From ‘Not Fit for Production’ to Reading Room ready

A volume of three related pamphlets from 1723 in Sion College Library was severely mould damaged and flagged for conservation treatment. They are about the trial of Francis Atterbury, Bishop of Rochester, who was charged with treason for his involvement in a Jacobite plot [Sion Main Quarto D34.1/At8]. The paper lost sizing and fused into a block. Previous attempts to open the book had resulted in numerous tears and losses. In many places the paper was very pulpy and weak. The title page of the first pamphlet was adhered to the inside front cover and the last page was adhered to the inside back cover. The boards of the covers were so degraded that it was crumbling and falling away in chunks.

Inside of front cover showing title page adhered to front endpapers and pastedown.

The covers and pages displayed all the colours and textures of mould I have seen on books across my years as a conservator. It was pink, green, black, and grey. It was powdery, granular and imbedded in the paper fibres. During washing, some of the mould was very slimy and slippery.

Thankfully, the central pages were less severely damaged (i.e. less tears rather than no tears, slightly stronger paper rather than incredibly weak and damaged paper). This shows the protective nature of bindings to the text block. Despite the severe damage, this could, with an intense conservation treatment, be saved.

Degraded state of binding and textblock before treatment. Pages are mould damaged and fused together; cover has many large losses.

The covers were removed and the spine was cleaned with xantham gum. The text block was separated along natural breaks into front, middle and back sections. These three sections could then be treated in successive but separate treatments which would help to retain the order of the pages. Due to the damage, it was not possible to check the collation or note any printing errors before treatment, so it was more essential to be diligent about the order of steps undertaken.

The pages were washed in warm water with a small amount of propanol added to aid wetting. A small fan brush, a thin Teflon folder, and fingertips were all that was used to separate the pages. Creating waves of water around the small openings that were initially available allowed the gentle but strong power of water to do much of the work. My fingerprints were the most abrasive tool to interact with the wet pages. In many places the mould was too firmly embedded in the paper and could not be removed without causing damage. Pristine pages were not the end goal. Instead, the intended result was pages that could be turned and a document that could be issued to readers.

Conservator washing pages. Note acidity being released into the water.

After washing, the pages were resized and further treated for mould with a sizing agent in solvent. The methylcellulose size supported the weakened paper fibres and the solvent helped to mitigate any remaining mould spores. Next, the pages were lined with a 5gsm machine-made Japanese tissue adhered with cooked wheat starch paste. The condition of the pages considerably improved after lining. They could now be easily and safely handled. They were arranged into sections and infills applied as needed. Where possible, detached pieces of the original text were repositioned.

After treatment; pages have been washed, lined, repaired and bound into a simple new structure.

With the paper repairs complete, the pages were sewn on linen thread and bound into a pamphlet binding structure devised by the V&A Museum for one of their pamphlet collections. This structure is clean, modern, and non-adhesive. It is slim and lightweight allowing the three pamphlets to be stored in one box which reduces the amount of shelf space needed while still protecting the items. Additionally, this structure more closely resembles the original nature of these items as three related but distinct texts. This item is now safe to handle and can be accessed in the reading room.

Talitha Wachtelborn, Sion College Collection Conservator

“A most exciting and perfectly wholesome tale”: children’s books from the National Society

In a collection that boasts a wide array of works owned by prelates, prime ministers, and monarchs, it is refreshing to come across items that bear witness to the lives of ordinary people. Nowhere is this quite as charming as the collection of National Society children’s books, recently added to the printed books catalogue.

The National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church (known simply as the National Society) was founded in 1811 to provide popular religious instruction in line with the teachings of the Church of England. It originally aimed to teach children the Bible, Prayer Book, and Catechism, and the 3 ’R’s (reading, writing, and arithmetic) by providing grants to rent schoolrooms in parishes.[1] The Archbishop of Canterbury was president of the Society, with numerous other bishops as vice-presidents.

The National Society would go on to become the largest single provider of popular education in England until the late 19th century.[2] Its earliest supporters were Anglican, and the Society was founded on the principle that national education should be founded on the national religion.

In 1845, the Society opened its own ‘Depository’, or publishing house to provide materials for students and trainee teachers in the Society’s new teacher training colleges.[3] This included a wide variety of children’s stories.

All of the storybooks in the collection at Lambeth were written by women, many of whom were intimately connected to the National Society’s aims to promote religious education in schools supported by the Church. One of them, Christabel Rose Coleridge, was even born in St Mark’s College in Chelsea, the first teacher training college, where her father, Derwent Coleridge, was principal. (Her grandfather was the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.)

C.R. Coleridge, Reuben Everett [1888] (NS/10/8/1/13)

She wrote numerous stories for both the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) and the National Society, and was also responsible for editing and publishing the correspondence of her friend, distant cousin, and fellow author of religious storybooks: Charlotte Mary Yonge.[4]

Charlotte M. Yonge, The Cook and the Captive (c. 1894) (NS/10/8/1/52)

Charlotte Yonge was a prolific writer of both fiction and non-fiction, with over 200 works to her name, and was an important lay voice in the Tractarian movement. She was a close friend of the priest and poet John Keble, who regularly edited her manuscripts and encouraged subtlety in her religious fiction, so as to avoid them becoming crude polemical texts. Even so, her stories frequently dwell on the Christian themes of self-sacrificial love, humility, and obedience. Yonge was also passionate about overseas mission, with the proceeds from her children’s stories going towards missionary efforts in Oceania and South Africa.[5]

A prominent female voice in Victorian religious life she may have been, but Yonge was naturally conservative in temperament and her promotion of girls’ education did not stem from modern notions of gender equality: ‘That there is this inequality there is no reasonable doubt,” she wrote in 1876. “A woman of the highest faculties is of course superior to a man of the lowest; but she never attains to anything like the powers of a man of the highest ability.”[6]

Each story is a fable that teaches children a particular Christian value. The moral of the story was made clear in the publisher’s catalogues, perhaps so that parents, Sunday School teachers, and other discerning adults could pick the book most suitable for the child. Other advertisements were wary of causing children unnecessary distress and promised that the stories had happy endings.

Many of these stories are works of historical fiction, reflecting the Society’s aim to provide not just religious education, but education more broadly. The two are taken hand in hand, such as in The Slaves of Sabinus, which is based on Tacitus’ account of Sabinus and Epponina’s rebellion against Vespasian. Their story is interweaved with the fictional story of two of their Jewish slaves, Edras and Edna, who eventually embrace the Christian faith.

Charlotte Yonge in particular was known for her historical works. In an address at Winchester High School for Girls in 1899 celebrating the foundation of the Charlotte Yonge Scholarship, the Bishop of Winchester (and later Archbishop of Canterbury), Randall Davidson, remarked that she succeeded in making readers “live again in the past”, and in so doing was “a unique blessing to the English people”.[7]

Charlotte M. Yonge’s The Slaves of Sabinus (c. 1890) is one of many National Society stories incorporating historical events. (NS/10/8/1/57)

The National Society also advertised special ‘Prize Books’ to be awarded to children for good behaviour. Not all of the books in the collection at Lambeth were from this special series, but many were still given as prizes. Decorative bookplates (many of which were specially printed by the National Society) show that many of these books were given as prizes by Sunday Schools, often for good attendance or knowledge of Scripture.

This highly decorative bookplate was printed by the National Society Depository, demonstrating their aim that their books should be given as prizes. This book was ‘awarded to Fred Messenger for Regularity and Punctuality, June 1900’. (NS/10/8/1/11)

Sunday Schools had developed alongside small, endowed charity schools to cater for the significant proportion of poor children who worked, teaching them to read and write, and the basic tenets of faith along denominational lines. After 1870, when the Education Act created a national framework for education, Sunday Schools focused more exclusively on religious instruction, and continued to attract high numbers of children.[8] A poll conducted in 1957 found that 90% of participants had attended Sunday School as a child, and 73% had attended regularly.[9] Purchasing prize books was no trivial expense: when Rev. A. Lawley took over at St. John’s Church, Hackney, he complained that prize books were little more than bribes, and the church was £3000 in debt from spending so much on treats and prizes for the Sunday School.[10]

In other cases, the books were given as Christmas presents. With handwritten inscriptions on their front endpapers, these two books offer small glimpses of their owners’ home lives.

Faith’s First Christmas, a short story anthology by Mary H. Debenham, was an ideal festive gift for a young child. Inscription reads: ‘Jane, from Father, Christmas 1906’. (NS/10/8/1/27)
Inscription reads: ‘Nellie Robinson. Xmas 1906. With love from Governess’. (NS/10/8/1/52)

These inscriptions also give clues about how long these books remained in circulation. This copy of Christabel Coleridge’s Reuben Everett was gifted to a boy named John by his uncle in 1938, a full fifty years after it was first published.

Inscription reads: ‘To my dear John, from Uncle Bill, 1938”. C.R. Coleridge’s Reuben Everett was gifted fifty years after it was first published in 1888. (NS/10/8/1/13)

As well as the entertainment and instruction offered by their contents, another important reason why these books made such good gifts/prizes was their highly decorative publisher’s bindings. Each volume has a unique cloth binding with colourful illustrations on the front cover and spine, often with added gilt text and decoration.

Mary Bramston, The Cat and the Cake (c. 1896) (NS/10/8/1/4)

The same illustrators were also responsible for producing full-page lithographic illustrations, usually between two and five per book. Two of the most regular illustrators in the collection were Charles Joseph Staniland – a prolific painter and illustrator who also illustrated works by Hans Christian Andersen and Walter Scott – and Walter S. Stacey, who among other things produced the illustrations for The Voice of Silence, Arthur Conan-Doyle’s first short story published in The Strand magazine.[11]

An engraved illustration by C.J. Staniland from Charlotte M. Yonge’s The Slaves of Sabinus (NS/10/8/1/57). ‘Really the book would be much better without the illustrations,’ wrote one unimpressed critic. ‘Such an effort as “Eponina appeals to Vespasian,” is really beyond all limits of tolerance.’[12]

So, did the children appreciate these gifts? The fact that this collection is in relatively good condition might suggest that these books rarely left the shelf. A few volumes do contain evidence that they were used by children, but not necessarily read. For example, NS/10/8/1/42, a copy of Frances M. Peard’s The Abbot’s Bridge (c. 1891), still has a flower pressed between its pages.

A flower – possibly a buttercup – pressed between the pages of The Abbot’s Bridge. (NS/10/8/1/42)

National Society books could also be used to store other keepsakes. This copy of Mary H. Debenham’s The Waterloo Lass contains a loose newspaper cutting from the Daily Mail from 1919 about the arrival of a baby King Penguin at Edinburgh Zoo.

Photo caption reads: “An unusual baby – The first baby King Penguin known to have been hatched in captivity taking a stroll with its mother at the Zoological Park, Edinburgh”. The facing plate is an illustration by Walter S. Stacey. (NS/10/8/1/19)

Whether these books were avidly read or not, they reveal a different side to the National Society’s operations away from its schools, and they offer colourful insights into late Victorian and Edwardian religious education.


[1] W.M. Jacob, Religious vitality in Victorian London (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021), p.263.

[2] Akira Iwashita, ‘Politics, state and Church: forming the National Society 1805-c.1818’, History of Education 47:1 (2018), p.1.

[3] Gordon Huelin, ‘Innovation: the National Society 1811-1934’ in Faith for the Future: essays on the Church in Education to mark 175 years of the National Society, ed. Graham Leonard and Joanna Yates (London: National Society; Church House Publishing, 1986), p.21.

[4] Cherry Durrant, ‘Coleridge, Derwent (1800-1883)’, ODNB (https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/5879, accessed 14/12/2022)

[5] Elisabeth Jay, ‘Yonge, Charlotte, Mary (1823-1901)’, ODNB (https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/37065, accessed 14/12/2022)

[6] Charlotte Mary Yonge, Womankind (New York: Macmillan, 1877), p.2.

[7] Lambeth Palace Library, Davidson 746, f.168.

[8] Jacob, Religious vitality in London, p.281.

[9] Clive Field, Secularization in the Long 1960s: numerating religion in Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), p.86.

[10] Caitriona McCartney, ‘British Sunday Schools: an educational arm of the churches’ in Churches and education, ed. Morwenna Ludlow, Charlotte Methuen, and Andrew Spicer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), p.573.

[11] The Arthur Conan-Doyle Encyclopedia, ‘The Voice of Silence’ (https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php/The_Voice_of_Science, accessed 20/12/2022)

[12] ‘Miss Yonge’s “Slaves of Sabinus”, The Spectator, 15 November 1890, p.42.

Court of Arches: Act Books 1677-1682

The current project to catalogue the Act Books of the Court of Arches from 1677 to 1682 (Arches A 13-15) is well advanced and on course for completion by the end of 2022.

The diverse business of the Court during these years included suits concerning the dilapidation of parsonage houses and bishops’ palaces. The deaths of successive Bishops of Worcester, for instance, led to suits concerning the state of the palace at Worcester and Hartlebury Castle. The death of John Hacket, Bishop of Lichfield, whose efforts saved Lichfield Cathedral from ruin caused by the civil war, also led to a lengthy suit; his successor Thomas Wood, complained that Hacket had not lavished equal concern on his palace. The deeds and misdeeds of the clergy were also exposed in court, as in the case of Thomas Turner, Vicar of Milton-next-Sittingbourne (now Milton Regis, Kent), whose drinking and playing at cards and dice at the Three Hats, the Red Lion, the Crown, the White Hart and the Queen’s Head often ended in the gutter with the revelation ‘I am damned drunk’.

Suits concerning marriage and divorce were also to the fore. Lady Elizabeth Percy, the greatest heiress of her day, widowed at the age of thirteen, secretly married Thomas Thynne, known (on account of his wealth) as ‘Tom of Ten Thousand’. A suit followed, whereupon Thynne was murdered in 1682. Elizabeth then made a third marriage, at the age of 15, to the Duke of Somerset. Less fortunate was the life of Posthuma Bullocke, forced by her husband to wear a chastity belt, ‘an engine commonly called an Italian padlock’ for almost two years. No less remarkable were the marriages of Anne Pierrepont, daughter of the Marquess of Dorchester. Her marriage to Lord Roos, afterwards Duke of Rutland, was ended by a legal separation in the Court of Arches and then by a parliamentary divorce, the first in England. Anne went on to marry Henry Vaughan, only to return to the Arches in 1681 seeking yet another divorce on account of his cruelty. Marriage contracts were also disputed in court, as in the engagement of Donough O’Brien, Lord Ibrackan, to a daughter of Thomas Osborne, afterwards Duke of Leeds. In this instance the Dean of the Arches allowed himself a moment of candour, urging a speedy marriage to avoid ‘the distast and exasperation which judicial proceedings may begett’.

Other cases ranged from the violation of churchyards, the impersonation of the Vicar General at a visitation, and penances for adultery, to more mundane disputes over tithes, rates, institutions to benefices and rights to pews. Time and again the records reveal the unexpected. The elegant white marble monument to George and Judith Ayliffe in the church at Foxley, Wiltshire, celebrates their lives and five children. Few would guess the reality revealed in court, that Judith left her husband after having been cruelly beaten.

Ayliffe memorial, Foxley Church, Wiltshire. Photo: Sheona Beaumont, 2022. shospace.co.uk.

Variations in the spelling of names in the seventeenth century present challenges to cataloguers. It was pleasing to rescue the poet John Dryden from the obscurity of ‘John Draydon’ and to identify ‘John Eveling’ as the virtuoso John Evelyn. Both were protagonists in Arches cases, as was another diarist, Samuel Pepys.

Richard Palmer

‘I do not wish to speak for long’: The Transcripts of the Church Assembly and General Synod, 1920-1972


Church Assembly Session, 6 November 1962 [CIO/PHO/NEG/188, 62117/1]

Lambeth Palace Library has recently catalogued the transcripts of the reports of proceedings from the Church Assembly, and the early sessions of the General Synod. From the mid-nineteenth century the Church of England sought to achieve greater self-governance as its legislation was dependent on Parliament. The historic Convocations of Canterbury and York (made up of clergy) both added a House of Laymen by 1892, and together formed the Representative Church Council. This body, with bishops, clergy and laity all represented, became the Church Assembly in 1919 with the ‘Enabling Act’ empowering it to become the Church’s legislative body. The transcripts cover sessions between 1920 and 1972, covering the entire lifespan of the Church Assembly, and the formation of its successor body, the General Synod, in 1970.

The transcripts are a fantastic resource that add colour to the published reports of proceedings, which tend to omit much of the actual speech. The reports of proceedings are a summary of speeches made, edited from present to past tense and often shortened. On occasion, whole passages found in the transcripts are missing from the reports. Presumably, the editor viewed these as superfluous to the argument being made. By just looking at the reports of proceedings, researchers miss most of the anecdotes and all the humour deployed by speakers, leaving a skeleton speech deprived of the original intonation.

A lively debate led by the Bishop of Ely about ‘Danger on the Highways’, February 1935 [CAGST/2/32]

The transcripts also give an indication as to how speeches were received by the Assembly and later the Synod. Incidences of laughter, cries of dissent and murmurs of discontent are noted, giving the reader an insight into the atmosphere of these meetings.

The period of 1920-1972 covers many tumultuous domestic and global events, and this is reflected in the topics discussed by the Assembly and Synod. Domestically, the transcripts show lengthy discussions on divorce, unemployment and racial discrimination. The passing of monarchs and the accession of new Kings and Queens are marked.

‘Death of King George V, and Address to King Edward VIII’, February 1936 [CAGST/2/35]

The rapidly changing geopolitical landscape of the twentieth century can be seen through the transcripts, moving from a debate on the ‘League of Nations’ in 1924 to the threat of ‘Nuclear War’ in 1963. Slightly more unusual subjects discussed include ‘Danger on the Public Highways’ and ‘Influence of the Cinema’.

‘Nuclear War’, November 1963 [CAGST/2/108]

The transcripts supplement many of the other collections at Lambeth Palace Library, including the photographic collections of the Church Information Office. The photographic collections provide a comprehensive library of photographs illustrating the teachings and activities of the Church. Church Assembly sessions in the 1950s and 1960s were photographed, as well as the inauguration of the first General Synod.

Church Assembly discussing ‘Horror Comics’, November 1954 [CIO/5/PHO/1/1a]
Debate on ‘Sordid Reading Matter’, November 1954 [CAGST/2/81]

The Church Assembly and General Synod transcripts are a wonderful resource for readers wishing to gain a full and comprehensive understanding of the discussions had by Church Assembly and General Synod, and how this shaped Church policy and thought throughout the twentieth century.

Inauguration of first General Synod by the late Queen Elizabeth II, 4 November 1970 [CIO/5/PHO/2/4]

Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano (c. 1745 – 1797), a remarkable man whose life story was of vital importance to the campaign to abolish slavery, was born in the Kingdom of Benin (now a part of modern day Nigeria) and, as a child, was kidnapped, sold into slavery and taken to the New World. Sold to Royal Navy Captain Michael Henry Pascal, he was renamed Gustavus Vassa and was baptised as a Christian in 1759 at the Church of St. Margaret, Westminster Abbey. After being sold twice more, including to a Quaker merchant who allowed him to earn a profit through trading, Equiano would eventually purchase his own freedom in 1766. He saw battle during the Seven Years’ War and was trained in seamanship, going on to travel the world, including the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the Atlantic, and the Arctic.

Frontispiece and title page of 'The Interesting narrative...'
The Library’s copy of The Interesting narrative… is a first edition and is part of Sion College Library [B79.10/V44].

Equiano’s autobiography ‘The interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, written by himself’ (London, 1789) was a huge success and went through many editions in his lifetime.

The first slave narrative to gain popularity among an English audience, Equiano’s autobiography would not only precipitate a literary genre, but become a voice for the growing anti-slave movement in Great Britain. His account of his childhood in Africa and his life as a slave captivated the public, from whom Equiano’s detailed and lucid writing elicited a strong emotional reaction.

Engraving of the shipwreck of the 'Nancy' on Bahama Banks.
An engraving from the second volume depicts the shipwreck of the Nancy, a slave vessel upon which Equiano worked in the Caribbean, and serves as an example of one of the many harrowing episodes he would survive and later write about [B79.10/V44].

Throughout his autobiography Equiano recounted several instances where he was accosted and threatened with violence, kidnapping, and re-enslavement even after becoming a free man. The bleak prospects and cruelties faced by himself and other Africans in the British Colonies, freed or otherwise, were a driving force in his decision to return to England in 1766.

Equiano would later marry a Cambridgeshire woman, Susanna Cullen, with whom he had two children. Moving in both popular and radical circles in the 1790s, he worked with Thomas Clarkson and the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, and spoke at many public meetings where he described first-hand the cruelties of the trade alongside advocating for the Black community in London. As a leading member of the Sons of Africa, an early black campaign group, Equiano was a prominent voice for abolition in Britain’s political sphere. Ten years after Equiano’s death, the Slave Trade Act of 1807 finally made illegal the transatlantic slave trade; the practise of slavery in the British Empire would only begin to be phased out with the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.