THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

20 posts categorized "Science"

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

10 July 2017

Dame Anne McLaren: a noted career

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To publicise the upcoming event: Anne McLaren: Science, Ethics and the Archive, to be held at the British Library on 20 July, 6.30-8.00 pm, we are republishing this post examining the notable achievements of McLaren’s career. A longer article on McLaren by the biologist Marilyn Monk can be found on the BL Science blog along with this article on McLaren’s role on the Warnock Committee.

Dame Anne McLaren (1927–2007) was a developmental biologist who pioneered reproductive techniques that led to human in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

Dame_Anne_McLaren_©_James_Brabazon Dame Anne McLaren. Copyright © James Brabazon.

McLaren studied Zoology at Oxford and received a DPhil in 1952. In the same year she moved to UCL and began research with her husband Donald Michie into the skeletal development of mice. In 1955 she and Michie moved to the Royal Veterinary College and it was in 1958, while working with John Biggers, that McLaren produced the first litter of mice grown from embryos that had been developed outside the uterus and then transferred to a surrogate mother. This work paved the way for the development of IVF technologies and the birth of the first IVF baby Louise Brown some 20 years later.
 

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Detail from McLaren’s laboratory notebook dated 1955-1959 recording her experiments concerning embryo transplants in mice. (Add MS 83844). Copyright the estate of Anne McLaren.
 

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Detail from Mclaren’s laboratory notebook dated 1968-1976. (Add MS 83854). Copyright the estate of Anne McLaren.


In later years Anne’s career took her from Edinburgh to Cambridge via UCL where she continued her work into fertility and reproduction. As well as undertaking research she was a keen advocate of scientists explaining their work to the population at large and being involved in the formation of public policy. McLaren was a member of the Warnock committee whose advice led to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990 as well as the establishment of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which regulated in vitro fertilization and the use of human embryos, on which she served for over 10 years.
 

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Selection of lectures dating from 1977-78 including a ‘Lecture to girl’s school near York’ (Add MS 83835). Copyright the estate of Anne McLaren.

The Anne McLaren papers at the British Library consist of letters, notes, notebooks and offprints. These are currently available to readers through the British Library Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue at Add MS 83830-83981 and Add MS 89202.

Anne McLaren’s scientific publications and books, along with an oral history interview conducted in February 2007, are available to readers via the British Library Explore catalogue.

Jonathan Pledge
Curator of Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts, Public and Political Life

 

27 June 2017

A botanical excursion in Wales

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On Sunday 27 June 1773 at Chepstow, a party of botanists were clambering about ‘on the Steep nacked Bank by the Side of the Wye not far from the Castle’, hunting for plants.  The species identified included wild cabbage (Brassica maritima) on Chepstow Castle, madder (Rubria tinctoria) and stonecrop (Sedum rupestre) “upon the Rocks on both Sides of the Wye above and below the Bridge at Chepstow”, and the bee orchid (Ophrys apifera) on the river bank.  They may have been too intent on their botanising to notice that two other members of their party were getting stuck in the mud of the tidal river. The artist Paul Sandby recorded this mishap in his 1775 aquatint, Chepstow Castle in Monmouthshire.

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Paul Sandby, Chepstow Castle in Monmouthshire  British Library K.Top.31.6.f. Noc

This expedition took place between 25 June and 16 August 1773.  The members of the party were Sir Joseph Banks, Dr Daniel Solander, Reverend John Lightfoot, The Hon. Charles Greville, Paul Sandby, and possibly also the Swiss geologist and meteorologist Jean Andre de Luc. The itinerary, recorded in Lightfoot’s journal, covered much of the coast of South Wales from Chepstow to Milford Haven and St David’s.  The purpose of the expedition was primarily botanical but there were also artistic aims. 

Sandby had made a tour of North Wales in 1771 and his subsequent enthusiasm for Welsh scenery must have been well known to his friends. While the scientists explored the vegetation, Sandby was taking views of the many castles along the Pembrokeshire coast. They were at St Quintins on 5 July where Sandby sketched the Castle gatehouse and the botanists found mint, Mentha longifolia, “by the Mill going to St. Quintins Castle a mile from Cowbridge, and in a wet marshy meadow on the left going to the Mill, found Ranunculus lingua” or Greater Spearwort.

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Paul Sandby, St Quintins Castle British Library K. Top.47.50.b .Noc

The party was at St Donat’s on 6 July. While Sandby drew the landscape and castle, the botanists were exploring the cliffs, caves, and crevices at nearby Nash Point where they found the ferns Asplenium marinum and  Adianthum capillus veneris “upon Nash Point facing the Sea, several Patches of it, but upon very high inaccessible places”.

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Paul Sandby, North West View of Saint Donat's Castle British Library K.Top.47.43.b. Noc

Sandby depicted the view up the Neath River on Wednesday 7 July while the scientists were making a new botanical discovery for the county of Cheiranthus sinuatus or Sea Stock “a quarter of a mile before you come to Breton Ferry, on a Sandy Bank, on the right-hand side by the Road Side from Bridge End”.

K.Top.47.46.c.

Paul Sandby,View up the Neath River from the house at Briton Ferry British Library K.Top.47.46.c. Noc

This expedition had an unexpected outcome for Sandby’s career.  Later the same year, Banks was approached by the artist P. P. Burdett who wished to interest the scientist in his ‘secret’ printmaking technique as a way to reproduce Banks’s collections from his voyage with Captain Cook.  Banks did not take up this offer, but Greville subsequently paid Burdett £40 for the description and passed it on to Sandby.  This was the technique Sandby developed and named aquatint, and his first set of prints, published in 1775, was of the views in South Wales taken during the summer tour; the set was dedicated to his companions, Banks and Greville.

Ann Gunn
Lecturer in Museum and Gallery Studies, University of St Andrews

Further reading:
A transcript of Lightfoot’s  journal is in the Natural History Museum and it was published in 1905 by H. J. Riddelsdell, ‘Lightfoot’s visit to Wales in 1773’, Journal of Botany, British and Foreign, 43 (1905), 290-307
Gunn, A. V., The Prints of Paul Sandby (1731-1809): a Catalogue Raisonné , 2015 Turnhout: Brepols / Harvey Miller

 

22 June 2017

The King’s Architect and the ‘Architect King’

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n 1757 the Swedish-born Scot, William Chambers (1723–1796) was appointed as architectural tutor to the future king, George III. Chambers’ job was to teach the young heir the principles of classical architecture, but together they also designed and built several real buildings too. The King’s Topographical Collection, assembled by George and later given to the nation, now resides at the British Library and includes views of a number of the buildings born out of their partnership, many of which can now be seen at Picturing Places, the British Library’s brand new online encyclopaedia of all things topographical.

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John Spyers’ view of Richmond Observatory. Maps K.Top.41.16.r. Noc

One of those views is featured in my article about the little-known draughtsman, John Spyers. For 20 years Spyers worked for the most famous of all British gardeners, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, before turning his hand to topographical art and selling two albums of his drawings to the Russian Empress Catherine the Great for a very large number of roubles. A handful of original views by Spyers are preserved in the King’s Topographical Collection. One shows the Royal Observatory in Richmond Gardens, which was designed by Chambers and completed in time for the King to observe the much-anticipated transit of Venus in 1769. While the view’s poorly-drawn sheep are clear evidence of Spyers’ authorship, the drawing was formerly unattributed until an exhibition and conference at Hampton Court Palace in 2016 drew attention to the overlooked draughtsman.

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Design for a Register for the Weather by James Adam. Maps K.Top.41.16.s. Noc

The Royal Observatory is one of the many buildings that illustrate George III’s fervent interests in science and the arts. Another related building is encountered in Peter Barber’s article on the Scottish architect, Robert Adam. Like the Observatory, the design for a weather register by Robert’s partner and brother James was also intended for Richmond. But although it is undoubtedly very elegant, for unknown reasons it was never built – probably to the delight of William Chambers as Robert Adam was one of his great rivals, even though they shared the title of ‘Joint Architect to the King’.

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The Great Pagoda, from Chambers’ Plans, Elevations, Sections…56.i.3 Noc

Adam never completed any major works for the King, whereas Chambers was far more successful in this respect. The majority of his private royal commissions appeared at Richmond’s neighbour, Kew Gardens, between 1760 and 1763. (The present-day Kew Gardens encompasses both parts of the royal estate, although at the time the two gardens were separated by a thoroughfare known as ‘Love’s Lane’.) Chambers designed and built more than 20 follies and seats in a multitude of styles to ornament the gardens – a ‘Turkish’ Mosque, a ‘Moorish’ Alhambra, a ‘Chinese’ Pagoda and a ‘Gothic’ Temple among them. The full story is told in Jocelyn Anderson’s article, which looks at Chambers’ publication, Plans, Elevations, Sections and Perspective Views of the Gardens and Buildings at Kew in Surry (1763). George III’s own copy of this book is today owned by the British Library.

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Restoration of the Great Pagoda begins… © Historic Royal Palaces

The Great Pagoda in Kew Gardens is currently being restored by Historic Royal Palaces, who are returning the building to its original appearance complete with 80 glowering dragons. The restored building will be open to the public from mid-2018. In much the same way Picturing Places brings into the open hundreds of items from George III’s personal collection of topographical art, with both projects offering further insights into the tastes and patronage of this fascinating and cultured monarch.

Tom Drysdale
Archivist (Curators' Team), Historic Royal Palaces

 

02 February 2017

East India Company saltpetre warehouses at Ratcliff

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In Saturday night’s episode of the BBC drama Taboo, James Delaney was keen to acquire saltpetre, the main constituent of gunpowder.  This resulted in a violent raid on the East India Company’s warehouse to steal a supply.

Saltpetre, or potassium nitrate, forms naturally in certain soils, or it can be manufactured by mixing decaying organic matter with alkalis. It was imported from India in large quantities by the East India Company .  In June 1814, the homeward bound East India fleet arrived in the Channel carrying 23,199 barrels of saltpetre.

  Liverpool Mercury 17 June 1814 saltpetre etc
Liverpool Mercury 17 June 1814 Noc

Because of its inflammable nature, the East India Company kept its saltpetre at a distance from the City of London.  Most was stored at the Ratcliff saltpetre warehouses which stood to the south of Cock Hill in Shadwell. The original Company warehouses built in 1775 by George Wyatt at a cost of £16,000 were destroyed by fire in July 1794.

The Times reported that the fire began at the premises of Mr Cloves, a barge builder, when a pitch kettle that stood under his warehouse boiled over.  As it was low water, the flames spread to an adjacent barge laden with saltpetre and other stores. ‘The blowing-up of the salt-petre from the barge, occasioned large flakes of fire to fall on the warehouses belonging to the East-India Company, from whence the salt-petre was removing to the Tower (20 tons of which had been fortunately taken the preceding day). The flames soon caught the warehouses, and here the scene became dreadful; the whole of these buildings were consumed, with all their contents, to a great amount.  The wind blowing strong from the south, and the High-street of Ratcliffe being narrow, both sides caught fire, which prevented the engines from being of any essential service.’

‘The Saltpetre destroyed at the late fire at Ratcliffe, ran towards the Thames and had the appearance of cream-coloured lava; and when it had reached the water, flew up with a prodigious force in the form of an immense column.  Several particles of the petre were carried by the explosion as far as Low Layton, a distance of near six miles.’  

A fund was launched to provide relief for the hundreds of people who had lost their homes and their personal belongings, including working tools, in the fire. The Company subscribed 200 guineas to this fund and quickly set about rebuilding and enlarging the saltpetre warehouses with the addition of an embankment on the Thames.

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The former East India Company saltpetre warehouses from the Thames embankment. Author's photo Noc

   Saltpetre warehouse ground plan

Ground plan of Ratcliff saltpetre warehouse 1835 IOR/L/L/2/987 Noc

The Ratcliff saltpetre warehouses have survived to the present day, escaping the threat of further fires and explosions to outlive the East India Company warehouses storing less dangerous cargoes. Two of the original three buildings have been restored.as part of the Free Trade Wharf development.

  Free Trade Wharf 1

Two blocks face each other across a courtyard running between the Thames embankment and The Highway. Author's photo Noc

 

The Company arms appear over the 1796 gateway on The Highway side which was rebuilt in 1934. 

Free Trade Wharf 2

1796 gateway on The Highway surmounted by the East India Company arms. Author's photo Noc

I strongly recommend the walk from Limehouse Basin following the Thames path round to Free Trade Wharf.  The views down the river are very impressive, especially on a sunny day.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
The Times Friday 25 July 1794 p.2d; Saturday 26 July 1794 p.3d.
The India Office Records holds property documents for the Ratcliff saltpetre warehouses – IOR/L/L/2/969-1170.

 

27 September 2016

Report on Boiler Explosions in Britain, 1880

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Last week we told you about an explosion at a Marylebone gunmaker's workshop in 1822 which killed two child workers . Today we look at industrial accidents in 1880 involving boiler explosions.

While cataloguing some India Office Revenue files recently, I came across a copy of the Journal of the Society of Arts, dated 14 May 1880. A short article in it was a reminder of how lethal a place the working environment was in late 19th century Britain.  The article was an abstract of a report containing particulars of visits of inspection and a record of boiler explosions for January to April 1880, presented at a meeting of the Manchester Steam Users’ Association by Lavington Evans Fletcher, the Association’s Chief Engineer.

Mr Fletcher reported that in the first four months of 1880 there had been 2,129 visits of inspection made and 3,830 boilers examined. The inspections had uncovered a total of 448 defects, with 4 described as dangerous, including:
• Furnaces out of shape
• Fractures
• Corrosion
• Blistered plates
• External and internal grooving
• Safety valves out of order
• Blow out apparatus out of order or missing altogether
• Pressure gauges out of order and boilers without such gauges
• Boilers without feed-back pressure valves
• Cases of over pressure and of deficiency of water

Mersey Ironworks

Exterior of the Mersey Steel and Iron Works in Liverpool 1863 Online Gallery

 

It was reported that the year had started badly with eight steam-boiler explosions killing 33 people and injuring another 32, while a tar boiler had burst killing 11 people and injuring 6. Despite there being a high loss of life, investigating the causes of such explosions wasn’t always easy. An explosion at an ironworks in Glasgow killed 25 people and injured another 23, but the inspector sent by the Association was refused permission to examine the boiler both by the owner and the Procurator-Fiscal, and was obliged to return to Manchester without any information on the incident. The disaster was reported on extensively in UK and international newspapers.

When a negligent owner was brought to court, it could be difficult to secure a guilty verdict. A boiler explosion at Ormskirk killing three men had been caused by the wasting away of the plates at the bottom of the boiler till they were as thin as a sheet of paper, yet the jury had returned a verdict of accidental death. However, as the report pointed out, competent inspection would have prevented the explosion, and the owners neglected this simple precaution which cost three men their lives. Another explosion at Cork was caused by an inoperative safety valve, yet the Coroner stated that there was no negligence on the part of any person. However as the report stated, safety valves are not inoperative without someone being negligent, and it is the duty of those in charge to see that such valves are free.

On the basis of decisions such these, Mr Fletcher concluded that “The verdict by a coroner’s jury is so constantly one of Accidental death, even though the boiler is worn out and unfit for use, that the coroner’s court becomes to the reckless boiler owner very much what the debtor’s sanctuary in the old days was to the spendthrift”.

John O’Brien
India Office Records Cc-by

Further reading:
Journal of the Society of Arts, No.1,434, Vol.XXVIII, May 14, 1880, pages 588-589 [IOR/L/E/6/19, File 1161]

A description of the Glasgow disaster can be found on Trove

 

22 September 2016

Employing children in dangerous trades

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When we think of children working in dangerous occupations in the 19th century, perhaps the first things that come to mind are chimney sweeps and mill workers.  I was surprised to learn that young children were employed to make priming for guns. This involved handling percussion powder, a highly inflammable preparation of potash, sulphur and charcoal.

 

  Percussion gun primer

Recipe for percussion powder Philosophical Magazine and Journal vol. LVI (London, 1820) Noc

A terrible accident occurred in London on 12 November 1822.  Collinson Hall, a gunmaker in Upper Marylebone Street, arrived home about six o’clock in the evening  to find a crowd outside his front door.  He was told that there had been an explosion.

Alexander Bettie, aged 12, and his brother John, 10, had worked for the gunmaker for nearly two years.  Their job was to prepare black cakes for priming percussion guns and to fill copper caps with priming composition.  Hall had gone out for the day leaving the boys with instructions to make up about five or six ounces of the priming composition.

At teatime, Hall’s son Collinson left the workshop and went downstairs.  As he was returning about twenty minutes later, there was a fierce explosion in the workshop.  The stone fireplace was torn down; the doors were off their hinges; the ceiling of the room underneath fell; and windows on the staircase were blown out.  Collinson Hall junior found the brothers in the workshop, alive but burned and terribly injured.

Alexander and John both died shortly after being taken to nearby Middlesex Hospital. An inquest was held at the hospital. The Coroner’s jury were taken to the ‘dead room’ to see the boys’ maimed bodies laid together in one coffin, ‘a truly shocking sight’. 

Both Hall and his son were questioned.  Collinson Hall senior said that the workshop was never locked, but the boys were not generally allowed to be in there unless the adult workmen were present.  The boys’ work was expected to be finished and taken from them before candlelight was needed.  He believed it was common practice in the gun making trade to employ children on such work – his own daughter aged 15 and another 16-year-old girl also worked for him - ‘He, however, felt confident that there must have been less caution used on this occasion in his absence than if he had himself been at home’.  The cause of the accident could only be guessed at – perhaps the boys took the cakes they had made that day out of the drawer, and perhaps a spark from a candle had ignited them.

  Percussion gun

Percussion gun-lock’ in Transactions of the Society instituted in London for the encouragement of arts, manufactures and commerce vol. XXXVI (London, 1819) Noc

 

A verdict of accidental death was returned.  The coroner explained that the jury could only punish the gunmaker by sending him for trial for murder or manslaughter. However that would imply that the powder had been deliberately placed in the children’s way and there was no ground to presume this.

Both the coroner and jury were disturbed by the case.  The coroner said he hoped that the accident would act as a warning: parents should not allow their children to be employed in such work, and employers should not take on children so young that they were incapable of judging the danger to which they were exposed.

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

Further reading:
British Newspaper ArchiveMorning Chronicle 14 November 1822, Evening Mail 15 November 1822, The Examiner 17 November 1822.
‘Percussion gun-lock’ in Transactions of the Society instituted in London for the encouragement of arts, manufactures and commerce vol. XXXVI (London, 1819)
‘Description of the percussion gun-lock invented by Mr Collinson Hall’ in Philosophical Magazine and Journal vol. LVI (London, 1820)

 

19 July 2016

Walter Thom’s 'Pedestrianism'

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Walter Thom’s Pedestrianism; or An Account of the Performances of Celebrated Pedestrians during the last and present Century was published in 1813, an extraordinary survey of records of matches and athletes, and the application of enlightenment thinking to the documentation of sport. Thom’s intention was to celebrate the achievements of Captain Barclay, but in order to give Barclay’s achievements greater meaning he discussed the athlete’s predecessors with a diligence that provides a model for today’s sports statisticians. He categorised records according to the timescale of the race: 1) matches lasting several days, 2) matches lasting one day, 3) matches completed in an hour or more, requiring stamina, and 4) matches completed in seconds or minutes, requiring sprinting skills.

 

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 Walking Match rom The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. 22 November 1875, page 185 Images Online Noc

 

Thom focuses on the life, genealogy, skills, training and achievements of Captain Barclay Allardice, whose competitive career began at the age of 15 in 1796, when he walked six miles in an hour for a prize of 100 guineas. He followed this two years later with a 70-mile walk in fourteen hours. While the records for the shorter distances are likely to have been possible – umpires were present when Barclay did a quarter mile in 56 seconds - it is the longer distance matches that raise questions. Thom reported that Barclay walked 150 miles from London to Birmingham via Cambridge in two days; 64 miles from Charing Cross to Newmarket in ten hours in 1803; and from Charing Cross to Colchester in June 1806 without stopping for breakfast. Barclay also rowed and ran, but he was marked out by his incredible stamina, being able to maintain a walking pace of 4-5 mph on the flat or over hills.

 

  Captain Barclay

Captain Barclay from Walter Thom, Pedestrianism (1813)   Images Online  Noc

 

Barclay’s most famous achievement was the celebrated ‘1,000 miles in 1,000 consecutive hours’ walking race against the clock, in 1809. The event stretched over 42 days, and Thom tells us what Barclay ate, how he slept, his muscular pains, digestive powers, and whether he perspired. He describes Barclay’s style as ‘a sort of lounging gait, without apparently making any extraordinary exertion, scarcely raising his feet more than two or three inches above the ground’, and bending his body forwards so as to ‘throw its weight on the knees’. He gives us details of the athlete’s clothes, ‘strong shoes and lambs-wool stockings’, his weight loss (two stones and four pounds, 14.5 kilos), and his morale – ‘not so cheerful as during the day’, ‘in good spirits’. The athlete inevitably slowed during the course of this endurance trial, slowing from a speed of over four mph to under three mph by the final week. The account ends with the statistics of each day’s performance: distance covered, conditions, time taken, average time per mile, down to seconds.

For Thom, Barclay was not just an outstanding athlete but a man of ‘inflexible adherence to strict principles of honour and integrity’. However Thom was primarily fascinated, even obsessed, with the athlete’s body, his weight, pains, size, digestion, perspiration levels, speed. The publication of Pedestrianism marked a new kind of public ownership of the body of the athlete. By the end of this summer those of us who watch sport on television will feel we have got to know some athletes’ bodies quite well; a major landmark in history of this process is Walter Thom’s celebration of Captain Barclay.

Julian Walker
Writer and artist - leads workshops at the British Library on literature, art, history, printing and the English Language.

Julian’s latest book The Roar of the Crowd is published by the British Library. This is an illustrated anthology of sports writing, featuring writers as diverse as P.G. Wodehouse on cricket, Ernest Hemingway on sport fishing, Doris Lessing on swimming, Homer on wrestling and Joyce Carol Oates on boxing.

Further reading:

Victorian Pedestrianism (1) – Robert Makepeace aka ‘The American Stag’

Victorian Pedestrianism (2) – 1,000 Miles in 1,000 Hours