Beyond the sparkle, glitz and John Lewis adverts that saturate the nation’s sensibilities during the ‘festive’ period, The London Library’s fifteen miles of shelving offer a glimpse into the more forgotten, obscure customs and ideas surrounding the theme of Good Will.  As well as Christmas with Rumpole, Poirot, and Nancy Mitford nestled in the Literature stacks, transcriptions of the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures and poetry on the Christmas Truce of The Great War, we’ve picked some of the seasonal shelfmarks well worth exploring at The London Library.

S. Christmas &c.
This lean yet fascinating shelfmark is a rich seam of seasonal surprises. ‘Cakes and Characters, An English Tradition’ is Bridget Ann Henisch’s examination of how the once ubiquitous, now historic ‘Twelfth cake’ became the plain old Christmas cake. ‘Kings and Queens, Lovers and Ladies, Captains and Dandies’ once played an important role in the construction of this giant symbolic bake once adorned with ‘characters’ who originated from the ancient Saturnalia festival, celebrated on 17 December. You’ll also discover that Dickens and Thackeray, key figures in London Library history, played an important part in this delicious story… (More on Saturnalia can be found in Macrobius Ambrosius Theodosius’s writings from the fifth century in his compendium of ancient Roman religious and antiquarian lore in L. Greek & Latin Lit., Trans!).

Chapters on Christmas and MaterialismThe Rituals of Christmas Giving and Cinderella Christmas: Kitsch, Consumerism and Youth in Japan provide different food for thought in Unwrapping Christmas, a collection of comforting anthropological essays to keep close to hand when the pressure to consume gets too much…Furthermore, topics such as Victorian MiscellanyThe Strange History of Father Christmasand Christmas Under the Puritans from The Englishman’s Christmasmight be helpful for the revival of old customs.  In the Spirit of ‘Make do and Mend’, try making a beautiful wartime Anderson Shelter in cake form in Mike Brown’s Christmas on the Home Front!

Christmas is cancelled; ‘Prophane Customs’ in Puritan New England
A particularly terrifying volume can be found nestling in R. Religious & Theol. Lit.  Written by the fantastically named Increase Mather, Rector of Harvard College, Massachussets in 1687, this discourse against Having Fun over the ‘festive’ period covers the Profane and Superstitious Customs practised in New England at the time. Enjoy the anti-pious activities of ‘health-drinking, dicing, cards, and Christmas-keeping’ at your peril!

Testimony against prophane customs : namely, health drinking, dicing, cards, Christmas-keeping, New Year’s gifts, cock-scaling, saints’ days, etc / Reprinted from the 1687 ed., with an introd. and notes by William Peden, and a bibliographical note by Lawrence Starkey.  You have been warned!

R. Druids, R. Paganism

By way of introduction to the Library’s volumes on the alternative rituals to keep the spirits at bay and ensure the return of the light, the world of paganism at the Winter Solstice is beautifully explored in Diane Maclean’s article on the role of Scottish druids


If the thought of entertaining your favourite small people as the school holidays get underway fills you with fear, then we recommend you come to the 6th floor, borrow Juliana Horatia Ewing’s The Peace Egg, A Christmas Mumming Play and stage an alternative Christmas production! ‘Written expressly for all Mummers, to commemorate the Holy Wars, and the happy Festival of Christmas. No scenery is required.” Dragons and Knights replace shepherds, Wise Men and donkeys – much more fun for dressing up than the customary Nativity tea-towels/dressing gown costume creations!

More on the wonderful English Mummers tradition can be sourced by finding The English Mummers Play, Alex Helm’s publication in Societies, Folk-Lore Soc., 4to., or Sidney Oldall Addy’s 1907 publication Guising and Mumming in Derbyshire in T. England, Derbyshire. In L English Drama, find Thomas Hardy’s 1923 (not so)famous tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall at Titagel in Lyonesse : “a new version of an old story arranged as a play for mummers in one act requiring no theatre or scenery.”

Perhaps combine it with some readings from 1960s classic anthology Our American Holidays, Christmas its origin, celebration and significance’ as related in prose & verse ed. by Robert Haven Schauffler.

‘Two Planks and a Passion’; S. Skating & Skiing

At the top of the dark, cosy 1890s bookstacks you will find a series of guides to Skating and Skiing, with particular focus on these beautifully illustrated volumes from the early 20th Century. How to ski and how not to; the ideal winter travelling companion/cautionary tale from 1911!

Finally, after exploring the treasures of R. Religions of the World and, R. Church Festivals, why not stop at shelfmark R. Fanaticism & Enthusiasm – for those who really do wish it could be Christmas every day…

Make membership to The London Library the ultimate Christmas gift for those who love books. Buying a gift membership – at just over £1 a day, this Christmas present will instil a lifelong love of books and is a richly rewarding way of giving to charity.

Half price for young people and spouses/partners of members – the perfect gift for children, god-children and your ‘better’ half!  Buy online.

How to Ski

Vivian Caulfeild’s 1911 book ‘How to ski and how not to’

Christmas on the Home Front 2

Anderson Shelter Cake from Mike Brown’s ‘Christmas on the Home Front’

Christmas on the Home Front 1

Christmas on the Home Front

Our American Holidays

New England

Profane Customs!

New England 2

Profane Customs!

JAR Pimlott’s ‘The Englishman’s Christmas’, A Social History’

R. Paganism

R. Druids

The Peace Egg, a Christmas mumming play : with illus. by Gordon Browne, by Juliana Horatia Brown, c.1887.

S. Skating & Skiing

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Archive Advent Calendar: 10 December 2013

I promised something “dark and racy” yesterday to wash down our Beeton’s Christmas pudding and here it is.  The brewer and philanthropist Edward Cecil Guinness (1847-1927) appears in the Library’s membership records in 1879 when he was the owner of the second largest brewery in the world. An astonishing businessman with good looks, intelligence and flair Guinness matched his staggering entrepreneurship with a keen eye for social welfare.  In the yearDracula hit the booksellers he established the Guinness Trust for housing the poor in London and Dublin and his philanthropic works gathered apace thereafter.

Guinness is followed in the membership records by another businessman philanthropist whose brand also continues to today Thomas Wall (1846-1930).  The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes Wall as “Philanthropist and sausage entrepreneur”.  Note his address -113 Jermyn Street just round the corner from the Library in the spot currently occupied by Rowley’s. Wall’s firm had a royal warrant – his father supplied sausages (albeit enriched with her chef’s own seasoning) to Queen Victoria.

Check in tomorrow for a decidedly theatrical outing from the membership records…

© Helen O’Neill        Archive, Heritage and Development Librarian

Thomas Wall (1846-1930). “Philanthropist and sausage entrepreneur”.

Thomas Wall (1846-1930). “Philanthropist and sausage entrepreneur”.


Brewer and philanthropist Edward Cecil Guinness (1847-1927), London Library member 1879

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Posted by on in Christmas

A very early London Library blog post explored the Library’s 1890’s stacks (or ‘back stacks’ as they affectionately known!). Home to our Science & Miscellaneous, History and Topography collections, the clanking floors, unusual architecture and magical atmosphere certainly create one of the most intriguing spaces in the Library. The Science & Miscellaneous collection is particularly well-suited to serendipitous browsing and carries with it some quirks of the Victorian cataloguing system developed by Librarian Sir Charles Hagberg Wright in 1894.

Highlights of the Science & Miscellaneous stacks include Love, Imaginary Histories, Birdcatching and Conjuring! As a special festive treat, we have been browsing S. Christmas and are delighted to bring you a selection of highlights from our yuletide collections! From ‘The History of The Christmas Card’ to ‘Christmas and Christmas Lore’, there’s plenty of festive-themed reading to be done!

Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, Christian and Pagan by Clement A Miles, 1913

Christmas Eve - The Romance of Christmas by Kenneth Ingram, 1924

Christmastide by W. Sandys, 1852

The Christmas Festivities - from Christmastide by W. Sandys, 1852

A Book of Christmas Verse - Selected by H. C. Beeching, 1926

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Posted by on in Christmas

The final installment for 2011 from our new intake of Graduate Trainees… After a busy November, settling in to the Library, learning to navigate the collections and looking ahead to the next step on the Librarian career ladder, our trainees are certainly deserving of a restful Christmas break.

Here, Alice looks to the wonderful Science & Miscellaneous stacks for festive inspiration and enlightens readers on ‘how to make a dish of snow!’

D Day. D for dreadful, devastating, defining, daunting Deadline Day. Dramatic? Perhaps. But the application for UCL’s Library School is the first of many within our Graduate Trainee year, and has therefore monopolised most of November with its pressing insistence. Complete me! Perfect me! The application itself is fairly straightforward: histories of employment and education, references. The bit that is most taxing is, as always, the personal statement, or why do I want to be a librarian? Why indeed?

Libraries have always been an integral part of my life; from a young age, I would visit and take advantage of the facilities on offer: story times, homework help, and later, academic resources. The unwavering support and enthusiasm of the librarians I encountered, not to mention their ability to seek out answers and deliver information has always inspired me… I believe in the importance of libraries, their ability to transform lives and open up opportunities. I want to become a librarian in order to share these doors and windows with future generations.

Though if truth be told fully, I actually enjoy helping people and the challenge of information searching. Oh, and I love books, but as every applicant loves books, that statement would be horrifically redundant. Wish us luck…


Now for something slightly more seasonal, shelfmark S. Christmas(honestly, you’d think that the Trainees do nothing else bar rummage around the stacks looking for oddities the way we go on!). Let us hark back to the days when Christmas did come “suddenly and without warning” (Ingram 1924), instead of appearing the moment the Hallowe’en moon wanes in the garish form of foil and flashing Father Christmases. Advent nights at the London Library would be perfect with Howell’s A Spotless Rose haunting through the stacks in the cold, dark winter, the wind whistling through the windows, curled up in a Reading Room chair completely lost in a good book.

I thought I’d share with you a recipe taken from A Christmas Book(Original recipe from A Book of Cookerie, 1594). If any readers would like to test it, please share your opinions and photographs (I would myself, but lactose intolerance makes it somewhat restrictive). It won’t poison you… I hope!

To Make a Dish of Snow

Take a pottle of sweet thick Cream, and the white of eyght Egs, and beate them into your cream with a dishfull of Rosewater, and a dishfull of Sugar withal, then take a sticke and make it clene, and then cut it in the end foursquare, and make therewith beat all the aforesaid things together, and ever as it ariseth take it off, and put it in to a Cullender, this done, take a platter and sette an Apple in the midst of it, stick a thicke bush of Rosemary in the Apple. Then cast your Snow upon the Rosemary and fill your platter therewith, and if you have wafers cast some withal, and so serve them forthe.

Ingram, K. 1924 The Romance of Christmas, Society of SS. Peter and Paul Ltd, London
Lewis, W. and Heseltine G. C. 1931 A Christmas Book, J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd, London

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Posted by on in Christmas

With fewer than 3 weeks until Christmas – how on earth has it arrived so swiftly? – we’re sure we’re not the only ones having a last-minute panic about certain people who are hard to buy for!

While we won’t ordinarily be using the blog to talk about things we have for sale, we thought now was a good time to share some ideas that might help with those festive gift quandaries. With everything from stocking fillers to the exceptionally generous gift of Library membership, we have something for most budgets. Book lovers will be thrilled with a London Library gift, and you will have the satisfaction of having purchased from a registered charity.

Here are our top Christmas ideas for the bibliophiles in your life:

  • Canvas bags – strong, sturdy, stylish and perfect for heavy books! 100% cotton, available with short or long handles.
  • Pencils and notebooks – our A4 soft-cover notebooks and black pencils (featuring quotes by 5 distinguished past London Library members) make excellent stocking fillers.
  • Membership Gift vouchers – The perfect way to help someone purchase London Library membership, Gift Vouchers can be used as full or part payment towards the cost of an annual or life membership. Available in denominations of £50 or £100.
  • Gift membership – the ultimate treat for any bibliophile, London Library Gift Membership provides access to 1 million books on 15 miles of open shelving, electronic resources and much more. A very special gift indeed!

You can purchase London Library merchandise and Gift Membershiponline or in person at the Library – just ask at Reception.

Merry Christmas and happy shopping!

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