Untold lives blog

2 posts categorized "Music"

21 December 2015

The Singing Bookbinder: Roger de Coverly

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The bookbinding career of Roger de Coverly (1831-1914) seems to be characterised by a desire to leave it!  His apprenticeship with the flourishing firm of Zaehnsdorf’s was so “colourless and humdrum” that he petitioned for time off to study the violin. His name recalls a 17th century English folk dance but his passion was for music, not dancing, and this sustained him throughout his life.

Coverly image1

The British Book Maker vol V, no 6 Feb 1892 p179 Noc


Roger completed his apprenticeship (but left early albeit with Zaehnsdorf’s agreement).   He decided to try bookselling and applied to Mr Lilley of Pall Mall who could not offer employment but strongly recommended that Roger stuck with binding!  After assisting in a stationer’s shop, Roger rededicated himself to his original trade.

His next employment at John and James Leighton’s of Brewer Street provided more fun.  His fellows there shared Roger’s love of chess, which they played during their lunch-break and at meetings of the Bookbinders’ Amateur Chess Club founded c1852. Music was not neglected and Roger’s solo performance for the Battersea Vocal Association was commended in the Music Times of 1 March 1861.

When Roger established his own workshop (in Leicester Square and later 6 St Martin’s Court and 91 Shaftsbury Avenue), there was little time for the extra- curricular activities he loved.  As a one man band, he had to ‘forward’ and ‘finish’ the bindings himself.  His wife Elisabeth contributed financially by opening a school for young ladies.  Slowly, however, the bindings business began to flourish.  It was patronised by aristocrats, noted writers (for example T E Lawrence) and artists.  His style was rather conservative and retrospective but the good quality materials used and his stated goal, to bind “excellently rather than cheaply” made up for lack of originality, for some at least.

  Coverly image 2
British Library c108d11 Noc


William Morris wrote to the poet Swinburne in April 1882; “I am sending you by parcels Delivery, the North's Plutarch I spoke of: it is a very pretty edition, I think the first. Item, the bookbinder I told you of really rejoices in the name (or says he does, which is the same for our purpose) of Roger de Coverly: his address is 6 St Martins Court. He is not a man of any taste … but is careful, & will do what you tell him, & is used to dealing with valuable books”. (Incidentally, birth records indicate that De Coverly was baptised Edward Roger.)

Despite this lukewarm opinion, Morris’s friend T. J. Cobden-Sanderson chose to serve a short apprenticeship there from 1883-4. He later became one of the most influential binders in England.

Fortunately, Roger’s sons Edward, Arthur and William proved adept at bookbinding and bookselling.  By 1892, Roger was able to confess in an interview that “he does not now give his whole attention to his binding business, having besides one or two hobbies; he is an enthusiastic amateur musician and collector of old music … ; he has founded  two or three glee and madrigal societies and loves above all to take part in orchestral concerts or string quartets, varied with glee singing. He is a member of the Royal Choral Society".

The connection between the name of de Coverly and bookbinding lasted into the 1960s when H[orace] A. de Coverly was known to have bound, taught and written about the subject.  An example of his work can be seen in the Library’s online image database of bookbindings.

P J M Marks
Curator, Bookbindings; Printed Historical Sources Cc-by

Further reading;
Richard Ovenden, ‘An edition binding by Roger de Coverly for Alfred de Rothschild’ in Book Collector 47:1  1998 pp.79-82
The British Book Maker vol V, no 6 Feb 1892 p179-80.



11 October 2015

The Coronation of George II and Queen Caroline

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On 11 October 1727 George II and his wife Caroline of Ansbach were crowned King and Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. The ceremony at Westminster Abbey was preceded by a magnificent procession.

GEOIIimage1-george II procession1

GEOIIimage2-george II procession2

  Part of an engraving of George II’s coronation procession, artist unknown, reproduced in Parliament Past and Present by A. Wright and P. Smith (London, 1902). 9502.dd.2. Noc

The leading composer of the day, George Frideric Handel, was commissioned to write four coronation anthems, including the mighty ‘Zadok the Priest’. 


G.F. Handel: ‘Zadok the Priest’. R.M.20.h.5. Noc

The original manuscripts of all four coronation anthems are preserved in the British Library and can now be seen on our Digitised Manuscripts website.

‘Zadok the Priest’ has been sung at coronations ever since. Here is a vintage recording from the coronation of George VI  in 1937, courtesy of the CHARM project at King’s College London.

Another document in the British Library reveals a more personal aspect of the ceremony for George II and Queen Caroline.  This account describes the moment that the Queen was anointed with oil and crowned:

There is a little handkerchief which the bedchamber-woman in waiting gives to the mistress of the robes, to wipe of any Oyl that might fall on the face. The Queen retires into St Edwards Chapel to offer her Crown and then the Mistress of the Robes assisted by the Bedchamber women pin on the Fine Crown appointed for her Majesty.

GEOIIimage4-coronation of queen caroline

Account of Queen Caroline’s coronation. Add MS 22627. Noc

Sandra Tuppen

Lead Curator of Modern Archives and Manuscripts 1601-1850