Travel Thursday: Farthest North

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

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


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

Fridtjof Nansen

Fridtjof Nansen

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

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

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

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

Arctic Landscape Painting by Nansen

Arctic Landscape Painting by Nansen

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


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


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


Nansen's sketch of his first sledge ride.

Nansen’s sketch of his first sledge ride.

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

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

I inwardly congratulated myself that my feats had been unobserved.




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

Christmas Dinner Menu

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

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



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

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

The Nobel Foundation 1922

Christmas Cards – The John Lewis Printing Collection

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

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

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

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


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

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

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

Merry Christmas!



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

New display: Huntley & Palmers: A Christmas Selection

Our new display, in the staircase hallway until the New Year, features a wide range of Huntley and Palmers Christmas biscuit packaging – from the weird to the wonderful. Drop by to see it next time you’re in!

Huntley and Palmers biscuit tins

Huntley & Palmers started life in 1822 as a small bakery in London Street, Reading. In 1846 the firm opened a large factory on Kings Road in Reading and by 1900 the business was the largest biscuit manufacturer in the world, employing over 5,000 people. The firm merged with other biscuit makers including Peek Frean to become Associated Biscuit Manufacturers Ltd in 1969. The Reading factory closed in 1972.

The archives cover the period 1837-1995. The collection consists of documentary materials from all areas of the business, including financial records, correspondence, sales records, promotional material and audiovisual items. The collection of tins dates from the 1880s and includes some particularly fine examples.

The three exhibition cases contain collages of colour photocopies of original Christmas scraps printed by the company and given away as promotional material. You will see that some of the images are not typical of what to our eyes represent Christmas, for example the children with eggs, the bouquets of spring flowers and the wonderful card of the mouse astride a lobster! All this material came from the Christmas seasons of 1892 and 1893.

The upright glass exhibition case contains a selection of original tins, the earliest of which date from the 1880s, which are part of the Huntley & Palmers collection. The case also contains some replica tins made by Morryce Maddams using photocopies of the original packaging.

If you’re in the Christmas spirit, our Victorian Christmas Tour takes place on Sunday 8 December, 2.30-4pm (£3 per child). Our staff will be ready to welcome you into Christmas in 1882, where the Palmer family are spending their first Christmas at their new home, Easthorpe house. Meet Lord and Lady Palmer, their Butler Jerrome, Housekeeper Mrs Gough and other members of the household staff, and learn about Victorian Christmas traditions, play Victorian party games, enjoy seasonal refreshments and make their own Victorian Christmas card. To book a place, see our Events page.