New display: Huntley & Palmers: A Christmas Selection

Our new display, in the staircase hallway until the New Year, features a wide range of Huntley and Palmers Christmas biscuit packaging – from the weird to the wonderful. Drop by to see it next time you’re in!

Huntley and Palmers biscuit tins

Huntley & Palmers started life in 1822 as a small bakery in London Street, Reading. In 1846 the firm opened a large factory on Kings Road in Reading and by 1900 the business was the largest biscuit manufacturer in the world, employing over 5,000 people. The firm merged with other biscuit makers including Peek Frean to become Associated Biscuit Manufacturers Ltd in 1969. The Reading factory closed in 1972.

The archives cover the period 1837-1995. The collection consists of documentary materials from all areas of the business, including financial records, correspondence, sales records, promotional material and audiovisual items. The collection of tins dates from the 1880s and includes some particularly fine examples.

The three exhibition cases contain collages of colour photocopies of original Christmas scraps printed by the company and given away as promotional material. You will see that some of the images are not typical of what to our eyes represent Christmas, for example the children with eggs, the bouquets of spring flowers and the wonderful card of the mouse astride a lobster! All this material came from the Christmas seasons of 1892 and 1893.

The upright glass exhibition case contains a selection of original tins, the earliest of which date from the 1880s, which are part of the Huntley & Palmers collection. The case also contains some replica tins made by Morryce Maddams using photocopies of the original packaging.

If you’re in the Christmas spirit, our Victorian Christmas Tour takes place on Sunday 8 December, 2.30-4pm (£3 per child). Our staff will be ready to welcome you into Christmas in 1882, where the Palmer family are spending their first Christmas at their new home, Easthorpe house. Meet Lord and Lady Palmer, their Butler Jerrome, Housekeeper Mrs Gough and other members of the household staff, and learn about Victorian Christmas traditions, play Victorian party games, enjoy seasonal refreshments and make their own Victorian Christmas card. To book a place, see our Events page.

New featured item: Selectus Diplomatum et Numismatum Scotiae Thesaurus

James Anderson, Selectus Diplomatum et Numismatum Scotiae Thesaurus, 1739

Selectus Diplomatum

Engraved frontispiece from Selectus Diplomatum et Numismatum Scotiae Thesaurus

James Anderson (1662–1728) was a Scottish historiographer and antiquary. Born in Edinburgh in 1662, the son of a Presbyterian minister, he studied law at the University of Edinburgh from 1677 until 1680. As a lawyer, he was required to study old charters and documents, and became interested in antiquarian scholarship, eventually abandoning the legal profession altogether. He first gained notoriety from his involvement in the polemics over the Act of Settlement (1701), and was granted funding  for his Diplomata Scotiae, which involved the collection and engraving of all available medieval Scottish charters and seals. It was his life’s work, and was finished and published after his death.

To read all about our copy and its history, see our newest featured item by Dr Esther Meijers on our website.

New Beckett letters acquired

Five letters and three postcards from Samuel Beckett to the Israeli scriptwriter and journalist Mira Avrech have been acquired by Special Collections. The letters date from 1967 to 1974, and may be found under reference MS 5515. Copies of these items are now available for consultation in the reading room.

Beckett is believed to have met Avrech in 1967 whilst in Berlin directing Endspiel (Endgame), and to have conducted a brief love affair with her during his stay. The letters discuss both his writing and hers, his health, international politics and his habit of drinking whiskey from an old tumbler.

Reader notice: Disruption to online ADLIB catalogue

We have been experiencing some difficulties with our ADLIB online catalogue in recent weeks – please accept our apologies for this. This affects both Museum of English Rural Life and Special Collections catalogues.

We are working to resolve the problems as soon as we can, but in the meantime, you may find it easier to use our alternative search interface, Enterprise ( for MERL or for Special Collections).

Mark Longman Library … some before and after.

I began reclassifying the Mark Longman Library 4 or 5 years ago as a background task.  I am a Library Assistant in the cataloging department at Special Collections and my priority is to support the librarian and the cataloguer and then Reading Room duty; much of my time is spent  fetching, returning and problem solving.  While it is a background task and low priority as regards some of the other collections the Mark Longman Library has become my child and very special.

The collection consists of around 4,000 books, pamphlets and journals on subjects related to the history of the book, including bibliography, book production, publishing history and practice, readers and reading, and literary biography.

Formerly the ‘books about books’ collection was donated to the National Book League by Maurice Marston, its first secretary; the collection was expanded following the launch of an appeal in 1972 in memory of Mark Longman, Chairman of the National Book League 1967-1971.

The collection passed to the University Library in 2002. It was classified in the Bliss bibliographic classification and maintained on a card catalogue.  While the collection did not require special conditions we decided also to keep in open access and browsable.  However, it was important for the catalogue to be electronically accessible as well.  So while I downloaded  the records I reclassified the books into the Dewey Decimal System instead.

This has meant I have handled every book in the collection. I have skimmed, flicked, browsed, read – not just to discover the subject  matter but because it was interesting or just plain beautiful!

Some have been so deep, profound or obscure I have almost abandoned them. I am not a trained cataloguer and sometimes the subject matter is not clear.  Nonetheless, these experiences have ensured that the task, considered by some as tedious or not required, has been and continues to be  for me  a labour of love.

There are also many pamphlets in the collection and it is tempting as they will be time consuming to put them in a box marked ‘pamphlets’. However these have proved to be as diverse and precious as the books; possibly containing unpublished literature by the famous and not so, that would otherwise be considered a mere leaflet, publishing literature or ephemera.

I was hoping to tell you about some of the gems I have discovered over the years, so maybe next time …


Book binding for beginners: conservation training

Written by Claire Wooldridge, UMASCS Graduate Trainee Library Assistant

Bookbinding work station in the old bindery

Bookbinding work station in the old bindery

As the library graduate trainee here at the University of Reading’s Special Collections Service, I am fortunate enough to get lots of opportunities for training in all aspects of rare books, from manufacture and repair, to descriptive cataloguing, to their use in publications and for social media.


The sewing takes shape

The sewing takes shape

In the last few weeks I have been having training sessions with Geoff, our conservation and preservation manager at the main campus library.  Geoff has been training me in order that I can assist him and his preservation team by conducting some small book repairs here at special collections.  In time I will be doing paper and binding repairs and preservation, including reattaching boards and sewing in gatherings.  Sadly old books do become damaged with time and use… an inevitable development but one which also provides me with plenty of material to work on.  Never fear – my practice books are strictly those withdrawn from circulation!

As Geoff has taught me – the most important part of preservation of rare books is using water soluble materials, meaning a repair can be reversed if necessary.  So that means Japanese paper and paste, no superglue or Sellotape!

In order to understand how to repair the book Geoff has been teaching and showing me how a book is made.  As a complete beginner this training is invaluable to me and is significantly improving my understanding and appreciation of all aspects of the importance of the book as a physical object, besides the significance of the content, author and so on.

Sewing around the tapes

Sewing around the tapes

Week one was an explanation of paper making, week two was the use of Japanese paper for repairs and this week we covered sewing.  Although the needle and thread were familiar… this was a little different from sewing I have done in the past!  Although for new books the gatherings are joined together by machine, in days gone by prior to the mechanization of printing this would have been done by hand.

Although it took me a few tries to get the hang of it – by then end of the morning I had produced a simple book, made of several gatherings of paper.  Sewing around pieces of tape gave the spine more strength.

With this experience I can go onto repair books here at special collections by sewing loose pages back in.  I look forward to my next training session.

The word spreads about ‘Reading at War’… even Tony Blackburn’s talking about it!

The Reading Connections project aims to develop community engagement through the creation of digital resources, oral histories, exhibitions around the theme of ‘Reading at War’ and local Reading photography based on a partnership MERL and Reading Museum. Here, Reading at War Project Officer Phillipa Heath talks about the Memorial Book and local interest in it.

At this time of year many of us will reflect on those who have fought for their country and, in particular, on those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

As we approach Remembrance Day,  the local press have taken a keen interest in the Reading at War aspect of the Reading Connections project, part of which aims to highlight the stories of the 146 individuals who feature in Reading University College’s Memorial Bookall of whom tragically lost their lives in the First World War. We are delighted that the Reading Post and BBC Radio Berkshire have been keen to focus on some of these incredible stories.

During their visit, two reporters from The Reading Post met me and project volunteer Jeremy Jones and were shown the Memorial Book. They were introduced to some of the individuals who feature in it and explored the project’s designated flickr site. The flickr site is a fantastic resource as it not only allows people to view those individuals but it also contains, where known, further biographical details about them and their connections to Reading University College. These details are just the tip of the iceberg and, of course, we are appealing for anyone who has more information about, or photographs of, any of the individuals to get in touch.

Phillippa Heath, Tony Blackburn and Jeremy Jones at the BBC Radio Berkshire Studio

Although we were unable to take the Memorial Book with us for our BBC Radio Berkshire broadcast, it was still very much the main focus of our discussion.

There, Jeremy and I were interviewed as part of  Tony Blackburn’s show. Tony was incredibly enthusiastic and interested in the work we are carrying out. Not only was it a fantastic opportunity to promote the project, but it also brought to the fore the heart-wrenching stories of some of those students who gave so much.

If you missed the broadcast, it should be possible to ‘listen again’ at (the interview took place at 10.50 am on 07/11/13). All being well, the project will also feature in the Reading Post on 8 November, and a short edited video about the project will feature on their website. Our media coverage of the project will continue on Sunday, 10 November at 9 am when Guy Baxter, University Archivist, will also be interviewed on BBC Radio Berkshire about the Reading at War project.

Phillippa Heath

Reading at War Project Officer, Museum of English Rural Life

Top Ten Treasures from the Archives: Owen Jones

Our collections richer than most people would imagine and cover a wide variety of subjects and historical periods. To give you an idea of what’s there, University Archivist Guy Baxter will be introducing his ‘Top Ten Treasures’ over the coming weeks, picking highlights from the archive collections here at Reading. Enjoy!

Treasure Number 3: Owen Jones design

 Owen Jones detail

Guy writes: ‘This design by Owen Jones (1809–1874) was recently part of a selection of images being considered for merchandising. No one is sure whether it is for a tile or for some stationery, but in my opinion its striking beauty is not up for debate. Jones was a remarkable designer, influenced by a wide range of styles, including the Alhambra Palace in Granada, which he studied intensively. He is perhaps best known for his work on the Crystal Palace and for his extraordinary reference book for designers, The Grammar of Ornament, which is on display at Special Collections in Summer/Autumn 2013.

If you’re interested in learning more about Jones and The Grammar of Ornament, take a look at our ‘featured item’ on Jones.