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Fran Horner, a postgraduate student studying the MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies, in her second blog post, tells us more about her internship at The John Rylands Library.

dsh Linga Chakra

dsh typestract ‘Linga Chakra’ in Artes Hispanicas, p.211. By kind permission of Prinknash Abbey Trustees.

Dom sylvester houédard (dsh) was a British Benedictine monk who spent the majority of his life at Prinknash Abbey in Gloucestershire, England. dsh is known for his theological writing, particularly his translation and editing work of the Jerusalem Bible in 1961, and his concrete poetry.

dsh was involved in many post-war avant-garde movements but he made considerable contributions to concrete poetry. Like other avant-garde movements Dada, Futurism and Surrealism, concrete poetry rejected the norm. It was a hybrid between poetry and typographical design, as the form and visual effect of the poem took precedence over conveying meaning through the syntax.

Concrete poetry had its origins in Sweden in 1953. However, it was the work of a group of Brazilian artists who really explored and evolved the movement. Artists such as Augusto de Campos, Haroldo de Campos and Décio Pignatari inspired poets and artists in Europe, particularly Ian Hamilton Finlay, John Furnival, Edwin Morgan and, of course, dsh in Britain.

dsh Chicago Review 2

dsh typestract in And little magazine edited by poet Bob Cobbing. By kind permission of Prinknash Abbey Trustees.

dsh Chicago Review 1

dsh typestract in And little magazine edited by poet Bob Cobbing. By kind permission of Prinknash Abbey Trustees.

In the 1960s, dsh created experimental concrete poetry on his Olivetti Lettera 22 Italian typewriter. The typewriter enabled him to experiment with the colour of the carbon and the placement of letters or symbols on paper, physically moving the paper around and rejecting typical straight lines of text. These experiments were named ‘typestracts’ by Edwin Morgan and dsh describes them as ‘typestracts- rhythm of typing- action poetry- as words grow on paper to see language grow- dictionary (convention as language-coffin- this word/poem means the WAY we use it- we (not them) convene its meaning-’. The typestracts have blurred the boundaries between poetry and abstract art, as the careful but sometimes chaotic composition and architecture of the poems are what transmits its meaning. dsh’s typestracts fully utilise the space in which they occupy, encouraging the viewer to read the poems more dynamically and with more movement over the whole page. dsh rightfully labelled himself a ‘kinetic’ poet.

dsh And 1

dsh typestract in And little magazine edited by poet Bob Cobbing. By kind permission of Prinknash Abbey Trustees.

dsh And 2

dsh typestract in And little magazine edited by poet Bob Cobbing. By kind permission of Prinknash Abbey Trustees.

I am really interested in the objectness of the typestracts, and I personally see them more as works of art than poems, almost like painting with typed forms. The typestracts have made me question what I believe poetry to be: the boundaries and functions of art, literature and typography all dissolve into one another. I think the typestracts perfectly embody the eccentric, intellectual and artistic personality of dsh, whilst also showing his many roles as poet, as designer, as artist, as monk.

To read more about dsh, I recommend Notes from The Cosmic Typewriter: The Life and Work of Dom Sylvester Houédard edited by Nicola Simpson. Available in the University of Manchester Special Collections at the John Rylands Library.

Anne Askew: Author, Martyr and proto-Feminist


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Guest post from Elisa Tersigni, John Rylands Research Institute Digital Humanities Fellow. Elisa recently completed her Phd on the role of women in the English Reformation.


Woodcut depicting the burning of Anne Askew from John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments (1596 edition). JRL R33900

This week marks both the closing of our Reformation exhibition and International Women’s Day, so we thought it would be a perfect opportunity to highlight the ways in which women participated in the English Reformation by drawing attention to one woman who was particularly important: Anne Askew.

Almost everything we know about Askew’s life comes from her own writing and from the men who edited it for publication – she was one of the first published English women writers. Her autobiographical work has been widely read for the past 500 years and she is arguably the most famous Protestant woman martyr as a result.

Anne Askew was born in 1521 in Lincolnshire, England. Her father, William Askew, arranged a marriage between Thomas Kyme and Anne’s older sister, who, before being married, suddenly died. William offered Anne in her place. That Anne was a devout Protestant and her husband a Catholic made for an unhappy match. Anne’s editors report that, after having two children, her husband “violently drove her out of his house”. Anne went to London to seek a divorce – one of first English women to attempt to do so.

At the time that Askew came to London, tensions between Catholics and Protestants were high. While Henry VIII had broken from Rome a decade earlier, his Church of England prescribed beliefs that walked a fine line between traditional (Catholic) and radical (Protestant). Denying transubstantiation (the belief that bread and wine blessed by a priest is really and wholly Christ’s body and blood) was a felony punishable by death, and many Protestants died under this law. But denying that Henry VIII was head of the church was treason, also punishable by death. Many Catholics died under this law.

In London, Askew caught the attention of the authorities, who arrested her and interrogated her at least twice for her Protestant beliefs. Askew records her accounts of these interrogations – each of which takes place over several weeks – in The First Examination and The Latter Examination. In her accounts, she details the ways in which her interrogators intimidate her and attempt to trap her into confessing to heretical beliefs. She explains the ways in which she evades their questions, using her womanhood to her advantage. For instance, when one of her interlocutors, Doctor Standish, asks her to “say [her] mind, concerning the same text of Saint Paul” she responds with, “it [is] against Saint Paul’s learning, that I being a woman, should interpret the scriptures, specially where so many wise learned men [are]”. When another of her interrogators asks her why she has so few words, she replies, “God hath given me the gift of knowledge, but not of utterance. And Salomon sayth, that a woman of few words is a gift of God.” Askew’s various tactics are clever and reveal her nuanced understanding of theology and how to navigate the legal system as a woman.

In her recording of her second interrogation, Askew tells us that she decides to confess to her beliefs, which she knows will result in her death. Her interlocutors illegally torture her on the rack to try to obtain information about other gentlewoman who they are convinced have financially supported Askew; because she does not give any woman’s name, Askew says that her interrogators personally rack her in their frustration.

Askew was burned at the stake on 16 July 1546 at Smithfield with three Protestant men. Contemporary reports mention that her body was so broken from the torture that she had to be carried to the stake on a chair. She managed to record her story in spite of her pain.

Her accounts of examinations were reported to be smuggled out of England, printed in Germany, and smuggled back into England, where they were well received and re-printed at least six times in the sixteenth century alone. Her proto-feminist work continues to be read today.

The Delights of dsh (dom sylvester houédard)


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Hello! My name is Fran Horner and I am a postgraduate student at the University of Manchester studying the MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies. I am currently doing a placement at the John Rylands Library, which involves working with the archive of British Benedictine monk and poet dom sylvester houédard (dsh – he always referred to himself in lower case!). I am going to be regularly updating the John Rylands Library blog with my experiences and interesting discoveries!

dsh portrait

Photograph of dom sylvester houédard. By kind permission of Prinknash Abbey Trustees.

My placement will consist of researching dsh’s importance in the fields of literature and art. He was one of Britain’s pioneers of concrete poetry: a type of experimental visual poetry which had its origins in Brazil, then Europe and was concerned with rebelling against conventional forms of poetry by focussing on the architectural form of letters. dsh’s most celebrated poem is Frog-pond-plop, 1965, and he is famous for his experimental use of his Olivetti typewriter to create ‘typestracts’.


dsh, Frog-pond-plop, 1965. By kind permission of Prinknash Abbey Trustees.

The John Rylands Library holds dsh’s book collection, which is vast, but I will be concentrating on his collection of little poetry and art magazines from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. 

Before I could properly get stuck in with the items in the archive, I was preoccupied with creating a suitable method of cataloguing – something I have never done before! Thanks to Janette Martin (Archivist and Curator) and Julie Ramwell (Rare Books Librarian), I successfully created a spreadsheet with various categories of information that were to be recorded. It has been interesting learning about what categories of information are essential for the catalogue, for example: publisher, year published, volume and editor are all extremely important; whether I liked or disliked the poems… not so important. I have also discovered things about the appropriate type of language and structure I must use within the catalogue: the language must be succinct and consistent to ensure its reliability and usefulness as a finding aid. In the future, researchers may be using my catalogue!

Luckily for me, some wonderful library fairies had already alphabetised the collection of little magazines, saving me a big job, so I began cataloguing the ‘A’s. I must now get back to cataloguing in the Reading Room, where I am sat in five jumpers, but I’m eager to learn more about dsh and his wonderful world of concrete poetry.

sylvester houedart

Two typestracts by dsh published in Approches, 1966, no. 1, p.86. By kind permission of Prinknash Abbey Trustees.

Here are two typestracts by dsh that I found in French literary magazine Approches from 1966. Check back to this blog in the next couple of weeks where I will explore the conception and style of dsh’s typestracts in more detail.


Loose insert giving the title of the typestracts above.  By kind permission of Prinknash Abbey Trustees.

Commend me to your prayers




From Icones virorum illustrium (Images of famous men) Robert Boissard, Frankfurt, 1597

Martin Luther died on 18 February 1546 at the age of 62 in Eisleben, Saxony, the city where he was born. Luther’s actions had sparked a revolution that divided Europe and changed the course of history. Modern European identities were fundamentally shaped by the religious changes that he set in motion. The years of struggle, against the Catholic Church and amongst his fellow reformers, took their toll and Luther suffered from periods of depression and illness. One of the more poignant items in our Reformation exhibition is a letter written by Luther on 1 January 1528.

The letter is addressed to Gerhard Vilskamp, Rector of the community of Brethren of the Common Life at Herford in Westphalia. It is one of a number to survive from correspondence between the two men dating from 1527 to 1534.  Luther’s contact with the community began with Jacob Montanus, a friend of the German Lutheran reformer Philipp Melanchthon, who had moved there in 1522 to assist in their teaching activities. Vilskamp, along with his prorector, had been arrested in 1525 ‘as Lutherans and heretics’ by Bishop Eric of Paderborn and Osnabrück. After the city adopted the new faith in 1530, Luther supported the community in their appeals to the city authorities to maintain their communal life. The subject matter of the letter is particularly personal as Luther reflects on his recent struggles with depression and illness.


Ref. English MS 347/198

Grace and peace in Christ. I have received your most recent letter of consolation, my Gerard, with much pleasure and gratitude. May Christ reward you in eternity. In truth, this temptation was by far the most severe ever, and although it was not unknown to me from my youth, still so troublesome attack as this I had not expected. Nevertheless Christ triumphed, though my life was hanging by a most slender thread. I commend me to your prayers and [those] of your brothers. I have saved others, but I cannot save myself.  My blessed Christ, who passed through the depth of despair, death and blasphemy, will enable us to meet in his kingdom. In the meantime we must make sure that we serve Him in word and deed, but it is not in this that we are justified  – we are truly useless as servants , but our glory is to live in the world for Christ, forgetting our former evil life. What remains is that Christ is our life and our justification (ah, how hard and unknown to the flesh!), although hidden in God . Now I rejoice that I understand Peter  (with you as witness) that we must fulfill the experience of suffering that strikes our brethren in this world, however severe, until the end of this world.

Greetings to my Montanus and all the brothers. [Day] of the Circumcision, 1528.

Yours Martin Luther

Luther letter transcription and translation (with thanks especially to Professor Ulrich Bubenheimer and Dr Irene O’Daly).

Unfortunately we do not know the circumstances for the acquisition of the letter. However it does appear in a ‘List of Purchased Books 1893’, an alphabetical listing written by Mrs Rylands herself. It is one of two items under the heading ‘Luther’, the other being our copy of the 95 theses. You can see both of these treasures on display in our Reformation exhibition until Sunday 4 March.

Conservator’s Caviar: Isinglass Preparation

In January, the conservation team prepared some purified isinglass. Isinglass is a type of glue made of fish, more specifically the dried sturgeon swim-bladder membrane. This adhesive offers different qualities for conservation treatments, such as good ageing properties, flexibility and light fastness. Isinglass is widely used for conservation treatments, for example the consolidation of pigments, repair of parchment or prepared as remoistenable repair tissue.

Figure 1_Weighting isinglass

Figure 1: Weighing isinglass

However, isinglass can’t be used in its raw form. Starting with sheets of the fish membrane, the isinglass must be dissolved, purified and prepared in a form ready to use. The full procedure takes approximately 3 days.

After weighing the desired amount of dried glue, the sheet is carefully cut in small pieces of a few millimetres length. The pieces are covered and left to soak overnight in deionised water.

Figure 2_The membrane is cut out in small pieces

Figure 2: The membrane is cut out in small pieces

The glue is then sieved, gently massaged then, divided into equal parts, and put to dissolve in fresh deionised water. The water is gently warmed in a bain-marie at 29 degrees, and frequently stirred up to facilitate the dissolution. At higher temperatures, the gelatine of the glue starts to degrade and its structure and properties are then altered.

When the dissolution is completed, the isinglass is sieved twice through a thin muslin cloth to remove any impurities. The discs can then be prepared!

Using pipettes, small drops of glue are carefully spaced out on a sheet of Melinex©.

Figure 7_Isinglass drops on Melinex©

Figure 7: Isinglass drops on Melinex©

The drops need to dry whilst covered, protected from dust and impurities. This takes usually between 12 to 24 hours depending on the weather conditions.

Figure 8_Drying under a plastic cover

Figure 8: Drying under a plastic cover

The discs can finally be peeled out of the Melinex and stored in a jar.

The discs are now ready to be diluted in water, warmed up in a bain-marie and used as an adhesive in a conservation treatment. Keep an eye out for our next blog to see it in action!

Norman Nicholson’s ‘Topographical Notes’ in the John Rylands Library


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Max Long, an English MPhil student at Cambridge University, visited the Library recently and has written a guest blog post for us about his discoveries in Norman Nicholson’s Archive:

The John Rylands Library is home to the Norman Nicholson Archive, which holds a comprehensive collection of the writer’s manuscripts and correspondence. Nicholson was first and foremost a poet, and his books, from his first collection Five Rivers (1944) to The Pot Geranium (1954) and Sea to the West (1981) sought to paint an intimate, honest picture of his local Cumbrian landscape, one in which rocks, people and industry were inextricably linked. This vision of the landscape was expressed too in his topographical works, which include Cumberland and Westmorland (1949), Portrait of the Lakes (1963) and Greater Lakeland (1968). Nicholson remained rooted throughout his life in his hometown of Millom, and his poetry reflects the often difficult experience of a struggling industrial town in the post-war years. Norman Nicholson has long been neglected by critics, who are often irritated by his religious preoccupations, his perceived provincialism and his sharp, uncomplicated verse which favours the palpable and the concrete over the abstract and ambiguous. However, the last decade has seen a much-deserved reappraisal of his poetry. The Norman Nicholson Society was established in 2006, and recently two biographies have been written about Nicholson, as well as several academic articles.

Nicholson’s archive is an entertaining collection to read through, given his unusual practice of constantly re-purposing old scraps of paper for new uses. Thus, drafts of poems are frequently written on the back of typed letters or bills addressed to him. The back sides of scribbled and notated typescript drafts of his own, too, were used for writing out poems, rough lists or even bits of topographical manuscript. Nicholson was reluctant to keep his manuscripts and correspondence. In a April 1963 letter, also conserved at the John Rylands Library, Lawrence S. Thompson, then-librarian at Kentucky University Library, wrote to Norman Nicholson requesting a “manuscript poem in your hand”. Nicholson replied that, “I am afraid that practically the whole of my manuscripts have been destroyed. It did not occur to me that anybody would be interested in them”.  He offered instead to send a manuscript of the topographical book he was then drafting, A Portrait of the Lakes:

You may feel that a topographical work will be of littel ineterst [sic] to American students, but the whole key to to [sic] imagery of my poetry can be found in this volume.

copy letter from N. Nicholson to Mr Thompson

Copy letter from Nicholson to Lawrence S. Thompson

My own visit to the John Rylands was motivated by the hope of finding a notebook kept by Nicholson which might shed some light on how he wrote down his thoughts and ideas. The archive includes two folders called “Poetry in Progress”, which contain poetical drafts, mostly written on the back of rough pieces of paper. There are also two notebooks from Nicholson’s school years, which were re-used to write clean copies of his very earliest poetry, most of it unpublished. Another small notebook, with the title Wordsworth in Lakeland, is a compendium of information relating to William Wordsworth’s relationship to specific locations in the Lake District, drawing mainly from Dorothy Wordsworth’s diaries and The Prelude. However, there is only one notebook surviving in the archive which suggests continual and repeated use over time, recording immediate impressions of his surroundings and also scraps of reading and interesting anecdotes.

Topographical - Lakeland Notebook

Front cover of Nicholson’s ‘Topographical Notes’

This is a small blue notebook which is labelled ‘Topographical Notes: Morecambe Bay etc.’ (NCN3/1/8). The notebook, which has a list of quotes about William Wordsworth in a very different hand on the back pastedown, as well as a quote from Matthew Arnold at the front, was probably also an old school exercise book of Nicholson’s. Several leaves have been torn from the front of the notebook, which are likely to have contained pages devoted to its previous use as school notes. A quick glance at its contents, which were indexed by Nicholson himself on the first page, suggests that the notebook was used largely to prepare for writing his topographical book Greater Lakeland (1969), which would place the notebook’s use in the late 1960s, in the immediate years before the book’s publication.

Topographical - Lakeland Notebook

First opening of the notebook, showing Nicholson’s index

Nicholson’s notes are written in light blue ink, and are fiercely difficult to decipher. The writer’s rough notation, together with his abbreviations (including using a single vertical line to mean ‘the’) and the frequent rough sketches he includes beside his notes to describe buildings, mountains and other features of the land, suggests that the book was either carried around with him on short expeditions, or was used to record impressions immediately on his return. The contrast with the neat, organized notes from his Wordsworth in Lakeland notebook could not be starker.

Topographical - Lakeland Notebook

This page includes some sketches of Cartmel Priory made by Nicholson

Although the tone of the notebook is characterized by an impersonal form of observation, there are a few moments where Nicholson allows a glimpse into his presence as note-taker. At Great Salkeld, after briefly mentioning the church’s fortified tower, he writes of a “road to river [..] Place where we picnicked”. The “we” here refers to Nicholson’s wife Yvonne, who helped him in his travels by driving him across the region during the preparation of Greater Lakeland. Nicholson never fully recovered from the tuberculosis that confined him to a sanatorium for two years when he was sixteen, and he struggled to walk long distances.

The notebook also includes a few rough notes from his reading, which are duly referenced with an underlined title of the book and its author. Writing about Eskdale Railway, for example, he includes notes taken from a book called Small Talk at Wreyland by Cecil Torr, as well as some information about Lancaster Canal drawn from Jack Simmons’s Journeys in England. What is interesting about these reading notes is that they are very sparse – when references from the Topographical Notes overlap with the content in Greater Lakeland, Nicholson usually adds much more detailed information. Perhaps the Topographical Notes were intended only for very quick notation, with Nicholson resorting to more detailed notes located elsewhere.

What is most fascinating about the notebook, however, is that it shows Nicholson’s note-taking to have served both his topographical and his poetical modes of writing. As Nicholson’s letter to Lawrence S. Thompson indicated, he clearly thought of both as closely related. The Notebook was in use towards the end of an eighteen-year hiatus in Nicholson’s poetic career, and some of the notes appear to show him looking at the landscape with the kind of poetic eye that dominated his later poetry. In his notes about Burgh-by-Sands, for example, he notes that there,

seems to be
1 single cooling tower over the water (overhead)
but, as you move over sands, you
see the tower slowly gets wider,
then splits into two, two – This,
is subdivided + you see four towers
side by side over four parallel
leeks of smor snot steam wh, before,
had appeared only to be one.

Topographical - Lakeland Notebook

Nicholson’s notes about Burgh-by-Sands

Nicholson’s focus here, as at a number of other sections of the notebook, is with how elements of the landscape appear changed depending on the position of the viewer. As he moves across the sands, what seemed to be one tower, is in fact four. David Cooper has written recently about how Nicholson’s later poetry shows a deep concern with light and vision, and his last Faber collection, Sea to the West (1981), contains several poems addressing the changing view of Black Combe, a mountain overlooking his Millom home. As Nicholson’s only working notebook to survive in his archive, the Topographical Notes are a valuable asset in the John Rylands Library for researchers interested in Norman Nicholson’s poetry, his unique way of reading and describing the landscape, and twentieth century note-taking practices more generally.

We are grateful to the Trustees of the Estate of Norman Nicholson for their permission to reproduce the images in this blog post.

Catalogue of the Arley Charters now Online


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Volunteer Sandra Cruise reports on the completion of a landmark catalogue of the Arley Charters, begun by fellow volunteer Robert Stansfield in 2011.

A catalogue of one of the Rylands’ most important collection of muniments is now available via the library’s on-line catalogue, ELGAR. The Arley Charters, which mainly concern the Dutton and Warburton families and their Cheshire estates during the medieval period, are of national importance, noted for the large number of early charters and many fine seals appended thereto.


Deed of gift from Robert the hunter of Thelwall to John the Hunter of Appleton, n.d. [c.1250-1290]. Arley Charters, ARL/16A/2.

The charters, over 750 in total, form the earliest component of the collections of the Warburton family of Arley Hall, Cheshire. They commence c.1170 with gifts of land to one of the earliest family members, Adam de Dutton (fl. 1172-1212), who was both Steward of Widnes and, from 1178, Steward of Blackburnshire, and continue through the family’s change of name from de Dutton to Warburton c1311, concluding in the late 18th century with documents relating to the fifth and last baronet, Peter XI.  The bulk of the collection relates to the medieval, Tudor and Stuart periods and to the family estates of Appleton, Aston by Budworth, Aston by Sutton, Chester, Dutton, Great Budworth, Lower Walton, Lymm, Newton by Chester, Northwich, Poulton, Pulford, Sutton, Thelwall, Warburton, Wincham and Winnington. Included are examples relating to the constables of Chester, several monastic charters, plus a small number of Papal bullae. In addition, there are some deeds of the 13th and 14th centuries relating mainly to Beverley in Yorkshire, to property which ultimately devolved on the Cheshire family of Winnington (later connected to the Warburtons through marriage in the early 16th century).

As significant landowners, the family undertook many important roles, as already indicated. Sir Geoffrey I (d. 1248), also known as ‘de Budworth’, married Alice, daughter of John de Lacy, constable of Chester and was a member of the latter’s retinue on Crusade in the Holy Land in 1218. Some years later, Sir Geoffrey V (d. 1382) was a retainer of Edward, Prince of Wales, the ‘Black Prince’, indentured in 1367 to serve him in peace and war with two esquires.


Indenture of retainer from Edward, Prince of Wales (the Black Prince) to Geoffrey de Warburton, 6 June 1365. Arley Charters, ARL/14/5.

Names of the witnesses of the charters can also be revealing, including in their number not only the Duttons’ and Warburtons’ eminent Cheshire neighbours, but also sheriffs and justices of Chester, whose names have helped to date some of the undated documents in the archive, and even, in some instances, the names of the clerk who penned the charter.

The collection is also notable for its seals. Examples include those of the constables of Chester, Royal (Great seals) and monastic seals, Papal bullae, plus many from the Duttons, Warburtons and other Cheshire families. Amongst the Yorkshire charters are some seals of women, such as Agnes de Castell and Isabella de Burton, and of a tailor, William de Scheldware.

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This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Also significant are the early examples of trade receipts, such as those of draper, John Ridley of Chester, and grocer, ‘Market’ Dingley, who supplied wares to Sir John Warburton in 1559 and 1560 respectively. There is also a small number of letters and other documents relating to the living of the church of Lymm-cum-Warburton in the 18th century, plus other estate related papers, and a pedigree of the Warburtons of Hargrave, Cheshire, of 1696.

The catalogue is based on William Beamont’s printed calendar of 1866, compiled at the behest of Rowland Egerton Warburton (1804–1891), who had inherited the Warburton estates from his grand-uncle, the last baronet. The new version includes some 20 or more additional items not included in Beamont’s original, and is arranged in box, rather than in Beamont’s geographical order, which should make searching considerably easier for the researcher.

The archive provides a valuable record of the history and development of a landed family over 500 years. Topographical names and details, some of which may have long-since vanished, will be a rich resource for local historians.

Sacred Sounds and Radical Printing


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In the 1530s, England was in turmoil. After centuries of following the Catholic faith, people were being told that their beliefs were wrong, and the ways in which they should express them must change.

An ordinary experience?

Image of the contents page of 'The King's Book'

‘The King’s Book’ detailed what Henry VIII’s subjects were meant to believe and how they should practice their religion.

It is hard to find out about the experience of ordinary people during the Reformation in England, but we do have some clues. Our current exhibition, The Reformation, includes a copy of the King’s Book (The Necessary Doctrine and Erudition for Any Christian Man) in which Henry VIII addressed his people directly. Published in 1543, the King’s Book brought together a number of existing publications, including the Ten articles of 1536 and the Six Articles of 1539, with some significant edits. It was a traditionalist revision of the religious changes which had been sweeping the kingdom for a decade, reflecting Henry’s own shift back towards orthodox Catholic beliefs. There was, of course, one notable difference to Henry’s Catholicism: in England, the king remained head of the Church.

The importance of print.

We know that this book was popular since it was reprinted many times. This may indicate the wide appeal of the king’s word, but may equally demonstrate that people were desperate to know what they should believe, and how they should show it.

The Radical Print demonstration on Thursday 8th February will show the John Rylands’ nineteenth century printing press in action and offer an insight into how print revolutionised life in the fifteenth century.

Sacred Sounds.

Central to the experience of Christinanity for many people at the time were encounters with sacred music. On Thursday 15th February, the John Rylands will host Sacred Sounds, an evening performance by Ad Solem, bringing the music of The Reformation to life. Ad Solem is a student-led chamber choir and part of the Manchester University Music Society.

In the unique setting of the John Rylands Library, visitors will be able to experience some of the new music which the Reformation brought into people’s lives.

Join us at this free event on 15th February, to experience sounds of the Reformation which brought such change to people’s lives five centuries ago.

Sacred Sounds is a free, unticketed event but spaces will be limited. The performance will start at 5:45pm and conclude by 6.30pm.

Radical Print is a free, drop-in demonstration of the nineteenth century printing press between 11.15 and 11.45am on Thursday 8th February. Booking is not required.

For more information, please see the John Rylands Library events pages at http://www.library.manchester.ac.uk/rylands/whats-on/.

The Language of Catalogue Descriptions



The Heritage Imaging Team has recently completed a project to digitise 901 lantern slides held in the Christian Brethren Archive. As mentioned in a previous blog post, in the case of many of these slides, we had very little contextual information, or information relating to their provenance.

The creation of a catalogue for visual material without much knowledge of origin or content presents certain challenges and concerns.

If you are unable to identify the origin of the image, and the scene it depicts, the cataloguer may be reduced to simply describing what they can see, and thus descriptions like ‘Man under tree holding stick’ are born. As there were several cataloguers involved with this project, there are further concerns in terms of the standardisation of language, as one person may decide to to describe the same moving body of water as a river, and another as a stream.

There are also challenges in terms of the elements of the image which are chosen for description. Is the weather relevant? Do you mention any figures in the background, or stick to the foreground? The cataloguer may be fairly certain that the building depicted is a school, but without any corroborating data, may have to simply describe it as a building.


Another pressing concern is the importance of employing terminology that is culturally sensitive. If the cataloguer is unfamiliar with the subject matter and the culture depicted, it is crucial to try not to make assumptions, or produce descriptions which may prove to be inaccurate.

The cataloguer is left with the options of the potential inclusion of misleading, culturally insensitive information, or catalogue descriptions that are so bland and vague as to impart no useful information at all, thus rendering them not terribly useful as finding aids.

Early on in the process of cataloguing these slides, I decided that I would prefer to avoid misrepresentation by guesswork, and to opt for the best descriptions we could create based upon what could be identified within the images.


The inclusion of information generated by those belonging to the community to which the records relate, and from experts, has become a recognised and valued technique for descriptions of community collections and archives. Now that the lantern slides are available online, I am attempting to obtain more information from members of the Brethren Archivists and Historians Network, from members of the Christian Brethren, and from academics and researchers with expert knowledge on China, Africa and race relations.

There has also been some suggestion in the archival profession that perhaps an attempt should be made to return to archive catalogues created in the past, and improve the outdated terminology used within the descriptions. A problem with this approach is that, in 100 years, elements of the language which we currently use may be considered incorrect, or potentially offensive. Furthermore, the cataloguer must consider what terminology is likely to be employed by researchers when searching for records. It may be more helpful to enhance (rather than replace) descriptions with new additional terminology, to best ensure that a catalogue remains effective.

In the course of this project, I have come to appreciate again that the language used in archival description is important. The use of participatory description is significant and necessary, as we aim to be inclusive custodians of cultural memory.