John Rylands Research Institute features in The Times Higher Education


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Professor Peter Pormann, Director of the John Rylands Research Institute, argues that Special Collections libraries must be vibrant communities of library specialists, humanities researchers and scientists in order to survive and prosper in a digital age.

Peter Pormann

Peter Pormann

In an article in Times Higher Education today, he attributes much of the Institute’s success to the effective partnerships between curators and scholars: “We make sure researchers who want to work on something in our special collections are embedded in a team and get a curatorial buddy. The curators who know the collections intimately can show researchers things they didn’t know. That marriage has already worked incredibly well on a number of occasions.”

Read the full article at: University of Manchester: Building an ‘arts lab’ fuelled by the appliance of science | News | Times Higher Education.

Wesley College archives and manuscripts now open to public access at the John Rylands Library


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Gareth Lloyd writes:

One of the world’s most important research collections documenting the history of British Methodism and the 18th-century Evangelical Revival has been deposited at the Library, greatly enhancing the existing resources of the Methodist Archives and Research Centre (MARC).

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The special collections of the former ministerial training establishment of Wesley College in Bristol comprise material created or collected by the college and its predecessor institutions, Headingley and Didsbury. In addition to college records from the 19th and 20th centuries, the collection contains personal papers of iconic figures from evangelical history including John and Charles Wesley, John and Mary Fletcher and George Whitefield, as well as rare and unique items from chapels and Methodist-related organizations.

The collection spans over 300 years and has broader significance than the purely religious, including autograph letters by William Wilberforce, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel.

The collection is deposited in Manchester as part of a partnership between The University of Manchester and the Methodist Church of Great Britain, whereby the archives and early printed material of the Church are deposited in the MARC for preservation and public access. The resources of the MARC are considered to be the world’s finest for the study of the Evangelical Revival.

The archives and manuscripts part of the Wesley College collection is now open to the public and an itemized catalogue, originally compiled by Diarmaid MacCulloch, is available to download. The collection also contains 3,600 early printed volumes and periodicals, which will likewise be opened to readers in due course.

Wesley College Bristol archive and manuscript catalogue (14Mb)

Incuna Nuova: New innovative cradles for Merchants of Print exhibition

Originally posted on Manutius in Manchester:

We have been working hard for the last week, installing the exhibition – Merchants of Print: From Venice to Manchester, which will run from 29th January to 21st June to celebrate the life and work of Aldus Manutius and five hundred years of collecting his books.

The Collection Care department is responsible for condition checking all the books going on display in an exhibition held in the galleries and creates custom made cradles built to support them, even if if the book in question is being displayed closed.

Condition checking consists of the examination of the book, recording the details of its construction, the materials used and the condition. Particular attention is given to the specific opening for the exhibition, and an assessment is made on whether the item will be safe on display for the period of exhibition. This is especially important for tightly bound/damaged books or openings with…

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Burney’s Box of Delights.


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A surprisingly eclectic mix of curios has been unearthed by Archive Assistant, Karen Jacques, from the E.L. Burney Collection. The Burney Collection, donated in 1975–77, comprises of a large number of printed items, but also includes letters, notebooks and other papers associated with Mrs George Linnaeus Banks (1821–97), née Isabella Varley, the Manchester schoolmistress and authoress of The Manchester Man (1876) and her husband George Linnaeus Banks. However, the subject coverage is wide, with items of local history, women’s literature, general and popular fiction, book illustration and juvenilia, but one of the most interesting parts of the catalogue contains more than 40 items listed as relics, which were collected by Mr & Mrs Banks.

These are a few of our favourite things:

This item is listed in the catalogue as a silk purse made of two scallop (pectin) shells. Unfortunately there isn’t any information to explain how it came into the possession of the Banks’ or when it dates from.

Shanghai Slippers

Shanghai Slippers

This photo shows a brightly coloured pair of unmade slippers worked in a mission house in Shanghai. These were bought by Isabella Banks in 1890 from Mr Gibbons.

Queen Victoria's Glove

Queen Victoria’s Glove

This single glove was dropped by Queen Victoria in a corridor at Windsor Castle and was acquired by Mrs Banks.

Amongst the other items collected by the Banks’ is a lock of hair of a Fiji Islander given to George Banks in 1849, two mother of pearl pieces one with floral inset and glass from a button on the dress of a ‘Chinaman’ who came over in a Chinese Junk in 1884.

This is (not) a love poem #jrlpoem15


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This is (not) a love poem

Banish the January blues and look towards Valentine’s Day by helping The John Rylands Library create a new poem using Twitter.

For #jrlpoem15, we’ve picked the theme of love. We’ve gathered some images from our diverse collection to represent the many associated feelings and emotions: adoration, attraction, seduction, devotion, and even jealousy, anger and hatred. Now, we want your creativity to turn these images into a poem to feature in a new micro exhibition.

Each day between Monday, 26 January and Friday, 6 February, we will tweet an image on our official Twitter address @TheJohnRylands. All we want in return is a tweet with a line of poetry to express what the image means to you. The only rule is that your tweet must include the hashtag #jrlpoem15 (10 characters) and it must all fit within Twitter’s 140 character limit. That leaves you 130 characters with which to dazzle us. You can enter as many times as you like.

We must receive your tweets no later than Friday, 6 February to be included in the poetry build workshop on Saturday, 7 February.  The final poem will be on display in The John Rylands Library from Saturday, 14 February until Sunday, 1 March.

Good luck. And don’t forget the hashtag: #jrlpoem15

The Art of Correspondence: Percy Kelly’s illustrated letters


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Blast furnace at Millom, in a letter of 1971, labelled 'A sad epitaph'. The ironworks at Millom were closed down in 1968. Norman Nicholson's poem 'On the Closing of Millom Ironworks' reflects on this and the widespread unemployment it caused in the town.

Painting by Kelly of a blast furnace at Millom, labelled ‘A sad epitaph’, from a letter of 1971. The ironworks at Millom were closed down in 1968. Norman Nicholson’s poem ‘On the Closing of Millom Ironworks’ reflects on this and the widespread unemployment it caused in the town.

Last year we celebrated the centenary of Cumbrian poet Norman Nicholson (1914-1987), and the year finished on a high note with the receipt of an exciting new addition to our Nicholson collections. This takes the form of 16 letters sent to Nicholson by the artist Percy Kelly (1918-1993). The content of these is interesting in its own right – Kelly discusses his own work, that of Nicholson and the connections between them – but what makes the letters extra special is that most of them are beautifully illustrated with original artwork.

Percy Kelly was born in Workington, West Cumbria, and like Nicholson he took inspiration from the industrial landscape of the area. Although he was talented at drawing from a young age, financial circumstances prevented him from attending art college; instead he left school at 14 and worked for many years for the Post Office, finally attending college when he was in his forties. He was prolifically creative, and his talent was recognized by many. However, he could be difficult to deal with and led a reclusive existence; he was reluctant to part with many of his paintings, and very little of his work was exhibited during his lifetime – although this situation has changed since his death, with his work being championed by Chris Wadsworth, founder of Castlegate House Gallery in Cockermouth.

This letter from Kelly dated 15 December 1973 includes a painting of Trumpet Terrace, Cleator Moor (Nicholson's poem 'Cleator Moor' appeared in his first collection, Five Rivers).

This letter from Kelly dated 15 December 1973 includes a painting of Trumpet Terrace, Cleator Moor (Nicholson wrote a poem called ‘Cleator Moor’ which appeared in his first collection, Five Rivers, in 1944).

Kelly and Nicholson first met in 1955, through Allen Freer (an educator, artist and collector, whose papers are also held at the Rylands). They probably corresponded from this point on, but the earliest surviving letter from Kelly to Nicholson that we know of dates from 1971. Unfortunately none of Nicholson’s letters to Kelly survive – archival correspondence is often tantalisingly one-sided like this – but it is fortuitous that these letters to Nicholson have been so carefully preserved. They must have been a delight to receive: many of the letters (and often the envelopes too) are illustrated in watercolour or pen and ink with scenes of machinery, pitheads, railways, boats and harbours, mining villages, and isolated farmhouses glimpsed across Cumbrian fells. Although Kelly left Cumbria in 1973 for Pembrokeshire and subsequently Norfolk, he continued to be inspired by his native region; in one of the letters he comments how ‘I miss the industrial pattern of Cumberland’.

The front of an envelope dating from 1971

The front of an envelope dating from 1971

The reverse of the same envelope.

The reverse of the same envelope.

These letters were acquired in 1999 by Joan David, a great friend and correspondent of Percy Kelly during the last ten years of his life – and another lucky recipient of many illustrated letters.

Joan David (nee Storey), who received a BSc and MSc from the University of Manchester

Joan David (nee Storey), who received a BSc and MSc from the University of Manchester

We are extremely grateful to Joan’s son and daughter who have deposited these letters at the Library in memory of their mother, an alumnus of the University of Manchester.

If you are interested in finding out more about Percy Kelly and his work, there is an informative website devoted to him, and a biography by Chris Wadsworth: The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Drawing (2011). An edited selection of Percy Kelly’s letters to Norman Nicholson by David A. Cross (Cumbrian Brothers) was published in 2007.

We are grateful to Chris Wadsworth for granting permission to reproduce Percy Kelly’s artwork here.

A Manchester clergyman’s perspective on the First World War


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A Special Collection volunteer, Isabel Sinagola, has been working on one of our less explored archive collections, the John Jowitt Wilson Papers. Isabel has found that the collection contains a wealth of interesting material on the social and religious impact of the First World War on Manchester’s citizens.

Postcard from the John Jowitt Wilson Papers

Postcard from the John Jowitt Wilson Papers

Isabel writes:

“Over the next four years there will be numerous explorations of First World War, both historical and commemorative, across every medium imaginable, from radio and television, books and newspapers, to interactive exhibitions and social media. For my part, I have been involved with a small but fascinating archive relating to local people during the First World War, the papers of the Rev. John Jowitt Wilson. Wilson donated these papers to the Library in 1928, believing they would be valuable “for the student of the atmosphere of the ordinary soldier’s mind during the war.”

The letters are particularly interesting for the information they provide – both directly and indirectly – on the role of faith and religion in the lives of these correspondents during wartime. These range from small, apparently incidental comments – “God be with you” etc. – to longer discussions of God’s role in the War. These brief snapshots of opinion illuminate the larger history of people for whom the War was uncontestably a devastating cataclysm for their lives, shaped not just by the far distant events in Serbia, Belgium, France, and Greece, but by the conditions much closer to home.

We know relatively little about the Reverend John Jowitt Wilson, but apparently he was a “stalwart figure, with the big, kind genial face, so well-known to every man, woman and child in Saint Michael’s parish”. His parish was St Michael and All Angels, Manchester, where he was Rector from 1913 until 1927; he died a year later ‘worn out’ from his tireless work in what was one of the poorest parts of the city. St Michael’s was in the heart of industrial Manchester, built next to the pauper’s graveyard of Angel Meadow, which Friedrich Engels described as having “a black irony to its name”, when he visited in 1844.

The letters in the collection make clear the trials of life there; a number of correspondents appear to have borrowed money from Wilson, which he (sometimes unsuccessfully) attempted to have repaid. Some of the loans were to help couples marry – for instance to a sergeant named William because he had left a girl “in disgrace”. It seems Wilson reached the end of his tether with William who borrowed money to ‘do his duty’, neglected to show up at the wedding when he was granted furlough, and finally when the couple did marry, failed to repay the Rector: “you have broken every undertaking and treated the funds of this poor parish disgracefully.”

However, Wilson’s role – like other clergy across the country – was not restricted simply to weddings and loans. He increasingly provided active spiritual support, as the War lengthened and casualties mounted. Wilson supported parishioners who enlisted, some of whom joined the local Manchester Regiment; for them, he was the man they could turn to for help with anything from the provision of religious materials and prayers, to hunting down missing earnings and helping care for elderly parents back home. Wilson also corresponded with the military authorities to get leave for important family events or to help search for missing soldiers for their families.   One envelope, tattered and browned with age, contains Wilson’s notes on a search for a missing husband, and includes a small card reading “Thy Will Be Done, announcing: “In Loving Memory of My Dear Husband, John Woodward Broadfoot, (49,295, 1st Batt. Lan. Fus.) Who was killed in France on April 11th, 1918. Aged 27 years.” Wilson’s role in engaging with the authorities was therefore vital in supporting these parishioners, in both spiritual and material matters.

The Wilson papers, which contain several hundred letters from many correspondents, provide extremely valuable insights into the myriad roles and influences of organised religion during the War, as well as on how the conflict impacted on one small, under-privileged Manchester parish.

James Peters


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