What the Moon Saw

  • by Ross Horsley, Local and Family History, Leeds Central Library

We’ve been thinking a fair bit about chimney sweeps recently at Central Library… Not because the chimneys here need attention (it’s a long time since any of our various original fireplaces held an open fire) but because our student-curated Sweepiana exhibition is currently occupying Room 700 until 5 May 2017. Objects on display range from a real – and tiny – top hat worn by an unfortunate young sweep, to a life-size mock-up of a chimney for you to stick your head inside and shudder at the thought of having to climb. We also have, as you’d expect, a fine selection of books, mostly from the city’s Henry Collection, which focuses specifically on the subject of sweeps.

One of the most exciting things about this collection is the sheer variety it encompasses, whether it’s rare and beautifully illustrated editions of William Blake poetry (“A little black thing among the snow / Crying “’weep! ’weep!” in notes of woe!”) or medical studies of chimney sweep health in the Victorian era. For me, one surprise was the sixteen different books of stories by Hans Christian Andersen, an author I previously associated only with what I assumed to be children’s fairy tales involving little mermaids and ugly ducklings. A less familiar but fairly characteristic story of his, entitled The Shepherdess and the Chimney-Sweeper, explains why he’s so well represented in the Henry Collection, but there’s also another story included in some of the volumes that mentions a sweep – one that’s not as well-known, and which I think remains one of Andersen’s most unusual tales.

Fairy tale compendiums from 1905 and 1887, included in the Henry Collection

What the Moon Saw was published in 1839, making it the 21st fable from Andersen’s pen (a number that would eventually total 168). Uniquely, it is split into 33 short parts, each describing unrelated scenes witnessed by the Moon as it travels around the world, looking down at its inhabitants over the course of some fifty or so nights. Fittingly for a tale told entirely after sunset, the tone is dark, even occasionally bleak – something I didn’t immediately associate with this author, despite being mildly traumatized as a child by a story of his called The Daisy (no one, be they flora or fauna, survives that grim little piece).

In What the Moon Saw, we’re first introduced to a young artist who has moved to a garret in the city, only to find his creative passion outweighed by loneliness: “Instead of green woods and hills, I had only chimney pots on my horizon. I had not a single friend, and there was not even the face of an acquaintance to greet me.”

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Illustration by Rex Whistler, from Fairy Tales and Legends by Hans Andersen, published by Cobden-Sanderson Ltd (1935) and part of the Henry Collection

But one familiar face does eventually appear in the sky outside his window – that of the Moon, who decides to check in on the artist each night, describing a scene for him to paint and enabling the creation of ‘a very fine picture book’. (In fact, the story was originally published under the name A Picture Book without Pictures.) The rest of the tale is not really a tale at all, but a collection of abstract impressions, some dreamlike and haunting, some almost unbearably tragic, and many concerned with death. We don’t encounter the artist again until the ‘Eighth Evening’, when the Moon can’t appear due to some unfortunate cloud issues; and – after that – never again, as the vignettes take over from the original narrative completely and What the Moon Saw drifts into what it really wanted to be all along: a multifaceted and powerful prose poem about introspection, finding one’s place in the world, and recognizing that none of this ultimately amounts to very much after your star has twinkled out.

The moon itself, of course, has long been regarded as symbolic of inner emotions. The light it shines in this pictureless picture book is full of compassion – and yet a very real sense of distance, as it can only ‘kiss’ with its rays those who evoke its sympathy. Across the many scenes the Moon recounts, we hear about a suicidal actor, a little girl whose favourite doll is stuck in a tree, the deserted cityscapes of Pompeii and Venice, the birth of new life, and many bereaved and dying characters of all kinds. Here’s one of the lighter moments – the ‘Twenty-Sixth Evening’, and another reason why the works of Andersen sit alongside the others of the Henry Collection:

“It was yesterday, in the morning twilight … in the great city no chimney was yet smoking—and it was just at the chimneys that I was looking. Suddenly a little head emerged from one of them, and then half a body, the arms resting on the rim of the chimney-pot. ‘Hurrah!’ cried a voice. It was the little chimney-sweeper, who had for the first time in his life crept through a chimney, and stuck out his head at the top. ‘Hurrah!’ this was a very different thing to creeping about in the dark narrow chimneys! the air blew so fresh, and he could look over the whole city towards the green wood. The sun was just rising. It shone round and great, just in his face, that beamed with triumph, though it was very prettily blacked with soot. ‘The whole town can see me now,’ he exclaimed, ‘and the moon can see me now, and the sun too. Hurrah!’ And he flourished his broom in triumph.”

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Illustration by Thomas, Charles and William Robinson, from Fairy Tales from Hans Christian Andersen, published by Dent & Co. (1905) and included in the Henry Collection

To find out more about the Sweepiana exhibition and the books included, come to our free Meet the Curators event on Monday 24 April at Leeds Central Library. Book your place via Ticketsource.

Once Upon a Time in Leeds Central Library

  • by Rhian Isaac, Collections Manager, Leeds Central Library

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”  – Neil Gaiman

During Library Fest in February we delivered an array of fairy tale related events from children’s theatre performances to film screenings. Abbey House Museum is also currently displaying a Fairy Tale and Fantasy exhibition which you can visit until December 2017. The popularity of these events with people of all ages show that there is an enduring fascination with magic and fairy tales.

At Central Library we are lucky to have wonderful examples of fairy tale literature from all over the world in our collections and this post will tell you a little bit more about some of these items.

We have all heard of fairy tales, but what actually are they? They are often thought of as a type of folk tale, and were popular stories that would have been passed down by word of mouth. Fairy tales have recurring recognisable characters and motifs, such as evil stepmothers, princesses and giants and they must have some magical element or invoke a sense of wonder.   It is also a prerequisite for fairy tales to have a happy ending and the novelist Italo Calvino called them ‘consolatory fables’. Many of them offer hope from poverty, cruelty and oppression. An obvious example is the servant Cinderella winning over her prince whilst her cruel stepsisters are punished for how badly they treat her. As Marina Warner says in her book Once Upon a Time, ‘Fairy tales evoke every kind of violence, injustice, and mischance, but in order to declare it need not continue’.

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Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, part of the Henry Collection

One of the most famous fairy tale writers, Hans Christian Andersen, could have been a character in one of his own stories. Born the son of a poor cobbler and a washerwoman, he eventually worked his way up the social ladder and ingratiated himself with the nobility. He was always ashamed about his impoverished background and once he had become successful he rarely mixed with the lower classes.  His personal experience is reflected in his tales that often explore the limits of social mobility in a closed and unjust system. His tales express sympathy for the underdog and people who have been deprived chances because of their humble origins. As part of the Henry Collection of Sweepiana we have a number of beautiful editions of the tales, some of which are currently on display in Room 700.

The Brothers Grimm

The Brothers Grimm were two young German librarians whose collection of folk and fairy tales became the most famous of its kind in the Western world. They strove to collect authentic folk tales from across Germany and the first edition printed in 1812 comprised of 86 stories. By the final edition in 1857 the tales had grown to 210 and had evolved from their oral folk origins to something that suited the tastes of a more literary public. Despite their ambition to keep the tales true to their origins it was in fact Wilhelm Grimm’s interventions that make the tales what they are today.

Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Illustrated by Arthur Rackham

One of my favourite images is this one of Little Red Riding Hood, by Arthur Rackham in one of our Grimm’s Fairy Tale books. Anthropologists have studied over thirty five versions of Little Red Riding Hood and found variations of it all over the world. Whilst European versions tell of a little girl tricked by a wolf masquerading as her grandmother, in the Chinese version it is a tiger. In Iran the main character is changed to a boy. It was previously thought that that the tale originated in C17th France but it has been found that the variants share a common ancestor dating back over 2600 years. The tale may have been used to pass on tips for survival and spread across trading routes.

The Water Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby

This classic story was written in 1862 by the Reverend Charles Kingsley in response to the horrors of child labour in Victorian England and the publication of the controversial Origin of Species by Charles Darwin in 1859. Kingsley and Darwin were close friends and Darwin cited the support of Kingsley in his second edition as he felt that this would help lessen the accusations from the Church that he was trying to attack Christian beliefs. You can read more about how Kingsley incorporated the origins debate into The Water-Babies in this article by Rosalind White.

The Water-Babies, Limited Edition, Illustrated by Warwick Goble

The Water Babies fell out of favour with the public due to its prejudices against sections of society, including Jewish and Irish people. However, it was an important force in the campaign against child labour and a year after its publication parliament began a process that would ultimately lead to the 1864 Chimney Sweepers Regulation Act, which saved many children from a life of dangerous work.

The Water Babies, like the Hans Christian Andersen books, make up part of our Henry Collection and we have over twenty different editions, some of which are currently on display in Central Library as part of our Sweepiana exhibition. We have also loaned some to Abbey House for their exhibition so there are plenty of opportunities to see these wonderful books.

Japanese Fairy Tale Series

These tiny volumes are a little treasure trove of unusual tales that were produced by Tekejiro Hasegawa in the mid 1880’s. The books are printed onto crepe paper which gives them a distinctive look and feel. This use of crepe paper was incredibly popular with Western readers who thought it was exotic and liked the unique texture. Included in the series are the traditional Japanese Tales, The Little Peachling, the Tongue Cut Sparrow, and my favourite The Battle Between the Crab and the Monkey.

As C. S. Lewis said ‘Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again’ and where better to reacquaint yourselves with your old favourites than at the library. All these books and many more are available on request. Enjoy!

A Giant, Grade II* Listed Work of Art

  • By Ross Horsley, Local and Family History, and Adam Barham, Art Library, Leeds Central Library

For this year’s Library Fest, we decided to create a tour of the beautiful Leeds Central Library that reimagined the building as a huge work of art. Looking to its many and varied architectural features for inspiration, we drew on the works of artists such as MC Escher and Bridget Riley to reinterpret the familiar stairways, ceilings and tilework that visitors to the library pass by every day. The result was The Library Illusion, a new walking trail that guides explorers through three floors of stunning architecture and six centuries of art history, with an emphasis on visual tricks and deception.

As well as the tour (which took place last Sunday) and trail guide (available while stocks last!) we also challenged three artists to create new pieces in response to different aspects of the building’s design. These have been on display in Central Library throughout Library Fest.

The ground floor is home to Pilot by Jill McKnight, which is inspired by the stone dogs that guard our staircases. As well as being a fabric sculpture in velour, Pilot is an anamorphic perspective illusion, meaning that it requires the viewer to stand in a particular spot to fully appreciate its true form. The effect is reminiscent of the way a mysterious skull appears in Hans Holbein’s famous portrait The Ambassadors (1533) if you approach it from a diagonal angle, such as descending a nearby staircase. We’ll give you extra credit if you recognise the appropriate literary reference in our piece’s title… (Clue: it’s named after the hound belonging to a certain Mr Rochester!)

Pilot (top) and one of the library's heraldic beasts (bottom)

Pilot (top) and one of the library’s heraldic beasts

On the first floor, outside the Art Library, visitors are treated to a particularly spectacular view of the building’s staircases and archways, where the eye is bamboozled by a panorama of dizzying depths and perspectives. It’s here that we located our second artwork, an untitled photo-montage by Will Poulter, inspired by the Dutch artist MC Escher, who was famous for his designs of intricate – and impossible – architecture. Compare Will’s piece, below, with Escher’s celebrated Relativity (1953) and we’re sure you’ll agree that walking between floors in Leeds Central Library can be like stepping into a giant optical illusion.

We think this piece could have been titled Librarynth or Willusion!

We think this piece could have been titled Librarynth or Willusion

Finally, on the second floor, a piece of interactive art called Kaleidodrum encouraged visitors to create moving mosaics using the library’s colourful floor tiles. Inspired by the deceptive ceiling mirrors in Local and Family History (which give the impression of rooms beyond rooms bracketing the space) Lee Noon built a freestanding, free-sliding kaleidoscope that users can peer into and push around. It’s pretty ingenious and produces some striking and sometimes Kandinsky-like effects.

Local and Family History mirrors (top) and abstract art from the Kaleidodrum

Local and Family History mirrors (top) and abstract art from the Kaleidodrum

The art of The Library Illusion will remain in situ until the end of Library Fest, this Sunday 19 February, and we hope to write a version of the trail guide that visitors can continue to follow once the associated displays and artworks have been removed. Elsewhere on the Secret Library, you can read all about our stone staircase creatures and the staircases themselves.

The Ghost Stories of Lord Halifax

  • by Ross Horsley, Local and Family History, Leeds Central Library

Last Monday, I accepted an invitation from Bob and Jacki Lawrence of the East Leeds History and Archaeology Society to speak at their monthly meeting, and decided to take along one of my favourite items from our Local History collection as my inspiration.

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Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book was compiled by Charles Lindley Wood, the 2nd Viscount Halifax and an avid collector of ‘true’ ghost stories. Born in London in 1839, he had a long career in the English Church Union and held Yorkshire estates at Hickleton and Garrowby. His son Edward (who went on to become a notable Cabinet minister) inherited the reputedly haunted Temple Newsam House in 1904 – a situation that delighted the elderly ghost-hunter, who believed it might finally afford him the genuine brush with the supernatural he had always craved. (Accounts differ on whether it did or not… More on that later!)

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Lord Halifax, ghost-bookster

The evening began with an atmospheric article from the Yorkshire Evening Post entitled “The Spectral Shades of Templenewsam: Investigation of Legends of the Old Mansion” from 1923. The author, named only as SJP, prowls the darkened halls of the house in search of apparitions, assessing each room’s ghostly potential:

“The blue damask bedroom is another haunted chamber. It was here, so the story goes, that Viscount Halifax had a visitation. Whether it was a vision between sleeping and waking his Lordship does not attempt to say, but he states that he saw, as clearly as ever he witnessed anything in his life, a woman with a blue shawl over her head pass silently behind the dressing table from one door of the room to another. And the rooms on either side of the blue room were empty… The room itself is vacant now, save for the old four-poster bed.”

Further tales of ‘somewhat gruesome’ goings-on at Temple Newsam were provided by extracts from the memoirs of Lady Mary Meynell. Her autobiography Sunshine and Shadows over a Long Life (available in our Leeds collection) devotes several pages to unexplained screams in the night, mysteriously ringing bells, and whispering sighs in the long gallery. But it’s also a wry account of life in a huge old house before modern-day heating:

“No words can say how cold that enormous old house was… The old fireplaces with their huge open chimneys swallowed all the heat of the big fires heaped in them, and roared up the chimneys which equally smoked down them, and many times have I seen the carpets rising in billows from the draughts, and the wind howling round the walls.”

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The Long Gallery at Temple Newsam (from http://www.leodis.net)

Before leaving Temple Newsam and its various chills behind, however, I thought it time to open Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book itself. Drawn from his notebooks and letters, this was published in 1936, proving so popular that it was followed by a second volume the following year. All of Halifax’s favourite spooky tales are collected within, including such offbeat accounts as The Vampire Cat and The Corpse that Rose. The one I chose is called Here I Am Again! and, like his own encounter it takes place in a dimly-lit bedroom in the middle of the night. Unlike Lord Halifax’s, however, the visitor is anything but benign:

“Suddenly, there appeared at my bedside the phantom of either an old man or woman, of dreadful aspect, who was bending over me. That I was wide awake is beyond all question. I at once became cataleptic, unable to move hand or foot. I could only gaze at this monstrosity, vowing mentally that if I ever recovered from this horrible experience I would never dabble in table-turning, planchette, etc., again, for here was a real materialization and the reality was too terrifying for description.”

A Leeds theatre playbill from our collection provided the inspiration for the next segment, a gruesome tale of misfortune called The Mistletoe Bough. You can see the full details of the 1850 Princess’ Theatre production via our Leodis Playbills website; but Samuel Rogers’ poetic take on the story of a young bride who hides in an old oak chest during a game of hide and seek captures its grim conclusion perfectly:

 There then had she found a grave!
Within that chest had she concealed herself,
Fluttering with joy, the happiest of the happy;
When a spring-lock, that lay in ambush there,
Fastened her down forever!

(from Ginevra, 1822)

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Detail from Princess’ Theatre playbill, Christmas Eve 1850

You can also watch a charming but bleak little 1904 silent film version of The Mistletoe Bough courtesy of the British Film Institute. Who knows… perhaps Lord Halifax caught it on its original release.

Our last ghost story of the night was The Man in the Iron Cage, which I picked because it seems to have had a special relevance to Lord Halifax. Not, I imagine, because of its unusual setting (a run-down garret in Lille, northern France) but because, at the age of 94, he asked for it to be read to him on his deathbed by his friend and biographer, JG Lockwood. It’s a surprisingly unpleasant tale of a house haunted by the sound of ‘slow, dragging footsteps’, and its unusual feature is that it’s told across two separate accounts from unrelated sources – something that makes it unique among the contents of the Ghost Book. Perhaps Lord Halifax viewed it as his most compelling piece of evidence of the existence of ghosts… and, as he reached the end of his life, a reassuring hint at the possibility of continued existence on some other plane.

And what, finally, of his own supernatural encounter back in the blue room at Temple Newsam? Lockwood (who also wrote the introduction for the second volume of the Ghost Book) states that Lord Halifax “was never quite sure that he had not dreamt the apparition”. But Temple Newsam’s housekeeper, Mrs Pawson, who was interviewed in the Evening Post in 1926, claims that he was convinced, and quotes him as saying: “I believe in the ghost, and I tell people about it myself”.

Whatever the truth, Lord Halifax certainly did enjoy sharing his ghost stories and, thanks to his son’s book and an enthusiastic crowd, he was able to go on sharing them on a dark January night in Leeds, eighty years after his death.

Sweeping Through Time

  • Two weeks ago, we let you in on some of the secrets of the Henry Collection in Oliver Twist with a Twist. This week it’s over to our two experts on the subject, Jonathan and Natascha, to share a few of their favourite finds.

Did you know that Leeds Central Library holds extensive collections on the English Civil War, the women’s suffrage movement, and the lives of chimney sweeps? Among its treasure trove of old maps, newspapers and microfilms are several boxes containing material collected in the early 20th century by Dr Sydney Henry: part of his renowned ‘sweepiana’ collection concerning all things chimney-sweep-related. At this cold time of year, when the hearth becomes once again a central feature in our home life, we want to bring this collection further into the public light…

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Our names are Jonathan Wright and Natascha Allen-Smith; we are both history students at the University of Leeds. At the beginning of this academic year we were tasked with collating and analysing the Henry Collection in the Leeds Central Library. With the ambition of constructing an exhibition, we compared and contrasted the lives of chimney sweeps and their representations in literature. The 1,500-item collection is spread across Leeds Central Library and the Leeds Museum Discovery Centre, as well as the Leeds Art Gallery. The biggest work of the future is to digitise all of the collection to make it more accessible.

Over the next few weeks, Natascha and I want to take you through our favourite discoveries so far. First up is a famous author with a lesser-known work: Hans Christian Andersen’s The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep. It is a charming and romantic story about two dolls wanting to explore the wider world. Situated in books after The Ugly Duckling, the tale tells how the two lovers climb the chimney and witness a spectacular view of the world. However, this is all too much for the Shepherdess who has to return with the Chimney Sweep to their home. The significance of the work is that it shows how the idea of chimney sweeps could be bright. Also, the positive portrayal of the Chimney Sweep came at a time of generally negative portrayals in the Victorian era. 1845 was also 19 years before proper regulations for the use of chimney boys became law and it can be seen that progressive depictions such as this were helpful in changing the public and political mind-set.

One of the oldest items in the collection is a 17th century comedic play entitled The London Cuckolds. In this pre-industrial era, chimney sweeps were not yet the miserable, overworked, black-suited Victorian figures we most commonly associate with the title. This can be seen in the play’s depiction of them as rude, comical thieves and pranksters, making crude observations like “Oh I am damnably full of wind”.

In one scene, two sweeps trick a foolish gentleman into losing his wig and hat, blacking his face with soot in the process. Here, the play shares a theme with almost all the works in the collection, whether their portrayals of sweeps are positive or negative: ordinary people avoid going near them due to their filthy state, and when accidental contact is made, clean skin and clothing is instantly dirtied. Climbing boys were allowed to wash once a week at most, and consequently faced great alienation from their peers, particularly from richer children who could afford to attend school.

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A feature that runs through the entire collection is the handwritten notes, letters and bookmarks left by Dr Henry himself, which are scattered within the volumes. Henry scribbled page references in red ink on nearly all the books in the collection (for which we are extremely grateful, as most contain only one or two fleeting references to chimney sweeps). But working through the boxes in more detail means that you also stumble across folded-up sheets cut from 1950s newspapers, old pieces of paper on which Henry jotted down research notes, and even a typewritten card addressed to him by another well-known sweep enthusiast, Dr George Phillips.

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There are also occasional letters or inscriptions written by entirely different people, each giving another clue about how the book in question entered Henry’s possession and who may have owned it first.

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In our next piece, we’ll be taking a look at an item from the collection by a very famous writer, featuring some beautiful artwork that contrasts sharply with the often dark subject-matter described…