Some of you will remember the recent blog post covering conservation and how we care for the books and library space. In this post we will be discussing our recent installation of conservation blinds within the library and the negative impact sunlight has on historical objects. We would also like to extend warm and heartfelt thanks to the DCMS/Wolfson Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund whose generous support made it possible, among several other equally good things, for us to acquire and install the specialist conservation blinds.
The Fund and DCMS staff made it easy for us as an outfit with a very small staff to work with them, and were generally lovely. We’re also grateful to Mark Pearce of KPS architects, H. Lord & Son, Joiners, and Sun-X, all of whom worked with us to make the project a success under the tricky constraints of a 1420s, grade-one listed building!
The notoriously strong Manchester sunshine pouring in – nice for people, not for books
The installation of these blinds falls into the preventative conservation category as they help to prevent the damage to our books caused by sunlight. They are made from a material that allows visitors to still see out of the window but blocks harmful UV light. In conservation terms, the exposure of historic objects to sunlight is referred to as lux levels. Lux hours is the unit used to measure the time of exposure of objects to light. In the museum environment light sensitive objects have recommended light levels allocated to them. The highly sensitive objects which include paper and dyed leather is 50 LUX, whereas moderately sensitive items are allowed 200 Lux.
The library aims to keep light exposure for very light sensitive material to below 150,000 lux-hours per year and for less sensitive material to below 300,000 lux-hours per year. This equation is based on the average opening times of museums in the UK being 3000 hours per year, for example 50lux X 3000 hours = 150 000 lux hours. This is monitored and recorded through our light plan and hand-held Solex Digital Lux Meter.
A new Sun-X blind in place – UV greatly reduced, but the view still there
This brings us to the importance of our conservation blinds; these have been created with the express purpose of limiting lux levels within the heritage environment. The company used was SunX, whose products are created to National Trust specifications and are tailored to suit individual requirements. They are unique in that they are very discrete and do not impact on visitor experience once in place.
The blinds actually improve visibility of the building and collections by reducing glare
Due to the library being housed in a 15th century building, new panels had to be added to our window frames not only to hold the blinds securely, but more importantly to replace the nasty, black-painted hardboard that had been substituted some time in the 20th century for the original oak panels in the window heads. The City Council Conservation Officer mandated (as appropriate for a grade one listed building) that the hardboard had to be replaced with hand-made oak panels. Architect Mark worked with Lord and Son to get these made – as always in the medieval building, no two panels were quite the same!
Before – crumbling hardboard tacked over the medieval roof timbers and painted black
This involved a new panel for almost every window in the two wings of the Library, and great was the amount of dust and number of old birds’ nests that came down with the hardboard.
After – handmade oak panels match the few existing originals in the window-heads, and the panelling in the reveals
It has been a lot of work! However the results are virtually invisible, provide the gold standard in conservation care regarding light exposure and Lux Levels, and will improve the visitor experience by making it easier to see what’s on the Library’s shelves.
Since my last blog post on the Gorton Chest Library back in February 2019, I have made considerable progress in analysing the books in its collection, and I’m pleased to be able to share some of it with you here.
When Humphrey Chetham died in September 1653, he bequeathed £200 to found five parish libraries that were to be placed in Manchester Collegiate Church (now the Cathedral) and Bolton Parish Church, as well as the chapels of Gorton, Turton and Walmsley. Chetham had a personal connection to all of these locations. The £200 was divided between the libraries according to the size of the church: the bigger the church, the more money it was allocated. Manchester Collegiate Church was allowed £70, the parish church in Bolton was given £50, the chapels of Gorton and Turton were allotted £30 each, and Walmsley, the smallest of the five and the only library that never seems to have reached completion, was allocated £20 for purchasing books.
The will stipulated that the books had to be written in English, and of a ‘godly’ nature. The trustees of Chetham’s Library kept invoices that recorded the titles of the books they bought, how much each of the books in for the parish libraries cost, and the date they were delivered to Manchester from the bookseller in London. One invoice, detailing the books that were sent to the Gorton Chest Library, can be seen below.
Just a quick flick down the lists will show you works by key Protestant authors like Isaac Ambrose, Richard Baxter, Thomas Cartwright, John Dod, John Calvin and Arthur Hildersam. These were core Protestant texts that show us that the aim of library is to educate people in this religion, improving their relationship with God and their spirituality. Each of these books included messages to their readers that they were supposed to read, understand and apply to their everyday lives in order to make them better people, and better Protestants. They were purchased with one goal in mind: the spiritual and religious education of the laity.
We can often tell what early modern readers thought of their books by looking at the notes and marks they made in them, known collectively as marginalia. The books in the Gorton Chest and Chetham’s other parish libraries were bought second-hand, so we have no way of knowing whether the libraries’ users made the marks in the books. Even if they didn’t, and the marks were made before they were bought and put into the libraries, the marginalia remain an important feature, as they would have impacted on how the later readers understood the messages within the books. Some examples of the different kinds of annotations – and the name of a previous owner/reader, Ruth Scudamore – can be seen in the images below.
Readers of the books now in the Gorton Chest Library were seemingly very interested in the topics of sin and the desire to live a godly life in preparation for death. Readers of Richard Rogers’s Seven Treatises highlighted the idea that people have no power to remove their own sin and that they should repent and put their trust in God to lessen their sins. The whole point of a godly life, was to make a good death and achieve salvation. Authors like William Perkins, whose works are included in Gorton’s collection, urged his readers to actively practised their religion through the exercises of faith, repentance and obedience to God, and in one of his books, a reader has underlined Perkins’s statement that people should do ‘everyday while he is living that which he would do when he is dying’ as the surest way of achieving salvation and entry into heaven.
The marginalia tells us that these books were read closely, and understood and interpreted in a way that demonstrates both the applicability of the texts to people’s own lives, but also the commitment of the reader to the kind of moral and behavioural code that was a prerequisite of the godly living necessary for salvation.
It is no secret that Chetham’s library has a significantly important scholarly collection. There are over 120,000 printed items, over half of these were published before 1850. These include particularly rich collections of sixteenth and seventeenth-century printed works, periodicals, journals broadsides and other ephemera. This is in addition to over forty medieval manuscripts, including the thirteenth-century Flores Historiarum of Matthew Paris. What perhaps is less well know is how such objects are cared for.
Today we are going to delve into the world of book conservation. These are expensive and time precious, but essential practices. Generous visitor donations, tours and merchandise sales all contribute to the preservation of our historic collection. Book Conservation is a wide field that can be broken down into two areas, preventative and interventive conservation. Both are carried out for the library by specially trained members of staff and accredited conservators.
Essential conservation work being carried out In studio by Cyril Formby to restore one of our books to usable condition.
Library staff carry out preventative conservation daily. This as the name suggests, tries to prevent damage to our books and manuscripts before it begins. Areas include environmental control, integrated pest management, best handling practice and disaster salvage planning. As conservation is such a specialised field the Library has several policies in place, regulated by Arts Council England as a part of the Museum Accreditation Scheme to ensure best practice and only the most up to date methods are used in house.
Interventive conservation on the other hand is a much more hands on approach which crosses over into the field of restoration. Restoration is the practice of restoring an object to almost new condition. This is a fine line that many heritage organisations must walk as too much repair can wipe out historic use, which can sometimes be the most important part of an object. Or methods can be used that are not known to be scientifically stable and can look amazing for a few years, only to break down and destroy the material in the future. Interventive conservation is used to repair the books to a usable state, this is necessary as Chetham’s is a working collection with user accessibility at its core. It should also be noted, that work is carried out by professionals in a way that is reversable if needed in the future.
Here is one of our lucky books receiving treatment known as gold tooling. This is a practice where the title, author and volume number is impressed with gold leaf. It became very popular as books became a symbol of wealth throughout history, but is often the first thing to wear away over time.
Interventive Conservation is a costly service which can vary from £200 to over £1000 per book depending on size and treatment required. As Chetham’s is an independent charity we rely heavily on visitor numbers and donations to undertake this. Essential treatment can include anything from paper repair to complete rebinding. Due to cost only the most important and popular items can be given treatment. A way round this can be the production of facsimiles (a copy of the original), a slightly cheaper but still costly undertaking. Over the years many of our treasures have been sent out for interventive studio work to specialist accredited conservator Cyril Formby of Formbys Ltd.
Here is Cyril preparing Japanese tissue paper for one of our paper repairs. Japanese tissue paper is the gold standard in paper repairs due to its acid free organic properties and long fibres. The repair is also weaker than the original paper so can be undone if mistakes are made.
There are many interesting and historically valuable bindings in the Library’s collections; you can read more about them in two blog posts by Nathan Shipstone, who was a placement student at the Library in 2016, one on vellum bindings and one on leather:
In mid-March 2020 we were planning to exhibit some of Chetham’s Library’s early atlases, to provide an insight into how knowledge of the world was expanding in the late 16th and early 17th century. Before we could get the volumes off the shelves and into display mode – whoosh, lock-down came and our own worlds began to shrink. It’s interesting to consider, in these strange times, the contrast between the lives and work of the intrepid explorers who brought back new information, and the networks which linked them with the small and specialist world of mainly desk-bound mathematician-cartographers who used the new information to create the most astonishing and beautiful maps.
In 1570, map and book-making history was made when Abraham Ortelius, a Flemish book collector and engraver published the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, often known as the first world atlas. Although sheet maps had been in existence for centuries, it was only now that they bagan to be bound together in book form.
Chetham’s library has no copy of this great book but it does have a 1596 edition of Ortelius’s weighty geographical dictionary, the Thesaurus Geographicus, which was an explanatory volume. However, we do have editions of the work of his compatriot, friend and colleague, Gerardus Mercator.
Mercator was an armchair cartographer who used his mathematical and calligraphical skills to present information attractively, if soberly, on his maps. His fame rests primarily on the map projection, first printed in 1569, named after him and still in use today. Despite the distortion near the Poles, it accurately depicts the shape and direction of land masses and sailors came to rely on it. His work also enshrined the convention, started by Ptolemy, of putting North at the top – a convention which is only now being questioned because of the colonialist implication it may carry of the superiority of northern lands and races.
As Ortelius was producing his World Atlas in the 1570s, Mercator was working on the first Atlas of Europe, at the behest of the heir to the Duchy of Cleves who needed a decent guide-book for his forthcoming European tour. In order to produce it, Mercator cut up several examples of his own wall maps of the world, Europe (1554) and Great Britain and Ireland (1564), adapting them to a book format. Later, he added hand-drawn scale-bars and titles and then supplemented this collection with printed maps published by Ortelius himself. He didn’t live to see the finished version, but Mercator’s Atlas was finally published by his family in 1596.
The small, scholarly world of Mercator and Ortelius was also inhabited by a far-from shadowy figure who provides a link with Chethams. John Dee, a celebrity in his day as now,renaissance scientist, astrologer, alchemist and occultist, was appointed late in life, from 1595 until his death in 1609, Warden of the Collegiate Church (now Manchester Cathedral). It is even thought that the young Humphrey Chetham may have met Dee during this time, and in turn there is a link between Dee and Mercator, evidenced by surviving correspondence between the two men.
Dee was 19 when he first visited Mercator in Louvain and registered as a student there. Coming back to England after three years, he brought maps, globes and astronomical instruments and in return furnished Mercator with the latest English texts and new geographical knowledge arising from the English explorations of the world. Thirty years later they were still co-operating, Dee using Mercator’s maps to convince the English court to finance Martin Frobisher’s expeditions and Mercator still avidly seeking information about new territories. In the late 1570s, Dee was disseminating some extraordinary claims that a vast tract of the northern globe had once been conquered and ruled by King Arthur, and that Queen Elizabeth thus had the right to establish an empire there. Mercator wrote to Dee in 1577 providing notes based on his own researches to support this theory. Some scholars are still on the trail of King Arthur’s occupation of Greenland and North America.
Mercator’s Atlas did not sell as well as the more sophisticated work of Ortelius. And yet it was Mercator in the end, rather than Ortelius, who became the more famous. This was largely due to an entrepreneurial Flemish engraver, Jodocus Hondius, who in 1604 bought the plates of the Atlas from Mercator’s grandson. He went on to republish it with thirty-six additional maps, including several of his own. It is the Hondius version, published in Amsterdam in 1623, which was acquired by Chetham’s library in 1693.
The title page of this volume carries weighty symbolism and classical allusion, but is softened by the friendly creature with its paw on the globe, captioned ‘printed under the watchful dog’. It is made generously clear that this is the work of Mercator, the name of Jodocus not appearing at all, and his son, Henricus given a mention only in the very small print. After the title page, however, we are treated to a more assertive representation of Jodocus Hondius where he gives himself equal billing with the great man. The pair are shown fancifully sharing a study and wielding their compasses and globes. Hondius would have been in his early 30s by the time Mercator died at the age of 82 and it is quite possible the couple did meet, if not in quite such a heavily symbolic setting.
Many of the maps in the 1623 Atlas are surprisingly detailed and accurate, but Mercator and Hondius made no bones about the actual and imagined dangers of sea travel and exploration.
Such dangers might take the form of shipwreck, attack by monsters, or, for the very unlucky, both.
A more local illustration shows a hairy and anthropomorphised creature apparently making its escape from the Fylde coast.
And something more self-sufficient allows a galleon safe passage in the Irish Ocean.
Hondius himself was a distinguished figure in the mapmaking world. He grew up in Ghent and became established as an engraver and instrument maker there and in Amsterdam. In 1584, to escape religious difficulties, Hondius moved to London, where he was instrumental in publicising, through maps, the work of Frances Drake, who had circumnavigated the world in the late 1570s. It is very likely that Hondius too would have met John Dee during these years. Hondius was a skilled artist and at least two portraits of Drake, now in the National Portrait Gallery, are attributed to him.
The new edition of Mercator’s work was a great success, selling out after a year. Hondius’s sons later successfully published further Latin editions, as well as a pocket version, Atlas Minor. Hondius died aged 48 in 1612 back in Amsterdam. His publishing work was continued by his widow, two sons, Jodocus II and Henricus, and his son-in-law.
Chethams Library also holds a later version of the Atlas, still credited to Mercator and based on his work. The difference is that it is an English translation of the Hondius edition by Henry Hexham, a distinguished army captain. Hexham was a prolific military writer, providing accounts of sieges, battles and campaigns. Perhaps the most intriguing of his titles is A Tongue Combat lately happening between two English Souldiers … the one going to serve the King of Spain, the other to serve the States Generall
Copious English and Nether-duytch Dictionarie, of which Chethams also has an early copy.
These and other Dutch and Flemish cartographers who made such important contributions to the science and art of mapmaking inhabited the small world of ‘the Low Countries’, centred on Antwerp and Amsterdam and often depicted on maps and in heraldry as the ‘Leo Belgicus.’ Jodocus Hondius made his own spectacular version of this in 1611.
As Dutch, English, Spanish and Portuguese adventurers roamed the world in search of gold and glory, the cartographers, men of science who created works of art, inhabited their own small world of curiosity and co-operation, often in the context of flourishing family businesses. Finding ourselves as limited in our travel capacity as the Flemish cartographers were and inhabiting just as small a world bounded by monsters of reality and imagination, we are driven to flights of fancy. Imagine a Zoom screen with Ortelius, Mercator, Dee, Hondius, Hexham and others sharing their ideas against a backdrop of wall maps and Dutch interiors…
Wednesday, 25 March is and was the date traditionally know as ‘Lady Day’, the Feast of the Annunciation, marking the visit of the angel to the Virgin (hence ‘Lady’) narrated in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. One of the most frequently depicted scenes in western Christian art, the Annunciation very often employs an image of the Virgin kneeling to read, while the Angel Gabriel appears, often with the first words of his message (‘Ave Gratia Plena, Dominus [tecum] – Hail, full of grace, the Lord [is with thee]’) in the form of a scroll. God the Father often appears towards the top of the image, with the Holy Spirit depicted descending towards the figure of Mary. Once Mary’s reply (‘Be it unto me according to they word’ in the AV) is made, the events of another quarter day, Christmas Day, are set.
Annunciation from a Book of Hours printed on Vellum, ca. 1500
The image we present here is taken from a Book of Hours here at Chetham’s Library, a book which was part of the gift of the library of Manchester scholar, shorthand master and hymn-writer John Byrom (1692-1793) (More on his life on our blog here, and on his collection here).
John Byrom in his youth
This easily portable little book presents a series of Catholic devotions that would have been universally familiar to pre-Reformation peoples from across Western Europe and beyond, and contains sets of prayers to be said at the various hours of the day (hence Book of Hours). Manuscript copies (of which Chetham’s has three, and many other great libraries have many more) are often illuminated with rich colours, but with the automation of book production represented by printing with movable types, the Book of Hours was an obvious choice for the printer. This image comes from the “Little Office of the Virgin”, that’s to say the prayers specifically to commemorate Mary’s role in salvation, and the most popularly prayed and reproduced. The cycle, like the much more extensive offices for clergy to say through the day, draws most of its text from the Psalms. Our copy is printed with several more “little offices”, and more besides, making it a one-volume library of devotional prayer. If you search ‘Tabula omnium officiorum et orationum’ in our printed books catalogue, you will see how many things it includes.
The book in hand here may be regarded as distinctly a ‘luxury’ edition, printed on vellum (or for manuscript people, parchment; the terms are usually interchangeable) rather than paper, and hand finished with illuminators’ colours of red and blue, and with gold leaf.
The story of the Annunciation in Luke, Chapter 1, in the Library’s Wycliffite New Testament manuscript
The illustration shows a page of one of the Library’s Middle English manuscript, which presents a text of the New Testament in a translation ascribed to the Oxford scholar John Wycliffe: ‘The angel Gabriel was sent fro God into a cite of Galilee whos name was nazareth to a maiden weddid to a man; whos name was ioseph, of the hous of davits, and the name of the maiden ws Marie, and the angel entride to hir and said hail ful of grace : the lord be with thee. blessed be you among wymen’.
To return to the quarter days, much significance attached to the spring quarter day, Lady Day, in addition to its religious and liturgical significance. Along with the other quarter days in England (Christmas Day, the Nativity of St John Baptist on 24 June and Michaelmas on 29 September), it was a day for the payment of rents, settlement of debts, and of course, a feast.
Lady day was, until 1752, the most significant quarter day in that it also represented the beginning of the New Year. Only after this date did 1 January become used for official purposes, even though 1 January was celebrated. This is one meaning of the two significant uses of the phrase “Old Style” describing a given year – the other is the belated adoption in England of the Gregorian calendar (used now in most of the world) to replace the Julian calendar, which had crept out of synchronisation because of its failure to allow for the earth’s orbit of the sun not being measurable in complete days. Confused?
In the sense of New and Old Style years that have to do with Lady day, we can’t do better than quote from an excellent explanatory example from this excellent Wikipedia article :
“From 1155 to 1752, the civil or legal year in England began on 25 March, so for example the execution of Charles I was recorded at the time in parliament as happening on 30 January 1648 (Old Style). In newer English language texts this date is usually shown as “30 January 1649” (New Style). The corresponding date in the Gregorian calendar is 9 February 1649, the date by which his contemporaries in some parts of continental Europe would have recorded his execution.”
So Happy New Old Style Year, everyone! We hope you’ve enjoyed Lady Day indoors; do come to see the Library once we’re all liberated again!
We were very pleased to receive this blog post from last year’s researcher-in-residence, Verônica Calsoni Lima. Verônica was with us for some extended research into censorship in England in the Restoration era, and gave a public lecture on the subject in our Baronial Hall. Here she reflects on some aspects of working on our collections and exemplifies some of what can be learned from particular copies of early printed books. Verônica writes :
I would venture to say that everyone interested in visiting Chetham’s Library is a book lover. I also think that everyone who has had the privilege of walking around its stone walls and wooden shelves, has marvelled at the library’s beauties. The building itself, a 15th century construction, astonishes, and the treasures kept inside, which are from a variety of places and periods, are even more breath-taking.
As a book historian, Chetham’s Library was a must-see for me. As the oldest public library in Britain, it has an amazing collection of manuscripts and printed texts which can supply sources for all sorts of research projects. I had the great opportunity to visit the library and consult its books, pamphlets and documents regularly as a research fellow between 2018 and 2019. The time I spent there was extremely important for my current research on 17th century seditious and clandestine ephemera in England. Besides being able to locate texts related to my subject, Chetham’s collection provided me with many unexpected materials which expanded my knowledge and challenged me with surprising pieces.
Chetham’s texts have a long history not only because of their issuing date, but also due to their provenance and permanence in the collection. As polysemic and meaningful objects, books carry several marks of their existence and use. They might have been read many times by different people who left notes; they might have been kept together with other texts suggesting a reader’s agenda; they might be bound or not, torn apart or in perfect shape. Every detail helps book historians to understand a little more about them. In this post, I want to introduce a snippet of what can be found when consulting Chetham’s items.
Most libraries have rebound their books for conservational and organizational purposes. Sometimes covers have been so destroyed by insects, fungus and chemical reactions that they could compromise the integrity of the entire volume, hence requiring a replacement. Other times rebinding aimed to better accommodate the items on the bookshelves. Although libraries have discarded many covers, nowadays they take extra effort to preserve original bindings since they provide amazing sources of information about books’ provenance. This happened at Chetham’s; however, a great number of items remain still untouched.
In John Byrom’s collection kept at Chetham’s Library, for example, we may find 18th century bindings, as in his copy of Paracelsus’s Aurora of the Philosophers (1659). As it is a 17th century edition of the book, this may not be its first cover, but this is the cover which shielded the book while it was in Byrom’s private library. In fact, books were usually sold unbound and were kept like that unless the owner was wealthy enough to take his/her items to a bookbinder. For specialists on bindings, this specimen provides useful information about the books’ circulation (was it bound in England or elsewhere?) and provenance (who owned it?), the techniques used in the manufacturing (what is the material of the cover? How was the spine constructed?), and when it was acquired (are there dates or other details which indicate a period?).
Figure 1: BYROM2.K.1.27
Both in old and modern bindings, Chetham’s has many Sammelbändes. According to Jeffrey Todd Knight, Sammelbändes are book compilations bound together by an owner interested in interacting with his/her texts. Sammelbändes usually reflect readers’ interests and perspectives, suggesting interpretations and appropriations of the writings they owned. This Renaissance practice of binding different texts together is responsible for allowing many ephemera to survive. Owners would not spend money purchasing a cover for a small pamphlet, ballad or news sheet, but would see no problem in attaching it to more valuable items. Volumes organised by previous owners did not always remain unchanged. Later owners or libraries might have altered them. As Sammelbändes are complete miscellanies, they did not necessarily have homogenous features (such as genres, sizes, formats, etc), therefore, modern libraries tended to unbind some volumes and restructure them according to subjects, textual genres or sizes (in order to fit bookshelves). The volumes collected by Anthony Wood in Oxford, for instance, have been modified multiple times since they arrived at the Bodleian. Librarians, archivists and historians are sometimes able to reassemble the original organisation thought by early readers, but lots of information are lost in the process.
Although many volumes have been rearranged in Chetham’s Library throughout its history, we still find many types of Sammelbändes. Some specimens even carry indexes, such as the examples below. These tems may tell us many details about early owners or even the library’s former cataloguing practices.
Figure 2: MAIN H.3.77 and MAIN 4.C.2.35.
Occasionally collectors were kind enough to provide us the prices of individual items and/or the entire volume, allowing us to consider the economic history of the book in Early Modern England.
Figure 3: W4.47.13337.
Readers’ and owners’ notes are always extremely helpful to researchers, since they provide us glimpses into how texts could have been interpreted and understood in the past; or even how paper was reused in the past (as paper was very expensive, it is not unusual to find notes unrelated to the topics of the book, such as diary entries, lettering studies, lists, etc). On the verse of this text title-page, for example, there is an annotation dated from 14th July 1706 mentioning a discussion on the subjects of the Articles Agreed upon by the Archbishops & Bishops (1669) between Church ministers.
Figure 4: WATT 11.C.2.20(6).
Chetham’s collection is a perfect example of how libraries and archives are evolving institutions. As researchers with short deadlines and multiple tasks to carry on, we are used to simply requesting and studying a specific item, without paying attention to the text’s surroundings. Nevertheless, the fascinating books available at Chetham’s Library compel us to explore further details, leaf through small or large volumes alike, and understand the broader context of written materials. Books at Chetham’s (if I may borrow John Milton’s words) are not dead things, they can still surprise us more and more. I invite curious readers, book lovers and book historians to spend some time there reading and discovering more about the past.
One of the most notable features of the Reading Room at Chetham’s Library is a stunning carved and painted tympanum above the fireplace featuring heraldry and emblems relating to Humphey Chetham, the founder of the Library and School. The craftsman has included images of two symbolic birds: a cockerel to suggest vigilance and hard work and a pelican feeding her young with her own blood, a traditional symbol of Christ’s sacrifice.
From the earliest times humans have seen birds both as a source of food (the farming of poultry and the use of hawks for hunting developed long before written records began) but also as mysterious creatures with supernatural connections to all things celestial. At the Library we currently have on display a small selection of the library’s books about birds dating from the seventeenth to the twentieth century.
The earliest books about birds were based largely on superstition, folklore and writings by previous authors. Aristotle, the Greek philosopher and scientist, was an inspiration to early naturalists but his mistaken belief that swallows hibernate in mud over the winter continued for centuries. The story of the pelican feeding her chicks with her own blood was also accepted as scientific fact for several hundred years.
In contrast to these ‘flights of fancy’, the British Library owns a surprising number of medieval manuscripts which were written as very practical manuals on hunting and hawking. We have included an early printed example from our own collection, by Nicholas Cox, published in 1677:
The gentleman’s recreation: in four parts, viz. hunting, hawking, fowling, fishing. Wherein these generous exercises are largely treated of, and the terms of art for hunting and hawking more amply enlarged than heretofore.
The work which many scientists believe changed everything, the first truly scientific study of birds, was published (in Latin) in 1676:
Willughby’s Ornithology (1676)
Willughby was an exceptionally clever and very wealthy young man who was fascinated by natural history. John Ray (the son of a blacksmith) was his Cambridge tutor, friend and colleague. The pair travelled within Britain and abroad in the 1660s and the classification system which they developed still forms the basis of current systems. Firstly they divided birds into land or water birds. Then land birds were divided into those with crooked beaks and claws and those with straight beaks. Water birds were basically either ‘waders’ or ‘swimmers’.
Sadly, Willughby died at the age of 36 years so Ornithologia was edited by Ray and published posthumously in London in 1676. (An English edition, Ornithology, followed in 1678 and Chetham’s has a copy of this also.)
Interestingly, Willughby’s wife Emma paid for the 80 metal-engraved plates that completed the work, and this is acknowledged on the title page. The 77 illustrations came from various sources, some were copies made from the collection of pictures and specimens owned by Willughby, while others were commissioned by Ray.
From this time the scientific description and classification of different species became increasingly important, as overseas voyages and expeditions discovered many new and exotic birds and brought home specimens.
Illustrations were recognised as being essential in books about birds but the quality varied greatly. Those drawn from specimens (dead or alive) tended to be more accurate than those taken from sketches made in the field.
Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière (1749-1804)
The elegant image of a Hobby posed against classical ruins is from one of the nine volumes on birds which were part of Buffon’s Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière published in Paris between 1749-1804. The Histoire was an ambitious project to produce an account of the whole of nature in 50 volumes by Georges Louis Leclerc, later Count de Buffon, who became keeper of the Jardin du Roi (Royal Botanical Garden) in Paris at the age of 32.
The Histoire was designed as much as a coffee table book as a scientific work and it was a great success. Wealthy homes in both England and France purchased copies, and the first edition was sold out within six weeks. However, Buffon was much criticised by scientists for his unscientific approach, by theologians for expressing views which challenged the biblical account of creation and even by writers and academics for his flowery, over-elaborate writing style.
A completely different work of ornithology, published at the same time as Buffon, was The History of British Birds (1797-1804) by ThomasBewick, the 18th-century wood engraver famed for his finely-detailed, imaginative illustrations. Bewick’s revolutionary technique and artistic skill are said to have revived the medium of wood-engraving. The History of British Birdsexamines each major British bird species, with detailed written observations and precise engravings. But the book also contains unusual ‘tail-pieces’, small images often no bigger than a coin that fill the available space at the end of a chapter. These images depict a widerange of subjects, from innocent scenes of rural life to bizarre and disturbing fantasiesfeaturing drunks, fools and devils.
History of British Birds
Both ornithologists and the general public were delighted and beguiled by Bewick’s work. His famous contemporary John James Audubon, the American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter, praised it, enthusing about the little tail pieces, and in Charlotte Bronte’s novel, Jane Eyre declares that ‘with Bewick on my knee, I was then happy…’
Another northern bird enthusiast was Frederick Shaw Mitchell, author of The Birds of Lancashire, published in 1885. His family owned the Primrose Paper Mill near Clitheroe where Fred was a manager, but in 1880 they were taken to court for allegedly polluting the river Ribble and were found guilty. It was a financial disaster from which they didn’t recover, and in 1891 Fred and his wife Lizzie emigrated to Canada and became ‘homesteaders’, settling in a log cabin and bringing up their family there, never to return to Lancashire.
Ironically, Fred had written about the impact of industry on birds in the book:
‘The way in which birds are driven away by the extension of buildings, and by the conversion of a rural into an urban locality may well be instanced by the case of Peel Park, Salford … Mr John Plant has kindly permitted me to use his notes, which have been carefully kept since 1850 and show…’ [A table is inserted here showing a decline from 71 species observed in 1850-60 to a mere 5 species in 1882]. He goes on to discuss the impact of destruction of natural food, loss of protective foliage etc and of the ‘vitiated atmosphere’.
Our final two selections are from the famous twentieth-century series of King Penguins. This series covered a variety of topics and ran to 76 volumes with the final book published in 1959. The covers were original commissions but the illustrations in the earlier books were often reproductions of the work of well known artists. We have a copy of the very first book in the series British birds on lake, river and stream, written by Phyllis Barclay Smith and published in 1939, just a few weeks after war broke out. The book used images taken from John Gould’s celebrated work Birds of Great Britain first published between 1863-73 and often described as the most sumptuous and costly of British bird books.
Colour plates by John Gould for British birds on lake, river and steam (Penguin, 1939)
Our other King Penguin is Birds of the Sea published in 1945, which has a cover by the designer Enid Marx.
Cover design by Enid Marx for Birds of the Sea (Penguin, 1945)
The one thing we haven’t included is a bird spotter’s guide – the sort of pocket-sized handbook that serious twitchers could take out on field trips. Although people can now carry guides to birds on their smart phones, many of these, both online and printed, still feature illustrations rather than photographs. Artists can ensure, in a way that a photographer often can’t, that all distinguishing features are clearly visible to help identification. Ornithology in the 21st century is still a science where amateurs make significant contributions to our knowledge.
We’re delighted to welcome to the blog Verônica Calsoni Lima, PhD student (University of Sao Paulo & The Sao Paulo Research Foundation) and Visiting Research Fellow at Chetham’s Library and Goldsmiths, University of London.
Verônica is researching censorship and illegal printing in seventeenth-century England, and here explains the historical context for her project and fascinating discoveries about the visual and material aspects of the printed texts.
In 1660, Charles II was restored to the throne. It marked the end of two decades of revolutionary turbulence. But though the monarchy was reestablished, the political and religious controversies were not completely contained. Since the restoration of the monarchy was not well received by all subjects, some still protested against the king and desired the return of a Commonwealth regime. The government put great effort into extinguishing these echoes by reinforcing control and censorship. Opponents were persecuted and imprisoned, traitors were executed, plots were rapidly discovered and suppressed, and antiroyalist propaganda was vigorously seized.
The authorities certainly knew the dangerous potential of the printing press. Fearing the emergence of another turbulent moment such as the period from 1641 to 1660, the recently restored government rapidly tried to restrain the production and commerce of printed texts. Spies were employed to search for seditious activities and older legislation concerning the regulation of the press was reinforced, demanding the licensing of texts prior to their production, forbidding controversial topics and limiting the number of print shops.
One of the most enthusiastic defenders of strict censorship was Sir Roger L’Estrange (1616-1704). He seized seditious literature in printing workshops and bookshops, suggested measures for the improvement of press control and, in 1663, was named by Charles II as Surveyor of the Press. Under L’Estrange’s rule, stationers faced many constraints, having their houses searched frequently and their materials apprehended at the slightest suspicion of sedition. Some of them even complained to the Stationers’ Company and other authorities against the harassment they were constantly suffering because of L’Estrange’s policy.
At the same time as censoring and suppressing dangerous pamphlets and books, L’Estrange also employed his time and effort in replying to these texts. A prolific pamphleteer, he wrote numerous works denouncing seditious literature and its producers. Together with his friend and publisher, the bookseller Henry Brome (c.1620s-1681) who was settled at the sign of the Gun in Ivy-Lane in London, L’Estrange managed to establish a distinctive mark in his pamphlets, both discursively and materially.
Sample title-pages from L’Estrange and Brome’s publications.
Their frontispieces were intended to be eye-catching. They usually had appealing titles in large bold letters, with subtitles mentioning the targeted opponents.
The pages of L’Estrange’s and Brome’s works were composed to graphically represent a debate, with multiple voices and arguments. As can be seen in the example below, Gothic and Roman fonts were both used. The first was employed to print the words of L’Estrange opponents, against monarchy:
“I do acknowledge and Declare that the Warre undertaken by Both houses of Parliament in their Defence against the forces raised in the Name of the Late King, was Just and Lawfull”.
The second font was used to analyse and criticize the quotation. Gothic was commonly employed in ballads and more popular genres. Hence it was frequently associated with readers of lower social status. Its presence on the page is significant, as a way to depreciate the anti-royalist discourse, and, at the same time, exalt L’Estrange’s position.
Sample page from Interest Mistaken, or The Holy Cheat (1661).
Debating, both in oral and written traditions, was a common practice among politicians, philosophers, theologians, and all kinds of authors. With the advent of the movable press, debates had to be reshaped to fit the printed page. Opposing points of view had to be represented in paper sheets in a way that the reader could distinguish between them. For that purpose, many texts combined simple Roman and italic types: Roman for the author’s speech and italics for quoting his or her opponent. Quotation marks, spacing and typographical signs could also be used in order to improve the readers’ experience. In this sense, L’Estrange’s and Brome’s publications were not unique in a universe of printed disputes. Notwithstanding, their pamphlets were quite ingenious in the visual organisation of the debates. Their texts were composed with many resources: Roman and Gothic types; upper cases; small caps; bold and italic letters, quotation marks, asterisks, dashes and other symbols; lines, borders and marginal notes. Everything was employed to give the impression of a heated debate.
Sample pages from Interest Mistaken, or The Holy Cheat (1661).
Combined with witty and violent arguments from L’Estrange towards his opponents, his pages are like battle scenes.
No Blinde Guides title-page (1660).
In No Blinde Guides, L’Estrange replied to a pamphlet by the poet John Milton (1608-1674), Brief notes upon a late sermon, titl’d, The fear of God and the King, in which the author demonstrated his discontentment with the Restoration. According to Milton, the monarchy’s reestablishment was against God’s will. L’Estrange strongly disagreed and wrote a response in which the very title mocked Milton’s visual impairment, discrediting the poet’s guidance on political and religious matters, since he was blind. The offensive title was completed by a short note just before the imprint, quoting Matthew 15:14: If the Blinde lead the Blinde, Both shall fall into the Ditch. This alerted readers that if they believed Milton’s words, they would be as sightless and lost as him.
After this first attack, the next pages were filled with comments on direct quotations both from Brief notes andThe readie & easie vvay to establish a free Commonwealth, published by Milton in March 1660.
Section of page 11, No Blinde Guides (1660).
L’Estrange counteracted Milton’s beliefs, suggesting instead that a Commonwealth or the absence of a monarchy represented a state of anarchy. The chaotic atmosphere he imagines is emphasized by the visual composition of his sentences, in which italics, upper cases and Roman types are merged:
“If Kingship was never established, what was I beseech you? had we no Government? Nor could it be, you say: Alas then for your ready, and easie way to ESTABLISH a FREE COMMONWEALTH, what will become then of YOUR STANDING COUNCIL? If no certain form of Government can bind our posterity (as you affirm) Then is it free at any time for the People to Assemble, and Tumult, under the colour of a new Choyce.“
Rather than looking for conciliation, this polemical genre sought to show the difference among the points of view and guide the readers’ comprehension of the debate. The game of quoting and criticizing was used to polarize the discussion. Words could be printed in different fonts, weights, emphases, and sizes, in order to persuade the reader. So it is not only the contents of books and pamphlets which are significant. As Joseph Moxon (1627-1691), a typographer, remarked in one of his manuals: “a stationer should consider how to make his Indenting, Pointing, Breaking, Italicking, &c. the better [to] sympathize with the Authors Genius, and also with the capacity of the Reader.” Seventeenth-century audiences were probably aware of the devices employed in the production of their media and knew how to interpret them. As readers of a different time, we – historians, librarians, archivists, researchers, students and the curious more generally – should pay more attention to how the texts were displayed.
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Verônica presented her research in a free lunchtime talk at Chetham’s Library on Weds 3 Apr 2019. If you would like to see the slides from this event, including references for the books used, please click the following link: Pamphletwarsppt
Chetham’s Library holds a great deal of material relating to Peterloo and the divisive politics of the era. In the main, the collection comprises newspaper cuttings, leaflets (or ‘handbills’) and other printed ephemera, expressing the views of both reformers and their anti-radical opponents.
One of the most intriguing items, because it is so different from the rest, is this small book.
Shelfmark : Mun.A.2.14
Only 17 cm in height, it contains the handwritten memorandum of a meeting held on 27 August 1819, just a few weeks after the terrible events of Peterloo.
The meeting is called ‘Committee in aid of the Civil Power’, and their aim is to solicit donations for Special Constables who ‘have suffered or who may suffer in the discharge of their official duty during the disturbed state of these towns’.
After a series of agreements on how to administer the ‘relief subscriptions’, there follows a list of 114 donations made or pledged by individuals and local businesses, such as Hutchinson Mallalieu & Co, ironmongers and merchants trading in Cateaton Street (opposite Manchester Cathedral). Among the other recognisable names is Revd C. Wray, a popular (if eccentric) member of Manchester Cathedral’s clergy.
Names of the subscribers
Red ticks and the letters ‘pd’ indicate those who have paid up front. The subscriptions total £396 – a significant sum at the time, enough to have employed seven skilled tradesmen for a year.
Michael Powell (1955-2019) was Chetham’s Librarian for 35 years. His deep knowledge and collaborative spirit was integral to the Library’s success. Here he is, sharing his vision for the Library and his hopes for the future, in a short film made in 2017 by our friends at Belle Vue Productions.