Early travel books: Gresham Collection

Guildhall Library holds a wonderful collection of travel books which are part of the Gresham College Library Collection. In the nineteenth century Mrs. Laetitia Hollier presented her late husband’s library, which included rare and valuable works on architecture, astronomy and mathematics as well as bibles and many books of travel to Gresham College. This collection was retained at Gresham College until 1958 when it was deposited here at Guildhall Library.

These travel books primarily date from the first half of the nineteenth century, but also include some works from the late eighteenth century and contain fascinating first-hand accounts of expeditions both overland and by sea. The authors were intrepid travellers and were often emissaries, army, navy and medical personnel or employed by wealthy patrons and on behalf of foreign potentates. 

Often featuring sociological and anthropological surveys of the countries and their people, the volumes may also include ecological and natural history reports, maps, select dictionaries and vocabularies of the indigenous population and even sheet music with accompanying local songs. 

Some ambitious works covered the world, but most concentrated on a specific country or region and were often written as a diary, journal, reports or letters. Considering the dangers and difficulties of charting what was often unknown territory, these works represent amazing feats of courage, determination, skill and survival.  Some follow the trading routes, especially to Turkey and through Central Asia to the Far East. Others include travels through Russia, Lapland, Greenland and expeditions to the North Pole. 

Prints from two books in this collection are shown below with extracts from the volumes.

“Towards the evening we entered the mountain and the Andes, by a glen of a steep ascent, up which we rode, and which carried us deep into it, that we lost all view of any ground except what was close around us, like small funnels; and we continued to wind, during an hour and a half, out of one steep funnel into another, until one of them became a little larger than the rest, and in it we found Villavicencia, where we halted for the night. This town serves to illustrate what has been observed, of the liberality with which the name is bestowed in South America: it consists of two huts in which we did not find any inhabitants, and a corral…

            Our resting place was in the open air, where a fire was lighted up and supper cooked to which an uninterrupted ride of thirteen hours had insured a welcome reception… Owing to a peculiar introduction and accident of light, the rising sun was here most magnificently beautiful, although the prospect did not extend beyond the sides of the funnel and the sky above it. The effect was rather that of a night scene, and of some forest on fire before us, than of the break of day and a rising sun. The Plate is from a sketch made of Villavicencia after we had left it. The travellers are getting up at the dawn of the day, and the peons lighting the fire for taking matés. A man is going to saddle the mule left in the corral all night, and to fetch the others from their pasture ground.”

Image and extract from:
Travels into Chile, over the Andes, in the years 1820 and 1821: with some sketches of the productions and agriculture; mines and metallurgy; inhabitants, history, and other features, of America; particularly of Chile, and Arauco by Peter Schmidtmeyer (Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, & Green, 1824), pp. 204-205.
Guildhall Library Reference: Gresham 70

Castle of Morzouk

“Morzouk is a walled town, containing about 2500 inhabitants… The houses are generally built in little narrow streets; but there are many open spaces, entirely void of buildings, and covered with sand, on which the camels of the traders remain. Many palms grow in the town, and some houses have small square enclosures, in which are cultivated a few red peppers and onions. The street of entrance is a broad space of at least a hundred yards, leading to the wall that surrounds the castle, and is extremely pretty: here the horsemen have full scope to display their abilities when they skirmish before the Sultan. The castle itself is an immense mud building, rising to the height of eighty or ninety feet, with little battlements on the walls (a fancy of the present Sultan’s): and at a distance really looks warlike.”

Image and extract from:
A narrative of travels in Northern Africa, in the years 1818, 19, and 20: accompanied by geographical notices of Soudan and of the course of the Niger by Captain G. F. Lyon (John Murray, 1821), pp. 97-98.
Guildhall Library Reference: Gresham 304

A list of travel books in this collection can be viewed on our catalogue: http://capitadiscovery.co.uk/cityoflondon/items?query=class%3Agresham+travel

All the books in the Gresham College Library Collection can be consulted at Guildhall Library – as these are classed as rare items you will need to sign in and show one form of identification.

Rosie Eddisford
Assistant Librarian

Shoreditch, 1937

As part of our weekly Twitter feature on Guildhall Library’s Collections – which utilises the hash tag #GLCol – we recently ran a week-long series of tweets based on the 1937 Official Guide to the Metropolitan Borough of Shoreditch. This Guide was issued back in the day ‘under the Auspices of Shoreditch Borough Council’ – now part of the London Borough of Hackney – and offers many interesting insights into life in 1930’s Shoreditch.

This sixth edition of the Guide includes data on Shoreditch (population: 97,042), its buildings, thoroughfares and places of note. The preface describes Shoreditch as a ‘combination of historical old parishes and a progressive modern borough’, and its connections with early theatre and Shakespeare are also discussed. A number of lovely old street photographs are peppered throughout the Guide, such as the one depicting High Street below – apparently this street was widened ‘about half a century ago’ at the rather staggering cost of £121,816.


The vast majority of the Guide is actually composed of advertisements for local businesses, with furniture trades and their suppliers predominating. This is hardly surprising given the area’s reputation as a hub of furniture production. There is also a separate section detailing ‘The Furniture Trade of Shoreditch’. Lacquer artists make an appearance too, in what is one my favourite adverts in the Guide:


It was the borough’s role in furniture production that is still represented today in Hoxton’s Geffrye Museum, which itself gets a significant mention in the Guide. The institution has a fascinating background as the site of almshouses erected in 1715. The Museum opened in 1914, and is described as containing exhibits of ‘all such things as went into the making of the homes of Bygone Londoners’.

Recent acquisitions included a Queen Anne oak staircase from Lower Clapton Road, presented by Hackney Borough Council, and an entire room from the recently demolished Pewterers’ Hall. The Guide also notes that the museum had a lecture hall in the ‘South Wing’, which seated 200 and was used on Thursday nights for adults, and three mornings and three afternoons per week for local school children.


Shoreditch Borough Council was understandably very proud of its early adoption and promotion of electricity – its motto, shown on the cover of the Guide, emphatically stated ‘More Light, More Power’. The third section of the guide is dedicated to ‘Electricity supply’. Today, the electricity sub-station it refers to on Coronet Street has been restored and is a thriving circus school, Circus Space. The Electricity Offices and Showrooms, where people once came to be dazzled by the latest innovations in consumer electrics, are now a bar and restaurant, called the Electricity Showrooms.
019These new uses for old buildings also reflect the changing face of modern Shoreditch, which is perhaps now best known for its shopping, restaurants, street art and nightlife. Even back in 1937 it was already being described as ‘a comprehensive shopping centre’. But there have been some significant changes – Thursdays were ‘Early Closing’ day, with Shoreditch shops and traders shutting up shop at 1pm!

026Some things stay the same however…You can just make out Syd’s Coffee Stall in bottom right-hand corner of the photograph of St Leonard’s Church (of ‘the bells of St Leonard’s’ fame, shown above). Syd’s has been on that site since 1919 – for so long in fact that the road’s yellow lines have even been painted around it! Drop by today and the original owner’s descendants can show you a board displaying memorabilia and old photographs…

You can also drop by Guildhall Library and view the Official Guide for yourself. We hold the 1926, 1929, 1932 and 1962 editions as well.

Anne-Marie Nankivell
Library Assistant

Oh, The Grand Old Duke of York…

Duke of York

Having come across it quite by chance, I could not resist sharing this entertaining anecdote:

‘Several of the Princes, sons to George III, became members of Brookes’s soon after coming of age. The two eldest were of course great favourites with every body; but this partiality was not so much the consequence of their high rank as of their great good-nature and affability, their convivial habits, and their uniformly genteel deportment…In short, two finer-looking young men than the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York were not to be seen in a day’s march…

It being customary for the young bucks of those days to sit late, or rather early, over the bottle, it was very common, whilst “serpenting home to bed,” to meet with odd adventures; and no less so, to seek them…

The Duke of York, Colonel St. Leger, Tom Stepney, and two others, one morning, about three o’clock, came reeling along Pall-Mall highly-charged with the juice of the grape, and ripe for a row. Meeting with nothing worthy of their attention, they entered St James’s street, and soon arrived at Brookes’s, where they kicked and knocked most loudly for admission, but in vain; for, nine-tenths of the members were then out of town, and of course the family and servants had for hours been wrapped in the mantle of Somnus. Our heroes, however, were resolved on effecting an entrance, and would soon have made one for themselves, if some of the inmates, roused by the dreadful noise, and apprehension of fire, had not run down-stairs and opened the outer door.

001Whilst all possible haste was exerted to effect this on the inside, it was proposed by one of the gentry outside, to rush in pell-mell, and knock down the waiters and every thing else that should impede their progress. No sooner said than done: when they arrived in the inner hall, they commenced the destructions of chairs, tables, and chandeliers, and kicked up such a horrible din as might awake the dead.

Every male and female servant in the establishment now came running towards the hall from all quarters, in a state of demi-nudity, anxious to assist in protecting the house, or to escape from the supposed house-breakers. During this melee there was no light; and the uproar made by the maid-servants, who, in the confusion, rushed into the arms of our heroes, and expected nothing short of immediate violence and murder, was tremendous.

At length, one of the waiters ran for a loaded blunderbuss, which having cocked, and rested on an angle of the bannisters, he would have discharged among the intruders. From doing this, however, he was most providentially deterred by the housekeeper, who with no other covering than her chemise and flannel-petticoat, was fast approaching with a light, which no sooner flashed upon the faces of these midnight disturbers, than she exclaimed,

“For Heaven’s sake, Tom, don’t fire! It is only the Duke of York!”… ‘

Excerpt from Charles Marsh’s The Clubs of London; with anecdotes of their members, sketches of character and conversation, Volume One, 1828, p.87.

Image of Prince Frederick,  Duke of York at George IV’s coronation, 1821, from George the Fourth in the abbey of St. Peter, West-minster: including the names of the archbishops, bishops, peers, knights, and principal officers who assisted in that ceremony, John Whittaker and Sir George Nayler, 1823.

Isabelle Chevallot
Assistant Librarian

Guildhall Library’s catalogue – containing this and other gems – is available online: http://prism.talis.com/cityoflondon


Peculiar personages from history

James Caulfield’s entertaining work: Portraits, memoirs, and characters, of remarkable persons, from the revolution in 1688 to the end of the reign of George II: Collected from the most authentic accounts extant, 1819, does not disappoint. It is filled with a number of curious characters including: Blind Granny, an old blind soak with the party trick of licking her blind eye with her tongue, Blind Jack, who earned a living entertaining Londoners playing the flageolet through his nostril, and Mary Toft, a woman who claimed she had given birth to rabbits.

Blind granny2

Described by Caulfield as a ‘miserable, wretched drunken object, who blind of one eye, used to annoy the passengers in the streets of London, while sober, with licking her blind eye with her tongue, which was of a most enormous length and thickness; indeed, it was of a such a prodigious size, that her mouth could not contain it, and she could never close her lips, or to use a common expression, keep her tongue within her teeth.’

“He [Blind Jack] conceived a notion that, by performing on the instrument in a different way to that generally practiced, he should render himself more noticed by the public, and be able to lay larger contributions on their pockets.

Blind Jack1

The manner of Blind Jack’s playing the flageolet was by way of obtruding the mouthpiece of the instrument up one of his nostrils, and, by long custom, he could produce as much wind as most others with lips into the pipe; but the continued contortion and gesticulation of his muscles and countenance, rendered him an object of derision and disgust, as much as that of charity and commiseration.”

Mary Toft

Mary Tofts pretended rabbit breeder2

England was bewildered in 1726 by Mary Toft’s claims to have given birth to rabbits. Her doctor, Mr Howard, a well-regarded man who had practised medicine for over thirty years, backed up her claims, saying that he had personally helped her deliver at least eighteen rabbits. When King George I heard of this he was so intrigued that he sent his anatomist Mr St. Andre to investigate, and he returned convinced that Mary Toft had indeed given birth to rabbits, and recommended that she be awarded a royal pension.

Sir Richard Manningham, Fellow of the Royal Society and of London’s College of Physicians was sent to investigate. Manningham soon got to the bottom of the matter and got a porter to confess to supplying Mary Toft’s sister-in-law with a rabbit. Still Mary Toft refused to confess to the fraud and it was only when Manningham threatened to perform painful surgery on her to investigate whether her body was different from other women that she admitted to the deception. Mary admitted that she had manually inserted dead rabbits into her vagina after a miscarriage, subsequently allowing them to be removed as if she had given birth to them. Manningham published his account An Exact Diary of what was observ’d during a Close Attendance upon Mary Toft, the pretended Rabbit-Breeder of Godalming in 1726.

full spread mary Toft

Cunicularii or the wise men of Godliman in consultation by William Hogarth, 1726, in ‘Mary Toft Rabbet Breeder, 1725-7’: Bay H 4.1 85

By Isabelle Chevallot, Assistant Librarian assisted by Lauren Davis, on work experience with the Lord Mayor’s Cultural Scheme.

Open Day 2013

On Saturday Guildhall Library will hold its first open day. As a public library, open to all six days a week the irony of closing our usual services to offer an ‘open’ day is not lost on us! So why are we doing it? We hope to take this chance to show you the breadth and depth of our collections.

2013_06_25 GHL General Mezzanine 003

Perhaps the most challenging question the staff are asked is “what does Guildhall library hold?” since it is not a question that can be answered concisely! We are the library of London history; in fact it is the largest collection on the history of a single city anywhere in the world. But our collections cover subjects wider than London alone: historic recipes dating back to 1531, the journeys and losses of merchant vessels, annual reports of companies listed on the London Stock Exchange, 18th and 19th century travel books, books on archery, clocks and gardening can all be found in our collections.

However, as a closed access library most of this varied, fascinating and sometimes unique material is held in our book stores. This allows us to hold many times more material than we could fit on the open shelves in the Library. However, the downside is that all you can initially see is a list of catalogue records and, however good the catalogue, it can sometimes be difficult to get a sense of the item or collection.

2013_06_25 GHL Details 006

As staff we are privileged to work with and have access to this remarkable material, but our collections are available to all and you are able to search our holdings and order and consult any item. Our bookstores hold a wealth of information just waiting to be discovered. But sometimes it’s knowing where to start…

So our Open Day is an opportunity for us to tell you about some of the collections that we hold (we can’t manage to fit ALL of them in one day!). You can view a range of items from the collection and we will be on hand to tell you more. Through talks, workshops and drop in sessions we will also show you how you can access everything – from 15th century publications to the latest e-resources.

With collection displays, talks, films, tours and workshops there will be much to see and do along with London walks, provided by the City Guides (for which charge applies), that may encourage you to find more about the city. And next week normal service will resume, and we hope you will be inspired to visit and enjoy conducting your research in this impressive Library.

Rosie Eddisford
Assistant Librarian

Our Open Day will be held this Saturday, 20th July, from 10am to 5pm. The full program can be found online here.

2013_06_25 GHL Computers 044

‘Abyssinian’ Bruce

While perusing Stuart Gordon’s The Book of Hoaxes I came across a rather remarkable fellow who, unlike most of the other people included in the book, actually did everything he claimed, only to be accused of lying about his adventures.

James Bruce (1730-1794) published Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile in 1790. In this five volume work he described his travels in Abyssinia, posing first as a wandering fakir and then as a Syrian physician. In the Massawa province, on the Red Sea coast, after enduring physical hardships, and overcoming the difficulties of carrying technical instruments over rugged mountain terrain, Bruce witnessed the Abyssinian custom of eating raw beef steak cut from living beasts.


Bruce was only the second European to visit the isolated mountain kingdom of Abyssinia since the seventeenth century, and when he arrived in Gondor, the capital at that time, the kingdom was in turmoil, with warlords threating to overpower the emperor. In order to travel through Abyssinia, Bruce needed to establish good relations with Ras Michael, the political force behind the fifteen-year-old emperor Haimanout II. Bruce’s mastery of the Tigrinya and Amaharic languages, and his insistence, after dropping his physician disguise, that he was a protestant Christian not a hated Roman Catholic, won him the governorship of Ras-el-Fil on the Sudanese border.


En route to discover the source of the Nile, Bruce encountered Fasil of Damot, the rebellious warlord, and his Galla army, and so impressed Fasil with his marksmanship and by taming a wild horse that he sent Bruce on his way with a body guard. On 4 November 1770, Bruce’s party crossed the Little Abbai, arriving at the ‘Nile source’ at Gish.

It is easier to guess than describe the situation of my mind at that moment—standing in that spot which had baffled the genius, industry, and inquiry, of both ancients and moderns, for the course of nearly three thousand years. Kings had attempted this discovery at the head of armies, and each expedition was distinguished from the last, only by the difference of the numbers which had perished, and agreed alone in the disappointment which had uniformly and without exception followed them all…Though a mere private Briton, I triumphed here, in my own mind, over kings and their armies; and every comparison was leading nearer and nearer to presumption, when the place itself where I stood, the object of my vain-glory, suggested what depressed my short-lived triumphs. I was, however, but then half through my journey, and all the danger which I had already passed, awaited me again on my return. (Bruce, 3.597)

Bruce’s return home was fraught with danger. Upon his return to Gondor he found the capital in the midst of turmoil. Bruce joined Ras Michael’s forces to fight against the rebel warlords. However, after making little gain in a few battles Michael was deposed, and Bruce looked for an opportunity to leave the country. Laden with botanical specimens, journals and maps he set off towards Egypt across the Nubian Desert.


Bruce’s caravan soon ran out of food and water, and, after having eaten their last camel, he was forced to struggle on to Aswan on foot, having abandoned all specimens and journals. As soon as Bruce had recovered from his twenty day desert ordeal, he returned to the desert to recover his belongings. Plagued by severely swollen feet, guinea worm in his leg, and malaria, Bruce finally got back to England in 1774.

For a while Bruce stole the limelight from other recently returned Pacific explorers Captain Cook and Joseph Banks. However he was derided by Dr Samuel Johnson, who considered himself an Abyssinian expert, and who took a critical view of Bruce’s achievements.

Bruce’s Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile proved to be an instant success, its original edition selling out to booksellers within 32 hours. Despite such success, Bruce’s anecdotes of his travels were greeted with widespread incredulity. The worst insult came when a sequel to Baron Münchhausen’s travels was dedicated to him, based directly on his travels to Ethiopia.

Isabelle Chevallot
Assistant Librarian

Guildhall Library’s catalogue is available online: http://prism.talis.com/cityoflondon

A list of books about hoaxes can be viewed here: http://is.gd/hoaxes

A select list of our holdings of early travel books can be viewed here: http://is.gd/Gresham


A history of blancmange

As Guildhall Library prepares to host a panel discussion covering the history of English food and cuisine from Roman Britain to the celebrity chefs of the present-day, this week’s post features a much smaller segment of food history: the history of blancmange…


One of the earliest extant cookery books is The Forme of cury – meaning ‘the proper method of cookery’. It has been attributed to the cooks employed by Richard II and, in its original form, may have been compiled as early as 1390. Of the approximately 200 recipes it contains – many of which are highly coloured – one looks particularly familiar.

The blank maunger recalls that much loathed staple of my childhood birthday parties – blancmange – but in the medieval period, this recipe, literally meaning ‘white food’ consisted of rice and capons with almond milk and ‘almandes fryed in white grece’ and was probably derived from an Arabic dish. This was a blander, less heavily spiced concoction than many medieval dishes and may have been used to tempt the appetite of invalids.


Its transition through the centuries has been charted by C. Anne Wilson, who noted that by Elizabethan times a meatless version existed, made with cream, sugar and rosewater and thickened with egg yolks or beaten egg whites.

Both versions are given in Robert May’s The accomplisht cook, first published in 1660. Wilson thinks that by the 17th century the English were starting to lose interest in this ancient survival of a dish, and that its renaissance started in France with a new approach. A capon or hen and a calves foot were boiled together, and the stock drawn off and strained. Before it set, beaten chickenflesh, rosewater, ground almonds and breadcrumbs were added, creating a thick jelly.


Another version was based on jelly made from hartshorn shavings, coloured with cream and ground almonds, and it was this variant that became 18th century English blancmange. The compleat city and country cook: or, accomplish’d housewife by Charles Carter (2nd edn., 1736) has the following recipe for blemange of isinglass:

Take three Calves-feet and split them, put in a Gallon of Water, two Ounces of Eringo-roots candy’d, two Blades of Mace, one Stick of Cinnamon, boil this until it comes to three Quarts, then strain it off, put in six Ounces of Loaf-sugar, half a Pint of Cream, four Ounces of Almonds pounded very fine and strain’d, a little Rose or Orange Flower Water, then strain very fine into your Dish or Cups, and let it stand until cold; garnish with bitter Almond Bisket.


Carter also has a recipe for blancmange layered in different colours, using saffron, cochineal, syrup of clove-gilly-flowers, spinach juice and pistachio kernels as colouring. Eliza Acton in Modern cookery, in all its branches (14th edn., 1854), similarly uses spinach, cochineal and saffron but also chocolate in her recipe for blamange rubané (striped blancmange).


The final transformation of blancmange came via the Atlantic with the introduction of arrowroot into Britain as a thickening agent. Boiling milk, sweetened and seasoned with cinnamon and lemon peel, was poured on a solution of arrowroot and stirred till it thickened. Put into a blancmange mould, it could then be turned out when ready to be served, making what William Mead described rather uncharitably as a ‘gelatinous composition served with a sweetened sauce’.

All the publications mentioned above can be found at Guildhall Library among our internationally renowned collection of books on food and wine.

Val Hart
Assistant Librarian

If this has whet your appetite, join us for a panel discussion covering the history of English food and cuisine, that also explores the question – why does nobody eat in books?
Wednesday 22nd May, 6pm-8pm
Cost: £5 – includes a glass of wine
Advance booking required on 020 7332 1868 / 020 7332 1870 or via guildhall.library@cityoflondon.gov.uk
Lawrence Norfolk, author of John Saturnall’s Feast (and three previous novels) and Kate Colquhoun, author of Taste: The Story of Britain through its Cooking, will be discussing the history of English food and cuisine from Roman Britain to the celebrity chefs of the present-day as well as addressing that enigmatic question of why nobody ever seems to eat in books. Lawrence’s novel, featuring food and cooking at the heart of the story, is set during the time of England’s Civil War and was inspired by Kate’s book.


Worshipful Company of Gardeners’ collection

With Guildhall Library’s exhibition showcasing some of the gems of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners’ Horticultural Library now open, this week our blog looks at the history of this fascinating collection, and some of its key items.


In April 1891 the Worshipful Company of Gardeners passed a resolution to grant funds for the purchase of books to form the nucleus of a library of horticulture at Guildhall Library. Behind this resolution was the public spirited intention of providing a collection of current gardening manuals as a reference resource for City workers. The collection was placed under the Library’s control in 1922 whilst remaining the property of the Gardeners’ Company.

In recent decades, the comparatively low cost of gardening manuals has increased general ownership and the focus of the collection has shifted toward antiquarian and rare books. The gardening manuals were transferred to the lending libraries in the 1960s but the Company’s collection remains at Guildhall Library and can be consulted on production of one form of identification (showing proof of address).

The collection ranges from almanacs to zoophytes; so this is just a sample from around five hundred printed books and journals from the sixteenth-century to the present.

John Evelyn’s Kalendarium Hortense: or, The Gard’ner’s Almanac: Directing What he is to Do Monthly Throughout the Year and What Fruits and Flowers are in Prime  (1691) tells gardeners that in November they should “hardly be too sparing of Water to your hous’d plants…the not observing of this destroys more plants than all the rudenesses of the season.” The volume concludes with “a catalogue of such excellent Fruit Trees as may direct Gentlemen to the Choice of that which is good, and Store sufficient for a moderate plantation: Species and Curiosities being otherwise boundless, and without end.”

Gardeners collectionThe Compleat Florist was first published in 1740 and offered advice to flower growers and pleasure for the general reader. Our 1794 edition offers a series of plates (see left) giving detailed engraved illustrations for each flower, time of flowering and instructions for cultivation. Today it is an informative guide to the plants available to the eighteenth-century gardener.

The library includes several of the works of Gertrude Jekyll including Wood and Garden (1899) and Home and Garden (1900) which describe the creation of her house and garden with architect Edwin Lutyens at Munstead Wood in 1896. These volumes are illustrated with Jekyll’s own photographs.

Another volume to enjoy for its text and illustration is Poet Laureate Alfred Austin’s prose idyll The Garden that I Love (1906 2nd edition) with sixteen reproduced watercolours by artist George S Elgood RI. 

Gardeners postcardA list of the publications in this collection can be viewed on our catalogue here.

The Gardeners’ Company promotes good gardening and supports centres of horticultural excellence. It is probably best known to city workers for its ‘Flowers in the City’ campaign, which aims to “’beautify’ the City, to make the City a place to be proud of, and a joy to work or live in.”

Jeanie Smith, Assistant Librarian

Guildhall Library is holding a free exhibition showcasing some of the collections held by The Worshipful Company of Gardeners, usually not on view to the public, from 2 May – 26 July 2013.

‘The Temple of Flora’, plants as medicine, the history of botany and London gardeners are all brought vividly to life through manuscripts, monographs, objects, robes and even a silver spade!  

Our most useful London history books?

As A Complete History of London the one-hour romp through London’s history we’ve been hosting in the Roman Amphitheatre – draws to a close, we thought we’d bring you our very own shortcut to London history, with our top three most useful books.


Guildhall Library staff have answered thousands of research enquiries over many years and it has become clear that there are some books that are used more frequently than any others in finding the answers. Below we will reveal what we believe to be the top three most useful books at Guildhall Library for researching London history. However, feel free to nominate your own candidates for the ‘most useful’ title in the comments section below! So, in no particular order, here they are:

1. A Dictionary of London: being notes topographical and historical relating to the streets and principal buildings in the City of London. Henry A. Harben (Herbert Jenkins, London 1918).

Harben’s book, actually published after his death, attempts to deal systematically with all the streets in the City of London from the historical and topographical point of view. The aim of the book is to record from original records and from maps and plans, the location of the streets and buildings of the City, to trace the origin of their names and to record their formation and growth. As such, the book is an almost infallible guide to which streets fall within the boundaries of the City and the earliest record of their name. It is clear that many later publications have drawn heavily upon this work, notably the London Encyclopedia, but none have bettered its accuracy and succinctness.

2. John Tallis’s London Street Views 1838 – 1840 (London Topographical Society, rev edition, 2002).

‘One of the wonders of the present age … a most singular and successful effort to depict a plan of London, by giving a representation of each street, with the front of every house.’ So wrote a contemporary reviewer of a serial publication issued between 1838 and 1840. It was the brainchild of John Tallis, an enterprising young London bookseller whose later career included establishing an American agency, creating a rival to the London Illustrated News (after trying to buy it), and recovering from bankruptcy.

Each part depicted the elevations of both sides of a major London street, engraved with a map of the surrounding area and a view of the street itself, or a shop or famous building there. Some issues dealt with the whole of the chosen street, but longer or more important thoroughfares might be covered by up to six parts. Each one cost just a 1½d; much of the cost of production was covered by the sale of the advertising space on the cover and spare pages.


Tallis’s Street Views is unique in attempting to show every shop and building front on each chosen street. It provides a snapshot of the London landscape of the time, representing the Georgian City of low-rise individual houses and shops. These would soon afterwards be transformed by Victorian entrepreneurs, whose viaducts and bridges, new roads and railways gradually obliterated many of the buildings depicted here.

3. Public Sculpture of the City of London, Philip Ward-Jackson (Liverpool University Press, 2003).

The aim of this volume is to record in detail and in photographs all of the public sculpture in the City of London other than those found in art galleries, museums, cathedrals and churches. The book locates the position of sculptures, records the history of their commission, the sculptor, the size and, most usefully, the inscriptions. Not only are free-standing sculptures recorded by the book, but it also includes those to be found incorporated into the architecture of the buildings of the City.

This book is the seventh volume in Public Sculpture of Britain, a series intended eventually to cover the whole of the country and produced by the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association. A companion London volume, The Public Sculpture of South London has been published and volumes covering West London and Westminster are in preparation.

These publications – and of course many, many more on London history – can all be found on the open shelves at Guildhall Library.

Let us know what you think our most useful books are!

Huguenots of Spitalfields Festival

Weavers bookGuildhall Library is delighted to be hosting three talks as part of the Huguenots of Spitalfields Festival, which also includes walks, visits, exhibitions and demonstrations of weaving. Whether you have Huguenot ancestors, an interest in arts and crafts or in the history of Spitalfields, there will be something for you.

There are three free talks being held at Guildhall Library:

Monday 8th April – Exploring Spitalfields with Tim Kidd

Tuesday 9th April -The Huguenot Silk Weavers: From Riches to Rags with Sue Jackson

Monday 15th April – What is a Protestant? What is a Huguenot? with Rev Andy Rider

Each talk will be held from 2-3pm. Booking is not required, but do come along early to ensure a place as we have limited capacity (70 people).

Weaver's bobbin, Spitalfields

Weaver’s bobbin, Spitalfields

The festival will run from Monday 8th April to Sunday 21st April 2013. It marks the 250th anniversary of the English textile designer Anna Maria Garthwaite (1690-1763), who lived in Spitalfield’s Fournier Street. Other events will be taking place across the City as part of the festival, including at Bishopsgate Institute, the Museum of London and London Metropolitan Archives. There will also be a Meet the Curator at the Clockmakers’ Museum day from 10am – 4pm on the 9th of April.

To find out more, see the Festival website or pick up a guide in the library or the City Information Centre. If you are interested in exploring your own Huguenot connections, a list of resources for studying the Huguenots at Guildhall Library is available online here or from our enquiry desk.