Behind the Scenes of an Exhibition: The Life of Objects Shop Range


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Liza Leonard, Visitor Engagement Co-ordinator: Reception and Retail writes:

The shop is a key part of the Library’s offer for audiences. We know that visitors expect to take a bit of the Library’s collection home with them; whether it’s a magnet of the Historic Reading Room or a print from a 15th century book – our visitors find something special in this place that they want to keep and cherish beyond their visit.

Over the past two years we have developed ranges of products for the shop which reflect and support the Library’s special exhibitions. We’ve used images of exhibition collections to create bespoke products. For Darkness and Light our exhibition that explored our Gothic collections we were able to use a number of amazing images from Anatomia by Andreas Vesalius and Osteographia or the Anatomy of the Bones by William Cheselden on a range of different products including notepads, tote bags, lens cloths and postcards. Similarly we used images from books in the exhibition Magic, Witches and Devils to create prints, magnets and postcards. We’ve found that products created from the images in the collection are really popular as it’s a way for our visitors to deepen their engagement by taking some of the exhibition home with them.

As well as creating bespoke products for the exhibition ranges we also source a number of ‘off the shelf’ products that complement the theme of the exhibition. For the range for Off Beat we included a number of book titles which were relevant to the exhibition themes; the poet and publisher Jeff Nuttall and 1960’s counterculture. What makes our shop offer unique – is the diversity of our collection. You may not expect to find an original copy of Beat Poetry alongside a 16th century print of the Devil but this reflects our collection. With over 1.4 million items spanning 5000 years, we have the opportunity to surprise and delight our visitors through our retail offer.

The Life of Objects Range

Life of Objects Shop Items (Ducks)

Life of Objects Shop Items (Ducks)

When creating an exhibition range I usually use a mixture of bespoke and off the shelf products. It’s great to be able to use the collections to create bespoke products but this can be labour intensive and it’s not always possible to meet minimum quantity requirements and so bespoke and off the shelf can create a good balance.

In order to create a good exhibition range which reflects and helps to tell the story of the exhibition it’s important that I’m involved in the exhibition process from the start. I was very lucky to have access to the items which were going to be displayed at one of the first working group meetings. It was really exciting to see the amazing mix of items that were going to be displayed and there wasn’t a book in sight! The stories behind the items and the individuals in each collection are really interesting; how did Isabella Banks end up with the lining from Napoleon’s Coffin? It’s really fascinating!

I was really excited after this meeting but I realised that although the items to be displayed in the exhibition are really interesting they wouldn’t necessarily translate to commercial products. Unlike past exhibition ranges I realised that due to the limited commercial visual impact of the items, bespoke products would be difficult to produce. This meant that the range would mainly need to be created from off the shelf products.

The next stage in the process was to think about the look and feel of the exhibition range. The items in the exhibition are all from different periods over the last 200 years. This works really well in the exhibition but I was concerned how well this would translate to a small exhibition range on one table in the shop; how well would a Victoriana style item work next to modern art from the 1960s? For this reason I decided that the range should have a feel from a particular period represented in the exhibition and so I decided to create a range of products which had a Victorian style. As we already have a Victorian range in the shop that sells really well I feel confident that this will appeal to the visitors.

The Life of Objects exhibition is a really interesting insight into the different objects people collect. I felt especially inspired by the objects from Isabella Banks and how they seem really different, unusual and random. I decided to create a range of products that echoed that random and unusual feel. The shop has already started to build a reputation for stocking some lovely unusual products and so I have embraced that for The Life of Objects Exhibition range.

Life of Objects Shop Items (Sea Horses)

Life of Objects Shop Items (Sea Horses)

The next stage was to source products that would fit into the style and theme I had decided on for the Life of Objects exhibition range. From existing and new suppliers I put together a long list of potential products and used images of them to see how well they visually fitted together. The next step was to narrow down the long list so anything that didn’t fit as well visually with the theme of the exhibition was dropped from the range. I then thought about the price of the products, is there a good mix, is there something in the range that most people could afford as well as some higher price point items?

Although there are no books in the exhibition I felt that it was important to include books by people featured in the exhibition within the product range and so I have sourced titles by Elizabeth Gaskell, Walt Whitman, Lord Byron and The Manchester Man by Isabella Banks. I was especially pleased to find a local publisher for The Manchester Man.

The next stage was to order all of the products. Once the products arrived I then arranged them in the shop ready for the start of the exhibition.

I hope that visitors will feel inspired by the Life of Objects shop range and want to take home a product from the shop to add to their own collection of Objects.


Share your experience of The Life of Objects: #jrlobjects @TheJohnRylands

Henry Ling Roth and The Aborigines of Tasmania


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Henry Ling Roth

Henry Ling Roth (courtesy of Calderdale Museums Service).

Dr James Peters writes:

Henry Ling Roth (1855-1925) was a remarkable example of an “armchair” ethnologist. He wrote studies of indigenous peoples in West Africa, Borneo and Tasmania without setting foot in any of these locations. Despite this, Roth was no charlatan, and his work was praised by experts for its originality and thoroughness.

Roth spent his early adulthood working in Russia and Australia, before settling in Halifax, West Yorkshire, where he became associated with the local museum, Bankfield. He helped develop its collections, which included a good deal of ethnographical material. This obviously inspired him to study the subject further, and in 1890 he published The Aborigines of Tasmania, a detailed account of the history and culture of Tasmania’s indigenous population.

The book had a print run of only 200 copies, but it was graced with a preface by Edward Tylor, one of the leading ethnological authorities of the day.  The book was well received, and during the next decade Roth began work on a much-expanded second edition, which was published in 1899.


Title page for proposed third edition of The Aborigines of Tasmania (HLR/4/5)

The papers Roth accumulated in researching The Aborigines of Tasmania are now held by the Library and have been recently catalogued (the catalogue is available on ELGAR). They provide an invaluable insight into the ideas and working methods of the ethnologists of the time.

Roth was influenced by Edward Tylor, who believed Aboriginal Tasmanians were essentially a survival of Paleolithic Man, and therefore an important source of speculative information about how early man might have lived. The validity of this thesis was a key theme of Roth’s book.

Roth, however, only had limited evidence to work with. By the time he was writing, the Aboriginal Tasmanian population had suffered from the catastrophic effects of persecution and disease, and only mixed-race Aboriginals survived. Roth’s research was therefore conducted against a background not only of distance, but also rapidly disappearing information.

Here he depended on help from two Tasmanians: James Backhouse Walker and J. W. Beattie. The collection includes their letters to Roth which describe how they made casts of Aboriginal tools, scoured Aboriginal sites for objects, collected photographs and documents, and shared their own considerable knowledge. Walker also took cranial measurements of skulls of the indigenous  peoples, which were used for comparative anatomical analysis, considered important for demonstrating the Paleolithic thesis. Beattie conducted an ultimately successful attempt to photograph Fanny Cochrane Smith, one of last fluent speakers of an Aboriginal Tasmanian language.

Roth‘s own research was rarely speculative or theoretical. His method was to compare available views on a topic, and then offer his own judicious summary.  Much of The Aborigines of Tasmania comprises citations of other writers, and sometimes Roth’s own views can be hard to discern. Reviewers, however, liked Roth’s book. Walker told him: “you have now said the final word on our unfortunate Aborigines”; this was not true, but Roth’s book held the field for several decades.

The history of the European settlement of Tasmania and the subsequent treatment of Aboriginal Tasmanians have been controversial topics.  Roth was not an outspoken writer, but nevertheless he took the view that  “the war between the two races was considered by the colonists to be one  of extermination”, and expressed regret at the “sad and untimely destruction” of the indigenous islanders.

What The Papers Said – the Editorial Correspondence of C.P. Scott in the Guardian Archive


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I have now come to the final week of work on the Guardian Archive. C.P. Scott’s editorial correspondence series has been catalogued, all 12,933 letters of it, dating between 1879 and 1969, and the catalogue is now available on the Archives Hub. I have also enjoyed assisting on a workshop on archives for A-level students, running collection encounters and taking part in the Manchester Histories Festival.

I’ve had an excellent small team of volunteers, who have produced great catalogues and guides on material in the archive on the Boer War, and on women’s suffrage, and together we have curated a small exhibition in the Rylands Gallery, to promote some of our most interesting finds. I’ve also had the opportunity to write some articles about the archive, and explore its links to Manchester, including pieces for the Archives Hub, the Manchester Region History Review and for education page of the Guardian itself.

C.P. Scott, 1846-1929. Reproduced courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd

Scott’s correspondence is a fascinating window on the history of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The letters include discussions with Scott on the political, economic and social issues facing Britain, and also discussion of these issues in countries throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America. There are correspondents of renown from Herbert Hoover to Emmeline Pankhurst, and Mahatma Gandhi to George Bernard Shaw.

As the correspondents are arranged alphabetically, the time period and the subject matter varies considerably from one to the next. Discussion of the paper shortage in the first world war can be followed by the land apportionment act in Southern Rhodesia, and then arrangements for music criticism are followed by articles on the tomb of the Pharaohs. I have learned about the Armenian genocide, and about bone setters.

So, as this project draws to a close, I’d like to record some general observations, gleaned from cataloguing the series:

  • C.P. Scott was a real master of the short, snappy letter. I don’t think I read any external business letters which ran to longer than one page.
  • Memos are the equivalent of internal email in the early 20th century, where the members of staff talk about correspondents between themselves.
  • The women in this series are extraordinary. Owing to the time period, it’s unsurprising that they are so heavily outnumbered by male correspondents, but the women that feature include social reformers, politicians, and activists, scholars and journalists.
  • Staples (one of the banes of an archivist’s existence) begin to appear about halfway through the time period covered by this series. Prior to this, pins were used in their place.
  • Letters of recommendation written by C.S. Lewis are particularly eloquent.
  • There is really only one correspondent in the series that I haven’t been able to properly identify. If anyone can shed some light on W.H. Woodward, I’d be in your debt.

Many of the letters post-date Scott’s retirement, and the series also contains newspaper cuttings and leaflets, and personal letters between members of the Scott family. I’ve therefore had to conclude that, despite its title, the editorial correspondence of C.P. Scott is not all editorial, not all correspondence, and not all with C.P. Scott.

This has been a challenging and rewarding project, and I am very pleased to have contributed to improving the accessibility of this outstanding archive.

Inter-Library Drone Service

Readers sometimes wonder why Special Collections materials can’t be transferred between library sites. In the twenty-first century, we still expect readers to travel between sites, and anyone who has experienced Manchester’s roads will know the challenges that this presents.

So, for a trial period from today, we are applying cutting-edge technology to bring rare books, manuscripts, archives and visual collections, to you, the reader. Taking a leaf out of Amazon’s book (other low-tax paying online retailers are available), we will be using drones to transfer Special Collections materials from the John Rylands Library to other University of Manchester Library sites.


Antiquarian book being carried by one of the new drones.

The Drone Airborne Fast, Frequent Order and Delivery Inter-Library Service (DAFFODILS) will initially be limited to books up to the size of quartos (approx. 350 mm high). They will be carried in ultra-light, high-strength cradles, made from the wonder material Graphene, which are slung underneath the drones. Ultimately, we aim to convey every type and size of Special Collections material, up to Audubon’s double elephant folio Birds of America, using multiple drones operating in unison.

Trials have shown that, with a following wind, drones can make the journey in three minutes – cutting at least fifteen minutes from travel times by road.

What happens when it rains, you may ask. After all, Manchester is well known for its damp climate. Obviously, soggy books aren’t a good idea. So each drone is equipped with an automated mini-umbrella, which activates when moisture sensors on the drone detect rain. Exhaustive testing has shown that the system is 100% fool-proof, and no damage has been detected to any book or manuscript conveyed by drone.

Orders for DAFFODILS can be placed online, using this link.

So, the next time you are in Manchester, look up – you might spot a book or manuscript winging its way between our libraries.

Creating the future: thoughts from Digifest 2017

Technology and learning have always gone hand in hand, as the Rylands Collections demonstrate, ranging from clay tablets to papyri, manuscripts and the formation of the codex to printed books, pamphlets and, more recently, the archiving of emails. This year’s JISC’s Digifest event in Birmingham brought together people from across the education, information and technology sectors to celebrate the power of digital and to share insights and discuss opportunities to revolutionise learning and teaching.

A view of the main stage at Digifest17

A number of sessions brought together speakers from different institutions

One of the recurring questions of the event was whether digital technology is fundamentally changing the ways in which we learn. New, digital based skills are certainly being acquired by students, and we now have new tools to support learning in new forms, such as through MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), via distance learning and virtual campuses.  But whatever may be changing, everyone agrees that people are still at the heart of learning, and that new tools should be used to improve the student experience, enhance flexibility and, above all, to promote communication between learners.

If used well, digital technologies can break down barriers to learning, whether that’s for people returning to education, those with disabilities or simply providing digital access to rare materials which otherwise couldn’t be studied. In particular, JISC’s online guide to ‘Making Collections easier to Discover’ gives some great tips on how to enhance access to digital heritage collections. That’s not to say that there is no longer a place for physical materials in learning, or that everyone is now an expert in the digital realm, but global collaboration and the exchange of ideas are now far easier than ever before. Over the two days of Digifest, some interesting examples of this were shared by delegates: slides are available at

A view of the outside of the Library of Birmingham

The Library of Birmingham, just outside the conference centre

Using technology in learning isn’t just about embracing the latest craze; there isn’t yet much long term evidence for the impact of technology on lifelong learning. But short term studies suggest that learners can get more engaged and interested when their experience is tailored, flexible, and offers access to otherwise hard to access materials. Many creators of digital material now hope that learners will begin to take what is available and create their own content from it, creating new materials which can be shared worldwide. Closing the conference, Lauren Sager Weinstein gave a fascinating insight into the real impact of digital data on running Transport for London, supporting millions of travellers every day.

So whether technology is fundamentally changing the way we learn and live, or just revolutionising how we do it, it’s exciting to think that new digital opportunities are allowing us to open up rare collections and share learning experiences across the world. With learners set firmly at the centre of teaching, technology can help people to expand their vision, link globally with others and become the creators of tomorrow.

Volunteer Projects on the Guardian Archive


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As the most recent cataloguing project on the Guardian archive draws to a close, our project volunteers, Jane Donaldson and John McCrory reflect on their experience at the John Rylands Library.

Jane Donaldson writes:

I was drawn to the role of volunteer cataloguing the Manchester Guardian papers as having previously worked at John Rylands I was familiar with the collection and knew that it contained some fascinating primary source material. I was excited about the chance of being able to look through the collection, read the letters and research the various subjects all the while being mentored throughout the task.

The project was structured from the outset with various goals given and tasks ranging from the cataloguing of the items to collections encounters, choosing items for exhibition and writing labels in the house style and helping in a sixth form workshop which used material from the collection.

A choice of topics was given for the volunteers to choose from. All would have been interesting to work and research on and it was hard to choose.  I choose Women’s Suffrage and started to catalogue the relevant letters and undertake relevant research.  I thought I knew about Women’s Suffrage, but cataloguing the letters gave me a further insight into the various factions of the Suffragists and Suffragettes, the militant campaigns and increase in violence, plural voting, various Bills and amendments, political struggles, the treatment of prisoners and the violence surrounding the fight for enfranchisement.

Once cataloguing had begun, it seemed that there were references to the Suffragettes wherever I went which made the research more fulfilling. Staying in London, I had to go to a different entrance at Finsbury Park station than usual which meant passing a sculpture which I knew had a representation of one of the Suffragettes, but I hadn’t looked any further into finding out who it was or their story. The figure was of Elizabeth Garrud (1872-1971) a suffragette and martial arts teacher who taught jujutsu to the Suffragette Bodyguard, a group thirty women who were trained to protect Suffragettes who had been released under the Cat and Mouse act from being rearrested.

A Sustrans ‘Portrait Bench’ by Katie Hallet featuring Edith Garrud, Florence Keen and Jazzie B

A visit to Kew gardens highlighted the more violent techniques of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). They had burnt down the tea gardens.

Information board at Kew Gardens

I’d also noticed packaging on my daughters dolls that included a medal which is based on the Suffragette colours of green (hope), white (purity) and violet (dignity).

The importance of using and questioning resources during research became apparent as there were sometimes errors in secondary resource material. As well as cataloguing, research, palaeography, using the online newspaper database and other related archive skills, this project game me the opportunity to research and find out more about a movement that fought hard to get the vote for Women. I have been to other repositories, searching through their archives, been able to help others with research and attend talks and events with an increased breadth of knowledge. I have enjoyed learning about the significance of Women’s Suffrage and recognise the effect it has on Women still fighting for equality in many areas is as significant today as ever.

John McCrory writes:

Our time on ‘What the Paper’s Say’ began with Fran and Jess giving us a comprehensive tour of the library itself, leaving me with the overriding impression that it felt far larger than its footprint might suggest! Next week I was introduced to the material I was to help catalogue, items from C.P. Scott’s general correspondence covering the Boer War (1899 – 1902). This is not a period in British history that is often discussed, tending to be completely overshadowed by the Great War of 1914-18. But its themes of imperial expansion, the military involvement of the Empire’s Dominions, the development of concentration camps and the freedom of individuals and groups to protest in the face of public hostility, signify its broader importance.

We were given expert guidance on cataloguing, with Jess keeping a close eye on things, and there was always plenty of assistance at hand in the room for those seemingly impenetrable, illegible letters. As part of our role we were to select three items for exhibition in the permanent gallery at the John Rylands Library, along with writing their descriptions for display. Again we were to be helped and closely guided, with Josie Sykes giving us an introduction to theming items, selecting material to match the library’s audience and adding the correct descriptions to the letters.

Two collection encounters were also arranged, allowing us to select three items and introduce them to visitors to the library. It was a great opportunity to discuss material we had been working on for several months and sharing the knowledge we had acquired. One visitor had recently restored the memorial of a distant relative killed in action in South Africa, and was delighted to read original accounts of the war from the period.

We were given the luxury of immersing ourselves in the subject matter, allowing us to gain a real appreciation of the topic through reading contemporary letters, articles, pamphlets and newspaper reports. When reading original records one feels much closer to the individuals writing, and the events described. One particular folder, containing readers’ letters to the Manchester Guardian, gave a vivid impression of the strong feelings invoked by the war. Alternately praising or lamenting the newspaper’s position, with some violently condemning its treachery, the Manchester Guardian’s strong and consistent opposition to the war was an unpopular position at the time, but vindicated by later events.

Memorial Hall, Manchester

Examining records so closely linked with Manchester has also given me new perspectives on the city. When passing Memorial Hall on Albert Square I imagine the peace meetings held in the building, which C.P. Scott ensured were ticket only affairs to keep out the Jingo ‘roughs’ who would otherwise disrupt them. Walking along Spring Gardens I picture the Manchester’s Transvaal Committee’s headquarters at number 49, where great denunciations of the war were penned and sent around the country, and peace demonstrations across the north of England were organised. On Oxford Road the great peace meeting at the old St. James’ Hall comes to mind; John Morley silencing the rowdy, disruptive elements in the crowd by stating that he could offer one single indisputable truth that night- that he was a Lancashire man- before launching into a scathing attack on the war.

49 Spring Gardens, Manchester

Another great benefit has been our attendance at many of the staff meetings: listening to a fascinating talk and demonstration of Victorian photographic techniques, viewing, and being given an introduction to the library’s Gutenberg Bible, listening to the curator’s description of items at the Jeff Nuttall exhibition, along with the discussions on the library’s marketing strategy for the event.

As the project draws to an end, I would like to give particular thanks to Jess, whose unfailing support at every stage of this process has been invaluable, and to Fran, Karen, Sandra and Janette for their assistance and good humour over the last few months. It has been a real privilege to spend this length of time at such an institution, and we have been warmly welcomed and assisted by all the staff at John Rylands. And having the run of an empty reading room on a Monday morning still feels novel!

Working with Wikipedia to make collections more discoverable



418px-Wikipedia-logo-v2-enDr James Peters writes:

A small project has recently been undertaken to improve links between Special Collections catalogues and Wikipedia articles. This will enhance the discoverability of our collections by representing them in an information resource which is used by millions every day.

Wikipedia is now recognised as a key Web-based information resource; the online encyclopaedia contains millions of articles, and has become a respected and trusted source of information for its users.

An online global community of authors and editors – Wikipedians – is continuously engaged in adding to and updating entries. Wikipedia articles are the product of many hands, and this is generally a strength as it brings together and refines information from diverse sources.

Wikipedia articles can link to external information resources, such as online archive catalogues. This is a useful way of indicating the additional sources of information available for the individual or organisation that is the subject of a Wikipedia article

I have been looking at how the Library’s archive collections are represented on Wikipedia. The issue first came to attention when I noted that some Wikipedia articles which referenced our collections often did so inaccurately or had broken links to the relevant archive catalogues. I decided to investigate the issue more systematically by checking Wikipedia articles on 700 individuals and organisations whose archives we look after.

The findings were interesting. Only around 5% of articles referenced a related archive collection held by Special Collections.  In a further 300 cases, there were Wikipedia articles for individuals and organisations, but without any information about related archival resources.  Perhaps surprisingly, over half the individuals or organisations whose archives we look after have no Wikipedia entries. Admittedly some of these are very obscure or not appropriate for Wikipedia treatment, but there were also some well-known names missing.

Having had some basic training as a Wikipedia editor, I have begun to remedy this situation. Where collections are already referenced in a Wikipedia article, information has been checked for accuracy and working links created to our archive catalogue, ELGAR or the Guide to Special Collections. A further hundred or so articles now have information about a related archive held by us; this information is usually added to the External Resources section of the article, and linked to ELGAR or the Guide. In some cases links were created instead to the relevant entry in the National Archives’ Discovery catalogue, which is better for conveying information about archives which are held by multiple repositories.  Some important archives such as the papers of Samuel Alexander, T.F. Tout and Annie Horniman are now referenced in their Wikipedia articles.

There is still work to be done. In some cases, although Wikipedia articles exist for an individual or organisation, the Library does not have a public description of the archive associated with them. This is hopefully something which can be tackled in future, as more material is catalogued. We can also contribute to new Wikipedia articles for those individuals and organisations that currently lack them, and in the process help to ensure that our collections are properly publicised.

Christian Brethren Magic Lantern Slides now online


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Dr Graham Johnson, Christian Brethren Archivist, writes:

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Magic lantern slide shows (known as phantasmagoria) were produced from at least the seventeenth century and became popular in the late eighteenth century. In the 1870s the development of gelatin silver slides made possible the creation of photographic magic lantern slides and such shows were widespread from the late nineteenth century, when religious and moral organisations adopted them on a wide scale.

Their use in the mission field was appreciated by David Livingstone, who with great difficulty, and at great expense, transported fragile glass slides and cumbersome heavy projection equipment (which he described as his ‘most valuable travelling friend’) into Central Africa.

Their use at home as mission propaganda was even more widely appreciated: they raised awareness of missionary activity, encouraged financial support, and in an age before television, were a good night out, a useful supplement at a Sunday school, or an exciting addition to a regular chapel meeting. In the words of the popular Victorian journalist W.T. Stead, ‘Photography and the magic lantern are going to democratise sects, educate the masses and contribute to the evangelisation of the world’.


Magic Lantern Slide Projector

A collection of 100 glass slides was discovered on the shelves of the Christian Brethren Archive by the current archivist, where they had been donated before his arrival at some point between 1979 (when the archive was created) and 2003. They had originated from Newmilns in Ayrshire. Alongside the slides on the shelves, in an old battered suitcase, was the impressive projector (see illustration) which had been fitted with a modern plug, suggesting use well into the twentieth century.

The collection is made up of a number of purchased commercial slides, including many from ‘The Life and Work of David Livingstone’ produced by the London Missionary Society. There are slides of exotic places of a kind that could be found in any Victorian travelogue. However, the unique appeal of this collection is the slides produced specifically for a Brethren audience. Among the latter are photographs from the mission field, and coloured montages illustrative of the work of Brethren missions in India, Spain, the Faroes, Central and South America, Russia, Italy, British Guiana and Malaysia.

There are photographs of Brethren worthies including George Müller and Henry Groves, and slides illustrative of particular events in Brethren history such as the early get-togethers in Dublin usually considered foundational, and the fabled meeting of the missionaries Arnot Swan and Faulkner in Garanganze in Central Africa during 1888. The collection also includes the opportunity for a sing-along, incorporating hymn lyrics: ‘Throw out the life Line’ illustrated by a turbulent seascape and ‘There’s a call comes ringing’ illustrated by gloomy skies and a boat coming to the rescue.

The slides provide a fascinating insight into the evangelising activities of Brethren assemblies and their attempts to popularise the activities of the missionaries working in the field.

The lanterns slides have recently been digitised at ultra-high resolution by the Library’s expert Heritage Imaging Team, thanks to generous funding from the J. W. Laing Trust. They are now available to view online via Luna.

You can also download a pdf copy of the catalogue, incorporating all the images, here (13Mb).

Neurosurgery & Long-term Medical Effects of WWI


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The case files of neurosurgeon Geoffrey Jefferson survive for patients admitted between 1927 and 1940 and inevitably a number of his patients were soldiers during World War One, and in one case the Boer War. Despite dating from over a decade after Armistice Day the effects of the war tend to play a part in these individual’s medical histories, some much more than others. Very often reference to a patient’s military past is brief and simply part of a thorough medical history, however there are a handful of patients who were still suffering the direct after-effects of their injuries many years later.

Jefferson himself was a member of the RAMC during World War One and spent time working as chief surgeon to the Anglo-Russian Hospital in Petrograd before heading to the 14th General Hospital of the British Expeditionary Force in Boulogne, France as surgical specialist. He published a number of articles relating to his time in the RAMC largely relating to gunshot wounds to the head.

Examples of war injuries from Jefferson’s patient files include:

Head Injuries

Both patients 1928/7 and 1935/168 had received direct injuries to the head during the war which were believed to be the cause of their subsequent attacks of epileptiform fits. The former had received a gunshot wound to the temple whilst the latter had been injured by a hand grenade, small fragments of which could still be identified in the patient’s head on x-ray examination in 1953. There a number of patients amongst Jefferson’s case files that developed seizure disorders as a result of traumatic head injuries and very often little could be done surgically to treat them.  Patient 1935/168 was one such case and was discharged home in status quo and treated medically and his seizures ceased naturally about three years later. Patient 1928/7, however, developed an abscess in the right temporal region and following surgical efforts to drain the abscess died in December 1928.

V0047844 WWI: face of soldier suffering effects of gas poisoning Credit: Wellcome Library Copyrighted work available under CC BY 4.0

Gas Poisoning

In September 1933 patient 1933/115 came under the care of Jefferson owing to a metastatic cerebral abscess. Central to this man’s condition was the bronchiectasis (disease of the lungs) he had suffered from since being gassed in the army. His condition quickly deteriorated and a post mortem examination confirmed the diagnosis and also identified multiple abscesses in the right lung.

Strangely the medical effects of toxic gases, and particularly mustard gas, went full circle following World War Two. Manchester haematologist John Frederick Wilkinson worked closely with workers in the toxic gas factories during World War Two and his observations contributed to his work on the development of chemotherapy utilising nitrogen mustards to treat leukaemia. More information on his work can be found amongst his research papers also housed at the University of Manchester Library.

Shell Shock

Patient 1934/110 had been demobilised from the army in 1918 suffering from deafness and shell shock and was still receiving a pension as a result of this when he came to see Jefferson in 1934. A few months before his admission his condition deteriorated significantly with alteration in behaviour and severe lapses of memory. His wife reported that he would sit in a chair doing nothing and when asked what was wrong replied “my head is going wrong”. He only remained an inpatient under Jefferson for a couple of days and no treatment was recorded during this period and he was discharged as suffering from cerebral degeneration complicated by syphilitic periarteritis.

Patient 1937/151 JCN/12/138

Phantom Limbs

Whilst with the British Expeditionary Force in France in 1916 patient 1937/151’s left leg was blown off during a battle on the Somme and was amputated shortly afterwards. The patient reported that he was still able to feel his left foot immediately after the operation but was not troubled by pain. By the time he saw Jefferson in 1937 he had been experiencing regular episodes of extreme pain in his phantom limb, which had led him to contemplate suicide. A surgical root section of nerves affecting the pain pathways to the limb, or cordotomy, was performed after which his pain subsided, although he was still aware of the presence of the limb. At first considered a success, a return of the patient’s pain was regrettably reported only a few months after his discharge.

See an earlier posting by Dr Rebecca Wynter for further information about Jefferson’s involvement with phantom limbs during WWI.

In conjunction with Jefferson’s personal papers relating to his work during WWI (including his time in Russia and research into amputations) and the works and publications of many of his contemporaries it is possible to gain an insight into the methods employed to treat war injuries, the medical research they informed, and how this influenced developments in the practice of medicine.

Finding Delian Inspiration at the John Rylands Library


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Below you can read a guest blog by two artists, Manuella Blackburn (composer) and Tracey Zengeni (visual artist), who are using the Delia Derbyshire Archive as a source of inspiration for their own creative work.  Delia Derbyshire (1937-2001) was a pioneer of electronic music, most often remembered for her work on Ron Grainer’s theme tune for Dr Who (1963).  The year 2017 marks what would have been Delia’s 80th birthday and to mark the occasion the charity Delia Derbyshire Day is organising a range of events. As part of these celebrations Tracey and Manuella will showcase their creative response to Delia’s work on 10 June 2017 at a Band on the Wall event organised by Delia Derbyshire Day.  To find out more visit

Tracey Zengeni and Manuella Blackburn

Tracey Zengeni (left) and Manuella Blackburn exploring the Delia Derbyshire Archive.

Tracey and I started getting to know the Delia Derbyshire archive at the John Rylands Reading Room, Deansgate. The sound archive is a fascinating collection of tracks, snippets and sonic ideas all inspiring in their own way. I’ve been particularly drawn to the rhythmic sonic patterns Delia has created. Some of these rhythms are beat-based and almost techno-like! I’m enjoying hearing Delia’s exploration of looped patterns, pulses and oscillations; these are quite humorous, bloopy and clever at the same time – I’d love to create something similar, a bit like pastiche to honour her quirky style.

Tracey and I have been discussing the interesting things about Delia’s style that is also reflected in her childhood artwork, also held at the John Rylands Special Collections. These juvenile papers show Delia working with quite block-like colours, the objects and images she draws always appear to be isolation, never surrounded by a backdrop – I see the parallel in her electronic music work too – sounds appear in series, one after the next, often void of background sounds or sustained texture – possibly a consequence of the technology of time, which would have been more conducive to linear sound creation. Some of her sound ideas feel like miniature experiments, for example, rhythms do not last for very long as she bluntly cuts to a new idea or collection of sound. This is fascinating and gives me inspiration for handling eclectic materials.

Delia Derbyshire Pattern Picture

Pattern picture created by Delia Derbyshire as a child. By kind permission of the Delia Derbyshire Estate.

Tracey enjoys seeing Delia’s use of colour in her artwork. This is something which can translate into Tracey’s painting – we discussed how bold, striking colours could appear in our new work together for the Delia Derbyshire Day commission we are working on.

Other sounds, which immediately jump out at me, are the extended sine tone materials that sound quite ethereal and sometimes slightly melancholy. These types of sound show a different side to Delia, and something that was quite unexpected from a listener’s perspective. I’m hoping to re-create some of these longer sounds in various pitches for Tracey to respond to in her live painting work. I’m thinking about stacking these longer sounds up to create a rich, layered effect all in keeping with the synthetic sound world Delia explores.