Iron gall ink in the Edward Thomas manuscripts and its conservation at Glamorgan Archives

The following post is courtesy of Pamela Murray, an MSc Conservation Practice Student at Cardiff University and conservation volunteer at Glamorgan Archives. She has been working on the Edward Thomas Conservation project as a student conservator thanks to the generous support of the National Manuscript Conservation Trust


Dating back to the 1st century AD and used all the way until the 19th century, iron gall ink was a common writing ink throughout Europe. It is made from iron sulphates, gum,   tannins  extracted from galls (generally oak tree galls), and water. There are different recipes and methods found throughout history to make iron gall ink, and some even include using wine.

Iron Gall Ink recipe ET blog

This is a recipe from the Dutch website dedicated to Iron Gall Ink: https://irongallink.org/igi_index78f9.html

So, one of the problems with this historic ink is that the degradation process of it can be detrimental to the paper or work of art it has been used for.

Excess iron sulphates Fe(II) accelerate the oxidation process in the paper or parchment due to their reaction with atmospheric oxygen. There are three signs of degradation:

  1. Halo-ing: when there is a faint spreading of the ink.
  2. Burnthrough: when the ink becomes increasingly visible on the reverse of the page.
  3. Lacing:  where the inked area is so weak and friable that it causes the paper to cracks and eventually fall out. this is possibly the most detrimental.

Luckily, none of the manuscripts from the Edward Thomas archive had lacing. They did, however, have  a slight haloing. In order to test the paper for iron gall ink, we dipped an indicator paper impregnated with bathophenanthroleine is dipped in deionised water and spot tested on an appropriate area. The bathophenanthroleine reacts with ferrous ions to form a pink complex.

Many of the Edward Thomas notebooks tested positive for iron gall ink, meaning that none of the papers can be treated with water because the ferrous ions could spread, causing further degradation. Luckily for us, in a paper written in 1995, Neeval suggested a calcium phytate aquaeous treatment, where the phytate chellates the iron (II) ions. It  does not break down Iron (III) because it is a stable molecule, so that means the ink doesn’t fade. However, this treatment strategy has been met with some challenges because it is highly interventive, and there have been many international projects looking into the treatment of iron gall ink with calcium phytate. (Kolar et al. 2005, Kolbe 2004, Tse et al., 2005, Zappala and De Stefani 2005, Botti et al. 2005, Hofmann et al. 2004, Jembrih-Simbürger et al. 2004, Reissland and de Groot 1999.)

Testing ET Notebook

Testing one of Edward Thomas’ notebooks. The pink complex indicates ferrous ions present in the ink.

Looking at the altenatives, this is the most effective aqueous method of prolonging iron gall ink’s life time with minimal side effects. So, it was agreed that treating the notebooks in question with a calcium phytate bath was the best step forward to prevent further damage due to iron gall ink.

It is with thanks to the National Manuscript Conservation Trust and the Glamorgan Archives that the Edward Thomas manuscripts housed at Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives could be treated and conserved accordingly. In the same breath, it has served as an important learning tool for myself as a conservation student.

Mixing Calcium

Mixing up the calcium carbonate and phytate acid to make calcium phytate.

The BBC has a great clip about iron gall ink: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p033dbrb  in BBC Four’s documentary Oak Tree: Nature’s Greatest Survivor. The full programme can be purchased from the BBC Store.

References:

Neevel, J. (2009). Application Issues of the Bathophenanthroline Test for Iron(II) Ions. Restaurator 30, pp.3–15.

http://www.kennisvoorcollecties.nl/en/projects/collection-risk-management/paper-heritage-metamorfoze/ink-corrosion/

http://www.averybazemore.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Bazemore_Avery_MA_thesis_16092016.pdf

https://irongallink.org/igi_index888e.html

 

Dancing in the Stacks

What can I say? Sometimes, when I’m totally alone in the stacks I do a little jig for the sheer joy of being amongst the best company ever, and said books never judge my moves, at least that’s what I thought…

Until I discovered a copy of Anatomical and mechanical lectures upon dancing: wherein rules and institutions for that art are laid down and demonstrated. (London, 1721). Ok, so maybe I should think twice before I twerk.

John Weaver Title Page

John Weaver, Anatomical and Mechanical Lectures Upon Dancing, (London, 1721), title page.

This book, I’ll have you know, was written by John Weaver (21 July 1673 – 24 September 1760), an English dancer and choreographer often regarded as the father of English pantomime.

Weaver was born in Shrewsbury where he worked as a dance teacher, like his father, who suggested he go to London and become a ballet master. Working mainly at the Drury Lane Theatre, Weaver soon became a specialist in comic roles and created the first English pantomime ballet, the burlesque Tavern Bilkers (1702). This was his first choreographic work where he incorporated commedia dell’arte characters such as Harlequin and Scaramouche. Scaramouche? As in  ‘Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango’? The very Bohemian one (thank you Freddie), generally a stock clown character of the commedia dell’arte, a particular Italian theatrical form that flourished throughout Europe from the 16th to the 18th centuries.

Scaramouche, Etienne Mahler.

Scaramouche, Etienne Mahler.

The role of Scaramouche combined characteristics of the zanni (servant) and the Capitano (masked henchman). Usually attired in black Spanish dress and burlesquing a don, he was often beaten for his boasting and cowardice by Harlequin – another key commedia dell’arte character, known by his chequered costume and his role as the light-hearted and astute servant constantly trying to outwit his master and pursue his own love interest.

Weaver included these two characters in his ballet at a time when dance was generally seen as a form of amusement but for Weaver, the art of dance was something far more substantial and artistic.

Harlequin, Masques et Bouffons Comedie Italienne (1862)

Harlequin, Masques et Bouffons: Comedie Italienne (1862).

In his celebrated work, The Loves of Mars and Venus (1717), he combined themes from classical literature with the dramatic elements that characterised Italian pantomime and English dance, so the story was conveyed through gesture and movement rather than any spoken or sung explanation. Weaver was one of the first choreographers to develop dance so that it performed a dramatic and expressive role rather than a simple comic and decorative one, and because of his attempts to use emotion and plot as opposed to complicated technical and speech methods, he is seen as a huge influence on later choreographers such as Gasparo Angiolini, and in particular the French dancer and ballet master Jean-Georges Noverre (1727-1810). Like Weaver, Noverre would later react against the ornamental function of ballet, believing that dance movement should also reflect its action.

Weaver’s writings on dance are also hugely significant. Published in 1706, Orchesography was the first English translation of the French choreographer Raoul-Auger Feuilllet’s Chorégraphie, and included the most common dance notation system of the time, thereby enabling the introduction of a consistent standard of dance throughout England (something akin to the ‘Macarena’ of the 90s I wonder)? In An Essay Towards the History of Dancing (1712), he documented the history of dance whilst arguing for its recognition as a means of expression and a sign of social accomplishment.

Weaver was also the first dance teacher to insist that dance instructors should have a thorough knowledge of anatomy in order to best use the body as a tool of expression. Hence his Anatomical and Mechanical Lectures upon Dancing were aimed at ‘introducing the Art of dancing among the liberal arts and sciences’, at a time when ‘the Art of Dancing is arrived at so great an Excellence’. A knowledge of anatomy he argues, may ‘not be well relish’d by the Masters in Dancing at first view’, but on further consideration they will come to recognise its great use towards the following discourse on the ‘Proportion and Symmetry of Parts’, and the ‘Mechanical Parts’ of the body, all of which he maintains are the ‘fundamentals of our profession, so they deserve, nay, require, our utmost observation’.

Preface extract, Weaver, Anatomical lectures on dancing

Extract from the preface of John Weaver’s, Anatomical and Mechanical Lectures upon Dancing, (London, 1721).

To Weaver, dancing ‘is an elegant, and regular movement, harmonically composed of beautiful Attitudes, and contrasted graceful Postures of the Body, and Parts thereof’.  And if you’re in the mood for a groove then just so you know: ‘motion consists of various Steps, produc’d by the Sinking, Rising, Turning, and Springing of the Body and Limbs’. Make of that what you will the next time you tackle the moonwalk or your Gangnam Style, and if these moves may fail you fear not, for there is plenty of inspiration to be had, as I very pleasantly discovered as I Harlem-shuffled my way over to our Historical Music Collection:

Dance details, 10 favorite cotillions, 8 country dances and two minuets, (London, 1784)

Dance details from 10 favorite cotillions, 8 country dances and two minuets, with their proper figures as perform’d at the Prince of Wales’s Willis’s Rooms, (London, 1784).

 

Dancing instructions for The Balloon, 10 favorite cotillions, 8 country dances and two minuets... (London, 1784)

Dancing instructions for The Balloon, 10 favorite cotillions, 8 country dances and two minuets… (London, 1784).

 

With International Dance Day upon us tomorrow (as well as Jean-George Noverre’s birthday), remember what Weaver says as you throw out your best moves, whether it’s the Charleston, the Twist, or the Chicken Dance: ‘Attitude is a posture, or graceful disposition of the body’. And so the moral of this blog-post is, sometimes even the old books can make you lose yourself to dance. Happy dancing people!

Roman History, According to a Roman Historian

This guest post comes from Keeley Durnell, an M.Litt student in the school of English, Communication and Philosophy, and who has been cataloguing Early Modern books from the Cardiff Rare Books collection as part of a Project Management module. 


Florus_Bust

A bust of the supposed Lucius Annaeus Florus

Lucius Annaeus Florus’s Epitome of Roman History from Romulus to Augustus Caesar was written between the years of 74 and 130AD (these being the years given as Florus’s dates of birth and death). Florus was a Roman historian, and therefore it is not surprising that this work focuses on chronicling Roman history from its birth up until forty-nine years before Florus’s birth (if the title had not given it away already). Tracking down the history of the author is somewhat difficult, as the author varies the name by which he calls himself throughout the text. The copy to which I am referring specifically in this post is the 1714 English translation edition published in London by John Nicholson.

Florus Title Page

Title Page of Lucius Annaeus Florus, His Eptiome of Roman History (London: John Nicholson, 1714)

One of the particularly interesting things about this particular edition of the text are the many engravings that can be found within it. There are 23 plates, each with a number of depictions of the Roman emperors on their respective coins, and one large engraving of some kind of Roman monument.

Although the engraver is not named within the edition, the skill of the engravings suggests it was someone of great talent, whom the title page names only as ‘a curious hand’. Regardless of the engraver’s identity, however, the images themselves are wonderful to look at and make a nice addition to the end of the text.

Florus Engravings

Engravings from the text

The copy that I am discussing specifically is to be found in the Rare Books Collection at PA6386.A2 1714. It is in quite bad shape unfortunately, it’s binding and front page are loose and so it must be handled with extreme care, but it is worth a look.

Florus Broken

The loose title page and lack of front board

The binding is beautiful calf leather, with the remnants of a blind decorative border and raised bands on the spine. Inside, the text is accentuated by ornamental woodcut headbands and initials that contrast nicely with the seriousness of the engravings at the back.

Florus Binding

The remaining binding of the text

But one of the main reasons that I find this text so intriguing is its popularity. The Cardiff Rare Books Collection itself owns more than one copy of this text, at least one of them being in the original Latin. Moreover, the English Short Title Catalogue has record of ten different editions of this text, all between the years of 1619 and 1752. At a time when new editions were only made for the most sought-after works, it is clear that Florus was being widely read in the 17th and 18th centuries. Upon digging a little deeper, I have found out that despite its many flaws and inaccuracies, Florus’s Epitome of Roman History was used as a textbook and a central authority on Roman History all the way through the 19th century.

So, if you have the inclination, you might want to pop into Rare Books and have a browse at Roman History from a Roman Historian’s point of view, it may end up being slightly different from the current view on things!

Cataloguing about Corn

This guest post comes from Keeley Durnell, a postgraduate student in the school of English, Communication and Philosophy, and who has been cataloguing Early Modern books from the Cardiff Rare Books collection as part of a Project Management module. 


Well, not just about corn. Corn and religion. These are the sorts of topics that I have come across since I began cataloguing some of the vast array of rare books in Special Collections. The Rare Books section at Cardiff University boasts a fantastically diverse range of material with which to satisfy anyone’s scholarly interests.

One which I had the privilege to work on this week was The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher, bound with A Poem on the Redeemers Work; or Christ all in all, and our complete redemption (1647) and No Salvation without Regeneration (1647). This was a fascinating volume for many reasons.

Marrow Jaunty Title Page

The Title Page of The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher (London: Giles Calvert, 1647)

Firstly, the texts that were bound together were all religious in nature, but they were from at least two separate authors. Completing the records for these texts was therefore difficult, because only the first text had a title page to glean information from, and the other two texts did not even have so much as a named author, let alone imprinting or publication information.

Merged Title Pages

Titles Pages of ‘A Poem on the Redeemers Work’ and ‘A Poem on the New Birth’, both bound with Fisher (London: Giles Clvert, 1647).

There were also several ownership inscriptions from different years accompanied by some interesting upside down pen trials (the technical term for doodles) which could be found on the inside of the back end paper in this particular book.

Marrow Pen Trials

The pen trials found in The Marrow of Modern Divinity.

Getting glimpses into previous centuries and lives so far from my own is one of the things I find the most intriguing about being able to catalogue the rare books.

I have had the opportunity to see leather bound books and hand sewn text blocks with sprinkled or dyed edges and they are sometimes so different to the type of books that are commercially available today. As part of my studies are concerned with print culture, getting to examine texts that went through the original printing presses and seeing engraved plates and woodcut borders is just fascinating. To know that in just a few centuries that books have changed so much in terms of their production and distribution is incredible.

Marrow Binding

The Binding of The Marrow of Modern Divinity

Comparing modern imitations of old styles, such as this version of The Complete Works of Shakespeare that was published in 2004, with original copies from across the centuries is indescribably useful when thinking about modern print culture and how it has changed and is still changing.

Shakespeare_book

The 2004 Edition of The Complete Works of Shakespeare (New York, Barnes and Noble Inc, 2004)

There is so much that the Rare Books Collection can offer to students of literature, history, religion and numerous other subjects. But, even if there is nothing there which is relevant to your research interests, I would definitely recommend popping down and taking a look at all the beautiful items that make up the Special Collections. It is any book lovers dream.

 

Guest post: Observations on Edward Thomas’ manuscript poems

This guest post comes from Rachel Carney, writer and blogger at http://www.createdtoread.com.


What I love about archives is the fact that they provide an opportunity to discover things you’d never see for yourself in the printed copies of a writers’ work. As we celebrate the centenary of the poet Edward Thomas, who lived and fought during the First World War, it is an incredible privilege to be able to see his personal handwritten letters and notebooks – to read the poems written in his own hand, and to see the very pages on which he wrote.

You can see some of these in a new online exhibition, featuring highlights from the world’s largest collection of Edward Thomas papers. Special Collections and Archives will also host an onsite exhibition, launching tomorrow on 19th April, the first day of the Edward Thomas 100 conference.

The following manuscripts of Thomas’ poems were all written in 1916, the last year of his life.

The Trumpet, by Edward Thomas.

The Trumpet, by Edward Thomas. Original manuscript draft in pencil, sent to Eleanor Farjeon.

On first glance, ‘The Trumpet’, written by Thomas in September 1916, seems to be a rousing call to arms, but on closer examination, there is much more to this simple poem than you might think. To begin with, as his biographer Matthew Hollis explains, “he did his best to conceal that it was a poem at all”. It was written whilst Thomas was based at the Royal Artillery Barracks in Trowbridge, and he was afraid, it seems, to let on to his fellow soldiers that he was actually a poet.

We wouldn’t necessarily know this unless we had the original manuscript, which he sent in a letter addressed to his friend Eleanor Farjeon, in which he admitted what he’d done: “You see I have written it with only capitals to mark the lines” because “people are all around me and I don’t want them to know”.

The poem itself is full of ambiguity and irony. Hollis describes it thus: “the form, strident, galloping, heroic… but the content suggesting other tones – the dark stars that failed to illuminate the earth below, the hounding of dreams…” Edward Thomas had always been against the war and the fervent nationalism that it inspired, and it had taken him a long time to make the momentous decision to enlist, and fight for his country. Of all his poems, just a handful refer directly to the war itself, and they are different in style to those of his contemporaries, such as Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and Rupert Brooke.

Earlier that same month Edward Thomas wrote ‘Gone, gone again’, later titled ‘Blenheim Oranges‘. This is a bleak, depressing verse which focuses on the relentless march of time, as apples continue to “fall grubby from the trees” and the war continues to “turn young men to dung”.

Blenheim Oranges by Edward Thomas. Original manuscript draft in ink.

Blenheim Oranges by Edward Thomas. Original manuscript draft in ink.

 

We also hold the original manuscript of ‘As the team’s head brass’, a poem written earlier in 1916, which refers obliquely to the war. In Hollis’s biography, he describes how the poem was deeply significant for Thomas, mirroring his own decision to seek a commission on the Western Front. It pivots around the central phrase: ‘…Everything / Would have been different. For it would have been / Another world.’ These lines, and the fallen elm tree on which the speaker sits, highlight the fact that war changes everything, however remotely removed one might feel from the situation.

As the teams head brass by Edward Thomas.

As the teams head brass by Edward Thomas. Original manuscript draft in ink, sent to Eleanor Farjeon.

It is fascinating to compare these manuscripts, and see that Thomas’s handwriting varied widely. We can also see his corrections, and observe the editing process in action.

If you visit the exhibition you’ll be able to see some of them for yourself, or come along to our poetry performance event on Friday, where items from the archive will be on display.

 

Edward Thomas 100: Exhibition launch

Edward Thomas (1878-1917)

Edward Thomas (1878-1917)

A frustrated writer, suffocated by family life, and crippled by depression and self-doubt, Edward Thomas (1878-1917) found his personal and literary salvation as a soldier in the First World War.

​In 2017, Cardiff University, holder of the world’s largest archive of Edward Thomas’ letters, diaries, notebooks, poems, photographs, and personal belongings, will host a major centenary conference and exhibition celebrating his life and work.

Our online exhibition is now live. An onsite, public exhibition, based in Special Collections and Archives, will launch on 19th April, the first day of the Edward Thomas 100 conference, and will be in place over the summer.

The exhibition features many highlights from the archives: intimate letters to Helen Thomas and Gordon Bottomley, poetry drafts, nature diaries, family photographs, as well as previously unheard archive recordings of family and friends, interviewed by Cardiff University’s Professor R. George Thomas in 1967. Find out more about both the archive and the exhibition in this Wales Arts Review podcast with Prof. Katie Gramich and archivist Alison Harvey.

Other Edward Thomas events taking place in Cardiff this month include a creative writing workshop and open mic poetry night. This year’s Frome Festival will feature Edward Thomas themed talks, walks, and even a cricket match! BBC Radio 4 will be broadcasting In Pursuit of Edward Thomas, a programme by biographer Mathew Hollis, and a radio adaptation of Nick Dear’s play, The Dark Earth and the Light Sky.

Buzzing in the Stacks

Yes I am, but on this occasion there was a definite fuzzy-humming-buzzing sound which caught my ear, and then my eye as I noticed this book on the shelf:

Thomas Hill, A Profitable Instruction of the Perfect Ordering of Bees, (London, 1608)

Thomas Hill, A Profitable Instruction of the Perfect Ordering of Bees (London, 1608).

And this got me thinking about the significance of bees and how these tiny yet vital creatures deserve far more prestige.

Ok, here are some quick facts. There are over 250 different types of bee in the UK. Of these, 25 are bumblebees and only 1 is a honeybee. Not sure of your honey from your bumble? Me neither, so I’ll buzz it down for you:

Bumblebees are generally the fat, sorry, fuller and furry type and live in nests with roughly 50-400 other bees. They live in the wild so may well be a familiar sight in your garden or the countryside, and they only make small amounts of a honey-like substance (i.e. nectar) for their own food.

Bumblebee by Richard Holgersson

Bumblebee, by Richard Holgersson.

The honeybee on the other hand, is one of a kind and smaller and slightly slimmer in appearance, more like a wasp. Honeybees live in hives of up to 60,000 bees and are looked after by beekeepers, though wild colonies do exist. Honeybees store a lot more nectar because of their larger colonies and longer life cycles. It is essentially their food supply for the colder months. This nectar is mixed with a bee enzyme and is later fanned by the bees, making it more concentrated.  Both bees are crucial to pollination and both are, sadly, in serious decline.

Honeybee large by Joshua Tree National Park

Honeybee, by Joshua Tree National Park.

In ancient and early modern times, their abundance and importance were widely recognised, particularly with regards to the honeybee. Beekeeping, or Apiculture, if you want to get all technical on me, is the maintenance of honeybee colonies, usually in man-made hives. The production of honey for domestic use is well documented in ancient Egypt, while in Greece, beekeeping was seen as a highly valued and sophisticated industry. The lives of bees and beekeeping are covered in great detail by Aristotle, while the Roman writers Virgil, Gaius Julius Hyginus, Varro and Columella wrote about the art of beekeeping.

Thomas Hill, Ordering of Bees, (1608) Table of contents

Hill, Ordering of Bees, (1608), table of contents.

Some of their writings formed the basis of Thomas Hill’s A Profitable Instruction of the Perfect Ordering of Bees, the first English manual for beekeepers published in 1568 as an appendage to Hill’s larger work on gardening. His aim was to highlight the benefits of ‘their hony and waxe and how profitable they are for the commonwealth, and how necessary for man’s use’, while his contemporary, Alan Fleming, looked to ‘A Swarme of Bees’ and their behaviour as the perfect example of proper spiritual conduct.

Beekeeping was a common occupation throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Amongst the abundance of popular information contained in contemporary almanacs, advice on aspects of beekeeping is regularly offered. Housekeeping manuals such as such as S. M. Mathew’s Y Tŷ a’r Teulu (The House and Family) (Denbigh, 1891) provided practical instructions on ‘the Care of Bees’ and the best ways to retrieve honey. The most comprehensive treatment of the subject however, is Y Gwenynydd – (The Beekeeper) (or the Apiarist if you still want to be technical about it). Published in 1888, this compact little Welsh book was largely the work of an accomplished beekeeper from Dinas Mawddwy, who was encouraged by his co-author to publish a book on bees for the ‘benefit of our fellow countrymen’, since ‘we did not have one in Welsh’.

Y Gwenynydd, Title page (1888) Salis

Huw Puw Jones & Michael D. Jones, Y Gwenynydd (The Beekeeper), (Bala, 1888).

Could this be the first Welsh-language beekeeping manual that we have in our Salisbury Collection? What a buzz! A unique piece of work it definitely is. In Wales, we are told, there is a saying that ‘the bee is such a skilful creature that it can draw honey from a stone’. While the latter is demystified throughout the book which explains the life-cycle of honeybees and the different species, the types of hives used, how to build them and the best methods to extract honey – the bees’ skill is never underestimated.

Honey Extracor, Y Gwenynydd

Image detail of ‘The Rapid Honey Extractor’ from Y Gwenynydd, (1888).

 

 

This may explain why bees were as much an object of ‘superstition’ as admiration.  It was considered lucky if bees made their home in your roof, or if a strange swarm arrived in your garden or tree, but unlucky if a swarm left.  Bees were believed to take an interest in human affairs, hence it was customary to notify bees of a death in the family. The news would be whispered to the hive, and if they were not notified, another death would soon follow. Turning the hive, or tying a black ribbon to it, thus placing it in mourning also had the same effect, and similar customs were observed for happier occasions such as weddings. Writing about these beliefs, the Welsh cleric and antiquarian, Elias Owen, noted that the ‘culture of bees was once more common than it is, and therefore they were much observed’.

Although they may seem strange to us today, such beliefs point to a past awareness of how fundamental bees were to our daily lives and how we should be more attentive to them, more so now that they are under threat. This is why the efforts of organisations such as the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Pollen8 Cymru, and Professor Baillie and his team at Cardiff University (one of the UK’s first bee-friendly campuses), who are encouraging people to plant more wildflowers to help the bee population and conducting research into the antibacterial properties of honey in the treatment of wounds and the fight against antimicrobial resistance, are so important. Again, this is something that was not lost on our early bee backers. Hill notes the extensive medicinal benefits of honey as a preservative and cleanser, which is good ‘to avail against surfeits’, ‘put away drunkeness’ and to ‘expel humours’, not to mention its ‘profitable’ application to ‘filthy ulcers’; open wounds; ringworm; corns; swellings; ‘dropsie bodies’ (oedema); impostumes (abcesses); earache; dimness of sight and all diseases of the lungs to name just a few. With history and science combined, we can do our bit for the bees and get a very sweet return indeed. And so the moral of this blog post?  Well honey, it’s simple. Read a book, plant a flower, and become a lifeline for British bees.

A Century of Poetry: National Poetry Writing Month #NaPoWriMo)

National Poetry Writing Month (aka #NaPoWriMo) begins today! We’ll be providing poetry prompts throughout April, to encourage writers everywhere to write one poem each day in response to the work of Edward Thomas, a poet who fought in the First World War and died exactly 100 years ago, in April 1917, at the Battle of Arras.

We’re incredibly fortunate to hold a collection of material relating to Edward Thomas, including original manuscripts of some of his poems, letters, photos and notebooks. We’ll be launching an exhibition of some of these items later in April, but if you aren’t able to get to Cardiff, you can follow us on Twitter or Facebook to receive the daily prompts and find out more about Thomas’s eventful life.

Anyone can take part in National Poetry Writing Month, and you can keep your poems to yourself or post them online for others to see. It doesn’t matter where you live, and it doesn’t matter whether you’ve ever written a poem before – the point is to be inspired and to write something every day.

Here’s our first prompt: the first two stanzas of ‘Adlestrop’, one of Edward Thomas’s most famous poems, written in 1915:

Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name

Thomas’s poems are full of ‘names’ – of places, birds, trees, people, herbs…

Write a list of names that mean something to you, for example:

  • Names of places you’ve lived
  • Names of people you know

Circle the names that stand out and write a poem using them as a starting point.

If you live nearby, come along to our poetry performance event on 21st April, supported by Literature Wales, which includes an Edward Thomas themed open mic.

There is also an Edward Thomas conference taking place later this month, organised by the School of English Communication and Philosophy.

Guest post: The birthday book: tracing an absent presence

This guest post comes from Lauren O’Hagan, PhD candidate in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy, who is researching early 20th century book inscriptions and reading practices in Great Britain.


 

Like most investigatory projects, it started with a serendipitous encounter. I was using the Janet Powney collection in Special Collections and Archives back in January 2016 as part of my PhD project on Edwardian book inscriptions, when I came across a real gem: a beautiful dark brown cloth pocket book published by Thomas Nelson and Sons in 1879 and entitled The Birthday Record – A Daily Remembrancer. As I opened the book, I came across page after page of fascinating inscriptions, through which the owner had documented key moments in his life, leaving a visible trace of an absent presence that echoes through to modern day.

The birthday book was a Victorian invention, which came about in the 1860s as a result of popular interest in graphology and a burgeoning culture of celebrity. It represented a shift in printed discourse towards a rhetoric of personalisation and intimacy. Seen as a status symbol for the increasingly literate population, the birthday book was used typically by middle-class young men and women or working-class ‘new readers’ that aspired to pure and elevated taste. As such, it was available in multiple formats to suit a range of budgets: from octodecimos with embossed cloth and gilt edges (1s 6d) to morocco-bound octavos with ivory rims and clasp (21s). The birthday book was advertised as the perfect gift for a loved one; thus, great attention was paid to its aesthetic appeal. Publishers masked their commercial motive through the use of content that was linked to the moral education and self-improvement promoted in advice manuals of the time. They targeted buyers who were seen as older guardians or mentors, such as parents or elder siblings. By 1899 over 270 types of birthday book had been published. While many were secular in nature and drew upon canonical figures, such as Tennyson, Shakespeare and Longfellow, religious publishers added culturally legitimating moral messages from sacred authorities to the popular autograph format.

 

The Birthday Record in Special Collections falls into the religious category. As its preface states:

“This little volume is intended, as the title shows, to be used as a daily scripture textbook; and also to contain a record, on the blank pages, of birthdays, or days on which friends  desire to be specially remembered and prayed for. The same pages may be employed to note down personal anniversaries, days of joys and sorrow, trials and deliverances. (…) The plan adopted by the editor had been to choose for each day a verse containing some precept or exhortation to duty, direct or implied, with others of corresponding prayer or pious resolution. This arrangement, it is believed, will offer profitable associations with special anniversaries, and also tests for self-examination on their annual return” (iii-iv).

The Birthday Record was given to Richard J. Keen by his sisters on January 14th 1881 for his 19th birthday. Sitting on the cusp between upper-working class and lower-middle class, Richard was the characteristic target of a birthday book at this time. Richard was born in 1862 in Pimlico, London, and lived with his mother and father (a coachman for Baron de Worms, a Conservative politician) and three sisters (Harriet, Alice and Caroline) in a two-bedroom house in Eaton Square. The inscriptions within the book show that Richard engaged with it actively throughout his entire life. Through the collection of signatures, the birthday book acted as a tool for social networking. In religious birthday books, this social function was particularly enhanced, as the combination of holy text and handwritten names reinforced the owner’s desire to pray for their family and friends. By combining secular trends for autograph-collecting with devotional practices, the religious birthday book became an integral part of Victorian faith.

However, in Richard’s book, this does not appear to be the case. All entries are written solely by the owner, suggesting that limited engagement took place between recording information and practising religion. Furthermore, the opposition of printed scriptural texts and contemporary autographs is respected, as pages with religious texts are kept clean and unannotated. This reflects an acceptance of the hierarchical division between the two aspects of the book, which bestows it with new introspective, subjective and solipsistic purposes. From the mere fact of simply containing the holy word, the religious birthday book required more respect and obedience from its users than its secular counterpart. This meant that there were restricted opportunities for self-expression, which can be seen in The Birthday Record, as most entries consist solely of a name and date. The handwriting in all examples is deliberate and self-consciously neat, and throughout the book, no examples of spelling mistakes or crossing-outs are present. On the few occasions when entries have been written in the wrong section, a very small and indiscreet mark is noted next to them rather than risk defacing the book. The book contains just two variations in format: newspaper clippings and a feather. Two newspaper clippings recording the death of Richard’s father in 1886 are glued onto December 3rd, while a white bird’s feather on which To Mrs Whitty is written is enclosed loosely within the leaves of the book.

 

When I first looked through The Birthday Record, I wrongly assumed that Richard was the sole proprietor. However, I was left with a mystery on my hands when census records revealed that Richard died a bachelor in 1904, yet the book continues to be used up until 1953. Piecing together the other entries, it became apparent that the book was passed down to his youngest sister, Caroline, who would continue to update it until her death in 1942. Caroline was born in 1864 and married Thomas James Whitty, a policeman, in 1888. They lived in Thorrington, Essex, and had four children together, of which only three survived – Violet, Henrietta Amy and Doris Evelyn. After Caroline’s death, the book is only updated twice more on November 2nd 1950 and 27th April 1953, marking the births of Colin Hayes and Nigel Hayes respectively. Although the third owner cannot be traced due to the fact that census records are only released after a one-hundred-year closure period, it is possible that the book was passed down to one of Caroline’s children upon her death.

The various entries in the book can be classified into nine distinct categories:

  • Birthday: 127 examples
  • Death: 26 examples
  • Marriage: 17 examples
  • Starting/ending a job: 8 examples
  • Outbreak/end of war: 6 examples
  • Funeral: 3 examples
  • Christening: 1 example
  • Wedding anniversary: 1 example
  • Coronation: 1 example

This indicates that while the book was still being used predominantly for its established function of recording birthdays, both Richard and Caroline appropriated it to record other information. Using the birthday book to memorialise the dead, commemorate marriages and mark important global events shows the owners’ awareness of a web of connection between themselves and the wider reading context, and the movement of the birthday book between public and private domains. By turning the book into a record of individual and familial identity, it offers a variation on the tradition of using Bible endpapers to record such information.

As censuses were only carried out every ten years, the birthday book is an essential resource for investigating the years in between. The Birthday Record, for example, can be used to trace Richard’s professional career. Despite not receiving the birthday book until 1881, on March 17th Richard writes, “Went to Montreal Oaks 1877.” Montreal Oaks was a stately home in Sevenoaks, Kent, owned by the Honourable Hugh Amherst. Richard’s first job at 15 years old was working there as a footman. We know from the birthday book that he left in April 1st 1881 and shortly after, moved to Belsay Castle in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne where he continued to work as a footman from May 27th 1881 to March 11th 1884 for Sir Arthur Edward Middleton, M.P., 7th Baronet. Just over a year later on May 9th 1885, Richard obtained a new job as a butler for Lady Dashwood of West Wycombe Park in Buckinghamshire, where he remained until April 1st 1886. On October 5th of the same year, he entered into the services of Robert Porter Wilson at Cumberland Terrace in St. Pancras. By the 1891 census, Richard is still working as a butler in Cumberland Terrace, but this time for the coal magnate John Lambert. Various entries in the birthday book suggest that Richard kept in touch with many of his previous employers. He marks Amherst’s wedding on January 2nd 1896, as well as the birthday (April 26th) and death (February 13th 1904) of Wilson – the latter being the last scribal act that Richard was to carry out before his own death later the same year. The fact that Richard’s father worked as a coachman for a Baron for twenty-six years may explain how Richard ended up working for so many noblemen and women across England.

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Throughout the book, Richard also marks a series of significant world events that take place during his lifetime. This is something that his sister, Caroline, continues to do once the book is passed down to her. Richard indicates the death of Queen Victoria on January 2nd 1901 and the proclamation of peace in South Africa on June 1st 1902. Caroline marks the date and time of the death of Edward VII (May 6th 11:45pm 1910), the proclamation of King George V (May 9th 1910), England’s declaration of war against Germany (August 4th 1914), the armistice (11:30am, November 11th 1918), the proclamation of peace (July 5th 1919), peace celebrations and victory march through London of allied troops (July 19th 1919), death (11.55pm, June 21st 1936) and burial (June 28th 1936) of King George V, and the declaration of war against Germany (September 3rd 1939). The entries also give a sense of Caroline’s feelings towards the monarchy, as she expresses affection through such entries as “our beloved King George.”

 

The recurrence of certain surnames throughout the book can also reveal information about Richard and Caroline’s social networks. For example, with 32 individual entries, Whitty is the surname that most frequently occurs throughout the book. While this is to be expected given that Caroline married into the Whitty family, census records indicate that their younger sister, Alice, also married a Whitty – George, the brother of Caroline’s husband, Thomas James. The frequency of entries and terms of endearment made relating to Alice and her four children (Gertrude Carrie Alice, Winifred Lottie, Ida Gwendoline and Reginald George Hedworth) suggest a close relationship between Richard and his elder sister. Other surnames to frequently occur throughout the book are Owen (12 entries), Keen (9 entries), Lord (8 entries) and Hall (4 entries). Census records show that Caroline’s daughter, Violet, married Wilfred Owen, whereas Richard’s eldest sister, Harriet, married Thomas Hall, whose cousins were Lords. There are 62 other surnames that occur just once or twice throughout the birthday book, which demonstrates the wide social circle of family, friends and acquaintances that both Richard and Caroline had.

This little birthday book is just one of the thousands of incredible resources in Special Collections. If you haven’t yet viewed the Janet Powney collection, I urge you all to take a look now. It is in the foyer in large glass cabinets, and boasts striking colourful spines characteristic of the prize books of the late 19th and early 20th century. Maybe serendipity will shine upon you too. As Qwerty states in Lemony Snicket’s When Did You See Her Last?, “With a library it is easier to hope for serendipity than to look for a precise answer.”

Saints Maid in Wales

There is a noticeable spring in my step. Whether this is because spring may well be in the air, or a seasonal side-effect of the recent Welsh Santes Dwynwen Day followed by the Roman St Valentine – whichever floats your roses – I am definitely more buoyant. And with another famous Saint’s day looming, my sense of hwyl is blooming along with the daffs.

I’m no match for Wordsworth, clearly, but wandering lonely through the stacks, I gazed and gazed until my thoughts turned to our patron saint. Dewi Sant, as he is known in Welsh, was born at Mynyw, which was named St. David’s after his death on the 1st of March, c. 589.

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Image from Richard Fenton’s, A Historical Tour Through Pembrokeshire, (London, 1811).

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St David, S. Baring Gould, The Lives of the Saints: Vol. 3, (Edinburgh, 1914).

For those of us who went to school in Wales, our Welsh costumes may well be our most residing memories of St. David’s Day. These articles of Welsh couture were so vital to this cultural event that they had to be specially ordered and collected from the local couturier, Dame Du-ôr, famous for her millinery and brethyn designs for young and old since the Battle of Fishguard in 1797. J’adore a bespoke bonnet, though I always felt the boys missed out with their simple felt-pinned leeks. Shame the brethyn couldn’t stretch to some short trousers.

Style aside, most of what we learned of our patron saint was gleaned from Buchedd Dewi (Life of David), written by Rhygyfarch, Bishop of St. David’s during the late 11th Century. A renowned teacher and preacher, Dewi naturally commanded his fair share of miracles, the most famous occurred as he was preaching at the Synod of Brefi, when the ground suddenly raised up beneath him so that he could be better heard amongst the crowd, and a white dove descended on his shoulder. Today, the church of Llanddewi-Brefi marks the very spot.

For me, however, the most enduring element of Dewi’s story was the fortitude of his mother, Nonnita, or Saint Non. A local lord, on hearing of her pregnancy and the predictions surrounding the mystical powers of the child, plotted to have him killed at birth. But on the day of her labour, a great storm raged making it impossible for anyone to go outside. Only the  place for child-bearing remained calm, bathed with a serene light. It is said that Non’s pain was so intense that as she grasped the rock on which she rested, her fingers marked the stone as if they were impressed in wax, and the rock, in sympathy with her, split in two, one half leaping above her head and the other at her feet, protecting her at the moment of birth. Not even a Queen Bey can top that! (Yes, Beyoncé, you heard me).

This got me thinking of another single lady in popular Welsh legend. Known by her poetic name: the Maid of Cefn Ydfa, Ann Maddocks (neé Thomas, 1704 – 1727), was the daughter of William Thomas of Cefn Ydfa, Llangynwyd, Glamorgan, and his wife Catherine Price, aunt to the Welsh philosopher and preacher, Richard Price (1723-1791). An interesting character in his own right, Richard was a champion of liberal causes at home and abroad, in particular the American war for independence and the equality of women. He was a close friend of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, and Mary Wollstonecraft, who attended his services in Newington Green. It was through Price that Mary came into contact with the radical publisher Joseph Johnson, and her Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) was influenced by Price’s own arguments on equality for women.

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‘Wil Hopcyn singing one of his chosen songs at Cefn Ydfa’, from the novel by Isaac Hughes, Y Ferch o Gefn Ydfa, (Cardiff, 1881).

Oh, but I digress with a smooth-talking Welsh philosopher! I’m sure I’m not the first nor the last, but we shall have to meet again in a future post for I was telling you about his fair cousin, Ann. Following the death of her father, Ann was placed in the wardship of a local lawyer named Anthony Maddocks, and later forced to marry his son, also named Anthony. According to tradition, Ann was in love with a local farm labourer and bard named Wil Hopcyn. When this was discovered they were forbidden to see each other, and Ann was confined to her chamber as the match between her and Anthony was arranged. They continued their courtship by writing secret letters to each other which Ann’s servants would place in the hollow of an old tree near the manor of Cefn Ydfa for Wil to collect and then place his own. This stratagem was soon discovered by Ann’s mother, who confiscated her writing materials. So in love was Ann that it is said she wrote to Wil upon a sycamore leaf, with a pin dipped in her own blood. But alas, it was not meant to be, and Wil left Llangynwyd shortly after Ann’s enforced wedding took place on the 4th of May, 1725.

It was a firmly held belief that one night during his absence, Wil had a dream that Ann’s husband had died, and returned to Llangynwyd the following morning. But on his return, he discovered that it was in fact Ann who was dying, having pined so desperately for her true love that she had fallen gravely ill. Hearing of his return, Ann’s mother and her husband sent for Wil in the hope that he would alleviate Ann’s suffering. Tradition claims that she died in his arms that very day. Wil never married, and died in 1741. Both he and Ann are buried at Llangynwyd Church.

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The house of Cefn Ydfa, T. C. Evans (Cadrawd), History of Llangynwyd Parish, (Llanelli, 1887).

Now don’t be too downhearted people, for this is the way many a Welsh love story of old goes, and it doesn’t end there, for in true Welsh style we have poetry, song, and literature to commemorate the tale.

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William Hopkin, ‘Y Gwenith Gwyn’ (The White Wheat), Welsh ballad from the Salisbury Collection.

The collier and novelist Isaac Hughes (1852-1928) published his novel, Y Ferch o Gefn Ydfa, based on the story in 1881, while traditions surrounding the tale were judiciously recounted by the antiquary T. C. Evans, better known as Cadrawd, in his History of Llangynwyd Parish in 1887. Furthermore, Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn (Watching the White Wheat), is one of Wales’ best known folk songs, attributed to Wil himself, it supposedly captures the tale of their tragic love affair.

The lyrics were collected from oral tradition in the 1830s, and first published in Welsh by the musician and folklorist Maria Jane Williams, herself an accomplished singer, guitarist and harpist, in her prize-winning work   Ancient national airs of Gwent and Morganwg, (Llandovery, 1844). (Let’s just say, if the Eisteddfod handed out Grammys, this lady would have won a few.)

They also formed the basis of the opera written by one of Wales’s most famous composers, Joseph Parry. Parry was offered a chair at Cardiff University in 1888, and The Maid of Cefn Ydfa was performed at the Grand Theatre in Cardiff in 1902.  His composition Blodwen, was the first Welsh-language opera, yet he is best known for his work Myfanwy, yet another song supposedly based on a tale of young love! It is a favourite piece of many a male voice choir, and I can confirm that this is indeed the best way to hear this beautiful melody.

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Maria Jane Williams, Ancient National Airs of Gwent and Morganwg, (Llandovery, 1844).

Saints and choirs were always a given for St. David’s Day, yet behind all of these accomplishments lies the feats and fortitudes of some remarkable women. So as Queen Bey herself would say, put your hands up for Non, Mary, Ann, Maria and of course Dame Du-ôr, and never, ever underestimate the statement a song, a saint, or a well fitted bonnet can make. Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus pawb.

And don’t forget, if you’d like to hear more about the history of women in our collections, join us on March the 8th to celebrate International Women’s Day.