Sex, monsters and madness: our top ten digital works

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By | Digital Developments, From the Collections

On the Library blog we aim to share the things in our digital library that have surprised, delighted or horrified us. We know that the blog isn’t the only way people find our digitial collections, and we were curious to find out which of our many digitised books, artworks, archives and manuscripts our online audiences were actually looking at.

We had almost two million pageviews (or leaf views to be specific) of our digital collections, either on our own website, or embedded from our website to somewhere else. So, in reverse order here are the Top Ten most viewed items in 2015 from our digital library.

10: Cyprianus, M. L. “Clavis inferni sive magia alba et nigra approbata Metratona”


This 18th century manuscript, MS 2000, escaped our attention on the blog, but a Russian website found it and shared it with a lot of other people who could read Russian and/or enjoyed the weird images about demonology and magic.

9: Photographs of the rooms and grounds of Ticehurst House Hospital


We digitised the whole Ticehurst House Hospital archive as part of our Mental Healthcare digitisation project. The archive dates from 1787-1975. Interesting that these relatively recent photographs from 1950-1970 should have proved so popular.

8: Copied letter from Francis Crick to Michael Crick


We blogged about this letter, in which Francis Crick tries to explain the structure of DNA to his 12 year old son, when the original letter was sold at auction for $5.3 million. The copy is in Francis Crick’s personal archive.

7: James Adam (1834-1908) superintendent’s diary, vol 1


Another one from our Mental Healthcare digitisation project. We blogged about the recently digitised diaries of asylum superintendent Dr James Adam (1834-1908) in August 2015. They offer a rare view of life inside a late 19th century mental health asylum for the poor.

6: Histoires prodigieuses [Wondrous Tales] by Boaistuau, Pierre.The author’s own copy dedicated to Queen Elizabeth.


MS 136 was one of the first manuscripts to appear in the Wellcome Library digital viewer, back in 2012. Nice to see that it’s still so popular. Lots more weird and wonderful images in this one, see the blog post to find out what its all about.

5 and 4: Two volumes of Case records (1875-1879) from Ticehurst House Hospital


No surprise that the Ticehurst House Hospital papers should make another appearance in the Top Ten. The patient notes are fascinating – one of our most popular blogs traces the story of a patient at Ticehurst through the case books.

3: The Chemist and Druggist trade journal


The trade journal for the pharmaceutical industry may seem an unlikely entry in our Top Ten, but as our bloggers have shown there are some fascinating stories in there, not to mention the stunning graphic design in the adverts. Look out for a lot more on the blog from this rich historical resource in 2016.

2: Compendium rarissimum totius Artis Magicae sistematisatae per celeberrimos Artis hujus Magistros. Anno 1057. Noli me tangere [A rare summary of the entire Magical Art by the most famous Masters of this Art]


Well this confirms it. Our online audiences have a taste for scary monsters and stuff! We didn’t pick up on manuscript MS 1766 about demonology in the blog, but many other websites did, including our friends at the Public Domain Review.

1: Harris’s list of Covent-Garden ladies: or, man of pleasure’s kalender, for the year, 1787. Containing the histories and some curious anecdotes of the most celebrated ladies now on the town, or in keeping, and also of many of their keepers.


No pictures at all in this 18th century guide to sex-tourism in London, but are we really surprised that something about sex is at No. 1? And it didn’t hurt that not only did we write about it, but so did the Independent newspaper and the New Yorker magazine.

Well what have we learnt about the digital historical material that attracts the most attention on the internet? The supernatural, asylums, pictures of scary monsters and sex. Not much surprise there then.

Authors: Lalita Kaplish is the Wellcome Library Web Editor and Chloe Roberts is the Wellcome Library Web Producer.

Chloe Roberts

Chloe Roberts

Chloe is Digital Analyst for Wellcome Collection and Library. She can be found on twitter @chloerabbits

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