New Accessions – January 2018

In January we added an interesting nineteenth century manuscript recipe book to our Cookery Collection.  A signature dated 1824 inside the front cover shows that Nanny Clayton from Bierley in Bradford was the original owner.  Evidently religious, Nanny used the notebook to record extracts from the Bible which inspired her.

On 27 February 1829 Nanny married Benjamin Gummersall of Birstall in St. Peter’s Church, Bradford.  After her marriage Nanny turned the book upside down and back to front.  Signing it with her new name and place of residence, Dudley Hill, she began to write in it from what had previously been the back page.  Nanny saw her marriage as a new stage in her life and writings.

Her first entry was the ‘Christmas Hymn’ by the Reverend William Carus Wilson taken from the magazine ‘The Children’s Friend’.  Carus Wilson was the founder of the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge which the Brontë sisters attended.  He features in Charlotte Brontë’s novel ‘Jane Eyre’ as the overbearing head of Lowood School, Mr Brocklehurst.

The recipes in the notebook are in two different hands, neither of them Nanny’s.  Many are for cakes or buns so whoever recorded them seems to have had a sweet tooth!  The recipes include tipsy cake, lunch cake and raspberry buns.  The one recipe which Nanny probably wrote is on a loose scrap of paper and is a ‘Remedy for Ruhmatic’.

Pudding recipes from Nanny Gummersall’s manuscript notebook. Image credit Leeds University Library.

We have also added archives to the Theatre Company Blah, Blah, Blah Collection.  Set up in Harehills, Leeds, in 1985 the Blah’s are a Theatre in Education Company for children and young people.  The organisation offers interactive theatre sessions and workshops for schools which help children to develop their language and listening skills and to explore new ideas.

The Blah’s archive collection contains project files for teachers and production files.  There are many scripts including ones by well-known playwrights such as Mark Catley who has written for ‘Casualty’ and ‘Call the Midwife’, and Mike Kenny a leading writer in young people’s theatre.  Colourful publicity material includes posters and flyers.

In the bleak midwinter…

With 2018 well underway, Christmas and New Year celebrations seem a long time ago, but winter is still very much with us. This month the reading room team have chosen three items in the collections with a winter theme, all of which have been consulted in the Special Collections reading room.

The first item is a volume of The Birds of Great Britain by John Gould (1873) which has proved popular due to the Big Garden BirdWatch challenge our colleagues in the Treasures Gallery team have been tweeting about.  This beautiful image is of a Snow bunting, or Snowflake.  A large number of our team are wildlife enthusiasts and, upon learning that a pair of peregrines were nesting in the tower of the Parkinson Building last year, regularly checked their progress.

LAVC papers
Papers from the Leeds Archive for Vernacular Culture. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Our second item is a file of articles and letters about winter and spring festivals from the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture collection. One recorded in 1967 describes a Pembrokeshire new year custom in which children would hold sprigs of sea spurge and sprinkle water on passers-by to bring them good luck in exchange for pennies. Another documents a Swiss custom held on February 1st called The Burning of the L’hom Strom, or Straw Man. The ceremony is pagan in origin, with the Straw Man representing winter. It is drawn through the streets by horses and burned to herald the returning sun.

Further information is available about the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture heritage lottery project on our website.

Artists' book
Ice blue no.5. by Pat Hodson with words by Liz Cashdan. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Our final choice is from the Artists’ Books collection Ice Blue no.5 is a concertina-shaped art work comprised of a collage of layers of transparent material and stitching, reminiscent of ice and drawing on memories of Iceland. It is adorned with words from a poem ‘Two Islands’.  It is a collaboration between the artist Pat Hodson and the poet Liz Cashdan.  Artists’ books are intriguing and the team always look forward to retrieving from this collection as we never know what we’re going to find.

We hope you enjoyed our selection of winter – themed items. If you’d like to see them for yourself, or anything else in our collections, please get in touch to book a visit. Special Collections is open to the public and you can find information about planning a visit on our website.

Mounting an Exhibition

Our Assistant Conservation Officer, Eugenie Karen, gives an update on plans for our new exhibition.  Preparations for the fifth changing exhibition in the Treasures Gallery are well underway.  ‘Rights and Romance: Representing Gypsy Lives’ showcases items from our Gypsy, Traveller and Roma collections.  It will open on 1 March.

Exhibition planning requires extensive teamwork and cooperation.  Given that this is now our fifth outing, our systems are running in a near well-oiled fashion.  However similar the processes are though, each show stands alone because the material going on display brings its own challenges.

As a conservator, I am tasked with assessing whether the objects are suitable to be put on display.  I am then required to ensure that each item receives what is in effect a care plan.  I need to ensure the object is as comfortable as possible for the duration of its exposure.  After the initial assessment and the green light is given, I decide what the object needs in terms of light levels, temperature and support.

Supports are not there to be seen.  We try to ensure that the object is showcased to its best advantage, but if you ever visit an exhibition and see a person contorting themselves to examine something behind the object, they are probably a visiting conservator getting inspiration.  Sometimes we make the supports in house, using polyester film, acrylic supports, foam, box board or simply paper or mount board.

Sometimes an object demands more to show it to its full advantage.  Included in the upcoming exhibition are two flowers crafted from wood shavings.  They are incredibly delicate and brittle.  There are not many objects in this exhibition so we decided that these two items ought to achieve an extra prominence by getting bespoke mounts made.

woodshaving flowers
Flowers made out of woodshavings mounted on Perspex stands. Image credit Leeds University Library.

It was felt that such fragile items ought to ‘float’ and I called upon the expertise of Jon Baxter, a local mount maker.  We devised a design whereby a clear Perspex mount would cradle the heavier ‘head’ of the flower counterbalanced by a hole through which the stem would slot which raises the whole thing above the surface of the case.

We won’t know how fully we have achieved our aim until we begin installation in February but I am confident they will look beautiful.

Perronet Thompson – a distinguished, globe trotting family

December was a relatively quiet month for new accruals.  A highlight was a small collection of documents added to our Thomas Perronet Thompson Collection.  The archives include ‘A Pedigree of Perronet and Thompson’ by Henry Wagner, FSA, (1840-1926) showing the families’ ancestry from the early 1600s.  Wagner is mainly remembered today for his extensive research into the family history of British Huguenots in the 19th century.

In the pedigree Wagner traces the family back to the French Benjamin Mestral, Seigneur des Vaux and Catherine Baptiste, of Lausanne, who married in 1621.  Jean, the husband of their daughter Susanne, is the first Perronet listed.  His family came from Berne in Switzerland.

Many of Jean and Susanne’s descendants had impressive careers.  They include Jean-Rodolphe Perronet (1708-1794) a celebrated French civil engineer.  Perronet discovered how to design stone arch bridges with narrower piers.  These created larger areas for boats to pass through.  Best known for the Pont de la Concorde in Paris, Perronet continued to work on the construction of the bridge despite the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789.  He was an inspirational teacher and founded the world’s first engineering school in 1747.

William Perronet (1729-1781) was a surgeon and apothecary who, for several years, served as an army surgeon.  Although he was not closely involved with the Methodist movement some letters between him and Charles Wesley exist in the Wesley family archives.  William’s brother’s Charles (1723-1776) and Edward (1726-1792) were Methodists for a time and worked as itinerant preachers accompanying Charles Wesley on his tours.

Vincent Perronet
Vincent Perronet, Mayor of Exeter 1944-1945, brother of Sir John Perronet. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Many of the family served with the army or became colonial administrators.  One such was Sir John Perronet Thompson (1873-1935) a colonial administrator in Simla and Delhi, India.  He was Chief Commissioner for Delhi from 1928-1932.  Our new accrual includes some of John’s letters to his sister Isabel written from 1898-1932, a copy of his speech to the House of Commons and an address to the Lincoln Diocesan Conference ‘The Problem in India’ both dated 1932.

In his correspondence and speeches Thompson comments on political and social issues in India.  He was evidently an advocate of independence for the country long before it happened.  His letters also include news about the Thompson family.  When Isabel asks about career prospects for her son, Basil, Thompson advises that colonial administration in India is no longer a good option.

Images in the Margins

Riza Hussaini, our Digitisation Assistant, uncovers some magical marginalia in our medieval manuscripts.

The prevailing view of medieval illuminated manuscripts is that they contain purely sacred imagery.  It is true that the main illustrations accompanying the text are of saints and angels, the crucifixion and scenes from the Old Testament of the Bible.  They complement the religious messages. However the margins around the text reveal a world of surreal delight where comic life flourished.

Scribes had much more artistic licence in the margins and their imaginations often roamed free.  Weird and wonderful mythical beasts, hybrid monsters, animals behaving like humans and humour related to bodily functions were all fair game.  It was common for the illustrations to be added after the text was written.  This allowed the artists to scatter it with irreverent depictions.

Images of beasts
Clothed beasts from BC MS 1/55 and BC MS 1/63. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Although traditionally, reading and writing were the concerns of the church, by the late Middle Ages there was an increased desire among the laity to express devotion privately. The Book of Hours was the most common genre commissioned by clients.  The books ranged from the modest through to lavishly illuminated tomes purchased by the wealthy and aristocratic classes. It is the luxurious versions that hold the most elaborate illustrations.

Image of grotesques
Grotesques from BC MS 1/28. Image credit Leeds University Library.

There were recurring themes and imagery in the margins. The most striking are nuns and monks behaving curiously, anthropomorphic animals, dragons and snails. Plenty of illustrations give us an insight and clues into everyday medieval life. All the images in this post are from Horae Beatae Mariae Virginis (Book of Hours) and you can access digitised medieval manuscripts on the Special Collections catalogue.

Sadly, upon the arrival of movable type, marginalia in medieval manuscripts diminished.  The inclusion of marginalia on musical scores continued longer as modern music printing as we know it came about much later.  Doodling and writing notes in margins will never go out of favour as people add their own sketches and comments to texts.

Illustrating the margins of medieval manuscripts provided much more than a break from lethargy for the artisans, it brought levity.  Marginalia shows the modern reader that medieval life was just as complex as ours.

November’s new accessions

This month we received a welcome addition to our collection of Glyndebourne Festival programme books 1952-1981.  Our new accession brings the collection up-to-date.  The Glyndebourne Festival of operas takes place annually at Glyndebourne Manor House, near Lewes, East Sussex.  The first festival was organised in 1934 by John Christie  who owned the house and had a specially built theatre installed.  The opening performance was Mozart’s ‘Le marriage of Figaro’ which launched a six week season.

Each programme contains fascinating articles about the season’s operas and composers.  The Glyndebourne Festival Society was formed in 1952 to take over the financial management of the event from Christie.  More recent programmes include updates about its activities which include community and educational projects.  Tours around the UK take Glyndebourne’s operas to thousands of people a year.  The programmes are lavishly illustrated and the artwork, photography and advertisements show changes in society and culture over the years.

Malcolm Quin (1854-1945) was a positivist philosopher who became an independent Catholic Priest.  Positivism is a philosophical theory which holds that people’s definite knowledge comes from sensory experience which they interpret using logic and reason.  A recent accrual to our Malcolm Quin Collection contains five letters and six Christmas cards from Quin to a  Mr Robertson, dated 1906 to 1927.  In each card Quin included one of his own poems on a seasonal theme.

Quin and Robertson had a lively intellectual discussion on positivism, Catholicism and Darwinism in their correspondence.  They debated in particular the views of two positivists, the philosopher Richard Congreve (1818-1899), and the trade union advocate Henry Crompton (1836-1904).

Robertson sent Quin a copy of Susan Liveing’s book ‘A nineteenth-century teacher, John Henry Bridges’ (1926).  Bridges was a positivist philosopher and medical inspector.  Commenting on the book, Quin wrote to Robertson that Liveing faced an ‘almost insuperable obstacle’ in being a woman writing about a man!  Somewhat grudgingly he acknowledged she ‘has gone a long way towards overcoming it’.

Our invaluable volunteers

Objects before conservation
Leeds School of Medicine objects before conservation work. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Leeds School of Medicine objects before conservation work. Image credit Leeds University Library.

Our Conservation Officer, Sharon Connell, talks about the contribution of volunteers in Special Collections.

Volunteering is a key element in making our collections accessible for research, teaching and public enjoyment. The Collections Care and Conservation Team has a longstanding commitment to welcoming volunteers with the skills, dedication and goodwill they bring.  Volunteers help us deliver projects as well as carrying out routine work, such as cleaning and repackaging collections.

Our volunteers have diverse backgrounds and a variety of experience and interests. This can make for lively interaction and has inspired some volunteers to explore further potential avenues of research and study based on the collections they have been working on. Some have gone on to work in conservation.

Apart from being lovely, community-minded people, united by a passion for history and heritage, why do they do it? Generally speaking, they want to build new skills or apply their existing ones in a new way, learn about what happens ‘behind the scenes’ in conservation or just meet like-minded people.

Recently, volunteers have been helping with our Medical Collections Project. Once soiled and difficult to access items are now clean and rehoused. Gone are the weird and wonderful packaging solutions of yesteryear like manila envelopes and ancient Kapok stuffing material, which were damaging the collections. Thanks to our volunteers these have been replaced with beautifully crafted paper wrappers and boxes, each made bespoke for particular items.  Medals, for example, are nested in inert foam in boxes and wrapped in archival quality acid free tissue.

Not only are the collections more stable and protected as a result of these simple actions but we all derive great satisfaction seeing how well cared for they now look!

Objects after conservation
Objects from the Leeds School of Medicine Collection after repackaging. Image credit Leeds University Library

“I was happy with the repackaging of the medals because I felt it paid tribute to all the medical staff who had received the awards”, Helen Utting, retired Senior Lecturer, Leeds University School of Healthcare, and conservation volunteer

Anyone can become a volunteer – no experience is necessary as training in handling and basic conservation techniques is given. Look out for roles, usually advertised as and when they are available, via Twitter @LULGalleries or Volunteer Connect.