The monster album

Working as a librarian you quickly become accustomed to books regularly being requested by a description, rather than a title. “I’m looking for a book, I saw it here before, I don’t remember the title but it was a small red book”. Happily, after a few probing questions, the relevant book can usually be located!

Indeed some books are commonly known by a descriptive title, for example, the ‘the blue book’ is the annual City of London directory & livery companies guide and the ‘white book’ is the legal publication Civil procedure.

Guildhall Library’s ‘hairy book’ has now been transferred to the archives at London Metropolitan Archives (search for Reference Code: CLC/313/B/012/MS25501 on LMA’s catalogue for more info! ), much to the relief of some of my more squeamish colleagues.

‘The bible’ is an indispensable (to Guildhall Library staff at least!) staff manual containing information about Guildhall Library policy and practice between 1930 and 1980.

Another book in Guildhall Library’s collection is best known by the description, ‘the big book’ or the ‘giant book’, or, as we have recently discovered, ‘the monster album’!

Here it is:

005‘The giant book’ is the largest book in Guildhall Library’s collection. It measures 3 foot six and a half inches high and 5 foot 3 inches wide. It is 8 inches deep.

014The cover of the book is so large and so heavy that it takes two people to open it – two handles are built into the cover of the book to assist with opening.

025‘The giant book’ is unfortunately too large to be consulted or displayed in the Library. On the rare occasions it has to be moved it takes 8 (fairly strong!) individuals to manoeuvre it. However, you can sometimes glimpse ‘the giant book’ taking up a whole shelf in the Library’s book stores during our monthly ‘History and Treasures of Guildhall Library’ tours. (You can book for these tours via www.ghlevents.eventbrite.co.uk).

Here is what can be seen if you can find another person to help you open the book!

023The end papers of this book are actually made of a vibrant pink silk, rather than paper. Another book is shown here along with a £20 note to give you an idea of scale.

And the contents of ‘the giant book’? Well inside this book is actually blank! The book is an album which was produced as an example of fine binding for the 1862 International Exhibition. It shows a range of types of binding, including this inlaid leather binding, tiny leather squares make up the flowers in a mosaic effect.

035Recently while undertaking research for an enquiry I came across a reference to the ‘The giant book’ in the Report of the Librarian and Director to the Library Committee from 1941. This not only provides the additional information, not previously noted in our records, that this album was made by Mr Charles Rollinger, but also reveals it nearly came to a fateful end that year:

“One of the most inappropriate gifts ever made to this Museum was a monster album presented to your Committee after the great exhibition of 1862, made by Mr Charles Rollinger as a specimen of mosaic binding, and weighing about 700 lbs; it consists of nothing but blank paper of fine quality. In these days of shortage, I cannot think it is right to keep lying idle this quantity of material so greatly in demand, and I venture to suggest that, if the covers and the dedication may be preserved, the contents could be put to some useful war purpose.” (Report of the Librarian and Director to the Library Committee, 6 October 1941, page 242).

While sympathising that during wartime this album represented a ‘waste’ of fine paper, we cannot help but be pleased that, for whatever reason, Guildhall Library’s ‘giant book’ was not put to “some useful war purpose” and is still in the collection over 70 years later.

Rosie Eddisford
Assistant Librarian

 

Horticultural discoveries in Guildhall Library

126One would think that a volume offering the results of a series of experiments on the nutritional quality of animal fodder would be a book for the interested minority – not so as I recently discovered on a visit to our underground store. A colleague was shelf checking items from the Gardeners’ Company Library and called me over to take a look at this remarkable volume:

Hortus Gramineus Woburnensis: Or, An Account of the Results of Experiments on the Produce, and Nutritive Qualities of Different Grasses, and Other Plants, used as the Food of the more Valuable Domestic Animals: Instituted by John Duke Of Bedford; By George Sinclair

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This 1st edition copy was published at the Duke’s expense in 1816.

The title page tells us that it is “Illustrated with dried specimens of the plants upon which these experiments have been made, and practical observations on their natural habits, and the soils best adapted to their growth; pointing out the kinds most profitable for permanent pasture, irrigated meadows, dry or upland pasture, and the alternate husbandry; accompanied with the discriminating characters of the species, and varieties.”

It is an example of ‘natural illustration’ i.e. the volume is illustrated with 123 dried specimens and 35 samples of seeds mounted on blank leaves. The Latin and English names are printed on small labels and attached to the illustration. This was a common way of labelling natural illustrations as it was simpler to allow plenty of space on the mount for variation in the size of the plants across the volumes.

151This ‘herbarium’ (collection of dried preserved specimens that document the identity of plants and fungi) is an early 19th century ecological experiment. The work was directed by Sinclair and was highly regarded by Charles Darwin who made use of it for his Origin of Species.

It is difficult to assess the Duke’s expectation of interest and sales of the volume. The Duke’s herbarium was attractive but not economically viable and later editions were printed with conventional illustrations.

It is not surprising that the production and the subsequent preservation of this type of volume presented challenges for bookbinders and conservators. Common problems with herbariums are distortion of the binding owing to the thickness of the specimens, keeping the specimens attached to the mount and staining from the plants resulting in a transferred image on the facing verso.

131Fortunately Hortus Gramineus Woburnensis is interspersed with tissue guards offering some protection to both plant and page. The tissue guards carry imprints from the plants and are also a feature of interest.

George Sinclair (1786-1834) was born in Berwickshire and his father and uncle were professional gardeners to the nobility. He superintended the gardens at Woburn Abbey for the Sixth Duke of Bedford for about seventeen years.

The sixth Duke went on to produce Salicetum Woburnense (1829) and Pinetum Woburnense (1839) with the assistance of his later Head Gardener, James Forbes.

George Sinclair went into business with Cormack & Son, nurserymen and seedsmen at New Cross. He became a fellow of both the Linnean Society and of the Horticultural Society.

The Library of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners has been housed at Guildhall Library since 1891. Library users are welcome to consult volumes from this library by signing in at the enquiry desk and showing proof of name and address (passport, utility bill, driving licence etc.) All of the Gardeners’ Library Collection can be found on the library catalogue at http://capitadiscovery.co.uk/cityoflondon/

Jeanie Smith
Assistant Librarian

New maritime e-resources

???????????????????????????????The Lloyd’s Marine Collection at Guildhall Library is among our most valued resources. We receive more e-mail and postal enquiries for this collection than for any other.

We are very pleased to announce that the library has some new online resources for maritime history researchers to complement the Lloyd’s collection.

Lloyd’s List & Lloyd’s List Intelligence
www.lloydslist.com & www.lloydslistintelligence.com

We are delighted to have subscription access to both Lloyd’s List and Lloyd’s List Intelligence. Both resources include a searchable, online archive back to 1997. This is great news for those of you whose vessel research requires shipping movements and marine news from 1997 onward. No more laboriously going through each issue on microfilm!

We were very sorry to see the demise of the printed version of Lloyd’s List in December 2013, especially as our collection goes back to the first (surviving) issue in 1741, so we are pleased to confirm that the archive continues in this new format (for use in Guildhall Library – proof of name and address required).

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Convoys Database
http://ww1.convoyweb.org.uk/guildhall/index.php

Guildhall Library has been honoured to host the work of the military historians who have given their time and knowledge to creating a database of the movements of World War Two Convoys. This work was begun in the 1980s by the late Arnold Hague (1930 – 2007); and has been continued by his associates.

Their invaluable work has only been accessible to staff members in the past, but has now been converted into an easily searchable website. Access to this resource is available in Guildhall Library only. We are very grateful for the generosity of researchers past and present and to the web master who willingly donated time and expertise in making this invaluable and accessible resource. We hope to expand and develop the site in the future so do look out for announcements.

ArcticStar

Ship Index
www.shipindex.org

We have subscribed to the premium version of this database and it is available not only to users within Guildhall Library but remotely for members of City of London Libraries.

The site now contains nearly 2.8 million citations compiled from indexes for books, journals, websites and other resources. Over 85% of the citations link to the full text, either through Google Books or to online resources and the vessel search is particularly useful for locating photographs of ships.

The citations also link to library catalogues helping you to locate material not available digitally.

Lloyd's list

Don’t forget to explore our Ebsco Discovery Service. With a City of London Library Card you can search in the library or at home for books, articles and reviews on maritime subjects using EBSCO, JSTOR and Oxford Reference. You can see a complete list and find an online form for joining the library at: http://capitadiscovery.co.uk/cityoflondon/assets/-/onlineref.html

We are committed to developing tools to help users to access our collections and we have been fortunate to have a dedicated group of volunteers who have completed some great work over the years, including putting over 250,000 voyage record cards which were in 6 chronological sequences into one alphabetical run!

The benefits of their labour and commitment are also felt by the many people who use Guildhall Library’s unique index to Lloyd’s List Marine News 1740 – 1837, freely available on our website: https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/lloydslist/

In the coming years we hope to be able to make further indexes to Board of Trade Reports and Inquiries and other material available and our volunteers are currently working on an index to marine news in Lloyd’s List covering the 1920s to the 1970s. The task will take some time and we are grateful for all of our (past and present) volunteers’ hard work over many hours.

For more information and guides about the Lloyd’s Marine Collection see http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visiting-the-city/archives-and-city-history/guildhall-library/collections/Pages/Maritime-history.aspx
If you have any queries about access to any of these resources see the enquiry desk or e-mail us guildhall.library@cityoflondon.gov.uk

Jeanie Smith
Assistant Librarian

LR 1921-2

Incunabula project

INC34

INC34

Guildhall Library is currently working on an exciting project regarding some of the rarest items in our collection – our incunabula. The library holds 72 incunabula – books, pamphlets or broadsides printed in Europe before 1501 – in our historic collections. The majority of our collection is due to the generosity of individuals in the late 19th century who donated them to our library.  We are in the process of adding our incunabula to the MEI Catalogue (Material Evidence in Incunabula), part of the Consortium of European Research Libraries.

INC13

INC13

At the same time, we are photographing the key features of each item and creating Pinterest boards for each, so they can be seen by all in their full glory. We are recording and photographing features of their previous ownership – such as bookplates, signatures, inscriptions – and looking at how the items were used and valued through the centuries by noting readers’ annotations, symbols, bindings and even prices. We are also adding these images to our own catalogue and to the MEI catalogue – we’re extremely proud to be the first library to add images to MEI!

INC5

INC5

The aim of this project is to make our incunabula information available to academics, fellow librarians and the public worldwide. The information we are adding may be used in various ways, for example, to assist researchers who are looking that into the historic library of an individual or organisation, to explore how a particular work was received by readers in 16th century England, or even to investigate the going rate for incunabula in the 19th century. We hope that researchers might also be able to collaborate by assisting with transcriptions – in fact, we’ve already had one instance where a very faint signature was able to be read by one of the coordinators at MEI.

INC34

INC34

The project began at the start of this year and should run for about a year. Two incunables are brought up from the stores each Thursday and scoured for provenance marks and other points of interest. Two members of the project team then meet each Thursday afternoon to photograph the items. It’s always a bit of a surprise as to what we will see on any given Thursday.

INC33

INC33

Highlights so far have included a very cute manicule (pointing finger – seen above), some interesting bindings and clasps, some intriguing tri-foils and some lovely examples of rubrication. It’s been interesting to note that whilst some items have retained their original bindings (such as INC39), the owners have rebound others according their personal taste (for example, the rather lavish 19th century binding of INC32 – detail shown below).

INC32

INC32

The prices sometimes scrawled inside the covers have also been fascinating to see. The price of £1, 1s, 0 pence on the inside cover of INC39 is approximately £109 in today’s money. The same book also features a title page with three different inscriptions – showing a chain of ownership through the centuries (pictured below).

INC32

INC32

We’re updating catalogue entries and adding new Pinterest boards as we go along so keep an eye out! All of the boards can be seen at: http://www.pinterest.com/GLincunabula/

If you have any comments, queries or can see some text that you can transcribe where we have not been able to, please comment below or contact us on guildhall.library@cityoflondon.gov.uk

INC33

INC33

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.

Canning

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.

Portrait

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.

Illustration2

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

Tey


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.

18th and 19th century fight club: the beginnings of British boxing

Every so often, during the course of my work, I come across books that enthuse me with the passion of the age in which they were written, and it was with fascination that I embarked on research into the beginnings of British pugilism. Eighteenth century Britain was rocked by political instability and was a society of extremes of poverty and wealth; amusements ranged from gin drinking, animal baiting, gang warfare, general rioting, and the pillory to public executions. Boxing displays first came into public fashion in Britain around 1720.

Notable early boxers:

James Fig 1719-1734 was acknowledged as “Father of the Ring” as much distinguished as a cudgel and back-sword player than as a pugilist. Gentlemen sought him out to exercise with him. Captain Godfrey author of A Treatise on the Useful Science of Defence (1747) says of him ‘I have purchased my knowledge with many a broken head, and bruises in every part of me. I chose mostly to go to Fig and exercise with him: partly as I knew him to be the ablest master, and partly, as he was of a rugged temper, and would spare no man, high or low, who took up a stick against him.’ Fig’s popularity induced him to open a boxing academy in 1719 known as “Fig’s Amphitheatre,” in Tottenham Court Road.

box1

Jack Broughton champion 1734-1750 is regarded as the founder of the modern art of self-defence. Henry Downes Miles in his work Pugilistica: being one hundred and forty-four years of the history of British boxing (1880), describes him:
“There was a neatness and quickness in his style which far distanced his competitors, and drew crowds to witness his exhibitions. He appears first to have introduced stopping and barring blows, then hitting and getting away; before him it appears to have been toe-to-toe work or downright hammering; at any rate, his method appears to have had the novelty of a discovery with his spectators and his antagonists. He stopped the blows aimed at any part of him with such skill, and hit his man away with so much ease, that he astonished and daunted his opponents…”

Daniel Mendoza One of the most elegant and scientific boxers recorded in the annals of pugilism, was born in 1763 of Jewish parents in the Whitechapel area. A reporter (Pugilistica 1880) describes a fight between Mendoza and Humphries in Stilton in 1789: “The first blow was struck by Humphries at the face of his antagonist, which Mendoza stopping with great adroitness, returned and knocked Humphries down. The second and third rounds terminated in precisely the same manner.

Astonishment at the confidence and quickness of Mendoza was expressed by every spectator…” Mendoza became a professor in the art of self-defence and he was highly successful as a pugilist professor exhibiting his talents to admiring and applauding audiences all over the country. Miles (Pugilistica 1880) said of him: “No man of his time united the theory of sparring with the practice of boxing so successfully as Daniel Mendoza; and hence, the “School of Mendoza” marks a period in the history of pugilism.”

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Bill Richmond 1804-1818 was born of enslaved Georgia-born black parents in 1763 on Staten Island, New York. One of the British officers in New York City took him under his wing and sent him to school in Yorkshire, later apprenticing him to a cabinet maker in York. In York Richmond attracted attention out in the street because he prided himself on dressing smartly and cleanly after work, but he beat all the men who challenged him to fight including a York brothel-keeper, who had called him a ‘black devil’ when he saw him walking down the street with a white female companion.

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Richmond turned professional boxer when he moved to London around 1804 and went on to a series of victories in 1805: notably over the Jewish boxer Youssop in six rounds at Blackheath on 21 May; and Jack Holmes, ‘the Coachman’, in twenty-six rounds at Cricklewood Green, near Kilburn Wells, on 8 July. However, Richmond was defeated by the future heavyweight champion Tom Cribb in a ninety-minute fight at Hailsham, Sussex.

The Science of Boxing

box4Among the diehard fans the art of boxing was regarded as a science. T. Hughes has plenty of advice for the aspiring pugilist. In his work The art and practice of self-defence; or, Scientific mode of boxing: Got up under the superintendence of a celebrated pugilist 1820, he warns against dropping, gougeing and shifting:

Dropping. ‘This is reckoned an unmanly shift…either done by falling on your breech, your knee, or your back, when your adversary strikes, or when you have struck at him, and wish to avoid the return. Every thing in boxing may be said to be allowable, except striking below the waistband of the breeches, scratching, gougeing, biting or tearing the hair, which are mean and unmanly practices; but one who drops cannot be considered a manly boxer, except it be to avoid his adversary’s closing in upon him, when he has reason to suspect such an intention, and distrusts his own strength.’

Gougeing ‘Is unmanly and barbarous, and introduced into the new school by a farrier, to take ungenerous advantage. This gougeing, is screwing your knuckles into the eyes of your adversary, and when practised at all, is generally done in closing, if you get his head under your arm…Gougeing, however, was more than once practiced both by Mendoza and Humphries, on each other, at the time of their contest at Stilton.’

Shifting ‘This mode is not accounted honourable by many, as the signification of the word is synonimous with running away. Shifting is nothing less in fact than running from your adversary whenever he attempts to hit you, or come near you, or when you have struck him, and is done with a view of tiring him out. It is rarely practised by good boxers…’

box5Recommendation before the fight:
‘On the morning of fighting, eat only one slice of bread, well toasted, without butter, or a hard biscuit, with a pint of red wine mulled, and table-spoonful of brandy…’

box6Defence of Pugilism Boxing, of course, had its opponents, but it was well equipped to defend itself from attacks, even with the pen. One of the most erudite pugilists of his day, Tom Reynolds born 1792 in the county of Armagh came to London early in life. He had received a good education, possessed a strong mind, and could write as good a letter as any of the “scribes” of the time:

“I must acknowledge the gentlemen of the Press are favourable to the cause of pugilism; and it is not surprising when we consider that the persons conducting it are men, in general, possessing a liberal education, and blessed with a greater share of brains than the average of the community. Yet there is no rule without an exception; for two or three of the London journalists, imitated by a few country flats, occasionally give us a ‘facer;’ though I am confident it is not from conviction, but because they think a little opposition to generally received opinions may suit their pockets better than the tide, where the brightness of their genius would not make them conspicuous. One of these worthies speaks of us as monsters that brutalise the country; another describes our poor little twenty-four foot ring as the only place in the three kingdoms where rogues and blacklegs spring up like mushrooms; a third says a pair of boxing-gloves debase the mind, and recommends the use of the foils as a preferable exercise; and a fourth, after a most violent philippic against the Ring, blames Government for not immediately putting an end to pugilism, and recommends, as a substitute, that Government should take into their wise consideration the propriety of giving greater encouragement to dancing assemblies. This idea is ridiculous. Certainly, if the editor does fill up his leisure hours as a hop-merchant, I do not blame him for putting in a good word for the shop, but what the devil has dancing to do with fighting? Can two men decide a mill by ‘tripping on the light fantastic toe’? The French dance every night in the week, and all day on Sunday, and what are they better for that? Are they better men? Can they boast nobler feelings than Britons? They certainly make graceful bows, and there is no doubt dancing has an effect on the heels, for Wellington has often scratched his head, and given them a left-handed blessing, for their quickness in giving leg-bail… The dancing Frenchman would shudder with horror at the sight of two London porters giving each other a black eye or a bloody nose and say ‘twas a brutal practice’; yet the same fellow, in his own country, would take snuff, grin like a monkey, and cry ‘bravo!’ at seeing two poor devils boring holes in each other’s hide with a yard of steel. So much for the consistency of the ‘Grande Nation,’ and the sense of the men who recommend dancing as a substitute for pugilism.”

Isabelle Chevallot
Assistant Librarian, Guildhall Library

Guildhall Library and the Veterans of the Arctic Convoys

We were interested to view the programme ‘An Arctic Convoy Disaster’ on BBC Two last week as the Lloyd’s Marine Collection held at Guildhall Library includes sources recording the journeys of vessels involved in these convoys.

Under attack from both German U-boats and the extreme climactic conditions whilst taking vital supplies on the route between Britain and Northern Russia, meant that life on the Arctic convoys was particularly harsh and dangerous. Churchill is believed to have called it ‘the worst journey in the world’. The convoys carried desperately needed munitions, fuel, food and medical supplies. Around 3,000 sailors and 104 merchant vessels were lost on these Arctic convoys which ran between 1941 and 1945.

In spite of the hardships and sacrifices endured by the merchant seamen and other service personnel, it has taken a very long time for a formal award to be made. However, in December 2012 the UK Government announced a new medal for veterans of the Second World War Arctic convoys to be named the ‘Arctic Star’.  It is awarded for ‘service of any length’, north of the Arctic Circle, during World War II. The Royal Mint has now produced the medal and it is thought that around 120,000 men from across the services will be eligible to claim it.

Those applying for the medal are required to demonstrate knowledge of the vessels on which the merchant seaman served and crucially to provide evidence of where those ships travelled. For the Arctic Star award this is evidence that the ship took part in an operation or convoy north of the Arctic Circle. Staff at Guildhall Library have been pleased to assist some of the medal claimants (or their families if it is a posthumous claim). 

Some of the seamen (or their families) hold their Continuous Discharge Book which shows their service record, but as they carried this with them at sea, it was vulnerable to loss or damage. In the absence of this, details of service can be gained from the Merchant Navy Registers of Service held by the National Archives at Kew. 

Once the claimant has a list of vessel names and the dates served, they can contact Guildhall Library for the relevant Lloyd’s Voyage Record Cards (VRCs). Copies of the VRCs are accepted by the MOD who grant the award (forms available from Veterans UK).

The VRCs at Guildhall Library are for merchant vessels and usually give vessel name, port of registration, net tonnage and name of master. They cover c1927 – c1975 and form an index to shipping movements in Lloyd’s List. Dates of arrivals and sailings and port abbreviations are given on the cards which generally give the user everything they need without the need to look at Lloyd’s List itself. There is also brief reference to shipping incidents and casualties.

Here is one side of a VRC for the ‘Empire Howard’ which took part in the Arctic Convoy PQ 14. As you can see she arrived at Reykjavik, Iceland on the 31st March 1942. Arrivals are written in black ink.  She sailed Reykjavik (red ink) on the 8th April but was torpedoed and sunk on the 20th April 1942 (blue ink). Look closely and you will be able to see the port abbreviations for Loch Ewe, Reykjavik, Iceland and Murmansk (and others); this wasn’t the first time the ship had made this challenging journey.

ArcticStar

We are amazed by the approachability and good humour of the people who contact us. They lived through terrifying experiences and are brave and cheerful in talking about their war service. We also witness the heart-warming goodwill shown by people volunteering for various organisations helping the merchant seamen make their long overdue medal claims.

Guildhall Library holds many printed items that may help you find out more about the convoys of World War II. A list of books on this subject can be found on our online catalogue: http://is.gd/arcticcon. Further information about the Lloyd’s Marine Collection and the Voyage Record Cards (VRCs) held at Guildhall Library can be found on our website: http://is.gd/LMCol. Visitors need to give at least three working days’ notice for us to locate VRCs for up to ten vessels at a time. The cards can also be copied and posted (charges apply) to enquirers. 

Applications for the medal can be made via www.veterans-uk.info/arctic_star_index.htm or write to: The Arctic Star, MOD Medal Office, Imjin Barracks, Innsworth, Gloucester, GL3 1HW.

Jeanie Smith
Assistant Librarian