Thursday, 26 January 2012

‘Worcester Never Looked Better’: Cathedral and Town in the Nineteenth Century

Thanks to the efforts of numerous people the Library’s first major exhibition of the year is up and running in the Cathedral.  We’ve had great fun plundering the Victorian archives for stories and pictures, and have turned up some real gems along the way.  Did you know that Canon Melville was a graceful ice skater, or that the Cathedral helped finance a floating chapel on the River Severn?

For those of you unable to get to Worcester to see the exhibition in person we have uploaded some images in order for you to get a flavour of what is on offer.  The Victorians were enthusiastic preservers of our ecclesiastical heritage, and during the nineteenth century every medieval cathedral in England was repaired or restored in some way.  More money was spent at Worcester than anywhere else, which is not surprising given the very dim view of the building held by commentators at the time.  One journalist wrote that no other Cathedral presented ‘so little to admire, and so much to deplore’.

The Restoration of the Tower

The restoration led to something of a renaissance in other areas of Cathedral life.  It acquired some greatly respected clergy in the second half of the nineteenth century, including Mandell Creighton who later became bishop of London.  One of the lay clerks wrote some extraordinary reminiscences of the Victorian clergy, including a description of Canon Fortescue’s appalling dress sense.  Fortescue’s oversized black gloves and starchy collars were a favourite of the choristers during his time here.  Of course, music played an extremely important part in the life of the Cathedral, from its involvement in the Three Choirs Festival to its acquisition of a daring new piece of technology – an electric organ!  One of the most interesting pictures on show is of the enormous ‘Patent Kinetic Blower’ used to drive the organ’s motors.

During the nineteenth century, the idea of visiting a cathedral as a tourist or day-tripper really took off.  The Tower visitor book of 1890 reveals that the future Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, was one of the first to brave the heights in that year.  Victorian Worcester had its fair share of notable people, including the founder of the British Medical Association, Charles Hastings, and the authoresses Mary Martha Sherwood and Mrs Henry Wood.  It’s been great fun and extremely rewarding doing the research for this exhibition; we hope you can get along to enjoy it too!

‘Worcester Never Looked Better’ will run until the 10th February in the Dean’s Chapel.

Friday, 13 January 2012

The First Post of 2012

A happy new year to you all from Worcester Cathedral Library!  The first two weeks of the year have proved especially hectic, so I have been unable to update the blog until now.  But what better way to repel those Friday 13th blues than to catch up with the Library news.  The volunteers and I have been beavering away creating a new exhibition for the Cathedral, which will run between 23rd January and 10th February in the Dean’s Chapel.  Entitled ‘Worcester Never Looked Better: Cathedral and Town in the Nineteenth Century’, it will use archive documents and photographs to give a flavour of the vibrancy and personality of the Victorian Cathedral.  We’ve come across such an array of fascinating material tucked away in draws, boxes, trunks and cupboards that it’s proving difficult to trim it down for the exhibition.  For those who are unable to get to the Cathedral to see the finished product, you will certainly not miss out.  Once everything is up and running I will post some of the highlights on the blog, so watch this space!

Today’s date got me thinking how often research comes down to luck, no matter how methodical one thinks one is.  In the Library we very often rely on the knowledge or instincts of our volunteers to lead us to the material we need, rather than on the catalogues and databases.  Computers have yet to achieve the sort of ‘joined-up thinking’ that people are good at!  So we would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our volunteers for the hard work that they put in over the course of last year, which was accomplished with great skill and wit and enthusiasm.

Personally I have a very busy year to look forward to.  I will be working towards my Postgraduate Certificate in Heritage Management at the University of Birmingham/Ironbridge Institute, as well as contributing a paper to the International Medieval Congress at Leeds in July.  Hopefully I will be able to persuade a few of the medievalists back to Worcester Cathedral Library over the summer!  It’s going to be a good year.