A Surprising Find: The Savage Girl of Champagne

One September evening in 1731 a young girl in search of water stumbled out of a forest and into the outskirts of the village of Songi, near Champagne, France.  As she wandered towards the centre of the settlement the country people slammed doors and windows at the sight of her, whispering of the devil.  Reluctant to approach her, one man set his bull dog loose in the hopes that it might frighten her away; instead she clubbed it to death and climbed a nearby tree where she remained for several hours.  When the villagers worked up the courage to approach her they discovered she could not speak and was dressed in skins and leaves.  The locals (after confirming that she was not, in fact, a demon) gradually adopted the feral girl, and over time they documented her likes and dislikes, along with many of her stranger behaviours, such as her preference for raw meat and her attempts to serve the villagers an apron full of frogs she had caught for dinner.

The story of the girl and her eventual fate is contained within the pages of a little chapbook we found lurking in a corner of the stacks entitled: ‘The Surprising Savage Girl, who was caught wild in the woods of Champagne, a province in France.’  Chapbooks, similar to early broadsides, were popular printed booklets often illustrated with woodcuts and sold for a penny to passers-by.  Our chapbook was produced by T Johnston around 1821 in Falkirk.  The Johnston family had been printing material since 1767 and obtained their first newspaper (The Falkirk Herald) in 1846.  170 years later they are still regularly producing papers such as The Yorkshire Post and The Scotsman.

Chapbooks grew in notoriety throughout the 16th century as printed materials became more accessible and continued to sell well into the 17th and 18th centuries.  The paper was often cheap and tattered and the stories often wildly inaccurate; however, they were often based on truth and some were even historically faithful.  ‘The Surprising Savage Girl’ likewise insists that it contains ‘a true and faithful narrative’.  In researching the feral girl we came across numerous articles and stories, many of which were more expansive than the chapbook’s version of events, but none which suggested that the story was entirely fictional – could it be possible that ‘The Surprising Savage Girl’ is built on a kernel of fact?

Written by Stephanie Bushell

News from the Archive 12 April 2016

We have unearthed some more strange and unusual treasures from Robert Gladstone’s collection. A large amount of parchment slips written in Latin and relating to the late 16th century found in a shoebox!

What are they? Luckily I had Dr Hollinshead and Mrs P Cox to help me solve the mystery. It seems they are receipts/dockets signed by the four Tellers of the Receipt of the Exchequer.



Dr Hollinshead researched the role of the Teller:

The Tellers receipted money paid in, noted the amount in a book, and sent a copy of the entry (called a Teller’s Bill) to the Tally Court so that a tally (reckoning) could be made. At the end of each day, money that had been received was removed from their chests to be deposited in the Treasury.

The Auditor of the Receipt of the Exchequer was responsible for filing and entering the Tellers’ Bills and certifying the monies received to the Lord Treasurer. In the later 16th century the title of Auditor was combined with that of Tally Writer. Again, this office was abolished in 1834.

The Athenaeum dockets all appear to relate to widely different parts of Cheshire and Chester city at a time when the county was a County Palatine with its own royal offices and administration.

The signatures on the slips relate to each of the four Tellers, however, one signature stands out more prominently. Richard Stonley was Teller of the Receipt of the Exchequer between 1554-1597 and was found guilty of embezzlement to the sum of over £12, 600, the equivalent in today’s money of £1,578,654.00. He is also the earliest known purchaser of a Shakespeare work having purchased Venus and Adonis on 12th June 1593. When his illegal activities were found out he was given a reprieve by the crown to sell all he owned to pay back the debt. It is thought he died in prison in February of 1600.

We have already had some interest from researchers into this collection and Ashleigh Hawkins a student studying an MA at Liverpool University will be transcribing a selection of the receipts and using them in her dissertation.

If you interested in the receipts or any other archive collection featured, please email archivist@theathenaeum.org.uk to make an appointment to come in.

Athenaeum Library Open Day – Saturday May 7th

Following high levels of interest in our Heritage Lottery Funded project, we are delighted to announce that we will be hosting an Open Day for members of the public on 7th May 2016.

The Open Day will give members of the public a unique opportunity to view the building and its treasures through a guided tour. Library Chairman, David Brazendale says: ‘Since 1797, the Athenaeum Library has provided information and knowledge to the people of Liverpool. The Athenaeum was not founded as a social centre but to provide information about the world to its Proprietors, but now it is vital that we open the resource to a wider public.

‘The Athenaeum Library is recognised as being amongst the best private libraries in Britain and the room in which it is housed has been described as the ‘finest room in the North.’ The library has over 60, 000 books, many of them rare and some of them unique; the Athenaeum collections open a window; not only on Liverpool’s heritage but on the history of Britain and the World.’

Having joined the project earlier this year, Archivist Nicola Hubberstey unveils new treasures every week. She says, ‘I think my favourite find at the moment is the Liverpool Civic Service League collection, as it holds so much information on Liverpool during the First World War and will be a gold mine for researchers. My job is fantastic as every day I discover a new treasure. Whenever I enter the Athenaeum Library, it never fails to make me gasp in wonder at the treasures it holds.

‘The Open Day is a great opportunity to gain an insight into one of Liverpool’s oldest and most prestigious institutions. We are going to have a display of archives relating to Nicholas Monsarrat including his desk and typewriter, which will be unveiled to the public for the first time. It’s going to be a great day with tours and talks on the history of the institution and the local area, along with displays of some of our treasures from the Library and Archive.’

The tours will start every hour from 11am, through until 3pm and will last approximately one hour. There will be refreshments on sale and talks in the Newsroom throughout the Open Day.

Visits and tours of the Athenaeum are by booking only and are funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. To book tickets, please visit: http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/the-athenaeum-10040178702. For queries or further information, please contact John Corbett or Anna Corbett at: peo@theathenaeum.org.uk or 0151 709 7770. Tickets are free of charge, however a discretionary donation upon arrival is greatly appreciated.

Liverpool Civic Service League Report



The Liverpool Civic Service League was established three years prior to the First World War in response to the 1911 General Transport Strike.  Headed by a Managing Committee comprised of leading members of the business and civic community, the League was described by the inaugural Chairman, Frank J. Leslie, as an “organisation of Citizens willing to assist the Authorities in preserving the health, safety and well-being of the City in time of need”.  Minute Books and local news sources detail how the organisation worked tirelessly to offer drill training, engineering and street cleaning services during the workers’ action and later to organise ambulance and medical services, messengers and the distribution of goods as the “Labour troubles” gave way to the reality of life at war in the summer of 1914.

Here at the Athenaeum we have been fortunate enough to discover the complete collection of League Minute Books and associated paraphernalia including correspondence, application forms, index cards detailing the “special qualifications” of prospective members (i.e. the training necessary to operate heavy machinery, existing medical experience and so on), a Financial Sub-Committee Minute Book and cash books (including one belonging to the King’s Liverpool Regiment Visiting Committee).

The Minute Books, of which there are six, were found amongst a collection originally belonging to Robert Gladstone Jr and span from August 1911 right through to the conclusion of the war in 1918.  The books contain minutes from both the main body of the League and also from the Women’s Branch, and detail the efforts of its members to uphold the spirits of both locals and external parties during a time of great social and political upheaval.

The History of the League

The decision to formulate the League was an ambitious and not entirely uncontroversial one.  Initial plans to enrol “voluntary helpers” who might act in the capacity of special constables attracted the displeasure of the Head Constable who suggested that the League lacked the authority to advertise for assistance of the sort ordinarily organised by the Justices proper.  The Head Constable also expressed a concern that the League might struggle to remain impartial in light of the sort of tasks that their volunteers were undertaking, “namely the performance of work abandoned by strikers”, and warned that the completion of neglected labour must surely be perceived “as taking one side as against the other”.

Although F. J. Leslie emphatically denied ‘taking sides’ the League were to encounter other teething difficulties in a similar vein.  In a report dated December 18th Mr Leslie speaks of an administrative division within the ranks of the League itself:

There are those who believe that] the main purpose of forming such a League as this is to create a body opposed to strikes and strikers […] a “strike breaking organisation” [aimed at] repressing strikes by aggressive measures.

Divergent voices in the League were eventually silenced by Mr Leslie’s insistence that the organisation was to remain an entirely neutral one; the repercussions of the debate, however, almost led to the resignation of the Lord Mayor, Edward Stanley, Earl of Derby, and placed a significant strain on the relations between the League and the local constabulary.

The League met infrequently at the Town Hall from 1911 up until the war but its supporters were nevertheless extremely active in their outreach activities and, by May of 1913, had recruited in excess of 2,500 members.  Amongst them were horse drivers, electricians, medics, and steam and marine engineers.

Upon the eve of the war the League immediately called a meeting and set about obtaining additional premises in order to expand their operations.  Based within the G3 Exchange Buildings and later also placed at Gambier Terrace and 30 Bold Street, the League began to organise the distribution of supplies to those in need, including Belgian refugees, soldiers and sailors and the economically disadvantaged.

Meanwhile Robert Gladstone Jr submitted for the consideration of the Committee a scheme “by which he would bear the cost of drilling five hundred men, over the army limit, to be ready for such services as they might be required for”.  The proposal met with unanimous approval and Gladstone was appointed Honorary Secretary for the Drill section of the League.  The League, in collaboration with the Liverpool Meat Importers’ Association, constructed a miniature rifle range in the basement of the Meat Market (Great Newton Street).  On the 10th of August 400 men reported for drilling and by the 12th of August 100 more had enrolled.  The unprecedented popularity of the instruction led to the establishment of the Volunteer Rifle Corps and secured the League’s reputation as a “pioneer in the matter of civilian drill”.

With some negotiation the League was granted permission to forward goods for the Front, via Southampton, “free of carriage”, and shortly thereafter set to work supplying men with pipes, cigarettes, chocolate, candles, playing cards and toothbrushes along with socks, mufflers and mittens, many knitted by volunteers from the community including local children who were taught to knit and sew through the interventions of the Women’s Branch.

Ambulance training was also on-going, alongside Nursing classes and instruction in First Aid.  The League, with the assistance of local doctors, ran courses culminating in medical certification.  Many of the newly qualified were enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps and many more became employed in tending to the sick and wounded who were arriving into Lime Street Station and elsewhere in the city.

The Committee wrote to employers and requested that they reserve the positions of those absent overseas.  They received around 500 replies agreeing to the upkeep of wages and also to the holding of the temporarily vacant positions.  The League also campaigned to raise the numbers of enlisted; posters were produced and ladies would regularly distribute flyers on a house to house basis.

A great deal of charitable work was conducted by the League and its affiliates.  Large numbers of foreign soldiers were arriving into Liverpool along with their wives, the latter of which were left to fend for themselves once their husbands were transferred.  The League communicated with the Cunard S. S. Company and secured lodgings for the families in Great George Square, with Miss Eleanor Rathbone agreeing to cover any surplus costs incurred.

Significantly, the League’s Committee was comprised of many local dignitaries and was assisted in various ways by many more; Sir Sydney Jones is reported to have donated several vehicles for use as ambulances, and Mrs Herbert Reynolds Rathbone, Ex-Lady Mayoress, granted the League permission to use the Depot at Gambier Terrace for distribution purposes.

Whilst this report has thus far dealt mainly with the work undertaken by the male-led branch of the League the efforts of the Women’s Branch should not be understated; the women’s division remained active throughout the war and was involved with the dispensing of clothing and other materials, the arrangement of Nursing classes, the provision of entertainment and of “Christmas Cheer for the Troops” and the housing of Belgian refugees, amongst many other things.

That the League’s work was both far-reaching and of the utmost significance to many thousands of individuals is made clear not only through the regularity with which they met and the meticulous documentation of work carried out but also through the endless expressions of thanks they receive from wives, workers and soldiers.  On the 27th of April 1916 Mr Leslie tells the board of a meeting he has had with the Prisoners of War Committee:

The Chairman reported that he had attended a meeting […] at which Vincent Howard, who had escaped from a German Internment Camp, had been present.  Howard had informed the Meeting that he had received parcels from the Civic Service League quite regularly, and that he considered that they had kept him alive, as he had been unable to eat the food provided in the camp.

The Minute Books provide a wonderful glimpse into the solidarity of a city which has pulled together despite enormous external pressure, and the charitable efforts of the League’s members are reflected in the thoughtful responses they provoke from those they help.

Further Particulars

This collection represents the culmination of many years of dedicated work over a crucially significant timespan and would, we hope, be of assistance to researchers of the period or indeed to other interested parties who would like to study the links between the Civic Service League and affiliated individuals and organisations such as the Red Cross, St Johns Ambulance Association, local universities and hospitals etc.  As we learn more about the collection we will update the available information accordingly.  In the interim those who might like to learn more about the collection are encouraged to contact the Athenaeum archivist at archivist@theathenaeum.org.uk.

Real or Fake?

The survey on Robert Gladstone’s collection continues and still manages to surprise us! Whilst looking through yet another card index box I found an unassuming envelope with a ‘Christ Medal’ contained within.


A Christ medal was worn to show a sign of faith and ours shows Jesus on one side and Hebrew text on the other which I am led to believe is translated as ‘Christ the King has come in peace: God was made man’.

The original was made in the first century and worn to identify believers and signify their faith. However, it seems that in the late 19th and early 20th century a stove manufacturer made copies of the original and sold them in markets to the masses. So do we have a real one or a stove manufacturers copy? Why not come in to the Library and make your own mind up.

News from the Archive

We are currently in the process of surveying the Athenaeum’s collection of archives and we have found some real treasures. Within Robert Gladstone’s collection we have found a complete series of minute books from the Liverpool Civic Service League. It seems nobody knew we had these lurking in our stacks and we think they could be a fantastic resource for those of you interested in Liverpool throughout WW1. The Civic Service League was a volunteer association that was made up of influential men and women of Liverpool and ran from 1911 – 1921, amongst other things they:

· organised civilian drill classes for those too old to enlist in the army,
· acquired and drove ambulances to transport wounded soldiers,
· collected and sent candles and socks to the men in the trenches,
· recruited and helped with special constables,
· met families off transport ships whose men were fighting, and
· held classes to teach men and women first aid which prepared them to take nursing examinations.

If anyone is interested in seeing the minute books, then get in touch by email at archives@theathenaeum.org.uk. Steph our Archive Assistant is currently researching through the books so check back regularly for an update on her progress.

Shady Goings On In The Library

Shady Goings on in the Library

On the 25th of February more than ninety Proprietors and guests crowded the Athenaeum for the annual Library dinner, a black tie event that that attracts more and more people each year.  After assembling in the Newsroom the guests moved upstairs to the luxurious dining room for a meal of butternut soup, roast lamb, broad beans, parsnips and roast potatoes followed by treacle tart and custard, coffee and mints.

The party returned to the Newsroom where in a talk by David Brazendale, Chairman of the Library, they learned of the difficulties in setting up the library in 1797 and of the problem of finding suitable people for a profession that was in its infancy. Their first appointment ran into problems when Mr. Gearing was found to be seeking consolation in the brandy bottle, his assistant stole from the Library and was put on trial, though the details of his offence and punishment cannot be traced,  John Jones started the Athenaeum’s collection of pictures of the old Liverpool which provide a marvellous record of the 18th Century town while later in the Victorian period a man whose first experience was in the Athenaeum Library went on to create the famous library of the British Museum and its Circular Reading Room.

Development and innovation in our library continues especially after the receipt of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.  The catalogue and the new archive catalogue will soon be on-line for the interested researcher.

New Library Purchases

Recently the antiquarian bookshop in the Bluecoat has had a number of early book on Liverpool in.  The Library has bought two.  The first is the script of a farce played at the Theatre Royal entitled ‘The Liverpool Prize’ written by the Irish actor and dramatist Frederick Pilon who lived between 1750 and 1788.  The play was first performed in February 1779 and tells the story of a romance between a beautiful young woman, Harriet Debenture and her lover and cousin George Belford.  Harriet is to be married off to a Captain Teneriffe, the retired Master of a Privateer.  As you might expect love triumphs over all.  This work fits well with our collection of playbills and theatrical ephemera

The other acquisition is in much more serious vein.  Entitled Remarks on the Resolutions which were formed at the Archdeaconry of Chester’. The author is Reverend Joseph Smith a Nonconformist minister in Liverpool, and, what makes it of particular interest one of the first Proprietors of the Athenaeum [number 494].  In this book he is arguing that the terms of the Test Acts, designed to exclude Roman Catholics from office should not apply to Protestant Dissenters. These two new acquisitions will soon be on display in the Library after processing and cataloguing.

These volumes have been bought through the generous donations of Proprietors and we invite you to contribute to the acquisition of further interesting and valuable book.

David Brazendale Chairman of Library

Press Release: Opening our doors!

27th January 2016

After winning the Heritage Lottery Fund bid, we are delighted to announce that this year, the Athenaeum Library is opening its doors to the people of Liverpool.

Dating back to 1797 and home to some 800 year old literary treasures, the Athenaeum is offering a rare and valuable opportunity for schools, universities and groups of adults to browse their unique shelves and embark upon projects in subjects they are most passionate about; including History, English Literature, Geography, Sciences, Languages, Theatre and Art.

Librarian Vincent Roper, who has been hosting guided tours of the library for 20 years says: ‘I can’t step into this building without feeling like I’ve stepped into a time capsule.’

We are enthusiastic about schools, colleges and universities engaging with the Athenaeum, demonstrating the wealth of material available, inviting visits and setting up projects like those undertaken by Alsop High School where the teaching staff and the library co-operate to open up lost worlds to the students. Assistant Headteacher, October Wright says: ‘Working with the Athenaeum has been an invaluable experience for our pupils. It has ignited within them a passion for books and reading and afforded them the opportunity to engage with prominent members of the community. The Athenaeum project has become a beacon of academic excellence in our school, adding gravitas and prestige to academic progress and success.’

The experience of a tour also offers the opportunity for pre-university students to sample the world of independent study. Our archivists are keen to assist with bespoke tours for students aged 16-18, carefully designing the sessions to equip them with excellent skills ahead of university.

University of Liverpool English Literature graduate, Steph Bushell, who has volunteered at the Athenaeum since November, says: ‘The most exciting item I have come across so far, has to be a First Edition of Ulysses.

‘From day to day, we never know what we’re going to come across – last week we found a passport from 1836, bookmarking the page of a book, this week we found a typewriter belonging to Nicholas Monsarret. I am on a continual learning curve at the Athenaeum. I’ve felt very welcome here and the Athenaeum has equipped me with an invaluable foundation of knowledge ahead of my post-graduate studies this year. ‘

Visits and tours of the Athenaeum are by booking only and are funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. For further information or to request a tour and use of the library, please contact John Corbett or Anna Corbett on: peo@theathenaeum.org.uk or 0151 709 7770.

King’s Breakfast in Bed Revolts the Barons!

This might have been the headline in the “Sun” of 1215 and was one of the startling facts that emerged from our Magna Carta Day on 3rd December.  Dr. Alan Crosby told the tale of the reign of King John and of the events which brought about that fateful meeting on Runnymede.  Throughout his reign John had failed to match up to the image of a medieval king and, though he was an able hands-on administrator, had met with multiple disasters in France, with the Pope, in campaigns Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  His habit of lying in bed with his wife Isobel, disgusted the barons who, seeing their privileges and wealth undermined, rose in the revolt which culminated in the sealing of Magna Carta.

At this point Dr. Meg Ford, Head of Books and Manuscripts at Christies, took up the tale, describing the various copies of the document that exist.  Then she went on to describe the physical creation of a document in the Middle Ages, the preparation of the parchment, the pricking of margins and the ruling and inscribing of the lines with a bone point.  The copy which we hold in the Library is one of the first general issue of the charter in1297 and she explained how one scribe would write the body of the page and specialists would draw the illuminated capitals and these were then painted by the same or a different artist, the copy shows that it was someone who worked in the London style.

The fascinating day closed with a lively question and answer session, refreshed with tea and cake, before some of the audience moved on either to listen to Sir David Maddison talk about Magna Carta today or to go to the opening of the exhibition “Knowledge is Power” at the Victoria Museum and Gallery of the University of Liverpool which includes many items from our collections.  The exhibition is free and open to June 2016 and should be visited by every member of the Athenaeum