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The Scrivener: Of Chooks And Books

Brian Barratt, descended from a centuries-long line of professional bookmen, expressed his early enthusiasm for the printed word by reading aloud to feathered friends.

Someone has asked me to give a talk to her U3A group on 'my life in books'. I'm not sure where to begin, so I might start with the chooks.

We call them chooks in Australia. In England in the 1940s, we called them hens but my father called them 'the birds'. Anyway, I used to read to them. At a very early age, I would take my little stool down the garden, sit outside the wire-netting gate of the chicken run, and read aloud from my favourite books. They enjoyed it, I'll have you know. They clustered round, cocked their heads to one side in the way chooks do, and uttered appreciative little clucks and squawks.

Perhaps 'books in the blood' or 'ink in our veins' explain why I did this. There were books all over the house — in book-cases, on the Welsh dresser, in the sideboard cupboards, on an old wash-stand on the upstairs landing. They were part of life and ancestry.

A William Barret worked in partnership with William Blount, the printer of The First Folio of the works of Shakespeare in 1623. The same or another William Barret worked with another printer of Shakespeare’s work, William Stansby, in the early/mid 1600s. The links here are speculative. More concrete evidence of our Barretts/Barratts in the book trade can be found at Oxford University.

The Bodleian and at least three other Oxford libraries have books which bear the tickets of Barratt, Binder, Oxford. I have the original copperplate of these tickets, dating from the late 1700s. Some years ago, an archivist at Oxford confirmed:
The University Archives holds records relating to members of the University and, to a very limited extent, to ‘privileged persons’; the latter category including tradesmen, such as bookbinders. I have looked in Joseph Foster’s ‘Alumni Oxoniensis 1715–1886’

…There was a John Barrett, bibliopola (i.e. bookseller) who was admitted as a privileged person on 6 February 1744. A Thomas Barratt bibliopegus (bookbinder), was similarly admitted on 27 April 1798.

John was my ancestor. Thomas was his son or perhaps grandson; the gap between the dates could indicate another generation.

Thomas Barratt's son William was a bookseller at Bartholomew Place, London. He died at the age of about 26, which seems to be far too young. However, disease was rife in overcrowded and insanitary London at that time. Burial grounds were overflowing and had to be closed. William's two daughters died in infancy. Sadly, we have to assume that they and he succumbed to cholera.

William's son, my grandfather William George Barratt, did not enter the book trade. He was sent to a school for underprivileged boys, went into service, and became a gentleman's gentleman — a servant, steward and gardener for various members of the gentry. As well as being a peripatetic chap, fond of a drink, he was a studious reader. It is thanks to him that several books dating from the 1700s and 1800s have been handed down and are now in one of my book-cases.

There were a few booky people on my mother's side of the family, too. The most notable was Thomas Ordoyno of Coddington, near Newark-on-Trent. As a botanist he became famous for his authoritative book Flora Nottinghamiensis (The Flora of Nottinghamshire), which was published in 1807. One of the subscribers was Lord Byron.

Later, one of his relations, Charles Sambrook Ordoyno, was a printer in Pannier Close, Nottingham. He was perhaps notorious rather than famous in very different ventures to those of Thomas — he supported the Luddites. Around 1812, he printed The Miseries of the Framework Knitters, a song which denounced the advent of machinery and conditions of employment in the local lace and stocking manufacturing industry.

Several other Ordoynos were involved in different aspects of the publishing and printing trades.

A few years after reading to the chooks, I started writing and illustrating my own little books. They were about Mother Nature's flowers, trees and birds. By the time I was in my mid-teens, they were about religion and theology. They're all tucked away somewhere in the archives. Not in the great libraries of Oxford University, but in a filing cabinet in my study.

The flow continued. In the 1970s, as a publisher working closely with authors, illustrators, book designers, typesetters and printers, I produced about 60 titles. As an author in the 1990s, I wrote seven books for gifted students and their teachers and about 40 articles for educational journals. Since then, I've had about 300 essays and articles, and about 300 pages of informative material, published on the Net.

Sorry, this is getting boring now. The chooks wouldn't have stayed to listen to it all, but I hope the U3A group will find it interesting enough.

© Copyright Brian Barratt

To read more of Brian's gorgeously engaging words please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/the_scrivener/

And do visit his Web site


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