The Leeds Library Summer Day Out In The Lake District

How can you tell you’re on a summer day trip to the Lake District? Yes, it teems with rain all day long. Still, we were not deterred as we waited for our coach to pick us up at Bramhope Church bus stop. We hoped the rain would cease but unfortunately it didn’t. Never mind our main aims were not to climb  the peaks nor to stride out across the fells but to make indoor visits to The Armitt Library in Ambleside in the morning and to Blackwell near Bowness in the afternoon.


How true! How true!


The Armitt Library was founded by the will of Mary Louise Armitt and the wishes of her two sisters, “to create a collection of books of scientific, literary and antiquarian value” for the “student and book-lover”, and eventually a small museum. It was opened in 1912, and embodied the old 1828 Ambleside Book Society, of which William Wordsworth had been a member, and the Ambleside Ruskin Library, founded by Hardiwcke Rawnsley in 1882 with the active support of John Ruskin. The Library is now in a purpose-built home just north of Ambleside on the Rydal Road.

In 1934 Beatrix Potter gave many of her watercolours and drawings of fungi, mosses and fossils to the  Armitt Library some of which are on display. She had become a member on her marriage to William Heelis in 1913 who was the Library’s solictor since 1912.”

Potter's work

Admiring Potter’s drawings and watercolours

The Armitt Museum houses so much more than just the original core book collection. Alongside the story of Beatrix Potter and the Lake District is a large collection of her exquisite drawings, the library of The Fell and Rock Climbing Club and a gallery devoted to the work of German artist Kurt Schwitters.

Edith Thomas

Portrait of Edith Thomas by Kurt Schwitters

Born in Hanover in 1887, he studied art at Dresden, but it was not until the Dada movement of 1916 that he finally liberated himself from conventional art. Schwitters took from Dada the freedom to use what materials he wanted to in his pictorial compositions … In 1937 for a variety of compelling reasons Schwitters left Hanover for Norway, never to return to his home again. The Norwegian experience was mixed … and in 1940 Schwitters and his son fled to Britain where they were both interned on the Isle of Man. Afterwards Schwitters lived in London until the end of the war in 1945, when he moved to Ambleside where he remained until his death in poverty and obscurity in 1948. Schwitters never received the recognition in Britain he had enjoyed in Europe, and his art did not sell. However, in 1947 he was fortunate enough to start his third Merzbau in a barn in Elterwater. Regrettably only a fragment was completed before his death, and this small monument to his genius can now be seen in the Hatton Gallery, Newcastle.” [Armitt Museum website]

Fell and Rock Collection

Books on an Alpine theme

After lunch in Windermere we continued to Blackwell the Arts and Crafts House overlooking Lake Windermere. This was my second visit to the house, my first being in 2002 which was not long after the house was opened to the public.


When the architect Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott (1865 – 1945) built a holiday home overlooking Windermere for his client Sir Edward Holt, a brewer from Manchester, he created Blackwell, a masterpiece of twentieth-century design; a perfect example of the Arts & Crafts Movement.

Enjoy a lovingly crafted day out at one of the most enchanting historic houses in the Lake District. When you visit you are invited to relax and immerse yourself in all the beauty and craftsmanship of Blackwell. We encourage you to sit and soak up the atmosphere in Blackwell’s fireplace inglenooks, which have fine examples of tiles by Arts & Crafts designer William de Morgan. The inviting window seats offer stunning views of the surrounding Lake District scenery. You can appreciate the house as it was originally intended, without roped-off areas.

Window 1

Stained glass window

Window 2

Another stained glass window

Window seat

Window Seat

Blackwell retains many of its original decorative features, including a rare hessian wall-hanging in the Dining Room, leaf-shaped door handles, curious window catches, spectacular plasterwork, stained glass and carved wooden panelling by Simpsons of Kendal. The rooms contain furniture and objects by many of the leading Arts & Crafts designers and studios – metalwork by WAS Benson, ceramics by Pilkingtons and Ruskin Pottery and furniture by Morris & Co., Stanley Webb Davies, Ernest Gimson and Baillie Scott himself.”

Fireplace 1


Fireplace 2

Another Fireplace (My Favourite)

For more and better pictures of Blackwell see here a fellow Blog Poster’s visit to the House earlier this year.



Farewell to Armitt, Blackwell and Windermere, but not, alas, to rain … it followed us home.



Acting Ebenezer, in which Mr Dickens assuming many a character of his own devising will attempt to render dramatically his recent ghostly book : A Christmas Carol

Leeds Library at Christmas

Christmas at The Leeds Library 2013

Xmas Leeds Lib

Christmas at The Leeds Library 2011

On Friday at lunchtime David Robertson of Theatre of the Dales brought his excellent one man show ‘Acting Ebenezer’ to The Leeds Library and performed his abridged version of ‘A Christmas Carol‘ very much in the style of the inimitable Mr Dickens. In addition to his powerful acting of the part of CD Mr Robertson has the distinct advantage of looking the image of Dickens himself!

It was the perfect start to Christmas week and the perfect venue for such a literary performance.


I didn’t like to take photos during the performance and at the end Mr Robertson disappeared in whoosh! So here are some quotes from the book itself and from the flyer left on our seats before the performance.

Christmas Carol


I HAVE endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it. 

Their faithful Friend and Servant,

C. D.                  December, 1843.*

” “A merry Christmas, Bob!” said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit!” *

[* Source of quotations from ‘A Christmas Carol’]

And David Robertson writes :

“After the success of Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby, Dickens quarrelled with his publishers, whom he suspected of taking too much of the profits, and rashly told them he himself would bear the cost of their publishing A Christmas Carol.

He wouldn’t scrap the gold embossed cover or the four coloured etchings and insisted on keeping the price to 5/- to be affordable to almost everybody. As it turned out, he landed in considerable debt because so many pirate editions, claiming to be ‘improvements’, reduced his sales. Of course, in the end, A Christmas Carol proved the most popular of all his works and has remained so this day.

I’ve been playing Scrooge in one form or another for twelve years now, starting with a recording I was commissioned to make for students learning English (in which Bah, humbug! was watered down to Oh, nonsense). But I recently met Gerald Dickens, the great great grandson of Charles, and was so impressed by his one-person enactment of Nicholas Nickleby that I’ve been tempted to (gingerly) follow in his footsteps.

I hope you’ll enjoy the result.


We certainly did, thank you, David. And a Merry Christmas Everyone!

Christmas Carol

Day Tripper – To Liverpool Library

Central Library

On Thursday I spent the day with a friend in Liverpool. We met at Lime Street Station and spent the morning over coffee in the cafe and admiring the ‘new’ Liverpool Public Library re-opened in May after a massive renovation project. It’s a job well done! I wanted to visit ever since I saw this blog post and the super pictures. I don’t really have much to add text-wise. We travelled up to the top and the very windy roof terrace and then inspected the building and departments as we descended. The Hornby and Oak Rooms reminded me of my own dear Leeds Library. Going into the major reference space – The Picton Library – was just like entering the old British Museum Reading Room. And the glass dome on the roof reminded me of The Reichstag in Berlin.

View towards River Mersey

View eastward

Views from the Roof Terrace

Glass Dome

The Glass Dome Exterior

Liverpool Record Office

The Open Plan Liverpool Record Office has Beatles memorabilia and other documents on display

Picton Room

The Picton Reading Room

Picton Reading Room

Detail of the Reading Room – quality fixtures and fittings

This magnificent building and reading room was built in 1875 -79. Sir James Allanson Picton was the Chairman of the Libraries Committee, architect and author of the famous “Memorials of Liverpool”.

Based on the rotunda of the British Museum in London, the Picton reading room is 100′ in diameter and 56′ high, and was designed by Cornelius Sherlock, Corporation Surveyor, at a cost of £20,000 with seating for 200 readers.

The circular structure was nicknamed “Picton’s Gasometer” although ironically it was the first public building in Liverpool to be lit by electric lighting when opened in 1879.


Hornby Room

The Oak Room with Audubon Display

The Oak Room was the last addition to the Picton and was opened in 1914 as a special library for the rarest books in the building. 

It houses some 4000 books but pride of place must be the Birds of America by John James Audubon, purchased with a donation from William Brown’s partner in America, Joseph Shipley.


Hornby Library

Detail of The Hornby Room

The Hornby Library was the donation of a wealthy Liverpool merchant, Hugh Frederick Hornby.

He bequeathed his collection of books, prints and autographs to the City in 1899 together with £10,000 for a building to house it.

The building is full of Edwardian opulence with ten alcoves to display the many rare bindings and a gallery above. It was designed by the Corporation Architect Thomas Shelmerdine and was opened in 1906.



The Liverpolitan Magazine, 1932

But it’s not all restored Victorian – there’s an exciting modern children’s library in the former Picton Hall below The Reading Room.

Children's library

The Children’s Department

Library Dome

View of the Dome from the Ground Floor

Read more about the library and its services here. Well done, Liverpool, you have a public library worthy of your UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

“Seriously Wacky and Occasionally Mad” – The New Arcadian Journal

I first came across Patrick Eyres and The New Arcadian Journal a few years ago when I was studying the Open University Course “Heritage, Whose Heritage?”. There was a chapter in the book Sculpture and the Garden which is edited by Eyres that particularly interested me.

Then last week at the Leeds Library I noticed an advertisement for a talk at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds :

“Drawings and proofs for the New Arcadian Journal: “The

Blackamoor” Wednesday 7th March 2012

An evening with Dr Patrick Eyres at the Henry Moore Institute Wednesday 7th March


Drawings and proofs for the New Arcadian Journal: “The Blackamoor”.

An evening with Dr Patrick Eyres at the Henry Moore Institute.  Enjoy a glass of wine, a powerpoint talk, see the display, talk with the illustrators and look at the Institute’s Library.

This event is £5.00 a head – numbers are limited to thirty.  Please book your place with payment at the Leeds Library.  Contact us for more information.”

I bought my ticket and then by happy chance came across this article in Saturday’s Yorkshire Post : Jottings from the Journal.

Dr Eyres’ entertaining talk celebrating thirty years of the New Arcadian Journal centred on the latest issue entitled “The Blackamoor and the Georgian Garden”. The Blackamoor was the most popular of all lead statues made in Britain during the 18th century which, by coincidence, was the height of British dominance in the African slave trade. Probably very many of the statues were destroyed or melted down following the abolition of slavery and in more enlightened times. Dr Eyres has tracked down 20 including 2 in the Privy Garden at Hampton Court Palace, one in Lincoln’s Inn in London, another at Melbourne Hall in Derbyshire and another supporting a sundial at Wentworth Castle in South Yorkshire which is currently under restoration and the topic of interpretation work. The talk was illustrated with photos of the various statues and reproductions of the beautiful drawings and prints (the work of artists Catherine Aldred and Howard Eaglestone who were also present this evening). It seems that the Blackamoor (African) along with the North American Red Indian were used to symbolise their continents of origin. There were emblems for Europe and Asia as well. These were also illustrated in the popular 16th and 17th century Books of Emblems.

After the talk we were shown the small exhibition in the Henry Moore Library where examples of drawings and copies of the Journal itself were displayed.

Catherine and Howard spoke briefly about their own work which as you can see is exquisite. Howard’s pictures also display humour as you can see from the above examples.

Antarctica in Leeds

Yesterday was the centenary of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s arrival at The South Pole on his ill-fated journey in Antarctica.

The day the boiler broke down at The Leeds Library just happened to be the day that they were hosting an Antarctica Evening!

Here is the programme :

Antarctica Evening – All Welcome

Tuesday 17th January 2012 at 17.00

17.00 Welcome, refreshments and a chance to browse the exhibition of books, artefacts and photographs 1911-1912

18.00 ‘Antarctica’ a talk with slide show by John Whitley (Leeds Library member)

19.00 ‘Why read books on Antarctic exploration’ a brief talk by John Bowers (Leeds Library member)

During the event there will be a chance to talk to the Leeds Library Staff about the Library’s holdings and their interest in the Scott-Amundsen story.

There will be a charge of £5 per person with proceeds being split equally between the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust, The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and The Leeds Library.

The talk and slides took us on a wonderful journey where we could see the icebergs and the rough seas and only shiver slightly in the chilly room.  At the end John reviewed his trip in the light of what he had seen and pointed out his Top Five which included the penguins, the icebergs, the whales.

We came away from the second talk with our own annotated bibliography of Antarctica ‘must reads’ and a fascinating and revealing comparison of secondhand book buying and book prices between the late 1950s and 1960s when John and his wife were starting their collection and if one were to start a similar collection today. These days many of the books  turned out to cost less when purchased via Amazon mainly because there are more popular, cheaper editions and reprints available.

Of the books on the list I have read only one: Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s excellent “The Worst Journey in the World“. John rounded off his talk with a quotation from “Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer” by Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell. He said ‘Shackleton’s leadership was so exceptional as to be deemed a worthy subject by management specialists’.

But there’s one book I’ll be looking out for (I hope it is in the Library Catalogue!) and that is “Mrs. Chippy’s Last Expedition: The Remarkable Journal of Shackleton’s Polar-Bound Cat” by Caroline Alexander. She was the only female member of an Antarctic Expedition at the time.

An addition was made to the programme and another speaker, Jane Francis of Leeds University, talked briefly about her own expeditions to the South Pole (10 in all) and showed us sample fossils (glossopteris) that she had collected.

Finally there was a Q&A session when we were able to question the speakers and a member of the library team on all manner of related topics not least the differences between the Scott and the Amundsen teams and methods.

This evening reminded me again of my visit to the Scott-Polar Research Institute in Cambridge last February.

A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life – The Leeds Library

Actually, the Leeds Library is my luxury!

I signed up to join The Leeds Library on 5 March 2008 and have never looked back. In fact I don’t know why I didn’t do so decades ago but there were several reasons for this. Membership was a bit more restricted in the old days, one had to buy shares. I thought I would never manage to get into Leeds every week or so. And I thought it would be outrageously expensive. But it’s turned out that none of those reasons apply now.

Each time I push the door open I enter a paradise – the smell, the smiles of the counter staff, the walls and walls of books, the lovely solid polished library furniture all combine to give me the most uplifting feeling imaginable. And I’m there almost every week.

I think there are rules but I have not yet fallen foul of them. I currently have 15 books on loan one of which is a 12 week loan and has been renewed 13 times! If another borrower requests it I’ll take it back straight away but I need time to read these huge tomes – there’s a time and a place for Orlando Figes’ ‘Natasha’s Dance’ and Edna Healey’s ‘Coutts & Co.: a portrait of  a private bank’. I’m still working my way through the 8 times renewed ‘Queen Mary’. I have another 2 books brought up from the depths of the basement stack especially for me: Joanna Cannan’s ‘Little I understood’ and Sarah Orne Jewett’s ‘The Queen’s Twin and other stories’. Waiting patiently to be read are some brand new books (Jane Brown’s ‘The omnipotent magician’ and ‘The Maids of La Rochelle’ by Elinor Brent-Dyer) which I’m the first person to borrow. I have several other books, taken straight from the shelves, (‘Pushkin’s Button’ by Serena Vitale, ‘A literary pilgrim’ by Edward Thomas) or the waiting list has finally got down to me (‘We are Besieged’ by Barbara Fitzgerald, ‘Hidden Treasures of England’ by Michael McNay).

In addition to books we can borrow magazines and DVDs. I’m on the list for The New Yorker which has at least one long article well worth reading alongside a couple of shorter ones and I absolutely love the cartoons. On the back page there is a competition – a new cartoon with no caption, a cartoon with 3 selected captions for readers to vote for and finally the winning caption with its cartoon. Never a dud! The other weekly magazine I’m on the list for is Country Life. This is because they often feature old houses, buildings, gardens and sometimes Landmark Trust properties. It’s almost as entertaining looking at the property pages in Country Life as it is studying the cartoons in the New Yorker!

Who needs Lovefilm? I don’t. On Friday I will be returning ‘Mildred Pierce’. Over the years I’ve caught up with missed TV programmes like ‘Who do you think you are?’, ‘Any human heart’ and the complete ‘Pallisers’ and I see from my Reservations List that ‘Daniel Deronda’ is waiting for me to enjoy on a winter evening next week. Now how civilised is that?