Tuesday, 30 April 2013
The curious tale of the stolen books
Continue reading the main story
London's Lambeth Palace, home to the Archbishop of Canterbury, also has a leading historic book collection. The palace's library was the scene of a major crime that stayed undiscovered for decades.
A sealed letter that arrived at one of Britain's most historic libraries in February 2011 was to leave its staff stunned.
The letter had been written before his death by a former employee of Lambeth Palace Library. Forwarded shortly after he died by the man's solicitor, it revealed the whereabouts of many of the library's precious books.
Staff had known since the mid-1970s that dozens of its valuable books had been stolen. But they had no idea of the true extent of the losses until the letter led them to the man's house in London.
Continue reading the main story
Lambeth's recovered books
Key works now back at the Palace include:
- 10 volumes from Theodor de Bry's America, which contain many engraved illustrations of early expeditions to the New World
- A volume with quarto edition of Shakespeare'sHenry IV Part 2, apparently presented to Archbishop Richard Bancroft in 1610
- A True Discourse of the Late Voyages of Discoverie for the Finding of a Passage to Cathaya, about Martin Frobisher's 16th Century search for a north-west passage to the Orient
- The "spymaster's scrapbook", a collection of engravings illustrating conflicts involving the Spanish Netherlands, which belonged toElizabeth I's spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham
- The Frenche Chirurgerye by Jacques Guillemeau, describing skills and instruments of 16th Century surgeons, with many fine engravings
"We were staggered," says Declan Kelly, director of libraries and archives for the Church of England. "A couple of my colleagues climbed into the attic. It was piled high to the rafters with boxes full of books. I had a list of 60 to 90 missing books, but more and more boxes kept coming down."
They contained some 1,000 volumes, made up of 1,400 publications, many from the collections of three 17th century archbishops of Canterbury - John Whitgift, Richard Bancroft and George Abbot.
They included an early edition ofShakespeare's Henry IV Part Two, finely illustrated books - such as Theodor de Bry's America, which chronicles the earliest expeditions to the New World - and medical books, such as The French Chirurgerye.
"The scale of the theft is quite extraordinary," says Robert Harding, director of Maggs Bros, a London rare book dealer. "It's one of the biggest such thefts in recent decades."
Harding says that if undamaged, the copy of de Bry's America could be worth £150,000, while the Shakespeare would be worth about £50,000. He says others are also worth five-figure sums.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the case is how a member of staff was able to get away with stealing so many valuable and often large books.
During World War II, Lambeth Palace's Great Hall - which housed much of the library's early collection - took a direct hit from an incendiary bomb.
It was roughly estimated that up to 10,000 books were destroyed or badly damaged. In the years after, if a book was discovered to be missing it was easy to assume it had been destroyed in the war.Continue reading the main story
But early in 1975 the then librarian noticed that some of the most important books which were known to have survived, including the Shakespeare, had been taken.
The thief had also removed the index cards of the books, making it even more difficult to work out exactly what had been stolen. It was concluded that it was a matter of just tens of books.
"The police did an investigation and interviewed all the staff, but drew a blank and nothing from the library had ever come up for sale in the book trade," Kelly says.
Security was reviewed at the library in 1975 and in 2011.
Prof James Carley, a Canadian academic, has been researching the history of the library. "In the 1970s it was very easy. There were no [detector] devices, nothing to stop you walking out with a book," he says.
London-based antiquarian bookseller Tim Bryars says: "It would take years to do it one or two books at a time, but it would have been much easier if he had the keys and took significant quantities at a time.
"There would have been a great deal of confusion for some time after the war. It could have happened when the books were being stored in the crypt."
The trail stayed cold for more than 35 years until the arrival of the letter.
Even though the true extent of the thief's exploits was discovered more than two years ago, it is only now being made public. "We've delayed quite a while telling the story because we wanted to get to the point where we can start to make the books available again," Kelly says.
He declines to say anything about the identity of the thief. "He was a former low-level employee. I don't think he was there for that long after the theft was discovered.
"We don't want to cause any distress to anyone still alive and connected with the thief. We want to look forward, not back."
But Bryars has another theory. "I can understand why they didn't reveal his name as there are other people out there who have stolen similar material, who if they saw someone else being named and shamed - even posthumously - that material could be for the bonfire," he says.
Continue reading the main story
Infamous book thefts
- Former director of the Girolamini Library in Naples, Marino Massimo De Caro, jailed for seven years in March for stealing hundreds of its rare and antique books
- William Jacques jailed for four years in 2002 for stealing hundreds of rare books in the late 1990s from the Cambridge University, London and British Libraries
- Jailed again in 2012 for theft from Royal Horticultural Society's Lindley Library
- Iranian-British businessman Farhad Hakimzadeh jailed for two years in 2009 for stealing pages from rare books in the British Library
- Antiques dealer Raymond Scott jailed for eight years for handling a 1623 first folio of Shakespeare's plays stolen from Durham University library in 1998
The thief's true motives have also gone to the grave with him, but the fact that he damaged so many of the books provides a clue. He had removed or tried to remove marks of ownership using chemicals, cut off the coat of arms of the archbishops from covers and removed the bindings from some books.
"The fact they were defaced suggests he was intending to sell them. He may have had a go and been questioned and given up. The fantasy of the secret collector who wants to gloat over his private collection is not common in reality," Harding says.
Some of the stolen books are still missing. The thief removed index cards for the books he stole and these were found at his house. But not all the corresponding books were recovered. The remainder may have been sold.
"Damage affects the value a lot. A book without the arms may have lost 90% of its value. It's cultural vandalism," Harding adds.
Carley says the thief appeared to be interested in books and this may have saved them. "I think he just decided at the end of the day that he couldn't destroy them, so why not give them back?"
Some 10% of the retrieved books have now been repaired and 40% of them have been entered in the library's online catalogue.
"It's great to have this stuff back and scholars and others can now access them to see what was available to people at the time to inform themselves," Kelly says.
Prof James Carley was interviewed on the BBC World Service programmeNewshour
Monday, 29 April 2013
Femininity and feminism are not mutually exclusive.
1. I have noticed an absence of a discussion of the definition of femininity among educated American women.
2. Our vibrant third-wave of feminism has continued to challenge the notion that nudity on screen and across our pages is something that should be glossy and flawless.
3. While in our business and social worlds, many women strive to be seen as the same as their male counterparts, our popular culture is reflecting different desires.
We seem to have accepted the idea that if women are feminine, they are somehow less powerful, less intelligent or less equal to men.
In Shambhala: the Path of the Warrior, Chogyam Trungpa talks about where we find our fearlessness:
Lost? Find yourself with the Holstee Manifesto.
Sunday, 28 April 2013
Barking Blondes: Could your dog find its way home?
On Monday, a keen and kind friend took Jalebi to Regents Park for a walk and let her off the lead. The dog then bolted. Whilst the well-meaning friend, distraught with fear, called the owner and the police and searched every inch of the park, Jalebi got herself to Baker Street station, onto the Bakerloo Line and home to her front door in Ealing. Anyone familiar with the London Underground will realize that this involved a change onto The District Line. There were, apparently, witnesses to this urban equivalent of Lassie Come Home, commuters who watched in disbelief.
Lassie’s journey of course was fictional, unlike Jalebi’s, however there are millions of anecdotes about dogs and other animals finding their way home from unfamiliar places, using an uncanny in built sat nav, or innate sense of direction.
Homing pigeons can find their way back to their lofts from hundreds of miles of unfamiliar terrains. Tapping into this ‘avian GPS’ ability proved invaluable during both world wars, being harnessed as ‘messengers’, and their extraordinary ability saved many lives.
There is still is no rigorous scientific explanation to how pigeons do this.
In Jalebi’s case, she followed a route that she took every day and was familiar to her.
However, ‘science’ can’t work out and explain how dogs frequently find their way back home from somewhere they’ve never been before, or how migrating birds know when, where and in which direction they need to fly to get to warmer climes.
‘Sense of direction’ is an example of ESP or a ‘sixth sense’ like ‘telepathy’ and ‘precognition/ premonitions’. Some people call it being psychic. And it falls beyond the limits of quantum physics, and traditional science.
Dr Rupert Sheldrake, the world’s pre-eminent ‘paranormal’ scientist, has investigated these unexplained phenomena. In his book “Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home’, Sheldrake presents a view based on his theory of Morphic Fields. This is a type of energetic connection or complex social bond between all living creatures. The connection between dogs and their owners is described as similar to an invisible stretched elastic band, or a magnetic attraction.
As well as knowing how to find their way home, dogs can ‘home’ to their person, not a place. There’s the heroic case of Tim the famous Irish Terrier that ‘homed’ to his master all the way from Wales to find him on the frontline, in France, during WW1.
Skeptics of a sixth sense argue that a dog uses his sense of smell prompted by familiar landmarks and routine, to find its way home – but there’s no way a dog can use this to find their master from Wales to Normandy! Or account for hundreds of cases that prove dogs don’t depend on memorising smells or details of a route, particularly when they’ve been ‘transported’ in a car or by plane, only to travel enormous distances to find their way home.
Sheldrake explores many ‘unexplained’ phenomena like the ability for dogs to ‘know’ when they’re soon to arrive home when travelling in the car. He also investigates thousands of cases where dogs literally ‘know’ when their owners are coming home. And most recently he’s exploring how dog’s know when their owners are phoning home.
So next time you are lost whilst driving and you pull over to ask directions ….ask the Labrador NOT the local.
The Barking Hour, every Thursday, 3-4PM, BBC London 94.9FM – www.barkingblondes.net