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