THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

90 posts categorized "Leisure"

16 August 2017

“Old Dad” – Turner and Son in Twickenham

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A widowed father in his sixties sharing a small house with his ambitious, unmarried son in his thirties; running the household while his son runs the business.  Sounds familiar?  Steptoe and Son?  Try Turner and Son.

The great painter JMW Turner’s father, William Turner, was born in South Molton, Devon, in 1745, but moved to London around 1770, following in his father’s trade as a barber and wig-maker and settling in Covent Garden.  His wife Mary, sadly, suffered from a form of mental illness, which resulted in her being admitted to St Luke’s Hospital for Lunaticks in Old Street in 1799 and then Bethlem Hospital in 1800, where she died in 1804. Her condition had not been helped by the loss of her daughter, Mary Ann, who died just before her fifth birthday in 1783.

In 1807, JMW Turner was a successful artist with a flourishing studio and gallery in Queen Anne Street, off Harley Street, and had recently been made Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy.  Because of the Napoleonic Wars, most of his painting expeditions at this time were within the UK.  He also had a busy private life, which included a daughter born to his mistress, Sarah Danby, with another born later.  Turner needed somewhere to escape to for relaxation, so he bought a plot of land in Twickenham and designed a two-bedroom house, Sandycombe Lodge, which was built over the next five years.  In 1813 he moved in with his father, fondly known as “Old Dad”.

Turner Old Dad

John Linnell’s drawing of Old Dad made in 1812, when he attended one of his son’s lectures at the Royal Academy. The eyes below are those of Turner, looking at his notes. Image © Tate CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported).  

Old Dad kept house for Turner and tended the plot of land, sometimes complaining of the hard work involved in controlling the rampant weeds. Turner Senior also acted as studio assistant, preparing and varnishing canvases, and initially walked the ten miles to Turner’s studio.  However, he swiftly made the connection between the local market gardens and Covent Garden and could often be seen sitting on top of the vegetables in the market gardeners’ carts, the agreed fare being a glass of gin.

Turner Sandycombe Lodge

Sandycombe Lodge, Twickenham, Villa of J.M.W. Turner, engraved by W.B. Cooke, published 1814. Image © Tate CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported). 

There are many visitors’ accounts of the good times that were had at Sandycombe Lodge, which was used for picnics, parties, fishing expeditions and the meetings of The Picnic Academical Club, a sort of artistic lads’ drinking society.  Old Dad played a central role in the organisation of these festivities.  According to an early biographer, Walter Thornbury, he was ‘very like his son in the face, particularly as to the nose...he had a habit of jumping up on his toes every two or three minutes which rather astonished strangers.  The father and son lived on very friendly terms together’. They certainly had a very close relationship and Turner was known to change his plans to be with his father on his birthday.

After 1815, Turner was able to travel more freely in mainland Europe and his visits to Twickenham became less frequent.  Old Dad’s health also began to fail and in 1826, Turner sold Sandycombe Lodge and moved his father back to Queen Anne Street.  This is the part of Turner’s life that is depicted in the film “Mr Turner”. Old Dad died in 1830, at the age of 81 and is buried in St Paul’s, Covent Garden (The Actors’ Church).

Turner memorial

Old Dad’s memorial in St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden - photograph by the author   Noc

 

David Meaden
Independent researcher

Sandycombe Lodge has recently undergone extensive restoration to return it to Turner’s original design and is now open to visitors. Twitter @TurnersHouse

Further reading:
J.M.W.Turner, R.A. The Artist and his House at Twickenham, Catherine Parry-Wingfield, 2012.
The life of J. M. W Turner, R.A.; founded on letters and papers furnished by his friends and fellow academicians, Walter Thornbury, 1897.

Richmond and Twickenham: A Modern Arcadia
Turner's topographical watercolours

 

 

14 August 2017

Ranjitsinhji, our glorious hero bold

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The first Indian man to play cricket for England, KS Ranjitsinhji, was described in these glowing terms in a song written in his honour. His cricketing career in England began while he was studying in Cambridge. He played for Sussex from 1895 to 1904 and for England against Australia from 1896 to 1902.

Ranji - Driving MBM 1896

KS Ranjitsinhji, Mirror of British Merchandise, 1896

In 1899 he achieved an amazing first for cricketers – over 3,000 runs in one year. Incredibly, he managed to repeat this in 1900. The Ranji song is featured in the British Library’s Asians in Britain web pages where you can learn more about his life. The web pages were initially developed through projects led by Professor Susheila Nasta of the Open University, including Making Britain: South Asian Visions of Home and Abroad, 1870-1950  

The Asians in Britain web pages tell the story of the long history of people from South Asia in Britain and the contributions they have made to British culture and society. They include ayahs (nannies), lascar seamen, politicians, campaigners such as suffragette Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, scientists and authors. The web pages also highlight the vital contribution people from South Asia made during the world wars.

Naoroji portrait MBM 1892
Dadabhai Naoroji, elected MP for Finsbury, 1892
Mirror of British Merchandise, 1892

The Ranji song is among many fascinating and beautiful items currently on display in an exhibition at the Library of Birmingham, Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage.

Connecting Stories with logos - small

For further details about the exhibition, events and opening hours please see the Library of Birmingham’s website. The exhibition and community engagement programme continue the partnership between the British Library and the Library of Birmingham. They are supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  


Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records and exhibition curator


Further information
Asians in Britain web pages 
Making Britain Database 
#ConnectingStories

Rozina Visram, Asians in Britain: 400 years of history, (London, 2002)
Susheila Nasta with Florian Stadtler, Asian Britain: a photographic history, (London, 2013)
Mirror of British Merchandise, 1892, 1896 Reference: 14119.f.37

05 June 2017

Whit Monday fete

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Today is Whit Monday, the Christian holiday traditionally celebrated the day after Pentecost.  In June 1892, Whit Monday and Whit Tuesday were celebrated in The Potteries with two splendid fetes at Queen’s Park in Longton.

Whit Monday 1

Programme of events for fetes at Longton 6 and 7 June 1892  Shelfmark 9930.g.74.(6.)

A copy of the official programme has found its way into the British Library collections. It reveals an exciting variety of events provided for an admission fee of one shilling.  Thousands flocked to the park in glorious weather.  Members of the organising committee wearing badges were on hand to help visitors.  A warning was issued that anyone guilty of disorderly behaviour was liable to be arrested.

Whit Monday 2 - Cropped

Timetable of events for fetes at Longton 6 and 7 June 1892  Shelfmark 9930.g.74.(6.)

The Town Military Band played music for dancing at regular intervals, and there were concerts by the Band of the Royal Horse Guards.  Acrobats, bicyclists, a contortionist, and a Punch and Judy show entertained the crowds.

But to me the star attraction appears to be the elaborate firework display staged by Pain and Sons of London on both evenings.

Whit Monday 3

Programme of fireworks Longton 6 and 7 June 1892  Shelfmark 9930.g.74.(6.)

The description of the fireworks covers two pages of the programme and surely cannot fail to spark the reader’s imagination.

Whit Monday 4

Programme of fireworks Longton 6 and 7 June 1892  Shelfmark 9930.g.74.(6.)

Try to picture these fireworks exploding in the night sky and the reaction of the spectators –
• Discharge of Shells, (18 inches in circumference), introducing Silver Rain & Sapphires, Magenta and Silver, Amber & Dark Blue, Mauve & Green, Purple & Mauve, Golden Yellow, Mauve & Pink, Garnets & Opals etc.
• Parisian Novelty Rockets emitting Silver Threads
• Transformation Fan - showing in the first place a closed Fan in lines of brilliant fires, gradually opening into an immense Fan of Gold centered by an artistic Floral Design, and finishing with a Fringe of Silver fires.
• The Sun Flower – depicted in lines of Golden Fire, centered and surrounded with Variegated Scroll Wheels, finishing with a huge Star of Silver Fires with marooned reports.
• The Skeleton Acrobat – representing a life-sized human performing Skeleton on an horizontal bar, and going through a variety of fantastic performances.
• Display of Signal Rockets with Aerial Wrigglers.
• Grand Concluding Device of The Carnival of Venice (St Mark’s Square en Fete) – Beautifully portrayed in lines of fire of choice colour, with Gondolas passing and repassing on Grand Canal. Aquatic Fireworks etc. Followed by a Grand Flight of Large Coloured Rockets.

After learning about the Skeleton Acrobat, I’m not sure that modern New Year firework displays will ever again seem so special to me.
 
Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

 

29 May 2017

Illuminations at East India House

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The end of the Crimean War in 1856 was celebrated in Britain with a national holiday on 29 May.  Public buildings in the City of London were fitted with splendid gas illuminations for the evening: the Post Office, Mansion House, Royal Exchange, Custom House, and East India House.

   East India House illuminations 1856

 Illuminations at East India House - Illustrated London News 31 May 1856

Matthew Digby Wyatt, Surveyor to the East India Company, was entrusted with the task of organising the illuminations at East India House in Leadenhall Street.  Four tenders were submitted to provide the equipment for hire or for purchase, ranging from £220 to £550. Wyatt chose the lowest purchase tender of £260 which came from James Meacock, a gas fitter based in Snow Hill.  Meacock was praised by Wyatt: ‘very great energy was displayed by the contractor in immediately getting the work in hand’.  The City of London Gas Company supplied the fuel, charging one penny per jet which included the cost of tapping the mains and supplying connectors.

  East India House illuminations 1856 - 2
London Evening Standard 30 May 1856 British Newspaper Archive

The illuminations consisted of ‘a stream of jets along the length of the building, with scroll-work inside of the pediment, and in Roman capitals the word “Peace”; underneath the pediment festoons and drapery going the whole length of the building’.  

Overall, Wyatt was  satisfied with the display.  He reported to the Company: ‘The whole of the fittings contracted for were completed by dusk on the evening of the 29th.  Unfortunately the wind exercised an influence adverse to the successful lighting especially during the early part of the evening but upon the whole the display was stated by the public press to have been of an effective description… So far as I have been enabled to ascertain the outlay for the Honourable Company’s illumination will be very far below the amounts incurred for the principal government Offices’.

The lighting equipment was carefully stowed away for future use.  However the magnificent East India House would not exist for much longer.  The entire building was demolished in 1862 after the India Office took over from the East India Company and decided to move to new headquarters in Whitehall.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
East India Company Surveyor’s papers May-June 1856 IOR/L/SUR/1/3 ff.41, 53-54; IOR/L/SUR/2/1 ff. 478. 490-493.

 

25 May 2017

The Art of Children’s Games

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One of the delights of working with archives is when you come across something unexpected while looking for something else completely. This occurred recently when I was looking through a file of newspaper cuttings relating to Persia in the collections of papers of Lord Curzon, former Viceroy of India, held at the British Library. Amongst the papers was a page from The Sphere newspaper, from March 1906, showing a collection of photographs under the title “What To Do With Children: The Art Of Games, as taught by the Children’s Happy Evenings Association”.

Children playing MSS Eur 112-249 cropped

The Sphere, 24 March 1906

In the late 19th century, the health of working class children was a major concern for social reformers. Children often lived in cramped and unhealthy conditions, with the expansion of cities leaving a lack of safe space where children could play in the evenings. The construction of railways and factories tended to take priority over parks and recreation grounds.

Founded in 1889 by Ada Heather-Bigg, the goal of the Children’s Happy Evenings Association was to provide a wide range of games and activities which working class children could do after school hours. Heather-Bigg believed that play created happiness which was an important element in the development of a child’s health. Giving children something to do in the evenings would also prevent them from getting into trouble and falling into bad ways. Participation in the Happy Evenings was dependent on a child having a good school attendance. This had the advantage of stressing the importance of school and education, but inevitably meant many of the poorest children were excluded.

Children playing MSS Eur 112-249

The Sphere, 24 March 1906

By 1906, the Association had 134 branches across London, and affiliated organisations had been set up in Manchester, Plymouth, Oxford, Middlesbrough and Walthamstow.  It relied on the help of volunteers, with around 1300 volunteers helping to teach 22,000 children from the poorest areas of London how to play. Toys, such as dolls and board games were donated by wealthier families, and there were more energetic games such as running, skipping, and boxing. Music and dancing was also offered, which was a real attraction at a time when a piano was not standard school equipment. The Association came to an end with the start of the First World War.

John O’Brien
India Office Records


Further reading:
The Sphere, 24 March 1906, page 275 (in a file of newspaper cuttings on Persia in the Curzon Papers) [Reference Mss Eur F112/249]
Women and the Politics of Schooling in Victorian and Edwardian England, Jane Martin (Leicester University Press, 1999)
Playwork: Theory and Practice, edited by Fraser Brown (Open University Press, 2003)

 

16 May 2017

Henry Nicholetts’ voyage to Calcutta

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India Office Private Papers recently acquired the journal of Henry Nicholetts written during a voyage to Calcutta in 1855. Henry was aged 15 and on his way to start a career in Borneo.  We are delighted that the journal is going to feature in an event at the British Library in June - A Passage to India: Shipboard Life

Nicholetts WD4560 compressed

Miniature portrait of Henry Nicholetts - British Library WD4560

Henry Nicholetts was born in South Petherton Somerset on 31 July 1840, the tenth child of solicitor John and his wife Mary.  Henry’s mother died shortly before his eighth birthday.  He was educated at Merchant Taylors’ School in London and for a short time at Rugby.  In 1855 his father asked Henry if he would like to go to Borneo as a ‘governor’ of a district.  There was a family connection: Henry’s elder brother Gilbert was married to Mary Anna Johnson, a niece of Sir James Brooke, Rajah of Sarawak.  Henry tells us that he ’accepted the appointment without any hesitation’ and set off on his journey in July 1855 on board the Monarch bound for Calcutta.

  Monarch launch Blackwall 1844
Launch of the Monarch at Green’s Yard Blackwall -  Illustrated London News 15 June 1844


Henry kept a journal of the entire voyage, overcoming sea sickness in the early days to take pleasure in life on board ship:  ‘I think it is worth coming to sea if only to see the beautiful mornings’. 

Nicholetts diary 1

 British Library MSS Eur F706 Noc

The teenager complains at times of the monotony of the voyage, having nothing to record some days except the position of the ship. But he and his fellow passengers passed the time with whist, quoits, play-acting, singing, dancing, and shooting birds. There were fights and accidents to report – a chain fell from the rigging, rattling to the deck close to a young passenger, and a dog fell overboard. Henry enjoyed two traditional maritime celebrations: the ceremony of the dead horse when the sailors’ advance of one month’s pay ran out, and ‘crossing the line’ with Neptune. 

Nicholetts diary 2

British Library MSS Eur F706 Noc

Henry had tea with the midshipmen who were ‘very free and easy’, and he ‘began to know the ladies a little better’, chatting with ‘a young lady of very prepossessing appearance & of a very romantic turn of mind’. Small incidents are turned into amusing stories: the bad haircut given to one young man; the mixing of gin instead of water into port wine; the effect of the waves - ‘The ship rolling a good deal we had scenes in the cuddy - tea cups tumbling over; legs of mutton bounding down the table; ladies falling into gentlemen’s arms’.

Unfortunately our story of this engaging teenager does not have a happy ending.

On arrival in Sarawak, Henry was posted by Sir James Brooke to Lundu. In February 1857 he went on a short visit to stay with Brooke at Kuching.  

Mw00805

Sir James Brooke by Sir Francis Grant 1847 NPG 1559 © National Portrait Gallery, London NPG CC

On the night of 18/19 February Brooke’s house was attacked by armed Chinese. Henry went out from the bungalow where he was sleeping.  Brooke wrote:  ‘Poor Harry Nicholetts! I mourn for his fate.  I was fond of him, for he was a gentle and amiable lad, promising well for the future. Suddenly awakened, he tried to make his way to the large house, and was killed in the attempt.  His sword lay beside him next morning when he was found. Poor, poor fellow!’

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Join us on 19 June to hear more about Henry’s shipboard experiences and those of other voyagers to India as revealed in their private papers.

19June_ApassagetoindiaLanding at Madras - British Library P1551 Noc

 

Further reading:
Henry Nicholetts’ journal MSS Eur F706
Gertrude L Jacob, The Raja of Sarawak (London, 1876)
Basil Lubbock, The Blackwall Frigates (Glasgow, 1962)

 

11 May 2017

A Carnival on the Water: the Frost Fair of 1683

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The frost fair held on the iced-over River Thames in 1814 that recently featured in Doctor Who may have been the last, but it was the fair held during the Great Frost of 1683 that got the ball rolling with this famous tradition.

In the winter of 1683, the River Thames was iced over for two months.  Winters in the 17th century were more extreme than they are today – the frost of 1683 was the worst ever recorded and the ice reached a thickness of eleven inches in London.  The frozen river made shipping impossible and so Londoners would take to the ice-covered river for trade, travel and, eventually, entertainment.  The first recorded frost fair on the Thames took place in 1608, but this was pretty low key.  The festivities really took off in 1683 with the frost fair featuring all manner of stalls, entertainments and activities.

The two-month fair was indeed a spectacle and people flocked to see it.  Broadsides and flyers were hastily printed, advertising the fair as “Great Britain’s wonder” or “London’s admiration”.  They claimed that “men and beasts, coaches and carts, went as frequently [on the river] as boats were wont to pass before”.

Photo1
British Library C.20.f.2 (161) Noc

 

Photo2
British Library C.20.f.2 (159)   Noc

One broadside, titled Wonders on the Deep, captures the festivities in a fantastically detailed, labelled woodcut of the frost fair itself:

WondersOnTheDeepWoodcut
British Library C.20.f.2 (161) Noc

The fair is framed by the unmistakable outlines of London Bridge and the Tower of London.  On the ice itself an avenue of booths and stalls sprang up, stretching from the Temple to Southwark.  Scattered on strong ice everywhere did these “blanketed, boarded, matted booths appear”, where you could buy all sorts of wares from silver cups to gingerbread and roast beef.  Alternatively, you could stop at a coffee-house booth (number 1 on the illustration) or drop into a tavern.  A print shop, too, was established on the iced-over river so that printing was seen by members of the public often for the first time (number 9).   As if this wasn’t enough, an agog visitor would have seen sailing boats being dragged along the ice on wheels, bull and bear baiting (number 16), ice skating and fox hunting (number 34) all on the River Thames.

And for the more hardcore frost fair-goers out there, it also got a little more unusual.  Amidst more familiar entertainments, there appears to have been a booth with an injured phoenix inside (number 4) and other novelties with their meaning lost to us today, such as a “tory booth”  (number 3) or the “Dutch chear sliding round” (number 17). 

In February, after two months, the ice finally melted and the revelries came to an end.  The frost fair of 1683 established a precedent for future fairs, but no other frost was as lasting.  The last fair in 1814 only lasted for four days yet Londoners still managed to lead an elephant across the frozen Thames below Blackfriars Bridge in that time span.  It’s clear that, whether held in the 17th or 19th century, the frost fair was the pinnacle of seasonal cheer, spectacle and revelry – a “carnival on the water”, as described by John Evelyn in his diaries during the fair of 1683.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

See also Printing on Ice

 

13 April 2017

Professor John Buer - the oldest living clown

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In April 1886 large crowds flocked to the Royal Aquarium in Westminster for the Grand Easter Fete.  The promoters claimed that the programme was the greatest ever attempted in one day. 

 Royal AquariumAdvert for the Royal Aquarium 1880 BL Evan.9038

The acts certainly were numerous and varied. Music was provided by Walton’s American Minstrels, Miss Jessie Lynn singing with a harp accompaniment, Madame Pacra ‘the charming little French Chansonette Singer’, and the Clayton Quartet ‘Musical Eccentriques’.  A ballet entitled Coralie was performed.  Miss Bessie Bonehill ‘The Gem of Comedy’ was joined on the bill by Baby Langtry ‘the most Clever Child in the world’. Madame Carola performed on nineteen drums before walking across the building on a globe along a single wire 100 feet high.  And as if that wasn’t enough, the audience were also treated to the Scroggs Troupe of Grotesque Athletes, the Wondrous Valdis Sisters on the revolving trapeze, and Professor Buer’s animal circus.

Royal Aquarium 2
  
London Daily News 29 April 1886 British Newspaper Archive

Professor John Buer was the stage name of animal trainer John Butler.  A newspaper report of his Easter act at the Royal Aquarium read: ‘Professor Buer then introduced his canine wonders to the audience.  His dogs are highly trained, one taking off his collar and putting it on, and others performing the tricks usually done by canine performers.  An equestrian act by a monkey mounted on a pony followed, and the “unrideable Spanish mule” was last brought on, the tumbles sustained by a youth who attempted to ride the animal exciting much amusement’  (The Era 24 April 1886).

In 1896 allegations were published in the press of cruelty to animals by trainers such as Buer.  The Professor protested that the claims were untrue.  There were no spiked collars, underground cellars, and cramped boxes.  He and his fellow trainers worked hard to ensure their animals were well-fed, clean and healthy.  In 1913 Buer and other owners such as James Sanger worked with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to introduce a licensing system for anyone working with animals on stage.

Buer’s most famous animal was Domino the donkey. Domino was with Buer for more than 40 years, performing all over the world, including shows with Sarah Bernhardt.  He once received a first night bouquet – of carrots!  When Domino died in November 1916, there were obituaries in newspapers from the UK to Australia.

Buer 1
John Buer and his donkey Domino The Era 22 November 1916 British Newspaper Archive

John Buer carried on performing throughout his seventies, claiming to be the oldest living clown. He lived in housing belonging to the Duchy of Cornwall in Kennington. The Prince of Wales used to visit his tenants there and met Buer on more than one occasion.  In April 1919 the Prince brought his mother Queen Mary with him.  Buer showed the Queen pictures of the animals he had trained and proudly listed the accomplishments of Domino the donkey. He explained how he had taught Domino to count and answer questions.  Queen Mary promised not to divulge his professional secrets.
 

  Buer 2
Leeds Mercury 12 April 1919 British Newspaper Archive

The Professor died in November 1920 aged 80. His last part had been as a beggar in The Garden of Allah at Drury Lane a few weeks earlier. 

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive
For Victorian entertainments see the Evanion Collection