A Hornbook

Curio B9

This month’s curio is a Hornbook. These were used as primers by young children learning to read and write. Typically they were a piece of written or printed material pasted onto a board (often made of wood, ivory or lead) and covered with a sheet of transparent horn. The horn covering protected the text from tears or marking. Sometimes the back board was also decorated. The handle made them easier to hold, leaving the other hand free to write. Horn books usually displayed the alphabet in upper and lower case, sometimes also followed by numbers and the Lord’s Prayer.

All that remains on the Trinity hornbook is a fragment of the Lord’s Prayer. The alphabet would have originally been displayed above this on the upper half of the paddle. The horn covering was usually edged with brass or leather. On this hornbook, you can see the marks where the edging of the horn would originally have been held down with tacks or nails. The hole on the handle would have allowed a cord to be threaded through it, allowing the book to be fastened to the body.

Visual evidence of the use of hornbooks dates back to the 14th century (see, for example, here) and they are referred to in 16th century literature, but the oldest actual survivals are 17th century. Hornbooks were produced quite cheaply and in large numbers but not many have survived. Later hornbooks were also produced in gingerbread.

Horn was also sometimes used to cover book labels. We have a few examples here in the Library. The first (B.4.24) is on a velvet binding with the title recorded under horn nailed down with green silk ribbon.

B.4.24, front cover

There are two similar bindings in the Library of Corpus Christi College. These bindings are characteristic of the ‘Old Royal’ Library of Henry VIII. Another example (O.4.42) has a label on the lower right hand corner of the back cover with a handwritten title (probably 13th century) under horn held down by nails. Labeling such as this probably indicates ownership in a well-ordered and organised Library. This manuscript was owned by Abbey Dore in Herefordshire.

O.4.42, back cover

B.15.2 has its original label pasted to the inside front cover. You can see the holes where the nails held it in place. This label indicates that it is from the library of Syon Abbey, Middlesex. The Abbey had an extensive library prior to the Dissolution which was divided into two collections: one for the monks and one for the nuns. The label records the book title (divisiones thematum super epistolas et evangelia dominicalia cum aliis), 2nd folio (miam et) and original donor (Bracebridge). Medieval cataloguers would often use the first few words of the second folio to distinguish between different copies of the same text.

B.15.2, inside front

Finally, B.16.13 has a horn label (early 16th century) on the back cover which records that it was a gift from Thomas Traver, vicar of Walthamstow in Essex. There are also indications of chain marks at the bottom of the first leaves. The library to which this volume was given has not been identified with any certainty, but labels on outer covers (rather than on the spine) make more sense in a chained library where the books might be displayed on reading desks: see, for example, the chained library at Zutphen in The Netherlands.

B.16.13, back cover
B.16.13, f.1r

The hornbook and volumes B.15.2 and O.4.42 are currently on display in the Wren Library during public opening hours.

 

 

Mrs Wedderburn’s Abigail

Curio C6
Curio C6

This month’s curio is a piece of stranded knitting worked by the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell (1831-79) for his paternal aunt, Mrs Isabella Wedderburn, when he was about 12 years old. The intricate design in stocking stitch includes a Union Jack and lozenge shapes.

Two explanations have been found for the use to which the ‘Abigail’ was put: i) in a letter sent when the knitting was presented to the Library, it is described as an accessory for holding down sleeves when putting on a jacket and ii) Clerk Maxwell’s school friend and biographer described it as a sling for holding a workbasket. Both explanations presumably relate to the popular association of the name ‘Abigail’ with female servants.

007_add-ms-b-52_4_frontHere in the Library we have a small archive of items (Add.ms.b.52) from Clerk Maxwell’s childhood. His mother died when he was young and thereafter he spent much of his time at the family estate of Glenlair and, after beginning his formal schooling at the Edinburgh Academy, with the Wedderburn family at 31 Heriot Row, Edinburgh. He also spent time with the family of another maternal aunt, Jane Cay.

His family on both his father’s and his mother’s side included talented artists but he was greatly encouraged, in particular, by his older first cousin, Jemima Wedderburn who later in life, as Jemima Blackburn (1823-1909), became a renowned watercolourist. The designs featured below demonstrate young James’ obsession with geometric form and harmonious colour combinations. James had accompanied his father to the Royal Scottish Society of Arts in 1845-6 and saw the work of David Ramsay Hay (1798-1866). Hay’s decorative work used geometrical symmetry and young James was inspired to develop a method of drawing ovals using string around pins.

 

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Childhood design for a spinning top (Add.ms.b.52.22)

Later, in his first year at Edinburgh University (1847), Clerk Maxwell developed these ideas about oval curves and wrote an important paper on analytical geometry which was presented to the Royal Society of Edinburgh. During his time at Trinity (1850-56), he developed his interest in colour by experimenting  using a colour wheel. The scientist Thomas Young (1773-1829) had suggested that there were three distinct receptors in the eye which responded to different ranges of light. Using the spinning wheel to mix the primary lights of red, blue and yellow, Clerk Maxwell was able to demonstrate that, if colours are mixed with mathematical precision, then it is possible to synthesise any colour. The experiments also revealed that we see colour in lights differently to colour in pigments. For example, a mixture of blue and yellow light produces a pinkish hue, but blue and yellow pigments mixed together make green. Clerk Maxwell’s analysis using the colour wheel led him to devise a colour triangle for calculating the ratios of the three primary lights needed to create any particular colour.

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JCM with his colour wheel, c. 1850

James Clerk Maxwell is now remembered as one of the most influential scientists of all time. His later work included study of the composition of Saturn’s rings (drawing the conclusion that they were composed of a myriad of small, solid particles). This conclusion was confirmed by the work undertaken by the Voyager space probes of the 1980s.

Other important research was on electromagnetism and he devised a set of equations which later formed the basis for Einstein’s theory of relativity. When the Cavendish Laboratory was established here in Cambridge in the 1870s and became the first Cavendish Professor of Experimental Physics. Clerk Maxwell died in Cambridge in 1879.

Further Reading:

http://www.clerkmaxwellfoundation.org/

 

Henry VIII’s Comb

Curio B6
Curio B6

This month’s curio is a comb which is said to have belonged to Henry VIII. It has been owned and described as such by the Library since the 1720s. It seems likely that it is indeed a Tudor comb since it is similar to a number in the V&A Museum. Typically these were made of boxwood with bone or ivory inlays and were often manufactured in France. It is generally believed that Henry had reddish brown hair. One contemporaneous description of him is by the Venetian Ambassador to the Tudor court writing home in 1515:

“His Majesty is the handsomest potentate I ever set eyes on; above the usual height, with an extremely fine calf to his leg, his complexion very fair and bright, with auburn hair combed straight and short, in the French fashion, and a round face so very beautiful, that it would become a pretty woman …” [Brewer, J. S., Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, 2.1, no 395. p.116]. The King is depicted on a 5.5 metre long, vellum roll owned by the Library (O.3.59) which records the procession to Parliament on 4th February 1512.

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Section from O.3.59

Trinity Library also has eight manuscripts which were once a part of the King’s Library at Westminster. B.15.19 is the manuscript Epistola ad Cardinales also known as Henricus Octavus.

B.15.19, f.1
B.15.19, f.1

This was the first official statement of the King’s position in relation to the validity of his marriage to his first wife, Katherine of Aragon (who had previously been married to his brother, Arthur) and dates from 1529. In love with Anne Boleyn, Henry had begun to question the marriage’s validity two year’s earlier in 1527 when the first inconclusive examination of the issue took place. A second trial took place before Cardinals Wolsey and Campeggio between May and July 1529.

B.15.19, front cover
B.15.19, front cover

Tradition states that this manuscript lay on the table before the Cardinals. It was expensively bound with gold tooled decoration by the binder known as ‘King Henry’s Binder’.

It is probable that the King himself composed part of the manuscript and that it contains the text of the speech that Henry delivered to the court on 21st June. Henry argued that, as a young man and with Papal dispensation, he had entered into his marriage in good faith. Over time, given the failure of the marriage to produce sons to succeed him, Henry had become concerned that it contravened Divine Law. Another Trinity manuscript dating from around this time and relating to these issues is B.14.10. The arguments were long and complex and brought Henry into direct confrontation with the Papacy. The debate continued for a further four years. Henry and Anne were secretly married in January 1533 and Henry’s first marriage was annulled in May of the same year, thereby ratifying his marriage with Anne. The break with Rome with followed.

After the Act of Supremacy (1534) which recognised Henry as supreme head of the Church of England and the dissolution of the monasteries that followed, hundreds of books and manuscripts were removed from monastic libraries taken into Henry’s possession. Volumes now at Trinity are Alcuin, De dialectica and works by Jerome (both formerly at Rochester Cathedral Priory) and Alexander Nequam, De naturis rerum formerly at Barnwell Priory.

A 15th century Greek Psalter from the Royal Library was originally written, possibly in Cambridge by Emmanuel of Constantinople, for George Neville, archbishop of York. It is still in its original binding and is one of the 19 identified volumes bound by the ‘Scales Binder’ who worked, probably in London, in the mid to late 15th century. This binder’s work has the following characteristics: the front and back covers are always different; he scored or cut patterns as well as using figured tools; and the scored inscriptions or rebuses may indicate the original owner of the binding. These features can be seen on the Trinity binding which has the name ‘Bhale’ cut into the back cover. This binder is the only one so far identified in England to have used this cut leather technique.

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O.3.14, front cover
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O.3.14, back cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Further Reading:

For other examples of combs from the V&A click here.

Carley, J.P., The Libraries of King Henry VIII (London, 2000)

Murphy, V., ‘The Literature and Propaganda of Henry VIII’s First Divorce’, in MacCulloch, D, The Reign of Henry VIII (Basingstoke, 1995), pp. 159-181

Hobson, G. D, English Binding before 1500 (Cambridge, 1929)

 

 

 

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.