Category Archives: Rare books & periodicals

50 objects 29: Poems of Sir Walter Raleigh

raleigh5Sir Walter Raleigh (c.1552 – 1618) is well-known for his connections with the court of Queen Elizabeth I and for his voyages of exploration, and is popularly credited with introducing potatoes and tobacco to Britain. He was, less famously, a scholar and poet. In 1813 his poems were published with a critical introduction; Special Collections at Brunel holds a second edition of this work, which was transferred to Brunel from the Shakespeare Authorship Trust.


This copy of the book is of great interest not simply for the texts it contains, but also for the light it can shed on the past; on the way it was used, and on the ways in which former owners interacted with the text.


The work is bound in a nineteenth-century Raleigh3gold-tooled leather binding, with more modern repairs, together with an edition of the poems of Robert Southwell which was printed separately in 1817. The binding would have been done on the orders of an early owner of the works, and may reflect his or her taste and budget as well as current fashions.


Handwritten names and notes throughout the book show that there have been several former owners or users; two people with the same surname added their names, indicating that perhaps the book was given or bequeathed by one family member to another.


Some of the notes are simply correcting the text, commenting on it, or marking passages of particular interest to the reader. One of the most intriguing additions is a lengthy Raleigh quotation, copied out, and captioned “Quoted by the father of a missing pilot, 1941”.



The source for this is a letter written by the said anonymous father to The Times, hoping the quotation would bring comfort to others as it had to him.  The book’s owner, under the quotation, has added “This is supported by the conclusions in psychotherapy as expanded by Marcus Gregory”, and has made notes elsewhere about psychotherapy, showing another of his or her interests as applied to Raleigh’s works.  Marcus Gregory published several  works on psychotherapy in the 1930s; it is not clear which one is referred to here.


One former owner studied a place where Raleigh lived, and added pencil sketches to this copy of the poems. The drawings are of Myrtle Grove, a house near Youghal in Ireland, and of yew trees in the garden there. Raleigh lived at Myrtle Grove in the 1580s and legend has it that the first potatoes in Ireland were planted there.raleigh11

The drawing of the garden seems to be copied from a print in The Illustrated Guide to Sir Walter Raleigh`s House by Samuel Hayman (Youghal, 1861), shown here; further research on the annotations in the edited poems could reveal more about the interests of former owners, and about the information they had access to.

This post gives a taste of the kinds of information that can be gleaned from a study of the book as a physical object. Many books have more secrets waiting to be discovered.


50 0bjects 28: The Ladies Home Journal

A post by Graduate Trainee, Becky Tabrar

The Ladies Home Journal was an American monthly lifestyle magazine which was established in February 1883. By the turn of the century it was the leading women’s magazine in the US, and reached one million subscribers in 1903. Within our collection we hold editions spanning from 1939 to 1961, and studying the Journal allows us an insight into the attitudes and opinions of the time.

Persistent themes can be seen throughout the editions we hold; the most prominent of which is sexism. Advertisements frequently urge women to look their best for their husbands, as seen in an advert for Lady Esther cosmetics in the July 1939 edition, which states ‘the wrong shade of powder can turn the right man away’. Women are also advised on the best methods of keeping an orderly home. An Annual Report to Housewives, featured in the July 1961 edition, advertises the newest domestic appliances available, but exclusively addresses women. The article advises the reader to ‘ask a user what service she gets before you buy’; the assumption being that only women will ever use the domestic appliances. Moreover, adverts for domestic products universally feature women, and even when only a hand is shown, nail polish is used to ensure femininity is represented.

Another frequent theme is consumerism. Since the late 19th century, shopping had been changing from a functional role for women, to a leisured and respectable activity. Companies began to see women as the ‘chief purchasing power’ for households and the adverts seen in the Ladies Home Journal reflects this. In fact, the journal itself was enforcing the link between women and consumerism, which was further strengthen by technological inventions in the domestic sphere, allowing women to spend less time on the household and more time shopping. The most frequently advertised items in the Ladies Home Journal include new domestic appliances, make up products and cleaning products.

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However, apart from tracing overarching themes through the editions, we can also gain information on the reaction of the American public to specific historical events. An article in the July 1945 edition documents the shocked reaction of the American public to the discovery of extermination camps following the collapse of the Third Reich. It claims that a cynical world, which has lost morality, and is obsessed with power, was to blame, and urges the world to return to religion. Similarly, reactions to the signing of the United Nations Charter can be seen in the September 1945 edition, whereby an article surmises that the agreement signed at San Francisco will not eradicate greed, but ‘can keep the peace when the inevitable threats of war arise again’.

Though attitudes differ, the special features of the Journal are still recognisable in today’s magazines. Each month a novel segment was included, and Eleanor Roosevelt, like celebrities today, was a regular columnist, answering queries from financial woes to the most fashionable hairstyle. Similarly, interviews with Hollywood celebrities were a frequent trend, along with fashion segments. In later editions, ladies could receive advice from a medical column, and letters of readers were published within the magazine.

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50 Objects 27: A History of Uxbridge

A post by Graduate Trainee, Becky Tabrar.

Included within our local history collection are nine volumes of The Victoria History of The County of Middlesex by the University of London Institute Of Historical Research. They are part of the Victoria County History project which was established in 1899, with the aim of producing a complete encyclopaedic history of each county in England. The project is still ongoing, and so far the histories of thirteen counties have been completed. The topics covered are varied and include natural, political, religious, economic and social histories.


Some of our Victoria County History volumes

Volume Four of the Middlesex history is dedicated to the ten ancient parishes in North- West Middlesex, of which Hillingdon is one. It contains fascinating information on the development of Brunel University London’s home town Uxbridge, which we have summarised into a short history below.


The frontispiece from Volume four.

Originally Uxbridge was a hamlet under the administration of its parent parish, Hillingdon. The earliest evidence of settlement within the Parish dates to the Palaeolithic era. A Roman road ran through the middle of the old Parish, and Roman pottery was found in Uxbridge in 1959, near Cowley church. It is believed the place names of ‘Hillingdon’, ‘Colham’, ‘Cowley’ and ‘Yiewsley’ originate from Saxon family names, while it is believed ‘Uxbridge’ derives from the original hamlet’s proximity to a bridge crossing the river Colne.

The first recorded use of the name ‘Uxbridge’ is in the 12th century, and the hamlet was represented in Edward I’s first parliament in 1275. By 1328, Uxbridge was the major settlement in the parish of Hillingdon, and by the medieval period was an affluent market town. At the intersection between Windsor Street and High Street was the centre of the town. As is still the case today, it was home to the market house and St Margaret’ chapel (original built in 1275, and later rebuilt in the 15th century). The present market house dates from the late 18th century, while the oldest part of St Margaret’s Chapel, the North Tower, dates to the late 14th century.

Further connections between the medieval market town and todays Uxbridge are still visible. The 16th century Treaty house, which is now the Crown and Treaty pub, was used as a venue for negotiations between King Charles I and Parliamentarians during the English Civil War. The inside retains original features, though only a single wing of the 16th century mansion remains. Similarly, the building of the Three Tuns pub originates from the 16th century, and is grade II listed. There is a monument on Cross Street overlooking what was formally known as Lynch Green to remember three protestant heretics who were burned there in 1555. The three men were not from the local area, but were used to set an example to the people of Uxbridge, and ensure they conformed to Catholic ideology. The memorial was established four hundred years later.

By the late 1700’s insanitary conditions in Uxbridge meant the high street was widened by fifty two yards to the South West, and a new market house was built. By 1790, the town consisted of houses neatly lining both sides of the high street, with a few shops, including a chair factory, a malt house, a brewery, a mill, Higgenson’s bank and the market house. By the 19th century Uxbridge, aided by its proximity to the Grand Union Canal and it lining the route from Oxford to London, became one of the most important market towns in Middlesex, and was the main producer of flour for London. Even Kingsmill bread originated from Uxbridge!

Becoming increasingly autonomous, Uxbridge split from the Parish of Hillingdon in 1894, and formed the civil parish of Hillingdon West, which later became the Borough of Uxbridge.


R.B. Pugh, The Victoria History of the Counties of England: Volume IV (13 Vols, London, 1971).

C. M. Hearmon, Uxbridge: A Concise History (Hillingdon Borough Libraries, 1982).


50 objects 1: the oldest book

The oldest book held in Brunel Library was printed in 1679 and contains various works by Francis Bacon, collected and edited by Thomas Tenison, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1694 until his death in 1715.

Archbishop Tenison was known for his interest in, and support of, education and libraries. He gave some of his own books to found a library at St Martin in the Fields, and various books and manuscripts of his were given or bequeathed to Lambeth Palace Library. Lambeth Palace Library’s manuscript 2086 is a commonplace book written by William Rawley, who was chaplain to Francis Bacon, and whose executor passed on to Tenison books and papers relating to Bacon. Some of the anecdotes in that manuscript are printed in this book.

Baconiana title-page

Baconiana title-page

Bacon (1561-1626) was a statesman, scientist, philosopher, and essayist, whose works continued to be popular and influential after his death. A theory arose that Bacon was the author of various works attributed to Shakespeare, and this copy of Bacon’s works is at Brunel as part of a collection surrounding Shakespearean authorship, but the book has wider appeal in terms of its content and history.

Baconiana. Or certain genuine remains of Sr. Francis Bacon, Baron of Verulam, and Viscount of St. Albans; in arguments civil and moral, natural, medical, theological, and bibliographical; now the first time faithfully published contains several different works, including theological treatises, recipes for medicines, reports on the chemical properties of metals, and copies of correspondence in English and Latin. A transcription of the whole text has been made available here by the University of Michigan.

Recipes from Bacon's works

Recipes from Bacon’s works

Copies of this edition of this work survive in many libraries but every copy has its own distinct history and can give unique information. Brunel’s copy has clearly been heavily used: there is damage to the binding and the front cover is missing. Previous users have written notes in the margins, which gives us some insight into who the readers were and how the book was used. One previous owner seems to have been interested in the book’s value over time: cuttings from sales catalogues featuring other copies of this book have been glued to the back board.


Christmas Illustrated

Special Collections holds bound volumes of the Illustrated London News, which was published from 1842 to 2003. A contributor to the paper’s huge success, and a big part of its enduring charm, lies in the lavish illustrations. The early issues featured numerous wood engravings, and photographs were added from the 1890s onwards, forming a visual record of all the topics of interest of the day.

During the nineteenth century the paper began adding a special Christmas supplement, with varied content including poetry, stories, and articles concerning Christmas celebrations in different times and places. These supplements were enhanced by full-page illustrations on a range of topics.

Engraving of man and child under mistletoe

Detail from “Under the Mistletoe”, December 19 1863.


Engraving of procession "Bringing in the boar's head",

Detail from “Bringing in the boar’s head”, from December 26 1846.

The tradition of a Christmas pageant and procession involving a boar’s head is thought to have been popularised following its use in Oxford, and over time expanded to include a wide range of festive characters, acting, and singing. The boar’s head carol is still sung in many places including Queen’s College Oxford.

Many of the covers of the London Illustrated News Christmas supplements can be seen via

Writing the 1940s

Ever wanted to find out more about writing historical fiction and give it a go?  Our FREE workshop on Tuesday 26 May, between 6 and 8pm is the place to find out!

Historical fictionWe’ll be looking at primary sources from the 1940s, all specially chosen from Brunel’s Special Collections. You’ll have the opportunity to read and handle original documents, to help you find inspiration. The tutor, Emma Filtness, will help you plan and begin writing a poem, story or other creative piece that explores the time period. This workshop is suitable for those new to writing historical fiction as well as those more experienced who are looking for fresh inspiration and the chance to work with original documents.

The workshop is free, but places are limited so that everyone can have a chance to see and handle the documents. Please book a place in advance. If you have any questions please email Special Collections.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

A blog post by Jemima, Library Graduate Trainee, in which Charles Dickens looks back on the time when Christmas was officially banned in England

The Victorian writer, Charles Dickens, authored the well-loved novel The Christmas Carol whose popularity has not diminished over the centuries. Innumerable adaptations have been produced for both stage and screen since its publication; whilst the characters created by Dickens such as Scrooge and his “catch-phrase” Bah-Humbug! remain deeply embedded in the popular culture which surrounds the celebration of Christmas. Dickens has often been described as the man who invented Christmas and whilst this has been contested, he certainly contributed a great deal to the traditions which surround it in Britain. However, Dickens’ contribution to Christmas does not end here; as well as penning several other Christmas stories Dickens also published various articles on the history of Christmas in England and observations on the traditional ways in which Christmas was celebrated around the world. These can be found in All The Year Round, a literary magazine founded and owned by Dickens. Brunel Library holds every edition published between the year 1869 and 1879 in Special Collections. The range of topics these volumes contain are so diverse and truly fascinating, they are well worth an exploration, whatever your subject.

All the Year Round journal

DIckens’ All the Year Round

In December 1870, All The Year Round included an interesting piece on the prohibition of the celebration of Christmas in the 17th century and the methods, which seem ridiculous to us now, which the Puritans attempted to enforce this ban. Dickens paints a vivid picture of the general unrest, the riots and the acts of rebellion and cleverly satirises the entire situation in the way he is famed for. To give some background to the 20 years in which Christmas was banished from the calendar; the first half of 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 under their firing line as it was not seen as a Christian or religious festival for two main reasons. Firstly, it was a time of feasting, drinking and extravagance – all of these things were looked down upon by Puritans who advocated fasting and sobriety. Secondly, Christmas was a surviving Catholic festival and the Catholic Church was highly unpopular and viewed as a heretical strain of Christianity by the Puritans. As the Puritans could find no Biblical instruction that Christ’s birth be celebrated and as the celebrations themselves were seen as totally incongruent with Christian morality, the Puritan parliament felt no scruple in abolishing Christmas in 1642 and ordering 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).

All the Year RoundDickens highlights the absolute absurdity of the situation in his description of what measures the Puritans would take to enforce this ban and what actions they would consider 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. “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.” (Dickens, All the Year Round Vol. 5, December 1870, p. 104). Not only were the traditional, secular means of celebrating Christmas prohibited, but religious observances were equally unacceptable. All churches were ordered to close over Christmas and anyone who tried to preach or give a sermon would be served with an arrest warrant. Despite the strict enforcements behind Parliament’s Christmas ban, year after year the people of England would find a way to celebrate and make merry one way or another. This rebellion could be small and personal and consist of making a Christmas pudding or singing a carol. On the other hand there were often larger, public rebellions. Riots would break out and mobs would form and attack the officials working for the Puritan parliament. Charles 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 and holly and ivy and rosemary and bays which 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. On receiving report of this, the magistrate was scandalised and went down himself on his horse but met with the same fate. The yelling mobs scared his horse and it galloped away with him still mounted looking very undignified. Although some 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).