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September 2012

Posted on 01/09/2012

A Bagful of Mirth 

MushroomsFrontCover  MushroomsPlate11 

641.358 COO     

While browsing along the shelves of Level 3 of the Bedford Library, in early summer 2009, I came across M. C. Cooke, Edible and poisonous mushrooms: what to eat and what to avoid. Although somewhat bashed and battered, mainly by librarians (viz. sellotaped location number at foot of spine, yellow sticker at head of spine, barcode, date stamp label and security tag), it holds its interest through the pictorial cover, its eighteen coloured plates illustrating forty-eight species, all present, and more particularly by its R.H.C. Botanical Laboratory book plate, annotated by hand as follows:

`Dec. 1934. Presented to R.H.C. Botany Library by Miss Frost (once lecturer in Mathematics) who, in her spare time was not only `college photographer' + an entertaining actress, but `kept a private frying-pan' in college for her experiments in toad-stool cookery'.

An inscription reveals that the book was a gift to Catherine Frost from her brother on February 15th 1906. She was Lecturer in Mathematics at Royal Holloway, and retired in 1907. She provided many donations to the College between 1907 and 1919, e.g. books on mathematics and archaeology.

The book provides some interesting and intriguing clues to Catherine Frost the donor. These clues lead to facts which can be confirmed in Royal Holloway's Archives. Many of the early College photograph albums and pictures are Miss Frost's work, e.g. album of photographs taken by Miss Frost of Royal Holloway College interior, exterior and grounds (RHC/25/10/6/3), Album of photographs taken by Miss Frost, of staff, students and drama productions (RHC/25/10/6/5), etc. The last-mentioned, dating from before 1910, includes a handwritten note referring to `Miss Frost who took these full plate photographs - & developed them [she developed at night, in the dark.]'. There are photos in the Archives of Miss Frost herself, including a cabinet photograph and a photograph of Miss Frost in her study (RHC/PH/115/11).

In Caroline Bingham's The history of Royal Holloway College 1886 - 1986, London, Constable, 1987, p. 75, reference is also made to Miss Frost as one of the original resident women staff `Miss Catherine Frost (Senior Staff Lecturer in Mathematics, 1887-1907), "demurely concealing a bagful of mirth and mimicry”'.

No mention is made of her frying pan.

John Tuck, Director of Library Services


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