The Lost Books of Ella F.Graves

Monday, January 24, 2011

I am one of those people who spends ages in charity shops looking for an old book that needs a new home. Personally I love books that have inscriptions, I think it gives you more of a sense of the book's history, where it has been and who owned it- call me a romantic but I love to imagine who read books before me and where they were going or living when they read it. When I visited home this weekend my Mum had been to a charity shop in Alresford near Winchester, and picked up two books for me that she thought I would enjoy. In my eyes the books are treasures for three reasons:

1. My Mum picked them- that in itself is pretty cool.
2. The names scribbled inside the books match, and they were separated by a few other books in the shop, so for Mum to pick two random matches is something Derren Brown would be proud of.
3.They are both works of Shakespeare, and not just that but the inscription says The Imperial Theatre. Intriguing eh?

So I got on my Miss Marple hat and tapped some info into Google and bingo! I found the theatre. This was The Imperial Theatre, London which opened in 1876, under the name The Aquarium Theatre, a woman called Lillie Langtry took over the theatre after it closed in 1899 and reopened it in 1901 as The Imperial. The last play held there was in 1906, Dix and Sutherland's Boy O'Carrol, after which the whole building was dismantled and relocated to Canning Town where it once again reopened as The Imperial Palace finally it was refurbished and transformed into a cinema, an identity it maintained until it was destroyed by a fire in 1931. Fascinating!

The woman who once owned the books now on my shelf was called Ella F. Graves and she signed King Lear in February 1911 and King Henry V February 1905, so she may have moved with the theatre to Canning Town. I have yet to discover whether she was an actress, stage hand or usherette and I'm excited to find out.

What I find beautiful about old books is how often time is kind to them. Ella F Graves left a ribbon inside King Lear, at a first glance I thought part of the paper had come loose and was clinging on to the book by a bare thread, but when I opened the book to find the page that Ella had saved, I saw that the faded straggly ribbon had been preserved by the pages and still held a delicate light blue colour- somehow this makes me very happy and adds a touch more magic to these charity shop treasures. 

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