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147 posts categorized "Politics"

16 February 2018

Fashion fit for a suffragette procession

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White attire detailFebruary includes London Fashion Week and marks the centenary of the Representation of the People Act which gave some women aged 30 or over the right to vote. Suffragette purchasing-power provides an unexpected link between the world of fashion and the fight for women’s right to vote.

In early June 1911, fashion purchasing-power was highlighted as a weapon to be deployed in the struggle to achieve women’s suffrage. Suffragists and suffragettes were preparing for a procession to highlight their cause on 17 June during the Coronation of George V. They were asked to wear white when they took part in this procession.

  Whet Your Weapon article 02-06-1911 cropped                               

 

 Votes for Women, 02 June 1911

 

 

 

Readers of the weekly newspaper, Votes for Women, which was edited by Frederick and Emmeline Pethick Lawrence, were urged to buy their outfits from firms that advertised there. ‘If they find it pays them to advertise in VOTES FOR WOMEN they will advertise – if they find it doesn’t, they won’t. The more money that flows into the coffers of our advertisement department the better our paper can be made, the wider its influence reaches. Therefore let every woman who believes in this cause never enter a shop that does not advertise in VOTES FOR WOMEN, and let her deal exclusively with those firms that do, and inform them why.’

Women who obeyed this call to arms would have had a good choice of items to ensure a suitably modish appearance during the procession. Advertisers enticed them with pictures of dresses, dainty blouses, charming hats, smart coats and hair care products. The procession through London from Westminster to the Albert Hall comprised around 60,000 women from around the world carrying 1,000 banners and stretched for seven miles. One hopes that they also bought the comfortable shoes on offer!

 

   March route detail

                                  Votes for Women, 16 June 1911

 The advertisements below, taken from Votes for Women 1911, give an idea of the heights of elegance that might be achieved.

Charming hats 09-06-1911  

Universal Hair detail

The fashions of the day generally required a good corset. It is fascinating to see how Mesdames I&L Hammond developed their advertisement for their corsets, garments that might now be regarded as instruments of female oppression, to appeal more strongly to suffragettes.

Corset Hammond detail 1

  Corset detail 19-05-1911 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The advertisement on the left comes from Votes for Women for 21 April 1911. The advertisement on the right, from Votes for Women for 26 May 1911, shows how the company had developed its marketing strategy to be in tune with the suffragette cause.

The British Library's Votes for Women online resource highlights many more treasures in the collections that tell the story of the campaign for women's suffrage.

Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records

Further reading
Votes for Women online resource
Votes for Women, 1911
https://www.findmypast.co.uk/suffragettes/

Untold Lives blogs relating to women's suffrage
Indian Princess in Suffragette March
Emily Wilding Davison: Perpetuating the Memory 
Lord Curzon's Anti-suffrage Appeal
Christmas Crackers and Women's Suffrage
The Women's Co-operative Guild


Untold Lives blogs relating to fashion
Knitting a shower-proof golf coat
Thomas Bowrey's Cloth Samples 
Muslins, Kincobs and Choli Cloths 
Was 'water rat' the new black in 1697?

 

06 February 2018

It has to be Perfect!

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In May 1945 the Bahrain Petroleum Company Limited (BAPCO) wished to appoint a medical practitioner, and it believed that it had found the perfect candidate in a young Englishman.  His name, appropriately enough, was Dr Perfect (full name: Arthur John Strode Perfect).

BAPCO 

From advert in Birmingham Daily Post 17 September 1962 British Newspaper Archive


However, having provisionally selected Dr Perfect for the position, the company was informed by the War Medical Bureau that the matter would need to be placed before the Central Medical War Committee, which held control over the appointment of British medical professionals during wartime.  Prior to reaching a decision regarding Dr Perfect’s selection, the Central Medical War Committee enquired as to whether BAPCO had advertised the post so that medical officers returning from service in His Majesty’s forces would have the opportunity to apply.  BAPCO reluctantly agreed to place an advertisement in the British Medical Journal, but fearing that an extensive selection process would further delay the appointment of a suitable medical officer, the Company sought permission from the Committee for Dr Perfect to proceed to Bahrain as soon as possible.Having received no reply from the Central Medical War Committee, Hamilton R Ballantyne of BAPCO wrote to the India Office on 20 November 1945, asking for its assistance in the matter.  Ballantyne stated that the post was a young man’s task; he pointed out that the Company had gone to some trouble to select Dr Perfect, whom it felt would meet its requirements, and that it was unlikely that it would change its mind following applications from other practitioners.

The India Office responded quickly, for it had reasons of its own for ensuring the appointment of Dr Perfect.  There was in place a policy to maintain as large a proportion of British employees in the American-owned BAPCO as possible.  In a letter to the Secretary of the Central Medical War Committee, Francis Anthony Kitchener Harrison of the India Office stressed the urgency of the situation.  He warned that any further delay to the appointment could result in BAPCO seeking to secure a medical officer from somewhere other than Britain.  Harrison added that the Secretary of State for India was ‘anxious for political reasons to do what is possible to assist the Company to obtain a British Medical Practitioner for their hospital.’ He asked whether it would not be possible for the formalities relating to Dr Perfect’s appointment by BAPCO to be expedited so that he might be able to leave for Bahrain at an early date.

IOR_L_PS_12_384_f_790IOR/L/PS/12/384, f 790: draft letter from the India Office to the Secretary of the Central Medical War Committee, 23 November 1945 Noc

In a swift and brief reply to Harrison’s letter, the Deputy Secretary of the Central Medical War Committee stated that the case of Dr Perfect had been reconsidered and a decision had been made to withdraw the objection to his immediate appointment by BAPCO. Harrison informed Ballantyne of this decision, and Ballantyne replied, remarking that ‘Dr. Perfect is at last released’ and thanking Harrison for his intervention. Dr Perfect was appointed to the position and travelled to Bahrain, where he was later joined by his wife, Mrs Eleanor Perfect, a state registered nurse.

IOR_L_PS_12_384_f_787IOR/L/PS/12/384, f 787: draft letter from the India Office to Hamilton R Ballantyne, Bahrain Petroleum Company Limited Noc

David Fitzpatrick
Content Specialist, Archivist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

 

Further reading:

PZ 3044/40(2) 'Oil. Persian Gulf. Bahrein. Personnel of Bahrein Petroleum Co. Roster of Employees 1941-', IOR/L/PS/12/384

 

30 January 2018

Getting into a pickle with translation

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Dr Johnson once remarked: ‘It has been a common saying of physicians in England, that a cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing'.

Cucumber_PNG_Clipart_Image-467Cucumber via Clipart

Cucumbers can still be dangerous, however: especially when translating into Arabic.

In 1936 the oil company Petroleum Concessions Limited was negotiating for an option on the right to explore for oil in the Kuwait Neutral Zone, an area on the border between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia over which the Sheikh of Kuwait and the King of Saudi Arabia, Ibn Saud, exercised joint control.

As was usual on such occasions, a formal agreement was required between the ruler (in this case the Sheikh of Kuwait) and the oil company concerned, and the company’s draft version needed first to be translated from English into Arabic for the benefit of the Sheikh and his advisers. As was also usual, the agreement needed to be vetted by the British Government, acting as the overseeing colonial power in Kuwait.

To this end, Britain’s Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, Lieutenant-Colonel Trenchard Fowle, asked the Political Agent in Kuwait, Captain Gerald de Gaury, to run his eye over the Arabic version of the agreement, to see that all was well with the translation.

  IOR L PS 12 3856  f 304Gerald de Gaury’s report on the translation of the Kuwait Neutral Zone option agreement, 22 May 1936: IOR/L/PS/12/3856, f 304

De Gaury wrote back on 22 May as follows: ‘I offer certain comments on the Arabic version of the Kuwait Neutral Zone Option […] ARTICLE 4: OPTION is translated as KHIAR which means cucumber. It is true that the dictionary gives KHIAR for both “choice” and “cucumber” but local usage hereabouts is for it to mean cucumber. Option should have been translated as “HAQQ AL IKHTIAR”, an expression in currency everywhere'.

De Gaury goes on: ‘His Excellency the shaikh [of Kuwait] has already pointed out to the negotiator that in parts the document appears to refer to “cucumber time” rather than “option period”’.

The Political Agent concludes with the words: ‘ARTICLE 15: Is correctly translated [...] I have no other comments.’
De Gaury, in addition to being Britain’s administrator in Kuwait, was a writer who published a number of books on Arabia. His deadpan report on the opening of Kuwait’s first oil well was featured on Untold Lives here.

IOR L PS 12 3856  f 303Colonel Fowle is amused: IOR/L/PS/12/3856, f 303

Even Colonel Fowle, Britain’s top official in Gulf, a man not generally noted in the archives for his sense of humour, was struck by de Gaury’s comments, stating in a letter of 30 May that ‘the “cucumber” touch’ was ‘amusing’.

So the cucumber is after all good for something.

I am grateful to my colleagues Louis Allday for confirming the Arabic translation of ‘KHIAR’ and Matt Griffin for pointing out that the Sheikh of Kuwait’s ‘cucumber time’ is used in a number of countries to mean the ‘silly season’.

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

Further reading:
London, British Library Coll 30/124 'Koweit (Neutral Zone) Oil Concession: Negotiations with Petroleum Concessions, Ltd.' IOR/L/PS/12/3856. (A digitised version of this file will appear in the Qatar Digital Library in the course of 2018.)

  

11 January 2018

The fascinating life of Stella Alexander

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In 2016 the British Library acquired the papers of Stella Alexander, a Quaker and scholar of Yugoslav history. She lived a long and fascinating life, and her papers are a rich resource for a wide variety of research subjects. Her letters and draft unpublished memoir give first-hand accounts of diplomatic and expat life in 1920s and 1930s China, the Japanese occupation of Shanghai, and Chinese customs and society. The reports she wrote for the Quakers on her visits to Yugoslavia give rare eye-witness reports of life in eastern Europe during the Cold War. Her work for the Quakers and her travels round India, where she met Gandhian educationalists at Sevagram, are also covered thoroughly by the papers.

SA 1929Stella Alexander née Tucker in Shanghai, 1929 - British Library Add MS 89279

Stella Tucker was born a “privileged alien” in Shanghai in 1912, the daughter of an American bullion broker. She was educated in Shanghai, the United States, and Oxford. After graduation she married John Alexander, a British diplomat, and returned to China in the midst of a tempestuous time in the country’s history. Japan had invaded Manchuria in 1931 and occupied Shanghai in 1932.

The life of a diplomat’s wife involved seemingly non-stop entertaining of diplomats, politicians, and journalists, but it was not all glamour; it was also peripatetic and the family (including their two children) moved frequently with John’s postings, with each move necessitating setting up home anew.

It would have been easy for Stella to settle into the “the narrow, shallow-rooted life” of the diplomatic community, but instead she took the trouble to learn Chinese, spoke Chinese not pidgin English to her staff, made Chinese friends, and ensured her children played with local children.

This comfortable life changed dramatically in December 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbour. Foreign diplomats in China were interned, in the case of the Alexanders in the Cathay Hotel, “in adequate comfort… like a prolonged ocean cruise”, according to Stella. It was a far cry from the conditions that the thousands of internees without diplomatic status had to endure.

In September 1942 the family was among approximately 1500 Allied citizens who were exchanged for a similar number of Japanese civilians who had been interned in the United States and Stella returned to the US.

It became increasingly difficult for Stella to follow John’s postings, and his frequent secondments and moves between Paris, New York, and Geneva, and the lengthy separations these occasioned, eventually took their toll and they divorced amicably in 1950.

After her divorce Stella worked for the United Nations Association, travelled round India for a year, and became increasingly involved in the Quakers, representing the London Yearly Meeting at the UN General Assembly in 1957. It was through her work for the Quakers that Stella developed her other great interest. After meeting three young Yugoslavs at a seminar in 1957 she became enthralled by the country. She visited almost annually from 1961 into the 1970s, travelling round by bus and train, often alone, learned Serbo-Croat, and wrote academic tomes on Yugoslav subjects.

Alexander  Stella 2Stella Alexander in later life - photograph reproduced with the kind permission of Anthony Upton.  © Anthony Upton

Stella remained active in Quaker affairs, even after being received into the Catholic Church in 1991, and lived out her long and active life in London, surrounded by children and grandchildren. She died, aged 85, in 1998. The phrase ‘a life well lived’ could have been written for her.

Michael St John-McAlister
Western Manuscripts Cataloguing Manager

Further reading:
British Library Add MS 89279
Stella Alexander, Church and State in Yugoslavia since 1945 (Cambridge: University Press, 1979).
Stella Alexander, The Triple Myth: A Life of Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac (Boulder: East European Monographs, 1987).

 

28 December 2017

Untold Lives looks back at 2017

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As 2017 draws to a close, we’re looking back on some of our posts which proved to be the most popular during the past twelve months.

In January we told you about a major new digital resource which had just become available for researching the East India Company and the India Office. We showed a few of the digitised documents, including the list of the first subscribers to the East India Company drawn up in September 1599...
 

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

.. and the Instrument of Abdication signed by Edward VIII at Fort Belvedere on 10 December 1936.

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

 

‘Value in unexpected places’   was the story of the sole surviving copy of a 17th-century schoolbook now held at the British Library. The grounds of learning was written by schoolmaster Richard Hodges primarily for children as early learners of literacy.

HodgesPhoto1Noc

 In March we asked: Did Jane Austen develop cataracts from arsenic poisoning? In the drawer of Jane Austen’s writing desk at the British Library are three pairs of spectacles. The Library had the spectacles tested and the post revealed the results.

  Jane Austen's glassesSpectacles believed to have belonged to Jane Austen (now British Library Add MS 86841/2-4) Noc

 

We researched Gerald Wellesley’s secret family. Wellesley was an East India Company official who spent many years as Resident in the Princely State of Indore. He provided for his three children born to an Indian woman in the 1820s but stopped short of giving them his name or recognising them publicly as his offspring.

Indore X108(15) Indore from William Simpson's 'India: Ancient and Modern X108(15) NocOnline Gallery 

Thomas Bowrey’s cloth and colour samples  were unexpected treasures found in tucked away in a volume packed with closely-written correspondence and accounts. The colours are still vibrant after 300 years.  And how about number 18 on the chart – Gall Stone?

MSS Eur D1076 (9)MSS Eur D 1076 Noc

MSS Eur D1076 (3)MSS Eur D 1076Noc

The East India Company’s Black Book of Misdemeanours 1624-1698  was brought out of the shadows this year. Most complaints relate to private trade carried on against express orders, but they also cover drunkenness, negligence, desertion, disobeying orders, embezzlement, and debauchery.

 Black Book  IOR/H/29 Noc

We told the story of how Isfahan in Iran became the City of Polish Children during the Second World War. Thousands of Polish military and civilian refugees journeyed from the Soviet Union to Iran.. One poignant statistic stands out: in January 1943 the camp in the city of Isfahan contained 2,457 civilian refugees, of which 2,043 were children.

Group photo Isfahan

Group photo of older children at one of the children's homes in Isfahan. Reproduced with kind permission from the personal collection of Dioniza Choros, Kresy, Siberia Virtual Museum

  EAP001_7_1
Portrait of Polish refugee children, taken by Abolghasem Jala between 1942-1944. Abolghasem Jala took thousands of portraits of Polish refugees during his time in Isfahan at the Sharq photographic studio. Abolghasem Jala Photographic Collection, Endangered Archives Programme, EAP001/7/1

 

In 1847 a book called Real Life in India 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. Women were told to take six mosquito sleeping drawers and to learn the art of piano tuning.

India - ladies' equipmentFrom Real Life in India by An Old Resident (London, 1847)  Noc

 

And finally we treated you to the untold life of a paper bag!

  Paper bag Evan 9195Evan.9195 Noc


The 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 was displayed at Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage, an exhibition at the Library of Birmingham which ran from July to November 2017.

We hope that you have enjoyed revisiting these fascinating stories as much as we did. Who knows what our great contributors have in store for you in 2018?

Twittter takeover posterNoc

A Happy New Year to all our readers!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

 

14 December 2017

Sixty Thousand Signatures against the Bengal Partition: Bengali Resistance in 1905

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The ‘Partition’ of the Indian subcontinent in 1947 saw the birth of India and Pakistan in an unprecedented human tragedy.  But it was not the first time that British India witnessed a partition.

On 16 October 1905 Bengal province was ‘redistributed’ by the Viceroy Lord Curzon, apparently for administrative efficiency. Its eastern part was conceded to Assam Province to form a new ‘Eastern Bengal and Assam Province’. The remaining part of Bengal was further reduced by surrendering some of its parts to the Central Province.

This partition excited the Bengali population and resulted into various kinds of organized protest movements.  Memorials containing thousands of signatures were sent to the Governor General of India in Council to revoke the partition.  It was unprecedented in the history of the Raj that so many of her subjects literally took up their pen in an organized manner to register their protest against a Government decision.


L PJ 6 754 File 1027IOR/L/PJ/6/754. File 1027

One of many such memorials, sent on 31 December 1906 by Khaja Atikulla of Dacca, describes the day of the partition: ‘The demonstration which took place on the 16th October 1905, when the Partition was carried out, will never be forgotten. The whole Province was in mourning; the shops were closed; it was a day of fasting and prayers; and in Calcutta thousands of devout Hindus bathed in the Ganges, as is customary when a great misfortune overwhelms them’.

L PJ 6 803IOR/L/PJ/6/803

The ‘multitudinous signatures’ created a stir even in the British Parliament. MP Herbert Roberts asked the Secretary of State for India 'whether he has received & considered a memorial signed by 60,000 of the inhabitants of Eastern Bengal, protesting against the proposals of the Government of India in reference to the partition of Bengal...’

L PJ 6 729  File 2260IOR/L/PJ/6/729, File 2260

The list of the signatures running to thousands of pages bears the marks of a great number of Bengali population either in terms of written signatures or thumb impressions.

L PJ 6 803 AOne of many such volumes containing thousands of signatures IOR/L/PJ/6/803

The pages of signature were divided into three columns: Name/Signature, Address, and Profession. The overwhelming majority of the signatories were Hindu by religion, even in places like ‘East Bengal’ where Muslims outnumbered the Hindus.  A conspicuous absence of Bengali women from the lists went against the fact that Bengali women participated in the Movement in great numbers.

L PJ 6 754A page bearing the signature of Upendra Kisor Raychaudhuri, an eminent Bengali writer who established India’s finest printing press in Calcutta and introduced half tone and colour block making for the first time in the subcontinent IOR/L/PJ/6/754

  L PJ 6 755A signature page  IOR/L/PJ/6/755

The lists start with signatures of men of prominence and authority, mostly Maharajahas and Zamindars. They were followed by common men of different professions. During the first decade of the 20th century, the majority of Bengalis were farmers by profession. But the list does not reflect a proportionate representation of the Bengali population as the majority of the signatories were land owners (Taluqdar) or in money-lending professions (Mahajani, Tejarati).

However, organizing such a huge signature campaign against the reigning colonial power was not an easy job. Reaching the households of hundreds of villages all over Bengal, crossing rivers and forests, braving seasonal difficulties like those in the monsoon time could not have been possible without very organized concerted efforts. The list of 60,000 signatures seems to be a premonition of organized nation-wide struggle against the British Government which paved the way for the leaders like Gandhi.

Parthasarathi Bhaumik
Lecturer in Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University, and Chevening Fellow at the British Library

Chevening_primary_CMYK (with bleed)

 

 

 

 

 

08 December 2017

Hostess with the mostest… and so much more: introducing the Ishbel MacDonald Archive

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Imagine the Prime Minister having to pay to run Downing Street out of her own pocket – seems unreasonable from today’s perspective, but until fairly recently this was an expectation for the British Prime Minister. The recently acquired archive of Ishbel Peterkin née MacDonald (1903-1982) sheds light on the burdens of this. Ishbel was the eldest daughter of Ramsay MacDonald, the first Prime Minister for the Labour Party in the UK, first in 1924 and again from 1929 to 1935. When Ishbel’s mother Margaret passed away in 1911 Ishbel acted as her father’s host during his political career living alongside him at 10 Downing Street and running the house.

MacDonalds in Garden Hampstead
The MacDonald family in their garden in Hampstead, North London. Ishbel stands behind her father Ramsay. © With kind permission of Ishbel Lochhead.

Ishbel visited Downing Street prior to the family’s move and was perturbed by the big, empty house. Previous Prime Ministers had brought their own furniture – and then taken it away with them. The MacDonalds, however, were not moving from a grand residence but from their modest family home in Hampstead. To prepare, Ishbel and her sister purchased linen, crockery and cutlery with their own money, while Ramsay MacDonald arranged a loan of paintings from the National Portrait Gallery. These intimate domestic details reflect an interesting shift in 20th-century politics. MacDonald was of more humble origins than his predecessors in government who had set a precedent for running Downing Street as an extension of their wealthy homes.

Guestlist Thurs 11th Dec 1930

Guestlist Thurs 18th 1930
Guest lists for 11 and 18 December 1930 © With kind permission of Ishbel Lochhead.   

Ishbel’s effort to run Downing Street modestly did not stop with the furnishings but in hosting and feeding guests. Carefully preserved notebooks of guest lists and menu cards paint a vivid picture. We can see who was eating with the Prime Minister and when, including place settings inked on the left in red. The menus themselves suggest that the MacDonalds had to budget carefully and were unconcerned with the culinary fashions of the day. Typical menus of the period from society events showcased a classical, often ostentatious French repertoire, usually written in French. By contrast Ishbel’s menus contain simple dishes like ‘Nut Roast’ and ‘Roast Chicken.’

Menus 18th and 11th Dec 1930
Menus for 11 and 18 December 1930. © With kind permission of Ishbel Lochhead.

Ishbel MacDonald’s papers will offer researchers a fantastic insight into her efforts running 10 Downing Street as well as a record of her fascinating life more generally. Ishbel was an active politician in her own right, elected to the London County Council in 1928 and again in 1931. She was the subject of public fascination and when she decided to leave politics to run a pub in 1935 the move was covered by extensive media coverage. The archive contains correspondence, detailed diaries, and scrapbooks and notebooks relating to the family's time in politics.

Luncheon 2nd December 1930
Guest list and menu for luncheon on 2 December 1930. © With kind permission of Ishbel Lochhead.

The archive is currently being catalogued with the aim of making it available to researchers in the Manuscripts Reading Room by the middle of next year. In the meantime please contact eleanor.dickens@bl.uk with any enquiries.

Eleanor Dickens
Curator, Politics and Public Life

16 November 2017

Scandalous and formidable Lady Holland

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Elizabeth Vassall Fox, Lady Holland, is known as the celebrated hostess at Holland House, Kensington. Wife of Whig politician Henry Richard Fox, 3rd Baron Holland, she gathered together the greats of political and literary society for her famous ‘salon’. Their circle were known as the ‘Holland House set’, with the guests being meticulously recorded in her Dinner Books.

Lady Holland kept a journal from 1791 to 1815, documenting her lengthy continental journeys as well as her time in England. She hero worshipped Napoleon Bonaparte, despite her country being at war with him! She preferred male company but had female friends, including other notorious ladies, such as Lady Bessborough, Lady Caroline Lamb and Lady Oxford. Her own scandalous early life, involving adultery during her disastrous first marriage, divorce and an illegitimate child, could have resulted in disgrace but Lady Holland surmounted these obstacles to become a dazzling success in society.

Portrait of Elizabeth at NaplesEngraving of the portrait of Elizabeth at Naples in 1793 (Vesuvius in the background) by Robert Fagan © National Portrait Gallery, London

Born in 1771, daughter of Richard Vassall and Mary Clarke, Elizabeth was beautiful, intelligent and vivacious, and heiress to a considerable fortune. Aged fifteen, she was married off to the much older Sir Godfrey Webster, a mismatch made in hell. They had five children. Desperate for foreign travel, she persuaded Webster to take her on a tour of Europe that lasted several years. She ignored her husband, throwing herself into a busy social life and the admiration of many men. One was Thomas Pelham, who remained besotted even after their affair was over, writing to her frequently.

In 1794, in Naples, Elizabeth met the love of her life, Henry Richard Fox. Not quite love at first sight- she disliked his suntan and initially seemed to prefer his friend Lord Granville. But soon they were smitten with each other and inseparable until his death in 1840.

BL Add MS 51927Elizabeth’s first impressions of Lord Holland, from her journal of 3rd February 1794 (Add MS 51927, ff.124v-125). She describes him as “not in the least handsome” and having “many personal defects, but his pleasingness of manner and liveliness of conversation get over them speedily. He has just returned from Spain, and his complexion partakes of the Moresco hue”. She is concerned about his “very complex disorder, called an ossification of the muscles in his left leg”.

She gave birth to Lord Holland’s son, Charles Richard Fox, in November 1796. Webster divorced her on 4 July 1797. He was awarded Elizabeth’s entire fortune of £7000 per annum, £6000 ‘damages’ from Holland and custody of the children. In 1796 Elizabeth had devised a plan to keep hold of at least her daughter Harriet by successfully faking the child’s illness, death and funeral in Italy. The secret came out in 1799 and Harriet was restored to Webster.

Add MS 36370 North East View Holland HouseNorth East View of Holland House, June 10th 1812. Drawing by John Buckler (Add MS 36370, ff.105-106).

On 6 July 1797 Lady Webster became Lady Holland and settled into her happy second marriage, with further children born. The couple began entertaining on a grand scale, attracting illustrious and numerous guests, and the Holland House set was born. Guests included the Prince of Wales, Whig politicians, literary figures such as Sheridan, Byron, Dickens and Wordsworth, and continental luminaries.

Add MS 51957 dinner bookDinner-book entry for the day Lady Holland died, and those who dined on the following days, written by her devoted servant, Harold Doggett (Add MS 51957, ff.186v-187). He had been writing the records, hence the ‘post mortem’ entries. Lady Lilford is her daughter Mary Elizabeth and Colonel Fox is her son Charles Richard Fox.

Lady Holland had a reputation for being an imperious battle-axe, who alienated people and dominated her husband. The latter showed no objection to her ruling the roost, as long as she didn’t interfere with his politics. She fell out with Lady Caroline Lamb when she objected to the affair her eldest son Godfrey was having with the married, deranged and promiscuous Caroline. Lady Caroline got her revenge by lampooning Elizabeth as the ‘princess of Madagascar’ in her novel Glenarvon. The nickname ‘Old Madagascar’ stuck!

Zoë Stansell
Manuscripts Reference Specialist

Further reading:

The Holland House Papers are held in the British Library Manuscripts Collections: Add MS 51318-52254

The papers of the 3rd Lord & Lady Holland (437 volumes) are referenced: Add MS 51520-51957

Items relating to Lady Holland, I have touched upon above, are: General Correspondence of (letters to) Lady Holland: Add MS 51845-51856

Lady Holland’s Journals: Add MS 51926-51940

Holland House Dinner Books: Add MS 51950-51957

Sonia Keppel, The Sovereign Lady (1974)

Earl of Ilchester, The Journal of Elizabeth Lady Holland (1908)

C.J. Wright, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography articles on ‘Lady Holland’ and the ‘Holland House set’. The online ODNB is a subscription database, available on British Library reading room computers.