A very Rylands Christmas

A little frolic through the John Rylands' festive collections.

As we are heading into the festive period it becomes tempting to take a short break from the usual activities and have a little nosey around our archives and collections for objects or items to get us into the spirit of things. Over the years curators, placement students, and volunteers have uncovered a whole variety of fun festive items. Below are 5 of my favourites, in no particular order:

1. Father Christmas surrounded by children

Black and white image of Father Christmas handing out presents to children outside of the Woodstreet Mission building
Father Christmas surrounded by children Ref. WSM/15/2/27

This photograph dates back to the 1930s and depicts a Father Christmas figure handing out presents to children at the Wood Street Mission. The Wood Street Mission, a charity formerly known as the Manchester and Salford Street Children’s Mission, was founded in 1869 by Alfred Alsop, with the support of a few friends. Its aim was a improve the living conditions of poor children, a mission which continues to this day. In the 1870s the charity began organising a number of Christmas events, such as a Christmas day breakfasts and festive hymn services, but its main programme at this time of year was the toy distribution project. A member of the management team (usually dressed as Father Christmas) would offer the children a toy and an orange on Boxing day, both of which were luxury items for working-class families at the time. Read more on the history of the Wood Street Mission’s Christmas appeal here.

2. Medieval Nativity Scene

Colourful medieval painting of the nativity scene.
Nativity Scene from Latin MS 24, fo. 149v

The Rylands’ Western manuscript collection offers plenty of Nativity scenes, but the one on fo. 149v of Latin MS 24 is particularly striking. The manuscript is a Missal in memory of Henry of Chichester and dates to the thirteenth century. The codex contains multiple full-page paintings and historiated initials. This painting shows a colourful Nativity scene against a blue background, where the Virgin reclines, suckling the Child, attended by a maid. The ox and the ass can be seen in front, while Joseph sits on right. Two angels were added at the top of the painting. The painting is made on vellum and uses gold leaf.

3. Mrs Crachit bringing in the pudding

Drawing in black and red of a Victorian woman bringing a christmas pudding to her family sat around a table. The scene is surrounded by greenery and calligraphy.
Illumination in English MS 1224, an illuminated manuscript of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and the Christmas Pudding are both ubiquitous at this time of year in Britain and beyond. A Christmas Carol was originally published as a novella entitled A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, in London by Chapman & Hall in 1843 and illustrated by John Leech. It recounts the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, an elderly miser who is visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley and the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. This beautiful illumination is from a calligraphic manuscript of the short story, written and illuminated by the Manchester artist Alan Tabor for the publishers George G. Harrap & Co. of London, who published a facsimile edition in 1916.

4. Puss in Boots – Grand Christmas Pantomime

Colourful first page of a theatre programme containing a depiction of a cat in boots and the profile of a gentleman.
Programme for the Puss in Boots pantomime at the Prince’s Theatre in Manchester

Another yearly tradition for many people is the Christmas pantomime. The image above is the first page of a programme for a performance of A Grand Christmas Pantomime entitled Puss in Boots on December 23rd 1897. The pantomime was written expressly for the Prince’s Theatre in Manchester by John J. Wood and produced by Robert Courtneidge. The programme contains a full breakdown of the panto, including the characters’ lines, and advertisement for local companies (as well as extensive explanation on the beneficial properties of Bovril).

5. Boys building a Snowman

Wooden engraving of a wintery scene with 4 boys making a snowman who holding a stick and smoking a pipe like a Victorian gentleman.
Wood engraving of boys making a snowman in A history of British birds, Vol. 1, Containing the history and description of land birds by Thomas Bewick (1753-1828).

Finally, though this wood engraving is not strictly speaking Christmas-related, it does inspire thoughts of seasonal fun for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. The wood engraving appears as a tail-piece in A history of British birds, Vol. 1, Containing the history and description of land birds, and was created by the engraver and natural history author Thomas Bewick (1753-1828). It was published in 1805.

Aya Van Renterghem
Special Collections Teaching and Learning Coordinator

2 comments on “A very Rylands Christmas

  1. Regarding the snowman, preserved forever by Bewick: ‘esto perpetua’ means ‘may it last forever’. At least one of the boys looks as though he’s suffering from the weather that gives life to the snowman. if only this snowman and friends could be animated!

  2. Helen Mc Ginley

    What a gorgeous edition of A Christmas Carol.

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