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Advent Definitions: Holiday fragments

By Helen Biggs, on 22 December 2017

Contributed by Katy Makin, UCL Archivist

R 221 DICTIONARIES ANON 1779 – A pocket dictionary : or, complete English expositor (London, 1779)

References to ecclesiastical festivals, or ‘holy-days’ feature strongly in our collection of manuscript fragments. These are around 150 pieces of medieval and early modern manuscripts, primarily leaves from liturgical texts such as missals, breviaries, psalters, and bibles, but also including biblical commentaries and key legal and philosophical texts of the medieval period.

They exist as fragments because they were recycled as decorative covers and endpapers or to reinforce the binding of printed books, which was common practice from the end of the medieval period onwards. Most of our fragments were probably ‘rescued’ from bindings in the 20th century.

Unsurprisingly, both the recycling and the rescuing caused a great deal of damage to the leaves. Helpfully, this damage now provides clues as to how the pieces were used. Here is a piece that was used as an outer cover:

MS FRAG/LAT/30 Fragment of a Missal, C13th

Note the shape – it has been cut so that the edges form tabs to wrap around wooden boards. The tabs are much cleaner than the rest of the page because they were protected by being inside the book.

MS FRAG/LAT/4 Fragment of a Breviary, C13th

Unfortunately, being on the inside hasn’t protected this piece, which was used as an end pastedown. The brown patches around the edges are remnants of leather binding from where it was glued to the inner surface of the board and some of the large decorated initial N has been lifted away by the adhesive.

MS FRAG/LAT/62 Fragment of a Missal, C14th?

This piece has a special relevance to this advent blog because it is a page from a missal (a book containing prayers, chants, readings and rubrics for the celebration of Mass) showing the text for the Mass on Christmas Eve.

The text for Christmas Eve begins at the red writing, or rubric, a little over half way down the first column, which says “In vigilia nativitatis. Intro[itus]” – i.e. “The Vigil of the Nativity. Introduction”

On the next line, and elsewhere on the page, you’ll notice a large gap where a decorated initial letter should be. This is because when manuscripts were made it was normal for the main text to be written first and the rubrics, initials and decoration to be added afterwards, sometimes by different people. In this example, the scribe has left a space for the capital H of “Hodie scietis” and other large initials but these were never completed.

This raises questions about the original manuscript. Why was it left unfinished? What would it have looked like if it had been completed? Was this page ever used by a religious community to celebrate Christmas Eve? Whatever the answer, the fact is that this page, intended for use during Advent and Christmas, may be the only surviving piece of the original manuscript. Whether Christmas is to you a “holy day” or a “holiday”, it’s a poignant link to the past and the traditions that we continue to celebrate centuries later.

The whole of the MS Fragments collection has been digitised and will be available online soon.

In the meantime, extended descriptions of all the fragments can be found in our catalogue

Advent Definitions: Why did the manuscript lose its tail?

By Helen Biggs, on 19 December 2017

Contributed by Angela Warren-Thomas, Senior Conservator.

Christmas is a long list of exciting stuff for most of us, and near the top of my list is wrapping paper and presents. Actually, wrapping is a complicated process of choosing a precious item for a special person and presenting it in a beautiful covering that keeps it cosseted and safe.

R 221 DICTIONARIES WORCESTER 1855 – Worcester, A universal critical and pronouncing dictionary of the English language (London, [1855])

There are many reasons for and ways of wrapping special or precious things.  At Special Collections, we have an amazing example of just such a thing. One of my absolute favourite items in our collection is a 15th Century Chemise or girdle binding.

This small volume, almost pocket size, has a soft pink binding of alum-tawed sheepskin.  Alum tawing was an ancient process of treating prepared animal hides with alum salts and other materials. This process made the skins very soft and flexible, rather like suede leather today. The production of alum leathers became very widespread during the Middle Ages, and was used for the production of not only bookbinding leathers, but amongst other things gloving leather, leather for belts or girdles and leather for women’s shoes.

This little book then, has an extra wrapping; its Chemise covering, also made from alum-tawed sheepskin. The Chemise cover traditionally continued loose below the cover of the book in a long tapered tail with a large knot at the end, which could then be tucked into someone’s girdle or belt keeping the precious book safe and close to hand. The knot was usually strips of leather woven together in some decorative manner. The book hung upside down and backwards so that when lifted it was ready for reading.


The Altar of the “Gertrudenbruderschaft der Träger”1509. St. Anne and the Holy Kinship. Two of St. Anne’s relatives are carrying a girdle book
 

These books were normally religious: a cleric’s daily Office, or for laypersons, especially women, a Book of Hours. Women particularly wore the girdle book; it was already fashionable, in the 15th century, to wear a girdle belt above the waistline and these books in their “wrapper” or Chemise binding became visible statements of social position, wealth and learning, intellectual curiosity or at the very least literacy.

MS GERM 20 at UCL Special Collections. Inside our Chemise binding is a manuscript, “The Passio Christi”. Written in beautiful Bavarian script, it has ornamental red ink initials throughout.
 

Our Chemise binding has unfortunately lost its tail at some time in the past. There are one or two theories as to why this could have happened.  Possibly, it survived the destruction of libraries and books during the Reformation of the Roman Catholic Church, which swept across Europe in the 16th Century. Cutting off the tail of the chemise binding, most of which were religious texts (which is not surprising, as it was churches, monasteries and convents that produced the majority of manuscripts), would have been an instant disguise for a religious manuscript. Perhaps the leather tail was removed to make it easier to store the volume on a shelf. It was only in the late 16th century that books began to be shelved upright with the spine outward, and the construction of a girdle book would have made it difficult to slip the volume onto a shelf between other books. On the other hand, possibly a nice piece of leather was needed for some other use, and the extension on a Chemise binding was a handy source of leather.

Whilst we may never know the reason why our manuscript lost its tail, we do know what it would have looked similar to in all its glory. Thankfully, wrapped in the remnants of its Chemise binding, our manuscript remains a precious gift for anyone fortunate enough to open it.


A model of a Chemise binding made by Fred Bearman

Advent Definitions: Archives, age, and the school nativity play

By Helen Biggs, on 14 December 2017

“Nativity”, in: R 221 DICTIONARIES DYC 1748: Dyche, A new general English dictionary (London, 1748)

A substantial amount of Special Collections’ work is in teaching and teaching support across a broad range of subjects: classics, law, library studies, architecture, history, maths – the list goes on. Sometimes this is a single class on using historical and primary materials, but this may also be a series of sessions, as with the Archival Research and Oral History in Education (AROHE) module, taught at UCL Institute of Education.

This year AROHE students have explored the topics of international education, special educational needs, progressive education and multi-racial education, using items from Newsam Archives, to focus on areas like visual sources, curriculum, biography and learners’ voices.

One of the visual sources picked out by students was this photo from the Amelia Fysh collection:

©UCL Institute of Education Archives [AF/1/3/A/25]

Although they weren’t given any contextual or identifying information about the photography, it was immediately recognised as a school nativity play. Mary, Joseph and chorus of angels were all correctly identified, and after some discussion, so were the Three Wise Men and the shepherds. (The shepherds are very well dressed; fortuitously, the Three Wise Men can be distinguished by their crowns.)

However, when it came to dating the photograph, the students came somewhat unstuck. The wearing of costumes make it impossible to use fashion to estimate when the photograph was taken, and likewise most of the children’s heads are covered, so nor can their hair styles be used as a guide. In the end, it was suggested that the photo was probably “old”, because it was black and white.

This gave me something of a shock. Not the assertion itself; it may have been a little misguided (black and white film is still in use today, not to mention the black and white or sepia filters of digital photography!) but learning how to draw on others’ research, context clues and our own personal knowledge to understand objects is at the very heart of using archive materials. No – what stunned me was the realisation that many of today’s students are too young to recognise the product of a 1990’s style black-and-white photocopier…

In case you’re wondering – the image is from a booklet from Beech Green Nursery School, featuring photos from 1956-1973 (the booklet itself was created in 2002). Whether you think this can be considered “old” or not is up to you – although colour photography was definitely around by the 1950’s!

Advent Definitions: Jingling books

By Tabitha Tuckett, on 12 December 2017

UCL Special Collections R 221 DICTIONARIES WEBSTER 1869 – Webster, The people’s dictionary of the English language (London, [1869?])

Does today’s Advent word leave you humming seasonal songs, whether you like Jingle Bells or not? If so, UCL Special Collections can offer you the comfort (or irritation) that people have been singing for centuries. To get you into the spirit, here is what might look very like a singer or musical scribe, perched inside an initial letter in one of our illuminated manuscript Bibles from the late 13th or early 14th century:

UCL Special Collections MS LAT 9

Before you attempt to climb inside a book and start singing, it’s worth saying that this is in fact most likely to be a representation of Baruch, scribe of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, hard at work in the many days before computers.

To see what Mediaeval musical scores actually looked like, find out about our musical Mediaeval manuscript fragments. They are fragments because almost all were re-used at a later date for non-musical purposes, such as book covers, paste-downs to secure leather book-bindings, or hidden reinforcement elsewhere in the bindings of books. Now salvaged, one of the earliest in our collection, from 11th-century Germany, might not look much like today’s sheet music (the little ticks above the words, known as ‘neumes’, are the musical notation):

UCL Special Collections MS FRAG/MUSIC/8

but, as an antiphonal intended to be sung by two alternating voices or choirs, it would probably have made a sound closer to the corresponding jingle of our 18th-century Advent Definition (even without the English rhymes you’d dread in an advertisement jingle):

 

UCL Special Collections R 221 DICTIONARIES PERRY 1778 – Perry, The ro[yal] standard English dictionary (Edinburgh, [1778])

To go back to our studious figure above, the rare book we found him in is a Latin Bible with a particularly interesting history: at some point before being given to UCL, it belonged to a refugee who came to England fleeing persecution in Spain, carrying the family Bible with him on mules, its original binding having been ripped off to make the book lighter to transport in a hurry. This at least is what we learn from a dramatic account of the book’s condition given in a letter dated 1859 that now appears inside the front cover. The refugee and the book arrived safely, the latter now handsomely protected in a beautiful, neo-Mediaeval binding from WH Smith probably dating from 1904. Read more about this book and its story in Treasures From UCL.

If I’m honest, one of the closest things to a jingle that I could find among UCL’s rare books was the sound this chained book makes every time I bring it out. The book (MS LAT 4), containing various manuscripts from the 14th and 15th centuries, was probably part of the chained library of Würzburg, and the chain would have been used to attach it to the shelves to make sure nobody walked off with it.

If all this talk of jingles and Christmas music is the last thing you want to hear at this time of year, you’re probably feeling like stamping on the nearest piano, in which case you might take comfort from the great Nicholas brothers doing just that in 1943 or, if this doesn’t help and you’d prefer to see cats rather than carols emerging from musical instruments in December, try Fred Astaire taking it one step further with his ‘piano dance’ from the 1950 film, Let’s Dance. I’ll leave you to search for a clip of that while I go off for a spot of carol-singing.

Dr. Tabitha Tuckett, Rare-Books Librarian

Advent Definitions: Christmas Box

By Nazlin Bhimani, on 11 December 2017

The definition of ‘Christmas Box’ from the 19th century dictionaries is ‘a box for collecting Christmas presents; a Christmas present’ (1885). Christmas as we celebrate it today has its origins in the Victorian period, thanks to Prince Albert bringing to England the German tradition of a Christmas tree lit with candles. By the end of the 19th century, the Christmas tree was a familiar sight in the homes of many well-to-do families and the joy of opening a Christmas box part of the excitement of the festivities.

One of the children’s books in the Baines Collection held in the UCL Institute of Education’s Special Collection is an annual (the first for children published in England) with the title The Christmas Box. As the title is so relevant to this time of the year I would like to share the delight of this little book as a Christmas treat for everyone. The book, edited by T. Crofton Croker, is small in format as was typical of children’s books at the time so that they could fit in a child’s hands.  It is only 16.2 x 10.2 cm in size and was published between 1828 and 1829.  It has lovely wood cut prints  and includes short stories, verses, plays and articles and even a brief history of the Napoleonic wars.

The stories include ‘Battle of Frogs and Mice’, a short animal epic ascribed to Homer in the ancient world and ‘The Three Caskets’ which was used in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. The book also contains a couple of firsts:   the first appearance of a Norwegian folk tale ‘The History of Asim and Asgard’ and the first publication of Scott’s poem ‘The Bonnets of Bonny Dundee’ (Hahn, 2015, p. 127). In addition, there are writings by the prolific author of adult and children’s stories Maria Edgeworth (1768 – 1849) who also wrote the well-known education treatise Practical Education (1801) (also in the IOE’s Special Collections) in which she and her father Richard Lovell Edgeworth combine ideas of different philosophers including John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

The book concludes with a collection of carols and a message for the reader which seems very appropriate for both the book and this blog post:

And now, little dears, we have only to wish you all good wishes,

and to thank you for your patience in perusing our small present.

May you all spend your Christmas holidays pleasantly, with every enjoyment and entertainment,

and be ready, when we meet again, to glance over our pages with the same good humour and glee as we trust you have done.

And so GOOD BYE.

Have a lovely Christmas and Best wishes for the New Year!