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Anecdotes from the Archive

Not sure what to give this Christmas? How about a book?

Foundation Archivist, Charlotte Gallant, tells us about the interesting work she has been undertaking at King Edward VI High School for Girls:

For the last few weeks, I have been lucky enough to spend my Monday and Wednesday mornings cataloguing the old and rare books kept in the Stuart Southall room of the KEHS. This involves taking each book off the shelf to inspect its condition – if the pages are clean, the binding intact etc and note down the important details – title, author, date etc. This might sound quite easy, but I estimate I have listed well over 1200 books so far, and I’m still not finished.

There have been some amazing finds, with the earliest book dating back to 1662! Before you assume that it must be a bible, think again - it is in fact ‘The History of Worthies of England’ by Thomas Fuller and was one of the first attempts at a dictionary of national biography. But what really makes going through each book exciting, is the number of signatures and inscriptions that can be found within.

There are many signed editions, mostly by the author on their visiting the school for a presentation. There are also a huge number of books given to the school by former staff and pupils. Miss Lilian K Barrie (headmistress 1925-1941) gave several books including a copy of ‘Courage’ which was written and signed by her uncle J.M Barrie – most remembered for writing ‘Peter Pan’.

Stuart Southall (1976) is a KES alumnus, former governor, and benefactor. Through a generous donation, the Stuart Southall room was created in 2011 as a specialist library. Today, it houses the most precious books at KEHS, as well as our historic collection of school publications.

But the most prolific donator of books to the library by far was Margaret F Pugh, Old Edwardian 1883-1889. Margaret passionately supported the school with donations of cups, trophies and much more. This can be seen in the dedications she wrote in each of the books presented to the library. One of my favourites is as follows:

It is now 50 years ago since I was travelling with my parents and my sister & we spent 6 weeks cruising among the South Sea Islands – I learnt to love New Zealand and whosoever loves them, loves them for life. I had read so much about them & was happy to see them for myself – MFP.

In other books she will write comments for the reader to find or paste copies of that book’s review from the Sunday newspaper. In ‘Over the Reefs’ published in 1948 by Robert Gibbings, she writes on one page that ‘every illustration is worth study’. The book is filled with intricate block prints, carved by the author himself on his return from the South Sea Islands (somewhere, Margaret writes, that she visited for 6 weeks with her parents and sister). Here is a small sample of some of the carvings that she admired so much.

If you were going to give a book to your school at Christmas, what would it be and why? What would you write inside for future generations to find 100 years later?