‘Carnivals on the water’ : the Thames Frost Fairs

Written by Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian

Frost_Fair_of_1683

Print of the Frost Fair of 1683 (This image is in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AFrost_Fair_of_1683.JPG)

Behold the wonder of this present age,

A famous river now becomes a stage.

Question not what I now declare to you,

The Thames is now both fair and market too.

(Printed by M. Haly and J. Miller, 1684)

One of the memorable scenes from the film adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel, Orlando by the director Sally Potter, shows King James I and his courtiers looking down at an apple seller woman, frozen in a macabre yet beautiful tableau beneath the ice of the River Thames, her frozen apples appearing to float around her. I was reminded of this, and other evocative scenes from the film of the frozen Thames and a ‘frost fair’, when looking at a printed keepsake from the Thames frost fair of 1684 [see image below], one of the exhibits in our current Wintertide exhibition. For all the hardship caused by a severe winter, the idea of a frost fair, described by Woolf as “a carnival of the utmost brilliancy”, conjures up a romantic, magical image of a temporary (and precarious) world set upon the frozen river, a mini city which should not be there, and I was inspired to find out more.

Frost_fair_2

A keepsake printed for a Mr John Warter at the frost fair on the Thames, 28 January 1684. From the collections of the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication (TYP CES MR/ Frost-fair/ 2 )

Over the centuries, a number of severe winters have resulted in the River Thames freezing solid, particularly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which became known as the Little Ice Age. This phenomenon attracted many visitors, and fairs and pageants were held on the ice, including what were to become known as frost fairs. The two most famous fairs took place during the winters of 1683/84, when the Thames froze for ten weeks and the ice reached a thickness of 11 inches, and 1739/40.The last large frost fair in the City of London took place in the winter of 1813/14.

Evelyn frost fair reference

Pages from John Evelyn’s ‘Memoirs’ with several references to the severe frost and frost fair of 1683/4 (London, 1818. OVERSTONE–SHELF 36E/11 Vol. 1)

A number of contemporary accounts and prints, such as the one shown at the top of this post, were produced which describe or depict the fairs and their variety of stalls and entertainments in detail. In his description in his Memoirs of the fair of 1683/4 [see image above], the seventeenth century writer John Evelyn lists “sliding with skeetes, a bull-baiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays and interludes, cookes, tipling, and other lewd places” among the entertainments on offer – even a fox hunt took place on the ice. Stalls and booths were set up selling toys and books, fruit, beer and wine, and gingerbread, and oxen and sheep were roasted. Goods were often more expensive and exceeded their ‘dry land price’.

The fair of 1814 is recorded as being a lively and picturesque sight, the stalls a mass of fluttering, colourful flags, streamers and signs. Evelyn described the 1683/84 fair as a “a bacchanalian triumph, or carnival on the water”. However, as Woolf describes “it was at night that the carnival was at its merriest … the moon and stars blazed with the hard fixity of diamonds, and to the fine music of flute and trumpet the courtiers danced”. The stalls at night, teeming with noise, light and activity and the whirling and gliding of passing skaters, all illuminated by the moonlight on the sparkling ice, must have been an enchanting sight.

One of the most popular entertainments on the ice was to visit one of the many printing presses on the frozen river. According to Evelyn, “ye people and ladyes tooke a fancy to have their names printed and the day and yeare set down”, perhaps with a piece of verse, to create a ‘keepsake’ to commemorate the occasion of their visit:

To the Print-house go,

Where men the art of Printing soon do know,

Where for a Teaster, you may have your name

Printed, hereafter for to show the same:

And sure, in former Ages, ne’er ‘was found

A Press to print where men so oft were droun’d!

As well as the 1684 fair keepsake held in the Typography collections, we have also recently discovered a keepsake from the other famous Thames frost fair which took place in 1739/40 [see image below] in the John and Griselda Lewis Collection which we hold in Special Collections, and are in the process of cataloguing at present.

Frostfair

A keepsake printed for a Mr John Alderson, printed on 21 January 1740 at the frost fair on the Thames in 1739/40 (JOHN/GRISELDA LEWIS COLL–MS 5317/3/8)

Unsurprisingly, although the fairs were a source of much enjoyment, the severe winters caused a great deal of hardship, particularly for the watermen who depended on the river for their livelihoods, famine due to ruined harvests, damage to property and loss of life to many, and, as Evelyn reported, “the fowles, fish and birds, and all our exotiq plants and greenes [are] universally perishing”. Trees were split apart “as if lightning-struck”. The apple seller described by Virginia Woolf may have been inspired by Doll the Pippin woman who fell through the ice and died at the frost fair of 1715/16 and was the subject of a rhyme in Gay’s ‘Trivia’:

‘Pippins,’ she cries, but Death her voice confounds;
And pip, pip, pip, along the ice resounds.

The absence of a frozen Thames sufficient to hold a frost fair in the twentieth and twenty first centuries has not been due to a lack of severe winters, but other factors such as the growing size and heat of London and replacements for the London Bridge which have allowed freer flow of the river, changes which may have consigned the magical “carnivals on the water” to history.

The 1684 keepsake is available to view in our current staircase hall exhibition or by arrangement with the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication. The other two items are available to view by request in our Special Collections reading room.

The Wintertide exhibition, a celebration of winter traditions, customs and experiences, and the effects of the season on the natural world, is on display at the Special Collections Service from 8 December 2016 until 10 February 2017.

References and further reading

Ian Currie. Frosts, freezes and fairs : chronicles of the frozen Thames and harsh winters in Britain since 1000 AD. (Coulsdon : Frosted Earth, 1996). MERL LIBRARY–9639 CUR.

Travel Thursday – Frederick de Wit’s Atlas

Written by Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian

In seventeenth-century Europe, no library would be considered complete without a pair of globes and the provision of up-to-date maps and atlases as a source of information on new discoveries, and at the University of Reading we are lucky to have not only a large map collection at the University Library, but also a number of early maps and atlases.

Perhaps the finest of these is a copy of Frederick de Wit’s Atlas, produced between about 1670 and 1707, and this beautiful volume is the subject of a new Featured Item on the Special Collections website.

Europe

Map of Europe by Frederick de Wit

De Wit was a prolific and skilled map engraver, publisher and seller who became one of the largest publishers in Amsterdam by the end of the seventeenth century. De Wit’s Atlas is one of a series of world atlases compiled by De Wit in numerous editions. Copies of the Atlas are held in a number of map and special collections libraries and private collections, and vary in content from 17 to 190 finely coloured maps.

As with many Dutch maps of the period, the maps in De Wit’s volume feature many elaborate and beautifully coloured decorative features, including illustrations of exotic beasts and even a winged sea monster.

The volume contains a number of maps by De Wit himself, together with maps by other important map-makers of the period including Nicholas Visscher I, Abraham Ortelius and Joan Blaeu, printed by De Wit from plates that he had acquired.

The Atlas is available to view at the Special Collections reading room on request.

Adventurous of Mind, Young at Heart: Herbert Leader Hawkins

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

Herbert L Hawkins Signature

The University of Reading’s Special Collections Service is home to the fascinating papers and unique library of Herbert Leader Hawkins, Professor of Geology at the University from 1920 to 1952.  According to his biographer, Allen (1970), Hawkins was, “Adventurous of mind, kindly, young in heart, vividly imaginative and telling a superb tale, he radiated a genuinely joyful dedication to geology.”  This passion for geology is evident in his collection which includes over 700 maps, letters to and from noted geologists and a book collection featuring classics in the field, such as Rondelet Libri de piscibus marinis, (1554) and Phillips’ Illustrations of the Geology of Yorkshire (1874).

Hawkins established the strong foundations of the University’s Geology Department and enabled it to

One of the fantastic illustrations from Rondelet Libri de piscibus marinis, (1554)

One of the fantastic illustrations from Rondelet Libri de piscibus marinis, (1554)

flourish in the early 1900s by gathering together the much needed, but often hard to acquire teaching

materials and collections for the course.  Allen (1970) teases that there are many intriguing stories of, “how Hawkins “acquired, annexed

or just stole” (his words) the rich collections,” though sadly the tale behind the acquisition of Rondelet and Phillips’ work (above) seems to remain unknown.

Some of my favourite pieces from the collection however, are not ones acquired by Hawkins but those which feature the Professor himself, notably a small number of photographs from geology fieldtrips.  Although the geology students didn’t venture far, with labels indicating trips to Dorset, Frome and Shropshire, the images provide a lovely snap shot of Hawkins in his element.  Allen (1970) reports one of Hawkins’ students, Professor P.C. Sylvester-Bradley, recalling that Hawkins’ strength as a professor was in his ability “to fire the imagination, and it was especially in the first year and in the field that he was so successful.”

Geology Field Trip 1920

Geology Field Trip 1920

In the photographs we see Professor Hawkins amongst his students, often with pipe in hand, perfectly matching the description of him given by Allen (1970):

Physically and sartorially Hawkins was the epitome of a contemporary geologist: nimble of gait, wiry, walrus-moustached, unfashionably long- haired, brown-booted and attired in brown tweed hat, jacket and baggy trouser.

Geology Field Trip to Frome 1925

Geology Field Trip to Frome 1925

These field trips often involved demonstrations using Hawkins own hand drawn, large-scale maps, which are also stored as part of our collections and some were even “topped off by Hawkins’s accomplished playing on the piano.”  (Allen, 1970)

Geology Field Trip Shropshire 1919

Geology Field Trip Shropshire 1919

Sources and further information:
Allen, P. (1970) Herbert Leader Hawkins. 1887-1968 Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, Vol. 16 pp. 314- 329 URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/769592
Hawkins Collection
Papers of Herbert Leader Hawkins

Topsell’s Fantastic Four-Footed Beasts

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

Edward Topsell, a Church of England clergyman, was born in Kent in 1572 and managed the parish of St Botolph in Aldersgate, London from 1604 until his death in 1625 (Lewis, 2004).  Although he wrote several books, his most celebrated work is, ‘The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents’ (1607), a wonderful bestiary that describes all manner of creatures from Elephants to Bees to the Bear Ape Arctopithecus (or the three toed sloth as we know it today (University of Houston Library, 2013)).  Each entry describes the creature in detail, giving commentary from ancient, medieval and contemporary sources.  In particular, Topsell relied heavily on sixteenth century encyclopedia, ‘Historia Animalium’ by Conrad Gesner, reusing his work to the point where he could almost be accused of plagiarism (Lewis, 2004).  This makes Topsell’s following claim a little dubious:

I cannot say that I have said all that can be written of these living creatures, yet I dare say I have wrote more than ever was before me written in any Language

However, even though he was not a naturalist by any means and borrowed much of this work from others, ‘A History of Four-footed Beats and Serpents’ remains a fascinating text. One of my favourite things about the beastiary is that includes not only the familiar and common animals but also the fantastical and frightening!  Manticore, Satyr and Unicorn are all considered alongside cat and dog and horse and the descriptions provided are wonderfully detailed and perfectly illustrated.

Below are some of my favourite mythical monsters from the book:

manticore

Of the Mantichora

A terrifying monster residing in India that has earned the fearsome title of ‘man eater’, the Manticore is described by Topsell as a deadly combination of man, lion and scorpion:

a treble row of teeth beneath and above, whose greatness, roughness, and feet are like a lyons, his face and ears unto a mans, his eyes grey, and colour red, his tail like the tail of a Scorpion, of the earth, armed with a sting, casting forth sharp pointed quils; his voice like the voice of a small Trumpet or Pipe, being in course as swift as a Hart; his wildness such as can never be tamed, and his appetite is especially to the flesh of man.

The manticore uses its tail to attack hunters and prey and is able to grow back any quills lost in the fight.

 

 lamia

Of the Lamia

Topsell initially describes what he believes to be the fabled accounts of the Lamia, which show her as a ‘phary’ (fairy) or shape-changer who wishes to steal away children and tempt beautiful men.  As such creatures do not exist in the Bible, these tales originated, according to Topsell, from poets who use the term Lamia as an allegory for a harlot.

The true Lamia, instead hails from Libya and is known in Hebrew as the creature ‘Lilith’.  It is described as:

having a womans face, and very beautiful, also very large and comely shapes of their breasts, such as cannot be counterfeited by the art of any Painter, having a very excellent colour in their fore-parts without wings, and no other voice but hissing like dragons.

The Lamia is said to enchant men with its body before overthrowing and devouring them.

 

Unicorn

Of the Unicorn 

Although Topsell consults many ancient sources, he finds their accounts of the descriptions of Unicorns so divergent that he can only assume there are many varying kinds of the creature, much as there are types of dog or mice.  However, he confirms that they can be found in both India and Ethiopia, that they have a single horn in the middle of the forehead, are roughly the size of a horse, and tend toward a solitary life.

Of course the most fascinating part of a Unicorn is its horn and Topsell recounts an interesting story from the life of Apollonius of Tyana by Philostratus:

the Indians of that horn make pots, affirming that whosoever drinketh in one of those pots, shall never take disease that day, and if they be wounded, shall feel no pain, or safely pass through the fire without burning, nor yet be poisoned in their drinks, and therefore such cups are only in the possession of their Kings.

Although Apollonius discounted some of the effects of the Unicorn horn, he seemed to accept that it may have some medicinal properties.

 

dragon

Of the Dragon

Like Unicorns, dragons are also said to be bred in India and Africa and are diverse in size and colour.  The dragon illustrated above is the Winged Dragon whose wings are described as being of “a skinny substance, and very voluble, and spreading themselves wide, according to the quantity and largenesse of the Dragons body.”

More generally, dragons are beautiful to behold, despite their terrifying treble rows of teeth.  They have bright and clear seeing eyes, “dewlaps growing under their chin and hanging down like a beard[…] and their bodies are set all over with very sharp scales, and over their eyes stand certain flexible eye-lids.”

They also have very keen senses of seeing and hearing, making them the perfect watchful keepers of treasure and unmarried maidens.

According to Topsell (affirmed by Aristotle), dragons are specifically offended by eating apples and lettice and will eat the latter to vomit up any meat they find does not settle well in their stomachs!

To kill a dragon, Topsell recounts that Indians will,

take a garment of Scarlet, and picture upon it a charm in golden letters, this they lay upon the mouth of the Dragon’s den, for with the red colour and the gold, the eyes of the Dragon are overcome, and he falleth asleep, the Indians in the mean season watching and muttering secretly words of Incantation; when they perceive he is fast asleep, suddenly they strike off his neck with an Ax

Our edition of ‘The History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents’ is a later revised version to which is attached the ‘Theatre of Insects’ by T. Muffet.  Lewis (2004) suggests that Topsell had originally intended to produce his own third and four volumes on birds and fishes but these unfortunately were never completed.

Sources:
Topsell, E. (1658) The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents. London: Printed by E. Cotes, for G. Sawbridge at the Bible on Ludgate-Hill, T. Williams at the Bible in Little-Britain, and T. Johnson, at the Key in Paul’s Church-yard [COLE–004Q – available upon request]
Lewis, G. (2004) ‘Topsell, Edward (bap. 1572, d. 1625)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press
University of Houston Library (2013) Topsell’s The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents Woodcuts.  Available from: http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/p15195coll18

Fragments of medieval manuscripts

Written by Siobhan O’Mahoney, a recent graduate from the MRes in Medieval Studies, who is currently volunteering with us.

Unknown to many members of the public, Special Collections holds an intriguing assortment of medieval manuscript fragments. They are part of the John and Griselda Lewis Collection, a fascinating collection which consists of some 20,000 items illustrating the history of printing and graphic design from the fourteenth century to the present day. I have had the privilege of working with these manuscript leaves, in an attempt to research, catalogue and raise awareness of their existence.

This project came about through the combination of my personal interest in medieval manuscripts and the need for these fragments to be catalogued for better access. I first became involved with the MERL and Special Collections during my undergraduate degree and this continued into my Masters, for which I just completed my dissertation on French royal medieval manuscripts. The fragments in this collection are all complete leaves/pages which would have made up a medieval book. However, all of the fragments have origins from different books except for two instances.

LewisMSS2

One of the fragments in the collection

I have spent the last three months conducting my research upon this variety of medieval manuscript leaves in an attempt to identify the contents of the fragments, date and localise them. The results of this research have shown that the fragments belong to various different books which were produced at different times and places across the medieval period.

Conducting this research is challenging when so little is known regarding the manuscripts, and when they are separated from their original book. However, with each fragment I began with the text. I was able to identify much of the content of the text through conducting transcriptions, followed by online searches of these texts. All but one of these fragments are in Latin, with the other being in Old French and presenting a much greater challenge to the modern reader. Editions of the various texts were therefore located, and have ranged from Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae to quotations of the Act of Apostles.

Following this identification, an analysis was done of the script. This formed a crucial part of my ability to both date and localise the manuscript fragments. The form of the script indicated the period in which it was written in terms of its style and layout. Gothic textualis was the key script identified across these fragments, although varying in the quality. This was a common book script used from the 12th up to the 16th century. My analysis placed all of the fragments in the 13th and 14th centuries. With a comparison of each the script of each fragment with manuscripts contained in Andrew Watson’s Catalogue of Dated and Datable Manuscripts, I was then able to place these manuscripts within their context. This allowed for a clearer idea of their place of production. All appear to have been produced in continental Europe.

Example of Gothic Textualis Quadrata (medium grade bookhand) from the 15th century

Example of Gothic Textualis Quadrata (medium grade bookhand) from the 15th century

 

Two of the manuscript fragments in this collection have particularly stood out to me as a result of my research, and I wish to share these with you. First are the two leaves which contain the text of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae. I have dated these the late 13th century and into the 14th century, and to have been produced in France. As the text wasn’t completed until 1270, this is a crucial period for the reproduction of this work.

Fragment of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae

Fragment of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae

These particular fragments therefore hold particular resonance with me and my current scholarly research. Thomas Aquinas was a leading Dominican theologian in Paris in the 13th century. The influence of the Dominican Order upon the production of manuscripts in Paris in this period was an integral part of my Masters Dissertation. Therefore with such findings came great excitement.

A noteworthy inscription is also contained within the text of the fragment. ‘Thomas Gardener’ is inscribed in between the two columns of the text. This is an indication of the owner of the text, dating to the 16th or 17th century. Although the name Thomas Gardener remains common for the period, it is the greatest provenance in existence across these fragments.

The second prominent fragments were those containing musical notation which have been identified as a Gradual in Latin produced in the 14th century. Graduals are chant books produced for use in mass. In these two fragments we have the Gregorian chants of St Paul and St Anna. It is fascinating to think these would have been actively used during the 14th century for mass.

Fragment from a gradual from the fourteenth century

Fragment from a gradual from the fourteenth century

I hope that through my work with these manuscript fragments further research upon them will be encouraged and conducted. These have been fascinating fragments to work with and I hope others will find them equally intriguing!

Travel Thursday – The Great New York

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

Front cover of The Great New York - Pennell (1911)

The Great New York – Pennell (1911)

One of the world’s top tourist destinations, New York has been attracting travellers for many years.  This week’s Travel Thursday looks at the Big Apple from two uniquely different perspectives; that of a poet and that of an artist.

Australian born critic and poet, W.J. Turner (1889-1946) moved to London to pursue writing in 1907 and alongside friend, Siegfried Sassoon, became a member of the Georgian poets group when his work was published as part of a Georgian Poet anthology (Hawkes, 2004).  Turner visited New York in the 1920s and penned a short travelogue detailing his time there, giving his thoughts on the city and all manner of related topics including, the wonderful character of American women, the Americanisation of Europe and advice on the perfect piece of luggage, the American trunk:

a trunk which stands upright, can be pushed along on rollers, fits in beside the driver of a taxi […] so easily accessible that he need never unpack during his whole journey.

American artist, Joseph Pennell (1857-1926) was an eminent etcher and lithographer, who championed and revived the art of print making in the early 20th Century (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016).  Although he travelled widely, Pennell lived in New York from 1918-1926 (Library of Congress, 2016) and created several beautiful drawings of the city.

For Pennell, New York was the ‘Unbelievable City’, a marvel of the modern world owing to its immense size and towering buildings, which are beautifully captured in his sketch of the city’s magnificent skyline.

New York Skyline by Pennell

New York Skyline by Pennell

Turner too is immediately in awe at the sight of New York on the horizon; on his arrival he proclaims:

There is no thrill at the end of any voyage upon this planet like the thrill at the first sight of New York rising like a bed of rock crystals out of the sea.

However, on closer inspection, Turner’s opinion of the city is not always the most enthusiastic, the smell he ascribes it for example is, “a blending of ice-cream and patchouli – a sickly mixture,” and he describes the general atmosphere as a terrifying mixture of noisy traffic and towering sky scrapers

Building a Skyscraper - Pennell

Building a Skyscraper – Pennell

that vomit, “from six to ten thousand people into the street,” all accompanied by a constant series of explosions caused by the underground work on subways and building foundations.  The heavy building programme in New York during the 1920s was also captured by Pennell, though instead of complaining about the noise he marvels at the speed at which the skyscrapers are completed:

The work goes on by night as well as by day. A few months will see a skyscraper in place, equipped and occupied.

Statue of Liberty - Pennell

Statue of Liberty – Pennell

Both men also differ on their views of the iconic Statue of Liberty; for Pennell it is an “effective feature,” which “greets the incoming ships from the sea” while for Turner, the statue is decidedly, “stumpy and ungraceful.”

Turner further complains about his subway journey, describing the carriages as, “small, cheaply fitted, sordid, and uncomfortable,” whereas Pennell praises the linked elevated railway as a “pleasant mode of conveyance outside the rush hours.”  However, despite his spirited complaining, Turner does give some interesting insights into the New York of the 1920s, for example although he dislikes the experience; he does explain how the subway system works:

The Elevated - Pennell

The Elevated – Pennell

To get quickly up-town it is necessary to take the subway.  You go underground.  There is an office where you can get change and then, putting in a nickel (five cents), you pass through clanging turnstiles on to the platform.  There are no ticket collectors nor porters.

and he provides this description of the newly implemented, modern marvel – traffic lights:

Red and green lamps are placed on pillars at these intersections and by them traffic is regulated.  In broad daylight up until 2a.m. these green and red lights are flashing in the streets.  All the accidents – as a taxi driver explained to me – take place after 2 a.m.

Also, according to Turner, one of the advantages of such a large city that swarms with people is the anonymity and indifference afforded to its visitors:

There is in New York no public opinion, no curiosity.  The complete impersonality of the big hotel and the big store where no one watches you to see that you spend something is very soothing.

Although only small details, you begin to get a vivid impression of a busy, crowded city that is full potential and growth.  It is a city of the future and indeed it inspired Turner to philosophise about progress and the future of cities and civilisation.  In his musings Turner even predicts the invention of mobile phones:

it is possible for me to predict that in much less than a hundred years from now one will be able to speak to any person in any part of the world by just taking a wireless receiver and transmitter out of one’s coat pocket.

Overall, regardless of its traffic and noise, both Turner and Pennell recognised that it is the architectural beauty of New York that really shines, it is a city designed to inspire and amaze and delight:

sketch of Cortland Street Ferry and the Brooklyn Bridge by Pennell

Cortland Street Ferry and the Brooklyn Bridge by Pennell

The sky-scrapers were slender pinnacles of light, across the river crawled in every direction ferry-boats that were just many-tiered electric palaces, and Brooklyn was one vast blaze netted with dark lines glittering beside the water.

 

Sources:
  • Pennell, J (1911) The Great New York. London: T.N. Foulis [Reserve 917.47 PEN]
  • Turner, W.J. (1929) A trip to New York and a Poem. London: Mandrake Press [Reserve 821.912 TUR]
  • Jacquetta Hawkes, (2004) ‘Turner, Walter James Redfern (1889–1946)’, rev. Sayoni Basu, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/36589, accessed 24 Aug 2016]
  • Library of Congress, (2016) Drawing (Master). Available from:http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/drwgma/pennell.html
  • Encyclopedia Britannica (2016) Joseph Pennell.  Available from: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Joseph-Pennell

 

Event: Why read Mills & Book romances?

On the 8th day of Christmas, my library gave to me...8 Mills and Boons (from our Mills and Boon library)

Val Derbyshire, PhD student at the University of Sheffield, is giving two public lectures at Sheffield University’s Festival of the Mind in which she will explore the literary value of Mills & Boons romances. On Saturday 17 September there will be a panel discussion between 1 and 2pm, followed by the lecture at 2pm, and on Thursday 22 September the lecture will run from 4:45pm.

The University of Reading holds the Mills & Boon publishers’ archives. The collection consists of the editorial correspondence of both John Boon and Alan Boon, script registers, publicity material and some administrative records, and a large proportion of the back catalogue of Mills & Boon books.

 

Ready, Set, Bake: Recipes from the 18th and 19th Century

Front piece from Henderson's 'The Housekeeper’s Instructor' c.1800

Front piece from Henderson’s ‘The Housekeeper’s Instructor’ c.1800

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

In honour of the return of much loved T.V. show ‘The Great British Bake Off’ we’ve pulled together some wonderful recipes and baking tips from our favourite 18th and 19th century cookbooks.  Despite their popularity and the handy tips provided by the authors, I have to admit, some of these recipes seem trickier than a Bake-Off Technical Challenge but if you do brave tackling one or two, let us know how you get on!

There are several things necessary to be particularly observed by the cook, in order that her labours and ingenuity under this head may be brought to their proper degree of perfection.

(Henderson, c.1800)

 

Cakes

The author of the following recipe, Maria Eliza Rundell, became a household name in cookery when she published, ‘A New System of Domestic Economy’ in the early 1800s.  The title became an instant best seller, “with almost half a million copies sold by the time of Mrs Rundell’s death and remaining in print until 1886,” (Holt,1999).

Although this recipe suggests baking the cakes in tea-cups, Queen Cakes were often baked in a variety of shaped tins, one of the most popular shapes being that of the heart (Day, 2011).

Queen Cake Recipe - Rundell, 1822

Queen Cake Recipe – Rundell, 1822

Queen Cakes – (Rundell, 1822)

Mix a pound of dried flour, the same of sifted sugar, and of washed clean currants.  Wash a pound of butter in rose-water, beat it well, then mix with it eight eggs, yolks and whites beaten separately, and put in the dry ingredients by degrees; beat the whole an hour; butter little tins, tea-cups, or saucers, and bake the batter in, filling only half.  Sift a little fine sugar over just as you put it into the oven.

 

Biscuits

Our next recipe from Kettilby (1719) is the Ratafia Cake, a macaroon like biscuit that takes its name from the flavourings used.  The word Ratafia, meaning liqueur, “came to denote almost any alcoholic and aromatic ‘water.’” (Boyle, 2011)

To make Ratafia-Cakes – (Kettilby, 1719)

Ratafia Cake Recipe - Kettilby, 1719

Ratafia Cake Recipe – Kettilby, 1719

Take eight ounces of Apricock-Kernels, or if they cannot be had, Bitter-Almonds will do as well, blanch them, and beat them very fine with a little Orange-Flower-Water, mix them with the Whites of three Eggs well beaten, and put to them two pounds of single-refin’d Sugar finely beaten and sifted; work all together, and ‘twill be like a Paste; then lay it in little round Bits on Tin-plates flower’d, set them in an Oven that is not too hot, and they will puff up and be soon baked.

 

Bread

Maria Eliza Rundell suggests that her bread roll recipe is just as good as that found at Sally Lunn’s in Bath, which is quite the claim as Sally Lunn’s highly popular bun achieved legendary status in its day, (Sally Lunn’s, 2016).  You can judge for yourself however, as Sally’s buns can still be enjoyed at her old house in Bath.

Excellent Rolls – (Rundell, 1822)

Bread rolls recipe - Rundell, 1822

Bread rolls recipe – Rundell, 1822

Warm one ounce of butter in half a pint of milk, put to it a spoonful and a half of yeast of small beer, and a little salt.  Put two pounds of flour into a pan and mix in the above.  Let it rise an hour; knead it well; make into seven rolls, and bake in a quick oven.  If made in cakes three inches thick, sliced and buttered, they resemble Sally Lumm’s, as made at Bath. The foregoing receipt, with the addition of a little saffron boiled in half a tea-cupful of milk, makes them remarkably good.

 

Desserts

In the preface to, ‘A Collection of above Three Hundred Receipts in Cookery, Physick and Surgery,’ Kettilby laments the unintelligible nature of many of the recipe books that came before hers, “some great Masters having given us Rules in that Art so strangely odd and fantastical, that it is hard to say, Whether the Reading has given more Sport and Diversion, or the Practice more Vexation and Chagrin, in spoiling us many a good dish, by following their directions.”  Hopefully, her recipe for ‘the best orange pudding ever tasted’ will be a piece of cake to follow!

The best Orange-Pudding that ever was tasted – (Kettilby, 1719)

Orange Pudding Recipe - Kettilby, 1719

Orange Pudding Recipe – Kettilby, 1719

PARE the Yellow Rind of two fair Sevil- Oranges, so very thin that no part of the White comes with it; shred and beat it extremely small in a large Stone Mortar; add to it when very fine, half a pound of Butter, half a pound of Sugar, and the Yolks of sixteen Eggs; beat all together in the Mortar ‘till ‘tis all of a Colour; then pour it into your Dish in which you have laid a Sheet of Puff-paste. I think Grating the Peel saves Trouble, and does it finer and thinner than you can shred or beat it: But you must beat up the Butter and Sugar with it, and the Eggs with all, to mix them well.

 

 

Pastries

When it comes to tackling pastry, William Augustus Henderson had a number of great tips in his bestselling guide from the late 18th century, ‘The Housekeeper’s Instructor’, including how to avoid the dreaded ‘soggy bottom’:

One very material consideration must be, that the heat of the oven is duly proportioned to the nature of the article to be baked.  Light paste requires a moderate oven; if it is too quick, the crust cannot rise, and will therefore be burned; and if too slow, it will be soddened, and want that delicate light brown it ought to have.

Once you’ve mastered the oven temperature you’ll be ready to bake this delicious treat:

Rasberry Tart – (Henderson, c.1800)

Raspberry Tart Recipe - Henderson, c.1800

Raspberry Tart Recipe – Henderson, c.1800

ROLL out some thin puff-paste, and lay it in a patty pan; then put in some rasberries, and strew over them some very fine sugar.  Put on the lid, and bake it.- Then cut it open, and put in half a pint of cream, the yolks of two or three eggs well beaten, and a little sugar.  Give it another heat in the oven, and it will be fit for use.

And finally, just in case you need to know how to get that thin puff-paste for your raspberry tart, here’s Maria Eliza Rundell to the rescue:

Rich Puff Paste – (Rundell, 1822)

Weigh an equal quantity of butter with as much fine flour as you judge necessary; mix a little of the former with the latter, and wet it with as little water as will make into a stiff paste.  Roll it out, and put all the butter over it in slices, turn in the ends, and roll it thin: do this twice, and touch it no more than can be avoided.  The butter may be added at twice; and to those who are not accustomed to make paste, it may be better to do so.

 

What makes these cookbooks particularly lovely is evidence that they were well used and well loved.  The

Autograph inscription in 'A Collection of above Three Hundred Receipts in Cookery, Physick and Surgery.' Kettilby, 1719

Autograph inscription in ‘A Collection of above Three Hundred Receipts in Cookery, Physick and Surgery.’ Kettilby, 1719

autograph inscriptions hidden inside ‘The Housekeeper’s Instructor,’ (Henderson, c.1800)  show it was a treasured family heirloom; given first to Helen Leachman by her Aunt Jane in 1879 then to Emma Leachman by her mother, June in 1825.  Sophia Ann Leachman’s name also appears on top of the first page.  Meanwhile ‘A Collection of above Three Hundred Receipts in Cookery, Physick and Surgery.’ (Kettilby, 1719) proved such a hit with Martha Kerricke, that she married the man who gifted it to her!

It’s lovely to see that baking and great recipes are things we continue to treasure and share- happy baking all!

 

Sources:

National Allotment Week: Top tips for green fingers!

Wright, and Wright (c.1909) The Vegetable Grower’s Guide.

Wright, and Wright (c.1909) The Vegetable Grower’s Guide.

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

 

It is not uncommon for inexperienced people to be guilty of omissions in providing for the establishment of a garden which strike horticulturists as almost ludicrous.

(Wright and Wright, 1909)

In honour of National Allotment Week we have dug up some handy horticultural tips from our collections to help turn us all into green-fingered gardeners!

 

 

Let’s start with some basics:

Tip #1: Setting out your plot the right way can make a big difference:

“All kitchen garden students should be taught the simple rule of arranging their plots so that the rows of vegetables run north and south.  This permits of sun rays getting free access to the rows.  When they run east to west the sun is kept from the inner rows by the outer ones in the case of tall crops.” (Wright and Wright, 1909)

Wright and Wright (1909) also suggest that a parallelogram shaped plot is best and emphasise not to forget planning in space for paths when designing your allotment garden!

 

Gardening Tools (Wright and Wright, 1909)

Gardening Tools (Wright and Wright, 1909)

Tip #2: Always have the right equipment for the job!

“Garden equipment cannot be provided without expense, and it is wise to face what is entailed resolutely.” (Wright and Wright, 1909)

There certainly is a lot to consider but this helpful illustration (right) should help you know your dibble from your bill-hook!

 

Tip #3: Make sure your plants get enough water at the right time:

When it comes to watering plants, Moore (1881) cautions that, “it is a wrong though common practice to press the surface of the soil in the pot in order to feel if it is moist enough, this soon consolidates it, and prevents it from getting the full benefit of aeration.”

While Garton (1769) helpfully adds, “whilst the nights are frosty water your plants in the morning; in warm weather water than in the evening, before the sun goes down.”

 

Now we have the hang of the fundamentals, how do we go about growing some vegetables?

Carrots (Wright and Wright, 1909)

Carrots (Wright and Wright, 1909)

Tip #4: Getting the soil right is very important!

According to Moore (1881) the enrichment of soil is often overlooked so when planting onions for example, remember, “a portion of good soil should be provided for each plant, and heavy mulchings of manure should be placed upon the surface as soon as practical after planting to prevent the soil becoming dry and parched.”

While for carrots, Wright and Wright (1909) suggest that, “the land best suited […] is unquestionably a deep, sandy loam. […] They are best grown after celery or some other fibrous-rooted crop for which the ground was manured the previous year.”

 

Tip #5: Not any old carrot will do, make sure yours are the cream of the crop with this advice from Wright and Wright (1909):

“Thinning is of the first importance, as on it turns not only the question of getting shapely roots, but also of baffling the maggot.  […] Carrots should always be thinned twice; the first time a few days after they have come through, the second when they are about the size of radishes.”

To make sure your carrots are a rich bright red, try mixing soot and wood ashes “into the drills when the seed is sown.” (Wright and Wright, 1909)

 

Tip #6: Protect your plants and keep garden enemies at bay:

To fight against an attack by slugs and snails, Wright and Wright (1909) suggest that as, “they are principally night feeders, […] an attack can be stopped by looking over the beds at night with the aid of a lantern, dropping any slugs into a jar of brine.  Lime dusted round the outsides of the bed will stop the approach of fresh hordes.”

 

Onions (Wright and Wright, 1909)

Onions (Wright and Wright, 1909)

Tip #7: Harvest your crops with care:

You have chosen the right soil, fought off the slugs, tended your plants with care and it’s finally time to reap your rewards but while some vegetables can be easily pulled up Wright and Wright (1909) suggest a different method for large onions:

“The authors find it a good plan to gently heave the best bulbs from side to side with the hands day after day for a week, breaking a few roots each time, and thus bringing growth to a standstill by degrees.  This answers much better than forking them straight out of the ground at one operation.”

 

Great advice, now what should we be doing in our allotments during August?

In his, ‘The Practical Gardener and Gentleman’s Directory, for Every Month in the Year,’ Garton (1769) makes some useful suggestions:

  • “Cauliflower-seed to produce an early crop next summer must be sown between the 18th and 24th of this month, which will be ready to plant under frames in the last week in October, to remain there till the latter end of February, or beginning of March.”
  • “Weed and keep clean the asparagus beds, and the plants sown in the spring. Do this work with the hand only.”
  • “Sow carrots for spring use. Do this in the 3rd or 4th week of this month, and don’t sow this seed too thick.”
  • “This being the season for pickling cucumbers; they must be well watered in dry weather, three or four times a week; and be gathered at proper sizes three times a week.”

Finally, according to Mrs Loudon (1870), August is “about the best time of the year to visit famous gardens, one of the best ways of improving our knowledge of the art of gardening.”

Frontpieve from 'The Complete Gardener' by Thomas Mawe and John Abercrombie, 1854 [MERL LIBRARY RESERVE--4756-MAW]

Frontpieve from ‘The Complete Gardener’ by Thomas Mawe and John Abercrombie, 1854 [MERL LIBRARY RESERVE–4756-MAW]

You can find more advice on allotments and growing your own food at the National Allotment Society webpage.

 

Sources:

Moore, Thomas (1881) Epitome of Gardening. Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black [MERL LIBRARY RESERVE–4756-MOO]

Wright, J. and Wright, H. J. (c.1909) The Vegetable Grower’s Guide. London: Virtue and Co. [MERL LIBRARY RESERVE–4752-WRI]

Garton, James (1769) The Practical Gardener and Gentleman’s Directory, for Every Month in the Year.  London: E and C Dilly [RESERVE– ]

Mrs Loudon (1870) The Amateur Gardener’s Calendar.  London: Frederick Warne and Co. [RESERVE–635-LOU]

All items are available upon request.

Travel Thursday: Thomas Thomson in Sweden

Sweden map smWritten by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

This week’s Travel Thursday takes us to Sweden with eminent scientist Thomas Thomson.  As the first teacher of practical chemistry in a British university and an elected fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (Morrell, 2004) it is no surprise that much of Thomson’s travelogue has a scientific focus.

In particular, Thomson devotes a considerable amount of his work to mineralogical observations and detailed descriptions of the mines he visits on his journey.  One such mine is the copper works at Fahlun, one of the oldest in Sweden, which Thomson describes as being 200 fathoms deep and constructed, “according to very scientific and sound principles.”  The maps accompanying his description are wonderfully detailed and were “copied from a very accurate set of charts of this mine, constructed by Baron Hermelin.”  Interestingly, the mine remained open until 1992 and is now a Unesco World Heritage site

Perpendicular section of the copper mine at Fahlun

Perpendicular section of the copper mine at Fahlun

(Falu Gruva, 2014) meaning travellers to Sweden today are still able to tour the mines as Thomson did over one hundred years ago!

 

Thomson’s scientific interests were also piqued during his time in the Swedish capitol, Stockholm.  In particular, he remarked that the Academy of Sciences, “deserves to be visited by every scientific foreigner who goes to Stockholm.”  It does indeed sound like a fascinating place with an interesting variety of objects. For example, among their collections could be found a piece of bread which in “some parts of Norway and the north of Sweden is made of the bark of trees.”

Elsewhere in Stockholm, Thomson also marvelled at the curious collections in the Arsenal, especially the “the clothes and hat worn by Charles XII when he was shot in the trenches before Frederickshall,” which remained bloodstained from the fatal wounds. He visited most of the churches the city had to offer but did “not consider it as worthwhile to give a particular description of them,” and finally found the perfect spot to view the city – a magnificent bridge joining the central island of Stockholm to the main continent:

When you stand upon this bridge and look south, the King’s palace immediately strikes the eye, a building of immense extent, and seen with peculiar advantage from the bridge.  Toward the east, the inlet of the Baltic stretches itself before the eye covered with ships, and thick scatted with barges plying from place to place under the direction of women; for the boats in Stockholm are all rowed by women.

stockholm map sm

Map of Stockholm, 1812

Again Thomson provides a beautifully detailed map to help illustrate his descriptions.  This map of Stockholm was copied from one published by Fr. Akiel in 1795 and although it had been updated and was considered one of the most accurate maps of the town, Thomson believed, “the style is somewhat blameable, as not sufficiently distinguishing between what is town and what fields.  His object seems to have been to swell the town as much as possible, and conceal its real dimensions from the eye.”  Thomson therefore made several corrections in his own copy.

Overall, Thomson travelled more than 1200 miles in a short seven weeks and though his descriptions of the sights and collections he encounters across Sweden are full of lively detail and interest, it is of course the human stories that provide the colour and character to the narrative; from the wily Olof Essen, a spoke-maker who treated Thomson very ungenerously “with regard to the rate at which he let us have horses from Lilla Oby to Oby;” to the group of English sailors in Stockholm who “had all got quite drunk and had fallen together by the ears, to the number of ten or twelve in the middle of the street, and raised a clamour that was quite diabolical.” Thomson was so mortified by this particular scene that he went so far as to claim:

In most Englishmen who travel, as far as I have had an opportunity of observing them, there is an unaccountable wish to let foreigners, with whom they associate, know that they despise them.

On a lighter note, one of my favourite pieces of the human story in Thomson’s travelogue comes at the end, in an appendix chart showing the population and professions of Sweden:

chocolatemaker

Total number of chocolate makers? One – but he is a master of his art!

 

Sources:

Thomson, Thomas (1813) Travels in Sweden during the autumn of 1812. London: Robert Baldwin [Overstone 26F/23 – available upon request]

Jack Morrell, ‘Thomson, Thomas (1773–1852)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2006 [http://www.oxforddnb.com.idpproxy.reading.ac.uk/view/article/27325, accessed 6 July 2016]

Falu Gruva (2014) Welcome to Fahlun Mine http://www.falugruva.se/en/