Untold lives blog

10 posts from October 2013

31 October 2013

Queen’s Hallowe’en

Queen Victoria was an enthusiastic participant in the Hallowe’en celebrations which took place every year at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.  Images of the Queen perpetually dressed in black widow’s weeds, looking stern and ‘not amused’, are at variance with the contemporary newspaper reports of her joining in the merriment known as ‘Queen’s Hallowe’en’.

Queen VictoriaQueen Victoria from Our celebrities - a portrait gallery (London, 1888)  Images Online Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Preparations were made at the Castle for days beforehand.  As darkness fell on 31 October, the Queen drove out in an open carriage carrying a lighted torch.  She was followed by a procession of over 100 royal servants and tenants from the local farms with their families who also carried torches.  They marched through the grounds accompanied by a piper.  At the front of the castle was a huge bonfire made up of boxes and packing cases kept throughout the year especially for that purpose.  As the fire burned, a hobgoblin appeared pulling a cart containing an effigy of a witch.  There was a guard of fairies carrying spears.  The torch bearers gathered into a circle and the goblin threw the witch onto the bonfire watched by the Queen, her family and members of the Royal household.  Reels were then danced to the ‘stirring strains’ of Ross the Queen’s piper.  In 1874 the celebrations were supposed to end with a dance in the ballroom but this plan was dropped when some the revellers behaved in ‘a rather disorderly manner’ at the bonfire.


Witch flying with her broomstickFrom Under the Window: Pictures and Rhymes by K. G. (London, 1879) Images Online Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Queen Victoria wrote about Hallowe’en at Balmoral in her 1877 diary, describing how she hurried back from a drive to be in time for the parade.  Her daughter Princess Louise walked at the side of her carriage carrying a torch and looking to the Queen like one of the witches in Macbeth.  Prince Leopold and Victoria’s favourite servant John Brown were also there with torches and the procession had ‘a very pretty effect’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive
For example -
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser 6 November 1874
Aberdeen Journal 31 October 1933 – with an extract from Queen Victoria’s diary
Western Gazette 29 October 1937

29 October 2013

Armed and Dangerous – Victorian Prosthetics (Part 2)

In Dickens’ Dombey and Son, we are introduced to Captain Cuttle who, in the grand tradition of fictional sea captains, has a hook where his hand should be.  A benign grotesque who uses his hook to comb his hair, Cuttle is a source of comedy both within the text and through the original Phiz illustrations, if only because these fail to ensure that his hook is always on the correct side.  Although false legs recur throughout Dickens’ novels, this sighting of a hook-handed character is a one-off and represents only a slice of the true variety of prosthetic arms and hands available to the Victorian amputee.


Bob the Grinder reading to Captain Cuttle  who is extending a hook on his left arm
Left hook...


Captain Cuttle with  a hook on his right arm toasting food at the fire
...right hook!

Illustrations by 'Phiz'  from Charles Dickens, Dealings with the firm of Dombey and Son (London, 1912)  012612.i.5  Noc

The development and improvement of false arms and hands over the nineteenth century was rooted in medical necessity, with both industrialisation and the Napoleonic Wars leading to a surge in amputation.  For the socially conscious novelist, a lost arm was an arresting image to employ, whether in the case of Gaskell’s Cranford, wherein amputation is a threat juxtaposed with the developing railway, or Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge, in which Joe Willet returns from the American Revolution conspicuously minus an arm. 

Prosthetic arms of previous centuries had often been little more than unwieldy metal proxies (available to few but the most affluent) and early Victorian prosthetics offered similarly limited scope.  Whether made of metal, wood or leather, the more expensive false arms of the early nineteenth century were often simply jointed pieces of sculpture, providing only basic locking hand positions.  For the sake of practicality, many working class amputees instead opted for hooks and recycled grabbers, with the Smithsonian in Washington today displaying a Victorian artificial arm made from a gun barrel, operating with a lever to activate a claw.  Stewart Emmens, curator of Community Health at London’s Science Museum, notes that the working class Victorian amputee would be much more likely to get a hook fitted by a blacksmith than bother with a specialist limb-maker since professionally manufactured prosthetics, whilst easier on the eye, were more expensive and offered complicated methods of grabbing and flexing; movements essential to practical work.  Certainly, being fitted for a prosthetic in the early Victorian period seems to have involved a choice between style and substance, with a clear class line drawn between the two.

Technological development over the course of the nineteenth century worked to bring aspects of the aesthetic and the practical together in the prosthetic arm, although it was still not always possible to have both.  A false arm owned by London’s Science Museum (dated 1850-1910) displays great flexibility, with a spring-loaded elbow joint, rotating wrist and curling fingers.  It is also, however, something of a horror show, with a macabre skeletal claw which would presumably have been hidden by a glove.  Other prosthetics of the period attempted to solve practical issues in less technologically complex (and frankly visually bizarre) ways, with false arms occasionally coming with unscrewable wooden hands which could be replaced with cutlery, or sockets in the palm in which to fix pens – calling to mind a primitive Inspector Gadget.  Despite this, even advanced prosthetic arms remained limited, expensive and unwieldy throughout the nineteenth century and it was not until well into the twentieth that the development of lightweight materials and robotics made false arms unequivocally superior to the hook, both in appearance and functionality.

Julia Armfield

Former Intern, Printed Historical Resources


Further Reading:
Erin O'Connor, Raw Material: Producing Pathology in Victorian Culture (Duke University Press, 2000)

The Science Museum, Artificial Left Arm, Europe 1850-1910

Hunter Oatman-Stanford, War and Prosthetics: How Veterans Fought for the Perfect Artificial Limb

25 October 2013

Alan Gradon Thomas, antiquarian bookseller

Studying medieval manuscripts, one comes across some fascinating characters, particularly among the manuscript scholars and collectors of the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  While researching the provenance of a medieval calendar thought to be from East Anglia, I came across a festschrift for Alan Gradon Thomas (1911-1992), made up of short essays by his customers.  Each tells the story of a rare document, book or manuscript which they purchased from him during his long career as an antiquarian bookseller, both in Bournemouth and London.

Calendar page for January with two roundels depicting a robed figure stirring a cauldron over a fire and Aquarius pouring water.
Add MS 61887, f. 1. Calendar page for January with two roundels depicting a robed figure stirring a cauldron over a fire and Aquarius pouring water.  Noc

The foreword to the book is by Lawrence Durrell.  Naturally his sketch of Thomas’s character and career is a delight, not least for what it reveals about the quirky Durrell family and their book-collecting habits.  Lawrence describes his friend’s early book collection of four or five choice volumes ‘housed in a large suitcase under his bed’ and reveals that ‘he was going short of food in order to save money for this secret vice’.  Lawrence asked Alan to lunch and Mrs Durrell’s immediate reaction was, ‘That young man needs fattening up’.  She proceeded to do her best, but to no avail as he retained ‘the figure of an Elizabethan courtier’.

The Customary of the Shrine of Thomas Becket, 1482

Noc   Another manuscript discussed in the festscrift: Add MS 59616 f. 12 The Customary of the Shrine of Thomas Becket, 1482.     

Lawrence Durrell, with the help of Thomas, managed to build up a small library of Elizabethan texts, a collection of which he was justly proud.  However, while he was away on a trip to Greece, his brother Gerald came across the books and sold them off as a job lot, using the funds to build up his own collection of zoological books! Lawrence was justifiably annoyed, and the next time Gerald went away on an expedition, he promptly sold the ill-gotten zoological books.  But all ended well as, luckily, the buyer in each case was Alan Thomas, who ‘simply housed both collections until we returned to base, and after many an acrimonious discussion, sorted the matter out’.

Thomas developed a wide and faithful clientele among both major institutions and private collectors, combining scholarship and erudition with a wry sense of humour. Christopher De Hamel tells how as a schoolboy with £5 to spend, he wrote to various booksellers saying that he would like to purchase fragments of medieval manuscripts. Naturally, he received some rather dismissive replies, but Alan Thomas sent a ‘friendly letter of advice’, with extracts from some of his catalogues and notes about leaves he had for sale at around £5.

The affection and admiration of Alan Thomas’s colleagues comes across again and again in their tributes. He had a ‘huge appetite for life and experience’ and conducted his business as a true gentleman.  In the words of Lawrence Durrell: ‘Money and honours mean little to him; he uses them to further his quest for more life. And it is this life-giving quality that makes him treasured by his friends’.  One of Thomas’s last acts before his death in 1992 was to donate his Lawrence Durrell archive to the British Library.

Chantry Westwell

Further reading:

Christopher de Hamel and Richard A. Linenthal (eds), Books and Manuscripts acquired from Alan G. Thomas and described by his customers on the occasion of his seventieth birthday (Leamington Spa: James Hall, 1981)


21 October 2013

Admiral Peter Rainier – Defender of British India

Earlier this year, the British government received a bequest of £500,000 from Miss Joan Edwards.  Another large bequest to the State was made 200 years ago in the will of Admiral Peter Rainier (1741-1808).  Rainier was the senior Royal Navy officer in the East Indies 1794-1805 during the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.  He amassed approximately £250,000, primarily through prize money.  In his will he referred to his naval career ‘in which I have acquired the principal part of my fortune I now have, which has exceeded my merit and pretensions’.  He therefore gave 10 per cent of his estate to help reduce the national debt.

Admiral Peter RainierAdmiral Peter Rainier from Edward Pelham Brenton, The Naval History of Great Britain  Noc

 In spite of his successful career, Rainier did not receive formal recognition of his achievements.  As early as 1799 a correspondent to a London newspaper was puzzled by the lack of honours for Rainier when compared to those showered on Nelson.  Government indifference even continued after he had returned home.  At the general election of 1806 Rainier was not selected to be the Admiralty candidate for Sandwich.  However, he stood as an independent and came top of the poll.

It is difficult to understand why Rainier received no honours.  Perhaps it was felt the vast fortune he made was sufficient reward, or those in power had no idea of how difficult it was to command a naval station of such size and complexity.  Maybe he had no friends or allies to push for him after 11 years away from Britain.  Rainier certainly was not a self-publicist in the style of Nelson – he never complained to the Admiralty about lack of favours, or rewards.
Here are some of Rainier’s achievements during the eleven years he was in the East Indies.
•    Trade grew rapidly under Royal Navy protection.  Rainier’s successful allocation of the ships of his squadron was helped by his vast knowledge of the uncharted waters of the eastern sea and its severe weather patterns.

•    Rainier’s positioning of his squadron off the Malabar Coast stopped French reinforcements reaching Tipu Sultan of Mysore and ensured British control of Southern India.

•    Rainier cared for his men.  He aimed to provide them with the best food and drink, even buying cocoa although it was twice as expensive as that in the West Indies!  He established a hospital in Madras, and ordered that each captain and surgeon should visit their sick men ashore in hospital at least once a week.  He listened to the crew’s complaints, never punishing too harshly.  He obtained permission to pay lascar sailors locally on their release instead of requiring them to go to London to get paid and then find a return passage to Asia.

•    Rainier was a stickler for efficient logistics and financial administration.  He established excellent support structures over this 30 million square mile station to enable men and ships to get the best possible resources available.

•    Rainier opened up full communication and co-operation between the Navy and the East India Company, leading to success for all combined operations.

Peter Rainier was not a man with a large ego.  His gift to the government points to a man conscious of his good fortune, not one to bear a grudge or feel slighted,  a man of great loyalty to the Crown, the Royal Navy, and his family.
Peter Ward
Independent Scholar

Further reading:
Peter A. Ward, British Naval Power in the East, 1794-1805: The Command of Admiral Peter Rainier (2013)

Correspondence and papers for Admiral Peter Rainier are held at the British Library - search our catalogues

18 October 2013

Black History at the British Library

Despite the media’s promotion of Black History Month every October, every month is BHM here in the British Library.   As the curator in charge of our UK publications in this regard, I’ve uncovered numerous books and magazines that you wouldn’t find with obvious keyword searches of our catalogue. 

Orlando Patterson’s The Children of Sisyphus (1964) is about Jamaican novelists, while David Katz’ People Funny Boy (2000) is a biography of the famous reggae producer, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.   Even some local government agencies have done their share of documenting the African Diaspora in Britain too : London’s Wandsworth Council published Gloria Locke’s Caribbeans in Wandsworth (1992), while the Nottinghamshire Living History Archive printed up Louise Garvey’s Lives of Black Nurses in Nottingham (2002).


Magazine article about Althea McNish with a photo of her
From Tropic August 1960 (P.P.7615.kf)

But it’s the magazines and newspapers that are special.  In 1948, Edward Scobie published Checkers – “Britain’s Premier Negro Magazine,” presenting a mix of music, stage, literature, politics and fine art.  That year the Empire Windrush docked in Tilbury with almost 500 Jamaican émigrés, launching decades of immigration from the Caribbean.  But although the community presence in Britain goes back centuries beforehand, there wasn’t yet a big enough readership to support such a magazine.  So Checkers folded after five issues, in January 1949.

Five years later, A.P. Pulleyn-Holden published, Bronze (PP.5939.BFA), with editorial help from Mr Scobie and the dance teacher Buddy Bradley, who’d helped everyone from film star Fred Astaire to bandleader Ken ‘Snakehips’ Johnson.   Although they kept readers up to date about Black progress in politics, sports, and finance, the team at Bronze excelled in featuring popular musical acts, including singer Lena Horne, calypso artist Marie Bryant, the best-selling pianist-singer Winifred Atwell, and even the future Avant Garde jazz saxophonist Joe Harriott.  Still, this periodical lasted just six issues (1954–1955).

By 1960 the prospect of publishing appealed to Charles I. Ross and so, with Edward Scobie (again), Patrick Williams, and Molly Douglas, he established Tropic.  This title was more ambitious, with African and West Indian politics in an increasingly post-colonial world, Black cinema, the BBC Overseas Service, and even short stories. Almost two decades before Rock against Racism they were campaigning for Music against Apartheid.  And in the spirit of friendly competition, they promoted Claudia Jones’ West Indian Gazette (1958-1969).  Although Jones established what we now refer to as the Notting Hill Carnival, Tropic didn’t get to push it.  Their role was replaced by Flamingo (PP.5109.bq), with Edward Scobie again at the helm, which published 1961-1963.

Staff of West Indian Gazette with editor Claudia Jones 

From Tropic April 1960 (P.P.7615.kf) 

This was an era of journalism demanding that movie makers “Cut Uncle Tom films,” railing against “Landlords’ Terror Tactics” and BBC TV’s demeaning Black and White Minstrel Show, and asking “Why not a coloured Miss Universe?”  Niche mags came later, such as Grass Roots (1971), Black Echoes : Today’s Music Weekly (1976-), Wealth : The Black Business Magazine (1986-), and Vibes & Voices (2006-). 

But as the mainstream Black press didn’t re-appear until The Voice, in 1982, we are grateful for these earlier ventures.

Andy Simons
Curator, Printed Historical Sources  Cc-by


15 October 2013

The Elusive Dancing Master

In the 18th century the most fashionable dancing masters must have been very visible members of society. Not only did they teach the beau monde, but they held and officiated at public balls and they advertised their services assiduously in the newspapers and elsewhere. For all that, they can be maddeningly elusive when it comes to discovering even the most basic details of their lives.

Kellom Tomlinson                     Portrait of  Kellom Tomlinson from The Art of  Dancing Noc 

One such dancing master was Kellom Tomlinson. He is the author of one of the most beautiful dancing manuals of the Georgian period – The Art of Dancing published in London in 1735. The list of subscribers to this publication, some of whom must have been his pupils, includes many members of the aristocracy and gentry as well as professional dancers and fellow dancing masters. Yet, we have no record of his birth and until recently the date of his death was unknown.

A chance discovery in the Burney Collection of newspapers, held by the British Library, gives us Tomlinson’s date of death. The Whitehall Evening Post, or London Intelligencer for 18-20 June 1761 reports:

Tuesday died, of a Paralytick Disorder, in Theobald’s Court, East Street, Red-Lion-Square, Mr. Kenelm Tomlinson, Dancing-Master, in the 74th Year of his Age.

Illustration of a man and woman dancingfrom The Art of  Dancing

The notice provides more than just Tomlinson’s date of death, Tuesday 16 June 1761. It also suggests that he was born in 1687 or 1688, some years earlier than was previously thought. Tomlinson himself tells us, in the Preface to The Art of Dancing, that he was apprenticed to the London dancing master Thomas Caverley between 1707 and 1714. Boys were usually first apprenticed at the age of 14, so Tomlinson was assumed to have been born around 1693. If the notice is correct about his age at death, he did not enter his apprenticeship until he was around 19 years old. This was late by most standards, but particularly for an aspirant dancer. Perhaps this was why Kellom Tomlinson never pursued a stage career.

Moira Goff
Curator Printed Historical Sources 1501-1800

Kellom Tomlinson's The Art of Dancing will feature in the British Library's forthcoming exhibition Georgians Revealed, alongside other rare dance manuals, notated choreogaphies and prints.

Further reading:
Kellom Tomlinson, The Art of Dancing. London, 1735

Jennifer Thorp, ‘New Light on Kellom Tomlinson’, Dance Research, 30 (2012), pp. 57-79.


11 October 2013

Picturing 400 Years of Asian Britain

Guest blogger Dr Maya Parmar, Research Associate at the Open University, marks the publication of Asian Britain, a photographic history published in partnership with the British Library.

Growing up in North London, where I was born, I was acutely aware that neither my family nor I had a stake in patriotic narratives that centred upon grandfathers and great grandfathers who had heroically fought in world wars.  This, I thought, was because my heritage stretched across to India.  Archives deposited within the British Library, however, confront this misnomer.  They highlight key contributions South Asians made in British war efforts, both in the trenches in the First World War, as well as during the Second World War.  These moments in history where imperial subjects made crucial contributions to British war efforts, now unveiled, redistribute and share memories that are largely absent in the way we remember participation in conflicts.  A testament to these hidden stories of conflict, and to the many more interventions South Asians have made, is Asian Britain: A Photographic History.  Having been published earlier this month, this photographic history, authored by Professor Susheila Nasta and compiled with Dr Florian Stadler, extensively draws upon the British Library’s collections.  The book extends the research of a long collaboration between the British Library and The Open University on the Making Britain and Beyond the Frame projects.

Indian pilots drinking from large mugs
British Library SW 107, also in Asian Britain, pilots  have joined the RAF to compensate for shortages (1942)

Alongside representations of South Asians during wartime, Asian Britain too foregrounds other stories that tell of the multifaceted and long relationship between the subcontinent and Britain.  One of these is the narrative of the South Asian community displaced from their settled homes in East Africa, in the sixties and seventies.  Many of these families came to Britain, and indeed mine was one of them.  The painful expulsion of the Asian community from Uganda in 1972, by Idi Amin, is emblematic of this larger history. 2012 marked forty years since this moment when Britain became the home of many double migrants: double migrants who had first settled in Africa from India, and have since become an integral part of British life.  These forty years can, however, be contextualised by a much longer four hundred year old presence of South Asians in Britain, and it is this surprising, complex and challenging history Asian Britain pictures.

Maya Parmar
[email protected]


08 October 2013

Aw! how I ded long for a tatie pasty!

Poverty forced nearly one in five of the Cornish population to emigrate in the second half of the 19th century. Some of the earliest to leave were the tin miners who headed for California’s Sierra Nevada, where rich seams of gold had recently been found. Some made their fortune and returned to Cornwall, and it is the adventures of one these returnees that is the subject of ‘California’, a short story by John Tabois Tregellas (1792-1863).

  Cover of California and Hacky & Mark, two Cornish tales by J T TregellasNoc

Cover of California and Hacky & Mark, two Cornish tales by J T Tregellas

Tregellas was a businessman with a keen interest in the varieties of English spoken in Cornwall. His dozen or so publications are invariably peppered with Cornish words and spellings that attempt to capture local pronunciation. ‘California’, published with an accompanying poem in 1860, is typical in that it uses dialect for reported speech with unfamiliar terms translated into standard English as footnotes. But the subject of this particular story is as enlightening as the linguistics. The story begins with Tregallas meeting a certain Isaac, who recounts his recent exploits in California where he had been working the gold mines with his brother Tom. Isaac had had a fair amount of luck there, or “a good many good little sturts” as he expresses it. Life was rough though: their house was little more than a cow-house and they had to survive on maggoty bread, “ratten stinking biskies [biscuits], and such sour belly-vengeance beer”. When there was no beer, they drank the same water that had been used to wash the gold dust. When asked whether there were any Cornish pasties, Isaac replies “Aw! how I ded long for a tatie pasty; I’d a gov the laergest nugget I had, for a tatie pasty” (Oh! how I did long for a potato pasty; I’d have given the largest [gold] nugget I had, for a potato pasty).

Beginning of the story California

     Beginning of the story 'California'

Cornish pastyIn the story, Isaac returns to Cornwall but many followed his brother’s example and settled in the area around the Sierra Nevada gold mines. The small California town of Grass Valley in Nevada County continues to celebrate its Cornish heritage in a big way. They hold traditional Cornish Christmas events throughout November and December, and if Isaac were able to return there today, he’d find Marshall’s Pasties, Cousin Jack's Pasties and several other cafés serving his longed for taste of home.

Adrian Edwards
Printed Historical Sources  Cc-by

Further reading:
John Tabois Tregellas, California and Hacky & Mark, two Cornish tales (Truro: James R. Netherton, 1860). BL shelfmark: 12622.aa.11.
David J. Noth, Studies in Anglo-Cornish phonology: aspects of the history and geography of English pronunciation in Cornwall (Redruth: Institute of Cornish Studies, 1984). BL shelfmark: X.525/9424.
Shirley Ewart, Cornish mining families of Grass Valley, California (New York: AMS Press, 1989). BL shelfmark: YC.1990.b.7210.
David Allan Comstock, Gold diggers and camp followers, 1845-1851 (Grass Valley: Comstock Bonanza Press, 1982). BL shelfmark: X.800/42627.
Greater Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce, Nevada County Visitor’s Guide 2012-2013.
Empire Mine State Historic Park.