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I ran into Miss Passavant, the librarian, just now. She stopped me on our corridor and asked where I got my burgundy shawl from. I told her that the late Mr Sabgalle brought it for me from the colonies (I don’t exactly know where) when he was fighting overseas in the second Boer War. She found my surname curious (my maiden name is much less glamorous, I can assure you) and we had a good old chat about foreign sounding names. It turns out that her father, a yarn merchant in Potter Newton, was originally from Frankfurt, Germany and her mother was born in Milan. She herself was born in Knostrop near here. She told me how they all spoke German and English at home. She’s been a subscriber in the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, and I’ve seen her before at some lectures but never chatted. She was very curious how I came to be a typist in Sir Michael’s office and was very saddened to hear how difficult it is to support my daughter and make ends meet from such a small living. She’s really old now and has been the librarian forever! I’ve heard elsewhere (the Registrar’s typing pool, that is) that Dr Bragg will be appointed to supervise her or something like that. As if she couldn’t do without men looking over her shoulders! She’s done a great job with that library.

I myself have always found the library a dark and damp place, I do much prefer the public library in town. Ms Passavant, too, is really unhappy about the shortage of space. It is in the undercroft of the Great Hall here at the University of Leeds. There are books overflowing pretty much everywhere by now, so she started to distribute books all around the campus. It’s like Sir Michael hanging his valuable paintings left right and centre – well not exactly, because she’s just short of space, whereas Sir Michael does it to, you know, make high-brow art accessible for all and sundry. They’ve just finished the building works on the link between the Great Hall and the Baines wing and he already has a plan to hang some of his expensive Japanese pictures on the walls there. I think it’s reckless, and, to be honest, most of the staff already grumble about his ‘questionable taste’ in art. I admire his collection, but not everyone appreciates beauty the same way.

Anyway, back to the library question: everyone wants a new library, it is just almost unimaginable at this point where it should be and what it should look like. Well, as I said, I do think this present location is quite unsuitable myself. The students have a hard time accessing books and, frankly, the study space is overcrowded and smells of boot polish, ink and God knows what else our students smuggle in in their overcoats. The university is no longer a mining college, and I know Sir Michael’s vision is to turn it into a world-famous university within a few decades. Surely such an institution cannot put building a brand new modern and spacious library off for much longer. But who’s going to pay for it, I pray?

“Fanny Juliet Passavant, 1849-1944, librarian of Yorkshire College, later the University of Leeds, daughter of Frankfurt-born Philip Wilhelm Passavant (1800-1881) and Emily née Steinhauser (1815-1896), grand-daughter of Pastor Jakob Passavant 1751-1827, a friend of Goethe, son of a Frankfurt merchant. The family belonged therefore to the West Riding Anglo-German community but their descent can be traced from the early Huguenot emigré Rodolphe-Emmanuel Passavant (né à Strassbourg 1641, son of Claude Passavant, 1593-1653, of Bourgogne) who originally went from France into Germany. And Emily Steinhauser was born in Milan so the connections are various and interesting to my theme. Fanny was born in Knostrop but the family appears in the local directories of Leeds from 1845 as well as the census of 1851. Morrish draws extensively on the work diaries that Miss Passavant kept during her long service in the library starting in 1885 so she is one of the better recorded active librarians and over a long period for she only retired in 1919. Her career is also exemplary for the period of the transition of the civic colleges to university status and the predicament of women staff of application but uncertain qualifications.”

Stephen W. Massil: “Immigrant Librarians in Britain: Huguenots and Some Others“, Paper read at the World Library and Information Congress, 1-9 August 2003, Berlin.

Miss Fanny Passavant’s work as a librarian is discussed in S. Morrish, ‘Fanny Juliet Passavant (1849-1944): a Leeds librarian’, Library History 12, 1996, 126-41.

The Passavant family living in Dela Haye House, Potter Newton is mentioned in the 1880 census.

We know she was a five shilling subscriber to the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society as early as 1866 from the Annual Report of the Society. She would have to pay £18 for a year’s membership now – but I’m sure she would!

Read more about the library that was going to be built:

In 1912, the Brotherton Library, which now looks ancient in its grandeur and tiny compared to the sprawling Edward Boyle Library on the other side of the campus, was still a twinkle in the eye of the philantropist Lord Brotherton, whose donation made the building of the University Library possible. The Library opened in 1936. The well-known white building of the Parkinson Court with the landmark campanile only began to be built two years later! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brotherton_Library


…and whenever you’re in downtown Leeds, and pop in to the Tiled Hall Cafe right next to the Leeds Art Gallery, think of Lavender’s favourite haunt as that used to be Reading Room of the Free Public Library back in her days: