Tag Archives: book history

The Family History Show, South West

A report from research associate, Dr Lauren O’Hagan, who ran a stall on ‘Book Inscriptions and Family History Research’ with civic engagement officer, Sara Huws, at the Family History Show at UWE Exhibition & Conference Centre, Bristol on 8 February.


People were already queuing in their hordes when I arrived at the UWE Exhibition and Conference Centre early on Saturday morning. Some with notepads and pens, some with cameras, some with flasks and packed lunches, some even with camping chairs. “I just can’t wait to see him in the flesh,” one woman exclaimed as I made my way to the entrance. No, we weren’t at a concert awaiting the arrival of Ed Sheeran or Drake; we were at the Family History Show, the biggest genealogical event in the South West of England, where dozens of avid amateur researchers had braved the rain to talk to experts in genealogy.

The Family History Show is the brainchild of Discover Your Ancestors magazine who first launched the show in York in 2011. Since then, its popularity has been growing steadily and, now, shows are run annually in York, London and Bristol, attracting hundreds of visitors from all across Britain. Judging from the crowd outside, today’s event in Bristol looked like it was going to be a big one!

As I entered the exhibition hall, I was met with four long rows of stalls featuring everything from dating old photographs and exploring historic maps to tracing ancestors in British India and discussing ethical dilemmas in genealogy. There were also opportunities to attend lectures on DNA testing, house dating and historic clothing, as well as to purchase postcards, books, folders and other genealogical paraphernalia.

A quick initial stroll around the hall made it clear that England was very well represented (with stallholders from the local Bristol area, as well as Devon, Cornwall, Oxfordshire, Worcestershire and beyond), but we were the only stall representing Wales. This meant that not only did we have the task of promoting book inscriptions and family history research, but also the added pressure of flying the flag for Wales and all other heritage industries in the country!

We quickly set up our stall (a good central location!), adorning it with a selection of prize books, laminated inscriptions and pamphlets, as well as freebie tote bags and pencil crayons. If we couldn’t lure visitors with books, at least we could lure them with giveaways! But as it turned out, we didn’t need to worry about that.

At 10:00 on the dot, a loudspeaker announcement declared the opening of the show. And so the floodgates were opened and dozens of men and women piled in.

From the outset, our stall seemed to attract a lot of attention, setting the pace for the day ahead. For the next six hours, Sara and I barely had a moment to rest!

Visitors seemed genuinely fascinated to hear about my novel way of approaching family history research and were keen to take away a copy of the two-page pamphlet I had produced with ‘top tips’ for using book inscriptions to explore ancestry.

As people browsed through the selection of inscriptions on the table, they seemed temporarily transported back to their childhood and opened up, sharing their own family memories and stories. It was genuinely touching to hear personal perspectives on inscriptions and what they meant to individuals. Many of these stories concerned family Bibles and prayer books and how they were passed down from generation to generation until the present day. Most admitted that they had never read the books, but they would never get rid of them because they were such a tangible link to their ancestors. Some, on the other hand, confessed that they had binned the books but steamed off the prize labels to keep because to do otherwise would be “to erase history.”

My favourite stories of the day include the simple tale of how one woman’s great-grandmother saved up to buy a copy of The English House for her great-grandfather, a builder, as well as the moving story of how one pocket prayer book survived World War One with bullet holes through its cover. I was also fascinated to hear the number of stories about inscriptions as first-hand evidence of national events. One lady recalled how her great-aunt had witnessed the transportation of Queen Victoria’s coffin from Osborne House to mainland Britain and documented the event in an inscription. In it, she had described how the sun shone off the jewels on top of the coffin, something that “you would never get from official records.” As she told me, marks like these made you realise that “Queen Victoria was nobody special; she was just one of us.” These examples really show how inscriptions and books can offer personalised versions and, thus, new perspectives on national events.

One of the most positive things for me was the way in which my research seemed to stimulate people’s own interest and curiosity in book inscriptions. Many stated that they couldn’t wait to go back home and start rummaging around to find what old books they had. Several people even noted down my email address so that they could send me their own examples to add to my dataset. It was also encouraging to hear people say that I had changed their way of thinking and that they would now look at their books in a new light. One man informed me that my research had “a lovely way of humanising ancestors” and “bringing the past to life.”

Being the only Welsh presence at the Family History Show, we also received a surprising number of visitors who were interested in investigating their Welsh ancestry. Sara dealt expertly (in both English and Welsh) with a barrage of different questions about all aspects of Welsh identity, from religion and language to sports and jobs, and even skillfully handled a tricky debate on nationalism. She even convinced a few people to start learning Welsh. Result!

Feedback from visitors showed that most people were unaware that Cardiff University Special Collections and Archives existed, let alone that it was open to the general public and not just students and academics. After informing visitors of the types of records held there, many expressed an interest in visiting. We were also able to send a fair few people Glamorgan Archives’ way (you can thank us later, guys!). Many visitors also had no previous knowledge of Archives Hub, an excellent website for searching across archive collections held in the UK, so we were able to promote the resource too.

A key factor that seemed to unite all stalls across the event was the connection between the past and present and the idea that we are really no different to our ancestors. This theme came up time and time again, whether in the examples of postcards showing Edwardians ‘foodstagramming’ their meals at a table, confession books where friends and families took part in ‘clean copy challenges’ or bookplates which people used as ‘status updates’ and ‘selfies’. Just like now, people laughed, cried, worried and cared about similar things to us. Tangible objects like book inscriptions or photographs remind us of this and bring us back in touch with the human side of our ancestors, making them more than just a name on a census record.

The day just flew by and before we knew it, it was 4:00 and time to wrap up the show. Naturally, the show ended in the only way that a Family History Show could end: with a Tannoy announcement that somebody had left a copy of the 1933 electoral register on the Somerset & Dorset Family History Society stall. You wouldn’t get that anywhere else!

So, all in all, we had a brilliant day out and thoroughly enjoyed talking to different people, hearing fascinating stories and promoting the value of book inscriptions for family history research. I even received two public speaking invites and generated interest in my forthcoming exhibition and book (stay tuned for both!). And as a scholar of Edwardian book inscriptions, I was delighted to pick up a free copy of the latest edition of Discover Your Ancestors featuring who else but King Edward VII himself standing regally on the front cover looking over his subjects.

My first experience of a family history show but definitely not my last!

Using census records to trace the owner of a birthday book… with an unexpected twist!

This guest post comes from Dr Lauren O’Hagan, sociolinguistic researcher of Edwardian material culture and class conflict.


In 1798, statistician John Rickman wrote an article stressing the need to conduct a census in Britain. He argued that “the intimate knowledge of any country must form the rational basis of legislation and diplomacy” and “an industrious population is the basic power and resource of any nation, and therefore its size needs to be known.” Two years later, the Census Act was passed in Parliament and in 1801, the first ever detailed, national survey was carried out. Since this date, a census has been conducted in Britain every ten years.

While the census can help the Government to develop policies, plan public services and allocate funding, for researchers, historians and genealogists, it is an incredibly valuable tool for discovering the lifestyles and characteristics of past generations. Census records provide official evidence that enables stories of individuals to be pieced together, retold and preserved for the future. When working with book inscriptions, these records are particularly useful in solving provenance mysteries. Indeed, I have the census to thank (partially) for unravelling a mystery I encountered in the Janet Powney Collection last week.

The mystery concerns a beautiful pocketbook, bound in brown cloth boards and published by Ernest Nister in the late nineteenth century. The book was entitled The Poetical Birthday Book and as the title suggests, it features a short poem per day by such popular poets as Tennyson, Longfellow and Wordsworth, with a blank space alongside where family, friends and acquaintances of the book owner could mark their birthdays.

Birthday books were a Victorian invention, which grew in popularity in the 1860s as a result of increased popular interest in graphology, personalisation and celebrity culture. For the increasingly literate population, they were seen as status symbols and were particularly used by middle-class men and women to map their expanding social circles.

Throughout my research, I have come across many birthday books and the owner’s name is usually inscribed somewhere on the front endpapers. However, the endpapers of this book were surprisingly bare. Always enthusiastic about a provenance challenge, I decided to track down the owner by researching the other names inscribed in the volume… all with the help of the trusty census, of course!

I began by making a list of all the names in the book. There were twenty-three in total, of which seventeen were women and six men. Given the social taboos of the time about women socialising with men, I started with the assumption that the book’s owner was likely to be a woman.

Next, I grouped the names together according to surnames. This resulted in nine Murrays, two Goldsmiths, two Taylors, two Watts, one Grange, one Sewell, one Collings, one Hallam, one Humphrey, one Dickinson, one Armstrong and one Pakeman. The large number of Murrays suggested that the book’s owner may also be a member of the Murray family.

Without any knowledge of the address or location of these individuals, I decided the best way to start researching would be to look up the people who had included their middle name when inscribing their birthdays in the book. The inclusion of a middle name drastically narrows down results and can make all the difference when trying to pinpoint the correct person in a record. Of course, in this case, having the specific day and month of their births was also incredibly useful.

I started by inputting the name George Cameron Murray (January 19th 1892-1978). Luckily, this only brought up one result. Bingo! The 1911 census confirmed that I had the right George when I learnt that his sister was Winifred Hannah (December 23rd 1885-1935), his brother was Norman Ramsay (July 29th 1882-1945), his father was Patrick (September 14th 1849-1919) and his mother was Hannah (April 18th 1851-1925). All of these names and birthdays were also inscribed in the birthday book. This evidence gave me my first possible clue that either Winifred or Hannah may be the owner.

The census records informed me that Patrick Ramsay was a bank manager who was born in Rothbury, Northumberland, but had moved to Cambridge as a young man and then later to London. From 1891 onwards, he and his family lived in Chiswick – an area on the outskirts of the city that became popular amongst the upper-middle classes in the late nineteenth century. His daughter Winifred was a physiotherapist, his son George was a bank clerk, while his son Norman was a solicitor. Norman was an interesting character; immigration records show that he settled in Australia in 1908 and became involved in various cases of fraud and bigamy. He appears regularly in the Adelaide police gazettes throughout the 1910s and 1920s and even served four years in prison for his crimes.

Next, I turned to Sarah Hall Murray (March 7th 1880-1974). I decided to limit my searches to either Rothbury, Northumberland (Patrick Murray’s place of birth) or Chiswick, London (Patrick’s current address). This proved fruitful. I immediately found her in Rothbury and confirmed that she was the daughter of Patrick’s younger brother, George. I was also able to establish that the other Murrays in the book (Ada, Thomas, Evelyn and A [Anne]) were other nieces and nephews of Patrick. Again, this indicated that either Hannah or Winifred was the book’s owner.

As I began to research the other names in the book, I quickly established a trend. Like Patrick and his family, most lived in Chiswick and were linked to the banking trade. Matilda Humphrey (May 9th 1865-?) and Katie Goldsworth (July 7th 1864-1933) were wives of bank managers, while Kate Pakeman (June 21st 1863-1911) was the wife of the manager of a financial firm. These facts now started to make me lean more towards Hannah Murray as the book’s owner. Perhaps the wives of these bankers socialised regularly with one another?

Then, I found the name Duncan ‘Dodo’ Goldsmith (July 4th 1895-1915), the son of the aforementioned Katie Goldsworth, also recorded in the book. Being of a similar age to Hannah’s own children, Duncan may have socialised with them or attended the same school. The affectionate nickname ‘Dodo’ certainly suggests some level of intimacy with the family. Equally, Beatrice Madeline Grange (October 30th 1885-1969), recorded as ‘Madeline’, was found to have been a schoolfriend of Winifred, as were Birdie Dickinson [née Cooper] (May 21st 1885-?) and Louisa Hallam [née Halt] (May 27th 1885-?). Seeing the amount of young girls the same age as Winifred in the book, I now began to think that she was the book’s owner and not her mother.

Of the remaining names, most were found to be located in the Chiswick area. Hilda S. Armstrong (August 17th 1884-?), Julia Taylor (July 12th 1899-?) and her sister Ann E.F. Taylor (July 24th 1818-1896), as well as Elizabeth A. Watts (May 24th 1856-?) and her daughter Emma Watts (March 1st 1882-?) all lived in the same street as the Murrays at one time or another. Unfortunately, Harry Collings (August 25th) was too common a name to be traced with certainty in the records, while A.F. Sewell (October 18th) was too vague.

So, after five hours of extensive research, I had narrowed the owner down to two possible candidates: Hannah or Winifred.

I decided to take a break from researching to photograph the little volume. As I set the book up on the supportive cushion, I noticed that its two front pages were stubbornly stuck together. I carefully pulled them apart and you would not believe what I found underneath… an inscription hand-written in black ink: “To dear little Wynnie Murray as a well-earned prize June 1893.” Argh! So, after all that effort, the book had contained an inscription all along; it was just buried under years of stiff pages from non-use. Despite this frustration, I still felt pleased with my Holmesque detective work and that the book’s owner had finally been determined. However, I also vowed to myself never to make such a simple mistake again!

Guest post: Behind the Night-light: A Forgotten Bestseller

This guest post comes from Dr Lauren O’Hagan, sociolinguistic researcher of Edwardian material culture and class conflict.


“He is not quite a cow, but a little green bull
He lives in a large field where there is no up and no down
He always wears beautiful trousers
You may like him at first, but you will soon get tired of him
He is very pretty, but oh, so good!
He collects nothing”

Read the above lines and you’d be forgiven for thinking that they came from one of Quentin Blake’s nonsense verses or a lost Dr Seuss book (minus the rhymes!). In fact, they are taken from Behind the Night-light, a 1912 book that captures the poetic musings of a three-year-old girl, Joan Maude. Back in December of last year, I shone a spotlight on another Edwardian child star: Daisy Ashford and her successful novel The Young Visiters. Like The Young Visiters, Behind the Night-light was also a bestseller in its day, only to have faded into obscurity over time. I’d like take the blog space this week to acquaint unfamiliar readers with this delightful and forgotten book.

Behind the Night-light was published by John Murray in June 1912 and went through four reprints in its first six months. It is its fourth reprint from January 1913 that graces the shelves of the Janet Powney Collection in Special Collections. Considering the way that most children’s books of the period were decorated, the book has decidedly bland black cloth covers. However, tucked within, page after page is filled with intriguing and humorous tales about an original world that little Joan Maude created from the comfort of her childhood playroom.

According to the title page, every story and poem in the book has been “described by Joan Maude and faithfully recorded by Nancy Price” (her mother). As Price explains in the preface:

“These quaint beasts who roam that delightful country ‘behind the night-light’ are the exclusive discovery of a child of three. Their names, their habits, etc., are entirely hers. My task has merely been to record them in language as near the original as possible.”

And this originality is certainly apparent in the contents page alone as we are introduced to such unique characters as the Kiddikee, Boo-Choo and Fat-Tack to the Mossip, Hitchy-Penny and Jonket. Through Joan Maude’s imagination, we learn about Bomblemass, an animal who “grows no teeth, carries a stick, wears a green plush coat and ties on his legs with black silk ribbon” or the Gott family “who all lost their ears because they wouldn’t listen.” We meet the Stickle-Jag “who has a coat made of hundreds and thousands, so that he can eat bits off of it when he can’t find the sugar basin” and the Lowdge who “collects dust and lives in the middle of it.” And so on and so forth across its fifty pages of creativity.

A key factor that influenced book sales was the fact that Joan Maude wasn’t just any little girl; she was the daughter of Nancy Price (1880-1970), a huge star of the Edwardian stage. Price had been part of F.R. Benson’s theatre company for many years, touring extensively in the provinces performing Shakespeare plays. In 1902, she caught the attention of Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree who cast her as Calypso in Stephen Phillips’ production Ulysses at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. She later went on to play Hilda Gunning in Letty (1904), Mrs D’Aquila in The Whip (1909), one of the Pioneer Players in The First Actress (1911) and India in The Crown of India (1912). This meant that at the time of the book’s publication, she was perhaps as famous and recognisable as any of the big Hollywood stars today. Price would go on to establish the People’s National Theatre in 1930, as well as the English School Theatre Movement, which toured productions of Shakespeare plays to working-class children. She was awarded a CBE for services to the stage in 1950.

Upon release, Behind the Night-light was met with tremendous praise by the newspapers. The Era (8 March 1913) described it as “a collection of quaint and original animal fancies” and the Norwood News (12 December 1913) called it “a revelation of wonderful things, while The Pall Mall Gazette (8 June 1912) claimed that the monsters would have found a friend in Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky.

One year after the book’s publication, Nancy Price enlisted the services of Joan Maude’s godmother, Liza Lehmann, also an English operatic soprano and composer, to turn the book into a stage show. By summer 1913, Behind the Night-light was playing all across England from the Manchester Theatre Royal and Bedford Town Hall to Torquay Pavilion and Ilkley King’s Hall. Reciting the rhymes were such big stage names as Jeannette Sherwin and Guide M. Chambers, and even Nancy Price herself at one special performance in London.

Up until the late 1920s, Behind the Night-light was also a favourite musical for schools to perform. Local newspapers raved about how pupils in Sevenoaks performed the songs at the Royal Crown Hotel (Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser, 30 November 1917), as well as how children at Steyne School in Worthing put on a show for an enthusiastic audience at Connaught Hall (Worthing Gazette, 7 November 1923). It is also claimed by Nancy Price that many of the expressions from the book went into common use and could be heard amongst such varied people as a professor of history and a pavement artist. “Don’t be a gott” was used to describe someone with a bad temper who wouldn’t listen and “a lowdge” became a term for somebody who ran very quickly.

Being the daughter of a famous actress and finding fame herself at such an early age meant that Joan Maude was always destined for stardom. In 1921, at the age of 13, she made her stage debut in Cairo at His Majesty’s Theatre in London. By the time she hit adulthood, Joan Maude had already starred in more than twenty stage productions all across the West End. As the ‘talkies’ became popular in the 1930s and 1940s, Joan Maude made her move from the stage to the screen, starring in a wide range of comedies, dramas and romances. Perhaps her most famous role was in Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death (1946).

After some fifteen years of popularity, Behind the Night-light stopped touring, schools ended their performances of the musical and sales of the book decreased. Whether the novelty of the book had simply wore off now that Joan Maude was all grown up or whether she herself wanted to distance herself from the book that had first made her famous remains unclear. Nowadays, Behind the Night-light is practically unknown; a cursory Google search brings up just 33 results.

Looking at Behind the Night-light today, perhaps the most surprising observation is the book’s complete absence of images. With such rich descriptions of a world conjured up by Joan Maude, it is a real oversight not to have accompanied the text with vivid illustrations. This may have also secured the book’s longevity as children grew attached to such characters, remembered them more distinctly and then passed them onto their own children. 2020 will mark fifty years since the death of Nancy Price. To me, this seems like a glaring opportunity for a publisher to pick this book back up, update it, populate it with colourful imagery and introduce these charming characters to the children of today.

Guest post: Deciphering the indecipherable in the Janet Powney Collection

This guest post comes from Dr Lauren O’Hagan, sociolinguistic researcher of Edwardian material culture and class conflict.


As a scholar of book inscriptions, what really frustrates me is when a mark of ownership has been thoughtlessly removed from a book. Often, all that is left is a jagged tear line acting as evidence of the bookplate or prize sticker that once was affixed to the endpapers. This careless act of erasure silences voices of past generations and with them, a wide range of social networks, thoughts and feelings that offer new perspectives on life in a particular time period and sociocultural context.

Yet what angers me even more is when an inscription is left in the book but has been scribbled through, almost taunting the reader with its partially obscured information. This is often the work of a later owner who deliberately seeks to stake their own claim to the book, giving no thought for people like me who spend their days researching them! Nonetheless, with a little time and patience, the indecipherable can become decipherable, as I found out last week when working on the Janet Powney Collection.

Towards the end of the day, I picked up a beautiful 1873 edition of Aesop’s Fables. It was custom-bound in dark green full calf leather boards with raised bands on its spine and embossed with a gilt armorial typical of non-state school prize books in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. The armorial on the book’s cover was framed by the abbreviation ‘SCHOL: DIG: SOC: BRAS’ and ‘JACOBO HICKSON FUND’ with the date ‘A.D. MDCLXXXVII’ underneath.

Unlike the working-class prize books of board schools, which were bound and decorated in-house by publishers, prize books for middle- and upper-class children typically arrived at a local bindery unbound and were subsequently custom-bound according to each school’s requirements. In contrast to working-class prize books, far greater attention was also paid to their internal properties. As can be seen in this copy of Aesop’s Fables, the paper is of a higher quality and endpapers are marbled. As grammar and boarding schools considered it important to uphold tradition, it was no coincidence that books such as this one were made to resemble the fine bindings of the eighteenth century.

 

 

Turning to the front endpapers to consult the prize sticker and discover which school awarded the book, I was horrified to find that it had been completely defaced. An attempt had been made to remove the sticker and when the resistant glue had put up a fight, the previous owner had resorted to scribbling through all the information in black ink, totally obscuring the writing below. I had a challenge on my hands that I was determined to overcome!

Using my rudimentary Latin knowledge, I was able to make an educated guess that the abbreviated ‘SCHOL’ was school (schola), while the ‘SOC’ was society or association (societatus). The other two abbreviations posed more of a problem. Although the full name of the awarding institution was printed on the prize sticker, the act of vandalism had made the words almost indistinguishable. Using a magnifying glass, I was able to identify ‘DIG’ as ‘dignif[?]’, which was enough information to help me roughly translate the word as ‘dignified’ or ‘worshipful’. The last word was more difficult. It looked like it read ‘Brasiatorium’. However, the only translation of this word that could be found in Latin dictionaries was ‘brewery’ or ‘malthouse’.  Curioser and curioser…

After feeding various combinations of words into Google, I came across the Worshipful Company of Brewers (WCB). The WCB is one of the oldest Livery Companies of the City of London and received its first charter from King Henry VI in 1438. Could this be our ‘societatus’ and if so, what did the school part mean?

The next clue I decided to chase was the ‘Jacobo Hickson’ behind the fund that was presumably used to purchase the book and award it to its recipient. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was not uncommon for rich entrepreneurs to leave money in their will to fund books for children. Could Jacobo Hickson be one of them?

After a number of unsuccessful searches for Jacob Hickson, rare books cataloguer Christine Megowan had the clever idea of translating ‘Jacobo’ into its English equivalent: ‘James’. Immediately, this brought up a wide range of results, all of which confirmed that James Hickson was indeed a brewer. Born in 1607 in Melton Mowbray, Hickson moved to London as a young man, became a brewer and was later elected an alderman of the City of London. He was one of the three main benefactors of the WCB, along with Richard Platt and Dame Alice Owen.

Hickson used his fortune to carry out philanthropic work. He built and endowed almhouses in South Mymms and bequeathed money in his will to Dame Alice Owen’s School in Potters Bar and Aldenham School in Elstree. Both schools still exist and to this day, they receive Beer Money, in the form of a commemorative coin, from the Master of the WCB. Was it possible then that the ‘schola’ mentioned in the prize sticker was either Dame Alice Owen’s or Aldenham?

Before investigating this thread further, I wanted to get to the bottom of the coat of arms. It clearly did not match that of the WCB (three kilderkins between three pairs of barley garbs). Could it belong to Hickson? Avidly flicking through an online version of an old heraldic dictionary for the surname Hickson, I was thrilled to find that the Hickson coat of arms was described as “two eagles’ legs, erased à la quize, sa., in saltire sable, the dexter surmounted of the sinister, or and sable” or in plain English, two eagles’ legs, upper-part shown only, crossed over, right on top of left, gold and black. Bingo!

As if all of this information was not enough to prove that the book was given by the WCB using money allocated in the bequest of James Hickson, a name at the bottom of the prize sticker confirmed this. Underneath the scribble, the name E.N. Buxton could be roughly made out with the title ‘Soc Bras [?]’ next to it. Consulting the records of the WCB, I found that an Edward North Buxton was the Master at the time that this book was awarded. Edward North Buxton (1840-1924) was a conservationist and Liberal Party politician. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and became a partner in the London brewing firm of Truman, Hanbury, & Co. It was through his work with this brewery that he obtained the position of Master of the WCB in 1875.

To determine once and for all the school with which the WCB was linked, I turned to the other name underneath the scribble at the bottom of the prize sticker: Herbert Williams, schola magister (school master). Scanning through census records, I found that Herbert Williams (1826-1903) was a Church of England clergyman who went on to become the “headmaster of a brewer’s company school” in 1871. Aldenham School being for boys and Dame Alice Owen’s School being for girls, I was able to state with confidence that Aesop’s Fables was awarded to a pupil of Aldenham School by its headteacher, Herbert Williams. Aldenham School was founded in 1597 by Richard Platt, Master of the WBC. The WBC were its appointed governors and remain its trustees today.

The final piece in the puzzle was the pupil himself: R.W. Russell. This inscription was the perfect example of yet another pet peeve of mine – inscribers who only use initials for first names! This can make it incredibly challenging to track down the person. After several hours of trawling through census forms and consulting school records, I found a Robert William Russell who was born in St Alban’s, Hertfordshire and attended Aldenham School from 1871-1877. He then went on to study at Oxford University. Unfortunately, no census records have been found for Russell after this date, which may suggest that he moved abroad.

—–

Despite the numerous challenges posed by inscriptions such as these, with a bit of perseverance, it is possible to decipher them. Thanks to a combination of digital and traditional methods, I have been able to unlock the history of the WCB, one of its benefactors (Jacob Hickson), masters (E.N. Buxton), brewer’s school (Aldenham School) and pupils (Robert William Russell).

How, after Russell’s death in 1934, the book passed to a female grocer’s assistant in Penarth, Wales – Dorothy Davies of 16 Hastings Avenue (according to the defaced inscription at the top of the prize sticker) – is perhaps a mystery worth unravelling some other day…

Guest post: Exploring women’s libraries and book ownership, 1660-1820

This guest post comes from Natalie Saturnia and Molly Patrick, undergraduates in English Literature, who took part in a research placement this summer as part of the Cardiff Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (CUROP). Natalie and Molly worked as research assistants on Dr Melanie Bigold’s project, ‘Her books: Women’s Libraries and Book Ownership, 1660-1820’. Dr Bigold’s project aims to create the first comprehensive database collection of women’s libraries in the long eighteenth century.


Travel and the Eighteenth-Century Woman

Natalie Saturnia

My post, funded by the Cardiff Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (CUROP), was focused on finding and organising the preliminary research databases. My daily work included transcribing and cataloguing the booklists identified by Dr Bigold, and trying to identify specific editions of texts using databases such as the English Short Title Catalogue.

Thomas Maurice, The History of Hindostan (1795)

Frontispiece of Thomas Maurice, The History of Hindostan (1795)

While spending time with booklists of influential eighteenth-century women such as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Elizabeth Vesey, and Elizabeth Greenly, I noticed a prominent lack of fiction texts across their catalogues. Before embarking on my research placement, I had assumed that most of the texts literary women owned would include fiction and the classics. While their lists still included a number of novels, particularly in Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s collection, their catalogues also contained a considerable quantity of travel texts. Because this was a surprise to me, it piqued my interest and I chose to do further independent research to figure out the reasoning for their travel collections.

Detail from Thomas Maurice, The History of Hindostan (1795).

Detail from Thomas Maurice, The History of Hindostan (1795).

My initial reaction when I saw the quantity of travel books was that it showed a desire in these women for knowledge beyond their own domestic borders. Alison Blunt writes that,

work on British women travellers has focused on their ability to transgress the confines of “home” in social as well as spatial terms. The travels and writings of individual women suggest that they were empowered to travel and transgress in the context of imperialism while away from the feminized domesticity of living at home.[1]

While this specific quote only refers to female travellers who documented their own journeys, perhaps the same can be assumed for women who read and owned travel writing. In the case of Lady Mary Montagu, she did travel, yet she also collected travel books. This, along with her own documentation of travel in her Turkish Embassy Letters, proves that she valued the experience and knowledge gained while traveling and felt she was enriched because of it. One of her travel books Le Gentil Nouveaux Voyage au Tour du Monde (1731) translates to the ‘the nice new trip around the world’. This text possibly reflects a desire in Montagu to learn and study parts of the world she had not travelled to, which again demonstrates the value she placed on travel.

In contrast to the other women I researched, Elizabeth Greenly’s book list contained a large collection of Welsh travel books, such as Wales illustrated: in a series of views by Henry Gastineau and Wanderings and excursions in North Wales by Thomas Roscoe.[2] Born in Herefordshire, Greenly later lived in Wales and maintained a lifelong interest in all things Welsh. Before she became less active later in life due to a stroke and rheumatoid arthritis, she used to ride her horse between Herefordshire, Monmouthshire, Glamorganshire, and Breconshire. Her collection of Welsh travel books exemplifies an early sense of Celtic pride which is further evidenced by her ‘ardent support of Welsh causes of the day, including Iolo Morganwg (Edward Williams 1747-1826).’[3] Greenly’s detailed knowledge of the Welsh border counties clearly enhanced her desire for literature on the surrounding area. It may also have been the case that, as a local gentlewoman, she was actively supporting Wales-related books through her purchases.

Henry G. Gastineau, Wales illustrated, in a series of views (1829?-1830)

Henry G. Gastineau, Wales illustrated, in a series of views (1829?-1830)

Ultimately, I believe that these women, whether or not they were privileged enough to travel themselves, valued the insight that travel books provided. Travel books about places foreign to them allowed them a glimpse into parts of the world they were unable to experience first-hand. As for travel books of familiar places, it often represented and reinforced a sense of identity. Indeed, as an expat myself, I am acutely aware of how integral geographical location is in relation to identity. More importantly, I think travel, whether across short or long distances, instilled in these women as sense of pride in their own intrepid spirit. Their library collections speak to that spirit of travel, adventure, and self-creation.

While ‘Her books: Women’s Libraries and Book Ownership, 1660-1820’ is still a work in progress, the new perspectives I gained and conversations I started during my month of research on these women’s catalogues has ignited my own research ambitions. Most importantly, though, the process has highlighted the many new insights that a comprehensive catalogue of female book owners during the long eighteenth century will provide.

[1] Alison Blunt, ‘The Flight from Lucknow: British women travelling and writing home, 1857-8’, Writes of Passage ed. James Duncan and Derek Gregory (London: Routledge, 1999), p. 94.

[2] Henry G. Gastineau, Wales illustrated: in a series of views, comprising the picturesque scenery, towns, castles, seats of the nobility & gentry, antiquities, &c (1829?-1830) and Thomas Roscoe, Wanderings and Excursions in North Wales (1836).

[3] Dominic Winter, Printed Books & Maps (2016), p. 83.

 

Divinity Books in Women’s Libraries: Teaching Femininity

Molly Patrick

Sarah Jones' inscription in The Christian Life [1695], by John Scott.

Sarah Jones’ inscription in The Christian Life [1695], by John Scott.

The eighteenth century was an important period in the history of women’s literary participation. The growth of personal libraries coincided with this increased engagement and book collections reflect, as Mark Towsey argues, the intellectual and cultural aspirations and values of their owners.[4]  Elizabeth (Smithson) Seymour Percy, the first duchess of Northumberland, Mrs. Katherine Bridgeman and Elizabeth Vesey all had extensive personal libraries which featured many advice-giving divinity books. By examining what these texts teach women, it is possible to see how femininity in the eighteenth century was constructed and justified using the authority of God.

Elizabeth Seymour’s library catalogue includes a sub-section dedicated to Divinity texts, many of which function as pedagogy.  Featured in Seymour’s collection is The Whole Duty of Man by Richard Allestree (first published in 1658). In the chapter entitled ‘Wives Duty’, women are given advice on how to conduct themselves in marriage. They are told that God will ‘condemn the peevish stubbornness of many Wives who resist the lawful commands of their Husbands, only because they are impatient of this duty of subjection, which God himself requires of them.’ This shows that religious, devotional works were often used to establish women’s subordinate position, using God as an authority to these teachings. The book also gives specific instructions regarding how the wife should act if asked to do something ‘very inconvenient and imprudent’ by her husband: she should ‘mildly […] persuade him to retract that command’, not using ‘sharp language’ and she should never steadfastly ‘refuse to obey’. Clearly restricting the wife to a passive, subordinate role, this passage confirms the unequal power dynamics of seventeenth-century marriage. In addition, The Whole Duty of Man blames women for men’s sinful behaviour: ‘how many men are there,’ Allestree asks, ‘that to avoid the noise of a forward wife, have fallen to company-keeping, and by that to drunkenness, poverty and a multitude of mischiefs’. Here, a stereotype about the nagging wife are held against women in general.

Richard Allestree's The Ladies Calling (1673)

Richard Allestree’s The Ladies Calling (1673). The copy in Special Collections belonged to an seventeenth-century woman, Elizabeth Scudamore.

Richard Allestree’s sequel, The Ladies Calling (1673) and The Causes and Decay of Christian Piety (1667) also appear in the divinity section of Seymour’s personal library collection. The Ladies Calling questions the origin of gender inequality, but nonetheless reproduces a similar message advocating a subordinated, passive femininity. Allestree avers that ‘in respects of their intellects [women] are below men’; however, ‘Divinity owns no distinction of genders’ as ‘in the sublimist part of humanity, they are their equals.’ The Causes and Decay of Christian Piety, on the other hand, inscribes the argument that religiously devoted women pose a threat to established gendered roles. Allestree contends that ‘when women neglect that which St. Paul assigns them as their proper business, the guiding of the house, their Zeal is at once the product and excuse of their idleness’. Indeed, Allestree implies that women only seek religious vocations in order to avoid their natural place in the domestic sphere. In this sense, divinity texts from the eighteenth century not only advise women to be passive and subordinate, but also caution them against turning to a religious life.

Katherine Bridgeman’s collection evidences a similar interest in divinity texts. In her edition of The Rules and Exercises of Holy Living (1651), Jeremy Taylor advises that women should ‘adorn themselves in modest apparel with Shamefacedness and Sobriety, not with broidered hair, or gold, or pearl, or costly array’. This narrative of passive femininity permeates a multitude of divinity texts in Bridgeman’s collection, such as in Robert Nelson’s The practice of True Devotion (1721). Nelson defines women’s ideal religious expression as ‘their chastity’ and ‘modesty’, which are both passive acts signifying a withholding as opposed to active expression. Both Bridgeman and Seymour’s collections feature divinity books which promote a repressed, subordinate version of femininity and it could be argued that their libraries reflect a wider view of women and their place in eighteenth-century contemporary society.

The content of the books featured in Elizabeth Vesey’s library, however, offer an alternative view of women, femininity and their place within religion. One such work that exemplifies this difference is Robert Barclay’s Apology for the True Christian Divinity: being a Vindication of the people called Quakers (first published in 1678). The text openly disputes women’s subjugation within religion and the established church. Barclay contests the idea, apparently deriving from ‘the church’, that ‘women ought to learn […] and live in silence, not usurping authority over man’. Barclay notes that, in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle writes rules concerning ‘how Women should behave themselves in their publick preaching and praying’. This, he argues, is evidence that early religious figures did not refute women’s right to actively express their religion. Deborah Heller points out that Elizabeth Vesey was accumulating her library at the same time as significant changes were happening in literary, social and cultural environments. Around the mid seventeenth-century, ‘owing to the proliferation of novels and conduct literature, there was a rapid transformation, and a powerful new identification of women with subjectivity’.[5] The presence of Robert Barclay’s book in Vesey’s library seems to confirm women’s alignment with greater religious subjectivity.

In conclusion, the personal library collections of Elizabeth Seymour and Katherine Bridgeman include a multitude of pedagogical divinity books. These texts encourage women to be passive, subordinate to men and to avoid public religious activity. Elizabeth Vesey’s book collection, however, seems to inject a different narrative. Taking Robert Barclay’s Apology for the True Christian Divinity as an example, it is possible to see how Vesey’s collection, unlike the books found in Seymour’s and Bridgeman’s libraries, focus on women’s religious and personal empowerment. Vesey’s collection demonstrates a possibility of different cultural and social aspirations, an alternative way of thinking about women’s role in contemporary society.

[4] Deborah Heller, ‘Subjectivity Unbound: Elizabeth Vesey as the Sylph in Bluestocking Correspondence’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 65.1 (2002) pp. 215-234. P. 218.

[5] Mark Towsey, ‘‘I can’t resist sending you the book’: Private Libraries, Elite Women, and Shared Reading Practices in Georgian Britain’, Library and Information History, 29.3 (2013), 210-222 (p. 210).

Guest post: Exploring historical gender inequality in prize and gift books

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.


The World’s Your Oyster… Unless You’re a Girl:
Exploring Historical Gender Inequality in Prize and Gift Books

From the #metoo campaign to the gender pay gap, in recent months, the topic of gender inequality has seldom been out of the headlines. Since the early twentieth century, bolstered by the founding of the Women’s Social and Political Union, women in Britain have been fighting for equal rights and opportunities. While images of imprisoned suffragettes on hunger strike or members of the Women’s Liberation Movement burning bras are ingrained in our minds as early examples of the struggle against gender inequality, there is one form of historical discrimination that remains largely forgotten, despite the fact that it is still prevalent in our society today: the giving of books as gifts and prizes. The full extent of this highly gendered practice only became apparent to me through a delve into the Janet Powney Collection at Special Collections and Archives.

The Janet Powney Collection is made up of some eight-hundred children’s books, largely dating from the late-Victorian and Edwardian era. These books were predominantly given as gifts or awarded as prizes to children and, as such, most bear an inscription on their front endpaper.

The years 1880 to 1915 are generally considered to mark a key period in the development of a distinctive girls’ and boys’ culture in Britain. Nothing illustrated this distinction more obviously than books. As book production grew and new designs and modes of distribution developed, publishers began to recognise the commercial potential of identifying specialist readerships, particularly girls and boys. Taking advantage of the emerging ‘vanity trade’ in which buyers were strongly influenced by a book’s outer appearance over its internal content, publishers produced books whose images, typography and colours were heavily influenced by gender.

More than one hundred years later, these same marketing strategies can be observed in children’s books today, as seen in the photo below from Waterstones taken by the #LetToysBeToys campaign group.

Books are, of course, not the only objects to have become genderised. From a young age, advertisements (and indeed many parents) are still largely responsible for teaching children that dolls are for girls and cars are for boys. The breadth of this issue and the various debates it provokes have most recently been demonstrated by John Lewis’s decision to introduce gender neutral clothing lines for children. While many people praised the progressive move of John Lewis, arguing that “you don’t look at food and say it’s going to be eaten by a man or a woman, so why should it be any different for clothes?” others criticised the retailer for “bowing down to political correctness.” The mixed responses that this topic has generated indicates that, now more than ever, it is necessary to return to the past in a bid to improve the future.

Books as Gifts

What it meant to be a girl and a boy in Victorian and Edwardian Britain can be clearly seen through the inscriptions made in gift books within the Janet Powney Collection.

For girls, religious fiction was most frequently gifted, primarily by their mothers, grandparents and friends. Religious fiction emphasised traditional female qualities of sacrifice and obedience and encouraged girls to uphold the conventional role that had been pre-established for them in society: that of being a wife and a mother. In contrast, boys were chiefly given adventure fiction by their mothers, grandparents and friends. Adventure fiction promoted cultural expectations of masculinity, and focused heavily on the notions of imperialism, heroism and comradeship. For both boys and girls, it was the mother who inscribed the book; the father’s name was conspicuously absent. The Victorian scholar, Kate Flint, claims that the mother was generally considered the most appropriate person to choose a book for her children – a belief that still prevails today (please click through to request access to the article from the author).

The fact that the same split into religious fiction for girls and adventure fiction for boys can also be observed when friends gave each other books as presents indicates that the purchaser of the gift was typically an adult, i.e. the child’s parent, and so, it was their views on gender appropriacy that were given overriding priority. The book historian, Jonathan Rose, claims that girls’ books only sold well because they were chosen as presents by adults, and, in fact, many Victorian and Edwardian girls preferred adventure fiction and often read their brothers’ copies surreptitiously. Adventure fiction was discouraged for girls, as it was deemed harmful to their ‘fragile’ minds and risked diminishing their value as females.

Despite these gender stereotypes that were largely influenced by the giver’s concept of what was suitable for the receiver, the collection has one notable exception: in all examples of Aunts giving books to Nieces, the books belong to the adventure fiction genre. While this suggests that the modern-day concept of the ‘cool aunt’, in fact, has its origins in the late-nineteenth century, this theory falls apart slightly when noting that nephews continued to receive adventure fiction, with no examples of religious fiction given. This gives weight to the widely asserted claim by the scholar, Barry Thorne, that it is more acceptable for girls to associate with masculinity than boys with the lesser valued and ‘contaminating’ femininity.

Many of the above points are still relevant in today’s society. While religious fiction has largely disappeared from bookshops with the increase in secularisation, it has come to be replaced by the romance genre – perhaps a reflection of the growing acceptance of girls’ sexuality, yet still stereotypical in its own way. Boys’ fiction, on the other hand, continues to be dominated by adventure and fantasy novels. Despite the fact that a recent survey demonstrates that comedy is now the favourite genre of most boys and girls in the UK, with David Walliams and Jeff Kinney being cited as the favourite authors of both genders, when it comes to gift-giving, many family members and friends still resort to stereotypical genres and authors. Equally, while it is now widely acceptable for girls to receive Harry Potter or Hunger Games books as gifts, for example, very few boys are the recipients of books by Jacqueline Wilson or Jill Murphy. Although the Representation Project is attempting to challenge and overcome gender stereotypes by encouraging parents to buy books for children based on their individual personalities and interests instead of defaulting to gender-specific gift options, these findings show that there is still clearly a long way to go.

Books as Prizes

Throughout the Victorian and Edwardian era, awarding books as prizes was standard practice for most schools, Sunday schools and other institutions across Britain and its Empire. While these books were typically awarded in recognition of an outstanding achievement or contribution, they also served a secondary function of moral education and they were often used by educational and religious institutions as tools to disseminate approved fiction. Writing in 1888 in favour of prize books, the literary critic, Edward Salmon, argued:

“The young mind is a virgin soil, and whether weeds or rare flowers and beautiful trees are to spring up in it will, of course, depend upon the character of the seeds sown. You cannot scatter literary tares and reap mental corn. A good book is the consecrated essence of a holy genius, bringing new light to the brain and cultivating the heart for the inception of noble motives.”

The prize books in the Janet Powney collection generally reflect similar trends to the gift books, although there is some variation according to awarding institution. For example, within Sunday schools and faith schools, both boys and girls were most likely to receive religious fiction. As the prize book movement was largely aimed at bringing respectability to working-class children, religious fiction was considered the most suitable type of book to provide appropriate models of behaviour to boys and girls. More importantly, however, educators saw religious fiction as a ‘safe’ and ‘reliable’ book genre that advocated conventional masculine and feminine roles. These gender differences are explicitly reflected in the titles of prize books: ‘sacrifice’, ‘obedience’ and ‘barriers’ most frequently occur in girls’ titles, while ‘winning’, ‘voyage’ and ‘victory’ feature most regularly in boys’ titles. These words demonstrate that girls were expected to live a contained life with limited opportunities and within local boundaries, but boys had the freedom to explore the global picture and the choice to do as they wish.

Despite supposedly having no religious affiliation, board schools also favoured religious fiction as prizes for girls; in contrast, boys were awarded adventure fiction. In some cases, boys were also given history and biography books, which tended to emphasise the view that to be British was to be a conqueror, an imperialist and a civilising force. This fits with the argument of historian, Stephen Heathorn, that the Victorian and Edwardian elementary classroom served as a workshop of reformulated English nationalism.

Although most prize books awarded by clubs were directly liked to their ethos (i.e. Bible classes distributed Bibles, Choirs presented music books etc.), many clubs still showed gender bias in their choices. For example, both religious and secular clubs awarded books to boys that focused on temperance and the criticism of other vices, such smoking, gambling and pleasure-seeking. These books also placed great attention on the importance of chastity and the concept of chivalry as a means of self-control. These issues were highlighted, as educators feared a supposedly causal link between boys’ crimes and reading matter that influenced them. Boys’ books also focused on the importance of saving money and owning a house, which fit with the traditional view of ‘man as economic provider’.

The girls’ book given by both religious and secular clubs, on the other hand, focused heavily on the notion that moving out of one’s social station was against God’s will and often warned girls of the dangers of switching religious allegiances. As the ‘weaker’ sex, girls were considered more likely to become ‘corrupted’, particularly by Catholicism, which was believed to be strongly linked to the forces of social and political reaction, moral decadence and foreign treachery at this time.

While such stark gender inequalities may not be as apparent today in prize-giving practices, they still prevail in some institutions, albeit covertly. Sunday schools throughout Britain still promote the awarding of ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ books. Seemingly innocent titles, such as ’10 Boys Who Changed the World’ or ’10 Girls Who Changed the World’, in fact, reveal that the boys are all involved in dynamic actions as sailors, smugglers or gangsters, while the girls are confined to lowly positions as slumdogs and orphans, or have physical and mental impairments.

Even within non-religious institutions, such as state schools, prize books remain gendered with neutral stories, such as ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, creeping into volumes labelled as Favourite Fairy Tales for Girls and Favourite Stories for Boys respectively. Although book titles no longer appear to use stereotypical adjectives to define boys and girls, just like in Victorian and Edwardian Britain, they remain ladened with gendered words: witches, fairies and unicorns dominate girls’ books, while dinosaurs, castles and football are exclusive to boys’ books. Recently, the National Union of Teachers carried out a Breaking the Mould Project to encourage nursery and primary classrooms to challenge traditional gender stereotypes through books. They recommended awarding books, such as Anne Fine’s Bill’s New Frock or Robert Munsch’s Paper Bag Princess to engage with the range of ways in which children can be stereotyped. Given the complexity of this topic, it is unsurprising that many schools have now opted to award book tokens instead of books to avoid the difficult act of choosing.

A child’s home and educative experience has a direct effect on his or her short-term and long-term achievements and is responsible for shaping his or her pathway in life. For this reason, it is important to engage with historical artefacts, such as the books in the Janet Powney collection, to learn from negative representations of gender. By using the gift and prize books to map particular attitudes to and constructions of gender, we can correct any potentially harmful behaviours that still remain in our society and strive towards living in a country with gender equality for all.

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.”

Edition fever: Charles Knight’s illustrated Shakespeare

Reading Andrew Prescott’s excellent blog post on 19th century Shakespeare editions, ‘Why every copy of a book is different’, inspired me to find out more about our extra-illustrated set of Charles Knight’s Pictorial edition of the works of Shakspere (1839-43).

Special Collections' extra-illustrated set of Charles Knight's Pictorial Shakspere, enlarged from 7 to 15 volumes with the addition of almost 1,500 engravings.

Special Collections’ extra-illustrated set of Charles Knight’s Pictorial Shakspere, enlarged from 8 to 15 volumes with the addition of almost 1,500 engravings.

Knight’s edition was originally issued in 56 monthly parts between 1838-43, and simultaneously, as material became available, released in 8 bound volumes between 1839-43, (7 volumes of plays, with a biographical volume authored by Knight). This ambitious illustrated edition was a product of the Victorian cult of Shakespeare, prevalent among all social classes, as well as emerging technologies which made the mass-production of affordable, wood-engraved books possible for the first time.

Knight was acutely aware of the power of illustrated works to attract and educate new readers. His previous projects, the Penny Magazine (1832-45), and the 27-volume Penny Cyclopaedia (1833-44) contained hundreds of cheap woodcuts. He went on to produce ‘pictorial editions’ of the Bible, a history of England, and a Book of Common Prayer.

He rejected the approach made by Nicholas Rowe, in the first illustrated Shakespeare edition, Rowe’s works of Mr. William Shakespear (1709), in which copper engravings depict key scenes within their theatrical setting, complete with stage sets and contemporary costume.

Illustration from Nicholas Rowe's 1709 edition, showing a scene from Hamlet in its theatrical context (typically featuring a draped curtain, and actors in contemporary eighteenth century dress).

Illustration from Nicholas Rowe’s 1709 edition, showing a scene from Hamlet in its theatrical context (typically featuring a draped curtain, and actors in contemporary eighteenth century dress).

Instead, he desired to depict with historical accuracy:

‘the Realities upon which the imagination of the poet must have rested…the localities of the various scenes, whether English or foreign; the portraits of the real personages of the historical plays; the objects of natural history, so constantly occurring; accurate costume in all its rich variety,’ (Knight, 2:284).

Considering his background in encyclopedias and miscellanies, it is perhaps not surprising that he sought to surround the literary works with images of real locations, and real persons, ‘which imparted a character of truthfulness to many scenes, which upon the stage had in general been merely fanciful creations’.

Extract from Knight's 'introductory notices' to Romeo and Juliet, which places the play in its historic context.

Extract from Knight’s ‘introductory notices’ to Romeo and Juliet, which places the play in its historic context.

Compared to earlier editions by Nicholas Rowe and John Boydell, which featured expensive and laboriously-produced copper engravings, Knight capitalised on the economy of wood engraving, a quick and affordable technique perfected by Thomas Bewick (1753-1828), which allowed text and image to be printed simultaneously.

Knight’s printer, William Clowes and Sons, operated the largest printing works in the world at that time, and in 1843, owned 24 steam-driven printing presses, reducing mass-printing costs even further (Weedon, p. 158).

Steamprinting machine used by The Illustrated London News, 2 Dec 1843.

Steam-printing machine used by The Illustrated London News, 2 Dec 1843.

Boydell’s 1802 edition cost £42, compared to just £7 7s. for Knight’s some 40 years later. Knight’s edition was cheaper, but not yet within the reach of the working-class mass market. He continued to make edits and alterations, which saw a proliferation of new Shakespeare editions hit the market:

• Library edition (1842-4) in 12 volumes at £6
• Cabinet edition (1843-4) in 11 duodecimo volumes at £1 7s. 6d.
• A single volume edition of 1,084 pages (1845) at £1 1s.
• Standard edition (1846) in 7 volumes at £4
• National edition (1851-2) in 8 volumes at £3

These were followed by a Students’ edition (1857), and finally, dispensing with Knight’s extensive notes and essays, a single volume People’s edition (1864) for 2 shillings, or if bought as a serial, just:

‘two plays for one penny! … Sixty-four well-printed double-column pages containing Hamlet and Othello complete, for one penny, is really a wonder, even in this cheap-printing age… our greatest poet [is] thus brought within the reach of all, in a style fit for any home and illustrated with two woodcuts, but unencumbered with the ‘readings’ and ‘notes’, which only puzzle readers and too often interfere with the full enjoyment of Shakespeare’s immortal works’. (Birmingham Daily Post, 18 April 1864, p. 5).

A bibliographic tangle it may be, but the proliferation of editions is testament to the enduring popularity of the work, and the breadth of the potential market for illustrated Shakespeare.

Title page of Charles Knight's Pictorial edition of the works of Shakspere.

Title page of Charles Knight’s Pictorial edition of the works of Shakspere.

Special Collections and Archives’ set of Knight’s Pictorial edition of the works of Shakspere has every appearance of being a first edition, though this is difficult to verify conclusively without comparison with others. New digital databases such as the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive have vast potential to aid researchers in comparing editions and tracing source texts. Our copy is undated, re-bound, and most remarkably, has been extended to almost twice its original length by the inclusion of 1,495 additional engraved plates, and 26 original drawings by William Harvey (1796-1866).

Nicholas Harvey's original sketch for the Comedy of Errors frontispiece, bound in opposite the final engraving.

Nicholas Harvey’s original sketch for the Comedy of Errors frontispiece, bound in opposite the final engraving.

A pupil of Thomas Bewick, Harvey was employed to create a series of frontispieces, ‘which, embodying the realities of costume and other accessaries [sic], would have enough of an imaginative character to render them pleasing,’ (Knight, 2:284). His original drawings in pencil and ink, with a brown wash to indicate desired areas of shading, have been bound into the work alongside his engraved frontispieces.

One of the 1,495 extra illustrations added to our Knight edition. The same Hamlet scene as depicted Rowe's edition, this rendering features the same Regency dress and set design that Knight rejected in favour of historical accuracy.

One of the 1,495 extra illustrations added to our Knight edition. The same Hamlet scene as depicted Rowe’s edition, this rendering features the same Regency dress and set design that Knight rejected in favour of historical accuracy.

The work now stretches to 15 volumes rather than the original 8, and to what would surely be Knight’s dismay, contains many of the ‘artistic’ theatrical scenes from 18th and early 19th century editions, of which he disapproved so strongly, as well as illustrations from rival mid-19th century wood-engraved Shakespeare editions.

In the first volume, a bookseller’s catalogue listing is pasted onto the front free endpaper, with the price given as £35.label

An inscription records, ‘I give this book to my dear son Trevor / 22 April 1889, John C. Bigham’.

Inscription from John Charles Bigham (1840-1929) to his son Trevor (1876-1954).

Inscription from John Charles Bigham (1840-1929) to his son Trevor (1876-1954).

The son of a merchant, John Charles Bigham (1840-1929) trained as a barrister and rose quickly through the ranks to join the Queen’s Bench. In 1912, he was appointed commissioner to inquire into the sinking of the RMS Titanic, and was created the first Viscount Mersey in 1916. His third son, Trevor, to whom the book is inscribed, became Deputy Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (the second-in-command of London’s Metropolitan Police Service) in 1931.

Bookplate of John Charles Bigham (1840-1929)

Bookplate of John Charles Bigham (1840-1929)

Each Knight volume contains a bookplate belonging to John Charles Bigham, dated 1897. The pasted bookseller’s record suggests that neither Trevor Bigham nor his father were responsible for constructing this densely extra-illustrated work, and we may never know who was. Prescott writes ‘each copy of a book bears the imprint in different ways of its previous owners and can act as an archive of the owners’ interests, enthusiasms and preoccupations as much as their personal papers’. There could be few better examples of this than this handsome work, more scrapbook than book, and all the more fascinating for researchers as a result.

Further reading:

  • Knight, Charles, Passages of a working life during half a century, with a prelude of early reminiscences. London: Bradbury & Evans, 1864.
  • Weedon, Alexis, Victorian publishing: the economics of book production for a mass market, 1836-1916. Aldershot: Ashgate, c2003: 158.
  • Young, Alan R., ‘Charles Knight and the nineteenth-century market for Shakespeare’, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, vol. 103, no. 1 (March 2009), pp. 19-41.

John Donne’s Biathanatos

NPG 6790; John Donne by Unknown English artist

Portrait of John Donne by Unknown English artist, oil on panel, circa 1595. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

This week’s cataloguing efforts have uncovered another noteworthy item in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection: a first edition of Biathanatos (London, 1644) by John Donne.

The full title of the book is Βιαθανατος : a declaration of that paradoxe, or thesis, that selfe-homicide is not so naturally sinne, that it may never be otherwise. Wherein the nature, and the extent of all those lawes, which seeme to be violated by this act, are diligently surveyed. The paradox was a literary genre popular during the English Renaissance in which the author puts forth an argument in support of a thesis which contradicts common sense or questions a commonly-held belief. As a young man, Donne wrote several paradoxes, generally on comparatively trivial subjects such as, “That old Men are more Fantastique then younge,” or “Why have Bastards best fortune.”  In his personal correspondence, Donne claims that his paradoxes were made “rather to deceive time than her daughter truth,” and “are rather alarums to truth to arme her then enemies.” Donne’s use of the genre for a discussion of suicide suggests that it is not intended to be taken at face value, but rather to encourage thoughtful discussion and contradiction.

1644_title_page

Title page of the 1644 first edition of Biathanatos.

Biathanatos was written during a lengthy period of unemployment, during which Donne suffered from low spirits. In 1608, around the time that Biathanatos  was originally composed, Donne wrote to his friend Henry Goodyer, “Every Tuesday I make account that I turn a great hourglass, and consider that a week’s life is run out since I writ. But if I ask myself what I have done in the last watch, or would do in the next, I can say nothing.” Although John Sym’s Lifes Preservative Against Self-Killing (London, 1637) was published earlier, Biathanatos was the first book written in the Western tradition on the subject of suicide.

Donne’s treatise is divided into sections discussing the rational, legal, and theological arguments against suicide. Its controversial thesis proposes that while most motivations for suicide (including despair, self-aggrandizement, fear of suffering, or impatience to reach the afterlife) are selfish and sinful, suicide is justified when, like submission to martyrdom, it is done with charity and for the glory of God. Donne even goes so far as to say that Christ himself, in allowing himself to be killed on the cross, was in fact a suicide. Donne’s case is supported by thousands of citations from more than 170 authors (though Donne admits in the introductory matter that, “In citing these Authors…I have trusted mine owne old notes; which though I have no reason to suspect, yet I confesse here my lazines; and that I did not refresh them with going to the Originall”).

Although the subject matter may be uncomfortable to some, this treatise has an intriguing history. Aware that Biathanatos dealt with “a misinterpretable subject,” Donne carefully controlled its circulation in a small number of manuscript copies which he distributed among his close personal friends.

Jack_Donne

From a letter from John Donne “To Sr Robert Carre now Earle of Ankerum, with my Book Biathanatos at my going into Germany,” published in Letters to severall persons of honour (London, 1654).

Donne’s reluctance to publish Biathanatos is not remarkable in itself; many of Donne’s works, including the poems for which he is best known today, were not published during his lifetime. Nevertheless, his attitude toward Biathanatos seems particularly ambivalent. In entrusting the manuscript to to Sir Robert Ker, he writes: 

“I have always gone so near suppressing it, as that it is onely not burnt: no hand hath passed upon it to copy it, nor many eyes to read it: onely to some particular friends in both Universities, then when I writ it, I did communicate it … Keep it, I pray, with the same jealousie; let any that your discretion admits to the sight of it, know the date of it; and that it is a book written by Jack Donne, and not by D. Donne: Reserve it for me, if I live, and if I die, I only forbid it the Presse, and the Fire: publish it not, but yet burn it not; and between those, do what you will with it.” (from Letters to severall persons of honour).

He is eager to distance himself from the work, ascribing it to the his younger self, Jack Donne, rather than the mature Doctor Donne, but he still insists on preserving its existence. Equally fearful that his work would be either lost or misunderstood, Donne never sent it out unaccompanied by letters of introduction like the one quoted above. The transmission of the manuscript copies is a fascinating story in itself, discussed in detail in Peter Beal’s book, In praise of scribes: manuscripts and their makers in seventeenth-century England.

publication_quote

From the dedicatory epistle of the first printed edition of Biathantos (London, 1644), written by John Donne, Jr. sixteen years after his father’s death.

After Donne’s death, his son published Biathanatos against his father’s wishes, writing in the dedicatory epistle, “Two dangers appeared more eminently to hover over this, being then a Manuscript; a danger of being utterly lost, and a danger of being utterly found.” The first edition appeared in 1644, followed by a re-issue with a new title page in 1648 and a new edition in 1700. Both the 1644 and 1700 editions can be found in the Cardiff Rare Books collection.

Following its publication, a number of outraged rebuttals appeared, most notably John Adams’ An essay concerning self-murther. Wherein is endeavour’d to prove, that it is unlawful according to natural principles. With some considerations upon what is pretended from the said principles, by the author of a treatise, intituled, Biathanatos, and others. (London, 1700). More than 300 years later, scholars still debate whether the argument set forth in Biathanatos was intended to be sincere or satirical. Either way, Donne’s paradoxical essay has succeeded in its goal of stimulating thoughtful conversation on a topic which remains controversial even today.

Exhibition: Livres d’Artistes

Our latest exhibition was launched at the opening of the Livres d’Artistes: The Artist’s Book in Theory and Practice conference. It showcases the generous donation of artists’ books from Ron King and the Circle Press, gifted to Special Collections and Archives in 2014. Sample images from the exhibition are featured below, with captions taken from an interview with Ron conducted by Cathy Courtney (1999), which looks back on his career in book arts.

Contracted at this time to create print editions for Editions Alecto, London, I persuaded them to take on this first book [The Prologue (1967)]. On completion of the work with their imprint on the title page and stamped logo on the reverse of the images, they suffered a financial set-back and I was forced to take on publication myself as Circle Press.

I had been working on a series of mask prints, and I knew this was a solution I wanted to explore for the Chaucer rather than attempting to ‘illustrate’ it… The abstract mask provided the opportunity to express the pilgrims through the merging of symbols – symbols taken from heraldry or the Church, for example – rather than caricature. The Parson, for instance, is not just himself but also a symbol of the Church, just as the Knight is the symbol of ruthlessness and (at the same time) vulnerability but also, in heraldic terms, of the Crusade… I used colour to put certain moods across; for instance, the Knight is grey, black, and silver and rather rusty, whereas the Squire is bright and gaudy.

Ronald King, Geoffrey Chaucer The Prologue (1967) Originally produced for Editions Alecto, London; published by Circle Press with frontispiece and fourteen mask images titled and initialled in pencil – printed silk screen and letterpress in 24 pt Plantin. 125 signed copies, 15 proofs – 50 x 37cm – 15 unbound 4pp sections in J. Green rag-made paper wraparound in blue cloth folder and canvas slipcase. Separate editions of 50 plus 5 proofs were made of all the images except ‘Friar’ and ‘Franklin’ onto J. Green paper 56 x 38cm titled, numbered, and fully signed. Guildford, 1967 (second edition, 1978).

Ronald King, Geoffrey Chaucer
The Prologue (1967)
Originally produced for Editions Alecto, London; published by Circle Press with frontispiece and fourteen mask images titled and initialled in pencil – printed silk screen and letterpress in 24 pt Plantin. 125 signed copies, 15 proofs – 50 x 37cm – 15 unbound 4pp sections in J. Green rag-made paper wraparound in blue cloth folder and canvas slipcase. Separate editions of 50 plus 5 proofs were made of all the images except ‘Friar’ and ‘Franklin’ onto J. Green paper 56 x 38cm titled, numbered, and fully signed. Guildford, 1967 (second edition, 1978).

There was a room in the Victoria and Albert Museum that was devoted to artists’ books in [the 1960s], and some of them had a deep influence on me. Matisse’s Jazz (1947) moved me tremendously, a revelation in the strength of its colour, the economy of its drawing, the exciting presentation of something that had been worked out in cut paper and reproduced by a hand-cut stencil technique in a way that vitalized rather than diminished it… Miró’s A Toute Epreuve (1958)… had a strong influence on the second book I did, The Song of Solomon (1969)

Ronald King, King James Bible The Song of Solomon (1968) Over 30 screen printed images, including 8 double spreads – text printed letterpress in 30 pt Fry’s Baskerville, interwoven with the designs. 150 signed copies, 15 proofs – 72pp unbound on J. Green mould-made paper – 40 x 30cm – in gold-blocked red cloth cover and slipcase. 50 copies reserved for London Graphic Arts Inc. and 10 for Imre Maltzahn Gallery. Separate editions of 30 signed prints on Hosho paper of all double spreads and 2 single pages were issued without text. Guildford, 1968 (second edition, 1990).

Ronald King, King James Bible
The Song of Solomon (1968)
Over 30 screen printed images, including 8 double spreads – text printed letterpress in 30 pt Fry’s Baskerville, interwoven with the designs. 150 signed copies, 15 proofs – 72pp unbound on J. Green mould-made paper – 40 x 30cm – in gold-blocked red cloth cover and slipcase. 50 copies reserved for London Graphic Arts Inc. and 10 for Imre Maltzahn Gallery. Separate editions of 30 signed prints on Hosho paper of all double spreads and 2 single pages were issued without text. Guildford, 1968 (second edition, 1990).

Bluebeard’s Castle (1972-73) marked the beginning of [my] collaboration with the poet Roy Fisher [and] my first step away from the traditional book format… The extraordinary thing was that within three weeks of my having sent Roy a mock-up of the book, he had written a text in which we only changed one word. I’d never met him… I designed the whole thing, and making it was incredibly masochistic. Absolute hell. The difficult thing about a work like Bluebeard’s Castle is to translate the dummy into something that can be manufactured or constructed in an edition. I remember sitting at a desk and just cutting and chopping and gluing and looking at all kinds of different pop-up material until I turned out the first room, the Torture Chamber. Once I got the idea that to make something pop-up you have to have symmetrical folding structure, I began experimenting in various ways.

Ronald King, Roy Fisher Bluebeard’s Castle (1972) Based on the opera by Bartok, the visual theme of the book is represented by nine pop-up constructions; the portcullis, the castle and seven secret chambers with the verse incorporated into the design printed in Optima. 125 signed copies – 30 x 20cm made up of 10 loose 4pp sections silk screened throughout onto Hollingsworth paper placed into a cardboard folder and held in a black Perspex tray with a clear lid. Guildford, 1972.

Ronald King, Roy Fisher
Bluebeard’s Castle (1972)
Based on the opera by Bartok, the visual theme of the book is represented by nine pop-up constructions; the portcullis, the castle and seven secret chambers with the verse incorporated into the design printed in Optima. 125 signed copies – 30 x 20cm made up of 10 loose 4pp sections silk screened throughout onto Hollingsworth paper placed into a cardboard folder and held in a black Perspex tray with a clear lid. Guildford, 1972.

I was born in Brazil in 1932. The Carnival was a three-day event just before Lent and was visually very powerful. I loved the spectacle of the fancy dress, the masks and hobby horses. I spent a lot of times making paper toys and kites. Kites have a tremendous masklike presence, and they have appeared in my adult work; for instance, I used them in my Antony and Cleopatra (1979).

Ronald King, William Shakespeare Anthony and Cleopatra (1979) Over 30 screen printed designs for the full text of the play; printed letterpress in 11 pt Baskerville with screen printed handwriting for annotations by Keith Please. 300 signed copies, 40 proofs – eleven 8pp unbound sections – 38 x 29cm on Cuve Rives Blanc paper in a quarter-bound leatherette and canvas portfolio. Guildford, 1979.

Ronald King, William Shakespeare
Antony and Cleopatra (1979)
Over 30 screen printed designs for the full text of the play; printed letterpress in 11 pt Baskerville with screen printed handwriting for annotations by Keith Please. 300 signed copies, 40 proofs – eleven 8pp unbound sections – 38 x 29cm on Cuve Rives Blanc paper in a quarter-bound leatherette and canvas portfolio. Guildford, 1979.

The Left-Handed Punch (1986) and Anansi Company (1992) are the two most elaborate books Roy and I worked on. The Punch is my favourite of all the books I’ve done; it holds together better than Anansi and has more dimensions. Punch’s moveable puppets, on-stage descriptions, the large chunks of the original Cruikshank version of the text, and the drawn Victorian tableaux scenes (spoofs of famous drawings and paintings) all fit together easily, and the photo montages and collages are relieved by the inclusion of the poet’s (Roy’s) handwriting to strong effect.

Ronald King, Roy Fisher The Left-Handed Punch (1986) The fifth collaboration of artist and poet in a modern version of the Punch and Judy drama. Entirely screen-printed with the exception of the introduction, titles and colophon, which were printed letterpress in 14 pt Baskerville. 80 signed copies made up often 4pp French-folded sections – 38 x 28cm on Somerset mould-made paper. The six scenes and epilogue (which include 1 articulated puppet designs) are held in cartridge paper folders within a red cloth-covered folder inserted into a hand-printed striped cloth slipcase. Guildford, 1986.

Ronald King, Roy Fisher
The Left-Handed Punch (1986)
The fifth collaboration of artist and poet in a modern version of the Punch and Judy drama. Entirely screen-printed with the exception of the introduction, titles and colophon, which were printed letterpress in 14 pt Baskerville. 80 signed copies made up often 4pp French-folded sections – 38 x 28cm on Somerset mould-made paper. The six scenes and epilogue (which include 1 articulated puppet designs) are held in cartridge paper folders within a red cloth-covered folder inserted into a hand-printed striped cloth slipcase. Guildford, 1986.

The Anansi book is more spectacular with its removable puppets made of wire and card – the whole book is like the Brazilian Carnival scene as I knew it, lots of noisy music and revelry coming from all directions.

Ronald King The Anansi Company (1992) The seventh collaboration of artist and poet with thirteen screen-printed removable wire and card puppets. Introduction and accompanying verse printed letterpress in 14 & 18 pt Walbaum. 120 copies, 10 proofs – one 8pp section, thirteen 4pp French-fold sections, and one 4pp section (40 x 29cm), all loosely inserted into card wraparound and held in large colour-blocked solander box. London, 1992.

Ronald King
The Anansi Company (1992)
The seventh collaboration of artist and poet with thirteen screen-printed removable wire and card puppets. Introduction and accompanying verse printed letterpress in 14 & 18 pt Walbaum. 120 copies, 10 proofs – one 8pp section, thirteen 4pp French-fold sections, and one 4pp section (40 x 29cm), all loosely inserted into card wraparound and held in large colour-blocked solander box. London, 1992.

If I am to criticise other works, I would say that, too often, one look through is enough! That does not mean that I can’t enjoy that ‘one-look’ type of book; not only do I have a large collection of them, but my own wire-printed productions, Turn Over Darling (1990) and Echo Book (1994), are books of that nature… I try to make even those ‘one-look’ books tactile and pleasing to handle and the printing relevant to the content. As in good speech, the message is not enough, the quality of delivery is vital.

Ronald King Turn Over Darling (1990) A series of six double-sided blind-embossed images printed in wire, which, when folded and juxtaposed in sequence, make eleven reclining nudes which change position from front to back view. 75 signed copies – six 4pp sections – 20 x 15cm on RWS hand-made paper and an unsigned, unlimited edition on Khadi Indian hand-made paper, both bound into tan hand-made paper covers and inserted into grey card slipcase. London, 1990.

Ronald King
Turn Over Darling (1990)
A series of six double-sided blind-embossed images printed in wire, which, when folded and juxtaposed in sequence, make eleven reclining nudes which change position from front to back view. 75 signed copies – six 4pp sections – 20 x 15cm on RWS hand-made paper and an unsigned, unlimited edition on Khadi Indian hand-made paper, both bound into tan hand-made paper covers and inserted into grey card slipcase. London, 1990.

Ronald King Echo Book (1994) A small booklet with the words ‘ECHO BOOK’ printed in wire and blind-embossed to read ‘BOOK ECHO’ on the reverse of the page. The impression fades as the pages are turned in sequence. 75 signed copies with three 4pp sections – 20 x 8cm of Khadi hand-made paper and an unsigned and unlimited edition with two 4pp sections, both sewn into a blind embossed black paper cover. London, 1994.

Ronald King
Echo Book (1994)
A small booklet with the words ‘ECHO BOOK’ printed in wire and blind-embossed to read ‘BOOK ECHO’ on the reverse of the page. The impression fades as the pages are turned in sequence. 75 signed copies with three 4pp sections – 20 x 8cm of Khadi hand-made paper and an unsigned and unlimited edition with two 4pp sections, both sewn into a blind embossed black paper cover. London, 1994.

Although I was never a wholly traditional printer, I was closer to that stand-point when I began than now, when much of what I do might be described as the work of an experimental book artist. For many years now I have been using materials such as wire, wood, mirror and stone and exploring the elasticity of the book form itself. In selecting slides for lectures, I’m often aware of how my approach to the book form has developed. From the conventional solution of image and text in the format of the Chaucer Prologue in 1967 – through pop-up books, mirror books, wire-embossed books with double images, stone books, sawn and laser-cut ones – to the hollow log which I cut earlier this year into forty sections and bound in the inner ring to make four quarter-circle books that fit together into the original log form, is a long way.

Ronald King Log Books: Hollow Log (1995) An on-going project, begun in 1995, for a series of book-works which explore the possibilities of sawing a log of wood into book sections, or pages, which can be reassembled into their original log form. In the case of Hollow Log, pages are cut from the circumference of a hollow log, divided into four codex-bound books of equal size.

Ronald King
Log Books: Hollow Log (1995)
An on-going project, begun in 1995, for a series of book-works which explore the possibilities of sawing a log of wood into book sections, or pages, which can be reassembled into their original log form. In the case of Hollow Log, pages are cut from the circumference of a hollow log, divided into four codex-bound books of equal size.

Ronald King Hick Hack Hock (1996-7) A series of book-works varying in size (7 x 5cm – 13-18cm) based on the ‘paper, scissor, stone’ game. The scissors are blind-embossed onto a concertina of hand-made black paper with split stones (which act as covers) adhered to both ends of the folded pages. Text printed letterpress in 8 pt Helvetica. Each book contained in a hinged custom-made box. London, 1996-7.

Ronald King
Hick Hack Hock (1996-7)
A series of book-works varying in size (7 x 5cm – 13-18cm) based on the ‘paper, scissor, stone’ game. The scissors are blind-embossed onto a concertina of hand-made black paper with split stones (which act as covers) adhered to both ends of the folded pages. Text printed letterpress in 8 pt Helvetica. Each book contained in a hinged custom-made box. London, 1996-7.