The Christmas Pantomime – #ChristmasCountdown Door no. 9

#ChristmasCountdown
Door No. 9

Page from Illustrated London News, Volume 92 (19th Century Collection, 19th C. Coll ILL 030)

Page from Illustrated London News, Volume 92 (19th Century Collection, 19th C. Coll ILL 030)

Page from Illustrated London News, Vol. 92, dated 7th January 1888. Illustrations shows various different pantomime costumes including characters Puss in Boots, The Queen, The Blondin Donkey and Cupid.

Have you been to any pantomines this Christmas season yet?

Illustrated London News is part of our 19th Century Collection and 20th Century Collection. You can find this volume and other Illustrated London News on our Library Catalogue here.

Agatha Christie and Archaeology – September 2018

Agatha Christie is the world’s best-selling crime novelist; but did you know that she also worked in the field of archaeology alongside her second husband, the distinguished archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan? From the 21st Century Collection, this month’s treasure is Agatha Christie and Archaeology, edited by Charlotte Trümpler, which celebrates Christie’s relationship with archaeology, exploring what life was like working and travelling around archaeological digs in the Middle East in the 1930s to the 1950s, and detailing the extraordinary relationship between Christie’s books and the field of archaeology.

First published as part of a major exhibition at the British Museum in 2001-02 and translated from German, this book details Christie’s contribution to the excavations led by her husband at various sites in Syria and Iraq, including the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud which has since been destroyed. With reflections from those who worked as part of the excavation teams, the book describes everyday life for Christie and her husband at the digs (including anecdotes of Christie piecing together pottery shards and cleaning ivory fragments using hand lotion and face cream).

Christie photographed many of the finds, some of which are now held in the British Museum. These are explored in the book, as well as details and stills from two films she made of the excavation sites that have never been shown publically. The book also provides photographs of Agatha and Max, in addition to examples of photographs taken by Christie of late-1930s Syria and of Iraq between 1948 and 1958. Demonstrating Christie’s unique perspective on archaeological digs in these areas, Agatha Christie and Archaeology also explores the differences between her attitude to the Orient, and those of previous European travellers in the Middle East, including Gertrude Bell whose extensive archive is held in Special Collections.

Many of Christie’s best-loved and most well-known novels featuring Hercule Poirot, such as Murder on the Orient Express (1934), Murder in Mesopotamia (1935), Death on the Nile (1937) and Appointment with Death (1937), take place in the Middle East and feature settings of archaeological sites; Agatha Christie and Archaeology uncovers some of the little-known connections between the fictional dramas and characters of the novels and their basis on real-life events and people, such as Christie’s own adventurous travels to excavation sites.

Why not visit Special Collections to take a look at some of the examples of Christie’s work held here? There are children’s versions of Death on the Nile and Crooked House in the Booktrust Collection, and the little-known Star Over Bethlehem and Other Stories – a collection of religious stories and poems generally thought to be aimed at children that Christie published under her married name – is held in the Brian Alderson Collection.

Janet – March 2018

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.

‘The Girl Who Killed Santa Claus’ by Val McDermid

#ChristmasCountdown
Door No. 8

‘It was the night before Christmas, and not surprisingly, Kelly Jane Davidson was wide awake. It wasn’t that she wanted to be. It wasn’t as if she believed in Santa and expected to catch him coming down the chimney onto the coal-effect gas fire in the living-room. After all, she was nearly eight now…’

Front cover of Stranded (Flambard Press, 823.914 MCD)

So goes the opening of the short story ‘The Girl Who Killed Santa Claus’ by renowned crime writer, Val McDermid. The story can be found in her collection Stranded which was published by Flambard Press in 2005. The book itself can be found in the Flambard Press Collection here at Special Collections and Archives, Newcastle University Library and you can request it here.

Flambard Press was a North East-based independent press which published a range of poetry and fiction, as well as some non-fiction and visual-art books. It was particularly focused on publishing new and neglected writers in the North of England, as well as promoting live literature.

You can listen to Flambard Press publishers, Margaret and Peter Lewis discussing the publication of the book on our Oral History Interface found here.

Chicken-rearing and the Revolution – August 2015

17 August 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the publication of George Orwell’s classic ‘fairy tale’ about animals in revolt and allegory of the Russian dictatorship, Animal Farm. Orwell – real name Eric Arthur Blair – wrote the book in 1943/44 at his small cottage in Wallington, Hertfordshire. His friend and fellow author, Jack Common, ran the village shop in nearby Datchworth.

George Orwell BBC

George Orwell

Common was born in Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne, in 1903. He moved to London in 1925 and later worked at The Adelphi magazine, where he met Orwell in the mid-1930s.The pair struck up an uneasy friendship – Common was North East working-class, whilst Orwell, was (in his own words) “lower-upper-middle class” and Eton-educated. Despite their differences, the two remained friends until Orwell’s death in 1950. Orwell became Common’s literary mentor, regarding Common’s collection of essays, The Freedom of the Streets (1938), as:

‘the authentic voice of the ordinary working man, the man who might infuse a new decency into the control of affairs if only he could get there . . .’

Jack Common died in 1968, and his papers were deposited at the University Library in 1974. They comprise photographs, diaries, notebooks, manuscript, and letters.

JC/4/1/8

(JC/4/1/8) Jack Common

This 1962 letter (shown below) to Common (COM 3/3/38), from London bookseller Anthony Rota, is about the purchase of a selection of Orwell’s letters. Rota, obviously looking for insights into Orwell’s writing, isn’t impressed with some of the content:

‘Like you, I find Orwell’s absorption in the minutiae of chicken-rearing well worth reading about but, in terms of hard cash, it does not mean as much as any comment he makes on how and why he wrote his books.’

Rota offers Common a poultry £75 for the letters.

But perhaps the letter should maybe not be dismissed so lightly. Orwell – a keen angler and gardener – strove for self-sufficiency and reared his own livestock in his Wallington garden. His chickens and goats are the animals that provided inspiration for characters in Animal Farm.

Common replied, expressing his disappointment at the offer. Rota’s response of 8th August 1962 (COM 3/3/39) presses home his disinterest in Orwell’s Good Life interests:

‘From our point of view the trouble is that he writes too much about chickens and not enough about his work.’

The two eventually agree on £85 for the letter.

(COM 3/3/38), letter from Anthony Rota to Jack Common, 3rd August 1962

(COM 3/3/38), letter from Anthony Rota to Jack Common, 3rd August 1962

The Ship That Sailed To Mars – November 2014

Image of a silhouetted ship sailing across an orange blue background
Image from The Ship That Sailed To Mars (London: George G. Harrap, 1923) (20th Century Collection, 20th C. Coll 823.912 TIM)

To mark the 50th anniversary this month of NASA’s first successful mission to Mars, Special Collections brings you its very own Mars mission in the fantasy and vintage Science Fiction work, The Ship That Sailed To Mars.

The book is the work of William Mitcheson Timlin (1892 – 1943). Timlin was born in Ashington, Northumberland, the son of a colliery foreman. He attended Morpeth Grammar School where he showed talent for drawing, and received a scholarship to the School of Art at Armstrong College in Newcastle (later to form part of Newcastle University). In 1912, he moved to South Africa where he completed his training in Art and Architecture and remained for the rest of his life, forging a successful career for himself as an architect, illustrator and author.

The Ship That Sailed To Mars was published in England in 1923 in an edition of only two-thousand copies. Originally conceived by Timlin as a work to entertain his young son, it carries forty-eight striking watercolour plates, alternating with forty-eight pages of Timlin’s own handsome calligraphic text; when Timlin sent the book to the London-based publishers, George Harrap, they were sufficiently impressed that they decided to print the book just as it appeared, without any typesetting.

Page titled 'The Meteor' from 'The Ship that Sailed to Mars'
Page from The Ship that Sailed to Mars (20th Century Collection,
20th C. Coll 823.912 TIM
)

The book’s fantastical, whimsical and stylised illustrations display strong influences of fellow Twentieth Century illustrators such as Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac and William Heath Robinson. The Dictionary of Twentieth Century British Book Illustrators describes it as a masterpiece and “the most original and beautiful children’s book of the 1920s”.

The story is that of an Old Man who dreams of sailing to Mars “by way of the Moon and the more friendly planets.” He designs and builds a ship with the help of elves and fairies, and journeys to “the tiny Orb that was the Wonder World of Mars”, encountering all manner of creatures and adventures along the way.

Front cover design for Beyond the border (1898) – November 2010

Front cover of Campbell, W.D. Beyond the border. With 167 illustrations by Helen Stratton (Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co., 1898)
(19th Century Collection, 19th C. Coll. 823.89 CAM)

Yes, it was most decidedly Black Duncan the smith who was at the bottom of the whole affair. He was the author of the remark that set everybody gaping, and made such a tremendous fuss in the town. He it was who let fall the fatal joke, when his wife brought in the dish of broiled haddock that morning at breakfast; and though it is not the best taste to laugh at one’s own pleasantries, he, I must confess, did so. It was beyond measure funny, and not a bite or sup would he taste till he had had his laugh out.
Thus begins Walter Douglas Campbell’s Beyond the border (1898). It appears to be a children’s story, with a king and queen, a talking cat and a hag who lives in a tower with her daughter who has a “flat, yellow face, speckled like a trout”.

Helen Stratton (fl. 1892-1925) provided 167 black and white illustrations to accompany the text. A British illustrator who was particularly associated with children’s books and fairy tales, she was sometimes influenced by the Glasgow School of Art and art nouveau movement; at other times was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite style of painting.

The book itself has a green Victorian cloth binding, with a front cover design depicting a witch dropping frogs into a cauldron, and highly-stylised cats on the spine. It was presented to J. Patten MacDougall from Innis Chonain in 1899. Innis Chonain is the Scottish Island on which Douglas Walter Campbell, an amateur architect, had built a large home.