Two GPL Librarians in England, Post #2: Bonfire Night at Manchester

Bonfire Night at Heaton Park, Manchester

For Americans it’s Halloween, but for the English it’s Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night. 

Though Bonfire Night originated as a tradition of giving thanks for the failure of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, when a group of Catholics led by a man named Guy Fawkes conspired to assassinate King James I, historians and anthropologists also find in the annual observance of Guy Fawkes parallels with the Celtic, or more exactly Gaelic, harvest festival of Samhain — which under Christian influence was later transformed into All Hallow’s Eve, or what we know as Halloween in the United States.

Anyway, on the evening of Friday, November 5th, Frank and I were able to participate in the Guy Fawkes celebrations held at Heaton Park in Manchester.  Thousands milled about the fairgrounds there enjoying rides and food, while others assembled on a hill above to watch a fine fireworks display followed by a bonfire during which an effigy of Guy Fawkes was burned.

Greensboro Public Library has got a couple of books on the history of Halloween, if you’re interested.  These are Nicholas Rogers’ Halloween:  From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, and David Skal’s Death Makes a Holiday:  A Cultural History of Halloween.

As I write, we’ve just started on the road to Humberside (the North Sea Coast) to visit Hull, our main object there being to see the William Wilberforce home and museum — Wilberforce of course being the English politician who fought relentlessly to abolish slavery in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

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Two GPL Librarians in England, Post #1: Fantastic Manchester Libraries: John Rylands, Deansgate, and Chetham’s Library

Chained books, Chetham’s Library, Manchester, UK

Frank Barefoot and I are now on holiday in the UK visiting former Greensboro Public Library colleague Heidi Schachtschneider-Williams and her husband Gareth, and yesterday we were lucky enough to see two very fine libraries in Manchester:  the John Rylands Library, Deansgate, which houses one of the UK’s finest manuscript and rare books collections, and Chetham’s Library, which has the distinction of being the oldest public library in the English-speaking world.

The Chetham’s Library is particularly ancient-looking.  Dark and even a little foreboding, its shelves are filled with thousands of old leather and vellum tomes.  A reading room display even included a bookcase in which books were chained down so as to discourage theft, a practice which was apparently common from the Middle Ages until the 1700s.  Crude but effective, I would say!     

The John Rylands special collections are housed in a magnificent example of gothic Victorian architecture built about 1900.  The collections include important incunables (or examples from the first century of printing, 1455-1500) such as the Gutenberg Bible and the work of William Caxton, England’s first printer. 

In the Rylands exhibit area, I was lucky enough to see the second edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, printed by Caxton in 1483.  There we also saw a tiny piece of Greek papyri from the 2nd century which is believed to be the earliest surviving fragment from the New Testament.

Also, believe it or not, there was a book on exhibit in the John Rylands reading room which had been bound by a designer bookbinder from Greensboro!  This was a copy of Andrew Marvell’s The Garden and Other Poems; the exhibit included work by bookbinders from around the world.    

Frank and I are having a great time.  More posts from our journey will follow, including some pictures from Manchester’s Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night,  a huge event at the city’s Heaton Park which was held on Friday, November 5th, and attended by thousands.