Brontë, Internship, Literary Archives, Literature, Uncategorized

Visits to the Vault: Unearthing Archival Treasures and Brontë Connections

Earlier this year, I was awarded a paid internship working in Liverpool Hope University’s Sheppard-Worlock library. My job was to search through uncatalogued books and recently donated material in certain sections of the library’s archives in order to locate material that may be relevant to History undergraduates during their dissertation preparation. In addition to this, I entered the information into a Microsoft Access database for the students to use during their initial research. I blogged about my work in an eight part series which you can read by clicking here.

Prior to this, I spent a year doing some voluntary work in the department after being introduced to the possibility of archival research as part of my MA dissertation preparation. I didn’t think it was possible for someone like me to use literary archives, especially with material dating back to the sixteenth century. Following my initial visit in February 2016, I began to seriously consider the possibility that I may have to pursue archival research due to the fact that I was working on Charlotte Brontë’s early fiction, or juvenilia, as much of this is either unpublished or notoriously difficult to access in print. In order to prepare myself, I decided to enquire about the possibility of volunteering for a few hours a week in order to gain some experience in the handling of rare material, and learn more about archival research, and the rules more generally.

I also blogged about my voluntary experience in a blog piece for Liverpool Hope University entitled “Access for All: Debunking the Mysteries and Misconceptions of Archival Research” in which I stressed that literary archives are places for everyone, not just members of MENSA, and that students in particular are encouraged to make use of their university’s archives. I also stressed that librarians don’t bite, and are more than happy to help you in your research enquiries. You can read this piece by clicking here. After a few months I was able to handle some original material related to my research on Charlotte Brontë at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, Yorkshire. Just like the lovely and incredibly helpful Special Collections librarian at Liverpool Hope, the curator of the Brontë Museum, Sarah Laycock, was kind, welcoming, and helpful. Don’t be afraid of librarians and archivists, and don’t be afraid to pursue archival research. Yes, there are rules and regulations, but nobody wants to keep these books, manuscripts, records etc. locked away. There is no point in preserving them simply to lock them away; they are there to be accessed.

It was this experience and the knowledge gained from working in the Special Collections department that helped me to secure the internship in January 2018. Although the post was for the History department and they wanted a History graduate, I’m a Literature graduate and all round bibliophile who had experience in the department. There was nobody better qualified than me and I’d like to think that I did a good job. A few months after I finished my fixed-term post, my mentor for the project from the university’s History department came into possession of some more material that needed to be added to the database from her old PhD supervisor. As I had some time to kill before I started my new job and I had kept in contact with both her and the Special Collections librarian, I offered to do some more voluntary work, cataloguing the new donations, researching relevant topics for the students, and finally entering it into the database.

I began this several weeks ago and I found some beautiful books, fascinating ephemera and marginalia, and some interesting provenance information. Here are some of my favourite photographs and snippets of information on what I found.

Book Covers



This is a term to refer to anything that shouldn’t be in the book, but is. Things I found included a Christie’s bookmark, old Marks and Spencer receipts from 1994, and a beautiful sketch of a ship.


The receipt above right was for items such as risotto, pasta, pesto, and watercress. It’s dated 22/04/1994 and the eight items cost £12.48 altogether. The items were bought from a store in Liverpool and the receipts were probably just stuck in the book to mark a page. It seems trivial and irrelevant, but even receipts like this are part of history. I always like finding things like this as they offer little snapshots of a person’s life.


I also found a letter from Francis Cairns, Professor of Latin at the University of Liverpool tucked away inside an old volume. It’s dated 1st October, 1979, and has been typed with a typewriter onto headed paper. The letter is a reminder to colleagues of the Liverpool Latin Seminar, which I assume was a conference. I particularly like the part when Cairns writes about “the burden of playing host” and states that “There is no charge for food and wine, which is of course ‘home made'”. I’m not entirely sure what he meant by that, but it made me smile.


Those of you who have read my Diary of a Special Collections Intern will know that I have a slight obsession with bookplates. The one above which not only belonged to Mandell Creighton, but also depicts him, is quite possibly my favourite. Creighton was Bishop of London from 1897-1901, a historian, and scholar of renaissance papacy, and you can see all of this information depicted on his bookplate. He was tipped to become Archbishop of Canterbury before his early death aged 57. He was married to Louise Creighton, a women’s suffrage activist and author of books on history and sociopolitical topics.


The bookplate above is stuck to a beautiful and marbled front paste-down end paper and features a coat of arms with the name Rogers underneath. An inscription inside and a little digging revealed that the Rogers in question and the former owner of this book was Frederic Rogers, 1st Baron Blachford, later known as Sir Frederick Rogers, 8th Baronet, who was a civil servant.


I found the above sketch between the pages of Lucy Aikin’s Memoirs of the court of Elizabeth I. During all of my work in the archives, I have seen only a handful of books written by women so it was nice to find another one. Aikin was an historical writer originally from Warrington. She was born into a literary family; her aunt was Anna Laetitia Barbauld, a poet, author, editor, and critic. Her father Dr John Aikin was also a writer. This sketch is one of my favourite pieces of ephemera. I wish I knew who the artist was. The page is torn from another book and is a different size to the Aikin book. It has been drawn with ink not pencil. You can see the word “RAPID” on the boat.


The artist was obviously unhappy with their first attempt (see below).


Marginalia and the Brontë Connection

Marginalia is a term for writing, annotations, and sketches found inside a book. One of my favourite things when looking through old books is trying to decipher any marginalia that I come across. Over the course of my research, I’ve discovered that priests and reverends like to write in their books. A lot. During my internship, I catalogued a collection once belonging to a Catholic priest, Thomas Abbot, and his marginalia fascinated me. He wrote in everything and about everything. I’d love to transcribe his marginalia one day. It would be a fascinating project. Today, I came across some marginalia written, signed, and dated by Rev. John Cockin. It really is beautiful handwriting, and I’m in the process of transcribing it.


There were several pages written in his hand in the second edition of a book titled Some Memorials of John Hampden, his party and his times (1832) written by Lord Nugent and published by John Murray. The marginalia concerns Hampden, who was an English politician and parliamentarian who challenged Charles I in the lead up to the English Civil War. It is signed “John Cockin, Holmfirth July 11 1839.” Cockin was a dissenting minister at Lane Independent Chapel, Holmfirth for 43 years from 1806-1849. He was born in Thornton though, the birthplace of Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne Brontë. Readers of my blog may have noticed that I’m slightly obsessed with them. As today is the anniversary of Branwell’s death, I find it fitting that I spotted Cockin’s name and decided to research him. I find Brontë connections everywhere. However, Cockin seems to have moved away from Thornton before the arrival of Patrick and Maria Brontë to the village in 1815.


Another Brontë connection. One of the printers of the above book is George Edward Eyre.


Above are illustrations of Elizabeth I and poet, scholar and soldier, Sir Philip Sidney. Sidney died aged just 31 during the battle of Zutphen in 1586. The images are from Memoirs of Elizabeth, her court and favourites by Sir Robert Naunton.

Above are some beautiful images of a monstrous man, Oliver Cromwell.


The above image reminds me of the work of William Blake. It is from Francis Peck’s Desiderata Curiosa. The beautiful images below are from volumes I and II of John Nalson’s An impartial collection of the great affairs of State (1682).

If you’ve read this far and have been considering archival research but have always thought it wasn’t for you, let me tell you that it absolutely is. Don’t be put off by the myths and misconceptions.

By Nicola F. a.k.a. The Brontë Babe

Thanks for reading. Find me on twitter @BronteBabeBlog where I tweet about books, the Brontës, and animal rights, or on my Brontë Babe Blog Facebook page. Look me up on Goodreads too. I also have a side project where I blog about my love of Classic Crime Fiction over at The Classic Crime Chonicle. I’d love it if you joined me there.

These images appear with the kind permission of Liverpool Hope University. Please do not copy, share, or use any of the images from this post.


5 thoughts on “Visits to the Vault: Unearthing Archival Treasures and Brontë Connections”

  1. A fascinating post, much to think about. I have been to the county records office for family history. Seeing the interview notes concerning my great grandfather’s appointment was a very special moment.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It was quite strange to see the minutes of the meeting and how the voting went, and to realise that my Gt Grandfather would also have seen them when he came to write up the next set of minutes.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t quite make out the artist’s name for the Creighton bookplate. Could you let me know what it says? Thanks!


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