Tales by the Yule Log Fire

A Sheath of Yule Log Stories, Edited by the Rev. A. D. Crake, B.A., Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

Oxford and London : Mowbray & Co., M.DCCCLXXXVIII.

For the end of the year, we have a Christmas treat: A Sheath of Yule Log Stories was published in 1888 by the Rev. Augustine Crake (1836-1890), a schoolmaster and clergyman best known for his works of history for children. Crake was an Oxfordshire native, born in Chalgrove, and worked as a schoolmaster at All Saints School in Bloxham, among other places, before settling eventually as a vicar in Berkshire (Seccombe, ‘Crake, Augustine David (1836-1890)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). He was married to Annie Lucas, daughter of John Lucas, who worked for many years as an assistant in the Radcliffe Observatory in Oxford (Seccombe, ODNB; Burley and Plenderleith, A History of the Radcliffe Observatory Oxford, pp. 79-82).

Title page

Crake’s Yule Log Stories is a collection of tales told to him by friends and relations during childhood Christmas visits to the Lake District. In the preface he assures readers that only two of the stories are original and that the others ‘are nearly all founded upon facts, real or supposed, related to me by different individuals’.

There are no illustrations, but each chapter begins with a small woodcut decoration and capital.

The collection is introduced with a nostalgic description of the lakes and the remote farm house where young Crake spent his Christmas.

‘Oh how my heart beat with joy when I saw the Pillar mountain, and Red Pike in the distance, what visions of skating and sledging by day, and glorious evenings around the cheerful fire, in the huge cavernous chimney-place, where I generally contrived to get one of the corners, watching the snow flakes, hissing as they fell from the darkness above, into the cheerful flames.’ (p.3)

Preparing for Christmas Eve

‘Preparing for Christmas Eve’ by H Garland, The Illustrated London News, 19 December 1868 (p. 589)

Each chapter begins with brief descriptions of days spent skating and sledging, playing games, and attending Christmas services, before settling down to the serious business of the evening story by the fire. The collection has the feel of a children’s storybook but Crake’s stories are not for the faint of heart – ghosts, robbers, and murderers dominate the tales told by grandparents, uncles, and visiting friends. In his preface Crake writes:

‘These particular stories lie on the border land between the seen and unseen ; they may be very incredible ; but they will serve to pass away the happy time around the Yule Log, when mythic stories are most acceptable.’

The stories range from local ghosts and legends to a Wild West tale from a Canadian cousin and a dramatic military escapade from a French schoolmaster. Grandfather and grandmother tell the first two stories of lucky escapes from robbers. While out hunting on Christmas Eve, grandfather lost his way in a snowstorm and had nearly given up hope when…

‘…I saw – a light! I hurried towards it, my strength renewed by hope; I crossed ravines, half choked with snow; I emerged on the open moor. Yes, it was the light from a window, but what window? Now I was close: why, it was a Gothic window – a kind of church window; how came it there on the moor? Now I saw through it all, it was the abbey – the old ruined abbey – raising its form in the darkness before me…’ (p. 12)

He remembered his uncle’s tales of the haunted abbey and proceeded with caution, but found only an empty room with a roaring fire. While warming himself and dozing before the fire, he was awoken by a sound…

‘…It was the sound of solemn music, and it seemed to come from the ruined chapel… I thought that a single voice intoned “Gloria in excelsis Deo,” when the whole choir took up the strain, “pax in terra hominibus bonæ voluntatis,”… I remembered all at once that this was Christmas night, when the monks of old were wont to chant their midnight mass, and a thrill of awe passed through me. Could it be that the spirits of those long departed votaries were permitted to re-enact the scenes of their past worship on earth on this night of nights?’ (p. 14)

He went to investigate, which was fortunate because as soon as he was out of sight, the earthly inhabitants of the ruined abbey, ‘six foul midnight assassins’, returned. After becoming aware of grandfather’s presence, a deadly pursuit ensued, in which our assassins met rather sticky ends. Grandfather thankfully survived to tell the tale, and marry grandmamma.

Night the second

Grandmother is not to be outdone and the next night she tells her own tale of a narrow escape at Christmastime. When grandfather was called away to visit his sick sister, she was left alone, but for the maid, on Christmas Eve. As night fell, old Martin’s big black dog, ‘that ugly Rover’, appeared at the house and demanded to be let in. The women admitted him, but after a quiet evening by the fire…

‘…It was now time to go up to bed, and we lit our bedroom candles, when, to our astonishment, Rover manifested a great disapprobation of our proceedings, barked, whined, pulled at our dresses, and in every way a dog could, signified his pleasure that we should stay down stairs.’ (p. 29)

The women eventually went to bed but were woken in the night by growling and the sounds of a scuffle…

‘We both sprang out of the bed and hurried to the window, whence we saw two men dragging a third by the legs out of the casement of the scullery… while from time to time he uttered stifled groans mingled with curses. They tore him away from the dog, which seemed to have him by the throat…’ (p. 32)

They went downstairs and discovered a knife dropped by the intruders, making clear that their visit was not a friendly one, and the dog had saved them from a terrible fate.

‘But how did the dog know? Who sent him? No man can answer that question. Martin only knew of his absence; but I doubt not WHO it was.’ (p. 34)

Alongside these tales of adventure and gentle supernatural aid are more sinister ghost stories (which were not necessarily set at Christmastime). An uncle tells of a terrifying visitation from a ghost of a woman who murdered her own children; a cousin shares a family legend of a witch who curses the children of the family; another cousin tells the story of a haunted farm nearby; and in the final story of the volume, the parson shares a story of a priest who is visited by the skeletal ghost of a monk seeking absolution. The audience does not shy from these tales of terror – indeed they demand them:

‘“Let it be about ghosts,” – and a pleasant shiver ran around, for we liked a tale of diablerie best of all.’ (p. 75)

The ghost at Lone Leaze Farm

The children in Crake’s stories were hardly alone in demanding a ghost story at Christmas. An oral tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas dates back at least to the eighteenth-century, but it was the Victorians who really established the Christmas ghost story in print (Moore, Victorian Christmas in Print, p. 82). Charles Dickens is of course the most famous Victorian writer of supernatural Christmas tales and though his were not the first Christmas ghost stories, his influence on the development of the genre was substantial. Following the publication of A Christmas Carol in 1843, there was a proliferation of ghosts in the expanding market of Christmas gift books (Moore, Victorian Christmas, p. 82; for more see Moore, Victorian Christmas in Print, chapter 4). Crake’s book is typical of Victorian Christmas books in that the tales are presented using a ‘frame story’ – a technique where the author creates a setting for storytelling, in this case the young Crake visiting family in the Lake District, and then presents various tales within that setting. The frame story was a way of adapting the traditions of oral storytelling to print and allowed the reader to feel a part of the traditional storytelling circle (Moore, Victorian Christmas, p. 85).

Christmas Eve

‘Christmas Eve – putting up the holly and mistletoe’, The Illustrated London News, 22 December 1855 (p. 721)

Like many of our interesting nineteenth-century pamphlets, our copy of Yule Log Stories likely came to the library from the collection of Henry Allison Pottinger (Librarian 1884-1911), who was known for his eclectic collecting habits. From an inscription opposite the title page we can see that it was given as a gift from the author himself.

Inscription from the author

We don’t know who the Misses Broad were – perhaps family or the children of friends – but it is easy to imagine several young girls sat by their own fire at Christmastime, delighting in these tales of adventure and mystery.

Christmas stories

‘Christmas Stories’, The Illustrated London News, 24 December 1892 (p. 809)

Renée Prud’Homme (Assistant Librarian)


Burley, Jeffery and Plenderleith, Kristina (eds.), A History of the Radcliffe Observatory Oxford: the Biography of a Building, (Oxford: Green College, 2005)

Moore, Tara, Victorian Christmas in Print (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)

Seccombe, Thomas, ‘Crake, Augustine David (1836-1890)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), accessed 12 December 2017, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/6588


Worcester College and the First World War

Letter from an Australian Cadet, 23 June 1918 (PDR 21/1)

Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914, during the University’s Long Vacation. Many College members immediately joined the armed forces and did not return for Michaelmas Term, while others joined up in the following months. Worcester gradually emptied of undergraduate members; by December 1914 nearly half of the rooms available to undergraduates were empty, a fact that was unusual enough to be noted in the Room Rent book by the Bursar as the College had operated at maximum occupancy during the previous year.

Room Rent Book

Annotation by the Bursar in the Room Rent book, Christmas quarter 1914

To aid the war effort, this empty space in the College was used first as quarters for an Officer Training School, and then for C. Company of the Officers’ Cadet Battalion. These men were trained by the army and were not matriculated members of the University or members of the College, and we therefore have very little information in the College Archives about the individuals who were quartered here.

Cadets on the Main Quad steps

Cadets on the steps of the Main Quad

A recent addition to the Archives, a letter from an Australian cadet billeted at Worcester College to his mother, goes a small way towards filling that gap. The letter is on headed notepaper with the College coat of arms and address (the envelope was also emblazoned with the same arms) and gives some details of life in the College during the First World War.

letter head

Letterhead of C. Company, No. 6 Officer Cadet Battalion, Worcester College

The letter writer, Lionel de Souligny Stapleton Kingsborough, was born in Kent Town, a suburb of Adelaide, South Australia, on 3 October 1888. He joined the Australian Imperial Force on 28 March 1916 and embarked for service overseas in September that year, arriving in Plymouth on 14 November. He was sent to France with the 5th Pioneer Battalion in February 1917 and, according to his medical records, was “slightly gassed” in May 1917.

On 7 June 1918 Lionel Kingsborough joined No 6. Officer Cadet Battalion in Oxford having qualified for a commission, and was billeted at Worcester College. It must have seemed like another world after his experiences on the Western Front, and he opens the letter hoping that he will see out the war in Oxford, before going on to describe some of the fun they have been having:

Dear Mother

As you see I am still holding this front, and I guess it would do me for duration. We’re getting more used to the discipline and work, it doesn’t seem so hard as it did. Time hangs a bit heavy sometimes on our days off…I’ve spent most of it on the river as I think I told you. Last Tuesday we held a regatta and I entered for a sculling race but did not expect to do anything with only a week’s training and I didn’t. I had to row the Colonel to see who would represent the company and beat him easily but was badly beaten in the semifinals. Then two of us entered for a canoe race and came third out of six, another canoe from here coming second. We finished up with a gondola race. Eight men with paddles in a punt and it’s good fun especially for the onlookers. One punt capsized and we nearly did and came in half full of water and as nobody had been at it before every punt wandered all over the river.

letter p1letter p2&3

letter p4

Letter from Lionel Kingsborough to his mother, 23 June 1918

Slightly disappointingly, Lionel Kingsborough does not describe the College or give his opinion on his accommodation, but he does have praise for the food, with the exception of the bread:

Considering the conditions here and the rationing we are very well fed. The bread is the worst part of it. It’s very dark and stoggy [sic] but we have as much as we need and we get plenty of everything else even to eggs with our bacon at times.

This would have been satisfying to the Bursar, F. J. Lys, whose correspondence file relating to cadets is full of letters and calculations about food and rations. For a daily fee of between 4s. 9d. and 5s. 3d. per cadet the College was required to meet all outgoings including food and lodging, fuel and light, baths, rates, taxes and insurance. In June 1918 there were 150 cadets in College, including Lionel Kingsborough, making work for the Bursar, the regular college servants, and five additional servants hired to work as scouts on their staircases. In contrast, there were fewer than a dozen undergraduates in residence.

One area in which the files in the Archives are detailed is the damage to College property by cadets; it was necessary to document it fully in order to be able to claim the costs back. The files therefore reveal that the cadets hung flags on the gateway above the entrance to the College on armistice day, 11 November 1918, because they damaged a rosette in the ironwork. Half of the rosette was taken by a cadet as a memento despite Lys’ efforts to have it returned, although he did consider that the College was “very lucky at a time of so much excitement not to have had any more damage done”. The elaborate Victorian railings at the front of the College were in fact removed by Provost Lys in 1938 to restore the eighteenth-century facade to “its original proportions”. The current gate and railings were installed in 1950.

Front of College c1908

Worcester College from Beaumont Street, showing the former railings, c1908

Lionel Kingsborough was not at Worcester for the armistice celebrations that damaged the railings. In October 1918 he contracted influenza and was sent to the No 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Harefield Park, Middlesex, where he remained until after the armistice. He returned to Australia in February 1919 and was invalided out of the army in March, his illness deemed to have been aggravated by military service. He married in 1927 and had one son, Michael.

The College did not immediately empty of cadets following the armistice. The majority of those billeted in College in 1918 were from Australia, New Zealand, and British colonies, and their numbers necessarily decreased slowly. In January 1919, there were still 53 cadets and 3 officers resident, although the number of undergraduates returning after demobilisation was increasing.  However, when asked in February 1919 if he could take more members of the armed forces, Lys was forced to write to the commanding officer that “I think we must now devote ourselves and our resources to our Undergraduates”. Although many of the men returning from military service were older than usual for undergraduates, by 1920 the College had, on the whole, resumed life as it was before the war.

Emma Goodrum (Archivist)



Jessica Goodman, ‘Worcester at War’ in Jonathan Bate and Jessica Goodman (eds.), Worcester: Portrait of an Oxford College (London, 2014)

First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossier for Lionel de Souligny Stapleton Kingsborough, accessed via Ancestry.com Australia, WWI Service Records, 1914-1920 [database online].  The original is in the National Archives of Australia

Ancestry.com Australia, Birth Index, 1788-1922 [database online] compiled from publicly available sources

Ancestry.com Australia, Marriage Index, 1788-1950 [database online] compiled from publicly available sources

Memento Mori: London’s Dreadful Visitation

London’s dreadful visitation: or, A collection of all the bills of mortality for this present year: beginning the 27th. of December 1664. and ending the 19th of December following: as also, the general or whole years bill: according to the report made to the King’s most excellent Majesty, by the Company of Parish-Clerks of London, &c.

London : printed and are to be sold by E. Cotes living in Aldersgate-street, printer to the said company, 1665.

[108] pages, folded leaf; quarto.

During the summer the Library hosted participants in a Continuing Education Summer School studying the later seventeenth century.  The same group had visited a year earlier, when they were covering the period immediately preceding, the English Civil Wars and the Interregnum, in which the Library’s holdings are particularly strong (see our blog post for January 2016).  On this occasion, however, they hoped to see items relating to the two great catastrophes of the early Restoration: the Great Plague of 1665-1666 and the Great Fire of 1666.  We have touched upon the Library’s holdings which relate to the Great Fire (see our blog post for September 2016), but what would illustrate the Plague?

A grim publication provided the answer:  London’s dreadful visitation: or, A collection of all the bills of mortality for this present year, beginning the 27th of December 1664. and ending the 19th. of December following.  This catalogue of deaths illustrates the impact of the plague year on the population of London.  The summary bound in at the back of the volume, A general bill for this present year, ending the 19 of December 1665 according to the report made to the kings most excellent majesty notes that of the 97,306 persons buried in the parishes of London in this period, 68,596 (70%) died of the plague.

A general bill for this present yearThe bills of mortality were weekly publications, listing death statistics for all the 109 parishes of London.  Always the responsibility of the Parish Clerks’ Company, the weekly bills began on 21 December 1592, continuing at first until 18 December 1595; they were resumed in 1603 and in 1611 King James I granted a charter to the Company for their production (see Adams, The parish clerks of London).  They continued until the mid-19th century.

Unusually for a time when printing was heavily controlled (for fear of the seditious ideas to which the printing press could give wing), in 1625 the Company of Parish Clerks were authorized to set up their own printing press (Adams, The parish clerks…, page 55).  They had, however, to provide a bond of £500 to the Stationers’ Company, stating that they would not use the press for any purpose other than the production of the bills.  In 1665, the Printer to the Company of Parish Clerks was ‘E. Cotes living in Aldersgate-street’.  Ellinor (or sometimes Ellen) Cotes was the widow of the printer Richard Cotes, who had taken over his brother Thomas’ printing shop when Thomas died in 1641.  Ellinor then took over the shop when Richard died in 1652 and was active until at least 1670.  Hers was a reasonably large shop for the time; according to the 1666 Hearth Tax Roll, she had 3 presses, 9 pressmen, and 2 apprentices (see the British Book Trade Index).  She has produced a grim, but informative pamphlet with a ghoulish woodcut border of skeletons, skulls, and the tools of the gravedigger, all under a ‘Memento Mori’ banner and a winged hourglass.  These are fitting symbols for a time when the plague could rip through the city, killing at its worst 7,165 in a single week (the 12th-19th September 1665).

Title pageAvailable at the cost of a penny, the bills provided ‘an ever-changing plague map of London, which you could check to find out where the infection was raging and where you might hope for relative safety’ (MacGregor, Shakespeare’s restless world, page 231).  Our volume is a collection of the weekly bills.  Each week is covered by a single quarto sheet, the recto providing information alphabetically by parish.  The page layout includes a column for plague deaths, emphasising that it was fear of this highly contagious and deadly disease that was a prime motive in the production of the bills.

Burials by parish, week ending 31 OctoberThe verso of the sheet quantifies the information by cause of death and sex of the deceased.  The spread of the plague through the city can also be noted in the distinction between ‘Parishes clear of the Plague’ and ‘Parishes Infected’.

Burials by disease, week ending 31 OctoberAs the printer notes in her preface ‘To the Reader’, given the difficulty in 1665 of finding information on the 1625 Plague outbreak, ‘the Reprinting [of] these sad sheets’ has been undertaken ‘That Posterity may not any more be at such a loss’, and indeed at first sight the bills seem to provide a wealth of mortality data.  However, one must remember that the bills record burials rather than deaths.  Since they also cover only Church of England graveyards, those of other faiths are excluded.  Nonetheless, John Graunt (1620-1674) was able to use the bills as the basis for his Natural and political observations… upon the Bills of Mortality (London, 1662), for which he was elected a member of the Royal Society.  And from the perspective of 352 years later, even if only partial the volume provides a chilling statistical account of a year when about one in six of the capital’s inhabitants died.

Mark Bainbridge (Librarian)


Adams, R., The parish clerks of London (London and Chichester: Phillimore, 1971)

British Book Trade Index, available online at http://bbti.bodleian.ox.ac.uk

MacGegor, N., Shakespeare’s restless world (London: Allen Lane, 2012)


Gardening for Ladies

The Ladies’ Flower-Garden of Ornamental Annuals. By Mrs. Loudon.

London: William Smith, 113 Fleet Street, MDCCCXL

xvi, 272 pages, folio

One of the joys of working in a historic library is when one happens upon an unexpected and surprising book on the shelves. The Ladies’ Flower-Garden of Ornamental Annuals is just such a discovery. Resting comfortably in the back corner of our book stack, The Ladies’ Flower-Garden has a shelfmark, but is not in any of our catalogues, print or online. The state of its binding suggests that it has been well used, but as a popular gardening manual aimed at women, it does not seem like something which a nineteenth-century college librarian would have acquired for the library. The only evidence of provenance is an inscription marking the book as a gift from a brother to his sister in 1845.

Neither Jacob nor Almy Gilford are known to be associated with Worcester College, so we can assume that the book likely changed hands at least once before finding its way into our collections. It is possible that it was one of the books left to the library by Henry Allison Pottinger, Librarian of Worcester from 1884-1911 and an eclectic collector, or it may have come from a later donation. Its shelfmark places it in a section that is best described as ‘miscellaneous’; a section for books that don’t seem to fit anywhere else.

For those of us without green fingers, an encyclopaedia of ornamental annuals does not inspire much excitement, but the history of the Ladies’ Flower-Garden and its author is also surprising. Jane Webb Loudon was born in 1807, the daughter of a businessman. She was orphaned at the age of 17 and took up writing to support herself. She wrote both fiction and educational works, but her most notable work before her marriage was The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century, published in 1827 and described as a ‘pioneering work of science fiction’ by Ann Shteir (Sarah Dewis, The Loudons and the Gardening Press, p. 196; Ann Shteir, ‘Loudon, Jane’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). At the centre of the plot is the ‘reanimation of an Egyptian mummy by galvanism’ and the story is filled with futuristic inventions, some of which seem to anticipate modern technology: ‘a system of air-conditioning’, air mattresses, espresso machines, steam shovels, and milking machines (John Gloag, Mr. Loudon’s England, p. 59). The book caught the attention of John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843), a well-known landscape gardener and horticultural writer, who reviewed it for the Gardener’s Magazine (of which he was editor) and sought to make the acquaintance of the author, whom he assumed to be male (Shteir, ODNB). Presumably he was not disappointed in the discovery that Jane was in fact female, as after meeting in February 1830, he married her within the year.

Before marrying John, Jane had no knowledge of botany or horticulture, but she threw herself wholeheartedly into the subject. She attended lectures on botany and accompanied John on tours of the country, acting as his secretary. She assisted with his publications and began writing for the Gardener’s Magazine (Shteir, ODNB). John Loudon was an energetic and prolific writer, but also an ambitious one and the production of his Arboretum (1838), an extensively illustrated, eight-volume technical work on the trees and shrubs of Britain, left the Loudons with substantial debts (Gloag, Mr. Loudon’s England, p. 64; Dewis, The Loudons, pp. 117-118). So Jane began to write her own gardening books to support the family, aimed instead at non-specialists, and more specifically, women. In 1840 she published Instructions in Gardening for Ladies, which sold 1,350 copies on the day of publication (Shteir, ODNB). This was followed by the Ladies’ Flower-Garden series (which includes volumes on ornamental annuals, bulbous plants, perennials, and greenhouse plants), The Ladies’ Companion to the Flower-Garden (1841), Botany for Ladies (1842), and The Lady’s Country Companion, or, How to Enjoy a Country Life Rationally (1845), among others. The Ladies’ Companion to the Flower-Garden sold 20,000 copies over nine editions and The Ladies’ Flower-Garden series has been reprinted frequently (Dewis, The Loudons, p. 203; Shteir, ODNB).

The Ladies’ Flower-Garden of Ornamental Annuals is an encyclopaedia designed to introduce women to the variety of flowers which can be cultivated in their gardens. Each entry lists the botanical and English names of the flower, followed by descriptions, history, folklore, and instructions for cultivation. Although the book is aimed at non-specialists, Webb Loudon does not skimp on the technical aspects of botany and horticulture, instead offering a glossary of botanical terminology to help the uninitiated. It is well illustrated with colour lithographic plates, depicting groups of flowers arranged by John Lindley’s ‘Natural System’ (Webb Loudon was a devotee of Lindley, having attended his public lectures soon after her marriage). There is also a substantial bibliography at the end, to provide suggestions for further reading.

Jane Webb Loudon has been credited with making gardening into a respectable activity for middle-class women. Traditionally, gardening had been the preserve of the aristocracy and great landowners but by the early nineteenth-century, gardening was becoming a middle-class activity as well (Sue Bennett, Five Centuries of Women & Gardens, p. 82; for more see in particular Heath Schenker’s article ‘Women, gardens, and the English Middle Class in the Early Nineteenth Century’). Webb Loudon’s writings sought to open up the world of gardening to other women who, generally lacking the formal and scientific education given to men of their class, might find the more academic treatises on gardening inaccessible. In the introduction to Gardening for Ladies she writes:

‘I write this because I think books intended for professional gardeners are seldom suited for the needs of amateurs… Having been a full-grown pupil myself, I know the wants of others; and having never been satisfied without grasping the reason for everything that had to be done, I am able to interpret these reasons to others.’ (quoted in Bennett, Five Centuries of Women & Gardens, p. 91)

She also portrayed gardening, particularly flower-gardening, as an activity eminently suitable for ‘gently bred’ ladies. In the introduction to The Ladies’ Flower-Garden she writes of growing ornamental plants:

‘…the easiness of their culture renders it peculiarly suitable for a feminine pursuit. The pruning and training of trees, and the culture of culinary vegetables, require too much strength and manual labour ; but a lady, with the assistance of a common labourer to level and prepare the ground, may turn a green waste into a flower-garden with her own hands. Sowing the seeds of annuals, watering them, transplanting them when necessary, training the plants by tying them to little sticks as props, or by leading them over trellis-work, and cutting off the dead flowers, or gathering the seeds for the next year’s crop, are all suitable for feminine occupations ; and they have the additional advantage of inducing gentle exercise in the open air.’ (p. i)

It is clear that Webb Loudon, while progressive in her views on women’s education by nineteenth-century standards, was not a radical when it came to gender roles. She believed in the value of science education for women, but also espoused the Victorian ideal of ‘separate spheres’, where a woman’s place was in the ‘private sphere’ of the home, and clearly envisioned her readers as middle class women who would have male servants to do the heavy lifting of gardening (Dewis, The Loudons, p. 228; Schenker, ‘Women, gardens…’, pp. 352-354). However Heath Schenker has argued that she sought to expand the boundaries of the private sphere to include the garden as a place where women could exercise influence (Schenker, ‘Women, gardens…’, p. 359).

The success of her publications demonstrates that there was clearly an appetite among her peers for accessible garden writing. We will likely never know for certain how our copy of the Ladies’ Flower-Garden found its way to Worcester College, but it is easy to imagine its previous owners spending long winter evenings examining the beautifully coloured plates of flowers and planning for spring.

Renée Prud’Homme (Assistant Librarian)



Bennett, Sue, Five Centuries of Women and Gardens (London: National Portrait Gallery, 2000)

Dewis, Sarah, The Loudons and the Gardening Press: A Victorian Cultural Industry (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014)

Gloag, John, Mr. Loudon’s England (Newcastle: Oriel Press, 1970)

Schenker, Heath, ‘Women, gardens, and the English Middle Class in the Early Nineteenth Century’ in Bourgeois and Aristocratic Cultural Encounters in Garden Art, 1550-1850, ed. Michael Conan (Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2002)

Shteir, Ann B., ‘Loudon, Jane (1807-1858)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press 2004), [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/17030, accessed 8 Sept 2017]

Simo, Melanie Louise, Loudon and the Landscape: From Country Seat to Metropolis (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988)


A Book of Ice and Fire

Ouresiphoites Helveticus, sive Itinera per Helvetiae alpinas regiones… / plurimis tabulis aeneis illustrata a Johanne Jacobo Scheuchzero.

Lugduni Batavorum : Typis ac sumptibus Petri Vander Aa., MDCCXXIII [1723].

[22], 635, [53] pages, [121] leaves of plates; quarto.

In August the College becomes rather quiet as everyone leaves for vacations, so in the Library as we sit down to write this month’s blog post our thoughts too turn to travel.  We plan to make ‘August Atlases’ an annual event (see last August’s post), and although not strictly an atlas, this month’s volume includes several maps and plans among its rich illustrations.  The Ouresiphoites Helveticus is an account of nine journeys through the Swiss Alps made by the Swiss scholar Johann Scheuchzer between 1702 and 1711.

Johann Jakob Scheuchzer (1672-1733)

The volume includes and expands on his first three journeys (1702, 1703, and 1704), originally published in London in 1708 at the expense of the Royal Society, with plates (included in this edition) subscribed for by Fellows of that Society.  Indeed, Scheuchzer could boast that the frontispiece was published under the imprimatur of the then president of the Society, Sir Isaac Newton.  Other Fellows who paid for plates include the physician and collector Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), the natural historian and antiquary John Woodward (1665/1668-1728), Henry Aldrich (1648-1710), Dean of Christ Church (see the blog post for March 2017) and the botanist and Hortus Praefectus of Oxford’s Botanic Garden, Jacob Bobart the younger (1641-1719).

Frontispiece sponsored by Sir Isaac Newton.

Johann Jakob Scheuchzer (1672-1733) was a Swiss scholar, physician and librarian, with a great interest in the natural sciences.  Writing in Latin, and thereby addressing an international audience (see Barton, Mountain Aesthetics, page 153), Scheuchzer intended his work to inform on all manner of things Swiss.  It is a highly visual volume, extensively illustrated with 121 prints (all of which have been digitized online on the VIATIMAGES database), including maps, town-plans, alpine scenery of peaks and waterfalls, illustrations of scientific and mechanical devices, botanical drawings, and images of fossils, crystals, and glaciers.  Such illustrations were ‘intended to show the true nature of things at the most basic level of science and knowledge’ (Leu, ‘Swiss mountains and English scholars’, page 336).

As Librarian of Zurich’s city library, Scheuchzer was also curator of that library’s Kunstkammer, its natural history and art collection, and his own book has a certain affinity with 18th-century cabinets of curiosities.  Indeed, it is with an item seen in a museum, the Dragonstone of Lucerne (the Draconita Lucernensis, pages 367 ff.), that Scheuchzer begins perhaps the most unusual section of his work: his enquiry into Swiss dragons, undertaken as part of his fifth journey in 1706.  Beginning with literary sources and including oral accounts, Scheuchzer investigated the myths of dragons supposed to dwell within the dark mountains and caves of the Swiss Alps.  Included are narratives of those individuals who claimed to have seen dragons:

‘Near the end of summer 1717 Joseph Scherer from Näfels came across… an animal with the head of a cat and protruding eyes; it was a foot long, with a thick body, and two breast-like things hanging from its stomach, and also with a foot-long tail; it [the whole creature] was covered in scales and of many hues.  He stabbed it with a sharp stick, and claimed that it was soft and full of a virulent blood, which dropped on his leg, at which his leg swelled up…   ’

(translated from the Latin, page 391)

Scheuchzer even attempted a taxonomy of these dragons, distinguishing between those with or without wings, those with feline or reptilian features, and those with or without crests.  Although unwilling to discount the possible existence of dragons, Scheuchzer’s scientific approach did mean that he provided rational explanations for some of these sightings and accounts: examining bones said to be of a dragon, he identified them as ‘the bones of a bear’ (see page 390).  He also noted that rivers were called ‘dragons’ by Alpine locals:

‘In the last place I should not fail to mention that, among our Alpine peoples ‘dragon’ is a homonym for a fierce torrent; for, whenever a river rushes through the Alpine passes with a great force and snatches rocks, trees and other things of huge size with itself, these people are accustomed to say: “It is a dragon that has passed through”.  The swiftness of dragons perhaps gave the occasion to this phrase, and to it can be ascribed the false histories of many of the dragons which circulate among the population….”

(translated from the Latin, page 396)

Thankfully such explanations did not prevent him from illustrating the region’s so-called dragons in eleven plates.  Prints to which one can continually return with great pleasure.

Mark Bainbridge (Librarian)


Barton, W., Mountain aesthetics in early modern Latin literature (London, 2017)

Leu, U.B., ‘Swiss mountains and English scholars: Johann Jakob Scheuchzer’s relations to the Royal Society’, Huntingdon Library Quarterly, vol. 78, no. 2 (Summer 2015), pages 329-348

‘Beauty is Truth’: Katharine Adams and the Daniel Press at Worcester College

Poems by Lawrence Binyon (Oxford: Daniel Press, 1895)


Odes, Sonnets and Lyrics of John Keats (Oxford: Daniel Press, 1895)

The two books chosen as this month’s treasures immediately catch the eye with their delicate bindings, one (the Keats) in ‘cardinal’ red, the other (poems by Laurence Binyon) in a more muted maroon, but both with similar floral designs executed in gold tooling on high-quality morocco (i.e. goat-skin) leather. The style suggests the work of Katharine Adams (1862-1952), one of the ‘most famous women binders of the period [1880-1920]’ (Tidcombe, Women bookbinders, page 6), and this attribution is confirmed by the presence of Adams’ signature mark on the bottom turn-in of the lower cover, the letters KA separated by a Catherine wheel together with the date of the binding, 1899:

Bindings by Katharine Adams are highly acclaimed: in her lifetime she exhibited not just in England, but also in Belgium, France and Germany, and even the USA and South Africa (ODNB), and since her death her work has become highly collectable – she is thought to have produced only 300 or so bindings (Tidcombe, Women bookbinders, page 137). Adams, who as a child played with William Morris’s daughters at her home in Little Faringdon, Oxfordshire, began binding in the 1890s. She had only a short training period of four months in 1897, before winning first prize in bookbinding at the Oxford Arts & Crafts exhibition of 1898. These two bindings at Worcester, dating to 1899, must therefore be among her earliest works. She used tools of her own making (now held at the British Library) to decorate her bindings with simple natural designs of flowers, stylized trees and animals, and is considered ‘one of the few binders of any period who was effective in using gold for pictorial designs on leather’ (Lewis, Fine bookbinding, page 35). In a letter of 7 November 1916, Katharine Adams explained her technique: “The effect of light on the gold can be varied by the angle at which the tool is used.”

Although we have begun by judging these books by their covers, in this instance the covers are admirably suited to their contents. For just as Katharine Adams followed the principles of the Arts and Crafts Movement in her production of high quality work using the soundest techniques, so too was the printer of these books, Charles Henry Olive Daniel, ‘sympathetic to the aesthetic and cultural movements of his day’ (Peterson and Peterson, The Daniel Press…, page 13). C.H.O Daniel (1836-1919), Fellow of Worcester College from 1863 and Provost from 1903, used a printing press set up in a cottage at the end of his garden within the curtilage of Worcester College to produce charming books of delicate simplicity. In 1890 eight Daniel Press books were exhibited at the third exhibition of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society.

Within the bindings we find two publications of 1895: 26 poems by Laurence Binyon (1869-1943, poet and art historian; the book is listed as no. 35 in Madan’s bibliography of the Daniel Press), and 25 poems of Keats selected by the poet Robert Bridges (no. 36 in Madan). The print runs were limited to 200 and 250 copies respectively, both printed in small type on hand-made French paper.

With their delicate type and small flower ornaments, there is a distinctly similar sensibility between the texts and their Katharine Adams bindings.

The two titles bound by Adams represent well the type of work produced by the Daniel Press in the 1890s, described by Peterson and Peterson in their recent book:

‘best-selling titles were usually by Bridges [i.e. Robert Bridges, who would become Poet Laureate in 1913], but they were interspersed with books of more modest pretensions by other friends and contemporaries such as Margaret Woods, F.W. Bourdillon, T.H. Warren, and Walter Pater – and then of course, there were always the reprints of older writers (e.g. Keats, Milton, Anthony Wood).’ (Peterson and Peterson, page 20)

Such names (Bridges, the future Poet Laureate; Margaret Woods, poet and novelist; F.W. Bourdillon, poet; T.H. Warren, classical scholar and President of Magdalen) reflect late 19th-century Oxford poetry and scholarship, an ‘Oxford modernism’ (reflected in Yeats’ Oxford Book of Modern Verse (1936)) in contrast to the modernism of Eliot and Pound. (Harding among others contrasts Yeats’ Oxford Book of Modern Verse (1936) with that same year’s Faber Book of Modern Verse, edited by Michael Roberts: the former ‘devoted more space to Dorothy Wellesley and Laurence Binyon than to Eliot and Pound’ (Harding, ‘Modernist poetry and the canon’, page 235).)

Such society could come together at the Daniels’ home in Worcester College, Worcester House. Now no longer standing, Worcester House occupied a spot in the southeast corner of the Nuffield Lawn, where Worcester Street and Hythe Bridge Street meet. It was in this building that the two Katharine Adams bindings were first exhibited in 1901 – the catalogue survives in Worcester College Library: ‘Bookbindings by Katharine Adams at Worcester House, Oxford, on March 8th and 9th 1901’.

Among 53 Daniel Press Publications, one can find listed as numbers 34 and 35 the very bindings of Binyon and Keats with which this piece started. Both were lent by Mrs Daniel, eventually becoming part of the Library’s collections in the early 1960s, when the College’s Record for 1961-4 reports the ‘most important gift of books and manuscripts… from Mrs Kirkman, the granddaughter of Provost Daniel’.

Mark Bainbridge (Librarian)


Griffiths, J., ‘Adams, Katharine (1862-1952)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, available online at http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/38543

Harding, ‘Modernist poetry and the canon’, in A. Davis and L.M. Jenkins (eds), The Cambridge companion to modernist poetry (Cambridge, 2007), pages 225-243

Lewis, R., Fine bookbinding in the twentieth century (Newton Abbot, 1984)

Madan, F., The Daniel Press: memorials of C.H.O. Daniel (Folkestone, 1974)

Peterson, W.S. and S.H. Peterson, The Daniel Press and the Garland of Rachel (New Castle, DE, 2016)

Tidcombe, M., Women bookbinders 1880-1920 (New Castle, DE, and London, 1996)

“In Gratefull remembrance…”

Benefactors’ Book 1714-1745 (WOR/BEN 1/1)

On 16 June 1717 a “widow gentlewoman” named Margaret Alchorne died in her house in St Giles’, Oxford. On this day exactly three hundred years later it seems likely that she would have been entirely forgotten had she not bequeathed half of her estate to the newly founded Worcester College. Even with that benefaction very little relating to her life is preserved in the College Archives: we do not know the motivation behind her bequest, or how she knew the first provost, Richard Blechinden, who acted as her executor. Not only does the College not own a portrait of her but also her name is recorded without the ‘h’ with which she always signed it, and unfortunately this mistake has been faithfully copied in subsequent College histories. However, members of the College have nevertheless gratefully remembered her gift since her death because it is recorded in the first benefactors’ book.

Entry in the Benefactors’ Book relating to the benefaction of Margaret Alchorne

Signature of Margaret Alchorne on her Marriage Settlement, 20 October 1696

The relevant entry in the Benefactors’ Book not only ensures the perpetuation of Margaret Alchorne’s name but also provides important information about the benefaction and the needs of the newly established College. It describes the legal challenge to her will from her stepson-in-law that ultimately denied the College one-half of her real estate and left Worcester with the very specific sum of “seven hundred ninety eight pounds & three pence” from her personal estate. Even this reduced benefaction was a lifeline to the impoverished new College. Its founding benefaction of £10,000 from Sir Thomas Cookes (died 8 June 1701) was sufficient to maintain a number of Fellows and Scholars but did not allow a surplus for necessary building work to provide them with accommodation. As recorded in the Benefactors’ Book, Worcester College was able to use Mrs Alchorne’s bequest towards construction of “A Chappel Hall & Library” which were “accordingly begun” on the nineteenth anniversary of Sir Thomas Cookes’ death, 8 June 1720.

Detail from the Oxford Almanack of 1741, showing benefactors to Worcester College

Margaret Alchorne’s money was not enough to complete this grand block, but it provided the necessary impetus for the commencement of the work and was vital in ensuring that the Library was in a fit state to receive George Clarke’s large benefaction of books and papers in 1736. Her importance to the College is shown with her inclusion in this engraving for the Oxford Almanack of 1741, which shows her among Worcester’s other major eighteenth-century benefactors: Sir Thomas Cookes (standing centre with the Bishop of Worcester; Charity kneels at his feet), George Clarke (holding a plan of the Library), and Sarah Eaton (on the right with Margaret Alchorne). The benefactions of George Clarke and Sarah Eaton are also recorded in the Benefactors’ Book, whose purpose is set out on its first page:

In Gratefull remembrance of such as do good to Worcester College theire names & theire benefactions are here Registered.

Front cover and first page of the Benefactors’ Book

The book itself is not grand but modestly bound in reverse calf, and the entries are in the everyday hands of those of the first two provosts rather than a more formal calligraphy. It also appears to be incomplete: the entries by Provost Blechinden, who died in 1736, stop in 1720, and those by Provost Gower (1736 to 1777) only cover the period 1736 to 1753 and appear to all have been added at the same time towards the end of his life (when his handwriting was rather shaky). Interestingly, the 1900 history of the College by C H O Daniel and W R Barker claims that Gower’s entries were copied verbatim from John Gutch’s edition of Anthony Wood’s The history and antiquities of the colleges and halls in the University of Oxford published in 1786, but it must be the other way around. John Gutch cites as his source for the information “MSS hujus Coll.” and William Gower died in 1777, predating the publication by nine years. As mentioned in my blog post for April 2017, Provost Sheffield, who succeeded Gower in 1777, did not maintain any of the College records during his provostship and this is also true for the Benefactors’ Book.

Silver basin

Silver and silver-gilt basin given by Sir Henry Hoo Keate in 1720

Hoo Keate-cropped

Entry in the Benefactors’ Book

Despite its minor imperfections the Benefactors’ Book provides a pleasing link with the very first moments of Worcester College, as it struggled to establish itself in a University that had already existed for over 500 years, and amongst far richer colleges. There is also delight in finding references to items that are still used in the College today. The Alchorne bequest allowed the construction of the Library, Hall and Chapel, all in constant use throughout the year but particularly busy during Trinity Term. The books given by “Our First & most kind Benefactor” the Reverend Samuel Cooke in 1714 are still preserved and used in that same Library building, and many of the items of silver listed in the volume are still used or displayed at formal dinners. A particular thrill for me is to see the entry for the silver and silver-gilt bowl given by Sir Henry Hoo Keate in 1720, which was used at the baptism of my elder daughter in the College Chapel nearly 300 years later. Through this Benefactors’ Book we are able to perpetuate the memory of our earliest benefactors and honour them for their gifts to the College.

Emma Goodrum (Archivist)



Henry Daniel and W. R. Barker, Worcester College (London, 1900)

John Gutch (ed.) Anthony à Wood, The history and antiquities of the colleges and halls in the University of Oxford (Oxford, 1786)

Helen Mary Petter, The Oxford Almanacks (Oxford, 1974)

I have been researching the life of Margaret Alchorne through other sources and will publish a short piece with further information about her later in the year