CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections conference, day 2

Picking up from last week’s post, here’s what happened on day 2 of the CILIP RBSCG Annual Study Conference.

The theme for day 2 of the conference was Theft and Vandalism. The first presentation of the day by Barbara McCormack, Special Collections Librarian at Maynooth University, described the process of relocating the Otway-Maurice Collection from its original home in St Canice’s cathedral in Kilkenny to Maynooth University library in Dublin.

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St Canice’s Cathedral, where the Otway-Maurice collection was housed prior to 2011.

The collection was founded in 1683 with a bequest from Bishop Thomas Otway, and significantly expanded in the 18th century with another bequest from Bishop Edward Maurice. The collection consists of more than 3000 volumes, including 4 incunabula and 300 pre-1600 titles. Since its inception, the collection had been housed in the 14th century cathedral in Kilkenny, on open shelves in a room which was frequently used for parish events. An initial assessment of the collection revealed that the relative humidity in the room reached as high as 75%, encouraging mould growth and an infestation of silverfish.

In 2001, the Representative Body of the Church of Ireland approached Maynooth University in Dublin about taking over custodianship of the collection due to growing concerns over the physical deterioration and security risks to the collection. In exchange for a long-term loan of the books, Maynooth university agreed to pay for the transportation, conservation, cataloguing, and general custodianship of the books, while the cathedral would retain legal ownership.

Before the books could be moved, they were fully inventoried, frozen (to kill the silverfish), cleaned, and in some cases, repaired. The collection was then catalogued to a basic level, with more detailed cataloguing taking place as resources become available. The collection’s new storage area is maintained at 17 degrees and 45% relative humidity, and there are security systems in place. Although this was a very expensive process, the university felt that it was a worthwhile investment in order to gain ready access to the collection for its students and faculty. Since moving to its new home, the collection has been heavily used for teaching, research, and exhibitions.

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Dr Anke Timmerman speaks about how booksellers and libraries can work together to prevent theft.

The second presentation by Anke Timmerman, Library Liaison from the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association (ABA). Dr Timmermann’s addressed the issue of theft more directly by describing the the ways that antiquarian booksellers can work with libraries to prevent or respond to theft and vandalism.

Researching provenance (or ownership history) is an important part of the antiquarian book trade. The ability to trace a particular copy of a book to a particular owner has the potential to greatly enhance its value, but it can also reveal that an item may not have been obtained legally. For this reason, the ABA has created guidelines which are designed to make theft (especially from libraries) and the sale of stolen books more difficult.

According to these guidelines, ABA members are expected to do due diligence in researching the provenance of high-value items, confirming that the seller acquired the item legally, and that it was imported or exported legally. If material is suspected to have been stolen, booksellers must conduct research into the book’s provenance, contact the book’s legitimate owner, and cooperate fully with law enforcement to return the stolen material and apprehend those responsible.

Conversely, libraries are expected to do their part to protect their collections against theft and vandalism by establishing and following procedures which minimise opportunities for theft by staff and users, ensuring that rare materials are used under supervision, cataloguing and recording unique identifying features, applying unique and indelible marks of ownership to collections materials, and indelibly cancelling those markings if an item is deaccessioned. Libraries are expected to keep a record of all disposals, and to retain sufficient information to enable subsequent identification of their particular copy of the book.

In the event that a book is stolen, it is important to report the theft as soon as possible. Historically, cultural institutions have been reluctant to admit when items have been stolen for fear that it would damage their reputations and drive away prospective donors, but many cultural heritage professionals now recognise that remaining silent about theft only makes it easier to sell the stolen property. The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) maintains a register of stolen books, and the Art Loss Register includes books, manuscripts, and fragments thereof valued at £300 or more.

The third speaker, Adrian Edwards, Head of Printed Heritage Collections at the British Library, picked up where Dr. Timmerman’s presentation left off, describing some of the security measures in place at the British Library and describing how three particular book thieves were caught and convicted. Conference delegates were asked not to share the details of these investigations on social media, but all three examples held chilling similiarities. In every case, the thief was a frequent visitor to the library, well known to library staff and trusted by them. None of the thieves had any prior criminal convictions, and yet all of them did irreparable damage to unique historical artifacts.

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A few of the British Library’s procedures to detect loss, damage, and theft.

As a government body, the British Library views investigating and prosecuting theft as part of its obligation to use public funds responsibly. They always prosecute where the evidence allows, and they always pursue staff disciplinary action where applicable. Collection security appears in their Strategic Risk Register, and there are a number of policies in place both to minimise the risk of theft or loss by members of the public and their own staff.

Although some of the British Library’s security measures are beyond the reach of smaller institutions due to insufficient equipment or staffing, there are certain principles that can be applied by libraries of any size: taking a pro-active approach to security by performing regular collection audits, tracking the movement of items, and identifying high-risk items enables libraries to identify and investigate missing items quickly. Consistent and uniform application of security procedures for staff and readers alike reduces the opportunities for theft, and clear ownership markings ensure that stolen items can be easily identified and returned to their rightful owners.

The final speaker of the day, Giles Mandelbrote, Librarian and Archivist at Lambeth Palace Library, told the story of a major theft of around 1400 early printed items in 1974, nearly all of which were returned in 2011. The story involved an unusual stipulation in the thief’s will, some particularly inspired detective work involving an old, long-since superseded print catalogue of the library’s collection, and the discovery of a locked trapdoor into a hidden loft. The story is welldocumented elsewhere, but the take-away lessons for conference delegates focused on the importance of retaining print catalogues as historical snapshots of the collection, and the need to work with the media to ensure that coverage focused on the restoration of the books rather than poor security and the subsequent cover-up of the loss.

One point which particularly struck me was the fact that the actions of one opportunistic thief were able to change our perception of the historical record. The thief had targeted items which he believed to have the highest resale value. Given the interests of book collectors today, these were primarily on secular topics. In removing those items, the thief drastically changed the overall character of the collection by obscuring the personal interests of the previous archbishops who had bequeathed their personal collections to the library. The idea that a single opportunistic thief could have such a significant impact on our understanding of the past was a sobering thought.

Following a break for lunch, conference delegates split into groups for visits to three different libraries around Brighton. I visited the Keep, a facility shared by the East Sussex Record Office, the Royal Pavilion & Museums Local History Collections, and the University of Sussex Special Collections. Built between 2011 and 2013, this facility is divided into a Repository Block which provides more than six miles of shelving in purpose-built, climate-controlled storage. The Repository Block occupies three floors, and each floor’s temperature and humidity is adjusted to the optimal conditions for the type of materials stored there.

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The conservation lab at the Keep, with UV-filtered windows overlooking an area of green roof.

The People Block is organised so that all of the public areas are on the ground floor and wheelchair accessible. These areas include a small exhibition space, reading rooms with computer terminal access, microform readers, and a selection of print reference books, meeting rooms, a group research area, an oral history room with recording facilities, and three multifunction rooms which can be used for school classes, student groups, workshops, receptions, and other events. The upper floor of the People Block houses the staff offices, conservation lab, conservation studio, and additional space for volunteers, students, and community groups to assist with the Keep’s preservation work. As the icing on the cake, the entire facility is designed to be as sustainable as possible, with green roofs, rainwater catchments, low-energy light fittings, thick walls, super-insulation, and passive solar design for thermal efficiency, and a biomass plant in a nearby (but not adjoining) building to reduce fire risk.

At the end of our tour, we were treated to a display of materials from the different collections housed at the Keep, including the Mass Observation Archive and the personal papers of Lord Richard Attenborough, Rudyard Kipling, and Leonard Woolf.

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The Royal Pavilion, built for George IV as a seaside pleasure palace.

After our site visits, the last outing for the day was a tour and drinks reception at the Royal Pavilion, built as a seaside getaway for King George IV. A delightfully odd mashup of English, Indian, and Chinese architectural styles, the exterior of the building is covered with spires and onion domes reminiscent of the Taj Mahal, and the interior was designed in imitation of a Chinese palace. Of course, none of the architects, interior decorators, or tradesmen who worked on the pavilion had ever actually been to India or China, so the rooms are filled with oddities like murals of flowering bamboo with vine-like curving stalks, or decorative columns topped by ornately carved dragons with the wings and head of a Welsh dragon, and the curling, serpent-like body of a Chinese dragon.

After the reception, it was back to the University of Sussex for dinner and a bit more socialising before the third and final day of the conference.

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CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections conference, day 1

Last week, I attended the CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) RBSCG (Rare Books and Special Collections Group) Annual Study Conference hosted by the University of Sussex. The theme of this year’s conference was “Collections at Risk,” with each day of the conference focusing on Preservation and Conservation, Theft and Vandalism, or Sale and Disposal. I enjoy conferences in general since they give me the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with colleagues from across the country, but this year’s conference was especially practical. There was so much useful information, in fact, that I’ve had to divide my conference notes between three blog posts. For this post, I’m going to focus on day 1: Preservation and Conservation.

The first speaker was Elizabeth Oxborrow-Cowan, Consultant Archivist on the UNESCO Memory of the World programme. Her presentation, entitled Using the UNESCO brand to protect collections, gave a brief overview of UNESCO’s Memory of the World programme, which seeks to facilitate preservation, access, and awareness of documentary heritage. This programme centres around the belief that documentary heritage is key to our national (or international) identity; that documentary heritage belongs to all, and should therefore be accessible to all. A key element of the programme is the Register for items or collections of outstanding national or international significance.

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Elizabeth Oxborrow-Cowan offers some tips on getting managers and donors to engage with preservation strategy.

She spoke briefly about the application procedure and criteria for selection, and in more detail about the benefits of having collection items recognised on the UNESCO Register. Acceptance onto the register does not carry any monetary reward, but it does offer an external validation of the significance of an institution’s collections. Thanks to UNESCO’s name recognition with the general public (including managers, accountants, donors, and other non-librarians), it can lend support to funding applications and bring added footfall to exhibitions and events.

Even for those institutions whose collections might not meet the criteria for “outstanding significance,” the Memory of the World project also issues recommendations and guidelines for preserving documentary heritage. Building these guidelines into project plans can also strengthen funding applications.

The second and fourth speakers, Stacey Anderson, Media Archivist at Plymouth City Council, and Will Prentice, Head of Technical Services for Sound & Vision at the British Library, both discussed ongoing projects to preserve and digitise audiovisual media in their collections, and to encourage other institutions and private individuals to do the same. Stacey Anderson described the unique challenges of preserving audiovisual media: not only do the materials themselves deteriorate rapidly, the technology (analogue or digital) to play them rapidly becomes obsolete and therefore difficult to find and maintain. Each different format has slightly different storage requirements in terms of optimal temperature and relative humidity, so it is important for curators to understand and identify each of the formats in their collections.

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Ten regional hubs will provide training on digitisation and preservation.

Will Prentice described the British Library’s Save Our Sounds project, which originated from a survey of cultural heritage professionals which revealed that while roughly 50% of us have audiovisual media in our collections, more than 70% of us responded that we had no formal training on audiovisual materials, and did not feel confident in our capacity to care for audio collections. To remedy this situation, the Save Our Sounds project aims to set up ten regional hubs which will offer training to cultural heritage professionals and the general public on digitisation and preservation. Each of these hubs will contribute digital copies of 5,000 sound recordings for posting on the British Library’s website. By making these recordings freely available to the public, the project hopes to demonstrate both the value and the fragility of sound archives.

The third speaker of the day was Emma Dodson, the Divisional Manager at Harwell Document Restoration Services. Rather than listen passively to her presentatioin, conference delegates were asked to imagine that a water leak (the most common type of disaster in UK libraries) had been found in their department, and to discuss the order in which they would perform a set of tasks including isolating the electrical supply, consulting the library’s disaster plan, evacuating reading room areas, setting up a salvage area for drying books, and removing or otherwise protecting books in areas adjacent to the leak. We were given tools for calculating the volume of damage materials we could salvage on our own, and for deciding when to call in professional help. We all hoped that we would never need to make use of this knowledge, but exercises like this one are designed to reduce the amount of time that it takes us to go from panicked flailing to useful, directed action.

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Environmental monitoring and control is vital to preserving documents.

The final speaker was Sarah Bashir, Preservation Manager at Lambeth Palace Library. Sarah’s presentation, aptly titled Preventive Conservation: what to do when you have no money, gave an excellent overview of the chief causes of damage to library collections (temperature, relative humidity, light, pests, dust and pollutants, and poor handling), with suggestions for easy, low-cost ways of monitoring conditions and mitigating threats.

By the end of the day, I was filled with new ideas for extending the useful lifespan of our collections. After a pleasant dinner catching up with colleagues whom I hadn’t seen since last year’s conference, I was ready to get some sleep and do it all again tomorrow.

Guest Post: Paul E E Barbier and the wider Cardiff Community

This guest post comes from Pip Bartlett, undergraduate in French and Italian in the School of Modern Languages at Cardiff University. Pip is currently working on a CUROP project to catalogue the Barbier family archive.

Paul E E Barbier was a respected member of staff at the University of South Wales and Monmouthshire (now Cardiff University), as well as being a recognised name within the wider community in Cardiff. After moving there in 1883 with his family, he made a concerted effort to become involved with local cultural societies and in particular was interested in the conservation of the Welsh language. The archive testifies to his sustained commitment to Welsh throughout his time in the Welsh capital.

Paul E E Barbier (002)

Photograph of Paul E E Barbier, courtesy of Delphine Isaaman.

He also sought to foster the relationship between Britain and France. According to an article from the Revue Mensuelle Galloise (March 1909), no one ‘laboured more arduously, in his own sphere, than Professor Barbier to bring about a better understanding between England and France’. In 1906, he co-founded the Société Franco-Britannique de Cardiff alongside Max Wideman and W.E Thomas, two other Francophiles residing in Cardiff. The society looked to ‘strengthen the bonds of friendship between the two countries’ and continues to have an extensive programme of lectures (in French) and social events. I have met John Martin, the society’s current treasurer, who has provided me with a history of the society (which of course mentions Paul Barbier) and a programme of upcoming events. The society’s website can be found here: http://www.francais-a-cardiff.org.uk/index.html

I have also found evidence in the archive that Paul E E Barbier was a member of the Société Nationale des Professeurs de Français en Grande-Bretagne (SNPF). Founded in 1881, the society still exists to promote French culture, as well as the teaching of the French language. Through his public lectures and contributions to the press gathered in the archive, Barbier also promoted the Entente Cordiale, a series of agreements signed in 1904 which settled a number of controversial matters and sought to bring an end to antagonisms between Great Britain and France. In an obituary from the South Wales Echo dated 26th September 1921, I learnt that the secretary of King Edward VII sent Paul Barbier a letter of thanks in the name of the King for his public spirit. I’ve searched the archive for this letter, unfortunately without success so far, but it would be great to see it!

As well as speaking and writing perfect English along with his native French, Professor Barbier had a keen interest in the Welsh language. From 1897 he was on the committee for the National Eisteddfodd, the annual festival held in a different Welsh town or city each year. As mentioned in my last blog post, I have found the Welsh Newspapers Online website very useful in obtaining information about Paul E E Barbier. One article for The Western Mail (7th July 1899) entitled ‘Mons. P Barbier on the Eisteddfodd’ explains that he contributed to a series of short newspaper articles about the National Eisteddfodd. In the same article, Paul Barbier asserts that ‘the Welsh nation owes its spirit of culture to the Eisteddfodd’.

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Western Mail, 7th July 1899.

I understand that during the late 1800s very little attention was paid to the Welsh language in Cardiff, nonetheless it seems that Paul E E Barbier devoted his time and attention to the study of the language. Throughout the archive I have found evidence of Welsh being used. It is apparent in exercise books and letters from Paul E E Barbier. When the University of South Wales and Monmouthshire first opened, there was no option to study Welsh. However, Paul E E Barbier’s son, Paul E A Barbier, studied for a MA in French and Welsh – this suggests that Paul E E Barbier might have had something to do with the pioneering of Welsh studies. Evidence from newspaper articles explain that Barbier delivered lectures about Welsh language and culture.  An article from The South Wales Echo (2nd February 1899) gives an account of his lecture ‘My Impressions of Wales and Welshmen’. According to the article, there ‘was a full attendance’ and the lecture ‘was full of humour and literary charm’.  The article also cites a wonderful quote from the lecture, in which Paul E E Barbier says ‘if French were the language of men, German of soldiers, Spanish of God’s Saints, Italian of women and English of men, surely Welsh was that of angels!’.

 

Guest post: From rookie researcher to amateur archivist: my year in Special Collections

This guest post is from recent English Literature graduate Anna Sharrard. Anna took part in modules closely aligned with Special Collections throughout her final degree year, and is now volunteering with us over the summer, creating our first Edward Thomas online resource.


My first introduction to working in Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives was in the autumn term of my third year studying English Literature.  I studied Dr Julia Thomas’s module, The Illustrated Book, which hosted all of its seminars in Special Collections. Over the course of the module, we were given access to numerous examples of illustrated novels, journals, and newspapers from the archive’s extensive collection, aiding our understanding of the history of the illustrated book from the late eighteenth century to the present. My personal highlights included studying Special Collections’ copy of the Moxon Tennyson (surely every Pre-Raphaelite lover’s dream), handling the unconventional and intriguing artist’s books, and carving our own designs into lino blocks to attempt relief printing for ourselves! (Safe to say, I don’t think we would have made the cut to be professional engravers any time soon…)

Practising linocut with the Illustrated Book class.

Practising linocut with the Illustrated Book class.

I was excited by the prospect of returning to the archive in the spring term while studying Dr Carrie Smith’s module, Poetry in the Making: Modern Literary Manuscripts. In order to give us practical experience of working with literary manuscripts, several weeks of the module were conducted in Special Collections, engaging with the material held in the Edward Thomas (1878-1917) archive. Part of the assessment required us to create a group video presentation exploring an item of interest from the archive. Here’s a clip from one of the student films:

Despite the words ‘group presentation’ usually striking fear into the hearts of most students, the filmed assessment was what had initially attracted me to the module. To have a practical element to an undergraduate English Literature module is unusual, and it stood out as a unique opportunity, allowing students to develop and showcase a different set of skills to future employers.

Edward Thomas (1878-1917)

Edward Thomas (1878-1917)

Special Collections’ Edward Thomas archive is expansive, holding the world’s largest collection of his letters, diaries, notebooks, poems, photographs, and personal belongings. Alison Harvey, archivist at Special Collections, selected a wide array of material from the archive for us to explore, and in our groups we assessed which items would form the focal point of our presentations. Being tasked with working with archival material was certainly a new experience, and it proved very interesting but also challenging. Almost all the texts I had encountered during my three years studying English Literature had been published documents, written in standardised print with titles, page numbers, and footnotes. It was therefore challenging studying the manuscript form of Edward Thomas’ poems, diary entries, and correspondence, because the layout of the text on the page did not always follow a chronological pattern. Amendments and notes could have been added at different stages of the document’s history, and we felt like detectives trying to figure out the chronology of the documents. At the beginning we also struggled with some of the seemingly indecipherable handwriting, but both Carrie and Alison were extremely patient with us, and with practice, it became easier to interpret the handwriting and read the material.

Telegram to Helen, notifying her of Edward's death in combat.

Telegram to Helen, notifying her of Edward’s death in combat.

I think the rest of the group would agree how surprisingly evocative they found the experience, especially handling the telegram sent to Helen Thomas relating the news of her husband’s death, and reading the condolence letters sent to her by Edward’s comrades and friends. I think these documents produced a strong emotional reaction among the group, because holding correspondence of such a personal nature felt intrusive to some extent. It was possible to imagine the moment Helen received the telegram, and the devastation this would have caused her and their three children.

The practical experience of working hands-on with the archive material and filming for the presentation made an invigorating change from the usual essay assessments, and the module was an excellent introduction to working in an archive. It also sparked a personal interest in Edward Thomas, drawing in all the elements of his life as a literary critic, a novelist, a poet, a soldier, and also as a husband and a father. I was able to delve further into his life and works by attending the Edward Thomas Centenary Conference that was held at Cardiff University in April 2017, hearing leading researchers of Edward Thomas speak, and meeting fellow fans of his work. On one of the days of the conference, I participated in a student panel hosted by Dr Carrie Smith, answering questions from the attendees about our experience of using the archive, handling the material, and producing a video presentation as an assessment, which was understandably identified as an unusual feature of an undergraduate module.

Edward Thomas 100 exhibition

Edward Thomas 100 exhibition

Special Collections also launched its Edward Thomas 100 exhibition to coincide with the Centenary Conference, and it was fantastic to see the collection showcased to the public in such a visually appealing and accessible way. Much respect to Alison for engineering such a wonderful display whilst also fending off frequent queries about the Edward Thomas archive from our course group as deadlines loomed! The exhibition is on display in Special Collections until October, for any of those who are inspired to come and have a gander.

After being involved in the conference, I approached Alison to see if I could be of any assistance in volunteering my time to Special Collections over the summer. She proposed a project to digitise sections of the Edward Thomas archive. The plan was to focus on the photographs, poems, and letters held in the collection, which were used so heavily as an educational resource every Spring by Dr Carrie Smith’s Poetry in the Making group. Since July, I have been tasked with digitising, editing, uploading and organising images on a freely available online resource (Flickr), where they can be viewed and navigated through easily. The resource allows images to be downloaded for re-use at a variety of resolutions.

The new Edward Thomas online resource

The new Edward Thomas online resource

Once uploaded to Flickr, I attach the full metadata to each image to assist with citations, add tags (so that images can be found by users searching keywords) and a location pin (if applicable). Finally, I group related images into albums for ease of navigation.

I began by tackling the extensive collection of photographs, beginning with those solely of Edward Thomas, and then moving onto the wider family, including ones taken years after Edward’s death. It was necessary for me wear gloves to handle the photographs, (completing the stereotypical image of an archivist in style I might add), as the oils from the skin can easily damage the surface of the prints.

Edward's children (r-l): Bronwen, Myfanwy and Merfyn.

Edward’s children (r-l): Bronwen, Myfanwy and Merfyn.

It has been pleasing to see the Flickr account fill up with photographs of Edward, his wife Helen, and children Merfyn, Bronwen, and Myfanwy. The images really help to flesh out their lives outside of Edward’s publications and literary career. You get a sense of character through photographs that it can be difficult to find from a sheet of paper, no matter how personal someone’s handwriting can feel. It was also enjoyable to see the progression of Edward and Helen’s three children growing up as the number of photos on the resource accumulated.

Early drafts of Edward Thomas' poems

Early drafts of Edward Thomas’ poems

I encountered one of the more challenging aspects of working with archival material when I moved onto digitising Edward’s poems. The manuscript poems held at Special Collections date between 1914-1917, and the pages are noticeably thinner and more delicate than other material in the archive. This is because paper quality severely declined during wartime, and its high acid content makes surviving material extremely friable. The availability of digital surrogates will help conserve these vulnerable originals.

To get a representative sample of the hundreds of letters stored in the archive, I focused my attention next on Edward’s letters from poet Robert Frost and those sent to writer Gordon Bottomley. The letters which I chose to upload from Gordon Bottomley date from 1902-1905, and reveal evidence of Edward’s continuing struggle with depression. Though mostly containing discussion of literature and Edward’s review-writing, there is often a pervasive tone of despair to Edward’s letters. The letters sent to Edward written by Robert Frost date from 1915-16, and are saturated with the outbreak of the war, revealing insecurities arising from the pressure of enlisting and needing to prove one’s worth. On pages 3-4 of a letter from 6 Nov 1916, Frost writes:

Letter from Robert Frost.

Letter from Robert Frost.

“You rather shut me up by enlisting. Talk is almost too cheap when all your friends are facing bullets. I don’t believe I ought to enlist (since I am American) […] When all the world is facing danger, it’s a shame not to be facing danger for any reason, old age, sickness, or any other. Words won’t make the shame less. There’s no use trying to make out that the shame we suffer makes up for the more heroic things we don’t suffer.”

Edward’s own desire to prove his worth is evident in a letter he wrote to his daughter Myfanwy. Dated 29 Dec 1916, whilst Edward was situated in Lydd, Kent, he confesses:

Letter from Edward to his daughter, Myfanwy, aged 6.

Letter from Edward to his daughter, Myfanwy, aged 6.

“I should not be surprised if we were in France at the end of this month. I do hope peace won’t come just yet. I should not know what to do, especially if it came before I had fully been a soldier. I wonder if you want peace, and if you can remember when there was no war.”

Another extensive sequence of Edward Thomas’s correspondences held in Special Collections is between Edward and Helen Thomas (nee Noble). These letters run from 1897 (before their marriage), until Edward’s death in 1917. Of the hundreds of letters, I selected the last letters Edward wrote to Helen, and worked my way backwards. I thought this would provide a useful contrast to the early Bottomley letters, also identifying that the descriptions of Edward’s experiences in the army, and his subsequent posting to France, would be of great interest to researchers of Edward’s life.

The letters Edward writes to Helen during the years he is studying at Lincoln College, Oxford (1898-1900), whilst Helen is at their family home in Kent, are interesting because they disclose the domestic side to Edward’s life. These letters may consist of comparatively mundane subject matter to researchers, as they consist of everyday conversations, mainly including practical matters and financial arrangements between the couple. However, much of the early correspondence resonated with me. One particular letter (25 May 1900, pp. 5-7) contains Edward’s dejection over getting a bad mark in a university module and worrying about disappointing his parents.

Letter from Edward to Helen, while a student at Oxford.

Letter from Edward to Helen, while a student at Oxford.

“I have been wickedly idle this last year (except in the vacation), and father will be angry when he sees the class list in July: for I shall get a 3rd at most.”

Every student at some point has gone through the angst of being convinced they were going to fail a module. It’s reassuring that this was also the case for the last century’s students too.

Another letter from a month later, (8 Jun 1900), consists of Edward expressing his misery at being apart from Helen, but her not being able to visit him because of financial constraints and having nowhere for her to stay. Despite these letters being over 100 years old, it is remarkable just how relevant they still are to students, and to my own experience of being in a long-distance relationship. In our age of instant communication, we can forget how much further distances just within the UK would have felt when you had to wait on a letter to bring news of your loved ones: “I have no time for a letter but I can’t help expecting to hear good news from you. The absence of it is distracting. My health is getting bad and my eyes almost // failed me today. I don’t see how you can come down. You can’t afford it and I don’t know where you could stay.”

In creating this resource, I have become privy to so many more aspects of Edward Thomas’s life that I didn’t have time to appreciate during the seminar hours of Poetry in the Making. My hope is that this resource will allow future students on the module to spend time going through the collection at their own leisure, unrestrained by the archive’s opening hours or the limited number of seminars held in the archive. Having the images freely available to use on Flickr will reduce the number of times the documents will be handled each time a group needs to take a photograph, helping to conserve the originals. This will free up time during the seminars for the groups to discuss the content and argument of their presentations, and also guarantee high quality photographs for every group. For those rushing things last-minute, (as there inevitably will be), they will be able to check a reference number or a date quickly online, rather than having to pull out and go through all the boxes of material in search of one photograph or a letter they forgot to write down the catalogue number for!

Beyond the University, now that a large chunk of the Edward Thomas archive has been digitised, researchers all over the world are able see images of the documents described by the archive catalogue, and can easily browse through the majority of the collection held here in Cardiff. This will be a major help to many, I hope, and aid them in their research.

I’ve enjoyed my time in Special Collections very much over the final year of my degree here at Cardiff University, and I want to say a big thank you to the entire team at Special Collections for making me feel so welcome during this project. It’s been a pleasure to aid future users of the archive, and if you’re unfamiliar with Special Collections, I hope you will go for a visit after reading this!

Guest post: Paul E. E. Barbier and Cardiff University

This guest post comes from Pip Bartlett, undergraduate in French and Italian in the School of Modern Languages at Cardiff University. Pip is currently working on a CUROP project to catalogue the Barbier family archive.


I have been very keen to discover more about Paul E E Barbier, one of the first Professors of French here at Cardiff University. However, because he seemed to do and achieve so much throughout his lifetime, I thought it best to split my posts up; one about his work with Cardiff University, and the other regarding his involvement within the wider Cardiff community.

At first, I found it quite difficult to pinpoint specific details relating to Paul E E Barbier, as much of the archive, particularly those pertaining to the later years, seems dominated by material about his son, Paul E A Barbier (very confusing, I know). Although I am focusing on cataloguing letters, I found the wider archive useful when trying to piece together information about the elder Paul. This includes newspaper cuttings and various other documents which mention his name. The previous owner of the archive has compiled two booklets, one about Paul’s father Georges Barbier and the other about his wife, Euphémie Bornet. Although neither are specifically about Paul E E Barbier, they do contain some interesting information and help to give a contextual background. I have also found useful sources via Welsh Newspapers Online. Simply typing ‘Paul Barbier’ into the search bar reveals hundreds of results. Although some are irrelevant, a number of articles relate to Paul E E Barbier, some of which I have quoted in this post.

Paul and Euphémie

Paul and Euphémie

Paul E E Barbier was born in 1846 in the Doubs Valley region of France, close to the Swiss border. His father, Georges Barbier, was a pastor of the protestant church. In 1862, the family moved to London where Georges became the pastor of the French Protestant Church in Soho Square. Whilst in London, the family took in young Swiss women, training to be governesses – this is how Paul met his future wife, the Swiss-born Euphémie Bornet. I am unsure how old they were when they met, but I did learn from the booklets that they were together for ten years before finally marrying in 1872. After their marriage, Paul became a French master at Felsted Grammar School in Essex and later moved to the famous Manchester Grammar School where he remained for 10 years. Euphémie also worked at a school in the area called Aubonne House School for Ladies. In some of the earlier sections of the archive, I have discovered many letters from Euphémie writing from Aubonne House to her parents and siblings. The couple had eight children who were raised speaking both French and English, evidence of which can be seen throughout their letters and correspondences in the archive.

In 1883, Paul was appointed Lecturer of French at the newly opened University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire in Cardiff (now Cardiff University). The whole family moved to Cardiff and Paul set to work developing his department, later being promoted to Professor of French Language and Literature (I am unsure of the exact date). After moving around Cardiff (evident from changes to address in letters), Paul and Euphémie eventually settled at 21 Corbett Road, where they remained until Paul’s death in 1921.

From what I have learnt from material in the archive, Paul Barbier was a valued and well-respected member of the university by both staff and pupils. One article I found from the Revue Mensuelle Galloise ‘Cymru’, March 1909 describes Professor Barbier as ‘a wonderful personality, uniting in himself gravity and humour to an extraordinary degree […] He can keep his classes laughing throughout his lectures if he thinks fit to do so; and can again, when he pleases, bring them to verge of weeping’. An obituary from French publication ‘Chronique de Londres’ (1st October 1921) says, ‘Barbier était d’une nature enthousiaste et d’une extrême générosité de coeur; aussi jouissait-il d’une popularité peu commune, et ce sont des milliers d’étudiants qui apprendront sa mort avec une réelle tristesse’ (translation: ‘Barbier was a man of enthusiastic nature and extreme generosity; he had an unusual popularity and thousands of students will be met with real sadness after learning of his death’).

Not only did Paul Barbier teach, but he also examined. The same obituary states that Paul Barbier was examiner in chief for every university in Wales, as well as the universities of London, Dublin, Oxford and Cambridge. An article from the Evening Express (5 January 1906) entitled ‘Honour for Professor Paul Barbier’ regards his appointment as examiner in French for the University of Cambridge as ‘a great distinction’.

Despite living in Cardiff for most of his life, Paul E E Barbier retained his French roots and seemed to be in contact with many different people in France. He and his wife regularly made visits to Paris with his students, evidence of which can be found in letters to their children back home written during these trips. In March 1905, it was announced that the University of France would be awarding Paul Barbier with the highest academic distinction, that is, the diploma of Officer of Public Instruction (le diplôme de l’Officier d’instruction publique). An article in the Evening Express dated 14 March 1905 illustrates the award ceremony held at the University of South Wales and Monmouthshire. It describes Professor Barbier being given the award with ‘the accompaniment of enthusiastic cheers from the large company of students’.

Whilst researching Paul E E Barbier, I came across a couple of small anecdotes which I found amusing and wanted to share. The first is about a ‘scandal’ at the University in 1910. According to a letter from the ‘University of Wales’, questions for a French exam were leaked prior to the examination. I found a ‘poison pen’ letter addressed to Professor Barbier (dated 23 June 1910) in which the author, who remains anonymous, is ‘extremely disgraced’ by the rumour that Professor Barbier has been involved in the ‘scandal’. The author describes Paul Barbier as ‘a man so very lacking in dignity, common sense and those virtues so essential in a university professor’, before going on to say, ‘in your early days you could have clowned exceedingly well… the cap and bells and the fool’s bauble would have befitted you admirably, were it not that the traditional fool was essentially a sapient individual, which you are not.’

Anonymous 'poison pen' letter to Barbier, 1910

Anonymous ‘poison pen’ letter to Barbier, 1910

It would seem that regardless of how popular and valued someone is, they are always going to have enemies! I also found a letter from Paul E E Barbier to one of his children (the exact one is unknown) dated 26th September 1895. In French, he tells the recipient to be more careful with their grammar having read a letter to their mother in which there were many mistakes with the subjunctive mood!

It is evident that Paul E E Barbier was an esteemed member of University staff, valued by both his colleagues and students. He was a known name not only in Wales, but throughout the whole of the United Kingdom, with his efforts also being recognised and awarded by institutions in France. It has been fascinating to research more about his work with the University, and I hope that my next blog post will share more light on his involvement within the wider Cardiff community.

Guest post: John Taylor the Water Poet: animating the archive

This guest post comes from Dr Johann Gregory, Teacher of English Literature and Research Associate at Cardiff University.


The rare books in Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives have held an important place in the development of my research. As I launch a new pilot project on an early modern travel writer, I’d like to share that story.

As a PhD student I took part in training workshops on handling rare books and curating exhibitions. In 2011, I was given the opportunity to work alongside Special Collections staff to curate a small exhibition on an aspect of my PhD research. I chose the topic, Healthy Reading, 1590-1690. Focusing on this aspect helped me to contextualise the early printing and language of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, the focus of my wider PhD research. I later presented on the exhibition and the play during a conference in Paris on ‘Shakespeare et les arts de la table’. My subsequent book chapter on the subject featured images from the Special Collections. I’m very grateful to the Special Collections’ staff, as their support was crucial for this work.

During my research, I became interested in the work of John Taylor (1578-1653), self-titled ‘the Water Poet’. He was a larger-than-life figure who worked as a Thames waterman for much of his life. However, he also published a great deal and his work – ranging from political pamphlets to travel writing to nonsense verse – often includes interesting prefaces, paratexts and titles.

All the vvorkes of Iohn Taylor the water-poet : Beeing sixty and three in number (1630)

All the vvorkes of Iohn Taylor the water-poet : Beeing sixty and three in number (1630)

I was excited to find that we held his Works (1630) in Special Collections, and was able to include it in my Healthy Reading exhibition, opening the book on the first page of ‘Laugh and be Fat’: this was Taylor’s response to the work of a fellow traveller, Thomas Coryate, who has been discussed in a previous blog post.

It’s always seems to me that Taylor deserves to reach a modern readership, and one broader than scholars in specialist libraries. This year I have developed a new project that seeks to shed light on Taylor’s journey around Wales in the summer of 1652.Map of John Taylor's 1652 journey around WalesI have created a new online modern-spelling edition of Taylor’s journey around Wales, and this has been published on a dedicated John Taylor website alongside other resources, such as a Google map of the route. I have also produced a schools’ pack on Taylor’s account of Mid Wales. Pupils at Penglais School (Aberystwyth) have used this to consider Taylor’s account of their hometown and have produced visualisations of his journey that will feed into the project. I now plan to tweet his journey in real time. He set off, with his horse called Dun, from London on 13 July, travelling up through the Midlands to North Wales and then along the coast down to Tenby and across South Wales via Cardiff, arriving back to London in early September. During the trip he turned 74.

This pilot project is something of an experiment, bringing Taylor to new readers. The aim is that it will also provide proof of concept for future projects on John Taylor and travel writing.

For more information about the project, visit the website.

Follow @DrJ_Gregory for Twitter updates.

The Collingwood Collection: an introduction to the family and the project

It’s been two months now since I joined Special Collections and Archives as the project archivist for the Collingwood Collection. During this time I have been completely immersed in the family’s correspondence and, as a result, feel like I know the family almost as well as my own! The project is generously funded by the National Cataloguing Grants scheme provided by The National Archives. My job is to create a catalogue with detailed descriptions of all the correspondence in the collection in order to make it accessible to researchers and to public scrutiny, interaction and celebration. (With this in mind, we will be running some events to showcase the collection over the coming year.)

The Collingwood Family: a potted history

The Collingwood Collection is the family archive of an extraordinary family. The Collingwoods have been described as ‘probably the most intellectually and artistically gifted family in the Lake District in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.’ The collection in Cardiff centres around W. G. Collingwood and his descendants. W. G. Collingwood (1854-1932) was an artist, author, professor of fine arts, Norse scholar, and John Ruskin’s friend and secretary. In 1883 he married Edith Mary (Dorrie) Isaac (1857-1928). Often confined to a footnote along the lines of ‘also an artist’, she was, in fact quite remarkable. While she was alive her art was commercially successful – much more so, it seems, than her husband as she was reportedly the main breadwinner in the marriage and exhibited widely both in the Lake District and in London. She was a noted miniaturist and while this is obvious from her artwork in the collection, it is also evident from the many sketches included in her letters to family and friends, such as these two sketches of her daughter Barbara.

They had four children. Their eldest, Dora (1886-1964), was another successful artist and married the notable medical doctor Ernest Altounyan. After the First World War, she moved with her husband to Syria where Ernest’s father ran a pioneering hospital in Aleppo. Ernest worked as a medical doctor in the hospital and they were both heavily involved with helping refugees in Aleppo, particularly in response to the Armenian Genocide (1915-23).  Arthur Ransome, a close friend of the family, based the Walker children in Swallows and Amazons (1930) on Dora and Ernest’s children.

Barbara (1887-1961), the Collingwood’s second child, was a sculptor. Her husband, Oscar Gnosspelius was a civil engineer who specialised in mining and railway construction in South Africa before the war and later prospected on the Coniston Fells with W. G. Collingwood. He was also a pioneering aviation expert and built hydroplanes on Lake Windermere. Their daughter, Janet (1926-2010), was an architect and historian. She was the former owner of the collection before it was deposited at Cardiff University.

The Collingwood’s third child, Robin (1889-1943) is better known as R. G. Collingwood and was an influential philosopher and historian. He was among the leading names in British Idealism and an expert in the archaeology of Roman Britain. The Collingwood and British Idealism Centre is based at Cardiff University and aims to ‘promot[e] and encourag[e] research into the life and philosophy of R. G. Collingwood’.

Their fourth child, Ursula (1891-1964), was both an artist and a trained mid-wife. She worked as a midwife in London’s East End from around 1912 to 1925 before returning to teach art at Blackwell School and later becoming a farmer.

I’ll be writing further blog posts introducing you to some of these fascinating family members over the next few months.

The beginnings of cataloguing

During the first few weeks, I concentrated on the boxes set aside as being of particular research interest. These included correspondence between members of the family and notable people such as John Ruskin, Arthur Ransome, E. M. Forster, and even a letter from Beatrix Potter, and many more gems besides.

One letter particularly which stood out to me at the time was a letter from E. M. Forster to Barbara Collingwood. Writing in 1916, he describes the effect he believes the First World War was having on him artistically and personally. Much is known of Forster’s pacifism but I have been unable to find an insight as personal the one revealed in this letter.

In this letter, Forster writes to his friend:

I don’t know… — as this war drags on to its dreary and arithmetical conclusion if to any conclusion at all, the passion in me for all that old High-life and High-art business of which I used to be rather ashamed, seems to increase and express itself less fearlessly.

Reading and cataloguing the personal correspondence of the Collingwood family is a real privilege and feeling like I am really getting to know them. It is almost like a novel unfolding with stories not yet told. I felt this particularly when I was reading the letters Edith (Dorrie) wrote to her future husband, W. G. Collingwood, when they were courting. It is not often that one gets such a personal insight into the private lives of others, especially not those from 120 years ago. A few letters have been reproduced hear but I look forward to telling the story of their courtship in a later blog post.

There is estimated to be around 4000 letters in total in the collection. I have now created item level descriptions of around 30% these. It’s been exciting uncovering stories about these fascinating people, and I’m looking forward to sharing some of these with you over the coming months.

Guest post: The Barbier family and World War One

This guest post comes from Pip Bartlett, undergraduate in French and Italian in the School of Modern Languages at Cardiff University.


In this blog post, I will be sharing some of my discoveries about the Barbier family and their involvement in the First World War. As mentioned in my previous post, the Barbier archive contains several boxes of letters, organised into date order. Five of the grey boxes (1914, 1915, 1916, 1917 and 1918) contain correspondence between the family during the war years. So far, I have catalogued boxes 1914, 1915 and 1918, which have revealed information about the family’s activities, feelings and experiences at the time. I also used two of the booklets created by the previous owner (‘Barbier Voices from the Great War’ Parts 1 & 2) to support any findings I made; they contain very detailed information about each family member’s war experience, as well as including photographs and extracts from diaries.

Edmond, Isabelle, and Paul BarbierAccording to ‘Barbier Voices from the Great War Part 1’, prior to the outbreak of war all four of the Barbier brothers had well-established careers; Paul E A. Barbier had been Professor of French at the University of Leeds since 1903, Edmond was the assistant examiner in oral and written French to the Central Welsh Board, Georges was the manager of coal firm ‘Messrs Instone’ and Jules, a civil engineer in North America. Because of their French Nationality, the brothers had completed military service with the French Army well before the war (Paul completed his in 1889), making them no strangers to a military environment. According to the booklet, in August 1914 all four men, along with their brother-in-law Raoul Vaillant de Guélis (married to their sister Marie) were called up by the French state and sent to France.

Due to their French-English bilingualism, both Paul and Edmond were mobilised as interpreters for the British Expeditionary Forces. I am unsure if they were seconded from the French army – something I would like to ask the previous owner about in our interview.

Jules and Georges BarbierJules and Georges remained ‘poilus’ (ordinary field soldiers for the French army). Much of the archive from the war years is dedicated to correspondence from Paul E. A. Barbier (or Paul Barbier Fils, as in son, as he is known) to his wife Cécile. From what I have grasped after reading his letters, it seems Paul Barbier Fils had a reasonably ‘comfortable’ wartime experience; that is to say, he regularly talks of eating well and playing bridge with his brother Edmond. In numerous letters, he says he is in ‘good health and spirits’ and regularly returns to the UK on leave, which he documents. According to the letters in the archive, Paul Barbier Fils also remained in close contact with his colleagues at the University of Leeds. For example, there are letters from the Vice Chancellor of the university who asks for Paul’s opinion on various university matters. There is even a letter to Paul dated 29th June 1915 from the Vice Chancellor who says he has been in contact with the French Embassy in London attempting to release Paul from the army, unfortunately without success.

I also found letters to Cécile Barbier from wives of other University staff whose husbands were at the front. Cécile served on a committee in Leeds which regularly sent parcels and gifts to University employees in France. Despite his relatively positive account of his wartime experiences in France, some of Paul’s letters to his wife are less cheerful and according to ‘Barbier Voices from the Great War Part 2’, in May 1917 he writes ‘I start writing poetry again […] when I am overcome by sadness’, and in June ‘my intellectual life is a waste land. I long to talk to beings less deadly dull than those around me’. A year later in March 1918 he even says, ‘I am an exile, I am atrociously bored’.  To fight these feelings of boredom, Paul evidently focused on his hobbies and interests. Ever the lexicographer (that is, a person who compiles dictionaries, an occupation that was linked to his academic preoccupations), Paul Barbier Fils became fascinated with the local dialect of the region in which he was stationed. He even compiled a dictionary of the dialect entitled ‘Lexique du Patois d’Erquinghem-Lys’, which was later published posthumously in 1980 by the Musée de Picardie in Amiens, France.

Georges BarbierGeorges Barbier, on the other hand, seemed to have had the most difficult war experience out of the family members who went to the Front. In 1916 he returned to London from the front due to illness to work for the Coal Board. In letters to his brothers and mother, he talks of suffering from night-blindness and having very little food, if any. His wife Nan died a few years later, leaving him a widower with two children. Fortunately, the three other brothers who remained in France survived, and in 1919 were demobilised from the army, returning to their peacetime lives in Cardiff. Their brother-in-law, Raoul Vaillant de Guélis was not so fortunate and died of pneumonia in 1916. His wife Marie never remarried and raised her two children along with those of her brother George after his death in 1921. One of her children, Jacques Vaillant de Guélis became a Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent, an undercover spy who carried out missions in France during the Second World War. I do not know much about his life yet, but I am excited to discover more over the upcoming weeks.

Isabelle BarbierFinally, while the brothers were at the Front, their younger sister, Isabelle Barbier, spent time in France as a nurse during WW1. Unlike her brothers, there is little correspondence from Isabelle during the war years throughout the archive, but ‘Barbier Voices from the Great War Part 1’ gives detailed accounts about her time as an assistant to Dame Maud McCarthy, Matron in Chief to the British Expeditionary Forces. On page 7 of the booklet, there is a lovely picture of Isabelle with her brothers Edmond and Paul, as well as a picture of her in uniform wearing the Royal Red Cross – presumably she was awarded this, but I am unsure when. It is something I would like to find more about when I speak to the previous owner of the archive. All in all, the archive offers insights into the wartime experiences of this remarkable family and it has been particularly fascinating to discover how Paul Barbier Fils continued his interests and worked remotely with the University of Leeds. I hope the former owner is able to answer some of the questions which I have raised, as I feel there are some interesting pointers for future research.

Guest post: The Barbier family: an introduction

This guest post comes from Pip Bartlett, undergraduate in French and Italian in the School of Modern Languages at Cardiff University.


Having just completed my third year abroad at l’Université de Genève, Switzerland, and l’Università degli Studi di Parma, Italy, I was thrilled to be nominated to take part in an 8-week placement with the Cardiff University Research Opportunities Programme (CUROP). My task over the eight weeks is to scope the newly acquired Barbier archive, under the supervision of Professor Hanna Diamond, a 20th century French historian, and Alan Hughes, Head of Special Collections and Archives at Cardiff University.

Pip working on the Barbier archive.

Pip working on the Barbier archive.

The archive was donated to the university by a living relative of the Barbier family. She believed that the archive would be valuable to researchers, as Paul E. E. Barbier was the first lecturer in French appointed to the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire, the institution that later became Cardiff University. After visiting the former owner’s home to see the archive, Hanna and Alan were keen to acquire it. The owner has spent time carefully organising and dating the extensive archive. It comprises several large boxes full of memorabilia relating to the family and the Victorian era, including photographs, newspaper cuttings and old exercise books.

There are also 36 archive boxes, each dated by year from 1860 to 1924, containing hundreds of letters, postcards and other correspondence between members of the Barbier family, as well as their relatives, colleagues and friends. The previous owner has also provided us with a very useful family tree, along with four booklets which she has written detailing the family’s involvement in the First World War. Others outline the lives of Georges Barbier (1819-1892), one of the original members of the family who came to London from the Doubs Valley in France, and Euphémie Barbier (née Bornet), the Swiss-born governess who settled in Cardiff after marrying his son Paul E. E. Barbier.

Selection of letters from the archive.

Selection of letters from the archive.

My responsibility is to go through the archive with a view to uncovering and recording its contents. I am also collating information about the family to enable the University to promote the archive both to future researchers and interested members of the public.

Once settled in Cardiff, the family continued to sustain their French links, often communicating in French with each other, and working closely with various French societies in Britain (the Société Franco-Britannique de Cardiff, for example). The family’s Franco-British identity is very apparent in the archive, as most of the letters from the 36 boxes are in French. I have needed my language skills to read, decipher and translate the letters, which I have then been cataloguing into a spreadsheet so that future researchers have an understanding of what each box contains.

Each box of letters takes a while to go through, particularly as there are so many letters, and the handwriting is sometimes difficult to read! In a few weeks’ time, I will be conducting an oral history interview with the former owner of the archive, who I hope will be able to provide more detail and context to the family’s involvement in the First World War, and the different lives of each family member. In order to share my discoveries and give a taste of what the archive has to offer, I will be sharing updates via further blog posts and social media.

On the bilingual wagon.

Well, I don’t know about you but this recent spell of tropical Welsh-weather (three words I’ve never had to string together before) has left me quite parched, and for once I cannot blame the rare books dust. And as is sometimes the case in sunny climes, thoughts may  turn to a cool beer or cider, so whilst I have been sunning my soul amongst the books I’ll confess, boozy thoughts have also been sloshing around my mind, and not just because of the weather…

For I have been sourcing works for a current venture by the Recipes Project, a digital humanities blog arranged by a group of international scholars dedicated to the study of recipes in all their forms – culinary, domestic, medicinal, veterinary and magical. Currently, the project is holding its first Virtual Conversation where, through a series of online events participants can share images, texts, and collections on various social media platforms and join in the conversation about ‘What is a Recipe?’

Of course, we were keen to get involved and I was already aware of recipe related materials in our stacks, such as W. Edmond’s New and easy way of making wines from herbs, fruits and flowers (London, 1767); William Hughes’ The compleat vineyard (London, 1665); William Turner’s (not the artist) Book of wines (1568), interestingly, the first book on wine written in English, and A. Shore’s Practical treatise on brewing (1804).

The Complete Vineyard

Extract from William Hughes’, The compleat vineyard: or, A most excellent way of planting vines, (London, 1665).

Now, I wouldn’t want you to get the impression that our collection is a bit of a lush, for  the collections yielded a very interesting range of recipe-related materials which included: Rembert Dodoens, A new herbal, or Historie of plants, (London, 1619); Kenelm Digby’s Choice and experimented receipts in physick and chirurgery: as also cordial and distilled waters and spirits, perfumes and other curiosities, (London, 1688); John Eliot, The medical pocket-book, (London, 1784); and John Howells’ The whole art of farriery laid open: containing cures for every disorder… including several excellent original recipes for horned cattle and sheep, (Cowbridge, c. 1820).

These materials touched upon such a variety of themes, from cooking  to farming and veterinary care; gardening, medicine, chemistry and science, which in turn begged the question for me too – what exactly is a recipe?

A recipe can be defined as a set of instructions for preparing a particular dish or meal, including a list of the ingredients. It can also refer to something that is likely to lead to a particular outcome, so for example, all these books on wine making could be a recipe (no pun intended!) for disaster at our next office Christmas party. A recipe is also a medical prescription. Historically, the term was first used as an instruction, derived from the Latin recipere, meaning to accept or take. This is why you may notice the symbol Rx on any prescriptions, since doctors usually begin theirs with this abbreviation, and why culinary recipes often begin their instructions with ‘take…’, a style first evinced in De re Coquinaria, a collection of 4th or 5th century Roman recipes where each one begins with the Latin command ‘recipe’.

One of the oldest English works on recipes is The Forme of Cury, cury from the Middle French cuire, cook, (just in case you were thinking about a curry too). Written on a vellum scroll around 1390, it is signed by ‘the chief master cooks of King Richard II’. However, it wasn’t until the advent of printing that books on household management and the preparation of food became increasingly popular, no more so than during the 19th century with the Victorian emphasis on domesticity and respectability.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that we have several examples of household instructors and recipe books within our collections, in English and Welsh.

Cook books

Thomas Thomas, Llyfr coginio a chadw ty (A cooking and housekeeping manual), (Wrexham, 1880); S. Mathews, Y Ty, a’r Teulu (The House, and Family), (Denbigh, 1891).

 

IMG_4008

Biscuit recipes from I. Roberts’ The Young Cook’s Guide; with Practical Observations, (London, 1836).

What did strike me as interesting though, was the linguistic element to some of these works. John Pryse’s Welsh Interpreter, for example, is at first glance a basic Welsh dictionary; on second glance a Welsh phrasebook or guidebook of sorts for those travelling to Wales, yet on closer inspection also serves as a recipe book!

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Recipe section of John Pryse’s, Welsh Interpreter: containing an easy introduction to the Welsh language, (Llanidloes, 185?).

Sandwiched between the ‘useful phrases’ and ‘familiar parables’ is a selection of ‘Useful Receipts – Cyfarwyddiadau Buddiol’, with wines at the top of the list no less, as well as ‘Instructions to make bread’.  What’s going on? Is travel writing the new ingredient in recipe literature? What’s even more intriguing is that this section was ‘extracted’ from what Pryse calls a ‘useful Duoglott Receipt Book’, which incidentally we also have in our collection.

Written by the Independent minister, Evan Evans Nant-y-Glo, the book is actually called A Duoglott Guide for Making Temperance Drinks, Barm &c &c, so not quite as intoxicating as some of our earlier recipe books, but there’s enough there to sozzle our interest nonetheless. Drunkeness was seen as a growing problem during the 19th century, especially in the rapidly expanding industrial areas where factors like industrialisation, Nonconformity and social improvement led to a growing resistance against the consumption of alcohol.

Initially an anti-spirits movement, The British and Foreign Temperance Society was founded in London in 1831, and the first temperance society in Wales was established at Holywell in 1832. Others soon followed, and by 1835, the movement had taken a total abstinence or teetotal stance. With the impetus of Nonconformity and religious revivalism, teetotalism made significant progress in Wales during the 1830s, a fact reflected in our collections. Moreover, Evan’s Guide was published in 1838, bilingually so as to broaden its appeal amongst the increasing numbers of non-Welsh industrial workers and the temperance movement generally.

It includes interesting techniques for making ginger beer, pop, lemonade, raspberry vinegar, artificial and spruce ale, as well as jellies and wines and cordials to name but a few. There is a segment on yeast and bread, plus a more curative inspired section for ‘The Weak and the Sick – I’r Gwan a’r Claf’. Here, recipes are noted for their medicinal and comforting properties, such as Flour Caudle which requires simply ‘one desert spoon of fine flour’ mixed with water, milk and sugar to be boiled over the fire. It is, apparently, a ‘very nourishing and gentle astringent food. Excellent for babies that have weak bowels’. But before you check your flour stock, other recipes include China Orange Juice, a very ‘useful thing to mix with water in fevers’, French milk porridge, ‘much ordered with toast, for breakfast, to weak persons’, and a simple ‘very agreeable drink’.

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Curative recipes in English and Welsh from Evan Evans’ A Duoglott Guide for Making Temperance Drinks, Barm &c, (Pontfaen, 1838).

Not such a dry read after all! Indeed, Evan’s temperance recipes serve to highlight just how intricate the study of recipes can be, spreading across subjects and relative themes like history, science, medicine, religion, travel,  even the study of literacy and linguistics.  The debate about recipes is timely indeed, and to quote the Recipes Project, whether you’re a recipes scholar or enthusiast, or indeed a wine or ginger beer lover, there is a place for you in this conversation. And so the moral of this blog post is: off the literary wagon or on it, there’s a recipe that fits. Iechyd da (cheers) everyone!