Lives of Letters Network: Seminar 3 – Private and Public Letters, 14 December

Lives of Letters

Please join us for our third seminar this semester. Four lightning talks will consider issues involved in working with private and public correspondence, with discussion following.

14 December, 5-6:30pm, Christie Room, The John Rylands Library. All welcome!

We will be going for a festive drink at a pub nearby after the seminar. All are welcome to join us to continue the conversation – no booking required.


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Protest from beyond the grave


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Protests was a key part of the Reformation in England, as we explored in our Thursday Late a couple of weeks ago, ‘Protest in Print‘. Of course, protesting against the religious status quo always carried its dangers, as those depicted in the popular Foxe’s Book of Martyrs soon learned (along with those Catholic martyrs not depicted in this propaganda work). Some forms of protest and of temporal punishment lasted well beyond the grave.

A 16th century engraving of William Tyndale, religious radical responsible for the first printing of the Bible into English.

A 16th century engraving of William Tyndale, a religious radical who probably discussed his views with William Tracy.

William Tracy, a prominent member of the Gloucestershire gentry, might have been forgotten to history if not for his death in 1530. More specifically, his will made him infamous for showing his strong Protestant beliefs at a time when England was still officially Catholic.

Tracy was a member of the establishment, serving as Justice of the Peace and as Sheriff in his local area. He was also related to a number of religious radicals, and in the 1520s it is likely that his paths crossed with William Tyndale who would later gain his own infamy for the first printing of the New Testament in English.

By the time of his death, Tracy had a clear theology which he expressed in his will by emphasising belief in salvation by faith alone, the remission of sins through Christ rather than a priest and refusing to leave any of his worldy goods to the Church for the good of his soul. The plainly Protestant declaration caused Church authorities to refuse the will when it came to be proved after Tracy’s death. Such was the horror at these sentiments amongst the ecclesiastical lords that Tracy was declared a heretic after death, and his body was removed from consecrated ground. This punishment was intended to reinforce the power of the Church and discourage people from making such direct challenges to authority from the relative safety of death. The chancellor of the diocese of Worcester went a step further, however, and had Tracy’s exhumed body burned. He was later fined £300 for his overzealous actions.

It is possible that Tracy was the first to leave such a religiously radical will as a statement of his beliefs, but he was not the last. Far from dissuading quiet revolutionaries from expressing their beliefs in death (and removing valuable income from the Church), Tracy’s ‘Testament’, as it came to be known, sparked interest across England.

An image of the opening of William Tracy's will, published as 'Tracie's Testament'

Tracy’s will was published in 1535 with commentaries by Protestant reformers.

Four years after Tracy’s death and posthumous execution, his will was published in Antwerp as The Testament of Master William Tracie with commentaries by William Tyndale and John Frith, both important Protestant figures. The Church’s condemnation did not stop others in England from mimicking Tracy’s will in their own last testaments, sometimes using almost exactly the same words, suggesting that they were copying from the book.

Wills had been used before as literary devices to make particular points or in satire, for example an ass leaving its bray to the priest. But Tracy’s Testament encouraged ordinary people to make a stand at their death; not just to proclaim their beliefs with minimal fear of retribution, but also to confront the Church head-on in a very public way.

Tracy’s protest, finally put into print by other radicals, encouraged further protest and left us with tangible remains of the battle for beliefs and ideals which changed peoples’ lives 500 years ago.

An original copy of The Testament of master Wylliam Tracie esquier (Antwerp, 1535) is on display in The Reformation exhibition which is open to the public at the John Rylands Library until 4 March 2018.

With thanks to Ester Camilla Peric, Università degli Studi di Udine.

Further reading:

Craig, J. and Litzenberger, C. (1993) ‘Wills as Religious Propaganda: The Testament of William Tracy’, The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 44(3), pp. 415-431.

The Home Mission Papers


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Fiona Doran and Karen Jacques write:

In April of this year we were given the opportunity to work on the archive of the Home Mission Papers; a valuable resource within our Methodist Collections. Our aim was to enhance the current catalogue descriptions in order to open up the collection to researchers and wider audiences and at the same time to rehouse the material into more manageable archival storage.

Thomas Coke

Portrait of Thomas Coke (Methodist Archives PLP/28/1/17)

The idea of establishing a Home Mission in the Scottish Islands was suggested by Dr Thomas Coke (1747-1814) in his paper of 1786 An Address to the Pious and Benevolent, Proposing an Annual Subscription for the Support of Missionaries in the Highlands and Adjacent Islands of Scotland, the Isles of Jersey, and Guernsey, and Newfoundland, the West Indies, and the Provinces of Novi Scotia and Quebec. 

Dr Coke, the Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, later became known as the ‘Father of Methodist Missions’.

An appeal to set up a mission in Shetland was made to him in 1808. However, it wasn’t until 1821, two years after John Nicolson (1790-1828) returned to Shetland (also referred to as Zetland in the archive) that a circuit was established there. Nicolson, who was originally from Shetland, had been converted to Methodism while serving in the army during the Napoleonic Wars.


HMR Lerwick 7

Image of Lerwick taken from the Wesleyan Home-Missionary Record, April 1869 (HM/2/2)

The archive provides a wealth of information about the Home Missions which were taking place in the Shetlands during the 19th century. The collection contains correspondence, financial records and printed documents which will enable researchers to learn how the missions were established, read about the appeals which were launched to fund the building of chapels and schools and uncover information about the many preachers who were based in the islands.  The image below shows a list of local preachers in Zetland.

List of preachers 1

List of local preachers in the Zetland Isles (1855, HM/2/3/16)

Even just sorting through and repackaging materials, it was all too easy to be drawn into the collections. Correspondence in particular proved to be very distracting, providing insights into the relationships between preachers and the network they established through their letters.

This collection will be of interest to anyone researching the history of Home Missions, particularly in Scotland and the Islands. An equally significant archive for researchers interested in evangelism is the archive of The Evangelization Society (TES) which was catalogued in 2012. See a previous blog post on this topic written by Dr Gareth Lloyd.

Historical information about the Home Mission was taken from the Dictionary of Methodism in Britain and Ireland.

Images are reproduced with the permission of the University of Manchester Library, and the Trustees for Methodist Church Purposes, The Methodist Church in Britain.

Reader Services Curious Finds – Parabola


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This Curious Find comes to us from one of our regular readers Michael Gilligan.

The item is Underweysung Der Messung, “The Painter’s Handbook”, by Albrecht Durer, 1525.

Mr Gilligan drew our attention to Fig.36 in “Book 1” of the Handbook, a diagram showing the geometry of a parabola.


This diagram has been pasted over with a correction, and Mr Gilligan notes that it has survived without discolouration or peeling.


The original version is visible through the back of the page and so Mr Gilligan requested that our photographers attempt to extract the original image using their techniques.


As you can see from the images the photographers did an excellent job at capturing this Curious Find for us.



Item discussed in this Curious Find is Dürer, A. (1525). Underweysung der Messung. (The printed sources of western art ; 4). Portland (Or.): Collegium Graphicum.  SC 19439

If you would like to book in to view any of our Special Collections, please contact the Reader Services team at

The Hidden Art of Books: Manchester UNESCO City of Literature, by Dr Anne Kirkham

Art History UoM Index

On 1 November Manchester celebrated becoming a UNESCO World City of Literature. It is the fourth city in the UK to achieve this designation and becomes part of a prestigious network of twenty-eight cities around the world. As a Mancunian, I was thrilled that the city has been honoured in this way, and especially excited about the spotlight thrown onto Manchester’s historic libraries, not least the University’s John Rylands Library on Deansgate in the city centre.  This is the library that I use most for my research, since the art that I work on is generally hidden between the covers of books – old books, written and painted more than five hundred years ago.

Some of the illuminated manuscripts looked after at John Rylands relate ancient tales retold by medieval writers, such as John Lydgate’s Troy Book about the Siege of Troy and that horse! The books that I’m currently…

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Protesting in print


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Rare depiction of a printing press on the titlepage of Luther's Auff des Bocks zu Leypczick Antwort (Wittenberg, 1521).

A  printing press depicted on the titlepage of Luther’s Auff des Bocks zu Leypczick Antwort (Wittenberg, 1521).

Back in the days before mass media, quick communication methods and the internet, one of the key ways to protest was in print. The invention of the printing press made it possible for individuals or small groups to produce a large number of copies of their thoughts, beliefs or arguments to share amongst others. By the sixteenth century, the production of pamplets (small books of just a few pages without hard covers) were helping to spread radical, satirical and challenging ideas across Europe from the presses of small printing workshops via travelling booksellers.

As we’ve already mentioned in this blog, few were as consumate pamphleteers in the sixteenth century as Martin Luther, the German monk whose actions sparked off the tumultous events which we now know as the Reformation. The John Rylands Library holds a significant number of pamphlets published by Martin Luther, a few of which are on display in our current exhibition: The Reformation.

An image of a fifteenth century ingulence, printed with manuscript additions, including a seal.

Ingulgence printed in 1455 by Johannes Gutenberg. The text relevant to the buyer has been written in by hand.

Printing wasn’t just used in protest, of course: in the same exhibition (alongside the pamphlet version of Luther’s 95 Theses), you can see a printed copy of an indulgence from 1455. Indulgences were sold by the medieval Church as a way to reduce the amount of time the buyer (or a chosen relative) would have to spend in Purgatory, working off their sins before they could go to Heaven. The printing press enabled the Church to produce indulgences rapidly and relatively cheaply, leading to more sales. Ironically, it was the mass sale of indulgences and the methods used to sell them which triggered Luther’s protest in publishing his 95 Theses against the Church.

On Thursday 16th November, there will be an opportunity to explore protest with print from 5-7pm at the John Rylands Library. In addition, The Reformation exhibition will be open and the Curator will be on hand to answer questions and showcase some more fascinating original artefacts held in the John Rylands collections.

We hope you will be able to join our protest on Thursday, and look forward to seeing you there.

Francis Frith, Manchester & the Business of Art


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Francis Frith (1822 –1898) was an English photographer who captured images of many towns in the United Kingdom but is also renowned for his early images of the Middle East. Born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire he was a very successful business man, working in the grocery business and in printing. In 1850 he started a photographic studio in Liverpool, known as Frith & Hayward and became a founding member of the Liverpool Photographic Society. In the mid-1850s Frith sold his other business interests in order to devote himself entirely to photography. He first travelled to the Middle East in 1856 and the images from this and two further trips established his reputation as an outstanding photographer. The trips were not only artistically but also commercially successful earning Frith a small fortune.

Francis Frith

Francis Frith, via Wikimedia Commons

Fired by his success, in 1859 Frith decided to create a new business; F. Frith & Co. Initially, he took all the photographs himself, but as success came he hired people to help him and set about establishing a firm that became one of the largest photographic studios in the world. In fact, you can still purchase Frith’s images today from the Francis Frith archive.

Our newly catalogued Visual Collections album of ‘Manchester’ by Francis Frith & Co. is dated c1870s, so it is likely that it represents the work of a number of photographers rather than a set of images shot by Frith alone. It is a set of 31 Albumen prints of the city and shows the Gothic grandeur of a booming Victorian city. Some of the beautiful buildings are still very much recognisable Manchester landmarks, such as the stunning Alfred Waterhouse Town Hall, the Cathedral and the Royal Exchange.

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Some buildings such as the Manchester Assize Courts (another Alfred Waterhouse masterpiece) and the Victoria buildings were destroyed beyond repair during the Second World War. However, a good number more of these iconic buildings were extensively damaged during the 1940’s Blitz, and rebuilt after the war, including the Cathedral and the Royal Exchange. Additionally, the Exchange was bomb damaged for a second a time in the 1996 IRA bombing of Manchester.


Manchester Assize Courts c1870s

Just one of the prints is of a University building; there is an image of Owen’s College, now the John Owen’s building which is part of the quadrangle of University of Manchester buildings on Oxford Road. Sadly, our own John Rylands Library is notably absent; not yet built in the 1870s.


Owen’s College

However, another Oxford Road icon is represented. The Church of the Holy Name just opposite the University has a number of prints in the album, but you will notice that the church is slighter shorter than the building we recognise today as it is wanting its full tower, which was added in the 1920s.


The Church of the Holy name of Jesus

Enjoy seeing the full album or viewing the individual prints with detailed descriptions in our online image Collection.

If you can’t wait for the next blog, do follow Library Tammy on IG for updates on what goes on in the Visual Collections office here at The John Rylands Library.

All images unless otherwise stated are copyright of the University of Manchester and can be used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike Licence. With thanks to the Heritage Imaging team.

A Cataloguing Project Supported by:


Recollections of Dunham


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View of Dunham Massey by James Mudd, c1870s, ref. VPH.10.2

View of Dunham Massey by James Mudd, c1870s, Ref: VPH.10.2

A fabulous collection of photographs entitled Recollections of Dunham c1870s has now been catalogued and is available to see via Library Search and Luna.  It complements the John Rylands Library’s extensive holdings of papers of the Grey family, Earls of Stamford, and their predecessors, the Booth family, from Dunham Massey near Altrincham, Cheshire. The details of those papers can be seen here: Grey (Stamford) of Dunham Massey Papers.  The house and gardens are presently one of the National Trust’s most popular destinations in the North West.

George Harry Grey, 7th Earl of Stamford

George Harry Grey, 7th Earl of Stamford [Image above © National Portrait Gallery, London]

The photographs in this album show the house and gardens as they were during the Platt family’s period of residence when it was rented to them by the 7th Earl of Stamford and Warrington.  The Earl had scandalised local society by his love of ‘gambling, racing, shooting and grand building schemes’.[i] This was compounded by his two marriages, first to a much older woman (and a servants daughter), Bessy Billage, and his secondly to a bareback rider in a circus called Catherine Cocks.  In the surrounding furore that accompanied the Earl introducing his second wife to local society, they abandoned Dunham and subsequently rented it to Robert Platt (1802-1882). Robert Platt worked in the family business of cotton manufacturers.

There are 20 albumen print photographs, including one apparently from a paper negative, in the album.  The photographs were taken by one of Manchester’s most important Victorian photographers, James Mudd, (two by James Mudd & Son). James Mudd was born in Halifax in 1821 and his family moved to Manchester in the late 1830s. Mudd started as an apprentice pattern designer before opening his own textile design business with his brother on George Street in 1846.  His earliest known photographs were landscapes taken using the waxed paper process in 1854. In 1873 Mudd’s son, James Willis Mudd, joined his father’s firm.  It is probable that it was in Manchester that Mudd met the successful cotton manufacturer Robert Platt, who had rented Dunham Massey since 1856, through family connections within the design business.

The Library at Dunham Massey by James Mudd, c1870s, Ref. VPH..10.17

The Library at Dunham Massey by James Mudd, c1870s, Ref: VPH.10.17

The album comprises external views from the surrounding garden and parkland, including a view of the moat to the house.  There are a variety of internal shots of the house too which have caused us some detective work.  We have spent time comparing ornaments in the modern National Trust guide to Dunham and what appears in our photographs from the 1870s.  Some of the ornaments and furniture have clearly had a change of location! I particularly like the two plinths with small sculptured figures on, statuettes of Dacian Kings[ii]  [Ref: VPH.10.9], and they come with a great tale too. Apparently ‘during a visit in 1946 George VI reckoned the statuette with the outstretched hand ‘needed a cigarette’ and promptly rested one in its hand.  It became a family tradition to give the statue one cigarette every year.’ [iii]

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We are in touch with the National Trust at Dunham Massey to see if they can add any further details to our descriptions of the photographs, especially the titles and creators of some of the paintings which feature so prominently in the images.

To follow further developments at The Rylands and in the  Visual Collections Team follow #LibraryTammy on Instagram.

[i] A Souvenir Guide to Dunham Massey, Cheshire, Edited by Susie Stubbs, 2012.

[ii] A Souvenir Guide to Dunham Massey, Cheshire, Edited by Susie Stubbs, 2012.

[iii] A Souvenir Guide to Dunham Massey, Cheshire, Edited by Susie Stubbs, 2012.

All images, unless otherwise stated, are copyright of the University of Manchester and can be used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike Licence. With thanks to the Heritage Imaging team.

Upgrade of the Methodist Archives Catalogue: Improving access to one of the Library’s most important collections

Dr Gareth Lloyd writes:

The collection of Methodist archive and rare print materials deposited at the John Rylands Library is widely acknowledged to be one of the world’s finest research collections for the study of Methodism and related evangelical movements in the English-speaking world. This collection – the official special collection of the British Methodist Church – spans the history of the movement from the early 18th century to the present. In addition to central governance records, the collection contains the personal papers of hundreds of ministers and lay people including the founders, John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield and other leading figures from evangelical history.

Online access to a catalogue of a major part of the archival part of the collection was first made available in 2012. This finding aid has now been upgraded to include collections deposited since the catalogue first went live as well as additional features to improve searches and data retrieval.

The new catalogue can be accessed, together with an introduction and explanatory text, at:

Methodist catalogue webpage

This represents a significant addition to an already extensive online library of Methodist finding aids and catalogues, which includes the print collections ( as well as subject guides (