Category Archives: books

Record Novel

Seems like we’ve found a piece of the records that fit the index I have written about before. It’s a record of baptisms, marriages and burials of the parish of St. Andrews in Plymouth for the years 1581 to 1618. That tome used to be a part of the library for some reason. And if you think that such tome can be of any good just to people looking for their ancestors or researchers trying to prove their theories- think again. I’ve written a few times before how archives can be a source for authors, but this thing is in a league of its own. First of all- names. I am terrible with names. I never know how to name a character. But there it is- a book full of names- real names that once belonged to real people. Go nuts- it’s better than the old-fashioned phonebook. Secondly, there are ready-made novels in there, up for grabs. Don’t believe me? Read this:
Fortunatus, s of a negro of Thomas Kegwins the supposed father being a Portugal.

What just happened there? A story of lovers being torn apart by their respective fates, or is it a story of dastardly deeds and base villainy? And what about the child itself? Was his name a cruel joke or a sign of blessings to come?

Pennel, Richard s. of Silfester dec{eased}, a stranger

So did Richard ever learned who his father was? Or what was that made him arrive in Plymouth? Did the past caught up with Silfester causing him to die before Richard was ever born?

Goold, Clement of London, Master of the ‘Susan’ of London, slayne with a falcon shot.

Ok, this one I just have to know: what sort of a trouble a captain of a ship can get himself into to get shot with a ‘falcon shot’? Accident? Murder? Revenge? Somebody write this novel ASAP.
Who would have thought that a record of burials marriages and baptisms was hiding whole novels inside? Strapped for an idea for your new novel? Go pester your local archivist.


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Devon Record Office index


Sometimes, random items trickle down to us from the library. Somebody would pop in and leave something that I can’t understand why we should have it. I can’t even understand why our library would have it. But here it is: the guide to Devon Record Office. This is not a massive book, but think about it for a second: It is a 100-page book of nothing but lists of things that are contained within the records and the ways to find them within the collection. I am writing similar things often- I list documents or pictures and where to find them, one by one. This book just says: land registries-over there, historical land disputes- over yonder. And it’s only the first part, the thing itself must be huge! Or at least, it was. How is your digitization Devon Record Office?
Well, apparently not too bad. There is a clear online presence with access to many records that are mentioned in this guide. Alright!

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Huggett’s Life Below Stairs

Photo1386How much do you know about the Victorian way of life? No, I don’t mean great feats of engineering that helped to shape the technologically-oriented world of today. I don’t mean the much-romanticized life of aristocracy and tales of idle extravagancy. No. I mean the little people, the littles of the little-the servant class. I already wrote about the probable life of a Marjon’s maid (St. Marks then). But In contrast we have the folk in Huggett’s Life Below Stairs. And yes, the life of a servant was one full of drudgery, endless days of hard work. We all know about the life of servants in big houses, but those weren’t nearly as bad as the lives of Maids-of-All-Work, the ‘slaveys’ or ‘trotters’ as they used to call them, because of their trained gait that was supposed to convey the greatest amount of enthusiasm and willingness to serve. And if you were doubly-unlucky and went with all your family into a workhouse, you might have been snipped into domestic service by someone who was looking to save some money. Not only would you be expected to do tasks that you never done before, but you’d be scolded for not knowing how to do them AND worked around 18 hours per day. Providing I would survive the long days of work, I’d be driven mad with sleep deprivation within a week. No wonder some folk would rather choose the life in the streets than a fate not much better than slavery. But that’s not all. Do you think that we’re living in extremally lookist society? That’s nothing comparing to Victorian standards, where you could be a footman if you were tall and handsome and only a stable boy if you were not. Appearances and orders of importance were as rigid among the elite as they were among the little folk. If the work wouldn’t kill me, trying to remember the rules sure would. How was that important that ‘the housemaid might not use a veil or a parasol’ but both were permitted to a lady’s maid’( in Huggett 1977)? The mind boggles at the hierarchy among the serving people, most probably made so those who were looked down upon have someone to look down on too.
But I’ve been talking too long already. If you’re utterly fascinated by the history of day-to-day life, check out Huggett’s Life Below Stairs.

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Music books

Photo1365We had a very generous donation recently, consisting of three books. This is especially interesting because they are both about and by one of ours. Two were edited and one written by one of our past students, Peter Dickinson. He is a trustee of The Bernarr Rainbow Trust. The trust is a charity that supports music education, a thing very much marginalized. The man, the trust was named after, was a long time Marjon’s teacher, a Director of Music and very respected music professor. The books are: ‘Bernarr Rainbow on Music’ that is a collection of his memoirs and writings. Even that I never studied music, I am always interested in stories of people lives. Very often it would reveal details of day-to-day existence you would never consider before and the book is worth checking for that bit alone. ‘Music Education in Crisis’ that is a gathering of Rainbow’s lectures, a bit too hard for me to understand, but of great interest to someone that is serious about studying music. The last one is ‘Words and Music’ which is Dickinson’s own experiences of life immersed in music. Among them are the recollection of his meeting with W.H. Auden and Philip Larkin and insight on being a British composer living in 20th century. I must say, that I am a musical ignoramus and music is the only form of art that I could never do. But I have to admit that this is interesting stuff. Have you ever tried to read three books at once? That is a little bit difficult. But I was instantly reminded of the fact that the beginnings of our university is very much connected to music.
It is rarely that we have new books submitted as a donation. So, to Peter Dickinson who so generously bought them for us: Thank you sir, you are a star.

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Accidental Meeting

A few weeks back we have been out to visit the Naval Heritage Centre in Plymouth for their open day. It was a visit full of exciting discoveries and wonder as their collections are quite beautifull and interesting, all concerning naval history and the life of ships and people who were involved with the navy. The greatest attraction was a visit to HMS Courageous, which allowed me to complete one of my dreams- to see how a submarine looks from the inside (the answer is, of course, ‘awesome!’).
But that was not all. Among the objects put up for a display was a small clipping of a document with an illustration by C. W Bracken. Bracken was one of our students in the years 1887-1888. In our collection is a book by him, ‘A History of Plymouth and Her Neighbours’. The book was first published in 1931 so it is far from a proper material to study, even with the additional last chapter that was added after the war and carried over into new editions. Still, it was funny to see that at one point, even respectable professionals thought that the area of Plymouth was colonized by Egyptians, I’m not even joking: ‘(Plymouth)…had its origins not from the ubiquitous Phoenicians on their tin-seeking expeditions, not from immigrants from the adjacent continent, but from Egypt…’
Egipt or not, we were quite surprised with W.C Bracken hanging innocently on the wall of the Naval Heritage Centre, like it was waiting for us to see it. We would love to have a copy in in our collection.

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Chuck? Donate? Keep?



Pretty illustration in a pretty book. Too bad it’s Fielding

We have many books that found their way into the archives from the library and they are going to stay by a virtue of being authored by one of our students or staff. Others are here because they mention Marjon is some way. But there are other books that wander by, the ones that won’t stay. They are usually withdrawals from the library, so called ‘weeds’. They might be outdated, they might be damaged or they simply haven’t been checked out for a long time. Those don’t have place in the archives. But do they have a place somewhere else?
I was digging through such a pile recently and found a beautifully bound book. The pattern on the binding had caught my eye so I opened it. To my dismay the pretty book was The History of Tom Jones by Fielding. I hate Fielding. Yes, he was very influential. Yes, he was one of the fathers of modern novel. Yes, he was a smart guy that revolutionized the police force (Bow Street Runners anyone?). But I absolutely can’t stand the way he writes. That makes this pretty book an equivalent of a paperweight to me. I can’t read it.
But then, it’s still a beautiful artefact. It’s well preserved and it looks like there was a mistake in print of the introduction. The printed annotation mentions it, but it’s seems like somebody made corrections by hand (what would be the total copies printed if they did that?). So what would you do with a beautiful paperweight like that? Chuck away? The bibliophile in me howls for blood at this thought. Keep it and never read? The pragmatic in me scoffs at that? Donate? If I only knew somebody that enjoys Fielding… What would you do?

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So much effort for a cup…

Clay Pit

Clay Pit

So many books seem to be finding their way to the archives when they finally finish their life on the library shelves. Maybe I should make it a permanent column here in the blog? Today we have A History of the Cornish China-clay Industry by R.M. Barton.
The ways of making china was once one of the most well-kept secrets of the world, like Coca-Cola formula or the algorithms of Google. Come to think of it, do you know what makes the thin shell of a tea-cup can stand the searing heat of boiling water?
Clay is not enough. The white kaolin needs other minerals to become a strong china: china-stone, serpentinite, soap-stone… all of those things happen to be or once were mined in Cornwall.
Then they are the pits, where the clay had to be mixed with water and then pumped out. Very different from what we normally understand under a term ‘mining’.
The mined material has to be moved, so the industry made great difference to the infrastructure of the region, most notably the rail and ports.
The pits produce mountains of waste materials that changed the landscape of Cornwall. Interestingly enough, the nature has her own way to colonize the man-made hills.
Of course, I’d be here forever if I wanted to talk about every subject in this book, but I can say two things. It is certainly nice to be able to point out china ingredients from a mineral display while on holidays. It is also nice to realize why the Eden Project’s site is shaped as it is.

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