Untold lives blog

41 posts categorized "Religion"

17 October 2017

The life and loves of a ‘tremendous literary rebel’, Michael Madhusudan Dutt

Add comment

Dutt’s colourful life included romantic adventures, a change of religion and travel to Britain and France, in keeping with a man describing himself as ‘a tremendous literary rebel’. His exceptional creative talent led his biographer Ghulam Murshid to praise him as ‘the father of modern Bengali poetry’.

Item 14 add_or_5606 compressed
Michael Madhusudan Dutt, (1824-73)
Watercolour on ivory. Undated

Around 1833, Dutt and his Hindu parents moved to Calcutta where his father’s success enabled him to provide his son with a good education. The young Dutt entered a world of culture and debate. He began his own writing career and developed a love of English literature and a longing to visit Britain. Towards the end of 1842 he was horrified when his parents began to plan an arranged marriage for him, declaring ‘I wish (Oh! I really wish) that somebody would hang me!’ Shortly afterwards, Dutt converted to Christianity, possibly motivated at least in part by a wish to evade the marriage.

Dutt baptism 1843 cropped
Dutt’s baptism at the Old Church, Fort William, 09 Feb 1843
IOR/N/1/64 f.101

Obliged to leave Hindu College after his conversion, he continued his studies at Bishop’s College, still supported by his parents, but unfortunately a rift later developed between him and his father. In December 1847 he left Calcutta for Madras where he struggled to find employment until the father of Charles Eggbert Kennet, an old friend from Bishop’s College, helped him to obtain a post teaching at the Madras Orphan Asylum. Aged twenty-four, in 1848 Dutt married seventeen year old Rebecca Thompson from the Madras Female Orphan Asylum. Today, a relationship between a teacher and a pupil would be considered scandalous, but early marriage was then considered entirely respectable for young women such as Rebecca. The Kennet family seem to have remained on good terms with the young Dutts as they appear as witnesses to the baptism of their daughter Bertha Blanche Kennet Dutt. Their contemporaries were much more concerned by the fact that Dutt, an Indian man, was marrying a girl of British descent, as this was possibly the first time that this was known to have happened.

BL-BIND-005137759-00313 cropped
Bertha Blanche Kennet Dutt’s baptism at St Mark’s Church, Madras (Black Town), 15 Nov 1849
IOR/N/2/C/2 f.130

Dutt and Rebecca had four children together, but when he returned to Calcutta after his father’s death in 1855, he left her and started a new life with another European lady, Henrietta Sophia White. Finally achieving his dream of studying law in England, he was called to the bar in London though he and Henrietta spent much time in France. They eventually died within a few days of each other in Calcutta in 1873. I do not know what became of the unfortunate Rebecca and her children.

The watercolour of Michael Madhusudan Dutt is on display in Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage, an exhibition at the Library of Birmingham until 04 November. The exhibition and community engagement are a partnership between the British Library and the Library of Birmingham. They have been generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Details of opening hours and events are on the Library of Birmingham website

Connecting Stories with logos

Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records and curator of Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage

Further reading
Ghulam Murshid, Lured by hope: a biography of Michael Madhusudan Dutt / by Ghulam Murshid; translated from Bengali by Gopa Majumdar, ( New Delhi ; Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2003)
Michael Madhusudan Dutt, The heart of a rebel poet : letters of Michael Madhusudan Dutt / edited by Ghulam Murshid, (New Delhi ; Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2004)
Clinton B Seely, The slaying of Meghanada : a Ramayana from colonial Bengal / Michael Madhusudan Datta ; translated with an introduction by Clinton B. Seely, (Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2004)

Find My Past for British India Office collections 
Asians in Britain 

Untold Lives blogs:
Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage 
Miss Jenny the cheetah visits England
Bevin Indian Trainees during the Second World War 
East India Company trade with the East Indies 
Ranjitsinhji, our glorious hero bold 
First World War Indian soldiers' letters in 'Connecting Stories' exhibition 

22 August 2017

Sir Hans Sloane as a collector of “strange news”

Add comment

Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753) was a major figure in the flourishing scientific culture of Enlightenment London, serving as both President of the Royal Society and President of the Royal College of Physicians. However, his greatest legacy lies in his vast collections of books, manuscripts, specimens and other objects, which after his death became the bedrock of the new British Museum, the ancestor of the British Library.

Sloane’s collections were particularly strong in natural history, medicine and travel, but their overall scope was astonishingly broad. Ongoing research into different parts of his collections is gradually uncovering more detail about their richness and variety. One product of this work is the Sloane Printed Books Catalogue (SPBC), a free and fully-searchable online database that records over 35,000 printed items from Sloane’s library (and counting).

To take just one example of the research possibilities provided by the SPBC – Sloane was a collector of “strange news”. “Strange news” was news of unusual or dramatic events, such as earthquakes, freak weather, monsters or medical marvels, usually accompanied by a supernatural interpretation, such as divine judgement or demonic influence. It typically appeared in the form of short printed pamphlets, bearing titles that promised accounts of “strange”, “miraculous”, “wonderful” or “extraordinary” events to their readers.

Image 1
Title-page of Sloane’s copy of Strange news from France… (1678), bearing Sloane’s catalogue/shelf number ‘c 626’. (BL 8755.c.27.)

The SPBC lists 57 items with titles containing even just the word “strange”, alongside “news/newes/relation”. For instance, one pamphlet of “strange news from France” owned by Sloane provides an account of a storm of fist-sized hailstones that destroyed everything except – significantly – a Protestant church. Another of “strange and true news” tells of severe weather across the Midlands that saw snow smother some and floods drown others, depicted as God’s judgement for wickedness. A third relates a nine-foot-long winged serpent that terrorised the people of Essex – complete with frightening illustration.

Image 3
From Sloane’s copy of The Flying Serpent, or strange news out of Essex… (1669?), A1v. (BL 1258.b.18.)

Image 2
Title-page of Sloane’s copy of Strange and true news from Lincoln-shire, Huntingtonshire, Bedford-shire, Northampton-shire, Suffolk… (1674), bearing Sloane’s catalogue/shelf number ‘N 788’. (BL 8775.c.67.)

“Strange news” was part of a diverse and sophisticated culture of news in early modern England. Although this era saw the birth of the printed newspaper, which generally contained foreign or domestic politics, this was far from being people’s only source of news. Strange news was another – and very different – kind of news in circulation. Its popularity came partly from its raw sensationalism, but also from its supernatural explanations, which appealed to a religious and superstitious culture.

But why did Sloane, a man of science, collect strange news, which represents such a different mental world? Although it is impossible to be certain, there are several clues. Sloane once said he was curious about “very strange, but certain, matters of fact” – in other words, unusual natural phenomena – and accounts of dramatic earthquakes, storms and floods (if not of giant flying serpents) may have appealed to this desire to explain the bizarre-but-true. He may also have been interested in collecting the pamphlets’ supernatural interpretations specifically to expose them as false, as it has been argued that he acquired other objects for this purpose, such as “Quacks’ Bills” (dubious medical adverts) and “magical” tokens. Whatever the reason, Sloane’s collecting of “strange news” indicates that he may have been at the forefront of the Enlightenment, but his interests were not restricted to the products of the new science.

Edward Taylor
PhD placement student, Sloane Printed Books Project

Further reading:
Delbourgo, J., Collecting the World: The Life and Curiosity of Hans Sloane (London: Allen Lane, 2017) – including discussion on Sloane’s attitudes to magic and the supernatural.
Mandelbrote, G., ‘Sloane and the Preservation of Printed Ephemera’, in G. Mandelbrote and B. Taylor, eds, Libraries within the library: the origins of the British Library's printed collections (London: British Library, 2009), 146-168.

27 July 2017

Flouting Laws for his Cause: John Flavell’s FAQs

Add comment

John Flavell (1630-1691) was a Presbyterian preacher from Dartmouth, who overtly disobeyed both the ‘Uniformity Act’ of 1662, and the ‘Five Mile Act’ of 1665. These acts prohibited those who opposed the Church of England’s structure from preaching or living within five miles of their parish. Presbyterian ministers, including Flavell, refuted the bishop-centric hierarchies of the Church, and he was expelled.

However, Flavell went to extraordinary lengths to reach his followers. He spoke to his flock in a forest, preached in private houses at midnight, and sermonised on the Saltstone, a ledge in the middle of the Salcombe estuary (quickly evacuated when the tide was on the turn). He also dressed as a woman to ride through town and perform a baptism.  Pursued by riders, he fled into the sea, where both he and his steed swam to the next bay in order to escape persecution.

Flavell 1

Although he was publicly vilified, with antagonists burning an effigy of him in 1685, Flavell continued to preach, and to write extensively about his spiritual learning. An Exposition of the Assemblies Catechism (Add MS 89247) is set out in a ‘frequently asked questions’ format, with answers providing clarification of small topics such as ‘Man’s Chiefe Ende’ and ‘God’s Truth’. The answers are not merely derived from his work as a preacher, but cited from specific bible verses.

Flavell 2

When published in print, this text, like other works published by Flavell, would become exponentially popular with notable puritanical figures such as Increase Mather, rector of Harvard University from 1685-1701, and who was involved with the Salem Witch Trials.

This manuscript notebook, suspected to be composed mainly of autograph script by Flavell himself, could be partially copied from the printed edition of Flavell’s work, as the first page mirrors exactly the frontispiece from the 1692 printed edition, leaving out only the publisher’s details.

Flavell 3

Considering Flavell died in 1691, references to the 1692 printed version are most unlikely to be his doing. However, the presence of Flavell’s hand for the majority of the book suggests that it could have been a fair copy that later fell into the possession of the inscribed ‘Mary Davey’, who wrote ‘A covenant drawn up between God and my own soul’ at a later date than Flavell’s ‘Exposition’. Her ink can be seen throughout the subsequent pages, suggesting she used it as a personal prayer book.

Flavell 4

The last page ends mid-sentence: ‘We know that an idol is nothing in the world, or that...’, leaving the final question unanswered, and raising more about the overlap between manuscript and printed texts, the circulation of recusant religious texts, and issues arising from personal archives. The legacy of the text is wide reaching, considering its clandestine origins in sermons preached in an estuary at midnight.

Flavell 6

Emily Montford
Modern Archives and Manuscripts Intern

Further reading:

John Flavell, An Exposition of the Assemblies Catechism, Add MS 89247
John Flavell, An Exposition of the Assemblies Catechism (London: T. Cockerill, 1692), 1018.h.6.(1.)


13 June 2017

Cow Protection in India

Add comment

On 9 December 1911, The Graphic magazine had a short piece with the surprising title ‘How Cattle Threaten the Unity of the Empire’. This stated that at a time when the King’s cattle had been winning prizes in Britain, his Hindu subjects in India were petitioning to stop the slaughter of cattle for the British Army and permit the introduction of beef from Australia. It reported that a picture was being circulated with the petition showing how useful cattle were to other industries if they were not slaughtered.

The Graphic  9 December 1911

The Graphic 9 December 1911

Cow protection was a serious issue in India. The cow was an important Hindu symbol of maternity and fertility. For those fearful that colonial policies were endangering traditional Hindu practices, and others who were struggling with increased competition for education, jobs and scarce resources, the cow represented a comforting and benign figure, a guard against evil, and an illustration of good Hindu behaviour. As such cow protection was a unifying issue for Hindus of all walks of life.

The proposal referred to in The Graphic of importing Australian beef for British troops in place of beef killed in India seems to have been devised by Khursedji Sorabji Jassawalla, a member of a well-known Parsi family from Bombay. A colourful figure, Jassawalla had been associated with the anti-cow killing movement since 1885. In October 1911, he travelled to London with the intention of presenting to the King a petition and two million signatures he claimed to have collected. While residing in Hampstead, he wrote a note outlining his scheme to provide Australian mutton to the British Army even at a loss to himself if the slaughter of Indian cattle would be stopped. Unsuccessful in his attempts to gain a Royal audience, he sent his petition to the Government of India and the India Office.

Jassawalla Petition (top)

Jassawalla Petition (bottom)

IOR/L/PJ/6/1123, File 4428 Noc

The Government of India was rather unimpressed with Mr Jassawalla’s scheme, as this comment in his criminal intelligence history sheet notes: “The whole proposal is a commercial one, and from that point of view his past career does not inspire confidence”.

This was not the only petition on cow protection the India Office received that year. On 9 November 1911, a petition was received from Sir Bhalchandra Krishna, a resident of Bombay, protesting against the slaughter of cows in the city and district of Muttra and Varaj in the United Provinces. With his petition were submitted over 100 pages of signatures. The Government declined to make any alterations to the arrangements for the slaughter of Indian cattle.

Bhalchandra Krishna Petition

Bhalchandra Krishna Petition signatures

IOR/L/PJ/6/1125, File 4678 Noc

John O’Brien
India Office Records

 Further reading:
The Graphic, 9 December 1911, page 889 (in a file of newspaper cuttings on Persia in the Curzon Papers) [Reference Mss Eur F112/249]
Memorial to the King from Mr Jassawalla and others asking that British troops in India may be supplied with Australian meat in place of beef slaughtered in India, 1911-1913 [Reference IOR/L/PJ/6/1123, File 4428]
Memorial from Sir Balchandra Krishna and others protesting against the slaughter of cows in Muttra (UP), 1911 [Reference IOR/L/PJ/6/1125, File 4678]

02 February 2016

'Pretty, witty Nell', the 'Protestant whore': Nell Gwyn remembered

Add comment Comments (0)

Nell Gwyn, actress and mistress of Charles II, was born on this day in 1650. Nell's short life didn't have a promising start. According to the diarist Samuel Pepys, she was brought up in a brothel, where she served strong liquor to clients. In 1663, at the age of about twelve, Nell became an 'orange girl' in the King's Theatre, selling fruit to theatregoers and probably passing secret messages between the actresses and their lovers. Within a short time Nell was herself elevated to the stage, where she proved a great hit. Pepys wrote admiringly of 'Pretty, witty Nell' and her performances in comic roles - as well as of her shapely figure.


Eleanor ('Nell') Gwyn by Simon Verelst, circa 1680 © National Portrait Gallery, London   NPG

It wasn't only Pepys who found Nell desirable. She had affairs with several men, before attracting the attention of the King himself. She became his mistress and eventually bore him two sons. The King was evidently very fond of her. On his deathbed he supposedly said to his brother, the future James II, 'Don't let poor Nelly starve'. Nell clearly didn't go short of money: when she died in 1687 she left several hundred pounds to family members, as well as money to help the poor and those in debt.

As Charles II's mistress, Nell had sometimes awkward relationships with the King's other lovers. A particular rival was Louise de Kéroualle, to whom Charles had given the title Duchess of Portsmouth. The British Library holds several contemporary publications satirising the spats between the two women, including A pleasant dialogue betwixt two wanton ladies of pleasure, A dialogue between the Duchess of Portsmouth and Madam Gwin at parting, and Madam Gwins answer to the Dutches of Portsmouths letter. The last of these is full of sexual innuendo: the fictionalised Nell says to Louise that the sea-god Neptune (presumably representing Charles II):

'proffer'd you Gold, and Pearl, and what not, if you would have let him stick his Trident in you.'

The Duchess of Portsmouth's Catholicism made her unpopular with some people. While Nell was riding through Oxford in a coach in 1681, she was reputedly mobbed by an angry crowd, who thought the coach contained the Duchess. Nell is supposed to have leaned out of the coach window and reassured the crowd by saying, 'Pray good people be silent, I am the Protestant whore'.

Fascination with Nell Gwyn and her exploits didn't end at her death. She has been the subject of plays, operas and stories in the centuries since, including a three-act play by Edward Jerningham, published in 1799 with the title The Peckham Frolic. In this comedy Charles II, in heavy disguise, meets Nell in Peckham, where all sorts of trickery ensues.


Edward Jerningham: The Peckham Frolic (London, 1799). BL shelfmark: 11778.d.1.  Cc-by

Sandra Tuppen, Lead Curator Modern Archives and Manuscripts 1601-1850.

17 December 2015

The Ancient Mosque of Manama

Add comment Comments (0)

On 5 February 1936 Charles Dalrymple Belgrave, Advisor to the Bahrain Government, asked the Political Agent Percy Gordon Loch for help in locating an ancient mosque in Manama, Bahrain. The only piece of information Belgrave had was that the mosque dated to AD 876-9, and had been described by Ernest Diez in 1925.

Diez had indeed visited the place in 1914 and described the mosque’s physical features including its pillars, arches, roofs, plan, and measurements, in addition to the possible timeline of its establishment.
The mosque is believed to be one of the oldest Islamic buildings in Bahrain, whose ruins Deiz thought dated back to the year 740 AH (AD 1339/40). This date is shown with Cufic inscription on an epigraphic tablet that was described by Deiz. The mosque has a unique architectural style with an open plan layout rather than most familiar courtyard mosques spotted in various Muslim countries.

  Manama 1
From Ernest Diez,  ‘Eine Schiitische Moschee Ruine auf der Insel Bahrain’ Noc

Basic local materials were used to build the mosque including clay and teak. Diez states that teak ‘was shipped from India to the Persian Gulf and Egypt and was much utilised in the early Islamic mosques of the towns of Iraq, in Baghdad, and also in the Persian highland country’.

The identical twin minarets on this ancient Islamic monument make it easily recognizable. The foundation dates back to the 11th century and has been rebuilt in the 14th and 15th centuries. During this reconstruction the twin minarets were added. At the east and west exterior walls of the mosque stand these two distinguishable circular minarets.  Below is one of the oldest photographs taken of the two minarets in 1939.

Manama 2

IOR/R/15/2/1663, ff 252-255 Noc


There are two Kiblah stones with Cufic writing around them at the western wall of the mosque. They are called kiblah as they indicate the direction of prayer. They are believed to have been rebuilt in the 15th century.

Manama 3

From Ernest Diez,  ‘Eine Schiitische Moschee Ruine auf der Insel Bahrain’ Noc


At some point of its history the mosque was a Shia mosque. The  inscription found on its wooden pillar is a Shia formula: ‘la Ilaha illa Allah, Muhammed Rasul Allah, ‘Ali Wali Allah’.

Manama 4

NocFrom Ernest Diez,  ‘Eine Schiitische Moschee Ruine auf der Insel Bahrain’

The design which can be seen on the above wooden pillar can be assigned to at least the 10th century. Such designs can be traced to the mosques of Samarra in present-day Iraq.

If Mr Belgrave had made the same enquiry today, he would have been delighted to learn that the ancient mosque of Manama is now called al-Khamis Mosque. It is found to the south-west of Manama. The mosque derives its name from a local market (Souq) which was held in the area on Thursdays (al-Khamis), hence Souq al-Khamis. It is however rather difficult to trace the date by which the mosque acquired this name, or even to trace any previous names. Most recently the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities  has been working on a project called Souq al-Khamis Mosque Visitors’ Centre which is intended to open by the end of 2015. The project is sponsored by Assistant Undersecretary for Culture and National Heritage Shaikha Mai bint Mohammad bin Al-Khalifa.

Ula Zeir
Content Specialist/ Arabic Language British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further Reading:
Diez, Ernest ‘Eine Schiitische Moschee Ruine auf der Insel Bahrain’ von Ernest Diez, pp 101-105, (‘The Ruins of Shia Mosque on Bahrain Island’), Jahrbuch der asiatischen Kunst II (The Annual Book of Asian Arts), Part II, edited by Georg Biermann (1925).
IOR/R/15/2/1771 File 34/1 Ancient Monuments and Tombs. Ancient Mosque in Manamah.
IOR/R/15/2/1663, ff 252-255 File 20/1- Vol: III Ceremonial and Celebrations: New Year's and King's Birthday's Celebrations.
Article by Muhammad Al Khatam, Al-Yaum Newspaper. 
al-Khamis Mosque



09 December 2015

Happy Birthday to John Milton!

Add comment Comments (0)

The great poet, scholar and controversial pamphleteer John Milton was born #onthisday in 1608.

One of the treasures of the British Library’s Milton holdings is the Bridgewater Manuscript of Comus (Loan MS 76 ), on long term loan from a private collection. Comus is a masque, with music by Henry Lawes, first performed at Ludlow Castle on 29 September 1634 before John Egerton, first Earl of Bridgewater, to celebrate his inauguration as Lord President of Wales. The Library also holds an autograph manuscript of Lawes’s music (Add MS 53723 ), which includes settings for five songs from Comus.


 Add MS 53723, Henry Lawes, f.37v 'Comus'  Noc

The masque is both a warning against licentiousness and a celebration of chastity, thought by some scholars to have been intended to distance the Egerton family from the Castlehaven scandal, in which the Countess of Bridgewater’s brother-in-law was executed for sexual crimes in 1631, or to emphasize a message of chastity in light of the Countesses fears that in 1632 a male servant had bewitched her youngest daughter, Alice. At the first performance of the masque, the roles of the Lady and her brothers were played by three of the Egerton children: Alice (15), John (11) and Thomas (9).

In the masque, the Lady, alone in the woods, is tricked and kidnapped by Comus, the son of Bacchus and Circe. The Lady, magically bound, tries to resist Comus’s attempts to seduce her into intemperance by making her drink a potion. She is rescued by her two brothers and the Attendant Spirit of the wood, who rush Comus’s palace and smash the glass to the floor. They summon Sabrina, a goddess of chastity, who lifts the binding spell from the Lady. Order is restored and the scene changes to Ludlow, where there are country dances and the children are presented to their parents with words of praise for ‘their faith, their patience, and their truth’ and their triumph over ‘sensual folly, and intemperance’.

There are five early versions of the text of Comus or A Maske Presented at Ludlow Castle: the Bridgewater MS, the Trinity MS (an autograph manuscript with many revisions, thought to have been Milton’s working copy), and print versions published by Lawes in 1637, and Milton in 1645 and 1673. The Bridgewater MS was previously believed to have been an acting copy for the performance at Ludlow. It is now thought to have been a presentation copy for the Egerton family, with its variants possibly recording adaptations of the text for the first performance. Among its variants, the Bridgewater MS omits several key speeches, among them Comus’s famous carpe diem speech, ‘List Lady be not coy […] you are but young yet’, which criticizes virginity and sexualises the Lady; and the passage where the Lady is thronged by memories of fantasies of ‘calling shapes, and beckoning shadows dire, / And airy tongues, that syllable men’s names’. Perhaps the text was edited to be sensitive to the family scandal, and indeed to a 15 year old girl performing before her parents.

There are numerous other noteworthy items in the Library’s extensive Milton collection. Our printed copies of Paradise Lost include two first issues of the first edition of 1667 (C.14.a.9. and Ashley 1183); two issues of Jacob Tonson’s fourth edition of 1688 – the lavish, illustrated folio that helped secure Milton’s place in the canon (1486.m.4. and 643.m.10.(1.) ); a 1751 copy with manuscript notes by Charles Lamb (C.61.a.5.); first editions of the poem as illustrated by John Martin (1827, 643.m.18,19.) and Gustav Doré (1866, 1871.f.14.); and translations of the poem into numerous languages, the earliest being a 1682 German translation by E G Von Berge (11626.b.31.).


Plate from Jacob Tonson's fourth edition of Milton's Pardise Lost, 1788. British Library 643.m.10Noc


'Satan on his Throne' by John Martin,from The Paradise Lost of John Milton with illustrations designed and engraved by John Martin, 1827, 643.m.18.Noc

We also have several copies of the 1645 Poems  and first editions of his poetry, including a copy of Justa Edouardo King naufrago (1638) – the collection in which ‘Lycidas’ first appeared – containing manuscript corrections to Milton’s poem, possibly in his own hand (C.21.c.42.).


Frontispiece and title page from Poems by John Milton, 1645, E.1126.Noc

The Library has many first editions of Milton’s extensive prose works, including five pamphlets – Of Reformation (1641, E.208.(3.)), The Reason of Church-Government (1641, E.137.(9.)), An Apology against a Pamphlet (1642, E.147.(22.)), Areopagitica (1644, C.55.c.22.(9.)) and Pro populo anglicano defensio (1651, C.114.b.37.))  – bearing the inscription ‘Ex dono Authoris’ (from the gift of the author) on the title page, and with corrections to Areopagitica and Of Reformation in a contemporary hand.

Title page from Pro populo anglicano defensio, 1651, C.114.b.37.).Noc

The Library also has two non-Miltonic works owned and annotated by the poet: a Greek text, Ἀρατου Σολεως Φαινομενα και Διοσημεια (1559, C.60.l.7. ), and a 1612 King James’s Bible (Add MS 32310) in which Milton recorded the births and deaths of family members.


Title page from Ἀρατου Σολεως Φαινομενα και Διοσημεια, 1559, C.60.l.7. Noc

As well as the Bridgewater MS, the Library’s Archive and Manuscript collection also boasts the original agreement between John Milton and the printer Samuel Symmons for the sale of Paradise Lost, dated 27 April 1667, with the signature and seal of the Poet (Add MS 18861); and one of his commonplace books, containing extensive notes on divorce (a subject Milton controversially published in favour of), as well as notes on ethics, economics, politics and literature (Add MS 36354) .

PUCKAdd MS 36354

Page from John Milton's Commonplace Book, Add MS 36354 55v. Noc

Dr Puck Fletcher, Web Content Developer - Shakespeare Discovering Literature.

27 September 2015

Crack-Nut Sunday

Add comment Comments (0)

Today is Crack-Nut Sunday, the last Sunday before Michaelmas (29 September).  The name comes from an old English custom whereby the congregation took nuts with them to the parish church on this day and cracked them during the service.

It is said that the practice had its origin in the election of bailiffs and other members of the corporation on Michaelmas Day and the civic feast connected with this.  Young and old members of the congregation participated and the cracking noise often drowned out the words of the priest.


Image taken from Annals of the Parish and the Ayrshire Legatees ... Illustrated by C. E. BrockNoc


In 1907 a newspaper in New York State published an account by an American visitor who had attended a country church in the north of England on Crack-Nut Sunday.  He commented that the service ‘would have driven a New York preacher clean crazy’: ‘Nobody, no matter how pious he might be, hesitated to avail himself of the peculiar privilege granted him, and men, women and children came to church with their pockets stuffed with nuts, which they complacently cracked and munched during the sermon…It can be easily imagined that when forty or fifty people get to cracking nuts with all their might the noise is apt to be something terrific, and many times the minister was hard put to hear himself think’. The custom came to be looked upon as a nuisance but was suppressed with some difficulty ‘so firmly had the nut cracking fever taken hold of the fancy of the people’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
John Timbs, Something for everyone (1861)
The Kingston Daily Freeman 4 March 1907