A new digital showcase: Special Collections scrapbooks

Robin McKinlay introduces a fascinating showcase of scrapbooks held within the Special Collections.



Since starting in my Digitisation Assistant role in September 2014, one of the projects I have inherited and continued to work on has been to research a collection of four 19th century scrapbooks. These scrapbooks were handpicked by Elizabeth Carter after a visit to King's Manor Special Collections, which are now housed in the Raymond Burton Library. Although each of the scrapbooks has a different compiler, they are connected by common themes such as architecture, travel and York history. The Digital York team is pleased to present these scrapbooks to you in a new digital showcase:


The first scrapbook, entitled 'Scrapbooks of architectural photographs from various countries', is an impressive collection of photographs of cathedral architecture. These images were collected and compiled by George Wilson, about whom we know very little. You can read the detective work that went into working out who he was and why he had such an large collection of images of mostly French cathedrals, each one annotated and organised into groups of architectural features. Captured within the scrapbook are hundreds of cathedral interiors and exteriors, and even a handful of images that capture the effects of wartime bombardments on these buildings.


Reims Cathedral west front after a bombardment

York Minster architectural features
'York Cathedral: description of the door way entering into the chapter house' was compiled by John Carter, who was possibly England's first architectural journalist, working through the late 18th century and into the 19th century. Very committed to his work, he had a passion for Gothic architecture and was very outspoken about anyone trying to do anything different (what he called 'Innovation'). You can read about his tumultuous professional life, which saw him develop a nemesis, argue with the wealthy in various publications, but also find happiness in York Minster.

The scrapbook that we have in our Special Collections contains some of his intricate drawings from his work in York, as well as a written description of his observations.



Also featured in our showcase is a scrapbook compiled by William Wilberforce Morrell. This scrapbook contains an eclectic mixture of images, including photographs from around York, cathedral architecture and illustrations collected from travels abroad. Kath Webb, archivist at the Borthwick Institute for Archives and researcher into the Morrell family, reflects on the historical value of scrapbooks and why this scrapbook in particular interests her.




York Minster
The final item featured in our showcase documents an extensive trip to the Middle East. The author of this scrapbook is unknown, but we do know that it had three contributors with the initials BB, IB and TWB. This scrapbook contains an intriguing collection of images of an expedition conducted by three (possibly) British men and their group of local guides (or dragomans).

Through photographs and sketches, they managed to capture places of archaeological significance in Egypt, Israel and Jordan before the effects of commercial travel became visible. These include images of the pyramids at Giza, the Valley of Jordan and the streets of Jerusalem.

Within the pages there is a great sense of the authors exploring the unknown, not just because of the ground they managed to cover, but in the way they have recorded cultural differences such as dress, as well as architectural styles and street scenes.


The complete travelling group outside their tents in Beirut
The main aim of this showcase is to highlight what we have available at the University, as these are just some of the items available to be viewed in the Library's Special Collections. To see more, we encourage you to explore the Special Collections web page and ask to view items in the Borthwick Institute’s searchroom.



For more information:

The Digital Showcase not only lets you browse the scrapbooks, but also provides the background of each in far more detail:


You can also view these image collections, and a host of other resources, on our Digital Library:



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