Licking Into Shape


Parasol on gravelled patio

This morning we bought another parasol for the South end gravelled patio.

After lunch, The Head Gardener watered and I dead-headed The Rose Garden. Here there are two examples of similar but different flowers that she has been pointing out recently.

For Your Eyes Only

These are For Your Eyes Only

Summer Wine

and Summer Wine.

Hydrangea 1Hydrangea 2

Other manifestations are these two hydrangeas. Apart from the subtly different hues, can you spot the difference?

When Jackie and I visited Wimborne Minster on 23rd November 2013, we could not access the Chained Library. This was, however, possible for her and her sisters when they were staying near there recently.

The Chained Library003

Helen bought me a copy of W. A. (Frank) Tandy’s small booklet, which I finished reading today.

Tandy provides a brief introduction to the practice of chaining library books, and details of those, mostly dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries, contained in Wimborne Minster. The earliest volume in the collection is “Regimen Animarum”, a manuscript written on vellum, dated 1343. The books cover other subjects than the expected ecclesiastic ones. Gardening, science, and medicine are examples. I found it fascinating to discover that Sir Thomas Browne’s “The Pseudodoxia Epidemica of 1672” ‘examines the theory that a female bear gives birth to a lump of fat which she then licks into the shape of the cub she wants; it is from this that the expression ‘licking into shape’ originates’.


This illustration comes from a mediaeval bestiary, Bodley 764, taken from Pinterest.

In mediaeval times, and the early years of printing, many books were extremely valuable. Most were bound in wooden boards making it possible to chain them in the manner thus described by Wikipedia:

‘A chained library is a library where the books are attached to their bookcase by a chain, which is sufficiently long to allow the books to be taken from their shelves and read, but not removed from the library itself. This would prevent theft of the library’s materials.[1] The practice was usual for reference libraries (that is, the vast majority of libraries) from the Middle Ages to approximately the 18th century. However, since the chaining process was also expensive, it was not used on all books.[2] Only the more valuable books in a collection were chained.[2] This included reference books and large books.[2]

It is standard for chained libraries to have the chain fitted to the corner or cover of a book. This is because if the chain were to be placed on the spine the book would suffer greater wear from the stress of moving it on and off the shelf. Because of the location of the chain attached to the book (via a ringlet) the books are housed with their spine facing away from the reader with only the pages’ fore-edges visible (that is, the ‘wrong’ way round to people accustomed to contemporary libraries). This is so that each book can be removed and opened without needing to be turned around, hence avoiding tangling its chain. To remove the book from the chain, the librarian would use a key.[3]

Chained library in Hereford Cathedral

The earliest example in England of a library to be endowed for use outside an institution such as a school or college was the Francis Trigge Chained Library in GranthamLincolnshire, established in 1598. The library still exists and can justifiably claim to be the forerunner of later public library systems. Marsh’s Library in Dublin, built 1701, is another non institutional library which is still housed in its original building. Here it was not the books that were chained, but rather the readers were locked into cages to prevent rare volumes from ‘wandering’. There is also an example of a chained library in the Royal Grammar School, Guildford as well as at Hereford Cathedral. While chaining books was a popular practice throughout Europe, it was not used in all libraries. The practice of chaining library books became less popular as printing increased and books became less expensive.[3]Wimborne Minster in Dorset, England is yet another example of a Chained Library. It is one of the first in England and the second largest.[4]


As I entered this onto WordPress, I enjoyed the scent of our sweet peas standing on my window sill.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s vegetable rice salad with cheese-centred fish cakes. My lady drank Hoegaarden and I drank Kingfisher.

P.S. Cynthia Jobin’s comment below has some interesting additional information on early books.


  1. As someone who loves, loves libraries, I found this post so interesting. I knew about the practise of chaining books, but I really enjoyed learning more about it.

  2. One of the reasons the earliest books were so precious was because they had to be hand written, or printed with hand-carved blocks. They were treated as works of art. Gutenberg’s technologies of movable type, of course, allowed for mass production, greater literacy, and the unchaining of both books and minds.

    I remember in my studies as a calligrapher, the tales of how only the richest of families could afford to own a book (often as a status symbol as much as for literacy) and would hire a calligrapher-scribe to come and live with them—sometimes for over a year at a time—to be a resident book artist for them.

    The literature about all of this is replete with odd disgruntled marginalia that a scribe might hide in the arabesques and oak leaves that decorated manuscripts. And most of the books had curses with their bookplates for anyone who would even think of stealing the book.
    I have a book by the current-day calligrapher, Marc Drogin, entitled ANATHEMA! which chronicles all of this. One of the curses in this book:

    To steal this book, if you should try
    It’s by the throat that you’ll hang high.
    And ravens then will gather ‘bout
    To find your eyes and pull them out.
    And when you’re screaming, “oh, oh, oh!”
    Remember you deserve this woe.

      1. Had I known you then, I would have designed for you a wonderful Pauline-ish bookplate (in medieval lettering, with curse) to copy on sticky paper and adhere to all the frontispieces of your lovely library… 🙂

      1. The photographer Edward Weston had a note in his library reading “I don’t lend my books to my friends. I don’t want to lose my books…  or my friends”.

  3. Beautiful flowers from the garden again. It is in a way good to think that there was a time were so valued that people would want to steal them. I wonder if I would find anybody who would want to do this. On a sad note, books were so rare that they would be accessible to only a few. Thank you Derrick 🙂

  4. Such an interesting post, Derrick. Thank you. Many people don’t realize how valuable and rare books were when each page was written by hand. Other now everyday things, such as salt and sugar, were also frequently kept locked up.

    The garden looks lovely. 🙂

      1. Yes, true. Of course, there’s so much history and ritual with tea, as you well know, and all the types of equipment that went with making and serving tea could be quite expensive.

  5. On seeing just the first photo I was astounded and wondered what garden frolics had caused your shade umbrella to turn from green to red overnight! 🙂

    Fascinating info about the chained libraries Derrick – the passing of time may have unchained the books, but modern times bring further strictures. These days most of us can’t touch the ancient hand printed manuscripts and may only look at them through glass.

  6. Lovely pictures and thoughtful words, as always, Derrick. I do love when you call Jackie “my lady” and “the head gardener” and all of the other endearments. Your love and respect for her always shows. <3

  7. I never knew about chained libraries. Goodness. I can understand why, though. As for those hydrangeas, both the leaf and flower forms are different….I did not know how many varieties of hydrangea there are until recent years when I started noticing ones that were spectacularly different from the lovely color balls on the ones I first knew.

  8. This post (photos, too) reminded me so much of my visit to England several years ago! I loved the rose garden at the house we stayed in. And the chained library at the Hereford Cathedral was enchanting.

    1. The main difference for me is that the colours are reversed, the Persicaria roses have dark centres and paler outer petals whilst the ‘Summer wine’ rose is pale centre darker on the edges, the same goes for the hydrangeas.

  9. I am happy you may have more company now in the shade with the second parasol, Derrick. I also enjoyed the book/brochure that Jackie obtained for you about chained libraries. This would be extremely important in those days and I am so grateful some of the valuable tomes were saved and preserved. I posted awhile back about the University of Dayton getting a visiting library feast which included original copies of Alice in Wonderland, the Quran, antique Shakespeare plays with drawings and scrolling’s along the borders, . . . I am so glad I was able to go but didn’t post photographs, since this was at a time when I didn’t post photos!

  10. I love the idea of locking the readers inside a cage. The vase holding the sweet peas is very pretty. Maybe we need a tour through your house, sort of like the TV show Moving to the Country.

    1. It was very trusting of those prepared to be locked in that they’d be let out again. Imagine the power of the librarian, e.g. over someone he didn’t like!

  11. How very interesting….I had no idea about chained libraries. I particularly liked the library that locked readers in cages, ha ha. They needed to do what they must do to protect those rare volumes.

  12. What an absolutely fascinating thing – I have never heard of a chained library but I will certainly try and seek one out. The bear licking the fat into the shape of the cub she wants is a beautiful image and of course I must mention that lovely shady nook in your garden …. just lovely 🙂

  13. I cracked up reading about the chained library and have never heard of them before! Fascinating. You’re getting so good with your mysterious post titles, and again I learned something new. Thanks Derrick!

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