Untold lives blog

154 posts categorized "Domestic life"

16 May 2016

William Adams – from Gillingham to Japan

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William Adams, often described as 'the first Englishman in Japan', died on 16 May 1620 at Hirado.  He has become a powerful symbol of Anglo-Japanese friendship, and each year a memorial service is held in Hirado in his honour. The British Library holds letters written by Adams to the English East India Company and so curators from the Library send an annual message to be read aloud at the service.

Here is part of a letter dated 23 October 1611 which was sent by William Adams at Hirado to his fellow countrymen at Bantam.

Adams William - letter E 3 1 B20095-09
IOR/E/3/1 ff.122-129v Images Online  Noc

The letter provided a potted biography to explain how Adams came to be in Japan, starting with his birth in Gillingham Kent and his apprenticeship in Limehouse to ship owner Nicholas Diggins. Following service with Queen Elizabeth’s ships and the Barbary Merchants, Adams joined a Dutch merchant fleet as chief pilot in 1598. After a disastrous voyage, Adams arrived in Japan on board the Liefde in 1600.  Adams became immersed in local customs and built a new life for himself in Japan, prospering under the patronage of Tokugawa Ieyasu. 

When the Dutch and English East India Companies arrived in Japan in 1609 and 1613 respectively, Adams helped them to establish factories (trading posts) at Hirado. Adams served the English as interpreter and adviser and also undertook local trading voyages for them.

Adams had married Mary Hyn at St Dunstan Stepney on 20 August 1589 and they had at least two children.  One was a daughter named Deliverance. Letters passed between William and Mary while he was in Japan, and he arranged for money to be paid to her in London by the East India Company.  He also had a Japanese wife by whom he had a son Joseph and a daughter Susanna.  Another child was said to have been born in Hirado to a Japanese woman.

Hirado B20095-11

Sea route from Hirado to Osaka, Japan Or.70.bbb.9. (roll 2) Images Online Noc

Adams remained in Japan until his death. His will was dated 16 May 1620, the day he died, and probate was granted to Mary Adams in London on 8 October 1621.  He wished his estate to be divided into two parts, half going to his ‘lovinge wyfe & children in England’ and the other half to Joseph and Susanna.

His daughter Deliverance married Ratcliff mariner Raph Goodchild at St Dunstan Stepney on 30 September 1618. Records show that they had two daughters: Abigail baptised and buried in October 1619, and Jane baptised on 8 April 1621.

In August 1624, Deliverance Goodchild petitioned the Court of Directors for payment of her father's investment sent home on the Company ships Moon and Elizabeth.  Her mother Mary had died, leaving her share to Deliverance.

Very little else is known about William’s children.  I have discovered that Deliverance  was married for a second time to John Wright at St Alfege Greenwich on 13 October 1624. Joseph Adams made five voyages to Cochin China and Siam between 1624 and 1635.  Susanna was given a present by East India Company merchant Richard Cocks  in 1622 but then she disappears from the records.

Can any of our readers shed more light on the family of William Adams?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Anthony Farrington, The English Factory in Japan 1613-1623 (London, 1991)
IOR/E/3 Correspondence of overseas East India Company servants
IOR/B Minutes of East India Company Court of Directors
Parish records at London Metropolitan Archives


07 May 2016

Hedgehog Awareness

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In honour of Hedgehog Awareness Week, we’re sharing a charming image from the British Library collections discovered by our colleague Jeremy Nagle on Flickr Commons.


Hedgehog 2Noc

The little hedgehog tripping happily along appears in Aileen Aroon, a memoir . With other tales of faithful friends and favourites, sketched from the life by Gordon Stables (1840-1910). Stables was born in Scotland and he became an author after a career as a Royal Navy Surgeon.   He published over 130 books, mostly boys' adventure fiction.


Aileen Arood


This is the story attached to the picture of the hedgehog.
‘One day Tip was a long time absent, and when he came into the garden he came up to me and placed a large round ball all covered with thorns at my feet. " Whatever is it, Tip? " I asked. "That’s a hoggie," said Tip," and ain't my mouth sore just.” I put down my hands to lift it up, and drew them back with pricked and bleeding fingers. Then I shrieked, and nursie came running out, and shook me, and whacked me on the back as if I had swallowed a bone. That's how she generally served me. "What is it now? " she cried; "you're never out of mischief; did Tip bite you? " " No, no," I whimpered," the beastie bited me." Then I had three pets for many a day, Tip and the cat and the hedgehog, who grew very tame indeed.’

You can enjoy more of these tales as Aileen Arood has been digitised in its entirety. 

Happy reading!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

08 April 2016

Poverty and destitution in Victorian London

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My research on the Armstrong family has taken me into a world of poverty and deprivation centred on a poor area of London between Lisson Grove and Edgware Road in the Christ Church district of Marylebone.  In an 1843 report, the local registrar described a dense population, with up to seven sleeping in one room.  The general condition of the local people was ‘not very cleanly’, their habits ‘intemperate’, and their earnings irregular. Eliza Armstrong’s relations lived in Little James Street, Charles Street, Burns Place, and Stephen Street, four of the streets with the highest mortality rate in the district.


Greenwood map 1827 Marylebone
From Greenwood's Map of London (1827) showing the area where the Armstrong family lived

Eliza’s father Charles was born on 10 December 1844, the son of chimney sweep Samuel Armstrong and Rebecca Chapman. The banns of marriage for Samuel and Rebecca were read at Christ Church Marylebone at the beginning of 1849 but I can find no record of the marriage taking place.  Rebecca died in February 1855 at the age of 32, shortly after giving birth to a fifth daughter who died aged three weeks.  Samuel lived at 25 Charles Street Marylebone from the 1840s until his death in 1893. This was unusual - the London poor tended to be mobile even if only over short distances.  Charles Armstrong and his sisters Eliza Shillingford and Mary Ann Wyatt lived with their families near their father in Charles Street at various times. 

Piecing together Eliza’s maternal family is a challenge, especially since records show inconsistencies in names and ages.  In the 1911 census, Eliza’s mother Elizabeth said that she had given birth to ten children, four of whom had died. The first child of Charles and Elizabeth Armstrong appears to be a son Charles born in Marylebone on 17 December 1865. Charles Armstrong married Elizabeth Chivers on 25 January 1874 at St Mary Paddington. They gave separate addresses on the Paddington side of the Edgware Road although their children’s baptism records all show them as living in Charles Street.  Elizabeth’s father is named on the marriage certificate as James Chivers shoemaker and census returns give her place of birth as Bath. 

  Marylebone Workhouse 2

Receiving an infirm pauper at St Marylebone Workhouse from George R Sims Living London Vol II (1901)  Noc

The Chivers family from Bath first appear in Marylebone in the 1851 census: shoemaker Jubal, his wife Ann and their three young children Robert, Elizabeth and John.  It seems that Jubal was also known as James.  He entered St Marylebone Workhouse infirmary for medical treatment in August 1857. His family at first received weekly outdoor relief of 2 shillings, three loaves of bread, and 2lb of meat. However they became destitute, living in an empty room in George Street, Lisson Grove, and were admitted to the workhouse in November 1857. James/Jubal died there in March 1858 of ‘softing of the brain’.  His son Robert absconded from the workhouse in June 1858, whilst Ann discharged herself, Elizabeth and John in April 1859.

John Chivers trained as a butcher and worked in Paddington. Robert Chivers worked as a painter but spent periods of unemployment in St Marylebone Workhouse with his wife Elizabeth and children.  The story of Robert and his family will appear in a later post.

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

Further reading;
Fifth Annual Report of the Registrar-General of births, deaths and marriages in England
- Appendix (London, 1843)
Baptism, marriage and burial records for Marylebone held at London Metropolitan Archives
Alan R Neate, St Marylebone Workhouse (1967)
George R Sims, Living London (1901)



31 March 2016

Professor Frederick Browne - Help of the hairless & Victorian blogger

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Lack hair?  Going grey?  Suffer from 'dandriff' and scurf?  Need a sure fire winner at the races?  The hairdresser, ‘Professor’ Frederick John Browne, could address all of these issues, and more. 

A gifted self-publicist, Browne made use of the 19th century’s version of social media.  In addition to handbills and newspaper advertisements, he publicised his salon and wares on the covers of inexpensive popular novels issued by instalment.  Part nine of Shirley Brook’s Sooner or Later  celebrated Browne’s “ventilating and invisible peruke”.  The Professor hijacked popular songs substituting his own hair-related  lyrics, (“How sweet to the tresses is Browne’s Toilet Gem!” to the tune of ‘Home Sweet Home’); produced a sixteen page guide to his services modestly entitled “The Rising Wonder” and kept his clients up to date with his activities via regular issues of Professor Browne’s Toilet Almanack.

Professor Browne 1
 B.L. C.194.a.752. Although ignorant of Instagram, Brown recognised that an image had more impact than words. Noc

Browne, recognising the importance of visual marketing, included images (and colour where possible), facts and figures (not exclusively hair related), tips on hair care and reviews of new Browne merchandise (including the much lauded ‘concave slanting scurf brush’. 

Professor Browne 2

Morning Post 20 September 1846 British Newspaper Archive  Noc

His writing was characterised by humour and rhyme.  The parodies and punning references to literary and contemporary figures (from Shakespeare and Johnson to Louis Napoleon) appealed to the emerging educated middle classes. 

The sheer number of verses is overwhelming and occasionally drollery can feel a little strained, for example when recommending his cologne, ‘The Jockey Club Bouquet’, Browne recounts a dream in which a jockey brandished a fragrance bottle under his horse’s nose claiming “this magic essence which has come from Browne’s, Will make me a winner at Epsom Downs”.  Similarly, the Byron tablet soap which guaranteed “a perpetually soft white hand”.

Browne’s was actually a brand involving the extended family.  The shop was staffed by Browne (1807-1856), his wife Lydia (1806- 1868), and his son, Shem Frederick (1834-1863), as well as numerous assistants (“all well experienced and able Practitioners”).  Shem’s son (1863-1942) was named after the founder of the shop, Frederick John. The premises was owned by the Clothworkers Company and there are records which state that the family paid the lease from 1843 until at least 1882.

Professor Browne 3
Image courtesy of John Johnson Collection 

The comfortable salon in Fenchurch Street, was furnished like a gentleman’s club, albeit one with private rooms for dyeing or having one’s hair “brushed by machine”. It was open from 8am (and sometimes 7am) to 9pm.  Patrons could sit by the fire and browse newspapers, purchase the many fragrances and elixirs Browne had developed and patented, or discreetly examine “the Largest Stock of Ornamental Hair in the World always on view".

PJM Marks
Curator of Bookbindings Cc-by

Further reading:
The rising wonder
The John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library
Gender and Material Culture in Britain since 1600 / Hamlett, Jane (Editor); Hannan, Leonie (Editor); Grieg, Hannah (Editor). Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
Advertisement in The Tomahawk A Saturday journal of satire 19 February 1870.


29 March 2016

Let a Pineapple Speak For You

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The transmission of secret messages through codes or ciphers has throughout history often been a matter of life or death. One only needs to think of Mary Queen of Scots, who was beheaded for treason when her cipher was broken, or Alan Turing, who, by creating a machine to decode messages encoded by the Enigma, saved millions of lives in the Second World War.

For the expression of romantic emotions, less complex codes have found a wide usership. Most famous among these is perhaps the language of flowers. A beautiful example of a key to flower symbolism is this little book illustrated by Kate Greenaway.

   Greenaway 1
Greenaway 2Noc

Title and sample page from Language of Flowers, illustrated by Kate Greenaway. c.1884,

During the Victorian age, the language of flowers became extremely popular, which made it a widely understood means of communication. However, this rendered ‘floriography’ useless to anyone desiring to keep romantic communication private in order to circumvent parental disapproval or public humiliation.  The unknown author(s) of the 1854 Electro-magnetischer Liebestelegraph, oder neue Zeichensprache zur Verständigung unter Liebenden und Anderen (‘Electro-magnetic love telegraph, or a new sign language for the communication between lovers and others’) therefore believed a new secret language was required.

Electro-magnetischer 1Noc

Title Page from Electro-magnetischer Liebestelegraph oder eine Zeichensprach zur Verständigung unter Liebenden und Anderen. 8415.a.64

The exchange of ordinary items was encoded to transmit very specific messages. If the item was inconvenient, for example a postman or an oven, then a toy replica, a drawing of the item or the word alone was used. The author(s) took great pains to come up with whole sentences that could be signified through objects.

Electro-magnetischer 2Noc

The assigned meanings are supposed to resemble the ‘natural significance’ of their objects. A letter or postman means ‘awaiting a message from you’; a hand -‘desiring your hand in marriage’; a knife -‘your words have caused me deep pain’; a peacock -‘your vanity makes you unbearable’; an oven -‘being near you warms my heart.’ Curious examples include a Badewanne (bathtub), signifying ‘only from the moment I saw you did my life truly begin’; a Pantoffel (slipper) -‘to kiss you would be a punishment for me’; a Kaffeelöffel (coffee spoon) -‘when I see you, all my sorrows disappear’; a Biber (beaver) -‘if you can offer me a house of my own, ask again’; or an Ananas (pineapple) -‘nothing compares to the sweetness of your kiss’.

The author(s) of this work were aware that their code was not the most poetic way for the communication between lovers. Moreover, it is probably a good idea to take this Liebestelegraph with a grain of salt, as the text moves between helpful instructions and amusing banter. The appendix for example includes helpful suggestions of other ways for secret communication such as musical code (see image below), or hiding a message on a candy wrapper, which is an example for steganography (simply hiding a message), which constitutes the oldest form of secret writing.

Electro-magnetischer 3Noc

 Keeping the Liebestelegraph in mind, however, can also add a bit of secret fun to the exchange of ordinary items in everyday life. Perhaps the next time someone hands you a book, you should ask yourself: is he or she trying to say ‘let my pleading open your closed heart to me’?

Lena Böse
Intern, Western Heritage Collections Cc-by

Further Reading:
Simon Singh, The Science of Secrecy. The Secret History of Codes and Codebreaking. (London, 2000) YC.2001.a.11619

Visit the website of the Royal Collection Trust to learn more about the Victorians and floriography


21 March 2016

Eliza Armstrong – still elusive!

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In April 2012 I posted a piece about Eliza Armstrong, the young girl involved in W T Stead’s attempt to highlight the scandal of  child prostitution.  I tried to discover what happened to Eliza afterwards and appealed for help.  This is an update - Eliza is still proving to be elusive.

After the Old Bailey trial, Eliza was placed in the Princess Louise Home for the Protection of Young Girls in Wanstead Essex for good schooling and training before going into service. It was reported in the press that she did well at the Home and in June 1886 she was awarded a prize for general good conduct. By June 1889 she had been taken by the matron to ‘a situation with a good family in the country’.

I suggested that Eliza moved to North-East England and married Henry George West. Gavin Weightman has kindly sent me details of this marriage at the Register Office in Newcastle on 24 October 1893. Eliza Armstrong is aged 21 like our Eliza, but her father’s name is given as William Armstrong house carpenter, not Charles Armstrong chimney sweep.  However the 1901 census states that Eliza West was born in Edgware Road London – very close to Charles Street where our Armstrongs lived.  Is this just a coincidence? I have searched for an Eliza Armstrong born about 1872 to a William Armstrong in the Edgware Road area who could have married West in 1893 but have drawn a blank so far.  Can anyone do better?

Newspapers published a number of stories about Eliza’s family after she went away. In February1886 her father Charles was found guilty and fined for assaulting Ellen Jones a neighbour who appeared in court with ‘a fearfully discoloured eye and swollen cheek’. He claimed that her injuries were the result of her falling over his door mat when drunk. 

Armstrong Charles

 ‘Assault by a sweep’ illustrating the Charles Armstrong court case, although the name plate says ‘W. ARMSTRONG SWEEP’ -  Illustrated Police News 6 March 1886. Taken from British Newspaper Archive.


Six months later Eliza’s 12 year-old brother John aged was arrested for begging in the Edgware Road. He said he wanted money to go to the music hall. His mother Elizabeth said he was a bad boy. She had beaten him, kept him without clothes and sometimes without food, but nothing made him behave. John was taken to Paddington workhouse.

Elizabeth Armstrong was sentenced to fourteen days’ imprisonment in August 1888 for being drunk and disorderly and for assault. She had struck Ellen Tuley of Charles Street with a sweep’s broom and kicked Police Constable Nicholas. Her defence claimed the Armstrongs had been subjected to systematic annoyance ever since the Stead case. Charles was so affected that he had lost his reason and was in Marylebone Infirmary.  Workhouse records describe how Charles was hearing spirit voices and seeing imaginary objects. He was declared insane on 4 August 1888 and taken to Colney Hatch Asylum where he died in 1890.

In July1897, Elizabeth applied to Marylebone Police court for news of her 16 year-old son Charles whose period of five years’ detention at Macclesfield Industrial School had recently ended. Having corresponded regularly and affectionately, his letters had suddenly ceased the previous December when he had said was keen to come home to help her.  The magistrate promised to investigate. And so shall I – another Armstrong mystery!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Sheffield Independent 12 December 1885; Illustrated Police News 6 March 1886; Cardiff Times 14 August 1886;   London Evening Standard 4 June 1886; London Evening Standard  3 August 1888; Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper 9 Jun 1889; Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper 11 July 1897.

St Marylebone Workhouse papers relating to Charles Armstrong’s detention are held at London Metropolitan Archives.

29 February 2016

Leap Year Proposals

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2016 is a Leap Year and so 29 February has been added to the calendar. Some may complain that they are working an extra day for nothing, but on the plus side anyone with a bill due on 1 March has another day to find the money.

Superstitions attached to Leap Year include the belief that beans grow in pods in the reverse position to usual, with the eye away from the stalk.  Leap Years are also regarded as poor years for lambing:
Leap Year
Was ne’er a good sheep year.

There is a tradition that it is the prerogative of women to propose marriage to men during a Leap Year. Guidance for this was given in a 1606 book entitled Courtship, Love, and Matrimonie:

‘Albeit it is nowe become a part of the common lawe in regard to social relations of life, that as often as every bissextile year dost return, the ladyes have the sole privilege, during the time it continueth, of making love unto the men, which they doe either by words or lookes, as to them it seemeth proper; and, moreover, no man will be entitled to the benefit of clergy who dothe refuse to accept the offers of a ladye, or who dothe in any wise treate her proposal withe slight or contumely’.

Should a man refuse the offer of marriage, he is supposed to make a gift of a scarlet petticoat or a silk dress to the disappointed woman. 

Leap Year

A suffragette proposes to John Bull - Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald 30 March 1912 British Newspaper Archive 

However in December 1931 Rev John A Mayo, rector of Whitechapel in London, declared that he was not expecting an increase in the number of weddings at his church in the following Leap Year.  After 40 years as a clergyman he found that Leap Year never affected the marriage rate whereas the state of trade did. If the economy picked up in 1932, more people would marry regardless of whether or not women were proposing.

Leap Year proposals are not limited to the young. Neighbours Thomas Towers, 83, and Eliza Ann Wilson, 80, were wed in October 1936 after she proposed to him when he asked her about providing lodgings: ‘I don’t want any lodgers, but I don’t mind marrying you’.

A widow in Birmingham seized the 1932 Leap Year opportunity to send a letter proposing marriage to an inmate of the Poor Law Institution in Barnstaple Devon. She had read newspaper reports of how the man was expecting a cheque for £1,000 in back wages from a former employer in America.  The managers informed her that he already had a wife.

I’ll give the last word to a wife at Shoreditch County Court in 1924 who made a different kind of Leap Year proposal. She declared: ‘A woman does not need Leap Years to get a husband. What she wants is an easier method of getting rid of them’.

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

Further reading:
John Timbs, Things not generally known, familiarly explained (London, 1857).
British Newspaper Archive - Inverness Courier 8 March 1892; Whitby Gazette 11 March 1892; Dundee Evening Telegraph 12 March 1924; Dundee Courier 28 February 1928; Gloucester Citizen 30 December 1931; Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 9 January 1932; Dundee Evening Telegraph 17 October 1936.


14 February 2016

Mangling the Baby

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Last year we helped you to discover the identity of your true love by sharing some old St Valentine's Day customs. This year we bring you a very strange Valentine verse entitled 'Mangling the Baby'.  This is certainly not an old English tradition attached to 14 February!

  Mangling the Baby Noc

You mangled your little baby
One morning – so say all
The neighbours dwelling round you,
They heard the infant squall.

You mangled that wretched baby,
You did, you wretch, you know!
We saw its knickerbockers
In the apparatus go.

And we thought as it quickly vanished,
And uttered a cry of pain,
What will the kidling look like
When it comes out again?

Did you iron it? Did you hang it
In the garden across the line?
Tell me – or lose all title
To be my Valentine.


'Mangling the Baby' comes from the splendid Love Lyrics and Valentine Verses, for young and old, and is said to have been inspired by ‘the celebrated poem in  the “Hornet”’.  Can anyone shed some light on this? Or am I to stay permanently perplexed by one of the oddest poems I have ever come across?

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

Further reading:
E. M. Davies,  Love Lyrics and Valentine Verses, for young and old (London, 1872)