The Cheney Archive at the Bodleian Libraries

from Isobel Goodman, intern (2017) Rare Books, Bodleian Libraries Special Collections

The Cheney archive documents the history of Cheney & Sons, an independent family printing firm based in Banbury. The firm was in operation from 1767 to 2001, working primarily as jobbing printers but also printing some books. The archive, acquired by the Bodleian Library in 2010, includes 17 volumes of printed ephemera, books, and manuscript material, and demonstrates both the longevity of the company and their adaptability through over two centuries of politics, wars and changing technology.

The company was begun in 1767 by John Cheney, the innkeeper of the Unicorn Inn in Banbury. From there it passed through various generations of Cheney until it finally closed down some 234 years later. A particularly interesting aspect of the firm’s history is during the period 1821 to 1854, when Esther Cheney, the wife of the founder’s son, Thomas, was the head of the company. A letter sent out by her to clients informing them of this change of leadership is within the archive[1], as well as another one from when Esther handed control to her son in 1854[2].

Several items within the archive thus bear the imprint E. Cheney[3], and according to the Cheney’s own history, Esther was a formidable woman of renown in Banbury. Apparently the people of Banbury used to frighten naughty children by threatening to call in Mrs. Cheney! Her position is interesting as she was clearly acting as head of the company in her own right, an action that was not necessarily the norm at the time. For more detail on the history of the firm, Cheney and Sons printed their own history, which is also part of the archive[4].

The archive sheds light on the print trade across over two centuries. The Cheneys produced several specimen books containing numerous examples of their work[5], showcasing the variety of commissions that the Cheney family could undertake, as well as demonstrating the types, colours, materials, and finishes that they could offer. Specimen books like these were, and remain today, a very practical way of showing potential clients the services offered by a company.

But Cheney & Sons took every opportunity to demonstrate their printing skill, for instance the archive contains several promotional calendars  which were given as gifts to clients at the end of the year[6]. These calendars not only showcase the artistic skill of the printing firm, but also allow us to see changing tastes in artwork through the years. They also show that maintaining client loyalty and goodwill was an important part of running the business, and the further examples within the archive of these kinds of tokens of thanks[7] (SDC11230) printed by Cheney & Sons for other businesses, suggest that business-client relationships were much more personal in the 19th and 20th centuries.

It is interesting to discover, through the archive material, the different ways in which print was utilised through the late 18th to 21st centuries, and the insight these materials can give us into social history of the time.

The Cheney archive affords a wealth of examples of printed documents relating to entertainment. There are numerous notices for concerts[8]  and plays[9] , as well as a dance card to the Banbury ball of December 1897[10] , listing the dances and with room for a lady to write in a partner for each. Also, there is a poster printed by Potts[11] and a newspaper article by Cheney[12] detailing the celebrations planned for the day of Queen Victoria’s coronation, showing how, in a time before television allowed live viewing of the actual event in London, the people of Banbury (and presumably other towns too) enjoyed coronation day: with dancing, sports, and an ‘immense fire balloon’!

Another lovely example of Cheney & Co’s involvement in local entertainment is a book printed in 1907 to commemorate the Oxford Pageant[13]. The pageant was organised to raise funds for the Radcliffe Infirmary and the Oxford Eye Hospital, and involved the people of Oxford dressing up in historical dress and re-enacting the history of Oxford. My personal highlights are the Vikings landing, Queen Elizabeth and her court being photographed school-photograph style, and a recreation of the St. Scholastica’s Day ‘Town and Gown’ riots!

Several volumes of the archive are full of printed ephemera related to politics, further demonstrating the Cheney’s connection with the general public. Some are open letters from MPs at election time. Others record contemporary reaction to political changes, for example some notices refer to the change to a secret ballot in 1872, instructing voters how to cast their vote properly[14]. However, some are perhaps even more relevant to the present day: vicious tirades against fellow MPs[15] , and satires describing the election as a horse-race, with a notice of betting on the contestants, and a summary after the ‘race’[16]. . These satires were published by various different printers in Banbury and the surrounding area, and so the archive demonstrates a wide range of political affiliations, showing elections from several different perspectives. It is interesting to see how, in a world without social media, politics could be equally as cut-throat, and printed ephemera clearly played a very important role in this.

Fashion is another particular strength of the Cheney archive. Several catalogues and pamphlets for different shops can be found, including one for Elliston and Cavell Ltd., the shop that used to be situated at 7-12 Magdalen Street, Oxford, where Debenhams is now[17]. The catalogues offer insight not only into trends for men, women and children, but also into how the fashion trade operated in the 20th century.


Outside of examples of work printed by Cheney and Sons, one manuscript letter[18]

written to ‘Mr Cheney Guild-der’ describes quite a curious commission received by the Cheney firm. Richard Barton asks Cheney to ‘put’ images of angels, Jesus and a small child on two clarinets. The letter is not very professionally written, as the writer starts over three times and runs out of space at the bottom of the page. He also states that he doesn’t want to ask the usual man, because he’s always drunk! This seems quite a strange request to make of a printer – but serves to show another side of the Cheney firm, which was gilding.

The archive does not just include work by the Cheney firm, though. It also includes the work of other local printers, including J.G. Rusher, who printed a large number of chapbooks in the early nineteenth century. These are small, paper-covered booklets relating children’s stories, folk tales, ballads, poems and riddles, often accompanied by illustrations. Chapbooks were a medium of popular literature in the late 18th and 19th centuries, and the large number of them printed in Banbury by Rusher, Cheney, and other local printers sheds light on the history of production and distribution of such popular literature. Many of the chapbooks relate well-known stories such as Jack the giant killer[19] , Dick Whittington[20] , Cinderella[21], and Jack and Jill[22] , to name but a few.

The range within the Cheney archive material is very broad, as such a lengthy timeframe is likely to afford. Some of the archive material relates to World War II, including notices relating to the blackout and air raids[23].  One notice includes a watermark for ‘Cheney and Sons, Banbury’ . It is clear that the longevity of the Cheney firm stems not only from printing commercially viable popular material, but also from their ability to adapt and change their work to suit current events and extraordinary circumstances.

The archive thus demonstrates the breadth of the uses of print through the late 18th to 21st centuries, and the real integration of a printing firm into every aspect of a community’s life. As we move increasingly further away from a world of print and into a digital age, it is fascinating to see how crucial print has been right up to recent history, and to track some of these changes through one family and printing firm.


[1] Cheney d.2 (4)

[2] Cheney d.2 (12)

[3] Cheney 144 and Cheney 161

[4] Cheney 159

[5] Cheney c.6/2; Cheney c.9

[6] Cheney c.20

[7] Cheney albums 15

[8] Cheney d.2 (9)

[9] Cheney b.4 (1)

[10] Cheney c.9

[11] Cheney a.5 (51)

[12] Cheney a.1 (2)

[13] Cheney c.10

[14] Cheney a.3 (5) and Cheney a.4 (34)

[15] Cheney a.1 (13) and Cheney a.3 (60)

[16] Cheney a.4 (47) and Cheney a.4 (44)

[17] Cheney c.17

[18] MS. Cheney d.1 (1)

[19] Cheney 29

[20] Cheney 38

[21] Cheney 18

[22] Cheney 22

[23] Cheney c.23

Books as art and treasure: events from the Bodleian Libraries

The Bodleian Libraries award the Colin Franklin Prize for book collecting to a student of the University of Oxford every year. The competition for 2017 is now announced. Hazel Wilkinson (Cambridge/Carr-Thomas-Ovenden Fellow at the Bodleian Libraries), winner of the first Anthony Davis Book Collecting Prize at the University of London in 2014, will speak about building a book collection, in

‘“best edit.”: Book Collecting and the Hierarchy of Editions’

Monday 7 November at 5:15 pm in the Visiting Scholars’ Centre, Level 2, Weston Library.Entrance with University card, via the readers’ entrance, Parks Road.For information: contact Alexandra Franklin

Lecture, 9 November 2016 1.00pm — 2.00pm, Lecture Theatre, Weston Library
Adeela Qureishi speaks about assembling the display of Mughal paintings depicting hunting scenes, from albums of paintings in the Bodleian collections.
The display is on view in the Proscholium, Old Bodleian Library.
This lunchtime lecture in the Lecture Theatre, Weston Library, is free but places are limited so please complete our booking form to reserve tickets in advance.

A Humument: fifty years
14 November 2016 4.30pm — 7.00pm   Lecture Theatre, Weston Library
In 1966, the artist Tom Phillips bought a copy of the forgotten Victorian novel A Human Document and started to work with it. With paint, cut-up and collage, he created a new story and a new kind of work: A Humument. The Bodleian is celebrating the final, fully revised, 50th anniversary edition with this book launch event.
Dr Gill Partington (University of Warwick) & Dr Julia Jordan (UCL); followed by dialogue between Adam Smyth (English Faculty) and Tom Phillips
This event is free but places are limited so please complete our booking form to reserve tickets in advance.



Isocrates Programme visits the Weston Library

Isocrates students debate

On July 19, Year 9s from Walthamstow Academy in London visited the Bodleian’s exhibition, ‘Shakespeare’s Dead’ as part of the Isocrates Wider Reading Programme.

During this day-long programme, the group visited the Pitt Rivers Museum, the Museum of the History of Science and the Shakespeare’s Dead exhibition at the Weston Library.

Three groups studied the following courses with leaders from the Isocrates Programme, who are university students from Oxford and a range of other universities:

Shakespeare and Hiphop
Postcolonial Histories
STEM and Ethics

Ending the day at the Weston Library, students gave presentations outlining what they had learned, talking about the ethics of medical research, colonialism and its effects on the UK today, and performing a hip-hop version of the fight scene from Romeo and Juliet.

Responding to the experience, 84% of the students said that it had made them more likely to apply to university, and comments from students included
“Enjoyed it and it will help me for GCSE”
“I really enjoyed it and I found it very interesting and useful and I also learned a lot.”
“I really wish to have an opportunity to do this again”

Shakespeare in 2016: podcasts of lectures in the Weston Library

Walter Colman, La danse machabre, or death's duell (1633) Bodleian Mal. 404

Four hundred years after his death, these talks by specialists revisit Shakespeare’s works, life, and times in the light of current research, as part of the Shakespeare Oxford 2016 festival and in connection with the Bodleian Libraries exhibition, ‘Shakespeare’s Dead’.

Bart van Es, 1594: Shakespeare’s most important year

In the summer of 1594 William Shakespeare decided to invest around £50 to become a shareholder in a newly formed acting company: the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. This lecture examines the consequences of this decision, unique in English theatrical history.

By examining the early modern theatrical marketplace and the artistic development of Shakespeare’s writing before and after this moment, it is hoped that this talk shows why 1594 was, by some measure, Shakespeare’s most important year.

Jonathan Bate, The Magic of Shakespeare

This lecture will celebrate Shakespeare’s immortality on the exact 400th anniversary of his burial. It will begin from Theseus’ famous speech in A Midsummer Night’s Dream about the magical, transformative power of poetry.

It will argue that Shakespeare inherited from antiquity a fascination with the intimate association between erotic love, magic and the creative imagination, and that this is one of the keys to the enduring power of his plays.

Sir Jonathan Bate, Provost of Worcester College and Professor of English Literature at Oxford University, is one of the world’s most renowned Shakespeare scholars, the author of, among many other works, Shakespeare and Ovid, The Genius of Shakespeare, Soul of the Age and (as co-editor) The RSC Shakespeare: Complete Works. He co-curated Shakespeare Staging the World, the British Museum’s exhibition for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, and he is the author of Being Shakespeare: A One-Man Play for Simon Callow, which has toured nationally and internationally and had three runs in the West End.

Steven Gunn, Everyday death in Shakespeare’s England

Coroners’ inquest reports into accidental deaths tell us about the hazards of everyday life in Shakespeare’s day. There were dangerous jobs, not just building, mining and farming, but also fetching water, and travel was perilous whether by cart, horse or boat. Even relaxation had its risks, from football and wrestling to maypole-dancing or a game of bowls on the frozen River Cherwell.

Peter McCullough, Donne to Death

John Donne’s sermon, Death’s duell, was part of an early Stuart vogue for funeral sermons. Professor McCullough discusses Donne’s contribution to this genre, and looks at how this tradition is connected to the poetic and dramatic representations of death on display in the exhibition, Shakespeare’s Dead.

Katherine Duncan Jones, Venus and Adonis

Professor Katherine Duncan Jones, Senior Research Fellow, Somerville College, gives a talk on Shakespeare’s poem, Venus and Adonis.

In 1592-93, with London playhouses closed because of plague, Shakespeare wrote his most technically perfect work. Venus and Adonis (1593) is a highly original ‘take’ on the ancient Greek myth of the doomed Adonis – presented here as a pubertal boy incapable of responding to the goddess’s amorous advances. It was a tearaway success with Elizabethan readers.

Emma Smith, Memorialising Shakespeare: the First Folio and other elegies

Ben Jonson wrote in 1623 that Shakespeare ‘art a Moniment, without a tombe/ And art alive still, while thy Booke doth live’: centuries later Jorge Luis Borges observed that ‘when writers die, they become books’, adding, ‘which is, after all, not too bad an incarnation’. This lecture considers Shakespeare’s First Folio as a literary memorial to Shakespeare, alongside other elegies, epitaphs, and responses to the playwright’s death.

Part of the robe worn by Garrick as Richard III

Bodleian Vet. A6 c.172/1
A bound volume of playbills from 1815-16 contains ‘Part of the robe worn by Garrick as Rich III’

Two hundred years ago, Shakespeare’s birth/death day was marked by a performance at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, a pageant of characters from 16 of Shakespeare’s plays, and a recitation of the ‘Ode to Shakespeare’ written by David Garrick (1717-1779) for the Jubilee staged at Stratford in 1769.

A playbill for April 23, 1816, one in a bound volume [Vet. A6 c.172], shows that Mr Rae and Miss Grimani took the roles of the star-crossed lovers. The European Magazine was full of praise for Miss Grimani’s performance: of particular interest for the Bodleian’s exhibition, Shakespeare’s Dead, is the description of Juliet’s death: “Her last anxious effort to stagger to the dead body of her lord, after stabbing herself, and the sudden arrest of death, which compelled her to fall backwards, were finely conceived and beautifully executed.”

The owner of the volume attached to the back of the previous item a souvenir of Garrick himself: a piece of cloth, with sequins and silver embroidery, labelled ‘Part of the robe worn by Garrick as Rich. III’, a role for which the actor was famous, and in which he was famously portrayed in a painting by William Hogarth in 1745; though in the engraving by John Dixon from 1772 he wears a robe that more resembles the scrap preserved here.

Bodleian Master classes in 2015-16: retrospect

Auct M 3.14 fol. 12 r_watermarkThe master classes programme presents scholars discussing materials from Bodleian special collections. In 2015-16 the programme included discussions of the letter forms, musical notation, provenance, and artistic content of Bodleian manuscripts and printed books, including the ’12 millionth book’, acquired in 2015, Shelley’s Poetical Essay.

21 October 2015: Stephen Greenblatt (Harvard/Humanitas Visiting Professor) The rise and fall of Adam and Eve

18 January 2016: Irene Ceccherini (Bodleian Library/Lincoln College) The palaeography of the Latin classics in 14th-century Italy  

25 Jan 2016: Michael Rossington (Newcastle) Shelley’s Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things: some manuscript contexts

1 February 2016: Elizabeth Solopova (Faculty of English/Brasenose College) The Wycliffite Bible: beloved but banned bestseller

8 February 2016: Jim McCue (independent) T.S. Eliot, Vivien and ‘F. M.’

15 February 2016: Daniela Mairhofer (University of Vienna) Manuscripts from German religious houses in the Bodleian

22 February 2016:  Benjamin Wardhaugh (All Souls, Music) Seventeenth-century musical manuscripts

29 February 2016: Eleanor Giraud (Faculty of Music/Lincoln College) Square chant notation: identifying and distinguishing scribes

7 March 2016: Deirdre Serjeantson (University of Essex, English)
Poetic miscellanies from the early modern period

Menaka PP Bora Performing the Treasures

On March 26, dancer Menaka PP Bora, Affiliated Artist at the Bodleian Libraries during 2015-16,  delivered a performance inspired by Bodleian collections and by the architecture of the Weston Library. Dancing high above the main public foyer of the building, Blackwell Hall, Dr Bora improvised a dance responding to the ‘floating gallery’, the reference area for the reading rooms on the library’s upper floors.

Descending to Blackwell Hall itself, Dr Bora performed dances inspired by one of the albums of Indian paintings, collected in the 19th century from Kolkata, which portrays Indian gods.MenakaPPBora_26 March_2_sm MenakaPPBora_gallerymontage_sm

Seminars, master classes and lectures at the Weston Library, Sept-Nov 2015, from the Centre for the Study of the Book

16 September: Catholic Legacies, 1500-1800: Uncovering Catholic lives and records

9:00 am-15:30pm, Lecture Theatre, Weston Library, + 16:00-17:00 Special Display Session [registration required]
This one-day workshop will explore Britain’s rich early modern Catholic heritage through archival and material culture sources. The day will include examination of material in the Bodleian collections, as well as from the Vatican Library, the Archives of the Jesuit Province in Britain, the Archives of the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre, the Blairs Museum, the British Museum, and Stonyhurst College.
The programme begins with discussions of the collections of the Vatican Library, by Adalbert Roth, Director of Printed Books at the BAV; and the archives of the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre, by Hannah Thomas (Durham). Thomas McCoog, SJ, will describe The formation of Jesuit archives relevant to England and Lucy Wooding will speak about English Catholics and the Bible.
In the afternoon, a panel session ‘The material culture of early modern Catholicism’, will include Peter Davidson (Aberdeen), Dora Thornton (British Museum), and Jan Graffius (Stonyhurst College).

Attendance from 9:00-15:30 is free and open to all.

A special display session from 16.00-17.00 will feature material from the Bodleian and other collections.

Note, as space is limited you must be registered to attend the Special Display Session. Please see the programme and follow this link to register: Booking Special Display Session

21 October: The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve: Stephen Greenblatt master class

10:00 am, Lecture Theatre, Weston Library
Professor Stephen Greenblatt, Humanitas Visiting Professor, discusses representations of Adam and Eve, with material from Bodleian Libraries Special Collections.
Registration is required.

23 October: The New Boccaccio: Scholar, Scribe, Reader

2-6 pm, Lecture Theatre, Weston Library
To celebrate the seventh centenary of Giovanni Boccaccio’s birth (1313–2013) several cultural activities took place around the world. Our seminar focuses on a set of articles collected in the journal Italia Medioevale e Umanistica and entirely devoted to the Italian ‘humanist’. The aim was to disclose a new profile of Boccaccio, who should now be recognised not just as the novelist of the Decameron, but as a scribe and a scholar as important as Petrarch devoted to the rediscovery and study of the Latin Classics.
Irene Ceccherini (Bodleian Library & Lincoln College, Oxford)
Matilde Malaspina (Lincoln College, Oxford & 15cBOOKTRADE)
Martin McLaughlin (Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages & Magdalen College, Oxford)
Angelo Piacentini (Cattolica University, Milan & Bodleian Library, Visiting Scholar)
Michael Reeve (Faculty of Classics & Pembroke College, Cambridge)
Nigel Wilson (Lincoln College, Oxford)
Register for free tickets.

2 November: Mr Gough’s ‘curious map’ of Britain: old image, new techniques

9-5:15, Lecture Theatre, Weston Library
A team of specialists report on the application of modern imaging technology to disentangle the Gough Map’s complexities and understand its creation and function. Convened by Catherine Delano-Smith (Institute of Historical Research, London) and Nick Millea (Maps, Bodleian Library).
Speakers will include: Peter Barber (formerly British Library), Andrew Beeby (Durham), Christopher Clarkson (Bodleian Library), P.D.A. Harvey (Durham), David Howell (Bodleian Library), Adam Lowe (Factum Arte), Nigel Saul (Royal Holloway, London), Bill Shannon (Lancashire), Marinita Stiglitz (Bodleian Library), Christopher Whittick (East Sussex Record Office), and James Willoughby (New College, Oxford).

There will be a registration fee for the Gough Map symposium. Please see event listing for details.

The Malone and Osborn collections

Marginal Malone_Programme. ‘Marginal Malone’, a symposium of the Yale Program in the History of the Book and the Bodleian Libraries Centre for the Study of the Book

Malone’s Chronologizing of Aubrey’s Lives ( “putt in writing … tumultuarily”)
Keynote lecture by Margreta de Grazia, (Emerita Sheli Z. and Burton X. Rosenberg Professor of the Humanities, University of Pennsylvania). Introduction by Tiffany Stern, Professor of Early Modern Drama, Faculty of English, University of Oxford. [podcast]

Arch. G d.41

This quarto volume is part of the collection of Edmond Malone (1741-1812) whose legacy is celebrated along with that of James Marshall Osborn, at the symposium ‘Marginal Malone’, presented by the Yale Program in the History of the Book and the Bodleian Libraries Centre for the Study of the Book. The symposium webpage is here:

Arch. G d.41

On the leaf facing the title page is a pen and ink drawing by George Steevens , beneath which is a note by Malone: “Mr. Stevens borrowed this volume from me in 1779, to peruse the Rape of Lucrece in the original edition, of which he was not possessed. When he returned it he made this drawing. I was confined by a sore throat, and was attended by Mr. Atkinson, the apocathary, of whom the above figure whom Shakespeare addresses, is a caricature. E.M. “. To read this note in full see: (SOLO record)

[link: ]

This volume contains seven items:

(1) The Rape of Lucrece, 1594,

(2) Sonnets, 1609,

(3) Tragedy of Hamlet (betw. 1619 and 1623?)

(4) Love’s Labours Lost, 1598

(5) Pericles, 1609

(6) The whole contention betweene the two famous houses, Lancaster and Yorke. : With the tragicall ends of the good Duke Humfrey, Richard Duke of Yorke, and King Henrie the sixt. 1619

(7) A Yorkshire Tragedy, 1608

Display of items selected by the speakers at ‘Marginal Malone’

Printing on the ‘Moxon’ Press in the Weston Library, Blackwell Hall

Image of replica 'Moxon' press
Image of the precursor of the ‘Moxon’ press in Blackwell Hall, from A.H. Smith, A description of the hand-press in the Department of English at University College, London (1933, printed on the press itself). The 1933 press was destroyed by bomb damage in WWII.

The press in Blackwell Hall, the public entrance foyer of the Bodleian’s Weston Library, is a replica made in 1951 by A.H. Smith, Quain Professor of English at UCL, with A. Brown, from designs published in 1683 by Joseph Moxon in Mechanick Exercises, or, The doctrine of handy-works, applied to the art of printing.*

It is currently being used by a team of volunteers, who will be at press most Saturdays this summer, to enable visitors to try their hand at printing keepsakes
Saturday printing 2015
Saturday 13 June, 2-4 pm
Saturday 20 June, 2-4 pm
Saturday 27 June, 2-4 pm
Saturday 4 July, (Alice’s Day), 11-4
Saturday 11 July, 2-4 pm
Saturday 18 July, 2-4 pm
Saturday 25 July, 2-4 pm
Saturday 1 August, 11 am -1 pm
Saturday 8 August, 2-4 pm
Saturday 29 August, 2-4 pm

* See Frans A. Janssen, ‘Reconstructions of the common press: aims and results’, Quærendo 32/3-4 (2002), for a photo of the press at UCL and a discussion of the design and use of this and other replicas.