50 objects 38: bindings

“Don’t judge a book by its cover”, the adage runs, but covers and bindings can be a rewarding topic of study. The type of binding used can also tell you about the age and status of a book, the intended audience, and the owner.

These four books from our Transport History collections show developments in bookbinding technology enabling covers to be printed in several colours and with complex designs, to attract readers. You can see a lot more detail about the history of this type of binding via this blog from St. Andrews’ university library rare books staff.

 

These periodicals were bound in a standard Brunel style, to keep the issues together and to protect the pages more than the original covers would have done. The binding includes a gold stamp of the old Brunel crest, as well as of the shelfmark.

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The publishers of this series have sold space on the cover, as well as inside the book, to advertisers.

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The condition the binding is in can tell you about the amount and type of use a book has had. Bradshaw’s Guide (a collection of railway timetables) was an ephemeral publication, re-issued frequently with up-to-date details. Once you had the new issue, the old one was not useful for planning journeys, and so the volumes were not intended to survive very long, and had only paper wrappers.

The surviving issues are kept for historical interest and for research into railway history, but the paper is now very fragile and gets damaged with handling. To keep the books safe and minimise further damage, we are making new wrappers of acid-free card to fit each fragile volume.

 

This book has a blue binding with gold tooling on the front and on the spine. A previous owner has tried to protect this cover by adding a homemade brown paper dustwrapper, and has meticulously drawn an image from the gold tooling onto the spine of the wrapper as well as noting the title.

Many modern books use cover art as a way to demonstrate the type of content, or to attract readers, or to show how relevant they are to a particular activity or type of study. Examining the cover art and styles can show who the target audience for the book is, and what aspect of the book’s contents the publishers are trying to emphasise.

50 objects 37: Reactions to Old Age

Fiction and the Cultural Mediation of Ageing”  was a project run  at the Brunel Centre for Contemporary Writing  between 2009 and 2012, as part of the cross council New Dynamics of Ageing programme.

One of the research methods used was to set up eight reading groups of University of the Third Age members across London in order to read, write about, and discuss postwar novels featuring different representations of ageing. The data generated by these reading groups now forms part of Brunel’s Special Collections, and is available for further research. Aspects of the participants’ writing complements the Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiographies, in reflecting the everyday ups and downs of the lives of ordinary people; they also give first-hand accounts of issues related to ageing and to the way society views the elderly.

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Some of the books used in the reading groups

A flavour of the content is given by a brief study of the information given by one participant. Each reader was given a unique identification code in order to preserve anonymity; this one is known as SEL003, and she participated in a reading group in South-East London. From SEL003 we have a brief life history, and three diaries recording her reading of the set novels, her views of their representations of aspects of ageing, and her group’s discussions of them.SEL003 was born in Dublin in 1938 to a well-off family, reared by a nanny, and sent to a Quaker boarding school. Her favourite school subjects were maths and handwork, and since neither she nor her mother could think of a career formed of those two things, she became a teacher. She is now thoroughly enjoying her retirement, and her writing constantly reflects her joy and optimism about her current, fulfilling, lifestyle.

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The end of SEL003’s “Life History” document

She writes in a lively, enthusiastic, style. The reading diaries cover her thoughts in general of the books, characters, and authors, but also her perspicacious comments on subjects arising, including how one’s writing style changes with age; whether it’s possible to predict which individuals will get Alzheimer’s; how society is geared towards younger people and how the young patronise the elderly; whether it’s appropriate for an agile old lady to run for a bus.

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She is insightful about character attributes and how world-view and morals change over time, and she adds in anecdotes about her own experiences and those of her family and friends.

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Reading through the diaries gives the impression of someone lively and thoughtful, who analyses the problems that ageing can bring but who enjoys life to the full.

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50 objects 36: Channel Tunnel rock

The Channel Tunnel collection held at Brunel consists mainly of books and of papers such as correspondence, maps, plans, meeting minutes, and photographs. There are also eclectic artefacts such as this piece of rock, in a Eurotunnel branded protective case.

ctun1The packaging reports: “This piece of Chalk Marl has been excavated from the Channel Tunnel by the service tunnel boring machine near the breakthrough point. The Chalk Marl is the lower part of the lower chalk stratum, which stretches from near Folkestone to the coast at Calais and in which the majority of the Channel Tunnel is being excavated. Its grey colour shows that it is a mixture of clay and chalk. The Channel Tunnel is being constructed in this layer because it is more waterproof and consistent with the chalk layers above it.” The information is repeated in French, and so the packets of rock could be used as souvenirs at both ends of the tunnel.

The Chalk Marl is around 100 million years old, and will have had its origin at a time when dinosaurs were still roaming the lands that would become Europe. For more about the geology of the tunnel, see this page. The machines used to create the tunnel had to be made specially, and were each designed to work with the geology of a particular section of tunnel. For more information see The Robbins Company’s page.

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Channel Tunnel Association plaque, from the same collection

50 objects 35: Railway posters

Nostalgic images of railway travel have been popularly recreated on everything from calendars to mouse mats, but once this approach to advertising the pleasures of the railway was fresh and new. Our Transport History collection holds several beautiful posters that look back to this time.

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1897 poster promoting day travel to Ascot

Initially transport notices served a function, to give information about timetables or list rules of conduct. They were text heavy, with little in the way of images or embellishment. However, several things happened that changed the nature of these posters; the growth of tourism, increased competition amongst rival rail companies and the development of printing technologies. As railways networks grew and developed affordable travel was open to larger groups of people. Day trips and holidays further afield became a possibility and resort towns such as Blackpool flourished.

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1908 Print advertising the health resort of Tenby and its Golden Sands

Railway businesses proliferated in the late 19th century, in fact some locations had several lines running through them. The need to differentiate themselves and their assets became more important to railway enterprises in the drive to secure custom. The means to produce such enticements in the form of colour advertising posters with images was made more commercially viable with the development of colour lithography techniques that enabled mass production.

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Weston Super Mare’s intoxicating climate

 

Railway posters served not only to induce people to use a railway line, but to promote travel as a pleasurable end in itself.

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Great Western Railways poster on the delights of Cornwall

 

Attractive images played an important role to evoke the romance of the rail or the attractive aspects of the destination, with sunshine, coastlines and leisure scenes as important components. Several early artists and illustrators, such as Norman Wilkinson and John Hassall became specialists in the field.

As railway travel boomed these images became a common sight in stations, but the quality of their design and composition make them a lasting pleasure today.  

50 objects 34: Bill Griffith’s work on prisons

prison1Have you been following the BBC Radio 4 series “Rethinking Clink”, about the history of prison reform? Did you know Brunel holds primary sources on this subject, in the papers of polymath Bill Griffiths?

Until his death in 2007 Dr Griffiths was active in a wide range of spheres including classical music, publishing, creative writing, medieval studies, dialect, and local history.

He was also a correspondent with, and advocate for, several prisoners. As previously described on this blog, “One of the key relationships in Bill Griffiths’s life was with the several prisoners he wrote to. He began communicating with a number of prisoners after encountering a stall with prison literature which motivated him to write and support them. Chief amongst them was the prisoner Ray Gilbert, who served time in a series of English prisons from the sixties, while protesting his innocence for a murder sentence. There are hundreds of letters in the collection that document these exchanges, focusing on the period 1996-2004, which reveal many of the daily details of prison life.

Bill Griffiths additionally campaigned to improve conditions in prisons and the appeals prison3process. Various folders in the archive contain letters that deal with his attempts to address Gilbert’s and others situation, as well as the short tracts and essays he published on the subject.”

Shown here is the cover from Griffiths’ work Star fish jail, the title inspired by the physical shape of prisons such as Wandsworth, with wings radiating from a central point and so resembling a starfish.

You can see more details of this material by consulting the finding aids on our Bill Griffiths collection page.

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His understanding of prison life reflects in other aspects of Bill Griffiths’ work; his poetry uses language forms drawn from prisoners, and he writes for the marginalised and against the establishment, using poetry as social commentary to combat injustice.

 

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50 objects 33: Norah Elliott’s autobiography

The collection of documents on Norah Elliott is number 2:242 in the Burnett collection of working-class autobiographies, held in Special Collections.

Norah was born into the Pilch family in 1903, and writes of her early life and her memories of her grandparents. Disaster struck in 1913 when her father was drowned; the family went to the workhouse, and Norah was adopted. She recalls her work as a teacher, and her life in Australia, sending food parcels home to her siblings in the UK, during the second world war.

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Norah’s poem on her Aunt Susan

 

Her file includes several handwritten workings not only of her own story, but also of substantial research by her and other family members into her family history. The writing is interspersed with maps, copies of primary sources, family trees, and poetry by Norah, and accompanied by original documents including a birth certificate, a union card, and burial records.norah2

There is a vaccination certificate, made out in 1879 for Norah’s ancestor John Pilch, in linenorah3 with the legal requirement to demonstrate that children were vaccinated against smallpox: see http://www.genguide.co.uk/source/vaccination-registers-amp-certificates/51/  for more on these records.

 

 

Another interesting aspect of this collection is the insight given into Norah’s writing and editing process: there are several drafts, with footnotes and amendments, and a few comments on the writing process. A late diary entry states “I’ve finished last night’s crossword and got up to date with this mish-mash. I don’t think I want to read what I’ve written”. She may not have wanted to, but the file is well worth reading.

50 objects 32: Poetry of the Now

Poetry of the Now is a collection of contemporary poetry and text-based work, including small press publications, chapbooks, and magazines. It was founded at Brunel University’s Centre for Contemporary Writing by Dr William Watkin and Dr Angela Brady in 2005. William Watkin is Divisional Lead, Creative Writing and English, at Brunel.  Angela Brady is now a Professor in the School of English and Drama at Queen Mary University London.

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Part of the Poetry of the Now collection

The print collection of poetry and related materials remains at Brunel and can be consulted in the Special Collections reading room, but the closely related collection The Archive of the Now is held at Queen Mary University London. Both collections aim to preserve material that could otherwise be lost, to represent the diversity of poetic practice, and to support emerging artists.

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Amongst authors represented in both these collections is Angela Brady; you can find out more about her work at her page.

Much of her work is also held in the main library collection at Brunel: search the library catalogue.