Eric Dingwall Papers Fully Catalogued

Eric John DIngwall who died in 1986 at the probable age of 95, the official record of his birth in Sri Lanka was eaten by termites, was one of the best read men of his time. He had many unusual, somewhat esoteric interests, and was a keen collector of books, curiosa, objects d’art and automata as well as being a bibliographer, cataloguer and conserver of documents. Thanks to funding by the Wellcome Trust the documents and other material in the Dingwall collection, held in the archives at Senate House, have now been fully catalogued.

The collection comprises a series of scrapbooks and index cards that can be cross referenced, various notebooks and diaries and over three hundred folders of correspondence, closed until 2025 as per Dingwall’s instructions, that contain nine different languages, as well as photographic material and his “haunting and poltergeist” toolkit. The material reflects the subjects that interested him most deeply and reflect his vast knowledge of relevant European and American literature, old and new, and often of literature in classical languages.

There seem to be two principal areas of interest. The first, the study of sexuality, includes human sexual practices and the culturally conditioned attitudes to them, together with erotic literature in all languages. In connection to the latter he became better known in academic circles as the Honorary Curator of the British Museum Library’s “locked case” or as some said “the pornographer royal”. Dingwall added to the collection and bequeathed to it some of his own substantial holdings.

The second area of interest, and for which he was probably better known, was that of psychical research. He investigated many curious cases and had sittings with most of the European and American mediums in the interwar years. His conclusions were largely negative though he admitted witnessing events that greatly puzzled him. This interest was linked to his long-standing interest in conjuring (he was an honorary vice-president of the Magic Circle) and also with his interest in religions and religious beliefs. He believed psychical research could be an important weapon in the ongoing struggle between superstition and rationality. Allied to his interest in psychical research was his interest in, and wide knowledge of, the history of mesmerism and hypnotism, a subject about which his writing broke fresh ground.  

It is hoped the cataloguing of the Eric Dingwall papers at Senate House Library will help facilitate research in area of psychical research and its related subjects as well as into the area of medical and scientific research into sexual behaviour.  An electronic copy of the catalogue can be found on the Archives and Manuscripts catalogue and a printed copy is held in the Historic Collections Reading Room.


To Manchester and Russia with the Senate House Library treasures volume

Activities in connection with the Senate House Library treasures volume continue. In January, at an event offered by the CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections Group, Dr Karen Attar had given a talk in London about the experience of editing a treasures volume. On Thursday, 18 July, she gave a repeat session at the John Rylands Library in Manchester. A major focus was the reasoning behind the selection of items and contributors. Then came the process, followed by benefits. The introductory history of the University of London came in for a certain amount of analysis: how such histories function, what they achieve, and their limitations.

Promotion of the treasures volume continued in an academic context with a paper delivered by Dr Attar at a conference hosted by the Institute of English Studies on 23-23 July, on Russian/English studies, covering a wide range of literary and linguistic matters in Russian and English. The paper, “Bookish Delights: Selecting English and Russian Treasures”, featured the items in the treasures volume relevant to Russian or English Studies. Two books fall into the former category, the first Italian translation (1550) of Sigmund von Herberstein’s Rerum Moscoviticarum Commentari, and an apparently unique, anonymous booklet printed in Liverpool in the first decade of the nineteenth century, a threadbare story entitled Love and Honour, or, The Adventures of Serinda, a Beautiful Slave. With English literature being a longstanding strength of special collections, it is more prominent in the volume. Items featuring in the conference paper exemplified various reasons for choice: significant manuscripts (such as a Byron holograph manuscript); important provenance (Thomas Carlyle’s annotations on a borrowed copy of E.B. Browning’s  Aurora Leigh); books which tell a story (Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence’s copy of Shakespeare’s second folio); early English print (a 1492 edition of the Canterbury Tales); a format known to be liked by readers (part-publication of the Mayhew brothers’ satirical The Greatest Plague in Life or The Adventures of a Lady in Search of a Good Servant, 1847, now scarce even in volume form).

Disorderly London

A conference on “Literary London” has become an annual summer event. This year the conference theme was London in crisis and disorder. Senate House Library provided a small display to accompany the conference from 17 to 19 July. The best-known book shown was Henry Mayhew’s classic London Labour and the London Poor. Other items focused on crime.

To me, coming to the conference from the viewpoint of book reception, two items particularly stood out. These were The Frauds and Cheats of London Detected by George Barrington (London: J. Lee, 1802) and The New Cheats of London Exposed, by Richard King (London: A. Hogg, [between ca. 1778 and 1805?]). Both booklets were written to warn against vice and being taken in by it, on the basis that “the many shocking crimes committed in and about London, as well as frauds and cheats daily practised on the unwary tradesmen, mechanic and deluded countryman, call aloud for detection and discovery”, and that it is impossible to write too much about it. The text, albeit allegedly by two different authors, is is extremely similar, in some places identical, in the two works; a difference is that the Barrington booklet states specifically that it is aimed at residents of the country who may wish to visit London and risk ruin there, such people being more unsuspecting than London residents.

Wight, Mornings at Bow Street

Wight, Mornings at Bow Street

Also interesting for reception is John Wight’s Mornings at Bow Street,  illustrated by George Cruikshank: enlarged, corrected, and polished versions of “some of the most descriptive and amusing” reports from Bow Street Magistrates’ Court to have appeared between 1821 and 1823 in the Morning Herald. The text was first published in 1824 and ran through numerous editions in the nineteenth century: selected for display was the latest of four editions in the Bromhead Library, a cheap yellowback version. Further evidence of the work’s popularity was the publication of a sequel (also displayed), More Mornings at Bow Street, in 1827 – and perhaps even by the latest item chosen to display, Humours & Oddities of the London Police Courts by “Dogberry” (1894). Like the Bow Street volumes, this book offers “much that is curious and amusing in the more attractive side of London Police-Court life”, presenting true, but “re-dressed”, police cases. Unlike Mornings at Bow Street, it ranges over numerous papers and covers almost a century; and it was published only once.

Annual events

The week 6-14 July 2013 witnessed the fifth International T.S. Eliot summer school at the Institute of English Studies, University of London. As for previous summer schools, Dr Wim van Mierlo of the Institute of English Studies curated a small display of works by Eliot, based on holdings in the special collections of Senate House Library. In addition to books and booklets ranging from essays of criticism to Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the display included two typescript letters from Eliot to his fellow poet Thomas Sturge Moore, 16-28 March 1928, held in the Sturge Moore archive (MS978): one rejecting Sturge Moore’s Psyche in Hades for Faber but asking permission to send it to Leonard Woolf for the Hogarth Press, the second hoping that wanting Sturge Moore might contribute a preface to translations of Valéry by the poet Thomas McGreevy (1893-1967).

The T.S. Eliot summer school followed immediately upon the London Rare Books School, to which Senate House Library provided books from the special collections to seven separate courses, ranging from “The Mediaeval Book” to “Modern First Editions” via bibliography and bookbindings among others. Students pored over items as diverse as a twelfth-century manuscript of Bede, the 1674 catalogue of the Bodleian Library, a 1779 edition of Boccaccio illustrated by Gravelot, and the Kelmscott Chaucer. Of primary interest was the book as artefact. Some quite ordinary books gained significance for their presence in different kinds of libraries, for their bindings, or for the demonstrable engagement of a reader with the text, as shown by the Baconian R.M. Theobald’s annotations on his copy of Edwin Reed’s Bacon vs Shakspere (1899; classmark B.S. 822).

This year library staff participated in teaching, with Dr Karen Attar convening a new course on the history of libraries from the Middle Ages to the present.

LRBS class, July 2013

LRBS class, July 2013

Thomas Flowers and the class of 1933

Amongst the University of London students who graduated in 1933 was Thomas Harold Flowers. Flowers is remembered today for playing a crucial role in code-breaking efforts during the Second World War. He was the architect of Colossus, the giant electronic computer which used 2,400 valves and was brought into service at Bletchley Park in June 1944. Colossus immediately proved its worth. Eisenhower and his staff had a crucial meeting on 5 June 1944 during which a courier handed Eisenhower a decrypted German message. This confirmed that Hitler had ordered no additional troops to Normandy. Eisenhower handed back the decrypt and told his staff “we go tomorrow”.


Colossus, circa 1943

Colossus had already made a significant impact by this point. A decoded report from Field Marshall Rommel on the western defences revealed that one of the sites chosen as the drop site for an US parachute division was in fact the base for a German tank division. Nor surprisingly, the site was changed.

Thomas Flowers was born in the East End of London in 1905. His connection with the University of London began when he registered at Woolwich Polytechnic in September 1922. He passed the intermediate exam in engineering as an external student in 1925 and left Woolwich after the academic session 1925-6. Flowers registered at Northampton Polytechnic Institute in September 1928 and went on to gain a first class honours degree in engineering as an internal student.

Students at Presentation Day, 1930 (reference UoL/FG/5/2)

Students at Presentation Day, 1930 (reference UoL/FG/5/2)

The list of University of London graduates of 1933 has just been added to the University of London students webpage, which now includes lists of students 1836-1933.

Food in History

Senate House Library has just marked a first by supporting the 82nd Anglo-American conference of the Institute of Historical Research, which in 2013 takes as its theme “Food in History”. Books, pamphlets and the manuscript selected for display ranged from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries and showed different aspects of food. Manufacturing it comes from a Jamaican book advising on how to improve the manufacture of the related luxuries of muscovado sugar and rum, both derived from surgarcane. For trade there is a manuscript of English excise revenue from 1785, listing duties levied on hops, malt, coffee, tea and chocolate alongside non-comestibles throughout most of the eighteenth century. For the convivial aspect of food we selected John Timbs’s Clubs and Club Life in London, a standard nineteenth-century monograph with anecdotes of places where food was consumed communally.

            A monograph by an American journalist about German food shortages during the First World War and pamphlets about rationing in Great Britain during the Second World War deal with food in times of major upheaval. The picture is not entirely gloomy, as the pamphlet printed in French, Le Rationnement en Angleterre, points out: “rationing of foodstuffs has had at least one excellent result: the English have finally decided to follow the continental example and have become lovers of green vegetables.” But the English obviously had a lot of ground to cover in order to catch up with continentals in making food appetising, as shown by the two cookery books displayed. Gervase Markham’s English House-wife demonstrates that seventeenth-century cookery could be delicious, as for this recipe for apple pie (with typical pre-industrial lack of specificity about times and quantities):

“Take the fairest and best pippins, and pare them, and make a hole in the top of them; then prick in each hole a cloves or two, and put them into the coffin, then break in whole sticks of cinnamon, add slices of orange-pills, and dates, and on the top of every pippin, a little piece of sweetbutter; then fill the coffin, and cover the pippins over with sugar: then close up the pye, and bake it, as you bake pyes of the like nature, … and then strew sugar upon it a good thickness, and set into the oven again for a little space, as while the meat is in dishing up, and then serve it.”

In Marguerite Fedden’s How to Cook a Simple Meal (3rd edn, 1912), emphasis was very much on the simple: for example, boiled fish (sole ingredients haddock, warm water to cover, salt and vinegar); roast beef; fried potatoes; stewed mushrooms; rice pudding; macaroni cheese; boiled and scrambled egg; porridge. The booklet ends with instructions on how to make coffee and tea.

Senate House Library treasures volume: featuring Greek flora

When John Sibthorp, Professor of Botany at Oxford, went to Greece in 1786 (and again 1794-5) his object was twofold: to study the flora of Greece, and to try to identify definitely all the seven hundred plants described in Dioscorides’s first-century Materia Medica, the primary work on herbal medicine from the ancient world. Only twenty-five copies of the first edition of Sibthorp’s posthumous Flora Graeca were ever printed; and so expensive was the sumptuous ten-volume folio work with its 966 coloured plates, one opposite each page of text, that even John Lindley, Assistant Secretary of Horticultural Society and the book’s final editor, could not afford a copy, but had to make do with the letterpress of those parts of the text with which he had been involved. The book cemented the reputation of its Austrian botanical illustrator Ferdinand Bauer, with Joseph Hooker calling Flora Graeca “the greatest botanical work that has ever appeared” (On the Flora of Australia, London, 1859).

Flora Graeca, vol. 1HFlora Graeca, vol. 1, p. 28

How the London Institution acquired its copy of Flora Graeca we do not know, as the work postdates the Institution’s printed catalogue of 1835. What we do know is that the University of London Library thought when it acquired the book that it was getting one of these twenty-five copies, a reasonable assumption on the basis of the title pages. In fact, the bookseller Henry G. Bohn purchased the copperplates and unsold sheets in 1845 and produced a reprint of forty copies, differing somewhat in the colouring of the plates (commercially prepared pigments having become available), but only reliably distinguished from the original by the watermarks. It is the reprint which is held at Senate House.


Flora Graeca, vol. 5

Flora Graeca, vol. 5