Author Archives: ohdigital

  1. The Cross Dressing Chevalier d’Eon

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    The first article in the June 1810 copy of the ladies’ magazine La Belle Assemblée is described as being one in a series of biographical sketches and is entitled ‘Memoirs of the Chevalier d’Eon’. The accompanying engraved portrait features what appears to be a man wearing a woman’s dress and head-dress but with a military medal pinned to his shoulder. The article begins ‘The following life of the Chevalier d’Eon has been compiled with much care from a document which we believe to have been by his own hand. The facts will speak for themselves’.

    La Belle Assemblée, or Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine Addressed Particularly to the Ladies, was a monthly periodical which first appeared in February 1806 and continued (under that particular title) until 1832. It was published in two sections, with the first typically including a biographical sketch, a summary of current politics, a section for provincial news, reviews of paintings, books, music and the theatre, short stories and serialisations and a final section of notable births, marriages and deaths.

    La Belle Assemblee

    The second part of the magazine was devoted to fashion. It recorded the dress worn by the social elite at important events, and also included coloured fashion plates, with detailed descriptions, which were designed to enable ladies of fashion to have their local dressmakers copy them.


    The library has two bound volumes which include copies of La Belle Assemblee. The later volume contains editions of the magazine published from July to December 1827, but the earlier one is bound with three unrelated French publications (possibly on the grounds that it has a French title!)


    The story of Charles Geneviève Louis Auguste André Timothée d’Eon de Beaumont, diplomat, soldier, spy, and cross-dresser, provoked much interest during his own lifetime, with wagers being made as to his true sex, and his life has remained a subject of fascination ever since.

    D’Eon was from an old and noble family, and was a highly intelligent man and qualified lawyer who also became a prolific author. He became involved with the court and diplomatic service of Louis XV, operating as a spy and frequently in disguise. He later claimed that in 1755 he had attended a ball at Versailles dressed as a woman where, in the words of the DNB, ‘after briefly revealing his masculinity, [he] seduced Madame de Pompadour’.

    Between 1760 and 1762 he joined the French army and had a brief but dazzling military career against the Prussians. He then played a key role in negotiating the Peace of Paris in 1763, ending the seven years war between France and Britain, and was awarded the Order of St Louis, becoming a ‘chevalier’.

    By 1763 the Chevalier was effectively working in London as a spy for Louis XV and living on a lavish scale, entertaining such important names as Horace Walpole and David Hume, and spending his money on rare books and manuscripts, fine clothes, and corsets.

    However, he quarrelled with his superiors, tried to blackmail the French government by threatening to reveal official secrets and lost his French pension as a result. He remained deeply loyal to the king himself, from whom he received a secret pension until Louis died in May 1774. Eventually an agreement was reached that D’Eon could return to France if he handed over all his papers and also agreed to dress and live as a woman (apparently Marie Antoinette’s dressmaker was to provide his clothes). It is suggested that this was an attempt by the French government to control and disempower D’Eon, who refused and was actually imprisoned for appearing publicly in his military uniform.

    Finally, in 1785, the Chevalier returned to England, where he owed a great deal of money and became embroiled in legal disputes. Although he was by now in his sixties, to generate some income, he ended up giving fencing displays, dressed as a woman, and in partnership with Mrs Bateman, an actress and female fencer. Despite this he was briefly imprisoned for bankruptcy in 1804. During this period he was lodging in Milman Street in London with a Mrs Mary Cole with whom he lived, as a woman, for 14 years. He died there in May 1810 and a post mortem examination confirmed that ‘his male organs were perfectly formed’. This came as a great shock to Mrs Cole, who was apparently unaware of his birth gender.

    He was buried in St Pancras Old Churchyard (sadly the grave no longer exists) and, as he had failed to sign the will which he had drawn up, his papers and his belongings were sold by Christies in 1813.

    There have been a number of biographies of the Chevalier since his death, and much debate as to the extent to which he embraced the female role and whether he was a man who enjoyed occasional cross dressing, but was forced to permanently adopt a female identity against his will, or whether he might have described himself today as transgender.

    In 2012, the National Portrait Gallery purchased a very striking copy of a portrait of him, painted in 1791 by Jean Laurent Mosnier.

    by Thomas Stewart, after Jean Laurent Mosnier, 1792

    The NPG copy is by a theatrical painter called Thomas Stewart, and, as Philip Mould the London dealer who discovered it says, ‘What is so unusual about this portrait is that it is so brazenly demonstrative, in a period when you don’t normally get that type of alternative persona expressed in portraiture…There is no attempt to soften his physiognomy – basically, he was a bloke in a dress with a hat’

    The fascinating thing about the article in La Belle Assemblee is that it was published in an English ladies’ magazine within weeks of the Chevalier’s death and is both factual, respectful and sympathetic, with no hint of scandal or lasciviousness.

    Note: from the guide to the Beaumont Society, a support group for the transgender community, which took its name from the Chevalier d’Eon de Beaumont:

    “Cross-dressing means different things to different people and tends to be little understood, though work in recent years to change public attitudes means that it is, perhaps, no longer a subject of fear but seen as being a means of expression. It is a subject commonly treated in the press in a way that exploits for sensationalism, although women’s magazines do seem to be more understanding. Perhaps it is not seen as a threat to women as it is to men.”

  2. Eu(have got to be)clid(ding me)

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    The first English translation of Euclid was brought out by the printer John Daye in London in 1570. The translation was made by Henry Billingsley, (d.1606), a rich merchant who served as Lord Mayor of London. He was also a mathematics graduate of Cambridge University and well versed in Greek. Billingsley translated the thirteen books of Euclid from the Greek edition of Theon of Alexandria (ca. 390), added additional works attributed to Euclid, and included an extensive commentary. The resulting book was over a thousand pages long, and included a preface by John Dee, mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occultist, navigator, imperialist, consultant to Queen Elizabeth, who would later end up in the buildings now occupied by the Library as Warden of the College of Manchester. Dee’s Mathematical Preface surveyed all the branches of pure and applied mathematics of the time and is an extraordinary account of the philosophy of mathematics. For Dee, numbers were the basis of all things and the key to knowledge.

    The title of the book The elements of geometrie of the most auncient philosopher Euclide of Megara, confused Euclid of Alexandria with the Greek Socratic philosopher, Euclid of Megara; the two were frequently confused during the Renaissance. Getting the author mixed up is odd but the most striking feature of Billingsley’s English translation of Euclid are a set of pop-ups – pasted flaps of paper that can be folded up to produce three dimensional models of the propositions in Book XI. These geometrical solids, make this one of the oldest “pop-up” books in English.




  3. Letter from Waterloo

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    Guest blog by Library volunteer, Paul Carpenter
    Transcript of letter by Visitor Services Officer, Carlotta Dewald

    On 21 June 1815, three days after the Battle of Waterloo, Private James Wilson of the 1st Life Guards wrote a letter to his friend, Corporal Hemsleyin, which he described his part in the battle. Waterloo brought an end to Napoleon’s madcap scheme to re-establish his empire and ushered in a long period of peace in Western Europe after decades of internecine warfare. Wilson’s eye-witness account was recently donated to the Library as part of collection of family papers belonging to the Heywood family of Manchester and Liverpool.

    The British and their Allies were unprepared for war in 1815. Everyone assumed that the hard-won and costly victories of 1812 and 1813 had brought an end to Bonapartist despotism and that the former emperor was destined to a lonely exile on Elba. The story of the Hundred Days in which he re-established his army and his political dominium over France in early 1815 would be laughed out of any Hollywood script conference as utterly implausible. Nevertheless, in the Spring of that year the British Army found itself having to put an army into the field in Western Europe in a great hurry. Many of the veteran soldiers of the Peninsular campaign had been discharged, or their units had been disbursed overseas. Although there was a core of experienced officers and NCOs sent to the continent, many of the junior ranks were new recruits or volunteers from the militia. Many were very young and for many this was to be be their first action and also their last. It is quite likely that Pte. Wilson was one of those new recruits as he never mentioned any previous experience other than training exercises. 

    The fighting that James Wilson referred to on 16 June was in fact the opening salvo of Napoleon’s campaign. A scratch force of British, German and Dutch forces succeeded in holding the French Army at the strategic crossroads of Quatre Bras following an unexpected attack.  On the 17th Wellington was compelled to withdraw his forces to the more easily defended ridge of Mont St Jean, a difficult and dangerous manoeuvre. The British Army was able to pull back from Quatre Bras in good order thanks to the successful rear-guard action of British light cavalry. The 7th Hussars had enabled the army to get through the pinch point of the Village of Genappe but were then tasked with holding the French in the village and preventing a French breakthrough. As a light cavalry unit, they were ill equipped for this task. This is the point where Pte. Wilson’s unit, the 1st Life Guards, is called into action.

    Captain Kelly, referred to in the letter, was personally ordered to charge the French by Lord Uxbridge, Wellington’s second in command. The French Lancers, who were breaking out of the village, now posed a serious threat to the retiring infantry regiments. The 1st Life Guards were big men on big horses. A contemporary described watching the heavy cavalry advance as like watching a brick wall speeding towards you. This was a brick wall with attitude. It was a classic cavalry charge: heavy men and horses in close formation over open country at speed. Following the action described in the letter, Lord Uxbridge remarked to Captain Kelly that their achievement that day had “saved the honour of the British Cavalry”. There is no doubt that Pte. Wilson had taken part in a critical action which had an impact on the outcome of the battle. It would not be the last time.

    When dawn broke on the 18th, following the miserable night described in the letter, the men of the 1st Life Guards found themselves ravenously hungry and thirsty. They had been called into action so suddenly they had only what few provisions they could carry in their packs. It was impossible to resupply them so they suffered from terrible hunger and thirst for the rest of that very long day. On the afternoon of the 18th they were stationed with the bulk of the army behind the ridgeline of Mont St Jean just South of the village of Waterloo. The battle was raging below the ridge as the French threw their forces against the fortified buildings of La Haie Sante and Hougoumont which were delaying their advance. It was then that Marshall Ney launched the main French attack upon the Ridge. Following a formidable and devastating artillery barrage and despite heroic resistance by the defending infantry, the French succeeded in breaching the defences and getting troops onto the ridge, threatening to establish a foothold there. Upon seeing this success Napoleon believed he was close to achieving victory and making good his boast that he would dine in Brussels that evening. It was now that Lord Uxbridge unleashed the combined cavalry forces of the Heavy Brigades. Pte. Wilson and his comrades made the crucial charge of the day that swept all before them, drove the French off the ridge and saved the day for Wellington. Unfortunately, they suffered terrible casualties in doing so.

    When James Wilson wrote that they made several charges that day he was being modest. He was on the field to see his Regimental Colonel Samuel Ferrior killed. We know that Col. Ferrior was killed toward the end of that terrible day. We also know that he was credited with leading his regiment in no less than eleven charges on 18 June.  The L.W. Dobson that James Wilson saw being hit shortly after taking command of the regiment was in fact the Regimental Quartermaster, which suggests that most if not all of the other officers had been incapacitated by that point. It is likely then that Pte. Wilson was wounded in one of the last cavalry actions of the day.

    Although riding the ten miles to Brussels in his wounded and exhausted state must have been an ordeal, he is fortunate indeed that his horse was able to carry him there. There were medical services set up close to the fighting run by competent surgeons who did an extraordinary job in the face of overwhelming demand for their services. It is also true that many eminent surgeons travelled to Brussels to offer their services to the wounded of both sides. The major problem was the lack of any systematic way for the wounded to be removed from the field to a place of safety where they could be treated and cared for. Consequently, many men died where they fell, their wounds untreated and without food or water. Other men whilst unwounded remained trapped under their fallen horses unable to extricate themselves. Many of these men were robbed where they lay by enemy soldiers or later by scavenging civilians. It was not unusual for these men to receive further injuries, sometimes fatal, at the hands of the robbers.

    Unfortunately, we have been unable to discover what happened to James Wilson after the battle. We know that in 1816, along with all the other British soldiers who fought in the battle, he was awarded the Waterloo Medal. He is identified on the medal roll as Corporal Wilson, so it seems he was promoted. He would also have received a share of prize money after the battle, something more usually associated with the Royal Navy. As a corporal, he would have been awarded the sum of £2:12s:6d (£2.62.5p). Hardly life-changing especially when compared to the £1,274:10s:4d awarded to generals. Importantly, men who lost equipment in the course of the battle were given an amnesty. Normally they could expect at least to have had their pay docked to cover the costs of the missing equipment and may have been punished further! All surviving soldiers were awarded two years’ seniority which counted toward their pension. This was a welcome reward for veteran soldiers as it meant they could retire two years early on a full pension. However, once it was established that Napoleon was securely in custody and in no position to renew his threat to the peace, the army establishment was subject to massive cuts. Many Waterloo veterans returned home to face the difficult economic and political realities of life in Georgian Britain. Four years later some of them were on St. Peters Fields in Manchester to witness a very different cavalry charge that became known, ironically, as Peterloo.





    Transcript of letter

    Bruxelles 21 June 1815

    My dear Friend

    As I think you, and the rest of my acquaintance, will like to hear a little of our proceedings, and I have time to tell them, tho’ not in much order for it, I shall give you a sketch. About one o’clock on the morning of the 16th June we received orders to march, we marched the whole day, and in the evening, we just got far enough to see the Battle finish, the British had no Cavalry, in the field and the Infantry were in consequence much cut but they suceeded [sic] in maintaining their [G]round. We remained on the field that night, the next morning the Cavalry shewed [sic] their front to the Enemy, whilst the Infantry retreated. The french [sic] did not advance, at length we were ordered to retire and just as we got to a large Road there came on the most dreadful storm of Thunder and rain I ever witnessed [.] [W]e continued to move slowly on for some time, when lo! in a moment we got the word “Halt front”. “[T]he first Life Guards will prepare to attack”, we fronted but saw no enemy, the word was then given “Three’s about” (but by whose fault I do not know) and some seconds elapsed before the then front of the Reg could be made to face about. The Lancers were at a charge within thirty yards of us. I thought we were disgraced for ever. Capt Kelly took the command and cried out “follow me follow me”[.] [T]he men did so, and we made

    as rapid a charge along the road in a column of Divisions as ever we made on Wimbleton [sic] Common, but not quite so well dressed. Capt Kelly cut down the first he overtook & they soon were strewed pretty thick five or six of them tumbled one over another in their haste to escape, we drove them about 400 yards back on their main body and then retired at a walk. [T]heir Gun’s [sic] were playing very sharply on us, but fortunately they were pointed too high to do us much mischief, they threatened us twice more but as we began to gallop to them they were off and we catched [sic] only & then an odd one whose horse could not go so well or fell in our first charge[.] [W]e released several of the 7th who had just been made prisoners[.] [W]e were now relieved by the Blues but the enemy would never come near enough to feel their swords but kept cannonading[.]

    [W]e passed this night in a wood without provisions or liquor and nearly up to our knees in water

    & on the 18th came on that Battle which I shall remember as long as I live[.] [S]urely there could never have been one more obstinatly [sic] contested[.] [T]he Enemy must have I think four Guns to our one, for eight or ten hours on an immense Plain the shot and

    shells flew among us oftener than the strokes of a clock pendulum. We charged several times this day and repulsed the Enemy in all but one[.] [T]his was about four in the afternoon and our Brigade was not above the strength of two Squadrons[.] [A]n immense Column of Cureassier [sic; cuirassier], came down on us & we were obliged to retire the 23d I think it was ???? them in flank & stopped them a moment but they were forced to retire or they would have been surrounded[.] [T]he enemy followed us about 150 yards untill [sic] they came between two Squares of Infantry & then they were forced to be off as quick as we had been but we durst not follow them but very little way [.] [T]he nearer night approached the more hot the battle became[.] [O]ur cavalry cut to peices [sic][,] our Infantry formed in Squares[.] I thought it was impossible to save Brussells [sic][.] Where the 7 [or 1?] Dragoons Guards were I know not but ours the Blues & the 2nd about a Squadron strong were just advancing to charge a line of Infantry when I received a musket Ball through my neck[.] [F]ortunately my horse was able to carry me to Brussels. [S]o many of our officers were at this moment either killed[,] wounded or dismantled that the commant [sic] fell to LW Dobson & he was almost instantly wounded by a shell. When I got to Brussells [sic] everyone

    one [sic] was preparing to quit it[.] [T]he Enemy[,] they said[,] would be there before morning &

    Bonaparte had promissed [sic] his men six hours pillage[.] [A]ll was confusion[,] however I was unable to go any further[.] I got to the first house I could where I have been most humanely treated[.] God Almighty knows how the fortune of the day was turned but we have taken 100 peices [sic] of cannon & the Prussians 60[.] [T]he People here say that we were attacked by 160 thousand[,] 40 thousand of which were cavalry [.] I know the British Cavalry did never amount to nine thousand [,] how many Belgians there were I don’t know [.] [T]he People also say that Bonaparte led his guards in action [.] I saw Col Ferrior killed[,] Cap Lind [?] killed, Whall [?] & Kelly wounded, a Cannon ball took off poor Wharrie’s [?] head & left him sitting on Horseback. M Slingsby hat [sic] three horses shot under him but I hear he is not killed[.] I will not give the names of those I here [sic] are killed as I may not be correct and it would be imprudent to give their friends pain when perhaps no cause exists[.] My dear Friend[,] I beg you will give my best respects to my old Master & Mrs, & Loveday[.] [T]ell them I hope they will forgive me for being anxious to come as I have now paid for it[.] [T]ell Mr Hanson Harsham & all the rest how proud I shall be to give them an account of our exploits in person[.] I trust the papers surely now cannot speak ill of us [.] [M]y remembrance to Croziers [.] Lord Uxbridge has lost a leg [,] Gen Barnes (the ady[?] Gen) is wounded in the Breast [,] Col Elley is wounded [.] I can hear nothing of Mr Burks [,] I fear he is either killed or taken [.] [M]uch of our Baggage is taken [.] [T]hree days the french [sic] appeared to have the best of it[.] [T]he morning of the 4 I believe fortune hovered in that ride whose cause is that of justice & humanity. My wounds mends [sic] fast[.] I trust I shall have the pleasure of embarking again at Boulogne[.] Dear friend[,]

    yours[,] James Wilson

  4. Brass Art & Chetham’s Library – Meeting Point 2

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    We are delighted to announce that we will be working with collaborative art practice Brass Art as part of Arts Council England’s Meeting Point 2 project, which aims to equip museums with the knowledge and skills to commission work from artists again in the future, as well as presenting new works in unexpected places.

    Brass Art is Chara Lewis, Kristin Mojsiewicz and Anneke Pettican, based in Manchester, Glasgow and Huddersfield, UK. Within their collaborative art practice they use analogue and digital technologies as a means to disrupt conventional narratives and to capture themselves in real and imagined situations. Manifest as miniature 3D models, morphic silhouettes, drawings and shadowy digital sprites, their artwork returns to themes of the double, the in/animate, the limen and the atemporal.

    Heritage Manager, Sue McLoughlin, said: “This is a wonderful opportunity to commission thought-provoking contemporary art in the beautiful heritage setting of the C17th Library. We are thrilled to be working with Chara, Anneke and Kristin of Brass Art, and are very excited to see what they will produce for our historic space.”

    Brass Art added: “We are delighted to have been selected to work with Chetham’s Library. The enthusiasm of the staff there is infectious; we’re looking forward to working with them closely to bring our collaborative practice and aspects of their fascinating collection together.”

    The programme, which is initiated and led by Arts and Heritage, builds on a successful pilot which took place in 2016 and saw artists working with museums across the North East and Yorkshire.

    More details are available at

    Image: Brass Art – The Messengers No. 2 (2013)

    ACE Meeting Point2 artist announcement_logo 2

  5. John Browne’s Mycrographia Nova

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    Mycrographia Nova: or, a graphical description of all the muscles in the humane body, as they arise in dissection (1697) is a glorious work of medical illustration. The work consists of six lectures, illustrated by elaborate copper-plates. It first appeared in manuscript in 1675 and was published in 1681 as A Compleat Treatise of the Muscles, and then printed under its Latin title in 1684, the first in which the names were engraved on the muscles in each plate, an innovation which was used in all subsequent editions of the book.

    The book was very popular and went through more than ten English and continental editions. But, like another great work of medical illustration, William Cowper’s Anatomy of Humane Bodies (1698), it is a work of plagiarism. Browne’s text is a nearly a word-for-word transcription of William Molins’s lesser-known Myskotomiai or the Anatomical Administration of all the Muscles of an Humane Body (1648 and later), and the plates were copied with some alterations, from the reduced versions of the Fialetti engravings in the 1632 Frankfurt edition of Casserio’s Tabulae Anatomicae.  Nowhere did Browne acknowledge the borrowings from from Molins and Casserio.

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  6. Amusement Microscopique

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    One of the most interesting and attractive of the Library’s collection of illustrated books is a three-volume work entitled Amusement Microscopique by Martin Frobenius Ledermüller (1719-1769).

    The book appeared between 1764 and 1768, a century after Robert Hooke’s remarkable pioneering study Micrographia. Ledermüller, physician and keeper of the Margrave of Brandenburg’s natural history collection, produced a more popular work than Hooke, largely as a result of the visual quality of his hand-coloured engravings. The book displayed the usual suspects of microscopy – material that was previously invisible  – fungi, plants, insects, plankton and crystals and insects, but Ledermüller brought to his work a designer’s eye and turned his engravings into exquisite works of art in their own right.

    This was popular, rather than ground-breaking, science, but Ledermüller showed that microscopy could be a worthwhile leisure pursuit for an educated upper-class audience. His book remains a work for the scientifically curious and also a very beautiful and handsome book.

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  7. Digiti-Lingua

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    or the most compendious, copious, facile and secret way of silent converse ever yet discovered

    Published in London in 1698, Digiti-Lingua is a milestone in the history of sign language. It provided the earliest form of the modern two handed alphabet, and the first depiction of the consonant handshapes now used extensively in Sign Language.

    The anonymous author of this slim 30-page pamphlet claimed to have used no other language, ‘having been obliged (thro’ an unfortunate impediment) to these, or some such like methods of Converse, for now near ten years last past’. The book also claimed to show ‘how any two persons may be capable, in half an hours time, to discourse together by they fingers, only, and as well in the dark and the light.’ No explicit reference is made to deaf people and it is not actually clear if the author himself was deaf. He suggested that his book might be used when silence and secrecy were required or purely for entertainment. The author critiqued a number of other studies including the ‘pretty piece of Ingenuity, intituled Sermo Mirabilis’ as slower and less easy to follow, saying ‘All that can be done by the directions given in Sermo Mirabilis, may be more quick, free, and easily done, by the Alphabets here delivered, and much more’. A folding plate gave clear pictures of how to sign.

    digita-lingua 2

  8. Chetham’s Library Announced as Arts & Heritage Meeting Point2 Museum

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    We are delighted to announce that we have been named as one of the ten museums taking part in the Meeting Point 2 project run by Arts&Heritage and funded by Arts Council England.

    Meeting Point 2 follows the pilot Meeting Point project that saw nine museums in the North East and Yorkshire commission a new contemporary work inspired by their museum and its collections.

    Timandra Nichols, co-director of Arts&Heritage said: “As well as showcasing new pieces of contemporary art by some of the UK’s most exciting artists, Meeting Point 2 is also about supporting museums to develop the skills and confidence to work with and commission artists long into the future. The feedback we’ve received from participants in the Meeting Point pilot has shown the programme can make a huge impact and we’re looking forward to working with a new round of museums on Meeting Point 2 in 2017.”

    Chetham’s Library Heritage Manager Sue McLoughlin, added: “We are excited to be a part of this prestigious project, and look forward to working with the Arts&Heritage team and the artist community to create a new artwork that will enhance our visitors’ experience of Chetham’s”.

    The nine other museums taking part in Meeting Point 2 are:

    Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth

    Experience Barnsley Museum & Discovery Centre

    Gawthorpe Textiles Collection, Lancashire

    Norton Priory Museum & Gardens

    Lion Salt Works, West Cheshire Museums

    Prescot Museum, Knowsley

    Portland Basin Museum, Tameside Museums and Galleries Service

    Preston Park, Stockton

    Hexham Old Gaol


  9. A History of Manchester Fiction


    We are thrilled to have acquired a collection of North West fiction that was put together by the scholar and bibliophile Eddie Cass.

    Cass collected books on many subjects – coal mining, canals, folk-lore, cookery, all of which were connected with his love of and interest in the history of the North West. Fictional accounts of the North West remained one of his main concerns. His particular interest was in the history of the working class and its active and passive responses to literature – in other words how members of the working classes thought of their experiences as expressed in novels and poems. What did the middle class, the members of which produced many C19th novels set in the north, think of the working class and of the industrial system which had produced them?

    The collection comprises nearly three-hundred titles beginning with novels of national significance, such as Harriet Martineu’s 1832 work The Strike, and continuing up until 1971 with Gillian Avery’s children’s work A Likely Lad. Most date from the second half of the C19th. The novels can be approached in a number of ways – for what they tell us about life in the North West, and for what they say about the book trade and the publication and distribution of fiction in the Victorian age. For a library that has specialised in the history of Manchester, they have a particular value for what they tell us about the shock city of the Victorian era. How did those writers that were of lesser significance than Dickens or Gaskell come to terms with Manchester?

    Following Trefor Thomas’s work on the C19th local novel and Eddie Cass’s own work, perhaps the books fall into five main categories:

    1. Novels set in Lancashire mill towns outside of Manchester, which in some way celebrate the local culture and community and reject life in the city. The city is seen as over sophisticated and sinful, violent and uncultured. In a weird anticipation of Brexit fever, the city, and we mean Manchester, is described as full of immigrants – Jews, Irish and Germans – who have diluted local dialect and local identity. Manchester as a babel of language and dehumanising poverty.


    James Kay-Shuttleworth, Scarsdale (1877)
    P.G. Hamerton, Wenderholme (1877)
    Jessie Fothergill, Probation (1879)
    William Westall, The Old Factory (1881)
    Caroline Masters, Shuttle of Fate (1895)

    2. Dialect novels, where the mill is depicted as the centre of village life, and which utterly reject the city and political radicalism. Published mainly in Manchester between 1860 and 1890, and often in magazines, these works revive Lancashire customs, folk-lore and folk-speech, preserving the values and history of a community. The city is seen as threatening a way of life. Often the stories depict a Lancashire man wandering around and testing everywhere against the values of Lancashire.


    Ben Brierley’s Journal (1869-19892)
    Bowton Loominary (1852-62)
    J. Marshall Mathers, By Roaring Loom (1896)
    John Ackowrth, Clog Shop Chronicles (1896)

    3. Late Victorian novels which challenge the image of Manchester as polluted, overcrowded, poor and which associate it with vitality, energy, productivity and opportunity. The city as a place of moral and material progress.


    Robert Lamb, Yarndale (1872)
    Mrs Linnaeus Banks, The Manchester Man (1875)
    Mrs Humphrey Ward, History of David Grieve (1892)

    4. Novels which explore and describe conditions of urban poverty from a distinctly religious perspective. The city is seen as a place of degradation and suffering, with poverty existing in an underworld. Often very puritanical and moral, they depict stock images of drunkenness, prostitution, and godlessness, centred on the orphaned or abandoned child, who is seen as a figure of innocence. Manchester is depicted as a city of hell or chaos. But all can be redeemed by accepting Christianity and being plucked from the city and taken to a place of refuge.


    John Ashworth, Strange Tales from Humble Life (1863-74)
    Hesba Stretton, Pilgrim Street (1867)
    Alfred Alsop, Below the surface (1875)
    Gilbert Kirlew, Daddy’s Bobby (1882)
    Silas Hocking, Chips (1885)

    5. Evolution of the socialist novel post 1880. A series of books that saw the individual labour as a victim of an inhuman economic system outside his or her control. Workers were exploited by a factory system and the idea that one could move from poverty to riches was rejected and reverted. This is a socialist labour history, more radical in terms of its politics and in terms of the style and format of fiction.


    Allen Clarke, Knobstick (1883)
    David Pae, Hard Times (1886)
    Margaret Harkness, Manchester Shirtmaker (1890)
    James Haslam, Handloom Weaver’s Daughter (1904)

  10. Seventeenth Century Crowdfunding with Knyff and Kip


    ‘Knyff and Kip’ sound like a nineteenth-century vaudeville act, but were actually artists and engravers from the Netherlands, born in the mid-seventeenth century. Leendert Knyff and Johannes Kip were responsible for the publication, in 1707, of Britannia Illustrata, an extraordinary collection of  engraved ‘birds-eye views’ of English country houses and estates. The Library has a splendid copy of a 1709 edition of Volume One and Two, somewhat chaotic volumes, both describing themselves as Volume Two.


    Both Knyff and Kip travelled to England looking for work in the 1680s. Knyff was from a family of painters and initially specialised in still life but, no doubt in an attempt to attract more commissions, expanded his repertoire to include portraits, animal pieces and topographical landscapes. Kip was an exceptionally skilled engraver who trained in Amsterdam and arrived in England in 1689.

    In the late 1690s Knyff came up with a cunning plan for a ‘subscription publishing project’ which he must have thought would be a financial winner. His idea was to play to the vanity of the British aristocracy, and produce a set of images of English country estates, funding the scheme by signing up the landowners in advance.  For his £10 subscription each gentleman would have his house and grounds engraved including his coat of arms as part of the design and ultimately a full set of all the other prints. It was, essentially, a sort of early crowdfunding project…

    Knyff seems to have approached prospective landowners, and begun making drawings and working with Kip at this point, but take-up must have been slower than he had hoped, for in May 1701 he was still advertising in the Post Man, for sponsors, declaring that he had ‘undertaken by way of Subscription, the Drawing and Printing of 100 Noblemen and Gentlemens Seats, whereof 60 are finished, and the Subscription not being full, This is to give notice to all Lords and Gentlemen who have a mind to be concern’d, to come or send to the said Undertakers house in the corner of the Old Palace-yard, Westminster; next door to the steps that go up to the House of Lords. The Articles are: that a 100 subscribers shall pay £10 each. That every Subscriber shall have two prints of each impression, which makes in all 200, and shall have 60 prints double delivered.’

    Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, things didn’t improve, and by February 1707 Knyff declared in the Daily Courant that ‘for want of Subscriptions, and on account of his Health, (the time first proposed being long since expir’d) [he] is oblig’d to desist’. Knyff had also been dealing in prints and paintings for some years but clearly his financial problems were overwhelming and at this point he auctioned off all his stock, presumably including the engravings for Britannia Illustrata, and left England.

    Despite this, later that year, a collection of 80 of the completed plates on single sheets was published by David Mortier (‘Book-Seller at ye Sign of Erasmus’s head near Bedford house, all sorts of French and Latin Books’). Mortier also published a second edition in 1708 under the title Nouveau theatre de la Grande Bretagne: ou Description exacte des palais de la reine, et des maisons les plus considerables des seigneurs & des gentilhommes … etc

    The publishing history of Britannia Illustrata became increasingly complicated. Copyright on artists’ work in the early eighteenth century was very fluid and it seems likely that Kip, like Knyff, had actually sold his interest in the original work before it was first published. Mortier and other printsellers bought shares in the first collection of engravings and then added others to produce various different versions and eventually also a second volume.

    Reflecting this, the library’s copy of Britannia Illustrata (Volume 1) was published in 1709 by Mortier and three other printsellers (Daniel Midwinter, Henry Overton and Joseph Smith). The prints are fairly uniform in style and size and are almost all drawn by Knyff and engraved by Kip.


    However, our two copies of Volume Two are quite different. One was published by Joseph Smith in 1716, which is mostly, but not exclusively, plates both drawn and engraved by Kip of more country seats. The other was published by Daniel Midwinter in 171? and is a mixture of different sized prints, some so large they have been folded, by both named and unnamed artists and engravers. This volume depicts mainly cathedrals and chapels, but also Oxford colleges and a few random country seats and ‘prospects’. The two editions share several identical prints.



    The most distinctive feature of Britannia Illustrata is that the images of the various houses are all undertaken as ‘birds-eye views’, as if Kip and Knyff had been able to fly above the properties in a balloon and sketch them. The perspective was actually achieved by using mapping and surveying techniques but it gives a very impressive view, which was undoubtedly popular with owners, because it clearly illustrated the full extent of their property, associated buildings, gardens and land.


    A print was a cheaper option than commissioning an artist to produce an oil painting but still provided an excellent opportunity to impress others which was surely an attraction. Multiple copies were available, which could be folded or rolled for easy transportation or framed and displayed in other properties. Once the images were gathered together in book form, comparisons between the various estates became even easier and may well have generated feelings of envy or a determination to modernise or make improvements.

    Amongst the images in the Library’s Volume One is a print of particular local interest featuring Dunham Massey Hall, our nearest National Trust property, and is the only print in the entire volume which includes a date as part of the engraving. The date is 1697, which is very early, and suggests that it could possibly have been the very first plate that Knyff and Kip designed for the project.

    The print has particular significance in relation to the history of Dunham Massey. George Booth, the 2nd Earl of Warrington, had inherited Dunham (and the title) only three years earlier, in 1694. The house was in a truly terrible state, as his father, Henry Booth, the 1st Earl, had virtually bankrupted himself with years of political campaigning. The sight of his father weeping ‘from the greatness of his debts’ and of his mother borrowing from the servants seems to have haunted George for ever. When he inherited he became totally focussed on restoring the family fortunes, the house and the estate. The timing of the Britannia Illustrata engraving of Dunham is very interesting because in 1697 George had only just begun his work on the house and estate. Another curious fact is that, apparently at exactly the same time, the painter Adriaen van Diest made an oil painting of Dunham Massey which is also a birds-eye view. However, although the  two images are very similar they are not identical.  There is a long, straight, tree lined avenue running from the North (back) of the house towards a distant obelisk on Knyff’s drawing which does not appear on the van Diest painting.


    One of the most significant projects which the 2nd Earl undertook was planting 100,000 trees across the park (partly with a view to making money from timber sales). Many of the trees still exist today. Is it possible that the trees on this Northern avenue were planted after Van Diest had made his drawings but before Knyff made his? If so there must have been a degree of artistic licence as the trees look pretty much full grown! It seems rather curious that George Booth should have wanted images of the house and estate before he undertook his programme of improvements, but perhaps that was exactly the point, he wanted a record of how the house and park had looked before and after?

    This theory could seem to be supported by the fact that, half a century later, in 1751, after he had completed all the work on Dunham, George commissioned an artist called John Harris to make four very large and spectacular ‘birds-eye view’ paintings of the estate from four different directions. By this time ‘birds eye views’ were seen as very old fashioned but clearly for the 2nd Earl it was important to be able to make an exact comparison with the earlier images and demonstrate to his family, friends and future generations just what he had achieved.