The Devilman of Ladysmith

Buried deep in the cellars of the John Rylands Library theres a few unique collections of very interesting things you may not expect to find. We’ve posted in the past about the Langford Brooke Glass Plate Negative Collection (see here,here, here, here, AND here!), but we also have a rather large and beautiful uncatalogued collection of glass lantern slides of the Manchester Geographical Society.

The Devilman of Ladysmith

Recently Alison Newby from the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre, part of the University of Manchester paid us a visit, and we showed her some of the collection relating to Africa and Colonialism. One of my favourite slides, ‘The Devilman of Ladysmith’ was one she was particularly taken with, and has written a fantastic post over on the Centre’s blog. Learn more here.

Armenian Manuscript Digitisation

Often items from The John Rylands Library are loaned to other institutions for exhibition purposes. In these instances, before the items are delivered to the borrowing institution, we digitise them in their entirety. This can be anything from a single image of say a painting or photograph, or a complete item. Recently the team have digitised two beautiful Armenian manuscripts from our collections before they are transported to an upcoming exhibition at The Bodleian Library in Oxford.

MS 20 7v-8r opening showing God resting on the 7th day, and Paradise

Armenian MS 20 7v-8r opening showing God resting on the 7th day, and Paradise

The two manuscripts in question are Armenian MS 3, The Romance of Alexander, dating from 1544, And MS 20, a Gospel Book from 1587. Both manuscripts are highly illuminated, with an incredible amount of colour and gold leaf throughout. Before any items leave the Rylands, our Collection Care team provide a comprehensive report, and painstakingly go over every page to consolidate any loose pigments. See the teams post over on the Special Collections blog here.

Armenian MS 3, The Romance of Alexander is a collection of stories chronicling the ‘mythical exploits’ of Alexander the Great (356 – 323 BC). The Manuscript contains incredible illuminations of all manner of fantastic creatures and beasts, in a very distinctive style and colour palette.

Miniature of a Alexander, on either side of him are bird-like creatures with men's faces.

Miniature of a Alexander, on either side of him are bird-like creatures with men’s faces. Armenian MS 3 f.108r

The image above of folio 108r show Alexander meeting two such beasts, bird like creatures with the faces of men. The very distinctive text is known as ‘Bolorgir script’. The colophon in red tells us that Zak’ariay Episkopos was the writer and illuminator of this manuscript, and that it was copied in the Armenian era 993 in Sulu Manastir (the “Watery Monastery” near Samatya Kapisi) during the reign of Sultan Suleyman, also known as Suleiman the Magnificent.

f. 42v A lavish illustration of a horse made up of other creatures

Armenian MS 3 f. 42v A lavish illustration of a horse made up of other creatures

f. 100v Alexander encountering more mythical beasts

f. 100v Alexander encountering more mythical beasts

MS 20 is a copy of the Book of Four Gospels, copied and illuminated in New Julfa (in Isfahan, Iran) in 1587 by the Deacon Hakob Jughayetsi. The Manuscript contains again lavishly illuminated pages, in a very unique style. In Riches of the Rylands,  Vrej N. Nersessian writes of the above pages 7v – 8r of the manuscript: “…depict God resting on the 7th day and paradise. Nothing could be farther from the traditional iconographic type than to see God represented in a strange but powerful figure which defies an customary representation, whether Armenian, Christian East, or Western art. God the creator with the face of Buddha is pointing at the heads of Evangelists’ symbols with the legend below ‘This is the 7th day, resting from all works which God performed. It is our duty to work until Sunday, and rest on Sunday.'” (Riches of the Rylands UoM Press 2015, p165)

The unorthodox depiction of God resting on the 7th day MS 20 f.7v

The unorthodox depiction of God resting on the 7th day Armenian MS 20 f.7v

Photographer Gwen Riley Jones photographing MS 20

Photographer Gwen Riley Jones photographing Armenian MS 20

As with all items we photograph, the greatest care possible is taken during the process. Both manuscripts are very different, but still require the same attention to detail and preservation. The image above of photographer Gwen Riley Jones, shows one of the cradles we use in our digitisation studio. The cradle is custom built specifically for this type of fragile item, and supports the spine completely without opening the item too far. We shoot with Phase One IQ180 medium digital format backs, ensuring we have the highest detail possible.

Both manuscripts will be transported to the Bodleian Library in Oxford in October, and will be live for everyone to view, in their entirety via our online image collections LUNA soon. In the meantime, there are a few details and pages from these and other Rylands Armenian manuscripts here.

Darkness and Light: Exploring the Gothic

Praying Skeleton, Osteographia by William Cheselden, 1733

Praying Skeleton, Osteographia by William Cheselden, 1733

Recently we’ve been photographing some pretty amazing items from across our collections, for an exhibition opening next week; Darkness and Light: Exploring the Gothic.

The exhibition reveals how Gothic architecture and anatomy inspired and influenced a literary genre, and how the lasting legacy of Gothic can be found in art, films and subculture today.

The Chapel, Horace Walpole, 1784

The Chapel, Horace Walpole, 1784

From the fantastical to the macabre, Darkness and Light unearths Gothic treasures from the Library’s Special Collections to investigate subjects as varied as the role of women in the Gothic movement, advances in medical science and classic literature.

The Raven. Edgar Allan Poe, 1859 edition

The Raven. Edgar Allan Poe, 1859 edition NEVERMORE!

The exhibition also showcases artwork by students from the University of Salford and a gallery of photographic portraits of ‘Goths’, by CHICC photographer Gwen Riley Jones, celebrating diversity and inviting visitors to explore what Gothic means to them.

'It is just gorgeous and it is what I enjoy'.

‘It is just gorgeous and it is what I enjoy’.

The exhibition opens at The John Rylands Library on Thursday 16th July, and is free to all.

Digitising the Brass Band News


The Brass Band News Archive is an incredibly comprehensive run of the first Brass Band newspaper, Brass Band News, founded in 1881 by Wright and Round, held at the University of Salford. The series contains hard and soft bound and unbound volumes and loose issues from 1881 until 1956. There is a fantastic and incredibly detailed PHD Thesis, ‘The 19th Century Brass Band in The North of England’ by Roy Newsome, who is responsible for collecting the archive available here.

January  1938

January 1938

A number of the issues are in a poor condition and are deteriorating. These items required incredibly delicate handling and photographing. CHICC only ever photograph items using high end digital medium format equipment, never scanners. Items such as these incredibly delicate sheets could potentially be damaged much more using scanners.

A photograph from the Salvation Army Muical Instrument Workshop, from the October 1904 Issue

A photograph from the Salvation Army Muical Instrument Workshop, from the October 1904 Issue

This archive is the only surviving almost complete run of the paper outside of the British Library (and it is somewhat unclear precisely what the BL actually holds). It is interesting to note the differences between early issues and those running through the war. Originally they ran roughly 12 pages, however during rationing times, the paper dropped down to sometimes only 2 pages.

Thomas Carr's Violin advertisement January 1894

Thomas Carr’s Violin advertisement January 1894. `Don’t forget to Mention Brass Band News!

All digitised issues, numbering over 7,000 images are not only provided as high resolution tiff images, but each issue has a fully searchable PDF function, meaning you can search through the entire text of each issue with ease.

The entire archive will soon be available online through the University of Salford’s Special Collections.

Wright and Rounds advertisement 1908

Wright and Rounds advertisement 1908

Work Experience at CHICC

Over the past week, CHICC have had Jim Lewis – Johnson from Hummersknott Academy in Darlington for work experience. While Jim has been with us, he’s kept a diary of what he’s been up to for us.

All images ©Jim Lewis-Johnson (except multispectral La Commedia ©The University of Manchester)

Day 1:

I was very nervous on the morning, as I was unsure of what was going to happen. I got there and Jamie came and collected me from the entrance. He introduced himself and the rest of the staff to me. He then showed me around the building, all of the general induction stuff. The first day was mainly just getting shown around to get to know the building so I do not get lost and learn about the history side of it. Later on Jamie and I photographed a selection of 1950’s sheet negatives for a CHICC external job. At the end of the day I felt relaxed and welcomed.

Day 2:

On the morning I felt happy and ready for the tasks ahead of me that day. I spent the morning with the Collection Care department. I was shown the work that they do and the equipment they use. This department works closely with the digitisation team. I also spent time with Stella Halkyard, who is the visual collections manager. We looked at the large variety of different types of historic photographs, like daguerreotypes from the visual collections. I then spent the afternoon learning to use Capture One, and edited the negatives I photographed yesterday.

Day 3:

Today I felt as this was a normal part of my every day so I was quite relaxed. Today we used multispectral lighting and a special camera. We took photos of an early printed book, ‘La Commedia’ (by Dante 1472) in a wide spectrum of lighting, from UV to infrared. I also spent time with Anne in the imaging office talking about Luna (the libraries website where all the images are uploaded). We then finished the edits on the negatives. Then at the end of the day there was an all staff meeting where they talked about the Library Strategy. At the end there was a quiz on myths about the library, which was fun. Our team didn’t win and Tony was disappointed that he didn’t get any chocolate.

La Commedia in normal light

La Commedia from 1486 in normal light

Using the Multispectral Lights

Using the Multispectral Lights

Day 4:

Today we finished the edits on the multispectral images and photographed the same pages under normal light. We took the pictures under all the different lights to try and enhance erased text on a page so it could be read. I edited one of the images, from under UV light using Capture on to enhance the text even more. I found that the writing stood out most when the background was black and the writing was white, using exposure and contrast tools.

The page from La Commedia, edited in Capture One to enhance the written text

The page from La Commedia, edited in Capture One to enhance the written text

I then went around the library taking photos for the blog, and then started to edit them. Again using Capture One I experimented with colour tools and curves to create some interesting effects on the images I took.

Day 5:

today was a very relaxed day as all our work from the week was completed so I continued to edit my photos from the previous day. I had a look at the work from throughout the week and did more experimentation with edits. And made my blog post and picked pictures I wanted to use. Then I printed some of for myself to take away.

I have spent 5 days of work experience at the John Rylands library at the university of Manchester. I have worked with several of the staff members here but mainly with Jamie. I have used a variety of expensive, professional equipment, including a Phase One iXR with an IQ180 back, and a Canon 5dMKII. I have enjoyed my time completing different tasks. Throughout the week I have seen some interesting things and some expensive items like ‘Audubon’s Birds of America’, a copy of which (not the one I saw) sold at auction for £7 million.

I have been using Capture One to edit the photos I have taken. During this time I have I have learned about learnt things like vellum, how books are made and looked after, also some photography set-ups and strategies. I have experienced a lot with the amazing help of Jamie and the rest of the staff here, they have been very kind and helpful. They might only be like that because I’m here. I felt quite nervous at the beginning of the week but now I know more and my way around the labyrinth that is The Rylands Library. And at the end I’m feeling confident. After this week I actually want to do something like this in the future.

Li Yuan-chia – The Man behind the Artist.

“Over the last 4 months we have been working across teams, (The Visual Collections and The Manuscript and Archives Departments), to try and enhance our understanding of what is contained in the uncatalogued archive of the artist Li Yuan-chia. We have been trying to improve upon the current box list for the collection to enable researchers to have better access to the collection and to rehouse the material into more manageable archival storage.”

Read more on the Rylands Special Collections blog below

Li Yuan-chia – The Man behind the Artist..

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John Rylands Research Institute Annual Lecture


Page from Hebrew MS 6

The Institute is honoured to welcome Prof. Dr. Emile G. L. Schrijver as its host of the 2015 Institute Annual Lecture on 30 April 2015.

Lecturing extensively across Europe, Israel and North America, the Institute is delighted that Professor Schrijver will be sharing his knowledge and expertise with our audience. He will present a lecture entitled: The John Rylands Library as a Primary Source for the Study of Hebrew Books Since the Invention of Printing.

To reserve your place at this special event, please contact

Please note the exact timings of the event will be confirmed in the coming weeks and that places are free but book up very quickly.

The Lecture is Free, book tickets here.

Textus Roffensis, Foundations for the Magna Carta



Last year CHICC visited Rochester Cathedral to digitise the Textus Roffensis, a manuscript predating the Magna Carta, containing the Law of Aethelberht of Kent which dates back to 600AD – the only surviving copy of the oldest law in English.

Historian Michael Wood talks about the manuscript on the Rochester Cathedral site here.

The digitised manuscript can be found on the Library’s digital collections here.

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The Glass Plate Negatives


The Newman digitisation project is progressing at a fantastic pace. We are well over 145 boxes in, with image totals reaching over 125,000 so far.

We have recently digitised a wonderful set of glass plate negatives from the collections. These include early copies of Newman letters, portraits of Newman himself, and ‘snaps’ from around the oratory. There is a wonderful box of 10x12in plates that document Newman’s room at the Oratory, showing exactly how he left it.

The room is exactly the same today, so the negatives are a fantastic resource to show what has changed in condition over the years.

Originally posted on Newman Archive:

We have just completed digitisation of the glass plate negatives from Batch Six, after preparation by the John Rylands Collection Care team. The plates were a mix of size and subject matter, ranging from 6x9cm to 10x12in, while the contents ranged from the formal to the informal; from snapshots to precisely posed.


A small selection is included below. The digitised negatives are inverted using our digital capture software in order to create the positive image. The negative image appears as below:


Many of the plates were an early endeavor to photographically record the Newman Archive, meaning that we found ourselves digitising glass plates of letters we most probably photographed in their original format earlier in the project! It is safe to say the digitisation process has improved over the years; as you can see below, drawing pins were used.


Not all attempts were successful, as seen below, flare on paintings…

View original 115 more words

A book 100 years older than the Magna Carta goes digital

Textus_Roffensis_0001 A manuscript predating the Magna Carta is to be seen, in full, online, by the public for the first time thanks to a project involving digital experts at The University of Manchester working in partnership with Rochester Cathedral.

The Textus Roffensis, a 12th century legal encyclopaedia compiled by a single scribe at Rochester Cathedral, in Kent, in the 1120s has been digitised by the University’s Centre for Heritage Imaging and Collection Care.

The medieval manuscript, which is almost 100 years older than King John’s Magna Carta and has been described as ‘Britain’s Hidden Treasure’ by the British Library, has never before been seen in its entirety by the public.
The University of Manchester’s Centre for Heritage Imaging and Collection Care provides specialist and bespoke solutions for the digitisation and collection care of heritage and cultural collections.

Dr Chris Monk, a specialist at the University who worked with Rochester Cathedral on the project, said: “The team here has vast experience digitizing rare books and manuscripts.  To work with this particular national treasure, one of such historical significance, has been remarkable.  And it will be just as exciting and remarkable for the public to see it up close – no longer a hidden treasure.
“The Textus Roffensis is truly a unique manuscript: it predates the Magna Carta by almost a hundred years, contains the only copy of the oldest set of laws in English, and was penned by an English scribe within 60 years of the Norman Conquest.  That it is being made accessible to the public is worth shouting about, and is a tribute to all those involved with the project.”
Written in Old English and Latin in 1123-24 AD, the Textus Roffensis is so called because of a 14th century inscription within the book, The Textus de Ecclesia Roffensi per Ernulphum episcopum (The Book of the Church of Rochester through Bishop Ernulf). It contains the Law of Aethelberht of Kent which dates back to 600AD – it is the only surviving copy of the oldest law in English.
The book was originally two manuscripts. The first has the only surviving copies of three Kentish laws, including the Law of Aethelberht who was the King of Kent, from 560 to 616AD, and seen by some as ‘foundation documents of the English state’. King Alfred’s Domboc (book of laws) and King Cnut’s laws are also in this section of the book alongside the oldest copy of the coronation charter of Henry I – the wording of which is echoed in the Magna Carta (1215) and the American Declaration of Independence (1776). 
The second part of the manuscript includes the earliest charters of England’s second oldest cathedral – founded at Rochester in 604AD, the oldest known catalogue of books in England and documents concerning the Danish conquest of England in 1016. 
A number of pages in the manuscript display signs of water damage after it became submersed, possibly, in either the River Medway or the River Thames, sometime between 1708 and 1718, when it was being returned by boat to Rochester from London.

The early legal codes are concerned primarily with preserving social harmony, through compensation and punishment for personal injury. Compensations are arranged according to social rank, descending from king to slave. The initial provisions of the code offer protection to the church. Though the latter were probably innovations, much of the remainder of the code may be derived from earlier legal custom transmitted orally.

The Textus Roffensis has been safeguarded by Rochester Cathedral since its inception and has been digitised by The University of Manchester team as part of a Heritage Lottery Funded renovation and community engagement project at the Cathedral.

The Textus Roffensis itself will go on display in Rochester Cathedral next year, as part of the Cathedral’s Heritage Lottery Fund project, ‘Hidden Treasures: Fresh Expressions’, and will enable public access to its remarkable library and other collections and include exhibitions, workshops, events and activities.

Janet Wilkinson is The University of Manchester’s Librarian and Director of The John Rylands Library. She said: “The University of Manchester Library has long recognised the need to preserve its digital material, as well as print, for future generations. I am reassured that this significant piece of history will now survive for future research purposes.”
Find out more in this film produced as part of the project by Manchester Lights Media.
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