From Bread to Ghosts: Speed-dating Library Treasures

by Antony Ramm, Local and Family History, Central Library

Our amazing series of Library Fest events finished over the weekend and we hope you managed to attend a few! One that we particularly enjoyed took place last Thursday night, when we invited some adventurous and open-minded members of the public to “speed date” some of our favourite library treasures.

Working pretty much as you might expect (or not! this was the first time we’d ever run an event like this and even we weren’t sure exactly what might happen…) – eight Librarians (including representatives from the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds) sat at eight tables with eight members of the public. Each Librarian then spoke – passionately! – about their individually-selected item for three minutes, before a beautiful old-fashioned bell was ding-donged and each of our guests moved on to the next table, to be lovingly introduced to a new library treasure.

The event was a great success and we hope to run it again soon. In the meantime, why not have a look at the photographs and text below, which will give you some flavour of the wonderful array of items we presented for perusal?

“The Bread Arch”

bread arch

Helen from our Local and Family History department presented this item. She describes it as: “This is one of our collection of prints showing the bread archway that was built to welcome the Duke and Duchess of York, who were visiting Leeds to open the new Medical school and Library at the Yorkshire college (later to become the  University of Leeds). Built on Commercial street out of 1500 loaves baked by W. Morris over an iron and wooden frame, the arch was only in place for the day of the visit. The bread was distributed to the poor the next day along with soup and tea!”

Selections from our Playbills collection


Introduced by Sally from Local and Family History, who says of this ‘colourful’ set of items: “City Varieties Playbills from 1954 to 1962, showcasing the height of entertainment at the time – Vaudeville and strip shows! In these ‘raunchy’ playbills, women are depicted scantily clad with stage names such as ‘Miss Fluffles’. These performers would be the main entertainment for the evening, above a range of singers, dancers and comedians.”

Comic Guide to the Leeds City Art Gallery

leeds city art gallery

Vickie from our Art Library spoke about this fascinating little book of cartoons. She says: “‘Comic Guide to the Leeds City Art Gallery’ was published in 1893 in aid of the Poor Children’s Summer Holiday Fund, which was set up to take disadvantaged inner-city kids to the seaside for a few weeks. The guide itself is by a Fred Reynolds, who was probably a local caricaturist/illustrator. The main reason I like it is that Reynolds has taken art and painting, traditionally high-brow culture, and made it into something to poke fun at, which in turn makes it more accessible and communicative with a younger or unfamiliar audience.”

Universal Fortune Teller & Bonaparte’s Book of Fate / Mother Shipton’s Wheel of Fate & Wheel of Fortune / Zadkiels Universal Dream Book


The enigmatically-absent Lisa, from our Central Library, introduced this selection of weird and wonderful materials. You can read more about them on a previous blog post.

The Lady’s Dressing-Room


This book was introduced by Rhian from the Central Library, who says: “The Lady’s Dressing Room is a Victorian advice manual that instructs women on what they should wear and gives various tips on beautification from how to remove your freckles, to taking care of your hair and how to fasten your stockings correctly. It even advises on the art of growing old gracefully. Etiquette and advice manuals provide a fantastic insight in to Victorian society where the middle classes were expanding but had a terrible anxiety about how they were supposed to look and behave. The Lady’s Dressing Room is particularly interesting as it shows what was expected of women during this time. My favourite line is ‘The husband should always find the wife fresh, beautiful, sweet as a flower; but he should believe her to be so adorned by Nature, like the lilies of the field’. So a lady must always look her best but never show that she has tried too hard!”

Brotherton scroll


Laura and Rhiannon joined us from the Brotherton Library with an absolutely amazing treasure from their collections: a facsimile of the Genealogical History Roll that is on display in the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery at the University of Leeds. Laura says of this wonderful piece: “The real item was made in Paris between 1461 and 1483. This manuscript chronicle, written in Anglo-Norman French, uses illustrations and family trees to describe the history of the world. It begins with the Biblical creation story and ends with the history of Louis XI, King of France. It is almost 18 metres long and made of 39 large pieces of parchment pasted together.”

Ghost Stories & Weird Experiences; Life After Death &c

2016-02-19 10.13.47

This spooky scrapbook was introduced by Ross from our Local and Family History department. He says: “The biggest mystery about Ghost Stories & Weird Experiences; Life After Death &c is who compiled it, but we’re equally unsure how it ended up in the library. I like to think someone discovered it in an attic and was too scared either to keep or destroy it. It’s a scrapbook of supernaturally-themed newspaper cuttings running from the 1920s to the 1940s, beginning with quaint tales of polite hauntings in stately homes, but gradually darkening and becoming more eccentric in its interests until (after a particularly gruesome tale of voodoo) it suddenly stops. In appropriately creepy fashion, the final pages of the book are blank…”

The Creation of the American Republic – Gordon S. Wood

american republic wood

Finally, Antony, also from the Local and Family History department, talked about this book. He says “This is a fairly obscure, heavy-weight piece of academic scholarship. Published in 1968, it’s hardly a ‘treasure’ in the sense the earlier items are. However, I selected it because I think it represents a part of the Library collections that are a treasure – and that is the 40,000 loanable books in our stacks. The vast majority of those books were published up to the 1990s and almost all of them are classics or key texts in their fields. This set of books allows anyone – with just a library card! – to gain a degree-level understanding of almost any subject they can think of. Your public library service at its finest.”

There you have it – a wonderfully-diverse set of items! Remember: all of these items (and many, many, more) are available to view during the Central Library opening hours. Contact us to find out more.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Tony Scaife says:

    Sent from my iPhone Thank you Anthony for this really informative post. I am even more miffed now that I had to miss the event. But I’l’ll not miss the next one . Tony Scaife >

  2. Thanks Tony! We’re really hoping to do another event (or at least something similar) – we’ll absolutely let you know when that happens! Antony

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