Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Even More Lobb

Some of the Vellum 'retrees' from The Kelmscott Press "Works of Chaucer"

I briefly mentioned in my last blog on this subject, the Vellum sheets from the Kelmscott Press Chaucer. These were sent to The National Library of Wales in 1926 by May Morris. The accompanying letter refers to them as "retree". This is often used to indicate some fault in paper or vellum, but in this case they are perfect and merely surplus, spare copies. Also in the letter, May Morris refers to a friend, a Mr. J.D. Morgan, who seems to have been instrumental in her decision to donate the material. There is another short note attached to the letter, addressed to John Ballinger, the Chief Librarian at the time, from a friend of his in Cardiff, a bookseller named Joseph Jones. His note states that but for the intervention of J.D. Morgan, the retrees would have gone to another institution, though he doesn't say which, and that the "...Hitherto unknown friend of yourself and 'The National', J.D., stands well in certain circles and could prove a useful friend."

Sir John David Morgan was a leading figure in The Labour Party in Wales. He was also a businessman, running Morgan & co which dealt in wholesale footwear. He was knighted in 1931, when his close friend Ramsay MacDonald ( who also attended the opening of The William Morris Memorial Hall in Kelmscott ) was Prime Minister. He was known for having artist friends, and lived in a house in Rhiwbina, Cardiff, which he named "Kelmscott". It is possible that through his involvement with politics and the Arts, "J.D." knew May Morris quite well. He is the second Morgan to surface during my research. The other is Dr.Rhys Morgan, a friend to Miss Lobb and May, as well as being their local G.P. In fact, he was one of the very few people named in Miss Lobb's will - she left him her collection of pewter tankards and all her copies of The London Illustrated News!   He is no relation to "J.D." as far as we can tell,  but he is quite an interesting character and I'll return to him at a later date.

There have been other bits and pieces turning up around The Library lately too.  On the original inventory of items in the bequest, there is mentioned a box containing, "...some thousands of loose items...". These were described largely as topographical prints, cuttings, postcards etc. Some of these have started to resurface bearing an identifying stamp. Miss Lobb's legacy is lurking in every corner it seems. I was helping a colleague in their search for unusual items hidden in The Library, when I stumbled across a set of picture postcards bearing the same stamp!

But I think my favourite recent find has to be a small bundle of papers brought to my attention a couple of weeks back. A  colleague stopped me one day and informed me that he had found a postcard addressed to May Morris, with miscellaneous other items. They had been removed from the Pictures and Maps Department back in 1981, probably during a clear out to make way for refurbishment. It is possible that they also came from the box of loose items on the inventory, but I think it more likely that they were removed, or fell out of, one of the scrap books or photo albums in the collection.


There is a postcard, not a picture postcard, sent from Paris, dated August 1886 and addressed to May in Hammersmith. The message written on it is simple and dire: "My wife died an hour ago".  It is signed by Laurence Gronlund, political writer, lecturer, and activist, best known for his work, "The Cooperative Commonwealth". He was Danish born, and after living in The United States for over 20 years,  he travelled to Europe in 1885, returning to America in 1897. It seems that he lost his wife, Beulah, en route, and that the couple must have been friends of the Morris family, in particular, May.

Another interesting item is a letter written by Trade Unionist and Politician, John Burns, to Henry Halliday Sparling, secretary of The Socialist League. May Morris married Sparling in 1890 and stayed together for four years, although they didn't divorce until some years later. Unfortunately the letter is undated, but judging by the content, I'm fairly certain that it was written in 1890. Burns mentions his ill health, and I have found a newspaper article (Dundee Telegraph, January 22nd 1890) reporting that, " John Burns is at present indisposed, his illness being brought on by overwork."  Yet, on 28th January he attended a meeting opposing the Compulsory Land Purchase Bill, which proposed the buying out of landlords in Ireland  ( Birmingham Daily Post 29th January ) and it seems that it is to this meeting that the letter refers. There is also mention of his being accused of misappropriation of funds by his political opponent, Henry Hyndman. Burns ends the letter asking Sparling to "send best wishes to Morris and folks at Kelmscott..."

Last, but not least, there are several small pieces of paper with recipes roughly hand written on them. They are recipes for, amoungst other things, mince pies and cheese cakes. Some of these bear the name Miss E. Vivian - Miss Lobb's mother, Emma.

So, this was another orphaned fragment of the bequest. To anyone else, this would have appeared to be just a random pile of miscellanea, so I'm thankful it was brought to my attention by a diligent archivist. I can only speculate as to how it ended up "in the wild" as it were, for so long. My guess is that these items were loose in the back of a scrap book or photo album. Either they were removed deliberately, as is usually the way with ephemera like this, or they fell out and no one was quite sure where they should be. It doesn't really matter, it's enough that they have survived, and, for me, they epitomise the wonderfully disparate nature of this collection.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

The Puddle

With the arrival of the first significant rain in quite some time, the railway station puddle has returned. It’s perfectly placed to cause maximum inconvenience to travellers making their way to and from the platform, and, it seems there are many different ways of dealing with it. 

The most common technique amoung the young and sprightly, is of course The Leaping Clear. This generally leaves feet dry and avoids splashing, and is usually only attempted by those under thirty.
1: The Leap Clear
Another common sight is The Stomping Straight Through Because I'm Late For My Train move. This tends to occur due to panic often leading to a failure to observe the obstacle at all.

2:Stomping Straight Through Because I'm Late For My Train
Frequently used by people with common sense is of course, The Circumventing. A quick assessment easily reveals that The Puddle is somewhat shallower on one side, and with care, can be avoided quite easily. A completely different approach is the Sudden Stretch. This entails walking up at normal pace, giving all the appearances of being completely unaware, then, at the last second suddenly elongating the length of stride. This can sometimes be quite successful, though it relies on good timing. I managed to catch the two techniques in one shot.

3: The Circumventing and 4: The Sudden Stretch

Some of the more unusual moves include The Crouch. This is an odd one. There seems to be a belief that if one reduces ones height, and then execute a move not dissimilar to The Sudden Stretch, that it somehow gives one an advantage of some sort. However, this is not always the case. In the incident shown below, splashing occurred and some discomfort was caused. Then the subject caught sight of the weirdo taking photos and gave him a look as though it was all his fault.

4: The Crouch

4a: The "Its All Your Fault" look. 
Another unusual aspect I observed was the occasional Glance Backward. This can occur after any of the other moves, and involves a quick look back to make sure that The Puddle isn't following you.

5: Glance Backward
 I had observed several reactions to the obstacle presented by The Puddle. Some people were indifferent, some a little irate, some downright furious. Some would stop briefly, tutting, as they looked up to determine the source, others threw suspicious glances at the water as they made their evasive manoeuvres.  Soon the business of embarking and disembarking was all done, and the platform was pretty much empty. I was about to leave when I observed one more technique. It is almost exclusively used by very small children. It's known as Enjoy, and involves deliberately taking as much time as possible to traverse the pool, whether in appropriate footwear or not, while simultaneously deeply pondering the sheer wonderful weirdness of water.

6: Enjoy

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

A Little More Lobb

I realise that is has been some time since I wrote an update on my research into the wonderful Miss M. F. V. Lobb and the collection she left to The National Library of Wales (see my blogs from October last year) .  I’ve been a bit busy with other things, but I have tried to keep dipping into various resources in attempt to turn up any new information. One of these resources was newspapers. There are now so many digitised newspapers available online that you can search more titles in an afternoon than would have taken months, or years. No more trawling through crumbling, original papers, bound in volumes so large and heavy that one would have to regularly work out in the gym in order to lift them. No more staring, zombie-like, squinting as you roll through miles of microfilm. Now we can search for specific names, locations or any keywords. Admittedly searchable text can have its drawbacks, especially when it’s derived from rough old newsprint, but it’s still a fantastic resource. 

I had been hoping to find some more information regarding Miss Lobbs school days. I know she attended St. Thomas’s College, a small, privately run school for girls in Launceston. 

The census for 1891, when she was about 13 years old, shows that she was boarding there with 10 other girls.  I haven’t yet had the opportunity to spend time at any records offices in Cornwall, and I suspect that with this being a private school, I would be unlikely to find any records associated with it. All I can say is that the Headmistress was a Miss Caroline T Stringer and that the teachers included her two sisters, Emma and Alice. The local paper would publish lists of those pupils who had passed their exams, but Miss Lobbs name doesn’t appear on any of those lists that I have found.

As I searched The British Newspaper Archive, by chance I stumbled upon a couple of letters to the editor, written by Miss Lobb, to The Western Morning News.

When I first read them I thought them to be rather amusing, absent minded ramblings. Then, noting the dates on the papers, they suddenly seemed quite poignant. They were both written in that time between October 1938 when May Morris died, and her own death in March of the following year. She was alone at Kelmscott Manor through those dismal winter months feeling, I think, very lonely indeed. 

There is one other find made at The National Library of Wales worth mentioning. Just after I delivered a talk last January, in The National Library, an ex curator, retired for some years now, approached me and asked if I’d seen the dozen or so pages from the Kelmscott Press Chaucer, printed on Vellum, which had been sent to the Library by May Morris in 1926.  Well, no, I hadn’t seen these items!  They weren’t to be found on the catalogue. The old curator remembered where they had been kept, but of course increasing demands on the limited amount of space in the building, they had long since been moved.  It turned out that they were considered ephemera of sorts, and, with the help of several members of staff, I eventually tracked them down. They were accompanied by correspondence from May Morris to the then Chief Librarian.  I intend to say a little bit more about this find in my next talk on September 26th at the William Morris Memorial Hall in Kelmscott, but here’s just a little peek for now! (Fear not, I’ll write here in more detail at a later date for those unable to attend)

Before I finish, there’s a point that I feel I should emphasise. Sometimes things slip through the net of the cataloguing process, and without a good number of knowledgeable, experienced staff, these things could remain hidden for a long time. Not only did the old curator know where they were, but also understood their significance. Sadly, due to financial restraints, repeated re-structuring, redundancies and retirements, we are losing many people and with them, their knowledge. We live in difficult times and I’m sure this is happening in most similar institutions all over the country. We must all do our best to curb this. We need to stop discarding those with specialised knowledge and expertise in favour of layer upon layer of managers who have little or no comprehension of what those experts do. We will end up with lots of big buildings full of amazing things, but there might not be anyone left who can tell you what the things are.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Fun And Bewilderment At Disneyland

As I opened the window to hand over the 15 euro parking fee, the warm air rushed into the nicely air conditioned car. It was going to be a hot day. The queues of cars stretched out behind us and various cartoon characters smiled down from the brightly coloured portal to Disneyland Paris.

You know when you always tell people that you'll never be found dead in certain places? When you're adamant that there are some things you just won't do?  Well, going to Disneyland was one of those things for me. When my Firstborn and Girlchild were small, I was quite relieved that we couldn't afford it, and anyway, I was young and very much wrapped up in "counter culture". Disney was all corporate, sickly sweet nonsense to me. In fact, I was possibly more cynical then than I am now.
With my children all grown up and their mother and I no longer an item, I didn't think it was something I would ever again have to consider. However, you never know what changes life will bring. The Lovely, my partner of some 4 years now, came with The Small One as part of the deal. She is 8 years old this year, and thanks to the generosity of her grandparents, we all got to spend a week in France with Disney being the main attraction.

We were directed to our parking space, by smiling attendants, in the car park that seemed to disappear over the horizon. The Small One was beside herself with excitement and we set off, soon absorbed into the unstoppable flow of eager fun seekers.  As we approached the canopied walkway, there were three fully armed French soldiers scrutinising the crowds. The tones of their military outfits stood out against the glaring colours all around, and a jolly Disney tune incongruously trickled from the loudspeakers overhead. I reached for my camera. Too slow. I was washed along with the crowd which soon became denser as we approached the barriers and turnstiles.

The Disney site, the parks, the hotels, car parks and campsites, covers nearly 5,000 acres. More than 15 million people from all over the globe visit every year and I couldn't help but be impressed by certain aspects of the place. The technology, engineering, and sheer scale of some of the rides and installations. But there was something unnerving, almost oppressive about it all. There was the feeling of being processed, manipulated and herded.  Maybe it was just the heat getting to me (it was around 35 degrees) and the sheer number of people, I've never been good with either.

All the world was represented in the thronging crowds. A never ending stream of Disney character clones of all different age and race. There were princesses, princes, pirates, and stormtroopers, big and small. A whole plethora of bizarre headgear was on show, though mostly the ubiquitous Mickey Mouse ears. Some children smiling, some wide eyed - silent and bewildered, some red faced and bawling. Some have collapsed into slumber exhausted by heat and excitement, being carried by equally withered adults, who snap at each other ( and often the kids too ) in stressed tones as they join another long, shuffling queue. There were times when I had to wonder if this was actually a place people brought their children to torture them, especially the very young, who seemed incapable of truly appreciating, or indeed, comprehending what they were experiencing.
Patiently waiting amoung the rows of parked pushchairs and baby bugggies

Twice a day, a voice booms out from every loudspeaker in the place, announcing the imminent start of the parade. The music is cranked up and the slow moving floats, brimming with iconic characters, creep into view. Time for everyone to indulge in some serious hero worship. As the last float passed, people joined the procession, following in a plodding, zombie-like pace, to it's end, which was conveniently enough, where all the shops are.
Hero Worship
I have to say that there were several rides I actually enjoyed. Even with the interminable waiting, I entered into the spirit of it all. The Tower of Terror - creepy concept with a gut wrenching 200ft accelerated drop; Star Tours - Star Wars fun in a pretty authentic simulator; Ratatouille - brilliant use of 3D graphics, and who couldn't like zapping aliens with Buzz Lightyear?  Although, those queues really did take their toll on my feet. On many of the rides the wait time was upwards of 45 minutes, with a running time just over a minute!

The last leg of the queue for "Pirates Of The Carribean"

Almost there.....The Tower Of Terror...

 As darkness fell, lights flicked on all over the site, and I thought the mood changed a little. There seemed to be an ever so slight calming, somehow less frantic. Maybe it was just that I felt a little calmer. 

While the others queued with The Small One for one last ride, I, weary, aching and foot-sore, sat in a dark, almost cool spot on a fake stone bridge. I watched as other fatigued folk shuffled by, or sat for a while and stared at their phones, or stopped for a cigarette. Many were drifting off to find a good vantage point - there were still the pyrotechnics to come.

The soundscape now was a murmur, an almost constant hum, loud but with far fewer peaks and troughs than during the day.  People sat staring towards the iconic castle at the heart of the park in anticipation of the sparkling show to come. Mesmerised before it even started. Up goes the music, lights flash, fireworks crackle, and out come cameras, phones and tablets.

 So many seemed determined to see this entire spectacle through the confines of a small screen. Not just taking the occasional photograph, but actually watching the whole thing on a screen in front of them. Trying to suck in the experience so it can be owned, rather than simply living that moment to the full. 

So how would I sum up?  I have mixed feelings. It's a bit like when I explore big old churches and cathedrals. While I may admire their architectural brilliance, and the craftsmanship involved, I don't have to subscribe to the ideological dogma which inspired them.
Disney brings a lot of enjoyment to a lot of people, and in the end, I can't be that cynical about it. We all enjoy novelty. Whether it's big screen entertainment at the local cinema, or the gravity defying thrills of high speed rollercoasters.  
It can't be denied that what Disney does, it does very well.

VIDEO on youtube

More From France On Flickr

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Don't Ruin a Good Ruin

The ruined, 12th century church of Newton North sits quite uneasily among the rows of chalets and faux terraced houses of the ever expanding Bluestone National Park Resort in Pembrokeshire. The stone tower, ivy covered and crumbling, calls out to be investigated. Of course, any curious explorer is met with a fence, a locked gate and the usual “Danger. Keep Out” signs.

 I like a good ruin. I’m used to being able to mooch around the derelict cottages and old farmhouses which are scattered around the countryside. So, feeling that I’m fairly good at assessing this kind of risk, I couldn’t resist nipping over the gate for a closer look.

I soon spotted the main reason for the “Keep Out” sign. There’s a small doorway at the base of the tower with steps leading up into the shadows. Impossible to resist really. They are extremely narrow and there’s very little headroom, but they seemed solid enough to me. The childlike thrill of exploring the unknown, one careful step at a time, is always great, maybe slightly better when it's a bit illicit! Some way up the tightly spiralling steps, there's a doorway leading into the empty shell of the tower. I paused to peer in and there was a classic movie moment when I disturbed a Wood Pigeon that scared the crap out of me. I carried on a little further up, but stopped well short of the top. I think a figure, suddenly appearing out of the ivy at the top of the tower, would have been spotted. I didn't really want to deal with an irate security official.

 It turns out there is another fine ruin close by, in Canaston Wood. This is a manorial hall- house dating from the 14th century, known locally as Castell Coch. Again, this is a proper ruin.  Huge, crumbling, ivy covered walls loom out of the encroaching trees and undergrowth. 

Despite a few precariously hanging rocks, there are no fences, gates or "Keep Out" signs. Here you can wander freely, stumble over rubble and fight past brambles. This is a wonderfully unkempt ruin. The ivy reaches up at the walls slowly tearing them down, and all manner of plants and fungi have taken up residence. Nature has moved in.

Back at the tumbledown church, there is a small panel nearby, informing us of the building's great age, it's architectural and historical importance.  Then, it goes on to say that there are plans, in the next few years, to restore it to a functional church once more, presumably for use by the ever changing residents of Bluestone. 
It was described as "Remains Of Church" on 19th century maps, so it seems unlikely that it has been a functioning place of worship for hundreds of years. There may be many who would disagree with me, but wouldn’t it be better to simply consolidate what’s there? Make it last a little longer in it's current form. Clear the rock strewn floor, make good the walls, and yes, even fence off the steps if necessary. It could be a functional derelict. We sometimes need reminding that we can't put everything back the way it was, that nature will nibble away at the structures we have built. This could be a place to contemplate, not the dogmatic and exclusive ways of any one belief system, but rather just the passing of time. 

Don't ruin a good ruin.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

The Oldest Cyclist In Town?

I see a lot of cyclists around Aber these days. Perhaps it’s always been that way, and I’ve just started noticing them more.  Darting through my line of sight, meandering towards me on the pavement, careering around corners or looming suddenly out of the darkness on winter evenings.

You have the serious, lycra-clad enthusiasts, peddling frantically on their hi-tech, lightweight bikes that cost as much as a small car. There are the parents and kids, often trying to cross busy roads, which can be a bit like watching a mother duck leading her ducklings to safe waters. Then there are the people who seem to spend a lot of time stopped, or pushing the bike along while having a good chat.

Youngsters are often seen parked up on what seem, to me at least, like rather undersized BMX’s, usually engrossed in a mobile phone.

Some time ago I had spotted an old chap, on a mountain bike, carrier bags full of shopping hanging from the handlebars. I had thought about trying to get a shot of him, but he stopped to chat with another chap whom he clearly knew. As I passed, I thought I heard the cyclist say that he was, “..Over 80 now, so I’m slowing down a bit..”. Yesterday, I spotted the octogenarian again and tried to get myself placed for a good shot. But it was a busy day, difficult to get a clear, candid shot. I stood in front of the station and tried to get a shot as he crossed the road towards me, but it was no good. I turned to walk on ahead, but then thought that maybe I should just go for a direct approach, and turned back to face him.
"Excuse me," I started, " but did I once overhear you telling someone that you were 80?"
"83," he smiled
"And you still ride all the time?"
"Well, do you know, " he began, speaking in a crisp, clear English accent, " It's the only thing that keeps me moving. Keeps me alive. Gets me out and about. You see, I don't have any friends now really, they're all dead - all my peer group,"
"That must be difficult, a bit strange..."
"No," he said, smiling with his eyebrows," Not really." He seems a happy man.
I reached for my camera and asked if I could take his photo.
"With the greatest of pleasure," he said.

"So, how do you rate these modern bikes then?" I asked, as I took a couple of shots.
"Oh marvelous! Look at these tyres, " he waved his hand at the wheels of his sturdy mountain bike, "I can crash up and down kerbs with these. Chunky, look at them. Not like those thin, flimsy old things. I still end up buying a new one every couple of years though. Well, I do 20 or 30 miles a day"
"Oh, it's all on the flat though..."

If I'm just half what this man is when I'm 83, I'll be very happy indeed.