Cataloguing the First World War correspondence of the Manchester Guardian


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Lucy-Kay Brownson

Lucy-Kay Brownson, a student on Liverpool University’s Master of Archives and Records Management course, writes:


In January 2019, as part of my MA programme at Liverpool University, I catalogued a series of First World War correspondence from the Guardian (formerly Manchester Guardian) Archive held at The John Rylands Library.

My chief aim was to create a subject-specific finding aid, a navigational tool for those seeking out the lives and voices bound up in the paper’s wartime correspondence. There’s something about a handwritten letter that is irresistible to those of us with prying or sentimental tendencies – and without exception, I tick both of those boxes. As I began to recognise the names that recurred time and again in this series (like C.P. Scott and James Bone), I also came to know how these individuals’ lives became enmeshed in one of the most seminal periods of modern history; viewed together, this correspondence portrays the Guardian’s growing political influence during the Great War. In this post, I share a few fascinating letters and stories from the archive.


Photograph of C P Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian. Ref GA/317/1/21. Image reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd.

C.P. Scott’s Letters

The vast majority of this series comprises correspondence from Charles Prestwich Scott, the man widely credited for cultivating a provincial journal into a national media outlet during his Manchester Guardian editorship from 1872-1929. As previous posts have highlighted, Scott maintained an impressive address book that included leading politicians like David Lloyd George, Winston Churchill and Ramsay MacDonald – all of whom feature in this series. Scott’s letters suggest that while he didn’t actively advocate for British involvement in WWI, he felt that promoting national unity was paramount to maintaining public morale and securing victory for the Allies.

Although Scott was privately rather critical of the Government’s foreign and military policies, many of these letters show that his refusal to publicly oppose the war earned him criticism from some of his closest confidantes. Given that Scott used the Manchester Guardian as a platform to denounce the Second Boer War just over a decade earlier, many of his contemporaries expected the paper to take a similarly critical stance against WWI – but this was not to be. The extract below is taken from a 1914 riposte addressed to the social reformer (and Scott’s good friend) Emily Hobhouse, in which Scott refutes her claim that the MG’s journalistic integrity is damaged by its support of the war. Scott deems it ‘futile’ to outright oppose the Great War as the paper did the Boer War, because the politics of the two conflicts are discrete from one another.


333-162 reverse

Letter from C P Scott to Emily Hobhouse. Ref GDN/E/1/54 [GDN/333/162] Image reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd.

Scott’s letters are characteristically terse, direct and razor-sharp. A standout example from this series is a 1915 letter addressed to W H Woodward (below), in which Scott deplores Woodward’s earlier suggestion that in order to avoid military defeat, the British could join the German Empire as a member state. Scott was evidently appalled by this proposal: he calls it ‘absurd and unworthy’, stressing that he wishes to curtail his correspondence with Woodward.


Letter from C P Scott to W H Woodward. Ref. GDN/E/2/13 [GDN/334/22]. Image reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd.

Women’s Voices in the Guardian Archive

Given the time period, it perhaps won’t come as a great surprise that women correspondents rarely feature in this series – the Manchester Guardian would not gain its first female editor, Madeline Linford, until 1921. Nonetheless, the women’s voices that do come through here are remarkable, often distinctly political in their tone. Take, for example, an extraordinary 1914 letter (below) from Emily Hobhouse, the social activist who campaigned tirelessly against the Second Boer War. Hobhouse appears as a distinctly singular advocate for women’s issues in the MG’s WWI correspondence. She envisages that after the war’s inevitable economic fallout and gross human rights breaches, ‘the bulk of the misery will fall […] on women and children’; as a witness to the appalling living conditions of women and children interred in British concentration camps during the Boer War, Hobhouse speaks from a place of unenviable experience. She also mentions – albeit tentatively – battlefield conversations amongst German, French and British soldiers, framing such interactions as a catalyst for peace negotiations. Amongst a cacophony of militarism and political manoeuvring, Emily Hobhouse is a rare, defiant voice of hope and humanitarian issues.

hobhouse 1

hobhouse 2

Letter from Emily Hobhouse to C P Scott. Ref GDN/E/1/56 [GDN/333/163] Image reproduced courtesy of Jennifer Hobhouse Balme.

Compassion in Troubled Times

Of all the stories told through these letters, one in particular sticks in my mind: that of John Masefield, poet and novelist. Though old enough to be exempted from military duty by the time of WWI, Masefield travelled to north-eastern France in 1915, where he worked as an orderly in a British hospital for French soldiers. In April of that year, he wrote to Scott requesting a donation for a travelling field hospital that he and some friends were planning to set up; a week later, he wrote again to thank Scott for sending £10 (worth around £1,000 today) to help set his plans in motion. The actions of both Scott and Masefield, recalled in these letters, are a window onto the incredible acts of compassion enacted by everyday people during times of extreme trauma and turmoil.

As someone with shamefully little knowledge of the circumstances surrounding WWI prior to this project, cataloguing these letters was truly eye-opening for me. What I perhaps didn’t anticipate was how emotionally invested I would become in the correspondents’ lives, and that of the Manchester Guardian itself; here was such unimaginable conflict rendered in such ordinary, everyday words. By their nature, these letters were intended as transitory things – so they often survive as fragments. Political and wartime intelligence is contained in handwritten memos and anonymous notes; it appears that information found its way to Scott and the Manchester Gurdian from all manner of sources, through ephemeral mediums, relentlessly. Some letters provide answers while others pose more questions; they open intimate, if fleeting, windows on their correspondents’ inner lives and thoughts during a time of global unrest.

You can access the full descriptions for ‘GDN/E: Papers relating to the Manchester Guardian and the First World War’ here.


A closer look at the Manchester Observer (1819–1822)


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Dr Janette Martin, curator of our current exhibition Peterloo: Manchester’s Fight for Freedom, writes:

Manchester Observer banner

The Manchester Observer, 27 November 1819, ref. R229748. Copyright the University of Manchester Library.

The spring and summer of 1819 saw radical speakers criss-crossing the country holding large meetings to raise support for parliamentary reform and other radical causes such as repeal of the Corn Laws. This caused great alarm and uneasiness amongst the authorities in Manchester and across the rapidly industrialising towns and cities of the north.  A sense of this fear is captured in the diaries of Anne Lister of Shibden Hall, near Halifax.  Anne Lister (1791–1840) was a wealthy Tory landowner who, unusually for the time, was not married and retained control of her own economic interests.  Lister wrote disparagingly of the growing reform movement in her diaries, noting that trouble was expected in her home town of Halifax and that troops were billeted there.  After the massacre at St Peter’s Field, she became curious about the leading radical newspaper, the Manchester Observer, and asked friends to send her a copy as she ‘would be too ashamed to ask for it’.  Her worst suspicions were confirmed – she did find it inflammatory and full of seditious, rousing articles.

Anne Lister

Portrait of Anne Lister (1791-1840), by Joshua Horner, ca. 1830. Copyright Calderdale Museums & Galleries.

The Manchester Observer remains synonymous with the Peterloo Massacre.  James Wroe, the Observer’s editor, had invited Henry Hunt to Manchester to speak on that ill-fated day in August, and he himself coined the satirical name ‘Peterloo’.  John Saxton, one of the Observer’s reporters, was on the hustings when the military rode into St Peter’s field. He was arrested and imprisoned. Saxton stood trial with Hunt at York Assizes but, unlike Hunt, he avoided a prison sentence because the jury accepted his defence that he was a reporter and not a participant.

Until it was shut down in 1822, the pages of the Manchester Observer doggedly campaigned for justice for the victims and their families.  Its influence stretched across the key cities and towns of northern England and copies were also sold in Birmingham. After only 12 months its circulation was 4,000 copies.  To modern ears that might sound small but, as newspapers were expensive (thanks to a much-hated newspaper tax), copies would be bought collectively and circulated amongst friends.  They were also read aloud thereby reaching a much wider audience than the circulation figures would suggest.


Example of the populist editorial style and the iconography of the cap of liberty, the thistle, rose and shamrock that so enraged Anne Lister.  The Manchester Observer, 27 November 1819. Copyright University of Manchester Library.

The language and style of the Manchester Observer was aimed at the growing numbers of literate working classes. It was founded by James Wroe, John Knight and John Saxton, a group of nonconformist radicals who called for reform of the Houses of Parliament. Their brand of radicalism was borne out of ideas underpinning the French Revolution and stimulated by long years of war and high taxation, rising bread prices, trade slumps and the all-around squalor of the industrialising cities.  Manchester Observer editorials focused on key radical issues and, for a period, were headed ‘Important Communications to the People of England’.  Each was illustrated with a striking visual motif of a flag bearing a slogan. As the diary entry from Anne Lister below illustrates, both the slogans and the iconography of the flags were highly provocative to the Tory establishment.  These editorial messages were designed to read aloud, with helpful capital letters, italics and exclamation marks to indicate which words and sentiments should be emphasised.  Before literacy became widespread there was a common practice of communal reading where the most fluent would read the news aloud to a gathered audience, whether in a pub, workshop or around a domestic fire.  (Interestingly, Anne herself describes how she read parts of it aloud!)

Lister diary

Thanks to Steve Crabtree (Calderdale Museums and Galleries) for alerting me to Lister’s comments on the Manchester Observer.

Manchester Observer

The Manchester Observer, 27 November 1819. Copyright the University of Manchester Library.

Her diary entry for 6 December 1819 (reproduced above) describes in detail her encounter with a copy of the Manchester Observer and from her comprehensive description we know that she was reading the issue dated 27 November 1819.  Anne Lister’s hostility to the reform movement is not surprising and yet, to contemporary eyes, her deep resentment towards the fledgling campaign for the rights of women is less understandable.  She herself led an unconventional life.  As a wealthy, unmarried landowner she was able to control her own financial and personal affairs including several long-standing lesbian relationships.

As part of the Peterloo bicentenary, The University of Manchester Library has digitised the entire run of the Manchester Observer which can now be consulted online alongside other Peterloo letters, correspondence, handbills and maps.  You can find out more about the John Rylands Library exhibition, ‘Peterloo: Manchester’s Fight for Freedom’ and the bicentenary events here.

On 11 April 2019, the John Rylands Research Institute and Manchester University Press will launch a special Peterloo edition of the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library.  Tickets for this free event can be booked here.  At this event Professor Robert Poole will talk about his detailed research into the Manchester Observer and Dr Katrina Navickas will present her most recent Peterloo research. The Peterloo special edition of the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library (BJRL), including Robert Poole’s, ‘The Manchester Observer: Biography of a Radical Newspaper’, BJRL, 95:1 (spring 2019), 30–122, can be accessed here.

Peterloo graphic

Jeff Nuttall and the William S. Burroughs Connection


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Bruce Wilkinson writes:

Described in his Guardian obituary by Mike Horovitz as a ‘catalyst, perpetrator and champion of rebellion and experiment in the arts and society’, Jeff Nuttall was an anarchist who believed that the avant-garde shouldn’t be restricted either by the authorities or social mores. Nuttall is now probably best remembered for Bomb Culture (MacGibbon & Kee, 1968), his account of the British underground’s development. Out of print for many years, it has recently been re-issued in a new expanded edition (edited by Jay Jeff Jones and Douglas Field through the Strange Attractor Press), maintaining its power to surprise and inspire.


Image courtesy of Christine Bank

Nuttall authored over 40 books on a wide range of subjects from saucy seaside postcards and performance art to a biography of the comedian Frank Randle. An excellent musician, he also acted in numerous TV shows and films, even appearing as a ‘baddie’ in the James Bond movie ‘The World is Not Enough’ (1999). Nuttall wrote experimental verse while highlighting the medium through his press columns, becoming chair of the National Poetry Society in the 1970s. Arguably, though, his biggest cultural contribution was as an artist and lecturer, spreading influence across different generations and between diverse elements of the avant-garde.

When Dave Cunliffe moved to London in the late-1950s he encountered several key figures, the poet Lee Harwood introducing him to Nuttall over a pint or seven. Although Nuttall lived in southern England he was born just a few miles from Cunliffe in Clitheroe and he retained a pride in his northern working-class roots and an interest in the area’s occult’s influences, the Pendle Witches also hailing from that district of Lancashire. Cunliffe and Nuttall attended several Committee of 100 protests together, C100 being the more radical alternative to CND. An archived letter from Cunliffe (sadly we don’t know to whom but certainly an American) refers to his presence with Nuttall at a demonstration at a US Air Force base where they performed an exorcism to rid it of evil spirits (and presumably nuclear weapons).


Committee of 100 flyer. Image courtesy of Christine Bank.


Committee of 100 flyer. Image courtesy of Christine Bank.

By day Nuttall taught at a secondary school but spent his evenings playing jazz cornet and constructing art made from found objects, using lingerie to form humanoid sculptures, alluding to the kinkier elements of sex. This developed into happenings morphing into performance art with Group H, the Drury Lane Arts Lab, sTigma and the People’s Show. He co-founded and contributed cartoons to the alternative newspaper International Times (IT) and worked with Bob Cobbing at the Writer’s Forum, becoming an artistic node, facilitating the work of others in Britain and overseas. As a slightly older beer drinker (with girth to match) he denounced the impact of drugs on the counterculture. Nuttall’s influence on the 1960s has often been overlooked, perhaps because he stood apart from the hipper elements of the underground but which gave Bomb Culture its unique perspective of the era.

Both Cunliffe and Nuttall are connected to the US author William S. Burroughs. Published in 1963, Poetmeat issue 2 included an extract from Burroughs’ Naked Lunch which came to the editor Cunliffe via the negotiation of Harwood. This wasn’t unusual, passages appeared in various literary and poetry magazines on both sides of the Atlantic featuring work from different editions which were revised several times over its first few years of publication. Also in 1963 Nuttall developed his own periodical My Own Mag (MOM), a mixed-media art exhibition in journal form, experimenting with his own work while codifying the avant-garde transmissions he was sharing with writers and artists like dom sylvester houédard, Carl Weissner and Alexander Trocchi. On meeting Nuttall in a London pub, Burroughs agreed to contribute his literary experiments to MOM. The American had been working on cut-ups with Brion Gysin since the late-1950s, elements of the occult believed to guide the process, but Burroughs was now looking for ways to broaden this technique.

According to the Barry Miles biography, William S. Burroughs: A Life (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2014): ‘Early in 1964, he applied a new technique known as ‘grids’… The texts were typed out and cut up in the normal way. The resulting manuscript was then divided into a grid of anything between nine and 36 squares… These squares could then be visited in a random order and words or phrases taken from them and typed out on a fresh sheet of paper… another way of creating unexpected juxtapositions.’

The excellent Reality Studio website has scans of the entire set of MOM in which the grid experiments can be seen here.

It’s also worth noting that MOM 10, published in December 1964, includes a cartoon collaboration between Cunliffe and Nuttall entitled: ‘The 32nd Put Down of Two Literary Gentlemen’. Perhaps more intriguingly my research highlights that Nuttall offered Cunliffe and his by then co-editor Tina Morris some of Burroughs’ material which he couldn’t fit into MOM. In Jeff Nuttall’s archive (also held at John Rylands Library) a letter from Cunliffe to Nuttall (probably dated October 1964) confirms his refusal of Burroughs’ ‘Time/Space Experiment’ on the grounds of not having enough room in Poetmeat. Besides turning down work from an internationally famous author, what’s most surprising about the missive is that it is the only one from BB Books in Nuttall’s archive not signed both by Cunliffe and Morris – who has no memory of the offer indicating that she wasn’t told about the Burroughs material. This is very unusual because in my interviews Dave insisted that Tina had at least equal editorial input and often more than that. Cunliffe made two later trips to London to meet Burroughs but on both occasions the American was too intoxicated to make much sense.

When Nuttall moved north (via Norwich) he lectured at Bradford School of Art, influencing colleague John Foxx and other members of what became the radical theatre group Welfare State (International). WSI had much the same anarchic energy and Dadaist spirit as the People Show and was one of the first to introduce community parades into its repertoire – now commonplace. From there Nuttall tutored at Leeds Polytechnic, teaching the likes of Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside who remembers him as ‘…wonderfully entertaining, rude and often very drunk’ in David Wilkinson’s Post-Punk, Politics and Pleasure in Britain (Palgrave, 2016). Band members of The Three Johns and The Mekons also attended the same Yorkshire institution as art students, describing Nuttall as ‘inspirational’ in music press interviews.

In fact it’s possible that Nuttall had already influenced the punk aesthetic. Barry Miles in his book London Calling (Atlantic, 2010) recollects the window displays of Malcolm McLaren’s King’s Road boutique ‘Sex’ reminding him of Nuttall’s fetish designs for the 1965 Better Books sTigma installation. It was the creations of McLaren and Vivienne Westwood which set the blueprint for what would become British punk fashion (bondage, rubber, self-piercing etc.) which very much reflected Nuttall’s 1960s métier.

Jeff Nuttall certainly divides opinion – an audience member at a recent University of Westminster conference described him as ‘probably the most horrible person I ever met’ while at a Hebden Bridge Bomb Culture re-launch one of his Bradford students described him as ‘wonderful’ (despite her stories of him peeing in a sink during a lecture and spending most of his time in the pub). Nuttall’s contribution to various cultural strands deserves re-appraisal and his part within the avant-garde highlighted as part of this process but at the very least he left us the best account of the British underground by someone crucial to its formation.

A Book of Ours: Manchester’s “Homeless” Engage with our Manuscripts

The Library is working with the arts organisation arthur+martha to facilitate the making of an illuminated manuscript at the Booth Centre and other support centres for people with experience of homelessness. Supported by HLF, the project will gather together significant events, dates, people, celebrations and memorials, all in one book, giving a wide cross-section of hugely individual lives. Our hope is that by doing this we reassert the identity and the individuality of people who are sometimes dismissed as homeless when they are so much more. Here Lois Blackburn and Philip Davenport from arthur+martha describe a visit to the John Rylands Library yesterday, to encounter medieval manuscripts first-hand. For more information, visit the inspiring athur+martha blog.

There are no ordinary days at the Booth Centre, the homeless day centre where our workshops are currently based. Within the space of one day, or even one hour, there might be laughter, sadness, fury, tears, joy  and today was no different. This was the fourth workshop of a major new project, making an illuminated manuscript with people whove experienced homelessnes, a book that will include over 100 makers and stand as a testament of ignored, misunderstood lives.

Many people who join in with our sessions are at an extreme, a point where life has spiralled, and emotions are bubbling close to the surface. Sometimes its possible for that emotion to fuel artmaking or writing, which in turn allows self-exploration, or lets people reach out to others. But making such work can be gruelling, there needs to be help at hand so that the journey has an ending. Today, it felt as though some people were walking along the very edge of themselves, trying to find a way through darkness. For others, it was possible to put trouble aside and welcome brightness.


Calendar page for September, from Latin MS 162, a 15th-century Parisian Book of Hours.

The cliché of homelessness is that its a drab, black and white world, a gritty documentary with a downbeat ending. But in the artwork and writing for this project weve looked for inspiration to colour-filled medieval illuminated manuscripts. And in response people have identified the technicolour in their lives, saturated them with golds and greens and reds, as well as seeing the shadows. One piece of writing from the morning workshop starts with, A sunny and warm-full day… In another we meet, the darkness of me.

But today was also remarkable for another reason. In the afternoon we made out first research visit with the group to John Rylands Library to see some original medieval manuscripts first-hand. These handmade books are one-offs, hundreds of years old. To be allowed this close is a rare chance to really encounter books that are artworks of amazing power.

Chris at The John Rylands Library.

Our guide was the friendly and immensely knowledgeable John Hodgson, who is Joint Head of Special Collections. As he led us to the Victorian interior, John paused briefly and in that moment the booming traffic, and seemingly time itself, dropped away. A tremendous sense of peace wrapped around us. We went forward into this amazing public treasure house, marvelling at the carved pillars, the statues, the knowledge, as G said. He took us around the building first of all, which is an architectural beauty of pink sandstone, full to the ceilings with vast bookcases containing vast books.

And then to the books. Nobody quite expected what happened next. As John slowly, slowly, leafed through a 500 year old medieval Book of Hours, the group hushed. The pages were iridescent with blues and reds, and burnished gold. We looked closely, saw the writing of people hundreds of years dead and yet who still spoke to us through these pages. I noticed that two of the people in the group were quietly crying. Still the pages turned, the Hours of the Virgin, which celebrates each part of each and every day, The Offices of the Dead, a section of commemoration. The intense colours burned with a passion for living, for finding the deepest joys in life, and sharing them, and for acknowledging grief and pain too.


Latin MS 162, a 15th-century Parisian Book of Hours.

I suddenly needed to sit down, found I was breathing too fast, Id become dizzy. L wiped his streaming face and beamed the broadest smile I think Ive ever seen on him. Chris, whod gently joked with John through the tour, stopped the wisecracking and simply repeated over and over, Its lovely though, innit? Just lovely.

We sat and had a coffee together afterward and quietly went our separate ways. I waved to the guys across the street as they disappeared into the bustling city. 

Thanks to everyone at John Rylands Library, especially for John for taking such great care of us all, sharing a glimpse of the amazing collection and helping to inspire our project.

Postscript by John: As Philip and Lois say, people are often dismissed as “homeless”, but they are all individuals, with unique characters and experiences. I was deeply moved by the level of engagement and interaction of every member of the group, and I look forward to seeing how that inspiration feeds into their own Book of Ours.

Arthur Moyse: artist, critic and bus conductor


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Bruce Wilkinson writes:

When Dave Cunliffe moved to London in the late-1950s he befriended ‘artist, critic and bus conductor’ Arthur Moyse who introduced him to anarchist ideology through political debates at Hyde Park Corner and via Freedom newspaper (to which he contributed cartoons and reviews), press and bookshop.

Dave Cunliffe Collection, The University of Manchester Library

A well-known character in radical London and friends with the likes of musician and writer George Melly, Moyse remained proud of his working-class roots and had little time for the kind of artists he often mixed with in London’s galleries, taking great pleasure in satirising their lifestyles in his writing and drawings.

Dave Cunliffe Collection, The University of Manchester Library

A rambunctious drinker, he could often be seen (and even more frequently heard) around the capital’s pubs, always prepared to argue the case even if there wasn’t necessarily one to contend.

Moyse was no bar-room philosopher though; he was a highly principled Irish immigrant prepared to get physically involved if the cause called for it, fighting street battles with Oswald Mosley’s fascists and on behalf of gay colleagues at London Transport and it was his brand of pragmatic anarchism which had a profound impact upon the young Cunliffe, inspiring independent thought alongside a new spirit of literary endeavour.

Dave Cunliffe Collection, The University of Manchester Library

One of the great treasures within the Dave Cunliffe archive is his correspondence with Arthur Moyse which includes lots of original artwork and cuttings of his column and cartoons from Freedom. Moyse enjoyed sending postcards, Christmas and birthday cards which he would amend by creating collages, satirising the original cover picture. He also sent numerous prints and photocopies of his own drawings which he turned into originals by adding colour or new content altering their initial meanings.

Dave Cunliffe Collection, The University of Manchester Library

His pictures are mostly humorous black and white ink drawings but with a serious intent, based around a variety of political themes related to his anarchist principles: republican, anti-state and anti-authority, he enjoyed puncturing the pretensions of the privileged middle-classes and the establishment. There’s often many different references within each drawing, usually topical and almost always political but also using his self-taught but broad art history knowledge.

Moyse’s dispatches are often hilarious tales of his own drunken exploits or contain scandalous gossip about political activists, writers or artists. There is also a whole subsection of spoof letters stretching over thirty years, all beginning “You don’t know me, but…” and going on to recount extraordinary tales usually ending with threats of violence or court action under a variety of wry noms de plume.

Dave Cunliffe Collection, The University of Manchester Library

Much of the correspondence isn’t easy to work with as it is often typed on the reverse of arts press releases or gallery invites he received as a critic or even on the backs of letters he’d taken delivery of, re-using the paper with un-numbered pages making it even harder to piece missives together. This does, though, mean that there’s lots of interesting information attached and I can confirm that it is easy to get distracted by reading the details of 1980s events at the Riverside Studios or the ICA.

On his return to Lancashire, Cunliffe used Arthur’s artwork and articles in Poetmeat and for a number of BB Books editions, Moyse contributing to Global Tapestry until the late-1990s when his health began to deteriorate. BB Books published two works created by Arthur Moyse – Golden Convolvulus – a sex-themed anthology of art and verse which led to Dave Cunliffe’s obscenity trial (which we’ll deal with fully in a later blog) – and a collection of his own material in the extravagantly titled Wildly Flowering, Sinisterly Creeping, Joyously Twining, Beautiful Terrible Garden World (1968).

Dave Cunliffe Collection, The University of Manchester Library

He also had his own entirely fictitious Zero One magazine for which he produced a series of front covers often receiving subscription demands both from those interested in reading it and from institutions like the British Library wanting to add issues to its collection. I have to admit wasting quite a bit of research time trying to track down copies before I realised that Zero One didn’t actually exist, something I suspect Moyse would have enjoyed.

Dave Cunliffe Collection, The University of Manchester Library

When Arthur passed away in 2003 his will was contested by distant relatives on the basis that signatures on the document were forged and it is feared that his own huge archive of material has all but disappeared, meaning that this collection of his art, correspondence and writing may well be the most substantial in existence. Although he received an obituary in the Guardian and is fondly remembered by those who still remain from his London circle, Moyse is yet to get the attention he deserves but hopefully someone will make a detailed study of his life and work in the not too distant future.

Can You Name 5 Women Artists?


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Margaret and Adeline Norman by Julia Margaret Cameron VPH.43

Margaret and Adeline Norman by Julia Margaret Cameron, Ref: VPH.43

In this, Women’s History Month, The National Museum of Women in the Arts is challenging people to name 5 women artists in an attempt to highlight a lack of awareness of female artists. This national campaign calls attention to the fact that women have not been treated equally in the art world, and today they remain dramatically underrepresented and undervalued in museums and galleries. The Visual Collections Team here at Rylands felt challenged by the movement and decided to get involved. In the coming week we will be naming and sharing details of #5WomenArtists from our Photographic Collections.

We’re encouraging you to have a go and ‘Name 5 Women Artists’!

Creating a Digital Catalogue of the Latin Manuscripts at the John Rylands Library


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Dr Jo Edge writes:

I’ve been employed at the John Rylands Library since August 2018, tasked with creating digital catalogue entries for the collection of 500+ Latin manuscripts by the end of 2019.

These items span a date range of about 1,300 years, from the seventh to the nineteenth centuries CE. The geographic origins of the collection are equally dispersed, with items from all over Western Europe. The collection also includes a range of formats – codices (books), rolls and scrolls made for varied usages. We have large, richly decorated books for rulers and monarchs, such as the Ottonian Gospels (MS 98), produced for Emperor Otto III between 996-1002.


Ottonian Gospels, Latin MS 98, f. 11r – The Eusebian canons.

Other manuscripts were produced for more practical use, such as the account book of Edward II of England (MS 132) for the years 1323-24.

Latin MS 132

Account book of Edward II, Latin MS 32, f. 5r – A list of the food and drink bought for the King’s Garderobe for 1323-24, including venison, brie, lampreys and quail.

Some are richly decorated and impeccably written such as the Rylands Beatus (MS 8), a commentary on the Book of Revelation produced in Spain in the twelfth century; while others are in a rough script, such as our earliest item in the collection, the Ravenna Papyrus (MS 1) – a donation by military leader Johannes of half his land to the church of Ravenna, produced circa 600.


Beatus’s Commentary on the Apocalypse, Latin MS 8, f. 89r – Lamb with cross.


Deed of Donation, c.600 CE, Latin MS 1, lines 1-23.

What all the hugely varied items in this collection have in common is that they are all written by hand, and are wholly or mainly in Latin.

Most of the Latin manuscripts were acquired by the Library in the first decade of the twentieth century, from the bequest of Enriqueta Rylands, and other acquisitions. The collection was partially catalogued by M. R. James in 1921. James produced catalogue entries of varied detail for MSS 1-183. Most of the rest were brought together in Moses Tyson’s handlist of 1928 which provides a sentence-long description of each manuscript. MSS 184 onwards were then partially catalogued by Neil Ker in 1980. Ker’s work was intended for completion and publication, but he died before this was possible. Fortunately, we have his typewritten, scribbled-on drafts to work with. Around the same time as Ker was producing his catalogue, then-librarian Frank Taylor made additions to James’s catalogue, which was reissued in 1980. As well as the work of James, Tyson, Ker and Taylor, various scholars have produced detailed work on particular manuscripts in the collection, often revising or even contradicting assertions made by James. One such example is Benjamin Pohl’s 2017 article in the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library on Latin MS 182 – a twelfth-century copy of Bede’s ‘Ecclesiastical History’, probably produced at the monastery of Gladbach, near Cologne.

Opening page of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, Latin MS 182 f. 1v.

This, then, is the extent of current cataloguing of the manuscripts in the Latin collection. It is an excellent base on which to build a digital catalogue.

There is not yet a standardised way to catalogue medieval manuscripts digitally, and different repositories use different software and methods. Here in Manchester, we are working with Cambridge University Digital Library who are providing us with a new online image viewer – Manchester Digital Collections. Following Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) principles in XML, I am currently retro-converting James and Taylor’s catalogue into digital files – I’ll then move on to Tyson and Ker. Once that is done, I will check all the entries against the original manuscripts, and create new entries for those items not included in any of the existing catalogues.

These descriptions are not intended in any way to be the ‘final word’. I am not an expert on the 1300 years of history represented in the Latin collection, and I only have another 9 months in post. The wonderful thing about digital records is that they can be modified. I hope to create at least basic records for all 500+ manuscripts (we are still in the process of allotting shelfmarks to some of our newer items!), which can be added to as further scholarship is carried out on particular manuscripts – or indeed, should the Library be able to employ another cataloguer in future.

As I work through the James catalogue, I often contact colleagues at other institutions who may be interested in particular manuscripts I encounter. For example, when I catalogued the Edward II account book (MS 132) mentioned earlier, I got in touch with several colleagues who work on Edward to see if they knew about it. Despite having been catalogued by James, there is currently no easy way to search the Rylands collection online, so it may have been overlooked. It transpired that several Edward scholars did not know about this document, which provides important information about the king’s finances and social relations for a crucial year in his life – he was in the grip of the hated Despenser family and dealing with tense relationships with France.

Repositories do not exist in a vacuum; the manuscripts in any one library or collection were usually acquired piecemeal at some point in the past – and so manuscripts that once belonged together are often now dispersed across repositories all over the world. The scholars who are expert in particular topics are spread around different institutions, or perhaps independent. I see reaching out to various colleagues as a vital part of my role. Twitter may have its downsides, but it facilitates scholars making these sorts of invaluable, instant connections.



Chinese Educational Texts of the Late Qing Dynasty

As part of our ongoing work on the library’s Chinese collections (see previous blog post) we are beginning to digitise some of the most significant and interesting texts. Watch out for more soon! Here Gregory Scott, Lecturer in Chinese Studies introduces four items recently digitised. There are three widely used Chinese primers, plus one unique text that reflects a common genre of inscription used during the imperial era.

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Education was a central concern of Chinese society from at least the Song dynasty (960 – 1279 CE), when a centralised exam system was greatly expanded and used to fill positions in an empire-wide bureaucracy of civil officials. Intended to promote meritocracy, excelling in these exams became a means of social advancement for families throughout the realm. Education started quite young, with private tutors and small schools using primers to teach the basic vocabulary of the Literary Chinese language, sometimes also called Classical Chinese. It served as the lingua franca of educated persons throughout East Asia from before the Common Era right up to the early twentieth century. Although likely originally based on the spoken languages of the Warring States period (475 – 221 BCE), Literary Chinese is quite different from any spoken Chinese dialect, and so even native speakers of Chinese have to learn its particular vocabulary, grammatical patterns, and stylistic conventions. Literary Chinese primers were designed to be memorised by students, and were normally also written so that at the same time as they learned the language, they also learned fundamental morality, geography, history, and other subjects. The content of the core texts of the Literary Chinese corpus, from basic primers to advanced classics, were common knowledge throughout the wider East Asian world.

Chinese 23
Sanzi jing
Three Character Classic

So-named because the text is made up of three-character phrases. It was the standard traditional primer for primary education, as it teaches Literary Chinese reading as well as elements of history and philosophy. The earliest editions were likely first composed in the 13th century CE, and are attributed to several authors but its original author remains unknown. This text remained widely used right up to the mid twentieth century, and it is still read today although it is no longer part of formal education. Virtually every educated person in early-modern and modern China, and elsewhere in East Asia, would have memorised this text. Printings of this text were widely available in relatively cheap woodblock printed editions.

Much of the middle of the text describes the dynastic history of China, which in this edition ends with the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) on p. n16. Another feature of this edition is that the upper quarter of the page is devoted to short aphorisms accompanied by illustrations.


Chinese 24
Qianzi Wen
Thousand Character Classic

Another example of a text intended for primary education, the Thousand Character Classic consists of one thousand unique characters grouped into 250 lines with four characters each. It is said to have been composed in the 6th century CE, and earliest extant copies date from the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE), but its original author or authors unknown. It was used in primary education throughout East Asia up to the twentieth century, intended to be memorized by pupils.

This edition also has a version of the Hundred Family Surnames printed in the uppermost register. The final three lines describe the origin of the text.


Chinese 25
Baijia xing
Hundred Family Surnames

This text is a collection of four to five hundred single- and double-character surnames depending on the edition. The first examples of this text were originally compiled in the 10th or 11th century, and its original author is unknown. This text would be memorised as a primary education primer, and would teach pupils the essential surnames of established Chinese kin lineages. Each family name is accompanied by the name of their traditionally-recognized native place location.


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Chinese 411
Jiexiao shishi tu
Illustrated True Stories of Chastity and Filiality

No other copies of this work were uncovered during our research. It is a collection of ink rubbings of stone inscriptions, pasted together in an accordian-style folding format. The original inscriptions were part of an ancestral shrine built in Shanghai in 1832, and are dated in sixth lunar month of the gengyin 庚寅 year of the Daoguang 道光 era [1830 CE]. The calligraphy was drawn by Xu Weiren 徐渭仁 (1788-1855.) The content of the inscriptions relates to values of filiality and chastity amongst women, which were important moral teachings found within didactic texts from this era.


Hidden Histories: Wilful and Wondrous Women

To celebrate International Women’s Day (although I like to think of it as the whole month) I would like to discuss some exceptional women from history that changed the world in their own way. This blog will explore the lives of Caroline Hershel, the first female astronomer; Mary Prince, an anti-slavery activist, who was also the first woman to write autobiography and petition the courts. We will explore the ideas of problematic icons by discussing the pioneering author, Colette.  Last but not least, The Ananna, Manchester – an organisation founded in education, health-care and friendship.

Caroline Herschel: The first female astronomer

”Femininity appears to be one of those pivotal qualities that is so important no one can define it.”

Caroline was born in Germany in 1750. At 10 she contracted typhus, which stunted her growth, so she did not grow taller than 4ft 3in. She lived with her parents until she was 22, after which she moved to Bath with her brother, William.

Caroline initially worked as his housekeeper but became very interested in William’s passion for amateur astronomy. She learned mathematics, how to construct telescopes and the observational methods of the period.

Caroline assisted William with his astronomical pursuits and was with him when he discovered Uranus. He was knighted and appointed as court astronomer for King GeorgeSmelling out the commet

the Third. Caroline was employed as his assistant, becoming the first professional female astronomer.

Her work flourished in this role. In 1783 she made her first discovery of a nebula (hazy clouds where stars form) and a new galaxy, both on the same night. In 1786 she became the first woman to discover a comet, the 35P/ Herschel-Rigollet. Between 1786 and 1797 she discovered an additional 8 new comets and two new nebulae.

Caroline catalogued every discovery made by herself and her brother. She used this information to create two astronomical catalogues which are still used today: The catalogue of One Thousand New Nebulae and Clusters of Stars and The catalogue of stars taken from Mr Flamsteed’s observations contained in the second volume of the Historia Coelestis and not inserted in the British catalogue by the Royal Society.

The catalogue of One Thousand New Nebulae and Clusters of Stars was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1786, but credited William Herschel.

She found that the most popular index of stars of the time, British Catalogue of Stars, contained errors which hampered her work. She added corrections and an additional 560 new stars. In 1798 it was published as The Catalogue of stars taken from Mr Flamsteed’s observations contained in the second volume of the Historia Coelestis and not inserted in the British catalogue by the Royal Society. This publication credited Caroline and William.

Caroline’s achievements were honoured when she became the first woman to receive the Royal Astronomical Society’s gold medal in 1828. It was another 168 years until it was awarded to another woman, Vera Rubin, in 1996.

The John Rylands Library proudly holds the Memoir and correspondence of Caroline Herschel (Reference: R30496). Please get in touch if you would like to find out more.

Mary Prince: Anti-Slavery Activist

‘They come home and say, and make some good people believe, that slaves don’t want to get out of slavery. But it is not so. All slaves want to be free’

Mary Prince was an anti-slavery activist. She was the first black woman to write a memoir, which outlined the realities of her abuse at the hands of enslavers. This experience was filtered through the production and editing from Susanna Strickland and Thomas Pringle, but retained Prince’s individual voice. Her experiences ensured people understood the horrors of slavery which gained support for the cause.

She was treated cruelly by a series of masters on several West Indian islands, enduring extreme hardship and sexual abuse. When she married a freeman without her enslavers’ permission, she was horse-whipped and, unable to work due to her injuries, was locked in a cage and beaten. Her neighbour discovered her, and let her out; it is unknown if her enslavers were leaving her to die.

Despite this, her enslavers refused Prince’s requests to buy her freedom. They didn’t want to lose someone who, when well, was such a phenomenally hard worker.

In 1807 her owners, Mr and Mrs John Wood, forced her to separate from her husband and took her from Antigua to England. When she became ill and was no longer able to work, they kicked her out of the house.

This same year the UK abolished slavery on the island and Prince was a free woman. However, if she was to return to Antigua she would still be considered a slave.

She met Thomas Pringle, secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society, who gave her employment in his home as a domestic servant. Pringle assisted her in petitioning the court to return to Antigua a free woman, making her the black first women to ever petition the UK courts. She was unsuccessful.

She dictated her life story to Susanna Stickland, a converted Methodist, a poet and guest in the Pringle household. Pringle edited the work and it was published in 1831 as The History of Mary Prince. When editing, Pringle omitted areas of Prince’s life that readers might find sinful, such as unmarried sexual exploits, in order to ensure their full support for the anti-slavery movement.


Prince shows herself as a strong and determined woman in her memoir, defending herself and others, physically and verbally. However, the world was not ready to read about her sexual freedom and much of her relationships (other than her marriage) were omitted from the book to keep her ‘sexually pure’ and to continue a concept popular in this time period, of the perfect slave, worthy of salvation.

The book had the desired effect, attracting a large readership just as the anti-slavery movement was gaining momentum.

Prince died in 1833, the year that the Slavery Abolition Act was passed, a feat which could never have been achieved without Prince’s courage and that of her fellow abolitionists.

You can learn more about her life from her biography, The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian slave. It is available to view at The John Rylands Library from April 2019, in the Rylands Gallery. From July onward you can request it from Special Collections Reading Room using the reference: R107337.18.12.


Colette: A problematic pioneer?

‘Be happy. It’s one way of being wise.’

Colette was a complex woman. After the death of Proust she was considered the most talented writer in France, a pioneer in literature. She divorced and remarried twice, and lived unrestrained by hetero-normative relationships and attire. However, her liberal ways were limited, she considered the suffragettes irritating, wrote for the collaborationist press during the Nazi occupation, and released Julie de Carneilhan in 1941, a book full of anti-Jewish slurs.

This portion of the blog post will explore this history of Colette and the complexities of being held to a high standard due to being a woman and trailblazer. We will ask the question, how do you reconcile the power of a woman with problematic behaviour?

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette was born in the village of Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye. In her late teens she moved to Paris, after marrying Henry Gauthier-Villars, a writer with the pen name Willy. Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette also took on a new persona in Paris, where she became known as Colette.

Willy made regular use of ghost writers in his work, and when he noticed Colette’s talent used her work to publish one of the most famous book series in Paris, The Claudine Books. The semi-autobiographical novels written from the view point of Colette included Claudine at School, Claudine in Paris, Claudine and Annie and Claudine Married.  Willy refused to share the credit, royalties and copyright permissions with Colette.

In her book, Claudine Married, she writes of the non-monogamous relationship between herself and Willy, arranging the marriage in what she described as ‘the most natural way’. Colette had different relationships during this period, but maintained the longest relationship with Mathilde de Morny, better known as Missy.

Missy had short hair and hid her breasts, she dressed in exclusively in men’s clothing and shoes, ‘wearing overalls and three-piece suits’[1] while using socks to fit their feet into men’s shoes. [2]

Colette left Willy in 1906 and continued her relationship with Missy until 1911. Colette and Missy caused a stir with their performance at the Moulin Rouge in a pantomime called Rêve d’Égypte when they shared a kiss on stage. Lesbian couples were accepted in Paris, but in a limited capacity. As a consequence, Missy’s family cut all income.


Colette by Leopold Reutlinger. Source:

Colette worked exclusively as a performer in music halls and gave up writing, until the release of her 1910 novel, Vagabond, inspired by her new career.

In the story of a divorcee who becomes a dancer, a character posed the question “What else could I do? Needlework, typing, streetwalking? Music hall is a profession for those who have never learned one.”[3] She states confidently “I have found my voice again and the art of using it”[4].

This and her subsequent books were published under the name of Colette. This time she kept the credit, royalties and copyright permissions.

Through a contemporary lens, up to this point of her life Colette can be seen as an inspirational story of a talented woman reclaiming her independence in love and art. But like many, Colette made mistakes, many of which would negatively impact other people.

At 47 Colette married the diplomat Baron Henry de Jouvenel and began a romantic relationship with her 16 year old step-son, Bertrand; a situation very similar to the plot of her book Cheri. However, in this case she changed the ages for a smaller age gap. In the book it is an 18-year-old who begins a relationship with a woman 24 years his senior. When her husband found out he demanded a separation.


Colette Source:

Bertrand and Colette carried on their relationship until 1924. After this she met and married her third husband, Maurice Goudeket.  They remained together through the horrors of World War 2 and until her death.

In 1941 the same year she released her book Julie de Carneilhan, Goudeket, who was Jewish, was taken by the Gestapo. Colette was successful in her campaign to have him released from a detention camp. Goudeket and Colette spent the rest of the war hidden in an attic chamber.

Colette died in 1954, after which Goudeket published an account of their days together called Close to Colette. He describes it as a happy relationship which gave Colette serenity. [5]

Colette’s life is inspiring, surprising, interesting and at times, disappointing. She is liberal, yet does not indulge organised feminism. She works hard to free her husband, but writes with slurs that offend his personhood. Colette, like many people, is a host of contradictions. Exploring the ideal and questionable parts of Colette, we acknowledge her personhood and honour her memory in an authentic way.

A copy of Colette’s Mitsou; ou, Comment l’esprit vient aux filles [Mitsou; or, How Girls Grow Wise] (1919), is available at the John Rylands Library, reference R133049.

Ananna: Manchester Bangladeshi Women’s Organisation

‘Providing services for women by women and for the benefit of the whole community’

This year marks the 30th Anniversary of Ananna. To celebrate I will discuss their inception and their aim to reduce isolation and improving mental health of women who had relocated from Bangladesh.

downloadAnanna means Unique Woman in Bengali, which summed up the women who came together in a Longsight library in 1987 to create the Manchester Bangladeshi Women’s Organisation.  After being awarded funding, it officially started its services in September 1989 in Longsight, Manchester.

The aim of Ananna was to empower women and create support to meet their needs that were culturally sensitive. This meant they did not have to struggle through battles alone, the same battles that most Bangladeshi women were feeling at the time.

‘Life is not easy if you are not White.’

The biggest battle facing Bangladeshi women at this time was integrating into society without losing their heritage. Bangladeshi women frequently dealt with being ‘othered’ and experienced racism frequently, so to avoid awkward or racist situations they avoided going out alone. Many did not speak English confidently and so their husbands conducted all the shopping. This often meant women would be isolated throughout the day.

Their first aim was to create preventative measures to reduce the isolation for mothers. Ananna ensured that when children leave home, or partners go to work, there was somewhere social and welcoming they could go to. Ananna gave the women a safe space to learn and be social.

Ananna began creating this community when two members began reaching out to women by going house to house to find where Bangladeshi families lived, they publicised the service, and noticed the demand.

During this period Ananna was managed and guided by Social Services and it was hard to establish trust with the community. This support and independence for women challenged some views held by their husbands.

However, this did not deter women from using the services, which they often went to for help when it was needed.

They worked to find what would be most beneficial to their community. They created a space for education and empowerment whilst also allowing a space for relaxation and socialisation.  The services began with English lessons, and drop-in services for relationship and childcare advice.

They also tackled taboo subjects, such as mental, physical and sexual health, or issues facing their children, such as drugs or gangs. Ananna also held seasonal parties, craft and sewing classes. Ananna also created a crèche to ensure women would not be isolated in the first months of post-partum, with access to mental health services if they would need it.

Manchester Bangladeshi Organisation Ananna Papers are available at the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre, in the Manchester Central Library.


[1] Bentley, (2002) T. Sisters of Salome

[2] Bentley, (2002) T. Sisters of Salome

[3] Colette (1910) Vagabond

[4] Colette (1910) Vagabond


Seminar: Correspondence, Provenance, and the Ethics of Collecting, 6 March 2019

Lives of Letters

Please join us for our second seminar of the semester, featuring two twenty-minute presentations and discussion. All welcome!

Correspondence, Provenance, and the Ethics of Collecting
Wednesday 6th March 2019, 3-4:30pm
A112 Samuel Alexander Building

Ethical challenges in early Twentieth Century Samaritan Manuscript Collecting
Dr Katharina E Keim (Centre for Religions and Theology, Lund University, and Centre for Jewish Studies, Manchester)

Historically, the collecting of Samaritan manuscripts was a challenging endeavour. The Samaritans, who regard themselves to be descendants of ancient Biblical Israelites, were for centuries a relatively insular group that closely guarded their traditions from outsiders. Western scholars and orientalists began acquiring Samaritan manuscripts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the Samaritan Pentateuch played an important role in debates between Protestant and Catholic biblical textual critics. Samaritan manuscripts arrived in Europe in fits and starts until the late nineteenth and early twentieth century when the trickle became a flood…

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