THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

32 posts categorized "Rare books"

19 October 2017

Grimaldi family correspondence

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Louisa Edmeads was the wife of a curate at Over, Cheshire. We’ve recently catalogued a collection of her letters to her brother William in London, chiefly 1819 to 1829, dealing with domestic matters – health, clothing, family, neighbourhood gossip, work, and, above all, money. Money for goods from London, for cloth to make William shirts, for postage and transport by canal, for lodgings. This in itself provides a fascinating glimpse into the affairs of an early 19th-century family in straitened circumstances.

Grimaldi letters versos
Letters of Louisa Frances Edmeads (1785-1873) to her brother William Grimaldi (1786-1835). Add MS 89258

The family was, however, an unusual one. Louisa was the daughter of William Grimaldi (1751-1830), descendant of Alessandro Maria Grimaldi, head of the Genoese Grimaldi family, who left Italy for England in 1684. William senior was a renowned miniaturist whose customers included members of the aristocracy, but his finances were a continuing cause for concern to his children. Louisa was particularly anxious for him to leave his unsatisfactory lodgings and set up home with William, or their younger brother, Stacey Grimaldi (a successful barrister):

LFE to WG 9 June 1819 Merely to get rid of this rent
'Merely to get rid of this rent' (Letter from Louisa Edmeads to William Grimaldi, 9 June 1819)

There were other problems. William senior’s enthusiastic 'Methodising' and going out every evening caused friction with Stacey, but there was no hope of inducing him to change his habits. As Louisa writes: 'The arrangements between these two personages keep my mind in a constant state of anxiety & suspense, both by night & by day' (28 June 1819).

At one point Louisa even suggests a stealthy departure from his lodgings:

LFE to WG 17 Aug 1819 to abscond (2)
‘It would be a most unpleasant & painful thing for my Father to abscond but I do not really see any other means by which Mr W. can be brought to any kind of terms' (Letter from Louisa Edmeads to William Grimaldi, 17 August 1819)

There is affectionate exasperation over their father’s ways: 'As long as I can remember he has found occupation in arranging his Enamel Colors - & I doubt if he would ever complete that job if he had 50 years to do it in' (10 August 1822).

Despite tensions, the family worked together to try to solve problems. Louisa constantly urges William to find a better situation  than the one he held with Josiah Wedgwood, at St James’s Square, and issues frequent invitations to Over, and Cricklade, Wiltshire, their home from 1821. Though she writes only disparagingly of her own artistic efforts (she was herself a miniaturist of some ability), there is often a practical side to the letters. She asks William to admire her visiting card box and get his 'varnish person' to finish it; she draws a plan of her new house at Cricklade ('We hope to get in by Sept. – but workmen are great plagues' (9 June 1829)); and she describes in great detail the fabric, cut and style of the shirts she sews for him.

Tantalisingly, there are no letters at all from 1821, perhaps because of some disagreement with Stacey Grimaldi, into whose hands the letters later passed. In that year he published The Toilet, a significant early example of movable book publishing. Designed by William Grimaldi senior, each illustration showed an article from a lady’s dressing table or toilette (apparently sketched from Louisa’s dressing table), in the form of a flap, which the reader could lift to reveal a specific virtue. Despite the correspondence gap, earlier and later letters show that Louisa took a keen interest in The Toilet, which was a great success, even selling copies to local acquaintances.

A fine lip salve crop

A fine lip salve (open - cheerfulness) (3)
A fine lip salve – hand coloured illustration from The Toilet, by Stacey Grimaldi (2nd ed, 1821). When the flap is opened, we see 'cheerfulness' (British Library shelfmark: Cup.410.d.29).

Other highlights include a trip down the salt-mine in Winsford, treatment of her brother-in-law for lunacy, and the protracted process of finding a new curacy ('I write this from Salisbury – which is already swarming with clergymen on the watch for all the crumbs from the Bishop’s table … Edmeads is out for a long morning’s fishing' (30 July 1820)). The letters are a useful new source for local and social historians, and for anyone interested in the untold lives of women of the early 19th century.

Tabitha Driver
Modern Archives and Manuscripts

The Grimaldi family letters (Add MS 89258) are available to consult in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

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14 October 2017

JOLIE bookbinders

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Every 19th-century bibliophile worthy of the name would have been proud to own at least one bookbinding from the French workshop of Joly.  Some collectors owned many of them, notably the famous art deco jeweller Henri Vever and the wealthy book collector William Augustus Spencer who was lost on the Titanic.

Joly 1
Gold tooled goatskin bookbinding, cover, end-leaves, and doublure of Edmond Rostond, Les Musardises, Paris, 1890

Both Antoine Joly (1838-1917) and his son Robert (1878-1934) trained at the Parisian firm of Gruel, which was celebrated for embracing new styles whilst preserving traditional skills.  Undoubtedly, this was a fine line to tread, but Antoine negotiated it successfully, continuing to do so later in collaboration with his partner Jules Thibaron.  Robert took charge after Antoine’s retirement in 1892, differentiating his work by signing his bindings; Joly fils (i.e. son).
 
According to bookbinding historian Flety the clientele ‘appréciait la perfection de son travail sans prétention de grand art’; a judgement which seems to damn with faint praise, particularly when one examines the binding recently acquired by the British Library (above) and the stunning examples in the New York Public Library.
 
Joly 2 sig x
The signature of Robert Joly

PJM Marks
Western Heritage Collections

Further reading:

Henri Beraldi, La reliure du XIXe siècle. Available online: http://www.archive.org/details/lareliureduxixes03br
Julien Flety, Dictionnaire des relieurs français ayant exercé de 1800 à nos jours, 1988

25 September 2017

‘Inflammable material’ in the British Library

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‘The amount of inflammable material in all the advanced countries of the world is increasing so speedily, and the conflagration is so clearly spreading to most Asian countries which only yesterday were in a state of deep slumber, that the intensification of international bourgeois reaction and the aggravation of every single national revolution are absolutely inevitable.’

V.I. Lenin, ‘Inflammable Material in World Politics’, 1908

Stored in the Asian and African collections of the British Library is a cache of material banned in colonial India. Consisting of more than 2800 items, it constitutes one of the largest archives of primary sources relating to any 20th-century independence movement.  The period during which these works were collected, 1907-1947, covers two world wars, revolts and autonomy movements across the world, and the texts in this archive often register these events. 

The 1898 Code of Criminal Procedure had defined ‘seditious material’ as that likely to incite ‘disaffection’ towards the Government of India or ‘class hatred’ between India’s different communities, thus setting the two main grounds for proscription during this period. The 1910 Press Act reinforced this by requiring publishers to pay a security deposit of up to Rs 5000,  which would be forfeited if any document was found to contain ‘words, signs or visible representations’ likely to incite sedition. But this did not prevent circulation of publications printed overseas, the ‘inflammable material’ described by Lenin, emanating from international publishing centres, and centres of political dissent, in Europe and America.

The British attempted to prevent the entry of this material into India through use of the Sea Customs Act, and by the application of diplomatic pressure. Both instruments were used against William Jennings Bryan’s British Rule in India, a pamphlet written by an American politician who had been won over to the nationalist cause during a trip to India in 1906. This work was republished during the First World War by a San Francisco based Indian revolutionary group, embarrassing the US government, in which Bryan had served as Secretary of State from 1913-1915.

IMG_3613
Title page of a republished English edition of Bryan's British Rule in India, n.d. (microfilm number: IOL NEG 1397)

The range of languages into which Bryan’s pamphlet was translated indicates how extensive underground distribution networks were. Their presence in the proscribed publications collection suggests how hard they were to control. The banned English language edition bears the inscription in red ink ‘The sending of this publication out of the United States prohibited by President Wilson!’, and its European language translations repeat this boast.

IMG_3615
W. J. Bryan, Die englische Herrschaft in Indien (Berlin: Karl Curtius, n.d.), a German translation of British Rule in India (microfilm number: IOL NEG 1397)

Apart from versions in Urdu and Bengali, there is also what is described as a ‘Tartar’ (sic) edition sent from Stockholm to Shanghai and intercepted on the seas in August 1916. This was produced with Central Powers assistance, and the collection is rich in such material: works in Arabic, Chinese, Persian and Turkish, intended to foment unrest in Allied territory. During a time of global war and national revolt, the best guarantee of ‘the freedom to read’, it seems, was the inability to censor.

IMG_3610
Sheet attached to cover of a Tatar translation of British Rule in India, 18 August 1916 (shelfmark: PP Turk)

Pragya Dhital
Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies, University College London

Further reading:

Shaw, Graham and Mary Lloyd (eds.), Publications proscribed by the government of India: a catalogue of the collections in the India Office Library and Records and the Department of Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books (London: British Library, 1985)

Full text of Bryan’s British Rule in India available from the South Asian American Digital Archive: https://www.saada.org/item/20101015-123


This blog was written by Pragya Dhital for Banned Books Week 2017 (24-30 September). Banned-Books-Week-Logo

Banned Books Week was first initiated by the American Library Association in 1982 in response to an increasing number of challenges in the US to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. The 2017 UK contribution to Banned Books Week features events staged by a variety of cultural organisations including the British Library, Free Word, Royal Society of Literature and Islington Library and Heritage Services. British Library events can be found here.

28 August 2017

The Devil’s Case - A Bank Holiday Interlude

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I looked for something jolly to post on the blog today as parts of the UK celebrate August Bank Holiday.  What I came up with is far from jolly -  a book in verse form by Robert Buchanan entitled The Devil’s Case  - A Bank Holiday Interlude

Would you know how I, Buchanan,
Met the Devil here in London,
Chatted with him, interview'd him?
Listen, then, and you shall hear!

 

 

Devil's Case 1

  Devil's Case 2
The Devil’s Case  - A Bank Holiday Interlude (London, 1896)   Noc

Here is a further extract to whet your appetite.

Night lay o’er the Heath of Hampstead –
One by one the merry-makers,
Romping, mad, accordion-playing,
Beer-inspired, were trotting town-ward.

All that afternoon I wander’d
Mid the throng of Nymphs and Satyrs, -
Now at last the Bacchanalian
August holiday was over.

Sad my soul had been among them,
Envying their easy pleasures
Since for many a month behind me
Wolf-like creditors had throng’d;

Since my name and fame were lying
In the gutter of the journals,
While the laws of Earth and Heaven
Seemed one vast Receiving Order!

Bankrupt thus in fame and fortune,
Wearily I walk’d and ponder’d
On the lonely Heath of Hampstead,
In the silence of the Night. . . .

Devil's Case 3Noc

If you can drag yourself away from romping with an accordion at Bacchanalian Bank Holiday festivities, you can read the rest of the book online in the British Library's digital collections.  Enjoy!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

 

22 August 2017

Sir Hans Sloane as a collector of “strange news”

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Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753) was a major figure in the flourishing scientific culture of Enlightenment London, serving as both President of the Royal Society and President of the Royal College of Physicians. However, his greatest legacy lies in his vast collections of books, manuscripts, specimens and other objects, which after his death became the bedrock of the new British Museum, the ancestor of the British Library.

Sloane’s collections were particularly strong in natural history, medicine and travel, but their overall scope was astonishingly broad. Ongoing research into different parts of his collections is gradually uncovering more detail about their richness and variety. One product of this work is the Sloane Printed Books Catalogue (SPBC), a free and fully-searchable online database that records over 35,000 printed items from Sloane’s library (and counting).

To take just one example of the research possibilities provided by the SPBC – Sloane was a collector of “strange news”. “Strange news” was news of unusual or dramatic events, such as earthquakes, freak weather, monsters or medical marvels, usually accompanied by a supernatural interpretation, such as divine judgement or demonic influence. It typically appeared in the form of short printed pamphlets, bearing titles that promised accounts of “strange”, “miraculous”, “wonderful” or “extraordinary” events to their readers.

Image 1
Title-page of Sloane’s copy of Strange news from France… (1678), bearing Sloane’s catalogue/shelf number ‘c 626’. (BL 8755.c.27.)

The SPBC lists 57 items with titles containing even just the word “strange”, alongside “news/newes/relation”. For instance, one pamphlet of “strange news from France” owned by Sloane provides an account of a storm of fist-sized hailstones that destroyed everything except – significantly – a Protestant church. Another of “strange and true news” tells of severe weather across the Midlands that saw snow smother some and floods drown others, depicted as God’s judgement for wickedness. A third relates a nine-foot-long winged serpent that terrorised the people of Essex – complete with frightening illustration.

Image 3
From Sloane’s copy of The Flying Serpent, or strange news out of Essex… (1669?), A1v. (BL 1258.b.18.)

Image 2
Title-page of Sloane’s copy of Strange and true news from Lincoln-shire, Huntingtonshire, Bedford-shire, Northampton-shire, Suffolk… (1674), bearing Sloane’s catalogue/shelf number ‘N 788’. (BL 8775.c.67.)

“Strange news” was part of a diverse and sophisticated culture of news in early modern England. Although this era saw the birth of the printed newspaper, which generally contained foreign or domestic politics, this was far from being people’s only source of news. Strange news was another – and very different – kind of news in circulation. Its popularity came partly from its raw sensationalism, but also from its supernatural explanations, which appealed to a religious and superstitious culture.

But why did Sloane, a man of science, collect strange news, which represents such a different mental world? Although it is impossible to be certain, there are several clues. Sloane once said he was curious about “very strange, but certain, matters of fact” – in other words, unusual natural phenomena – and accounts of dramatic earthquakes, storms and floods (if not of giant flying serpents) may have appealed to this desire to explain the bizarre-but-true. He may also have been interested in collecting the pamphlets’ supernatural interpretations specifically to expose them as false, as it has been argued that he acquired other objects for this purpose, such as “Quacks’ Bills” (dubious medical adverts) and “magical” tokens. Whatever the reason, Sloane’s collecting of “strange news” indicates that he may have been at the forefront of the Enlightenment, but his interests were not restricted to the products of the new science.

Edward Taylor
PhD placement student, Sloane Printed Books Project

Further reading:
Delbourgo, J., Collecting the World: The Life and Curiosity of Hans Sloane (London: Allen Lane, 2017) – including discussion on Sloane’s attitudes to magic and the supernatural.
Mandelbrote, G., ‘Sloane and the Preservation of Printed Ephemera’, in G. Mandelbrote and B. Taylor, eds, Libraries within the library: the origins of the British Library's printed collections (London: British Library, 2009), 146-168.

04 July 2017

Paul Fourdrinier: The Architects’ Engraver in 18th century Britain

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Born in the Netherlands in 1698, Paul Fourdrinier trained in Amsterdam before moving to London in 1720, where he established a highly successful business at Charing Cross. Although he created a wide range of illustrations and maps, he was particularly well known for his work with architects: according to George Vertue, his architectural engravings were ‘remarkable… many are very curious and neatly done’ (‘Vertue’s Notebook’, 136).

Figure 1 Paul Fourdrinier Blog
Paul Fourdrinier after Giovanni Borra, Plate XV from The Ruins of Palmyra, otherwise Tedmor, in the desart, London, 1753. British Library 74/744.f.16. Noc

During a career which lasted over thirty years, Fourdrinier worked with many of Britain’s leading architects. Because architectural books are conventionally identified as the work of the architects whose drawings they are based on, his plates have rarely been treated as a unique body of work. His work appeared in numerous publications: The Designs of Inigo Jones (published by William Kent, 1727), Robert Castell’s The Villas of the Ancients (1728), Andrea Palladio’s First Book of Architecture (rev. Colen Campbell, 1728), Fabbriche Antiche Disegnata da Andrea Palladio (published by Lord Burlington, c. 1730), Isaac Ware’s Designs of Inigo Jones and others (1731) and The Plans, Elevations and Sections, Chimney Pieces and Ceilings of Houghton in Norfolk (1735), Charles Labelye’s A Short Account of the Methods Made Use of in Laying the Foundation of the Piers of Westminster-Bridge (1739), Stephen Riou’s The Elements of Fortification (1746), James Gibbs’s Bibliotheca Radcliviana (1747), John Wood’s An Essay towards a Description of Bath (rev. edn, 1749) and A Dissertation upon the Orders of Columns (1750), Francis Price’s A Series of Particular and Useful Observations, Made with great Diligence and Care, upon that Admirable Structure, The Cathedral-Church of Salisbury (1753), Robert Wood’s The Ruins of Palmyra (1753) and The Ruins of Balbec (1757), Isaac Ware’s A Complete Body of Architecture (1755–57), William Chambers’s Designs of Chinese Buildings (1757) and A Treatise on Civil Architecture (1759), and James Stuart and Nicholas Revett’s The Antiquities of Athens (1762).

Figure 2 Paul Fourdrinier Blog

Paul Fourdrinier after William Chambers, Plate IV from Designs of Chinese Buildings, London, 1757. British Library 56.i.7. Noc

These publications encompass a tremendous range of building types and architectural styles, and in each one Fourdrinier’s exceptional talents were fundamental to the success of the project. Outstanding precision of line was required, and specific graphic conventions were deployed for depth: key tonal differentiations which represented the surfaces of elevations include ‘plain white for smooth ashlar in sunlight; flecks for rough-dressed stone in sunlight; horizontal hatching for half-shading of ashlar; cross-hatching for voids; diagonal cross-hatching for cast shadows, &c’ (Mark J. Millard, 361).

Figure 3 Paul Fourdrinier Blog
Isaac Ware drew this section of Houghton Hall and it was subsequently engraved by Fourdrinier. (Isaac Ware, ‘Transverse Section, Houghton Hall, Norfolk’, 1735. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1925.)

Fourdrinier’s reputation for exquisite architectural plates was such that his involvement in a project became part of its commercial appeal. His contributions were regularly highlighted in the advertisements for the different numbers of Ware’s A Complete Body of Architecture. In an advertisement published on 25 August 1756, the Gazetteer and London Daily Advertiser reported that the upcoming number not only included two of Fourdrinier’s plates, but that his work would be standard: ‘The Publick may depend that all the Plates of this Work, will for the future, be executed in the same masterly Manner.’ Today, the masterly details of Fourdrinier’s plates speak for themselves.

Jocelyn Anderson
Courtauld Institute of Art

Further reading:
Eileen Harris and Nicholas Savage, British Architectural Books and Writers, 1556 – 1785, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
The Mark J. Millard Architectural Collection, Volume II: British Books Seventeenth through Nineteenth Centuries, Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1998.
‘Vertue’s Note Book B.4 [British Museum Add. MS. 23,079]’, The Volume of the Walpole Society 22 (1933): 87 – 142.

For more from Dr Jocelyn Anderson see our new topography visual art resource Picturing Places -
The Gardens at Kew
18th-century country house guidebooks: tools for interpretation and souvenirs 
Country houses and The Copper Plate Magazine 

 

29 June 2017

One green bottle… Jan Sobota’s book binding

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Good news! We have recently acquired this for the Library:

Sobota1

“A hip flask?” you may ask, incredulously.  Well, yes and no.

Let me explain.

What you’re actually looking at is a modern book binding by a man called Jan Sobota.  Sobota was born in Czechoslovakia in 1939 and grew up there during the Communist occupation.  He studied under a famous designer bookbinder called Karel Silenger in Pilzen and graduated from the School of Applied Arts in Prague in 1957.  In 1969 he was awarded the title of “Master of Applied Arts” in bookbinding and restoration by the Czech Minister of Culture.  Sobota died in 2012.

The restrictions of the Communist regime meant that Sobota couldn’t follow international developments in the fields of art and design for many years.  He struggled with a lack of inspiration until these restrictions were lifted and ideas came trickling, or rather flooding, in.  This was when Sobota started experimenting with creating book objects like the one we’ve just acquired for the Library.  These are three-dimensional, almost sculptural bindings that transform a book into a unique piece of art.  The book itself is housed securely inside the protective sculpture that also serves as a highly experimental, innovative way of expressing its contents.

So what book is contained within this object?  It’s a Czech translation of a book, first published in 1954, about an extraordinary ocean crossing.  Alain Bombard became famous in 1952 for allegedly drifting in a 15-foot rubber boat across the Atlantic, from the Canary Islands to Barbados, in 65 days.  He did this without provisions and relied solely upon fish, salt water and fluids squeezed from raw fish (disgusting, I know) to survive.

The flask itself is made from olive-green, crushed morocco (leather made from goatskin) and Alain Bombard’s initials are embossed on the front.  A note is tucked inside saying that it was made in 1979.  There is even a brown leather cork in the neck at the top of the bottle.

Why did Sobota choose this bottle shaped binding for Alain Bombard’s book?  Perhaps Sobota is wryly suggesting that Bombard should have brought something a little stronger along on his voyage.  It would have broken up the diet of salt water, fish and fish juices at least.  But maybe Sobota is being more whimsical than that.  Could it symbolise a traditional message in a bottle?  After all, Bombard was essentially stranded at sea for 65 days.  My favourite interpretation, however, is that Sobota believed Bombard must have been extremely inebriated to come up with such an insane idea in the first place!

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

For more fascinating book-objects by Sobota - Jan Sobota

 

22 June 2017

The King’s Architect and the ‘Architect King’

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n 1757 the Swedish-born Scot, William Chambers (1723–1796) was appointed as architectural tutor to the future king, George III. Chambers’ job was to teach the young heir the principles of classical architecture, but together they also designed and built several real buildings too. The King’s Topographical Collection, assembled by George and later given to the nation, now resides at the British Library and includes views of a number of the buildings born out of their partnership, many of which can now be seen at Picturing Places, the British Library’s brand new online encyclopaedia of all things topographical.

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John Spyers’ view of Richmond Observatory. Maps K.Top.41.16.r. Noc

One of those views is featured in my article about the little-known draughtsman, John Spyers. For 20 years Spyers worked for the most famous of all British gardeners, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, before turning his hand to topographical art and selling two albums of his drawings to the Russian Empress Catherine the Great for a very large number of roubles. A handful of original views by Spyers are preserved in the King’s Topographical Collection. One shows the Royal Observatory in Richmond Gardens, which was designed by Chambers and completed in time for the King to observe the much-anticipated transit of Venus in 1769. While the view’s poorly-drawn sheep are clear evidence of Spyers’ authorship, the drawing was formerly unattributed until an exhibition and conference at Hampton Court Palace in 2016 drew attention to the overlooked draughtsman.

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Design for a Register for the Weather by James Adam. Maps K.Top.41.16.s. Noc

The Royal Observatory is one of the many buildings that illustrate George III’s fervent interests in science and the arts. Another related building is encountered in Peter Barber’s article on the Scottish architect, Robert Adam. Like the Observatory, the design for a weather register by Robert’s partner and brother James was also intended for Richmond. But although it is undoubtedly very elegant, for unknown reasons it was never built – probably to the delight of William Chambers as Robert Adam was one of his great rivals, even though they shared the title of ‘Joint Architect to the King’.

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The Great Pagoda, from Chambers’ Plans, Elevations, Sections…56.i.3 Noc

Adam never completed any major works for the King, whereas Chambers was far more successful in this respect. The majority of his private royal commissions appeared at Richmond’s neighbour, Kew Gardens, between 1760 and 1763. (The present-day Kew Gardens encompasses both parts of the royal estate, although at the time the two gardens were separated by a thoroughfare known as ‘Love’s Lane’.) Chambers designed and built more than 20 follies and seats in a multitude of styles to ornament the gardens – a ‘Turkish’ Mosque, a ‘Moorish’ Alhambra, a ‘Chinese’ Pagoda and a ‘Gothic’ Temple among them. The full story is told in Jocelyn Anderson’s article, which looks at Chambers’ publication, Plans, Elevations, Sections and Perspective Views of the Gardens and Buildings at Kew in Surry (1763). George III’s own copy of this book is today owned by the British Library.

Drysdale PagodaScaff1_2017
Restoration of the Great Pagoda begins… © Historic Royal Palaces

The Great Pagoda in Kew Gardens is currently being restored by Historic Royal Palaces, who are returning the building to its original appearance complete with 80 glowering dragons. The restored building will be open to the public from mid-2018. In much the same way Picturing Places brings into the open hundreds of items from George III’s personal collection of topographical art, with both projects offering further insights into the tastes and patronage of this fascinating and cultured monarch.

Tom Drysdale
Archivist (Curators' Team), Historic Royal Palaces