medieval buildings and seventeenth-century Library.

It's an ideal post-Christmas present for yourself and a friend, perhaps a quiet break from sales shopping? You can have a look at the mouthwatering menu here. Tickets and Christmas present vouchers are going fast and are available from the Tea Alchemist's website now.

Wednesday 2 December 2015

P-p-picking up Penguins


No, we're not talking about the iconic, chocolate biscuit ad from the eighties... the Library has just been given a box of the (almost) equally delicious King Penguin books!

Regular visitors to secondhand bookshops will be familiar with the ubiquitous King Penguins: small, decorative and eminently affordable, they have been popular with cash-strapped collectors since the first volume (K1 British birds on lake, river and stream) was published in 1939. The series eventually ran to 76 volumes and the final book was published in 1959.

Allen Lane, founder of Penguin books, wrote that 'the original idea for King Penguins came from the small Insel-Verlag books which were published in Germany before the war. Why, we felt, should there not be a similar series of books in this country? The experiment, started a few weeks after war broke out, turned out to be successful. One of the most distinctive features of this series is their decorative covers.'

The books were Penguin's first foray into hardcovers and full colour printing. They focused on art, architecture, antiques and nature, were heavily illustrated, initially reproducing plates from out of copyright works, but still relatively cheap at one shilling per book.

Lane was a savvy businessman and described the King Penguin series as being designed 'to appeal to the general liking for illustrated keepsakes on special projects' - in fact he was pretty much aiming from the start to market the series at collectors, with each book allocated a unique number.

Verlag had used patterned covers on reprints of classics, for example medieval woodcuts, and initially Penguin adopted a similar practice - the covers were original commissions but the actual images were reproductions of the work of well known artists/images, for example the very first book used John Gould's bird prints, the second was Redoute roses, and other early books featured images of Christ, and historical caricature.

After the first half dozen books were published, Nikolaus Pevsner became the series editor in 1941 and persuaded a number of well-known writers, artists and designers to contribute to the series including Edward Bawden, John Piper, Ronald Searle and Enid Marx.

At this stage the covers became much more inventive, for example the design by Marian Mahler, a textile designer, for Fashion and fashion plates by James Laver, features charming little costume drawings in grey, pink and white, arranged as a repeating pattern.

Also in this style is English ballet by Janet Leeper published in 1944. The pink cover by Kay Ambrose is decorated with leaping dancers but the book became very popular due to the humorous inclusion on the spine of a tiny penguin wearing a tutu.

Some of the outstanding volumes, both artistically and in terms of desirability for collectors, are those which feature original artwork and illustrations by contemporary artists and designers. John Piper actually went to stay in Romney Marsh and then wrote 'a description of his visit in watercolours, drawings and words' for King Penguin in 1950 and Kenneth Rowntree provided evocative, atmospheric watercolours for A prospect of Wales by Gwyn Jones.

A very different but delightfully decorative volume is Popular art in Britain by Noel Carrington. The cover design is of two brightly painted carousel horses and there are wonderful line drawings and coloured lithographs of farm waggons, Staffordshire figures and country crafts, by an artist of whom little is known, called Clarke Hutton.

Noel Carrington also provided the introductory essay for arguably the most collectable King Penguin of all, Life in an English village illustrated by Edward Bawden. There is a note with the list of plates which states that 'the coloured illustrations in this book are from drawings made by the artist directly on to lithographic zinc plates. They are therefore originals and not reproductions of drawings made on paper'. The images are of a specific place - the village of Great Bardfield in Essex, where Bawden lived with his family and other artists including his friend, Eric Ravilious. Strangely, Carrington does not refer directly to Bawden's images, or Great Bardfield, in his essay. 

So we come to the unsung hero of the King Penguin series,William Grimmond, who over a period of ten years, designed no fewer than 16 covers for the series, though, with the exception of a map (in A book of Greek coins) he is never credited with any other artwork. His first book was Elizabethan miniatures in 1943 and his last, published posthumously, was Magic books from Mexico in 1953. He was obviously a very flexible artist and seems to have been able to adapt aspects of the subject of a book to provide a cover design as required - however, his cover for Wildflowers of the chalk seems to be a more personal drawing and has great charm. Grimmond remains something of a mystery, although there are apparently references to him in the Penguin Archive at Bristol University. He seems to have exhibited quite widely and worked as an illustrator (there is even a story that he was responsible for the famous Start Rite twins image) Curiously, although he lived in Surrey for much of his life, he was actually born in Manchester and studied at the School of Art.

Eventually rising production costs brought to an end the King Penguin series with the final title, published in 1959, being The sculpture of the Parthenon. They were published in large numbers so none of them are really rare. However, we haven't quite got the full set of 76, so, if you come across a bundle of King Penguins in your attic, there are still half a dozen or so that we need!

With thanks to Patti Collins for another wonderful blog.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

The Medicine Cabinet: Unlocking Manchester's Medical History

On Saturday 12 December MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies students from the University of Manchester will be presenting a pop-up exhibition in collaboration with the Museum of Medicine and Health.

'The Medicine Cabinet – Unlocking Manchester's Medical History' will be open on Saturday 12 December from 11am – 4pm here at Chetham's Library.

Discover the wonders of Manchester's medical history in the beautiful surrounds of Chetham's Library – open for one day only!

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Shelf Life

In 1655 when the first books started to arrive at Chetham’s Library they were shelved according to size, with little books on the top and the biggest books on the lowest shelves. It was a very space-efficient system, however, it did mean that eventually books on a particular subject, law or medicine for example, could be scattered across many shelves from one end of the library to the other. It must have been quite a challenge to locate books in the early days of the Library as, until 1791, the only catalogue available was a handwritten list in Latin. Fortunately, although we still use the ‘fixed location’ system, we now have an electronic catalogue, so it is easy for remote library users (and those who aren't fluent in Latin) to 'browse by subject' online before travelling to the Library.

One of the serendipitous aspects of the fixed location system is the curious mixture of books which can be shelved side by side - retrieving an item from shelf 8.5.F a couple of weeks ago became quite a voyage of discovery!

8.5.F is a shelf in our rolling stacks which contains 48 very small books . The books are printed in several languages - 35 of them in English, two in French, two in Latin, one in Greek, and eight somewhat mysteriously classed as ‘undetermined’.The earliest book dates from 1638 and the most recent from 1970. The following is a selection of some personal favourites from the shelf.

The oldest book on the shelf  is a modest looking catechism, written by Alexander Nowell in Greek and Latin. It was published in 1638 and is in its original binding, described as ‘brown calf with plain, blind-tooled double fillet border’. However, pasted inside its cover is a splendid armorial bookplate, which indicates that a former owner was Edward Howard, Duke of Norfolk (1686-1777).

The newest book is Six fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm / with original etchings by David Hockney. Hockney's distinctive, spidery, black and white etchings illustrate stories such as Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltskin, which the artist described as ‘really quite mad when you think of it …’

An unpublished MS notebook with English and Japanese phrases, 1890s? Handwritten in a slim orange notebook, this is a personal phrasebook, but we have no clues as to who it belonged to or why they were learning Japanese.

On the first page listed under ‘A’ are:

Ame- rain
Amma - shampoo
Anzu - apricots
Adzuma - my wife
Amedo - wooden shutters (rain doors)
Amedo shoji - paper screens

The smallest of all the books on 8.5.F is entitled Les delices de la mode et du bon gout, which roughly translates as ‘the delights of fashion and good taste’. Bound in crimson and gold leather, with gold patterned end papers, this French almanac contains a selection of popular songs, with charming illustrations of fashionable ladies and gentlemen, and ‘fold outs’ for both Republican and Gregorian calendars for 1805 (see illustration at top of page).

Published by HMSO, Infantry section leading, 1934: a guide for non-commissioned officers commanding rifle and light automatic sections is a fairly basic handbook, of which thousands  were probably issued. However, there is a brief addition, written in pencil, in a section entitled ‘Wire’ which, with a date is between the two World Wars, strikes a chilling note…

‘Decontamination from mustard gas
    1.    By hosing with water. By paraffin or petrol. By mopping up with rags, sawdust etc or by evaporation if time no obj.
    2.    By boiling in water 1/2 hr (can be done to cotton clothing)

Our final selection was published in Halifax in 1853, the essential Every man his own farrier: containing the mode of treatment and cure of the various diseases incident to that noble animal the horse. with an appendix ... to which is added a variety of useful receipts / by an old farrier. The majority of chapters in the book are indeed relating to the care and maintenance of horses: ‘On shoeing’, ‘The Windy or Flatulent Colic’ or ‘Grease, Crown-Scab and Rat Tail’. However, the last section - the ‘useful receipts’ - is a truly curious mixture, which begins with the memorable sentence ‘It may be useful to know the value of burnt rhubarb in diarrhoea…’ It goes on to provide recipes for blackberry wine and preparing a ham, advice on sheep husbandry, shoe blacking, avoiding nightmares, how to escape the effects of lightning and how to ‘extinguish female’s clothes when on fire’. Invaluable stuff.

Monday 9 November 2015

An early selfie of Chetham's

Like many a star who's had a long and varied career, Chetham's as an institution has hoarded many a picture of itself, produced over years of more or less artistic activity.  We did think we had seen all the early examples, often many times over, and copied in various ways, redrawn, cropped and copied, prepared for newspaper publication, or badly photocopied and browning in files of old papers.

So a minor stir this week, when we received a splendid print entitled 'Cheetham College and Library, Manchester' (yes, the spelling-and-pronunciation headache rears its hoary head again). 

A detail from the 1821 print - click here for the rest (big file!)

The imprint tells us it was 'drawn and engraved by James Parry, 52 Piccadilly, for T. Rogerson, and sold by T. Sowler St Anne's Square, 1821'. How are we to read it?

Only two years after Orator Hunt's presence created the official panic, widespread interest in sweeping state reforms, controversy and finally the cavalry charge of Peterloo (often seen then as now as the anti-Waterloo of massacre at home for business as usual, rather than victory abroad over tyrants), the scene is tranquil. Ancient stones, leaf shadowed, fenced in and with its back turned to the world, it is peopled by figures from a time of peace.

Boys at play
The Chetham's charity boys, in their quaint garb and Tudor caps, are playing in the yard - marbles?

Barrow boys
Two more in the shade of the trees have a barrow that seems to speak of rural rather than urban duties, the unburdened one points back towards the sunlit walls as if to stop his friend wheeling himself out of the idyll by way of the corner of the print.

Lucky chap?
By the porch a gentleman - who else could be idle during the day? has a Jane Austen lady-in-bonnet on each arm, captivated by the buildings and the figure entering the doorway, a servant of Chetham's, perhaps.

Only in the haze beyond the sunlit courtyard does modernity seem to loom, in the shape of factory chimneys.

The march of progress is still slow - perhaps
But right at the left-hand margin, gates stand open - to let the boys out, or the world in?

A gate in, or a door out?
We're often asked if we have illustrations of the industrial revolution in its early and formative stages. Readers know we have a great body of prints and other visual material, which often find their way into books, broadcasts and lectures. But this scene, commercially produced for sale, rather echoes the view Chetham's seems to have taken of itself at this date. Much as swathes of unique material was collected here on Peterloo and the life of the town, including its vital and nationally influential politics, no-one ever wanted to draw the workers, or the factories that sucked them in by the hundred thousand.

Friday 6 November 2015

Baroque and Roll - Can you Handel it?

More concert excitement follows thick and fast on the blog this week, as we encourage you to come down on Wednesday evening and enjoy a performance of Baroque music, some of it from very rare printed music in the Chetham's Library's collections, in the medieval splendour of the Baronial Hall.

Time: 17.30, Wednesday 11 November 2015
Place: Baronial Hall at Chetham's
More, and Tickets 

The Baronial Hall - but fear not, there will be seats!

Our Dr Martyn Shaw, the presiding scholar and musician for the project, tells us:
"This concert forms part of Chetham’s English Baroque Project 2015, in association with The Early Music Shop and Chetham’s Library. The concert will feature chamber-music works by celebrated English composers including Thomas Arne (1710-1778), Charles Avison (1709-1770) and the adopted Englishman George Frideric Handel (1685-1759).

Daniel Purcell deciding Venus is the 'suitest' of the planets ...
"Also included in the concert will be performances of music from the Halliwell Philips Collection, housed at Chetham’s Library.  Highlights include virtually unknown cantata works by Henry Purcell’s brother, Daniel Purcell (1664-1717), and by Henry’s son, Edward Purcell (1689-1740).

"The performance takes place in the atmospheric setting of Chetham's 600 year old Baronial Hall. Parts of the evening's programme will later be taken to Greenwich International Early Music Festival."

Friday 30 October 2015

Winter Journeys - St Cecilia Day concerts by the Hepton Singers

You are warmly invited to an afternoon of Russian music by the Hepton Singers, directed by Alison West, on Sunday 22 November here at Chetham's Baronial Hall.
The concerts will present music from the Baltic to the Black Sea: performing a programme of stirring song by Rachmaninov, Pärt, Bruckner and others:

Alison West, the director of the Hepton Singers said:

In November 2012 the Hepton Singers performed a concert entirely of Russian music. For our St Cecilia concert this year we are re-visiting some of the gems from that concert, in particular a group of four pieces by the contemporary Ukrainian composer Galina Grigorjeva from her exquisitely beautiful composition “On Leaving”. Although this music is recent, the influence of the music of the Russian Orthodox church, and of earlier composers such as Rachmaninov, shines through her work, and some of her harmonies are spine-tingling. We shall accompany these pieces with works by Sergei Rachmaninov, Alfred Schnittke, Arvo Pärt, Josef Rheinberger; and an old favourite of ours, Three Graduals by Anton Bruckner.

The result is a heady mix to warm the toes and heart in the darkness of November.’
Come and hear the Hepton Singers:
Sunday 22nd November 2pm
the Baronial Hall, Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester M3 1SB

Ticket information:
£9/£6/£1 (under 18s)
available on the door and online from

Thursday 29 October 2015

How are things in London, Old Man?

Can you be an old man the moment you're born? You can if you're this week's blog-hero, John Senex (1678-1740), whose name is Latin for 'old man'.

The hand of the master engraver

Ludlow-born Senex was drawn to London for his apprenticeship to the bookseller Robert Clavell, and had set up on his own account by 1702. He was to become one of the most prominent scientific engravers, map-makers and booksellers of his age, produced a famous and influential series of globes celestial and terrain, and died a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Cataloguing at Chetham's in recent years reveals what must be true in so many libraries with significant map or scientific collections: Sensex's imprint, work and often minute engraved signature crops up in many places.  The Library is modestly famous for its early North-West and Manchester maps, and despite his London centre of operations we find Senex being commissioned to undertake work such as this map of the Irwell and Mersey, designed to explore possible locks and navigational improvements.

Detail of Senex's map of the Mersey and Irwell, 1712
We've already had a look at some more work of his in another post on this blog, when this year's eclipse panic struck back in March, although we were concentrating on Halley's astronomical achievements at that stage. At the foot of the Description of the Passage of the Shadow of the Moon over England in 1715 we find Senex reminding both astronomers and astrologers that he 'makes, and sells the newest and correctest maps, and globes of 3, 9, 12, and 16 inches diameter, at moderate prices'.

Turning over the Library's collection of maps of places further afield is what put us in mind of Senex today, however. For example, Senex worked on a splendid folding pocket-map of the major routes around the country, designed for carriage or horseback, and treating the routes as a linear set of waypoints to navigate by, and inns to refresh at:

Detail of the title page of the 18th century's version of the AA road map

London to Dover, the Ogilby and Senex way

A particularly splendid map of London from 1720 combines good survey work, clear representation and serious engraving artistry. You can see an overview of the centre section of the map here. Some of its ambition as a piece of art work is visible in the title and its decoration:

Cornucopia and dragons - streets paved with gold, but not altogether safe?

The greatest testament to the skill and application of the engraver comes when you look magnifying-glass close at the detail, covered on only fractions of an inch of paper each:

St Paul's

Westminster Abbey and the Old Palace Yard

The Tower, complete with wet moats

By the time of his death in 1740, Senex was both an enthusiastic consumer (as we know from his many subscriptions to important scientific publications) and a consummate contributor to Enlightenment England and its learning. His widow carried on his trade, and we as his readers and admirers can marvel and study for ourselves.