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95 posts categorized "Leisure"

05 November 2017

Pyrotechnia: A ‘how-to’ guide for firework-makers

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Pyrotechnia, written by a gunner called John Babington, was the first English book about how to make recreational fireworks. It was printed in 1635, seven years before the Civil War. Gunpowder had long been used on the battlefield but, in England, it was only during Elizabeth I’s reign that this technology developed into something that would create fantastic aerial displays. Elizabeth I was famous for her love of fireworks; sumptuous displays were held in her honour and to celebrate military victories.

Pyrotechnia title page

Pyrotechnia told firework-makers all they needed to know about the chemical compounds and complex structural designs required for firework displays. Babington’s instructions are clear, easy to understand and are accompanied by labelled engravings, while the last two sections of the book are helpfully reserved for a treatise on geometry and logarithms respectively. Babington starts simply, with fireworks that are familiar to us today. His is the first printed reference to a roman candle, and there are descriptions of how to make rockets and ‘the best sort of starres’. For stars of a blue colour a combination of gunpowder, saltpetre and sulphur-vive did the trick. He then progresses to making “silver and gold raine”, firework wheels and “fisgigs”, a French firework that fizzed before it exploded.

This was all small fry though. Once a firework-maker had mastered the basics, he could recreate the type of spectacle enjoyed by Elizabeth I. One sight in particular was especially popular during this period: the dragon.

GeorgeAndDragon

It consisted of a huge wooden frame stuffed with spinners, fountains, firecrackers and rockets that ignited to give the effect of a huge fire-breathing creature. Often, a second dragon or St George would be pitched against it and a mock battle would take place. In Pyrotechnia, Babington instructs the reader to strap the dragon and St George together so that, when a wheel is turned, “[they] will runne furiously at each other”. They had to be well balanced as otherwise “they [would] turn their heeles upward, which would bee a great disgrace to the work and workman”. Babington also acknowledges that “much [has been] written upon this same subject”, confirming the dragon’s popularity.

Mermaid and Ship

 A large proportion of Pyrotechnia is also dedicated to creating fiery spectacles on water, a great skill indeed for any firework-maker. Babington reveals “many workes to be performed on the water”, from “how to make a water ball, which shall burn on the water, with great violence” to a “ship of fire workes” and sirens or mermaids “playing on the water”. 

ManuscriptNotesPyrotechnia

The British Library has three copies of Pyrotechnia. The copy in the photographs above has endpapers with a fantastic assortment of manuscript notes and inscriptions by the book’s 17th-century owner. On the first endpaper, most of an ownership inscription can just about be made out: “Edward Nowle[?] his booke bought…25th January …”. Written arithmetic, diagrams and sums are scrawled over the next two pages. It’s obvious that this book was well-used by its previous owner but were they a firework-maker themselves? Did they create a fire-breathing dragon? I suppose we’ll never know!

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

27 October 2017

Paper bag reveals forgotten history

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This 130 year old paper bag reveals that Indian sweetmeats were being sold in London in the late 19th century, much earlier than most people would expect. This lovely piece of ephemera is one of my favourite items in Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage, an exhibition at the Library of Birmingham until 04 November. It is one of many items in the exhibition that illuminate the forgotten story of early South Asian influences on British life and culture.
  Item 29 Evan.9195 paper bag
Evan.9195

The paper bag is at the British Library thanks to the enthusiasms of Henry Evans, a conjuror and ventriloquist, who performed under the stage name ‘Evanion’. He collected this bag as well as posters, advertisements, trade cards and catalogues which give lively insights into popular entertainment and everyday life in the late 19th century. Connecting Stories also features this beautiful poster which gives more details of the Indian themed entertainments on offer at Langham Place – snake charmers, wrestlers and dancers known as nautch girls.

Item 28 Evan.2591 India in London
Evan.2591

A review in The Era newspaper for 16 January 1886 tells us that this ‘exhibition of Indian arts, industries and amusements’ was held under the auspices of Lord Harris, Under Secretary of State for India. The entertainments included a pageant representing the durbar or levée of an Indian potentate. The reviewer was most derogatory about this, complaining bitterly that he could not understand it because it was conducted in Indian languages. He was also unimpressed by the music, declaring that a performer on a tom-tom ‘rapped away like an undertaker on a coffin’! He was much more enthusiastic about a silent comedy sketch and the arts and crafts on display. The reviewer instructs his readers that ‘visitors to India in London should not leave without tasting the quaint Indian sweetmeats made at a stall in the gallery’ which may have been the treats destined for the paper bag at the British Library.

Despite being held under the auspices of the Under Secretary of State for India, all was not well with the organisation of the entertainments at Langham Place. The St. James’s Gazette for 19 February 1886 discloses that Mr W S Rogers of the India in London exhibition was charged with ‘having kept open that building as a place of public resort without first having complied with the requirements of the Metropolitan Board of Works’. Furthermore, it was ‘unfitted for the reception of the public with due regard to their safety from fire, and that the real and only remedy was to pull down the building and erect a new one.’ He was fined £50. Concerns for health and safety evidently came to London earlier than one might have imagined, as well as Indian sweetmeats.

Connecting Stories with logos

Exhibition details are on the Library of Birmingham website 

Penny Brook
India Office Records

Further reading
Evanion catalogue  
British Newspaper Archive 
Asians in Britain web pages

Untold Lives blogs about Connecting Stories:
Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage 
Miss Jenny the cheetah visits England 

 

 

26 October 2017

Gardening in the 18th century: a seed shop in North-East England

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Gardening became a popular pursuit in the 18th century. The plants to cultivate rose sharply with new varieties flooding in from abroad, mostly sold as seeds. In the 17th and early 18th century, seeds were sold by greengrocers and street tradesmen but gardening’s increasing popularity meant dedicated seed shops were soon springing up. By the late 18th century most provincial towns had at least one seed shop and many had nurseries too. Seeds were advertised in innovative ways. As well as the usual trade-cards, seed catalogues were printed with sale prices and descriptions of each plant. These catalogues were where most gardeners encountered new plants on offer. All of this is evident in the sole surviving copy of a seed catalogue printed in Houghton-le-Spring, a provincial town near Durham, in 1779: A Catalogue of ...Seeds…with their Season of Sowing, Planting and Culture: Chiefly Adapted to the Northern Climates by seeds-man James Clarke, whom we know little about.

SeedCatalogueTitlePage
This seed catalogue demonstrates the provincial popularity of gardening and the vastly increased demand for seeds outside London. It reveals what plants were grown in northern climates and, in particular, what new cultivars were successfully sold and grown in 1779. A surprising variety of slightly tender fruit is listed, for example. Amongst the assortment of apricots is the Anson's variety – ‘a kind lately introduced into English gardens’. The Brunswick variety of fig described on page 39 was imported from the Mediterranean during the 18th century and is still a very popular cultivar today.

SeedCatalogueFigs
We can also see that gardening was opening up to a wider audience during this period. James Clarke explains in his introductory note that he is ‘deviat[ing] from the common method of seeds catalogues … [his] chief design and wish in this work, is to render the general knowledge of gardening more easily attainable to the young and unexperienced’. He provides thorough guides to growing melons and cucumbers in ‘hot-beds’. Exotic fruits were grown in England long before 1774 but would’ve been a novelty for Clarke’s customers. These guides were indeed unusual. A basic seed list with prices was, as Clarke says, ‘the common method of seeds catalogues’. 

SeedCatalogueCucumbers

So who was James Clarke? He was clearly a shrewd businessman. Providing planting instructions encouraged amateurs to buy his wares, increasing his profit. It also ensured customer success with their seeds, promoting him as a reputable seller. He has, however, proven difficult to trace. Only a marriage license for James Clarke, Houghton-le-Spring, and Elizabeth Purdy survives from 1770. His designation was ‘gardener’, a general term for all those involved in gardens.  

The rise of gardening and its related trades was part of the emergence of consumerism in the late 18th century. Products that were previously seen as essentials were suddenly subject to changing tastes and fashions, fuelling consumer demand and stimulating growth. This little seed catalogue, with its tempting descriptions of growing the latest fashionable exotic crops, is testament to these changes.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

10 October 2017

Advice for ladies in India

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In 1847 a book called Real Life in India by ‘An Old Resident’ offered advice to British ladies going to live in India. This covered clothing, equipment for the voyage, household management, and ways of passing the time.

European young lady's toilet

From William Tayler, Sketches Illustrating the Manners & Customs of the Indians & Anglo Indians (London, 1842) Noc

A long list of essentials for the voyage was provided.  Women were told to take dozens of chemises, nightgowns, petticoats, ‘cambric trousers’, handkerchiefs, towels, stockings, and gloves, together with fourteen dresses of different sorts, bonnets  shoes, one warm cloak, and six mosquito sleeping drawers.  Other necessities included bedding, table linen, shoe ribbons, haberdashery, hair brushes and combs, tooth brushes and powder, soap, perfume, stationery and books, candles, and a supply of Bristol water and soda.  A considerable amount of cabin furniture was recommended: couch, swinging cot, chest of drawers, bookcase, chairs, looking glass, lamp, foot-bath, waterproof trunks, and air-tight cases for dresses.

India - ladies' equipment

 From Real Life in India by An Old Resident (London, 1847)   Noc

On first arrival in India, ladies were advised to consult friendly females about the management of domestic affairs.  The ‘Old Resident’ pointed out that a British woman who had been accustomed to performing various household duties would be surprised to find that in India there was nothing for her to do. Everything would be done by the domestic staff. The day’s supplies were purchased by the khansuma (butler) at the market soon after day-break.  Shopping, ‘a source of entertainment and economy in England’, was not an occupation for a lady in India.  An immediate supply of hams, cheeses, or pickles could be obtained by sending a peon with a note to the local store.  Only preparations for the gaieties of the cool season gave ladies an excuse to venture out to visit the milliner or jeweller for new finery.

Ladies could combat the lassitude caused by the Indian climate by reading, painting, music, needlework, intelligent conversation and occasional soirées, or taking a morning and evening promenade.  Our ‘Old Resident’ points out the danger of falling victim to ‘indolent habits and coarse indulgences’: ‘the sylph-like form and delicate features which distinguished the youth of her arrival, are rapidly exchanged for an exterior of which obesity and swarthiness are the prominent characteristics, and the bottle and the hookah become frequent and offensive companions’.

Painting and needlework equipment should be taken out from Britain. Silver knitting needles were best as steel ones tended to rust from the warmth of the hand.  Ladies who were accustomed to riding should take out saddles, bridles and a riding habit as prices were higher in India.

The author ends his chapter devoted to information for ‘the weaker sex’ with detailed advice about the care of pianos in India. He encouraged ladies to learn the art of tuning since piano tuners and instrument repairers were not found at every station in India. 

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

 

28 August 2017

The Devil’s Case - A Bank Holiday Interlude

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I looked for something jolly to post on the blog today as parts of the UK celebrate August Bank Holiday.  What I came up with is far from jolly -  a book in verse form by Robert Buchanan entitled The Devil’s Case  - A Bank Holiday Interlude

Would you know how I, Buchanan,
Met the Devil here in London,
Chatted with him, interview'd him?
Listen, then, and you shall hear!

 

 

Devil's Case 1

  Devil's Case 2
The Devil’s Case  - A Bank Holiday Interlude (London, 1896)   Noc

Here is a further extract to whet your appetite.

Night lay o’er the Heath of Hampstead –
One by one the merry-makers,
Romping, mad, accordion-playing,
Beer-inspired, were trotting town-ward.

All that afternoon I wander’d
Mid the throng of Nymphs and Satyrs, -
Now at last the Bacchanalian
August holiday was over.

Sad my soul had been among them,
Envying their easy pleasures
Since for many a month behind me
Wolf-like creditors had throng’d;

Since my name and fame were lying
In the gutter of the journals,
While the laws of Earth and Heaven
Seemed one vast Receiving Order!

Bankrupt thus in fame and fortune,
Wearily I walk’d and ponder’d
On the lonely Heath of Hampstead,
In the silence of the Night. . . .

Devil's Case 3Noc

If you can drag yourself away from romping with an accordion at Bacchanalian Bank Holiday festivities, you can read the rest of the book online in the British Library's digital collections.  Enjoy!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

 

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