Tuesday 29 March 2016

Wedding Open Day this Sunday!

Are you looking for a beautiful, intimate medieval wedding venue in the heart of the city centre? Do you know someone who is?

We have a special open day this Sunday 3 April from 11.30 until 3pm and would love you to join us for a glass of fizz! Come and look round the library and medieval buildings and chat with our wonderful event partners Vanilla in Allseasons.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Thursday 24 March 2016

Meet our Volunteers - Number One: Gill Williamson

Gill Williamson is a volunteer and Patron of Chetham’s Library, spending one day a week greeting visitors and guiding them to and around the Library.

How long have you been volunteering with Chetham’s Library and what was it that initially drew you to us? 

I started as a volunteer 15 months ago. I had some spare time and sought an activity which would be useful to the organisation concerned, would feed my own interests and also bring me into contact with diverse people. I was particularly attracted by the idea of being in at the beginning of the heritage project involving the medieval buildings.

Can you tell me a little bit about your favourite piece or area of the library?

The volume of visitors means that there is little opportunity to enjoy the collections during the volunteer day. The real opportunities for this comes through membership of the Patrons´ Scheme, when books are set out and put in their historical and literary context for members. I also see books from time to time, which have been prepared for readers or visiting groups. The highlights for me in terms of the Library´s holdings have come by chance. The first time I came to the Library, as part of a Heritage Evening, some wonderful maps of old Manchester had been put out and Michael [Powell, Librarian] talked to us about them.

What would you say to those thinking of also volunteering for the Library? 

In the short term, whilst escorting visitors for safe-guarding reasons is a major part of the role, you need to be physically fit, to manage the logistics of individuals and groups turning up unannounced and be determined to give them an enriching experience. In the longer term, the visitors´and heritage areas will be separated: then the task and satisfactions will lie in making the Chetham´s Heritage site the highlight of a visit to Manchester. If you like interacting with people and enjoy history, you will love it. You will also have some first-class colleagues to work with.

Why did you choose to support the Library through the Patron´s Scheme? 

I see myself first and foremost as a Chetham´s patron, wanting to support all aspects of its activities. I was not aware of the Library Patrons Scheme until I became a volunteer and had believed the Library´s interests to be addressed along with those of the School through channels such as the Humphrey Chetham Club. When I see the many books which need restoration and the untapped potential for bringing the Library buildings right into the heart of Manchester´s visitor offering, I am delighted to give it specific support. Patronage also gives privileged access to some of the gems in the collection.

Tuesday 22 March 2016

Number Two in an Occasional Series of Stuff You Wouldn’t Expect us to Have - A (Possibly non-Celtic) Celtic Stone Head

What is it?

A stone head. Obviously.

What is its significance? 

Possibly not as much as once thought. Possibly a great deal. A number of similar stone heads have been found in the North West (notably Glossop) in the last few decades. Originally thought to be from the Iron Age, it is now believed the stones to be much more modern (mid eighteenth century). Theories regarding the origins of the heads differ wildly. Some believe they were placed in known Iron Age sites to fool excavators searching for items relating to druidism. Others believe they are sacred artifacts with magical properties and relate back to ancient religions. Either way, we think he looks cool.

How did we acquire it?

By accident. In the mid 90s, when we were increasing the height of the bookcases, the little fellow was found on a previously undiscovered corbel smiling back at us. He's been in the collection ever since. However, even after all these years, he has yet to be named (current rejected names include Keith, Ian, Pat, Barry, Sebastian and Eric).
More information on the stones can be found here and here.

Tuesday 15 March 2016

Number One in an Occasional Series of Stuff You Wouldn’t Expect us to Have - Oz: Schoolkids Issue

What is it?

Oz was an underground alternative magazine, originally published in Australia but brought out in London from 1967 until 1973.

What’s its significance?

No. 28, Oz: Schoolkids Issue, became the subject of a high-profile obscenity case conducted at the Old Bailey in the summer of 1971. The issue was edited by 20 teenagers and features a Rupert Bear montage (not pictured!) that resulted in Oz’s editors – Richard Neville, Jim Anderson and Felix Dennis – being charged with “conspiracy to corrupt public morals”. 
The trial was the longest under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act and the defence lawyer was John Mortimer, QC, later the writer of the books and TV series Rumpole of the Bailey. The defendants were found guilty and sentenced to up to 15 months imprisonment although this was later quashed on appeal.

How did we acquire it?

Our copy of no 28, came from the collection of Dave Godin, and is available for consultation in the Library. The entire archive of Oz is now available online for anyone to see here. Although we should echo their warning and say that Oz contains explicit language and images that reflect attitudes of the era in which the material was originally published, and that some viewers may find confronting.

Thursday 3 March 2016

How to Keep the Magick Alive…

Guest blog by Library Volunteer, Patti Collins

So after Valentine’s Day has come and gone, wedding bells have duly rung and the happy couple settle down to married life, we have some suggestions for keeping the magic alive from a sixteenth century (male) Neapolitan writer.

Giambattista della Porta first published Natural Magick in Naples in 1558. It was a very popular early scientific work, which was revised and reprinted many times throughout his lifetime. The twenty chapters or ‘books’ covered a wide range of topics, including ‘Treating of Wonderful Things’, ‘Of Invisible Writing’ and ‘The Increasing of Household Stuffe’.

Book Nine is entitled ‘How to Adorn Women, and Make Them Beautiful’ and the author prefaces it by explaining that the reason for ‘adorning women’ is that 'God, the author of all things...to make Man in love with his Wife, he made her soft, delicate and fair, to entice man to embrace her. We therefore, that Women might be pleasing to their husbands, and that their husbands might not be offended at their deformities, and turn into other womens chambers, have taught Women, how by the Art of Decking themselves and Painting, if they be ashamed of their foul and swart Complexions, they may make themselves Fair and Beautiful.’

Chapter One starts with ‘To dye the hair Yellow, or Gold colour…' (which is slightly curious as one assumes most of the women in Naples must have been olive skinned and dark haired). The 'recipe' for going blonde is relatively pleasant sounding and starts with ‘applying a mixture of Honey and white wine dregs to soften the hair, followed by Oyl, Cummin-seed, Shavings of Box and a little saffron mingled left on for twenty four hours’ although the final stage was to wash it off with 'Cabbage-Stalks, Ashes and Barley Straw’.

However, the book then continues with an assortment of toxic treatments designed to improve a woman's appearance (and her chance of hanging on to her man) including :

To make the hair curl
To make the Eye brows black
To make the face white
To make the face shine like silver
To take off red Pimples
To correct the sent[sic] of the Arm-pits

Many of the lotions and potions sound deeply unpleasant, for example:

'A common Depilatory…Because sometimes a part is deformed with abundance of Hair, or for lack of Hair, I shall show how to make a smooth part thick with hair, and a Hairy part smooth, by depilatories’ Giambattista then proposes 'Quick Lime' or possibly an even more unpleasant solution used by 'the Ancients' who recommend the woman should 'cast a pale Frog into water, and boyl it to a third part; and with that anoynt the Body’

Reading this in the twenty-first century, we may find this work quaint and curious on many levels. How could one man be an expert on optics, geology, metallurgy, cookery and women’s cosmetics? How could anyone still believe that a boiled amphibian smeared over the body could act as a depilatory? How extraordinary for a man to provide, in a book purporting to be a serious work of science, detailed advice to enable women to ‘adorn themselves’ with cosmetics to ensure that their husbands did not stray.

Giambattista was from a wealthy Neapolitan family, extremely well educated and married, with at least one daughter. He was an intellectual and philosopher who knew many scholars and scientists and wrote about a huge range of topics (including, physiognomy, agriculture and meteorology). The library has copies of several of his books including De Occultis Literarum Notis, a work on cryptography, and De Humana Physiognomonia, concerning the art of judging human character from facial features.

In an age when the distinctions between astronomer and astrologer and physicist and magician were still blurred, perhaps the best description of Giambattista is that he was  a ‘transitional figure - part magus, part philosopher, alchemist and scientist’.

Natural Magick / by John Baptista Porta, a Neapolitane, in twenty books, London,1658

Tuesday 1 March 2016

Happy Birthday Byrom, From All Your Friends at Chetham's Library

Guest blog by friend of the Library, Dr Joel Swann

This week marks the birthday of John Byrom (1692-1763), a shorthandist, poet, and (perhaps) caballist who has been a perennial favourite at Chetham’s Library. Yet as much as the librarians and readers of today have a special place in their hearts for Byrom, they are unlikely to feel quite so warm as Robert Thyer (1709-1781), the librarian of Chetham’s in the middle of the eighteenth century (1732-1763). Outside of librarianship, he edited the archives of poet Samuel Butler and contributed a commentary to an edition of Milton’s Paradise Lost (1763) (1). Impressive achievements that mark him as a significant figure in the literary culture of his day.

Exactly when the two men first made one another’s acquaintance is not clear, though they were known to one another as early as June 1731 (2). The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) describes the pair as ‘intimate’ friends (3), but Byrom’s journal suggests imbalances in the relationship. In 1738, disheartened by the distance separating the two men, Thyer suggests that it is ‘some satisfaction where one cannot have a real personal interview, to amuse oneself with an imaginary one.’ He then imagines Byrom’s day in London, rattling through his prayers, breakfast, shorthand teaching, book shop visits, before spending the evening in a tavern. There, Thyer optimistically hopes that ‘amidst all these irksome bagatelles, some moment of the day a secret wish surprises you, that you could take a run to the library to ask your friend how he does’ (4). His report is consistently self-effacing: Byrom’s devotions are ‘beyond the reach of my corrupted and earthy imaginations’, and he is deeply apologetic for the ‘nonsense and impertinence’ which he puts down in writing.

When Thyer visited London, Byrom makes records the social awkwardness of the librarian, but the benefits of a good relationship with a librarian were obvious to him. For example, he was allowed to look after Chetham’s alone, when Thyer himself had something else to do with his afternoon (such as taking a walk) (5). Byrom spent much of his time between Manchester and London: and thus was in a good position to mediate between the London rare books trade on behalf of Thyer and Chetham’s. By the mid-1730s, Thyer was happy to ask Byrom about the acquisition of books in London, and Byrom, in turn, used Thyer to help advertise his own books for sale.

Beyond admiring letters and bibliographic favours, another sign of the friendship between the two can be found in a book of copies of Byrom’s poems made by Thyer (now housed at Chetham’s Library as MS A.3.73). The little book collects 19 secular poems in a neat and careful italic hand. Some of the poems included are among Byrom’s most popular. For example the long poem Tunbridgiale and the Account of a Horrid and Barberous Robbery, printed in the 1720s and circulated widely in manuscripts. These texts are witty, entertaining, and self-parodying: the Account culminates in the defeat of a highwayman, scared away from a coach in Epping Forest by the sight of some shorthand; Tunbridgiale cleverly records the highs and lows of a day in the life of the spa town.

Some of the poems in Thyer’s collection are extremely rare today, having not been printed in Byrom’s lifetime, nor copied much in manuscript. Their appeal is more limited. One invites two of his Warrington-based shorthand students (John Haddon and Thomas Haward) to join together with ‘my sons of Lancashire & Cheshire’ for a dinner in Altrincham. Enjoyable as the poem is, the pleasures of its subject matter are limited to an immediate coterie audience. Other poems, such as those addressed to his sister Phebe on the topic of lent, and an ‘Invitation to Breakfast’ to Peter Leicester, have some positive turns but are a little meandering.

The collection of poems put together by Thyer is an interesting and neglected document, which tells us about the ways poetry was read in the eighteenth century, as well as about the kind of relationship between Thyer and Byrom. Byrom’s journals suggest that it was by turns both intimate and distant, admiring yet unequal. Thyer, in all his modesty, is impressed by Byrom as an unknown admirer might be, yet has the bibliographic caché to make himself useful to the more famous figure. The manuscript copies of Byrom’s poetry he made reflect this. Although privileging famous poems that anyone could have accessed, one way or another, Thyer also records some of Byrom’s more intimate (and less adept) writing, in a way that no-one else did (at least, so far as we can tell). Chetham’s Library A.3.73 may now just be another book on the shelves, but that book was an important part of real social relations.


1. See Genuine Remains in Verse and Prose of Samuel Butler (1759), and Thomas Newton’s Variorum edition of Milton’s Paradise Lost (1763).
2. Remains, vol. 1 part 2, pp. 509-510, 515, 519).
3. Thyer would then have been a recent graduate, still a couple of years before he would become librarian at Chetham’s: see C. W. Sutton, ‘Thyer, Robert (bap. 1709, d. 1781)’, rev. Michael Powell, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/27419, accessed 28 Sept 2012]
4. (2.1.198). This is March of that year, I think.
5. Remains, vol 2, part 1, p. 197 in March 1738. Or alternatively: Remains, Vol. 2 part 1 p. 301, March 1740.