THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

9 posts from January 2017

31 January 2017

Stamps and Gender Studies: Female royalty on Hawaiian definitive Postage Stamps, 1864-1893

Postage stamps are an important resource for gender studies.  Hawaiian stamps issued between 1864 and 1893 are an excellent example.  Hawaii was originally an independent nation with its own monarchy, parliament, anthem and flag.  Several of the nation’s postage stamps depict the last senior female members of the Hawaiian Royal Family; all strong, compassionate, talented women with a deep love for their kingdom and people.

Princess Victoria KamamauluBritish Library, Philatelic collections: UPU Collection: Hawaii 1893 Provisional Government Overprinted Issues Noc

Although Princess Victoria Kamamalu’s (1838-1866) brother the King prevented her marriage for political reasons, Victoria was far from a pawn in male power politics of the time.  Remaining a spinster she resisted her brother’s attempts to marry her off to more amenable suitors, even causing the King significant embarrassment when implicated in a scandal with a married Englishman. An accomplished pianist and singer she performed in the Kawaiaiha’o Church Choir despite criticisms that her royal rank rendered such activities inappropriate. In 1863 she also established the Kaahumanu Society to assist small pox sufferers, the sick and elderly.

 

Princess LikelikeBritish Library, Philatelic collections: UPU Collection: Hawaii 1893 Provisional Government Overprinted Issues Noc

Princess Likelike (1851-1887) married Archibald Scott Cleghorn, a Scottish resident. Tiring of his controlling behaviour she abandoned him to become the Governor of Big Island between 1879 and 1880, refusing his repeated requests to return home. Involved in extensive charity work, Likelike also had a musical bent writing iconic Hawaiian songs including Ainahau.

 

Queen KapiolaniBritish Library, Philatelic collections: UPU Collection: Hawaii 1893 Provisional Government Overprinted Issues Noc

Queen Kapilolani (1834-1899) established the Kapiolani maternity home and participated in the 1887 state visit to Britain to attend Queen Victoria’s 50th Jubilee Celebrations. Throughout the visit Kapiolani insisted on speaking Hawaiian despite being proficient in English.

 

Queen Emma Kaleleonalani British Library, Philatelic collections: UPU Collection: Hawaii 1893 Provisional Government Overprinted Issues Noc

Queen Emma Kaleleonalani (1836-1885) was a renowned equestrian who expanded the Royal Palace Library. She established the Queen’s Hospital in 1859 and St Andrew’s Priory School for girls in 1867. A devout Anglican she was a central figure in establishing the Church of Hawaii and St Andrew’s Cathedral. 

 

Queen LiliuokalaniBritish Library, Philatelic collections: UPU Collection: Hawaii 1893 Provisional Government Overprinted Issues Noc

Queen Liluokalani (1838-1917) assisted in founding Queen’s Hospital and the Kaahumanu Society for the relief of the elderly and sick in 1864. In 1909 she also established the Liliuokalani Trust for the welfare of orphaned Hawaiian Children. She wrote Hawaii’s most iconic song Aloha ‘oe and one of Hawaii’s national anthems, acted as regent during her brother’s world tour in 1881, and also participated in the 1887 State visit to Britain. In 1891 she was elected head of state on her brother’s death, ruling until 1893 when she was imprisoned and forced to abdicate following an American backed coup bringing the Hawaiian Monarchy to a tragic end. Prior to her death in 1917 Liliuokalani continually sought support to regain her throne, and also published her memoirs Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen in 1898.


Richard Scott Morel
Curator, Philatelic Collections

Further reading:
British Library, Philatelic collections: UPU Collection: Hawaii 1893 Provisional Government Overprinted Issues
Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen (Boston, 1898)
Paul Bailey, Those Kings and Queens of Old Hawaii, (LA, 1975)
Ralph S. Kuykendall, The Hawaiian Kingdom (3 volumes, Honolulu, 1947-1967)

27 January 2017

The East India Company and Nootka Sound

Viewers of the BBC TV series Taboo have heard about Nootka Sound and the machinations of the East India Company to acquire land there owned by James Keziah Delaney. Taboo is fictional, but Nootka is a real place and the East India Company had indeed been interested in it in the late 18th century.

Nootka is situated on the west coast of Vancouver Island in the province of British Columbia, Canada.  The Sound is one of many inlets along the Pacific coast of the island.

 Vancouver Island

 From Handbook to Vancouver Island and British Columbia (London, 1862) Noc

Captain James Cook’s third voyage (1776-1780) had shown that there was potential for a maritime fur trade between North West America and China.  As China lay within the area of the East India Company’s trading monopoly, it was likely that British merchants would try to circumvent this restriction by entering foreign employment. To avoid losing out, the Company had to enter the fur trade itself or license British traders to operate at Canton in China.  Experimental voyages were sent out from England, India, and Macao. One of these was the result of a proposal sent to the East India Company in 1785 by Richard Cadman Etches, a London merchant. Etches headed a syndicate consisting of merchants and gentlemen, and one woman - Mary Camilla Brook, tea dealer of London.

 

Nootka

From James Bryce, A Cyclopædia of Geography (London, 1862) BL flickr Noc


In May 1785 Etches met with the Directors who sat on the Company's Committee of Correspondence. He proposed sending the ships King George and Queen Charlotte to the North West Coast of America where small trading posts would be established to purchase furs and other goods to sell in Japan and China. The Committee agreed that it was safe for the Company’s interests to grant a licence to the two ships to trade within the limits of its charter. However strict conditions were laid down, with large financial penalties if broken:

• The ships were to go to America via Cape Horn or the Straits of Magellan and then on to Japan or other places northward to sell furs and other goods.
• The ships were not to go southward or westward of Canton or westward of New Holland (Australia).
• No European goods were to be supplied to Canton.
• Money received for furs and other goods was to be paid into the Company treasury at Canton in return for bills of exchange.
• Unsold furs were to be offered to the Company's supercargoes at Canton, possibly for sale in India.
• If Etches’ ships were sound, they were to be used to carry a cargo of tea and other Chinese goods to London.  They needed to be free of any smell which might damage the tea. If unsuitable, the ships could go back to North West America and load goods for Europe.
•  If the traders upset the native peoples within the Company's monopoly limits, they were to make reparation so that Company interests were not damaged.

There are some journals for Etches’ ships in the East India Company archives as well as many papers about the various Nootka Sound expeditions, including ‘Additions to Capt. Cook's Vocabulary of the Nootka Sound Language’.  Plenty to satisfy the curiosity of anyone wanting to delve into the themes of Taboo!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Barry M Gough, Distant Dominion (University of British Columbia, 1980).
IOR/H/800 Papers concerning a Voyage to Nootka Sound.
IORL/MAR/B/404-O Journal of the voyage of the Prince of Wales to North West America and China 1786-1788.
IOR/L/MAR/B/477A Journal of the voyage of the Queen Charlotte from China to England 1788.
IOR/L/MAR/B/402G Journal of the voyage of the King George from China to England 1788.
IOR/D/120 Committee of Correspondence 6 May 1785.

IOR/D - the papers of the Committee of Correspondence 1700-1858 - now accessible as a digital resource:
East India Company, Module 1: Trade, Governance and Empire, 1600-1947 is available online from Adam Matthew and there is access in our Reading Rooms in London and Yorkshire.

 

24 January 2017

‘We become crazy as lunatics’: Responding to the Bengal famine in Indian letters from the Second World War

Extracts from letters archived at the British Library, exchanged between the Indian home front and international battlefronts during the Second World War, become textual connectors linking the farthest corners of the Empire and imperial strongholds requiring defence against the Axis alliance.  Such letters map the breadth of a global war and plunge deep into the Indian soldier’s psyche, revealing ruptures in the colonial identity foisted on him.

Food dominates much of these epistolary conversations, with Indian soldiers reflecting on their army rations and diet abroad.  Rumours of a great and devastating famine sweeping India, and particularly Bengal, in 1943 reach them, despite censorship of news and letters.  A Havildar or junior officer, part of the Sappers and Miners unit, writes from the Middle East: “From my personal experience I can tell you that the food we get here is much better than that we soldiers get in India.  But whenever I sit for my meals, a dreadful picture of the appalling Indian food problem passes through my mind leaving a cloudy sediment on the walls of my heart which makes me nauseous and often I leave my meals untouched.”

1294231001

Representation of a family struck by the Bengal Famine of 1942 by Bangladeshi artist Zoinul Abedin. ©British Museum 2012,3027.1

The soldier highlights his solidarity with this imagined community of sufferers through images of his own body, and his reactions are expressed in physiological terms – he visualises the walls of his heart being covered with ‘cloudy sediment’ at the thought of food shortage in India.  In visceral terms, this is how he understands empathy.  The spectre of famine in India hovers, Banquo-like, before him every time he sits down to eat his rations carefully provided by the colonial British government; the projection of food deprivation in his homeland thousands of miles away reaches out and, almost literally, touches his heart, preventing him from eating.

© IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 2220) A 'Hindoo' kitchen in Syria by Edward Bawden

Edward Bawden, A Hindoo Kitchen: RIASC 8th, 10th and 12th Indian Mule Coys, Zghorta, Syria © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 2220)

Another letter from a Havildar Clerk to relatives in South India relates the helplessness caused by famine to the extraordinary conditions of the wartime marketplace: “I am terribly sorry to learn about the food situation in India and it seems as if there is no salvation for me.  From my earliest days to the present time I have always been in this abyss of misery.  It was with grim determination to see you all free from poverty that I allotted my whole pay of Rs 85/- to you, but cruel Fate is determined to defeat me in all my purposes.  What is the use of money when we are unable to obtain the necessities of life in exchange for it?  The situation would drive even the most level-headed of us to madness and when we think of conditions in India we become crazy as lunatics.”

How can the soldier’s earnings help his family when ordinary people have been priced out of food because of soaring rates of wartime inflation?  The letter reveals both the economic bonds linking the Indian soldier’s participation in an imperial war, and the psychological despair of being unable to rescue loved ones from hardship – as traumatic for the soldier as the heavy fighting he witnesses on the battlefield.


Diya Gupta
PhD researcher at King’s College London

Further reading:
Middle East Military Censorship Reports: Fortnightly Summaries Covering Indian Troops, April-October 1943, IOR/L/PJ/12/655

Exploring emotional worlds: Indian soldiers’ letters from the Second World War

The ‘Kashmir of Europe’ and other exoticisms: Indian soldiers’ tales of travel in the Second World War

Find out more in this short film

 

19 January 2017

From Stats Man to Ad Man: Jesse Scott

The history of advertising is told via great men: in the early 1960s David Ogilvy wrote his Confessions of an Advertising Man and Winston Fletcher recently published his memoir-cum-history Powers of Persuasion. This blog tells of an untold life in advertising: that of a journalist turned statistician, Jesse Scott, whose periodical, The Statistical Review of Press Advertising, is often neglected by social and economic historians of modern Britain.

Contentspage

The Statistical Review of Press Advertising October 1949 - a problematic year of continuing austerity for the advertising trade when the Labour government sort to restrain proto-Mad Men! 

Jesse Scott migrated to the UK from the US and in 1928 set up a company to publish the American Legion magazine in Europe. This venture failed but his friends put a proposition to him. They noted that advertising in the UK was expanding fast and so manufacturers and the media required new sources of information: why did he not exploit this gap in the market by getting his company to counter all the ‘soft pedal and hush hush about expenditure’? (The Review, I, 1, October 1932.)

From 1932 to 1962 Scott’s company produced hard facts about the hard sell. The Review published figures on advertising expenditure by surveying quarterly all the space given over to display advertisements in national daily, evening and Sunday papers; provincial daily and evening papers; provincial and suburban weekly papers; and weekly and monthly trade and technical periodicals. From 1956 The Review also included expenditure on commercial television.

Example of data

The Review categorised data by product type, brand and firm: note that expenditure on Mars was the highest, and that this would have been a luxury product during the war and post-war austerity as sweets were rationed and expensive.
  

To compute an estimate of total expenditure, Scott multiplied his estimates of space given to adverts by standard market rates for advertising copy. From the 1940s and beyond, social scientists and the Advertising Association used these figures to calculate total expenditure on advertising, adding in non-mass media forms such as posters and direct mail (see Clayton for a critical evaluation of these methods).

Advertisement

The Review generated revenue via subscriptions and from adverts placed by media organisations, such as newspaper groups and advertising agencies as illustrated by this page promoting G. S. Royds Ltd.

By the mid twentieth century expenditure on advertising had become a controversial subject: scholars, politicians and cultural commentators alleged that vast sums were being wasted on puffery. In 1953, for example, Aneurin Bevan, a Labour MP, ex-cabinet minister and de facto leader of left-wing faction within the Party, provoked delegates at the Advertising Association conference by labelling advertising as “evil’—a trade that created a consumer who was “passive, besieged, assaulted, battered and robbed” (Sean Nixon, Hard Sell, p. 164).

Make_Do_and_Mend_Art.IWMPST14924

Make do and Mend - The government also advertised and The Review counted this expenditure which, as in this case of a wartime propaganda poster, presented the anti-thesis to the message of private sector adverts: consume more branded goods.

Scott disagreed with this socialist critique and he used his editorials to argue that advertising had social value: it was, he argued, a means by which consumers gained information about products, and thus a vital component of a dynamic capitalist economy. As an American he was ideally placed to promote advertising, which in the US had become, he claimed, ‘an indispensible element in sustaining economic activity’. Scott believed that if British firms were to compete at home and overseas they had to adopt American methods of selling, and embrace advertising wholeheartedly. Jesse Scott, Stats Man, had become Ad Man, an advocate for advertising.

David Clayton
University of York, UK

Further reading:
The Statistical Review of Press Advertising October 1932-December 1962 British Library General Reference Collection P.P.1423.clr.
Clayton, D. (2010) ‘Advertising expenditure in 1950s Britain’, Business History, 52, 651-665.
Nixon, S. (2013) Hard sell: Advertising, affluence and transatlantic relations, c. 1951-69 (Manchester University Press, Manchester).

 

17 January 2017

Major new digital resource for the India Office Records

A major new digital resource has just become available for researching the East India Company and the India Office.  You can now take an online journey through 350 years of history, from the foundation of the East India Company to Indian Independence.

Adam Matthew Digital has digitised four series of India Office Records -
IOR/A: East India Company: Charters, Deeds, Statutes and Treaties 1600-1947
IOR/B: Minutes of the East India Company’s Directors and Proprietors, 1599-1858
IOR/C: Council of India Minutes and Memoranda, 1858-1947
IOR/D: Minutes and Memoranda of General Committees and Offices of the East India Company, 1700-1858

I have selected some documents to give you just a taste of the kinds of records you can view in the digital collection..

IOR B 1 f.6
IOR/B/1 f.6

Let’s start with the list of the first subscribers to the Company drawn up in September 1599. Differing amounts of money were pledged as investments in the proposed venture to trade with the East Indies.  The Lord Mayor of London heads the list followed by Aldermen and members of the City Livery Companies. Queen Elizabeth I granted a royal charter to the Company on 31 December 1600.

 

IOR B 2 f.20 Instructions to Henry Middleton cropped
IOR/B/2 f.20

Next is an extract from the instructions given by the East India Company to Henry Middleton before he sailed as General of the Second Voyage in 1604.  The Company hoped that Middleton would be able ‘to bringe this longe and tedious voyadge to a profitable end’.  Sailors were to be disciplined for blasphemy and ‘all Idle and fillthie Communicacion’ and banned from unlawful gaming, especially playing dice.


 

IOR B 26 p.278

IOR/B/26 p.278

Here are the Court Minutes for 1 August 1660 which discussed the business affairs of Robert Tichborne, an East India Company Director who had signed the death warrant of King Charles I.  The newly restored King Charles II was taking action to seize Tichborne’s property, including his investments in the Company. Tichborne was tried as a regicide in October 1660 and sentenced to death. He was spared but spent the rest of his life in prison. 

 

IOR D 7 p.876 cropped
IOR/D/7 p.876

In February 1821 Dr George Rees sent a note about patients placed at his mental health asylum by the East India Company.  Lieutenant Felham was very dangerously ill and the use of wine was absolutely necessary for him. Frederick Haydn was to have a violin provided for him. 

 

IOR C 121 3 Mar 1931 
IOR C 121 3 Mar 1931 - 2 cropped
 IOR/C/121

On 3 March 1931 the Council of India recommended that Lord Willingdon, on his appointment as Viceroy, should be allowed to take out to India five motor cars at a total cost of £3450 instead of one good Rolls Royce and 3 other cars.

 

IOR A 1 102
IOR/A/102 Instrument of Abdication

We finish with the Instrument of Abdication, one of six that Edward VIII signed at Fort Belvedere, Windsor Great Park, on 10 December 1936. The document is signed by Edward VIII and his three brothers. An Act of Parliament effected the King’s abdication on the following day, ending a reign of less than a year. India received this copy by virtue of the King’s position as Emperor of India. The document was delivered to the Secretary of State for India.

East India Company, Module 1: Trade, Governance and Empire, 1600-1947 is available online from Adam Matthew and there will be access in our Reading Rooms in London and Yorkshire.  Modules II and III will be published in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

Happy hunting!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:

East India Company: Rise to Demise
Human Stories from the East India Company

 

12 January 2017

The Beach Pyjama Incident

Greta Garbo and Jean Harlow wore them, but British officials felt that beach pyjamas weren’t right for Sharjah in 1933.

Beach pyjamas

Woman in beach pyjamas, 1932. Bundesarchiv_Bild_102-13627 via Wikimedia Commons

Air travel had come to Sharjah the previous year, when it began serving as a stopover on the Imperial Airways route to India. Facilities included a rest house with bath and showers. However, in 1933 a report reached the British Political Agent in Bahrain that passengers had been making visits to the town, including one female passenger ‘clad in beach pyjamas’, the fashionably fast beach leisurewear of the 1930s.

A senior India Office official, J G Laithwaite, was soon referring in an official minute to the ‘beach pyjama incident’.

IOR L PS 12 3807, f 24

Minute by Laithwaite, India Office, 8 May 1933, referring to ‘the beach pyjama incident’ at Sharjah IOR/L/PS/12/3807, f 24.

British concern about the free movement of air passengers at Sharjah took two forms. On the one hand, they wished to limit contact between visitors and the Sheikh of Sharjah, particularly unauthorised representatives of oil companies hunting for lucrative petroleum contracts.

On the other hand, there was concern that passengers might be ‘insulted or molested’ by the local inhabitants, who had ‘not up to now been accustomed to having strangers, especially ladies, wandering about their bazaars’. If this happened, the British authorities would be forced to insist that the Sheikh identified and punished the offenders, with a consequent straining of relations between the British and the Sheikh.

The British Political Resident, Lieutenant-Colonel Trenchard Fowle, proceeded to write to the Sheikh of Sharjah, warning him, more tactfully, about the possible threat to passengers from ‘some bad character or Bedouin from the desert’, and asking him to enforce a treaty clause stating that no Imperial Airways employee or passenger should be allowed to enter the town of Sharjah without the Sheikh’s permission.

IOR L PS 12 3807, f 29

Letter from Lieutenant-Colonel Trenchard Fowle, Political Resident in Persian Gulf, to the Sheikh of Sharjah, March 1933, warning him of the consequences, if some ‘unfortunate incident’ were to occur involving Imperial Airways passengers at Sharjah: IOR/L/PS/12/3807, f 29.

The historian Penelope Tuson thinks that the concern of British administrators for the safety of female passengers was only apparent, and that that their real motive was to preserve sexual propriety and the status quo, in the face of increasing numbers of female visitors to the Gulf – doctors, nurses, oil industry wives, and travellers like Freya Stark. All of these women were outside the British political and diplomatic class, and hence more difficult to control.

However, British officials may have reflected that Sharjah was in a part of the Gulf that had up to that point seen few manifestations of Western culture. (The airfield ‘rest house’ was actually a fort, Al Mahatta, complete with armed guards.) Moreover, the chief concern of British administrators was normally the need to preserve friendly relations with local rulers, who were themselves part of the status quo.

Thus, Fowle had also been at pains to reprimand Imperial Airways over an incident at Gwadar, an exclave of the sultanate of Muscat, in which an employee of the company had accidentally wounded a local person while out shooting. Fortunately, the incident in question was quickly settled.

In the event, Imperial Airways promptly enforced restrictions on the movements of passengers at Sharjah.

The identity of the female passenger at the centre of the controversy is not recorded. However, the incident illustrates some of the cultural interactions that characterised the changing face of the Gulf in the 1930s.

The correspondence file on which this piece is based will be made available in the Qatar Digital Library in 2017.

Martin Woodward
Content Specialist, Archives
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
British Library, Coll 30/88 'Question of residence of European women on the Trucial Coast.' IOR/L/PS/12/3807.
Penelope Tuson, Playing the Game. The Story of Western Women in Arabia (London and New York: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 2003)
Film of the airport at Sharjah in 1937

 

 

10 January 2017

Persia I will eat last

The beginning of the First World War was a difficult time for Persia. With the country divided between Russian and British zones of influence, the Shah and his government were trying to maintain their sovereignty and to keep the country neutral. However, the war was fought on Persian territory on many fronts.

 

  Persia 1877

From Hippesley Cunliffe Marsh, A ride through Islam: being a journey through Persia and Afghanistan to India, viâ Meshed, Herat and Kandahar (London, 1877)

 

Documents from the India Office Records unveil British intrigues to maintain control over Persia. The British aimed to prevent the country from entering the war and supporting Turkey with a Muslim coalition - a jihad.

One of the propaganda efforts reported in the records is an alleged plunder by the Turks of jewels and money to the value of £2 million from the shrines of Nejef [Najaf, Iraq] and Karbala in January 1915.  This news was reported in the British press, discussed in Parliament, and recorded in the Political and Secret Department Records. But there is no evidence that this in fact ever happened.

Najaf and Karbala are the two holiest sites for Shia Muslims, and the value of the plunder would be over £300 million in today’s money. Such news would not have gone unnoticed among Arabic and Turkish sources, yet I could not find anything but a mention during a debate at the House of Commons.

The cautious wording chosen by Charles Henry Roberts, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for India at the time, when interrogated about the loot of Karbala is quite revealing:
'I should hesitate to say that the reports absolutely confirm the truth of the story; but they seem to render it considerably more probable'.

Did the looting ever happen? Maybe the British were exaggerating a story to convince the Persians to join them in the war against the Turks?


  IOR-L-PS-10-481 f.316
File 3516/1914 Pt 4 'German War: Persia', IOR/L/PS/10/481, f 316

Having read numerous files concerning the British occupation of Persia during World War One, I believe that this quote describes quite well the British approach towards Persia:

‘I fear that the only advantage which we can promise Persia is that which the Cyclops promised Odysseus
Οὖτιν ἐγὼ πύματον ἔδομαι μετὰ οἷς ἑτάροισιν’ (Noman will I eat last among his comrades…)

  Odysseus and Polyphemus the Cyclops

Odysseus and Polyphemus the Cyclops from Henri.Raison Du Cleuziou, La création de l'homme et les premiers âges de l'humanité  (Paris, 1887) BL flickr

 

Valentina Mirabella
Archive Specialist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership
@miravale

Further reading:
File 3516/1914 Pt 4 'German War: Persia', IOR/L/PS/10/481
Odyssey 9.369 - Translation by A.T. Murray

 

 

06 January 2017

The mysterious Mr John Fillinham: an apprentice made good?

Among the collections of printed ephemera at the British Library are eight scrap-books relating to 18th and 19th century entertainments formed by John Fillinham.  The Fillinham volumes are a rich source of information about performing arts and other pastimes.  They are arranged according to venue (British Museum, Carlisle House, etc.) or subject (Christmas carols, or trained animals and menageries, for example).  There are advertisements, playbills, song sheets, tickets, newspaper clippings, and illustrations taken from books (elephants seem particularly popular).  They seem to tell us something about the interests and lifestyle of their collector.

Fillinham B20074-03

From John Fillinham's collection of ephemera

 

But who was John Fillinham?

An invoice in the British Library Archive reveals  that these volumes — along with some printed books — were acquired via an agent for £16 11s 6d at the Fillingham sale of 7 August 1862.  A hunt through the sale catalogues led to the discovery of the Puttick & Simpson auction where the library and antiquarian collections of J.J.A. Fillinham Esq. of Hanover Street, Walworth, were sold.

 

Fillinham 1889.b.10. 2 p.6

 From John Fillinham's collection of ephemera

 

The London Gazette announced the death of a John Joseph Ashby Fillinham of 8 Hanover Street on 15 April 1862. He was buried at nearby Nunhead Cemetery, having died aged 77.  Digging deeper with this full name, we find him initiated as a freemason in 1819, recorded as a member of the Camden Society in the 1840s, and elected to the Society of Antiquaries shortly before his death.  This sounds like educated gentleman of reasonable means.  However, when we explore further back into his background, a curious story begins to emerge.

John Joseph Ashby Fillinham was baptised in 1785, the son of John Fillinham and his wife  Ann (née Potts) of Wardour Street in Soho.  John Fillinham senior was a coach maker who filed for bankruptcy in November 1796.  John Joseph Ashby Fillinham was apprenticed in 1800 to a plumber named Joseph Ashby who also lived in Wardour Street.

Could our gentleman collector have started as an apprentice plumber from Soho?  The name is distinctive and the dates fit.  The reference to his future master in his full baptismal name could indicate a long-standing family or financial connection between the Fillinhams and the Ashbys. When Joseph Ashby died in 1802, he left the bulk of his estate to Ann Fillinham rather than to his widow Elizabeth.  Ann was to hold the plumbing business and the Wardour Street premises in trust for her son John until he came of age – the apprentice was to become owner.

 

Fillinham c04357-06

From John Fillinham's collection of ephemera

 

One final piece of evidence: the 1851 census reveals that John Fillinham was then a bachelor living in Walworth with his unmarried sister, Lucy, and their domestic servant.  It gives his occupation as ‘collecting clerk’.  Not then a gentleman of independent wealth, but certainly someone who had progressed sufficiently up the social ladder to be able to participate in learned societies and form a notable antiquarian collection of his own.   And if the contents of the Fillinham collection reflect his personal interests, then he must also have been someone who had the leisure time to frequent the best museums, pleasure gardens, menageries and fairs in London.  Not bad for someone who started life as a plumber’s apprentice.

Adrian Edwards
Head, Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading:
Collection of ephemera, ca. 1700 to ca. 1860, formed by John Fillinham. BL shelfmark: 1889.b.10.
• Vol. 1. The British Museum.
• Vol. 2. Carlisle House and White Conduit Street.
• Vol. 3. Christmas carols.
• Vol. 4. Fairs.
• Vol. 5. Remarkable characters, exhibitions and fireworks in Green Park.
• Vols. 6–8. Trained animals and menageries.
Access is currently restricted owing to the fragility of the volumes.

A Fillinham volume on pleasure gardens is now at the London Guildhall Library.

There Will Be Fun – a free British Library exhibition on Victorian popular entertainments open until March 2017.