Advent and After: 8. Handel’s Messiah

For the Second Sunday in Advent, the theme for readings and the lighting of the advent candle in Church services is the Biblical prophets, whose writings also inspired Handel’s oratorio ‘The Messiah’. The work was premiered in April 1742 in Dublin but is now associated with Advent, including the annual performance by the Huddersfield Choral Society, who also performed it on their foundation in 1836.

Signature of Thomas Dawson in SPEC G35.11

Signature of Thomas Dawson in SPEC G35.11

19th-century performances of the Messiah and other oratorios in Liverpool were recorded by Thomas Dawson, a surgeon on Rodney Street, in his pamphlet collection of annotated musical programmes (1805-1861) .Alongside glees, and performances by the splendidly-named Italian singer Madame Pasta, Dawson’s bound volume of oratorios records that the Messiah was performed by “numerous and complete band and chorusses, assisted by the celebrated Lancashire singers” for the opening of St Philip’s Church on Hardman Street in 1816, by the Liverpool Choral Society in 1817, at the Liverpool Musical Festival in 1823 and 1827, and for the opening of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society’s new concert hall in 1849.

Title page vignette from Spec G35.11Charity performances of selections from the oratorio were given by the pupils of the School for the Indigent Blind, at the Music Hall on Bold St in 1819; at Great Neston church for Neston National School in 1820; and at the Isle of Man Musical Festival in 1825, for the Insular Charities.Through such performances, massed choirs and audiences could listen to The Messiah, but a much smaller number would see a very different local publication of the text from 1960. Bert Jackson’s publication for the Lilac Tree Press at Wallasey, on the Wirral, with original illustrations by Gareth Davies was printed in a run of only six copies.

February Highlight: Flu season is here!

image of Dawson W. Turner's Rules for Simple Hygiene

Dawson W. Turner's Rules for Simple Hygiene

 The flu season is in full swing and whilst many of us will be heading to the doctors or staying at home in bed, those who had the misfortune to be ill during the Victorian period had different methods of self-treatment. In Rules for Simple Hygiene, compiled by Dawson W. Turner (1815–1885), Head Master of The Royal Institution School at Liverpool, a set of 23 rules were given for hygiene along with remedies for 40 accidents and diseases.

According to such rules a person should:

“eschew all hot and heavy suppers unless [they] wish for an attack of nightmare”
“not plaster down [their] hair with hog’s lard . . . the hair is meant to assist in carrying off perspiration and should not be clogged with grease”.

And when having a wash in the morning be sure to

“put your face deep into the basin; open and shut your eyes two or three times looking at the bottom of the basin . . . turn the head on one side, in turns, and fill each ear with cold water, shake the head and the water will run out”.

image of Advice no.12 from Rules for Simple Hygiene

Advice no.12 from Rules for Simple Hygiene

Many of these rules would be seen today as entertaining rather than informative but at the time they were taken more seriously. Revised and corrected by “seven eminent Medical Men” who had some connection with hospitals in London and Liverpool, Rules for Simple Hygiene was produced from 1869 and ran to seven editions, the second of which is held here in the University Archives in poster form.

Spec G35.9(8): Report of Cases before the Liverpool Pathological Society

Spec G35.9(8): Report of Cases before the Liverpool Pathological Society

Other collections within Special Collections and Archives relate to the health of the public and the progress of medical knowledge, for example the Liverpool pamphlets collected by the Liverpool surgeon Thomas Dawson. Two volumes are devoted to Medicine, including the Report of cases before the Liverpool Pathological Society, Session 1843-4. The drawing shown here depicts a lung suffering from gangrene which was drawn from the pathological findings of a 31-year-old market-woman who had been suffering from bronchitis.


These and other collections of Medical books, all of which can be searched through the Special Collections & Archives webpages, give an insight into how illnesses were interpreted and treated.

Sian Wilks, Archivist