Change of scene

Where is today’s Friday feature? you ask. (I hope we’ve become as indispensable to your Friday mornings as coffee and Friday cake)

Sadly, we’ve become so popular that WordPress has added adverts to our site, which isn’t a look that we’re keen on. We could get an upgrade, but we’ve decided to move the blog to the tender care of the University Library domain instead. Please be patient for a week while we get ourselves organised: updates will appear on this blog so please please don’t forget us! We would really miss you!

Photo credit: Ngaymua from Flickr



There are no ugly women ; there are only women who do not know how to look pretty – Berryer.

Recently, I catalogued a short book titled “Woman” [1919.9.84], which was made up of quotations from a variety of authors and poets. The book was illustrated by a famous, self-taught artist: Starr Wood (1870-1944).

Book cover

My first impression of the book was that it portrayed women in a wonderful way and at the same time I realised that my thoughts coincided with the 8th of March, which is International Women’s Day. This is a global day celebrating the life of women and their economic, political and social achievements past, present and future.

A woman is the essence of life. She is a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a lover, a wife…

Portrait of woman

Quotes  from Don Lemon  about The Perfect Woman:

A perfectly formed woman will stand at the average  height of 5 feet 3 inches to 5 feet 7 inches. She will weigh from 125 to 140 pounds.

Her bust will measure from 28 to 36 inches ; her hips will measure from 6 to 10 inches more than this, and her waist will call for a belt from 22 to 28 inches.

The well-proportioned woman wears a shoe one half the size of the glove that her hand calls for. Thus, if a woman wears a six glove she should wear a three shoe.

Perfect woman?

Perfect woman?

The book also tells us what women will be like based on their month of birth. Not the most scientific method, but fun nevertheless :

Woman’s Birthday:

If  in January.       A flirt, good-tempered, but not to be trusted

If  in February.     Good-looking, discreet, and likely to  marry young.

If  in March.          Quarrelsome and moody.

If  in April.              Very intelligent. A good housewife.

If  in May               Given to melancholy but good-tempered.

If  in June               Frivolous, pretty and much liked.

If  in July.               Extravagant, but likely to marry rich.

If  in August.         Coquettish, a favourite with men.

If  in September.   An affectionate wife and good mother.

If  in October.        Impetuous; likely to be unhappy.

If  in November.    Passionate in love ; inconstant.

If  in December.    Well-proportioned ; practical and matter-of-fact

Happy International Women’s Day! (8th March)


Photo credit: Aime Wheaton/Mazer Design, Christy-2 catnipstudio, Eoin C. (Flickr)


Improve yourself

It’s that time of year again, spring is nearly sprung, and we are beginning to feel a change in the air, that breath of optimism, inspiring us to look ahead to new beginnings, sloughing off the torpid despond of the dark winter months, well, something like that, anyway. The other day I picked up a book to catalogue and realised I’d found the very volume I needed to galvanise me into a seasonal surge of energy, written by George H. Knox, founder of the wonderfully named Knox Institute of Individual Efficiency.

We tend to forget that all those self-improvement books that dominate our bookshops, enjoining us to diet, get fit, practise meditation, improve our memories, be successful and generally stop being so pathetic, are part of a trend that started in the 19th century with Samuel Smiles’ book “Self-help,” published by John Murray in 1859. By 1904, the year of his death, Smiles’ book had sold over a quarter of a million copies. We all know its opening line:

“Heaven helps those who help themselves.”

Smiles’ emphasis was on the education and improvement of ordinary working people, and the importance of character as a driving force to success. This tells us something about the cultural context in which Smiles wrote, and the impact of his upbringing, influenced as it was by many and various radical people and beliefs, including the Cameronians, the Anti-Burghers, Calvinism and Unitarianism. In a speech to a Mutual Improvement Society in Leeds in 1845, entitled “The education of the working classes,” he said:

“Every human being has a great mission to perform, noble faculties to cultivate, a vast destiny to accomplish. He should have the means of education, and of exerting freely all the powers of his godlike nature.”

My book by George H. Knox, entitled “The new education,” was published in 1920 in Los Angeles, California, and there is a definite change in tone from that of the Victorian self-help literature that preceded it. Knox’s book bears the hallmark of an unfailing faith in human progress:

“The history of the world is the history of man’s progress from ignorance, fear, poverty and despair to the dawn of a new civilization.”

He proclaims:

“It is everyone’s privilege as well as duty to live in the sunlight of Twentieth Century achievement.”

Knox’s use of “Twentieth Century” (capitalised for emphasis)as a positive value makes clear his intention that readers must break free from the oppressive confines of the 19th century and forge ahead into the bright new future of the 20th century, where possibilities and self-realisation are readily attainable.

There are slogans scattered all over the covers of the book: “You can if you will,” “Business Leadership,” Personal Power,” “ Twentieth Century Ability,” “Inefficiency is the most expensive thing in the world.”

Much of the typeface in “The new education” is capitalised and in bold, paragraphs have headings such as “Any man can be superior,” “No patent on progress,” and “No limit.” This book is bursting with boundless optimism and snappy aphorisms:

“Man is worth three dollars a day from his chin down, but he may be worth a thousand dollars a day from his chin up.”

“Turn on the switch. Start the machinery of the mind. Do a little prospecting.”

And my personal favourite:

“Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!”

Knox’s main argument is that most of us seriously under-use our brain capacity:

“It is said that the great American desert is not located in New Mexico, and Arizona, but under the average man’s hat.”

His imagery is drawn from the New World: ranches in Cripple Creek, rolling hills in South Africa, boulders in Australia filled with hidden gold, likening the potential of the human brain to undiscovered terrain rich in natural resources:

“The desert of the mind is a Paradise of possibilities.”

This gives us a sense of expanding horizons and the merit of hard work and determination, that pioneering, can-do spirit that helped settlers carve out a life for themselves in exacting circumstances.

I soon realised though that “The new education,” while full of pithy maxims and sweeping statements, wasn’t actually going to tell me how to increase my brain capacity, and that in order to do so you had to join a course  (advertised at the back of the book) at the Knox Institute of Individual Efficiency for proper training:

“The Knox Institute of Individual Efficiency is helping men and women to find their gold mine.”

and as far as I am aware, this laudable institution no longer exists.

After a while, I did start to feel a trifle inadequate and, quite simply, tired, after reading all these exhortations, so I leave it to you to ponder whether you are using your brain capacity to its fullest potential as you read George H. Knox’s inspiring (or hectoring, according to your temperament) prose:

“What have you to offer? Are you offering your best, your next best, or your worst? Are you really wanted on your job or suffered to stay? Could the firm get along just as well without you? Would your resignation make a hole in the concern hard to fill; or are there twenty men ready to fill it just as well as you can?”



The new education/ by George H. Knox       Classmark  1920.9.180

Law for the million

The home front in World War One  has been rather neglected by researchers, but as we saw from last week’s post on cookery in war-time,  the Tower collection contains a wealth of material on the subject.  

This 1917 edition of the News of the World’s Law for the Million, with its special section on the emergency war legislation does give us a flavour of the time. Interestingly, much of the legislation introduced during the war remained in force for many years, and some is still affecting us today.

This is the ninth edition of a title first published in 1905.  In those days the News of the World used to give advice on what to do if libelled in a newspaper! Even then they were using the public interest defence – that there could be no action against “fair and reasonable comment and criticism … on the actions of public men such as politicians and actors”.

The War-time law” section runs to just 30 pages in a 350 page volume, arranged alphabetically from Advertisements to Yachting. The new laws would have affected almost everyone, especially those living in big cities and the major ports.

The best known piece of wartime legislation is the infamous Defence of the Realm Act (DORA), passed in August 1914. It gave the government wide ranging powers to requisition land and buildings, and introduced a range of new offences including kite flying, lighting bonfires, buying binoculars, and keeping carrier pigeons. There were strict controls on the sale of alcoholic drinks – pubs could only open for six hours a day (12.00 to 3.00 and 6.30-9.30). The ridiculous afternoon gap in opening hours remained in force until the 1980s.

Drugs – Early in the war it was possible to send gifts of cocaine and opiates to soldiers and sailors. From 1916 a doctor’s prescription was required, and illegal possession was made an offence punishable by six months imprisonment and/or a fine of £100.

Food control – By 1917 the effects of three years of war can be clearly seen.  There was no official rationing until 1918, but there were strict rules on the production and sale of food.  The Bread Order (1917) was particularly draconian. No sugar could be used in the making of bread, and currant bread, sultana bread and milk bread could not be sold. The sale of light pastry, muffins, crumpets and tea-cakes was entirely prohibited, and the amount of flour used in buns, scones, and biscuits was strictly limited.  Cakes and pastries could not be covered or coated in sugar or chocolate.  Hotels and restaurants had to have meatless days – no meat, poultry or game could be served in London on Tuesdays, or on Wednesdays in other parts of the country. Potatoes could only be served on meatless days and Fridays – so the Government wasn’t brave enough to deprive people of their fish and chips on a Friday!

Although these  laws did not apply to home cooking, the library has many books on vegetarian and meatless cookery from this dating from this period.

Paper money – although banknotes had been issued since the seventeenth century, they were only used for sums of over £5 (about £400 at today’s prices), so ordinary folk didn’t see them very often.  In 1914 the Treasury issued £1 and 10 shilling (50p) notes to replace the gold sovereign and half-sovereign.  The 10s note remained legal tender until 1970, and the £1 note soldiered on until 1988

Air raids – In 1916 new laws were introduced to counter the effects of air raids. Stringent blackout regulations came into force, and there was even a law against the acquisition of air raid souvenirs.  The finder of any item (including bombs) dropped, or lost from a hostile aircraft had to report the find to the police or the military, and “give up the article if required”. 

It would be interesting to learn how rigorously some of these laws were enforced. Was it possible to buy chocolate cake?  How did the British public react to meatless days, and what alternatives did they find to the potato?

Hunger is the best sauce: the British diet in war time

Here in the Tower Project we are currently cataloguing books which were published during World War One. There are plenty of handbooks and manuals offering advice to those on the ‘Home Front’, especially in the key areas of domestic economy and cookery. There had been some panic buying of food at the beginning of the war, when people began to hoard food, fearing it would run out, but fortunately things calmed down and rationing only had to be introduced towards the end of the war, in early 1918. Most of the books we have come across so far contain a combination of cheap recipes and advice on saving money in the home.

Whilst perusing a selection of these books I remembered that I have often read that the British diet was actually healthier during the two world wars when food was valued more as it was in short supply, forcing people to eat less and more wholesome food. There is evidence that this fact didn’t escape unnoticed even at the time of the First World War; Nellie R. de Lissa writes in her book War-Time Cookery, “All that I would teach you should hold good after war is over, for there is not a doubt that we are more often than not too kind to our inner man.” (p. 11). We can see here that people were encouraged to reassess their eating habits not just for economic but also health reasons. The price of sugar soared during the war and sweet treats were a rare treat rather than a daily occurrence, which they are for many people today! The authors of these books encouraged their readers to eat only what they needed for energy, rather than viewing food as a source of pleasure and enjoyment which was common before the war. Some authors even encourage people to forego one of the three daily mails altogether and reduce their consumption to two meals a day.

One of the main focuses in these books is the drive to prevent waste. The old proverb “waste not, want not” was in common use during the difficult war years. People were also encouraged to make their food last longer: “Each mouthful of soup (which should be turned many times in the mouth and not swallowed hastily as a drink) […] thus less soup will be required by the consumer, its flavour will be savoured and enjoyed to the full.” (War-Time Cookery, p. 10). In fact, many of the recipe books provide a copious number of recipes for soup, which became a very popular meal as it is warming and filling and less food is needed afterwards if you begin your meal with soup. The idea was to have a basic staple soup ready and then to add any available pulses or grains to it along with vegetables. Any leftovers, even bread, were added to soup in order to bulk it out and make it more nourishing.

Foods which were once available quite easily to the average home such as meat, fish, eggs and cheese became much more expensive during the war. Foodstuffs like OXO became invaluable in the kitchen as they provided the flavour of meat without the cost, and it was common for shoppers to buy bones from the butcher for breaking up and boiling down for stock and gravy, rather than buying a whole joint of meat.

There was a big drive on growing your own fruit and veg, even if you only had a small garden. People were encouraged to buy seasonal fruit and vegetables for maximum freshness but also because produce is cheaper when it is more plentiful. Vegetable bottling and fruit preserving without sugar became extremely popular and we have many books on how to make your own at home. These could then be used to sweeten dishes which would ordinarily call for sugar.

Lots of the recipes included in these books are very stodgy so as to be as filling as possible. I couldn’t believe how many varieties of porridge existed! I listed recipes for Scot’s Porage Oats, hominy porridge, wheatmeal porridge, milk porridge, semolina porridge, maize porridge and oatmeal porridge! Porridge was the warmest, most filling and a nutritious way to start the day and could also be made for the most part with water, and a little goes a long way.

But it seems the greatest change for most people and the change that was hardest to make and work around was the shortage of meat. There seemed to be quite a furore over whether it was possible to survive without meat in one’s diet. “People are asking, “Is it safe for me to give up all flesh-foods […] shall I not starve without it?”” (Health without meat, p. vi). Similarly, there seemed to be a stigma attached to the word ‘vegetarian’: “I hope that, just because people are anxious to eat less flesh-foods on account of the increased prices of meat, fish, etc., they will not be labelled “vegetarian”!” (Health without meat, p. v).

 Finally,  a recipe that left me highly confused: ‘Cheese soufflé without cheese’. Bizarrely the recipe actually calls for 4 oz. of good, strong dry cheese. The author then goes on to say “This soufflé should have the full flavour of cheese, without the actual cheese itself”. (Health without meat, p. 81). I can only conclude that the author may have been a little hungry by this point!

Select bibliography

  • Health without meat / Hallie Eustace Miles. Class mark 1917.6.434
  • War-time cookery / Nellie R. de Lissa. 1915.6.500
  • British Red Cross Society cookery manual / edited by Ch. Herman Senn. 1916.6.586
  • Cheap recipes for war time / Rose Brown. 1916.8.570
  • May Byron’s how-to-save cookery. 1916.8.177
  • Vegetable bottling and fruit preserving without sugar / Mr. Vincent and Mrs. Georgina Banks. 1918.8.61

Playing with the past



"The Children's Store"I won’t lie and say that every book that we come across in the Tower is really exciting. Many of them are school textbooks or religious pamphlets that are less than exciting to look at. Once in a while though, we get something really pretty that we want to share (hence this blog!)

This week we found two books that fit this description. “The Children’s StoreChildren's Store and “The Doll’s Play-House” are books and toys rolled into one. When I was little I remember having similar books were you had to cut clothes for the doll out of paper and then dress her up. These books follow the same theme but take it to another level. As well as folding out into either a model home or a shop, they also come with paper accessories for the setting. As well as being a fun and nostalgic trip down memory lane, the books also give us some important information about the time period they come from.

 CharactersThe clothes the characters are wearing in the picture on the left tells us a lot about fashions in the Edwardian period. It’s easy to recognise the sophisticated lady customer and her daughter, the grocer or the butcher just from their costumes. They don’t seem to have changed much in the last hundred years but the pictures still provide us with a nice visual resource of what people were wearing in their everyday lives back in 1911.

The next few inserts show us the kinds of goods that would have beenWares sold in "The Children's Store" available in a general store in 1911.  These include general household goods, basic food provisions, clothes and dressmaking supplies. I always pictured people having to visit multiple shops in order to get everything they needed, unlike the convenience of the supermarkets which we have today. Based on “The Children’s Store” this isn’t true. These shops sold a wide range of goods and were likely to have been the hub of the community.

Doll's Play-HouseThe second book is a more traditional doll’s house. Whereas the Store could be played with by all children, the doll’s house is very much geared towards little girls. This was a time when, although things were beginning to change, little girls were still expected to be able to run a household as their primary duty when they grew up. Toys like a doll’s house would have been a good way for them to practice basic skills. This books includes a sitting-room, bathroom and bedroom as well as the more traditional cut-out-and-dress doll.

This kind of focus on the day-to-day lives of people in the Edwardian periodWares sold in "The Children's Store" is one of the things which makes books like these so interesting to read, and to catalogue. Books like this were made to be used and cut up, which would have destroyed them for future generations. Although these books weren’t designed as anything more than a child’s plaything, they provide valuable insights into social history. This is the type of history not often recorded in books of the time and this makes the work of that the Tower Project does so important. The books also provide information to those interested in children’s books and the history of childhood which makes it even more fortunate that the library has preserved them for all these years!

An Austen revival


Jane Austen festival ball, Bath 2009

One of the books I most enjoyed reading during the Christmas holiday was PD James’ “Death comes to Pemberley.” It’s in some ways a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and prejudice, and revives many of the characters from Pride and prejudice and other Austen novels, but given the fact that it’s written by PD James, also involves a corpse. So imagine my surprise when I returned to work in January and the first book I picked up to catalogue was another Jane Austen revival – Old friends and new fancies: an imaginary sequel to the novels of Jane Austen by Sybil G. Brinton, published in 1913.

Sybil G. obviously enjoyed herself hugely while writing this book. In a brief note she says that she wrote the book with her friend Edith Barran “for those who, like ourselves, owe to Jane Austen some of the happiest hours of their lives. ” In the opening chapters she gathers up (nearly) all of Jane Austen’s characters and throws them together into the dizzy social whirl of the Bath season. It’s as if she’s involved in a literary game of Consequences: if Elizabeth and Darcy met Lucy Steele and Mary Crawford, in the Assembly rooms at Bath, whatever would happen?  Have the characters changed after their novel experiences? Has Lucy Steele  seen the error of her ways? Has Mary Crawford been softened and humanized by suffering? Some people haven’t changed a bit: Lady Catherine de Bourgh moves like a tank through the Pump room, destructive as ever. Emma (Woodhouse-that-was) has persuaded her Mr Knightley to go into Parliament and has established herself in town, organizing social circles in London just as she did those in Hartfield.

The great thing about using someone’s else’s characters is that you can re-arrange their fate to suit your own preferences. Colonel Brandon was clearly not a favourite with Sybil Brinton, he has been killed off  before the story begins.  I haven’t yet finished reading this story so I can’t spoil the ending for you, but I can highly recommend it to all the Jane Austen fans. Although I thought I knew Austen’s books pretty well, I was made giddy by the speed with which so many characters appear or are referred to, and luckily there’s an index of characters listed by their original Austen novel.

Fancy swimming


Synchronised swimming may come in for a bit of gentle mockery, but displays of aquatic feats and ability are nothing new.  “How to swim” by Harry Austin [1914.6.780] is so much more than just a guide to doing the breast stroke.  Austin was the superintendent of Beckenham Swimming Baths for some years after its opening in 1901 and took an active role on the committee, teaching swimming and coaching the water polo team, as well as orchestrating displays of ornamental swimming.   His wife, incidentally, became the first lady president of the Amateur Swimming Association in 1952.

Apparatus for supporting pupils in use at Beckenham swimming baths

Austin’s book does begin with a general introduction to swimming and its history; going on to describe how to learn to swim and how to execute the different strokes, diving, life-saving and floating, but what caught my attention were the sections on various tricks and displays that could be performed.  Some of these were requirements for attaining the Royal Life-Saving Society’s certificates and no doubt served to promote agility and proficiency in the water, but I can’t see too much of a practical purpose for  learning how to smoke underwater.

However, there are, apparently, two way of doing it.  One can sit on the bottom in shallow water with a clay pipe, well alight, and keeping the bowl of the pipe above water, blow bubbles and smoke at short intervals.  Alternatively, put the lighted end of a cigar in your mouth (being careful not to burn your tongue, I assume) and blow gently through it whilst swimming just below the surface.  One finishes by flourishing the cigar to show that it is still alight.  I feel the proprietors of swimming baths nowadays would take a dim view of anyone attempting this trick.

Spinning, or, The washing tub

Probably they wouldn’t like you eating underwater either: a small orange or banana is most suitable, apparently. “Pull some of the skin off the fruit and let it float up, break off pieces to be eaten and push them through the lips until all are consumed, then come up slowly and without a gasp.”

Perhaps some team swimming then?  Two or three swimmers can combine to emulate a steam tug, or a crocodile and then race against each other.  Or attach a swimmer to a land-based “fisherman” with a line and the one can attempt to draw the other to the side of the pool.  Mounted wrestling?  This requires two men standing in the water, each with another man on his shoulders and the two riders attempt to unseat each other.

For a trick that “never fails to provoke laughter when neatly done” you could get together with some friends and demonstrate the Monkey-on-a-stick.  Essentially this involves crouching under water and then periodically leaping straight up with your arms by your side.  I suspect this is harder than it sounds, especially when it comes to remembering to time your breathing while you are clear of the water.

Writing underwater

Finally, if you really want to make yourself look silly, how about Swimming like a duck?  “Balance on the breast, cross the ankles and bend the knees so that the feet come out of the water behind, to imitate the duck’s tail.  Propel by sculling with the hands under the hips.”

On the positive side, I suspect this last feat is the only one of the above that wouldn’t get you peremptorily thrown out…