Rochester Cathedral Rare Books: Librarians of yesteryear

When I unwrapped my next book to catalogue for the Rochester Cathedral collection, I came across a rather surprising feature that made me feel a little nostalgic about the many years I spent working in public libraries.

I opened ‘Essays on subjects connected with the reformation in England,’by the late Samuel Roffey Maitland (printed in 1899), and I was greeted with a date label from Leeds Free Public Libraries.  These were once a regular sight for me, having stamped thousands of date labels over the years. So I was genuinely surprised to see a book from this unique and rare collection with an obvious history of being lent from a public library.

A date label placed inside the book by Leeds Free Public Libraries.

A date label placed inside the book by Leeds Free Public Libraries.

The ‘return-by’ dates stamped on the label, which range from October 31st 1898 to August 21st 1925, allowed my mind to become immersed in the journey this book must have taken over the last 116 years, the homes it would have been temporarily taken to by the library borrowers of the day, and the librarians of Leeds Free Public Libraries who would have catalogued and shelved this somewhat ordinary book of its day, ready for the next customer.  As this book sits comfortably upon a support cushion at my desk, next to my multi-screened computer and a wealth of other technologies, I think of the librarians before me who over a century ago, catalogued this book by writing all the information on a small card, so that the book could be easily retrieved for future lending.

Front  cover of 'Essays on subjects connected with the reformation in England.'

Front cover of ‘Essays on subjects connected with the reformation in England.’

Further evidence of this publications time spent as a lending library book are, the embossed stamps marked on several of the rear and front pages and a purple ink stamped accession mark emblazoned on the back of the title page (the ink so penetrating that it has bled through to the title page). For me, this all adds to the history of this book as an object. It’s that tangible sense of the journey, the history, the life of the book that so fascinates me.

Many may regard this book to be defaced because of its time spent in a public library, but to my mind, these markings make this book all the more unique and special. Unlike many of the books in this fascinating collection, these markings provide us with a very tangible sense of history and also allowed me some happy recollections of my previous life working in public libraries.

This works continues to be endlessly fascinating for me and I very much look forward to uncovering the next treasure from the collection.

Clockwise from the left: Title page with accession stamp markings on opposite page that have penetrated through ; Embossed Leeds Public Library stamp marked on several of the front and rear pages ; 'City of Leeds Free Public Libraries' date of acquisition stamp marked on the last page of the book.

Clockwise from the left: Title page with accession stamp markings on opposite page that have penetrated through ; Embossed Leeds Public Library stamp marked on several of the front and rear pages ; ‘City of Leeds Free Public Libraries’ date of acquisition stamp marked on the last page of the book.

Rochester Cathedral Rare Books

My name is Josie Caplehorne and I am currently working on a very exciting project in partnership with Rochester Cathedral to catalogue over 2000 of their rare books!

I have been a cataloguer since early 2013 when I began my role as a Metadata Assistant with the University of Kent.  After a short time I began to work with the Special Collections & Archives teams to catalogue undiscovered materials, all the while continuing to undertake my day-to-day duties as a member of a growing team.

Excited conversations started to take place in the office (around mid 2014), that the University of Kent would work in association with Rochester Cathedral.  This certainly caught my ear and I was very eager to be part  of this.  I had so far really enjoyed working with the university’s special collections, and was very excited about the opportunity to work with another rare, unique and culturally significant collection.  In early 2015 I applied for the role of Rochester Cathedral cataloguer and, as you’ve probably worked out, I got the job!

Another rare book cataloguer was also recruited along with me and the collection will take us approximately six months to catalogue, with the work being undertaken at the University of Kent’s Templeman Library.

Rochester Cathedral

The collection is a fascinating one, and with the oldest book believed to be dated from 1498, the books I am cataloguing are rich in the history of the Church, Diocese and it’s Bishops.

I am constantly fascinated by the journey the books themselves have taken through their long lifetimes, and with the presence of  bookplates, handwritten inscriptions and letters held within the pages for hundreds of years, I feel like history is literally in my hands.  I feel extremely fortunate to be involved in this work.

Once my colleague and I have finished the cataloguing, the collection will return to Rochester Cathedral Library.  The library itself is currently being renovated to resemble its original form, where the books will be housed on handcrafted replica medieval wooden shelving.  I am very much looking forward to visiting Rochester Cathedral in the future to see the books in a home that befits their history and beauty.

I look forward to telling you more about this collection as we uncover more of these fascinating books.

Some celebrations

It may actually be slightly after Easter, but we’re only now coming to the end of our Spring term and winding down for the spring break. That means that we’ve spent this week enjoying all kinds of events to celebrate the hard work of students and staff since the beginning of 2015.

Students from the 'Women on Stage' groupTo start with, on Tuesday this year’s student curated exhibition on Victorian and Edwardian Theatre was launched. This module has been running for 5 years, with each year bringing new and exciting developments, and an excellent exhibition as the final piece of work (and this year was no exception)! Throughout the term, second year students have been working with the Theatre Collections here at Kent, and digital collections available elsewhere, whilst learning about theatre between 1860-1910. For the final assessment, the students work in groups, picking a topic of their choice to explore and then present their findings as an exhibition, with an associated website.

Choices of topic have always been diverse, and this year was no exception! Starting with the experience of theatregoing in the Victorian period, the exhibition moves through a comparison of East and West End theatre, the role of women on and off the stage and, finally, the ways in which the Jewish community were portrayed and potrayed themselves in the theatre.

The exhibition curators, with tutors Helen Brooks and Jane Gallagher.

The exhibition curators, with tutors Helen Brooks and Jane Gallagher.

This year, we have teamed up with the Gulbenkian who are hosting the exhibition in their Crossover Gallery, where it will run until 3 May. Do pop in to have a look – it’s free and open during the Gulbenkian’s opening hours.

View of the exhibition launchTuesday turned out to be rather a busy day, since we were also hosting student book launches all day in the reading room. This was part of the third year Book Project module, in which students create their own, original piece of writing an publish it as a physical item. The launch event is a chance for the students to read sections from their work (in front of a supportive audience) and to sell copies to guests. We’re currently in the process of ensuring that we have copies of all of these works in Special Collections, to complement the twentieth century small print press materials in the Modern First Editions Collection.

20150407_171146A huge congratulations to all of the students involved in both of these exciting pieces of work: we hope you enjoyed being a part of it!

And finally, talking of celebration, on Wednesday we got the chance to thank our hard working team of core volunteers with a trip to Canterbury 20150408_151203Cathedral Library, hosted by Cathedral Librarian Karen Brayshaw. Those who came along got to see rare and valuable books from the earliest years of the printing press through to the 19 century, including the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493) and a Bible translated into a Native American language. Alongside this, of course, we got to enjoy the ambiance of the historical library and its beautiful books – and several people enjoyed the smell of rare books!

So that’s it for another term – although we will, of course, be on hand throughout the spring vacation for all of your research needs. As ever, the arrival of the sunshine provokes a mass exodus to studying out in the sunshine, and the end of term leads to a pervading atmosphere of calm and wellbeing through the Library. I hope that you enjoy the break, if you get one: we’ll certainly be making the most of the hiaitus, prior to the start of our Big Underground Move of all of our collections now scheduled to take place from 15 June.

A busy new year

Another year comes to an end already…I’m not sure where 2014 went, but once again it’s been full of excitement and events for Special Collections & Archives.

Along with our regular lecture series, and the annual teaching of Victorian & Edwardian Theatre history, 2014 witnessed the publication of the first part of a biography of Sir Howard Kingsley Wood, by historian Hugh Gault, based heavily on the scrapbooks held in our collections. Alongside this, and our normal duties, we have been preparing to move all of our collections: next spring, we will be setting up the service in the new Templeman extension. This has really been taking shape over the last few weeks, and we have been lucky enough to pop over to see the new reading room, offices and stores. We can’t wait to be in there, but first there’s just the small matter of moving all of our collections from one end of the building through to the other, over 3 weeks, along one corridor. Look out for more news about this in the new year!

The so-called 'zebra book'; or, an example of the difference a clean makes.

The so-called ‘zebra book’; or, an example of the difference a clean makes.

In preparation for the move, we have been working closely with a stalwart team of 15 volunteers who have been cleaning our rare and special book collections, packaging the fragile bindings and helping with collections care. This means that the books, which take up several hundred metres of shelving, can be carefully moved without risking any damage. On Wednesday 17 December, we had a special volunteers’ event to mark the end of this project, but I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank all of this term’s volunteers for their hard work, enthusiasm and commitment, which has enabled us to get over 150 metres of books clean and ready to move.

Also this term, we’ve delivered more than 20 taught sessions and workshops with members of the University community and beyond, including a hugely popular event at the Marlowe Theatre to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. As ever, it’s been great to see people getting so enthusiastic about archives – whether it’s a book signed by Alfred Russell Wallace, acting out the thrilling conclusion of the melodrama Maria Marten or discussing Shakespeare’s Welsh connections.

We’ve had several new members join us the team this year: our new archivist, Ann MacDonald, who is curating the University of Kent Archive, and Rachel Dickinson, Metadata and Special Collections Assistant, who has been cataloguing materials right across the broad spectrum of the collections. You can take a look at Rachel’s thoughts about her experiences getting started in the collections on the blog. Another exciting development has been the appointment of an archivist and a digitisation assistant to the nascent British Stand Up Comedy Archive for a year; again, more news to follow in 2015! Finally, stalwart member of the British Cartoon Archives Team Jane Newton has gone part time, so we now have Joy Thomas working as the other half of the post of Special Collections & Archives Curator.

So as we look forward into 2015, we know there will be some major changes and a considerable amount to organise. But we’re looking forward to settling into our new spaces and continuing to work with researchers to discover rare and exciting materials in the unique Special Collections & Archives here at the University of Kent.

Wishing you a very merry Christmas and a happy 2015!

Discover more from the Reading Rayner Theatre Collection

We are delighted to announce that the full collection of printed materials from the Reading-Rayner Theatre Collection is now available to discover in Special Collections & Archives.

The Reading Rayner collection is an expansive selection of items, largely consisting of theatrical material. This includes books pertaining to the history of theatre and film, biographies and memoirs, and play texts, as well as a large number of theatre programs spanning the 1930s to the 1980s. Alongside this is the Play Pictorial, a series of early theatre magazines, bound together, containing reviews and photographs from popular productions of the time, spanning the years 1902 – 1939, when the magazine was merged with Theatre World due to the paper rationing of the Second World War.

The collection is named after Jack Reading and his partner Colin Rayner, who began donating their material to the University of Kent in the 1980s. They initially started their collections separately, but brought them together to form one super-collection. Jack was a founding member, and later Secretary General, of the International Federation for Theatre Research, and was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Kent in 2000.

Personal ephemera often lay within the pages of many of the books themselves, undiscovered until we pulled back the pages to reveal personal hand written letters, travel documents and even a receipt for potato seeds!

New discovers in the Reading Rayner Theatre Collection.

New discovers in the Reading Rayner Theatre Collection.

Discovered by Josie

Having been a cataloguer of rare books and special collections at the University of Kent for around nineteen months, I have grown accustomed to handling books many centuries in age, with beautiful hand painted illustrations and delicate bindings that cover a diverse range of subjects.  I was initially struck by “The Changing Room: Sex, Drag and Theatre” due to the visually compelling front cover.  There are many books within the collection that offer an insight into all aspects of theatre and performance, many with generically designed book covers, but this screamed what it was all about from a distance.  Written by Laurence Senelick, director of Graduate Studies, Fletcher Professor of Drama and Oratory at Tufts University in Massachusetts, “The Changing Room” explores the history of cross-dressing in theatre from ancient times to the modern day, offering to take “readers on a colourful, lavishly illustrated tour of the stages and dressing-rooms of history, from tribal rituals to sacred prostitution, to contemporary musical comedy and performance art.”  I was impressed at this book’s ability to pull the attention of someone whose interest in theatre and performance is minimal and which has subsequently left me with a little bit of a thirst to find out more about the performing arts.

Our Discoveries (clockwise from left):  "Jesus Christ Superstar: the authorised version" ; The Changing Room:  sex, drag and theatre" ; "Macbeth" ; "The Merchant of Venice."

Our discoveries (clockwise from left): “Jesus Christ Superstar: the authorised version” ; The Changing Room: sex, drag and theatre” ; “Macbeth” ; “The Merchant of Venice.”

Discovered by Rachel

Of the items I catalogued, the oldest was from the first half of the 17th century, the smallest was a 7cm tall copy of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, (published in Venice, with accompanying Italian inscription from the buyer), and the most aesthetic, (in my opinion), was a copy of Macbeth with a hand decorated cover, complete with gold leaf. In terms of subject matter, the books I encountered varied from the traditional theatre of Shakespeare to 19th century burlesques (the precursor to pantomime rather than the exotic shows of today), to modern gay plays. One item that particularly stood out for me on a personal level was The Authorised Jesus Christ Superstar.

Musicals have been an interest of mine since I was about ten. I have seen Joseph, Evita, Cats and the Phantom of the Opera, and in 2012 I was at the O2 for the second performance of the Arena Tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. This book, never reprinted, records the development of the musical, from its conception by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, to the album and original Broadway production.

The book resembles an album of memories, following the first few years of Superstar’s life. Running continuously along the bottom of the pages are interviews with various people involved in the production, alongside a more in-depth interview with Lloyd Webber and Rice. There are plenty of photographs, predominantly black and white, but also several pages of colour plates of a higher quality, featuring images from the Broadway production, a facsimile of a highly decorative piece of sheet music for the title song and, bizarrely, a colour facsimile of “…And Through Him Save a World,” an issue of the Green Lantern magazine, featuring a modern messiah crucifixion scene. The book also contains facsimiles of posters and magazine covers, reviews and articles, letters from fans and cartoon strips. What I find hugely interesting however, is that it doesn’t just focus on the success of the production. It also considers the controversy that surrounded the show from the word go, featuring both positive and negative reactions from the religious community of the time, from the news that the Vatican was to broadcast the show in full, to letters informing the record company that they will have to pay for using the Lord’s name to make money.  This is a hugely intriguing book for any musical lover, theatre historian or person with an interest in religious culture. The sheer variety of material this book contains is sure to enthral the reader.

7cm tall Merchant of Venice I catalogued from the Reading Rayner Collection

7cm tall Merchant of Venice I catalogued from the Reading Rayner Collection

The cataloguing of the theatrical material is now complete, but the rest of the collection also contains fiction, poetry and rare books, yet to be discovered.

To explore all of this and more from the Reading Rayner Theatre Collection visit to search our catalogue or contact us for more information.

By Josie Caplehorne and Rachel Dickinson