THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

205 posts categorized "Domestic life"

08 June 2018

Destitute Indian Women in 1930s Damascus

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In February 1935, the British Consul in Damascus, Gilbert Mackereth, wrote to his superiors at the Foreign Office in London with a dilemma.  Since 1926, the Consulate had been responsible for making cash payments to a number of destitute British Indian subjects living in Syria, but nine years later, the funds allocated for this purpose by the British Government of India were beginning to run out, and Mackereth was unsure how he ought to proceed.

Image 1The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. "Damas." The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1860-1929.

The Indian community in Syria at this time was concentrated in Beit Sawa, a village in Ghouta, an important agricultural region east of Damascus.  This area had suffered extensive damage during France’s suppression of the Syrian national uprising (1925-27) which included the use of aerial bombardment and the burning of villages.  As a result, many of the ancient irrigation canals in Ghouta – upon which it depended for its prosperity – had been diverted or destroyed beyond repair.  No compensation was paid to the area’s inhabitants and this led some of the Indian community resident there to leave for Palestine and Iraq.  According to Mackereth, those who had been unable to leave and remained living in the area, did so 'on the borderline of misery' and therefore were in no position to 'help their even more unfortunate sisters who receive alms from the Indian Government'.

Image 2List of British Indian Subjects receiving relief as compiled by the British Consulate, Damascus, 27 April 1935, IOR/L/PS/12/2141, India Office Records, British Library.

At this time, the payments were being made to only five surviving women, all of whom were reported to be absolutely destitute and 'either aged or crippled'.  This led Mackereth to argue that it would 'be a hardship amounting to almost cruelty' if the 'meagre alms they enjoy from the India treasury' were stopped.  He proposed that either the payments should continue to be made or that the women and their minor children be repatriated to India where they could be 'cared for under the poor laws of that country'.

Image 3Correspondence from the British Consulate, Damascus to the Government of India, 16 July 1935, IOR/L/PS/12/2141, India Office Records, British Library.

By July 1935, one of the five women, Hamdieh Ghulam, had died and Mackereth had established that the families of the four remaining women had 'left India so long ago that they have no knowledge of their next of kin or of their home addresses'.  This prompted the Government of India to eventually decide that it would be better to leave the women 'in Damascus, where they must have made contacts, than to repatriate them to India where they appear to have no relatives or friends and in the absence of any Poor Law administration would starve'.  However, it was not prepared to extend any financial assistance to the women’s children, whom it argued 'should be regarded as Syrians and not Indians'.  It was eventually agreed that the remaining four women would be paid the amount of 200 piastres a month for the remainder of their lives, an amount that constituted 'barely the subsistence level'.  Once this administrative quandary had been solved, the correspondence regarding these women dries up and hence the fate of them and their children after this point is unknown.

All of the letters referenced in this post are contained in the India Office Records file IOR/L/PS/12/2141 that is held at the British Library.  The file has now been digitized and is available on the Qatar Digital Library.

Louis Allday
Gulf History/Arabic Language Specialist

 

06 June 2018

Letters from the Begum of Bhopal

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A collection in the India Office Private Papers records the touching story of the friendship between the ruler of an Indian State and the wife of an Indian Army officer.  George Patrick Ranken was a Colonel with the 46th Punjab Regiment, stationed in the Indian State of Bhopal in the early 20th century.  His post required him to attend many official functions, and at one of these he and his wife Ada were introduced to Her Highness The Nawab Sultan Jahan Begum (1858-1930), who ruled Bhopal from 1901 until 1926.  So began a friendship which was to last for over twenty years.

Begum of BhopalBegum of Bhopal in the early 1870s  - by Bourne & Shepherd from the Album of cartes de visite portraits of Indian rulers and notables. Photo 127/(16)  Online Gallery

Ada Ranken first saw Sultan Jahan Begum at the 1903 Delhi Durbar, although the two women did not actually meet.  Ada later wrote an article about her friendship with the Begum while living in India.  She recalled that they first met at a garden party given by Her Highness one afternoon in the winter of 1904-05.  As the Begum was in Purdah, a large tent was erected for her.  Her male guests, including Ada’s husband George, were given chairs outside the tent from which they could converse with the Begum through a screen of split bamboo.  However, as a woman, Ada was allowed to enter the tent.  She described their first meeting: 'When my turn came and I was ushered into the tent I found Her Highness very simply dressed in a drab-coloured coat and trousers, cut, I noticed, in the accepted fashion of the Pathan race, with her head covered and her feet bare'.  Ada would meet Sultan Jahan Begum several times over the next two years, and on one occasion the Begum visited her at her home in Sehore, where George was stationed.

Mss Eur F182-8 ver 2Letters from Sultan Jahan Begum  to Ada Ranken Mss Eur F182/8

The two women stayed in touch after Ada returned to England, and they wrote regularly until the Begum’s death in 1930.  There are 22 surviving letters from Sultan Jahan Begum in the collection, of which 19 are addressed to Ada, with two to her husband George, and one to their daughter Patricia.  The letters are filled with news of Bhopal and the Begum’s family, and of mutual friends, and she enquires after Ada’s family, often recalling the time they spent together in India.  The letters also touch on the heavy workload of the ruler of a large Indian State.  In one letter from December 1909, she writes that all her attention had been taken up by preparations for the Viceregal visit to Bhopal, which passed off smoothly.  Despite her numerous duties, the Begum still found time to write to Ada.  In the last letter, dated 25 December 1929, she offers her sympathy on the death of Ada’s sister, and wrote 'May God give you fortitude enough to bear the loss and may He keep you in good health to guide and protect your affectionate child, Patricia, whom we all so much love'.

Sketch of Begums attendants  Mss Eur F182-11Sketch of the Begum's attendants made by Ada at the 1903 Delhi Durbar Mss Eur F182/11

Also included in the Ranken Papers, along with the letters, are draft copies of Ada’s article on Sultan Jahan Begum, photographs, Christmas cards, and a drawing of the Begum done by Ada at the 1903 Delhi Durbar.

Sketch of Begum  Mss Eur F182-11Drawing of the Begum done by Ada at the 1903 Delhi Durbar Mss Eur F182/11

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
Letters from Nawab Sultan Jahan Begum of Bhopal, 1906-1930 [Reference Mss Eur F182/8]
Draft copies of an article by Ada Ranken titled "A Veiled Ruler" on Nawab Sultan Jahan Begum of Bhopal, 1911 [Reference Mss Eur F182/9]

 

31 May 2018

Cheap and safe burial ground in London

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In the early 19th century there were many privately-owned burial grounds in London. One at St George-in-the-East in Stepney was leased in the 1830s by William Eastes who worked for the East India Company in London.

Burial ground EastesIOR/L/F/2/7 no.24 of June 1836 Noc

Before joining the Company, William Eastes had been a schoolmaster in Kent. He rented the Dissenters’ Burial Ground which adjoined the small Anglican Trinity Chapel in Cannon Street Road, a source of income to supplement his wages as a warehouse commodore (foreman).

The ground was advertised as cheap and safe, with rates for an adult grave varying between 7s and 16s, and those for children under ten between 4s 6d and 8s.  All graves deeper than five feet were charge 6d per foot extra.  Deeper graves were perhaps a deterrent to body-snatchers.  In August 1830, two well-known resurrectionists were charged with attempting to steal the body of Mrs Brown from the Cannon Street Road burial ground.  George Robins and William Jones were arrested around midnight near the partly opened grave. The police found a sack, a shovel, and a long screw iron for opening coffins. The prisoners were committed to three months in the house of correction.

 
Burial ground bill of saleIOR/L/F/2/7 no.24 of June 1836 Noc

William Eastes also acted as clerk to the Reverend Thomas Boddington of Trinity Chapel.  In 1836 Boddington sold the Chapel to the Reverend James Harris, who found Eastes totally unfit for the situation. Harris wrote to the East India Company in May 1836, complaining of how the graveyard was run and accusing Eastes of vile and fearful abuse, gross language, and a violent demeanour. 

Company warehouse-keeper William Johnson put Harris’s complaint to Eastes, a man ‘somewhat hasty in temper & likely to be violent in any matter of dispute’.  Eastes denied molesting Harris, claiming that he had merely been insisting on his right of way to the burial ground as specified in the lease.  Johnson concluded there was probably blame on both sides. The Company directors admonished Eastes and cautioned him as to his future conduct.

Burial ground plan Plan provided by William Eastes to explain his point to the Company IOR/L/F/2/7 no.24 of June 1836  IOR/L/F/2/7 no.24 of June 1836 Noc

In October 1836, Harris renewed his complaint against Eastes: ‘There is no species of horrid language that this man does not apply to me and my family’.  There had been an altercation when a sheriff’s officer came looking for Harris about a debt he owed.  The Company’s Committee of Warehouses decided not to interfere any further in the dispute.

Harris and Eastes continued to be at odds.  In October 1838 a lascar seaman from an East India Company ship was buried in Eastes’ ground.  Newspapers described the funeral procession and burial, claiming that several thousand people assembled to witness the unfamiliar ceremonies performed by the dead man’s fellow lascars.  Harris was quick to dissociate himself from these events.  He made it known that the burial ground was not connected to Trinity Chapel but ‘leased to a Dissenter in the East India Company’s service, who puts on the surplice, reads the funeral service, and receives the fees consequent thereupon, his wife performing the part of sextoness.  The Rev Mr Harris … has nothing whatever to do with the ground in question, and of course took no part in this “Lascar burial”.’

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Records of the East India Company Finance and Home Committee: IOR/L/F/1/4 pp.119, 520; IOR/L/F/2/7 no.24 of June 1836; IOR/L/F/2/11 no.64 of October 1836
British Newspaper Archive e.g. London Courier and Evening Gazette 24 August 1830; London Evening Standard 8 October 1838; Belfast Commercial Chronicle 10 October 1838

 

29 May 2018

Soup of the Day

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Had we been invited to dine at the Gorakhpur Club in India in May 1916, we would have been treated to a slap-up dinner, complete with detailed menu in French. 

Mss Eur F700-1-3 menu from the Gorakhpur Club 1916Mss Eur F700/1/3: Menu from the Gorakhpur Club, 13 May 1916

Using our linguistic skills, we have worked out that we would have eaten a fine repast of fish in aspic, kidney and mushroom pudding with potatoes and peas, peach ice-cream, and preserved asparagus spears.  Sounds very tasty, but perhaps not for the faint-hearted (or those on a diet).  But we are stumped by our starter of ‘Potage d’Eunice’.  We can only speculate that perhaps this intriguingly titled soup was named for the person who created it. Or perhaps dinner was in Eunice’s honour?  If so, just who was Eunice, and what was her connection to the Gorakhpur Club? Or perhaps it is simply that ‘Potage d’Eunice’ is a forgotten French classic.  If there are any food historians out there who may have heard of ‘Potage d’Eunice’, and indeed know what it might be made of, we would be delighted to hear from you.

Mss Eur F700-2-10 Gorakhpur Club c1928Mss Eur F700/2/10: Gorakhpur Club, from photograph album of images of Gorakhpur, c1928

The menu comes from a small collection of private papers recently acquired by the India Office Records at The British Library.  They relate to the family of Guilford Lindsay Edwards (1853-1946), a railway engineer in India who was based in Gorakhpur.  The collection consists of a small number of personal papers, including Guilford’s journal from 1872-1894, as well as material relating to his son Lindsay Edwards, who also worked as an engineer in India, and the family of his daughter Amy Bellairs.  There are also 9 files of family photographs and two photograph albums.  The photographs are primarily snapshots of day to day family life, which give us an interesting insight into the private and domestic world of a white European family in India c.1900-c.1920. 

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer Modern Archives & Manuscripts

Further reading:
Mss Eur F700: Papers, journal and photographs of Guilford Lindsay Edwards and family, 1872-1940s
Add MS 43809-43813: Diary of a visit to India by Mrs Louisa Edwards, 1883-1884 

Our Food Season continues  - unleash your inner gourmet and intellectual hunger!

Food Season

 

18 May 2018

Royal weddings at Windsor Castle

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Royal weddings at Windsor Castle have a long history.  Five of Queen Victoria’s children married in St George’s Chapel between 1863 and 1882: Edward, Helena, Louise, Arthur and Leopold.  Contemporary newspaper reports of these weddings focus on many of the same aspects found in the coverage of the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle – the courtship, the bride’s looks and character, the guest list, the gifts, the ceremony, the outfits.

Royal Wedding 1863 Edward & Alexandra Royal CollectionMarriage of the Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandra of Denmark at Windsor, 10 March 1863 by William Powell Frith. Image courtesy of the Royal Collections Trust

Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, was born in 1853, the eighth child and youngest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.  He was a delicate child having inherited the haemophilia gene from his mother, and he also suffered from epilepsy.  Leopold studied at Christ Church College Oxford and was president of the Oxford University Chess Club.  After his student days he continued as a patron of chess, and of the arts and literature.

Prince-Leopold-Duke-of-AlbanyPrince Leopold, Duke of Albany by Lombardi & Co circa late 1870s  NPG x15727 © National Portrait Gallery, London

In 1882 the British press reported that Prince Leopold was to marry Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont.  The bride-to-be was described as ‘a simple and ladylike country girl … very spontaneous and open, recites with taste, … very musical’.

Princess-Helen-Duchess-of-AlbanyPrincess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont by Judd & Co 1881 NPG D33804 © National Portrait Gallery, London

The couple visited a London photographer and had two sittings, formal and informal.  The photographs showing the Prince with his arm around Helena’s waist and her head resting upon his shoulder were intended for family circulation only.  Apparently they were issued in error with the formal portraits and had to be recalled hastily.

The wedding was planned for April but there was speculation that the ceremony would have to be postponed because the Prince was laid up with a painful swollen knee.  The knee joint had troubled Leopold in the past and he had twisted the ligaments earlier in the year.  He then aggravated that injury by falling in the street after slipping on a piece of orange peel whilst holidaying near his mother in Menton, France.  The Prince’s haemophilia was not a secret – the Aberdeen Evening Express of 5 April 1882 explained: ‘there is some deficiency of a certain element in the blood, which make a fall or bruise a more serious matter to him than it would be to an ordinary person’.

However Leopold returned to England, pale and using a stick to walk, determined that the marriage should go ahead as planned.  On 27 April 1882, thousands of people flocked to Windsor for the wedding.  Some had tickets for admission to the Castle grounds, most wanted to see the procession through the town.  The people of Windsor presented a diamond bracelet to Princess Helena.  Queen Victoria gave the couple Claremont, a residence in Surrey.  As the newly-weds left the Castle in the late afternoon, several Princesses were said to have breached etiquette by appearing outside without bonnets to wave goodbye.

Prince-Leopold-Duke-of-Albany-Princess-Alice-Countess-of-Athlone-Princess-Helen-Duchess-of-AlbanyDuke and Duchess of Albany with their baby daughter Alice by Hills & Saunders 1883 NPG x197970 © National Portrait Gallery, London

In February 1883, Helena gave birth to a daughter Alice. Early the following year Leopold went to Cannes to escape the winter weather.  Sadly he had a fall resulting in an epileptic fit and a brain haemorrhage, and he died on 28 March 1884.  He was buried at Windsor on 6 April, less than two years after his marriage.  His son Charles was born in July.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Dundee Evening Telegraph 28 March 1882, Aberdeen Evening Express 5 April 1882, Derby Daily Telegraph 24 April 1882, Hampshire Advertiser 29 April 1882, Windsor and Eton Express 29 April 1882.

 

14 May 2018

#Happy Birthday, Robert Proctor :)

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Anyone with an interest in early printed books should certainly celebrate the 150th anniversary of Robert Proctor’s birth. A debt of gratitude is owed to the librarian and bibliographer, who had a special talent for identifying early printing types and on that basis consolidated a method for arranging incunabula, books printed in the 15th century.

Proctor disappeared in September 1903 whilst hiking in the Tyrol, but his work during his short energetic life did much to make a science of bibliography. The impact of the publication of his Index to the Early Printed Books in the British Museum was figuratively likened to "the launching of HMS Dreadnought". The 'Proctor Order' is still used, giving numbers to printed items arranged geographically and chronologically: first by country, in printing order; then within each country by town, chronologically; then within each town by printer.

 When we are struck by the accomplishments of remarkable people, it’s natural to look for the things that made them click. Proctor’s Diaries written from 1899-1903, provide insights into his day-to-day work, his interests, joys, frustrations, thoughts and opinions. Today Twitter serves this function for many librarians, and so to celebrate Proctor’s birthday we thought we might gift him a Twitter account! What might he have tweeted?

ProctorTwitter1If Proctor had a Twitter account it might have looked like this...

Proctor’s energy and industry is immediately apparent when reading his diaries. We might wonder if he had some kind of thaasophobia – he was never idle. He could have been a prolific Tweeter.

As a librarian he documented his work at the British Museum: cataloguing, acquisitions, visitor interviews, and work on the printed subject index. He also recorded the weather, often with a touch of poetry, aware of its natural magic and dynamism. He could be expected to have tweeted images from the books he worked with, but it’s often illuminating to look at the other interests of people normally associated with a particular area.

For instance, Proctor lived in a house with his mother, and loved gardening. We picture him setting wire fences, chopping logs, picking flowers and making jam.

ProctorTwitter2

He recorded the books he read on train journeys and those he read to his mother; he could have tweeted, “#amreading Zola (to mother)”. Proctor kept up his diary during his holidays, and these contain succinct (tweetable) reviews: “not to be commended, but certainly cheap”, “landlord excellent” etc.

Some diaries and much of social media can be mundane and turgid. The interesting stuff comes with those things that reflect the deeper and more meaningful sides of a character. Proctor’s diaries offer an interesting record of his views and opinions. It is well known that Proctor was greatly influenced by the aesthetics and politics of his idol William Morris and we see plenty of examples of Proctor’s ‘radicalism’.

ProctorDiary1"The bottom of the sea seems the best place for France - but I doubt whether her injustice towards Dreyfus is a greater crime than the behaviour of our Government & Press to the Boers", diary entry for 9 Sep 1899. Add MS 50190-50196.

Many people with social media accounts which identify an employer state in their profiles, ‘opinions my own’ or ‘not tweeting in an official capacity’. Had Proctor taken to Twitter, the British Museum’s Department of Printed Books may just have insisted on this for @IncunabulaBob: on March 7th 1900 Proctor wrote “London much excited because the loathsome Fatguts is defiling it. She is going to Ireland – may she leave her damned bones there.”

ProctorDiary2Fatguts, and 'the Old Washerwoman of Windsor', were Proctor's insulting names for Queen Victoria.

 

Other pages in Proctor's diaries display quite touching gestures of his sincere beliefs.

ProctorDiary3Liberty, Equality, Fraternity written in red pen at the top of the first page of the second volume of Proctor's diaries.

 Further reading

J H Bowman, ed., A critical edition of the private diaries of Robert Proctor (New York: Edwin Mellen Press, c2010). Open Access Rare Books and Music Reading Room, RAR 027.541

The Private Diary of Robert Proctor. Reprinted from the Transactions of the Bibliographical Society 1951.010856.k.6

Christian Algar,

Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

24 April 2018

A Danish sailor befriended and buried in Norfolk

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In September 1881 an inquest was held at a cottage in the Norfolk village of Gooderstone.  The coroner was investigating the death of a young Dane who had been living there with agricultural labourer William English, his wife Sarah, and their eight year-old son George.

The Danish lad had arrived in Gooderstone on Sunday 4 September.  He called at one cottage and made signs to show that he was hungry.  Having been given some bread and butter, he moved on to the home of the English family.  They were eating their dinner.  Sarah could not understand what the young man was saying but she was moved by his sad and distressed appearance.  She invited him to share their frugal meal of Norfolk dumplings and gravy, afterwards offering him a place to stay.

SailorFrom Real Sailor-Songs collected and edited by J. Ashton (London, 1891), p.229 BL flickr  Noc

The visitor managed to explain with a few written words in English that he had been a sailor in a Danish ship.  He claimed to have been shipwrecked on 28 August. After he and a companion had been in the water for five hours, they were picked up by a fishing boat and taken to King’s Lynn harbour.  There the two separated and he had begged his way to Gooderstone.  The inquest was told that the ship had been identified as the Eros and that the sailor had deserted.

The sailor helped his hosts by doing domestic chores, washing and ironing clothes with skill.  Mr Oldfield of Caldecote found him work in the fields. 

Oxborough - Frank English with  pitchforkAgricultural labourers at Oxborough during 1930s, including Frank English (middle front with pitchfork). Family photograph Noc

On 20 September the young man was riding a horse whilst carting manure.  The horse took fright and ran away with him.  He clung to the harness for some distance but was flung off.  The wheel of the cart ran over him.  He was taken home to the English family and tended with as much kindness and sympathy as if he was their own child.  A doctor was summoned but there was little hope of his recovery.  Sarah English had no money to pay the medical bill and promised to sell a watch left to her by her first husband to raise the money. 

However the daughters of local MP William Tyssen-Amherst of Didlington Hall heard what had happened.  They visited the Dane and gave orders for everything necessary to be provided for him.  The Catholic priest from nearby Oxborough village also attended him.  Sadly the sailor died on 21 September.

The Danish authorities had been informed by Mr Tyssen-Amherst and they pledged to meet the funeral expenses.  The sailor was buried in Oxborough churchyard on 23 September under the name of Carl Hansen aged 19, although local newspaper reports call him Carl Jorgensen.

Such accidents were far from uncommon.  One year later, in September 1882, a cousin of William English was killed in a very similar way in Oxborough.  Four year-old Walter English was taking food to his father in the harvest field when a horse took fright and bolted.  The tumbril wheel ran over the child and killed him instantly. He too is buried in Oxborough churchyard.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Norwich Mercury 1 October 1881, Norwich Chronicle 1 October 1881, Norwich Mercury 13 September 1882.

 

13 April 2018

When the driver crosses his fingers – motoring superstitions

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It’s Friday the Thirteenth, an ideal day for sharing a story about superstitious behaviour.  So here are some superstitions just for motorists.

According to an article in the Leicester Daily Mercury of 19 June 1939; ‘…even the Age of Machinery has its own superstitions.  A philosopher might think that the era which has produced the internal combustion engine among other things, would be above superstitious beliefs only fit for the dim dawn of mankind, when people lived in terror of the incalculable caprices of gods and demons, beneficent or very much the reverse. Far from it!  The man who drives the mechanised vehicle has his own private fancies about good or ill fortune, just like the man who urged his string of pack-horses across the trackless waste of mediaeval England’.

Car driver cropped N10002-55Detail from cover of menu for annual banquet of National Association of Automobile manufacturers 22 January 1904 - C.120.f.2 volume 3, no.32 Images Online  Noc


Here are some of the superstitions described:
• Long-distance lorry drivers do not like driving on Wednesdays.
• Bus drivers don’t like Friday the Thirteenth.
• It is unlucky for drivers to turn back after starting out for work.  Never go back indoors to collect a forgotten lunch box.  The bad luck starts as soon as you cross the threshold, so stand in the road and ask someone to bring your sandwiches out to you.
• A taxi driver who has had a streak of long waits for fares will queue in the cab rank until first in line and then drive off without taking a passenger.  In this way, the bad luck shifts to the next driver in the line.
• Beware meeting a cross-eyed woman when starting out in the morning – break the bad spell by getting into conversation with her.
• A cab driver will not change the first piece of silver taken each day but stow it away in a pocket.
• It is unlucky to lose a glove but lucky to find a rusty nail.
• Running over a tin can will bring misfortune.

How many of these superstitions are still observed today?  I’m off to look for a rusty nail to keep in my car just in case…

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Michael Compton, ‘When the driver crosses his fingers’ - Leicester Daily Mercury 19 June 1939 British Newspaper Archive