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Market Hill in 1841*

Nice to know that four hundred years ago Cantabrigians seem to have valued books about as much as they do today.

In 1602 Margaret Cotton who lived on Market Hill in Cambridge with her husband Henry, a pewterer, was accused of stealing a book from her neighbor Ralph Hyde, a draper. Nobody says out and out what the book was. It might or might not have been a Bible, or The Secrets of Alexis, a sort of contemporary self-help volume, or a sixpenny pamphlet (you’ll find sixpence written vid, which is 6d). Cunningly Ms Cotton seems to have counter-charged that Hyde was also a thief, having stolen her reputation by coming into her house, grabbing her keys, and “discovering” the book in a cupboard. Heather Wolfe examines the event at The Collation, providing a surprisingly large amount of detail on testimony and witnesses.

As a time-traveling sympathetic witness for Ms Cotton I could testify that I still get the occasional hot flush of embarrassment when I remember a book which I borrowed at the age of nine from Kathleen Walker, and “forgot” to return. She was a classmate at Gala Academy, and as I left the school that June and started at St Mary’s School, Melrose in September, I kept forgetting to take it to her home — ominously right next to the police station. Eventually it became so ridiculous that I took the book, a beige colored cloth-bound hardback novel for kids with red and brown stamping, and threw it into the unfinished corner of our remotest attic — where it probably lies to this day covered in seventy years of dust. Did I steal it? I guess so.

Dr Wolfe does indicate that her tale is “to be continued” but after six months Part 2 has still not been forthcoming.


* Maybe 1841, maybe not: there’s some ambiguity about when this or that structure was removed. Market Hill surely doesn’t strike you at first as a hill, though it must actually be several feet above the water level in the River Cam at the Backs, behind Kings College Chapel which appears in the background of this picture. I bet that if you pour out a bucket of water on Market Hill at the point of origin of this picture, it’d run down Petty Cury behind you to puddle just inside Christs College where the King’s Ditch used to run (crawl more likely) on its journey round the town center. A hill yes, but nothing compared to Castle Hill, yet big enough to have Great St Mary’s, the university church, built on its top. The reason you can’t see Great St Mary’s on the right of the engraving is that until relatively recently there were buildings in the place where today the market stalls are set up, so the orientation then of the market was more east-west right in front of the Guildhall and around the corner in Peas Hill than today’s north-south alignment.

The elaborate construction in the foreground is the terminus of Hobson’s Conduit, a channel which brought clean water into the city from the high ground near Great Shelford to the south. In 1631 Thomas Hobson, a livery man who made money from transporting goods to and from London, bequeathed land to fund and maintain this public water supply. (He it is who is the cause and origin of the expression “Hobson’s choice”.) This fancy structure may now be found at the corner of Lensfield Road and Trumpington Street whence the water flows in gutters on both sides of Trumpington Street, to stop in front of the Pitt Building. Where does it go from there? Probably leftward into a pipe towards the river down Silver Street in a remnant of the King’s Ditch which used to bring “fresh” water to downtown Cambridge, running in a grand circle passing in front of Christ’s, behind the Round Church and back into the river on Jesus Green.

Here’s a photo of the same scene today (well a few weeks ago) looking a little more north of west than the one above — taken more or less from the bottom left hand corner of the engraving.

The Hobson’s Conduit terminus would have been about ten feet in front of you, in the shadow of the Guildhall to the left. Kings College Chapel is behind the tall buildings fronting Peas Hill beyond. Just to the north of Great St Mary’s, and in front of the tower of Caius College (which we pronounce “Keys”) you can see the top story of Cambridge University Press’s bookshop directly above the head of the white-haired guy with the bike. This site has been used to sell books since 1581. Maybe Mr Hyde bought the stolen book there?

A nicely written account from The Guardian of one author’s self-propelled 500-mile book tour of 32 bookshops from Corbridge to London. The book is Lean Fall Stand, the author Jon McGregor.

“A thrilling and propulsive novel of an Antarctica expedition gone wrong and its far-reaching consequences for the explorers and their families” Amazon (thus the publisher) describes it. Here is a link to The Guardian‘s review.

See an earlier reference to a “pedestrian” poet, a laureate at that.

Thanks to Annabel for the original link.

DeepStore maintains an archive 150 meters underground in Winsford Rock Salt Mine, in Cheshire. (Scroll down at that link to view their corporate video about their archiving mine.) Mining began here about 1850, and DeepStore was set up in the 1990s to take advantage of the perfect storage conditions in the mine’s already excavated areas. Laura Ashley are the company which invited Tom Scott to look at the archive. Those flat drawer storage cabinets which Laura Ashley uses to store original artwork look familiar: we used to have tings like that cluttering up our offices — we’d use them to store jacket mechanicals.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser. David Crotty at The Scholarly Kitchen brings us the link.

The salt mines were not a great place to work — the salt all around you and in the air causes severe dehydration — hence a preference for using prisoners or slaves to do the mining. People of my generation unconsciously associate salt mines with Soviet Siberia.

A beneficial side effect of the coronavirus pandemic? Time has been available for the University of East Anglia, Unlocking the Archive team, in cooperation with National Trust (Blickling Estate) and Norfolk Library and Information Service, to put together a website looking at their old book collections. The site includes looks at books from Kings Lynn Public Library, Norfolk Heritage Centre, Blickling Estate, and Northumberland Libraries and Archives.

BookRiot tells us of an initiative to promote the digital exploration of ancient books in East Anglia. Here’s a  BookRiot link to an article from Fine Books & Collections.

The books can be found at Unlocking the Archive. This five-minute introductory video sets the scene:

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

The Unlocking the Archive: Discover Historic Books website truly does only introduce you to the books and encourage activities surrounding them: you can’t just set out to read the books page by page. Maybe they’ll add the remainder of the pages in the future and allow for reading the entire work, which activity would certainly be covered by the rubric “unlocking the archive”.

Last year Mike Shatzkin did a piece about some recently published books looking at the big changes in the book business over the last thirty years. One paragraph that caught my eye read “But there was another hidden magic trick in [Amazon’s] set-up. It made all their sales cash-flow positive. They would get a customer order and cash today on a book Ingram would deliver day after tomorrow and expect payment on a month or two from now. Physical book retailers were constrained by their need to invest cash to stock their shelves. Amazon turned that upside down.”

Cash flow is an under-appreciated asset, but in the end it’s what it’s all about. Like all businesses the traditional book business works on credit. Publishers get terms from their suppliers, maybe a couple of months grace on paying the bill which of course won’t be submitted till the books are en route to the publisher’s warehouse; the publisher extends similar terms to the bookstores — and if the book’s a real failure runs the risk of seeing their bill “paid” by the return of unsold copies; and of course authors extend terms to the publisher, usually getting paid once a year. Sooner or later the person funding the whole roundabout expects to be able to put some money in the bank. Keeping it all going round and round is better than going out of business, but only just, and bankers tend to lose patience in the end.

Having cash on hand enables you to do nice things like paying wages and duller things like taking care of electricity bills and rent — hey, we’ll pay the printer later; and the author too! One of the benefits for an academic publisher of publishing journals as well as regular books was always straight cash flow. Journal subscriptions tended to get renewed at the beginning of the year resulting in an in-flow of cash in the first quarter, just in time to plump up the bank account so that the publisher could pay authors’ royalties on their books, often due in April, while the journals themselves would be produced throughout the year.

Another great cash flow feeder is a subscription book club, which is something quite a few publishers are now setting up. Not only are you, the publisher, getting full price for your books, or the slightly discounted price you advertise, you are also getting it upfront, before you’ve even sent most of the books in question off to the printer. Cash today: expenditure months hence! Same holds for direct sales made upon publication — the purchaser is paying you then and there, whereas you’ll not be getting the printer’s invoice for a week or two, and won’t be thinking of paying it for a couple of months, at which time, hopefully, bookstores will also be getting round to paying you. Used to be we’d have lots of standing orders from libraries, which fulfilled the same function.

On 26 November Shelf Awareness for Readers brought us the news that Cambridge Dictionary‘s Word of the Year 2021 is “perseverance”. In light of the fact that it’s Oxford towards which everyone directs their eyes for news of the year’s word, it shows admirable perseverance to offer up the Fenland choice yet again.

Merriam-Webster plumps for “vaccine” and Oxford itself (intent as they are on becoming ever hipper) opts for “vax”. provides an international round-up of words of the year. They tell us along the way that the tradition started in Germany in 1971 when the Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache (German Language Society) chose the first Wort des Jahres, which was aufmüpfig, an Austrian/Bavarian word meaning refractory. This year’s word for them is Wellenbrecher (breakwater), which only makes sense once you understand that this is the word used in Germany when reporting on anti-Covid regulation.

Well, you can’t pretend you’re surprised that we have a color of the year can you? Printing Impressions breaks the super-exciting news that

“Pantone has revealed its 2022 Color of the Year: Very Peri, a bluish purple that Pantone says “displays a carefree confidence and a daring curiosity that animates our creative spirit.”

“As with every other year, the Pantone Color of the Year is a hue that the Pantone Color Institute believes encapsulates the general theme or feeling of society going into the year. Previous years have touched on changing gender norms and contrasting feelings during the pandemic.

“This year, Pantone says that Very Peri “helps us embrace this altered landscape of possibilities, opening us up to a new vision as we rewrite our lives.”

And here it is.

Very Peri

Feeling carefree confidence and daring curiosity?

I’ve only once before noted this important event, in 2014. Here are recent colors which have brightened your life:

Copyeditors can never rest. Grist for their mill lies all about them. The perfectly copyedited text is an impossibility, and while you know it can never be achieved, you can nevertheless never stop working for that Platonic ideal. (Should I change Platonic to platonic? Probably, I guess, but I’m not a copyeditor. And all those “nevers” are skating on the edge too.) I expect it’s hard for a copyeditor not to edit the book they are reading as well as the book they are working on, and their newspaper, their Christmas cards, those annual round-up letters now so often included with these cards, and of course carols.

Sent by David Crotty at The Scholarly Kitchen.

Always a good idea to read your contract: typos don’t normally work for you.

Alien is another word which we have inherited from the French, who in turn got it from Rome. The Oxford English Dictionary‘s etymology really goes to town on the word: “classical Latin aliēnus (adjective) of or belonging to others, unnatural, unusual, unconnected, separate, of another country, foreign, unrelated, of a different variety or species, unfamiliar, strange, unfriendly, unsympathetic, unfavourable, inappropriate, incompatible, distasteful, repugnant, (noun) person or slave belonging to another person, foreigner, stranger, outsider “. With a bundle of signification like that dragging along in the background, it’s not too surprising that “alien” might be a word that needs some rehabilitation.

Now comes, via Publishers Weekly, the liberating news that alien is being dumped from the Library of Congress cataloging system’s subject heading list. “Aliens” and “Illegal Aliens” will be replaced by “Noncitizens” and “Illegal immigration”. Does this mark another step down the road of reserving the term “aliens” for those little green men who keep visiting us in their UFOs?