Counties on the Cards

Tucked away in the depths of our library stacks is a little box about the size of a cigarette packet. Inside is a complete deck of Robert Morden’s Playing Cards – or, to be strictly accurate, a facsimile of the set, because only one original pack of these particular cards, produced in 1676, is known to exist. Our copy dates from 1972, and must have been acquired with some enthusiasm by a former librarian, as a pencilled note on the outside reads: 17/5/1972, £1.00 + 10p post.

In his day, the publisher Robert Morden (1650-1703) was one of the country’s foremost commercial map-makers, and these 52 cards depict the various counties of England and Wales. What makes the deck especially noteworthy is the fact that it depicts roads – making it, effectively, the first British atlas ever to do so. Let’s take a look at an example from each of the four suits…

King of Clubs

King of Clubs

Yorkshire is up first – of course – and the first thing to notice about this card is King Charles II in the top-right corner, the ruling monarch at the time of publication. (A little-known fact about Charles is that he actually joined in the fire-fighting effort during the Great Fire of London, ten years before this pack of cards was published.) The county’s principal city is given as York, with its distance from London and latitude listed at the bottom. Also given some prominence is Richmond, site of a castle that was already 700 years old when these cards came out, and around it the hills that make up what we now call the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Elsewhere on the map, you should be able to spot Leeds, although its spelling is not the one we use today!

Queen of Spades

Queen of Spades

Radnorshire is next, with its figurehead being Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II and the woman credited with popularising tea-drinking in Britain (a custom she brought over from her native Portugal). If you didn’t know, Radnorshire is in central Wales. Its original county town, Radnor, is now known as New Radnor but has been exceeded in size and significance by several other local towns. Look closely and you’ll see a castle depicted. In 1676, this would still have been standing but, today, only its earthworks remain.

Jack of Hearts

Jack of Hearts

Rutland is the smallest of England’s historic counties, with its circumference given here as a mere 42 miles. In fact it’s so small, it still only has two towns today, both visible on the card: the county town of Oakham (again spelled slightly differently here) and Uppingham, site of another long-gone castle. The emblem of Rutland is a horseshoe, and it remains a tradition that any royalty passing through should present one to the Lord of the Manor. Speaking of royalty, we’re not sure if the Jack in the top corner is intended to represent a particular person but, unlike the faces of the King and Queen, he differs across the four suits.

5 of Diamonds

5 of Diamonds

Our first ‘pip’ (i.e. numbered) card bears the value five and, if you look closely at the red diamond in the top-left, you can just make out the tail of the Arabic numeral poking out from underneath. It’s a quirk of this deck that many of the figures have been obscured by the printing process in this way. Anyway, Hampshire is the county in question, here going by its older but still-used abbreviation of Hants, which relates to its spelling in the Domesday Book as ‘Hantescire’. The principal city is named as Southampton – but where is it? You may not spot it straight away. Quite visible, however, is Winchester, the county town and home of one of the largest cathedrals in Europe.

Remember Robert Morden next time you’re playing cards, and just think: while you’re waiting for your turn, you could have been learning all about the geography of Britain – not to mention the history. You can request the cards from the Information and Research department, at shelf mark SR 912.42 M811 (but do please note that they’re for reference use only and ID will be required in order to view).

1920s Eclipse Fever

“Leeds never really went to bed last night. The last ordinary trams had scarcely stopped running at midnight, when a special series of ‘eclipse’ cars began the journey to City Square to meet the convenience of the thousands going to the shadow-belt by rail and charabanc.”

“A lady views the 1927 eclipse from Richmond, North Yorkshire”]

“A lady views the 1927 eclipse from Richmond, North Yorkshire”

This was the news that greeted the city from the pages of the Yorkshire Evening Post on the morning of 29 June 1927, the last time a total eclipse of the sun was visible in Yorkshire. We hope you managed to enjoy a glimpse of the recent partial eclipse on Friday morning – which certainly darkened the sky above Leeds for a time – but it doesn’t seem to have been able to match the dramatic spectacle witnessed ninety years ago. Read on for more details from the day’s YEP…

“Between 1.30 and 2.30 a.m. City Square was crowded. Coffee was on sale, and one enterprising merchant offered ice-cream, but neither he nor an orange dealer appeared to be doing much business. All through the night there was a stream of motor-cars and motor-cycles through Leeds, and police were kept busy on point duty controlling the traffic. Many sightseers went on foot to vantage points outside the city. Hundreds of persons gathered at such places as Roundhay Park, Sugarwell Hill and Woodhouse Moor, and at every street corner which commanded a view of the eastern sky there was a knot of sightseers. Here and there a baby in arms was to be seen.

“All these early risers were rewarded. The fleecy clouds that drifted across the sun when it was visible acted as a perfect screen for the eye, and made the use of smoked glass unnecessary. When the clouds finally conquered the sun, the victory was sudden and complete. What was happening behind the veil, however, was manifested by the gradually increasing darkness and the noticeable lowering of the temperature. At the moment of totality the air was distinctly chilly. Trams and motor-cars switched on their headlights during the darkness.”

One of the prominent sun-spotters up at Roundhay was the Lord Mayor of the city. The Post reported: “The Lord Mayor (Alderman Hugh Lupton) saw the partial eclipse from Roundhay. The sun could be seen clearly from 6 a.m. to about 6.10, when the disc was about two-thirds obscured. The Lady Mayoress went to Giggleswick with the University party, and had a magnificent view of the totality period.”

And here’s an artist’s sketch of the sort of view she might have seen in North Yorkshire:

“Drawn at the Astronomer Royal’s Camp at Giggleswick, North Yorkshire”

“Drawn at the Astronomer Royal’s Camp at Giggleswick, North Yorkshire”

Roll on 23 September 2090, when the UK will experience its next total eclipse!

Leeds from the Air

This week saw the opening of the Britain from the Air exhibition outside the Central Library on Victoria Gardens in Leeds. This is a major national, outdoor touring exhibition of over 100 stunning aerial photographs. These images offer a chance to see some fascinating images of landscapes and landmarks and tell wonderful stories of Britain’s geography and history.

Our collections are represented in the exhibition with a section on the history of Leeds in panels around a map of the UK. We are also showcasing a selection of aerial images from our collections in a display in the Atrium, ground floor, Central Library so if you’re in the city centre pop in and take a look.

To celebrate this exhibition coming to Leeds we thought we would share with you just a few of the images we hold.

Town Hall and Civic Hall

Town Hall and Civic Hall

Starting with this 1947 view focusing on the Town Hall with the Civic Hall behind it. In the centre of the left edge the Gothic Revival style frontage of Leeds General Infirmary can be seen, facing onto Great George Street. You can also see the Leeds Mechanics Institute now the City Museum,  and St Anne’s Cathedral to the right. Moving left from the cathedral back towards the Town Hall the Municipal Buildings (1884), now the Central Library and Art Gallery are clearly visible. As well as the library these buildings originally housed civic offices and later included the City of Leeds Police Headquarters and Criminal Investigation Department in 1934 with cells for prisoners created in the basement.

City Square

City Square

1924 view of City Square and surrounding area showing the Majestic Cinema at the junction with Quebec Street and the Post Office fronting onto City Square. Wellington Street to the left and Park Row to the right of the photograph can both be clearly seen.

Park Square

Park Square

Undated view of Park Square which was developed in 1788 on the east side, houses were built on the west side in 1795. Thomas Ambler built the clothing warehouse for John Barran to the south side of the square in 1878 and was designed to resemble a Venetian palace in Moorish style.

The Headrow

The Headrow

View of the Headrow in 1965 running top left to bottom right of the photograph. The uniform buildings designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield including Permanent House are visible along the Headrow.

For further aerial images from our collections visit our Leodis website

Stepping Out

Last week’s fossil hunt on the Secret Library blog had us running up and down our impressive stone staircases more times than we’d care to mention. And, while we all agreed the fossils themselves were pretty interesting, the one thing we couldn’t seem to reach a consensus on was how many steps there were from the bottom to the top of Leeds Central Library.

Some counted a hundred exactly – a temptingly round figure – while others used different criteria to reach different conclusions. Does one count the final ‘step’, for instance, or is that simply ‘the top’? The whole thing reminded us of this delightful description of the futility of trying to count the steps to Whitby Abbey, taken from the 1950 edition of Ward Lock’s Illustrated Guide Book, which you’ll find in the Local and Family History section at shelf mark Y WHI 942:

“No two persons have ever been known to agree, however, nor do any two ascents or descents give the same result. To the best of our knowledge, information and belief, there are 199 steps, but if any reader will send a sworn affidavit by himself and five others, each of whom has been up and down at least six times, to the effect that the number is wrong, we shall be happy to make a correction in a future issue.”

The city of Leeds has its own long set of outdoor stairs, leading down from Belle Vue Road to Westfield Road in Burley. As you can tell from their local name – the Ninety-Nine Steps – their number is thankfully less controversial. Here’s the earliest photograph we have of them on our Leodis website, taken in 1913:

Westfield Hairdressing Saloon at number 1 Westfield Road, adjacent to the Ninety-nine Steps seen to the left.

Westfield Hairdressing Saloon at number 1 Westfield Road, adjacent to the Ninety-nine Steps seen to the left.

http://www.leodis.net/display.aspx?resourceIdentifier=200434_22877139&DISPLAY=FULL

Fast-forward just over fifty years and Leodis gives you a view looking in the opposite direction, but you can still see that distinctive handrail leading down the middle:

Ninety Nine Steps, c1970s

Ninety Nine Steps, c1970s

http://www.leodis.net/display.aspx?resourceIdentifier=20061013_162117&DISPLAY=FULL

The steps are still there today, of course, if you fancy counting them in person. But we understand if you’d prefer to explore some beautiful Leeds staircases without getting out of breath. If that’s the case, head on over to Leodis and try searching on a few keywords. We recommend ‘Allders’ if you’re into art deco, ‘Leeds Library’ for a neat spiral staircase you might not have come across before, and ‘Bischoff House’ if you’ve ever wondered what a ‘barley sugar newel post’ looks like!