Rare Book Round Up – Lockdown Special

Each week our Collections Manager Rhian, brings you our ‘Rare Book of the Week’ on our social media accounts, too good to be lost in the daily deluge of tweets and Instagrams we wanted to bring you a round-up of some of our favourites.  With libraries dating back to the 1800s we’ve got an awful lot of treasure.

Plague Advice

Considering the year we’ve had as a City, Country and indeed World it seems only fitting to kick off with this entry from May 2020 showcasing a public health pamphlet from the 1600s, infectious diseases are certainly nothing new and neither was the advice to isolate.

Social Distancing Tips from 1665! You might have heard that they had their own public health crisis back then. This pamphlet (Wing C1708) was printed by the College of Physicians less than 2 weeks after Charles II requested their help to contain the plague outbreak in London.

It includes medicines, advice on cleaning and how to perfume the air but also recommends that ‘all needless concourses of people be prohibited’. And ‘because everyone desireth his own liberty’ it was thought people would hide their illness so drs were asked to help identify those who were infected.


For the home-schoolers amongst us check out Cocker’s Arithmetick, first published in 1677, it became the most popular arithmetic book in England, with over 150 editions in 100 years.  Our copy is from the 56th!  It was so authoritative that the phrase ‘according to Cocker’ came to mean ‘exactly correct’.  A copy of Cocker’s was also known to double as a treat for a lady friend as Samuel Johnson writes in a letter that

‘A very decent girl in a printed linen… engaged me so much, that I made her a present of Cocker’s Arithmetick’

If Cocker seems a bit dull then maybe the cannons and fireworks in Mathematical Recreations (1653) are more your thing? Please do not try at home, even if fighting with fire might entertain your neighbours and ‘appeare very pleasant to spectators’!

Going out

Or not as the case may be, but if your feet are itching to go you could try out all the favourite C18th dances at home.
‘Wright’s Compleat Collection of Celebrated Country Dances’ (c.1730) provides the music as well as the steps for a selection of popular dances, including ‘Buttock of Beaf’ and ‘Love and a Bottle’.

And this little book for ‘lovers of dancing’ and musicians has a special Leeds connection as it once belonged to folk song collector Frank Kidson. He was born in Leeds in 1855 and became a leading figure among folk enthusiasts.

Light Reading

For those of you looking for some light reading to while away the hours can we recommend the ‘The English Woman’s Domestic Magazine’ (EDM) one of the most important women’s magazines of the mid C19th. 

The EDM was published by Samuel Beeton and his wife Isabella (of Mrs Beeton’s fame) co-edited with him. She included sections on cookery, embroidery patterns and dressmaking.

It was originally a cheap publication for young, middle class women and was an immediate success, with 50,000 readers by 1856. In 1860 the magazine increased its price and was directed at a wealthier audience and included coloured fashion plates.

The EDM was the first English magazine to make dress patterns and the latest fashions available to a mass audience. Rhian features a new Rare Book each week on the Leeds Libraries social media pages, so check out your favourite platform and follow Leeds Libraries for weekly updates.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Jan says:

    Love the beautiful Muir/Blake illustrations -especially the tiger- so wonderful to see them thank you

  2. Nasreen Hanif says:

    Really excited about finding this site. Please correct: “you’re feet”. Should be “your”?

    1. Thanks Nasreen – all changed now. Glad you’re enjoying the site!

      Leeds Central Library

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