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Bibliography of British and Irish History


Two actors, two plays

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Although Samuel Foote and Ira Aldridge may seem an improbable pairing, both have featured in recent plays on the London stage. Foote, an eighteenth-century actor and playwright, is portrayed in Mr Foote’s Other Leg, played by Simon Russell Beale, while Ira Aldridge, the nineteenth-century African-American actor, appears in Red Velvet  played by Adrian Lester.

Scene from Taste in a painting by Robert Smirke. Lady Pentweazel, played by Foote.

Scene from Taste in a painting by Robert Smirke. Lady Pentweazel, played by Foote.

Both had dramatic lives to equal any play. Strangely, both performed Othello, Foote in 1744 to “universal applause” (although the run itself was ultimately unsuccessful), while 90 years later Aldridge made his West End debut in the same play to a favourable audience response but hostile press reaction. Foote went on to develop his own acting company and penned his own satires mocking the society of the day, fellow actors and the craze for auctions and the arts and antiquities market. His satirical and, not so subtle, attacks on society were to end in trouble when he crossed swords with Elizabeth Chudleigh, duchess of Kingston, during her trial for bigamy. The play, Mr Foote’s Other Leg, is an ironic reference to the loss of a leg after a horse riding accident. Undeterred, Foote continued to act and used two wooden legs; one a simple leg, the other decorated with a silk stocking and buckled shoe (for use on stage). Published rumours of homosexuality, followed by a charge from one of his servants in similar vein, wrecked his spirit. Though cleared of all charges he was to die soon after.

Ira Aldridge as Aaron in Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus.

Ira Aldridge as Aaron in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.

Aldridge, born in New York City, moved to England in 1824, and in the following year he made his stage debut in The Revolt of Surinam, or, A Slave’s Revenge, playing Oronooko. After the failure of his 1833 Othello he toured much of Europe, returning to Britain to a much more respectful press. He died in Poland, while on tour, in 1867.

Both actors are represented in BBIH, coincidently with 16 references each. Using the Person as subject serach.

BBIh-foote

BBIH aldridge

Despite the danger of becoming a mere plugger for the London theatre scene, I can’t help but note that a play about the life of actress and royal mistress, Nell Gwynn, is also appearing on the London stage, so it may be that another post on actresses  in the British theatre beckons.

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Symbolic Scratchings or Belligerent Literacy: Graffiti and its Interpretations

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The theme of graffiti seems to be a popular topic of late, and a search on the Bibliography reveals the interesting array of material that has been published recently. The term ‘graffiti’ often has negative connotations in our modern society as an act of vandalism, but the OED definition of a graffito is ‘a drawing or writing scratched on a wall or other surface’, and, as the following resources show, represent a number of different purposes.

A book chapter in England and Rome in the Early Middle Ages titled Anglo-Saxons Underground: Early Medieval Graffiti in the Catacombs of Rome explores the Anglo-Saxon trend of pilgrimage to the sacred burial tombs of the early Christian martyrs. As the catacombs of Rome were manipulated architecturally and visually to accommodate ever-increasing numbers of worshippers, pilgrims added their own marks by way of graffiti; creating an eternal link between themselves and the saint, long after they had returned to their homeland. From the four hundred or so medieval inscriptions identified, twenty-six Anglo-Saxon names have so far been recorded, including one female name. The names have been written in an uncial script with insular letter forms (four in runic letters), suggesting they were etched between the 7th-9th century. In the catacombs of Commodilla, twelve Anglo-Saxon inscriptions have been found grouped together on the fresco of St Luke, suggesting a band of English pilgrims travelling en masse. In the tombs of SS Marcellinus and Peter, the female name Fagihild was found written in runic letters among ten Anglo-Saxon names. From sources such as the The English Correspondence of Saint Boniface, it is clear that women often made pilgrimages to Rome, yet it is still satisfying to find physical evidence of Anglo-Saxon women travelling alongside their male peers. Further analysis is required to discern whether the name was inscribed by the woman herself or by a companion, raising further questions of literacy amongst women in this period

However, not all acts of inscription had a spiritual purpose. The book chapter Amiatinus in Italy : The Afterlife of an Anglo-Saxon Book in Anglo-Saxon England and the Continent charts the story of the Codex Amiatinus, a vulgate bible created in Wearmouth-Jarrow under the abbacy of Ceolfrith in the eighth century. Intended as a gift for Pope Gregory II, the codex disappeared shortly after Ceolfrith’s death en route. The huge manuscript, measuring almost twenty inches high, re-emerged in the ninth century in an abbey in Tuscany. Close scrutiny of the dedication page in the Amiatinus has revealed that the original name ‘Ceolfrith of the English’ was deliberately erased, and replaced with ‘Peter of the Lombards’, concealing its Anglo-Saxon origins for centuries (pictured left, click to enlarge).

Medieval graffiti in churches has inspired much academic interest of late, with the Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey documenting a growing corpus of inscriptions that have formed the basis of several articles. Matthew Champion has produced an abundance of material, such as Medieval Graffiti : the Lost Voices of Britain’s Churches, The Graffiti Inscriptions of St Mary’s Church, Troston and Medieval Ship Graffiti in English Churches : Interpretation and Function. The ship motif features significantly in medieval churches and is explored further in Graffiti and Devotion in Three Maritime Churches. While it is clear that these etchings have an apotropaic function, serving as a symbol to avert evil, these marks are open to multiple interpretations. Are they requesting protection for or giving thanks for a safe voyage? Could they be associated with a maritime guild? Churches are intrinsically linked to the nautical world, with the word ‘nave’ coming from the Latin word ‘navis’ meaning ship, which may go some way to explain why so many ship images appear in churches so far inland. To modern tastes, the act of carving a personal image (particularly in a church) may seem like an act of vandalism, but to medieval thinking it was an act of piety; a way of interacting with very fabric of the church. This is demonstrated in primary sources such as The Life of Christina of Markyate, where Christina is recorded as scratching the sign of the cross on a monastery door with her fingernails to mark her devotion to the church.

While most graffiti in churches serves as an act of piety, there is a dark side. The article Ill Wishing on the Walls: the Medieval Graffiti Curses of Norwich Cathedral highlights three inscriptions found in different locations in the cathedral, written in pre-reformation script with inverted lettering. Of the three inscriptions, one is particularly well preserved, clearly spelling the name ‘Keynfford’ upside down and back-to-front, with an astrological symbol underneath (See NMGS image 37). Whilst examples of book curses from this period have been well documented, curses in churches may prove an interesting new area of research.

Stonemasons’ Drawings on Building Fabric : Diversity, Form and Function provides a practical insight into how stonemasons used their working space as a template for grand building designs, and carries a reminder that many creators of graffiti were not necessarily literate. This theme is also explored in The Apotropaic Symbolled Threshold to Nevern Castle – Castell Nanhyfer, an article that probes deeper into the significance of incorporating talismans into new buildings. The Monastery of Durham and the Wider World : Medieval Graffiti in the Prior’s Chapel is an interesting analysis of graffiti revealed behind plastered wall-paintings in the prior’s lodging, which at times was used as an administration base. Therefore the graffiti seems to hold little apotropaic value, but seem to represent a fascinating snapshot of the various members of religious and lay community who used this space, and carved out their marks, perhaps in moments of idleness.

Book Destruction from the Medieval to the Contemporary contains an extremely entertaining chapter titled Belligerent Literacy, Bookplates, and Graffiti: Dorothy Helbarton’s Book, concerning a 16th-century text of the Brut Chronicle, with the interesting addition of more than 60 marginal inscriptions bearing the name Dorothy Helbarton. While marginalia or glosses were considered helpful additions to the understanding of texts, as in the C version of Piers Plowman pictured on the right, in this instance the scrawling of Dorothy (or rather her scribe), seems to be an aggressive act of declaring ownership, with little interest in the textual material.

Moving on from early modern times, Graffiti of British Ships at La Aljaferia Castle details the intricate inscriptions left behind by prisoners of the Napoleonic Wars on the walls were they were held captive, and Gendered Graffiti at Kilmainham discusses the graffiti left by the women prisoners during the Irish Civil War. Words and phrases of nationalist sentiments were feminised by the women to represent their involvement, and perhaps as a way of avoiding being airbrushed out of the historical narrative. Finally, ‘Hitler Loves Musso’, and Other Civilian Wartime Sentiments : the Archaeology of Second World War Air-Raid Shelters and their Graffiti in Beyond the Dead Horizon: Studies in Modern Conflict Archaeology gives an insight into how air-raid shelters served as communal places to while away the time during the bombings; amongst the anti-Hitler daubings, there are drawings of Disney characters, mathematical sums for children and games of noughts and crosses.

Through all of these resources, what is notable is that while graffiti marks serve a wide and varied purpose, they also represent the often unrecorded story of the ordinary people, who may have been illiterate or poor, but have nevertheless made their voice heard through the scratchings on a surface. For a comprehensive list of all resources available, please visit the Bibliography of British and Irish History.

Screenshot of 'graffiti' search

Screenshot of ‘graffiti’ search

graff

Screenshot of ‘graffiti’ resources

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Bibliography of British and Irish History updated

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An update to the Bibliography of British and Irish History was published on 23 February 2016.  4968 new records have been added. Some 633 new records relate to Irish history while 238 deal with the history of London,  325 with the history of Scotland and 262 with the history of Wales. The overall total of records available online is 570,747.

As most users know searches can be conducted through the Subject tree on Advanced search. Users can drill down the subject hierarchy to search for terms that interest them. After user feedback and discussion we decided that “Miscellaneous terms” included too many terms and have added two broader terms. “Materials” which contains, amongst other terms, Ceramics, Fuel, Leather, Metals, Stone and Textiles, while “Other major themes” includes Cultural relations, Emotions and mental states, War, impact of and Women.

Subject tree

There is also a helpful video tutorial on using the Subject tree.

We expect the next update to be released in July 2016.

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Feast of St Brigid – 1st February

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The feast day of St Brigid is celebrated on the 1st February, and in honour of this, we have delved into our resources to give a taste of the material available on the Bibliography of British and Irish History. 

St Brigid of Kildare is one of the main patron saints of Ireland, along with St Patrick and St Columbus. Brigid was born into slavery in the mid-5th century but became a nun and abbess, founding several monasteries. Her vitae was written by Cogitosus in the 7th century, and is translated in Cogitosus’s Life of St Brigid : content and value. As our range of resources show, the myth of Brigid has associations with an earlier pagan deity of the same name, explored in Brigid : goddess, druidess and saint and Brigit : from goddess to saint. Brigid was also strongly connected with the symbol of fire, as Gerald of Wales recounts in his Topographia Hibernica how the sacred fire of St Brigid burned continually around the monastery at Kildare even after her death, yet never accumulated any ashes. It was tended by the nuns of Kildare for nineteen nights in turn, and on the twentieth night left for Brigid to tend herself. According to Gerald, the scriptorium at Kildare produced an illuminated manuscript so sumptuous it was thought to be the work of angels. Unfortunately this manuscript is now lost, but it would probably have been of a similar quality to the Book of Kells.

Fol. 22v

Detail from fol. 22r

The image on the right is from London, British Library, Royal MS 13 B VIII, and shows the scribe creating the heavenly manuscript. This copy of the Topographia Hibernica was produced in Lincoln in c. 1196-1208, and most probably was overseen by Gerald himself. The image shows the tools of a scribe, a feather quill (probably goose), and a knife. The knife was used to sharpen the quill and also to correct mistakes, by scraping the ink off the parchment. In this image, it also seems to be used to hold the quill-hand steady and secure the parchment. According to Gerald, the book was composed with the angel presenting the designs, while Brigid prayed, and the scribe copied – ‘sic igitur angelo praesentante, brigida orante, scriptore imitante.’ (fol. 22v).

Like Gerald, Brigid herself was a great traveller, and was the patron saint of travellers and sailors. The network of religious connections she belonged to is further documented in Gender and Connectivity: Facilitating Religious Travel in the Sixth and Seventh Centuries.  Miracles associated with Brigid include the themes of farming and generosity, such as when she gave away her freshly churned butter to the needy, only to have it replenished through divine intervention, and the time she milked a cow three times in one day. Dairy themes are expanded further in Milk Symbolism in the Bethu Brigte. More controversially, she is linked with ‘abortion miracles’, explored in The Sexual Shame of the Chaste : ‘Abortion Miracles’ in Early Medieval Saints’ Lives. Iconography associated with Brigid include the reed cross (pictured below), crozier and lamp. She died on 1st February of natural causes, and in the 9th century her relics were interred with the tomb of Patrick and Columba.

 

To research more about the legend of St Brigid, visit the Bibliography of British and Irish History and use the advanced search feature to explore the many resources:

 

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Screenshot of subject search for ‘Brigid’

 

Screenshot of resources available for 'Brigid'

Screenshot of resources available for ‘Brigid’

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Hades! The Ladies: Draper’s clerks, police, foundlings and nursery education

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In previous posts I have alluded to the range of material gathered for BBIH, a range that sometimes creates a sense of déjà vu with similar or complementary articles. The following are recent examples.

I start with three articles all about clerks and shop workers; two of which feature H. G. Wells, himself once a draper’s assistant. Nicholas Bishop uses the works of Wells, Arnold Bennett and Shan Bullock to discuss “clerical literature” in Ruralism, Masculinity, and National Identity: The Rambling Clerk in Fiction, 1900–1940. This article argues that urban-dwelling clerks were pioneers in developing an interest in getting “back to the land” and the rural “idyll.”

Deborah Wynne continues the draper’s assistant theme, and the use of Wells, with The ‘Despised Trade’ in Textiles: H. G. Wells, William Paine, Charles Cavers and the Male Draper’s Life, 1870–1914 which examines the situation of the male draper in terms of his relationships to textiles and the female customers. Using the aforementioned accounts, the ridicule levelled against men is highlighted. The accounts used are, H. G. Wells’s discussion of his years as a draper’s apprentice in his Experiment in Autobiography (1934); William Paine’s emotionally charged title Shop Slavery and Emancipation (1912); and the diary of a Bond Street draper, Charles Cavers, posthumously published, and wonderfully entitled,  Hades! The Ladies! Being Extracts from the Diary of a Draper (1933). Cavers, a draper’s assistant from the 1870s and then a successful owner of a Bond Street emporium, paints a more positive picture than Wells or Paine, although he used the exclamation ‘Hades! The ladies!’ when his wealthy female customers were being difficult to please.

hades

And speaking of “ladies”…. although these first two articles refer to male workers and focus on masculinity, Ella Ophir presents the journal of Evelyn Wilson, an impoverished employment registry clerk in London. Wilson kept her diary for over 20 years and, after her death, it was published in 1935 under the melancholy title of The Note Books of a Woman Alone. The article The Diary and the Commonplace Book: Self-Inscription in The Note Books of a Woman Alone uses the diary extensively.

Again using autobiographical materials, Eloise Mossa’s The scrapbooking detective: Frederick Porter Wensley and the limits of ‘celebrity’ and ‘authority’ in inter-war Britain  follows the approach of the clerical articles above in that it explores the detective’s use of his scrapbooks in publishing his autobiography, Detective Days, (1931). Furthermore, Mossa looks at Wensley’s creation of  his own celebrity status through his memoirs and newspaper columns.

Continuing the police theme, David Taylor in his Cass, Coverdale and consent the Metropolitan Police and working-class women in late-Victorian London focusses on the treatment of two working-class women by the Metropolitan Police in 1887. Elizabeth Cass was arrested for soliciting in Regent’s Street while Annie Coverdale was arrested for being drunk and disorderly. Both were working class: Cass a dressmaker in Holborn and Coverdale a domestic servant in Canning Town. The two arresting constables were dishonest in their evidence but both remained policemen despite newspaper agitation and parliamentary condemnation. As Taylor points out the mistreatment of these two women was not unique at the time.

Two articles on the Foundling Hospital established by Thomas Coram examine the use of tokens at the orphanage. The tokens ranged from bits of cloth to coins and jewellery, as well as actual copper or pewter tokens detailing the name and admission of the child. In Gillian Clark and Janette Bright’s article The Foundling Hospital and its Token System the authors look at the array of objects used as tokens in case the family wished to reclaim their abandoned child. while Maria Zytaruk in her article, Artifacts of Elegy: The Foundling Hospital Tokens, explores similar territory, and makes the depressing point that the token could also be used to guard against a charge of infanticide.

The Foundling Hospital (Wellcome Library  http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/V0013443.html)

The Foundling Hospital (Wellcome Library http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/V0013443.html)

The Foundling Hospital is well served by the Bibliography, there are nearly 60 references ranging from histories of the hospital to Handel’s connection to the charity, as well as an autobiography of a foundling – The Last Foundling : The Memoir of an Underdog (see listing below).

Continuing the topic of young children, Pam Jarvis and Betty Liebovich, explore the origins of the modern nursery school in England, focusing upon the early efforts of the Nursery School Association and the work of Margaret McMillan and Grace Owen in British Nurseries, Head and Heart: McMillan, Owen and the genesis of the education/care dichotomy. Amy Palmer neatly continues the theme (in chronology and subject) in her article Nursery schools or nursery classes? Choosing and failing to choose between policy alternatives in nursery education in England, 1918–1972.

As usual, all relevant material can be found in the Bibliography of British and Irish History. Searching for the Foundling Hospital use the Place name tree.

 

BBIH foundling

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Different approaches to black history

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I usually get my ideas for posts about BBIH and its contents from external sources and recently received two such prompts. The Guardian ran an article on the teaching of black history where the questions, Did black immigrants come through Ellis Island? Were there black cowboys? Where did the free black men in New Amsterdam live? were asked and the author felt that black history (in an American context) was confined to slavery, the American Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. This article was followed by another, from a British perspective which argued for a different approach to black history.

Quite by chance a number of articles and books came to my attention, hopefully offering examples of these different approaches.

While not covering black cowboys, and certainly straying into slavery territory, the biography, The Road to Black Ned’s Forge: A Story of Race, Sex, and Trade on the Colonial American Frontier, introduces Ned Tarr, a blacksmith and landowner in Virginia. Tarr purchased his freedom and moved to Virginia setting up a blacksmith business and became the first black landowner west of the Blue Ridge. He married a Scottish woman, an interracial relationship that seems to have been accepted by his neighbours, and went on to found a Presbyterian congregation. However his late master’s son attempted to re-enslave him and Tarr had to defend his freedom in court.McClesky sk16distress.indd

Tracking back to Roman Britain a recent book, Objects and Identities. Roman Britain and the North-western Provinces includes the chapter “Seeing Black: Africans in Roman Britain” which looks at epigraphic and isotopic evidence of Africans in Britain as well as their depiction in objects.

On a completely different level, and surprisingly appearing in the journal Shakespeare, is the article The Resonables of Boroughside, Southwark: an Elizabethan black family near the Rose Theatre. The life of this family is traced in the archival records between 1579 and 1582 in Boroughside, Southwark and St. Olave, Tooley Street and the possible connections to Elizabethan theatre investigated.

The Resonables of Boroughside is complemented by two other articles on similar themes; Gusatve Ungere explores The presence of Africans in Elizabethan England and the performance of Titus Andronicus at Burley-on-the-Hill, 1595/96; while Emily Bartel’s Too Many Blackamoors: Deportation, Discrimination, and Elizabeth I argues that the targeted subjects were West Africans captured from Spanish New World settlements and seen primarily as “Spanish” subjects.

Moving to the middle of the eighteenth century, a shift in the artistic representation of black people became perceptible in England: a theme explored in Bridging the Gap between Self and Other? Pictorial Representation of Blacks in England. The examples used are, Thomas Gainsborough’s portrait of Ignatius Sancho (1768), Joseph Wright of Derby’s Two Girls with a Black Servant or A Conversation of Girls (1769), Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Omai (1776), and John Singleton Copley’s Watson and the Shark (1778). Gainsborough’s portrait of Ignatius Sancho shows a gentleman as well as a man of feeling, while Wright of Derby’s Two Girls with a Black Servant hints at a possible equality between the children.

While demonstrating Connected Histories to some students I happened upon the Old Bailey online entry for JOHN MARTIN “(a negro) was indicted for stealing two cloth coats…” and other clothes from “…the property of John Turnbull, in his dwelling-house, May the 18th .” [1782]

john-martin

What intrigued me was his punishment – “Transported for 7 Years to the Coast of Africa, 1. John Martin”, while others, presumably white criminals, were “-Transported for 7 years to America, 6. John Burgess, Joseph Barnsley, Ann Thomas, Thomas Winton , John White , and William Bradbury”. The intrigue is that Martin was sent to Africa and the others to America, itself in the throes of the War of Independence. How I wonder did Martin fare in Africa, a continent he may never have seen, and what would his life have been if he had been sent to the American Colonies, soon to be the USA – would he have escaped and been free or enslaved?

For a detailed discussion in the Old Bailey Proceedings of  black people as victims, witnesses and as the accused see “Black people and the criminal justice system: prejudice and practice in later eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century London”. The article concludes that there was no significant discrimination against black people as prosecutors and witnesses, although punishment patterns for black convicts included rather greater emphasis on transportation (as in John Martin’s case).

Taking us up to the present are a number of books and an article.  “Black Migrants, White Queers and the Archive of Inclusion in Postwar London” examines the historical concurrence of West Indian migration to Britain and the increase in discourses around British homosexuality in the 1950s and 60s, using, amongst other sources, an oral history by a gay Jamaican dancer who migrated to London in 1948.

Continuing the theatrical theme is the book Black British Theatre Pioneers : Yvonne Brewster and the First Generation of Actors, Playwrights and other Practitioners, which explores the many ways in which Brewster has used black experience and culture to enrich British theatre as co-founder of Talawa, one of Britain’s  black-led theatre company, as well as The Barn, Jamaica’s first professional theatre company.

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Finally, Black London: The Imperial Metropolis and Decolonization in the Twentieth Century reveals the city as a key site in the development of black internationalism and anti-colonialism and shows the significant contributions of people of African descent to London’s rich social and cultural history.

As usual, all relevant material can be found in the Bibliography of British and Irish History.

Brepolis- BBIH 2015-11-17 14-06-35

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Private libraries of the rich and poor

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Lindisfarne Gospels (image from British Library)

Lindisfarne Gospels (image from British Library)

Much of our cultural heritage owes a large debt of thanks to private collectors of manuscripts, incunabula and printed material; to those individuals who were interested in the accumulation of knowledge and the preservation of our literary history, and who saw fit to pass on their acquisitions for the foundation of libraries. One of the most well-known book collectors is Robert Cotton (1571-1631), whose vast collection of manuscripts include the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Beowulf and Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, which now form a vital core of the British Library collection and are listed in the Catalogue of the manuscripts in the Cottonian Library. Although his habit of disbanding precious manuscripts and rebinding them as he saw fit may seem an act of vandalism to us today, there is no doubt that without his legacy our book history would be far less impressive (even if the odd fire did somewhat deplete stock!).

Another famous private collector of the early modern period was Thomas Bodley (1545-1613). In the collected volume Books and and Collectors 1200-1700 we can learn more about the process of acquiring precious books in the chapter Sir Thomas Bodley‘s library and its acquisitions : an edition of the Nottingham benefaction of 1604, with letters from Bodley to his librarian providing clear evidence of his desperation to gain possession of new stock. Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury (1559-75) was also a voracious collector of manuscripts, and Matthew Parker‘s manuscripts : an Elizabethan library and its use gives a fascinating account of how he developed and interacted with his private collection.

However, while it is undeniable that the libraries of Cotton, Bodley and Archbishop Parker are invaluable, they all derive from the elite classes, born into privileged positions with disposable incomes that allowed them to amass vast collections in huge private houses. But what of those from more humbler origins? In Common Libraries in Fifteenth-Century England: An Episcopal Benediction, we learn of the earliest book collections being made freely available to the wider public. The very first civic library was Guildhall Library in London and was founded between 1423-1425, largely due to capital from the estate of Richard Whittington, (who, as we remember from childhood stories was four-times Lord Mayor of London), and was founded partly from the private collection of John Carpenter. There were also accessible libraries founded at Worcester, Bristol and possibly Norwich during the fifteenth-century. However, these libraries were all developed with a strong ecclesiastical bent, designed to inform and reform, and often run by members of the clergy. While these book collections were freely available for everyone, it is likely that it would only be the more educated citizens that made use of them, and even then the texts were carefully selected by religious authorities.

Woodcut of printing press (image from Wikipedia)

Woodcut of printing press (image from Wikipedia)

So what did ordinary people read? Was book ownership something strictly reserved for the wealthy classes and the ecclesiastical community in early modern times, or were the common people encouraged to foster reading habits? In the medieval period, manuscripts were laboriously made from parchment and painstakingly handwritten, which could take months to complete, and therefore were unlikely to be found in ordinary homes. Yet even after the birth of the printing press in the mid-15th century, books continued to be a valuable commodity, although as we can see in the article “Ovid with a Littleton” : the cost of English books in the early seventeenth century, the real cost of printed material is a complicated business, and even by the 1630s, only a handful of people owned more than a hundred books. (Although, despite literacy levels being an area difficult to judge, it is clear from history of British publishing that reading standards improved dramatically in this period, largely due to the growth of the book trade.)

Own image

Own image

However, we get a tantalising glimpse into how ordinary people assimilated books into their everyday lives in a fascinating article called Libraries of the “common sort”. Despite a woeful inadequacy in evidence, largely due to the ephemeral nature of cheaply printed items, through probate records we learn of certain individuals who clearly spent part of their limited income on the collection of books. Most pleasing is the forest labourer William Bane, who died in 1614, leaving in his single room his tools, a few items of furniture, writing implements and a small library of books worth 10s. Unfortunately we do not know the titles of the books, but we also learn of John Tayer, a shoemaker, whose account book from 1627 list a wide variety of titles in his ownership, including travel books, almanacs and tomes on spirituality. Accounts such as these provide a vital window into the reading habits of everyday people, who may be too often dismissed as illiterate labourers. Book ownership revealed in Norfolk probate inventories provides further evidence of book ownership across the classes, with more information on the types of books held and, interestingly, where they were kept in the house.

Another area less documented is that of women’s private collections. The Library of Mrs Elizabeth Vesey 1715-91the woman who part-founded the Bluestocking movement, provides a comprehensive list of the tracts that were integral to herself and her circle. ‘I can’t resist sending you the book’: Private Libraries, Elite Women, and Shared Reading Practices in Georgian Britain is about the library of Elizabeth Rose and her female friends, who actively sought out copies of books and formed an informal network of lending from their private libraries. Through the enthusiasm of these female readers, new ideas on female education and child rearing were able to disseminate to a wider audience. It also highlights how loaning from private libraries could strengthen relations between the privileged and less privileged.

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Cragside, Northumberland (image from Wikipedia)

Which brings me neatly onto the next resource, Servants’ reading : an examination of the Servants’ Library at Cragside, a rare example of a nineteenth-century library provided in a country home for the use of the servants. The surviving collection is made up of an eclectic mix of novels, periodicals and non-fiction; some, such as Charles Loudon Bloxham’s ‘Laboratory teaching, or, progressive exercises in practical chemistry’, suggesting that the servants library may have been a receptacle for books not required anywhere else. Although the library indicates no particular learning towards self-improvement, the fact that it exists at all is heartening, and though rare, was not unique. Further research on book ownership in the nineteenth-century is presented in Beyond Bibliophilia: Contextualizing Private Libraries in the Nineteenth Century, a recently published article exploring the complex relationship that develops between owners and their books.

From the resources mentioned, it seems that whether rich or poor, private collections of books have been an important part of people’s lives since the late medieval times, and although the generous legacies of wealthy gentlemen are more relevant than ever to our libraries, it is the image of the humble labourer William Bain, sitting in his sparsely furnished room and reading by candlelight after a hard day’s work, that is all the more pleasing.

As usual, all relevant material can be found in the Bibliography of British and Irish History. To find our most up-to-date resources on the subject, use the index term ‘Private libraries’ to explore further:

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Bibliography of British and Irish History updated

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An update to the Bibliography of British and Irish History was published on 26 October. 3,868 new records have been added. Some 326 new records relate to Irish history while 174 deal with the history of London,  312 with the history of Scotland and 186 with the history of Wales.  Titles on Welsh history include, for example, Welsh soldiers in the later Middle Ages, 1282-1422 by Adam Chapman and an article on Lloyd George’s diary for 1887 in the Transactions of the Caernarvonshire Historical Society. The overall total of records available online is 565,806.

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We would like to thank people who have used the Feedback link on BBIH to provide us with additional information or new material.  We are very grateful to our users for keeping us alert!

We expect the next update to be released in February 2016.

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World War I special journal issues

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Bulldog soldiers' and sailor's club (from Wikipedia)

Bulldog soldiers’ and sailor’s club (from Wikipedia)

Naturally the anniversary of the start of the war to end all wars has created a plethora of special issues on the subject. What I have found engaging about these is the coverage of the not so obvious material. A prime example is Comparative Legal History, and its issue entitled The Great War and Private Law, which examines changes that occurred in law as a result of the legal and contractual demands necessitated by the conflict. Articles includes, ‘English Contract Law and the Great War: The Development of a Doctrine of Frustration’, and ‘The Great War and Dutch Contract Law: Resistance, Responsiveness and Neutrality’. The legal effects on Austria, Germany and Italy are also examined.

Another not so noticeable effect was in accounting, a subject discussed in Accounting History Review’s issue Accounting and the First World War. Changes in company and government accounting practices are discussed, as well as an increase in taxation on profits in Britain as the war economy developed. The impact of the Great War on the Blackpool Tower Company, in particular on profits and taxation, is also covered. Most intriguing are the accounting changes at the St. James’s Gate Brewery of Arthur Guinness, specifically revealing how additional war risk costs were accounted for internally.

Interestingly the British empire is well represented. The Canadian Historical Review and its issue Canada and the Great War: 100 years on, encompasses the historiography, commemoration and the effects on women and children. Another Canadian journal, Histoire Social/Social history (issue Canada’s First World War, 19140-2014 ) has sections on “Coping with Conflict” which includes the consequences on Canadian society at home and in the trenches; “Beyond Colony and Nation” looks at the USA-Canada border, and the influence of the war on race and gender are also examined.

The journal Itinerario continues the imperial theme with Colonial Volunteerism and Recruitment in the British Empire during the Great War. The issue not only follows the volunteers of the usual Dominions but includes the Cypriot Mule Corps, Maori troops, and the descendants of Welsh settlers from Patagonia.

YMCA Canadian Beaver Hut in London (from Wikipedia)

YMCA Canadian Beaver Hut in London (from Wikipedia)

Naturally The Round Table has a special imperial issue entitled, The First World War and the Empire-Commonwealth. It too has an article on Cyprus’s non-military contribution to the war effort, while also examining Dominion soldiers’ cartoon satire in the trenches, the repatriation of Indian prisoners of war, and the emotional responses to the war by West Indian soldiers.

Imperialism and sport are combined in Anzac Centennial – Sport, War and Society in Australia and New Zealand, issued by The International Journal of the History of Sport. The poignant article, ‘Australasia’s 1912 Olympians and the Great War’, charts the stories of the Olympians who volunteered, four of whom did not return. Other areas covered are the rise of women’s football, and the role of sport for Australian prisoners of war in Turkey.
Moving from the imperial angle to the local angle, Midland History in its issue, The Midlands and the Great War covers the outbreak of war in the provincial press. Other articles include, ‘Patriotism in Nottinghamshire: Challenging the Unconvinced, 1914–1917’, ‘Burslem and Its Roll of Honour 1914–1918’, and ‘The Midlands’ First Blitz’.

Shifting to the cultural impact of the Great War, New Perspectives on the Cultural History of Britain and the Great War, from 20th Century British History covers the role of Irish and Indian soldiers and their self sacrifice,  and the letters of the Sepoys and details of their emotions. The distribution of gas masks to civilians and the relationship between the understanding of the gas mask and British culture in general is also discussed.

An unlikely contender in the rundown of special issues includes the journal Shakespeare and its issue Shakespeare and the Great War. The debate surrounding the “cultural mobilization” of Shakespeare is explored, ranging from the reading by soldiers, the reception of the dramatist, the tercentary celebrations, and the “Shakespeare hut” set up in Bloomsbury for the entertainment of New Zealand soldiers.

An equally unlikely contender, and perhaps the most moving issue, given what was to happen twenty years later, is Rabbis and the Great War from European Judaism. The support, comfort and opposition to the war by various Rabbis in various countries is investigated. Sermons about the war by British Rabbi Morris Joseph at his west London Synagogue show his dismay at the war and his attempts not to glorify it.

The after effects of the end of hostilities on service personnel are studied in Journal of Contemporary History’s  – The Limits of Demobilization: Global Perspectives on the Aftermath of the Great War. The demobilization of around 65 million was bound to create problems for all nations engaged in the struggle and how society dealt with these problems, their  effects on national politics, and the “brutalization” factor are discussed with reference to Russia, central Europe, the USA and white settler colonies.

As usual all relevant material will appear in the Bibliography of British and Irish History.

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Bibliography of British and Irish History updated

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An update to the Bibliography of British and Irish History was published on 29 June. 3,460 new records have been added; over 2,000 of these are for publications of 2014-15. Some 400 new records relate to Irish history while 135 deal with the history of London and 251 with the history of Scotland. We continue to be grateful to the Scottish Historical Review Trust which supports a team based at St Andrews University, led by Dr Christine McGladdery, which assists in the collection of material relating to Scotland. The overall total of records available online is 561,976.

Image from Theatrum Scotiae by John Slezer, 1693. Photo from National Library of Scotland on Flickr

Image from Theatrum Scotiae by John Slezer, 1693. Photo from National Library of Scotland on Flickr

We expect to release the next update in October. You can always find out more about the Bibliography at http://www.history.ac.uk/projects/bbih or, if you already have access to the Bibliography, you can sign up for email alerts so as to be notified each time the Bibliography is updated with records on a subject or subjects of your choice.

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