Tag Archives: Early Fine Print Collection

Bernard Sleigh

End papers from A Faerie Pageant [A094/KYN/1924]

As we have just passed the Midsummer Solstice, I thought it an apt time to look at the work of the Birmingham artist Bernard Sleigh who was known as “the man who mapped fairyland”.

Woodcuts June and July from ‘A Faery Calendar’, c. 1924
[AF 09/1922 ]

Sleigh was born in Kings Norton in 1872. Following the death of his father he left school aged 14 to become an apprentice wood carver creating commercial prints for many of Birmingham’s manufacturers and businesses. During this time he also began visiting the recently established City art gallery and attending the municipal School of Art. Here he met and was inspired by artists from the Arts and Crafts movement and the Birmingham Group including Arthur Gaskin who he began working with after he broke his indenture.

Woodcut of Lickey Parish Church [AF 09/1922 ]

Sleigh became a teacher and an engraver and had several works published by small presses. As a young man Sleigh had a brain aneurysm and the resulting trepanning operation affected him permanently. He claims in his autobiography that half his brain remained aged 24 whilst the other half matured as normal giving him a temperament which separated him from his contemporaries and an inclination towards mystical subjects.  He produced many woodcuts illustrating poetry and tales inspired by folklore and mythology.

Woodcuts Frontispiece for ‘Gates of Horn’ [AF 09/1922 ]

Sleigh lived and worked for most of his life in Birmingham but enjoyed travelling throughout Britain and Europe, often by bicycle. He documented his trips with beautiful watercolour sketches of landscapes and architecture which can be seen to inform the landscapes of his fantastical engravings. The brutality of the First World War was a significant cause for his increased enthusiasm for fantasy. He recounts in his autobiography “[in 1916] the Peter Pan in me emerged in full strength… Chiefly I suppose as a mental refuge from the hideous militarism of the time”. It was during this time that he met his main collaborator Ivy Ellis and began work on his most famous creation An ancient mappe of Fairyland, newly discovered and set forth, a complex lithograph 5′ x 18″ which combines a plethora of fantasy characters on a bird’s eye topographical fictional island (www.bl.uk/collection-items/an-ancient-mappe-of-fairyland).

The Lizard
[MS 3650/2/1]

Although primarily known for his wood engraving, Sleigh was a champion of craftsmanship and worked in many other areas including designing stained glass windows for several churches, oil paintings and murals and produced a beautiful  book with nearly 500 botanical watercolour studies of British native plants. He was commissioned by the City Council to paint large canvas panels of local historical subjects for the Town Hall and worked with the Civic Society to produce a range of maps of the suburbs of Birmingham. He also wrote several books including an instruction handbook on wood engraving and a range of short stories and poems for both adults and children based on fairy tale legends.

Botanical images
[MS 3650/3/1]

Sleigh always felt a strong connection to the library. In his autobiography he states:

“the wisest thing my father had done was to interest me in the old Birmingham Library… and this sombre building then in Union Street, became a second home – a spiritual one, of which I made full and grateful use for more than 40 years.”

He used the historical sources held in the library when creating a map of Birmingham as seen in 1760 and in turn donated a collection of artist proofs of his wood cuts in 1922. He added to the volume throughout the rest of his life and also donated a collection of watercolour and botanical paintings. These complement the published works by him which are held in our Early and Fine Printing Collection.

Sleigh’s Birmingham Map


Kathryn Hall



Memoirs of a Human Peter Pan, Bernard Sleigh, 1944 (LF 78.1 Sle)

Birmingham Biography, Vol 45, p. 133 (BCOL )

Selected Source list related to Sleigh items from our collections

MS 3650
Drawings and sketches by Bernard Sleigh

 MS 3901
Drawings in pencil and colour by Bernard Sleigh

A 094/BIR/1936
The dryad’s child : [early & fine printing] being the further history of the lives of the Reverend James Manshull and his faery wife, as related in the ‘Gates of Horn’ / [with] a woodcut frontispiece engraved by the author.
Sleigh, Bernard
Birmingham : City of Birmingham School of Printing, 1936.

A F 096/KYN/1924
A picture map of the City of Birmingham in the year 1730 / [early & fine printing] / designed by Bernard Sleigh.
Sleigh, Bernard
Birmingham : Cornish Brothers Limited, 1924.

A 094/KYN/1924
A Faerie pageant / [early & fine printing] / with illustrations drawn by him, and engraved on wood by Ivy A. Ellis and the author ; and bound by Frank Garrett.
Sleigh, Bernard
Birmingham : Bernard Sleigh, 1924.

A F 096/1922
A Book of woodcuts / [early & fine printing] / engraved from original designs by Bernard Sleigh ; including eight drawn by A. Payne.
Sleigh, Bernard
Birmingham : [s.n.], 1922.

A E 096/1918
An Anciente mappe of Fairyland
Sleigh, Bernard
London : Sidgwick & Jackson, [1918]

A 094/BIR/1895
The Sea-King’s daughter and other poems / [early & fine printing] / with designs by Bernard Sleigh.
Mark, Amy
Birmingham : Press of the Birmingham Guild of Handicraft, 1895.

Attacking insects
[MS 3650/4/1]


Coughs and Colds

As it draws towards the season of the perpetual runny nose, here are some remedies from our Early & Fine Printing and Archives collections.

The New Family Herbal, by William Meyrick, 1790, is set out alphabetically by plant, provides visual description, and details their medical usage and preparation. There is also an index at the back by complaint, and closing the volume are some beautiful illustrations of a number of the plants covered.

The index page beginning with ‘C’, lists catarrhs, colds, and coughs. Highlighting the desire for remedies are the number of plants listed as useful treatments.

Index, The New Family Herbal [EFP 07.2 PEA]

Some of the suggestions are familiar, such as lemon and acacia. Looking to one of the first listed alphabetically, on page 7, for a cold I found the delightfully named ‘alehoof’ (it was used to flavour beer).

Entry for ‘alehoof’ in The New Family Herbal [EFP 07.2 PEA]

The page over suggests:

A conserve made of the young tops in the spring, or the juice made into a syrup, is excellent for colds, coughs, and shortness of breath : and a strong infusion drank in the manner of tea, is serviceable in all complaints of the breast and lungs.

Alehoof seems a good all-rounder then!

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Simple Directions in Needle-work and Cutting Out

Browsing our Early and Fine Printing Collections is always interesting, especially when something which goes beyond the simplicity of the basic page turns up—such is the focus of this blog. The volume in question is snappily entitled: Simple Directions in Needle-work and Cutting Out; Intended for the Use of the National Female Schools of Ireland, to which are Added Specimens of Work, Executed by the Pupils of The Female National Model School [G 746.4] (1858)The text was published in 1858, in Dublin by Alex Thom & Sons, through the direction of the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland.

Introduction from ‘Simple directions in needlework and cutting out’ [Ref G746.4] (1858)

The Model Schools were formed to aid in the education and thus employment of the impoverished in Ireland. This volume concerning needle work helped to teach female students by not only giving text based direction, but also through the pasted-in physical examples of the work expected to be produced.

Instructions for folding down a hem and hemming paper from ‘Simple directions in needlework and cutting out’ [Ref G746.4] (1858)

The book details the order in which the lessons should progress, beginning with hemming, sewing and stitching; advancing on to darning, marking, knitting, platting, and overcasting.

Handmade buttons from ‘Simple directions in needlework and cutting out’ [Ref G746.4] (1858)

The volume also details how to work with various fabrics and yard goods such as lace and muslin, through to decorative thread-work. It also covers instructions on how to cut-out patterns for different types of garment. At the rear of the volume are the examples of the work—it is these examples which make the volume so attractive.

Embroidery from ‘Simple directions in needlework and cutting out’ [Ref G746.4] (1858)

I admit to being very taken by this tiny little shirt (it only measures about 150mm in length.)  If my sewing skills were up to the task, I’d have a go. Sadly though, even having read through the volume, I’m pretty sure my skills remain at the sewing handkerchiefs level.

Shirt pattern from ‘Simple directions in needlework and cutting out’ [Ref G746.4] (1858)

The volume can be seen by appointment within the Wolfson Centre for Archival Research by emailing the address at the bottom of this page.

Rachel Clare, Senior Archives Assistant

The Twelve Days of Christmas

We’ve run with this idea before using a few of our archival documents, but for the Twelve Days of Christmas this year, we bring you images from our Early and Fine Printing Collections.





On the first and second days of Christmas, we give to you partridges, minus any pear trees, and two turtle doves. These images are taken from Birds of Britain, Vol. IV, by John Gould. [598.2942 F 096/1873].

Gould published several series of works on birds, featuring species indigenous not just to Britain, but to places all across the globe. His expertise was intrinsic to the identification of ‘Darwin’s finches’, one of the sparks for Darwin’s Theory of Evolution [More information can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Gould].

On the third, fourth, and fifth days of Christmas, we give you some hens (in French), a crow (a ‘calling’ bird, as far as I understand, comes from the word ‘colly’, and it meant blackbirds and perhaps birds that are black) plus some silver rings!


These images all come from a copy of Æsop’s Fables with His Life, which has the text in English, French and Latin [F 094/1687/6]. The volume was rebound in celebration of the move to The Library of Birmingham in 2013 and features the same pattern as the filigree on the outside of the building. More information about the binding can be discovered in this video.


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Winter pastimes: The Ice Slide

The Ice Slide from A Picturesque Representation of the Manners, Customs and Amusements of the Russians, in one hundred coloured plates, with an accurate explanation of each plate in English and French in three volumes [AE 096/1803]

“Sliding down an artificial hill of ice is a favourite diversion of the Russians in the winter. Not a village or a hamlet is without them, particularly during the week of the Carnival. The ice hills at St. Petersburg are built upon a large scale. A scaffolding is made of balks about thirty-five feet high: a staircase of steps which leads to the top of it; on the parts opposite to the stairs, a slanting descent is managed, which forms an angle of about forty-five to fifty degrees with the surface of the ice. Two small doors lead to this descent: the ice is smoothed very carefully in a straight line about one hundred fathoms long and twenty feet wide. At the end of this sliding place another hill of the same size is built, from which the sliding place runs parallel again with the other. Guides are appointed at each hill, who sit upon small sledges of wood, about eighteen inches long, eight or ten inches broad, and a few inches high, with iron shoes or skates under them on each side. The person who wants to take a slide down the hill, sits upon the lap of the guide with his legs close together between those of the guide, who shoves himself forward with his hands to the brink of the precipice, from which he rushes down with great velocity to the end of the sliding place.”

This comes from ‘A Picturesque Representation of the Manners, Customs and Amusements of the Russians, in one hundred coloured plates, with an accurate explanation of each plate in English and French in three volumes’, by John Augustus Atkinson and James Walker. (London, 1803), part of our Early & Fine Printing Collection.

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The War Poetry Collection in the Library of Birmingham

Book Plate from the Catalogue of the War Poetry Collection. 1921. L52.31.


The War Poetry Collection was presented to the Birmingham Reference Library in 1921 by an anonymous donor, in memory of William John Billington, 2/24 London Regiment, (Queen’s Hussars), 60th Division, formerly 2/2 South Midlands Field Ambulance, who was killed in action at Abu Tellul Ridge in Palestine  on 9 March 1918.



The donor was William Cross of Rubery, who had assembled an unrivalled collection of 1,233 books and pamphlets of poetry relating to the First World War, written by both soldiers and civilians.

Included are poems in English, Breton, Czech, Danish, French, Gaelic, German (Swiss), Italian, and Latin, by members of the British and Allied Nations. There is poetry which was published in Britain, Canada, Australia, America and Barbados.

Many additions were made to the Collection by the Reference Library, notably in 1938 when a fine collection of over 40 volumes of newscuttings of poetry and verse from newspapers and periodicals of the 1914-1918 period was acquired, which represents many different social attitudes to war from the patriotic to the despairing.

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The Cervantes Collection

Part of the Cervantes Collection

The Cervantes Collection is the second oldest Special Collection in the Library of Birmingham. The original collection of 1,500 books was donated by William Bragge (1823-1884), a highly successful, much travelled and cultured businessman, who, prompted by the setting up of the Shakespeare Library in 1861, gave his Cervantes books, the most important part of his extensive collections, to the city of his birth.

Son of a well-known jeweller, Thomas Perry Bragge, in Birmingham, William Bragge studied mathematics and mechanics and practical engineering, training as an engineer and railway surveyor. He started work at the Birkenhead Railway in 1845 and then spent much of his life in South America, where he built gas-works, railways and waterworks for Buenos Aires and had the Order of the Rose conferred on him by the Emperor of Brazil. He also visited Spain frequently, and it was probably these connections which led to his particular interest in Spanish literature and the writings of Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616).

Smollet’s Edition of Don Quixote

Cervantes was a novelist, playwright and poet and the most celebrated writer in Spanish literature. He created the character of Don Quixote, an elderly gentleman who sets off from his home, La Mancha, with his servant Sancho Panza to undertake chivalrous acts and has many rather ridiculous adventures. Thanks to numerous translations, extensive literary criticism and adaption of the story into art, drama and film, Don Quixote is recognised throughout the world. Continue reading