Wednesday 30 September 2015

Eliza Carthy at Chetham's

One of the things we've been doing over the last few weeks is helping to make a Radio 4 programme about nineteenth-century broadside ballads with Eliza Carthy, and this will be broadcast next Monday 5th October at 4pm. Don't miss it!

Thursday 24 September 2015

Medieval Manchester

This Saturday afternoon, tour guide Anne Beswick is taking a look at medieval Manchester, starting at the Cathedral and taking in our beautiful Baronial Hall and medieval buildings. Find out more on her website.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Madame Malibran

On this day in 1836 Madame Maria Felicita Garcia Malibran de Beriot died aged 28 in Manchester. Malibran was a mezzo-soprano who commonly sang both contralto and soprano parts and was regarded as the greatest singer of her day. She died following a performance at the Manchester Music Festival at the Collegiate Church. Apparently Malibran was spurred on by rivalry with another singer to repeat a duet and 'annihilate' her colleague. The effort proved too much. Following her return to her hotel, the Mosley Arms, she collapsed and died shortly before midnight. The church authorities agreed to bury her and a crowd of over fifty thousand followed her cortege as it made its way to her funeral. Shortly afterwards her body was exhumed and reinterred in a mausoleum in Laeken Cemetery, near Brussels.

This broadside of her performance of Bellini’s La Sonnambula at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, dates from 1833.

Monday 21 September 2015

'Owls, apes... monsters and sprigg'd letters'

These beautiful flourishes and embellishments are examples of fine penmanship from a copybook published by George Shelley in 1714, The second part of Natural writing: containing the breakes of letters and their dependance on each other likewise various forms of business written in the most proper hands...

Shelley achieved fame as a ‘writing master’ in seventeenth-century London, where he started out as a private tutor, teaching penmanship to the children of the gentry, including the Archbishop of Canterbury. He then opened his own school at the appropriately named ‘Hand and Pen’ in Warwick Lane and ultimately gained the prestigious post of writing master to Christ’s Hospital.

By the seventeenth century there was a huge demand for clerks, both in trade and commerce, and in the legal profession and government departments, which led to a proliferation of self-proclaimed ‘writing masters’, all hoping to benefit financially both from teaching aspiring clerks and from publishing copybooks.

Essentially these books provided examples of lettering and phrases which were then copied out by students, sometimes by tracing, sometimes freehand, to improve their style and efficiency. Some of the books even included instructions for cutting quills and making ink (quill pens were still widely used until the beginning of the nineteenth century). The development of copperplate engraving had enabled the production of high-quality printed copybooks which sold in their thousands and were very profitable for their authors.

The requirements of business for both speed and a consistent and universally legible ‘hand’, led to competition between the various writing masters to develop a suitable style. This resulted in a great deal of rivalry and some very bitter and public altercations between them, conducted via newspapers and in the prefaces to their published copybooks.

Shelley was one of the chief protagonists in a particularly vicious battle which also involved  Charles Snell and John Clark. Clark was a notoriously contentious individual, who favoured a simple, clear and standardised ‘round hand’ for business use and was highly critical of those masters who advocated an overly decorative style of ‘owls, apes and monsters, and sprigg’d letters’

The library has several examples of copy books, the earliest, published in 1664, being The young clerk's president: a copy book containing examples of all hands proper to clerk-ship and directions peculiar to all those hands with diagrams for the making of knots, written and engraved by Edward Cocker.

Although Cocker declares that his little book is ‘furnished with examples in writing applicable to all manner of imployments’, his emphasis on ‘engrossing hand’, ‘court’, ‘small court hand’, ‘running court hand’, and ‘chancery’ indicate that clearly aimed the book at ‘such persons as are designed for the Law’.

For so many of us now, the keyboard has almost completely replaced pen and paper, and there has been much debate about the disappearance of handwriting and whether it matters. Does it affect us culturally, socially, emotionally? Studies have shown that learning to write by hand changes the way we learn to read, and that note-taking with a pen, rather than a laptop, gives students a better grasp of the subject.

There is a sense that handwriting conveys individuality to a document, and a handwritten text crossed out or corrected, with bits scribbled in the margin and later additions there for good, leaves a visual and tactile record of the writer’s work and the stages it has passed through, which is prized by scholars.

For those of us of a certain age, handwriting can almost be a part of our identity - a pensioner’s party trick which amazes (and irritates) young people is to skim through a pile of Christmas card envelopes and without even opening them declare: ‘Aunty Nellie, Sue and Pat, Gillian, your Mum and Dad’, and so on. Of course the very concept of handwritten Christmas cards is old fashioned these days: no more festive greetings bearing ‘sprigg’d letters’ when we can now email animated singing robins to our friends.

Thanks once again to our volunteer Patti Collins for researching and writing this blog post.

Friday 18 September 2015

Dosvidaniya, Bolton...

Ever fancied laying waste to Bolton? And who among us can put hand on heart and say that the thought has never crossed our mind.

Now, thanks to a new library acquisition, the task has never been easier. We have just obtained three Soviet Military maps of Bolton and the rest of Greater Manchester. Produced during the 1970s in the middle of the Cold War, the maps form part of a huge Russian cartographic exercise, with over 90 large-scale maps of UK cities and towns spread over a hundred and sixty sheets. Based on British Ordnance Survey maps, and augmented by photographs obtained by high-altitude Soviet spy planes, the maps provided everything a Russian soldier needed to know should he find himself needing to park his tank in an emergency.

It is perhaps fairly understandable why a map of Bolton was produced: Bolton, Stockport, and Oldham were at least close to Manchester. What’s slightly more baffling is why the Russian mapmakers invested time and effort coming up with a map of Burnley and Padiham, hardly examples of Western capitalism or hotbeds of NATO aggression.

For more information about the maps, see a fascinating website by collector and historian, John Davies Keen historians of the North West will recall that the Soviets did not actually invade Bolton in the 1970s. There is however no truth in the rumour that they abandoned plans once they saw that the route to Bolton took in Farnworth and Little Hulton, the residents of which, at that time*, would have made even the Afghan Mujahideen consider their options.

* Ed: the Chetham’s Librarian was one of them.

Wednesday 9 September 2015

Heritage Open Day this Saturday!

Come along and visit the Library and medieval buildings this Saturday as part of Heritage Open Day! There will be free tours as well as the opportunity to wander the stone cloisters and peep into the beautiful medieval rooms. The Library will also be open and our lovely volunteers will be around to answer your questions. All are welcome between 10am and 4pm.