Category Archives: Printed Books

May I Check These Books Out?

Visiting the Special Collections at the Albert Sloan Library in the University of Essex was an eye-opening and fresh experience for me. It’s not everyday that you encounter centuries-old books and I was looking forward to seeing (and smelling) these ancient books. You know that musty old book smell that some secondhand book stores have? That was what I was expecting when we were ushered into the collections. However, I was sorely mistaken and now that I think about it, I really should have known better than to think that the books in this precious collection would be allowed to deteriorate enough to produce that musty smell. As I oh-so-carefully drew a book out from its place on the shelf and flipped through its pages, I was in awe at the structural integrity of the books. Its robustness honestly surprised me, not to mention the pages that were hardly yellowed or fragile, unlike my books left out for a year or two in the sun and humidity. The quality of the paper that was produced centuries ago made me question the quality we have now, although I suppose that is the difference between tedious manual labour and convenient mass production. It also led me to question if books were then the domain of the wealthier class, for they must not have been cheap to obtain. Literacy was also limited to a lucky few in Britain then, so the people who were able to purchase these books, to read and write in them, must have been from the upper strata of society.

My curiosity about the methods of conservation and preservation of these books brought me to the Parliamentary Archives Collection Care team. On their website, they outline some measures such as the application of preventative methods, the provision of ideal environmental conditions, careful handling, and collection management. Books would contain mostly organic materials like paper and leather (perhaps in the book covers or binding) would seem to require the utmost circumspection.[1] The Parliamentary Archives stores collections at a tight range of humidity and temperature levels, but I am unclear if the Special Collections in the Albert Sloan Library are stored at the same standards. Books that were received in particularly bad condition or are rapidly deteriorating would be subject to “’minimal intervention’ techniques, such as re-attaching a book board to a binding, or for more serious cases…‘full intervention’ techniques, such as re-sewing broken down sewing that holds the gatherings of a book together in the cover (binding), or repairing holes and tears in a paper/parchment document”[2]. This left me wondering if any of the books I had thumbed through had been restored in some way or another, but without a trace such that the original integrity remains.

Olfactory stimulation aside, the first thing that struck me visually as I lay my eyes upon the rows of books lined up on the shelves was how nondescript they were. The book spines were plain, the colours earthy, and the external design rather homogenous, requiring close observation to identify the differences. Occasionally, the edges of the paper are printed with a pattern that some may find familiar.

I often see this pattern in the scrapbooking section of my local arts and craft store and was surprised to see it had lasted through the ages. Some others have a pattern that reminds me of what I might see through the microscope.

Nonetheless, their unassuming exteriors actually conceal treasures. Some books feature such exquisite and intricate pull out maps, not unlike the geographical maps we might see in travel guides and fantasy novels these days. It is a thrill to see a city that may no longer exist by its former name and imagine the landscape and scenery. The maps also illustrate the forms of printmaking that were in practice.

Some of these books were printed, while some were handwritten. The printed versions naturally indicated that the books were meant for wide distribution, hence the necessity for mass-printed copies that take less time to produce. An example here illustrates the proper manner of eating.

The contents of these books surely reveal the matters that were of concern in society at that time as well, such as witchcraft in England. On the other hand, the handwritten books typically lend a more personal and palpable tone to these historical archives. Yes, a lot of them are banal records of a household’s spending, or a town’s records of births, deaths, and marriages, but these are all testimony to lives lived, and are such important contributions to developing a nuanced understanding of a different time.

This all ultimately begs the question: what gets remembered and what gets forgotten? Of course there is the matter of what was lost in the many years that have passed between the creation of the book and now, but if a book does reach the hands of a decisionmaker, how might they determine if it is important enough to be conserved? Berger discusses some of the factors that might affect this decision, as it would involve “deciding the value of an item to the collection today and hypothesizing its value to the cultural record some years from now”.[3] The factors include the “extent of damage, amount of use, content, artifactual value, rarity, and market value, among others” and it becomes necessary to create a kind of ethical code and selection policy. [4] It is all a rather risky business to me as judging if the content and value of a book is important can be influenced by the prevailing beliefs in society. Should the words of a woman for example be deemed frivolous in a particular time and therefore be left to disappear with time, people in the later years would never even have realized the loss of a whole world and perspective. I think this issue is an increasingly complex one as we progress into a digital age where there is an overwhelming amount of data to sieve through to decide what should be preserved. There are all new formats and topics whose cultural importance are not yet obvious, and it would certainly be a pity and a headache for future historians if valuable information is lost in this teething period.


[1] Parliament of the United Kingdom, “Collection Care”, Preservation and Access, <https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/parliamentary-archives/who-we-are/preservation-and-access/collection-care/>, [accessed 1 April 2019].

[2] Parliament, “Collection Care”, <https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/parliamentary-archives/who-we-are/preservation-and-access/collection-care/>, [accessed 1 April 2019].

[3] Sherri Burger, “The Evolving Ethics of Preservation: Redefining Practices and              Responsibilities in the 21st Century”, The Serials Librarian,57 (2009), pp. 57-68, doi: 10.1080/03615260802669086, pp. 60.

[4] Burger, “The Evolving Ethics of Preservation: Redefining Practices and Responsibilities in the 21st Century”, pp. 60.

How to Craft the Perfect Orchard

If like me, living in a city means you don’t really have much garden space, so I can say I have never grown anything before in my life. But this hasn’t always been the case. From the first half of the twentieth century, orchard gardens began propping up all over England on the properties of high-status houses, sometimes owned by religious orders or noblemen. Particularly in Greater London’s county of Herefordshire, fruit orchards were easy to come across due to its excellent microclimate, which creates the perfect conditions for growing fruit. Nowadays, Herefordshire has an abundance of craft cider manufactures, like Gwatkin Cider but the county is still home to many orchards, for example, Shenley Park.

Gervase Markham (1568- 3 February 1637) was an English poet and author. Coming from a family of knights and nobles, he was largely exposed to the luxuries of the upper-class social order, making him no stranger to the operations of a household or pleasure gardens.

Markham wrote about many subjects. His works ranged from comedy, poetry, novels, and ‘how to’ books. One of his most popular works is The English Huswife.

Looking at the second part of Markham’s The English Husband I am going to explore just how the English Husbandman crafted the perfect orchard; this will definitely come in handy if you ever inherit 50 acres or land or if, like us, you marvel at those who lived in Early Modern Europe.

Crafting Your Orchard

To begin with, you want to seek out the sunniest, airiest section of land in your newly inherited property. If your garden faces south, you’re in luck, you’ll have direct sunlight from the south and west sun beaming on your property, helping the growing process.

The foundations of your orchard should look as displayed on the left. Craft a great large square, approximately 12 to 14ft, before sectioning off into four quarters. In the centre, if you’re feeling extra fancy you can add a fountained, as fashioned in the diagram, or maybe a small pond.

At this point, we’re ready to plant our fruit trees. The U.K bestselling apple is Gala apples, originally an apple of New Zealand. They grow extremely well in our climate and are profitable. Markham suggests the planting of pears and wardens (a hard cooking pear) as the next best option, and quinces and chestnuts are your third. Depending on how much fruit variety you would like, stone fruits, such as apricots, peaches etc. can be grown by the wall at the north section of your orchard.

Your orchard should aim to resemble the diagram to the right. Our smaller dots are your stone fruits, like your peaches, plums, or apricots. The centre consists of our apple trees. These are to be around 5 feet apart from one another.

Within 6 to 10 years your orchard should be flourishing. Get ready for endless plum and apple tarts!

Some tips for perfecting your orchard:

  1. Make sure your soil is fertile.
  2. Choose your fruit wisely. English climate is moderate, to say the least. Fruit trees, such as apples, plums, pears and cherries thrive in our mild climate. Remember, apples are delicious.
  3. Plant your summer and winter fruits at different times. Planting them together can prove problematic; this is because as seasons change the soil moisture fluctuates, which can affect the way the fruit develops.

Other links:

To learn more about the history of the orchard see Pee Brown’s The Apple Orchard: The Story of Our Most English Fruit.

https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/drpgsg-rural-landscapes/heag092-rural-landscapes-rgsgs/

https://ptes.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/wildlife-and-management-guide.pdf

The Digital Recipe Project – A Finale!

When i decided to choose The Digital Recipe Project back in the summer when i was deciding what third year modules to take on for this year, I did not think that I was going to grow such a bond with Margaret Baker, a seventeenth-century English housewife. Initially, I was very excited to be working with an entire recipe book written by a woman over 300 years ago and to have the chance to transcribe it into a digital format, like a professional historian! However, as the module progressed, Baker’s life and the society of which she lived in was becoming even more intriguing to me and I couldn’t help but want to find out more!

Initially, the idea of this module having such a vast digital component was exciting to me, being a 21st century young adult, the internet is at the centre of everything, and I thought I would have easily got the grasp of blog-writing and website-making. However, the reality was not as straight-forward, and trying to write an informal blog post after two and a half years of formal historical essay-writing, was a lot more difficult than I initially thought. Despite this, (and despite the 9am starts) this module was a lot more intimate than any of my other third year modules – with such a small class, it was nice to get to know Lisa a lot better than we usually would with any other seminar leader, and it made us all feel a lot more relaxed in conversation and debate within our seminar. Not only this, but every seminar really was a conjoined effort, and each week was a different topic and theme to investigate.

It is amazing how much you take for granted being brought up in the 21st century, where medicines and treatments are constantly developed, and recipes are shared by foodies more and more on social media such as on Instagram and Facebook. Sometimes the recipe book is disregarded, and the recipe for any dish can be with you in 10 seconds with the help of Google. It was not this easy in seventeenth-century England, these recipes for both food and medicine were circulated around the country normally through word of mouth, or through migration. It is interesting now, especially, how disregarded medicinal recipes have become, and that is something that I myself was guilty of, in our first seminar: ‘What is a recipe?’. Maybe I was ignorant in just thinking that a recipe book was just that.. a book for food recipes. However, recipes had a much broader meaning, nowadays you would immediately link a ‘recipe’ with food, however, I do not think the seventeenth-century English believed in such structural organisation and conformity. A recipe book did not mean simply food, like a prayer book did not necessarily mean it only included prayers (which i mention in my last blog).

Sitting opposite my own bookcase which is full almost solely of recipe books, from Nigella, to Jamie Oliver and Rick Stein to Delia Smith, there is not really any other recipe book other than for anything other than just food dishes. From witnessing the use of alchemy widely in Margaret Bakers seventeenth-century recipe book, I was beyond excited when I found a book on my shelf with ‘Alchemy’ written in big writing on the spine of the book.. however, looking more closely ‘Alchemy in a Glass, The essential guide to Handcrafted Cocktails’ was not what I had expected to come across. Its interesting however, this book is actually giving you instructions of how to make cocktails, so its as much a ‘guide’ as it is a recipe book! Wow, this module really has got me thinking more about the definition of a ‘recipe book’!

Yet, this even got me thinking further, how such meanings and emphasis become placed differently throughout the years, although we speak the same language, we don’t necessarily speak the same meaning – and this is something I especially had to take into consideration when I first begun transcribing Baker’s book.

To close this final blog post, which is more of a reflection, or a transcription of my own train of thought, I wanted to mention a book that my grandmother recently let me borrow named ‘Natural Wonderfoods’. Although it is not a recipe book, it lists nearly every fruit, vegetable and meat product, and explains on a double page spread the importance of these different types of within healing, immune-boosting and for fitness-enhancing.

The introduction of the book itself, gives acknowledgements to our ancestors, and it is amazing that I open the book onto the introduction page (that i never look at) to such mention of the fact that knowledge of these healing foods were known centuries ago (Maybe its Baker herself that made me open it, saying: ‘See! I was right about all these healing foods in my recipe book!).

Looking at ‘A medycine for the eies’ (14.v. 15.r.) sage leaves, fennel leaves, honey and egg were used. Looking in this glorious book, all the completely natural foods are written: sage, fennel and eggs (which can be used as face masks to help dry skin!) I will leave you all with the pages and explanations of both sage and fennel to show you just how knowledgeable and clever these seventeenth-century women were! Thank you Margaret Baker et al!

 

 

 

 

 

By Florence Hearn.

Bibliography

Bartimeus, Paula, Haigh, Charlotte, Merson, Sarah, Owen, Sarah, Wright, Janet, Natural Wonderfoods, (London 2011)