Hiroshima at 70

In 2011, the University of Reading received a remarkable and moving gift from the University of Hiroshima in Japan: a shattered roof tile collected from the riverbed near the hypocentre of the atomic bomb attack of 6 August 1945.


The gift was made in recognition of the fact that the University had sent books in response to an appeal by its Japanese counterparts in 1951, as part of a project to establish an international peace library. Recent research conducted by the University’s History Department has revealed that Reading was one of only a handful of universities in the UK, and the first, to respond.

In 1951 HU President Tatsuo Morito sent letters to universities world-wide, asking for support to re-establish the university by donating books for a peace library, as well as seeds to bring the charred grounds back to life. Documents from both universities’ archives reveal Reading was the first to respond, a decision that remained a secret for 60 years.

Intriguingly, in the post war environment of economic gloom and emergent details of the war in the Far East, the research suggests that the decision may not have been sanctioned by senior management.

Records show that is was not discussed, or at least minuted in any formal meeting, by senior figures at the University. A letter from Mary Kirkus, University Librarian from 1941 to 1959, to President Morito suggests she may have made the decision alone. The University of Reading was inscribed on the donations in acknowledgment of ‘the contribution’ and ‘good will’, and remain in the Peace Library today.

Hiroshima letter

The University of Hiroshima also donated ten volumes of early Japanese manga books – Barefoot Gen by  Keiji Nakazawa, first published in Japanese in 1974.  Barefoot Gen was originally published in a series of magazines until circa 1985. Elements of the work are autobiographical and reflect Nakazawa’s 6 year old self and the experiences of his family. A complete set of books were donated after the translation of the last book into English in 2001. The comic strip format of the books is made more poignant by the fact that this is a child’s view of the bomb and a description of impact on his family. The books and their ‘comic strip’ format were not without controversy in Japan where several Education Areas chose to have them removed from school libraries because of their graphic nature.  The introduction to the first edition of the English translation was by author of Maus, Art Spiegelman.


Barefoot Gen

The tiles and manga books are now a unique and emotional part of the University’s Special Collections. Together with related documents, included those sent by the University of Hiroshima to accompany the donations confirming that the tiles are safe, are on display in the Special Collections staircase hall until 8th September 2015.




New acquisition: The Song of Songs

Written by Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian.

When turning the pages of The Song of Songs, one of our recent acquisitions for the Printing Collection, for the first time, you could be forgiven for thinking it is a medieval illuminated manuscript, with a handwritten script and elaborate handpainted illumination. However, it is actually a printed book, published in 1849 by Longman, and written and ‘illuminated’ by the influential artist, designer and architect Owen Jones (1809–1874).



The first page of ‘The Song of Songs’


The Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon or Canticles, is the fifth of the “wisdom” books in the Old Testament of the Bible. This romantic song or poem is a celebration of sexual love which has been interpreted in numerous ways. In the Christian tradition, for example, in addition to recognising the literal meaning of a romantic song between man and woman, the poem has also been read as an allegory of Christ (the bridegroom) and his Church (the bride).

Religious works such as The Song of Songs appealed to the Victorian taste for morality and piety, and Owen Jones produced a number of other ‘illuminated’ gift book editions of religious texts, including the Sermon on the Mount (1844, 1845), The Psalms of David (1861) and The History of Joseph and His Brethren : Genesis Chapters XXXVII. XXXVIII, XL (1862), and we have copies of all of these books in the rare book collections. All of these works, including The Song of Songs, were printed using the technique of chromolithography, a new and elaborate method of colour printing.


Verso of t-p from song of songs

Verso of title-page from ‘The Song of Songs’, which reads ‘Illuminated by Owen Jones’.


Owen Jones is perhaps most well-known for his influential publication, The Grammar of Ornament (1856), a lavish compendium of nineteen styles of historic and world ornament, concluding with a final chapter on nature. The book contains one hundred magnificent and highly detailed chromolithographed plates of ornaments drawn from architecture, textiles, tiles, rare books, metalwork, stained glass and many other decorative arts, and was the subject of one of our Featured Items. Jones’s publication Plans, elevations, sections and details of the Alhambra, which appeared in several parts between the years 1842 to 1845, was to be the first significant published work to be printed using chromolithography, and a copy of this two-volume work is held in our Overstone Library collection.


Samplepage from song of songs

Illuminated page from ‘The Song of Songs’


The Song of Songs is also interesting for its original brown ‘relievo’ binding [see image below], a Victorian invention of moulded and embossed leather which was intended to imitate both medieval books and wood carvings. The Psalms of David, another of the ‘illuminated’ religious publications by Jones in our collections, has a similar binding (by Leighton, Son & Hodge).

This new acquisition not only complements the other publications by Jones which we hold in our collections, but also examples of original artwork by Jones for diaries, calendars and Huntley and Palmers biscuit packaging, held in the University’s archive collections.




This post also presents a good opportunity to pay special tribute to the work of Geoff Gardner and Jane Li from the University Library, who do a great deal of our rare book conservation work. Geoff and Jane produce many intricate book repairs and make special boxes for our rare books which enable many of our treasures to be handled and studied by students and other researchers, and to be in a suitable condition to exhibit as part of displays here at Special Collections and to be loaned to other institutions for external exhibitions.




For example, in order to protect the relievo binding of The Song of Songs, Jane produced this exquisite, padded conservation-standard box [see image above] in which to store the book, reproducing designs from the book to create a suitably elegant and decorative design. We are very lucky to be able to undertake conservation work and repairs in-house and are very grateful to Geoff and Jane for their hard work!


Flores, Carol A. Hrvol, Owen Jones : design, ornament, architecture and theory in an age of transition. (New York : Rizzoli, 2006). Reference copy available at the Special Collections Service: REFERENCE–720.942-JON/FLO

Rural Reads Plus: All the Truth That’s In Me


Our latest review from Volunteer Coordinator Rob Davies

All the Truth That's In Me book coverWe read our first young adult novel this June, All the Truth That’s In Me, by Julia Berry. This book was another first among the group in that everyone was unanimous in their enjoyment of it (which is a rarity).

All the Truth That’s In Me is set within a settler’s village in early America, a time when people from Europe were making the treacherous journey across the Atlantic to carve out a new life. Some were fleeing from persecution and others were seeking to create a better world. These communities were hardened, used to tough winters, disease and mortality. They were driven by religious zeal, ambition and a deep spiritual strength.

Within this world our narrator Judith, leads us and it is not for the faint hearted. Judith retells her story of being kidnapped by a man thought dead, followed by him removing her tongue and then her tough reintroduction into the village. The village is filled with sinister and graceful characters, all of them written believably and earnestly. The story ends in a dramatic apex, but I don’t want to provide any spoilers.

The relationship between Judith and the other characters drives a lot of the story, but it’s the relationship between Judith and her mother which is heart rendering. Her mother, believing her daughter to be dead, struggles to welcome her back. She is widow looking after her maimed son and the new world is bleak for her. There are scenes when Judith’s mother maliciously locks her out the house in the freezing night.

The story is told from Judith’s point of view. Judith has a stump for a tongue after it was savagely removed; at first believed to be a mute, she is vulnerable and believed to be a fool. However through a friendship with Mary, she soon learns to speak once more. It is a strand of the story that symbolises overcoming the odds, something that rings very heavily with Berry’s chosen audience.

This novel is a young adult novel and Berry is very aware of that. Even though she is dealing with adult issues she uses clever constructs to speak to her audience. This, I believe, is the genius of this book and of course other good young adult novels.

All the Truth That’s In Me is a rural read; the settlement is built upon agriculture and is surrounded by the wild unknown. The community depends upon fertile fields, their livestock and a good harvest. The novel also inhibits the isolation that rural communities used to (and still do some cases) embody, which adds to the drama of the story.

All of us would recommend reading All the Truth That’s In Me and if you know a teenager, pass it on to them once you’ve read it. For July we’re reading Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver – stay tuned!

New exhibition on early Venetian printing

Written by Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian

The year 2015 marks the 500th anniversary of the death of Aldus Manutius (c. 1451-1515), one of the most influential figures among the early Venetian printers. Our new exhibition features some examples of his publications from the University of Reading rare book collections, together with works by his son, Paulus Manutius, and some of Aldus’s contemporaries who were working during his lifetime and afterwards.


The printer’s device of Aldus Manutius

At the turn of the fifteenth century, Venice was at the centre of the book market, with about 150 presses at work in the city. Aldus established a reputation as one of the finest printers of the period, producing quality, compact and affordable editions of classical and contemporary texts for the growing market of humanist scholars. Aldus is known for his development of an italic type, cut by Francesco Griffo. The condensed size of this type, which was based on the humanist script, enabled Aldus to create compact editions which were popular with scholars for their portability.

One of the highlights of the exhibition is an illuminated edition of the works of Giovanni Gioviano Pontano (1426–1503) [see image below], the celebrated Italian humanist and Latin poet, published in 1505 and an example of one of Aldus’s compact publications, printed in the italic type designed by Francesco Griffo.



The exhibits also include a facsimile reprint of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a romantic allegory, which was published by Aldus in 1499. Illustrated by an unknown artist, the book has been described as “the most beautiful woodcut book ever published”. The use of illustrations in printed books was a relatively new development at this time. This work is also notable for the way in which the content of the illustrations closely follows the storyline of the allegory.

The exhibition will be on display in the staircase hall at the Special Collections Service until 27 March 2015.

12 Days of Christmas roundup

It’s almost Christmas! That means good cheer, Christmas spirit and….a fight to the death competition?!

Although technically the 12 days of Christmas begin with 25 December, we won’t be around over the break – so we had a 12 Days of Christmas #12off competition with the Museum of English Rural Life and the Ure Museum in early December! We’d like to think that we came out on top. Here’s what we came up with – follow us on Twitter or Tumblr to see the other collection’s choices.


World War One: Special Collections library resources

Written by Claire Wooldridge, UMASCS Graduate Trainee

4 August 2014 marked the centenary of the day that Britain entered World War One.  Fighting continued until 11 November 1918 and is marked today by Armistice Day.

To celebrate Explore Archives week and to commemorate this year’s centenary, we’ve prepared some resources on finding WW1 material in our collections. As ever the best place to start searching out collections is our online catalogue.  We have also produced web pages with lists of WWI related references within our Special Collections and MERL archive and library collections.  Our holdings relating to WWI are explored in greater depth below.

In order to assist our readers with WWI-related enquiries, our archive colleagues have identified a series of references within our collections which may be useful (including the papers of Nancy Astor and the records of Huntley and Palmers for example).  Although we do not hold a specific WWI collection, these pages are an excellent place to start searching our collections for potential information.

Additionally, we have identified some Special Collections library materials relating to WWI, on topics such as Berkshire in WWI, women in WWI, WWI in the news and literature related to WWI.  A few images from these references are included below.

The War Illustrated, Hammerton, 1914-1919, RESERVE FOLIO 940.49

The War Illustrated, Hammerton, 1914-1919, RESERVE FOLIO 940.49

Nelson's portfolio of war pictures, 1914-1915, RESERVE FOLIO 940.49 NEL

Nelson’s portfolio of war pictures, 1914-1915, RESERVE FOLIO 940.49 NEL

Berkshire and the war, The Reading Standard pictorial record, 1917-19, RESERVE FOLIO 942.29 BER

Berkshire and the war, The Reading Standard pictorial record, 1917-19, RESERVE FOLIO 942.29 BER

Winterburn, Recipes the Allies bazaar, 1916, MERL LIBRARY RESERVE 7060 REC

Winterburn, Recipes from the Allies Bazaar, 1916, MERL LIBRARY RESERVE 7060 REC

A list has also been compiled of WWI material in the MERL archives and library, which can be seen here.  These relate to collections such as Suttons Seeds, as well as photographic material in the MERL photographic archive.  The WWI MERL library holdings are particularity strong in relation to topics such as food and food supply, alongside statistical information.

Please contact us at specialcollections@reading.ac.uk or merl@reading.ac.uk if you have any questions.



Garlands of Gold and Circles of Pearls: The Rosalind Laker Collection

Written by Claire Wooldridge, UMASCS Graduate Trainee

I have recently finished cataloguing a wonderful collection of books by the historical novelist Rosalind Laker (1921-2012).  Her book collection can be searched on our online catalogue and a handlist of her archival collection has been created.

Rosalind Laker Collection, spines

Rosalind Laker Collection, spines


Laker’s inspiration for her historical romance novels was drawn from a multitude of time periods and historical figures, often with a personal connection.  Born in Bognor Regis, Laker’s love of her home county of West Sussex resonated through her novels.  Bognor was the setting for her first novel Sovereign’s Key (Hale, 1970) and the Royal Pavilion in Brighton took centre stage in The Sugar Pavilion (Doubleday, 1993).

In 1944 Laker met Inge Øvstedal when he was stationed at Pagham with the Royal Norwegian Air Force. They married in 1945 and moved to Norway in 1946.  It is for this reason that Norway also features in several of Laker’s novels.  This Shining Land  (Doubleday, 1984) draws on the activities of the Norwegian resistance following the brutal invasion of Norway by the Nazis in WWII, a dramatic time period which also featured as the setting of The Fragile Hour (Severn House, 1996) and The House by the Fjord (Severn House, 2011).

Rosalind Laker Collection, book covers

Rosalind Laker Collection, book covers

As you may have already noted the name ‘Rosalind Laker’ was in fact a pseudonym, with Laker’s real name being Barbara Øvstedal.  Rosalind Laker was in fact the name of Øvstedal’s grandmother.  Laker was the name Øvstedal most commonly wrote under, also publishing works under the names Barbara Paul and Barbara Douglas.

This is lovely collection of titles, which sits well alongside our Mills & Boon collection.  What makes the collection extra special is that these were Laker’s own copies of her works, sometimes beautifully bound and boxed editions such as an edition of To Dance with Kings (Doubleday, 1988) which was presented to Laker by the publisher as the title had topped their bestsellers list.

In many cases Laker also covered the front and back covers of her books with illustrations, postcards and newspaper clippings which were relevant to the story.  These additions give a real insight into Laker’s process of conceiving and writing the novels and how her personal interest in the subject matter continued beyond publication.

In the image below from the front end pages of her edition The Golden Tulip (Doubleday, 1991) you can see a postcard of Vermeer’s The Love Letter (1666), to whom the heroine of the novel is apprenticed.  Also in her edition of The Fortuny Gown (Doubleday, 1995, also published under the title Orchids and Diamonds) Laker paste down her own photographs taken during trips to Venice, where the novel featuring the Spanish designer Fortuny is set.

Rosalind Laker Collection, illustrations

Rosalind Laker Collection, illustrations

Rosalind Laker Collection, photos

Rosalind Laker Collection, photos

Further information about the collection and Rosalind Laker can be found here.

Happy #MusHalloween!

Happy #MusHalloween!  We marked the #MusSpooks @CultureThemes day this week on 29 October.  Here are a selection of spooky halloween #MusSpooks and #MusHalloween themed images from our collections!

Halloween Ahoy, Hugh St Leger, Children’s Collection 823.8 SAI, 1895

A history of the spiders of Great Britain and Ireland, by John Blackwall, 1861-1864, COLE 79F

A history of the spiders of Great Britain and Ireland, by John Blackwall, 1861-1864, COLE 79F

Topsell, History of Four Footed Beasts and Serpents, 1658, Cole 004Q

Topsell, History of Four Footed Beasts and Serpents, 1658, Cole 004Q

A.L.O.E., Haunted Room, Chidren's Collection 823.8 ALO, 1894

A.L.O.E., Haunted Room, Chidren’s Collection 823.8 ALO, 1894

Happy #MusHalloween!

Britain in Pictures: ‘The best sort of propaganda’

Written by Claire Wooldridge, UMASCS Graduate Trainee Library Assistant

Britain in Pictures, covers collage

Britain in Pictures, covers collage

The Britain in Pictures series (we’ve recently integrated our MERL and Printing Collection holdings into one collection) is a fascinating insight into British social history of the WW2 period.  These attractive, slim volumes were produced to be affordable and readable, with the ultimate aim of boosting morale and national pride by drawing attention to the elements of the national identity which made Britain Great.

Britain in Pictures, covers

Britain in Pictures, covers

Over one hundred titles were published in the 1940s, on a broad variety of topics which can be grouped into nine main subject areas: history, arts and crafts, literature, education and religion, science, medicine and engineering, society, topography, sport and natural history.  Thus the contents of the volumes ranges widely, with British Hills and Mountains (Peter Bicknell, number 116), The House of Commons (Martin Lindsay, number 117) and The British Theatre (Bernard Miles, number 118) sitting happily alongside one another.

Britain in Pictures, spines

Britain in Pictures, spines

Browsing the spines of the collection, the wide variety of authors of the volumes is truly astonishing.  The series features titles written by a broad range of British experts, some very much a part of the academic establishment, whilst others were far lesser known enthusiasts or non-professional writers.  Notable writers include, for example The British People (George Orwell, number 100), British Dramatists (Graham Greene, number 32), British Photographers (Cecil Beaton, number 71) and English Cities & Small Towns (John Betjeman, number 48).

The striking colours of the covers of the volumes are another remarkable feature of the series.  The use of block colours with simple illustration on the paper boards and dust jackets is very effective and makes for a very attractive looking series on the shelf!  The series also featured thousands of illustrations (in 126 books there were 1040 colour plates and 2869 black and white illustrations, Carney, p. 45) with each volume listing how many illustrations it contains on its title page.  Considering each volume was limited to a maximum of 48 pages, there was therefore a significant emphasis placed upon making the volumes as visually stimulating as possible.

Britain in Pictures, plates from Edward Lynam,British Maps and Mapmakers, 1944

Britain in Pictures, plates from Edward Lynam,British Maps and Mapmakers, 1944

The quote above, describing the Britain in Pictures series as the ‘best kind on propaganda’ (p. 28) comes from Michael Carney’s Britain in Pictures: A History and Bibliography (Werner Shaw: 1995).  This is an excellent authoritative and interesting guide to the series, certainly worth a look if you wish to find out more about the series.