Monday, 19 October 2015

A new book for Special Collections - the sad tale of Mary, the maid of the inn

Sarah Griffin, Special Collections and York Minster Librarian, introduces the new addition to our unique collection of books printed in York.

Title page of Mary, Maid of the inn
One of the strengths of Special Collections is a wonderful selection of books printed in York. Many of these can be seen in the exhibition currently in the cases in the Harry Fairhurst corridor.

One of York’s best known printers was James Kendrew who had a shop on Colliergate at the beginning of the nineteenth century. He specialised in producing cheap books for children known as Chapbooks. Chapbooks were so called as they were distributed and sold by the Chapman, another name for a travelling salesman.

Kendrew was also responsible for printing books aimed more at the adult audience and last month one of these came up for sale in London. We were lucky enough to be able to buy it for our collection so here’s a first peek at our latest acquisition.

It’s a terribly sad story called Mary, the maid of the inn and is based on a poem written by Robert Southey in 1796. To settle a bet, Mary has to visit an old abbey (reputed to be Kirkstall Abbey in Yorkshire) at the dead of night to bring back a bough from an alder tree that grows there. Horror strikes when she sees her fiancĂ© Richard burying the body of a murdered man. The coloured woodcut engraving shows the moment when Mary hears the men bringing the body into the Abbey. Richard is hanged for the crime and poor Mary goes mad with grief.

This short tale is a great addition to our Kendrew collection and is available for study, as are all the books in Special Collections. For more information please contact Sarah Griffin, Special Collections Librarian.

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