Category Archives: Books

Longleat – The Story of an English Country House

It’s amazing what interesting things you can find at local book fairs.  Recently I picked up a  copy of “Longleat – The Story of an English Country House” by David Burnett.  The book is the first of 10 presentation copies, from an edition of just 100 published in 1978 by Paradine   It is handsomely bound and cased and is in immaculate condition.  Longleat 1

The inscription,  shown below, bears the signature of the 6th Marquess of Bath, a well-known member of the English aristocracy and one of the forerunners of the stately home business.Longleat 2The book is readily available in paperback, but this copy is unique.  I wonder who the first owner was.

China in Sign and Symbol

Browsing through my book shelves earlier today, I came across this lovely old book on Chinese signboards, written in 1926 by Louise Crane (with decorations by Kent Crane).  Editions retaining the distinctive dust jacket are quite rare and command high prices.

Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh, Ltd. MCMXXVI

Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh, Ltd. MCMXXVI

The book contains many illustrations of signs used by shops and tradesmen, including these ones which relate to paper-making. (1)Book dedications come in many different forms, some very personal, others cryptic or even inspiring.  The dedication at the front of this book is beautifully written and contains all three of these elements.

I assume from the wording that the dedication is to Louise Crane’s brother – was that Kent Crane, the illustrator of the book?

Searching the Internet has revealed very little about either of the Cranes, which is surprising considering the quality of the writing and illustrations.  I would be grateful if anyone could provide any information at all about them.


Haitian Incident

I’m still working my way through the aforementioned papers of Arthur Hildebrand Alington, which include a naval log written during the late 1870′s when he was commander of HMS Boxer (commissioned 11 Dec 1876) and subsequently HMS Satellite.
The log contains many interesting facts about the voyages of the Boxer at that time which I will report on at a future date. For example, here is a listing of officers’ names and what became of them (two of them apparently died of yellow fever).
HMS Boxer officers list
One important event which occurred in Haiti in 1879 is referred to in a Bonhams sale catalogue description, dated 22nd November 2011.  The description relates to a lot consisting of “papers of Commander Arthur Hildebrand Alington of HMS Boxer, relating to the conduct of the Royal Navy during the riots at Port au Prince leading to the overthrow of President Pierre Théoma Boisrond-Canal”. 
Bonhams Catalogue 2011

The same documents appear to have been offered for sale at some time by Voyager Press.

Voyager Press

The log records that the Boxer arrived in Port au Prince at 6am on the 10th July 1879 and then left for Port Royal at 10.30pm on the 4th August and there is a small newspaper cutting in French. DSCF3007

I would be interested to hear if anyone else has come across details of this incident.


Reflections from a Bookshop Window

I would imagine that anyone who, like me, is really interested in books and book dealers would enjoy reading books about them (are these metabooks?).

One of the funniest I have ever read (and I’ve read it at least four times now) is Clive Linklater’s “Reflections from a Bookshop Window”, in which the author describes in hilarious fashion a selection of anecdotes about his time in the book trade.

First published in 1996, the book is still available and well worth getting hold of if you haven’t already done so (just click on the image).

Notebook from the British Summary Court 1919

This is interesting.  It’s an old British Summary Court notebook dating back to 1919, which I found amongst some old books and papers, as posted earlier.

Summary Court 2 003

Notebook with accompanying letter

Summary Court 1 002

Example page

It contains a letter from Cyril Percy Bassingthwaighte, which is addressed to a Colonel Day of 119 Earlham Road, Norwich.  Bassingthwaighte was a Captain and Adjutant in the Norfolk Regiment between 1914 and 1922 and was evidently (see letter) based in Brühl in Germany after the First World War.

According to this Wikipedia article, The British Summary Court was a court created by the Treaty of Versailles that sat as part of the Inter-Allied Rhineland High Commission to oversee the occupation of the Rhineland.


Margaret Pawley at home in Oxford and disguised as an ambulance driver in 1944

It lasted ten years, from 1919 to 1929 and was described in detail by former spy Margaret Pawley in her book “The Watch on the Rhine: The Military Occupation of the Rhineland”.  The article goes on to say that “the court heard 4,295 cases between 1919 and 1925, with possible sentences for minor offences including fines and prison sentences of between seven and fourteen days, normally served in a standard German prison”.

The Summary Court notebook makes for some fascinating reading as it lists the details of many minor misdemeanors committed by locals in the area of Brühl in 1919, not long after the First World War.

For example (see second image above), one Peter Zensen was sentenced to a fine of 50 Marks or 10 days in prison for “not raising his hat when the British National Anthem was played”. That seems rather harsh to me.  He must have agreed – he didn’t attend the court session and had to be summonsed.


I’ve just been reading an interesting Wikipedia article on book-related behaviours. Bibliomania, for example, is described  as “a symptom of obsessive–compulsive disorder which involves the collecting or even hoarding of books to the point where social relations or health are damaged”. In contrast, bibliophilia is the more socially acceptable love of books and is not considered a clinical psychological disorder, unlike bibliophagy (book-eating), bibliokleptomania (compulsive book-stealing) and bibliotaphy (book-burying).

Delving deeper into the article I must admit I began to feel uneasy.  Apparently, “the purchase of multiple copies of the same book and edition and the accumulation of books beyond possible capacity of use or enjoyment are frequent symptoms of bibliomania“.

I have to confess that I have often picked up multiple copies of attractive first editions at flea markets, charity shops, etc which I thought I would be able to sell on when I finally have time to become a real book dealer.

An extreme example would be Roald Dahl’s “Guide to Railway Safety”, which I always thought would become collectable one day – I have no less than 18 copies!

This booklet, nicely illustrated by Quentin Blake, has been described as a humorous

Clear evidence of bibliomania?

Clear evidence of bibliomania?

public information guide to railway safety for children.  A search on revealed many examples available for sale, ranging in price from around £9 to over £38 (unsigned).

Other examples from my collection include first editions of Alan Aldridge’s “The Peacock Party” (only 5 copies), Jonathan Miller’s “The Human Body” pop-up book (5) and Kit William’s Masquerade (3).

I could go on…

Bibliomania is apparently characterized by “the collecting of books which have no use to the collector nor any great intrinsic value to a genuine book collector”.  I”ll take that as my get-out clause and conclude that my book-collecting behaviour has been perfectly normal and absolutely nothing to worry about.

At least I haven’t started eating, stealing or burying books (well not yet, anyway).

The Diaries of Admiral Arthur Hildebrand Alington – Part 2

If you read my earlier post, you will know that I have an interest in the diaries of Admiral Arthur Hildebrand Alington.  Coming from a distinguished family line, Admiral Alington also had a number of notable descendants and relatives.

One of these was his grandson, the aviator Geoffrey Alington.  In his book “A Sound in the Sky: Reminiscences of Geoffrey Alington”, Alington wrote this about his late grandfather:


Referring to ‘the Old Admiral’ again, he was, of course, buried in the lovely little Swinhope church yard where so many of the family rest.  Unfortunately it had been raining for days before the funeral and when the coffin was lowered into the grave, to most people’s consternation, the coffin floated happily and would not disappear.  One old wag was heard to whisper “The Old Admiral won’t mind; e’s floated at sea all ‘is life.

GeoffreyAlingtonThe book, published by R K Hudson in 1994, is an autobiographical account of Alington’s remarkable flying career, during which his flying logs showed 5,910 hours 55 minutes of flying time, involving no fewer than 176 different types of aircraft and without a single accident (however, read this).

Notably in the early 1940′s, as Chief Test Pilot at the Austin Motors Aircraft Factory at Longbridge, he test-flew Battles, Hurricanes, Stirlings and Lancasters.

In addition to family anecdotes, the book contains many technical facts relating to aviation history and is illustrated with many of the author’s own private photographs.

Unfortunately, the manuscript from which it was taken ends abruptly and prematurely in 1943, 44 years before his death in 1987.

I first encountered the book in Reading Library in the UK.  I subsequently bought a copy of my own, but it is not particularly rare and many copies are currently advertised for sale on the Internet.

I would certainly recommend it to anyone with an interest in aviation history.

Oscar Wilde’s Part-Time Job

Despite famously describing fashion as “a form of ugliness so intolerable we have to change it every six months”, Oscar Wilde accepted the position of editor of The Woman’s World in 1887 and stayed in this role until 1889. Strictly speaking, it was a part-time job – two mornings a week for the princely sum of £6. It’s not clear whether he made the quote before, during or after his employment.

Oscar Wilde


The Woman’s World 1889

I came across this little known fact when leafing through a copy of The Woman’s World 1889, a heavy tome which I subsequently purchased at a bookshop in Windsor, UK.

To my surprise, in bold upper case letters on the title page, were the words:



A brief Google search revealed a number of references to what I can only describe as Wilde’s other guilty secret.  It turns out that it is a well known fact in literary circles that Wilde was actually in gainful employment for a period of two years, during which time he managed to produce a number of important works, including The Picture of Dorian Gray.  Less well known perhaps is an article from this journal entitled “Note on Some Modern Poets” by the Editor (pp108-112).

There is also another article curiously entitled “Muffs” by one Mrs Oscar Wilde, illustrated (pp 174-178), which might explain a few things…

The volume is large (ca 24cm x 31cm x 4cm) and heavy (ca 2.6kg).  I haven’t been able to find any other copies on the Internet, although there are plenty of modern facsimiles for sale.

This is the genuine article; the photos above give some idea of its condition.  If any completist Wilde collectors are interested in taking it off my hands, please get in touch.