THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

34 posts categorized "Reform"

03 October 2017

Angus Wilson - ‘the most unconventional librarian’

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In the entrance of the Humanities reading room at the British Library hangs a painting of a man. It’s easy to overlook this somewhat shady portrait rendered in oil paint of autumnal tones.

  Angus Wilson Hum 1Portrait of Angus Wilson hanging near the entrance to Humanities 1 (with apologies for the reflection off the glass) Noc

The man is Sir Angus Wilson - librarian, socialist, decoder, novelist, and gay rights campaigner.

Wilson was born in 1913 in Sussex, the youngest of six boys. He and one of his brothers dyed their hair and wore makeup and red nail varnish in public. Angus became renowned for his flamboyant dress and he developed a love of acting, performing in a school production of The Importance of Being Ernest attended by none other than Lord Alfred Douglas.

Oxford University widened Wilson’s social circle and sharpened his political thinking. He then joined the British Museum library as an assistant cataloguer. During the 1930s Wilson became an established bohemian figure within London’s left underground, attending anti-war demonstrations and socialist league activities.  After the outbreak of World War II, he was called up to work at Bletchley Park. His time there was not happy and he resisted rules and started to rebel. He eventually had a breakdown causing him to seek psychotherapy where he was advised to try writing.

After the War, he returned to the Museum where he was in charge of replacing the 300,000 books that had been destroyed. Other duties included reader enquiries: old ladies trying to track down nursery rhythms from their youth, or people claiming law suits. One female reader fell in love with him and was banned from the reading room.

In her biography of Wilson, Margaret Drabble describes how he sat ‘conspicuously on a raised dais in the centre of the Reading Room beneath Panizzi's beautiful dome, a colourful bird in a vast circular cage, bow-tied, blue-rinsed, chattering loudly to readers and staff and friends on the telephone’.  Wilson’s description of the library is less glamorous: ‘Dickensian’, ‘mummified’ and ‘a sad fog of Victorianism’ where staff wore sober suits and bow ties, although the then keeper of books was the last member of staff to don a top hat in the reading room.

In the mid-1950s Wilson left the Museum to pursue his writing. Homosexuality was still illegal, yet he wrote freely and authentically about the world in which he moved, questioning public and private morality and introducing new social characters. Some public libraries refused to stock his novels on the grounds of them being morally objectionable.

Sir-Angus-Frank-Johnstone-Wilson

Sir Angus Frank Johnstone Wilson by Godfrey Argent (commissioned 1969) NPG x166054 © National Portrait Gallery London  CC NPG


Wilson enjoyed safe domesticity with his life companion Tony Garrett, a colleague he met at the museum, always insisting that Tony was acknowledged as his partner.  He was a republican who accepted a knighthood. An advocate and voter for a classless society, yet he moved in exclusive circles.

Angus Wilson died in 1991. His portrait by Barbara Robinson was donated to the British Library by Tony Garrett.  It greets readers as they enter the reading room where LGBT books can now be freely browsed. Flamboyant dress and a blue rinse would no longer cause eyebrows to be raised, although a top hat might!

Rachel Brett
Humanities Reference Specialist

 #BLGayUK

 Further reading:
Angus Wilson Papers Add MS 79507-79516
Angus Wilson Photographs Add MS 83700-83728
Photographs of Angus Wilson by Fay Godwin in her archive at the British Library
Portrait of Sir Angus Wilson (1913-1991) by Barbara Robinson (b. 1928) is on display in the entrance to Humanities 1 Reading Room at the British Library St Pancras
Margaret Drabble, Angus Wilson: a biography (London, 1995)
Angus Wilson in Explore the British Library

 

25 September 2017

‘Inflammable material’ in the British Library

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‘The amount of inflammable material in all the advanced countries of the world is increasing so speedily, and the conflagration is so clearly spreading to most Asian countries which only yesterday were in a state of deep slumber, that the intensification of international bourgeois reaction and the aggravation of every single national revolution are absolutely inevitable.’

V.I. Lenin, ‘Inflammable Material in World Politics’, 1908

Stored in the Asian and African collections of the British Library is a cache of material banned in colonial India. Consisting of more than 2800 items, it constitutes one of the largest archives of primary sources relating to any 20th-century independence movement.  The period during which these works were collected, 1907-1947, covers two world wars, revolts and autonomy movements across the world, and the texts in this archive often register these events. 

The 1898 Code of Criminal Procedure had defined ‘seditious material’ as that likely to incite ‘disaffection’ towards the Government of India or ‘class hatred’ between India’s different communities, thus setting the two main grounds for proscription during this period. The 1910 Press Act reinforced this by requiring publishers to pay a security deposit of up to Rs 5000,  which would be forfeited if any document was found to contain ‘words, signs or visible representations’ likely to incite sedition. But this did not prevent circulation of publications printed overseas, the ‘inflammable material’ described by Lenin, emanating from international publishing centres, and centres of political dissent, in Europe and America.

The British attempted to prevent the entry of this material into India through use of the Sea Customs Act, and by the application of diplomatic pressure. Both instruments were used against William Jennings Bryan’s British Rule in India, a pamphlet written by an American politician who had been won over to the nationalist cause during a trip to India in 1906. This work was republished during the First World War by a San Francisco based Indian revolutionary group, embarrassing the US government, in which Bryan had served as Secretary of State from 1913-1915.

IMG_3613
Title page of a republished English edition of Bryan's British Rule in India, n.d. (microfilm number: IOL NEG 1397)

The range of languages into which Bryan’s pamphlet was translated indicates how extensive underground distribution networks were. Their presence in the proscribed publications collection suggests how hard they were to control. The banned English language edition bears the inscription in red ink ‘The sending of this publication out of the United States prohibited by President Wilson!’, and its European language translations repeat this boast.

IMG_3615
W. J. Bryan, Die englische Herrschaft in Indien (Berlin: Karl Curtius, n.d.), a German translation of British Rule in India (microfilm number: IOL NEG 1397)

Apart from versions in Urdu and Bengali, there is also what is described as a ‘Tartar’ (sic) edition sent from Stockholm to Shanghai and intercepted on the seas in August 1916. This was produced with Central Powers assistance, and the collection is rich in such material: works in Arabic, Chinese, Persian and Turkish, intended to foment unrest in Allied territory. During a time of global war and national revolt, the best guarantee of ‘the freedom to read’, it seems, was the inability to censor.

IMG_3610
Sheet attached to cover of a Tatar translation of British Rule in India, 18 August 1916 (shelfmark: PP Turk)

Pragya Dhital
Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies, University College London

Further reading:

Shaw, Graham and Mary Lloyd (eds.), Publications proscribed by the government of India: a catalogue of the collections in the India Office Library and Records and the Department of Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books (London: British Library, 1985)

Full text of Bryan’s British Rule in India available from the South Asian American Digital Archive: https://www.saada.org/item/20101015-123


This blog was written by Pragya Dhital for Banned Books Week 2017 (24-30 September). Banned-Books-Week-Logo

Banned Books Week was first initiated by the American Library Association in 1982 in response to an increasing number of challenges in the US to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. The 2017 UK contribution to Banned Books Week features events staged by a variety of cultural organisations including the British Library, Free Word, Royal Society of Literature and Islington Library and Heritage Services. British Library events can be found here.

14 September 2017

Political and criminal convictions in Birmingham

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How would you feel if you discovered that a member of your family had attended the first annual meeting of the Birmingham Political Union in 1830 chaired by Radical MP Sir Francis Burdett?  Would you be pleased, perhaps even proud, that you were in some way connected to the movement for political reform and a wider franchise? 

My relation Samuel Evans Heaton was in the crowds at that meeting on 26 July 1830.  However it appears that he may not have had a keen interest in Burdett’s speech - Samuel was arrested for pickpocketing.

Burdett

Sir Francis Burdett, 5th Bt, published by Thomas McLean, after Richard Dighton, hand-coloured etching, published 1825 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Samuel was charged with stealing from William Hollins one half-sovereign, four half-crowns, and other coins. Hollins had been aware of the threat from pickpockets in the throng at Beardsworth's Repository in Cheapside and had kept his hand in his breeches pocket where his money was kept. However ‘his feelings being powerfully operated upon by the hon. baronet’s  eloquence, he was betrayed into a fit of enthusiasm, and taking his hand from his pocket he grasped his hat with it, and waving it over his head, shouted and huzzaed for Sir Francis’.  At that moment, Samuel seized his opportunity and picked Hollins’s pocket.

BPU

British Library 8138.h.44.(6.)

The jury at Warwick Assizes in August 1830 found Samuel guilty and he was sentenced to transportation for life. His father Richard petitioned the Home Secretary to reprieve his ‘unfortunate’ son.  Samuel was aged 30 and had been unable to earn a living through manual labour for the past eight years, relying on his ‘strictly sober, honest, and industrious’ parents to support him. The petition was signed by others, seemingly including the victim of the crime: ‘I Wm Hollins do recommend him to your Mercy’. However the jailer’s report gave Samuel’s character as ‘very bad’: he had been in trouble with the police before for theft and assault.  The sentence was upheld and in March 1831 Samuel sailed on the Argyle for Tasmania. During the voyage he suffered from dyspepsia, debility, and the effects of a ‘broken constitution’.

 

  Heaton crime

 Evening Mail 16 August 1830 British Newspaper Archive

There is a striking physical description of Samuel in the convict records:
Trade - Labourer
Height without shoes - 5 ft 5¼ ins
Age - 31
Complexion - Brown
Head  - Large and round
Hair  - Dark brown
Whiskers - None
Visage - Round
Forehead - Perpendicular
Eyebrows - Dark brown
Eyes - Blue
Nose - Short – broken
Mouth – Large - projecting lips thick
Chin – Short
Remarks – The whole visage representing as having had a severe bruise – nose flat split - and broken – lost most of his teeth – impediment in speech - mouth awry.

In Tasmania, Samuel worked as a post officer messenger. There are offences recorded against his name. He was drunk and disorderly, and abused a constable in the execution of his duty. He neglected to attend a muster.  Most seriously, he was found in a wheat field with convict Mary Lamont and punished by imprisonment with six months’ hard labour.

Samuel was granted a ticket of leave in August 1839 and a conditional pardon in September 1842. I have not yet been able to complete this sad story by finding out when, where or how Samuel died.  So if anyone comes across him whilst researching convicts, please get in touch!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Evening Mail 16 August 1830.
Petition of Richard Heaton – The National Archives HO 17/40/FP29
Surgeon’s journal ship Argyle 1831 - The National Archives ADM 101/4/5
Tasmania Convict records e.g. description of Samuel Evans Heaton CON18/3/1 p.44
Reports of meetings etc convened by the Birmingham Political Union (1830) - British Library 8138.h.44.(1-23.)

 

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

08 March 2017

Remembering the Suffragette movement on International Women’s Day

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I recently came across something in the British Library’s collections that stopped me in my tracks – Votes for Women, the newspaper of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). As soon as I saw the green, white and violet emblem of the WSPU emblazoned on the cover, I was overpowered by the feeling that I was in the presence of something that was instrumental in giving me the freedom and rights that I enjoy today.

WSPU emblem_web

Interpretations of the significance of the colours of the emblem vary. They may have been designed to convey a powerful message – Give Women Votes; it is also thought that the purple symbolised dignity, white purity and green hope.

Browsing through the editions for 1911, I was struck by the relentless and inventive daily campaigning it so vividly chronicles, and the hard work of the people producing the newspaper itself. In an article in the edition for July 14 1911, Frederick Pethick-Lawrence writes about the time that he and his wife Emmeline first met Mrs Pankhurst in March 1906 when she convinced them that activism was the way to secure women’s suffrage.

Frederick Pethick-Lawrence  Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pethick-Lawrences’ marriage in 1901 was a love match between two committed social reformers. Not only did they devote much time and energy to leadership of the WSPU until 1912, alongside Christabel Pankhurst, but they also suffered imprisonment for their cause. The Pethick-Lawrences were inspired by that first meeting with Mrs Pankhurst to support and promote the cause by publishing a newspaper, Votes for Women. They eventually disagreed with Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst about the more militant tactics they later employed and were ousted from the WSPU, but continued to campaign for women’s right to vote.

The first edition of Votes for Women was launched in the autumn of 1907, by which time there was sufficient campaigning activity to fill a monthly publication. It achieved a circulation of 2,000 copies when it was first published.

Votes for Women first cover

Cover of the first edition of Votes for Women

By July 1911, when Frederick Pethick-Lawrence was writing about the history of Votes for Women, demand and activities were such that it was published weekly, with a circulation of 30,000. Despite being rather grainy, the images in Votes for Women are a testament to the commitment and continuous graft of the people who produced the newspaper and volunteered to sell and distribute it.

4 Publishing Office

The Publishing Office

5 Press cart

Press cart, ready to start from the Woman’s Press, Charing Cross Road, London

6 Champion seller Miss Kelly

A champion Votes for Women Seller, Miss Kelly

A sure sign of its success was the number and variety of advertisements it attracted by 1911, helping to fund the production of the newspaper.

1 Advert managers office

The Advertisement Manager's Office

Flako soap advert 07 July 1911

One of the many advertisements appearing in Votes for Women in 1911

Over the coming months I will post some more blogs about Votes for Women, giving further insights into the tactics used to muster support for the cause.

Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records

  Cc-by

Images all taken from Votes for Women, 1911

Further reading
Votes for Women
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

15 December 2015

'Seeing without being seen' – Bentham and the Panopticon prison

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Since 2012, the British Library has been part of the Transcribe Bentham initiative, which gives volunteers the opportunity to explore and transcribe papers written by the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832).  Transcribe Bentham celebrated its fifth anniversary in September 2015 and volunteers have now transcribed a whopping 14,000 manuscripts!  We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our transcribers because their efforts feed directly into the work undertaken by the Bentham Project at University College London in preparing the new edition of Bentham’s Collected Works.  The British Library holds around 15,000 pages of material written by Bentham and his family members.  A new batch of this material has just been digitised and we hope that the following taster might inspire any interested newcomers to come and have a go at transcribing Bentham. 

  Img_1_UC cxix, f.125r
Panopticon plans (drawn by Willey Reveley), c. 1794-1795 (Image courtesy of UCL Special Collections, UC cxix, f. 125r)

 

Many of these freshly digitised papers concern the Panopticon prison, one of Bentham’s most infamous ideas.  Bentham argued that prisons should use an ingenious system of surveillance to encourage inmates to reform their behaviour.  The name Panopticon comes from the Greek  – ‘pan’ meaning ‘all’ and ‘opticon’ relating to the idea of seeing or observing.  As Bentham explained, ‘The essence of it consists then, in the centrality of the Inspector’s situation, combined with the well known and most effectual contrivances for seeing without being seen.  As to the general form of the building, the most commodious for most purposes seems to be the circular’.  An elaborate system of lights and screens would allow a centrally-positioned prison governor to see into each cell, without being seen himself.
 

Img_2_BL Add MS 33550, f. 158r
Jeremy Bentham, Draft of Panopticon, or the Inspection House, c. 1787 (British Library Add MS 33550 f. 158r) Noc

The unnerving possibility of being watched at all times would make prisoners more likely to keep out of mischief.  Bentham was so convinced by this idea that he also maintained that the Central Inspection principle could be similarly utilised in other institutions like workhouses, hospitals or schools.  Yet he did express some qualms as to ‘whether it would be advisable to apply such constant and unremitting pressure to the tender mind’.  These papers are draft versions of Panopticon, or the Inspection House, a pamphlet which Bentham published in 1791.  Comparing these drafts with the final published text should give us an insight into the evolution of Bentham’s philosophy.  These papers will also provide context to current research into Bentham’s criticisms of the method of transporting convicts to Australia as a form of punishment. 

Img_3_BL Add MS 33550, f. 201v
Jeremy Bentham, Draft of Panopticon, or the Inspection House, c. 1787 (British Library Add MS 33550 f. 201v) Noc

If the Panopticon has piqued your interest, visit Transcribe Bentham today to begin transcribing.  In addition to the Panopticon writings, the latest set of British Library papers contains some of Bentham’s writings on logic and his proposals for a legal code.  We are continuing to digitise new material and there are a large variety of other writings, from across Bentham’s long life, already available to transcribers.  You do not need any specialist skills or knowledge to participate, just a willingness to have a go!  The Transcribe Bentham website has lots of information to guide newcomers through the process of completing their first transcriptions.  We hope to see you there! 

Louise Seaward
Research Associate, Bentham Project, Faculty of Laws, University College London

Visit the Transcribe Bentham Transcription Desk today
Follow Transcribe Bentham on Twitter @TranscriBentham

Further reading:
Jeremy Bentham, Selected Writings, ed. by Stephen Engelmann (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011)
Janet Semple, Bentham’s Prison: A Study of the Panopticon Penitentiary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993)

 

18 August 2015

Miss May Oung at the Burma Round Table Conference 1931

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Following the first Round Table Conference on India held at the end of 1930 in London, the British Government decided to hold a Round Table Conference on Burma in November 1931. The main item for discussion was the political separation of Burma from India and potential dominion status.

On 29 September 1931, the Government announced the 20 Burmese delegates who would be attending the Conference. They included representatives from different political parties and minority groups, but no women.

After the announcement various British women’s organisations, such as the Women’s Freedom League and the Six Point Group, sent letters to the Secretary of State, Sir Samuel Hoare, hoping it was not too late to include one or more women. In particular, the name of Miss May Oung was put forward because she was conveniently already in London.

 

  May Oung 1
IOR: L/PO/9/3 Letter from National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship Noc

 

Miss May Oung (also known as Ma Mya Sein) was Rangoon and Oxford educated, had been Secretary of the Burmese National Council of Women and Burmese Women’s Association and representative of the All Asian Women’s Conference at the League of Nations in Geneva. Her education and international experience made her an ideal representative in British and Burmese women’s minds. As Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence pointed out in a letter sent to Samuel Hoare on 29 September 1931, women in Burma enjoyed an equal franchise with men (they had since 1922) and so should be included in the Conference. Burmese women, who had held a mass meeting in Rangoon, pointed out that two Indian women had been delegates to the Indian Round Table Conference (even though Indian women did not enjoy equal franchise) and so at least two Burmese women should be sent as representatives at this Conference. 

However, the Governor of Burma, Sir Charles Alexander Innes, did not wish to appoint May Oung. In various telegrams to the Secretary of State in October 1931, the Governor suggested that May Oung’s Aunt, Mrs Hla Oung, who was Vice President of the Burmese Women’s Association, would be a better candidate. Hla Oung insisted that she would need May Oung to accompany her on account of her age and language difficulties, but Innes believed that May Oung was too young and that the Burmese men would not approve of her appointment. He also did not want two women delegates, who would be in favour of separation of Burma from India, as that would upset the political balance of the delegation. Innes agreed to compromise by allowing May Oung attend the Conference as her aunt’s advisor, but not to be named as a formal delegate. This suggestion was not well received, leading to a standoff. Hla Oung insisted on two women delegates and threatened to arrange a boycott by the whole Burmese delegation.

 

May Oung 2

IOR: L/PO/9/3 Telegram from All Burma Women’s ConferenceNoc

 

British and international women’s organisations, such as the Women’s Freedom League and Equal Rights International, petitioned the India Office once more for the inclusion of May Oung on the delegation.

Finally, the male Burmese delegates themselves, on their arrival in London in November 1931, sent a letter to Hoare asking that May Oung be included in their delegation. Innes eventually relented after getting written assurance from the Burmese Women’s Association that they would be happy with one delegate. On 20 November 1931, Miss May Oung was formally invited to attend the Burmese Round Table Conference. She accepted the invitation.

 

May Oung 3

IOR: L/PO/9/3 Letter from Women’s Freedom League Noc

 

Sumita Mukherjee
AHRC Early Career Fellow (AH/M004326/1), King’s College London

Further reading:
IOR: L/PO/9/3 Burma Round Table Conference: Notes on groups represented at Burma Conference

 

 

14 July 2015

Bastille Day in Delhi

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The Viceroy of India’s Personal Report to the Secretary of State in London dated 18 July 1947 makes interesting reading.  As you might expect, Lord Louis Mountbatten provided a great deal of information about the business of the Partition Council which was meeting three times a week. However there are some passages which show that the political elite in Delhi was not concentrating solely upon the future of an independent India.  Amidst the meetings, negotiations, letter writing and press conferences, time was found to attend social events.

Mountbatten wrote:

 ‘I gave a large dinner party on the 14th July in honour of the French community, in celebration of their national day, which was attended by members of the Government and many other Indians; and speeches were exchanged in French.

This morning, Friday the 18th July, I held an investiture in the Darbar Hall, and this evening we are giving a large dinner party attended by Nehru with the whole Cabinet, Jinnah, and several of the Princes, to celebrate our silver wedding. If I may be forgiven a personal  reminiscence, it was in the old Viceregal Lodge here that I became engaged over 25 years ago.  Several of the Ruling Princes who are coming were on the Prince of Wales’s Staff with me at that time’.

 

Bastille 11287757

The storming of the Bastille, 14 July 1789. ©De Agostini/The British Library Board Images Online

 

Events in London in 1947 meant that both Bastille Day and 18 July were significant days in the history of India. On 14 July 1947 Prime Minister Clement Attlee introduced the India Independence Bill into the House of Commons.  The Bill went through three readings in the Commons and was given the Royal Assent on 18 July.  The India Independence Act provided for partition leading to the establishment of the dominions of India and Pakistan from 15 August 1947.

The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer carried an article entitled Ending an Empire:

‘When a Royal Commission announced to-day in the Lords the Royal Assent to the India Independence Bill, the procedure- though it marked the end  of an Empire and created two new Dominions- differed in no respect from that used for the least important legislative measure.  The Bill was named in the middle of a fairly long list of measures which included the Havant and Waterloo District Council Bill and the South Metropolitan Gas Bill. One had indeed to listen closely as a clerk of the House read the titles, and the centuries-old formula, “Le Roy le veult” was spoken’.

 

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records Cc-by

Further reading:
IOR/L/PO/6/123 Viceroy's personal reports 2 April 1947-16 September 1947
British Newspaper Archive Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 19 July 1947