The house that Jack built

Capital Collections provides a window into Edinburgh Libraries’ Special Collections and gives the public opportunity to view photographs, illustrations and books in a manner that makes them much more accessible to a wider audience. The latest Capital Collections exhibition displays a digitised view of one such special book, ‘The house that Jack built’ brimming with gorgeous, colourful images by the celebrated artist Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886). This book, along with several others by the artist, was created with children in mind and its style became synonymous with Victorian children’s literature, a period considered the ‘golden age’ for this genre of books.

The House that Jack Built, front cover

Despite his relatively short life time, Caldecott’s work is considered to have been transformative in the nature of children’s books and illustration in the Victorian era with his influence still resonating today. Caldecott is considered part of the influential ‘nursery triumvirate’, along with Walter Crane and Kate Greenway. Following the popularity of these authors it became the norm for children’s books to be dominated by image over text.

The work showcased in this exhibition is the first in a collection of books originally published in 1878. The book tells the story of the goings on in and around a country house built by Jack with a myriad of delightful characters making appearances. His illustrations were exercised with a manner of humour and full of life, reflecting his own personality. His images, although often not predominantly meant to make a person laugh, are extremely entertaining and good fun. Stylistically, ‘The house that Jack built’ is written in the form of a cumulative tale. This is when a tale is told by repeating dialogue that builds up to allow the story to progress. As a cumulative tale it does not tell the story of Jack’s house, or even of Jack who built the house, but instead shows how the house is indirectly linked to other things and people, and through this method tells the story of “The man all tattered and torn” and the “Maiden all forlorn” as well as other smaller events, showing how these are interlinked. ‘The house that Jack built’ became a world renowned piece of work, referenced in both political satire and popular culture.

“This is the Cat,
That killed the Rat”
from ‘The house that Jack built’

The Capital Collections exhibition attempts to highlight the brilliance and vibrancy of Caldecott’s work. His ability to express true meaning and subtleties of thought through primarily image and minimal text is something of great admiration and ‘The house that Jack built’ is a perfect example of this. The delightful style and bright colourful images in this book are full of life and can be enjoyed by young and old alike, those with an interest in the history of children’s illustration and those who simply appreciate Caldecott’s artistic style. The exhibition’s accompanying text provides a little more detail into the message of the image and the artist in question, although the images are so detailed and charming that they can be enjoyed and admired just as they are.

Browse all the pages from this delightful Victorian illustrated children’s book on Capital Collections.

Blair’s Edinburgh Views

Our current exhibition on Capital Collections is a collection of atmospheric scenes of late 19th century Edinburgh landmarks and landscapes, taken from watercolour paintings by artist John Blair.

The Old Town from the Waverley Bridge

The images are taken from a volume of loose lithographic prints dated 1892 which were printed in Paris and published by Aitken Dott of Castle Street. Many of the pictures contain moonlight or fading light and evocative weather conditions. The views are scenes of Edinburgh’s famous streets populated with typical residents of the time or picture postcard vistas looking from different geographic points towards the city’s famous skyline.

There is one picture however, which sits apart from the rest. It is a view of the Scott Monument looking east along Princes Street. The street characters seem in this view more defined and there are three men walking in a line towards the viewer each wearing sandwich board advertisements. On closer inspection, the signs are promoting a Castle Street exhibition of watercolours by John Blair – a tongue-in-cheek reference to the artist himself and his publishers.

The Scott Monument and Princes Street

View the full set of thirteen plates on Capital Collections.

History of the house – Falcon Hall

Continuing our History of the House series, we move a wee bit out of the city centre and travel south to Morningside. The house (rather a large one) is Falcon Hall. Built in 1780 by Edinburgh hosier and future Lord Provost, William Coulter. Originally called Morningside Lodge, it stood in what was then the Canaan Estate.

Falcon Hall ,1907

Coulter was born in Edinburgh in 1754 and had a house and shop at the head of Jackson’s Close on the Royal Mile. As well as serving as a Dean of Guild from 1806, he was also Lord Provost between 1808 and 1810, dying in office at the age of 56. He was by all accounts something of a character. When he died he was honoured with a public funeral. A look in our resource the British Newspaper Archive (BNA) features a page from the Scots Magazine from 1820 describing the funeral procession, with the 1st Regiment of Royal Volunteers leading the funeral procession “firing three vollies over the grave while the earth was putting on”.

Following Coulter’s death, the house was bought by Alexander Falconar. At one time a Chief Secretary to the Governor of Madras, Alexander settled with his family in Edinburgh in 1811, on his retirement from colonial service. In 1814, he bought Morningside Lodge, and nine acres of land surrounding it, and with the help of architect Thomas Hamilton, refurbished and enlarged it, renaming it Falcon Hall. Featuring elaborately styled wrought iron and stone piers, with large stone falcons, they were a magnificent sight to behold. Life-sized statues of Nelson and Wellington – both immensely popular figures of the era – flanked the main entrance to the house itself.

Falcon Hall , interior 1907

Searching Find My Past we can see that the first recorded Census taken on 6 June 1841, finds Alexander, his wife Margaret and 4 daughters living in Falcon Hall, together with his son-in-law Henry Craigie, husband of the only married daughter, Jessie.

The census also records that Falcon Hall, had 1 male and 6 female servants, a conventional number at that time for a gentleman of Alexander Falconar’s wealth and social status. Alexander continued to live at Falcon Hall until his death on 10 December 1847.

As Morningside began to change and develop over the course of the 19th century, so did the fortunes of Falcon Hall. The gate pillars and falcons were removed in 1874 and repositioned on the slopes of Corstorphine Hill where they form the entrance to Edinburgh Zoo. The house remained in the Falconar family ownership until the death of his last surviving daughter, Margaret in 1887. It lay empty for a while before reappearing as a boarding school and ladies’ college.

Edinburgh Zoo gates showing falcon from Falcon Hall

The last inhabitant of Falcon Hall was Dr John George Bartholomew, a co-founder of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and the owner of the map making company John Bartholomew & Son Limited. John enjoyed close acquaintance with many leading academics and travellers of the time, including Ernest Shackleton, Henry Stanley, and Cecil Rhodes, working with many of them to represent their work and discoveries in map form.

George lived in Falcon Hall with his family from 1899 to 1907 before it was demolished in 1909. When John Bartholomew & Co moved from premises in Dalkeith Road to an entirely new building in Duncan Street in 1911, the entire facade of Falcon Hall was transported from Morningside and re-erected in Duncan Street along with the entrance hall and staircase gallery with ornamental bronze balustrade which once formed part of the Morningside mansion house. Another feature is the domed roof which is ornamented with four great sculptured falcons.

Facade of Falcon Hall used in the building of John Bartholomew and Co, Duncan Street

The name Falcon was subsequently given to the Morningside streets later developed on the property’s former site.

You can discover more about Duncan Street, home to the Bartholomew mapmaking firm from the National Library of Scotland’s Duncan Street Explorer website.

Are you interested in discovering the history of your home? The Edinburgh and Scottish Collection at Central Library has a vast collection of material which can help you.

Read more articles in this ‘History of the house’ series:
History of the house: King’s Wark
History of the house: Bowhead house
History of the house: Nicolson Square and Marshall Street
History of the house: White Horse Close
History of the house: 94 and 96 Grassmarket
History of the house: Stockbridge Colonies
History of the house: Milne’s Court
History of the house: Melbourne Place
History of the house: North British Hotel

 

A Day in a Child’s Life

Tucked away backstage, in a room in Central Library, is a copy of Kate Greenaway’s A Day in a Child’s Life. It’s an illustrated children’s song book with page after page of quaint colour wood engravings from the 19th century (the book was first published in 1881).

‘A Day in a Child’s Life’, an illustrated children’s song book

The pictures are quintessentially delicate and gentle. They skip along, lightly, gracefully; and every child that Kate Greenaway drew – and she drew many all through the book –  she drew them in historical costume, historical costume for the time, that is. The costumes date from decades before, from the early 19th century and Regency-era.

Playtime, an illustrated page from ‘A Day in a Child’s Life’

Kate Greenaway’s mother owned a millinery shop in Islington and the shop later developed into a ladies’ outfitters. Kate Greenaway, not unsurprisingly, learnt to sew, and she began to make the costumes for her child models to wear. Her illustrations were such a success that Liberty’s, the London department store, even introduced a line of children’s clothing based on them.

Behind the millinery shop was a garden, which as a child Kate Greenaway spent many hours in, and her pictures, as well as featuring children, feature flowers. Flowers drawn with thought and detail, picked and placed like a florist might for the best composition. Slim-leaved daffodils look particularly tall and upright beside a line of standing children, hands behind their backs; and in another illustration, big-faced sunflowers stand like shining suns to either side of a child (who has a head of golden curls) and is just about to wake up…  There was big public interest in flowers in Victorian times, floral dictionaries were enjoying a boom, and a few years later, in 1884, Kate Greenaway’s own The Language of Flowers became very popular.

Introductory image for ‘A Day in a Child’s Life’, an illustrated children’s song book

In terms of its production, A Day in a Child’s Life, was at the forefront of Victorian printing. It was engraved and printed by Edmund Evans, (who printed books by other illustration greats including Walter Crane and Randolph Caldecott). He was pre-eminent in his work, pushing forward printing technologies by using a woodblock technique known as chromoxylography, and printing toy books and picture books that filled the floors of Victorian nurseries. It was also Edmund Evans’ nephew, Miles Birket Foster, who wrote the music for the song book.

Kate Greenaway, who has given her name to our own contemporary illustration award, the Kate Greenaway Medal, has been an influential figure in illustration. The artist and critic John Ruskin wrote of her:

“The fairyland that she creates for you is not beyond the sky nor beneath sea, but near you, even at your own doors. She does but show you how to see it”.

They were friends, John Ruskin and Kate Greenaway, and their correspondence with each other lasted until Ruskin’s death in 1900.

Do have a look on our Capital Collections exhibition to browse over more of these wonderful pictures.

History of the House: Melbourne Place

Today the site is occupied by a bank and a hotel, but step back nearly 200 years and the corner of George IV Bridge was very different. For one thing it was called Melbourne Place, named after the 2nd Viscount Melbourne, who was Prime Minister from 1835-41.

Melbourne Place and Victoria Terrace

Searching through copies of Post Office directories, which are available from our Edinburgh and Scottish Collection within Central Library, we can see that it was home to various businesses including in 1837, Alex Ferguson, Wholesale Confectionery and Lozenge Manufactory, who had its premises at Number 1 and 2. As well as making various confections ranging from medicated lozenges and boiled sugar sweets, it was there that the famous Edinburgh Rock was manufactured. Packaged in tartan boxes and different from the normal lettered Blackpool Rock, it had a crumbly texture and came in various pastel colours.

Another well-known name appears in the 1846-47 Post Office Directory, Kennington and Jenner. One of the other resources available to library users is Findmypast. In the 1851 Census, in number 7, the head of the household is listed as a Charles Jenner, unmarried aged 40 and stating his occupation as a Draper Master employing 35 men, 28 women and 9 boys. We know that when fire destroyed the original Jenner’s Department store in 1892 there were around 120 people employed by the firm who were housed on the premises. Was this an earlier “boarding house” for employees? Listed in the Census, together at the property with Charles was a Housekeeper, a House Porter, a Chambermaid, a Table Maid, a cook and 30 Drapers Assistants!

Demolition of Melbourne Place

By 1852 The Royal Medical Society had taken over number 7 Melbourne Place. The RMS was formally constituted in 1737, providing a meeting place for medical students with the purpose of enhancing their education, and flourished in its educational and social provision. Its contribution to medicine was recognised with the awarding of a Royal Charter 1778. It remains the only student society in the United Kingdom to have attained this distinction. The Society retained its position at number 7 until 1965 when the buildings on Melbourne Place were demolished to make room for office buildings of the Midlothian County Council.

Lothian Regional Council Chambers from Victoria Terrace

In 1975 the building became Lothian Regional Council Chambers and when Lothian Region was dismantled in 1996 the building was taken over by the City of Edinburgh Council, and provided a temporary home for the Scottish Parliament from 1999 until 2004. This building was demolished in 2007 to make way for a new Missoni Hotel (now Radisson Collection Hotel) complex and the largest Bank of Scotland branch in Edinburgh together with two Royal Mile shops and a Pizza Express restaurant.

Hotel at corner of George IV bridge and Victoria Street

Are you interested in discovering the history of your home? The Edinburgh and Scottish Collection at Central Library has a vast collection of material which can help you.

Read more articles in this ‘History of the house’ series:
History of the house: King’s Wark
History of the house: Bowhead house
History of the house: Nicolson Square and Marshall Street
History of the house: White Horse Close
History of the house: 94 and 96 Grassmarket
History of the house: Stockbridge Colonies
History of the house: Milne’s Court
History of the house: Falcon Hall
History of the house: North British Hotel

Mary Webster – watercolour views of Scottish travels

Girls and young women of upper class families of the 18th century didn’t usually learn domestic or academic skills but were coached in what were known as ‘accomplishments’.

These would be learned either at boarding school or from a resident governess. In Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, the snobbish Caroline Bingley lists the skills required by any young lady who considers herself accomplished:
“A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages…”

During the 19th century both landscape painting, as a subject matter, and the medium of watercolour became a popular pastime and were included in the Royal Academy and Royal Scottish Academy summer exhibitions. Queen Victoria’s interest in watercolour made the practice attractive to both professionals and amateurs and another suitable artistic accomplishment for a refined young woman.

Glen Rosa, Isle of Arran, 1836

By the mid 19th century, transportation was getting much easier with the railway network flourishing. By 1852 there was 7,000 miles of rail track in England and Scotland. With the advent of the railway, there was in turn, the need for accommodation. During the Victorian era, when you stepped out of a railway station in any self-respecting town or city, the first building you would set eyes upon would be the railway hotel, providing a relatively safe option for a young woman travelling alone.

We have a fine collection of watercolour paintings by a woman named Mary Webster which span the period 1824 to 1863. She seems to have greatly enjoyed travelling Scotland and further afield sketching her adventures. Sadly, despite exhaustive searches we have been unable to find out much about Mary’s life, other than the few clues that are contained in the pictures themselves.

‘Views from Nature’ by Mary Webster (title page)

One of our volunteers, John, began the search to find out more. There was a short entry in The Dictionary of Scottish Art and Architecture which stated that her work had been exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Royal Scottish Academy. However, searching the RSA Exhibitors Catalogues from 1830 to 1860 failed to turn up any trace of Mary and we were unable to verify this assertion.

He discovered that Reading Museum also hold a painting by Mary – A naïve view of the ruins of Reading Abbey’ – but they hadn’t been able to find out any more about the elusive Mary Webster either.

By looking through our collection of paintings, John created a timeline of Mary’s work tracing her movements from her paintings. The dates of the paintings and pencil drawings date from 1824 to 1863 and the majority of the paintings had been bound together in an album titled Views from Nature. 1830 was a particularly busy time for Mary as 44 are credited to that year alone! Of the 150 paintings in the collection, all but 9 feature Scottish views. Her painting travels took her far and wide, including to the Borders, Perthsire, Fife, the Highlands and Dublin. We don’t know if Mary was Scottish, or whether she simply enjoyed taking artistic tours of Scotland. A lady in a red dress appears in many of the watercolours, sometimes even sketching, could this be a companion or even a representation of Mary herself?

Dublin from the Phoenix Park, 1833

Apart from one painting dated 1845, there is a gap in Mary’s timeline of 17 years between 1830 and the next batch of paintings covering 1847 to 1863. In that 17 years, was her time spent bringing up a family? Or is there perhaps another collection hidden somewhere else?

Ruins of St Andrew’s Castle, 1863

The last year for our paintings is 1863 attached to two watercolours done of St Andrews. By that time 39 years had elapsed since the first batch in 1824 and by then she would probably have been in her mid to late 50s at least. Mary Webster has left little trace of the detail of her life, but she has left a remarkable record of 19th century Scottish scenes and locations still popular and recognizable today.

You can view the full collection of Mary’s paintings on Capital Collections.

Libraries Week focus: Capital Collections

Where can you find a Dalek alongside The Fonz?

A record of the changing face of the city and a view of the castle from all angles?

Or a teddy bear named Gilmour and a half-completed Scott Monument?

Family histories and sporting moments?

Vintage children’s book illustrations and a priceless Japanese scroll?

Fashion tips from the Georgian Lady’s Monthly Museum and a pair of early eighties platform shoes?

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And quite possibly, the best online collection of photographs of old Edinburgh?

You’ll find all this and much more on Capital Collections, Edinburgh Libraries and Museums and Galleries online image library. There are over 20,000 digitized images and dozens of online exhibitions to explore. What will you find?