Recently we were cleaning the gallery space in the Library and came across a painting of a heraldic achievement, generally knowns as a coat of arms. It bears the date 1662, but doesn’t give the viewer the impression of being a genuinely 17th-century art work. Interestingly, though the back of the painting provides us with the provenance of these arms. They are linked to the Oldham family, as the description states that they were found in the possession of a Mr John Oldham who was:
‘the occupier of a cottage in Crumpsall upon an estate known as Oldham’s Tenement, which was purchased in the year 1855 by the Guardians of the Poor of Manchester, who built the New Workhouse upon it. This cottage, long tradition has indicated as the birthplace of Hugh Oldham who was consecrated as the archbishop of Exeter on the 27th of November 1504. He founded and endowed the Free Grammar School at Manchester and died in 1519. The arms being greatly dilapidated … were in 1860, mounted on [a p]anel … the blazoning was carefully …’
The damaged printed text on the back of the painting of the Oldham arms.
Unfortunately, as the text continues there are pieces of information that have been lost due to wear and tear so what happened to the arms after this is lacking in clarity. It’s clear that ‘They are noticed in Booker […] of the ancient Chapel […] p.198, but are there i[…] described, as also is the […] tempera upon one of t[…] cottage.’
From this, we can glean that the arms were repaired and mounted in the panel we find them in today, though quite what the method of transference was is not clear to us now. This ‘restoration’ – perhaps very extensive – accounts at least for the item looking like a Victorian reproduction. The ‘Booker’ mentioned refers to John Booker’s A History of the Ancient Chapel of Blackley, in Manchester Parish, and describes the history of the Oldham coat of arms.
Engraving of Hugh Oldham, Bishop of Exeter.
The description from Booker regarding the arms is as follows (p 198):
‘… a History of the Ancient framed: The first, Oldham was sable a chevron or, between three owls argent, on a chief of the second as many roses, crest, an owl proper. The name Oldham was anciently written Ouldam; and the arms are known to heralds as canting arms, from the allusion they contain (the Owl) to the name of the family bearing them …
Hugh Oldham’s Arms from Booker’s Blackley.
… These arms are identical with the coat borne by Bishop Oldham and are inscribed with the initials R. O., and the date 1662. The second shield is divided into eight quarterings, the first only of which can be deciphered, and in this, the bearings are like those just described’.
It is unknown how and when this painting of the coat of arms was acquired by the Library, but it may have made its way into Chetham’s College as a result of proximity with the original site of the Manchester Free Grammar School, founded by Hugh Oldham. Oldham owls still adorn the decorative stonework on the front of the former extension to the Grammar School on Long Millgate, a building which is now part of Chetham’s School of Music. We’ll bring other curios to your attention as they emerge!
Visitors to the library have been asking the same question for some time “Are there any books written by women”. Whilst the answer has been yes, it has often been hard to provide a definite example as women’s contribution as authors or as participants in the book trade have often been hidden behind a veil of anonymity or behind masculine names for a variety of reasons. As a result, we have been doing research to uncover their stories, culminating in our latest theme and display for visitors: A Woman’s Write: Searching For Chetham’s Published Women. You can see this display on one of our popular tours of the Library and ancient buildings, which you can book online.
Our archives and store rooms on the ground floor house the work of many female poets, artists, novelists, explorers, and scientists. However, most of these were published and acquired by the Library after the 1850s, when explicit female authorship was becoming slowly more accepted by later nineteenth-century society. As a result, such works can be found by author name in our catalogue with ease. This was not to say there were not still bars in place both before and after this period.
For example, in the 1840s the Brontë sisters were using the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Charlotte Brontë was to address this in the preface to the 1850 edition of her sister Emily’s Wuthering Heights, explaining why they felt the need to hide their names, assuming it would be easier to get into print if publishers believed they were male. With this constraint considered, it is not surprising that the works that feature on the historic first floor book shelves of the Library, largely printed before 1800, contain many pseudonyms concealing women’s involvement in book production, both as writers and in the book trade. Many of these books are both religious and academic texts, areas in which women’s involvement and engagement was less expected still, and in which women writers would have represented an eyebrow-raising exception to the rules of contemporary societies.
Portrait of Aphra Behn (1640-1689) by Peter Lely
In creating this display, we hope to shed light on Chetham’s earliest works published by women, and by doing so, share the stories of those women who fought to get their voices heard. Over the next few months to complement the exhibition we will be writing a series of detailed blog posts about these women and their achievements.
One woman whose work can be found on the first floor of the Library is Aphra Behn (1640 – 1689), one of the first English women to earn her living by writing plays, and who was employed by Charles II as a spy in Antwerp. She was part of a small circle of poets and famous libertines of the 17th century such as John Wilmot, Lord Rochester.
Detail from A prologue by Mrs. Behn to her new play, called Like Father, like son, or The mistaken brothers, spoken by Mrs. Butler, 1682. Chetham’s Library, Halliwell-Phillips Collection.
Work by another woman of note in the Library’s collection is that of Anna Maria van Schurman (1607-1678) a Dutch painter, engraver, poet, and scholar. She was a true Renaissance woman fluent in fourteen languages, excelling in art, music, and literature. She was the first woman to study at a Dutch university, although her unofficial status there was underlined by the fact that she had to sit behind a screen so as to be unseen by her male fellow students.
1649 portrait of Anna Maria van Schurman by Jan Lievens
Our copy of her Euklēria, or The Choice Of The Better Part is interesting as it is stamped “Museum Britannicum Duplicate for sale 1769” indicating her work was in circulation in establishments such as the British Library in the 18th century.
Example of the British Museum duplicate stamp in our copy of Anna Maria van Schurman’s ‘Euklēría, or Choosing the Better Part’.
We also have a book by Mary Brunton, a Scottish novelist, who was interested in philosophy and was in favour of women learning ancient languages and mathematics. Her novels often broke the social etiquette of Georgian society and have been praised by Fay Weldon as ‘rich in invention, ripe with incident, shrewd in comment, and erotic in intention and fact.’
Portrait of Mary Brunton (1778-1818) from the 2nd edition (1820) of Emmeline.
Mary Astell, a feminist writer whose work is also on the Library shelves, was a philosopher from Newcastle known as ‘the first English feminist.’ Writing anonymously, Astell advocated the view that women were just as rational as men, and just as deserving of an education, and suggested the idea of an all-female college in her A serious proposal to the ladies, for the advancement of their true and greatest interest of 1694. In the anonymously issued Some Reflections on Marriage, Astell warned women of the dangers of hasty or ill-considered marriages, advising that marriage should be based upon a lasting friendship.
Title page of the third edition of Reflections upon Marriage by Mary Astell ( (not our copy, which is missing the title-page).
Sophia Brahe (1559 – 1643) was a Danish noblewoman proficient in astronomy, chemistry, and medicine. She and her brother Tycho Brahe worked together making astronomical observations. She assisted with a set of observations on 11 November 1572, which led to the discovery of the supernova, now called SN 1572. She also made observations on the 8 December 1573 lunar eclipse. She is credited by name in our copy of Inscriptions from Hafnian Latin, Danish and Germanic: together with inscriptions from the Amagers of Uraniburgic and Stellaeburgic, as well as two epistles, one sent by Tycho Brahe to Peucerum, the other by his sister Sophia Brahe.
Portrait of Sophia Brahe.
These are just a few of the women who have left their mark in the Library and throughout history. To find out more about women in the Library please book on a guided tour and visit the display.
Chetham’s Library owes its very existence to the popularity of fustian, a coarse cloth of which the warp was linen and the weft was cotton. It was from trade in this fabric that Humphrey Chetham (1580-1653) made the fortune which was eventually invested in the school and library in pursuit of his mission to ‘overcome poverty and cure ignorance.’ It is unlikely that Humphrey himself ever wore this coarse fabric. The word ‘fustian’ in his lifetime had also come to be used figuratively to refer to pompous, inflated or pretentious writing or speech because this cloth type was often used as padding – hence, purposeless words were fustian.
Textiles and Text share the same Latin origin: the verb texere which means ‘to weave’. It is possible that textiles could have been a form of language even before the advent of writing. What is certain is that some of the language we use today was inspired by the domestic and later the mechanised manufacture of textiles. We follow the thread of an argument, spin a yarn, become entangled in a web, unravel a mystery. An odd or dishonest person may be warped, politicians may be heckled for pursuing fine-drawn theories, or even home-spun arguments. Weaving and unravelling are metaphors for synthesis and analysis. I could go on spinning this out, or decide to wind it all up.
Pamphyle spinning flax, De Mulieribus Claris – Giovanni Boccaccio 1362
The two main processes in the domestic manufacture of cloth, spinning and weaving, were a source of metaphor for centuries. Shakespeare’s Falstaff knows that ‘life is a shuttle,’ and in Twelfth Night Sir Andrew Aguecheek’s hair hangs ‘like flax on a distaff.’ Before mechanisation spinning was a woman’s occupation; even in the Book of Proverbs ‘the virtuous woman seeketh wool and flax … she layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.’ In heraldry, the distaff sideoutlines the female lineage of the family.
As other processes were developed and mechanised for the production of wool and cotton, so our language continued to be enriched. The importance of the textile industry in Manchester, or Cottonopolis as it became known in the nineteenth century, is reflected in the number (over 500) and quality of books and pamphlets about textiles held in the library.
Just one striking example shows the interaction of textiles with book-art as well as language. ‘Concerning Cotton 1791-1920’, published in 1920. It is a lavish Art Deco production, containing brochures for each of the subsidiary companies, and it has been suggested that the fairy motifs could be by the celebrated illustrator Arthur Rackham.
Concerning Cotton 1791-1920
The language of textiles has been and still is used to describe human characteristics. If yarn was twitty or full of twitsit meant it had faults such as knots which would make the weaving process more difficult. When fabric was being washed or soaked, it was beaten with a wooden board or bat. This rhythmic action might create drowsiness and a sense of going batty. The waste bobbins used in mills came to indicate something of no value. Doffing one’s cap originally meant taking the bobbins off their spools on a spinning frame.
A fault which could cause serious problems in the weaving process occurred when a collection of tightly packed broken fibres congregated in clumps in the cotton yarn. When twisted, a crackling sound could be heard. Someone a bit odd or unpredictable was thus known as crackers. When woven cloth has gone through the wet processes it needs to be tentered, or stretched, by means of hooks to prevent any shrinkage and to maintain a uniform width. To be on tenterhooks suggests a state of anxiety or apprehension.
Tenter posts in Marsden, West Yorkshire
In the north of England, the fag end was the end of a piece of cloth. Only later was it applied to the butt of a cigarette. In the Yorkshire woollen industry, a medley was produced by dyeing several batches of raw wool in different colours, then spinning them into yarn and weaving them. Later, fettlerswere the men who helped to ensure that the huge and thunderous woollen and worsted carding machines were clear of fibres and grease and operated to maximum efficiency. The aim was for all the equipment to be in fine fettle.
In the 19thcentury, South American wool clip was imported from South America to be sold in Bradford. Market traders would claim that consignments of Uruguayan (Montevideo) wools always contained ‘full Montevideo bales.’ Over the years this became ‘full Monty bales’ and eventually ‘the full Monty.’
The use of textile language as metaphor continued to expand and develop. The warp and the weft (or woof), referring to the weaving together of horizontal and vertical yarn, has come to signify the building blocks or components of life or of an argument. More mundanely, losing the thread, cottoning on, and lining the pocket, are all self-explanatory terms. Dyed in the wool emphasises that cloth dyed before weaving retains its deep colour and is superior to the wool that is dyed in the piece.
The word shoddy had different meanings in different wool-producing areas. In the West Yorkshire woollen district, it was the fibrous waste that was blended with new wool to make heavy goods such as overcoats. Elsewhere, it described the dusty mixed fibres that gathered under carding machines.
Eventually, it was used to describe any product of inferior quality. During the 1950s the Yorkshire based Association of Reclaimed Fibre Manufacturers attempted to drop the word shoddy altogether but could not come up with a replacement term.
Moving on from such examples of derogatory terms, the English language is also rich in words for the fabrics themselves. From the 17thto the 19thcentury in particular, an enormous number of fabrics were imported to Britain – jersey from Jersey, cashmerefrom Kashmir, jeansfrom Genoa, denim from Nîmes, muslin from Mussolo in Iraq, damaskfrom Damascus, cambric from Cambray, and many more. But as well as importing textile names, Britain also contributed them to the rest of the world. Cotton goods and household linen are to this day known collectively in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, simply as Manchester.
As a part of our current exhibition A Weaving of Words,visitors have enjoyed exploring the library looking for tags with various textile related words and phrases, and many have been surprised by their origins. It makes one wonder: which of our contemporary phrases will be studied by future generations?
Written by volunteers, Kath Rigby and Barbara Tarbuck
Inspired by the recent anniversary of the death of Louis XIV, we investigated our two editions of the Médailles sur les principaux événements du règne de Louis le Grand, avec des explications historiques, or ‘Medals for the main events of the reign of Louis the Great, with historical explanations’ in more detail. Our earlier copy was printed in 1702 by the l’Imprimerie Royale in Paris. We also have the 1723 edition, in a rather grander folio format with engraved borders for each page, which we may revisit on another occasion. The 1702 work was commissioned by the court, and a significant part of its purpose was to enhance Louis XIV’s reputation as the Sun King by bringing attention to significant events throughout his reign, such as military conquests or royal births and marriages. The book is thus a digest of the significant effort involved in producing commemorative medals as a physical reminder of the activities of the state (and Louis as its personification) on almost any occasion that tended to display them to advantage.
The medals have attracted a good deal of attention from that day to this, and we can recommend several excellent sources online. The Royal Collection Trust points out that the work ‘is celebrated for its ‘roman du roi’ typography, a ‘rational’ design of type using perfectly vertical axis and perfectly horizontal, symmetrical serifs, first produced by Jacques Jaugeon in 1695. Philippe Grandjean was commissioned to cut punches based on Jaugeon’s designs, and this modified type was used for the first time in the printing of this volume’. The Imprimerie Royale was, like much else in Louis’ France, an institution designed to project royal dignity and gravitas. There are eighty-nine items in the collections here with their imprint, all of which are models of fine printing and excellent paper quality.
Louis’s use of medals as royal propaganda was sufficiently innovative and extensive that it inspired a small exhibition at the British Museum in 2015 entitled Triumph and Disaster, of which there is a very detailed and fascinating review by the (over-modestly self proclaimed) Idle Woman. The frontispiece is a detailed engraving depicting Mercury and two putti with a portrait of Louis XIV; underneath this are the figures of History and Time. The etching of Louis was created by Nicolas Pitau the Younger (1670-1724) a prolific engraver, and was based on a portrait by the famous French Court painter Hyacinthe Rigau (1659–1743). The scene below however, was engraved by Charles Louis Simonneau (1645-1728), and was copied from a painting by Antoine Coypel(1661 – 1722) the official court painter of the King’s brother Philippe, Duke of Orléans. The British Museum provides more information.
Frontispiece in Médailles sur les principaux évènements du règne de Louis le Grand.
The 1702 printed work is as much a tribute to the engravers as to those designing and casting the medals themselves, and we will select a small handful to exemplify their work.That below commemorates the beginning of the regency of Louis XIV’s mother, Anne of Austria (1601-1666), in 1643. The medal depicts Queen Anne seated on a throne with the young Louis XIV beside here. As can be seen by the scale of the photo the engraving is small but alive with detail. Queen Anne was not a popular choice for regent given her connections to Spain during a time when tensions between France and Spain were high. Louis XIII, her husband, even tried to prevent her becoming sole regent, but she proved too wily a politician to outwit and had these restrictions set aside in short order.
Medal commemorating the regency of Anne of Austria in 1643.
The Coronation of Louis XIV follows in due course: here we see him being anointed with ‘celestial oil’ and the crown being placed on his head by regent and archbishop at Rheims on 7 June 1654. The Archbishop of Rheims (the officiant by custom) was apparently absent on the occasion itself.
Louis is crowned king of France on the 7th June 1654.
The medal below was struck to celebrate one of a series of French victories during the Franco-Dutch War (itself part of a protracted struggle between France and Habsburg Spain and its dependencies), the capture of Dôle following the siege of Besançon in 1674.
Commemoration of military victory.
Further boasting in medal form is marked by this bird’s eye view of the port of Brest in 1681, intended to impress or even to intimidate with its fortress like strength. The accompanying text describes Brest as ‘this god of ports’.
Medal of Port De Brest 1681.
Our next selection highlights the founding of the Military Order of St.Louis in 1693, and shows Louis XIV bestowing this largesse on the French Military. The Order was named after his predecessor Saint Louis, and was intended as a reward for exceptional officers. It was the first decoration of its kind that could be granted to those outside the ranks of the nobility.
The Order of St Louis 1693.
The success of the series of medals – and the 1723 posthumous edition ‘du regne entier de Louis le Grand’ runs to over 300 leaves – also contained the seeds of its decline. Piqued, perhaps, by having triumphalist medals issued in commemoration of their defeats and humiliations, his enemies began to issue lampooning and parodic medals on the occasion of some of the defeats and failures that began to occur in the later part of the reign, with the British and the Dutch being well to the fore in this regard. Dutch mockery after the Battle of La Hougue, for example picked up Louis’s grandiose and rather problematic motto nec pluribus impar, ‘not unequal to many’ and decorated their medal of the French flagship exploding with the derisive nunc pluribus impar, ‘now unequal to many’.
Recently we had an enquiry about a book that used to be part of our collection; A Natural History of Birds (1731–38) by Eleazar Albin. The work features over 300 painted engravings by Eleazar Albin and his daughter Elizabeth, it is one of the earliest illustrated bird books.
Albin was a well-known 18th-century illustrator and researcher of natural history. His early origins are obscure, but he was living in London by the early 1700s with his wife and was to have ten children. He has been described as one of the “great entomological book illustrators of the 18th century”. His famous works are A Natural History of English Insects (1720), A Natural History of Birds, and A Natural History of Spiders and other Curious Insects (1736).
Frontispiece showing a likeness of Albin, from a Natural History of Spiders 1736.
His early works were published by subscription only, with his History of Insects gaining 170 subscribers. Albin prided himself on drawing his specimens from life, criticising previous illustrators who did not. He attracted powerful patrons such as Sir Robert Abdy of Albins and Richard Mead, physician to the king. These connections enabled him to access extensive collections of exotic specimens to study. He even appealed to his readers ‘Gentlemen … send any curious birds … to Eleazar near the Dog and Duck in Tottenham-Court Road’.
Despite no longer having the book in our collection, we have a selection of subscription receipts for the three-volume set A Natural History of Birds. This includes an engraved blank receipt form, mainly consisting of the names of 99 birds, each with a checkbox that could be checked when the plate containing the engraving of that particular bird was delivered to the subscriber.
The plates of birds in this list were for a work paid for by subscription, engraved by Eleazar Albin, assisted by his daughter Elizabeth, for A natural history of birds, which was published in 3 vols., 1731, 1734, and 1738.
A receipt from our collection listing the birds included in Albin’s work.
Our collection also contains the original ‘Proposals for printing by subscription, a neat book of English and foreign birds to be coloured after the life with their respective descriptions. The whole work to be printed in one volume in quarto, on a superfine royal paper, and the birds to be engraved by the best hands. No more to be printed than subscribed for. Every subscriber to pay down two Guineas in hand and two Guineas more on delivery of the book in sheets, containing one hundred copper plates. The names & titles of the subscribers to be printed at the beginning of this work.’
Proposal for the printing subscription of A Natural History of Birds.
Albin most likely passed away in 1742 as he created no more illustrations after 1741, and an advertisement from 1742 announced the sale of some of his belongings.
Today (25 May) is the anniversary of the birth of Robert Bolton, a man of whom we are often reminded by the presence in Chetham’s Audit Room of a small and now slightly dingy oil portrait. Bolton’s portrait is one of a series of four oils of uniform size and date, unsigned and by a hand unknown. The four are all celebrated Protestant Lancashire men of influence, and the pictures were ‘given by Reverend James Illingworth BD, 1694’ in the words of the neat painted labels attached to the feet of each frame. Illingworth had died in 1693, so the gift was a bequest. The four men chosen form a group with academic, theological and institutional connections as well as local ones; we’ll pursue those further in a future post.
Robert Bolton was a scholar, clergyman, and noted preacher. He was born in 1572 on Whit Sunday in Blackburn, Lancashire. He attended the Grammar School in Blackburn, where his father was a governor, and was described as ‘the best scholler in the schoole’. By 1592 Bolton was studying at Lincoln College, Oxford, where his tutor was John Randall.
Following the death of his father, Bolton transferred to Brasenose due to financial issues, securing a fellowship. On 2 December 1596 he graduated with a B.A and by 1597 he held a Nowell scholarship, a foundation designed for the support of Lancashire men, and endowed by Alexander Nowell, another subject in our gallery of four portraits, Principal of Brasenose and Dean of St Paul’s. Bolton would continue to progress in the academic field, and under the influence of Thomas Peacock graduated B.D. (Bachelor of Divinity) in 1609, entering into holy orders in the Church of England, and developing a zeal for strict Protestantism.
In 1610, he was conferred by Sir Augustine Nicolls to the rectory of Broughton, Northamptonshire. Bolton was a patriotic puritan minister, remarking upon ‘the mighty workings of King James his works upon the adversaries.’ His zeal was reflected in his published works, many of which we have in the library today, including A discourse about the state of true happinesse and Instructions for a right comforting afflicted conciences [sic]: vvith speciall antidotes against some grievous temptations and Helps to humiliation.
Bolton was described by some as the greatest classical scholar of his time due to his proficiency in Greek and Latin. Bolton was sixty at his death on 17 December 1631, following a long illness, and was buried under a monument to him in the church he had served or so long at Broughton. The Library also holds a copy of his funeral sermon A learned and godly sermon preached on the XIX. day of December, anno Dom. MDCXXXI. at the funerall of Mr. Robert Bolton Batchelour in Divinity and minister of Broughton in Northampton-Shire. By Mr. Nicolas Estvvick. That we can tell the tale of his life is in large part due to the biographical material supplied probably by Edward Bagshawe, friend and executor of Bolton, and editor of Mr. Boltons last and learned worke of the foure last things : death, iudgement, hell, and heaven. With his assise-sermons, and notes on Iustice Nicolls his funerall. Together with the life and death of the authour. Published by E.B., which is also in the collection here.
Recently we had an interesting collections enquiry, from a reader that we thought we would share. An image was requested from the work by Andrew Boorde, ‘The fyrst boke of the Introduction of knowledge’, which was written in Montpellier and considered the earliest continental guidebook.
Andrew Boorde was born in Sussex and studied at the University of Oxford before becoming a Carthusian monk, and going on to study medicine abroad. He travelled extensively visiting universities such as Orléans, Poitiers, Toulouse, Montpellier, Wittenberg, Rome, and went on a pilgrimage with others of his nation to Compostela in Galicia.
By the 1530s he was travelling at the behest of Thomas Cromwell who sought to seek out public opinion on the divorced Henry VIII abroad. Boorde put together descriptions and itineraries of each region he visited, which included almost the whole of Europe. He then sent these diaries to Cromwell who lost them, despite this they would form the basis of his later works. In 1536 he was working as a physician in Scotland, where he reported the public opinion of the Scotsmen to Cromwell.
Boorde was Travelling again in the late 1530s after the dissolution of the monastic houses in England. This time he made it as far as Jerusalem and eventually settled for a time in Montpellier. It was here in 1542 that he compiled ‘The fyrst boke of the Introduction of knowledge’, writing in rhyme, common dialect, and describing the dress, fashions, foods and customs of each country. For example, the Englishman describes himself and his foibles, his fickleness, his fondness for new fashions, and his obstinacy, in verse. Then follows a geographical description of the country, followed by text in the Cornish language. He dedicated this work to the ‘Lady Mary’, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, Mary was yet to be restored to the succession at this point so was no longer referred to as Princess. Henry VIII declared her illegitimate after he divorced Catherine to marry Anne Boleyn.
The title page dedicated to ‘the Lady Mary’.
In 1547 Boorde had returned to England and was practising medicine in London, where he then relocated to Winchester. It was here that he was accused by the bishop of Winchester of keeping three prostitutes in his rooms. Boorde was sent to Fleet prison in 1547 where he would die in 1549.
One of Humphrey Chetham’s first considerations when making the bequest of a library and school for poor boys upon his death was to find a suitable building in which to house it. Coincidentally, there was a vacant property that would suit these needs: the medieval College House in the centre of Manchester. It was built in 1421 to accommodate a college of priests and remains one of the most complete medieval complexes to survive in the northwest of England. The buildings had been confiscated from the clergy by the Crown in the 1540s, sold to the Earls of Derby, and were again seized by the Parliamentary Commissioners from the Derby estate after the latter supported the royalist cause during the civil war. The beautiful old sandstone buildings, together with the magnificent Library interior, create a unique atmosphere for readers and visitors alike.
However, during Humphrey’s time, the building was not well preserved. The College House, after many years of neglect, was in a poor state. During the Civil War it had been used as a prison and arsenal. Humphrey himself remarked in his letter to Ralph Brideoake, 17 Mar 1648 that ‘the towne swine make their abode bothe in the yards and house’. This letter to Ralph Brideoake inspired a sketch by local artist and assistant librarian at Chetham’s, J.J.Phelps, in 1908 titled ‘The Dilapidated College, Manchester’.
Phelp’s original sketch.
Despite the site being a work in process, Humphrey saw the building’s potential and he specified that it was to be purchased by the executors of his will, who were to go on to provide the body of trustees for his charitable foundation. They carried out his wish and acquired the building after his death in 1653. The restoration of the college was carried out by local craftsmen, and a joiner named Richard Martinscroft was entrusted with the task of fitting and furnishing the Library.
The Library was housed on the first floor in order to avoid rising damp, and the newly acquired books were chained to the bookcases, or presses, in accordance with Chetham’s instructions. Nearly 400 years later the building remains a working library.
As heritage organisations are opening their doors once again, we are preparing ourselves to welcome back visitors and readers. It will not come as a surprise that our staff have been unable to work in the library for over a year. As a result, the lovely building and collections need a little conservation TLC. Our conservation team has begun the huge task of deep cleaning the library space and cleaning and condition checking the books.
In one of our previous posts, we covered the importance of dust maintenance, this blog will cover the steps we are taking to remove the dust that has accumulated while we have been under government guidance to work from home. A historic book collection requires a deep clean at least every 2 years, especially if open to the public as a tourist attraction. It is a delicate procedure to remove dust from historic books. As some of our items are at least 500 years old or older each one must be individually assessed as to whether it is robust enough to undergo the removal process.
Before the book clean can begin, specific steps need to be in place. First, an appropriate work surface must be created by covering a table with a dust cloth, on top of which you can put polythene sheeting. Books should be kept and returned in the correct shelf order as they follow a catalogue system, if this is not strictly followed precious treasures may be lost. To keep this order, you can create acid-free labels with the shelfmarks written in pencil, these should always be removed once the books are reshelved. Books must be placed no more than 1 cm in from the front edge of the shelf, this is as much for handling purposes as it is pleasing to the eye.
It is crucial to handle books correctly when removing them and returning them to the shelves as this is where most of the damage can happen. For example, a book can be damaged when pulled out by its spine as this puts pressure on one of the most vulnerable parts of a book. Also, boards can be scratched when the books are returned to the shelves. There are safe methods for removing books from shelves, firstly if there is room, you can put your fingers over the top of the required book and push it forwards from behind you can then draw it out safely. Another option is to push the books on either side of the one you wish to remove towards the back of the shelf. This leaves enough space to grasp the boards rather than the spine.
(Safely removing a book from a shelf)
If there is not enough space for the first two options, you can use gentle downward pressure. For example, put two fingers on the text block (book pages) behind the spine, then press down firmly until the book is at an angle where enough of the spine is poking out of the shelf. You can then safely remove the book with the thumb and index finger touching the boards.
It should be noted that nail varnish, even clear coats, can come off the nail onto the books and should never be worn when handling books or archival material. If nail varnish is present, then gloves can be worn. However, cotton gloves should never be worn as they decrease manual dexterity and could catch on bindings causing damage. Instead, tight-fitting nitrile gloves should be worn. If you choose not to wear gloves while handling books, then hands must be clean and free of hand cream and rings with stones. This is because stones can scratch bindings and hand cream can cause staining. Also, absolutely no food and drink should be in the area, not even water, as liquids cause almost irreparable and expensive damage and food crumbs attract pests.
Also, any condition reports should be filled in with pencil only as ink causes stains that are costly to remove. A condition record is a great way to record existing damage and offers an in-depth insight into a book’s health. These records can assist in an institution’s application for conservation grants and support an organisation’s Accreditation application. We will cover the damage recorded in condition reports in the next blog for now we are going to focus on the cleaning process. Here at Chetham’s we are only dry cleaning the outside of the books, any other treatment should always be at a conservator’s discretion.
The following items are required to carry out dry cleaning: a pony hair conservation brush, a conservation museum vacuum, an appropriate dust mask, and some netting. Hold the book firmly across the spine keeping it closed so that no dust can transfer to the pages. Using the pony hair brush, clean along the top edge of the pages, starting from the spine sweeping towards the foredge. For heavy books clean them following the same method but keep them lying flat on the work surface. Brush the surface of the binding with the pony hair brush, never a duster or cloth, as these are too abrasive. The dust removed from the book should be swept into a museum vacuum, the vacuum should be kept on a low setting and have a netting cover placed over the nozzle. The covering prevents loose binding pieces from being lost. To prevent unnecessary pressure on a book’s binding do not open it wider than 90 degrees.
(Preparing for the clean)
When cleaning books, book tapes may be present. These are used for books that have detached boards or loose covering materials. After cleaning these should be replaced. Two pieces are typically used one at the top and one at the bottom of a book’s spine. Care should be taken not to cover any tooling, shelfmarks, or labels; they should lie flat with the ties in vertical granny bows at the foredge of a book pictured below. Tapes should always be black, brown, or unbleached cotton from a reputable conservation supplier. If a book is not being returned to the shelf immediately after being tied, make sure you make a note of the shelfmark as you will be forced to untie it otherwise, ask us how we know that one…
Your generous support is helping us to fund conservation work like this throughout this pandemic while our visitor tour income is reduced. Thank you to every single person who has donated to our Covid-19 Appeal so far.
Environmental conditions play an important role in the life span of collections, if ignored the problems they cause can build up over time and cause a lot of damage to books and paper. This can lead to the need for expensive conservation repairs or worse irreversible damage. Monitoring the environmental conditions in a library or archive is crucial for creating the best plan for the preservation of collections.
The conditions that are recorded will provide proof of good collections and conservation management for funders and professional bodies. This means that the standards and guidelines that are the requirements of government agencies and funding bodies are additional reasons to implement a solid programme of environmental management, as well as the preservation of the collections. Gathering and acting on data can take a long time, but strong environmental records will mean that evidence of good conservation of collections can be to hand if it is needed as a condition of a grant, or as evidence of need to support applications to fund improvements.
As environmental conditions are such a broad topic this blog will be focusing on temperature and Relative Humidity. These two areas can have a huge impact on the condition of library and archive collections. It is important to remember that the buildings that house them and the documents they contain, are whole ecosystems and that environmental factors are often a direct result of the building.
The definition of RH is the moisture content in the air, this content is measured as a percentage. The aim of environmental control for RH is to keep the moisture content of objects as constant as possible. An ideal RH level for collections is between 40% and 65% as recognised by U.K. heritage organisations. Temperature can have a significant impact on RH, therefore its control can be useful in maintaining RH levels. For example, RH levels increase with a lower temperature and decrease with a higher one. Either extreme causes problems as a high RH encourages mould and pests, whilst a low RH will lead to excessive dryness and cracking of organic materials.
Above: an example of our RH reader
The correct conservation equipment needs to be in place to effectively monitor temperature and RH levels. Equipment and methods vary across different institutions. Here at Chetham’s we monitor our RH and temperature with the Tiny Tag software. The Tiny Tag device provides up to date readings which alerts conservation staff to any drastic change in environment levels. If a negative change has occurred there are ways to bring the RH down or up to an acceptable level.
Some simple preventative methods include air conditioning, dehumidification, humidification, and conservation heating. Some control methods are more expensive and less energy-efficient than others. For example, dehumidification uses one-third of the energy of heating for the same RH control. We use a combination of heating, humidification, and dehumidification to keep our RH levels within the recommended 40% to 65%. Our conservation heating is controlled to never go above a certain level as it could cause irreparable damage to priceless paperwork, books, and furniture.
Below: an example of our conservation heating
Your generous support is helping us to fund conservation work like this throughout this pandemic while our visitor tour income is reduced. Thank you to every single person who has donated to our Covid-19 Appeal so far.