Goodbye and thankyou

Well, this is it. Six years ago we were interviewing prospective staff, moving new furniture into the office, finding out just how cold the Library tower gets in winter. Six years have, as usual, flown by, and this month we’ve completed the project. We will continue to catalogue as much as possible until Christmas, but then we will all be moving on to other things. So this will be our last post for the Tower Project blog.  We started it so that we could share something of the sense of discovery as we explored what was in the tower. I’ve been lucky to have colleagues working on the project with the intelligence, judgement and curiosity to relate to the material, people who had plenty to say about it. We’ve been lucky to have academics and researchers who’ve unreservedly shared their time and knowledge to support the project. What started as office conversations  turned into blog posts, sparked wider conversations and fed into conferences, teaching materials, and of course more books. I can’t think of anything more representative of what a university should be about. So this is the time to say thankyou to all of you who have contributed to the blog, we’ve really enjoyed talking to you!  

Any future posts about the tower collections will be made on the Special Collections blog, and in fact from tomorrow and during December that blog will feature an Advent calendar with a different image from a Tower book on the theme of Victorian Christmas.

Best wishes, Vanessa Lacey

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The gentle art of sandwich making

What are you having for lunch today?  A sandwich, by any chance?  Ham or cheese, perhaps?  How boring!

Recently I came across a handy little booklet published in 1924 by Country Life magazine and enticingly called Portable lunches [1924.7.2746].  The author begins by explaining how to make a sandwich properly; the ideal being that they can be “held in a gloved hand, without injuring the glove.”  A messy sandwich is clearly anathema to the author: the bread should be evenly cut, with all slices exactly the same size in all respects; butter and fillings should be thinner at the edges so that they don’t squish out, but are still visible in the final article; completed sandwiches should immediately be carefully arranged on the serving dish, with a suitable garnish.

Neatness also applies to sandwiches intended for the traveller and these should be tightly packed in a flat oblong shape so as to be easily slipped into a pocket for carrying.  This must be done in such a way that “those who carry a pocket luncheon know that they can with confidence open their packages and not present to the disgusted gaze of any who may be in their vicinity a mingled, mangled, messy mass.”  Quite.

Now, there are seven varieties of sandwich, apparently: fish, meat, game, green, savoury, sweet and cheese.  The meat for sandwiches should always be minced, we are told, never sliced as “the superiority of minced meat is unquestionably greater.”  Sausages are the exception – these should merely be chopped into small pieces.

The idea of sweet sandwiches sounds a little strange, beyond the ubiquitous jam sandwich, or perhaps honey or lemon curd.  However, how about glace cherries and candied peel whipped with cream into cream cheese?  An inviting mixture, I read.   For the healthy option, you could make green sandwiches instead, choosing your filling from sorrel, dandelions, peas or nasturtium leaves, for example.  And, of course, where would we be without cucumber sandwiches?  “Cut in diamonds and with half a radish placed in the middle of each, these invariably score a success.”

There are many suggestions for triple sandwiches, using a different filling for each layer.  Recommended combinations include parsnip, mustard and cress with chestnut; liver, mushroom pickle and cold fried bacon fat; or cod’s roe, bacon and tomato pulp.  Then again, perhaps you might fancy cheese, apple with vinegar and mustard and peas?  Cheese with boiled chestnuts and pickled beetroot?  Or, for the sweet toothed, Turkish delight, almonds and preserved ginger?  The butter used for any of these creations may be coloured with the juice of beetroot or spinach, or grated lemon or orange peel to make your sandwich even more attractive.

To complete your portable lunch the author suggests cold tea, cold coffee or an unfermented drink such as still lemonade, together with something sweet like a sponge cake and also some fruit.  Instructions are given regarding the packing of items such as bananas and oranges, which are best taken peeled to save space or, it is suggested, “A well-ripened lemon is appreciated by many as being particularly thirst-quenching, and indeed, superior to oranges in this respect.”

So, why not be a little more adventurous with your midday snack tomorrow?

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Curing yourself of the smoking habit

Another reason to stop smoking.

You may or may not be aware that last month was the Department of Health’s official stop smoking month, it was Stoptober. This blog is for all of you who struggled all month but failed to kick the habit. It’s not too late as help is at hand from J. Henry Wodehouse, whose “The smoking habit, its dangers and its cures” provides us with some excellent 1920’s tips for overcoming the ‘seductive charm of “my lady nicotine”’.

 I had not realised that there was much awareness in the 1920s of the dangers posed by smoking. But it appears there were the beginnings of the understanding we have today and Wodehouse has gathered some such comments from a number of physicians and army officers:

It was recognised that the poisonous properties of tobacco were due to nicotine. Wodehouse dramatically warns us that 380 grams are in each pound of tobacco, one tenth of which would kill a dog in three minutes! Poisons in the smoke were also recognised. Try not to inhale the book cautions, and be careful for while “some deliberately inhale … others do it unconsciously by allowing the cigarette to hang on the lip while breathing through the mouth”. If you smoke like this, it’s probably advisable to stop it anyway.

The author will not even talk about how objectionable and dangerous chewing tobacco is.

While dangers are recognised by all interviewed, their extent has not been grasped by as many. I’m not sure that the statements like “Tobacco, like alcohol, whilst harmless enough in a proper dose or when properly used …” are particularly helpful to the quitter; nor does defining smoking to excess as having more than 4 cigarettes or 5 pipes a day.

Yet negative effects are commonly listed as nervousness, sleeplessness, heart disease, thinness, injures to the sight, decay of teeth, inflammation of the tongue and throat, cancer of the lip (interestingly noted as not being attributed to smoking but that it is merely common among smokers) flatulence, acid indigestion, dulling of mental and physical precision. Cardiac effects are noted as particularly dangerous.  And if that isn’t enough to make you want to quit it also “blunts moral sensibility, deadens the conscience and …destroys that delicacy of thought and feeling which is characteristic of a true gentleman.”

So to cure yourself of the smoking habit here’s what Wodehouse would have you do:

1) Tell your friends you are quitting (“you will wish to retain your self-respect later”)

2) Buy one last day’s allowance and make your supply last four days (“you are not to buy any more tobacco in any shape or form”)

3) Remove any reminder of tobacco such as ash trays … (“If your fingers are stained with nicotine-remove every vestige with pumice stone”)

4) Think about the gains and distract yourself (a “peppermint lozenge is the finest thing obtainable with which to satisfy tobacco hunger, but don’t buy them where tobacco is sold!”)

5) “Cultivate a feeling of contempt for all smokers”.

6) Seek challenges from friends such as “You won’t do it, Old man” it feels good to prove them wrong.

7) “Be absolutely sure that you obtain at least one complete bowel movement daily, two would be better “(to clear the poison)

 And so there you are, with a correct frame of mind and this set of rules you’ll do just fine. As J. Henry Wodehouse assures us “You have everything to gain….”

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Fine china

Ooh, lovely, a Royal Doulton china catalogue, I thought as I picked this up. Then I opened it and realised that well, it’s not the sort of china you put roses in … In fact, it’s called a Catalogue of selected sanitary appliances for general use. But if you want to know what bathrooms looked like in 1916, this will show you.

Some of the terminology has changed since 1916: I was rather baffled by the pictures of “lavatories” until I realised that in 1916 a lavatory was what we’d now call a wash basin or sink. The catalogue is useful partly because it has a range of bathroom stuff, from the upmarket bathroom pictured above to the factory toilets here:

  There’s also a price list: the bathroom fittings in the first picture would have cost a total of £32 in 1916, whereas the factory toilets cost £11. The most expensive item in the catalogue is a ‘combined spray and plunge bath with canopy’, which has an alarming number of pipes and cost £57. The most striking image in the book, however, is the Royal Doulton London factory on the riverside at Lambeth, a palatial building with a spectacular free-standing chimney at one side. Part of the building still stands, on Black Prince road.

Another catalogue with potential for horror was this ‘Illustrated catalogue of dentists’ equipment”. I never find I can relax in a modern dentist’s chair, but these pictures show a chair that looks very uncomfortable.  The catalogue includes ‘mouth hygiene mottoes” to display in the surgery such as “A tooth in the head is worth ten on the plate” Oh dear. The only light relief is a picture of the dentist in his little car driving from village to village. But for real horror, consider this (stop reading now if you’re delicate minded) The dental overall is not to keep the child clean but to keep the dentist from catching lice from the child.

These catalogues are amazing and it’s surprising we have them as they were never really ‘published’ like books. Another of my favourites is a paint chart featuring “Three hundred shades & how to mix them :  for architects, decorators, painters” (1907.12.122) There are bulb catalogues, and even stationery catalogues including samples. Browsing through them is the safest kind of window shopping I can imagine.

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Tarzan – a Romance of the Jungle

Tarzan of the Apes cover - British edition 1917

Tarzan of the Apes – British edition 1917

This is a remarkable and sensational book, which tells the story of a young English aristocrat who, born on a desert island, learns from the apes the dread secrets of the forest. The adventures which befall him, his perils and his triumphs, must be read to be believed   

Tarzan is a cultural icon that people are familiar with through books, films, televison and comics. As we move along in the Tower Project we’re finding many of the original novels crossing our desks. The Tarzan series started out as a serial in pulp magazine All-Story in October 1912. The story proved so popular that it was published in book form, first in America in 1914 and then in Great Britain in 1917. The author, Edgar Rice Burroughs, started writing for pulp magazines since he was convinced that he could do a better job of it than some of the authors. Based on the success of his creation it looks like he was proved right!   

Burroughs became one of the first authors to exploit the popularity of his characters by giving his permission for films, comics and tie-in products to be produced. His publishers advised him against this strategy since they feared that having too many products featuring Tarzan would mean that the public would get sick of the character. They needn’t have worried though – the films and merchandise were both a huge success. Burroughs founded his own company, Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., in order to look after his characters. The company is still going strong and today continues to manage Burroughs’ creations around the world.   

Tarzan has been the subject of several film, television and radio adaptations. The first films were silent but when talkies were invented the Tarzan film franchise became a big hit. Several actors have portrayed the King of the Apes over the years and one, James Pierce, even went on to marry Burroughs daughter Joan.  There have also been at least three musicals based on the popular stories, not to mention a sketch by the Muppets!   


Tarzan – the Disney version!

In addition to Tarzan, Burroughs wrote some popular science fiction novels including the Barsoom series which featured the popular character of John Carter of Mars. This series of books was recently made into a film by Disney, which highlights the continued popularity that Burroughs work has today. It is also said that these science fiction novels inspired many of authors of the genre throughout the twentieth century, as well as many notable scientists such as Carl Sagan. People grew up reading these exciting stories of adventure in far off planets and this inspired them in their future careers.   

The characters and stories that Edgar Rice Burroughs created have remained popular for nearly one hundred years due to their sense of fun and adventure. I’m sure they will be popular for at least another one hundred years to come! 

Tarzan picture: Loren Javier via Flickr

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Drummond’s Tracts


Drummond’s Tract Depot was based in Stirling, and during the late 19th and early 20th centuries produced thousands of religious tracts and booklets. They were aimed at both adults and children and were printed on cheap, coloured paper, sometimes had illustrations, sold for 6d. (2.5p.) per dozen or 2/- (10p.) per 100 and would be handed out at Sunday schools, missions and possibly in the street.    

Typical non-illustrated tracts

Typical non-illustrated tracts

 The main themes were sin and salvation and the fear of dying ‘unsaved’, but other popular topics included the evils of drinking, dishonesty, religious conversion and missionary work. They took a variety of forms – the ones for children often told a ‘real-life’ story that would lead into a passage of text from the Bible. Sometimes they were simply a list of Bible quotations chosen to prove a point, and the personal conversion story was always popular. The tracts could also be produced in series such as the “Have you?” or the “Free gift”, or individual authors would write a series of 6 or 8 leaflets which went over the same point again and again. Two of the most prolific authors were William Luff and Charles W. Lepper, although many were written anonymously or by Scottish clergymen.   

Illustrated tracts

Illustrated tracts

The First World War introduced the dramatic theme of ‘sudden death’, previously restricted to an occasional appearance in a tract about a train crash or a shipwreck, and the self-effacing Christian soldier, who converted his colleagues before dying heroically was a popular subject with the writers. There was also a tendency to view the war in simplistic terms – ‘plucky Belgians’, ‘heroic British’ and ‘beastly Germans’.   

From an early 21st century standpoint the tracts and booklets can be dull, sound suspiciously like sermons, are repetitive, and sometimes laughable as when they tackle a ‘delicate’ subject – usually sex – in a rather roundabout way. But their aim was to get people back to church in a society which was gradually becoming more secular in outlook – whether they succeeded is unknown, but they certainly tried.

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Summer holidays

With the August  bank holiday approaching, I couldn’t resist this brochure advertising sunny Eastbourne (Sussex) in 1922. Looking at the brochure, I’ve been planning my ideal day at the seaside as it would have been then. Trains from Victoria station in London took less than 2 hours to reach Eastbourne in 1922. I would start with a stroll along the Middle Parade, preferably wearing the sort of outfit seen in these pictures– these people clearly didn’t visit the beach to build sandcastles. 

Then at 11.30 there was a band concert with music from Ivor Novello’s Golden moth (a musical comedy from the previous year with book by PG Wodehouse).  I would follow this with lunch in the Oriental café, and perhaps a little shopping at Plummers “high-class costumiers and ladies’ tailors”. 

The afternoon might include a visit to Madame de Lacey who offered “practical hand reading and psychology” in her first floor flat above the Violet tea rooms. Madame supplied a bracing approach to palmistry “Develop your latent powers, overcome your weaknesses and attain perfect health.” Then a long trek to the cliffs at Beachy Head or a short stroll to the Italian gardens for another concert or some holiday reading. I had a quick scan along the shelves of books in our office to decide which book to take and settled on “Royal romances and tragedies” by Charles Kingston – who could resist a book described even by its publisher as “amusing if sometimes sordid”? 

Finally, I noticed that the British weather on a Bank Holiday was just as unpredictable in 1922 as it is today – as this advertisement makes clear:

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Who do you believe?

Arthur Machen, author of The bowmen

Whilst cataloguing books relating to the early days of the First World War, I couldn’t fail but notice various references to angels appearing during the Battle of Mons.  The story goes that, as the Germans advanced towards Paris against the heavily outnumbered and exhausted Allies, shining figures appeared above the battlefield and simultaneously gave new heart to the tired men and caused the German army to fall back and cease their attack.

These figures are variously described as being St. George (by the British) or St. Michael and Joan of Arc (by the French) and flanked by others in varying numbers.  Reports of their appearance emerged from wounded men in the battlefield hospitals, notably via a nurse called Phyllis Campbell, and were eventually circulated in the news press of the day.

Fever pitch seems to have been reached for a while, with various authors keen to substantiate the tales.  It is true that interest in Spiritualism was high at the time and, no doubt, people were willing to seize on anything positive to help them through the war years.  Indeed, one modern theory has it that the authorities encouraged belief in the angels as a means of boosting morale.

There is quite an interesting little side story to this, though.  On September 29th, 1914, there appeared a short tale in the Evening News, entitled The bowmen and penned by Arthur Machen.  Written soon after he had read contemporary newspaper accounts of the retreat at Mons and set during the early days of the war, it tells of an outnumbered army being saved by the apparition of St George.

By the author’s own admission, it is not a very well crafted story, but despite this (or perhaps because of it) it was seized upon as being based on truth.  Machen received letters asking for his sources and the evidences behind the tale and in vain did he protest that it was merely fiction.  When it was republished in a book of short stories the following August [1919.6.849] he wrote a long introduction explaining how his tale could not be true, or based on the truth.  In fact, he said, all these supposed sightings of the spiritual host were merely rumours arising out of his story.  A reprint later in the year [1919.6.850] saw an extended introduction reaffirming this and stating that the angel rumours were “some of the silliest tales that have ever disgraced the English tongue.”

He was not believed, though, and a whole sub-set of publications appeared, purporting to prove the existence of the angels, most notably a book by Harold Begbie called On the side of the angels [1919.6.846] which barely stops short of blatantly calling Machen a liar. Begbie states that Machen’s claims that all the angel tales sprang from his work of fiction cannot possibly be true and he accuses him of being disingenuous in order to publicise his work.  Begbie insists that in fact the story was written by Machen after he had heard tell of the apparitions at Mons and therefore definitely isn’t the source of the rumours.

Begbie goes on to offer proof of angel stories being in circulation before The bowmen was published.  He quotes freely from Miss Campbell, who published her own memoirs of nursing in France during the early days of the war, when a number of wounded servicemen told her of their visions [1919.7.2308].  Others published books taking in not only the Angels of Mons, but various other battlefield spirits in order to substantiate their existence or purporting to explain the meaning and purpose of such visions.  Not to mention an extensive parody called The showmen by T.W.H. Crosland [1919.6.848].

So, did an angelic host really appear at Mons, or were they just the hallucinations of over-tired men?  Alternatively, did the whole concept just emanate from one rather badly written short story?  I’ll leave you to make up your own mind.

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Before the personal organiser and the smartphone everyone had a diary, and in the early 20th century they came in all shapes and sizes. As well as ordinary diaries, specialist diaries were produced for everyone from clergymen to motorists and Boy Scouts to wireless enthusiasts 

The ordinary diaries could be tiny, such as ‘Asprey’s Jotting Diary’ and ‘Debrett’s Waistcoat Pocket Diary’ which both only had enough space per day for very brief notes in small handwriting, through more elaborate styles with two indexes up to the one-page-a-day desk diaries. 

The Onoto family of diaries

The Onoto family of diaries

Two of the most prolific publishers were Onoto who produced ‘families’ of diaries, the same diary in a variety of sizes, and Charles Letts who published series of diaries such as the Quikref to cover all types of hobbies. These would contain a lot of information of use to the gardener or motorist as well as the diary. Sometimes the diary section would be almost an afterthought such as in the ‘Surveyors and Auctioneers tables, with a diary’. Clergymen were well catered for, with the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and the Religious Tract Society both producing diaries, almanacks, engagement books and pocket books. Children had their own diaries – Boy Scout and Girl Guide diaries were published by James Brown in Glasgow, and cost 1/- (5p.) in 1924, so they made worthwhile Christmas or birthday presents and were not just stocking fillers, while Letts produced one based on “Chums”, a popular children’s magazine. 

An interesting hybrid was the ‘kalendar’, such as the ‘From friend to friend kalendar’, the ‘Shakespeare kalendar’ and collections of seasonal or religious poetry and quotations such as the ‘Kindness kalendar’ by Amy Julia Green-Armytage, and ’Rosemary for remembrance’ by the author known as A. R. G. These were published annually and would have two pages for each month, the left-hand one with poems or quotations, the right-hand one with the days of the month. Given their decoration, the Green-Armytage ones had mother-of-pearl insets on the cover and the ones by A. R. G. delicately coloured floral designs, and the fact that there was no space to write anything, these must have been produced more as keepsakes than diaries. 

Diaries and calendars

Diaries and calendars

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Is there life on Venus?

In June this year, many cast their eyes (safely through filters) towards the Sun to catch a glimpse of one of the most extraordinary celestial events visible in the solar system; the transit of Venus. The image of the silhouette of Venus travelling across the surface of the Sun is visible evidence of the mechanics of the solar system, and is something quite wonderful to behold. Prior to 2012 the most recent transit was in 2004 and before then there was a much longer gap back to 1882. 

Image of silhuoette of Venus against the disk of the sun.

2012 transit of Venus.

This made me think about how people viewed the solar system during the early twentieth century, from which many of the books in the Tower Project date. An extraordinary little book I discovered was a look at present scientific knowledge of the planet Venus. Is Venus inhabited? (Class mark 1916.7.2223) by C. E. Housden concludes that like Earth, there was a strong possibility that Venus was inhabited by an intelligent civilisation. This idea was gained from observations by telescope that claimed to see evidence of agriculture and artificial drainage visible through Venus’s cloud cover. 

Image of the planet Venus.

Venus, its surface obscured by thick cloud.

More familiar to us today was the popular idea in the early twentieth century, that Mars was also inhabited by an advanced civilisation, with the ability to shape the surface of the planet with large straight canals. This idea was made popular by science fiction novels such as H. G. Wells War of the worlds and Alexander Bogdanov’s 1908 novel Red star, which presented the idea that Mars was inhabited by an older much more advanced civilisation, which naturally in Bogdanov’s eyes, would be communist. 

Radar image of the planet Venus.

Radar view of the surface of Venus, from Magellan radar imaging between 1990-1994.

Is Venus inhabited? is most concerned with interpreting telescopic observations of Venus. These observations of the planet’s atmosphere along with supposed views of its surface (now acknowledged as impossible due to the thick layers of cloud) are compared to the climate conditions on Earth. Housden thus concludes that like Earth the equatorial regions of Venus are probable warm and wet and the Polar Regions probably have permanent ice caps. He also speculates on Venus’s water cycle works considering the greater heat the planet receives from the sun. 

Housden also believes that like Mars, possible views of artificial irrigations channels suggests the existence of intelligent life, 

“A comparison of Fig. (5) with Fig. (1) suggests that water is probably so distributed over the sunlit face of Venus, and that also in very large quantities, and thus postulates the existence of intelligent life on the planet.” 

Black and white diagram of a section of Venus.

A section of Venus showing the movements of air in the atmosphere.

These channels are necessary because it was believed that Venus did not rotate on its axis and that one side was permanently facing the sun and the other was permanently in the dark and covered in ice caps. 

“One set of markings would thus appear to corroborate the other [Venus and Mars]. On each planet a fight for existence, but within each case a different object in view, would appear to be in progress. On Mars the conservation of a scanty water supply, on Venus the irrigation from a plentiful, but readily evaporable, water supply of potions of its sunlit hemisphere resulting in the formation over this face of a more or less continuous cloud canopy helping to temper the great heat to which it would otherwise be subjected. Behind both systems may be perceived the working of a high order of intelligence.” 

We now know that Venus rotates clockwise very slowly. One rotation takes 243 Earth days so Venus is unique in that its day lasts longer than its year (224.7 Earth days). 

Black and white diagram of views of Venus.

Views of Venus as illustrated by Housden.

Not every idea speculated upon by Housden is entirely wrong. It is now believed that billions of years ago Venus did hold oceans of surface water, however due to its proximity to the sun, these were evaporated away. Combined with volcanic activity, this evaporation resulted in a runaway greenhouse effect choking the planet with carbon and sulphur dioxide. Although it has been speculated that micro-organisms could survive in the upper atmosphere of Venus, sadly there were never any canals constructed by intelligent life. 

Today we now know that Venus is in fact a dead, superheated hell hole, choked by the greenhouse effect caused by its own atmosphere. While it is easy to be amused by how spectacularly incorrect knowledge of the planets was one hundred years ago, it would be interesting to imagine how astronomy will advance over the next century. Will our descendants look back on our present knowledge with similar amusement?

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