COVID-19: support for your study and research during the closure period

Although the University Library and Special Collections Service are closed at present, there is a wealth of support and expertise available to help you continue with your study and research during the closure period.

You can find out more about how the University Library can support you and the online services available here. A series of LibGuides, online subject guides compiled by your Library, Study Advice and Maths Support teams, are available to provide information on finding and using information and developing your study skills.



During the COVID-19 situation a number of publishers have been extending access to some or all of their online resources, some for free, for a limited period so take a look at your relevant subject LibGuide to see what is available.  Take a look at the new COVID-19 tab in your subject guide, where your Academic Liaison Librarian has listed resources most relevant to your subject. Academic Liaison Librarians will continue to update the COVID-19 tabs if any further offers are received and processed, so keep checking your subject LibGuide for updates.

If you are a member of staff or a student based at another institution, visit their library website to see what new resources are being made available to support you in your research and studies. If you a researcher who is not affiliated to an academic institution, check the website for your local public library service to find out about online services and resources they provide.

Researchers are welcome to continue to contact the Special Collections Service with enquiries during the closure period and we will do our best to help, although please bear in mind that we cannot take reading room bookings until we have reopened, and will not be able to answer any research enquiries that require access to the physical collection stores.

This time may be an opportunity for you to explore our wide-ranging collections and find out about the facilities we have to offer through the information available on our website. Take a look at some of our Featured Items or past exhibitions to explore some of the highlights of our collections. Browse our A-Z list of collections to find details of the archive, rare book and other special collections materials we hold. You can also keep in touch and be inspired by our interesting finds from the collections by subscribing to this blog and by following us on Twitter through our regular posts throughout the closure period and beyond.

We are planning a series of future blog posts with information on digital resources and other information for students and researchers using Special Collections so watch this space!


Sixteenth-century marginalia from an anthology of epigrams in Greek – one of many special finds that we have shared with our Twitter followers [RESERVE–881.08-ANT]


*Update on Coronavirus*

In response to the latest government advice regarding the developing COVID-19 situation, we have made the difficult decision to cancel all events and external visits due to take place at The MERL and Special Collections until the end of April. In addition, the museum and the reading room will close at 5pm on Friday 20th March until further notice.

Please note that we will respond to/forward email enquiries that we receive during this time and assist where we can. However, we cannot take reading room bookings until we have reopened, and will not be able to answer any research enquiries that require access to the physical collection stores.

We understand that this news will be disappointing. We would like to reassure you that it is not a decision we have taken lightly. We will review our plans beyond April in due course. For updates, please visit our website and follow us on social media.

Our primary concern is to protect the health of our visitors, volunteers, students and staff. The University’s Major Incident Team is meeting regularly to monitor the situation closely and follow all government advice to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Thank you for your understanding.

Postal Notation: Melanie Daiken and Samuel Beckett

Written by Xander Ryan, graduate student in the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading

When Melanie Daiken moved to Paris in 1966 she wrote to Samuel Beckett, a friend of her father’s, telling him that she was on her way. He replied that he was happy to meet her, and gave her his preciously guarded phone number. During her musical studies at the Conservatoire over the next two years, which included being taught composition by Olivier Messiaen, Daiken and Beckett became friends. He took her out for smoked salmon and Muscadet, presumably an improvement on her usual student meals, and they discussed the libretto she was writing for her chamber opera Eusebius. She later sent him sheet music by Haydn and Schubert for his recreational piano playing.


Stamps on the envelope of one of Beckett’s letters to Melanie Daiken from Tunisia


The Leslie Daiken Collection holds approximately 25 letters and cards from Beckett to Melanie’s parents, Leslie and Lilyan Daiken, and 18 items of correspondence written to Melanie herself. Part of my recent placement at the University of Reading Special Collections, supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, was to transcribe and catalogue this correspondence, creating PDF handlists that would be available to researchers online.

The need to publicise this significant collection through a publicly available catalogue is partly evident in the fact that none of the letters are included in the publication The Letters of Samuel Beckett (2009-2016). This serves as a reminder that the editors of the Letters, as part of their enormous feat of editorial scholarship, had to carry out a rigorous selection process: only 20% of Beckett’s letters made the final cut.

Like most of Beckett’s correspondence, only his half of the exchange with Melanie Daiken has survived. The one exception, which I was delighted to come across when examining the documents, is a letter from Daiken to Beckett drafted on the back of one of Beckett’s envelopes. In the draft she writes to postpone their meeting, explaining that she is in bed with a cold, listening feverishly to her fellow students practising music next door.


Cover of ‘Samuel Beckett and music’, edited by Mary Bryden (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998)

Daiken went on to have a distinguished career as a composer and lecturer. She taught composition and contemporary music at the Royal Academy of Music and Goldsmith’s College, and her compositions were performed at the Wigmore Hall, Cheltenham Music Festival, and broadcast on BBC Radio Three. Her relationship with Beckett was an artistic connection as well as a friendship – her ironically-titled piece Gems of Erin (1975) was based on Beckett’s poems from Echo’s Bones and Other Precipitates. Another of her works, Quatre Poèmes (for piano, viola and clarinet, first performed in 1985), speaks not only of Beckett’s texts but also his biography, incorporating a French Resistance song in its coda.

Scholars are increasingly interested in Beckett’s legacy, not only his influence within drama and literature, but also in other artistic media. Derval Tubridy has lectured and written on Beckett and contemporary art, and Julie Bates is running a research project on contemporary Irish authors and their relationship to Beckett’s writing. Beckett’s connection with the music of Melanie Daiken, which she writes about compellingly in her essay Working with Beckett Texts (which appears in the publication Samuel Beckett and Music), demonstrates one musical aspect of this legacy. Their correspondence, housed in Reading’s Special Collections and newly catalogued, together with the rich resources of the Samuel Beckett Collection and the James and Elizabeth Knowlson Collection, provide a new avenue for readers and researchers to explore.


Acknowledgements and bibliography

I am grateful for the support of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, administered through the South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (SWW DTP) and its Student Development Fund.

Melanie Daiken, ‘Working with Beckett Texts’, Samuel Beckett and Music, ed. Mary Bryden (Oxford, 1998). Special Collections Service: BECKETT COLLECTION–50-SAM

Sophie Fuller, ‘Melanie Daiken’, The Pandora Guide to Women Composers: Britain and the U.S. 1629-Present (London, 1994). University Library: R.U. RESERVE–780.9103-FUL

Derval Tubridy, Samuel Beckett and Performance Art, Journal of Beckett Studies 23:1 (April 2014). Special Collections Service: BECKETT COLLECTION–70-JOU

Street Fights and Radishes: the notebooks of Leslie Daiken

Written by Xander Ryan, graduate student in the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading.

Amongst the rich holdings of the Samuel Beckett Collection archives are the notebooks of Leslie Daiken. He was born Leslie Herbert Yodaiken in 1912 to Irish-Russian parents, part of the Jewish community centred around the ‘Little Jerusalem’ area of Dublin. After attending Presbyterian and Methodist schools, Daiken went to Trinity College Dublin (TCD) in 1930 to study for a Modern Languages and Literature degree. Known to his university friends as ‘Yod’, he started publishing under the name Daiken in the mid-1930s.


The Daiken notebooks

One of the lecturers he encountered at TCD was the young Samuel Beckett. Beckett lectured in French Literature for four terms from 1930, before abruptly resigning via telegram from Germany in January 1932, safely distant from the protests of family and colleagues. The existence of Daiken’s handwritten notes on Beckett’s lectures led the University of Reading to acquire the notebooks – the documents provide evidence of Beckett’s pronouncements on authors such as Racine and André Gide, giving new insights into this pivotal decade in his intellectual and creative development.

The aim of my placement at the University of Reading Special Collections was to catalogue Daiken’s notebooks and Beckett’s letters to the Daiken family. I worked with Sharon Maxwell, Cataloguing and Projects Archivist, to re-package the documents, ensuring they are conserved for future generations. Like many archives of this breadth and depth, there are corners which have been explored only by a handful of scholars. With renewed recent interest in Beckett’s reading habits and intellectual networks, not to mention the forthcoming volume on ‘Beckett and Pedagogy’ from the Journal of Beckett Studies, it was an opportune moment to conserve the notebooks and to catalogue them in more detail.

The placement was made possible by the support of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, in the form of the South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (SWW DTP) and its Student Development Fund. It has been a great opportunity to use the knowledge gained from my PhD research to create a public-facing resource, gaining experience in the libraries and archives sector and learning new professional skills. The placement helped to strengthen the link between the SWW DTP, the Beckett International Foundation and the Samuel Beckett Collection, one of the most valuable resources connected to the consortium universities and a cornerstone of Beckett studies around the world.

The thirteen notebooks are extraordinary objects, in part through their stubborn ordinariness. Nine of them are grey-coloured hardbacks, made by Hodges Figgis bookshop in Dublin, with TCD insignia stamped on the front cover. Daiken’s notes range from carefully drawn geometry exercises to translations of Provençal and Gaelic poetry. Together with approximately 35 TCD past exam papers, the notebooks provide a fascinating cross-section of an undergraduate’s education in the 1930s.



Alongside Daiken’s academic work the notebooks contain material of a more personal nature, including Daiken’s poems, his political notes, doodles [see images above and below], and even a shopping list. The political content is especially interesting given that in the mid-1930s Daiken moved to London and joined several radical left-wing networks, editing the Irish Front with Charlie Donnelly and taking part in the Republican Congress, a broad coalition of Irish republicans, socialists, and anti-fascists. Daiken’s politics have recently caught scholarly attention – Katrina Goldstone’s work on him includes chapters in ‘Studies in Irish Radical Leadership: Lives on the Left’ (2016), and ‘Reimagining the Jews of Ireland: Historiography, Identity and Representation’ (forthcoming in 2020).

Amongst the notebook poems is one piece about a street brawl between gangs of school-age boys in Dublin. A group of Irish-Jewish students fight a rival gang of non-Jewish youths after finishing Hebrew class for the day, the ‘fists only’ rule quickly disappearing as rocks and golf balls begin to fly. Daiken’s creative response to his childhood memories, corroborated by Con Leventhal’s account of the time, found further expression in later life when he wrote the radio play ‘The Circular Road’. Broadcast on the BBC in 1960 and on RTÉ in 1962, this moving and sophisticated work focuses on a young Jewish boy whose father was shot during the Civil War. Daiken’s play weaves together a cast of characters and a complex soundscape to depict the boy’s experience of intermixed cultures and heritage.



Daiken married Lilyan Adams in 1944 and they settled in London, raising two daughters, Melanie and Elinor. When Beckett passed through London in August 1945, in the final month of World War Two, he gave Daiken a manuscript of his novel ‘Watt’ with which to approach publishers. Their friendship deepened in the late 1950s when they visited each other in London and Paris, Beckett sometimes helping the Daikens with air fares whilst they supplied him with Powers Irish Whiskey. Two years after Daiken’s untimely death in 1964, his daughter Melanie moved to Paris to study music, re-establishing contact with Beckett and becoming friends with him herself. The letters from Beckett to members of the Daiken family comprise the second half of the Daiken Collection in Reading’s Beckett Collection, and will be the subject of a second blog post.

The notebooks provide a wealth of information for readers interested in a range of topics, including Beckett studies, pedagogy, diasporic republicanism, international socialism, and the history of Jewish refugees in Ireland. They demonstrate the diverse curiosity of Daiken’s mind, a quality no doubt important to his later friendship with his former lecturer. Inside the front cover of the tenth notebook Daiken writes a frugal shopping list, including vital items such as radishes. Decades later this found an unwitting echo in Beckett’s short prose text, ‘Enough’. The speaker tells us ‘What do I know of man’s destiny? I could tell you more about radishes. For them he had a fondness.’



Acknowledgements and bibliography

I’m very grateful to Elinor Papadopoulos (née Daiken) for permission to quote from her father’s notebooks and to reproduce images of them in this blog post.


Beckett, Samuel, ‘Enough’ (1965), The Complete Short Prose: 1929-1989, ed. S. E. Gontarski (New York: Grove Press, 1995).
Beckett, Samuel, The Letters of Samuel Beckett, Volume I: 1929-1940, ed. Martha Dow Fehsenfeld and Lois More Overbeck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009)
Beckett, Samuel, The Letters of Samuel Beckett, Volume II: 1941-1956, ed. George Craig, Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, Dan Gunn and Lois More Overbeck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011)
Daiken Collection, UoR MS 5647, Beckett International Foundation, University of Reading Special Collections
Daiken, Leslie, Script of The Circular Road (NLI MS 33,493), The Leslie Daiken Collection, National Library of Ireland
Goldstone, Katrina ‘Leslie Daiken and Harry Kernoff’, Studies in Irish Radical Leadership: Lives on the left, ed. Emmet O’Connor and John Cunningham (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2016)
Goldstone, Katrina, Irish Writers and the Thirties: Art, Exile and War (forth from Routledge, 2020)
Goldstone, Katrina, ‘“Loyal Cosmopolitan Irishmen?” Leslie Daiken and Michael Sayers, Irish Jewish Writers and the Thirties’, Reimagining the Jews of Ireland: Historiography, Identity and Representation, ed. Zuleika Rodgers (forthcoming from Peter Lang, 2020)
Keogh, Dermot, Jews in Twentieth-Century Ireland: Refugees, Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust (Cork: Cork University Press, 1998)
Knowlson, James, Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett (London: Bloomsbury, 1996)
Leventhal, A. J. (Con), ‘What it means to be a Jew’, The Bell 10 (June 1945).

Provenance, suffrage and female historians: The sixteen books of C.E. Hodge

Beware! A warning – to Suffragists (1908?) by Cicely Hamilton. Stenton Collection.

Bethan Davies is our outgoing Academic Liaison Support Librarian. In this blog, she speaks about sixteen books within the Stenton Collection, and identifying their former owner, C.E. Hodge.

The beginnings of this story start with the various celebrations to mark #Vote100, the centenary of the Representation of the People Act which allowed (some) women the right to vote. My role based in Special Collections includes managing our social media and blog content, and at the time, I was looking through our collections to find items related to women’s suffrage.

In this situation, I was quite spoilt for choice. A key collection within our archives are the Nancy Astor papers, which have been the focal point in Dr. Jacqui Turner’s research, and further explored in this year’s #Astor100 campaign. We hold the archives and collections of several female authors and artists, including the first female professor in Britain and suffragette Edith Morley. On the other side of the debate, we have Pearl Craige, who was a member of the Anti-Suffragette League. Three of the covers from our Spellman Collection of Victorian Music Hall Covers clearly depict the growing anxiety of the feminist movement. But our story is focused not on the archives, or music hall covers, but on the shelves of the Stenton Library.

The Stenton Library is the combined academic collections of Sir Frank and Lady Doris Parsons Stenton. Sir Frank was a Professor of Modern History and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading. His wife, Doris Parsons Stenton also worked at the University as a Reader and then Lecturer in History. Both Frank and Doris were medievalists and the Library reflects this interest. (We also hold their personal Papers and the Stenton Coin Collection which goes all the way back to King Offa of Mercia.)

However, the Library also reflects the Stenton’s broader interests, including women’s history. One of Doris’ works was The English Woman in History (1957), and several of these titles are included in Elizabeth James’ Checklist of Doris Stenton’s books (1988). There are entire shelves dedicated to feminism, women in the workplace, and prominent authors such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Hannah More, and Elizabeth Fry. There are also several titles related to suffrage movement, such as this wonderful illustrated pamphlet satirising anti-suffragette propaganda, written by Cicely Hamilton.

It was whilst looking through these titles that I noticed something. About four books I had looked at were focused on key figures, or the overall history of the fight for women’s right to vote (autobiographies or biographies of Annie Kenney, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Cicely Hamilton and Ray Strachey’s History of the Women’s Movement). All had the name “C.E. Hodge” in the front.

The study of provenance (the origin or early history of a book), is a key aspect of the study of the history of the book, particularly in connection to ownership, marginalia, and how early readers interacted with their books. Special Collections librarians will often try to include any marks of ownership in books in catalogue records, such as bookplates, binding detail or autographs. This can sometimes lead to moments of great excitement – such as when I held a book which had previously been owned by Mary Shelley , or my colleague who recently found a book presented to the University of Reading Library by Thomas Hardy. In this case, however, C.E. Hodge did not ring any bells with me. I put it down to being an interesting quirk and moved on.

A few months later, I was looking up some more works this time related to women’s medical history. Again this is a topic we hold a variety of items on, especially within the Cole Collection. Margaret Sanger’s autobiography came up, also in the Stenton Collection. Our online catalogue mentioned an “Autograph inscription : C. E. Hodge”.  Indeed, it is only because one of my former colleagues had taken notice and catalogued this information, that I was able to take my research any further. Intrigued, I clicked on the author heading for “C.E. Hodge” within our online Catalogue. The catalogue showed that 16 titles, all within the Stenton Collection, all related to women’s history, suffrage or anti-suffrage movements, and women in the workplace, all formerly owned by C.E. Hodge. Only one, Annie Besant’s autobiography, includes the date 9.9.36 next to Hodge’s name (full list of titles below).

This immediately set me off to do further research. Google and Wikipedia, however, let me down. No name sprang up for “C.E. Hodge” except for several businesses and some family history pages. A search “C.E. Hodge AND Medieval” came up with several Google Book references for a PhD thesis from the University of Manchester on ‘The Abbey of St Albans under John of Whethamstede’ by C.E. Hodge, but nothing further. No other variance of search terms seemed to provide any further clues.

Who was C.E. Hodge? Was he/she involved in the suffrage movement in some way? Did they know the Stentons? And how were their books now in our Stenton Collection?



A few months passed. Christmas came and went.

I had asked a few questions about C.E. Hodge to my colleagues within Special Collections, which had not revealed a huge amount. The Stenton Papers make no reference to anyone by the name of Hodge. The accession papers, which document how the collection came to Special Collections, made no reference to the provenance of any of the titles, beyond their donation by Lady Doris, and discussions regarding furniture. Later additions had been added to the collection by librarian Hazel Mews, but none of the sixteen books were among these items. Elizabeth James’ Checklist only showed that the books were considered part of Doris Stenton’s Library. I even delved into the Card Catalogue, which, apart from making me feel very old-school and fancy, didn’t give me any further clues.

I did not think I would get any further with this search, and as I was going to be starting a new job soon, my chances of doing any further searches were dwindling. I therefore decided to take a different tack.

I decided to try the Library Hub Discover (formerly COPAC) in order to see if there were any more works with the autograph inscription C.E. Hodge. The Library Hub searches across the library catalogues of hundreds of the major UK and Irish libraries, including academic, research and specialist libraries. I wanted to do this in case other collections had Hodge’s work, and whether they had any further information upon who Hodge was. The search came up with the sixteen titles from our collection only. Taking it one step further, I then clicked on the author heading C.E. Hodge, to bring up any further works associated with the name.

This time the search returned the 16 original books, the Manchester PHD thesis, and three new titles. A journal called Women Speaking, an article on the Women’s International Quarterly and a book titled A woman-orientated woman /. All three were under the name C. Esther Hodge.

Esther Hodge (1908-1994) was a history graduate from the University of Manchester, and secondary school teacher. She became editor for Women Speaking, worked for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and chaired the Open Door International for the Economic Emancipation of the Woman Worker. Her autobiography “A woman-orientated woman” documented her experiences as a lesbian, and is often quoted or referred to in works on lesbian history. Her papers are held at LSE and Bristol.

I have contacted both archive collections, and LSE kindly sent me back an image of Hodge’s signature. At first glance, it’s obvious that the signature is hers – especially in relation to the small d. It would make sense for someone with Hodge’s interests to own, or have read the sixteen titles on women’s work and women’s history. The autobiography of Margaret Haig Thomas, 2nd Viscountess Rhondda, is particuarly interesting as she was the founder of the Six Point Group, which Hodge would later work with.  I’ve not been able to visit either collection yet, but I am hoping to do so in the future.

There are still, however, some unanswered questions. How did the books end up with the Stentons? Hodge spent a year in Australia, which might be why she wanted to sell some of her titles – and it is intriguing that the titles are all from the 1890-1930 period and focused on similar topics. The medieval history background seems the most obvious link – could Hodge have known either of the Stentons? Doris Stenton seems the obvious choice, but we cannot rule out that her connection was with Frank instead. Or was it just a fluke that the Stenton’s happened to purchase Hodge’s titles together?

Some of these questions may never be answered. Some may come to light in future discoveries. What I think is key here is that this discovery could not have happened without the dedicated cataloguing by our librarians, the work of JISC and the archival collections of LSE and Bristol. I hope my small find helps and inspires those interested in these topics to look further into the Stentons’ connection to Esther Hodge, or to consider further the role of ownership. The titles that we hold in libraries are not only special because of their authors, but how they inspired and influenced the readers who interacted with them. The study of provenance is not only important within the history of the book, but in the studies of historiography and the discussion of ideas. I have been very lucky to work with the Special Collections, and even now, the collections still surprise me with the wonderful treasures they hold.

If you have any further information on Esther Hodge, or would like to view these items, contact us at  

Full list of the titles owned by Esther Hodge within the Stenton Collection (also available to view in our Library catalogue)

Women and politics (1931) by the Duchess of Atholl. STENTON LIBRARY–BD/04

Annie Besant: an autobiography (1893) STENTON LIBRARY–BB/05

Our mothers : a cavalcade in pictures, quotation and description of late Victorian women, 1870-1900 (1932) edited by Alan Bott ; text by Irene Clephane. STENTON LIBRARY–BB/09

Life errant (1935) by Cicely Hamilton STENTON LIBRARY–BB/24

Memories of a militant (1924) by Annie Kenney. STENTON LIBRARY–BB/11

Margaret Ethel MacDonald (1912) by J. Ramsay MacDonald. STENTON LIBRARY–BB/03

This was my world (1933) by Viscountess Rhondda. STENTON LIBRARY–BB/15

Margaret McMillan: prophet and pioneer (1932)  by Albert Mansbridge. STENTON LIBRARY–BD/03

Women as army surgeons : being the history of the Women’s Hospital Corps in Paris, Wimereux and Endell Street, September 1914 – October 1919 (1920) by Flora Murray. STENTON LIBRARY–BB/10

My fight for birth control (1932) by Margaret Sanger. STENTON LIBRARY–BC/04

Nine women, drawn from the epoch of the French revolution (1932) by Halina Sokolnikova (Serebriakova) ; translated by H. C. Stevens ; with an introduction by Mrs. Sidney Webb. STENTON LIBRARY–BB/04

Unfinished adventure : selected reminiscences from an Englishwoman’s life (1933) by Evelyn Sharp. STENTON LIBRARY–BC/05

Hertha Ayrton, 1854-1923 : a memoir (1926) Evelyn Sharp. STENTON LIBRARY–BC/06

Impressions that remained : memoirs (1919) by Ethel Smyth. STENTON LIBRARY–BB/20 VOL. 1-2

Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1931) by Ray Strachey. STENTON LIBRARY–BC/24

The cause : a short history of the women’s movement in Great Britain (1928) by Ray Strachey. STENTON LIBRARY–BD/05

New Exhibition: Embellish’d with Gold.Treasures from the European Manuscripts Collection

During 2018 the University was fortunate to make an important new acquisition, the European Manuscripts Collection.

The collection consists of 141 folio illuminated manuscripts and 2 volumes: a seventeenth century Italian manuscript prayer book and a fifteenth century French Book of Hours.

The strength of the collection comprises the number of Book of Hours folios from a range of countries and dates.

Items in the collection include: missals, breviaries, graduals, psalters and a papal bull from Perugia, dated 1265. The material in the collection dates from the twelfth to the seventeenth century; the items are predominately of French origin (about half of the collection), with about a quarter originating from Italy and others from England, Spain, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.


The collection has been generously presented to the University by a private collector with the support of the Art Fund.

There will be a display of the collection in the staircase hall at Special Collections based at The MERL from 5 August 2019-31 October 2019.

The display features a range of items from the collection with a focus on the book of hours folios. Caroline Gould, Principal Archivist had the enviable task of selecting the items for the display from the 143 items in the collection. “The problem I had was each item I looked at was so beautifully decorated it was worthy of being selected for the display. My strategy has been to try to select a range of items from the collection and provide explanations for the different types of documents which will hopefully inform visitors should they not be an expert in illuminated manuscripts.”

The MERL will be featuring an animal theme for programming in the autumn of 2019 so also see if you can spot a peacock, a bird, a dragon and an owl in the display.

For more information about Special Collections location see

Publishing and Printing in Milan

In late June, members of the archive and library team at UMASCs travelled to Milan for staff training under the Erasmus+ scheme. The aim of the trip was to visit various institutions in Milan and the surrounding area which hold similar special collections to University of Reading Special Collections. This was in order to provide members of staff with the opportunity to reflect on our procedures and assumptions in order to improve the service at the University of Reading, including both access to collections and collections management.

Collections that we aimed to visit as part of our itinerary were the Fondazione Mondadori and the University of Milan’s APICE archives and library.

Our contact in Milan had been a visiting academic in the Modern Languages and European Studies department for six months and had contributed to both an international conference and teaching sessions using material from the archives here at Special Collections. At this conference we were invited to visit the APICE archives, who later confirmed that they would be happy to host a visit from us.

The first stop on our trip was to the Fondazione Mondadori. Mondadori is, and has been for quite some time, the largest publishing house in Italy. The Mondadori family established the archive in order to preserve their personal history and their work; however, the collections are not solely from the firm. They collect material relating to them from translators, authors, readers and more.

Hearing from staff at the Fondazione Mondadori about their collections

We were introduced to the director, and had in-depth descriptions of their services from the archivist and librarian. As the firm is still very much active we were informed they receive a delivery every week of new material.

A particularly interesting aspect was the use of the collections for teaching. The Fondazione co-run a masters degree in publishing with the University of Milan, classes are held at the archive and modules are taught around the collections. They have the use of a dedicated teaching space/computer lab for this purpose, in addition to a reading room for external researchers.

As part of a larger organisation they have a strong public engagement profile which includes releasing publications about their collections, and books telling the story of authors as seen through the archival material. Additionally, they have a whole institution dedicated to public engagement which is located much more centrally in the city. This is the Laboratori Formentini, which was our next stop.

The Laboratorio was opened in 2015 and is in a building owned by the city council who wanted to highlight Milan’s history of publishing. They host events, exhibitions, meetings/conferences for both the public and corporate groups, an example being Mostro, a graphic design camp. Much like we have in our reading room and open access corridor, they have hung reproductions of posters and archive material in their hallways.

One of the exhibition spaces at the Laboratori Formentini

Like the Fondazione they release publications; these detail the proceedings of events that have taken place.

On the second day our chief stop was at the APICE – the Archivi della Parola dell’Immagine e della Comunicazione Editoriale. It was founded in 2002-2003 by a former chancellor of the University of Milan who had an interest in publishing history. Our contact had arranged for us to meet the librarian and archivist who informed us they have 90,000 volumes in the library and 2.5km of archive collections. 1km of this is the University History Collection containing about 46,000 student files and is not online yet. They are hoping to launch this database to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the university in 2024. Here in Reading we also hold a large University History Collection and have our 100th anniversary approaching in 2026!

Viewing some book cover artwork by John Alcorn, held by the APICE

Many of their library and archive collections are very similar to ours and mainly date from the 20th century. They have a great strength in their futurist collection which attracts a lot of international interest.

Medicine and gynaecology were big areas of research in Milan for many years and so they have a few related collections from former professors, as we do too.

Regular seminars and conferences focusing on the collections are organised, with a publication always following after the latter.

We were shown their new website which had just been launched less than two weeks ago. There has been a push for digitisation of photographs and illustrations, including from those who have deposited their collections.

Staff being shown the new website for the APICE

We were taken to their closed storage and shown some of the library collections, which included some very early printed material.

Staff being shown a storage area for the APICE collections

After this we went to the central campus of the University of Milan and met the director of the APICE who expressed interest in our commonalities and hoped for further contact between the universities.

This marked the end of our formal visits. Staff then chose to visit either the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana or the La Scala museum, and on the final day visited the Museo Nationale Scienza e Tecnologia. These were great opportunities to see a variety of museum displays and methods of interpretation.

We are very grateful to Erasmus+ and our UMASCs colleagues for this rewarding and inspiring trip.

Taking in an audio-visual exhibit about agriculture

Recovering Publishing Histories: the Adam & Charles Black Letterbooks

By Amara Thornton (Research Officer, Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology)

The publishing house Adam and Charles Black was established in 1834 in Edinburgh. Now its archive is held in University of Reading Special Collections, and over the last few weeks I’ve been looking at one part of the collection – the Letterbooks containing delicate copies of “letters out” from the company to prospective and contracted authors and artists.

Much publishing and book history concentrates on fiction – novelists, short story writers and the publishers and editors with whom they worked. But there is also interest in non-fiction publishing history, particularly in relation to popular science and travel.  I’m interested in non-fiction publishing and book history too; my first book, Archaeologists in Print: Publishing for the People (UCL Press, 2018), focuses on works written by archaeologists for a general readership.

It was in researching for Archaeologists in Print that I first came across the A. & C. Black archive at Reading. The company acquired another publishing house, Ernest Benn Ltd, in 1984.  As Benn had published several popular archaeology books – including various archaeological volumes in its “Sixpenny Library” – I came to Reading initially in 2015 to see archives relating to these books.

But I’m currently concentrating on the firm of A. & C. Black and its non-fiction and reference books.  In the early 20th century, the company published various series of illustrated art, history, archaeology, science and travel books.  These ranged from pretty pricey twenty shilling “Colour Books” to smaller volumes for as little as one shilling and sixpence.

Two books, one blue, one red.

Picture of Peeps at Ancient Egypt and Peeps at Ancient Greece. (Photo: Amara Thornton)

During the early 20th century, the firm developed special series aimed particularly at children, “Peeps”.  In the “Peeps” A. & C. Black catered for young readers’ interest in diverse subjects – there were “Peeps at Many Lands and Cities”, “Peeps at History”, “Peeps at Great Railways”, “Peeps at Nature”, “Peeps at Industries” and individual “Peeps” for topics such as “Great Men”, “Postage Stamps”, “Heraldry”, and “Architecture”. The Scotsman considered the “Peeps” to be “as varied as the films in a cinema house and quite as entertaining.”

One of A. & C. Black’s “Peep” authors was a Scottish minister named James Baikie.  When he began writing for the firm he was based at the United Free Church in Ancrum, in the Scottish borders, and a popular lecturer.  He started as a science writer; his first book, Through the Telescope (1906), was a popular introduction to astronomy (his Times obituary noted he had been a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society from the age of 25).  On the strength of Telescope‘s success, Baikie pitched an idea for a new book – this time on Egyptology.

The response from A. & C. Black director W. W. Callender was hesitant at first. He would not accept the proposal outright, but asked for a specimen chapter.[1] On reviewing this and other articles Baikie had written on the subject, Callender offered terms for publication, which Baikie accepted.[2] Story of the Pharaohs was eventually published in A. & C. Black’s Autumn List for 1908.  A review copy was sent to the Egypt Exploration Fund among a few others.[3]  The publication was the start of a new archaeology series for A. & C. Black; Story was marketed alongside two other titles, George Cormack’s Egypt in Asia (about “pre-Biblical Syria and Palestine”), and Ethel Ross Barker’s Buried Herculaneum.

Story of the Pharaohs was an almost immediate success (despite eminent archaeologist Flinders Petrie‘s refusal to provide an introduction).[4]  While much of the correspondence on the book relates to image permissions, two letters sent post-publication relate to the efforts the company made to market the book in Egypt.  A letter from Callender to Baikie on 27 November 1908 noted “You will be pleased to hear that all the Cairo booksellers are stocking your book…” and outlined plans to send special copies to the city’s “six principal hotels” for hotel managers to place – prominently, of course – on Reading Room tables.  Although no list of the six hotels is extant it seems unlikely that Cairo’s famous Shepheard’s Hotel wasn’t one of them.  Only one letter to a manager is included in the Letterbooks; it went to the Ghezirah Palace Hotel.[5]

One of the reasons I’m looking into James Baikie is because I’m interested in his wife, Constance Newman (Smith) Baikie, an artist whose stunning illustrations contribute a definite ‘wow factor’ to accompany Baikie’s texts.  She provided in-text line drawings for Story of the Pharaohs, but it was really Baikie’s first “Peep” that enabled her to stretch her creative wings. This was Peep at the Heavens, another work on astronomy.

On submission of a sample illustration – a watercolour drawing of Saturn – Callender only had minor revisions to make to enable the work, when reproduced, to fit the physical size of the book.  He offered James Baikie terms of 20 shillings per drawing for his wife’s work and equal credit for her work on the book’s title page.[6]  Notably (and unfortunately), there is no correspondence in the Letterbooks directly to Constance Baikie on her work during this period – everything went to her husband.  But I’m hoping that as the Baikies relationship with A. & C. Black strengthened, she began to correspond directly with the firm herself.

When all eight of her illustrations were received in the spring of 1911, Callender was enthusiastic about the skill she demonstrated, declaring “The drawings are excellently done and most interesting…”.[7]  It’s not hard to see why – the frontispiece illustration for Peeps at the Heavens is a striking image of “The Moon in Eclipse” – the sphere is in red-tinted shadow barring a thin crescent, brilliantly illuminated.  She went on to provide colour illustrations to accompany most of her husband’s other books with A. & C. Black.

Beyond my special interest in the Baikies, a number of other interesting details emerge from the Letterbooks.  Each book begins with an Index, listing in roughly alphabet

A list of names, with Corelli's name in the centre.

Corelli’s name listed in the Index of Letterbooks (A/1/26 C)

ical order the names of those to whom letters were sent.  Perusing the Letterbook Indexes revealed the company’s efforts to solicit work from a number of well-known women.

The first woman whose name popped out at me in this way was Marie Corelli, a noted and very popular novelist of the period. In February 1907 the firm wrote to her at her home, Mason Croft, in Stratford-upon-Avon, to ask her to write text for a book on the town.  She must have responded positively. The next letter, sent a week later, sought to pin down firm details on the proposed book, suggesting Corelli could have a great deal of creative freedom:

“Your letter is so kind that we venture to trouble you again.  May we ask if you would write the letterpress were we able to secure an artist of whom you thoroughly approved & to whom you could give instructions as to the choice of subject, etc., & if so, what terms you would suggest.”[8]

This theme of soliciting notable women for text continues in subsequent letterbooks, as two years later the company wrote to Gertrude Jekyll, garden designer, writer and horticulturalist, to ask her to write the text for a “colour book” on gardens.[9] (There is no indication in the Letterbooks of whether or not Jekyll agreed.)

A typed letter in blue ink. Focusing on Marie Corelli's name and address at the top of the page. The address is listed as Mason Croft, Stratford Upon Avon.

A close up of Marie Corelli’s name and address at Mason Croft, Stratford upon Avon.

A. & C. Black’s Art Editor Gordon Home wrote to Countess Elizabeth Von Arnim (author of Elizabeth and Her German Garden) in spring 1911 to ask her to provide text for a “colour book” on Germany. Like Corelli, von Arnim was also offered great creative freedom:

“Should the project attract you we would not wish to restrict you as to the method or style you employed so long as the reader gathered an idea of German life, scenery, historic spots, medieval towns and so on.”

As with Jekyll, there is no evidence in the letterbooks that von Arnim agreed to the proposal.[10]

The letterbooks also provide insights into the diversity of contributors to A. & C. Black series.  I was fascinated to come across two letters to a Japanese artist named Wakana Utagawa.  The firm contracted her to create eight colour and twenty black and white illustrations for its “Peep at the History of Japan”.  The first letter was sent to her at the Baillie Gallery, located on Bruton Street in London, where in Spring 1911 she was exhibiting a series of her paintings to rave reviews.[11]

There is great potential for interesting research and analysis in the A. & C. Black archive in a variety of fields – but particularly the popular publishing of science, archaeology, art, and history, yielding further insights into the artist- and writer-contributors.  The possibilities to recover hidden histories (for lack of a better term) abound, even where the subjects are relatively well known.  I’m looking forward to continuing my own research into the Letterbooks during the course of my time at Reading. I hope that this post encourages others to dive in to the Letterbooks too.


The catalogue for the A. & C. Black archive held in University of Reading Special Collections can be found here. For further information, email

Dr Amara Thornton is Research Officer for the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology.


References/Further Reading

Adam & Charles Black Letterbooks A/1/26, 29, 30, 32, 36, 39.

The Scotsman, 1912. Christmas Gift Books. [British Newspaper Archive], 28 November.

The Sphere. 1911. A Talented Japanese Artist Now in England. [British Newspaper Archive] 18 March.

The Times, 1931. Dr James Baikie. Times Historical Archive. 7 February.


[1] ACB A/1/26/56 and 89, Callender to Baikie 23 and 28 Nov 1908.

[2] ACB A/1/26/598 Callender to Baikie 27 Mar 1907.

[3] ACB A/1/30/123 Callender to Baikie 3 Sep 1908.

[4] ACB A/1/29/835 and 882 Callender to Baikie 13 and 20 Jul 1908.

[5] ACB A/1/30/696 and 731 Callender to Baikie 27 Nov and 5 Dec 1908.

[6] ACB A/1/36/392 Callender to Baikie 21 Jan 1911.

[7] ACB A/1/36/694 Callender to Baikie 4 Mar 1911.

[8] ACB/1/26/427 and 444. A&C Black to Corelli, 15 and 21 Feb 1907.

[9] ACB/1/32/116 A&C Black to Jekyll, 5 Feb 1909.

[10] ACB/1/36/695 A&C Black to von Arnim 6 Mar 1911.

[11] ACB/1/39/774 and 819. Home to Utagawa 3 and 9 Aug 1911.

The Queen’s Resolve: Queen Victoria in the Special Collections

Following the 200th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth, Liaison Librarian Bethan Davies takes a closer look at our Special Collections and the surprising connections with the famous monarch.

Housed in the red brick building designed by Alfred Waterhouse for Alfred Palmer, it is hard not to see the connection between the Victorians and Special Collections. Our Children’s Collection is particularly strong in 19th Century titles, and many of our business archives cover the Victorian period (including Huntley & Palmers, De La Rue, Chatto & Windus). We hold an entire collection focused on The Great Exhibition of 1851, patronised by Prince Albert, and the Spellman Collection focuses entirely on Victorian piano hall music covers. Several of our archives hold documents on Victorian illustrators and authors including Audrey Beardsley, Pearl Craigie, and Violet Fane.

Therefore, it is not surprising that Queen Victoria herself makes appearances throughout our Collections, especially around moments of change and commemoration. The breadth and age of our Collections also allow us to view Victoria throughout history, and chart the various changes throughout her life.

A children's book with a white background, and the text Queen Victoria. An older woman is on the cover, wearing black clothes and a white veil.

Queen Victoria (1976), part of our Ladybird Collection

Changing Faces

When we think of Victoria, we often think of the image we see on the cover of the 1976 Ladybird title Queen Victoria (see above). This depiction is from Victoria’s later years. However, we can see images of Victoria’s youth from the children’s book The Queen’s resolve : “I will be good” and her “doubly royal” reign (1897), written by Charles Bullock. The front cover depicts two oval images of Victoria facing each other, one a child, the other the elder Queen (see below). Bullock notes in his title that whilst the book is intended for younger readers, it might also be of interest to “Old England,” looking back to the beginning of the Queen’s reign and the “boundless enthusiasm” which accompanied her coronation. The title refers to a popular story that upon discovering that she was heir to the throne, Victoria exclaimed, “I will be good!” Written in commemoration of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, Bullock not only celebrates her rule, but her role as a mother and wife, which he calls her “double rule”.

The Spellman Collection, which offers fascinating depictions of Victoria throughout her reign, is equally interested in both Victoria’s personal life. A key example of this can be seen in The Royal Record March (1897), composed by Alfred Lee, and the notorious Marquis de Leuvilles in celebration of Victoria’s Silver Jubilee. Similar to The Queen’s Resolve, two images (one younger, one older) of Victoria face each other, although the younger Victoria is shown just before she took the throne. The cover also depicts her husband, the late Prince Albert, explicitly denoting his continuing importance in her life, even after his death.


Coronation and Childhood

The “boundless enthusiasm” noted by Bullock regarding the Queen’s coronation in 1838, can be seen in a rare special edition of The Sun held in our Printing Collection (not connected to the modern newspaper of the same name). Created with the “special exertion of M. De La Rue”, the edition is noted for using gold ink rather than black, and includes a poem to mark the occasion created by the editor Murdo Young. Through both items, the general excitement of a new monarch can be felt, alongside the youth of the new Queen, who was then only 18 years old. Young’s “Sketch” of the new Queen makes note of her childhood, future reforms which needed to be made to the monarchy, and in particular her short stature.

The coronation was also commemorated by composer J.B. Arnold with The Grand state march: composed for the coronation of her most gracious majesty Queen Victoria (1837). Our copy from the Spellman Collection depicts an image of the young Queen on the front cover, enthroned and about to be crowned.


Change and Exhibition

The image of the younger Victoria is also present in the Stenton Coin Collection. Although the collection focuses on coins from the Anglo-Saxon and Norman period, it also includes this 1839 copper halfpenny, from the Isle of Man. At the time, the Isle of Man had separate coinage issued compared to the rest of the country. This was overturned in the Act of 1839, which aligned the Isle of Man with the United Kingdom’s currency. The 1839 coinage, updated to include Victoria’s face, was the last update to the Isle of Man’s currency, until the introduction of decimal coinage in 1971.

One of the most well-known examples of Victoria’s legacy was in the creation of the Great Exhibition of 1851, housed in the Crystal Palace. The moment was commemorated by the lithographers the Leighton Brothers, with The Queen’s March (1851). Now part of our Great Exhibition Collection, this stately march shows the Queen, alongside Prince Albert, who was the patron of the Great Exhibition. Our Collection includes the official Catalogue and reports on the Great Exhibition and its influence upon the British Society, alongside ephemera and souvenirs!


This is only a glimpse into all our holdings on Queen Victoria. Click the links to find out more about our Collections! Want more information? Contact Special Collections at


New exhibition: “Colours More Than Sentences”: illustrated editions of ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’

Text by Michael Seeney, abridged and adapted with additional text by Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian.

“I wish I could draw like you, for I like lines better than words and colours more than sentences”.

–  Oscar Wilde to W Graham Robertson in 1888

In 1895, Oscar Wilde was sentenced to two years of imprisonment with hard labour for “acts of gross indecency with another male person”. He spent most of those two years in Reading Prison. On his release, he entered a self-imposed exile in France. Broken in health, and declared bankrupt, he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol, a love-poem and an impassioned plea for prison reform. It was his last work.

For our new exhibition, we are very fortunate to have the opportunity to show a selection of illustrated editions of the Ballad lent from the collection of Michael Seeney. The editions on show include the first published illustrated edition of the Ballad and recent editions produced by small presses such as Reading’s Two Rivers Press. This exhibition has been organised by the University’s Department of English in collaboration with Michael Seeney, and was on show at the Berkshire Record Office last year.

Image from ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ by Oscar Wilde ; afterword by Peter Stoneley ; illustrated by Peter Hay. 3rd edn. Two Rivers Press, 2011. Reproduced by kind permission of Two Rivers Press.


The following text is an abridged version of an introduction to the exhibition by Michael Seeney examining the history of the writing, publication and illustration of the Ballad. A leaflet which features the full version of the introduction is available free of charge to visitors to the exhibition.


“Oscar Wilde was released from prison in May 1897. The same night he and his friend More Adey took the night boat from Newhaven to Dieppe. The British in Dieppe were, with few exceptions, unfriendly and, before the end of the month, Wilde moved a few miles along the coast to Berneval-sur-Mer. There he rented a small house – the Chalet Bourgeat. Here he intended writing three essays, two of which would describe the prison system. They were never written, but in June he began writing his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol. In the words of a later High Court judge, “He owed his inspiration to Her Majesty’s Government”.



Wilde’s intention was to write a poem which combined propaganda for prison reform with a Romanticism in part drawn from Coleridge. In doing so he claimed to “out-Kipling Henley”. Wilde’s poem accurately reflects the conditions in prison. The central narrative of the poem is the execution by hanging of Charles Thomas Wooldridge at Reading on 7 July 1896.



Wilde sent an almost complete manuscript to the publisher Leonard Smithers who approached Aubrey Beardsley with a proposal for an illustrated edition. Beardsley expressed great interest and, as Smithers told Wilde, “I showed it to Aubrey and he seemed to be much struck by it. He promised at once to do a frontispiece for it – in a manner which immediately convinced me that he will never do it.” Wilde thought that if Beardsley “will do it, it will be a great thing” but, if he would not give a commitment, Smithers should “try some of the jeunes Belges – Khnoppf for example.” In the same letter Wilde spelled out in detail his ideas for illustrations and decorations:

I want something curious – a design of Death and Sin walking hand in hand, very severe, and mediaeval. Also, for the divisions between the separate parts of each canto of the ballad, I want not asterisks, nor lines, but a little design of three flowers or some decorative motive, simple and severe: then there are five or six initial letters – H: F: I: I: T.



In December Wilde made clear that for illustrations he was looking for something non-representational; in writing to Smithers about his American agent, Elizabeth Marbury, he said that:

Her suggestion of illustration is of course out of the question. Pray tell her from me that it would entirely spoil any beauty the poem has, and not add anything to its psychological revelations. The horror of prison-life is the contrast between the grotesqueness of one’s aspect and the tragedy in one’s soul. Illustrations would emphasise the former, and conceal the latter. Of course I refer to realistic illustration.

When the book was published on 13 February 1898 there were no illustrations; and instead of Wilde’s “three flowers” there were single standard printers’ fleurons.

Smithers and Wilde had agreed that the author’s name would not appear on the book, and that the title page would say it was by C.3.3. (the number of Wilde’s cell in Reading Gaol). However, the authorship was an open secret; on the day of publication Reynold’s Newspaper carried news of the book under the heading “New Poem by Oscar Wilde” and printed eighteen verses.



The first edition consisted of 800 copies, with a further 30 printed on Japanese vellum. The entire edition sold out within a few days. A second edition followed and then, at Wilde’s request, a third edition, limited to 99 copies signed by Wilde (thus removing any last doubts about its authorship) was issued in March. Another four editions were issued bringing the total number of copies in circulation to over 5000, meaning it was commercially by far the most successful of his works. Having said to Wilde that he thought it time Wilde “owned” the Ballad, Smithers added Wilde’s name to the title page of the seventh edition following “C.3.3.”. This was the last edition published during Wilde’s lifetime, although Smithers continued to produce what were effectively pirated editions for some years after Wilde’s death in November 1900.

Although the Ballad was issued by a number of publishers abroad, there was no attempt to illustrate the book until 1907. The first fully illustrated edition appeared in New York, illustrated by Latimer J Wilson.

The first European illustrated edition appeared in German in 1916 and was followed by French, Czech and Hungarian editions. Several fully illustrated editions appeared in America in the late twenties and thirties. There was no illustrated edition published in Britain until 1948. Arthur Wragg, the illustrator, was, as far as is known, the only illustrator up to that time who had actually visited Reading Gaol. Britain still lags behind in the number of illustrated editions, although in recent years there have been notable sets of illustrations by Garrick Palmer, Peter Forster and Peter Hay, as well as the abstract illustrations of Jeremy Mason.

In accordance with Wilde’s views expressed to Smithers, each of the illustrated editions examined has been interpretive rather than realistic. We cannot know what Wilde envisaged as an ideal illustration but he would certainly have been delighted to see that so many artists have taken the poem as an inspiration”.


The exhibition will be on display in the staircase hall at the Special Collections Service until 31 July 2019, and is available to view during The Museum of English Rural Life opening hours.

We are also delighted to announce that to coincide with the exhibition, Michael Seeney will give a talk about building a collection on Oscar Wilde. In addition to books, Michael’s collection also extends to anything related to Wilde, from letters and autograph material to mugs and t-shirts. As well as talking about his own collection, Michael will also look at important collectors of the past and what has become of their collections, and the role of private collectors in academic research.

The talk, entitled Collecting Oscar Wilde: Public and Private Good, will take place at The Museum of English Rural Life on Thursday 30 May 2019, 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm. The event is free but booking is advisable – you can book tickets here.
This event takes place during our monthly Late Opening Night, so the museum, shop, cafe, garden and reading room are all open until 9pm.