Category Archives: Masterclasses

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

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

Marks in books: laying breadcrumbs in provenance research

Bodleian Tanner 942(2) title page

William Dowsing’s annotations on the title page of Bodleian Tanner 942(2) (and a library note of another copy)

I’ve been looking at the neat handwritten annotation at the top of a page in the Bodleian Library’s copy at Tanner 942(2) of A moste sure and strong defence of the baptisme of children, published in 1551, guided by Dunstan Roberts (Cambridge) in the latest of the master classes convened at the library by Will Poole.

The annotation is by William Dowsing (1596-1668) of Suffolk, noting his purchase of this short book in November, 1627. At the end of the pamphlet, he notes the dates that he read this work, over two days in the following February.

A tidy mind is a wonderful thing. Was this useful in Dowsing’s later role as ‘Commissioner for the destruction of monuments of idolatry and superstition’, carrying out the ordinances of Parliament in 1643 and 1644? Dowsing’s collection included several books of the 16th-century Reformation, which he seems to have pored over, refining his sense of Puritan outrage at any idolatry or beliefs unsupported by scripture, annotating with chapter and verse where the earlier authors were sloppy in their references.

Roberts presented Dowsing as a case of the long historical tail of the Henrician reformation. In the process, he pointed to several bibliographical puzzles and possibilities.

One was the tantalizing detail in which Dowsing recorded not only the date of purchase, but the date and duration of his reading of books. How the history of reading would benefit if all readers were so systematic!

A puzzle was the fate of Dowsing’s collection of pamphlets. His systematic re-numbering of the pages in his own collected volumes laid a trail of clues to his collecting and arrangement of books that are now broken up and dispersed.

How can modern scholars find, and share, these small traces that can add up to a picture of larger lost libraries? The series convener of the master classes on printed books with manuscript contents, Will Poole, has reconstructed the library of Francis Lodwick from lists in the Sloane manuscripts at the British Library and from clues in Bodleian and British Library books, such as marginal annotations and shelfmarks (The Library, 7th Series, vii(2006), p.377-418). The Hans Sloane printed books project has followed Sloane’s distinctive marks to identify his own printed books inside and outside the British Library.

The American Library Association rules for descriptive cataloguing of rare books specify that provenance information for copies held by a library should be included in catalogue records for those copies. We also know that librarians and scholars have been keeping independent records of this sort of information for years, as in this example from a card catalogue compiled by the late D.M. Rogers at the Bodleian, recording coats of arms, autographs, and notes and sometimes reproducing these.
DMRogers card
This kind of information might be useful only as threads to knit together collections long since scattered. What methods will help scholars to find information on a book they are looking at, and what will enable their contribution to a collective effort to increase the knowledge held in libraries about the history of the books and manuscripts in their care?

The database of Material Evidence in Incunabula (MEI) hosted by CERL, gathers provenance information for incunabula.

David Pearson’s list of English book owners in the 17th century is a PDF file available on the Bibliographical Society website simply organized alphabetically by name of owner, with links to images showing autographs and other distinctive marks.

Can researchers be empowered to contribute information as they find it in libraries around the world? On LibraryThing, Legacy Libraries ( enables collective efforts to build a virtual library catalogue by adding records of editions that were owned by an individual.

The CERL web portal offers a question board, for those who are confronted with an unknown bookplate or signature.

How well do any of these methods enable a researcher a) to learn what is known, about a book or an owner; b) to find out what is still unknown; c) to estimate the costs and benefits – (Is It Worth It?) – of pursuing an anonymous annotator or of reconstructing a lost library?

And in what format can this help be provided? When is the information best conveyed by standard vocabularies and thesauri, integrated with authoritative bio-bibliographical information? Or on the other hand by visual databases of distinctive marks shared among researchers labouring in the same vineyard? Online folders of snapshots already enable libraries to organize evidence into groups (bookplates, inscriptions) for visual identification and matching, as here from the Bodleian Libraries CSB: and the much more extensive Penn Provenance Project image stream:

A controlled vocabulary in a prescribed format, or a gallery of graven images: what would William Dowsing say?

Orietta Da Rold, Codicology and localization in medieval english manuscripts

Detail of Bodleian MS. Laud misc. 108, fol. 208r, showing a hole in the vellum.

Detail of Bodleian MS. Laud misc. 108, fol. 208r

A continuing theme of presentations at symposia and master classes in recent years (see: The Gathered Text) has been that to learn certain things about a book we need to look at the structure. Whether these are printed books from the hand-press period, or manuscript books, researchers are interested in getting to know the structure of the codex as a way of learning where, when, and why the book was made, as opposed to where, when and why the text was written.
Orietta Da Rold presented Bodleian MS. Laud misc. 108 as an example for her discussion of how codicological features could assist with issues of the localization of English medieval manuscripts. Bodleian MS. Laud misc. 108 is a manuscript containing saints’ lives, scriptural narratives, and poems including Havelok the Dane and the romance of King Horn. In the class, as an example of the questions and answers provided by close examination of quiring, Da Rold looked at the sequence of the parchmentleaves and pointed to the features that could provide clues to the materials and procedures used to create the book: not only the sequence of hands writing the texts and numbering the leaves, but imperfections of leaves that might indicate the nature and the size of the skins used, the method of folding the parchment sheet to make quires, the removal of leaves from quires, and the size of the quires, most of which contain twelve leaves. It was the last point which generated most discussion and questions, concerning the timing and reasons for a movement in England from quires with a usual number of 8 leaves, to gatherings of 12 leaves. With a very useful table of the quires of MS. Laud misc. 108, indicating the scribal hands, signature marks, the skin and hair side of each leaf and the gatherings of the leaves in each quire, Da Rold inspired the class to understand more about the tools and working practices of the makers of books in order to better identify practices that might be distinctive to a locality or to a moment of change in the history of the book.
Da Rold ended by referring to Robert Darnton’s ‘communications circuit’, the model illustrated on p. 68 of his 1982 article, What is the history of books? Daedalus 111(3), asking how this would be qualified for the history of manuscript book production, possibly yielding a model in the form of a ‘web’ of manuscript production.

Annotated books from Joseph Scaliger’s (1540-1609) library in the Bodleian

Copy of Scaliger's 1579 edition of Manilius, with annotations and mark-up for the printing of the new edition.

Copy of Scaliger’s 1579 edition of Manilius, with annotations and mark-up for the printing of the new edition.

The second in this year’s series of classes, convened by Will Poole, on annotated books in Bodleian Library collections was led by Kasper van Ommen (University of Leiden, and Humfrey Wanley Fellow at the Bodleian Library). He examined annotated books from Joseph Scaliger’s library, showing examples that had come into Bodleian collections by a variety of routes; as gifts from Scaliger himself to Henry Savile [Savile Ee 1(5)] or by descent of owners after Scaliger’s library, by the terms of his will, was divided and the ‘books in foreign tongues’ given to University of Leiden Library, establishing an early collection of  Middle Eastern and Asian-language books there; then Scaliger’s friends including Daniel Heinsius, Van der Myle and Baudius had the pick of the learned books in Latin and Greek; and the remainder of his library was sold at auction. By these means, particularly through the later sale of the books of Daniel Heinsius’s son Nicholas, many of Scaliger’s books bearing his annotations were dispersed and some came into the hands of English scholars and collectors. Some 27 books from Scaliger’s library or sent as dedication copies by him are in the Bodleian now.

Introducing the history of Scaliger’s library, Van Ommen pointed out that he was a ‘star professor’ of the late 16th century, and that his gifts of his own works to respected friends reflected both his productivity and his self-regard. This backfired with his presentation of the Cyclometrica to Henry Savile of Merton College, Oxford, who was not impressed with Scaliger’s claim to have squared the circle (a controversy in which John Wallis, a later Savilian Professor of Geometry, was similarly engaged with Thomas Hobbes in the middle of the 17th century).

Carrying the theme of discovering printed books that are unique by virtue of manuscript additions or annotations, the class examined a volume annotated by Scaliger, the 1579 edition of his own publication of Manilius’s Astronomicon, marked by him for the second (authorized) edition, and also marked in red crayon by the printers in Leiden as a copy-text for the 1600 publication. [Bodleian Library Auct. S 6.12] The volume also has added index entries as seen in the second image here.

The class discussed parallels between the Leiden and Oxford; did Thomas Bodley, a diplomat based in The Hague from 1588 to 1597, regard Leiden’s library as a  model for the Bodleian, which he later founded as an ‘Ark to save learning from the deluge’ – an echo of the Arca Scaligeri, the cabinet made to hold Scaliger’s Oriental books when they came to the Leiden library?  Each provided early catalogues of scholarly books, the Nomenclator of Leiden in 1595 and Thomas James’s 1605 Catalogus librorum bibliothecæ publicæ.

One indication of Bodley’s connection with (and admiration of) scholarship at Leiden may perhaps be seen in a letter transcribed in the newly launched resource from the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters, The Diplomatic Correspondence of Thomas Bodley, 1585-1597; This was prepared under the direction of former Humfrey Wanley Fellow, Robyn Adams.

Added ms. index in Bodleian Auct. S 6.12.

Added ms. index in Bodleian Auct. S 6.12.

Disputationes Metaphysicae

Jean-Pascal Pouzet (Limoges) Describing codicological structures in western medieval manuscripts (Seminar in Palaeography and Manuscript Studies, 21 October 2013)

More than an introduction to the structure of manuscripts, Jean-Pascal Pouzet presented a series of suggestions with regard to the layers of evidence to be examined to determine the structure of the text block currently present in any manuscript volume, and the nature, or possibly the changing nature, of portions of the manuscript through time from its creation to the present day. In effect he asked the class to view codicology as the philology of the material text and to take the study of codicology as one that precedes, as well as needing to work in parallel with, understanding of the palaeographical, art historical, and textual studies that also derive from the manuscript evidence.

Taking his motto from M.R. James, ‘See books for yourselves,’ Pouzet displayed in the class the manuscripts MS Bodley 801, MS Digby 177, MS Douce 137  and MS e Musaeo 62 to demonstrate in each case the different ways that fascicles and booklets had been joined to produce different types of collections within these volumes.

Pouzet emphasized the importance of exact terminology in describing codicological  and textual units, and in particular attempted to refine the concepts of the booklet and the fascicle.

‘Fascicle’ he distinguished as a unit which is materially marked out and possibly intellectually self-contained, but designed to exist within a particular collection rather than independently. The ‘booklet’ is something Pouzet, developing the term as used by Pamela Robinson, Ralph Hanna, Eric Kwakkel [whose Lowe Lectures will be heard at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, in Trinity Term 2014] and Alexandra Gillespie, identified as a physically and intellectually self-contained unit. It is then the movement of these parts through time, from their creation to later movements into and out of collections, changing the structural forms of manuscript books, that defines the type of collection, that is, the way the manuscript book was formed and a suggestion of the cultural intention behind the formation.

(From my own point of view, this discussion is reminiscent of similar attention that is given in the cataloguing of printed materials to describing and distinguishing the following aspects: the intellectual work; the matrix from which letters and images are printed; and the composite item which constitutes the edition; not to mention the individual item as held in a library; see a related discussion deriving from counting the catalogue records of broadside ballads.)


John Wallis and the idea of a universal library

A cryptographic manuscript book by John Wallis (1616-1703) shows text mark-up at work in the early modern period. The symbols Wallis identified in this code include pairs of symbols that ‘signify that what is between is to be deleted’, and one symbol to delete that which is before it. The work by Wallis, who had decrypted letters during the Civil Wars, was a book of deciphered letters, intended to teach the skill to another generation.
MS. Eng. misc. c. 382

Louisiane Ferlier’s master class on October 14 examined books donated by Wallis to the Bodleian and other Oxford libraries. Cryptographer, mathematician, founding member of the Royal Society and controversialist, he was the Savilian Professor of Geometry from 1649 until his death, and was elected Keeper of the University Archives in 1657.
His donations to the Savilian Library (kept privately within the Bodleian) and to the Bodleian itself were the subject of Dr Ferlier’s discussion, as she examined the means and possible motives of his presentation of printed books, pamphlets and manuscript books. Manuscript publication of books of letters intercepted in cipher, which Wallis had deciphered during the Civil Wars, he presented in order, he wrote, to teach others how to decrypt codes. Other materials seemed particularly aimed to strengthen the Bodleian’s holdings of material intended to show the truth of Protestant religion.
see: Cultures of Knowledge calendar and edition of Wallis’s correspondence and The Wallis Project, an investigation of his works on grammar, on logic and on music theory.

The Cadiz pirates

Portrait of Elizabeth I (1533–1603)  by Wilhelm Sonmans

Elizabeth I (1533–1603)
by Wilhelm Sonmans
(c) Bodleian Libraries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Dr Anders Ingram (National University of Ireland, Hakluyt Edition Project) used copies of the second edition of Hakluyt’s Principle Navigations (1598-1600) to explore the nature of censorship in Elizabethan England. At issue was the passage describing the Cadiz Expedition of 1596, led by the Earl of Essex and Lord Howard, during which English and Dutch troops sacked the Spanish city.

But the failure to capture the Spanish treasure fleet, and the conduct of the leaders, including the distribution of the booty, led to royal suppression of Essex’s own account of his actions. Two years later, Hakluyt included in his Navigations a “brief description” written by the doctor who travelled on the Ark Royal. The pages containing this episode were later excised from many copies of the work, and a new title page was produced omitting mention of the Cadiz expedition. Examining the physical evidence in three copies of Hakluyt’s Navigations from Bodleian collections, Dr Ingram showed that these represented different variants, and called into question the reason for the removal of these leaves: was this censorship, or action by the publishers in advance of the appearance of Hakluyt’s second volume, printed in 1599, which had found a sponsor in Robert Cecil, one of the examiners of the costs of the expedition during the controversy?

The copies examined contained: (1) The edition intact with the Cadiz episode as originally printed and a title page dated 1598; (2) The Cadiz leaves intact, but with a new title page dated 1599; (3) The leaves containing the description of the Cadiz episode replaced with a later (c. 1720) reprint, in different type and differently set.

Tyrrell and Locke on Patriarcha non monarcha: Masterclass with Felix Waldmann, 26 Nov. 2012

In an exciting conclusion to the autumn season of masterclasses, Felix Waldmann (Cambridge) spoke on ‘James Tyrrell, John Locke, and the text of Patriarcha non Monarcha (1681): the evidence from some Bodleian copies’.
Examining three Bodleian copies, Dr Waldmann found that the pattern of annotations, corrections, and manuscript additions in these copies, from the libraries of Thomas Barlow (the subject of an earlier masterclass) and John Locke himself, contributed significant evidence touching on theories of the composition of the text, which have variously described the publication as a collaboration between Locke and Tyrrell or Tyrrell’s original work which inspired Locke’s Two Treatises of Government.
This was the second in the series of Early Printed Books masterclasses convened by William Poole (New College).

Correcting late Middle English manuscripts: Masterclass with Daniel Wakelin, 19 Nov. 2012

Medieval manuscripts masterclass

In copying late Middle English, as in copying other languages, scribes in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England drew on techniques long established in practice but seldom written down. Those techniques of the scribes, their collaborators and their readers can be reconstructed from the manuscripts themselves.

These techniques might sometimes have been ‘tacit’, as good as unthinking; but what is intriguing is the question whether correcting ever reflects conscious ‘second thoughts’ about the text corrected and about the process of copying it into a book. Sometimes scribes fix practical problems in scribal labour; sometimes they stop to emend or even collate texts in ways which suggest their reading of, or attitudes to, the language and works they copy. Correcting is thereby a crucial part both of the history of book production and of an interesting period in the history of responses to English language and literature.

Daniel Wakelin came to Oxford in 2011 as Jeremy Griffiths Professor of Medieval English Palaeography in the Faculty of English and a Fellow of St Hilda’s College. He formerly taught in the Faculty of English and Christ’s College in Cambridge.

The class will be held on Monday, 19 November at 2:15 in the Pitt Rivers Museum Lecture Room