Monthly Archives: January 2014

Old books were new books once…

Musings of the Librarian

When we think of old libraries our first image is of rooms full of nice old books, so we easily have an image of a Victorian library looking much as it does today. We forget that it was full of the latest best sellers, because what we consider to be today’s classics were once that. Their spines were bright, not faded from time and sunshine, and dirtied by years of coal fires and the early gas lighting. There were multiple copies to keep up with the demand, and members were not always patient about having to wait their turn. Black and white photographs, or faded sepia, give us no image of the vibrancy that there would have been, with the new books all on display, the magazines with their colour prints of fashion etc, and Punch magazines with their cartoons on current events.

One at least of our grandfather clocks was purchased new, and we had the latest scientific equipment in the form of the barometers, the Wind dial and our Meridian line.  Our members requested that telephone be installed for their use as soon as it was available. The proportion of new books to old would have been much in the favour of new books too, the balance being somewhat different now as those new books have grown old alongside the library. So, when we look at the past, let’s not do it filtered by a black and white photograph, but remember that what is old now was once new and the latest thing. We were then, as we are now, both scholarly and popular, catering for a diverse clientele, and looking forwards as much as backwards.

Outside, Nottingham was busy and bustling too, with a market in Market Square, and frequent events taking place there, often photographed from our parapet. Maybe this is why ‘Members are not allowed on the roof without permission’?  There were businesses and clubs on the premises then too. Members of the billiard club would be coming and going, and the person employed as a marker did get drunk on the premises more than once. One hopes he didn’t meet the members of the ‘Ladies Bible Class’ when under the influence….

NTGM012431 Market and BH

Photograph courtesy of Picture the Past, approx. 1890

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Filed under Book collections, Library History

Hey, BromCat, take me to your collections…

Exploring the Local History Collection

One of the features of the “Bromcat” online catalogue is that it provides a means of exploring the Library’s special collections. The catalogue describes these as “Groups”. If a book is included in one of the Library’s 13 collections it will show up in the “Related” field on the main display pages for each record and under the “Group” field on the dynamic display page (found by clicking the “change display” button on the right hand side and selecting from the “detailed” options). Clicking on a collection title brings up all its titles. The largest, with 1828 entries, is the Local History Collection.

What a fascinating collection it is. If, like me, you find that serendipity is one of the joys of library membership, this is the collection to dip into. All of the titles invite curiosity, some closer study. Who could not be intrigued by a title like “Damn His Charity, We’ll Have the Food for Nought” (Cc03044), the story of the 1766 food riots, when the Mayor of Nottingham was bowled over by a rolling cheese? Or be tempted to explore “British Duck Decoys of Today”, 1918, by Rainworth naturalist Joseph Whitaker (Bb1779 and JWC/1(12)), “The Wonders of the Year 1716” (Cc02238(5)) for prophecies about the Antichrist or, more prosaically, the delights of the “Conchology of Nottingham” 1853 (Bb2407)?

I would guess that members might be particularly interested in notable Nottingham personalities and families: George Green, the Thorotons and the Smiths all have links to the Library, the latter in particular providing Bromley House with its name. There are many others: Holles, Chaworth  Musters, Byron, Trotman, Birkins, Samuel Butler, Jesse Boot, Bendigo, Albert Ball, JT Becher of Southwell, Huntingdon Plumtre and the Pierreponts of Pierrepont Hall, who had brothers on opposing sides in the Civil War. The Collection has books or pamphlets on all of these.

For anyone wanting to dig deeply into the history of a local family there is a Southampton University thesis by G. Jaggar on the Whalley family of Screveton (MD/6(518). Sir Richard Whalley, whose family crest was, yes, a whale, became extremely rich on the proceeds of helping Henry VIII to strip the monasteries. His grandson was a wastrel, however, and the family not only lost its wealth but died out altogether, despite Sir Richard’s 25 children by 3 wives. The family went from riches to rags in 3 generations.  Screveton church has a magnificent alabaster monument to Sir Richard, (see pictures).

There is more, much more.  An illustrated guide to Matlock, perhaps? A book on the scenery of Sherwood Forest? Histories of Gedling, Southwell, Hucknall, Epperstone, Bulwell, Kimberley or Eastwood? Or should we be investigating whether the Nottingham Subscription Library represented an elite institution in the period 1815-1853 (Cc02646)? I think we should be told!

Martin Gorman

Whalley memorialsMG blog 2

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