The Portico Library and Gallery opened in 1806 as a Library and Newsroom and still occupies its original site - 'the most elegant and retired street in town' according to John Dalton. Its mainly 19th century collection is accessed by members as well as researchers in the UK and abroad.
The Library continues to flourish as a hub of cultural activity by hosting a thriving and active programme of exhibitions and events throughout the year. These are open to members and the public generally.
Emma and I have
recently had a meeting with Lindsey Holland of North West Poets to explore the
possibilities for collaboration between NWP and the Portico. We looked at
holding a regular series of poetry events in the Portico, to include workshops
and readings, but also using the library as an inspirational venue where
leading north west poets could meet and work on a theme, such as geology or
botany. I’m excited at the prospect of being able to use the book collection to
support events of this kind.
There’s more thinking to be done on both sides, but we have
provisionally agreed to hold a launch event in January or February for Andrew
Forster’s third collection, Homecoming
[Smith Doorstop 2014]. Forster, who is Literature Officer at the Wordsworth
Trust, recently read from Homecoming
during the Manchester Literature Festival, now being hosted at venues around
Most of the poems in the book relate to the north west, and
many are about Wordsworth, so this will give us an opportunity to showcase some
of our rich collection of material related to Wordsworth – I’ll be rooting for The Letters of Charles Lamb, and Benjamin Robert Haydon: correspondence and table-talk, with a memoir by
his son, Frederick
Wordsworth Haydon. Haydon senior
painted what is possibly the most well-known portrait of Wordsworth, now on
loan to the Wordsworth Trust from the National Portrait Gallery.
also Thomas de Quincey, who famously ran away from school in Manchester,
eventually washing up as the tenant of Dove Cottage after Wordsworth had left
it. The Portico has a copy of de Quincey’s Sketches
Critical and Biographical. Forster’s Homecoming
includes a poem entitled De Quincey’s
letter to Johnny Wordsworth 1809.
Here’s an extract from it:
He’s taken such care to make it legible:
the faded copper ink neatly blocked,
a contrast to his Confessions, where words
are splashed on paper and blurred by winestains.
It’ll be interesting to see
what Forster makes of the Portico’s early editions. Sheila Wild Chair of Book Committee, The Portico Library
The Portico has a copy of Captain James Cook’s Voyage towards the South Pole and round the world:
1772, 1773, 1774, 1775, illustrated by the expedition’s artist, William
Hodges. Cook’s two ships, TheResolution
and The Adventure, sailed from
Plymouth on the 13th July 1772, the same year that the poet Samuel
Taylor Coleridge was born. The expedition was charged with searching for the
Southern Continent and testing a version of the John Harrison chronometer for
longitude determinations. The expedition sailed further south than any mariner
had ever done, and it must have been inspiration to many young men of
One of the book’s illustrations is entitled The Ice Islands, seen the 9th January
1773, andon seeing this, my
first thought was that it must have been the inspiration for the crucial
incident in Coleridge’s Rime of the
Ancient Mariner, where the Mariner shoots an albatross, albeit with a crossbow:
Holmes’s biography, Coleridge, Early
Visions, confirms that Cook’s Voyage was one of the sources for the Mariner and also that throughout his
life Coleridge ‘was obsessed with travel books’. However, I think Cook’s
voyaging was more than just one source among many, for in his 1956 paper Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner and Cook’s
Second Voyage[Journal of the Warburg
and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 19, No. ½ (Jan.-Jun., 19560], Bernard Smith notes
that William Wales, the astronomer and meteorologist on the Resolution, taught mathematics
at Christ’s Hospital when Coleridge was there.
In a long
and fascinating paper, Smith deduces from a copy of the manuscript Journal Wales
kept during his time on the Resolution that the course of the Ancient Mariner’s
voyage was determined to a large extent by Coleridge’s recollections of
accounts of Cook’s second voyage, either as they were told to him by Wales, or
read in books at the school, and that the precision and clarity of Coleridge’s
atmospheric imagery derives much from the precision and clarity of Wales’s
astronomical and meteorological observations.
“But perhaps the most remarkable feature of
all is the preservation in the poem of the broad pattern of the Resolution’s
voyage, so that, to some extent, the order of sequence of events in the poem
follows the order of sequence of the relevant events of the voyage. The fair passage
of the N.E. Trades, the squally passage of the S.E.Trdaes, the mast-high ice,
the glint of the ice, the noise of the ice splitting, follow the same order in
the poem as in Wales’s Journal; and later in both the poem and the journal
accounts of the heat, the calm, and the sea-snakes agree in their sequence.”
Smith nor Holmes mention an illustrated edition of the Voyage, but, knowing that a poem needs not only sources, but also a
trigger, I wonder if sight of Hodge’s illustration, perhaps in Tom Poole’s
library at Stowey, triggered the writing of The
At yesterday evening’s Book Committee we received updates on
the progress on the cataloguing project, the Portico Brotherton Poetry Prize,
and the future exhibitions programme. We also revisited the Committee’s remit,
and have sent our agreed version through to the next meeting of the Main
Committee for approval. It’s the first time in several years that the
Committee’s remit has been formalised in this way, and I am pleased to see this
on its way.
Over 17,000 books have now been catalogued, which, with the
imminent departure of Kirsten to do a PhD on the future of independent
libraries (well done Kirsten!) gives us a revised end date of March/April next
year. Our question about how many books
in total (answer: about 25,000) prompted the revelation that the Portico holds
a set of Government State reports – not the small, paper bound edition, but the
large, leather bound version. We thought these might make an interesting
subject for a future exhibition, one that we could get local politicians and
parliamentarians involved in, thus getting some active support for the Portico.
As a poet, I have a particular interest in the poetry prize.
We received an update on our relationship with the folks over at Leeds who are
collaborating with us on the prize, and had a look at the number and
geographical spread of the entries so far received. The closing date is not
until the 31st August, and as someone who always puts her own
competition entries in at the last moment, I was able to say with confidence
that we will have a flurry of entries in the final week.
Two interesting items came up under ‘any other business’.
Gaskell House would like to borrow two of Murray’s Handbooks for Travellers,
Mrs Gaskell’s favourite travel guides. We invited Gaskell House to make a
formal request, but in principle this sounds like a good idea, subject to our
being able to recall the volumes should a reputable scholar wish to use them
for research purposes.
And lastly, Emma produced some stunning fridge magnets,
manufactured (if that’s the correct word for something produced in-house) on
the premises and shortly to go on sale in the Portico. The images shown came from
Specimens of the Sculpture and Painting
now remaining in England from the earliest period to the reign of Henry VIII within
our collection. They are colourful medieval paintings and I shall certainly be
buying one or two – even though my fridge is hidden away behind a wooden door.
These could become a cult object, so make sure you get there
Over the past two years, the cataloguing project has
uncovered many forgotten treasures on the Library’s shelves, but a particularly
exciting discovery was made last week: an entire section of geography books,
which had never been added to the card index, and as a result had remained
inaccessible to researchers for the past thirty years.
Geography section was listed in the Library’s alpha-numerical classification
system under the letter ‘Z’, when the card index was created around thirty years
ago, this section was somehow overlooked. As a result, none of the books could
be searched for, and they had been left to languish in the stacks ever since.
a comparatively small section within the Library’s collection, it includes some
particularly notable texts that would be of great fascination to those with an
interest in the subject, and invaluable to researchers looking into the history
and development of geography as a scientific discipline.
example is a 3 volume set written by the eminent Scottish antiquarian and
cartographer, John Pinkerton, and published in 1807. Entitled Modern geography: a description of the
empires, kingdoms, states, and colonies; with the oceans, seas, and isles; in
all parts of the world: including the most recent discoveries, and political
alterations, the text opens with a detailed reflection on geography as a
discipline of study, and proceeds to provide a comprehensive geographical
description of the world. Pinkerton is often credited as having
been a particularly influential figure in the development of cartography, exchanging
the elaborate cartouches and fantastical
beasts used during the 18th century in preference for greater accuracy of
detail, and this is clearly displayed in the array of maps found throughout these
Alexander von Humboldt’s Cosmos: sketch of a physical description of
the universe, is another fascinating text discovered within this section. Hugely popular when it was first released in
1845, Humboldt’s work attempted to apply the ancient Greek view of the
orderliness of the cosmos (the universe) to the Earth, suggesting that
universal laws could also be applied to the apparent chaos of the terrestrial
world. Although many of the ideas contained in the work became somewhat
outdated with the advancement of the natural sciences, it made a significant
contribution to scientific progress in its conception of the unity of science,
nature, and mankind.
A particularly visually arresting volume
is a first edition of Ferdinand von Hochstetter’s New Zealand: its physical geography, geology, and natural history, with
special reference to the results of government expeditions in the provinces of
Auckland and Nelson. In 1859 Hochstetter was employed by the government of
New Zealand to undertake a rapid geological survey of the country, the
publication of this beautifully illustrated volume in 1867 provided a more
accessible account of Hochstetter’s findings that would be more palatable to
the general public.
Following on from our recent conservation appeal, we are
pleased to announce that all 10 volumes of John Latham’s A general history of birds have now been rebound.
Once again we would like to thank those who generously
sponsored the volumes and made the work possible, and to Cyril Formby, our
conservator, for doing such a fantastic job. The books are now on display in
the gallery, and according to the numerous visitors who have enquired about purchasing
them, it would appear that they have made a particularly stunning addition to
the Library’s shelves!
A little update to let you know that this week, the Portico cataloguing project reached 15,000 volumes! As well as being a lovely round number, this also means that more than half of the Portico’s holdings are available for search online. Currently being catalogued are the Collected Works and the Biography sections.
Work will start in the upcoming weeks on the treasures held in the reading room...
Our 15,000th record was Memoirs of Charles Mathews, comedian, by Mrs. Anne Jackson, [Ft 11-3]. Mathews was an English theatre manager and comic actor, famed for his excellent mimicry and work at Drury Lane Theatre. The Portico holds his biography as part of a 4 volume set, and each features several beautifully intricate illustrations of Mathews on stage throughout his career:
A General History of Birds is often considered to be one of the greatest ornithological books ever published. It was issued in ten volumes between 1821 and 1828, and contains 193 hand-coloured copperplate engravings of unsurpassed beauty. These plates were personally designed, etched and coloured by the English physician, naturalist and author, John Latham (1740-1837), who, having been one of the first naturalists to examine specimens of Australian birds and who was responsible for naming many of them, is often acknowledged as being the “grandfather” of Australian ornithology.
The Portico is lucky enough to hold a first edition set of this seminal work. Unfortunately, however, over the years the individual bindings have deteriorated, and each volume has become increasingly fragile. To ensure it can continue to be used by future generations, it is now in need of urgent conservation and preservation work.
We are currently looking for individuals to sponsor
the rebinding of this set. The sympathetic rebinding of
each individual volume within the set will cost approximately £135, and
in return for your support a permanent bookplate will be placed within your
chosen volume(s), recording your name, date, and a dedication of your choice.
If you are interested in sponsoring this work and
helping to restore it to its former glory, please contact a member of staff for
The latest section to be added to the Portico's online catalogue is Political Economy, and one of the treasures unearthed isThe Gilbart prize essay on the
adaptation of recent discoveries and inventions in science and art to the
purpose of practical banking [Kl 25], by Granville Sharp, an accountant in
the East of England Bank, at Norwich.
The prize winning essay was originally published in Banker’s Magazine, winning a £100 prize. Applicants were asked to write an essay or pamphlet based on the Industrial Exhibition of 1851. Also known as the “Crystal Palace Exhibition”, the fair was prompted by the great success of the French Industrial Exhibition on 1844, the first in a series of popular 19th century World Fairs, displaying industry and culture with a particular focus on new manufactured products. World expositions of this period were often focused towards industry and trade, making Sharp’s reflections applicable not only to banking but “to any and all large commercial establishment [...] this essay should be read with interest by every employer and employee connected with business and trade” – Daily News.
This volume is the third edition of the essay
- the only illustrated publication, containing numerous plates, including
cheque specimens, bank notes, and patent plans, as well as 15 remarkable wax seals
mounted on the back pastedown of the book, as shown below.