In January books flood in as people clear shelves to accommodate Christmas presents and faced with a book tsunami, we have to be picky. It is nice to take in an oddity such as this slim, black canvas-bound book from 1922, ‘The Personnel of Aberdeenshire Witchcraft Covens 1596-7’, by Alexander Keiller. I was expecting something rather gripping, but Keiller’s tone throughout is matter of fact as he details the covens, the numbers of witches therein and the family names and associations amongst coven members. These were different times, I suppose and Keiller does not concern himself with the question of whether these men and women, largely women, were guilty as charged of ‘bewitching’ others or in one case of giving ‘a magic belt containing a spirit’. I found it a very perplexing read and one quite beyond my guess work for Scottish dialect and surnames.
I do like the little book ‘Prisoner of War Work 1756-1815’ by Jane Toller published by The Golden Head Press in 1965, rather superficially as much for its paper salmon-coloured dust jacket as for the content. Looking beyond the cover though, I have learnt that many men were interned at Norman Cross jail near Peterborough, where, as in other prisons at this time, they were allowed to make and sell work in order to supplement their meagre supplies of food and the non-existent supply of clothes and medicine. The men brought their fine bone carving skills from France, more accurately from Dieppe, often apprenticing unskilled men to learn the craft whilst inside. The proximity of the jail to Peterborough means that today the local Museum holds the largest collection of Prisoner of War Work in straw, rolled and cut paper, horn and hair plus a number of the beautiful sailing ships made of bone. The trade was stopped when ‘obscene toys’ began to be produced to satisfy ‘the depraved taste of some British purchasers’. Jane Toller does wonder where all this work has gone, so I am supposing it is not in Peterborough.
I have taken in some jolly books too, I don’t want you to think that it’s all doom and gloom around here, including several by the illustrator, inventor and Punch contributor, Rowland Emett. The charm of the books is in the whimsical, spidery drawings and his work has a special place in my heart, as a Nottingham girl who passed by his ‘Aqua Horological Tintinnabulator’ every week. I never tired of this beautiful kinetic sculpture no matter how many times it played (and it still plays in the Victoria Centre if you are passing) and so these series of books and the sketch I have shown here of Emett's serene air-born elephant, are a happy memory of those days.