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03 January 2019

The Great War Fund Fete

On 13 January 1941 a War Fund Fete was held at Government House, Madras.  As well as raising money for the Madras War Fund, the fete was also intended as a propaganda event.

Fete programme coverIndia Office Private Papers Mss Eur C261/5/2 f 1 Front cover of the War Fund Fete programme 

It was a grand affair with the programme featuring 91 entries for stalls, games, entertainments and food and drink establishments, along with more practical facilities including cloakrooms and parcel stores, lost property and medical stations.  Currency for the fete was in coupons and the public had to purchase books of coupons in order to make purchases or enjoy the entertainments on offer.

One local newspaper on the day of the fete described Government House as having been 'transformed into a pleasureland' for that night's merrymaking.  According to the Madras Mail of 14 January 1941, the fete was opened when 'Tough cowboys burst open the gates at Government House yesterday and their tempestuous entrance made it possible for the public to enter at last'.

Many of the stalls were similar to those featured at fetes nowadays with lucky dips, raffles, coconut shy’s, and bagatelle.  Others however had more unusual titles, including ‘Bunty pulls the strings’ and ‘Breaking up the happy home’ (similar to today’s crockery smash stalls).  There were also elephant rides, several magic gardens and even a Chinese Laundry!  One of the most popular stalls at the Fete was that of Woolworth’s.  One local newspaper the following day observed:
'Equally crowded was the excellent “Woolworth” stall, where the most effective household oddments, artfully and thriftily contrived, were sold for a song'.

Entertainment at the fete included two bandstands and a theatre which featured dance groups and musicians as well as plays.  The performances on show included the Tamil comedy The Sub-Assistant Magistrate of Sultanpet and the Tamil play The Pongal Feast.

Food and drink were also in abundance with American style diners and saloons, coffee and refreshment stalls and a Toc H Bar.  For those looking for a full evening’s entertainment there was a Tocaitchaski bar with its own orchestra, a banqueting hall with dancing from 9pm to 2am (evening dress was optional) and a cabaret dinner, promenade and bar with the cabaret performance at 9pm.

The Mail 14 Jan 1941India Office Private Papers Mss Eur C261/5/2, f 23 Front page of The Mail 14 January 1941 showing the crowds surging into the fete

According to the newspaper reports people attended the fete in their thousands: 'In they surged, school boys and girls, scores of excited men and women, mothers with babies and with chattering kiddies clinging to available fingers, happy young things on the arms of their beaux, while burnished cars and buses squeezed through as well'.

In a letter written on 16 January 1941 Sir Arthur Hope, the Governor of Madras, congratulated Captain Thomas William Barnard, Honorary Secretary to the Fete’s organising committee, on the wonderful success of the fete and also commented that 'Apart from the financial result, it was a great piece of propoganda [sic] which will have its effect'.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur C261/5/2 - The Great Fete at Government House Grounds Madras 13 January 1941
- Includes press cuttings from The Mail (formerly known as The Madras Mail) 14 January 1941

 

01 January 2019

Indian Honours List, New Year 1919

On 1 January 1919 the India Office published its honours list approved by the King.  There is a memorandum in the archives giving the reasons why the awards were made. 

The first name on the list is Sir Dorabji Jamshedji Tata who was elevated to Knight Commander of the Order of the Star of India (K.C.S.I.) in recognition of being a pioneer of industrial enterprise in India.  He is followed by European, Indian and Burmese men holding civil, military, medical, scientific and diplomatic posts, as well as by Indian princes.  The Maharaja of Baroda and the Maharaja of Alwar, Rajputana, were made Knights Grand Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire (G.C.I.E.), the first for raising cash for the First World War as well as for his life-long efforts to improve the condition of his state; the second for providing soldiers.  Many honours were awarded for services connected with the War.

Star of India investitureFirst investiture of the Star of India November 1861 - Plate 17 of William Simpson's India: Ancient and Modern.  The Nawab Begum of Bhopal appears in the centre of the picture. Online Gallery

Forty-seven women in India were honoured in January 1919, mostly Europeans. Three women were made Commander of the Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.). Lady Eva Cardew had undertaken religious and philanthropic work in Madras and Ootacamund, as well as charitable efforts in connection with the War.  Mrs Gertrude Carmichael had worked with the East Indies Naval Fund; Bombay University; and Lady Willingdon’s scheme for maternity homes. Mrs Miriam Isabel Lyons had served for the past three years as President of the Poona Branch of the War and Relief Fund.

Fourteen women were made Officer of the British Empire (O.B.E.).  A number had been active in the Red Cross during the War.  Mrs Maud Lilian Davys had worked as an assistant to her husband Major Gerard Irvine Davys of the Indian Medical Service in a new laboratory for examining foodstuffs at Kasuali in the Punjab.  According to the 1939 Register, Mrs Davys was still working as a food scientist at the outbreak of the Second World War.

Mrs Alice Todhunter’s O.B.E. recognised her work with the Madras War Fund Ladies’ Depot, especially her success in securing the support of Indian women.  Mrs Todhunter had also been busy with the St John Ambulance Association and with the National Indian Association, striving for the education of Indian women and the encouragement of social intercourse between Indians and Europeans.

The list of Members of the British Empire had 27 women, seven Indian.  Bai Champabahen Manibhai of Bombay was praised for carrying on her mother’s philanthropic activities, including providing equipment for the Kapadwanj Dispensary and bearing the expenses of recruits at the Anand Depot.

Three women were awarded the Kaiser-i-Hind Gold Medal.  Miss Sarah Isabel Hatch of the Canadian Baptist Telegu Mission in Madras had established an asylum for lepers at Ramachandrapuram in the Godavari District in 1899 and now had over 100 inmates from across the Presidency.  Mrs Pandita Ramabai of Bombay had furthered the education of Indian women, with a team of ‘English and American ladies working under her’.  There were now 1,000 women and girls at a mission provided entirely by her.  Miss Gertrude Davis was Principal Matron in the Australian Army Nursing Service based at the Victoria War Hospital in Bombay.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/PS/15/41 File H224/1918 New Year’s Honours 1919
H Taprell-Dorling, Ribbons and Medals (London, 1916)

 

27 December 2018

German student duelling and ‘lager beer exploits’ in a 19th-century travel diary

StudentduellingblogDiary of E. T. Bagley, Add MS 89361/1, cover and first entry

Travelling the world has long been a rite of passage for students and young people, but whereas Instagram is now the place to document inter-railing through Europe or backpacking in South East Asia, 19th-century travellers recorded their experiences in journals and diaries. The Library has recently acquired the diary of ‘E. T. Bagley’, a young man travelling with a friend on a tour of Germany (Add MS 89361/1). Beginning on a Wednesday in May 1888 on an 8pm train from Liverpool Street Station, Bagley’s diary describes his adventures in German cities such as Cologne, Bonn and Darmstadt, as well as Amsterdam and the castles along the Rhine.

Bagley diary p54Bagley’s diary includes sketches of the places he visited on his tour, including the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress on the Rhine

But what most captured Bagley’s attention was student life in the university town of Heidelberg, and in particular the shocking spectacle of German student duelling (pp. 120-132). Duelling, or academic fencing, was common in major German universities in the late 19th and early 20th century. The resulting facial scars were seen as a badge of class and honour, reflecting the elite social setting in which they were received.

Bagley is both mystified and intrigued by the practice, remarking in his diary that ‘it seems such a foolish and cruel sport I fail to see anything brave or gallant whatever in it, these lunatics gash and cut their faces to make marks of honor forsooth marks of foolery’ (p. 125). He describes the usual behaviour of the students who ‘being Gentlemen and Germans are gentlemen as near perfection as possible’. The violence, he writes, begins in drinking parlours after imbibing ‘Lager beer as many as 13 or 16 pints’, when students begin challenging wearers of different college colours (p. 126).

Bagley diary p127A page titled ‘Lager beer exploits’

Bagley provides a vivid account of a duel in a drinking parlour:

Well at a given signal from the time keeper at it they go, you hear a fearful din clashing of sharp steel … its next to impossible to follow the sword the rapidity of the movement must be seen to be believed in about 30 seconds their swords are knocked up by the second, and yellow cap has two cuts on the head about 2 inches long and one down the cheek … a copious supply of bright crimson blood that pours rapidly from his head & face down his pads & legs in one broad brilliant hue covering entirely his chest & coming down his right leg & rapidly forming a lake of blood on his foot. (pp. 129-30)

Bagley ironically remarks on the ‘honor’ the students derived from their wounds, and the pride with which they point out the name of German politician (and student dueller) Wilhelm von Bismarck cut into a parlour table.

His contempt is summed up in his final observation on the experience: ‘there was humanity cutting & lashing at each other for amusement inside – outside the glorious sun & peaceful landscape’ (p. 132).

Bagley diary p98Sketch showing a view across the River Neckar from Heidelberg Castle

Journal of a tour of Germany by E. T. Bagley, Add MS 89361/1

Sara Hale
AHRC Innovation Placement Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Manchester
British Library, Heritage Made Digital

24 December 2018

Captain Bendy’s not so Happy Christmas

Christmas 1780 was not a happy one for Captain Richard Bendy of the East India Company’s cutter Hinde.  He had left St Helena on 29 November, having been despatched to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for repairs to his ship.  Two years in the water had left it worm damaged, and Rio was the nearest suitable port to heave down and repair the ship.  Captain Bendy arrived in Rio on 22 December carrying a letter from John Skottowe and Daniel Corneille - respectively Governor and Lieutenant Governor of St Helena - to the Portuguese Viceroy requesting permission for the Hinde’s repair and asking for protection for Captain Bendy, his ship and crew.  With Rio being part of the Portuguese Empire, and Anglo-Portuguese relations in 1780 on the whole cordial, what happened next was unexpected.

Rio c13086-19Add. 41761 f.30 no.2 ‘A View of Rio on the sea coast…’ (1789) Images Online

On 23 December, with his requests to see the Viceroy denied, Captain Bendy was informed that his ship was to be detained ‘until an answer was received from Lisbon to letters about her’.  He was immediately taken to ‘a common prison at night… without giving him a bed or telling him what crime had been committed’.  In the days that followed, the seamen from the Hinde were taken off and made prisoner on the island of Galoon (presumably one of the islands in Guanabara Bay), the ship was searched and its stores removed.  Captain Bendy complained of misunderstandings prompted by his lack of access to a ‘proper linguist’, and was compelled to sign a paper that he did not understand.  The Captain’s papers and the ship’s money totalling 2258 dollars were removed, although personal chests were given back to the officers and men.

Bendy blog 4IOR/H/155, p.303. Copy of letter from Captain Bendy to the Viceroy of Portugal, Rio de Janeiro, 26 Dec 1780.

By 16 January 1781, Captain Bendy was informed that a Court had decided that the cutter and all its stores were condemned ‘and were to be sold off for the benefit of the Queen of Portugal’, the Captain and crew would be taken to Lisbon.  The ship’s colours were struck and Captain Bendy returned to prison ‘where from the badness of his situation he was taken very ill and denied assistance for some time’.

Captain Bendy and his crew left Rio on 20 July 1781 on the St Joas Baptista, leaving behind the condemned ship Hinde and six black slaves and a black ‘apprentice’.  Arriving in Lisbon on 1 October 1781, Captain Bendy had his sword and papers returned to him, and the men were free to go.

Bendy blog 1IOR/H/155, p.307. List of crew of the Hinde arriving in Lisbon as prisoners

The episode did not prevent Captain Bendy’s appointment as Captain of the packet Swallow in June 1783, although the Chairman of the East India Company ‘very particularly cautioned him against illicit Trade and breaking bulk homewards’ – possibly suspicious of his activities.  Was his incarceration a mere misunderstanding, or did the Portuguese authorities suspect him of attempting to trade illegally in Brazil, where all commerce was prohibited except with Portugal?  It is not clear.  The East India Company themselves petitioned the Secretary of State against ‘the unwarrantable conduct of the Vice Roy of Rio de Janeiro’ and entreated him to obtain reimbursement from the Court of Portugal for £5503.19.4.  As for Captain Bendy, his health may well have been affected by months in jail; he died and was buried at Fort St George, Madras, on 9 September 1784.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/H/154: Home Miscellaneous: East India Series 62: pp.9-51 & 303-311
IOR/H/155: Home Miscellaneous: East India Series 63: pp.19-24 & 289-334
IOR/L/PS/19/126: Political and Secret Department Miscellaneous: Papers concerning Captain Richard Bendy of the Hinde and his imprisonment in Rio de Janeiro
IOR/B/98-99: Court Minutes of the Court of Directors of the East India Company, Apr 1782-Apr 1784

 

23 December 2018

Beware drinking at Christmas!

Beware drinking at Christmas - you might be kidnapped!

Drunken man c13485-21Add. 74284 f.135 ‘Flights of Fancy by J.F. Herring Junr. Jany. 1. 1831’ c13485-21 © The British Library Board -  Images Online

On 23 December 1766 James West wrote to his old acquaintance Robert James, the Secretary of the East India Company, with a frantic request for assistance.  West’s son-in-law Mr Archer was MP for Coventry and was concerned for Thomas Wormleighton, an apprentice in his constituency.  Wormleighton had apparently become drunk and had been ‘kidnapped’ into the East India Company’s service.  The letter claimed that he was now to be found at Gravesend aboard the East Indiaman Calcutta which was preparing to sail to the East Indies.  Mr Archer was appealing strongly  for his immediate discharge.

Christmas drinkingIOR/E/1/48, ff 664-665: letter 294 Noc

What actually happened to Thomas Wormleighton is unclear.  The letter was never put before the Court of Directors and we can’t trace a list of names for the 84 soldiers who were mustered on the Calcutta on 31 December.  Perhaps Robert James was able to do a favour for his friend and extricate the young man from his awkward situation.

One thing however is clear from this tale, getting drunk at Christmas in the 1760s was not a wise thing to do!

Karen Stapley,
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/1/48, ff 664-665: letter 294 from James West of Covent Garden, on behalf of Mr Archer, MP for Coventry, to Robert James regarding Thomas Wormleighton, a constituent of Coventry.

 

21 December 2018

Hey for Lubberland!

Before the end of the 19th century, catching a sight of cheap ballad-sheets, broadsides, chapbooks, and almanacks is how most people in England came into contact with the printed word.

Lubberland 8A 17th-century ballad ‘An Invitation to Lubberland’. BL Shelfmark C.20.f.8.(226)

Ballads often blended strands of traditional fable, myth and lore into topical themed entertainment.  In the 17th-century ballad ‘An Invitation to Lubberland,’ a ship’s captain and crew spread news of a far-off land, an English version of the medieval legend of a Land of Plenty, known throughout Europe as ‘Cockaigne’.  This utopia of gluttony and idleness has also been known in northern Europe as Luilekkerland (‘Lazy Luscious Land’) or Schlaraffenland (‘Sluggard’s Land’).

Lubberland 1Verses from the ballad tell of ‘streets are pavd with pudding-pies,’ and ‘hot roasted pigs’ that ‘run up and down, still crying out, Come eat me’. ‘The rivers run with claret fine, the brooks with rich canary’. ‘Hot custards grows on eery tree, each ditch affords rich jellies’. BL Shelfmark C.20.f.8.(226)

The word Lubberland in part comes from the Swedish word for lazy.  ‘Lubber’ is popularly associated with the salty, derogatory language of nautical folk.  It is maritime characteristics that are found in this ballad from the English tradition.  An island status necessarily means that such an earthly paradise can only be reached by voyaging the sea.

Lubberland 2 ‘Cocagna, as we say Lubberland’ perhaps the first printed mention of the English variant of the earthly paradise in Florio’s A Worlde of Wordes, or most copious and exact Dictionarie in Italian and English. 1598. BL Shelfmark 1560/4535

Elizabethan poets frequently repeated the spirit of the classics, nostalgically longing for perfect conditions that might be found on the ‘Fortunate Islands’ or the ‘Isles of the Blessed’.  Cheap ballads, chapbooks and broadsides represent a less sophisticated and more popular literature. Lubberland appealed to many an ‘ordinary’ person faced with the all-too-often grim reality of life.

Lubberland 3 ‘The Mapp of Lubberland or the Ile of Lasye’. An English print (ca. 1670) which is a take on Pieter Breugel the Elder’s ‘Interpretation of Land of Cockaigne’ (1567) ©Trustees of the British Museum.

It’s not always possible to be precise when tracing the use, reception and meaning of particular ballads.  Many are thematically ambiguous, dubious or have multiple meaning and intent.  Of course the land where ‘rocks are all of sugar candy’ and a person is ‘paid fourteene pence a day for snorting’ and lazing around is the stuff of nonsense and make-believe but it does reflect peoples’ dreams.  The necessities of food, shelter, clothes and a pleasant environment are all satisfied in the Land of Plenty, but there are also subversive traces in Lubberland:

‘There is no law nor lawyers fees. all men are free from fury, For eery one dos what he please, without a judge or jury’.

A hankering for justice, freedom and better conditions is projected to far-off lands.

Lubberland 4William Hawkins’ play Apollo Shrouing where' fourteene pence a day' can be earned in Lubberland.  BL Shelfmark C.34.d.59

The ballad must surely be mocking such wishful thinking; a life of ease where, ‘They have no landlords rent to pay, each man is a free-holder’ must be just a tall tale – the colourful yarn of sailors!

Lubberland 5Just a bit of Lubberland fun in Poor Robin Almanack , 1720. BL Shelfmark  P.P.2465.

Lubberland is commonly depicted as a land of fools and n’er-do-wells, an unreal place, a place of ‘child’s geography’.  The term becomes employed to denigrate, ridicule or satirise political outlooks that seek to change society.  Walter Scott described Napoleon as, ‘A Grand Elector, who was to be the very model of a King of Lubberland’, and in 1784 Benjamin Franklin insisted, ‘America is a land of labour, not what the English call Lubberland’.

The Topsy-Turvydom of Lubberland seems not simply to be just a bit of fun.  Subversive emotion and impulses which carry the tradition of Cocagna can be seen in other cheap printed literature from the period, like in the tale of  Lawrence Lazy.

Lubberland 6The History of Lawrence Lazy ca. 17550.  Lawrence Lazy, put on trial in Lubberland for casting spells on tradesmen which force them into instant slumber. Lawrence is acquitted by the Jury after supplicant apprentices testify that Lawrence gained them respite from being worked to death by their masters. BL Shelfmark 1079.i.14.(16)

The British Library was pleased to host recently The London Sea Shanty Collective singing sea songs from our collections, including a reinterpretation of ‘An Invitation to Lubberland’ with the assistance of the historian and author, Oskar Cox Jensen. 

Lubberland 7The London Sea Shanty Collective singing at the British Library, Summer 2018.

There are thousands of ballads to be found in the British Library’s printed heritage collections.  A new guide is available.

Christian Algar
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading:
Theresa Bane, Encyclopedia of Imaginary and Mythical places (2014)
Leslie Sheppard, The History of Street Literature (1972)
The London Sea Shanty Collective @LondonShanty

 

19 December 2018

Christmas bound

'Do give books - religious or otherwise - for Christmas. They're never fattening, seldom sinful, and permanently personal.' Sound advice from American magazine editor Lenore Hershey (1919-1997).

Naughty Boys and Girls11526.f.1. 19c green paper over boards on Naughty Boys and Girls [1852].

Those of us born ‘non digital’ would have regularly received a festive book or two; an annual, collections of fairy tales, ghost stories or Christmas verse.  Whatever the subject, the bindings were invariably attractive. Mass production techniques developed in the 19th century meant that books once hand-bound in leather were now available in inexpensive cloth or paper covers.  The emerging middle classes in Victorian England had money to spare for the purchase of extras, notably books, and if they were instructional as well as aesthetically appealing, all the better.  Artists were employed to decorate the bindings and they often ‘advertised’ by incorporating their initials into their designs.  Notable were John Leighton, also Albert Henry Warren, William Harry Rogers and William Ralston.  Examples of their work are below.

Naturally, Christmas would not be Christmas without Charles Dickens, particularly as many of his stories were set in the festive season.  Their popularity was a money-spinner for author and publishers alike.

Dickens - Christmas Stories12623.g.25. Christmas Stories from the Household Words. Conducted by Charles Dickens. [The extra Christmas numbers for 1850-1858.]

Victorian publishers exploited this lucrative new market to tailor books to the tastes of children, although the two depicted in the song book below seem somewhat depressed at the prospect!

 Stories for the Little Ones11602.cc.30. Gold blocked cloth binding designed by William Ralston.  Note the initials WR towards the centre of the tail edge.

Some children’s picture books retained a didactic flavour.  The upper cover of Simple Hans and other funny pictures and stories proclaimed 'Oh children, children come and see / This funny picture-book for you and me/ Bought by our Mama dear! / So that we may grow good and wise / And ‘neath a merry laugh’s disguise/ Learn naughty ways to fear'.

Other themes were more fun, ranging from the snowy weather to seasonal tales and traditional toys.

Jack Frost & Betty Snow
12807.b.53. Gold blocked cloth binding designed by John Leighton.

King Nut Cracker12806.e.12. Paper binding over boards on King Nutcracker, 1854.

Tales of the Toys12807.ee.35.  Gold blocked cloth binding designed by Albert Henry Warren on Tales of the Toys, 1869 and bound by Bone and son of London.

Books could also promote sociability and enhance family life.  After the grand Christmas dinner, chapters containing stories, jokes, nonsense verse and other favourites could be read aloud and enjoyed by everyone.
 

Hunting of the SnarkW14/4782.  Gold blocked cloth binding on Lewis Caroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, 1876.


Bushel of MerrythoughtsRB.31.a.43. Paper binding over boards on A bushel of merry-thoughts, 1868 designed by William Harry Rogers (his intertwined initials are beneath the red pennant to the left).

Serious-minded relatives or godparents who held themselves responsible for the spiritual or moral well-being of their young kinsfolk, sometimes felt it appropriate to give them devotional or educational works.  One can only hope that they were not quizzed on the contents!

Five spinesSpines from gold blocked cloth bindings (taken from the Library’s online image databse of bookbindings).

Annuals were popular, particularly as gifts to older children who could be trusted to read quietly to themselves (perhaps whilst the adults had an after dinner nap).

Peter Parley's AnnualPP.6750. Gold blocked publisher’s cloth binding on an 1860 annual (note the designer’s signature MAC below the date). This was a gift from father to son as indicated by the manuscript notes inside: "Dec. 21st 1859. To My Dear Son Denis. A Reward for attention to his studies. D H Donnell".

 

London Out of Town12352.a.3. Detail from the paper cover of London out of town.  The price was one shilling.

In 1844, John Leighton wrote and illustrated the amusing London out of town. Or the adventures of the Browns at the sea side.  It was one of the earliest comic books and appealed to old and young alike.

Merry Christmas and merry reading!

Christmas Rhymes and New Year's Chimes11649.f.22. Blocked in colours on cloth. Mary D Brine, [Christmas Rhymes and New Year's Chimes ... Illustrated.] [1890] 

P. J. M. Marks
Curator, Bookbindings. Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading:
Edmund M. B. King, Victorian Decorated Trade Bindings, 1830-1880: A Descriptive Bibliography. The British Library and Oak Knoll Press, 2003.
The Victorian Web

With thanks to Gillian Ridgley.

 

17 December 2018

Cats at Christmas

What is it about cats and Christmas?  There doesn’t seem to be an obvious connection and yet…there are so many books which seem to make the association.

Here at the British Library we are currently celebrating cats in books, manuscripts, artwork and maps in our free exhibition Cats on the Page which runs in the Entrance Hall Gallery until 17 March 2019.

We are lucky enough to have been lent two pieces of original artwork by Judith Kerr which are held by Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books.  One is of this image from Mog’s Christmas which was published in 1976.  Mog, bewildered by all the Christmas preparations, seeks refuge on a nice, soft, cushion of snow on top of the chimney … you can probably guess the eventual result!  However, all ends happily – and here you can see Mog and the Thomas Family celebrating Christmas together.  If you look closely you will even find a copy of the first Mog story, Mog the forgetful cat, in Nicky’s hand.

Mogs-christmas-image©1976-kerr-kneale-productions-ltdMog's Christmas image, 1976 © Kerr Kneale Productions Ltd

There are at least two pantomimes featuring famous cats – Puss in Boots and Dick Whittington.  In the exhibition we show this poster for a production of Puss in Boots staged at the Drury Lane Theatre over Christmas 1887-8.  Augustus Harris, the producer, specialised in spectacular Christmas shows which drew large audiences and Puss was played by Charles Lauri, Junior, who was famous for his animal impersonations.

Puss in Boots 075971Augustus Harris’s pantomime: Puss in Boots. [London]: C.J. Culliford & Sons, [1887]. Evan.1903. © British Library Board

We also have a pop-up version of the tale by Vojtěch Kubašta, open at the scene with Puss and the cobbler and tailor, next to a leaf from a manuscript of Angela Carter’s re-working of the tale, later published in her collection The Bloody chamber (1979).

As for the story of Dick Whittington and his cat, based upon the real figure of Richard Whittington who was appointed Mayor of London in 1397, we display them as depicted in Lilian Lancaster’s humorous cartoon map of Northumberland.  Lancaster herself was an actor who often performed in pantomimes.

Northumberlandbewitchedbylillianlancaster19thcenturycthebritishlibraryboard Lilian Lancaster, Northumberland bewitched!! [19th century]. Maps CC.5.a.232. © The British Library Board

But what of other Christmas cats not currently on display?  Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor of Gloucester is set in the 18th century.  Mice are perhaps to the fore, but Simpkin the cat is a central figure.  The tailor is making a coat and waistcoat for the Mayor of Gloucester who is to be married on Christmas Day.  He sends his cat out to get provisions and more twist (silk thread) and meanwhile finds and frees the mice Simpkin had trapped for his supper.  On his return, Simpkin is annoyed and hides the twist.  The tailor falls ill and is unable to work but when he returns to his shop on Christmas morning he finds the mice have completed everything except for one buttonhole.  Moreover Simpkin, having seen the industrious mice at work, is repentant and gives the tailor the twist which allows him to finish the waistcoat in time.

The Tailor of Gloucester_900pxBeatrix Potter, The Tailor of Gloucester. London: Frederick Warne and Co., 1903. Cup.402.a.6. Cover illustration by Beatrix Potter. © British Library Board

A cat who tries to ruin Christmas for two mice meets his come-uppance on Boxing Day in Nick Butterworth’s Jingle bells.  In Robert Westall’s tale The Christmas cat, set in the 1930s, two children join forces to rescue a stray cat and their actions set in a train a series of new beginnings.  Even Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas is slightly cheered up when his cat is draped around his neck!

But we are just scraping the surface here - who are your favourite Christmas cats?

Alison Bailey
Lead Curator, Printed Heritage Collections 1901-2000

Cats on the Page exhibition supported by

AFI standard logos-02
Further reading:
Puss in Boots. [Created by] V. Kubašta. London: Bancroft & Co. Ltd., [1958?]. W.E.d.692.
Angela Carter, ‘Puss-in-Boots’. [1979]. Add MS 88899/1/34, f.209
Nick Butterworth, Jingle bells. London: HarperCollins, 1998. YK.1998.b.8090.
Robert Westall, The Christmas cat. Illustrated by John Lawrence. London: Methuen Children’s Books, 1991. YK.1991.b.5798.
Raymond Briggs, Father Christmas. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1973. X.992/1364.