I started collecting prints and illustrations almost as soon as I started photography. Not indiscriminately, though, because there are far too many, but versions of what I was photographing, especially Calendar customs and Bridges. Here was the proof that these extraordinary customs and traditions (and Bridges) actually did exist hundreds of years ago and how much or how little they had changed. Anyway I had married into a family of artists and illustrators and was involved in the publishing world, an enthusiastic gallery goer and collector. We have about 270, mostly original, pictures on our walls. Hogarth, Rowlandson, Hollar, Cruikshank, Gillray, are in this website, among others. How could I not be interested?
There are two other collections on here that get in because I chose the images, copied them and then scanned them and the owners are also friends. The first is from the books and prints in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS). It was librarian Ruth Noyes who put me onto Calendar Customs in the first place, back in the early sixties, though this exercise was with long-time incumbent, Malcolm Taylor. Of course they have most of the books I have myself but I have not repeated the illustrations. They also have interesting material on fashion and manners of the past which I did copy, but didn’t think relevant to this website. If you are interested in their collection the current librarian is Laura Smyth. The other, smaller, collection belongs to our friend John (JSH), an occasional buyer of antiquarian books whose illustrations I have plundered for the usual bridges and customs and anything else that took my fancy. Most of the Illustrated London News engravings are from one ILN album, published in the mid/late 19th century, but I’m ashamed to say I seem to have lost the details of exactly when. The captions will be accurate, though. I don’t make them up, like some people think!
The Customs appear to be a reasonably convincing account of what actually happened, not too fanciful, not too pasteurised, not too idealised, indeed some of the surviving customs are little changed. One can be reasonably confident that those that have died out really did look like that, though one doubts if all the girls were so inordinately pretty. Perhaps the work of Isaac Taylor is the most convincing, especially his children, in his New Cries of London, published in 1803, about two centuries before its time. A word also about Richard Doyle, whose Manners and Cvstoms of ye Englyshe appeared weekly in Punch in 1849 and were published in book form the same year. I must say he has overdone the ‘olde Englyshe’ a bit but the drawings are a joy – if you enlarge the 34 grey blobs that appear near the beginning of this section.
The Bridges are more variable. A few are completely fanciful, as if the engraver was working from a written description (by someone who wasn’t observant or literate, or perhaps was a PR consultant) at any rate their fiction goes far beyond ‘artistic license’. However, most of them have some interest; recognisably the same bridge as now but before a whole town grew up around it; what was there before progress, or disaster, made it necessary to build a new one; the work of a famous engineer or architect; the work of a famous artist; the location of some historic event; a good example of its type; and so on. I haven’t made an obsessive collection of Bridge engravings. There are far too many about. This collection is what I just happened to come across. I tried much harder with the Customs – and still buy them if I am rummaging in second-hand bookshops.