Category Archives: Rare books & periodicals

Anniversary of the publication of A Christmas Carol

175 years ago this month Charles Dickens’ book A Christmas Carol was first published – it sold out by Christmas Eve! We are celebrating the anniversary in Special Collections by holding a drop in on the anniversary itself, 19 December (12 noon – 2pm), where you can encounter Dickens’ works for yourself. This is free to attend and open to all.

“superstitious pies and porridge, ransacking pots, robbing ovens, and stripping spits”

DSC00429 - CopyYou will be able to see an account by Charles Dickens of the time when Christmas was banned in England. As well as writing A Christmas Carol, Dickens published articles on the history of Christmas in England and made observations on the traditional ways in which Christmas was celebrated around the world. He published these in All The Year Round, a literary  magazine founded and owned by Dickens. In Special Collections we hold every edition published between 1869 and 1979 (part of our Rare books and periodicals collection).

The December 1870 edition of All The Year Round included a piece on the prohibition of the celebration of Christmas in the 17th century and the methods by which the Puritans attempted to enforce this ban. During the first half of the 17th century England was ruled by a Puritan parliament, headed by Oliver Cromwell, who put huge amounts of time and effort into reforming the moral and spiritual character of the country. The festival of Christmas came into their firing line as it was not seen as a Christian or religious festival for two main reasons

  • it was a time of feasting, drinking and extravagance, whilst the Puritans advocated fasting and sobriety
  • it was a Catholic festival, and Catholicism was viewed as an heretical strain of Christianity by the Puritans. In 1642 the Puritan parliament abolished Christmas and ordered that it should instead be “observed as a day of fasting and of humiliation”. (Dickens, All the Year Round Vol. 5, December 1870 p. 101).

“Holly, ivy, mistletoe, bay and rosemary were accounted branches of superstition. To roast a sirloin of beef, to touch a collar of brawn, to bake a pie, to put a plum in a pottage-pot, to burn a big candle, or to lay one log more upon the fire for Christmas’ sake was enough to make a man be suspected and taken for a Christian and punished accordingly.”

DSC00430 - CopyDickens describes the measures the Puritans would take to enforce this ban and what actions they considered as breaching their legislation. He writes that on Christmas Day officials would search the entire city of London, looking for “superstitious pies and porridge, ransacking pots, robbing ovens and stripping spits” (ibid.), believing that these things were wicked and against Christianity. Religious observance was equally unacceptable and all churches were ordered to close over Christmas, with anyone who tried to preach or give a sermon served with an arrest warrant.

Despite all this, the people of England found means to celebrate and make merry, one way or the other. It might be a small personal rebellion, such as making a Christmas pudding or singing a carol. Sometimes there were larger, public, rebellions. Riots would break out, mobs would form and attack the officials working for the Puritan parliament. Dickens describes an incident in 1647 involving forbidden festive decorations and how they were fiercely fought for by the people in the local area. He tells us that Cornhill conduit had been dressed in evergreens, holly and ivy, rosemary and bay were set on top of the tall building. The city marshall and his men were set to pull down the decorations, but the decorated building was defended by local lads, who attacked the marshall and caused his men to flee for their lives. Although some men were seized and sent to prison for the day, there was still a feeling of triumph as the Christmas decorations remained upon the building. (Dickens, All the Year Round Vol 5, December 1870 p. 101).

Also on display will be illustrations of Christmas festivities from 1870s England:

1870 Ill London News

to 1950s America:

Santa's Cooky shop LHJ

and you can discover when the Christmas tree first came to England.

ILN xmas tree

 

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Armistice centenary

Today we are commemorating 100 years since the signing of the Armistice that ended the First World War by launching our new topic guide to the war. This is intended to help students to find material from Special Collections relating to the war – do let us know if there is anything you would like to discover more about.

Some highlights from the guide are featured below, and there is also a chance to see them in person by visiting Special Collections (BANN 328) on Tuesday 13 November between 12 and 2pm. This event is free and open to everyone.

William Belcher – naval diaries

Serving in the navy between 1903 – 8 and 1914 – 19, Belcher was then an electrician from 1919 onwards. Much of the interest in his autobiography lies in the supporting documents that accompany his notebooks: his school certificates, shorthand qualifications and his naval career record. His autobiography is part of the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies (BURN 1:53)

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John Hammerton & Herbert Wrigley Wilson, ed. The Great War: the standard history of the all-Europe conflict (London: The Amalgamated Press, 1914-19).

GreatWar1

The first volume of this work was published in 1914, and sets the tone with the first sentence: “The greatest war of modern times, and perhaps in the whole history of the human race, was begun by Germany using the crime of a schoolboy in Bosnia as her excuse” [Volume I, page 3]. The work claims to be “a standard history” but, written so soon after the individual events it narrates, cannot give a truly balanced view as there was no way for the authors to be in possession of all the facts surrounding them.

The great interest of this work lies in its immediacy. It shows what the general public in Britain knew about the war during the war, and what they were encouraged to think. The tone and content reflect the attitudes and social structure of the time, as when prominence is given in lists of casualties to those men who were related to peers. Naturally the text is full of patriotic language – chapter titles make frequent use of words such as “glorious” and “triumphant” – and admiration for British troops’ bravery and skill, and for the design of their ships, planes, and weapons; but recognition is made of the German forces as a formidable enemy with admirable qualities.

Title page from Volume I

The volumes are, as the title-page indicates, “profusely illustrated”. There are maps and plans to show defences and strategy; photographs of events and of key people; diagrams of submarines; illustrated spreads on forces joining the war from overseas; and, most poignantly, drawings of battlefield scenes based on sketches sent by eyewitnesses.

As well as the narrative of the war itself, there are chapters on broader topics including “Influence of the war on English Literature” [volume XII], and “Marvels of the British Transport Service on the Western Front” [volume VIII], to address wider and longer-term issues.

This series is part of the Rare books and periodicals collection.

Through the Dardenelles

On the 26th March 1915, J. T. Haskins was first informed of the mission that would earn him a Distinguished Service Medal. He worked as the leading Stoker on the E.14 submarine, the first submarine to steer through the Dardanelles to the Sea of Marmara and back again. They went through enemy subs, torpedoes, minefields just to get to there.

His diary (part of the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies) tracks the whole mission. The diary starts with him receiving orders “to prepare for long trip” all the way to the end of the mission and hearing about the Distinguished Service Medal.

The Dardanelles is a dangerous narrow strait in northwest Turkey that connects the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara. It separates Europe from Asia and, on a side note, also holds the site of ancient Troy. This mission was part of the Gallipoli Campaign of World War I. It was first conceived by Winston Churchill as a way of supplying the Russians through the Black Sea. In the same swoop Churchill intended to drive the Ottoman Empire out of the war. Unfortunately it was a loss.

The Campaign has now become one of the Ottoman Empire’s greatest victories and a major defeat for the Allied forces. Yet the success of Haskins’ Sub shows a glimmer of triumph for them leading Haskins to end his entry on the 19th May 1915:

“I was with the E.14 through the Dardanelles”

When corpses fell from the Nottinghamshire sky

One of our autobiographies from the Burnett Archive  featured in the Independent’s series on A history of the First World War in 100 Moments. When corpses fell from the Nottinghamshire sky  is based on the account of Lottie Barker, who worked in a munitions factory in Beeston, Nottinghamshire during the war. She was one of the ‘Canary Girls’, who made shells in the factory and for whom repeated exposure to toxic chemicals turned their skin orange-yellow like a canary.

On the day of the explosion she wasn’t on shift, but was at home washing up, and felt the house move and saw a huge column of smoke. The explosion caused the loss of 134 lives, although the full extent wasn’t made clear at the time as the news was suppressed. Lottie’s account includes details of the aftermath of the explosion.

Shakespeare Week

This week we’re celebrating Shakespeare Week on campus with a variety of events and displays.

In the Eastern Gateway building you will find on display of books from Special Collections Shakespearean collections alongside elaborate costumes made for Sir Mark Rylance’s play I am Shakespeare. On this blog you will find images from books that didn’t make it into the display, and can also read previous blog posts about the collection.

Baconiana

Baconiana is the oldest book in Brunel Library’s collection, and featured as one of our 50 objects in 2016.

 

 

 

First Folio and Bendy

Here, our facsimile copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio is being read by our mascot, Bendy Brunel, as part of our blog post on How to use Special Collections.

 

 

 

Preserving our collections

A major part of our work in Special Collections is to ensure that our materials will still be available to future generations of scholars and visitors. Many of the objects we hold are made of sturdy stuff, our rare 18th century books will probably outlast us all, but other items such as our photographic collections are more fragile, and even stable materials can become vulnerable over decades. To this end we spend a lot of time making sure materials are stored in optimal conditions to extend their life and usefulness. This week we are participating in the ALA Preservation Week by celebrating all things preservation and giving you an insight into the activities we undertake. You might even pick up a few tips on how to preserve your own special items!

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Blue blinds and ultraviolet filters

Where and how you store different materials can have a big impact on their lifespan. We try to store collections in a space that has a consistent temperature and humidity all year round. This is because extremes of temperature and the presence of moisture in the air can induce a harmful reaction in different materials. For instance, paper can be vulnerable to mould in hot and wet conditions or older colour photographs can decay in high temperatures.

This year we have installed some rather snazzy blue blinds to prevent sunlight artificially warming our facility, with the addition of ultraviolet filters to prevent yellowing of paper and fading of inks. We also monitor the temperature and humidity of our collections with some basic digital indicators to give us a warning of problems.

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Digital temperature and humidity monitors

Additionally, we keep our eyes peeled for any pests such as silverfish that might take a fancy to our materials for food or accommodation. We use pest traps to monitor any nuisance visitors, and if we find any try to modify the environment to discourage their visits.

Other environmental factors should also be considered. This might include dust, or pollution if you live in a built up area. One way to mitigate these is to store

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Pest trap

materials in an enclosure like a box that will prevent light and particles from accessing the item. This is a simple way to preserve heirlooms or keepsakes, although you do have to check on them occasionally to make sure there is nothing happening inside the box itself.

Interestingly, a common way materials become damaged is just through poor handling. To try and minimise handling and stress we use book supports to cradle our printed materials when they are being viewed. We also add a protective layer of Melinex to items like photographs or paper to prevent them from being damaged by constant use. At home, something as simple as washing your hands before handling rare materials can limit environmental pollutants.

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Book rests to support texts

With these safeguards in place we hope our collections will be available for years to come.If you would like more information about Preservation week visit the ALA webpages for advice and insights.

National Storytelling Week 2018

We celebrated National Storytelling Week in Special Collections between 27 January and 3 February 2018. Groups of students with an interest in creative writing were introduced to items from our collections as a source of inspiration, and encouraged to write a story for reading aloud with help and support from their tutor, Emma Filtness.

National Storytelling Week

The students sought inspiration from some of our unique and distinctive collections

Some of the items they looked at our highlighted in this post, and they also made extensive use of our Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies.

Ladies Home Journal 1948 edited

Advertisement from Ladies Home Journal 1948

You can hear recordings of some of the students’ stories here:

Alex Bond

Sam Green

Happy Christmas from Special Collections

A reminder that Special Collections will be closed over the Christmas/New Year period, from 21 December 2017 to 2 January 2018 inclusive. We will be open from 3 January 2018.

In the meantime, enjoy a few festive images from our collections:

1870 Ill London News

Christmas festivities from the Illustrated London News in 1870

1940 Ladies Home Journal

Tempted by the gift ideas in the Ladies Home Journal from 1940?

Festive recipes

Or maybe some festive recipes? Also from the Ladies Home Journal in 1953

Santa's Cooky shop LHJ

What will your festive baking look like this year? Ladies Home Journal 1953

#ArchiveCatwalk

Monday’s #ExploreArchives theme is #ArchiveCatwalk

Matching PJs LHJ

Matching shirts ad from Ladies Home Journal

Downer 1-211 dressmaker

Mrs R Downer relates how she was a dressmaker to a famous, but unnamed, employer (Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies 1:211)

Gold 2-321 Apprentice dressmaker

Olive Gold went to work as an apprentice dressmaker in 1910, aged 13, with no wage for the first year (Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies 2:321)

Jordan 3-101 tailoress

Charlotte Jordan also worked as an apprentice tailoress, with no pay for the first six months (Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies 3:101