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History of Colonial Africa in the IHR Library


Following on from the work of the Library’s previous Graduate Trainee David Phillips, we have recently been able to complete a guide to the Library’s collections on the history of colonial Africa.

Nova Africa Descriptio, 1660

The guide provides an overview of holdings, details the locations of relevant materials and identifies selected themes and strengths within the collection. The IHR holds significant materials on the early European exploration of the continent, with journals and correspondence from explorers and missionaries as well as reports from expeditions. In addition, governmental reports and colony yearbooks also form a significant strand of the Library’s holdings. The collections also include a number of maps documenting the continent and its changing territorial boundaries.

The guide is designed to help researchers new to the IHR’s collections but those already familiar with the collections may also discover something new. The guide complements and refers to other related collections within the Library, most notably the Military and International Relations collections, as well as other organisations around London with significant holdings on the history of colonial Africa.

New Exhibition in the IHR Library


A new exhibition of the Institute of Historical Research Library’s collection of poll books has gone on display in the IHR Library. This small exhibition highlights the diverse nature of the collection with items documenting electoral registers and rolls, how constituencies polled and an example demonstrating the way in which popular songs and speeches were appropriated during election campaigns.main

The exhibition also features an exceptionally rare example of an electoral register from the county of Somerset which contains extensive marginalia, hand-written letters and notes throughout. Each voter has their place of abode, nature of their qualification to vote and their parish carefully recorded and marked by hand.

In addition, the last known poll book to be published is also displayed. Despite the introduction of the secret ballot in 1872, poll books continued to be published for the three university constituencies of London, Cambridge and Oxford. The last known published poll book, for the election held in Cambridge for the constituency of the University of Cambridge in 1882 is featured within the exhibition.



The exhibition can be found on the first floor of the Institute of Historical Research Library, located within the Foyle Library. We hope that you enjoy the display and learn a little more about the wealth of resources that poll books have to offer historical researchers.

For more information on the Library’s collection of printed poll books please consult the blog post on the IHR’s British Poll Book Collection. The IHR Library’s website also features an exceptionally useful guide to both locating and using British Parliamentary historical sources, as well as an introductory guide to using the poll book collections.

Two New Library Collection Guides


15th century miniature depicting the conquest of Constantinople, 1204.

15th century miniature depicting the conquest of Constantinople, 1204.

Thanks to the work of Daniel Cesarani, who recently completed a brief internship in the library, we have been able to produce guides for both the Byzantine and Crusades collection.

Each guide has a brief overview of each respective collection and then goes into further detail, highlighting some of the sub-sections within each collection, from relevant bibliographies and archive guides, through to the published primary sources to be found in the library, to the various journal titles in our possession.

Given that at times these areas of research complement each other (for example, source material on the Fourth Crusade can be found in both collections) each guide refers to the other. Additionally the guides also refer to other collections within the library such as the Church History, French and Italian collections, which may be of interest to anyone researching Byzantine or Crusader history, as well as other relevant libraries in the London area.

A Christmas Custom in the Collections of the IHR Library


With Christmas fast approaching, the IHR Library team have been delving into the collection holdings for a suitably festive insight into the history and traditions of Christmas. Thus, we uncovered The Hooden Horse: an East Kent Christmas Tradition, written by Percy Maylam and published in 1909. The Library contains one of only 303 copies of the book to be printed and so we are delighted to share the story of a rather unusual Christmas pastime.


In the text, the ‘hooden horse’ custom is described in vivid detail and worth repeating verbatim at length: “When seated round the fire, one hears the banging of gates and trampling of feet on the gravel paths outside (or, if the weather be seasonable, the more cheerful crunching of crisp snow), and the sound of loud clapping. Everyone springs up, saying, “The hoodeners have come, let us go and see the fun.” The front door is flung open, and there they all are outside, the ‘Waggoner’ cracking his whip and leading the Horse (the man who plays this part is called the ‘Hoodener’), which assumes a most restive manner, champing his teeth, and rearing and plunging, and doing his best to unseat the ‘Rider’, who tries to mount him, while the ‘Waggoner’ shouts “whoa!” and snatches at the bridle.

‘Mollie’ is there also! She is a lad dressed up in woman’s clothes and vigorously sweeps the ground behind the horse with a birch broom. There are generally two or three other performers besides, who play the concertina, tambourine or instruments of that kind. This performance goes on for some time, and such of the spectators as wish to do so, try to mount and ride the horse, but with poor success. All sorts of antics take place, Mollie has been known to stand on her head, exhibiting nothing more alarming in the way of lingerie than a pair of hobnail boots with the appropriate setting of corduroy trousers.”


“In a house which possesses a large hall, the performers are often invited inside, at times the horse uses little ceremony, and opening the door, walks in uninvited. In the bright light indoors, the performance, though the cause of much amusement, is deprived of all the illusions, the crude make-up of the horse is glaringly apparent and we recognise the performers plainly, as the Bill or Tom of everyday life, who look after the horses.” The ‘horse’ it is noted, was crudely carved from a block of wood then painted and a head fixed to the end of a ‘stout wooden staff about four feet in length.’

In addition, reception of the custom in towns across Kent is recorded within the text. Maylam remarks that in Walmer, ‘I found the practice was that the ‘gratuity’ had to be placed in the horse’s jaws, and on this particular occasion the horse put his head on the counter of the bar while the landlord’s little daughter was lifted up from the other side in order to carry out the proper form of giving the money, after conquering her fright.’


Elsewhere however, he states that reception to the ‘hooden horse’ was not always friendly, even with Christmas a time of goodwill! He regales the story of how, ‘the horse gambolled into all the crowded shops, and everyone was pleased except a collie dog which worked himself into a fearful rage but feared to try his teeth against the wooden jaws of the horse.’

The earliest description of the custom appears to date to a letter to the editor of the European Magazine from May 1807, of which the IHR also has holdings. The first original description from local newspapers, however, dates from 1864 when the Thanet Advertiser printed a description of the custom among the festivities for Christmas that were held in the town that year.

The article provides a reminder that whilst some customs of Christmas, such as that of the ‘hooden horse’ may be confined to history, others still bear remarkable resonance today! The article comments that,

“The great festival of Christmas has been kept here as heretofore. On Christmas Eve we had the merry old Church bells pealing forth the glad tidings. The band enlivened the streets; hooded horses not hooded quite up to the old style, perambulated the streets, and the carol singers, some in tune and others out of tune, were very numerous.”

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!

Adventures of a library student


Laura-auditingHello, my name is Laura Jäger and I am an undergraduate student from Germany, studying library science at the Technical University of Cologne. As a part of my course I was given the opportunity to do my 16 week combined internship at the IHR (Institute of Historical Research) and the BHO (British History Online). This internship has given me the incredible opportunity to work with amazing people in two quite different departments.

My special thanks has to go to Kate Wilcox (IHR) and Sarah Milligan (BHO) which gave me a very warm welcome in both the IHR and the BHO, as well as to everyone else working in both departments. Each and every one of them taught and challenged me to learn many new things in the past weeks and were always open to try new ideas, but also never got tired of providing me with their new and interesting views of things.

Throughout my time here, I have worked on different smaller and bigger projects. My main project at BHO was to construct a new annotation feature for the website, which I was allowed to manage mostly myself. It was amazing to be able to build a part for a website from scratch and to figure out in a lot of meetings how it should work and what features might be more useful for what we want to achieve or what the user will need. Another big project I have worked on included auditing work on the London and the British Local collections of the IHR. It gave me a good overview of the wide spectrum of the library. I also discovered some old books which included autographs of the author, bookplates, added pictures or newspaper articles, letters and annotations of previous owners of the book. Sadly a lot of the older books are in need of repair, which is why we set up a conservation fund where you can donate money to help preserve the extraordinary collections of the IHR.


Book plates, letters and rubbings of previous owners, found in History of Brasted

Smaller projects included learning how to catalogue maps, books and special collection items, how to use a microfilm reader, reclassify a part of the north American collection, write a guide about the 20th century American collection for the website and to sort out and label the map drawer.

Being under the same roof with not just the IHR and BHO, but also the Victoria County History (VCH), the Bibliography of British and Irish History (BBIH) and Reviews in History made it possible, to talk with the people behind those great websites and learn more about their work and the changes they went through especially in the last few years. I was also able to visit the Senate house book repair workshop and look into how this branch of the job is evolving as it goes along and that not every book can be treated the same way.

Working at the IHR opened a lot of doors for me. I was lucky enough to visit not just the British library, but also the Wellcome library, Senate House, the Warburg Institute, the British Film Institute, one of the Idea Stores, The Guardian and the German Historical Institute. Even though all of them are considered libraries, they all have their own unique character and are fascinating to study. Some of us also went to Oxford for a day to represent the library at the Oxford Graduate Research Fair for Historians, which was a lot of fun and an amazing event to represent the library. At the end of November we had our own History day in Senate House, which gave me the opportunity to meet and talk with a lot of different librarians from all over London.

Over the last weeks I learned so much more then I had ever hoped for. A lot more than would ever fit in this blog post. A big thank you to everyone who made this amazing experience possible.

History of Slavery in the Collections of the IHR


The IHR Library team have recently completed a comprehensive guide to the History of Slavery in the Institute of Historical Research Library collections. parliamentary

The guide encompasses general historical works on
the history of enslavement, the slave trade in Britain, the United States and Latin America, and highlighted themes within the collection such as personal correspondence and diaries written by both slave-holders and those who were formerly enslaved.

The guide is designed to provide help to researchers new to the IHR’s collections, but it is hoped it will also benefit those familiar with the library’s holdings by documenting a subject which overlaps many collections and locations within the library.

It complements the guide to the Institute of Historical Research United States Collections, which also includes a specific section highlighting slavery within the United States holdings in the library.


American collections in the IHR and beyond


massachusetts-loyalistsWe’ve recently produced a detailed guide to the Institute of Historical Research United States collections. Coverage includes early American colonial history, the Revolution and establishment of the United States, and special themes such as slavery. The core of the guide was written by Benjamin Bankhurst during his time as Postdoctoral Fellow of North American History, and it has been completed with contributions from others.

The guide will be useful for people new to the collections but those familiar with the collection may also discover something new. It complements the Guide to Canadian History produced in 2014.

You can discover more about North American collections in libraries across London and beyond at the History Day event this Friday. As well as covering general history, a special strand this year will highlight North American collections. If you can’t attend in person, more information is available about the participating libraries and collections at



The IHR’s British Poll Book Collection


The IHR Library holds a large collection of printed British parliamentary poll books, both originals and photocopies. Poll books can be traced back to an Act of Parliament in 1696 designed to curb electoral fraud and disputed elections. They record the names of voters, who they voted for, and on occasion the voters’ place of residence, occupation and the place of the voters’ qualification if different from their residence. Therefore, poll books can provide a wealth of information across a swathe of historical disciplines. It should be noted, however, that poll books do not survive for every constituency, nor for every election. In addition, some poll books were printed, while others remain in manuscript.


The first known poll book to be printed was for a by-election in the county of Essex in 1694. It is thought that the prurient interest generated by the suicide of the M.P. whose death triggered the election (he hanged himself at the fourth attempt from his four-poster bed with his garter after unsuccessfully trying to choke himself with ‘the rump of a turkey’) caused the printer of the poll book to ‘cash-in’ on the widespread public interest generated. The printed copy of the poll was an unofficial document and for some elections, several copies of the same poll were published, for example: the election held at Boston in 1865.

Poll books remained popular right up until the introduction of the secret ballot in 1872, yet even after the act’s introduction, poll books survive for the three university constituencies of Cambridge, Oxford and London. The last known poll book is for Cambridge, taken in 1882 and the IHR holds a copy. Below is an image from this final poll book and an image from an early election in the constituency of the University of Oxford.

_DSC5808  _DSC5812

The library has been undertaking a project to catalogue and reclassify the IHR’s collection of poll books since late 2011. This project is now complete and as a result, we felt it would be an appropriate time to share some of the highlights that we uncovered while reclassifying these valuable records of British electoral history.

  • At the poll taken in Boston, Lincolnshire in 1865 the printers felt it necessary to include an addendum stating that, “we have been obliged to omit some Squibs issued during the Election, on account of their gross indecency and libellous character.”

– Political songs, speeches and declarations are also recorded in some poll books. One fine example portrays an electoral candidate.
The rhyme declares:

‘There’s Taylor with eloquence blazing,

The Tories he’ll make a clear rout of ‘em,

With Trousers so tight it’s amazing,

How he ever gets into or out of ‘em!’


Another electioneering song from an election in 1813 notes:

‘He sends us Gowland as his substitute

And do they think that he can gain a vote?

From freeborn men by means like these, I swear

I’d almost rather be condemned to bear

The thoughts of drinking water all my days

Than thus I’d swerve from independent ways.’


In addition, the song Cock-A-Doodle-Doo, recorded during an election campaign in Lincolnshire in 1868, highlights the nature of electioneering and canvassing at this time.


The poll book records the Liberal candidate commenting:

“The Conservative Cock is moulting,

Which makes him look so low;

The taps are stopp’d, his throat’s so dry,

He cannot even crow.”

In reply, the Conservative candidate remarks:

‘The Liberal Cock has lost his spurs,

He has nothing to defend him;

And if he ventures in the wars,

The Conservative Cock will end him.”

  • Several poll books were produced hurriedly to cope with public demand. Thus, many polls contain errata asking readers to overlook any mistakes. A poll for the election in Durham in 1813 states: ‘In the course of the work, the reader will in places observe a few typographical errors; they are, however, so obvious, we have thought a particular statement unnecessary, since the error takes not from the grammatical sense, and is generally confined to the misplacing a single letter. In a work of this heterogeneous kind, we hope such mistakes will be candidly overlooked, or generously forgiven.’

The IHR Library staff adopt a similar approach and hope that any mistakes during cataloguing are also candidly overlooked or generously forgiven.

The Library’s collection of poll books are located in the IHR’s onsite store but they can be consulted via request through email or in person. Full details can be found here:

A guide to the Library’s collection of poll books can be consulted here:

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Bespoke advice at a History day research clinic


One feature of History day on 27 November is the one-on-one guidance provided by the scheduled research clinics. These clinics will allow researchers to spend time with a librarian or historian to discuss resources, training and research, addressing specific needs. For example, if a researcher would like to find historical research training, the IHR’s Dr Simon Trafford will be available to discuss finding sessions from 10:00 to 12:00. For any researchers who want to locate resources for Canadian Studies in London, Senate House Library’s Christine Anderson will have a table at History day from 10:00 to 12:00. Other sessions include:

  • Building your bibliography and keeping it up to date with Senate House Library’s Mura Ghosh from  10:00 until 12:00
  • Locating Caribbean Area Studies Resources with Dr Luis Perez-Simon of the Institute of Latin American Studies  from 11:30 until 15:00
  • Improving your online search skills with Birkbeck’s Aubrey Greenwood from  13:00 until 16:00
  • Help with American Resources at the British Library  with Dr Matthew Shaw of the British Library from 14:00 until 15:00
  • Using IHR’s digital resources with the IHR Digital team from  15:00 until 16:00

Lastly, Michael Little and the team from the National Archives will be available throughout the whole event to discuss using the collections at the National Archives.

The clinics will be in Beveridge Hall as part of the open history fair. If you have any questions, please just ask!

A Visit to the IHR Library Offsite Store


A few members of the IHR library staff recently travelled to the IHR’s offsite depository store at Egham in Surrey for the day in order to record the collections’ periodicals that remain stored offsite following the IHR’s move to its new location in the North Block of Senate House in 2014. The items that remain stored offsite mainly comprise pre-1950 journals and periodicals.

photo 4

The visit was designed to enable us to update our catalogue with an accurate record of the library’s Latin American holdings. The Latin American collection will begin to be re-catalogued in the coming months and this will enable this fascinating and exceptionally diverse collection to be explored in greater depth.

The collections comprise materials from across Latin America, with significant areas of strength in Mexican, Brazilian and Colombian history. Journals and periodicals are collected however, from all countries in Latin America.

In addition, the depository itself is also of historical interest! The store contains many historical gems, with a personal favourite being the old style of library trolleys from Senate House Library that deck the halls of the depository.

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For researchers wishing to make use of the offsite collections, please note that items can be requested from the offsite store and accessed usually within 1-2 working days. A guide to the full collection locations of the IHR can be found here:

Blog posts on the treasures unearthed during our re-cataloguing of the Latin American collections will follow – so watch this space!

See also: A full list of the IHR’s seminar series on Latin America, as well as links to several podcasts that are available for download from the seminar series, can be found here:

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