Rare and lovely treasures of Leeds that we can all share

Special collections team assistants Matt Durrant and Fiona Gell in the special collections department at the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds.
Special collections team assistants Matt Durrant and Fiona Gell in the special collections department at the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds.
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A Yorkshire university’s library holds wondrous historical gems and they’re there for everyone. Sheena Hastings reports.

His name was W R Teddiman, known to his pals as Bill. He was a corporal with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and he left behind a sweetheart named Jean when he went off to war. He died in the sodden fields of the Battle of Ypres in 1915.

His family and fiancee were later sent a few of his personal effects, and among them was a roll of sharply observed cartoons documenting the awfulness of life in the trenches, often with a speech bubble or two which betrayed a certain resentfulness in the ordinary squaddies’ attitude towards the officers. The general inference was that the boss would be leading from behind.

What does a family do with such a precious cache of wartime memorabilia? Like many women bereaved by war, Jean remained single for the rest of her life and is long dead. The beautifully drawn cartoons with their sharp comments or snatches of conversation that showed how jokes could be found in the middle of the bloodiest situation, lay rolled up in cloth and ribbon for decades.

They’ve now been donated by Aunt Jean’s (and my husband’s) family to the Liddle Collection at Leeds University’s Brotherton Library. The Liddle Collection is one of the Library’s special collections, and it documents the lives of those in the field of battle in the First World War as well as those left at home.

As each successive generation moves further away from these wars, it’s comforting that Bill’s cartoons are being looked after properly, and to think that future generations might be informed by them in some small way.

Katy Gudrum, who left the West Yorkshire Archive to take over as head of special collections at the Brotherton last April, carefully unfolds a large blue paper wrapper to reveal WWI personal belongings donated by former corporal J V Salisbury, who was a medical orderly at Gallipoli in 1915.

They include a leather-bound Bible he was carrying in a pocket while he assisted in an operation. His diary, the pencil markings now rather faint, describes how his Bible saved him as the shells rained down on the operating theatre and a lump of shrapnel is still embedded in the pages of the holy book.

These are contributions from among 6,000 experiences of the Great War collected together at the Brotherton Library. As the centenary of the war looms, there is already great interest in this precious collection - from family historians, authors, broadcasters and those who are writing their history dissertations for degrees right now. A great surge in requests to view this vast resource is expected in the next 12 months, says Ms Goodrum.

While the primary use of the Brotherton’s special collections is to serve the needs of academics and students at Leeds University, the man whose collection forms the backbone of the Library’s treasure trove also wanted the amazing books he amassed - as well as the other material around it such as the Liddle Collection - to be available to all, a public resource.

Lord Brotherton, a chemical industry magnate whose business was based in Wakefield, was encouraged by a niece who was a writer and would-be rare book collector. He began in the early 1920s to invest his wealth in precious books across a wide range of fields. After his death his collection was donated to Leeds University, along with an endowment fund to ensure that it was developed in the future. His vast array of books was transferred from his home at Roundhay Hall in Leeds to the specially-built oval Brotherton Room in the University Library that also came to be named after him.

“We are lucky that the collections here are so superb, “ says Goodrum. “Very few higher education institutions outside of Oxbridge and Manchester have the same breadth and depth of material. We are the British Library of the North, and we’re here for everybody - although not everbody knows that.” You don’t even need an appointment to view the rare and beautiful manuscripts and books.

“It’s actually hard to describe the great variety of the collections here, “ says Katy. “Among Brotherton’s collection are works of English literature, books about printing, political volumes and rare science books, as well as letters from and to the Brontes.”

Katy brings out, reverentially laid on a cushion with lead ‘rosary beads’ to hold the pages open, the 1623 Shakespeare First Folio - one of a limited number of first copies of all of the Bard’s works in one volume. Lying around it are an early work by Caxton, a 1520s edition of Chaucer’s Troilus and Cressida and The Canterbury Tales, exquisitely illustrated with woodcut pictures, and a 1482 edition of Euclid’s Geometry, acquired from an anonymous donor.

The collections include 200,000 items, arranged on ten kilometres of shelving. This doesn’t include the Brotherton’s massive cache of artworks.

The money from the Brotherton endownment means the library is able to add to its special collections regularly. Recent acquisitions have included the original manuscripts of contemporary poets associated with Leeds - Simon Armitage, Tony Harrison and Geoffrey Hill.

In among the seemingly endless stacks of book shelves are a vast collection of cookbooks, with a complete set of Mrs Beeton’s manuals and, going back to 1597, A Book of Cookrye. Among its instructional pages is ‘The order of how meats should be served to the table with their sauces.’

Apparently a first course at the feast can include potage, chicken, goose, pig, veal and custard, and the second course can include capon, roast lamb, pea hen and baked venison. A regular delight was stewed lark, as was a pudding of tench stuffed with beets, herbs, eggs, bread, salt and currants.

“We want more people to come and enjoy the collections,” says Katy Goodrum. “Yes, they are here for academic study, but other people can come out of sheer curiosity to see what we have, or to look up material to do with a particular interest of theirs.

We are in the process of digitising everything, so in future it will be easier for anyone to look up what we have.

“As Brotherton said, the collection is for everyone.”



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