Of gardens and gardening (1): Philip Miller’s Gardener’s Dictionary

Plate showing an amaryllis from Philip Miller's Figures (1760)

Amaryllis belladona, first introduced in Britain from South Africa in the early eighteenth century. One of Miller’s ‘uncommon’ plants.


Every self-respecting gardener in the eighteenth-century could not avoid to own, or have access to, a copy of Philip Miller’s hugely successful and comprehensive Gardeners dictionary. The edition, which is an adaptation of Miller’s Dictionary, held at Kedleston is particularly interesting for its luminous colour plates and the fact that it was published around the time Nathaniel Curzon was contemplating the contents of his new pleasure grounds… Continue reading

Dead men talking: Conference in Belgium 21-23 October

The Three Living and the Three Dead

De Lisle Psalter; London, British Library Arundel 83, f. 127. ‘The three living and the three dead’. Image made available under a Creative Commons Licence.

Not so much a post about books this time, as a plug for a conference I’ll be speaking at in October. Before I turned to antiquarian cataloguing, I researched medieval attitudes towards the dead human body, so this is a brief foray back into the world of funerary contexts, socio-political and religious expressions, and cultural signification.

The conference is hosted by the museum of the Abbey of the Dunes and focuses on the results of research undertaken on a large number of burials from the monastic cemetery. It seeks to develop a comprehensive methodology for the future study of human remains and the life course in medieval Western Europe.

The conference programme can be downloaded from the museum website or here.


A view from the margin: cataloguing antiquarian books freelance

Who doesn’t love the smell old books? You know, that slightly musty and rich smell of books marbleleather bindings, the faint whiff of sweetness rising from handmade paper … In the age of e-books, e-journals and digitisation projects, it is sometimes easy to forget that primal feeling of opening an old book that perhaps was last opened decades, if not centuries before, and inhaling that special ‘old book’ smell (having checked for mould first obviously). Continue reading

Mystery Items (2)


What can the intrepid cataloguer do when she comes across mysterious fragments of books? This time, some leaves from the collection at Calke Abbey …
Continue reading

Of hermits and hermitages


Summer Hermitage from William Wrighte’s ‘Grotesque architecture’ (1767), from a digital copy of the 1790 edition at https://archive.org/details/grotesquearchite00wrig

For a while in eighteenth-century Britain, there was a real craze for ‘hermits in the garden’ among aristocratic landowners. Already before the early 1700s, it had been fashionable to add summer houses, gazebos and small ‘temples’ to landscaped country estates, but the hermitage added a new perspective to the mostly classical designs found in older gardens.  Continue reading

The ‘dead cities’ of the Zuiderzee


Map showing the Zuiderzee area. Appears under a creative commons licence at http://www.henkvanheerde.nl/vollenhove/visserij/visserij15eeeuw.htm.

Continuing on the theme of travel, in this post I concentrate on a book with the curious title The dead cities of the Zuyder Zee which I found at Erddig. Before the construction of the Afsluitdijk in 1932, the IJsselmeer was open to the sea – although by the time it was closed off, much of it had begun to silt up, leaving the communities which depended on the sea for their livelihood completely destitute. However, during the Dutch Golden Age, cities like Hoorn, Enkhuizen, Volendam, and Stavoren had thrived as bustling trading and fishing harbours. Where siltification was less pronounced, such as at Kampen, the sea still provided some source of income, while Amsterdam benefited greatly from the construction of the Noordzee Canal and trade with the Dutch colonies. Continue reading

A cruise to the North Cape

Lithograph (colour) showing Tromso

A few weeks ago, I touched upon the travels of Richard Fynderne Harpur Crewe (1880-1921), the only son of the last baronet at Calke Abbey. In this post, we’ll explore a cruise to the North Cape he appears to have taken in ca. 1913. Continue reading

Calke Abbey: Children’s books

This time, some images from the School Room at Calke Abbey in winter. By now, the house has reopened of course and all the tissue has disappeared to display the books in all their glory.

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