Travel Thursday – Hungary and Transylvania

John Paget

John Paget

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

Born in Leicestershire in 1808, John Paget studied medicine at Edinburgh University before travelling extensively on the continent (Czigány).  His travelogue, ‘Hungary and Transylvania: with remarks on their Condition, Social, Political and Economical’ published in 1839 was formed from his visits to the region during 1835-36 and was illustrated by George Hering, an artist who accompanied him on his journey.

The travelogue provides a plethora of careful insights, humorous accounts and details of historic interest.  It is considered to be of great cultural importance and achieved particular prominence during the Hungarian War of independence in 1848-9 where it was consulted as a reliable source of background information on the country (Czigány).  Indeed, Paget promises in his preface to the work to give an accurate picture of the countries he describes:

I know there are those who think, that “to write up a country,” a traveller should describe everything in its most favourable light; I am not of that opinion, -I do believe that a false impression can ever effect any lasting good.

And there is plenty of evidence that he held to his oath.  He holds nothing back, for example, when describing the poor social behaviour of some guests at a dinner party in Presburg :

a well-polished floor, on which, I am sorry to say, I observed more than one of the guests very unceremoniously expectorate.

Map of Hungary and Transylvania

Map of Hungary and Transylvania

While Paget gives the usual details of landscapes and buildings, he is very much a natural storyteller.  His writing is engaging, imaginative and beautifully descriptive; this passage evokes a sunset over the plains of Puszta–

It is just as the bright orb has disappeared below the level of the horizon; while yet some red tints, like glow-worm traces, mark the pathway he has followed; just when the busy hum of insects is hushed as by a charm…

Although he commended Hering for capturing “whatever might be distinctive, or curious, or beautiful,” on their journey, Paget’s writing is equally captivating – never more so than when he is recounting some of the myths and legends of the

Castle Csejta

Castle Csejta

region (sadly, nothing to do with Vampires).  For example, he recounts a gruesome true story on visiting Castle Csejta; describing the horrendous murders committed by Elizabeth Báthori in 1610.  Believing that bathing in a maiden’s blood would grant her eternal life, “no less than three hundred maidens were sacrificed at the shrine of vanity and superstition” with Elizabeth luring them through a secret passageway from the castle to the cottage of her two accomplices.

Paget’s describes his encounters with the local people with equal animation, honesty and a little bit of sarcastic wit; such as the old man posing for Hering, who, “allowed a limb to be replaced in its former position, when accidentally moved [… ] though he did not seem to have the slightest idea of what was going on,” Or his

Baths of Sliács

Baths of Sliács

experience at the baths of  Sliács, near Neusohl:

but conceive my horror, precise reader, when some very pretty ladies quietly informed me that they took their second bath in the evening and hoped I would join them!

(And join them he did, once he was properly supplied with an appropriate bathing-dress –  “I do assure you delicate reader, that, as far as I could see, nothing occurred that could shock anyone.”)

Paget later married a Hungarian Baroness, Polyxena Wesselényi, the estranged wife of a Hungarian magnate, Baron László Bánffy, and lived with his family in Transylvania at Gyéres.  He was granted Hungarian citizenship in 1847. Paget became a keen agriculturist and focused his efforts on improving his wife’s estate by applying new agricultural methods and using modern machinery: “A regular visitor to, and adjudicator at, international agricultural fairs, in 1878 he was awarded the Légion d’honneur at the World Exhibition in Paris,” (Czigány).


Sources and Further Reading:

Paget, J. (1839) Hungary and Transylvania. With remarks on their Condition, Social, Political and Economical. London: John Murray. [Available on request – Overstone 27A/13]

Lóránt Czigány, ‘Paget, John (1808–1892)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2008 [, accessed 17 Feb 2016]

John Paget Biographies

Diary of John Paget

Ladybird collections at Reading Culture Day


We were invited to take part in Reading Culture Day. The event took place at the Whiteknights Campus on Wednesday 17th February, during the University’s Enhancement Week.


Reading Ladybird, pop-up display. Art Collections Officer Jacqueline Winston-Silk and Reading Room Supervisor Adam Lines. Photo courtesy Dr Rhi Smith. All Ladybird artwork © Ladybird Books Ltd.

Reading Ladybird, pop-up display. Art Collections Officer Jacqueline Winston-Silk and Reading Room Supervisor Adam Lines. Photo courtesy Dr Rhi Smith. All Ladybird artwork © Ladybird Books Ltd.


The day’s events and activities were designed to celebrate and explore cultural diversity within the University of Reading and the wider community. It encouraged students to take an international outlook and to think about our place within the global community. Among the many contributors, there was a tour of coffee from around the world, foreign film screenings, representatives from the Camp America experience and even a henna artist. It was also an opportunity to take a break and re-fresh. There were free yoga sessions, an introduction to the practice of mindfulness and tips on how to manage academic work and stress. The inclusion of Reading Culture Day within the Spring 2016 Enhancement Week programme was seen to be particularly fitting due to the fact that 2016 has been declared Reading’s ‘Year of Culture’.


Pop-up Display

The Museum of English Rural Life and Special Collections staff curated a pop-up display of Ladybird archive material, and advised students on how to access the wealth of collections, archives and material culture housed at the London Road Campus. We encouraged students to think about how this resource could be used to support and enhance their research. You can find out more here. We also invited a member of the MERL Student Panel to join us for the day, giving new students an opportunity to be involved with the Museum. You can read more about the Panel’s activities here.


Photo courtesy Laura Jean Bennetto. © University of Reading.

Photo courtesy Laura Jean Bennetto. © University of Reading.


Our pop-up display Reading Ladybird showcased the archive of original Ladybird artworks which forms part of the University’s Special Collections. The University is responsible for the care of over 700 boxes of these iconic paintings, each one a rich illustration from a page of a Ladybird children’s book.


Photo courtesy Jacqueline Winston-Silk. All Ladybird artwork © Ladybird Books Ltd.

Photo courtesy Jacqueline Winston-Silk. All Ladybird artwork © Ladybird Books Ltd.


Ladybird has been an intrinsic part of British childhood for much of the twentieth century, particularly if you grew up between the 1950s and 1970s. The books are a reflection of the wider world, and of the interests of children. We were surprised and happy to hear that many of our younger students, including our international students were familiar with the books and had a nostalgic relationship to the material.


Photo courtesy Jacqueline Winston-Silk.

Photo courtesy Jacqueline Winston-Silk.


To hear more about the history, design and scope of Ladybird publishing, listen to our curator-led tour of the display in this short video.




Using the collections in Teaching & Research

Ladybird acted both as an educator and storyteller with comprehensive subject matters. The natural world, the dramatisation of history, technology and engineering, domesticity, factual science and well-loved fairy tales all had a place within Ladybird’s pages. There are also a number of Ladybird books on agricultural subjects which are explored in the Museum of English Rural Life.


Photo courtesy Jacqueline Winston-Silk. All Ladybird artwork © Ladybird Books Ltd.

Photo courtesy Jacqueline Winston-Silk. All Ladybird artwork © Ladybird Books Ltd.


As a researcher you might find an interesting angle on your subject through its treatment in a Ladybird book. Likewise, if you’re researching social history, book design, teaching pedagogy or children’s literature then accessing Ladybird is a fantastic opportunity to conduct object-based research.


If you missed the pop-up exhibition, you can view the Ladybird archive by appointment. Contact Special Collections either by phone (0118 378 8660) or by email (

LGBT History Month: Lord Wolfenden, the man ahead of his time

Written by Adam Koszary, MERL Project Officer.

February marks LGBT History Month, and to celebrate it we’re exploring the man who laid the ground for more liberal attitudes to sexuality in Britain.


59 years ago John Wolfenden released a report which proposed that homosexual intercourse between consenting adults should be decriminalized. The uproar it produced in politics, the press and public discourse eventually helped pave the way for LGBT rights in the UK.

Lord Wolfenden's official University portrait. [UAC/10062, Brenda Bury 1963]

Lord Wolfenden’s official University portrait. [UAC/10062, Brenda Bury 1963]

Lord Wolfenden,  Vice Chancellor of the University of Reading between 1950–1964 and future Director of the British Museum, was chosen to head the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution in 1954. After three years of consulting experts, they produced what was known as the Wolfenden Report. At its core was the principle that:

a person should be free to do or see what he wishes in the sexual sphere; he should also be free not to have what he objects to forced upon him.

The Report itself was punitive toward prostitution, but it was the second part on homosexuality which provoked the most debate in the press. The Sunday Express dubbed it a ‘pansies’ charter,’ the Evening Standard called it ‘bad, retrograde, and utterly to be condemned,’ while the Daily Mail categorizing its proposals as ‘legalized degradation.’

Lord Wolfenden received letters from those less than impressed by the Report. [MS 5311/2/15]

Lord Wolfenden received letters from those less than impressed by the Report. [MS 5311/2/15]

The report also had its advocates. A Roman Catholic priest of the time stated that ‘the community should not, in general, pry into a citizen’s private deeds – even when they are misdeeds.’ The Times editorialized that ‘adult sexual behaviour not involving minors, divorce, fraud, or public indecency belongs to the realm of private conduct, not of criminal law.’

Such was the interest provoked by the subject in the Sunday Times that they separately published its article with a selection of accompanying letters. The wide range of opinion in these letters bely the beginnings of the cultural shift that would culminate in the moral revolutions of the 1960s.

The Sunday Times released their article on the issue in separate publication, complete with letters they received on the subject.

The Sunday Times released their article on the issue in separate publication, complete with letters they received on the subject.

The fact that it took another ten years for the Wolfenden Report’s proposals were adopted, however, certainly says something about Britain at that time. Despite his own son being homosexual, Wolfenden always admitted that he was no crusader for homosexual rights, stating:

My job was to chair a committee, present the findings to the government, and then ‘it’s over to you, mate,’ I thought.

Indeed, it was not for lack of scientific evidence that homosexuality was punished in 20th century Britain, but because of a complex legacy of persecution, puritanism and myth. For instance, the committee found ‘no evidence for the view that such conduct is the cause of the demoralisation and decay of civilizations.’ They also dismissed the ‘concept of homosexuality as a disease. On the criterion of symptoms, it is often the only one associated with full mental health in other respects.’

Lord Wolfenden saw the Report as an impartial, factual document.

Lord Wolfenden saw the Report as an impartial, factual document.

Wolfenden admitted in later years that his Report was ahead of public opinion, though he thought the government could have been bolder in implementing its recommendations. Indeed, by today’s standards the Report does not go far enough. For one, it ignores female homosexuality entirely, and it was later criticized as treating homosexuality as basically immoral and wrong, just not illegal.

As we look back over the past 59 years we can track the painfully slow progress of LGBT civil rights. The Sexual Offences Act decriminalized homosexuality in 1967, and in 1994 the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act lowered the age of consent to 18, and then to 16 in 2001. Relationships between LGBT people was given a boost in 2004 with the Civil Partnership Act, and marriage was legalised in 2013.

The University of Reading regularly flies its LGBT flag.

The University of Reading regularly flies its LGBT flag.

Many now see the position of transsexuals and others on the wide spectrum of sexuality as similar to what homosexuals experienced in the early-mid-twentieth century. What was necessary in 1954 was for someone to collect the evidence, confront prejudice and stir the pot. The Wolfenden Report certainly did that.

This blog was researched using records on Lord Wolfenden held by the University of Reading Special Collections. You can find this material on our catalogue.

Archive Animals – Horses

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

Unsurprisingly, the Special Collections and Museum of English Rural Life Libraries have a number of items relating horses; from journals to artwork, rare books and DVDs. Here are just a few of my favourites:

Horses in Fiction:

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

Black Beauty – Anna Sewell, illustrated by Cecil Aldin (1912) [Children’s Collection 823.8 SEW]

The Special Collections library holds a number of editions of Anna Sewell’s horse autobiography, ‘Black Beauty’. Originally published in 1877, it tells the story of the titular horse, from his early days growing up on a farm with his mother, to the hardships he suffered pulling cabs in London. The story advocates fairer and kinder treatment of horses and has been described as “the most influential anticruelty novel of all time.” (Unti, 1998)

This edition was published in 1912 and contains a number of beautiful illustrations by British artist and illustrator Cecil Aldin.

Unti, Bernard (1998). “Sewll, Anna”. In Bekoff, Marc. Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare. Greenwood Press. p. 313.


Horse History and Care:

Modern Practical Farriery, A Complete System of the Veterinary Art – W.J. Miles c.1870 [MERL Reserve FOLIO 4340 MIL]

This wonderful book provides a holistic guide to horses; including their history, anatomy and medical care.

Group of Ponies - Modern Practical Farriery

Group of Ponies – Modern Practical Farriery

In an attempt to uncover their place of origin, Miles explores the history of the horse from Biblical times to the reign of Alfred the Great. He notes that psalmist David, “speaks with proud distain of horses as used in war,” and that in the era of Solomon a horse would set you back 150 shekels or £17 10s (roughly £800 in today’s money) an immense sum for the time. Having traced the horses ancestry to Africa and Eastern and Northern Asia, Miles goes on to discuss the natural history of the animal, looking at horses from all around the world, including wild horses, those of Persia, India and Arabia.

The books gives detailed advice on how to train, ride, race, buy and look after the health and wellbeing of a horse. Unsurprisingly, considering the title of the book, a large section is devoted to ‘shoeing’. It notes the interesting idea that Roman Emperor Nero had his horses shod with silver while his wife Poppea shod her mules with gold! There are also a number of careful diagrams, showing the tools of the farriery trade and the different types of shoe: such as the ‘Pointed Shoe’ supposed to bring comfort to all horses and horsemen (though Miles doesn’t seem convinced) and the ‘Bar Shoe’ useful for horses with poorly feet.

Horse feet and shoes - Modern Practical Farriery

Horse feet and shoes – Modern Practical Farriery


Horses in Science:

The Anatomy of an Horse by Andrew Snape, 1683 [Cole 092F/15]

Horse Anatomy - 'The Anatomy of an Horse'

Horse Anatomy – ‘The Anatomy of an Horse’

This comprehensive and beautifully illustrated book was written by Andrew Snape (1644-1708) who was one of the farriers to King Charles II. One of the most comprehensive books of its type, (U.S. National Library of Health) it contains five chapters describing the anatomy of different parts of the horse including; the lowest belly or paunch, the middle venter or chest, the uppermost venter or head, the muscles of the body and the bones.


Snape begins by defining anatomy as ‘an opening or cutting up of the body of any animal or living creature whatsoever, whether frequenting the land or water, whereby the knowledge of the frame of its body, and the use of its parts may be attained unto.’ He then goes on to describe each of the parts from the outside in. His description of the brain is particularly interesting; he describes it as being split into two parts; the brain (at the front and consisting of the cortex) and the after-brain (at the back and divided into four parts one of which is called ‘Worm-like processes’ as it looks like the worms found in rotten timber).

Anatomy of the horse's brain - 'The Anatomy of an Horse'

Anatomy of the horse’s brain – ‘The Anatomy of an Horse’

The action of the brain is to elaborate the Animal Spirits, which from it are transmitted to the Medulla oblongata, and from thence into the Nerves, for the sensation and motion of the whole body.

The brain he declares to be “one of the most noble parts of the whole body ranked for its dignity even with the Heart itself.” And points out how “absurd and ridiculous a thing it [is]then for any man that hath any brain himself, to imagine a Horse to have none? Yet such men I have my self met withal.”

Although the illustrations included in ‘The Anatomy of an Horse’ are spectacular, they are not entirely original as they appeared first in Carlo Ruini’s Anatomia (1598) (Peter Harrington) and a number can also be found in our copy of ‘la parfait cavalier ov la vraye connoissance dv cheval ses maladies et remedes’ by J. Jourdin, C. Ruini and L. Chamhoudry which was published 28 years earlier in France in 1655 [Cole 092F/20]


Horses on DVD!

The Shire Horse – Fifth Avenue [MERL Library]

The Shire Horse DVD

The Shire Horse DVD



A comprehensive look at the history of the Shire horse in Britain, from the animal’s introduction by William the Conqueror in 1066, to their role in the First World War and near extinction with the rise of the combustion engine in 1960s.   A thoughtful and informative documentary with particular insights from Mr Roy Bird MBE and The Shire Horse Society.

Valentine’s Day Cards – The John Lewis Printing Collection

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

Victorian Valentine's - a folded lace card

Victorian Valentine’s – a folded lace card

February 14th celebrates Valentine’s Day, the Christian feast day of the martyred St Valentine of Rome. While we know that the celebration originated around 498 A.D when it was instated by Pope Gelasius, little is actually known of St Valentine and his life. The most popular version recounts the story of Valentinus, a priest who was imprisoned and sentenced to death by Emperor Claudius. While in jail “he befriended his jailer’s daughter and on 14 February 270, wrote her letter signed ‘From your Valentine’,” (Lewis, 1976). The day’s ties to love and romance however, go back much further, to the pagan fertility festival, Lupercalia, which was celebrated across 13-15th February.

Despite its long history, the first written Valentine greeting is often attributed to Charles, Duke of Orleans who wrote romantic notes to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415, (Novareinna). The seventeenth century saw Valentine’s Day become ‘the most festive day of the year,’ (Lewis, 1976), and it was popular enough to be mentioned by Shakespeare in Ophelia’s lament in Hamlet – (Act 4, Scene 5) (Telegraph, 2010).

To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day, /All in the morning betime,/And I a maid at your window,/To be your Valentine.

However, Valentine’s Day cards did not come into fashion until the end of the eighteenth century and though early cards were often hand-made, the trend developed quickly so that by the beginning of the 19th century, cards had become ‘highly complicated pieces of print and assembly with lace-like embossing.’ (Lewis, 1976)

Victorian Valentine's Day Cards

The embossing and lace-effect seen in the cards above from our John Lewis Printing Collection was achieved ‘by placing the paper on an engraved die and pressing it,’ (Lewis, 1976). There were however, numerous styles of Victorian Valentine’s cards in production, including: acrostic verses spelling out the loved one’s first name; puzzle purses, a folded puzzle containing verses to be read in a certain order; love knots and rebus riddles, Valentine’s which substituted words for pictures, (Novareinna). This rebus from our John Lewis printing collection is quite simple but effective:

Rebus style Valentine's Card

A number of the cards in our John Lewis printing collection are also quite humorous (and a little bit cheeky!) particularly the card on the right (below) which offers ‘Something to tickle my fancy – a little corrective to be applied when the patient is troublesome’!

Victorian Valentine's Days Cards

As well as cards, the collection also features a small number of love notes, including this letter with a charming little poem:

John Lewis Printing Collection - Valentine's Letter

‘’In vain I’ve racked my brains,
In vain I’ve taken endless pains,
For not a single thought will come,
Except, “I love you”, little one!
I love your shy and gentle air,
I love your curls of golden hair,
I love your little winning wiles,
Your merry laugh, your beaming smiles,
Your bonny brow, your eyes so blue,
Your parted lips of rosy hue
I love your cheeks, your chin, your nose
I almost think I love your toes!
I love you all dear Georgie mine,
I am your faithful Valentine.”


As with postcards the introduction of the penny stamp boosted Valentine’s card sales in 1840 and the tradition of sending anonymous greetings came into fashion. However, the rise in popularity of Christmas cards in the nineteenth century eventually saw to a decline in Valentine’s (Lewis, 1976). Today, Valentine’s Day remains the second most card-heavy celebration with an estimated 1 billion cards being sent worldwide in 2010. (Telegraph, 2010)



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

Telegraph (2010)



Victorian Rituals

In the spotlight: Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species

Written by Erika Delbecque, UMASCS Librarian

Today is Darwin Day, an annual event that marks the anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin on 12 February 1809. It aims to highlight Darwin’s contribution to science and celebrate science in general.

Darwin first published his groundbreaking theory of evolution through natural selection in his famous work On the Origin of the Species, which was published on 24 November in 1859. The 1250 copies of the first impression of the first edition sold out on the first day, and the book would go through six further editions during Darwin’s lifetime.

The title page of On the Origin of the Species

The title page of On the Origin of the Species

University of Reading Special Collections holds a copy of this first impression of the first edition. It can be distinguished from later impressions of the work through the presence of the misprint “speceies” on one page, which was corrected in the second impression.

The page containing the misprint "speceis"

The page containing the misprint “speceies”

The Reading copy is bound in the publishers’ original green cloth. It came to Reading as part of the library of professor F.J. Cole, which was purchased in 1959. Cole was Professor of Zoology at the University of Reading from 1907 to 1939.

The first edition of On the Origin of the Species, in the publisher’s original green cloth binding

When On the Origin of the Species was published 159 years ago, it met with shock, admiration, and astonishment. In the first review, published in the Athenaeum of 19 November 1859, J.R. Leifchild derides the idea that “man descends from the monkeys”, and he concludes that the influence sphere of the book will be limited to the confines of universities and churches:

The work deserves attention, and will, we have no doubt, meet with it. Scientific naturalists will take up the author upon his own peculiar ground; and there will we imagine be a severe struggle for at least theoretical existence. [….] Having introduced the author and his work, we must leave them to the mercies of the Divinity Hall, the College, the Lecture Room, and the Museum.

He could not have been more wrong. From the day of its publication, the interest in On the Origin of the Species went far beyond the scientific community, and the impact of Darwin’s theory on society was profound. Indeed, Darwin’s book has justly earned its place as one of the treasures of the Special Collections here at the University of Reading.


Darwin, Charles. 1859. On the origin of the species. London : John Murray.

[Leifchild, J. R.] 1859. [Review of] On the origin of species. Athenaeum no. 1673 (19 November): 659-660.

Travel Thursday – The Voyages of the Alceste

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

This week’s Travel Thursday follows the voyages of the ship Alceste as recounted by the ship’s surgeon,

Captain Maxwell

Captain Maxwell

John McLeod in his ‘Voyage of His Majesty’s Ship Alceste to China, Corea, and the Island of Lewchew with an account of her shipwreck’ (3rd ed, 1820) [Reserve 915.1].  Under the command of Captain Murray Maxwell, the Alceste was one of the first British vessels to visit Okinawa Island (Lewchew), the largest of the Ryukyu Islands of Japan.

The purpose of the voyage was to transport Ambassador, Lord Amherst to the court of the Chinese Emperor at Peking, in an attempt to open trade with China.  The Alceste sailed in 1816, travelling via Rio de Janeiro and the Cape of Good Hope to China.  Once the Ambassador and his delegation had disembarked, the Captain and crew continued on to explore the region.

Unfortunately, their visits were not always welcomed by the local people, particularly off the West coast of Korea:  “The natives here exhibited, by signs and gestures, the greatest aversion to the landing of a party of ships, making cut throat motions by drawing their

Chart showing the track and discoveries of the Alceste

Chart showing the track and discoveries of the Alceste

hands across their necks and pushing the boats away from the beach.”

It seems as though the Korean people had been forbidden from welcoming strangers to their shores, for when the crew did make land, a chief they had befriended at sea,”clasped his hands in mournful silence; at last bursting into a fit of crying” then seemed to “intimate that in four days […] he should lose his head’’ and refused to welcome them beyond the beach.

They had a more friendly reception on the Island of Lewchew (Okinawa) where, after a cautious introduction, some officers were invited ashore and hospitably entertained, “Many loyal and friendly toasts, applicable to both countries were given and drank with enthusiasm.”

The crew spent several months with the island people, learning about their language, customs and traditions.  McLeod reports for example on the nature of their dance: “The mode of dancing of these people may, strictly speaking, be termed hopping” but the crew did their best to join in forming “a grotesque assembly”.

'Lewchewan' Chief

‘Lewchewan’ Chief

The surgeon also reports on the medical practices of the islanders, noting that when Captain Maxwell injured his finger, the island people were keen to help, sending for one of their surgical professors…“The injury having being examined […] a fowl was killed with much form, and skinned, and a composition of flour and eggs, with some warm ingredients about the consistence of dough, was put around the fractured part, (Which had the effect of retaining it in its position) and the whole enclosed in the skin of the fowl.”

One of the happiest occasions occurred on 25th October when the people came together to celebrate the anniversary of the coronation of George III.  The islanders, “sent on board the ship a great number of coloured paper lanterns, for the purpose of illuminating her at night, in honour of our King.” McLeod states that the day was so remarkable that it would, “often be recalled with delight by all who witnessed the pleasing scene of two people […] harmoniously united in hearty good will and convivial friendship.”

Shortly after, the Alceste left the island and returned to China to collect Lord Amherst, whose delegation had been an unfortunate failure.  From there, the crew’s return journey was fraught with a number of difficulties; not only were they shipwrecked and

Fort Maxwell - the fort built after the Alceste was shipwrecked, named for her captain.

Fort Maxwell – the fort built after the Alceste was shipwrecked, named for her captain.

attacked by ferocious Malay pirates but their rescue ship, the Caesar, also caught fire!

The voyage home further saw the arrival of two interesting passengers when they made port at Batavia, “a snake of that species called Boa Constrictor; the other an Ourang-Outang.”  McLeod recounts the occasion of them feeding the snake a goat with great fascination, explaining that, “the whole operation of completely gorging the goat occupied about two hours and twenty minutes.”  The ship’s officers also encountered Napoleon Buonaparte at St Helen’s.  Of the French military officer, McLeod states: “Whatever may be his general habit, he can behave himself very prettily if he pleases.”

The crew finally reached home in the autumn of 1817 after a journey of twenty months (Beijing Center).  McLeod published his account of the voyage shortly after his return; a popular work, second and third editions were later released in 1819 and 1820 respectively, (Beijing Center).



Beijing Center – Voyage of His Majesty’s Ship Alceste

Office of the Historian – Lew Chew

Naval Military Press

‘My Favourite Ladybird’ exhibition on display at University Library

Written by Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian

If you are visiting the University Library, take a look at our new colourful exhibition on display in the entrance area!

The exhibition, entitled My Favourite Ladybird, features a selection of favourite titles from the University of Reading collection of Ladybird books, chosen by staff, volunteers and community group members associated with the University Library and the University Museums and Special Collections Service. The titles that have been chosen include well-loved stories such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and The Elves and the Shoemaker and non-fiction titles such as Richard the Lionheart and What to look for in Winter.

Ladybird_Upright Case_Jan 2016

Part of the ‘My Favourite Ladybird’ exhibition at the University Library


Ladybird books were first produced during the First World War by Wills & Hepworth, a jobbing printer. Initially they were simply children’s story books, but after the Second World War the firm started to produce educational books which increased sales enormously. Remarkably, the price stayed the same at 2s 6d from 1945 to 1971, a feat achieved by strict production rules and increasingly large print runs.

The University of Reading Special Collections holds about 700 boxes of original Ladybird artwork, proofs and some documentation from the 1940s to the 1990s, including examples of the work of notable artists such as C.F. Tunnicliffe, Rowland Hilder and Allen Seaby. The collection covers the wide range of subjects Ladybird published, ranging from What to Look for in Spring to Transformers: Laserbeak’s Fury.

Ladybird_Autumn_Jan 2016

The collection also contains an incomplete set of over 1,000 Ladybird books. Pat Hanby, one of our Special Collections volunteers, has spent the last couple of years sorting out this collection and dealing with several recent gifts of Ladybird books that we have received. Thanks to Pat’s hard work, the collection is now almost fully catalogued on the University Library’s Enterprise library catalogue, making it easier for both researchers and staff to locate and access these wonderful titles.

If you would like to know more about accessing the Ladybird artwork and book collection, please contact us.

Can you spot your favourite in the exhibition? Let us know about your favourite Ladybird book(s) via Twitter @UniRdg_SpecColl

Abbey Junior School explore our rare book collections

Written by Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian

A fortnight ago, we were delighted to welcome three groups of UII (Year 5) girls from the Abbey Junior School with their teachers and the School Librarian, to view items from our Children’s Collection, the Great Exhibition Collection and the Ladybird Books archive.


Pupils from Abbey Junior School examining the pop-up Victorian farm house

We started off each session by exploring what a ‘rare book’ is, and the groups were introduced to some of the special features of rare books, including marks of ownership such as bookplates and special bindings, which make them fascinating historical objects beyond their textual content.

As the girls had been learning about the Victorians at school, the Victorian era formed the main theme of the sessions, and the groups had the chance to see some of the highlights from the Great Exhibition Collection including a luxury edition of the exhibition catalogue with a lavish decorative binding, and a souvenir diorama or ‘peepshow’ from the Exhibition, which opened out to reveal a view down through the Crystal Palace.


Pupils from Abbey Junior School looking through the peephole of the Great Exhibition diorama


Inside diorama2

The view down through the peephole of the Great Exhibition diorama!

The groups also had the opportunity to see some examples of Victorian children’s periodicals such as The Girl’s Own Paper, illustrated children’s books by Kate Greenaway and a miniature children’s library from 1803. Also on display for the groups were some examples of original artwork for the Ladybird book of Charles Dickens, and other highlights from the Children’s Collection and related collections, including some of the ‘Orlando the Marmalade Cat’ books, a first edition of the Wizard of Oz story and a twentieth-century pop-up Victorian farmhouse book.


A copy of ‘Orlando the Marmalade Cat : a seaside holiday’ by Kathleen Hale, from the Children’s Collection

After some handling guidance and with supervision, the girls were able to handle the items on display. The girls really enjoyed being able to handle the books for themselves, to peep through the hole of the diorama and to look at the tiny books which made up the Victorian child’s small wooden box library.

Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian, showing one of the groups the Victorian miniature children’s library from the Children’s Collection



The miniature children’s library – ‘Book-case of knowledge, or library for youth’ [1803] CHILDREN’S COLLECTION–BOX 001

The girls wrote up their impressions of the visit at school – here are some of their comments:

‘The trip was fascinating and really gave us a better feeling of what children read in the Victorian times’: Erin

“I really enjoyed it … My favourite book … was the one that you stretched out and looked through the hole and it felt like you were walking through the Great Exhibition”: Ava

“It was really interesting … My favourite object was a mini bookcase that was the size of a child’s hand. It was full of tiny books on arithmetic, history, geography and prayers …“: Isabella

We are hoping to run these sessions with the Abbey Junior School again next year, and welcome enquiries from other teachers who would be interested in organising similar sessions for their school groups to explore some of the treasures of Special Collections!

Mary Shelley and Gideon Mantell

Written by David Thomas, UMASCS Graduate Trainee Library Assistant

smTitle page of Animalcules

Gideon Mantell’s Thoughts on Animalcules

We recently made quite a discovery in Special Collections – a book that had once belonged to Mary Shelley. Shelley’s gothic masterpiece Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus is arguably more popular than ever and is still inspiring films such as the latest Victor Frankenstein which was released last year starring James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe.

However, the book in question is based on much firmer scientific principles. It is the geologist Gideon Mantell’s Thoughts on Animalcules: or, A glimpse of the invisible world revealed by the microscope (1846), Reserve–593-MAN. Special Collections actually has two copies of this book, one in Reserve and one in the Cole Library and the discovery was made during a duplicate check. Mantell was a Sussex doctor but became famous as a pioneering palaeontologist and one of the first people in the world to study dinosaur fossils. At first Mantell and Shelley may seem an unlikely couple but through shared interests, ill-health and ultimately location they became well acquainted.

The link that first brought them into contact was Mantell’s interest in poetry including that of Percy

Percey Shelley portrait

Percey Shelley

Shelley, Mary’s husband who had died tragically in 1822. Mantell was good friends with Horace Smith who was among the group that bought Mantell an Iguanadon fossil in Maidstone in 1834 which is still on display at the Natural History Museum. Smith had been a friend of Percy, and had given Mantell one of Percy’s letters for his autograph collection. Mary’s first correspondence with Mantell began in 1839 as she was compiling an edition of Percy’s letters and asked Mantell if she could see the one in his collection. Strangely Mantell lied and said that the letter had gone with his son, who had emigrated to New Zealand. Despite this he did give Mary copies of some of his recent works with Mary replying that “The books are delightful”.


No further correspondence took place but eventually the two were brought together once again, this time geographically. Mantell had moved to London at No. 19 Chester Square, Pimlico in 1844, coincidentally Mary bought 24 Chester Square in 1846. It was in this year that their friendship developed which culminated in the gift of Thoughts on Animalcules. Their first documented meeting was in March 1846, Mantell “being sent for to Mrs Shelley” who was “very ill from neuralgia of the heart”. In January, Mantell had been suffering from “severe pain from neuralgia of the right leg”, and on top of this, a spinal injury following a carriage accident in 1841 was made worse by a fall in July. There are further diary entries relating to meetings with Mary in June, October and December.

smInscription to Mary

Mantell’s inscription to Mary Shelley

The book was sent on 4th January 1847 as a New Year present, Mantell’s inscription to Mary is as follows “To Mrs. Shelley with the highest regards of the author, January 1. 1847.” The most likely reason for Mantell’s gift was that the book has a section from Percy’s Queen Mab opposite the preface. This was one of Shelley’s most controversial poems and when it was published by Edward Moxon in his Poetical Works (1839) edited by Mary (a copy of which is in our Matthews/Shelley Collection) the references to atheism were removed.

smExtract from Queen Mab opp. Preface

Percy’s Queen Mab

Sadly it seems that Mantell saw Mary much less after she had received the book. Notably, when Mantell records news of Mary’s death in 1851 she is “Mrs Shelley the relic of Percy Bysshe Shelley the poet”. Instead of writing “relict”, an archaic word meaning widow, Mantell’s use of “relic” and his constant references to her husband have led scholars such as Dennis Dean to conclude that “Mary meant more to him as memorabilia than as a person.” Their only other meeting recorded in his diary after 1846 was in July 1848 when, “Mrs Shelley (widow of Percy Bysshe Shelley) called & gossiped with me” as they had on Halloween in 1846. It is true that Mantell’s diary entries show him becoming increasingly tired, frustrated, and in pain throughout 1846, yet his visits to Mary must have been something of a light relief.



Dennis R. Dean, ‘Mary Shelley and Gideon Mantell’, Keats-Shelley Journal, Vol. 30 (1981), pp. 21-29 accessed at

The journal of Gideon Mantell, surgeon and geologist: covering the years 1818-1852, edited with an introduction and notes by E. Cecil Curwen (1940)

The Unpublished Journal of Gideon Mantell: 1819 – 1852, edited with an introduction by John A. Cooper (2010) accessed at