Untold lives blog

120 posts categorized "Domestic life"

01 March 2015

Saint David’s Day

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Today we share with you a short poem published in the Gloucester Citizen on 1 March 1904.  The author is ‘A.B.E.’ of Gloucester.  Can any of our readers identify the poet so we can bring them out of the shadows?


Leek 081989
Large flag or leek from The Book of Garden Management and Rural Economy (1885-86) Images Online  Noc


Saint David's Day

There’s a dear little plant that they cherish in Wales,
    It is known to the world as the Leek;
It’s a kind of spring onion with two or three tails,
    And the strength of it lies in its reek.
While the Rose and the Thistle are good in their way,
    And the Shamrock is dainty and neat,
You must bet on the Leek if you want a bouquet
That will flavour both sides of the street.


Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records  Cc-by


16 February 2015

Edward Lloyd and the ‘Penny Bloods’

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Edward Lloyd was born on 16 February 1815. He was a publisher and newspaper proprietor, and the founder of two large paper mills.  Here we give you a glimpse into his remarkable career.

Lloyd was a pioneer of cheap popular literature.  His ‘Penny Bloods’ were a great success with working class readers.  From 1835 he published titles such as Lives of the Most Notorious Highwaymen, Footpads etc, and History of the Pirates of All Nations.  He and writer Thomas Peckett Prest then produced imitations of the works of Charles Dickens, for example The Life and Adventures of Oliver Twiss the Workhouse Boy, and Memoirs of Nickelas Nicklebery.  These stories sold many thousands of copies each week.

 Gambler's wife 2
From The Gambler’s Wife; or, Murder will Out Noc

Lloyd issued works of history, horror, and romance.  Stories were published in instalments, and all featured plenty of drama and bloodthirsty action.  It was Lloyd who introduced vampires to a mass readership with Varney the Vampyre; or, the Feast of blood.

Varney the Vampyre
From Varney the Vampyre  Noc

Lloyd’s Weekly Newpaper was founded in 1843. Lloyd put a good deal of effort into promotion and it was claimed in the 1890s: ‘The pictorial advertisements of Messrs. Lloyd’s journals  - themselves works of art – are prominent at all stations and throughout the country, and there is no village in England so obscure as to be unaware of the existence of Lloyd’s News’.  Circulation grew to a huge 930,000 copies weekly. Stories deemed to be of particular importance were illustrated by artists kept on the staff.  There was a successful ‘Lost Relative’ column: people wrote in from every part of the world and a shortened version of the letters was published for free.

By 1861 Lloyd was using so much paper that he started his own paper mill on the River Lea at Bow in East London. As it was becoming difficult to obtain sufficient supplies of rags, esparto grass was brought in as a raw material from Algeria and Spain.  Soon Lloyd’s mill was expanding to make paper for rival newspapers.

In 1877 Lloyd’s firm purchased the Daily Chronicle. Much of this newspaper was devoted to events in London, but it also gathered news from the rest of the UK, and from abroad via daily cables. Circulation was increased from 8,000 to 140,000 in the space of eight years, and to meet demand a second mill was opened at Sittingbourne in Kent which produced a wide variety of paper types.  By 1895, Lloyd’s were employing over 700 people at the mills and 500 at the newspaper offices and home and export departments.

From Miranda, or the Heiress of the Grange  Noc

It has been claimed that having established himself in ‘higher’ publishing circles Lloyd then tried to supress the ‘Penny Bloods’, sending out agents to buy up and destroy the stocks at coffee shops and circulating libraries.  Whether or not this is true, many 'Bloods' have survived and a good number can be found at the British Library, some in digitised format.

Edward Lloyd died on 8 April 1890 having amassed a fortune from his various business ventures. The value of his estate at death was £563,000.

Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records Cc-by

Further reading:
Edward Lloyd Ltd, A glimpse into paper making and journalism (1895)
John Medcraft, A bibliography of the penny bloods of Edward Lloyd (1945)

Further reading:
Edward Lloyd Ltd, A glimpse into paper making and journalism (1895)
John Medcraft, A bibliography of the penny bloods of Edward Lloyd (1945)
Varney – an early vampire story
Edward Lloyd


14 February 2015

St Valentine's Day customs

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Today we help you to discover the identity of your true love by sharing some old St Valentine's Day customs gleaned from the British Library collections.

On the night before Valentine’s Day, take five bay leaves, pin four of them to the corners of your pillow, and the fifth to the middle. If you dream of your sweetheart, you will be married before the year is over. To stimulate dreams, hard boil an egg, take out the yolk, and fill the egg with salt.  When you go to bed, eat the egg, shell included.  Do not speak or drink afterwards.

Write your admirers’ names on pieces of paper, roll them up in clay, and put them into water.  The first name to rise to the surface is your Valentine.

Valentine 1
From E. M. Davies,  Love Lyrics and Valentine Verses, for young and old (London, 1872) British Library flickr  Noc

In Devon, girls gathered in the church porch on Valentine’s Eve waiting until the clock struck twelve.  They then slowly returned home, scattering hempseed and reciting:

Hempseed I sow, hempseed  I mow,
He that will my true love be
Come rake this hempseed after me

It was said that the girl would then see the form of her intended husband walking behind her. In Derbyshire this apparition was conjured up if a woman ran around the church twelve times without stopping.

Some places, including London, held that a lad’s Valentine was the first lass he saw on the morning of Valentine’s Day who was not of his own household.  A lass took as her Valentine the first youth she saw. 

Valentine 2
From E. M. Davies,  Love Lyrics and Valentine Verses, for young and old (London, 1872) British Library flickr Noc

A custom in the west of England was for three single young men to go out together before dawn on St Valentine’s Day to catch an old owl and two sparrows in a neighbour’s barn. The birds were supposed to be symbolic of wisdom presiding over love.  If successful and able to bring the birds uninjured to the inn before the females of the household had risen, the lads were rewarded in honour of St Valentine with three pots of purl, a drink of hot beer mixed with gin.

Children in Hertfordshire went to the home of chief person in the village who threw them a bundle of wreaths and lovers’ knots.  The children then marched these around the village, stopping at houses to sing:

Good morrow to you, Valentine,
Curl your locks as I do mine,
Two before and three behind,
Good morrow to you, Valentine

Presumably some sort of treat or reward was given in return for the serenade.

At one village in Kent the girls assembled an ‘ivy girl’ and the boys a ‘holly boy’. Each group then stole the other’s effigy and burned them in separate parts of the village with ‘acclamations, huzzas, and other noise’.  Local people could offer no explanation– it had been a part of village life as long as anyone could remember.

The North Wales Chronicle ran an article in February 1861 describing some of the strange customs connected with St Valentine’s Day.  The newspaper stated that the annual celebrations were to be welcomed because the mass manufacture of Valentine cards gave employment to hundreds of women and children. 

Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records Cc-by

Further reading:
William Hone, The Every-day Book (1825)
British Newspaper ArchiveKentish Gazette 2 February 1808; North Wales Chronicle 27 February 1861; Birmingham Journal 14 February 1863


16 January 2015

In great distress

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On 16 January 1838 a petition asking for help was composed on behalf of Elizabeth Mary Hickman of Blackfriars for submission to the East India Company.  She was the widow of Henry Hickman who had worked as a labourer in the Company warehouses for 23 years. When the Company was winding up its commercial operations in London, Henry was made redundant in March 1836 at the age of 55 with a weekly pension of 8 shillings. Elizabeth claimed that he was in a weak state of mind at that time.  Henry deserted his wife in May 1837 and she heard nothing of him until she learned in December that that he had committed suicide in Somerset.  Elizabeth had been forced to sell her furniture, clothing and other comforts to support herself and she was in great distress.  The Company gave Elizabeth a donation of £5.

Local newspapers provide the rest of this story. When Henry left Elizabeth, his fourth wife, he went to live with his son at a cottage in the forest of Neroche near Buckland St Mary in Somerset. In November 1837 he collected the quarterly instalment of his pension from a bank in Barnstaple.  Instead of paying his son for his board, he spent the money on alcohol. His son remonstrated with him, saying that he could not afford to keep his father and support a large family unless Henry contributed to household expenditure as promised.  The next morning Henry came downstairs about 8 o’clock and asked his daughter-in-law for half a pint of water. Soon afterwards she found that he had strangled himself with a noose made from his neck-cloth, garters, and braces tied to the bed.

Poor family 066953
From G. Cruikshank, The Bottle, and the Drunkard's Children ( 1905) Images Online Noc

The coroner’s inquest lasted four hours with the jury unable to make a unanimous decision on whether this was a case of suicide.  In the end, they divided: twelve declared a verdict of ‘lunacy’ and two of ‘felo de se’.  In consequence a verdict of lunacy was recorded. The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette added a postscript to this sad story:

‘It is melancholy to add, that the infatuated man, in addition to his other infirmities, repudiated the idea of the existence of a Divine Being, and always ridiculed the name of God when questioned on the subject, often expressing his entire acquiescence in the pernicious doctrines of Tom Paine, whose writings the deceased had in his possession’.

Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records Cc-by

Further reading:

IOR/L/F/2/26 No.136 of January 1838

British Newspaper Archive: Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser 29 November 1837; Dorset County Chronicle 30 November 1837; Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 2 December 1837; Western Times 9 December 1837

Honest and industrious – petitions to the East India Company

East India Company London Workers


11 January 2015

Pining for domestic bliss

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A career in India could offer adventure and advancement, but sometimes this was at the expense of personal happiness. In 1821, Reginald Orton, Assistant Surgeon with HM 34th Regiment in India wrote to Anne Orton in Yorkshire about his improving career prospects and his wistful vision of a happier time in the future when he could return to family life, English moors and frosty mornings. It seems he had to persuade himself of the benefits of remaining in India when he wrote ‘I should be very much to blame to sacrifice such an opportunity as I now have of making myself easy for life, by bearing the evils of this country a little longer. Rely on it however nothing shall induce me to stay more than about a couple of years more.’  He complained ‘It is an age since I heard from you. Pray write oftener.  Best love to my mother and Betsy, who I hope has quite recovered.’

  Mss Eur D1036
Extract from Reginald Orton's letter to Anne Orton, Mss Eur D1036   Cc-by

Presumably Betsy and Anne were his sisters and he must have enjoyed their company when growing up as he continued rather poignantly ‘My life is a mere blank at present, and hangs rather heavily on my hands. In this country very few have quiet domestic female society; and that is certainly the greatest charm of a man’s life. My almost sole amusements are books, and laying schemes of happiness to be put in practice some couple of years hence at home. I think I should like to live in the country and have a few acres of land – keep a cow or two, some sheep and pigs – a horse, a few hives of bees ….’

India - Europeans breakfasting D40087-35
Maybe Orton would have been happier in India if he had enjoyed the domestic arrangements depicted in‘The Breakfast’, in William Tayler's Sketches Illustrating the Manners & Customs of the Indians and Anglo-Indians (1842)   Public Domain
Images Online

In the absence of such comforts, he continued his modest dreams. ‘I would take a trip to London now and then, and perhaps to France and Italy; or if I found myself cured of the itch of wandering, I might drive you or Betsy in a gig down to the sea-coast and come quietly back again’

‘You would naturally be looking out for a wife for me, and I shouldn’t be surprised if I found myself fairly coupled some fine morning – that is if I could find anybody whose society I could value to have me and it is not at all a clear thing with me that I should for you will find a vast change in my appearance since I saw you. I am always thin and between the sun and the Seringapatam fever, I have got a vile complexion. ‘

It is not surprising that Reginald Orton took a rather bleak view of life in India in 1821 as he had recently completed a study of the cholera epidemic which had swept across the country wreaking a terrible toll on its inhabitants. His painstaking research, published in An Essay on the Epidemic Cholera of India, documented the disease in gruesome detail and explored its possible causes, including the impact of the weather. After concentrating on such a depressing subject, no wonder he pined for domestic bliss and frosty mornings in England.

Penny Brook
India Office Records   Cc-by

Further reading

Mss Eur D1036 Letters from Reginald Orton (d 1835), surgeon's mate on the East Indiaman `Arniston' 1810, assistant surgeon and surgeon with H M 34th Regiment 1810-27, telling his family about life in India and his career prospects, and about his book An Essay on the Epidemic Cholera of India (Madras 1820; 2nd edn London 1831).

Explore the British Library for printed collections

Search our Catalogues of Archives and Manuscripts



06 January 2015

Twelfth Day

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6 January is the twelfth day after Christmas when the festival of the Epiphany is celebrated in the Christian Church.  Twelfth Day used to be a day of great merrymaking marking the end of Christmas festivities.

One custom on 6 January was the eating of ‘Twelfth Cake’.  As late as 1930 the Yorkshire Post was advising its readers that the Twelfth Cake should be made from a rich fruit mixture and that it was essential that the cake should contain a bean or a silver penny or charm.  The lucky finder was crowned ‘King of the Bean’ for the day.  

Pastry cooks in 19th century London vied for custom on Twelfth Day with sumptuous displays of cakes of all sizes and prices.  Cakes were elaborately decorated with a vast variety of white sugar shapes: stars, castles, dragons, fish, lions, milk-maids, knights, and serpents.  Pavements in front of confectioners’ shops were thronged with customers and onlookers.

Such are the scenes, that, at the front and side
Of the Twelfth-cake-shops, scatter wild dismay;
As up the slipp'ry curb, or pavement wide,
We seek the pastrycooks, to keep Twelfth-day;
While ladies stand aghast, in speechless trance,
Look round – dare not go back – and yet dare not advance.

(William Hone, The Every-day Book)

London boys made their sport on Twelfth Day by nailing the coat tails of spectators to the bottom of the shop window frames or pinning people together by their clothes.

  Twelfth Cake
January 6 Epiphany - From William Hone, The Every-day Book Noc

The tradition of the Twelfth Cake lives on at London’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane where the Baddeley Cake ceremony takes place every year on 6 January. Actor Robert Baddeley who died in 1794 made a bequest in his will that the interest on £100 in 3% consolidated bank annuities was to be used each year to purchase a Twelfth Cake with wine and punch. The ladies and gentlemen of Drury Lane Theatre were to enjoy these in the Green Room.

  Robert Baddeley
Robert Baddeley (1733–1794) -Image courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library  CC by same as

By the l880s the annual ceremony had evolved somewhat from the gathering envisaged by Robert Baddeley.  The London Daily News of 8 January 1884 reported that there were about 1,000 people present at that year’s celebration as it had become the custom to invite almost everyone of note connected with the theatrical profession in London.  Indeed the money available from the bequest could meet only a small part of the total cost of the event. At the end of the pantomime performance, two gigantic pink and white cakes each measuring six feet in diameter were placed on the stage. The Master of the Drury Lane Fund made ’a vigorous onslaught upon the cake, which however proved difficult to grapple with, and it was only when he had braced himself up for a second attempt that the operator was able to cut it into slices for distribution’.  Basketfuls of cake were handed round the theatre together with ‘other refreshments of a less solid kind’.

Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records  Cc-by

Further reading:

William Hone, The Every-day Book (1825)

British Newspaper Archive: Morning Post 11 January 1826; London Daily News  8 January 1884; Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 3 January 1930


01 January 2015

Honest and industrious – petitions to the East India Company

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It’s easy to forget that New Year’s Day has only been a Bank Holiday in the whole of the UK since 1974.  So 1 January 1841 was a normal working day in the City of London. In Leadenhall Street, the East India Company directors who sat on the Finance and Home Committee met to consider business.

East India House 2
East India House engraved by Albert Henry Payne from W. I. Bicknell Illustrated London  (1846) British Library flickr Noc

Amongst the paperwork set before them were four petitions from former Company warehouse workers and their families.  The Company had been forced to make majority of its London warehouse staff redundant after commercial operations ceased in 1834.  A sliding-scale of pensions was introduced based on length of service. However many of the warehouse workers and their families were driven to appeal to the Company for assistance in times of trouble.   As we shall see, the directors did not always agree to help.

Former labourer Timothy McCarthy of 52 Baldwins Gardens, Leather Lane, Holborn, had a wife and three children to support but was out of work. He wished to go to Shanagarry County Cork where he had friends who would help him.  He asked for a quarter’s pension in advance to pay for the journey. A testimonial from Thomas Doyle of the Catholic Chapel, London Road, stated that McCarthy was honest and industrious. Company official Joseph Barber Wilks submitted a report to the Committee: McCarthy had been visited at his home; he bore a very good character but was unable to find employment; he and his two grown up sons were out of work. The Committee agreed to advance McCarthy’s quarterly pension of £4 17s 6d to allow the family to travel to Ireland.

Poor and plain
Image from Mary Seamer, Poor and Plain. A story for elder girls (1891) British Library flickr Noc


Mary Reading of 9 Green Street, New Road, was the widow of James Reading who had worked as a labourer at the indigo warehouse. James had died on 11 December 1840. Mary’s request for financial help was rejected.

William Perry had been out of work for eight weeks. He had a sick wife and two children to support and his family was in great distress.  The Committee refused to advance part of his pension.

Amelia Gregory of 37 Gloucester Street, Commercial Road, was the daughter of George Gregory, who had died recently after working for the East India Company for more than 37 years ‘during which period no Complaint was ever brought against him for neglect of duty but that the same was discharged to the entire satisfaction of the Officers of your honourable company’.  George had retired on 28 May 1838 with a pension of 11s 6d per week.  Amelia was unable to earn a living because of general debility and ill health and she had been supported by her father.  Her mother had died only seven months before her father. Mr Wilks reported:  George Gregory had been gate keeper at the Cutler Street warehouse for many years; he had the best of characters and was much respected; his daughter had been seen at home and her ill health was evident.  If George had died in service, Amelia would have received £5 5s towards his funeral expenses from the Company welfare fund. The Committee decided to award her a donation of £3 3s.

Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records Cc-by

Further reading:

IOR/L/F/2/55 nos. 18, 20, 21 and 46 of January 1841

Biographical notes on East India Company warehouse labourers appointed 1801-1832 - India Office Family History Search


24 December 2014

A wartime Christmas party

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In 1943 it was decided to hold a Christmas party in London for the evacuated children of British prisoners of war in Malaya.  It was funded by the officers and men of HMS Malaya and held in the Royal Empire Society’s Hall in Northumberland Avenue off Whitehall on the afternoon of 4 January 1944.  Nearly 200 children aged between four and sixteen attended, including six sons and daughters of the ship’s crew who lived in London. The crew members’ children wore tickets bearing the name HMS Malaya so they were easily distinguishable. 

From Lizzie Lawson and Robert Ellice Mack, Old Father Christmas. Picture-Book (1888) British Library flickr  Noc

The party was deemed a great success. It started with cine films of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Ferdinand the Bull.  Music was provided by Mr E J Smith’s Orchestra. After a very good tea, the children were entertained by conjuror Col Ling Soo with a performance of Chinese magic.

Col Ling Soo was the alter ego of Herbert J Collings (1881-1958). He told the party organisers that his fee for performing would be five guineas and no lower as he was sure of several other enquiries about bookings.  Collings was well-known, a founder member of the Magic Circle who was President for two terms.  He served in World War One as a soldier in the Artists Rifles Officer Training Unit.   The Artists Rifles gave a ‘splendid’ fundraising concert in Chelmsford in May 1917 and Corporal Collings contributed his ‘Merriemysticisms’.   Collings appeared before the King and Queen on more than one occasion and newspaper advertisements for his shows refer to a demonstration of Chinese magic given by royal command at Windsor Castle.

At the end of the party Father Christmas appeared and each child was given a present from under a beautifully decorated tree.  A message of thanks was drafted for HMS Malaya:
'The children of Malaya send their greetings to the battleship.  They wish the officers and men of H.M.S. Malaya could be with them this afternoon.  Everyone is enjoying the party and we, one and all, send our heartiest thanks for this splendid entertainment'.
The celebration ended with three rousing cheers for HMS Malaya.

Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records Cc-by

Further reading:
India Office Private Papers: MSS Eur F168/53
British Newspaper Archive for Herbert Collings/Col Ling Soo