A Complete Reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnets

On 23rd April 2014 Guildhall Library celebrated what would have been Shakespeare’s 450th Birthday with ‘A Complete Reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnets’. The 154 sonnets were read by a team of 60 enthusiastic volunteers. Despite there being no practice run or rehearsal for the reading, the audience were treated to a wonderful and varied reading.

318Hearing all the sonnets read together was something of a revelation, at least to this member of the audience, as it was clear that the tone and emphasis changed quite radically, so that the final poems seemed very far removed from the earlier, perhaps more lyrical, sonnets.

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Dr Roy Booth, Senior Lecturer in Renaissance Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London, launched the event with an engaging and entertaining introduction to the poems and the sonnets were then read by volunteers including Guildhall Library customers, City of London Guides, Keats House Poetry Ambassadors and City of London staff.

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In addition we were joined by some special guests including Damian Lewis, the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning Homeland actor. Damian Lewis, who graduated from Guildhall School of Music & Drama in 1993, commenced the sonnet reading with the first five sonnets. He had previously prepared for this role by performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company and starring in the BBC’s updated ‘Shakespeare Re-Told’ version of Much ado about nothing!

005Damian Lewis’s participation was filmed for the City of London’s YouTube Channel, and you can watch the video online. The appearance of a Hollywood star as a sonnet reader received high profile press coverage, with the event reported by ITV News at Ten and ITV News Online, BBC London TV, the Daily Mail, City A.M. and The Daily Telegraph. 199

Other special guests included cast members from Grassroots Shakespeare London’s Othello: Nari Blair-Mangat (Othello), James Alexandrou (Iago), Boris Mitkov (Cassio), Emily Jane Kerr (Emilia), Adam Blampied (Roderigo), Helena Doughty (Bianca), James Law (Duke of Venice) and John McLear (Lodovico); Fiona Woolf, Lord Mayor of the City of London; Alderman Sir Roger Gifford; Alan Hollinghurst, Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Line of Beauty and The Stranger’s Child; Lucinda Hawksley, author and great-great-great granddaughter of Charles and Catherine Dickens; Lucy Inglis, historian and author; Kate Willoughby, actor and writer.

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Despite the complicated logistics of coordinating 60 volunteers (not to mention the media who accompanied our first sonnet reader!), the event ran more smoothly than we could have even hoped. We were grateful to the two sonnet readers who stepped in on the day before the event to cover for two poorly readers who were forced to pull-out. On the day, we had only one no-show, and the three sonnets that became available were quickly snapped up by other readers!

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The atmosphere at the event was enhanced by the sonnets being read alongside our ‘Shakespeare in Print’ exhibition with the First Folio, 1623, contemporary writers’ quartos, and later editions of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry providing a fitting backdrop to the event.

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We were delighted to host such a fantastic, enjoyable and unique event that allowed so many individuals to get involved with celebrating the Bard’s Birthday in style.

Take a look at our photos from the Complete Reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnets on Flickr.
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The Unsolved Mystery of Elizabeth Canning

Today in Guildhall Library our Principal Librarian, Dr Peter Ross, gave the first in a series of lunch time talks we’re holding as part of English Tourism Week. This talk featured the unusual story of Elizabeth Canning, discussed in further depth below. If this piques your interest, we have another five talks over the next week, with topics covering the plague, Jack Sheppard, Shakespeare, Victorian ‘lad’s mags’ and Agnes Marshall’s ice creams. Further details are listed at the end of this post.

Amongst Guildhall Library’s more unusual holdings are some rare pamphlets in the remarkable collection of material relating to a genuine mid-eighteenth century crime mystery – the disappearance of Elizabeth Canning.

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On 1 January 1753 Elizabeth Canning, a poorly educated maidservant, disappeared on her way home from visiting relatives and reappeared on 29 January 1753 at her mother’s house near St Mary Aldermanbury. According to her story, she had been abducted by two men in Moorfields, who dragged her to a house on the Hertford Road. There, an old woman solicited her to become a prostitute. When she refused, Canning was held prisoner for nearly a month, until she escaped through a window.

On 1 February a posse took Canning to Enfield, where, at the house of Mary Wells, Canning repeated her story, with notable inconsistencies. She picked a local Romany woman, a Miss Mary Squires as the one who had imprisoned her. Wells and Squires were arrested. The trial took place on 21 February 1753 at the Old Bailey.

Trial

Mary Squires said that she had been travelling in Dorset during Canning’s supposed imprisonment, and three witnesses supported her alibi. More witnesses had come to give evidence on her behalf, but the mob, incensed against the “Gypsy”, prevented them entering the courtroom. They were both found guilty and Wells was sentenced to branding on the thumb and six months in prison, whilst Squires was to be hanged.

Chief magistrate and Lord Mayor of London, Sir Crisp Gascoyne, however, was dissatisfied with the verdict. He opened his own enquiry, which resulted in several more witnesses supporting Squire’s alibi. Gascoyne appealed to the King who granted first a stay in execution and then a pardon in May of 1753. Canning was then indicted for perjury on 9 June 1753.

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The resulting press frenzy was extraordinary. The two camps were called the Canningites and Egyptians (for “Gypsy”). Henry Fielding wrote the pro-Canning A Clear State of the Case of Elizabeth Canning (Guildhall Library A 8.6 no. 5 in 10) and two of his enemies wrote replies. Allan Ramsay wrote A Letter to the Right Honourable the Earl of — Concerning the Affair of Elizabeth Canning (Guildhall Library Pam. 3226)  Gascoyne wrote An Address to the Liverymen of the City of London, from Sir Crisp Gascoyne (Guildhall Library Large pam. 580)  Gascoyne was physically attacked in his coach, and he received death threats.

Canning’s trial began at the Old Bailey on 29 April 1754 and there followed seven full days of evidence. She was eventually found guilty of corrupt and wilful perjury and sentenced to one month of imprisonment and seven years of transportation.

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Canning was transported to Wethersfield, Connecticut where she eventually married John Treat, a great-nephew of a Governor of Connecticut and had five children. She died 1773 at the age of 38. During her later years in America, she never explained what had happened to her during her missing month.

John Trehern’s The Canning Enigma provides an exciting modern description of the real events, whilst Josephine Tey’s novel The Franchise Affair updates the story to a home counties town in the 1940s. Tey’s novel regularly appears in listings of the top 100 crime novels and was made into a film in 1951. 

Peter Ross, Principal Librarian

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English Tourism Week talks at Guildhall Library
As part of English Tourism Week, Guildhall Library is holding a series of talks that take you beneath the surface of its collection and provide an insight into London through the ages. With a free mini-cupcake and the chance to win a great prize, what more could you ask for?
Each talk is free, requires no booking, and runs from 1-1.30pm

Monday 31st March 2014, The Bills of Mortality – Tissick, Tympany and Plague in 1665 
Each week in the 17th century, the Parish Clerks recorded the number of burials in the City and the causes of death. In doing so they have left us a remarkable and unrivalled record of disease.

Tuesday 1st April 2014, The Prison-Breaker triumphant – Newgate Prison 1724
Discover how, with his extraordinary escape from Newgate Prison on the night of 15 October 1724, Jack Sheppard, a 22-year-old burglar, became the most famous prison-breaker of all.

Wednesday 2nd April 2014, Shakespeare’s First Folio
The world would have lost 18 of Shakespeare’s plays had his friends not published the first collected edition in 1623. Discover the history of this remarkable book and find out why Guildhall Library’s copy is amongst the finest to survive.

Thursday 3rd April 2014, Buying under-the-counter ‘lads mags’ in Victorian London 
Our early Victorian ancestors may not have been as prim and proper as we imagine. Discover the contents of the soft-porn ‘lads mags’ they could buy in London’s Holywell and Wych streets.

Friday 4th April, 2014 Mrs Marshall: the queen of Victorian ice-cream 
Entrepreneur Agnes Marshall built up a highly successful kitchen equipment and cookery school business in late Victorian London. She specialised in creating extravagant ice-cream recipes and ice-cream machines that, today, influence the extraordinary creations of Heston Blumenthal.

Open Day feedback

A big thank you to everybody who attended Guildhall Library’s first open day last Saturday! It was great to meet so many of you and to hear your questions.

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Proving most popular on the day were our behind the scenes tours and the workshops on conservation and book care. Our collection displays sparked a lot of discussion on Twitter, with people particularly relishing the often odd causes of deaths shown in our copy of the Bills of Mortality, which was on display on the day.

Our survey requesting feedback from those who attended is still available online here – if you did attend please do let us know your thoughts!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Sheep Across London Bridge: The Freedom of the City

Guildhall Library was very pleased to welcome Murray Craig, the Clerk of the Chamberlain’s Court, to give a talk on the City Freedom, an institution which goes back to the early 13th century. Until the 19th century, one needed to be Free of the City, via a Livery Company or Guild in order to trade within the Square Mile.

Murray’s schedule is a busy one and he arrived, hot-foot from a ceremony, at 2 o’clock on the dot and launched straight into his talk.

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The audience enjoyed hearing about the history of the Freedom and how it is conducted in the present day. We were entertained with tales from his experience of meeting recipients of the Freedom and the Honorary Freedom.

Those receiving the Honorary Freedom are presented with an illuminated copy of the Freedom in a gold box, but there have been some notable exceptions. The boxes presented to Churchill and Florence Nightingale, for example, were made of wood. Churchill’s was made from relics of the wooden roof of Guildhall which had been destroyed in the Blitz. Florence Nightingale had requested something simpler and less expensive than gold for her Freedom casket – the result may have been made of wood – but no one could call it ‘plain’.

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Murray Craig told us about the fascination of hearing the many ways in which the declaration is spoken, sometimes whispered or even shouted, and on one memorable occasion recited in character.  His rendition of these speakers probably made the staff and readers next door jump – but the audience loved it.

A couple of years ago, Murray appeared with Len Goodman on ‘Who Do You Think You Are’.  We shared memories of the rush which descended upon Guildhall Library and the Chamberlain’s Court after the programme went on air and the nation heard that Guildhall Library holds records of City Weavers going back to 1600.  We had visitors forming an orderly queue for the same manuscripts for weeks!

Audience feedback was full of comments words like ‘Excellent’ and ‘Brilliant’ and there were several requests for us to ask him to speak again.  

But can you drive your sheep across London Bridge if you have the Freedom of the City?  Murray says the answer is no…because you would cause traffic chaos!

Jeanie Smith
Assistant Librarian

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A Complete History of London

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London’s Roman Amphitheatre provides ancient stage for city’s condensed history

London’s history – 50 million years of it – will be condensed into a one-hour play, staged this month in the remains of the city’s long-lost Roman Amphitheatre in the Square Mile, hosted by Guildhall Library.

A Complete History of London, written by former banker Tim Chapman, tells the story from when the capital was covered by ocean in pre-historic times to modern-day London. Three actors will perform a wide range of roles in the play, which includes appearances from Romans, Vikings and Danes, as well as Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Guy Fawkes.

‘Real’ Londoners also make an appearance in this fast-paced production. The play comically and inventively informs the audience about the development London went through to become the city we know today, and leaves spectators with a true sense of what life was like for Londoners through time.

London’s Roman Amphitheatre dates from c.70AD – its remains were discovered by archaeologists in 1988. Originally the site of gladiatorial contests, sporting prowess and public spectacle, this production will be the second time in 1,500 years that the space has been used as an entertainment venue, the first being for the recent, sold-out performances of Euripides’ Medea.

Sara Pink, Head of Guildhall Library, spoke of her excitement about the library’s venture into theatre:

“The ancient remains of the Roman Amphitheatre, 30ft underneath Guildhall Yard, are a very special space in which to perform, and we’re looking forward to watching the actors race through so many years of the city’s history. It promises to be a very inventive and funny evening, and I am sure that people will leave this unique auditorium, both informed about how Londoners lived throughout the ages and entertained by the trio’s performance.”

The play runs from Saturday 20 April to Friday 26 April (no performance on Sunday evening), with shows starting at 7:30pm.
Tickets cost £15 and are available here from Eventbrite, or in person from Guildhall Library or over the phone with a credit/debit card by calling 020 7332 1868/1870 during library opening hours.
Tickets are selling fast, with only 100 seats available per night!

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.