Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A temple of books (not doom)

Track 7/24: The New Pornographers: "A Bite Out of My Bed"

Our Wednesday morning was spent learning about the British Inns of Court (which provide support for those training as Barristers), by visiting the Middle Temple Library. Incidentally, the four Inns of court are Middle Temple, Inner Temple, Lincoln's Inn, and Gray's Inn, and it is mandatory for barristers to belong to one. The library has 4 floors of books including a rare books and manuscript collection. It has existed in the location we toured only since 1958, as the previous library structure was bombed during the war and destroyed. Each Inn has a different focus, and here they center on subjects such as tax and insurance law along with ecclesiastical law. The library then caters to these subject areas with collections representing English as well as European and American law in forms ranging from texts, looseleafs, law biographies, and trial proceedings (which are hugely important as English law is based on precedent).

Middle temple has an especially large collection of American law materials owing to a Carnegie donation. There are further American connections as they have an exchange program with Pepperdine University. The American Ambassador is also traditionally an honorary member of this Inn. The library has a very clean look as none of the book's spines are labelled as they wanted to maintain the appearance of a gentleman's club
(No, not like that, that's how our guide referred to it, but think like a throwback private member club... ). They also have no classification system, so they have printed quick guides available for library users to assist with finding resources.

Aside from law materials they have a few other neat pieces including the Molyneux Terrestrial and Celestial Globes from 1603 and 1592 respectively. They are constructed from paper mache, weighted by sand and they are the earliest globes in England. Another American tie-in is a very rare 19th century lithographic copy of the Declaration of Independence (there are stars next to the names of all of the members of Middle Temple). They also have many paintings here, such as the Judgement of Solomon from the 16th century.

 The non-library areas we toured were beautifully appointed with detailed ceilings, and carved wood paneling, and there are a few areas you might recognize if you're a romantic comedy fan - the hallway and one of the meeting rooms appeared in Bridget Jones's Diary films. The great hall here was also especially impressive as the head table was constructed from 4 huge continuous planks that arrived by being sent down the Thames, and the magnificent ceiling boasts a double hammer-beam roof which is twice as large and expensive to construct, and there are only 3 others like it.

Following our tour we discussed our research projects and went out for lunch as a group to the Old Bank of England Pub. It was all very academic... as we played word games with celebrity names while waiting for our food to arrive; hey, librarians get goofy too.

I returned to our residence after lunch and picked up my weasel, and we headed out taking a sunny stroll down Waterloo Road to the nearest Mail Boxes Etc. to seek passage home. This attempt proved futile, however, as the young woman who managed this particular location was quite taken aback by the "dead ferret," and was convinced no carrier would ship him. Since she then contacted all the shipping agencies and inquired as to the logistics of mailing a "dead ferret" it is no surprise that each service replied that they wouldn't accept it as it sounded like it would prove problematic for customs. She suggested I pack him in a box with peanuts, put the box in my suitcase and ship my clothing home instead. Assuring her that sounded like a 'great' plan (oh right, I can imagine them x-raying my suitcase...) I did purchase those materials and weasel and I returned, together, to my room.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Bow-WOW what a library!


Keddell Memorial Trophy
Now, since I'm writing my research paper on this library I'll spare most of the technical information/details since I need to examine those later and instead share the wicked-super-cool-experience aspect of it which I won't have an outlet for in my paper. A very short two block jaunt from the Green Park tube stop is the headquarters of The Kennel Club at 1-5 Clarges Street. Upon entering into the foyer, a right turn will take you directly into the library, and as the librarian came out to meet me and take me in I could barely stand the excitement! This was a rare opportunity to experience a place where 2 important areas of interest for me converged; I was at the intersection of dogs and libraries - and it was glorious. (No music will do to convey what an epic moment this visit was other than the representationally epic scale of a Bruckner symphony, and thus the second track selection for this day). The Kennel Club owns this building on Clarges Street, and the first floor houses the library, their gallery to display some of the fantastic canine art pieces they hold, as well as an area for a changing special exhibition. More of their art pieces are distributed amongst the upper floors displayed in hallways, boardrooms and other club spaces.

They claim the title as the largest publicly accessible and professionally staffed library on this subject in Europe. However, while the AKC Library in New York holds more volumes, they do not have a professional staff to operate the library let alone to aid in research, so while they may want to be cautious, this blog will go ahead and bestow the more appropriate title-end 'in the world.' The library has around 8,000 monographs and serials relating to the training, care, breeding, and history of dogs, a picture library of over 100,000 images and about 300 art pieces (which makes it the largest collection of dog paintings in Europe). They actively collect new materials on canine subjects, and they also aim to collect rare and valuable works with the financial support of the Kennel Club Arts Foundation. The oldest item in the collection is a volume from 1598 which is a book of law describing different licenses and detailing what breeds could be owned by various classes.

Many come here and contact this library for all kinds of canine research for books or articles they are writing or television segments they are producing, and other individuals require assistance for personal research to explore one breed or another, trace a pedigree, or investigate the history of relatives in the dog show world. I was so lucky to be able to spend over two hours with Ciara Farrell, the Library & Collections manager. She answered my countless questions, relayed the history of the library and guided me around to see the collections. We even went up to the swanky member club so that I could see a few more of the paintings, especially An Early Canine Meeting from 1855 which depicts in the pre-Kennel Club days when the earliest dog shows took place in taverns .(You can check out a very brief history of dog art here and see an image of that painting).   

Other notable items I was able to see included the all silver cup awarded to Best in Show at Crufts: the Keddell Memorial Trophy (eee!) and the third oldest item in the collection (Farrell's favorite), Observations Upon Prince Rupert’s White Dog Called Boy from 1641. This is thought to be a satirical piece of Royalist propaganda although the accusations in this literature align with those against the King at the time, claiming the dog (a poodle) was imbued with the gift of languages, it could prophesize, and it was a witch or sorceress. This is also important because it's the first item relating to a living specimen that was well-documented. Boy's life, as a companion of King Charles I's nephew, Prince Rupert, including when and how he lived and died is known. It was also really neat to see the exhibition space in a bit of a chaotic state as they were in the process of switching exhibitions. The previous exhibit concerning the Queen and her corgis which included some of her personal photographs was being removed to curate the next exhibit: The Newfoundland.      

The Kennel Club lucked into a land deal as a developer wants this building, and they'll be able to relocate just next door in 2 years and they are in the advanced stages of planning the new library which will incorporate a purpose-built design with all the relevant environmental controls and convertible shelving they desire. Along with this move they will be progressing with their digitization efforts as well. My hope is that this will create new positions they will need to fill by hiring me! This was a fantastic experience, and my only regret about it is that I wish I had been able to make this appointment earlier in my trip so that I would have had an opportunity to go back and explore the collection more.


Track 7/23a: Bon Iver: "Flume"  

Tuesday began with a far too quick farewell to my mother as I needed to travel to King’s Cross to meet my classmates, and she needed to finish getting ready for her ride to the airport as she had a return flight to New York. Goodbye mum, goodbye Parsons Green (but good riddance busybody B&B woman!)…
Farewell quaint Parsons Green butcher: Parson's Nose
While the weasel had already made it back to my residence, I still had the large box that we paid for that I planned to construct into a smaller box, and I didn’t want it to go to waste. Thus, along with what belongings I still had with me, I rode the tube halfway across London with a gigantic piece of cardboard. Our class meeting this morning was back at the British Library, and since they have a massive area for checking items (that was completely empty save 2 umbrellas the last time we were there) I planned to leave the cardboard checked there, and stash the rest of my things in one of the storage lockers before heading off to our appointment. The guard at the doorway decided to make trouble however, and wouldn’t let me pass with my cardboard. He insisted it needed to fit in the metal size bin next to the entrance, and while he consented that if I were able to roll it that it would easily fit inside, he just laughed and challenged me to roll it up. JERK. Keep in mind, they have an area to keep oversize luggage there as well, and while the surface was as big as a poster, it was just flat cardboard! Obviously this incident had me quite livid; I apparently just lucked into getting a door guard who wanted to feel important today. I left the cardboard outside behind the size contraption and gave the box tyrant a nasty glare and headed in, past the completely barren item check area.

Our visit today was at the British Library conservation studios in the Centre for Conservation. Our cameras were collected upon entrance, but luckily Dr. Welsh was allowed to take some shots of us so we have a few images. The studios sit in the back of the British library structure, in purpose-built construction for conservation activities where they moved in March 2007. The conservators worked with the architect to design the space specifically for treating library materials. As a result, the roof was specially built with north facing light, the air circulation is all at ground level, there are no pipes to present problems, and the wet area required with sinks and equipment to perform liquid deacidification techniques is sectioned off along the west wall away from the other work areas. There are also extra security measures in the studio as well since many of the library's valuable treasures require work as well as general collection items and must be protected.
A staff of 35 conservationists work here in teams. 3,250 hours are spent on general running repairs alone, but as there are constantly special concerns, anything that will require about 10 or more hours requires a consultation. The staff meets with the curators of a given collection regarding the work that needs to be done in order to prioritize the work and generate an estimate of the time and cost of the repair or treatment. A formal bid is created and several options are presented for various levels of treatment that could be offered with the professional recommendation of the conservators. Ultimately, the curators will make decision regarding what course of treatment to choose from the options presented as they have specialized knowledge of the relative significance of each item. In many cases, extensive work is not carried out and unless the item is particularly rare and valuable it may not warrant more than having a phase box crafted to house it. The idea is to bring materials to a functional state while balancing the potential costs for conservation. (Japanese tissue is used to repair pages and this costs £6-7 a sheet alone, so this is an example of why budget must be kept in mind) We had a look at the projects our guide was currently working on with his team and then we proceeded on to the studio where the gold embossing takes place. The process of gold finishing requires a great deal of skill and only 3 people on staff are able to do it (even when the conservation staff had 60 conservators in a better economic climate, only 4 could do the finishing) and it takes a significant amount of time and practice to have a knack for it. Gold foil is used on cloth bindings and it is difficult to apply, but the gold leaf is used for leather and this is even more challenging as it is fragile and crumbles easily. The process of setting and heating the type and application was demonstrated and we passed around some gold leaf. I absolutely love the hands-on nature of this work and if time, location and money were no object I would love to learn the gold finishing myself. Their work is really fascinating, and there's so much to it which you can discover by reading here and viewing here.
Upon exiting the British Library I was shocked to find my box had not disappeared, and this was especially fortunate as it happened to start pouring rain on our way back to the tube station (this is really the first time it actually rained on this trip since a bit of drizzle on arrival day and a few drops when we set off for Oxford although I wasted valuable suitcase space for two rain jackets and an umbrella) so the cardboard was used as a giant pedestrian-injuring hat I shielded myself with. I made a detour to the dorm to get rid of all the stuff I had with me and be sure I had all of my questions in order for the afternoon appointment I'd scheduled for myself at what will be the subject of my research paper for this course: ..... drum roll....

Monday, July 22, 2013

Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived...

Track 7/21: William Byrd: Ave Verum Corpus
Track 7/22: The Who: "Going Mobile"

On Sunday we headed over to Waterloo station to grab some breakfast and nab a train out to Hampton Court Palace. Hampton Court, at the time a large farm estate, was acquired by Thomas Wolsey in 1514. He built a gallery and had new gardens and an entrance courtyard added, along with dressing the interior with hundreds of tapestries. Wolsey presented Hampton Court to King Henry VIII in 1525. Henry spent a fortune enlarging the palace and adding other features to it during his reign, and improvements and restoration continued through the reigns of monarchs of the Tudor and Stuart dynasties and up through George II of the Hanoverians. It was most impressive to be exploring the halls where Henry VIII and his (mostly) ill-fated wives walked, and where Elizabeth I also stayed.

Henry VIII's food was prepared here!
Fountain Court

Wall paneling carved to look like books!
 The Great Hall:
The ceilings, the art, the tapestries, and especially the chapel; there is just so much to take in. Apparently, one corridor is referred to as the Haunted Gallery as there are many tales of staff and visitors who have heard the screams of Henry's 5th wife, Catherine Howard, as she was dragged back to her room from this area in an attempt to speak to the king following her confinement when she had been accused of adultery.

Ascending The King's Staircase on the South side of the palace leads one to William III's Apartments which are also quite stunning. I was floored by the decor of the Weapon Room, where armor, firearms, knives, swords and drums are so artfully hung on the wall that you see only the designs at first, and then do a double take when you realize what the individual elements are.
The murals of the King's Staircase were painted by Antonio Verrio

William III's Great Bedchamber
Canopy of State in the King's presence Chamber


There are many gardens on the property surrounding the Palace including a maze sculpted from 7ft-high yew trees that spans a third of an acre. We spent a bit of time in the Great Fountain Garden before we needed to catch a train to return to London. There is so much to see here, one day really isn't sufficient. We did procure some souvenirs to remember the experience, including matching charm bracelets that symbolize the fates of Henry VIII's 5 wives. This is certainly the most morbid piece of jewelry that I own - neat!

I totally stalked this jackdaw; they supposedly steal bright objects like jewelry. Back off, Jack, you can't have my bracelet! 

Blue dragonfly!

We returned to the city and had dinner at a pub before making our way back to Parsons Green where packing had to commence as we needed to figure out how to get all of our treasures back home... including the 2 pieces of taxidermy. The last week of my program starts back up on Tuesday, and Monday was check-in day at the dorm to get our things out of the storage areas and get back into our rooms, so the evening was slated for this activity. We started our morning by trekking to a Mail Boxes Etc. to get a few boxes (to ship our formerly live treasures home) and then hauled them back in the heat. This mid-80's-and-humid nonsense is killing me walking around outside all day. We then went to Covent Garden to do our last round of shopping... and almost died from heatstroke. We returned back to our B&B to pack up the boxes, and I chose a large one and wove an assortment of clothing around the weasel to make sure there was an abundance of cushioning on every side. We wrapped up the starling in his case in a similar fashion. I taped up the boxes and off we went back to Mail Boxes Etc. Unbeknownst to us, if a package is over 2 kilos (4.4 lbs), or the box is over a certain size,  then the package has to be sent by a shipping service which means the box is charged by volumetric weight - the weight of contents the box could potentially hold. So the Weasel in his spacious cardboard mansion was going to cost £219 to send home. Yikes. We managed to streamline the packaging and send the starling off (still for a small fortune) but I didn't really have any options at this point, right before closing, so we dragged the cumbersome weasel carrier back to the B&B again.
I'll have to figure something out later in the week... which means weasel needed to make the trip to the dorm with the rest of my luggage this evening to check back into my room. I had a cab pick us up in Parsons Green to take us and my things to Stamford Street, and we rode along the Thames, weasel in tow, to drop my things off.