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165 posts categorized "Domestic life"

14 February 2017

Broken Valentine Promise

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On Valentine’s Day 1904, Ernest Down made a proposal of marriage to Bessie French at Plymouth Friary railway station. In June 1905 Bessie took Ernest to court to recover damages for breach of promise.

Romantic couple

From Frederick Langbridge,  Love-Knots and Bridal-Bands: poems and rhymes of wooing and wedding, and valentine verses (London, 1883) BL flickr Noc


Ernest Down worked as an assistant at his father’s dental practice in Plymouth.  The attachment between Ernest and Bessie began in January 1904.  The following month, on 14 February, Bessie and her mother were leaving Plymouth for London when Ernest appeared at the railway station.  He asked Bessie to become engaged to him.  Bessie refused as they had known each other for such a short time.  However she said that if he still wanted to marry her in six months’ time, he should ask again. She would then give him a definite answer one way or the other.

The couple corresponded regularly whilst Bessie was in London.  Ernest was not present at the Devon Assizes and so was spared the embarrassment of hearing his declarations of undying love ''From your Darling Boy' read out loud in court by Bessie’s counsel. This poem was greeted with laughter:

Forget Me Not
I love you now, and shall for ever,
Your love may change, but mine will never!
Though separation be our lot
Dearest one, forget me not:
Forget me not, though far away,
And other faces see;
There’s not an hour that passes by
But what I think of thee.

 Breach of promise

Western Times 1 July 1905 Noc

Bessie was questioned by the judge. Ernest had told her that his father wished him to break off the engagement and that he would give her the reasons the following evening.  He did not turn up.

The judge summed up the evidence: Ernest had indeed broken his promise to marry Bessie after his father objected.  Justice Bingham advised the jury to award only a moderate sum in damages to ensure that Bessie would receive some payment from the young man. After a few minutes’ deliberation, the jury awarded Bessie £50 in damages.

Justice Bingham’s concern that Bessie might not get any money was well-founded.  In May 1906 Ernest appeared before the Official Receiver in Plymouth.  He filed his petition in bankruptcy saying he was unable to meet the judgment given against him at the Devon Assizes for breach of promise.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Western Times 1 July 1905; Western Morning News 11 May 1906

 

29 December 2016

Sanger’s Circus in Sheffield

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Showman John Sanger’s newly-built Royal Hippodrome in Sheffield promised to provide splendid entertainments in December 1888.  The programme at Sanger’s New Royal Circus was regularly changed but additional attractions were brought in for the Christmas season.

Flying Eugenes evan444 cropped

The Marvellous Eugenes c.1885 Evan.444 Images Online


Sanger's Sheffield acts in December 1888 included –
• The Marvellous Eugenes -  ‘the greatest living gymnasts’
• Borkoff the equestrian bear who could ride on horseback with ease and grace
• Engist and Orsa, -‘Continental Musical Grotesques’
• Hadjalhi’s Troupe of Arabs – a novel and daring acrobatic performance
• The Martinette Troupe - ‘Pantomimists and Musical Marvels’
• Dezmonti, Alexandre, and Miss Maude - the greatest aerial bar performers in the world
• ‘Educated’ horses, elephants, bears and kangaroos
• Etherdo and Pugh - ‘the flying batsmen’
• Miss Lavinia Sanger and Herr Hoffman – a classical act of school riding.

On Christmas Eve Sanger staged a ‘gorgeous‘ spectacle, The Carnival on  Ice or Fete in St Petersburg, modestly promoted as ‘the grandest production ever introduced into an arena’.  No expense had been spared, with lavish costumes and sensational effects.  The arena with sawdust had been transformed into a scene of Russian winter.  A packed appreciative crowd was treated to sleighs drawn by ‘diminutive symmetrical ponies’; ‘fancy and scientific skating’ by the Lisbon Troupe; snowstorm scenes; fights with bears; a snow ballet; and a harlequinade.

Sanger Circus 1888

British Newspaper Archive Sheffield Daily Telegraph 20 December 1888

Crowds spilling out of the circus could roam the streets in search of further seasonal delights to sample. They might wish to fortify themselves with one of G Hiller and Son’s celebrated pork pies – over one ton of these had been sold at Christmas 1887.  Or they might browse in the showroom of J S and T Birks who were offering crystallised fruits; calves’ feet and other jellies; magic bouquets; bon-bons; Chinese and Japanese lanterns; wreathes; French and fancy confectionery.  Young and old were invited to walk around T and J Roberts’ Christmas bazaar at The Moorhead.  On display were 10,000 gifts - dolls; musical toys; ornaments; work boxes; and fancy baskets. And I do hope that shoppers remembered to pick up a copy of the Christmas number of the Sheffield Daily Telegraph. This comprised seventeen original complete stories for just one penny, including A Prince of Spoons; The Voice from the Dead House; Mr Buffrog Scalped; and Hah Aw Killed a Tiger at T’Owd Casino.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive - Sheffield Daily Telegraph December 1888

The Sanger family features in  There Will Be Fun – a free British Library exhibition on Victorian popular entertainments, open until March 2017. See rare and wonderful treasures from the Evanion Collection.

Evanion the Royal conjuror plays with fire

27 December 2016

Library closures at Christmas

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If you’re feeling at a loss because the wonderful British Library is closed for five days over Christmas, spare a thought for the residents of Sheffield in 1888.  The reading rooms of the city’s free libraries were shut for a fortnight in December.

  Mechanics' Institute Sheffield

Sheffield Mechanics' Institute which housed a Free Library - image from Pawson and Brailsford's Illustrated Guide to Sheffield and neighbourhood (1862) BL flickr


Protest letters were sent to the editor of the Sheffield Daily Telegraph.  Mr J Thornton of Whitham Road asked why the reading rooms were closed for more than two or three days and complained that the free libraries were being mismanaged.  Money could be saved by reducing the number of assistants at the Central Library from seven to three – they had little or nothing to do half the time. If Mr Thornton was known to the assistants, I do wonder how he fared on his next visit to the library.

‘Pro Bono Publico’ supported Mr Thornton, suggesting that the libraries be kept open all year round except for a few days’ closure for cleaning and painting.  Extra hands could be employed to cover for attendants taking holidays.  It would greatly help those seeking work if the reading rooms opened at 08.30 instead of 10.00. Half the day had gone before job seekers could get to a place any distance away, and they also missed the morning post. 

‘A Burgess’ added his voice to the protest.  Perhaps the library committee thought it did not much matter to close when people were preparing for Christmas, but ‘in this large town there are always a number of people unemployed, and others who are incapacitated from work, &c, to whom the reading rooms are a benefit and pleasure’.

The environment of the reading rooms also came in for criticism.  ‘Pro Bono Publico’ complained of the lack of ventilation: ‘When the gas is lit, and the windows closed, the atmosphere is something awful.  I should think the gas-burners and check valves want seeing to.  After I have been in a few minutes my eyes smart, and my nose certainly tells me the air is vitiated to a great extent’.

We look forward to welcoming our readers back to the well-ventilated rooms of British Library on 29 December, and hope that our services also provide pleasure as well as benefit. 

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive -  Sheffield Daily Telegraph 17 & 19 December 1888

07 November 2016

Pay and living conditions of Indian seamen

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In November 1942, the Secretary of State for India, Leo Amery received a report from Sir Azizul Huque, High Commissioner for India in the United Kingdom, on the low pay and poor living conditions of Indian seamen serving in the British Merchant Navy. The very interesting report and subsequent correspondence on the issues are contained within a file in the India Office Records.

LE8-4755 Huque Report

Extract from a report by Azizul Huque, IOR/L/E/8/4755

Sir Azizul Huque’s report exposed the poor living conditions in Liverpool and Glasgow in which Indian seamen were obliged to live. He visited Glasgow in July 1942, and found a hostel recently constructed by the Missions to Seamen which he described as excellent, and a private boarding house named Alley’s Boarding House was regarded as acceptable. However, one common lodging house named Norfolk House was described as extremely unsatisfactory. This was due to Muslim seamen having to cook their food close to where ham and bacon were cooked by other lodgers. This was a cause of considerable grievance, as was the poor standard of cleanliness and sanitary arrangements.  Sir Azizul brought this to the attention of the Ministry of War Transport who arranged for the Indian seamen to be removed to approved boarding houses.

Sir Azizul also enclosed a report on a visit to Liverpool by Mr Tomlinson, Chairman of the Ministry of Labour Seamen’s Welfare Board, to inspect the seamen’s lodgings there. The conditions at the house at Trinity Place, Springfield were described as abominable,” a veritable rabbit warren for human beings”. Another house in the city was stated to be deplorable, and in such a state that it would be impossible to make it satisfactory, badly overcrowded and dirty, with a vile atmosphere. It was recommended that the system of farming out boarders by the steamship companies should stop, and a seaman’s hostel for Indian seamen should be established in keeping with the Ministry’s standards.

There were over 30,000 Indian seamen in the British Merchant Navy at that time, forming almost one-fifth of its total strength, and yet they received lower wages than either Chinese or British seamen. In 1942, an Indian seaman received wages of £4 1s per month compared to £16 15s for Chinese seamen and £22 12s 6d for European seamen. The official explanation given for this in an internal India Office note was that they were inefficient compared to Chinese and British seamen, and that the standard of living in the villages where Indian seamen came from was very low, and so despite being poorly paid they were still better off than their fellow villagers.

LE8-4755 Bevin Letter

Letter from Ernest Bevin to Leo Amery, IOR/L/E/8/4755

The rest of the file contains some fascinating correspondence detailing attempts by Sir Azizul Huque, Ernest Bevin, the then Minister for Labour and National Service, and others to improve the wages received by India seamen in order to bring them more into line with other seamen in the Merchant Navy. As Bevin pointed out to Amery in a letter of 1st September 1945, “these men are enduring all the risks and hardships of the sea for us and … we are withholding from them the financial recognition which is being accorded to all other sailors, both white and coloured”.

John O’Brien
India Office Records Cc-by

Further Reading:
File C&O 79/46 Part B - Conditions of Employment of Indian Seamen, Sep 1944-Apr 1947 [Reference IOR/L/E/8/4755]

 

31 October 2016

The Dumb-Cake

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Women!  Dump the pumpkin this Hallowe’en!  Revive an old tradition!  Hurry away and bake a dumb-cake.

The dumb-cake was a method by which unmarried women tried to discover the identity of their future husbands. The ritual is linked to several dates in the calendar: Hallowe’en, Christmas Eve, the Eve of St Agnes (20 January), St Mark’s Eve (24 April), and Midsummer Eve. There were variations in practice in different parts of the UK but all agreed that that not a word must be spoken throughout.  The slightest whisper would break the spell. 

According to the Preston Herald, a large sheet of white paper was spread on a table and three girls each placed on it a handful of flour and a pinch of salt. A dough was made and the girls took turns to roll it out. They then marked the dough with their initials and put it before the fire to bake. The girls sat in a half-circle as far away from the fire as possible. Between 11pm and 12am each girl had to turn the cake once. On the last stroke of midnight, the future husband of the girl to be married first would stride into the room and point at her initials.

A Scottish version of the cake recipe was far more inventive.  The Aberdeen Evening Express gave instructions for four girls to prepare thimblefuls of sand, flour, bran, salt, and brick-dust, with parings of their nails and some hair from the back of their head.  So not something you’ll ever see show-cased on the Great British Bake Off.

 

Girl sleeping

From Norman Rowland Gale,  Songs for Little People (London, 1896) BL flickr  Noc

 

Dumb-Cake rules in Yorkshire decreed:
Two to make it,
Two to bake it,
Two to break it.
A third girl put a piece of the cake under the pillows of the two bakers.  When they dreamed, the girls would see the face of their future husband.

In Leicestershire, dumb-cakes were intended to be eaten.  The girls ate their share whilst walking backwards to bed.  If a girl was destined to be married, she would see her husband rushing in pursuit.

Dumb-Cake

The Dumb-Cake  - A play in one act (1907) Noc

A one act play entitled The Dumb-Cake was first produced at the Hicks Theatre in London on 19 June 1907. It is set at Hallowe’en at Webster’s Almshouse in the Borough where Martha Hardy has been nursing her bed-ridden mother for some years.  A neighbour, Mrs Nye, has encouraged Martha to bake a dumb-cake. When Spotto Bird, a pickpocket seeking refuge from the police, ducks through Martha’s open door, she believes the cake has worked its spell...

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records  Cc-by

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Aberdeen Evening Express 26 April 1894; Preston Herald 25 July 1903; Leeds Mercury 24 June 1913; Leicester Daily Mercury 25 April 1939.
Arthur Morrison and Richard Pryce, The Dumb-Cake  - A play in one act (1907)

 

26 October 2016

An abandoned ayah

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Imagine being abandoned at London’s King’s Cross railway station with just one pound in your pocket. In 1908, this is exactly what happened to an ayah who had travelled from India to Britain to look after a family’s children on the journey home.  An India Office Records file reveals the details of this story which was told in last night’s Sky Arts programme ‘Treasures of the British Library’ featuring Meera Syal.

Many British people employed an ayah to look after their children on the long voyage from India to Britain. The ayahs were at the heart of the family during the voyage, and their employer was supposed to provide for their passage home. However it was not unusual for ayahs to be dismissed once in Britain and left to fend for themselves. There were many critics of this callous behaviour because ayahs often suffered poverty and poor living conditions. In the late nineteenth century, these concerns led to the founding of the Ayahs’ Home in East London. Such was the demand that it moved to larger premises in 1921. They could enjoy a safe place to stay in the company of other ayahs and Chinese amahs, with food and décor that was intended to make them feel at home.

 

Ayahs in the Hackney Home

Inside the Ayah's Home in East London from G Sims Living London (1904-06)

 

The ayah highlighted in the broadcast arrived in England from Bombay with a Mrs Catchpole in May 1908. Mrs Catchpole asked Thomas Cook and Son to find the ayah another employer returning to India. The ayah’s services were duly transferred to a Mrs Drummond and she journeyed to Scotland where she spent fifteen days with the family.  On 24 June the Drummonds came to London to take passage to Bombay the following day on SS Arabia. The family left the ayah at King’s Cross Station, giving her £1.

 

  Ayahs home entrance

The Ayahs’ Home in Hackney East London, London City Mission Magazine (1921) PP.1041.C
 

From King’s Cross, the ayah managed to find her way to the office of Thomas Cook at Ludgate Hill. She was advised to go to the Ayahs’ Home in King Edward Road, Hackney.  The matron of the Home, Sarah Annie Dunn, wrote to the India Office on 16 July reporting the case.  Although the Home did not take charge of destitute ayahs, it would not turn the woman away. Mrs Dunn questioned whether it was against the law for a native of India to be abandoned in such a manner.

 

Ayahs' Home letter

Sarah Annie Dunn’s letter 16 July 1908 IOR/L/PJ/6/881, File 2622 Noc

 

The India Office believed that the ayah had no legal remedy unless she had a written agreement that she would be taken back to India. The file notes that the India Office had declined to take responsibility in a previous case in 1890, and that the Government of India had then also refused to intervene. However Council of India member Syed Hussain Bilgrami recorded his disagreement with the proposed response, writing of ‘dishonest and cruel’ European employers inveigling Indian servants to travel with them and then abandoning them on arrival.

 

Ayah India Office minute

Syed Hussain Bilgrami’s dissenting minute 24 July 1908 IOR/L/PJ/6/881, File 2622  Noc

 

Nothing more is written in the file about the destitute woman. Perhaps she was one of the ayahs who developed a special expertise in looking after children on voyages and travelled regularly to Britain. But if it was her first voyage, then her experience of being abandoned must have been truly terrifying.

Penny Brook and Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records Cc-by

Further reading:
Rozina Visram, Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History (Pluto Press, 2002)
Learning website: Asians in Britain 
Making Britain
Judicial and Public Annual Files 2575-2672: Case of an ayah abandoned in London, 16 Jul 1908, IOR/L/PJ/6/881, File 2622 Explore Archives and Manuscripts
London City Mission Magazine, report on the opening of the Home of Nations (Ayahs’ Home) on 4 King Edward Road, Hackney in June 1921 (Dec 1921 issue, page 140) PP.10451.C

 

06 October 2016

Throwing off the workhouse

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I was delighted to hear from the family of Robert Chivers, the ‘violent pauper’ who featured on Untold Lives in June. Robyn Bergin is a descendant of Robert’s son William in Australia. She wrote to tell me that the story didn’t end too badly for young William.

Chivers, William 1William Chivers aged 21 - photograph courtesy of his family


This is what Robyn told me.

William was placed in the Melbourne Orphan Asylum on Christmas Eve 1874 along with his two brothers Robert and Thomas. No-one knows for sure what happened to his mother Elizabeth or his sister Anne, although family members believe that Anne may have been sent back to England to relatives. William worked in the garden at the home and later on other people’s land. In 1892, he married Fanny Matilda Dunlop at her family home in Caulfield. It was during the Depression and, in order to save some money to marry, he had taken his swag and shot koalas in Gippsland.

In 1894, they had a son Norman. William then went to Western Australia to work in the Karri forest sawmills at Pemberton. He sent for Fanny and Norman, and they had another son Gordon whilst living there.

 Chivers, William 3William, Fanny and children in front of their house in Western Australia - photograph courtesy of his family


The family returned to Victoria and William leased a market garden with his brother-in-law. The property was St John's Wood, formerly owned by judge Sir Redmond Barry. Two more children were born: Elsie and Herbert. In 1907, William bought a property of his own on the top of the hill in Waverley Road, Glen Waverley. His diaries record this as the happiest and saddest day of his life: happy because he was now a man of property, and sad because, in order to get a loan, he had to admit to being an orphan. William lived there until he died in 1958. Two of his sons bought adjoining properties and they farmed together. Some of William's descendants still live in the district.

When he applied for a loan through The Australian Widows' Fund, they sought his birth certificate from the UK. William was wrongly identified as Alfred William Chivers - a different person born on a different day –– and from then on William believed his name to be Alfred William. (How sad is that?)

William liked to write to the newspapers from time to time. One of these letters was in response to a government policy that encouraged migration from England by not only providing free passage but also a land grant upon arrival. He wasn't eligible for this programme and suggested in his letter that he should stow away back to England and then take advantage of the scheme!

Chivers, William 2William Chivers in later life - photograph courtesy of his family

There is a street in Glen Waverley called Chivers Avenue. Robyn grew up there. As she says - that’s not a bad legacy for a child of the workhouse.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Many thanks to Robyn and her family for sharing William's story and providing the photographs for this post.

29 September 2016

Persian carpets for European consumers

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Sir Trenchard Craven William Fowle spent twenty-four years working as a British colonial administrator in the Persian Gulf before retiring in the summer of 1939. During that time he amassed a collection of thirteen Persian carpets.

  Mss Eur F126-28, f 16

Extract of an advert from the journal The Nineteenth Century, dated 1892. Mss Eur F126/28, f 16  Noc

Prior to returning to England, Fowle put the carpets up for sale at the Political Agency in Bahrain. A list in an Agency file offers details of Fowle’s carpets. Five of the cheapest were described as Baluchi (i.e. made in Baluchistan), their price likely reflecting their small size. Four further carpets originated from Turkmenistan, while the two most expensive items were manufactured in the city of Kashan, renowned for its superior carpets of intricate design.

IOR-R-15-2-1531, f 26.

 List of carpets for sale at the Bahrain Political Agency. IOR/R/15/2/1531, f 26. Noc

Europe’s affluent middle-classes became avid collectors of Persian carpets in the nineteenth century. Letters from the East India Company Resident in the Persian port of Bushire indicate that carpets were being sourced for European markets as early as 1813. In the meantime, a succession of European travellers to Persia, including the novelist James Morier and colonial administrators Henry Pottinger and John Johnson, penned narratives in which richly decorated carpets were closely associated with the opulence of the Persian court.

  IOR-R-15-1-12, ff 156-157

Extract of a letter from William Bruce, Acting Resident at Bushire to Francis Warden, Chief Secretary to the Government, Bombay, 17 January 1813.

IOR/R/15/1/12, ff 156-157 Noc

The European (and American) market for carpets had grown to such an extent that by the 1880s, demand outstripped supply. ‘Very old carpets are now extremely rare,’ reported Robert Murdoch Smith in 1883, while sourcing Persian carpets for the South Kensington (now V&A) Museum. In response to a diminishing supply of carpets, commercial companies, including manufacturers from England, set up carpet-making factories in Persia, with the intention of catering specifically to their domestic markets.

In 1883 the Manchester firm Zielger & Company established premises at Sultanabad (now Arak) consisting of houses for their employees, offices, stores and dyeing rooms. This was no factory though; carpets continued to be hand-woven by women and children in the home, although now according to orders and designs stipulated by the Company. Between 1894 and 1914 the number of looms in Sultanabad increased thirty-fold, from 40 to 1,200 (equating to one loom for every 5.8 persons in the town).

Mostasham_Kashan_19th_century (1)

 Nineteenth century Kashan carpet. Source: ArtDaily.com (Public Domain) Noc

 

Although one British colonial administrator reported that the firm was ‘much liked by the villagers’, evidence of the exploitation of weavers elsewhere was reported. The impressions of other visitors to Persia suggest that some carpet production had shifted to grim karkhanas (or manufactories), described as ‘low, dark, miserable rooms’, often with a ‘sour and sickening atmosphere’, in which ‘weakly children of ten or twelve years’ laboured on carpets, under pressure to complete ‘a certain allotted portion per diem’. In 1913 the British Resident at Bushire noted there was ‘no doubt that the industry as carried on is responsible for a great deal of human misery, in deforming and arresting the development of children, especially the girls’.

Of Fowle’s carpets, the expensive Kashanis remained unsold. They were returned to Fowle’s widow after the War (Fowle himself having died suddenly in 1940), but not before being lost by staff of the Southern Railway Company, and spending two months in the lost property office at Waterloo Station.

Mark Hobbs
Subject Specialist, Gulf History Project Cc-by

British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

 

Further reading:
British Library, London, Volume 12: Letters outward. IOR/R/15/1/12  – East India Company correspondence dated 1811 to 1813.
British Library London, ‘Gazetteer of Persia. Volume II’ (IOR/L/MIL/17/15/3/1) – for a description of the Ziegler & Co.’s activities at Sultanabad.
British Library, London, ‘Administration Report of the Persian Gulf Political Residency for the Years 1911-1914' (IOR/R/15/1/711) – reporting attempts to reform conditions in carpet-weaving factories at Kerman, 1913.
British Library, London, ‘File 16/32-II Miscellaneous. Correspondence with the Residency, Bushire.’ (IOR/R/15/2/1531) – correspondence relating to Trenchard Fowle’s carpets.
George Nathaniel Curzon, Persia and the Persian Question (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1892), 523-525.
Frederic John Goldsmid, Telegraph and Travel (London: MacMillan & Co., 1874), 586-587.
Edward Stack, Six Months in Persia Vol. 1 (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1882), 209.
Leonard Helfgott, “Carpet Collecting in Iran, 1873-1883: Robert Murdoch Smith and the Formation of the Modern Persian Carpet Industry” Muqarnas Vol.7 (1990), 171-181.