Tag Archives: Early Fine Print Collection

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

Rediscovering the Milton Collection at the Library of Birmingham

With the expert help of Corinna Rayner and the Archives & Collections team, and my research assistant Ellie Rowe, I have recently begun a project to reassess the contents and significance of the Library of Birmingham’s Milton Collection, an extensive but little-known collection of books relating to the English poet and polemicist, John Milton (1608-1672).

The Library’s Stock Book shows that the Milton Collection began in 1882 in the Gladstone era, when the Library was being rebuilt after the catastrophic fire of 1879. The core of the collection was a gift of about 160 volumes of editions of Milton’s works and Miltonian commentary and criticism. The books were given by Frank Wright (1853-1922), a Liberal politician and member of the Free Library Building Sub-Committee, son of the well-known nonconformist John Skirrow Wright (1822-1880), and partner in the firm of Smith & Wright, makers of buttons and tin-plate.

Free Library Committee Minutes 1882

Wright donated the books in the hope that they might be made ‘the nucleus of a Milton Collection worthy of his name and that of our town’. Wright’s interest in Milton almost certainly stemmed from the family’s Liberal and nonconformist leanings. Over the century following Wright’s initial donation, the Milton Collection swelled to over eight times its initial size.

Today, the Milton Collection includes approximately eighty 17th century editions of Milton’s work, and more than 1,200 volumes of later editions and works of criticism. The oldest works in the collection are pamphlets written by Milton in the Civil War and Commonwealth periods, such as The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643), Areopagitica: a speech for the liberty of unlicenced printing (1644), and Pro Populo Anglicano Defensio (Defence of the English People) (1651).

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Archi’ve Discovered: Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, 1563


One of the items selected by our researchers for our Explore Your Archive pop-up exhibition on Saturday 19th November was a hefty sixteenth century volume created by John Foxe, The Book of Martyrs printed in 1563. As a new member of the team constantly learning more about the collections we hold, I decided to look in to the background of this sizeable work.

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Foxe’s [AF094/1563/3].

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Foxe’s [AF094/1563/3].

The longer name of this work is the Actes and Monuments of these Latter and Perilous Dayes, Touching Matters of the Church by John Foxe. With such a lengthy title, it is understandably often known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. The book gives a detailed history of the Church covering the apostles, a succession of popes, heretical episodes and accounts of martyrdoms running all the way to Foxe’s time. It is particularly well known for its detailed accounts of religious persecutions during the reign of Queen Mary I (1553-1558) and accompanying (somewhat gruesome) illustrations.

The book was very popular and influential. Following Mary’s death Queen Elizabeth I’s Privy Council to the Archbishop’s of York and Canterbury encouraged every parish church to acquire a copy. It would have been used by clergy to provide material for sermons and may also have been viewed by parishioners.

Decoration in a classical style, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs [AF094/1563/3].

Decoration in a classical style, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs [AF094/1563/3].

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