Friday, 12 September 2014

Three cheers for Morrison!

When I became a Proprietor of the Leeds Library forty years ago I straightaway sought out the shelves containing the Leeds items. There I discovered Morrison’s Leeds Blue Book and City Record. These slim volumes, each containing some 150 thin pages, are a goldmine of information on the city’s social and political life. I had not come across them before but they swiftly became my constant companion over succeeding years, particularly as I needed a great deal of historical information in studying for my MPhil - at Bradford University! - on transition in Leeds City Government in the first thirty years of the twentieth century.

There are twenty-eight editions of Morrison’s annual tome, running from 1904 to 1931, when it mysteriously stops. They are very elusive on the market – in forty years I have managed to find only three editions. There was no other similar publication until the Yorkshire Post published the first of its four year books in 1936. Morrison brings together a mass of statistical information on the city, including financial, educational and social information, and a whole section on the work of the Leeds Corporation, plus listings of Mayors and Lord Mayors, Town Clerks, clubs, political associations, religious associations and even members of burial boards! Best of all, for politicians, was the complete local election results from the beginning of the town council in 1835, and the results of Board of Guardian and School Board elections! Clearly Morrison was what we would today call an “anorak” or even a “nerd”!

In fact Nathan Morrison was very much an aspiring Leeds politician. By trade he was a newsagent, publisher and stationer, with premises in Bishopgate Street, from where he also ran an advertising agency. He unsuccessfully contested the area around his shop, the Mill Hill ward, as a Liberal candidate for the City Council in 1907 and 1908 before finally winning it in 1911. He was re-elected at four successive elections until in 1926 he was one of a number of leading Liberals who were enticed by Sir Charles Wilson into defecting to the Conservative party. It may be mere coincidence that he had failed by just one vote to get the Liberal nomination for Lord Mayor in 1924!

After becoming a Conservative, preferment certainly followed. He held Mill Hill ward once more in 1927 but became an Alderman in 1930, having been Lord Mayor in 1929. He was also made a Magistrate in 1930. He died in 1933 at the age of 74. Leeds historians urgently need another Morrison!
Michael Meadowcroft
14 March 2013

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Blogs at Lunchtime: Histoire du Roy Henry le Grand

Histoire du Roy Henry le Grand, Hardouin de Péréfixe de Beaumont, 1661

Henry IV of France (1589-1610) is regarded by many historians as rational, sensible, tolerant, human, witty and wise. A twentieth century biographer has claimed he contained more Liberte, Equalite and Fraternite than many Republicans. Contemporaries admired him for his intellect, inspiring leadership and understanding of the needs of his people. He lived and fought in one of the most bitter and bloody periods of French history – the French Wars of Religion (1562-1598). During his reign, however, he survived 12 assassination attempts before the 13th by a Francois Ravaillac ended his life. 

He had been brought up in a Protestant household and educated by Huguenot tutors. His succession as King of Navarre (1572) also made him the unofficial leader of the Protestant Reformed Religion in France, a position held by his father. The King of France Charles IX and his mother Catherine of Medici orchestrated his capture in the same year. Charles made him an offer of ‘Death, the Bastille or the Mass’ – he dutifully converted to Catholicism. Henry defeated his Catholic enemies and brought the ferocious civil war to an end with the Edict of Nantes (1598) which provided full liberty of conscience for Protestants in France.  

Henry’s reputation grew with the publication of his first biography in 1661 written by Hardouin de Péréfixe de Beaumont. Péréfixe was the Catholic Bishop of Rhodez, Archbishop of Paris, a close friend of Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin, and Preceptor and Confessor to Louis XIV. His purpose behind the work was to educate the young king Louis XIV in the reign of his grandfather. 

The famous Dutch publishing house of Elzevier produced his pocket-sized reference book. An English version was produced two years later for another of Henry IV’s grandsons – King Charles II of England. As his popularity rose Henry became known as ‘Bon Roi Henri’ – ‘Good King Henry’ even having a plant named after him using this nickname.

What Péréfixe’s true intentions were with his book will not be known but Louis XIV, although in many ways a great monarch, did not share his grandfather’s tolerant religious beliefs. He revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685 which began a period of intense persecution of Protestants forcing 400,000 to flee the country to Britain, Switzerland, Holland, South Africa and North America.

The Leeds Library’s edition of Histoire de Roy Henry le Grand  has embossed on its spine “Relié par Simier” – bound by Simier. The Simier book-binding family operated in France between first half of the 19th century. They were one of the premier book binders of the day. The book has been rebound by the Simier's and cut down in size - the margins being ploughed to possibly remove worn edges or to add the book to a uniformly sized series for a individual customer.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Books at lunchtime: Race for the South Pole: the expedition diaries of Scott and Amundsen by Roland Huntford

When people are asked about the race to reach the South Pole, chances are they will mention only Robert Falcon Scott. Sadly, Amundsen has become an afterthought – seen as a dour, lucky Norwegian who fooled both the world and Scott and went South. 

My own interest in polar exploration came about as a result of watching the late great John Mills as Scott of the Antarctic in the 1948 film (look out for Christopher Lee in a minor role!) and marvelling at the brave souls who to the end and in spite of everything acted like the English gentlemen they were. For some reason, I became fascinated – maybe it was living in the coldest house in east Leeds that made me empathise, or perhaps it was thumbing through a book on the history of polar exploration that my brother borrowed from our local library so we could better study the gruesome pictures of frostbitten fingers? 

My Book at lunchtime is a story about two nations, the nature of man against the elements and how two very different leaders approached the same task.  So much emphasis had been put on Scott’s team’s heroic failure in the early part of the 20th century that it seemed almost indecent to suggest that anything but bad luck and poor weather caused their demise.

Roland Huntford is no stranger to controversy and his earlier book Scott and Amundsen published in 1979 was met with derision and the Scott family served him with an injunction for libel by implication. Interestingly, nearly 30 years after the first book the expedition diaries printed for the first time side by side and unedited raised very little fuss. Perhaps the books only confirm what everyone already knew and regardless of that , Scott will always have his supporters and perhaps that’s how it should be because there is no doubting the bravery of his team and the scientific strides they made on the expedition.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Restoration of a Geneva Bible

 The Leeds Library’s disbound, 1586 copy of a Geneva Bible, was the subject of a project to restore and clean the Bible and also research genealogical records, handwritten within the Bible. This research revealed that it had been in the possession of the Pope family, Quakers, who had been resident in Sherborne in Dorset between 1648 and 1796.

The Geneva Bible was a product of the Protestant Reformation which led to the religious ideology that man should achieve salvation by direct communication with God rather than through the ritual and legislation of the Catholic Church.  Ordinary people therefore required access to the Bible which had been historically written in Latin, and a number of attempts were made at an English translation. Because of the persecution of Mary Tudor’s reign, many leading Protestant theologians were exiled, a number of whom gathered in Geneva where they produced an English translation in 1560 which became very popular in England before it was eclipsed by the King James Version in 1611.

The Library’s copy was re-sewn and then rebound in full calfskin. Although not intended as a facsimile, reference was made to the sixteenth century with brass clasps and blind tooling. The Bible is housed in a clamshell box.

Brian Cole
June 2014

Flora Londinensis

The Flora Londinensis was the work of botanist, William Curtis who described four hundred and thirty two species of wild flowering plants, mosses  and fungi found in the London region at the end of the eighteenth century.  The work is memorable for the magnificent folio plates, produced by a number of different artists and then hand-coloured.  The work was produced in a series of parts, six plants included in each part, between the years 1775 and 1798, three hundred complete copies in total being produced and, because of the complexity of the illustrations, the venture was not a financial success.

The Leeds Library copy, bound in five volumes, had acquisition labels with the date 1821.  Many of the pages had been repaired and it is likely that the book had existed in flimsy paper-wrapped individual parts for some time prior to being bound, resulting in damage to some of the pages. The original binding  was half leather with cloth sides. The existing binding was in poor condition and not considered worthy of restoration therefore the books were rebound in half red Chieftan goatskin with green buckram sides with maroon leather spine labels plus gilt decoration.

Brian Cole
June 2014

Rebound volumes

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Books at Lunchtime: Thomas Ambler and the Alhambra

Books at Lunchtime: Plans, Elevations, Sections And Details Of The Alhambra: From Drawings Taken On The Spot In 1834, Tuesday 6th May 2014 (Andrew Morrison)

Thomas Ambler a Leeds-based architect was commissioned by John Barran in 1870's to design a new warehouse for his rapidly expanding and innovative mass-produced clothing company. The building was to be erected on a piece of land on Park Square, Leeds. His design for this new building, St. Paul’s House, was inspired by Hispano-Moorish architecture.

Ambler’s references for this design may well have come from a number of sources. Cuthbert Broderick’s Oriental and General Baths on Cookridge Street, Leeds which displayed a number of Near Eastern design elements, had recently opened in 1867. A more comprehensive resource, however, in Owen Jones’s work on the Alhambra in Granada, published around 20 years earlier, lay on the shelves of the Leeds Library - of which Ambler and Barran were both members.

In 1842 Jones had published his study of the Alhambra in Granada – the great Moorish fortress and series of palaces begun by 
Ibn al-Ahmar, the first Sultan of the Nasrid dynasty, in 1238. Jones and, a French architect, Jules Goury spent six months in the detailed and scientific recording of the buildings and decoration of the Alhambra before Goury died of Cholera. Armed with their notes and drawings Jones returned to London. He became committed to producing a printed work that matched the detail, colour and 
precision of both the buildings and their decoration. 

Representing the balance of colours that they had seen proved the hardest to achieve. Jones researched and developed an existing process known as Chromolithography to print the colour plates he needed. It took him nine years in total to complete his project.  The Alhambra publication launched Jones’s career. His scientific approach to decoration and design were in great demand from playing card manufacturers like La Rue and Lawrence and Cohen to the Government School of Design. In 1851, he was appointed Superintendent of Works for Great Exhibition at Chrystal Palace taking on responsibility for the arrangement and decoration of the building. In 1856 he published what is still today an important work of reference for designers -The Grammar of Ornament.

The Leeds Library held the only copy of Jones’s Alhambra in West Yorkshire and its copy of Grammar of Ornament was the most easily accessible for Ambler.  The scientific nature of Jones’s work may well have appealed to Barran and Ambler when planning the new building reflecting Barran’s approach to the manufacturing. In the true nature of the romanticism of Jones and his contemporary writers it would be apt to imagine Amber and Barran discussing the design of the new building within the Leeds Library poring over the pages of the Owen Jones’s labour of love.