News and Events

From Monday 9th August 2021 the Reading Room is open without restricted hours. Masks and social distancing are still required, with a maximum of 4 people allowed in the room at any one time.

Forthcoming events

All events are held in Saffron Walden Library except where stated. There is no charge for admission and non-members are welcome. The Library has disabled access.

GLS Members will be sent a Zoom invitation for meetings via the GLS email ; Members can also contact Peter Walker via the Library if they do not have email.

Details for the 2022 meetings will be available at a later date.

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© Gibson Library Society, 2017-2021           

The events of the last 12 months

Thursday 9th December 2021 at 8:00 pm via Zoom

The Library: a Fragile History - An illustrated talk by Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen

Famed across the known world, jealously guarded by private collectors, built up over centuries, destroyed in a single day, ornamented with gold leaf and frescoes or filled with bean bags and children's drawings - the history of the library is rich, varied and stuffed full of incident.

In this presentation, Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen discussed their beautifully illustrated new book, the first major history of its kind, which explores the contested and dramatic history of the library, from the famous collections of the ancient world to the embattled public resources we cherish today. Along the way, they introduced us to the antiquarians and philanthropists who shaped the world's great collections, trace the rise and fall of fashions and tastes, and reveal the high crimes and misdemeanours committed in pursuit of rare and valuable manuscripts.

Andrew Pettegree, FBA, is Professor of Modern History at the University of St Andrews and Director of the Universal Short Title Catalogue. He is the author of over a dozen books in the fields of Reformation history and the history of communication including Reformation and the Culture of Persuasion, The Book in the Renaissance, The Invention of News, and Brand Luther: 1517, Print and the Making of the Reformation.

Arthur der Weduwen is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow and Deputy Director of the Universal Short Title Catalogue project at St Andrews. The Library, a Fragile History is his fifth book

. The Gibson Stork

Thursday 14th October 2021 at 8:00 pm via Zoom

Out of the cage, the art of Isabel Rawsthorne - an illustrated talk by Carol Jacobi

Isabel Rawsthorne was hidden in plain sight - hundreds of likenesses in museums around the world kept her secrets. This talk revealed her daring life and the sixty years of art she made from it through the upheavals of the 20th century and original relationships with some of its most fascinating figures, including Jacob Epstein, Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon. More than a decade of research has also bought to light her role in a rebel group at Liverpool School of Art, her secret role in wartime intelligence and the importance of her exceptional, unknown, late work. In 1953, she moved to Sudbury Cottage near Little Sampford and remained until her death in 1992, where her work was inspired by the wildlife and landscape, such as the bright yellow fields of canola. Bacon, Giacometti and many poets and musicians visited her there.

Dr Carol Jacobi has taught, curated, written and broadcast widely on 19th- and 20th-century art and is a Curator of British Art at Tate Britain. She has lectured and published on Isabel Rawsthorne and her circle for over a decade, including the award-winning "British Art in the Nuclear Age" and "Picasso's portraits of Isabel Rawsthorne" in the Burlington Magazine as well as Out of the Cage: The Art of Isabel Rawsthorne.

Thursday 9th September 2021 at 8:00 pm via Zoom
Memorial Lecture on Audley End

The Gibson Library Society held a special lecture in memory of the late Lizzie Sanders of Littlebury. An artist, writer and local historian, Lizzie was for many years secretary of the Gibson Library Society and an active supporter of the Library.

Audley End and its local, national and global connections - An illustrated talk by Andrew Hann

It is impossible to understand a country estate like Audley End without also studying its local context, those nearby communities that were intimately linked with the site over many centuries. This is something Lizzie Sanders clearly recognised, and her collected works provide a rich account of the people and places around Audley End and their evolution through time. In this paper Andrew explored some of these fascinating micro-histories through the lens of the various projects he has been involved with since joining English Heritage in 2007. He also looked to widen the focus, exploring Audley End's regional, national and global connections through looking at the people who lived and worked here, the collections accumulated in the house and gardens and the importance of the house as a site associated with significant moments in our history.

Dr Hann is head of the Historians team at English Heritage. He specialises in researching country houses and historic gardens, and also has an interest in contested heritage, material culture and working with volunteers. He leads on research collaborations with external partners and manages English Heritage's collaborative doctoral programme. Andrew has worked extensively on Audley End since joining English Heritage in 2007 and was the lead historian for the major projects in the service wing, stable yard and children's nursery. He has also supervised two PhD students working on different aspects of Audley End's history. Currently Andrew is working with colleagues on activities to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Polish SOE agents at Audley End in 2022, and on an initiative to enhance storytelling at the site.

Thursday 8th July 2021 at 8:00 pm via Zoom
Burning the Books
Richard Ovenden OBE

Richard Ovenden described the deliberate destruction of knowledge held in libraries and archives from ancient Alexandria to contemporary Sarajevo, from smashed Assyrian tablets in Iraq to the destroyed immigration documents of the United Kingdom's Windrush generation. He examined both the motivations for these acts - political, religious, and cultural - and the broader themes that shape this history. He also looked at attempts to prevent and mitigate attacks on knowledge, exploring the efforts of librarians and archivists to preserve information, often risking their own lives in the process.

Richard Ovenden is Bodley's Librarian (the senior Executive position of the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford) since 2014. Fellow, Society of Antiquaries and Royal Society of Arts; Member, American Philosophical Society; Treasurer, the Consortium of European Research Libraries; President, the Digital Preservation Coalition. Awarded the OBE by The Queen in 2019.

Thursday 17th June 2021 at 8:00 pm via Zoom
Book Wars: The Impact of the Digital Revolution on the Publishing Industry
John B. Thompson

How has the oldest of our media industries, the book publishing industry, been affected by the great technological revolution of our time? Other media industries, like music and newspapers, have been turned upside down by the digital revolution, as consumers choose to access content digitally and advertising revenues migrate to online platforms. Will the same thing happen to the book publishing industry? Is the story of the music industry the future of the book foretold?

John Thompson has studied the impact of the digital revolution on the book publishing industry for over a decade and he will provide a well-informed, surprising and counter-intuitive account of the disruption caused by the greatest challenge the book publishing industry has faced since Gutenberg.

John B. Thompson is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge. His many books include Books in the Digital Age (2005), Merchants of Culture (2010) and Book Wars (2021).

Thursday 20th May 2021 at 8:00 pm via Zoom
Plague and Print Culture in William Winstanley's The Christians Refuge: or Heavenly Antidotes Against the Plague (1665)
Dr Kathleen Miller

In 1665, a minute book entitled The Christians Refuge: or Heavenly Antidotes Against the Plague was published, responding to the harrowing epidemic ravaging London. Drawing from contemporary print sources, the book's author, William Winstanley, a writer and publisher who lived in Saffron Walden and Quendon, engaged with a range of the texts used to inform citizens about the disease, such as the London bills of mortality and plague broadsides. This talk explored how plague was conveyed on the page during the Great Plague of London, using Winstanley's book as a starting point to consider religious, medical and statistical understanding of the disease. In addition to images from Winstanley's book, attendees viewed corresponding examples from London's plague print culture in 1665, including composite plague bills, recipes for cures, London bills of mortality and plague broadsides.

Dr Kathleen Miller is a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellow (University of Toronto/Queen's University Belfast), working on women's plague writing in early modern England. Her first monograph, The Literary Culture of Plague in Early Modern England (2016), was published with Palgrave Macmillan's Early Modern Literature in History Series. She co-edited Dublin: Renaissance City of Literature (2017), which was published with Manchester University Press.

Wednesday 12th May 2021 at 8:00 pm via Zoom
The Gibson Library Society AGM

The AGM took place via Zoom; the Agenda and papers involved are present on the GLS website .

Thursday 17th April 2021 at 8:00 pm via Zoom
A New World in Essex; The Rise and Fall of the Purleigh Brotherhood Colony, 1896-1903
Victor Gray

In the late 1890s widespread concern about the ills of late-Victorian society resulted in a group of Christian socialists, setting out to build an alternative to the harsh realities of urban life. Known as the Brotherhood Church, and influenced by the writings of Leo Tolstoy, they set up a self-sufficient community in the Essex village of Purleigh, where they could live out their belief in equality of labour and reward.

Despite the commitment, enthusiasm and sheer hard work poured into it, the colony lasted barely three years, but it had a strong influence on many progressive thinkers and experiments in the following decades. The ideas behind it and the causes of its failure remain relevant to this day.

Victor Gray is the author of a pioneering new book on the Brotherhood Colony in Purleigh. A former County Archivist of Essex, he was awarded an Honorary Degree by the University of Essex in 1993 for his contribution to the study and publication of Essex history. In 2014 he was made a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the University of Suffolk. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and was awarded an M.B.E. in 2010 for services to British archives.

Thursday 18th March 2021 at 8:00 pm via Zoom
The Archaeological Landscapes of Essex - A very rapid overview from 40,000 BC to 1500 AD
Maria Medlycott

The talk was an overview of 40,000 years of archaeology in Essex and how the archaeological finds are shaped by and in turn shape the landscape of the county. It covered the end of the Ice Age, the introduction of farming, the creation of large-scale monuments, the development of the road network, villages and towns and the exploitation of the coastal marshes and woodlands. The talk included examples from north-west Essex and the results of recent excavations. The talk demonstrated the range and significance of the archaeology of what is often a misunderstood count.

Maria Medlycott came to Essex by accident in 1986, and has been working with the archaeology of the county ever since. Starting with the large-scale excavations at Stansted Airport she moved on to the A120 and numerous smaller sites. In 1995-9 she undertook the Historic Towns Surveys of 32 historic Essex towns, followed by a period of publishing back-log reports including the Roman town of Great Chesterford and the Prehistoric site at Springfield Lyons, Chelmsford. She has undertaken numerous landscape studies ranging from the Essex coastal grazing-marshes to a World Heritage comparison study of historic wetlands for the Waddensee coast (Netherlands/Germany/Denmark).

Thursday 11th February 2021 at 8:00 pm via Zoom
Benjamin Lay and the Struggle against Slavery
Marcus Rediker

This lecture explored the life and times of Benjamin Lay (1682-1759), the Quaker dwarf who became one of the first ever to demand the total, unconditional emancipation of all enslaved Africans around the world. Born in Essex, he lived in a cave in Abington, Pennsylvania, made his own clothes, refused to consume anything produced by slave labor, championed animal rights, embraced vegetarianism, and defended the environment. He put his ideals into action and created a new, practical, revolutionary way of life. The lecture is based on Rediker's book, The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf who became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist (Verso, 2017).

Marcus Rediker is Distinguished Professor of Atlantic History at the University of Pittsburgh. His books, which include The Many Headed Hydra (with Peter Linebaugh, 2000), The Slave Ship (2007), and The Amistad Rebellion (2012), have won numerous prizes and been translated into sixteen languages. He is the producer of the award-winning documentary film Ghosts of Amistad (Tony Buba, director), about the popular memory of the 1839 Amistad rebellion in contemporary Sierra Leone. He is currently Guest Curator in the JMW Turner gallery at Tate Britain.

Thursday 21st January 2021 at 8:00 pm via Zoom
The Origins of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology and Richard Cornwallis Neville
Howard Williams

Richard Cornwallis Neville, fourth Baron Braybrooke (1820-1861), was a keen archaeologist, who for many years devoted himself to the study of natural history, and to the investigation of the Bronze Age, Roman, and Saxon remains in the neighbourhood of Audley End, Essex, and ultimately attained a distinguished position among the practical archaeologists of his day. At Audley End he created a museum of antiquities of every period, which consisted chiefly of objects brought to light at the Roman station at Great Chesterford, or at other sites of Roman occupation in the vicinity of Audley End, and at the Saxon cemeteries excavated under his directions near Little Wilbraham and Linton in Cambridgeshire during 1851 and 1852. In this talk Howard Williams presented an over-view of his life and archaeological work paying particular attention to his contribution to archaeology of the Anglo-Saxon period.

Howard Williams is Professor of Archaeology at the University of Chester and researches public archaeology and archaeologies of death and memory. He writes an academic blog: Archaeodeath, and is co-editor of the Offa's Dyke Journal and former Honorary Editor of the Royal Archaeological Institute's Archaeological Journal (2012-2017). Recent books include The Public Archaeology of Frontiers and Borderlands (co-edited with Kieran Gleave and Pauline Clarke, 2020); Digging into the Dark Ages: Early Medieval Public Archaeologies (co-edited with Pauline Clarke, 2020), Public Archaeology: Arts of Engagement (co-edited with Afnan Ezzeldin and Caroline Pudney, 2019), The Public Archaeology of Death (co-edited with Ben Wills-Eve and Jennifer Osborne, Equinox, 2019).