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Author Archives: visitorservices

  1. Book Clean


    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…

    (Book tapes)

    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.


    By Laura Bryer

  2. Environmental Control

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    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.

    By Laura Bryer


  3. Pesky Pests


    Today’s blog continues our conservation series, this time focusing on the damage to collections by pests. The majority of library and paper-based collections will have objects affected by insects and other pests. Such damage appears in the form of holes in books and bindings, pitting to surfaces and chewed areas. This can either be a historic attack or an active one, it is important to distinguish between the two. Books and paper are at risk due to their organic materials which provide a food source for insects. For example, the adhesives used in bindings are animal-based, as are leather, vellum, and parchment. Even wooden boards, textiles, and paper are not exempt due to their natural makeup. There are a variety of pests that are drawn to these organic materials.

    One of the most common insects that cause damage is the furniture beetle, also known as woodworm which will attack books as well as wooden furniture. Most of the damage comes from the larvae. The beetle will drill through a book and lay eggs inside, the larvae will then hatch burrowing out by eating holes throughout the book until they emerge as adults. Death-watch beetles cause similar damage but are larger than woodworm.

    The pests that are drawn to animal products include moths, carpet beetles, and spider beetles. This is because they get their food from a source of protein known as keratin. Keratin can be found in vellum, parchment, leather, and the glues on bindings. Another pest that causes damage is silverfish which will graze on the surface of paper and book cloth. Booklice will also cause damage in a similar fashion to silverfish. Insect damage can be identified by its sharply defined edges and curves. Rodents will also cause problems in collections, mice for example will gnaw and chew on books as they create nests and use them to sharpen their teeth. In addition, their urine and droppings can stain the paper.

    Above: an example of pest damage caused by the furniture beetle.

    The prevention of pest damage is key here as the treatments required for removal can be both costly and cause further harm to collections. By using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Library staff can prevent or minimise problems. IPM methods are a series of monitoring and prevention methods. For example, pests are more likely to reproduce and look for food in warmer conditions, so it is vital to try and prevent temperatures from being too high when storing books and paper. Good housekeeping is essential for deterring pests, as the presence of dust which is made up of organic materials such as hair, skin, clothing fibers can encourage feeding, almost like a starter before they begin eating the main course. In addition, Relative Humidity (RH) must remain stable between 45 and 65 as too damp or too dry conditions can encourage infestations depending on bug species.

    As well as keeping the above conditions under control monitoring tools can be used as part of IPM. For example, blunder traps can be used to trap insects such as silverfish, carpet beetles, and other insects. These are small sticky traps that should be placed in corners and alongside walls and shelves following pest movement patterns. These traps can inform staff of new outbreaks or an increase in number. Pheromones can be used alongside traps that will draw insects such as moths.

    Collections should be checked for signs of recent attack. Indicators include new holes and frass (bug poop). Frass is a good way to tell if the damage is new or historic. Insecticides can also be used to control numbers; however, they must be health and safety approved and non-toxic such as constrain. Constrain is pH neutral and water-based meaning it will not give off harmful fumes. Another option is to use desiccant dust around corners and space edges, this dust will also indicate pest movement if disturbed. These insecticides should never be used on actual collections as they are too harsh.

    There are a few different approaches for dealing with pest-infested items. Firstly, to determine if an object is contaminated it should be isolated and either wrapped in polythene or Tyvek (a breathable polyester). Treatment will depend on the pest species and the severity of the infestation. Specialist treatment should only be carried out by trained conservators. Freezing is a popular method for libraries and archives as this will kill eggs as well as larvae. Books are sealed in polythene and the temperature must be -30°C for three days or -18°C for two weeks. It is crucial that books remain in polythene until they have returned to room temperature. Otherwise, there is a risk of water damage from condensation. This treatment cannot be used on delicate items such as manuscripts. In some cases, heat can be used however, this is a risk for heat-sensitive items. Books are placed in a temperature humidity-controlled chamber at 50°C. Other methods involve placing objects in environments that cause oxygen deprivation with chemicals. These treatments can only be used at a conservator’s discretion and must be weighed against the likelihood of further object damage.

    Below: is some double whammy damage from furniture beetles and rodents.

    We are pleased to report we have no current infestations here at the library and have a strong IPM system in place. 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.

    By: Laura Bryer

  4. Another One Bites The Dust

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    Next in our Conservation series, we will be exploring the damage caused to books and collections by dust. Dust may be something you would expect to find in old libraries, historic houses, and museums. But in fact, conservation staff battle on an almost daily basis to keep this agent of deterioration under control. Dust levels in collections must be managed because it causes damage in two ways. For example, the presence of the actual dust itself causes deterioration, whilst the abrasive removal from books can be potentially damaging, not to mention costly and time-consuming for staff.

    Dust in historic libraries comes from a few different sources including the books themselves. As books are made from organic materials, they become more delicate as they age, leading to a breakdown of materials which contribute to dust fall. Another cause of dust surprisingly comes from the clothing fibres and skin cells of visitors and staff. Books on lower shelves will gather dust, which is disturbed on the floor, whilst those on upper shelves will attract dust from the ceiling and rising fibres, pollution, spores and dirt from open windows.

    Above: an example of how quickly outside factors can contribute to dust fall. (Don’t worry it was taken care of immediately) 

    The presence of dust may just seem like an unfortunate cosmetic problem, however, over time it can cause cumulative damage which results in a process called cementation.  This is when the dust attaches itself permanently to a surface and causes visible damage to an object. How quickly this takes place depends on the conditions collections are kept in. Humidity (water levels in the air) plays a crucial role in this. Dust cementation occurs at a faster rate if humidity is high.

    The removal of dust from books if carried out incorrectly can cause as much damage as the dust itself. Therefore, it is essential that the correct conservation method is carried out. Dependent on book size it is best to carry out the clean in pairs.  Dust must be gently swept off the top and sides of the text block using a soft brush, such as a pony hair brush; a face mask must be worn and the dust should be caught in a museum vacuum cleaner. Netting should be placed over the vacuum as a safety precaution and a low setting should always be used. To avoid abrasion gently brush dust away from the spine to the edge of the text block (fore-edge). Delicate books should not undergo this process, surprisingly 20th-century paper made from wood pulp is more susceptible to damage than paper before the 19th-century, as the wood pulp is more acidic leading to a breakdown of materials.

    There are certain measures that can be put in place to help minimise dust fall in a library, however, some of these can be very costly or in some cases unpleasing to the eye. One of the simpler methods is to place an archival grade polyester sheet over the top of the books called melinex. The slightly static charge in melinex attracts dust to its surface rather than the top of the books. However, this is only effective if the books on the shelf are the same size, also it is very unsightly when placed on shelves in the visitor’s eye-line.

    A more effective and visually pleasing option is that of silk taffeta coverings. Specific silk needs to be used for this process, due to factors such as moldability, shape memory and colour. Strips of this silk are heat cut to the exact length and width of the top of the books and then moulded until they sit flush. This would also minimise the need for as frequent manual book cleaning as the taffeta would be cleaned instead, resulting in less mechanical damage from handling.  To protect individual volumes archival grade boxes (phase-boxes) can be used but this is impractical as a means of mass protection.

    Above: an example of silk taffeta in place

    Both the melinex and taffeta methods can be expensive and not always feasible for smaller or charity run organisations. But there are some more purse-friendly solutions to managing dust. For example, dust mapping is one of the easiest ways to minimise dust in the collection as you can track where it is most prevalent and make adjustments accordingly.

    To track dust, you can use dust monitors, these are essentially cards with a sticky tape which are placed in different locations. Before these are put in place the date is recorded on them and after a few weeks, these will indicate how quickly the dust accumulates in different areas of the library. Another method of dust mapping can include a chart where a traffic light system indicates the levels of dust throughout a space.  A colour-coded layout of the library is created indicating dust severity in the format of red, yellow, and green. Green being minimal red being heavy dust.

    Above: an example of a dust mapping chart

    We pride ourselves on our strong collections care here at Chetham’s and 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.

    Blog Post By: Laura Bryer

  5. Speedway Superstars


    The last year has seen us rely on digitised resources more than ever before, and we continue to work on increasing the content of our online catalogue to meet the needs of our researchers. The Belle Vue Zoo archive is one of our most researched collections, and we are lucky to have a lot of its contents available online in the Library’s Archives and Manuscripts catalogue. This online image bank continues to grow, and we are extremely grateful to Barry Hargreaves of BjH Reprographics, Heywood, Lancashire, for sending us an incredible collection of 683 digital images to add to our collection.

    Barry has spent countless hours bringing images of Belle Vue expertly to life with colour. His collection includes images of the zoo, its keepers and animals, speedway, wrestling, firework displays, the amusement park, indeed every aspect of Belle Vue you can think of! The latest images to go online show the speedway and some of its superstars, including Jack Parker, Peter Craven, Peter Collins and Ivan Mauger.

    Collage of photographs of Peter Craven, speedway rider for Belle Vue Aces from 1952 to 1963

    The management of Belle Vue Zoological Gardens were always searching for new attractions to bring in the crowds. They turned their attention to speedway racing in 1928, and held the first meeting on a grass track at the Belle Vue greyhound stadium on Kirkmanshulme Lane, Gorton. Initial meetings were a success, and speedway soon moved to a new home. The athletics ground on Hyde Road, built in 1886, was converted into a speedway venue, and the first race meeting was held there on 23 March 1929.

    A full crowd at Belle Vue Speedway Stadium, Barry Hargreaves Collection

    The Hyde Road stadium was sold for redevelopment in 1987. It had witnessed many thrilling races in front of 40,000 spectators, and was home to arguably the finest team in the sport, the Belle Vue Aces. Five Speedway World Champions have come from their ranks, including Peter Collins, whose triumphant return home is captured in a photograph in Barry’s collection.

    Colourised photograph of Peter Collins and his 1976 Speedway World Championship trophy

    Speedway moved back to the greyhound stadium on Kirkmanshulme Lane following the closure of the Hyde Road stadium. The Aces remained there until 2016 when they moved down the road to the newly built National Speedway Stadium.

    Colourised photograph of the Belle Vue Aces in action, Barry Hargreaves Collection, 1970s

    Barry’s speedway images can be viewed at: Barry Hargreaves Collection

    We continue to add images from Barry’s collection to our online catalogue so please check back for giraffes, zoo keepers, mermaids and more! Barry hopes his fantastic images will “give pleasure and awaken memories of the ‘Playground of the North’”, and we do too!

  6. Good As Mould !

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    Following on from previous blog posts, we have decided to introduce a more detailed series on the conservation work carried out in historic libraries. This series will focus on the agents of deterioration that cause the most cumulative damage to books over time. This includes, but is not limited to relative humidity, light, pests, dust, mechanical damage, and mould. Library staff are trained to manage these threats, keeping them to an appropriate and manageable level. This post will centre on mould damage and its prevention.

    Books and archival documents are mostly made up of organic materials, such as paper animal skins and natural adhesives. The nature of these materials makes books and paper very prone to attack by agents of deterioration. However, for damage to affect collections certain environmental factors need to be present. This is especially true in the case of mould. Attack by mould is more likely for material that is neglected and stored in unsuitable conditions. Mould causes physical and chemical damage to books and causes serious health problems if left untreated.

    Mould often presents itself as a white fluffy substance, but can also take on other colours such as green or black. It is most visible on a book’s outer binding or inner pages, it may also develop on the surrounding shelving. Mould begins its life as an airborne spore when the air is still, and environmental conditions are right the spores will settle on surfaces and develop into mould. Optimum conditions for mould growth require humidity levels to be over 65% and temperature to be between 4-40 ºC, with an optimum of 20ºC. In addition, mould requires the presence of nutrients in the form of paper, leather, wood, dust, and adhesives.

    (Below) An example of severe mould on a book

    Once it has established itself the mould spores will multiply forming a network known as hyphae. It is this germination of spores and network development that causes damage to collections, and presents a health hazard, as these spores will compromise the human immune system. It is the absorption of nutrients from collections surfaces by the hyphae that causes the physical and visible damage. When inspecting objects for mould appropriate PPE should be worn by staff as it can cause allergic reactions in those allergic to penicillin. It can also produce toxins easily absorbed by the skin; this is in addition to being a respiratory sensitizer.

    If mould is discovered in a library or archive action must be taken quickly. If only a small number of items are affected these must immediately be separated from the collection and mould removed. Separated objects should be wrapped in a breathable cover such as Tyvek to prevent spores spreading. Once the affected objects have been placed in quarantine, it is vital that the affected area is dried out to stop the mould growth. This can be achieved through dehumidification.

    (Below) An example of mould

    When the mould and hyphae have dried up it can be removed from the collections using a conservation brush and a vacuum with a HEPA filter. All areas should be cleaned to ensure invisible spores are removed. Before objects are returned to their location the area should have appropriate humidity and temperature, and conditions monitored regularly to ensure regrowth does not occur. All cleaning equipment needs to be treated with a 70/30 water-ethanol solution to kill spores. This same treatment can be used on heavily affected and robust objects and shelving dependent on the necessity and always at a conservator’s discretion.

    It would be a very unusual historic book collection indeed that hadn’t faced the scourge of mould at some point in its history, but with these techniques, we can minimise those risks and preserve our treasures.

    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.



    Blog post by Laura Bryer

  7. Bodies In The Library: A display of anatomy books


    Humphrey Chetham’s vision for his library was that it would offer resources to the professional men of Manchester (lawyers, clergy, doctors) comparable with those at the university colleges of Oxford and Cambridge. From the start, medical books were an important part of the library collections and our current display shows a small selection of the many anatomy books which were acquired.

    To fully understand the anatomy and workings of the human body, to teach medical students about it and indeed to publish anatomy books, the essential requirement is having a dead body to dissect. As medical science evolved, the demand for bodies for dissection far exceeded the supply. The problem was that for most cultures and religions, there had always been a taboo against human dissection-cutting open a dead body was desecration.

    Burke and Hare, the body snatchers: Revolting crimes / by Regd. B. Jones

    A common solution was to use the bodies of criminals (who were presumably felt to have no human rights) although demand was such that by the nineteenth century the gruesome ‘trades’ of grave robbing and body snatching became financially rewarding (e.g. the notorious case of Burke and Hare in 1828). As part of an attempt to control the trade in corpses, the 1832 Anatomy Act in England made unclaimed bodies, including those of the poor who died in workhouses, available to anatomy schools.

    The reality of dissection in the past was undoubtedly brutal. Dissections were ‘performed’ in front of an audience in an anatomy theatre. Natural decomposition meant that a dead body (cadaver) was only suitable for dissection for three or four days following death. After this, the stench as it decomposed became too much to bear, particularly in warm weather. The order of dissection was determined by the rate of decay of body parts: the abdomen was first, followed by the contents of the chest, the brain and finally the limbs.

    On the anatomy of the human body, De humani corporis fabrica, Andreas Vesalius 1725

    Art and anatomy have been closely connected for centuries. Renaissance artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo studied the human body to enhance their painting and sculpture. Leonardo records that he conducted more than 30 dissections. For obvious reasons clear, accurate illustrations were very important in anatomy books aimed at doctors and surgeons.

    Certainly the most ‘artistic,’ and possibly the most celebrated, book on anatomy is De humani corporis fabrica (On the fabric of the human body.) by Andreas Vesalius first published in 1543. Vesalius was a young medical professor at the University of Padua, famed for his radical, new approach to teaching anatomy.

    De humani corporis fabrica, Andreas Vesalius 1725

    His book was illustrated with stunning woodcuts, allegedly produced from the workshop of the renowned artist, Titian. The most striking aspect of the images is the series of ‘ecorches’ or ‘flayed men’, posed like classical statues in landscape settings, but with their skin peeled away to display their muscled bodies. Our copy is a much later edition from 1725, the images are copper plate engravings based on the original woodcuts but not quite as powerful. The market for illustrated anatomy books grew quite rapidly in the century after the publication of ‘De humani corporis..’ and its dramatic visual style had a huge impact on the design of subsequent works.

    John Browne, in 1697, published a book with the very lengthy title of ‘Myographia nova: or, A graphical description of all the muscles in humane body, as they arise in dissection. Distributed into six lectures; at the entrance into every of which, are demonstrated the muscles properly belonging to each lecture now in general use at the Theatre in Chyrurgeons-Hall, London; and illustrated with one and forty copper plates, accurately engraved after the life, with their names on the muscles, as much as can be expressed by figures: as also, with their originations, insertions, uses, and divers new observations of the authors, and other modern anatomists…..’

    It is clearly based on the Vesalius work, although the illustrations are far less elegant. Browne was originally a ships surgeon and had his arm fractured by a cannonball in the war against the Dutch. He became surgeon-in-ordinary to Charles II, later working at St Thomas hospital, London. He was a well educated man, seems to have been a good surgeon and his book sold well. However, it was actually plagiarised, illustrations and all, from two other books – William Mollins’ Myskotomia and Guilio Casserio’s Tabula anatomicae.

    Myographia Nova, John Browne 1697

    One of the other books on display has a local connection. ‘An account of the regular gradation in man …’ published in 1799 is by a Manchester doctor, Charles White. An able and innovative surgeon who made significant contributions in the field of obstetrics, and was a founder of the Manchester Royal Infirmary, and of a very progressive ‘lying-in’ charity with a hospital to assist poor women which eventually became St Mary’s hospital in the city. White also lectured on anatomy and became interested in the relationships and development of different human races. This book is a collection of the lectures he gave on this subject and, although he condemns slavery in this work, his theories are now regarded as being examples of ‘scientific racism’.

    The library has copies of several of Dr White’s publications, two of which have inscriptions “For the publick library at Manchester from the author”. It seems highly possible that, just over 100 years after the library was created, Dr White had been using this library for his research in just the way Humphrey Chetham had envisaged.

    ‘An account of the regular gradation in man, Charles White 1799

    Blog written by volunteer Patti Collins

  8. Not In front of The Children: Fairy Tales in Chetham’s Library


    We’ve often heard Chetham’s Library described as a magic, fairy-tale place. Children, and many adults, gasp in disbelief and wonder as they ascend the stairs. Humphrey Chetham, with his grounded and far-sighted philanthropy, would no doubt have shrugged off such flights of fancy, but in the dusk of a winter’s evening it is possible to imagine the Library as the setting for a fairy tale – a story occasionally featuring fairies, but more often some combination of goblins, elves, trolls, witches, giants, talking animals, enchantments, and of course humans doing unspeakable things to each other.

    A sampling of actual fairy tales in the Library revealed that one of the earliest volumes concerns Reynard the Fox. With his origins in a twelfth century legend, Reynard became the leading character in a 15th c book free of fairies but bursting with talking animals. Intended for adults, it turned into a best-seller and remained popular for more than 200 years. The story was characterized by violence, murder, adultery, rape and corruption in high places. William Caxton allegedly learnt Flemish in order to translate and publish the first English edition in 1481.

    Roman de Renart (end 13th century). Illumination of the 1581 manuscript,  Bibliotheque nationale de France

    Chetham’s Library owns an uncommon ‘unpurged’ first edition of a later English translation: ‘Reynard the Fox: The crafty courtier; or the fable of Reinard the Fox printed in 1706. However, an another publication exists (not within our collection) from 1701, which had been published with a different slant. Subtitled: The Most Delectable History of Reynard the Fox. Newly Corrected and Purged, from all grossness in Phrase and Matter. Augmented and Enlarged with sundry Excellent Morals and Expositions upon every several Chapter.

    The Most Delectable History of Reynard The Fox, 1701

    A second part was appended: ‘Written For the Delight of young Men, Pleasure of the Aged, and profit of all. To which is added many excellent Morals.’ The fox has become quite domesticated. Children are not yet specifically mentioned as a target audience, but at around this time the advent of widespread chapbook circulation meant that children could, and did, avidly read and enjoy tales of impossible events and enchantment. One such, called Betty, was reported in the Spectator in 1709 as dealing ‘chiefly in fairies and springs’ for her reading material and ‘sometimes in a winter night she terrifies the maids with her accounts until they are afraid to go to bed’.

    The Most Delectable History of Reynard the Fox. London, Macmillan & Co, 1895

    The sanitation of Reynard continued during the 18th century, and by the mid-19th century he had become the hero of a reassuring fairy story where good and bad were easily distinguished and evil was punished in the end. Chetham’s Library has a copy of the children’s version: The Most delectable history of Reynard the Fox, by Felix Summerly, 1895, edited with introduction and notes (for adults) by Joseph Jacobs; done into pictures by W. Frank Calderton. Summerly was a pseudonym for Sir Henry Cole, a British civil servant and inventor, who, when not writing stories for children, was responsible for many innovations in commerce and education, including the concept of the Christmas card.

    But did Summerly and Calderton just let Reynard hide his slyness and violent streak under a new furry and child-proof disguise? In other versions he was still allowed to appear as the stuff of nightmares. The various incarnations of Reynard illustrate the ambiguous and changing nature of fairy tales in literature and culture. The English Victorians were great believers in the fairy tale as a means of moral education rather than entertainment. John Ruskin wrote loftily that children have no need of such stories, but even he conceded that ‘they will find in the apparently vain and fitful courses of any tradition of old time, honestly delivered to them, a teaching for which no other can be substituted, and of which the power cannot be measured.’

    The best-known collectors of fairy stories were of course the brothers Grimm; German academics, philologists, cultural researchers, lexicographers and authors. Between 1812 and 1864 Kinder-und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales) was published 17 times. Chetham’s has a later, English, edition of 1882.

    Crane’s illustrations, in the Pre-Raphaelites’ decorative style, turn the story into an irresistible romance. Whereas earlier versions of The Sleeping Beauty include an Ogress Queen, the Prince’s mother, who plans to eat the Princess and her children but is finally thwarted and thrown into a tub of vipers. The Brothers Grimm version was the first to introduce a swift happy ending with the Princess being awakened by a kiss.

    Beauty and the Beast, Charles Lamb. London: Field and Tuer, the Leadenshall Press 1887

    Not all illustrators of the Brothers Grimm gave the stories such a romantic slant. We have a 1948 edition whose interest lies in the tortured illustrations by Joseph Scharl (1896-1954), a German Expressionist artist. His work was considered degenerate in Nazi Germany; he left Munich in 1938 and settled in New York, where he achieved modest success. This book of fairy tales published after the war met with huge public interest, but Scharl was unwell and burdened with worries for the family members he had left in Germany. He never returned and died at the age of 58.

    Like the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen caught the mood of his times; his stories were original rather than traditional re-tellings, readily accessible to children, but presenting lessons of virtue and resilience in the face of adversity for adults as well. Many of his tales reflect his own unhappiness as an outsider and a frequent sufferer from unrequited love. He did not always adhere to the increasingly popular convention of the happy ending.

    Grimm’s Fairy Tales. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1948

    The Christmas Tree expresses a deep pessimism. It is a sad, sad tale of the life of a fir tree. The young tree is so anxious to grow up, so anxious for greater things, that it cannot appreciate living in the moment. It’s not until it’s chopped down for Christmas and then cast aside when festivities are over that it realises how good life in the woods once was. Despite a shaky start in life, Andersen had become a Danish national treasure by the time of his death. During his last illness he consulted a composer about the music for his funeral, saying: “Most of the people who will walk after me will be children, so make the beat keep time with little steps.”

    The Christmas Tree & Other Stories by Hans Christian Anderson. London: Ward, Lock & Tyler 1800s

    Back in Victorian England, more light-hearted but still not exactly child-friendly tales appeared in ‘Friends and Foes from Fairy Land’ by the grandly named Edward Knatchbull-Hugessen, Lord Brabourne, written in 1886. This English aristocrat and politician wrote many well-known short stories of fantasy and faery. He was widely likened by the reviewers to masters of the fairy-tale such as Grimm and Andersen, and his prolific output of the tales even led a critic at The British Quarterly Review to question his dedication to his job at the Colonial Office… “We should like to know whether Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen maintains his intercourse with the fairies of the Colonial Office. If so, what department of office duty is specially favourable to them; whether, too, they come when Parliament breaks up, or whether their visits are intermittent all the year round.”

    A Promising Apprentice. Knatchbull-Hugessen M.P. as caricatured by Ape in Vanity Fair, June 1870

    Brabourne’s stories were less moralistic than some Victorian versions, but still contained their quota of violence and fantasy. J.R.R. Tolkien recalled that, as a small child, his bedtime reading was the fairy stories of Knatchbull-Hugessen. He remembered especially being read one story of an ogre who catches his dinner by disguising himself as a tree.

    At around the same time as Friends and Foes appeared, a new version of Beauty and the Beast was published. This well-known story had been circulated in the 17th and 18th centuries, first as a fantastical romance for adults, then as a didactic tale for children about good manners and kindness. Some, rather unsettlingly, thought it helpful in preparing young girls for arranged marriages. The 1887 edition in Chetham’s Library, written in highly dramatic heroic verse, is said to be by the celebrated essayist Charles Lamb. His ‘Beauty’ was a creature of unalloyed sweetness, and the Beast was comfortingly soon tamed.

    Beauty and the Beast by Charles Lamb. Field and Tuer, The Leadenshall Press, 1887

    It seems, at least from our collection, that the market in Victorian fairy tales was cornered exclusively by men, and that most of these were distinguished in other fields – they were politicians, poets, serious literary figures, and humourists, able to command the services of respected artists and skilled engravers. Tom Hood, for example, was an English humorist and playwright, son of the poet and author Thomas Hood. In 1871 he produced Petsetilla’s Posy, an original fairy tale for young and old. A prolific writer, Hood was appointed editor of the magazine ‘Fun’ and founded Tom Hood’s Comic Annual in 1867. Frederick Barnard, his illustrator, was better known for his work with Dickens, and his printers, the Dalziel brothers, were London’s biggest and best known engraving firm who worked for the important writers and artists of the day, including many of the pre-Raphaelites. This was the golden age of illustration, and the Dalziels name appeared on nearly every major illustrated book published in Britain from 1840 to 1890. Together they went on to found The Camden Press.

    In contrast to the relative gentleness of some mid-Victorian illustrated fairy tales, the library holds a collection of legends containing Jeremiah Gotthelf’s 19th century gothic horror, ‘The Black Spider’. A young woman makes a pact with the devil, sealed by a single kiss, which brings generations of terror to her community. The destruction of the evil caused by that kiss is the basis of a creepy and frightening story.

    Traditions and Legends of the Elf, The Fairy and the Gnome. London: T.Ricardson, Printer ca 1890

    Ronald Firbank was a well-connected and innovative English novelist who took the fairy tale to new levels. His eight novellas, partly inspired by the London aesthetes of the 1890s, especially Oscar Wilde, consist largely of dialogue, with references to religion, social-climbing, and sexuality. His books describe a whimsical universe peopled with bizarre characters and are noted for their elegance and wit. Odette, a Fairy Tale for Weary People, published during the first world war, was definitely not one for the children. 

    A more recent tiny treasure held in the library, originally published in our 1970 first edition by the Royal Academy of Arts, features David Hockney’s weird and wonderful drawings to illustrate six fairy tales. Traditional images of the genre tend to rely on beauty and colour to create magic and contrast the beautiful and the ugly so as to distinguish between good and evil. But in Hockney’s version even the princesses in the black-and-white illustrations are unassuming, even ugly. His haunting, scary, architectural illustrations reinforce the idea that, though fairy tales might have been doctored over the ages to appeal to the young, they still have the potential to be “Too Grimm for Children.”


    Blog written by volunteer Kath Rigby

  9. Sir Edward Watkin – King of Railways

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    Geoff Scargill is one of our invaluable Library volunteers, who was previously a long-serving staff member at Chetham’s School of Music. Geoff is a devoted fan of Sir Edward Watkin, the unsung hero of railway engineering, who played a part in a number of momentous historical events in history, but remains relatively unheard of.

    As Chairman of the Friends of Rose Hill and author of “Nimble Ned – The amazing story of Edward Watkin, Manchester’s forgotten star”, Geoff seeks to draw wider attention to the accomplishments of Sir Edward. He has recently curated a beautiful display in the Library, using documents and books from our collection.

    Sir Edward Watkin MP (1819 – 1901) was a Railway King. Born on 26th September 1819, he lived and died in Manchester. Newspaper obituaries appeared throughout the world, including The New York Times and the Sydney Herald but today Watkin is virtually forgotten.

    Sir Edward Watkin – Mary Evans 1889

    Locally: From 1843 to 1846 he organised Saturday half day closing for Manchester businesses, campaigned for the first Parks for the People in Salford and Manchester and founded The Manchester Examiner newspaper.

    “Cries of London” – Owned by Watkin as a child, displayed hopes for a better age when children will not be employed as chimney sweeps.


    Nationally: In 1839 he organised an Anti-Corn Law campaign amongst factory and cotton mill workers. In 1867 he was one of 78 MP’s who tried to give women the vote. His Great Central Railway, opened in 1899, ran from Manchester to Marylebone in London. He developed Grimsby into the biggest fishing port in the world and created a holiday resort next to it, Cleethorpes. The foundations of his ‘Eiffel Tower’ at Wembley are still under the pitch.

    Internationally: He wanted to transform Ireland’s economy with a tunnel to Scotland. In 1880 he dug two miles of a Channel Tunnel before the government stopped him. He transformed the bankrupt Grand Trunk Railway of Canada into the start of the Canadian Pacific Railway, while being involved in the negotiations that led to the creation of Canada. In 1887 he said: “While Europe is becoming more and more one country by the breaking down of old fashioned ideas of exclusion we, in England, are becoming more and more isolated.”

    Over 100 obituaries collected by Watkin’s daughter Harriette.

    “In the calm beauty of the Welsh Alps he found a home after his own desires, and in the quietude of the still pretty Manchester suburb, quiet yet within the sound of the boom of the Big Ben of the Manchester Town Hall, he fought his last fight.”


    This display has been compiled by the Friends of Rose Hill, a community group whose aim is to make the Watkin story better known. A national Watkin Society has just been formed. Further information about the Friends and the national Watkin Society is available at