‘The first of rural bards’: Robert Bloomfield in Cambridge University Library

Robert Bloomfield

Robert Bloomfield (1766–1823), from a print of 1823. CUL CCA.34.16(17)

The poet Robert Bloomfield, author of The farmer’s boy, was born in Suffolk two hundred and fifty years ago, in December 1766. Of humble parentage, he worked briefly as a labourer on a nearby farm before moving to London to take up the trade of cobbler. The success of The farmer’s boy, a poem of some 1,500 lines describing the countryside and agricultural life through the seasons of the year, brought Bloomfield an intense though temporary celebrity, and a lasting reputation as one of the most significant of the uneducated rustic poets of the English tradition. John Clare, nowadays by far the more famous of the two, called Bloomfield ‘the first of Rural Bards’.

To mark the anniversary of his birth, a new exhibition in the Cambridge University Library’s Entrance Hall celebrates Bloomfield’s achievements as represented by his own writings and by works of art and music inspired by them. It draws on the Library’s Special Collections, including manuscript verse and autograph correspondence, and benefits from the acquisition in 1984 of the Bloomfield collection assembled by Robert F. Ashby (exhibits with CCA–CCE.34 classmarks).

The exhibition opens with an apparently unpublished manuscript memoir of Bloomfield, written by Walter Bloomfield, the son of the poet’s last surviving nephew; in an introductory letter the author declares that ‘the major portion of it contains information which must be new to everybody unconnected with my family’. The text is prefaced by a pedigree showing, among other things, Robert Bloomfield’s relationship to Charles James Blomfield (1786–1857), bishop of London.

Bloomfield worked on his masterpiece, The farmer’s boy, between May 1796 and April 1798. He composed most of the poem at his cobbler’s bench, keeping long sections in his head before they were written down: he chose rhyme because he found it easier to memorise than blank verse. The poem was championed by the Suffolk squire and radical editor Capel Lofft, and through his influence it was published in 1800. A copy of the first edition is on display. Following the success of The farmer’s boy many engraved portraits of Bloomfield appeared, often serving as frontispieces to editions of his works; the example in the exhibition, and shown above, engraved by Thomas Woolnoth (1785–1857) after Thomas Charles Wageman (1787–1863), appeared in the Ladies’ monthly museum and is unusual in setting Bloomfield against the backdrop of a rustic landscape.

Several settings of Bloomfield’s verse to music are known, most of them dating from his lifetime or shortly afterwards. The exhibition includes a setting of ‘Rosy Hannah’ by his elder brother Isaac (1762–1811), printed on paper watermarked 1801, which may have appeared before the poem was included in Bloomfield’s second collection, Rural tales, ballads, and songs, in 1802.

One of Bloomfield’s most popular poems, ‘The Fakenham ghost’, a humorous ballad ‘founded on a fact’ telling the story of an elderly woman who, walking home at night and fearing pursuit by supernatural terrors, discovers that she has been followed to her door by an ass’s foal, is represented in both manuscript and print. The manuscript appears to be a fair copy in the poet’s own hand; it is much more lightly punctuated than the published versions, and differs from them in some wordings. First collected in Rural tales, the poem was afterwards reprinted separately both in illustrated editions and in musical settings, and a broadsheet which is the earliest recorded illustrated version is on display. The unsigned plate follows the poem closely in details such as the hillside copse, the grazing deer, and the park gate, but makes no attempt to render the nocturnal setting.

Although associated through his poetry with Suffolk, Bloomfield spent little of his adult life there, and in his later years, which were marked by illness and financial difficulties, he lived in the small Bedfordshire town of Shefford. A handwritten letter on show, sent from Shefford to a Mr May less than a year before Bloomfield’s death, appears to refer to a possible reprinting of Nature’s music, his 1808 prose treatise on the Aeolian harp.

There are also posthumous publications on display, charting Bloomfield’s continuing appeal to later generations. Illustrated editions of Bloomfield’s verse appeared throughout the nineteenth century, and the 1857 first printing of the Routledge ‘complete’ edition of his works with engravings by Myles Birket Foster (1825–1899), which was reissued at least five times over the following thirty years, can be seen. A colourful edition of The horkey: a ballad, with illustrations by George Cruikshank, was published by Macmillan and Co. in 1882; ‘Horkey’ was a term for the harvest home feast current in the East of England. Bloomfield’s poem, subtitled ‘a provincial ballad’ when first printed in 1806, describes customs particularly associated with Suffolk harvest festivities, and which he believed were ‘going fast out of use’, and incorporates a number of East Anglian dialect terms. The exhibition finishes with a diminutive pamphlet edition of Bloomfield’s The drunken father, published around 1880 in aid of the temperance movement, with a preface by Walter Bloomfield, the poet’s kinsman and author of the manuscript memoir which opens the exhibition.

‘“The first of rural bards”: Robert Bloomfield (1766–1823) in word, music and image’ runs at Cambridge University Library until Saturday 14 January 2017 (closed Sundays and 24 December–2 January inclusive) during normal Library opening hours. For further information contact John Wells (e-mail: jdw1000[at]cam.ac.uk, telephone: 01223 333055).

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CALL FOR PAPERS: ‘Archival Afterlives’: Postwar Poetry in English, John Rylands Research Institute Conference, June 2017


The John Rylands Research Institute invites proposals for its 2017 conference on modern literary archives. Reflecting the strengths of the Special Collections at the John Rylands Library, the conference will focus in particular on archives related to postwar poetry in English.

‘Archival Afterlives’ will provide a forum for academic researchers, postgraduate students, curators, archivists, as well as poets to discuss their relationship with archival material, whether it be through creating, collecting or donating archives, or through using archival and material culture for inspiration, learning or research. The conference also takes place as part of a wider programme of activities at the John Rylands Research Institute and Library to facilitate the study of the holdings in modern and contemporary literature.

Submissions from researchers at any stage of their career, as well as from curators and archivists are welcome.

Proposals for 15-minute papers (250 words + affiliation) or panels should be submitted using the abstract submission form, and sent as attachments to jrri.conference2017@manchester.ac.uk by 15 January 2017.

Please visit the conference website for further information.



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Second Call for Papers – Archives and Records journal – special issue on ‘Archives and Museums’, spring 2018

 The traditional boundaries of the archival and curatorial professions are today beginning to crumble as archivists and curators increasingly become responsible for all aspects of heritage, be it textual, visual, cultural, built or material heritage. Both professions are currently debating how their traditional roles are now evolving and being challenged in the ever-changing heritage landscape. The need for cross-domain understanding and collaboration becomes more apparent, as the defining lines between archive and museum collections become more blurred.
These and other recent trends pose numerous questions about the intersection of archives and museums. For example:
  •  What are the commonalities and divergences between archival theory and material culture theory, and how can these inform professional practice on both sides?
  • What is the professional impact of the recent divergence of government strategy and funding for archives and museums?
  • How have archivists and curators developed historically as two different professions?
  • How are the traditional roles and skillsets of the archivist/curator and their areas of expertise being challenged into the 21st century?
  • How is digital technology changing the way that archive and museum professionals interact with archive and object collections and with each other?
  • How can archive and museum ‘best practice’ in collections management, cataloguing, accessibility and interpretation be shared, rethought and improved?
 This special issue of Archives and Records seeks to explore approaches to archives and museums taken from a wide range of disciplines. The issue aims to provide a space for encounters between researcher and practitioner discourses, and to encourage the fertile cross-pollination of ideas from archivists, curators, educators, users and scholars.
We invite papers on any aspect of archives and museums. Contributions might consider, but need not be confined to, the following themes:
  •  The archivist and the museum professional
  • Training and CPD
  • Collections management, standards and best practice
  • Definitions of objects, archives and ephemera
  • Material culture and archival theory
  • Cross-sectoral and cross-domain working in the culture and heritage industries
  • The impact of the digital world on archives and museums
Further details
The full Call For Papers is available at the homepage of the journal:
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Call for Participants: Institutions of Literature

The AHRC-funded ‘Institutions of Literature, 1700-1900’ research network is pleased to invite expressions of interest from scholars working on the histories and practices of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century institutions and from stakeholders and curators who work in surviving institutions originating from this period.  During 2017, the network will run workshops in Glasgow, London and York and conduct a series of online discussions in order to explore collaboratively the ways in which the literary institutions of this era arose and operated.  The network will also consider the ongoing consequences of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century institutional practices and interventions for twenty-first-century institutions.

Between 1700 and 1900, institutions came to play integral roles in literary culture: teaching people how to value writing; providing sites for discussion and networks for circulation; serving as archival repositories; raising and disbursing money; inventing new genres; distributing laurels and condemnations; and authoring works and conducting readings.  However, these important mediations have hitherto been underexplored, in large part due to the scale of institutions’ operations.  Institutional histories tend to be more difficult to map than the histories of prominent individuals.  They commonly involve numerous agents, span multiple generations and rely on archives that are often incomplete, extremely extensive, or both.  To help to negotiate this complexity, the network will bring together scholars and institutional stakeholders from a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines to explore the ways in which different institutions mediated literature. Through doing so, it will seek to trace collaboratively common practices and ideologies.

The network’s three workshops will each take as a theme a major way of understanding institutional practices.  The first, ‘Institutions as Curators’, will be held at the Hunterian Museum’s new premises at Kelvin Hall in Glasgow on the 31st of March and the 1st of April 2017.  This workshop will explore the changing manners in which institutions have conceived of and organised both disciplinary knowledge and physical collections.  The second, ‘Institutions as Networks’, will be held at the Society of Antiquaries in London on the 13th and 14th of July 2017.  This meeting will examine how institutions have served to connect and organise groups of people and things, considering the hierarchies that inhere in such arrangements and the points of connection between different clusters and ideals.  The final workshop, ‘Institutions as Actors’, will be held at King’s Manor, York in December 2017.  This concluding event will examine institutional identities, looking at how ideas and practices embed themselves and considering the points at which institutions themselves – as opposed to their officers and stakeholders – become perceived to be capable of performing actions.

Each workshop will feature a combination of papers from participants, roundtable discussions and more open sessions designed to facilitate the sharing of perspectives and expertise.  The funding kindly provided by the AHRC will allow us to keep the workshops free of charge for all participants and will let us provide travel and accommodation for the speakers at each event.

If you are interested in being involved with the network’s discussions, please email an expression of interest to Matthew Sangster, Jon Mee and Jenny Buckley at institutionsofliterature@gmail.com.  Please include your name, affiliation(s) (if applicable), a brief biographical statement (of around 100 words) and a short description of the institutions and topics in which you are currently most interested (around 250 words).  Please also indicate whether you would like to give a twenty-minute paper on your work at one of the workshops, or whether you would rather speak as part of a roundtable discussion or another kind of collaborative session.

The deadline for submitting expressions of interest is Monday December 19th; we’ll get back to you swiftly after this date.

You can also follow the network’s activities on our website, http://institutionsofliterature.net/.

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‘We Used to Correspond’ the letters of Barbara Pym and Philip Larkin (10th December 2016)

‘We used to correspond’: the letters of Barbara Pym and Philip Larkin

10 December 2016, 6.00pm — 8.00pm

Venue: Blackwell Hall, Weston Library, Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3BG

Reading of the letters of Philip Larkin and Barbara Pym by Oliver Ford Davies and Triona Adams, with introduction by Anthony Thwaite, OBE.

When Philip Larkin first wrote to Barbara Pym in 1961 it was the minor poet approaching the celebrated novelist. While their literary fortunes were to change dramatically the correspondence and the friendship remained steady over nearly 20 years. Highly entertaining, fascinating and often deeply moving, the Pym-Larkin letters tell the story of an extraordinary relationship between two very different characters united in their passion for the written word and of fall and rise of a literary career.

Tickets cost £20, including refreshments.

To book please contact the Friends of the Bodleian Administrator on 01865 277234 or at

Further details at

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GLAM Meeting – 11th April

The next GLAM meeting will be held in the Brotherton Library Gallery at the University of Leeds on April 11th 2016.

The meeting will discuss the results of our literary rights survey, include speakers from Elizabeth Gaskell’s House and the Brontë Parsonage and will wrap up with our business meeting.

If you have any queries about the meeting or would like to attend, please contact Joanne Fitton (J.C.Fitton@leeds.ac.uk).


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Archivist as Interpreter – BL event

A reminder of the Archivist as Interpreter event being held at the BL on Friday 4th March. This event will explore the ways in which archivists and cultural heritage professionals interpret their collections.

For more information and to book a place at the event, please see here.

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Alice in Wonderland at the BL

Don’t forget that the British Library exhibition on Alice in Wonderland in the Front Hall Gallery is still open to explore until April 17th. Curated by Helen Melody, the exhibition celebrates 150 years since the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Find out more about the exhibition here and more about a range of events being put on by the BL to compliment the exhibition on their Events Calendar.

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Heritage Lottery Funding allows exciting expansion of Seven Stories literary collections

Here at GLAM we are thrilled to announce that in November 2014 Seven Stories was awarded £341,500 from Heritage Lottery Fund’s ‘Collecting Cultures’ programme (the only institution in the North East to have received funding in this round). The funding has enabled Seven Stories to make several artwork purchases.  It has also supported acquisition-related costs of a number of archives received by donation, including the following:

Beverley Naidoo Archive

The archive of the award-wining author of Journey to Jo-Burg (1985) includes material relating to her published novels, short stories and anthologies, draft material and correspondence, as well as her non fictional titles and research into equality, diversity and multiculturalism in children’s literature.  The collection also includes educational resources, fan mail and responses to Beverley’s work.  This archive has already been the inspiration for a fantastic theatre in education project with Shotton Hall Academy in County Durham.

Elisabeth Beresford Archive

The archive of Elisabeth Beresford (The Wombles) represents her entire career and includes manuscripts, proofs, correspondence, notes, research papers, and publicity material relating to most of her titles for children. Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the papers relate to the Wombles books, television series, merchandise, and continuing legacy. However, Beresford’s earlier career as a writer of adventure stories (such as her Magic series) is also strongly represented as well as her other writings for print and television, of which she produced a considerable amount throughout her life.

Michael Morpurgo Archive

The collection comprises draft manuscripts, photographs, notebooks and related correspondence from Morpurgo’s first publication It Never Rained (1974) to his most recent An Eagle in the Snow (2015).   Highlights include material relating to the adaptation of War Horse from book to stage to screen; research notes and drafts of Morpurgo’s many talks and lectures including his iconic Dimbleby lecture, ‘Set our Children Free’ (2011); manuscripts of unpublished early work; typewritten manuscripts from Ted Hughes of the poems he wrote for All Around the Year (1979), an early collaboration with Morpurgo.

The Morpurgo archive will be showcased in a major exhibition, to be launched at Seven Stories on 1 July 2016.

Research for the Michael Morpurgo exhibition is being supported through a new Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between Seven Stories and Newcastle University’s School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics, and funded by InnovateUK and the Arts and Humanities Council (AHRC).  This is the first KTP involving an English department; to date the KTP scheme has usually been used to support collaborations in the field of science and technology.


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GLAM Survey of Rights in Literary Collections LIVE!!

The long anticipated GLAM survey of rights in literary collections is here!
The survey has been designed in survey monkey for all members to participate. It will be open for 6 weeks (closing 19th January). Please follow the link below:
Results will be reported on the GLAM website and fed back to members at the next meeting on 11th April in Leeds.
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