Forbidden Books

On 14th June 1966 the Vatican’s list of forbidden books was officially discontinued, put in a reliquary (a container for holy relics) and covered with a glass bell. Books could still be condemned as immoral by the Catholic Church but it signified an end to being excommunicated (i.e. spiritual damnation) for reading or distributing books that offended the faith or its morals.

Johannes Gutenberg published his Bible in 1455 and this event is thought to have marked the beginning of print history in the Western world. Previously, texts were copied by hand (manuscripts) but the printing press facilitated the mass production of books. As more books were written and reproduced, and came to be more widely disseminated, the spread of subversive and heretical ideas became more difficult to control. In particular, the Protestant Reformation (1517-1648) that was initiated by the German theologian Martin Luther and continued by the French theologian Jean Calvin, generated a significant quantity of polemical works, or rhetoric that was strongly critical of Catholicism. For the purposes of preventing the corruption of ordinary Christians and helping the faithful to establish which books were immoral or which contained theological ‘errors’, the Vatican’s list, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Prohibited Books), was first published in 1559 under Pope Pius IV. It went through 20 editions, with the last being published in 1948, under Pope Pius XII.

Berkeley, G. Alciphron, or The Minute Philosopher: in seven dialogues: containing an apology for the Christian religion against those who are called free-thinkers (London: printed for J. Tonson, 1732) Bradshaw 192.3 BER.
Alciphron is a dialogue by Irish philosopher George Berkeley. This defence of Christianity found its way into the Index in 1742 and was still included in the final 1948 edition, probably due to Berkeley’s anti-Catholic views. This copy was previously owned by the radical M.P. for Newcastle, Joseph Cowen (1829-1900).

It is important to remember that this was not the only attempt to censor books at this time. European governments also sought to exercise control over printing: in England, the Stationer’s Company received a Royal Charter in 1557 and had the role of regulating the print industry. Only two universities and 21 printers operating in the City of London were licensed to print.

The Index of 1559 banned the complete works of 550 authors as well as some other individual titles. This blacklisting, particularly of work by some Protestant authors, meant that Catholics were denied access to important thinking even in non-theological subjects. Indeed, a large number of philosophers and writers that today are ‘household names’ have appeared in the Index. However, judgements about what constitutes immoral work changes and, over time, not only were new books added to the Index but some were deleted. For example, the opposition to heliocentrism (the astronomical model that places the sun at the centre of the solar system, first championed by Italian polymath Galileo Galilei) was completely dropped in 1835.

Milton, J. Paradise Lost: a poem, in twelve books, 7th ed. (London: printed for Jacob Tonson, 1705) Robinson 61.
Paradise Lost, by the English poet and civil servant John Milton, is considered by many to be the greatest epic poem in English and it continues to influence English Literature today. It was first published in 1667 but did not appear in the Index until 1758 despite it attempting to reconcile pagan with Christian tradition and depicting a tyrannical God. It was still listed in the 1948 edition of the Index. This copy was previously owned by the satirist, poet and strict Catholic, Alexander Pope (1688-1744).

Some of the major intellectual figures whose works were in the Index include: Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543); French writer Voltaire (1694-1778); Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778); Scottish empiricist David Hume (1711-1776); and French feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986).

Extract from Darwin, E. Zoonomia, or, The laws of organic life (London: Printed for J. Johnson, 1794-96) Pyb.N.v.17.
Zoonomia by the British physician, Erasmus Darwin, was first published in 1794. In it, Darwin sets out laws describing animal life and catalogues diseases and their treatments. Darwin formulates one of the first formal theories of evolution (which would later be developed by his grandson, Charles Darwin). Zoonomia was banned in 1817 and remained in the final edition of the Index. Whilst people were told about the bans, the reasons why books were banned were not explained. In this instance, it is likely that Darwin’s rejection of Biblical chronology was the reason. This copy had been presented to an unidentified former owner – probably the East Kent & Canterbury Medical Library whose stamps are on the title page – by an Anglican priest called William Champneys (1807-1875) and later found its way into the library of Newcastle surgeon, Professor Frederick Pybus (1883-1975).

Darwin, E. Zoonomia, or, The laws of organic life (London: Printed for J. Johnson, 1794-96) Pyb.N.v.17.

Gibbon, E. The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, 2nd ed. (London: Printed for W. Strahan and T. Caddell, 1776-88) RB 824.67 GIB.
Banned in 1783, Edward Gibbon’s six-volume work on The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire drew heavily on primary sources, providing a model for later historians. Gibbon was accused of being a ‘paganist’, influenced by Voltaire (many of whose works were listed in the Index) and thinking that Christianity had hastened the fall of the Roman Empire.

Yet, there were some omissions that might be surprising.  English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882); German revolutionary socialist Karl Marx (1818-1883); German philosopher and atheist Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900); English writer D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930); and Irish novelist James Joyce (1882-1941) are among those people whose work escaped the Index. Whilst the views expressed by such authors were unacceptable to the Catholic Church, their work was either considered heretical and therefore was automatically forbidden, or, did not meet the primary criteria for banning books: anticlericalism and immorality.

Marx, K. and Engels, F. Manifesto of the Communist Party (London: William Reeves, 1888) RB 335 SOC(17).
Originally published in London, in 1848, the Manifesto of the Communist Party takes an analytical approach to explaining class struggles and the problems of capitalism and capitalist production. It has both been praised as one of the most influential texts of the Nineteenth Century and criticised for homogenising the working classes. It has also been argued that its authors, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, were influenced by the work of John Milton, who had some works listed in the Index. Marx described religion as “the opium of the people”, giving false hope to the working class. The Manifesto was never included in the Index.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Service

E.M. Bettenson, "Dr. Martin Luther King," announcement

E.M. Bettenson, “Dr. Martin Luther King,” announcement, 22 April, 1968 (University Archives, NUA/00-7621/3/21)

April 2018 marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the civil rights campaigner, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Shortly after 6pm on 4th April 1968, King was short dead in Memphis, Tennessee. He was just 39 years old. Following the news of King’s assassination, Newcastle University Registrar, Ernest Bettenson announced that the University “deeply deplored” the killing and “we are flying our flag at half-mast to show our deepest regret and sympathy for Dr. King’s family…” (‘City Students Pay Tribute to Dr. King,’ E-Chronicle, April 5, 1968, p.1).

The world was shocked and press quickly took to reporting the hunt for King’s killer. The press in Newcastle also joined the rest of the nation through extensive coverage of the murder, the riots that then ensued in the United States and the hunt for King’s killer. Two months after King’s assassination, on 8th June 1968, James Earl Ray was arrested in London, which later led to his trial and conviction.

Just five months prior to his assassination, on 13th November 1967, King made a fleeting visit to Newcastle. Staying just seven hours in the City, to receive an Honorary Doctorate in Civil Law from the University (the only University to do so during his lifetime) and delivered a powerful, impromptu speech. King spoke about many challenges that still remain with us today. He linked the African American freedom struggle to developments in contemporary British race relations and issued a call for people to confront global challenges of war, poverty and racism. This would be his last public address outside the US before his assassination. You can read the full details of the day of King’s visit to Newcastle University in this digital exhibition.

Photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. receiving his Honorary Degree in King's Hall

Photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. receiving his Honorary Degree in King’s Hall –
just 5 months before his assassination (University Archives, NUA/052589-12)

To remember Martin Luther King, Newcastle University organised a Memorial Service to honour King’s visit and curate his lasting legacy. On 26th April 1968, Vice Chancellor Charles Bosanquet delivered this Service and gave a moving eulogy for staff and students at St. Thomas’ Church, Haymarket in Newcastle. Bosanquet spoke of King’s visit to the University. He personally expressed the experience he had when King arrived, where they spoke about King’s beliefs and policies surrounding radical equality, poverty, the war in Vietnam and the situation in Britain. King told Bosanquet that “we should bestir ourselves to ensure early and full acceptance of coloured people in Britain as equal citizens”.

Charles Bosanquet, Page 1 from his Address at the Memorial Service for Dr. Martin Luther King

Charles Bosanquet, Page 2 from his Address at the Memorial Service for Dr. Martin Luther King

Charles Bosanquet, Pages 1 & 2 from his Address at the Memorial Service for Dr. Martin Luther King, 26 April, 1968 (University Archives, NUA/00-7621/3/4)

The University went on to remember his legacy through a series of events, including Martin Luther King Memorial Lectures, the first delivered on 12th October 1972, when Trevor Huddleston (Bishop of Stepney) spoke on ‘Race Relations in a Hungry World’, as well memorial conferences and the unveiling of Dr. Martin Luther King’s statue in the King’s Quad to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his visit to the University.

On 26th April 2018, St. Thomas’ Church is holding a Memorial Service to honour Dr. Martin Luther King, 50 years to the day that the 1968 Service took place.

The Blaydon Brick: Joseph Cowen

Joseph Cowen exhibition poster

Newcastle University Library’s Special Collections holds pamphlets and books that were formerly owned by Joseph Cowen Jnr. (1829-1900). Joseph Cowen was an M.P. for Newcastle upon Tyne, he supported cultural institutions in the region. The family brickworks was inspired by his nickname, ‘the Blaydon Brick’.

The below material are highlights from the ‘Blaydon Brick: Joseph Cowen‘ exhibition which was on display in the Philip Robinson Library, Newcastle upon Tyne. It draws upon the pamphlets and books as well as portraits, speeches and cartoons from other collections, to explore Joseph Cowen’s political career.


The Cowens

The Cowen family moved from Lindisfarne (Holy Island) in  Northumberland to Stella on Tyneside soon after the Reformation and dissolution of the monasteries. Looking for a safe haven, the Catholic Cowens found themselves in the shelter of the prosperous Tempest family of Stella Hall, near Blaydon. Eventually, after establishing his family and various successful businesses around Blaydon Burn, Joseph Cowen Senior would buy Stella Hall…

The Cowens found work at Sir Ambrose Crowley’s steelworks at Winlaton. Crowley was an exceptional employer for that era, providing free schooling for the children of the village, and paying for a doctor to treat his employees and their families. He also established a fund to support workers forced to stop working due to age or disability. Crowley’s practices clearly had an impact on the Cowens. The factory closed in 1816.

Photo of Crowley tombstone.
From M. W. Flinn, Men of Iron: The Crowleys in the Early Iron Industry (1962) (338.273 FLI, Philip Robinson Library)

Joseph Cowen Senior (1800-1873) was born at Greenside, near Blaydon, and
worked as a chain maker in Ambrose Crowley’s factory. Interested in the social conditions of his fellow workers, he became a member of ‘Crowley’s Clan’, the tightly-knit group of Crowley’s employees protecting workers’ rights.

By 1850, Joseph Cowen Senior had become a successful businessman and bought Stella Hall, the former home of the Tempest family which had offered his ancestors a refuge during the Reformation.

Stella Hall was essentially an Elizabethan house with 18th century additions. The last member of the Cowen family, Jane, died in 1948 and the house was demolished in 1953. The only remaining part of the Hall is now known as the Grade II-listed Stella Hall Cottage.

Cowen bookplate. The Library of Reason
Most of the books in our Cowen Tracts contain his engraved booklate, showing a Bewick-like view of Stella Hall with the spire of Newcastle’s St Nicholas’ Casthedral in the background.

In 1853 Cowen was elected to the Newcastle Municipal Council and became Liberal MP for the city in 1865.

His son, Joseph Cowen Junior (1829-1900) was born at Blaydon Burn House, Blaydon. After private education in Burnopfield, he attended Edinburgh University, where he became interested in European revolutionary political movements, influenced by his teacher, Scottish preacher Dr. John Richie. Richie was a fearless radical and fiery orator and influenced Joseph’s social conscience.

Joseph Cowen portrait

Portrait of Joseph Cowen Junior (1829–1900)


The Blaydon Brick

In 1828, Cowen Senior went into business with his brother-in-law Anthony Forster to manufacture fire bricks, under the company name Joseph Cowen & Co. The business quickly developed, helped by the superior quality of the local fireclay.

On returning from Edinburgh, Joseph Junior took a very active role in the family business and workers’ conditions. His developing interest in domestic politics and revolutionary European politics was also evident; his views were much stronger than his father’s.

Cowen Junior became a frequent speaker at workers’ trade clubs and mechanics’ institutes, reputedly speaking at every colliery village in Northumberland and Durham. His skills as an orator were widely recognised later in his life when he became an MP. He himself built up an extensive library of speeches by others, and his own speeches were collected in various volumes.

From the Nineteenth Century, industrial development expanded rapidly along the Blaydon Burn to include a number of industries related to the processing of coal. The supply of cheap local fuel and good transport links led to the development of coke works, steelworks, iron foundries, and brickworks, making Blaydon Burn one of the most industrialised parts of the region.

Cowen bricks, made from the superior clay found in the area, can still be found in parts of Blaydon Burn Nature Reserve. They are easily recognisable, with the prominent ‘COWEN’ stamp.

Cowen brick walkway at Roche Harbour, San Juan Island, Washington, USA

Photograph of the Cowen brick walkway at Roche Harbour, San Juan Island, Washington, USA Cowen bricks were exported all over the world and can still be seen in many locations.

Short in stature and uncouth in appearance, Cowen spoke with a distinctive Tyneside burr. When he entered Parliament in 1874, after the death of his father, his manner initially shocked members of the House of Commons. Eventually, his genuine eloquence established him as one of the best-known politicians in the country. He became known as the ‘Blaydon Brick’ – a reference to his physical appearance, attitude, and, of course, the family business in Blaydon.

This satirical cartoon (below) shows Cowen astride his political ‘support’ – various bricks named after his extensive business interests (bricks, fire clay, the Tyne Theatre, and the Newcastle Daily Chronicle).

After the Ballot

‘After the ballot’ [A volume of printed ephemera, broadsides, posters, cartoons, referring to election in Northumberland, Necwcastle and Tyneside divisions, 1826-1931] (RB 942.8 ELE Quarto, Rare Books Collection)


Cowen and Domestic Politics

Cowen, a formidable political force in the North East, represented Newcastle upon Tyne as its Liberal MP from 1874–1886. In 1858 he established the Northern Reform Union and, in 1867, was Chair of the Manhood Suffrage Committee. These organisations shared a common ambition to bring about reform, particularly through extended enfranchisement (the right to vote). On Tyneside particularly, Cowen helped to politicise the miners and to bring reformers from the middle and working classes together. (He counted Robert Spence Watson, a social and education reformer from Bensham Grove in Gateshead, among his friends.)

Cowen encouraged political debate and persuaded communities to participate in local, national and even international political struggles. His independence, and his support of an Irish Parliament and Home Rule, brought him into conflict with the Liberal caucus and split the party into radical and moderate factions.

The death of the incumbent MP, Joseph Cowen Snr., occasioned a Newcastle upon Tyne by-election on 14 January 1874.

The by-election was won by the Liberal candidate, Joseph Cowen Junior, who defeated the Conservative, Charles Frederic Hamond, with a majority of 1,003. This cartoon depicts the scales of justice weighing the votes, with Hamond tying casks of beer to the
Conservative scalepan in a bid to tip the balance.

This is significant because the Liberals (led by William Ewart Gladstone) were not united: the education policies upset nonconformists; trade union laws and restrictions on drinking upset the working-class; and the party was divided over Irish Home Rule. Parliament was dissolved just nine days after the Newcastle by-election, prompting another contested election. Again Cowen won but, this time, those supporting a more moderate faction of the Liberal party supported Thomas Emerson Headlam. Despite winning the popular vote, the Liberals lost the general election to the Conservatives (led by Benjamin Disraeli). Newcastle upon Tyne was one of few constituencies to remain under Liberal control.

‘Weighed in the balance and found wanting’

‘Weighed in the balance and found wanting’
[A volume of printed ephemera, broadsides, posters, cartoons,
referring to elections in Northumberland, Newcastle and Tyneside
divisions, 1826–1931] (RB 942.8 ELE Quarto, Rare Books Collection)

In the Nineteenth Century, the word ‘caucus’ was widely used, particularly in reference to the highly-structured system of management and control within the Liberal Party. The Liberal caucus was vilified by socialists and trade unionists who found their route to parliamentary representation blocked by the party’s management structures.

In this cartoon (below), the caucus is depicted as a group of insignificant people who want their candidates to think and speak as they do. The caucus is backing another Liberal candidate, Ashton Wentworth Dilke, but is prepared to offer Joseph Cowen a role as Dilke’s colleague. The people of Tyneside, however, are firmly and loudly behind Cowen. Cowen’s oration, 1 February 1880, is a rejection of Gladstone’s Liberalism in favour of the pursuit of radical principles.

'Master Joseph offends the caucus...' 

‘Master Joseph offends the caucus…’ 
[A volume of printed ephemera, broadsides, posters, cartoons,
referring to elections in Northumberland, Newcastle and Tyneside divisions, 1826–1931] (RB 942.8 ELE Quarto, Rare Books Collection)

Gladstone was anti-imperialist, whereas Cowen was an imperialist who supported the Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s foreign policy. Cowen was returned to Parliament in the 1880 election (Cowen 11,766 votes; Dilke 10,404 votes; and the Conservative candidate Hamond 5,271 votes). When the 1885 general election was held Cowen, still popular on Tyneside, campaigned and won without the support of the Liberal caucus. However, his clashes with the Liberal Party would soon cause him to retire from politics.


Cowen and International Politics

In the wider political sphere, Cowen was an ardent supporter of European revolutionary movements. He championed their causes in Britain through the press and fundraising campaigns, and directly assisted their movements by smuggling propaganda and clandestine material into Europe in consignments of bricks. He counted many of the key revolutionaries of the time as his friends, and organised their visits to Tyneside.

Despite his radical views, Cowen was also a supporter of British imperial ambitions. As with his domestic politics, his views on imperial policies caused considerable tension between him and the Liberal Party. The Russian Empire in particular was seen by Cowen as being not only a threat to the British Empire, but also to the freedom of other European peoples.

Cowen delivered a speech in the Town Hall, Newcastle upon Tyne (1880) titled ‘The Foreign Policy of England‘ (M082 PAM Sundries III, John Theodore Merz Collection) This speech by Cowen highlights his antagonism towards the Russian Empire and his call for freedom for peoples oppressed by the Russians, particularly the Poles.

Cowen helped Polish-Hungarian refugees who had arrived in the country in 1851, including a group who settled on Tyneside. He organised public meetings, speeches, and collections for Polish exiles. Cowen was also involved in more clandestine activities, such as assisting the efforts of the Polish Democratic Society, a radical political organisation, by arranging for funds, arms, and propaganda to be smuggled to Eastern Europe. He destroyed much of his correspondence with the revolutionaries in order to obscure his involvement in their affairs.

Cowen came under attack within the Liberal Party over his imperialist views. For example, he supported the Tory government’s pro-Ottoman stance during the Russo-Turkish War (1877–78), as the Ottomans were a useful counterweight to Russian power. However, the Liberals strongly campaigned against Ottoman support due to atrocities committed in Bulgaria by Ottoman forces.

In this Liberal cartoon (below), the ‘Russian Bear’ ridicules Cowen for his apparent hypocrisy as ‘Freedom’s Priest’. The Bear remarks that, while Cowen may comment on the Russian treatment of the Poles, Cowen supported ‘the Jew’ to ‘rob and murder little Afghan’. The Bear was referencing Jewish Tory Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–80).

Birds of a Feather

‘Birds of a Feather’
[A volume of printed ephemera, broadsides, posters, cartoons, referring to elections in Northumberland, Newcastle and Tyneside divisions, 1826–1931] (RB 942.8 ELE Quarto, Rare Books Collection)


Cultural Activities: The Route to Citizenship

Cowen’s desire for an expanded franchise (right to vote) also manifested itself through the facilitation of cultural activities. Cowen believed in the necessity of an educated democracy and saw participation in cultural activities as pathways to full citizenship. He thought that self-improvement, through intellectual activities and enjoyment of performing arts, would lead to an expanded democracy.

Cowen served on the committee of the Arts Association of Newcastle upon Tyne and took leading roles in the founding of the Tyne Theatre and Opera House and Newcastle Public Library Service. By the early-Twentieth Century, the working-class had a prominent culture in Newcastle.

Joseph Cowen recognised that the press could be an effective way of promoting his radical brand of politics. He bought the Newcastle Chronicle in 1859. The newspaper was already well-established as a political vehicle, with a middle-class readership and influence over the Whigs. (The Whigs were a political party that, by the Nineteenth Century, drew support from emerging industrial interests and supported the supremacy of Parliament over the monarchy, free trade, Catholic emancipation, the abolition of slavery and extending the vote.) He invested heavily in the paper, including a new rotary press, and re-launched it as the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle.

The repeal of tax on advertisements, duty on paper, and stamp on news led to the increased production of newspapers and Cowen took full advantage. Sports reports, serialised literature, and features on mining communities and co-operatives attracted new readers: by 1873, daily sales exceeded 40,000. But Cowen was on a mission to inform and educate his readers and kept them up to date with issues such as the Polish struggle against Russian oppression and with the fight for Home Rule in Ireland.

Cowen used the newspaper to: garner support for the establishment of a College of Science in Newcastle; sell the benefits of his Co- Operative Union; publicise the take-up, by prospective employees, of shares in the Ouseburn [engineering] Works; highlight the plight of female agricultural workers; subsidise the Italian revolutionary general Garibaldi; and, generally, to promote radical causes. The Chronicle press allowed him to influence public opinion significantly.

The ‘Carrion Chro’ verse (below) plays on the word ‘crow’ to make a derogatory statement about Cowen’s Chronicle. Carrion crows are noisy birds that perch on vantage points and beat their wings slowly but deliberately. They actively harass predators and competitors and can engage in mobbing behaviour. Carrion crows are scavengers. In making this comparison, the author of the poem accuses Cowen of running stories that feed on a festering underlife: ‘Manslaughters & murders, elopements & rapes, / Divorces & scandals …. quack med’cine & betting’. The Chronicle, says the poem’s author, is Cowen’s vehicle for engaging ‘the mob’.

‘The Carrion Chro’

‘The Carrion Chro’
[A volume of printed ephemera, broadsides, posters, cartoons, referring to elections in Northumberland, Newcastle and Tyneside divisions, 1826–1931] (RB 942.8 ELE Quarto, Rare Books Collection)

Joseph Cowen co-founded the Tyne Theatre and Opera House. Thomas Forster (solicitor) and George Stanley (an actor-manager that ran the Tyne Concert Hall on Neville Street) wanted to build a theatre in Newcastle that would satisfy public taste for spectacle. When the city magistrates denied Stanley a licence to stage drama, Cowen was incensed, went into partnership with Stanley and financed the building of the Tyne Theatre and Opera House on Westgate Road. The money and, possibly, the building materials, came from Cowen’s Blaydon Brickworks.

The theatre opened on 23rd September 1867 with Dion Boucicault’s Arrah-Na-Pogue: a melodramatic tale of  misadventure, villainy and romance, set during the Irish rebellion of 1798. The play’s theme – the struggle for Irish independence – is aligned with Cowen’s support of Irish nationalists. It played to full houses.

Stanley managed the theatre with a stock company until 1881. During this period, and in the decades to come, the theatre became a venue for staging bold, socially-motivated dramas, as well as functioning as a forum for controversial debates. Richard William Younge managed the theatre in the 1880s and provided free shows for poor children and members of the bird conservation society, the Dicky Bird Society.

Photograph of Tyne Theatre

Photograph, Tyne Theatre, Westgate Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, c.1900 (008908, Newcastle City Libraries)

In 1870, Dr Henry Newton took up his late father’s campaign for a public library. Joseph Cowen’s commitments to democracy and to educating the people motivated him to take a leading role in supporting the cause, especially through the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle. The lending library was temporarily housed in the Mechanic’s Institute until the opening of the first public library building in Newcastle, in 1880. This library was built on New Bridge Street West and was later extended with the construction of the Laing Art Gallery.

Newcastle was late in establishing a public library. The Public Libraries Act had been passed in 1850, with The Royal Museum and Public Library in Salford being the first to open in the UK, in 1850. Philanthropists (people that perform deeds for public good, or ‘dogooders’) seeking to ‘improve the public’ campaigned for public libraries in the face of opposition from the Conservatives, who feared the cost implications and the potential for social transformation.

Engraving depicting Newcastle Library in the 19th century (ILL/11/198, Local Illustrations)

Newcastle’s Library of the Literary and Philosophical Society had been established as a conversation club in 1793 but it has always been a subscription library. When it opened, the rate of membership was one guinea (roughly £58.83 in today’s spending worth). This was beyond the financial reach of working people. In 1855, the rate for using a public library was one penny and, in 1919, reform of the public libraries made them free to use.

Joseph Cowen was the first person to borrow a book from the new library. The book that was issued to him was On Liberty by J.S. Mill, 1859 (M323.44 MIL, John Theodore Merz Collection) in which the philosopher J.S. Mill sets out his ideas on the relationship between authority and liberty. It was a hugely influential work that continues to underpin liberal political thought today.


Cowen’s Legacy

Cowen could be said to have advanced the primacy of urban environments. He saw the concentration of people as a strength because larger populations were less vulnerable to being oppressed by the elite. Industrialised cities, he said, brought the benefits of economic growth, science and medicine and the possibilities of liberty and social elevation to everyone.

As the MP for Newcastle upon Tyne, he represented the town and then city (Newcastle became a city on 3 June 1882). However, in  campaigning for better housing and social welfare reform, in championing workers’ unions and in encouraging self-improvement through the provision of Co-operatives, libraries, places of learning, mining and mechanics institutes and public entertainment, he arguably embodied the spirit of Newcastle.

Cowen’s Library

Books and pamphlets that were owned by Joseph Cowen were given to Newcastle University in 1950. Almost 2,000 pamphlets from his private library have been kept together in Special Collections, in a collection called the Cowen (Joseph) Tracts.

Pamphlets were an effective form of public debate because they could be widely distributed and their authors could hide behind anonymity. The Cowen Tracts discuss such issues as: Irish politics; foreign policy; women’s rights; education; and public health.

These tracts, like all of our Special Collections holdings, can be used by anyone that has an interest – even if they are not a member of the University and its library. The books, many being literary works, were dispersed across various collections as well as the general holdings of the University Library.

Lifelong Learning Centre

Joseph Cowen lends his name to the Joseph Cowen Lifelong Learning Centre, in Newcastle. The Centre has changed its location several times over the course of its existence. In the 1960s, it was based at Barras Bridge, in the building seen on the right of the photograph below.

Today, the centre has charitable status and aims to provide opportunities for lifelong learning across the North East. It achieves this through a programme of talks, workshops and visits (called Explore) that are open to all adults, irrespective of their knowledge and qualifications.

The link between Cowen and education is a strong one: he had been Chairman of the Education League in Newcastle; and advocated for the availability and quality of education for all, most notably for non- Sectarian education and extending education beyond primary school for working class children. He donated money to support Mechanics’ Institutes, reading rooms and libraries. He also played a role in the establishment of a College of Physical Science in Newcastle (now Newcastle University).

Photograph of Barras Bridge, Newcastle

Photograph of Barras Bridge, Newcastle (c.1965) (Newcastle University Archives)

Joseph Cowen Chair of English Literature

The first Chair of English Literature was established at Newcastle University (then it was known as the College of Physical Science) in 1898. It is an endowed chair, founded by the family of Joseph Cowen. Ever since 1909, it has been officially called the Joseph Cowen Chair of English Literature.

Peter Ure held the Joseph Cowen Professor of English Language and Literature at Newcastle University 1960–1969.

Joseph Cowen bookplate

Ex Libris bookplate for the Peter Ure Collection

Electoral Reform

Cowen demonstrated his commitment to democracy by being a staunch advocate of electoral reform, particularly in 1867 when he was heavily involved in the campaign for the Second Reform Bill. He was also a vocal supporter of women’s suffrage at the time of the 3rd Reform Bill. He played a leading role in securing an amendment to the Bill when it was discovered that it disadvantaged miners who could not meet the complex property qualifications for the vote.

‘Nottingham election: the hustings in the Market-Place’

‘Nottingham election: the hustings in the Market-Place’ in The Illustrated London News (May 19, 1866) (19th C. Coll. 030 ILL Folio, 19th Century Collection)

Community Relations

Cowen fostered harmonious relationships between local people and ‘minorities’ who settled in the region (most notably the Irish community who experienced extreme prejudice and hostility in many other British towns and cities – Liverpool, Glasgow and London, for example). He challenged the various Irish Coercion Acts in the House of Commons in the early 1880s and pledged his support for Irish Home Rule long before Gladstone presented it as official Liberal policy. His attitude to migrants remains a cornerstone of the region’s reputation for fairmindedness and tolerance.

‘The division in the House of Commons on the Irish Home Rule question’

‘The division in the House of Commons on the Irish Home Rule’
question’ in The Illustrated London News (June 12, 1886) (19th C. Coll. 030 ILL Folio, 19th Century Collection)

Statue of Joseph Cowen

Cowen is commemorated by a bronze statue in Newcastle city centre, which can be found opposite the Tyne Theatre, at the junction of Westgate Road and Fenkle Street. The statue was erected in 1906 and was funded by public subscription. It was created by renowned Scottish sculptor John Tweed.

Statue of Joseph Cowen

Statue of Joseph Cowen

We would like to thank Dr Joan Allen for her contribution to this
exhibition.

Janet

Stored in the Bloodaxe archive in the Robinson Library there is a note written in the margins of the manuscript of Ken Smith’s poetry collection, ‘The Poet Reclining’ from 1977, one of Bloodaxe Book’s first publications:

‘pity Janet, you’ve done it again!’

References to ‘Janet’ continue to appear frequently in the editorial marginalia, minutes and notes. As part of her practice-based PhD research, Kate Sweeney has decided to build a ‘Janet’ – from traces of administration ephemera found in the archive. An amalgamated, chimerical idea of a ‘Janet’ from paper. From the margins, notes and minutes, but mainly from the post-its – a part of the archive and Apart from the archive – much like Janet herself…

‘Treasure of the Month’

This month’s treasure is Janet. Janet seeps through on post-its pressed upon other people. A part and apart, her stickiness is temporary, her yellow glow fleets over faces. She is deeply disposable unless undetected – then, she slips off her sheet, off her box and into the archive…

Image: Post-it note attached to material in The Bloodaxe Archive, contained in BXB/4/5/1 and stored in Special Collections at The Robinson Library.

Votes for Women: Newcastle’s own Radical Suffragist

To mark the centenary this month of the 1918 Representation of the People Act which gave some womens the right to vote for the first time, our Treasure of the Month takes a closer look at Ethel Williams, Newcastle’s own radical suffragist.

Portrait photograph of Ethel Williams (Ethel Williams Archive, EWL/2/4)

Dr Ethel Mary Nucella Williams (1869 – 1948) was Newcastle’s first female doctor, and became the first woman to found a general medical practice in the city as well as co-founding the Northern Women’s Hospital.

Ethel was also a radical suffragist and pacifist. As a suffragist, she served as Secretary of the Newcastle Women’s Liberal Association and became president of the Newcastle and District Women’s Suffrage Society. As a pacifist, she was a founding member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

Being a radical suffragist meant that Ethel believed in more peaceful means of campaigning and demonstration but took a broader view than many other suffragists, who tended to be drawn from the middle classes, recognising as she did that the movement needed the support of working class women, and that the issue of the franchise should draw women from all sections of society together with a common identity.

Ethel was one of the first women in the North East of England to own and drive a motor car. We see her here photographed with her car, which was crucial to enable her work in mobilising the women’s suffrage movement in the region.

Photograph of Ethel Williams in her car (Ethel Williams Archive)

Ethel took part in the ‘Mud March’ of 1907 in London, the first large procession organised by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies Sand so-called due to the terrible weather conditions on the day. Despite the hardship, over 3,000 women from all walks of life took part.

This Ethel Williams Archive in Newcastle University Library’s Special Collections includes letters from her contemporaries, a number of photographs of her throughout her life, and objects connected to her involvement with the campaign for women’s suffrage, including a suffragist banner and a ‘Winged Victory’ statuette bestowed on her in 1918 to commemorate the Representation of the People Act which momentously gave women householders and wives of male householders over thirty the right to vote for the very first time.

Ethel’s suffragist banner is currently undergoing conservation work at The People’s History Museum in Manchester; when it returns to Newcastle later this year, it will be fit to be enjoyed by all as we celebrate this significant centenary year of women achieving the vote.

Ethel Williams’ suffragist marching banner (Ethel Williams Archive, EWL/3/5)

Learn more about the Ethel Williams Archive in Special Collections here.

And read more about Ethel’s suffragist banner here

Happy Anniversary Frankenstein’s Monster!

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2018 marks the 200 anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Why not celebrate by starting the New Year by reading or re-reading this classic.  And for the faint-hearted our amazing Book Trust Collection on Level 1 of the Robinson Library has some great kids’ versions!

The circumstances of the novel’s genesis are well-known: Claire Clairmont, Lord Byron, John Polidori, P.B. Shelley, and Mary Godwin (as she was then) passed a stormy night in Geneva, June 1816, inventing ghost stories. Mary’s contribution, inspired by a dream, would be published two years later as Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus and marked the birth of the science fiction genre. Victor Frankenstein raids graveyards to acquire the parts he needs to create life but his experiment goes horribly wrong and he rejects his nameless creation. Denied companionship, the monster endeavours to destroy his maker. The novel explores themes which would characterise much of Mary Shelley’s subsequent work, such as alienation and solitude; justice; the purpose of life; destiny; and social class as it relates to political power.

Critically acclaimed in her own day, Mary is perhaps remembered today as the wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley and the author of Frankenstein (1818), her most enduring novel.  More recent scholarship however has tried to shed a greater light on her later literary output.  Mary Shelley was the author of seven novels, a great number of short stories and two travelogues, both of which use the travelogue genre as a vehicle to explore and comment upon politics, war and culture.

In one of two letters written by Mary Shelley which are held in the Manuscript Album here in Special Collections, she enquires about the history, religion and politics of Bohemia. This appears to be related to one of her last-known projects, which was a partial translation of a novel by German author, Ida Hahn-Hahn, called Cecil (1844). The letter was written in March 1844 which is also the same year that her final full-length book was published: Rambles in Germany and Italy, in 1840, 1842, and 1843.

The other day I sent you some books by a friend going to Paris – & I enclosed a letter for you to another friend which I hope she will present. Meanwhile I am going to intrude upon you, asking for some information which I think you can give me.

I want some account of the old Kings of Bohemia & the fire worshippers of that country – of Jerome of Prague of the Hussites of Bohemia – of Zizska – & also of the manner in which Bohemia is at present governed.

Pray forgive me for giving you this trouble – but you know every thing – . . . living among the learned – I (not knowing German) know nothing – & live the life of a recluse. I shall be very glad to hear how you are – I hope quite well – with compliments to Mr. Dunbar, I am very truly yours.

Shelley, M.

from a letter to Rose Stewart, 17th March 1844 (MSA/199, Manuscript Album, held at Special Collections, Newcastle University Library)

Mary Shelley [Letter] [MSA/1/99], Manuscript Album, Newcastle University Library.

Oh and did we mention that one of the versions of Frankenstein in the Book Trust Collection is a pop-up?  Go on, you know you want to!

Thank you to Melanie Wood, whose full research on Mary Shelley and the letters we hold in the Manuscript Album can be seen in the online version of the exhibition Very truly yours…

Lady Tabitha and Us – Peg Doll Games

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Door No. 24

HAPPY CHRISTMAS EVE!

The Newcastle University Special Collections team
would like to wish you all a very
MERRY CHRISTMAS!

What does your Christmas Eve consist of? Do you play games just like Kathleen Ainslie’s peg dolls, to get you in the mood for Christmas?

Illustrations taken from ‘Lady Tabitha and Us’ by Kathleen Ainslie (Rare Books, RB 823.912 AIN). You join Tabitha, a peg doll and her friends on Christmas Eve. They play party games, such as tug of war and drop the handkerchief, along with musical chairs, hunt the slippers, hide and seek, orange and lemons, blind man’s buff, guessing games and the Sir Roger dance. They then finally eat supper and “we didn’t go home till morning, till daylight did appear”.

Visit Door number 1 to find out a little bit more about Kathleen Ainslie.

Explore another Kathleen Ainslie book that we have in Special Collections; ‘Catherine Susan and Me’s Coming Out’, in our February 2017 Treasure of the Month Feature

Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle, 1848

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Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle from ‘Illustrated London News, Christmas Supplement’, 1848 (19th Century Collection, 19th C. Coll, 030 ILL)

This illustration from the December 1848 Christmas Supplement to the Illustrated London News, shows the royal family gathered round a christmas tree at Windsor Castle. When this image first appeared in the Illustrated London News, it attracted a huge amount of attention. The upper classes had been decorating trees for some time, having been introduced by Queen Charlotte in the 18th century, but this image spread the fashion to the rest of society.

Decorating a tree with candles and gifts was a German tradition that was enthusiastically enjoyed by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. This image of the royal family, which depicts children, parents and grandmother, all enjoying themselves around the tree was influential in promoting Christmas as a family occasion. By the end of the 1840s, Christmas had become a festival celebration of the Victorian calendar.

Illustrated London News is found in our 19th Century and 20th Century Collections.

Geoffrey Trevelyan’s letter to Father Christmas

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Letter from Geoffrey Washington Trevelyan to Father Christmas, 1917 (CPT Uncat/30)

This letter to Father Christmas was written by Geoffrey Washington Trevelyan, the youngest son of the politician Charles Philips and Lady Mary Trevelyan of Wallington (find out more about the Trevelyan Charles Philips Trevelyan here). Written at his grandparents’ house Rounton Grange on Christmas Eve 1917, when he was seven years old. Geoffrey requests that Father Christmas decorate the tree and bring presents for the children.

Geoffrey later became an engineer at de Havilland, and the 5th Baronet of Wallington.

Rag Pie Christmas Advertisement

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Powell’s Products advert from Rag Pie, 1932 (University Archives, NUA/13/5)

Advertisement for Powell’s Products in Rag Pie.

This advertisement is contained within the 1932 issue of Rag Pie, which was created and published by University students of Newcastle upon Tyne, in aid of the Newcastle Dispensary, The Babies’ Hospital, The Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital and the Eye Hospital. The magazine contains advertisements alongside stories, poems and songs written by students and sold for 6d to raise money for charity.

Front cover of Rag Pie, 1932

RAG is a student-led committee which organised fundraising activities and is still active today, although Rag Pie is no longer published.

Powells Products Ltd. operated on Kells Lane Low Fell until it went into liquidation in 1970.