Wednesday 28 January 2015

The guidebooks of Belle Vue

We're delighted to present another post on the history of Belle Vue from Courtney Stickland, a volunteer on the Belle Vue Project from the University of Manchester. This week, she takes a closer look at some of the guidebooks in the collection:

These days, your standard amusement park guide consists of the bare necessities: a map of the park: a legend of symbols denoting toilets and cash points, a schedule of shows and fireworks, and maybe - if you’re lucky - a few brief indications of which rides you should avoid if you’re prone to motion sickness.

In contrast, visitors arriving at Belle Vue Zoological Gardens in the late nineteenth century were met with a far more elaborate description of the attractions they could expect to discover within the walls of the park. For the price of one penny (equivalent to approximately £2 today), visitors could purchase a detailed guidebook outlining the history of Belle Vue and its founder John Jennison, the architectural features and residents of the zoo’s various animal houses, transportation information from the park (including cab fares, train and omnibus schedules, and road routes), the historical background of the latest fireworks spectacular, and much more, all printed in-house.

As I mentioned in my previous post for this blog, I enjoy utilising maps and crude orienteering to find my way around, but the Belle Vue guides provide an altogether different experience of space than one derives from the visual material of a map. While these guidebooks provided pull-out maps to assist visitors in making their way around Belle Vue, the textual component of the books provide a particular experience of the park’s grounds, predetermined by the author. Following a brief introduction, nearly all of the guidebooks lead the visitor through Belle Vue’s zoological exhibits, listing the cage numbers, names and origins of the park’s collection, and detailing the route the visitor should take through the menageries, gardens, amusement park rides and restaurants.

Viewing these guidebooks today, I am struck by the highly crafted experience these guidebooks provide in contrast to the freer, less structured exploration one would undertake with just a map (or even without one). Their emphasis on language rather than images and maps encourages the reader to digest the written directions on the page and then situate oneself within the physical surroundings of the park, similar to receiving directions from a GPS device today. In addition to directing the reader along a pre-determined course of the park, the guidebook also releases snippets of information about the various sights the guest would see as they made their way through Belle Vue, including:

• Architectural and engineering information (‘A Free Drinking Fountain has recently been erected, near the lake, supplied with pure spring-water obtained from a well in the Gardens, which is 70 feet below the surface.’ – Belle Vue guidebook, 1880).
• Details about the animals (‘In old age some Tigers become man eaters.’ – Belle Vue guidebook, 1899; ‘Raccoon... a sagacious animal about which many extraordinary stories are told; he is a good tree climber, and is much hunted for his fur.’ – Belle Vue guidebook, 1892).
• Park amenities and prices (‘…the Pleasure Boats are let out at the rate of 3d. or 4d. per half-hour for each passenger, and 1d. or 2d. each is charged for a tour round the Lake on the Steamers.’ – Belle Vue guidebook, 1895).

By narrating the visitors’ progress through the park, the guidebooks - illustrated with particularities of the park-going experience, as well as drawings of the animals and park surroundings in later editions - offered guests a means to navigate Belle Vue Gardens during their visit, but also served as a highly detailed souvenir for later reflection. Like slideshows or home movies of family vacations, the guidebooks could allow Belle Vue guests to revisit their memorable trip to the park and share information with friends and family who had not yet visited themselves, drawing heavily on the spatial experience of the park. In addition to the experiential prose contained inside of the guidebooks, the cover artwork of these ephemera became increasingly elaborate and decorative towards the end of the nineteenth century.

Who would have purchased and used these guidebooks? The books outline a range of price points on offer at the park and the books themselves are relatively low cost for the time, but the extensive use of textual description to inform the reader about the park layout, animals on view and costs suggests that these souvenirs were intended for a middle class audience. The increasing use of animal illustrations in later editions may have been an attempt to cater to non-literate readers, including young children. Explanations of the fireworks displays did not assume readers’ education and prior knowledge of historical context but were nevertheless lengthy (taking up at least three pages of the guides).

An examination of these guidebooks raises issues about mobility, access and reception within Belle Vue’s gates. The emphasis on the written word rather than illustrations and maps creates a division between visitors who could access the guides. The result of this difference in park experience is that while all visitors to the park would be able to gaze upon exotic animals and foreign-styled gardens, only some would be able to fully access the knowledge that Belle Vue was offering. The structured tour narrative of the guidebook led visitors along the ‘correct’ path through the park in sequential order through animal exhibits, amusement areas and restaurants, educating along the way; conversely, those unable to afford or comprehend the guidebooks were left to their own devices, rendering their visit more spectacular and entertaining than educational.

This narrative structure persisted into the late 1920s. By the 1930s, the guidebooks had retained much of their text-heavy structure, albeit with black and white photographs replacing the sketches of the Victorian and Edwardian period. While these more modern guides provide extensive descriptions of the grounds and attractions within, gone is the grand narrative structure of the park’s layout suggested in the earlier guidebooks. Instead, only the zoological displays are structured around an ideal itinerary for guests ‘who wish to see as much as possible in a single visit’ by ‘follow[ing] from letter to letter’ on the provided plan. Navigation of the rest of the park is left to the guest, with the different attractions being described in their own exclusive section without a grand narrative dictating progression through the park space.

Monday 19 January 2015

In search of a North West Passage

(The chilly winds and icy January weather suggested the subject for this post.)

“…imagine … these mountains of crystal hurled through a narrow strait by a rapid tide; meeting as mountains in motion would meet, with the noise of thunder, breaking from each other’s precipices huge fragments, or rending each other asunder, till, losing their former equilibrium, they fall over headlong, lifting the sea around in breakers, and whirling in eddies; while the flatter fields of ice, forced against these masses or against the rocks, by the wind and the stream, rise out of the sea till they fall back on themselves, adding to the indescribable commotion and noise which attend these occurrences…”

This powerful description of a winter storm in the Arctic is from Narrative of a Second Voyage in Search of a North West Passage by Captain John Ross, published in 1835. The book is a detailed account of the remarkable polar expedition led by Ross between 1829-1833.

In 1818, Ross had led an attempt by the British Navy to find the North West Passage. His crew included Lieutenant William Parry as his second-in-command and also John Franklin who went on to lead the catastrophic 1845 voyage, which ended in cannibalism and the death of the entire crew. However, the expedition failed and Ross fell out of favour with the Admiralty Secretary, Sir John Barrow, who subsequently appointed Parry to lead further official expeditions (the library has copies of Parry’s accounts of these voyages).

Consequently, in May 1829, when Ross set out again, he was funded largely by his wealthy friend, the gin magnate Felix Booth. His ship was the Victory, an unusual choice, being a paddle-based steam ship.

In October 1829 disaster struck: the ship became stuck in the polar ice and remained so for most of the next two years. Amazingly, Ross and his crew survived, but only by adopting the lifestyle of the local Inuit (eskimo) community, whom they befriended. Ross made some charming sketches of individual Inuit, including one of Tulluachiu, for whom the ship's carpenter constructed a wooden leg.

The crew built accommodation from the wreckage of earlier expeditions and continued to explore by land as best they could. Ross recorded their discoveries about the Arctic geology and geography, the flora and fauna and the Inuit people. Ross’s nephew, James, even discovered the magnetic pole.

However, in 1832 they abandoned the Victory completely, trekked overland and finally managed to board the whaling ship Isabella in 1833, arriving back in England in October of that year.

Ross continued to take a great interest in polar exploration and, in 1850, he even accompanied one of the expeditions to search for John Franklin and his men, but he never regained the confidence of the Admiralty. However, this book records a truly extraordinary tale of the endurance and ingenuity of Captain Ross and his crew.

Friday 16 January 2015

Going down on the wrong end

This entry from the diaries of John Reed seems appropriate for the cold and snowy weather many of us have been experiencing. Written seventy-four years ago tomorrow, it describes the adventures he and his schoolfriends enjoyed after waking to a snowy scene, improvising with milk crates, bowls, trays and even bricks in place of sledges. One of his teachers, reports the twelve-year-old Reed with some glee, was however less successful, going down as he did 'on his wrong end'...

New Library Professionals Network

It's great to see two of our lovely volunteers, Courtney Brombosz and Jess Purdy, writing about their experiences of volunteering at Chetham's on the New Library Professionals Network blog.

If you'd like to volunteer with us, get in touch! All our contact details are on the website.

Thursday 15 January 2015

Chetham's Library in the Manchester Evening News

Thank you very much to Yakub Qureshi for a lovely article about the Library in the Manchester Evening News yesterday! Do take a look and don't miss Senior Librarian Fergus Wilde in his starring video role...

Wednesday 14 January 2015

England in 1835

We have recently acquired from one of our favourite bookshops, Ken Spelman of York, a first edition of Frederick Von Raumer’s England in 1835: being a Series of Letters Written to Friends in Germany, during a Residence in London and Excursions into the Provinces (London: John Murray, 1836), translated from the German by Sarah Austin.

Von Raumer’s three-volume account is an important contemporary survey of English social, economic and political matters, and includes information on the industrial towns, especially Manchester, to which Raumer made two further visits in 1836 and 1841. His description of the town is far removed from the usual accounts of tourists, but is more an attempt to make sense of Manchester as the shock city, the world first industrial city. The woeful state of education was one of Von Raumer’s main concerns:

'I paid particular attention to the condition of the children in the cotton manufactories … it cannot be denied that the easiest labour, continued twelve hours in the day, is too much for any children; that they learn for their whole life a mechanical dexterity; that their mind remains uncultivated; and that they have neither time nor strength remaining to attend school. Almost every improvement of machinery makes the harder and dreary labour of grown-up persons less necessary, and increases the demand for children. Thus there arises (thank Heaven, not in all England, but only in the manufacturing districts) a constant employment - nay, a slavery for them, such as has no parallel in the history of the world’ v. 3, 224.

Von Raumer’s account of Manchester is in some way a forerunner of Engels’ Condition of the Working Class of England, which was published almost a decade later.  But Engels did not look on his fellow countryman’s description with favour, remarking: ‘It has not occurred to anyone to investigate the nature of English history and of the English national character, and just how paltry all the literature about England is, is revealed by the simple fact that Herr von Raumer’s paltry work about England [England im Jahre 1835] is still, as far as I know, held to be the best on the subject in Germany.’

Monday 12 January 2015

A plain and familiar method, suitable for the meanest capacity...

Edward Cocker’s Arithmetick, published in many editions after 1677, was one of the standard text books used to teach mathematics in English schools. 

 The Library has a copy dated 1688 which is still in its original calf binding and which has wonderful printed pastedowns. 

The work has annotations by two hands: the first is William Montague who simply writes his name on the front endpaper, and the second William Griffin, who signs his name many times through the book. 

We know nothing about William Griffin, who dated his inscriptions 1736 and 1743, but at one point Griffin used the last endpaper to record his purchases of a calf, nine lambs, two yews, a sow, a cow and a pig that amounted to  £8-6s. Rather than spending his time scribbling in books, Griffin would have been better off reading them, or at least this one, for his sums don’t add up.

Friday 9 January 2015

Laureate's Choice

The best Christmas present we received this year - sadly it was the only present we got, apart from Ian Beesley’s Spanish sausage (don’t ask) - was an empty bottle of sherry from Professor Andrew Biswell of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation. Empty bottles are nobody’s idea of fun (hint for next year) but this bottle is special because it is one of the bottles that are traditionally given to the Poet Laureate as payment. From 1619 the Poet Laureate received as payment a Butt (720 bottles) of sherry from the Crown. The custom ceased in 1790 but was revived in 1986 by the Sherry Shippers of Spain who provided sherry for the twenty-first Laureate Ted Hughes. Carol Ann Duffy, 22nd Poet Laureate, was invited to sign her Butt of Sherry in Jerez and wrote a poem ‘At Jerez’, which is printed on the label.

We look forward to the task of cataloging an empty bottle of sherry - the first empty bottle to ever be added to our collection - but we look forward to next Christmas even more, when no doubt we will be inundated with full bottles of wines and spirits.

PS some of us are gin drinkers.

Thursday 8 January 2015

At the sign of the spectacles

One of the most striking shop signs in Victorian Manchester was that of the optician T. M. Bowen, whose premises at 27 Market Place were dominated by an enormous pair of spectacles.

Bowen’s was one of Manchester’s great success stories, and practised for over half a century in the same premises, the Wellington Inn (now reconstructed in Shambles Square next to the cathedral).

We have a number of items relating to the firm, including a splendid piece of advertising in verse from the 1820s, a later advertisement from a trade directory in which Bowen announced that they been in business for 56 years, an illustrated business card and a wonderfully detailed photograph of 1859. Obviously having an eye for colour as well as his profession, Bowen’s business acumen is here celebrated in verse:

Any colour you fix on - blue, purple, or green,
Which your elegant taste may incline to select,
Can of Bowen be had. Such a choice may be seen
As will prove that his judgement is always correct.