Artefacts from 1914 uncovered at Trinity

On 26 June, 2014 the College Works Department was refurbishing a room on G Staircase, Nevile’s Court, when they discovered these treasures from October 1914 behind the wall.

Newspaper clippings etc. affixed behind a wall
The Staircase G finds as they were discovered behind the wall.

On 31 October, 1914 the painter P.J. Wesson and the paperhangers P.B. Arnold and T. Orriss were refurbishing the room and left this note in red paint on a spare scrap of paper:

“European war. Oct 31 / 1914 – 1st Eastearn [sic] Hospital Trinity Coll. for wounded.”

This note seems to indicate that this was the room that housed the library for the First Eastern General Hospital while it was located at Trinity during the Autumn of 1914. The library was the result of an initiative by the librarians of Trinity, Magdalene and Corpus Christi Colleges, who ran a book and magazine drive to create a library for the soldiers while the hospital was located at Trinity. A Fellow of the College temporarily vacated his residence to house the books and around 50 newspapers were also donated daily to help keep the injured soldiers entertained during their stay. The workmen who refurbished the room after the hospital moved to its new location wrote this note and drew a small cartoon of “Kaiser Bill” before sealing it behind the wall.

News clippings, note and rosette
The October 1914 finds

With it, they left a patriotic rosette pin and newspaper clippings from the 9 October edition of The Daily Sketch. The headline “WOUNDED BUT STILL UNCONQUERED” is followed by the hand-written note, “They came to this colledge [sic].” With a dose of gallows humour, the workmen added dabs of red paint to the photograph to look like blood on the wounded soldiers’ heads. The artefacts were uncovered when the boarding in the room was repaired on 18 July, 1938 by W.R. Edwards, a carpenter for Coulson & Sons Builders. Edwards left these items where he found them, writing on a spare piece of board, “It might be of some interest at a later date.” He noted that while he worked, “We are now busy getting ready for the next ‘War to [End] War.’” Edwards could not have known how prescient his comment, written over a year before the invasion of Poland that precipitated WWII, would eventually be. It expresses a sense of irony that the workmen in 1914 did not have – a sort of cynicism that was more prevalent in the decades after the Great War.

A note in pencil on a scrap piece of board
The note from 1938

This touchingly human evidence tying the history of the College to the history of the First World War is on display in the Library’s exhibition marking the centenary of WWI. For more about the First Eastern General Hospital and more information about Trinity and the First World War, stay tuned to the Trinity College Library blog.

UPDATE: The discovery was featured in The Cambridge News on 9 July, 2014. You can read the article online here.

Major exhibition coming soon …

Trinity and the First World War - July to October, 2014 in the Wren Library
Wounded soldiers from the 1st Eastern General Hospital relaxing with a game of football on The Backs. The Wren Library is in the background.

Coming soon to the Wren Library… Trinity and the First World War An Exhibition marking the Centenary of the start of the Great War July to October, 2014 Open to the public Monday-Friday from 12:00-2:00 Admission to the Library is free. Follow us on Facebook or follow our blog for online content, also coming soon.

John Lydgate, Medieval Graffiti and Mythological Beasts

We are excited to learn that graffiti in a Suffolk church has recently been identified as the work of the poet and priest, John Lydgate (1370?–1451?).

Trinity College Library holds a number of manuscripts containing texts by Lydgate including his Book of Troy (O.5.2) and one of the oldest copies of The Siege of Thebes (R.4.20), as well as collections of ballads and poems.

The Book of Troy was commissioned by the Prince Hal.  By the time the translation was complete eight years later he had been crowned Henry V.  Manuscript O.5.2 includes an illustration of an enthroned King being presented with a book by a monk.

image of folio 38r
O.5.2, f.38r

Similar illustrations can be found in other copies of the Book of Troy including one at the John Rylands University Library where the monk is identified as Lydgate himself.

Manuscript R.3.19 is a collection of Lydgate’s poems and contains, on ff.157v-159r, reference to the mythological animals Bicorne and Chichevache.  The Chichevache originated in French folklore and was a beast usually depicted as a hungry-looking cow which fed on faithful wives and was always lean.  It was referred to in the Clerk’s Tale by Chaucer:

R.3.3, f. 53v (left column)
R.3.3, f. 53v (left column)

“O noble wives, full of great prudence,
Let no humility nail down your tongue,
Nor let any clerk have cause or eagerness
To write about you a story of such marvel
As of patient and kind Griselda,
Lest Chichevache swallow you in her entrails!” (lines 1183-1188)

The counterpart of the Chichevache, the Bicorne (or Bigorne), fed on henpecked husbands and was always fat.  It was often depicted as a plump panther, sometimes with a human face.  Lydgate may have been the first to refer to the Bicorne.  A later note in the manuscript by the antiquarian John Stow indicates that these references were compiled by Lydgate “at the request of a worthy citizen of London to be painted in a parlour”.  For further discussion see

Visual representations of the Bicorne include an image from a 17th century Dutch text (Chichevache known here as Scherminckel) at the Rijks Museum and on a Spanish misericords.

Glossed Epistles of St Paul

Epistolae Pauli Glossatae (O.5.8) – a late 12th century glossed Epistles of Paul – is a recent addition to our list of virtual manuscripts. It is one of 11 manuscripts of the Epistles of Paul held by the Wren Library; the dates of which range from the 8th century (see B.10.5) to the 14th century (see B.4.1). M. R. James described O.5.8 as ‘exquisitely written and finely ornamented’ and we recommend that you see it for yourself. With 25 lines of text and 50 of gloss to a full page, there are numerous gilded initials with gorgeous interlaced work featuring beasts and figures. O.5.8 also resembles the glossed Gospels from St Alban’s in B.5.3.

View more images below:

f. 213r
f. 213r
f. 183r
f. 183r






f. 102v
f. 102v
f. 127v
f. 127v