Travel Thursday: Farthest North

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

In honour of Christmas and the annual travels of Santa Claus, this week’s Travel Thursday features an expedition to the North Pole!


The explorer in question is Fridtjof Nansen; scientist, adventurer and humanitarian who was awarded

Fridtjof Nansen

Fridtjof Nansen

the Noble Peace Prize in 1922.  Having previously survived a dangerous trek across the uncharted interior of Greenland in 1888, Nansen was keen to further explore the arctic regions and set out in 1893

with his strong and cleverly designed ship the ‘Fram’.  Sailing into the ice pack off Siberia, the Fram re-emerged 35 months later without its lead explorer.

Intending to reach the North Pole, Nansen and one companion had departed from the crew with, “thirty days’ rations for twenty-eight dogs, three sledges, two kayaks, and a hundred days’ rations for themselves,” (The Nobel Foundation, 1922).   Although they covered only 140 of the 400 miles to the Pole, they reached closer than anyone had previous achieved.

The two volume, “Farthest North : being the record of a voyage of exploration of

Arctic Landscape Painting by Nansen

Arctic Landscape Painting by Nansen

the ship “Fram” 1893-96 and of a fifteen months’ sleigh journey”, published in 1897 features Nansen’s personal diary of the journey, alongside his beautiful sketches of the landscapes and events along the way.


Nansen’s journal provides a fascinating insight to life in the far north, including descriptions of the beautiful aurora borealis, dangerous encounters with polar bears and a slightly more humorous first attempt at driving a dog sledge:


Having harnessed the dogs to the Samoyede sledge, the animals promptly took off at lightning speed and ran dizzying rings around the ship.


Nansen's sketch of his first sledge ride.

Nansen’s sketch of his first sledge ride.

I got out and tried to hold the sledge back, but was pulled off my feet and dragged merrily over the ice in my smooth sealskin breeches, on back, stomach, side, just as it happened.

In the end, Nansen loses the sledge seat, his whip, gloves, cap and his temper…not to mention his dignity…

I inwardly congratulated myself that my feats had been unobserved.




On Christmas Day, Monday 25th December, Nansen records a chilly temperature of -36 °F (-38 °C) and recounts how he took a beautiful moonlit walk – only to have his leg go straight through a crack in the ice -completely soaking him.  However, his Christmas dinner more than made up for the accident:

Christmas Dinner Menu

He ended his Christmas, with some card-playing, reading books and…

then a good sound sleep-what more could one wish?



Nansen, F (1897) Farthest North. Westminster : Archibald Constable

[Available on request from Special Collections – RESERVE–919.8-NAN Vol.1 & Vol.2]

The Nobel Foundation 1922

Reading Readers – Jeremy

One of our volunteers, Jeremy, tells us about how an encounter with a book of remembrance in the archive has led him to trace the stories of those from the university involved in the First World War.

I started researching the Great War Dead of University College, Reading after being shown the Memorial album containing the names of 141 people who lost their lives, together with photographs of 119 of them. The collecting of photographs as a means of remembering those who died in the war was suggested by Dorothy Nölting at a meeting of the Student Representative Council on 4 November 1915. In October 1919, the Council decided that the photographs should be mounted in an album and displayed in the Union Common Room. That work was carried out by Clara Wilson, a former student of the College and member of staff in the Art Department, and was completed by 28 June 1920.

The inside cover of the Book of Remembrance of those Members of The University College Reading who fell in The War 1914-1918 (MS 5339). The volume contains black and white photographs of each person, with name, rank and regiment and a list of those fallen.

Four years later the College completed the building of a War Memorial in the form of a tower containing a bell and clock. The original intention had been to erect a tower alongside the College Hall at an estimated cost of £5,000-£10,000. It was not possible to raise this amount and the existing tower was built at a cost of £2,750. By the time of the tower’s dedication on 7 June 1924 the list of those who had died extended to 144 names. However, this list excluded two names included in the Memorial Album: those of Francis Edgar Pearse and Wilfred Owen. Was their omission deliberate or accidental? Was it at the request of their families? Were Owen and Pearse deemed in some way not to be members of the College? It would be nice to know why this happened, but so far I have failed to find any explanation.


The University Calendars, available to browse in the open access library at the reading room (378.4229).

In trying to find out more about those who died I looked at a number of sources held by the University of Reading Special Collections Service. The College Calendars contained lists of academic and administrative staff, together with the names of students who had passed examinations, won prizes, been awarded scholarships, and been made associates of the college. They also contained the names of students who held positions within the various student bodies, clubs and societies. The University College Review, which was last published in December 1916, contained the Roll of Honour, obituaries of those who died and details of those on Military Service. The Old Students News, published annually but not in 1918 and 1919, contained similar details to those in the Review. Tamesis, the Student magazine, also contained the names of those on service and those missing, wounded or killed. Additionally, I trawled through boxes of University Archives in the hope of finding something useful. I hoped that I might find details of those students who had been members of the College’s Officer Training Corps, but whilst record cards exist for those who were members of the Corps after the Great War, I have not found any such records for those who were members before 1914.


The Memorial Clock Tower during its construction at the heart of the London Road campus in 1924 (MS 5305/M162).

Starting, I assume, in 1924 and continuing until 1938, the bell in the Memorial Tower was tolled 144 times on 11 November starting at 10.45. At 11 o’clock the bell was struck just once to mark the start of the two minutes silence. Whilst the formal remembrance of the Great War dead continued until the outbreak of the Second World War, I found an item in Tamesis (Vol XXXI, No 1, 1932) that indicated that, with the passage of time, details of those who had died were being forgotten. The article noted that the list of names on the Memorial Tower contained that of one woman, Florence Mary Faithfull (a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse), and requested information about her. A contribution to Vol XXXI, No 3 provided some details, but we are now able to say so much more about her life and death. Florence was born in India in 1891, the second of five children, to William Conrad and Constance Mary Faithfull. William was an officer in the Indian Army. In 1905 Florence and her elder sister, Constance Ellen, entered the Edinburgh Ladies’ College (now the Mary Erskine School). Florence then studied Commerce at Reading 1909-12. I don’t know what she did after leaving the College, but during the war she nursed, initially, at Fir Grove Military Auxiliary Hospital, Eversley. Her Red Cross record only runs from June 1917 when she went to Salonika. She then went, as part of the 65th British General Hospital, to Basra, and it was here that she lost her life on 15 January 1918. This was not the result of enemy action, but of an accident. The launch, Smelt, in which she and thirteen other members of the hospital were travelling, was in collision with a steam tug. Florence and three other nurses were drowned, although Florence’s body was not recovered until 2 February 1918. The four nurses were buried in adjacent graves in Makina Cemetery (now part of Basra War Cemetery).

What I, and others, have found out about those from the College who died can be seen at There is still more to do as we have yet to properly identify H Turner, probably an evening student who may have served in the Royal Navy, and have yet to explain the omission of the names of Francis Pearse and Wilfred Owen from the Memorial Tower.

Find out more about accessing the archives here.


Another chance to see the ‘Voice of the Stars’ almanacs exhibition

Written by Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian

If you missed the exhibition of almanacs at the Special Collections Service earlier this year, you have another chance to see it as it is now on display at the University Library (on the ground floor, either side of the lifts) until 24 January 2016.

The exhibition, entitled Voice of the stars : almanacs from the collections of the University of Reading, was curated in partnership with the Department of History at the University of Reading, and brings together examples of almanacs from various University collections, and examines the use and production of these fascinating publications.

The display forms part of Almanacs, Astrology and the Origins of Weather Forecasting, an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) project, undertaken by Aoife Lintin and Dr Anne Lawrence. The research focused on the nature of the weather forecasts found, and the role of astrology in producing them.

The 'zodiac man' from the Cambridge almanack for 1773.

The ‘zodiac man’ from the Cambridge almanack for 1773.

Almanacs, which were produced annually, were amongst other things the forerunners of the modern pocket diary. They contained all sorts of useful information, including an accurate calendar for the coming year and lists of important dates and individuals like the Kings and Queens of England. They also made ‘prognostications’ for the weather and events of both political and national importance. They were as important to the ordinary individual in the past as the calendar is to us today.

The almanacs held in the University Special Collections cover a particularly broad range dating from the mid-sixteenth century to the late nineteenth century. Many of the almanacs had not been catalogued or studied before, and one of the highlights of the exhibition for me is the fragment of a sixteenth century almanac printed by John Herford [see image below] which Aoife found in the John Lewis Printing Collection. With a printing date of around 1540, this tiny fragment is the earliest almanac fragment in the University’s collections. The extensive John Lewis collection is not yet catalogued so we were not aware it was there until Aoife started researching our almanac holdings and made this exciting discovery (an example of how our readers often help us to get to know and document our collections!) There is also a nice local link as the fragment that we hold states the distances between towns in Berkshire, perhaps for fairs. We are now planning to individually catalogue some of the examples of almanacs in the John Lewis collection, as well as some of the other important early printed items which it contains.

A fragment of an almanac printed by John Herford, [1540?]. JOHN LEWIS PRINTING COLLECTION UNIVERSITY OF READING MS 5317 Box 7:2 - the oldest almanac fragment in the University of Reading collections.

A fragment of an almanac printed by John Herford, [1540?]. JOHN LEWIS PRINTING COLLECTION UNIVERSITY OF READING MS 5317 Box 7:2 – the oldest almanac fragment in the University of Reading collections.

A copy of the handlist that was produced as part of the research project is available to consult in the Special Collections reference book collection. Please note that for security and practical reasons, a number of the exhibits have had to be displayed in reproduction (including the Herford fragment). If you wish to view the original items, please ask a member of staff in the Special Collections Service reading room.

Travel Thursday: John Arrowsmith

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

Born in 1790 in County Durham, John Arrowsmith moved to London at the age of 20 to work under the tutelage of his uncle, Aaron Arrowsmith, a cartographer known for his outstanding accuracy.  Having learned the arts of map making, engraving, and printing, Arrowsmith set up his own business in 1824 and ten years later established his reputation with the ‘London Atlas of Universal Geography’.

A beautiful tome, hand-coloured and created with original materials, ‘The London Atlas’ was considered to be the best large scale atlas available at that time.  Below is a 1842 edition, which was designed with useful tabbed pages:


London Atlas Photo 25-11-2015, 16 42 18 (1)










The original atlas consisted of 50 plates of maps but Arrowsmith regularly added to the collection and as such there is no firm collation for any edition.  However, this does mean that the later editions are especially important as they include a greater number of maps, particularly of countries such as Australia.

Map of Australia (1835 edition)

Map of Australia (1835 edition)

Map of Australia (1842 edition)

Map of Australia (1842 edition)












In ‘The London Atlas’ Arrowsmith states that in the creation of the atlas he examined more than ‘ten thousand sheets of printed maps’, gained insights from surveys and also drew on the knowledge of travellers who ‘were particularly acquainted with the districts.’  Indeed, Arrowsmith was friend to a number of explorers and was often responsible for converting their sketched out drawings and surveys into more accurate maps.  This example from Livingstone’s ‘Narrative of the Expedition to the Zambesi’ shows a map created by Arrowsmith in 1865 that was based n the ‘Astronomical observations and skecthes’ of the explorer:

Photo 07-12-2015, 14 37 17

The explorers showed their appreciation of his work by naming after him mountains, plains, and lakes in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.

(Baigent, 2004)

In 1830, Arrowsmith helped found the Royal Geographical Society and was awarded the society’s Patron Medal in 1862 for his outstanding contributions to the field.




Elizabeth Baigent, ‘Arrowsmith, John (1790–1873)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 7 Dec 2015]

Elizabeth Baigent, ‘Arrowsmith, Aaron, the elder (1750–1823)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 7 Dec 2015]

Arrowsmith’s Australian Maps

Crouch Rare Books

Nancy Astor: Reading and Parliamentary Archives collaborate on exciting new project

Special Collections are delighted to have been supporting this collaborative project, which celebrates the parliamentary career of Nancy Astor. We have been working closely with Dr Jacqui Turner in the History Department and with the Parliamentary Archives.

Viscountess_Astor (1)

Nancy Astor, sketch by John Singer Sargent, 1923. From:

A new leaflet has been produced to accompany the project.

Look out for more Astor news in 2016 as we continue to explore the archives of this amazing political family.

Christmas Cards – The John Lewis Printing Collection

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

Our lovely John Lewis Printing Collection comes complete with a fabulous and fun range of Christmas cards dating to their origin in the Victorian period.

xmascardsAccording to Lewis (1976), Charles Dickens had a heavy influence on the initial themes of Christmas cards. Published seven years before the first card in 1836, ‘Pickwick Papers’ encouraged, ‘pictures of stage coaches, snowclad landscapes, robin red-breasts and rosy-cheeked children sliding on the ice.’ (Lewis, 1976)

Lewis describes many of the Victorian cards he discusses as having come from the collection of a Miss Cissie Crane, whose album included nearly 200 cards (Lewis, 1976). Our favourite kittens with moveable heads came from this collection too:


Chromo-lithography was commonly used to create early Christmas cards, but there was a boom in ‘do-it-yourself’ creations after the Second World War (Lewis, 1976). For example, this card by Richard Chopping and Denis Wirth-Miller from roughly 1955 uses an old postcard from the early 1900s:Photo 19-11-2015, 15 11 57 - Copya

Lewis (1976) recounts another amusing way to reuse Christmas cards that he discovered in the 31 December 1948 issue of The Spectator: simply add your name to the bottom of the card you receive, send it on to your friends and let them ponder the mystery of the original sender’s inscription!

You’ll find more of our John Lewis Christmas cards featured in the # calendar on Twitter and in our #12DaysOfChristmas count down on Instagram.

Merry Christmas!



Lewis, J (1976) Collecting Printed Ephemera. London: Cassell and Collier Macmillan

Emma: a heroine whom no one but myself will much like

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

This month celebrates the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s ‘Emma.’emmacover

One of Austen’s more comedic novels, ‘Emma’ follows the eponymous heroine as she meddles unsuccessfully in the romantic lives of her friends and neighbours. Although Austen is known for describing Emma as, ‘a heroine whom no one but myself will much like,’(Goodheart) the book’s popularity has endured in the two centuries since its publication.  It has been adapted countless times for television, stage and film; including the cult-hit adaption ‘Clueless’ which takes Emma from the rural Highbury and transports her to the mansions of Beverly Hills.

According to Goodheart, it is Emma’s role as an ‘imaginist’ and her constant flights of fancy, which Austen admired and which make her such an appealing heroine within the setting of a slow and quiet rural town.

The Special Collections Library holds a beautifully illustrated edition of ‘Emma’ in our H.M.Brock Collection.  Henry Matthew Brock was a prolific book and magazine illustrator who found particular success illustrating children’s books.  This illustrated edition of ‘Emma’, was published in 1898 in two volumes:


Emma, illustrated by C.E. & H.M. Brock

Emma, illustrated by C.E. & H.M. Brock



Barchas, Janine (2007) Very Austen: Accounting for the Language of Emma Nineteenth-Century Literature, University of California Press Vol. 62, No. 3 (December 2007), pp. 303-338 Accessed: 01/12/2015

Emma 2015. Britannica Academic. Retrieved 01 December, 2015, from

Eugene Goodheart. “Emma: Jane Austen’s Errant Heroine.” Sewanee Review 116.4 (2008): 589-604. Project MUSE. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.

Finding Items in the Cole Library

Written by Helen Westhrop, Library Assistant

Next week I begin the reclassification of the Cole Library; by this I mean to give each item a place on the electronic catalogue. Until now, some of the items have been added to Enterprise, the Library catalogue, while the rest have only been accessible by the card catalogue. When the collection was held at the Main Library, it was browsable (and still is, by appointment with the UMASCS Librarians), but is now held in closed access storage and needs to be accessible via the Enterprise catalogue to make it easy for readers to request items for consultation in the Reading Room at Special Collections.  

The Cole Library holds approximately 8,000 volumes of printed books and scientific papers, covering the history of early medicine and zoology in general, and more particularly, comparative anatomy and reproductive physiology, from earliest times to the present day. Among these there are 1,700 or more pre-1851 works, including many continental books. Many significant works in the history of the biological sciences are present, by authors such as Galen, Fabricius, Belon, Wotton, Gesner, Bartholin, Swammerdam, Harvey, Ray, Haller, Leeuwenhoek, Linnaeus, the Hunters and Darwin.  There are also some individual works like: Pliny’s Natural history, Venice : Jenson (1472) with illuminations; Vesalius’s De humani corporis fabrica 1st ed., Basle (1543) and 2nd ed. (1555); in a contemporary Swiss binding and a substantial run of the Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society, from 1665 that attract a lot of interest from visitors.

The collection was originally the private library of Professor F J Cole (1872-1959), F.R.S.,  Professor of Zoology in the University of Reading from 1907 to 1939. He was a book collector and bibliophile from his schooldays until his death. His major historical work A history of comparative anatomy(1944) was based substantially on his own collection.

For this project, I will begin by adding items to the database to ensure that each book is findable.  I will be working alongside a cataloguer who will be noting the illustrations, illustrators and any fine binding on folio sized books so I will have an expert on hand at all times to ensure the collection and all information is shared as much as possible.

We have looked forward to this project for a long time; we are excited to be making the Cole Library more easily and widely searchable to students and raise the profile of the collection to a much wider number of researchers.  I will encounter much dry material such as fish morphology; however there will also be some incredible texts to to make the task enjoyable.  During my task I will be on the lookout for non-science texts; for example, history, culture and literature and will also be watchful for nineteenth-century medical holdings or anatomical atlases.

So there is a lot to do and week by week I hope to post images from the collection by way of a progress report.