On the fifth day of Christmas …

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These five gold rings come from the Dolphin Inn Hoard discovered by workmen excavating beneath a Cambridge coal yard on the site of the former Dolphin Inn in 1817. They were found, along with coins and other pieces of jewellery, contained within a leather bag and buried in the former Inn’s cellars. At the time of their discovery, the finds were reported in local newspapers and the descriptions provided enable identification of the hoard of coins as belonging to the Long Cross coinage of the 31st year of the reign of Henry III (1246-7). This coinage was in regular use up until 1279 thereby enabling a dating of the contents of the hoard to the mid to late 13th century. Many of the items were removed by the workmen and other pieces subsequently went astray, but the rings were given to the Library by Alderman Elliot Smith in the late 19th century. By this time, their story had been embellished with the detail that they were discovered on the hands of a skeleton!

It is unusual for coin hoards also to contain jewellery, but in the medieval period such rings were common, low value items and not indicators of great wealth. The rings are gold and set with what are probably polished and uncut semi garnets, although at the time of their discovery they were described as containing a sapphire, two amethysts, a ruby and another unidentified gem.

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Whewell’s Court and the corner of All Saint’s Passage and Sidney Street

The coal yard was situated at the corner of All Saint’s Passage (formerly known as All Hallows in the Jewry and later as Dolphin Lane) and Sidney Street. This is now the site of Trinity’s Whewell’s Court. For a map dated 1798 showing the coal yard click here.

Who buried the hoard? In 1279 this messuage was recorded as belonging to one Richard Crocheman, a member of a prominent family of Cambridge merchants, but he is not known to have occupied the site. A number of jewellers and goldsmiths were also known to be working in this area in the medieval period, but it has also been suggested that the burial of the hoard may be linked to the persecution and expulsion of the local Jewish population (living and working around the Bridge Street area) in the second half of the 13th century.

This post is the first of our new series focusing on Library curios.

 

Further Reading: Cessford, C., Newman, R., Allen, M. and Hinton, D., ‘The Dolphin Inn Hoard: Re-examining the Early Nineteenth-Century Discovery of a Mid-Thirteenth-Century Hoard from Cambridge’, Archaeological Journal, 168:1 (2011), pp. 272-84

 

Wren Curios

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Currently we welcome around 100 people a day to the Wren Library. Tourists come to marvel at the architecture of the building, the stained glass, portraits and marble busts, and to view the special displays of manuscripts and printed books.

Visitors to the Wren Library during the 18th and 19th centuries, however, would have had a very different experience. In this period, it was not unusual for libraries to acquire items in addition to books including scientific instruments, natural history specimens and antiquities. These collections were intended to complement book-learning and had their origins in the ‘cabinets of curiosities’ which had been popularised during the 16th and 17th centuries.

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The English Globe by Joseph Moxton, 1679.
Image © the Whipple Museum (Wh.1466)

The accumulation of objects meant that the Library became, in many ways, also the city’s museum. Visitors may have seen, at various times, items as miscellaneous as a quiver of arrows allegedly used by Richard III at Bosworth, a rhinoceros’ horn, several globes and a speaking trumpet! Two more organised collections which came to the Library were those of coins from Beaupré Bell (1704–1741) and artefacts from the first voyage of Captain Cook between 1768 and 1771 given by Lord Sandwich. Scientific instruments including telescopes, dials and a barometer were transferred to an observatory established over Trinity’s Great Gate in the early 18th century.

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pavillionBecause the Library had been built to house books, items were fitted in wherever there was space. Old guide books refers to Roman inscriptions and sculpture (the Cotton Collection) in the vestibule at the bottom of the stairs; items from Cook’s Pacific voyage on the first landing; and, in the Library itself, collections of medals and coins, and Anglo-Saxon antiquities.  These were all displayed in addition to books and manuscripts.

An unusual feature of the above photograph of the Wren in the 19th century is the drapery which covered the Cipriani window on the south wall of the library. While the Victorians were happy to fill the Wren with antiquities, curiosities and other frivolities they disliked what they saw as the gaudiness of the 18th-century window in an otherwise austere building. Also, allegory was not to the Victorian taste and the window was covered for many years by large curtains which obscured, to their eyes, the slightly distasteful iconography of a partially-clad lady as the muse of the College.  This was one curiosity too many!

In the 20th century, the decision was taken to loan many of the objects to other museums which had by now been established in Cambridge. The coins, for example, went to the Fitzwilliam Museum, scientific instruments to the Whipple Museum and the Pacific artefacts to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. A few curios, however, remain here at Trinity and we will be highlighting some of them on the blog over the course of the next year. Look out for the first one on 29th December!

Further Reading:

McKitterick, D (ed.), The Making of the Wren Library (Cambridge, 1995), chapter 3.

The Crewe Collection

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Yesterday we officially announced the arrival at Trinity of the Crewe bequest of over 7500 books. It is described by the Librarian, Dr Nicolas Bell, as ‘an extraordinary library – one of the most important private collections in Britain’ and is one of the largest bequests in the Library’s history. The collection includes major works of English and French literature, rare political pamphlets and several unpublished literary manuscripts, as well as first editions inscribed by Byron, Shelly, Wordsworth and Tennyson.

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Richard Monkton-Milnes

The books were bequeathed by Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe who died in 2014 and whose father, Robert Crewe-Milnes, and grandfather, Richard Monckton Milnes, both studied at Trinity before embarking on important political careers. The collection was built up between the 1830s and the early twentieth century. Many of the books were presented by their authors to Monckton Milnes, later Lord Houghton, who was a leading Liberal in Victorian politics as well as a writer and poet. At the time of the bequest the collection was kept at West Horsley Place, the Surrey house bought by Crewe-Milnes in 1931.

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Over the past year the collection has been transported to the Wren Library and the long process of sorting, classifying, cleaning and conserving the books has begun. The first few hundred volumes have been added to the Library’s online catalogue, selected volumes are on display during public opening hours and, by appointment, all of the books are available to researchers for consultation. A small first selection of books has been added to the Wren Digital Library.

You can read more about the collection here and here. For a family tree, click here.

 

 

Photograph of the Month

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Female Collier from Rose Bridge Pits, Wigan, 1869

Our final photograph for this year is taken from the Munby Collection. This major 19th-century collection of photographs and diaries, put together by Arthur J Munby (1828-1910), came to Trinity in the early 20th century and was opened, after an interval under the terms of the bequest, in 1950.

The collection’s significance lies in the interest Munby showed in the lives of working women. He kept diaries, made notes and sketches, and amassed a major collection of photographs including those of pit brow girls, female colliers, fisher girls, milk women, acrobats and domestic servants. The Sub-Librarian, Sandy Paul, discusses his interest in the collection here.

The entire collection will eventually be accessible via Adam Matthew Publications. In the meantime a few images are reproduced below:

Further Reading:

Hiley, M., Victorian Working Women: Portraits from Life (London, 1979)