Untold lives blog

10 posts from July 2015

30 July 2015

John Lovejoy, bookbinding tyrant

What changed bookbinder John Lovejoy, “a good looking, full-bodied, red-faced, dark haired man… with a great business” into “The Tyrant”?

In the 1770s London bookbinders tended to work longer than other craftsmen. One binder, John Lovejoy, (1749-1818) took it upon himself to resolve this discrepancy, and quickly gained considerable support among his colleagues by arguing for the reduction of the working day by an hour.   According to Lovejoy, his memory would be forever blessed for this achievement!

A binding by John Lovejoy

A binding by John Lovejoy-  Davis 221 taken from the British Library’s online image database of bookbindings. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Lovejoy was originally a journeyman (a trained bookbinder who did not own his own workshop, as opposed to a master bookbinder).  He his fellows met weekly to discuss trade issues, eventually forming themselves into regulated groups (an early manifestation of trade unionism). The issue of ‘the hour’ could not be addressed immediately; a strike fund was established in case binders were laid off.    By 1786, everything was ready but Lovejoy was no longer in step. Indeed he soon became characterised as “The Tyrant”.

What had happened was that Lovejoy had become an employer himself (In Plough Court, Fetter Lane). In an abrupt volte face he urged the masters to resist the hour and promptly discharged his own journeymen when they applied for it.   This was not all: the ‘Prosecuting Masters’ made an example of some of the workers by having them arrested for conspiracy.  At the trial, the famous defence lawyers Thomas Erskine and William Garrow (with the aid of some journeymen) damaged Lovejoy’s credibility by using his former opinions against him. Nevertheless, five strikers were imprisoned in Newgate for 2 years. The ‘hour’ was won despite this.

Thomas Erskine  -'Bar eloquence' by James Gillray,

Thomas Erskine  -'Bar eloquence' by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 6 January 1795 (NPG D12510)
© National Portrait Gallery, London  National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence


Having proved himself as a sound establishment figure by his part in 1786 prosecution, Lovejoy was granted an honour, the livery of the Stationers’ Company.  His business grew.  Booksellers and Freemasons patronised his workshop (Lovejoy was a mason at the Lodge of Antiquity from 1792-1812).  He was one of the few who could supply bindings with suitable motifs (Lovejoy jealously guarded his masonic tools and never lent them to anyone). 

Despite his mistakes of the past, Lovejoy did not learn his lesson.  In 1794 he unsuccessfully led opposition to a further hour’s reduction.  The journeymen achieved this without a strike. For his pains – as entries in the British Library’s Jaffray Collection show - he died in penury universally hated, while the masonic tools upon which he had set so much store were given to his foreman George Rowley in payment of debts.

PJM Marks
Printed Historical Sources

Further Reading:
Ellic Howe and John Childe, The Society of London Bookbinders, 1780-1951 (London, 1952)
The Jaffray Collection at the British Library


28 July 2015

Richard Burton - Masterchef?

If you mention the name Richard Burton, most people will assume that you mean the mellifluous-voiced Welsh actor, a few might opt for the nineteenth century orientalist and explorer but you can be pretty sure that no-one will suggest Henry VI’s cook.  Everything that we know about this third Richard Burton is written on a memorial brass, hidden away in St Mary’s Church, Twickenham, the burial place of Alexander Pope. 

Memorial brass in St Mary’s Church, Twickenham Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


The Latin inscription reads:

Hic jacet Ricus Burton Armigr nup Capitalis Cocus dni Regis Et Agnes Uxr ejs qui obiit xxiiiio die Julii Ao dni moccccoxliii qor animabs ppiciet des

  Close up of inscription on memorial brass in St Mary’s Church, TwickenhamPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

This translates as:

Here lies Richard Burton Esquire lately principal cook to his Majesty the King and Agnes his Wife who died the 24th day of July 1443 of whom may God have mercy on their souls.

The inscription is on a brass plate mounted on two fragments of a stone slab. Also mounted on the stone are the royal arms of the House of Lancaster and of France; a privilege granted only to those who had been members of the royal household.

Royal arms of the House of Lancaster and of France on the stone slabPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence


There has probably been a church on the St Mary’s site since Saxon times. Located on a rising promontory next to the Thames, it would have provided a useful landmark and a refuge in dangerous times. The earliest incumbent is recorded in 1332 but there is, however, an earlier reference to "Alan, vicar of Twickenham" in the accounts of Richard, Earl of Cornwall for 1296-97.

St Mary's Church TwickenhamPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

The 15th century tower is all that is left of an earlier building, which may have included parts that were even older. By 1713, it was in a poor state of structural repair and the new vicar, a Dr Pratt, refused to conduct any more services inside it.  There are records of a discussion about emergency repairs to some pillars just three days before the building collapsed during the night of 9 April 1713.  The church was rebuilt in 1714, and the surviving ragstone tower was joined to a red brick Queen Anne nave and chancel. Some of the monuments from the earlier building, of which the Burton brass is the oldest, were relocated in the new church.  It is uncertain where the original tomb was located; the brass is displayed vertically but may once have been on a flat ledgerstone.

St Mary's Church TwickenhamPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence


The description of Richard as a cook probably reflects Latin usage in England at that time and a better description might be Steward.  The memorial would seem to indicate a gentleman, entitled to bear arms and probably holding a responsible position within the royal household. The Burtons must have been sufficiently important for someone to have erected a memorial to them.  In which of the royal establishments did Richard work?  The palace at Richmond was not built until some 60 years later. Perhaps he retired to Twickenham?  We can only speculate because, at the moment, nothing more is known of Richard and Agnes Burton or the life they led in Twickenham. 

David Meaden
Independent researcher

Further reading:
Add MS 34891 - Rubbings of sepulchral brasses, chiefly inscriptions and shields of arms f. 157 Richard Burton, Chief Cook to Henry VI: Sepulchral inscription of him and wife at Twickenham, 1443.
The story of St Mary’s – the parish church of Twickenham (X.080/743).


25 July 2015

Blessing cars and eating oysters

Two saints are remembered on 25 July in the United Kingdom - St Christopher and St James.  A number of very different customs and traditions are associated with this day.

St Christopher, a 3rd century Christian martyr, is commonly represented by a figure carrying the child Jesus across a river. He is most often claimed as the patron saint of travellers, but he is also the patron saint of sports, with figures wrestling or fishing accompanying his picture. Both travellers and athletes wear medallions bearing an image of St Christopher for protection and good fortune.

  St Christopher

Image taken from Charles Knight, Pictorial Half-hours (1850)  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


The link to travellers has prompted special church services to bless vehicles in honour of St Christopher’s Day.  In July 1932, there was a ceremony held on St Christopher’s Eve at St Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church in Nottingham.  Each member of the congregation was presented with a St Christopher medal and after the service Canon Parmentier went outside to bless cars, motorcycles, and bicycles belonging to the worshippers.  In 1950 the vicar of St Botolph’s in Northfleet Kent reported how he blessed all forms of transport outside his church on 25 July.

On St James’s Day it was the tradition for the rector of the parish of Cliff in Kent to distribute a mutton pie and a loaf to however many people demanded this bounty.  The day was celebrated in many counties with customs aimed at increasing the apple crop.  Prayers or verses were said in the orchards and the trees were sprinkled with holy water.  In Sussex young men performed the ceremony of ‘blowing the trees’. Cows’ horns were blown under the apple trees and each man took hold of a tree and recited verses.

25 July was also considered a milestone for hop growers. There is an old saying concerning the likelihood of a good crop:
Till St James’s Day is past and gone,
There may be hops, or there may be none.

Away from the countryside, St James’s Day was the first day on which oysters were brought into the London market, thus flouting the notion that they should only be eaten when there is an ‘r’ in the month.  There was a superstition that anyone eating the oysters on 25 July would have plenty of money throughout the rest of the year.

  An oyster market in England
An oyster market in England -Denis Dighton (1821) ©Jean Vigne/Kharbine-Tapabor/British Library Board


So it’s time to drive your car or ride your bike to the nearest church before seeking out a plate of oysters. Happy St Christopher’s and St James’s Day!

Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records

Further reading:
John Timbs, Something for everybody (London, 1861)
British Newspaper Archive: Nottingham Evening Post 25 July 1932, Dundee Evening Telegraph 10 October 1950


23 July 2015

Punch Drunk

The relationship between people and alcohol has a long, complicated history. This was true for the first East India Company voyages to the islands of Indonesia where Company servants indulged heavily, “…disordering themselves with drinke and whores…”.  Persia was no exception to the conspicuous consumption of alcohol, whether wine produced at the vineyards of Shiraz or shipped from the Rhineland, or arak distilled in Goa and delivered by ship. Nominally illegal in Muslim Persia, wine especially has a long and colourful history in Iran, not least in the Shiraz region, though the connection between the region and the grape variety are disputed.


A man in a barrel with another barrel on his head and a sword in his hand

From The Comic History of England ... With ... coloured etchings, and ... woodcuts, by John Leech (London, 1847)  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


In 1727 William Cordeux, a Company servant at the factory in Bandar Abbas, noticed some soldiers drinking an extra ration of punch. Cordeux accused his nemesis, Chief Factor William Henry Draper, of attempting to bribe the guards to “make them continue firm to his side”. This was after a severe altercation between Cordeux, Draper and John Fotheringham, another of the Company’s servants at Bandar Abbas.  The two sergeants of the guard, Sharp and Boyden, on hearing the accusation and being summoned to answer for it in the factory’s Council, protested. They said that the men were provided with an extra ration when they went to Church on a Sunday, by way of encouragement. They went on to say that Cordeux would not have noticed anything amiss if Robert Iles, one of the privates, had not been “in liquor” after a visit to the punch house. Sharp and Boyden ended by saying that only nine men in the factory were allowed punch, presumably from the Company’s stock.

The use of alcohol as an encouragement to attend church is perhaps indicative of a wider concern for the spiritual wellbeing of the Company’s servants at the factory. The factory in Persia was a small community of maybe as few as a 20-30, including the guards, who were more likely to be Indian Sepoys, therefore either Muslim, Hindu or Sikh, or Catholic Topazes (Eurasians of Portuguese ancestry). This left the presumably Protestant Englishmen in a very small minority, with no obvious means of spiritual relief, though it is possible that the Dutch factory, being much larger, had its own Protestant ministry.

Peter Good
PhD student British Library/University of Essex

Further reading:
IOR/G/29/4 East India Company Persia Factory Records Consultation Wednesday 12 July 1727
John Keay, The Honourable Company (Harper Collins, 1993)
Rudi Matthee, The pursuit of pleasure: drugs and stimulants in Iranian history, 1500-1900 (Princeton, 2009)

Street Fighting Men


21 July 2015

Letters from the Siege of Lucknow

A recent donation to the India Office Private Papers, held at the British Library, gives a fascinating insight into the siege of Lucknow in 1857. Robert Loveday Inglis, a young soldier with the Bengal Army, wrote a series of letters during the siege which formed a kind of journal of life during the struggle for survival at the British Residency in Lucknow during the uprising against British rule in India.

Robert was born in Simla on 14 March 1839 to John Inglis and Louisa Maria Loveday. The family had a tradition of military service in India. Robert’s grandfather on his mother’s side Lambert Richard Loveday was a Lieutenant General in the Bengal Army, and his father John also served in the Bengal Army in Afghanistan, and at various posts around northern India. In November 1856, Robert was accepted as a cadet in the East India Company’s army. He served with the 13th Regiment of Bengal Native Infantry during the siege.

Four views of the city of Lucknow

From General views and special points of interest of the city of Lucknow  from drawings made on the spot by Lieut. Col. D.S. Dodgson, with descriptive notices (London, 1860). Images Online Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Robert’s letters date from 14 September to 20 November 1857, and are addressed to his mother, who was then at Calcutta.  Robert writes about his experiences, the long periods of boredom punctuated by bursts of intense fighting, the lack of food, the plight of the wounded, the horrors of war, and thoughts of his family.

In one letter dated 16 September, he recalls his shock on first visiting the hospital: “I had no idea the number of our wounded was so great. The beds were all arranged side by side down both sides of a long narrow room. Every here and there you would see some poor fellows with only the stump of their legs or arms”. However, he goes on to comment that he had become in some sense used to the sight of death: “Since then I have seen a great deal of death and though not by any means indifferent, yet I have become so accustomed to it that my feelings now are not the same, at any rate I don’t feel the same awe on passing a death bed as I used to”.

Residency building at Lucknow after the siege

Photo 32/12 Residency building after the siege Images Online  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Robert described many instances of fighting, but was also given to examining the psychological effects of war on him. In killing as many of the enemy as he could, he wondered if he was motivated more by a natural feeling of revenge than by a stern sense of duty, and worried about the brutalising effect of war, confessing to a feeling of triumph when he had succeeded in killing any of the enemy or witnessed them being blown up by a mine.

Robert was wounded shortly before the siege ended, and died in Allahabad on 27 December 1857. His letters were carefully preserved by his family, and were passed down the generations. They were kindly donated to the British Library by Christie Taylor, Robert being her great great uncle.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Letters written during the siege of Lucknow by Robert Loveday Inglis (1839-1857), Bengal Army, to his mother Louisa Maria Loveday at Calcutta (1857) [Mss Eur F693/1]
Unpublished book by Christie Taylor "Letters Home of Robert Loveday Inglis" (2011) [Mss Eur F693/3]



16 July 2015

The Chinese Labour Corps in Basra

A blueprint map, housed in a slim file held in the India Office Records, reveals an overlooked and neglected aspect of the First World War.

Part of map showing the ‘re-erection yard’ Magil, Basra, 17 February 1919

 Excerpt of a map showing the ‘re-erection yard’ Magil, Basra, 17 February 1919. IOR/L/PS/20/35 f. 56.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The map is of the village of Magil, on the banks of the Euphrates, near Basra in Mesopotamia (Iraq). The map reveals the plans of the Inland Water Transport (IWT, a branch of the Corps of Royal Engineers) to transform the village into a vast dockyard, capable of building enough vessels to support Britain’s military campaign against the Ottoman armies in Mesopotamia. Amongst the wharves, sidings and workers’ camps there is small patch of land, identified as a Chinese Cemetery. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission states that 227 bodies were interred here; 227 unnamed casualties, who worked for the Chinese Labour Corps (CLC).

The use of Chinese manpower was widespread during the First World War. The British Government recruited nearly 100,000 Chinese labourers to support their frontline troops on the Western Front. As many as 6,000 Chinese were bought to Basra to help construct some 200 steamers, other vessels and pontoons that were shipped in flat-packed form from Britain. These labourers, and the vessels they reconstructed, supported the Indian Expeditionary Force D in Mesopotamia.

Slipway at the Inland Water Transport Docks at Magi, 1917

Slipway at the Inland Water Transport (IWT) Docks at Magi, 1917. Image credit: Imperial War Museum, Q 24551.

The manpower required for the CLC in Basra was recruited from late 1916 in Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai. In October 1916 the British Minister at Peking wrote that the General Office Commanding at Singapore was sending for a contractor ‘to recruit indentured Coolies for service in Mesopotamia’. In total, the British transported over 4,000 skilled Chinese mechanics, and over 1,000 unskilled Chinese labourers to Mesopotamia. Xu Guoqi has written that those Chinese labourers sent to the Western Front were ‘thumb-printed and assigned a number’, their only identification, the British regarding their names of being ‘of no importance'. This may explain why those bodies interned in the Chinese cemetery in Basra were never identified.

 The cap badge of the Chinese Labour Corps

 The cap badge of the Chinese Labour Corps. Copyright in Flanders Field Museum.  Available as CC BY-NC-SA.

Although some first-hand accounts of life in the CLC on the Western Front survive, precious little about the lives of the Chinese labourers in Basra has been documented. While basic food rations, accommodation and clothing were provided, there was little entertainment beyond the occasional Chinese film shown at the camp cinema. Disease and malnutrition were a problem in Basra’s hot desert climate. The British Medical Journal noted in 1920 that scurvy and beriberi were more prevalent amongst those serving in Mesopotamia than in any other First World War theatre.  

  Chinese labourers at Boulogne, 12 August 1917
Chinese labourers at Boulogne, 12 August 1917. Copyright: Imperial War Museum Q 2695.

The nature of the work was heavy and arduous, and inevitably resulted in fatalities. How prepared or adept the men were for the heavy labour is open to question. The claim (made in 1921 by the Assistant Director of the IWT, Leonard Joseph Hall) that over 4,000 of the Chinese recruits were skilled mechanics, is contradicted by a Mesopotamia Transport Commission report (1918), which stated that the rejection rate for Chinese labourers was very high – as much as 46 per cent. One official described the Chinese labour sent to him as ‘absolutely useless’.  The 227 fatalities suffered amongst the estimated 6,000 Chinese labourers at Basra equates to roughly one death among every 26 members of the Chinese Labour Corps in Mesopotamia.

Mark Hobbs
Subject Specialist, Gulf History Project
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further Reading:

‘Report for the Army Council on Mesopotamia. By Sir John P Hewett, GCSI, KBE’ (IOR/L/PS/20/35)

‘Critical Study of the Campaign in Mesopotamia up to April 1917: Part 1 – Report’ (IOR/L/MIL/17/15/72/1)

'Mesopotamian Transport Commission. Report of the Commission Appointed by the Government of India with the Approval of the Right Hon'ble The Secretary of State for India, to Enquire into Questions Connected with the Organisation and Administration of the Railway and River Transport in Mesopotamia' (IOR/L/MIL/17/15/125/1)

Leonard Joseph Hall and Robert Herbert Wilfrid Hughes, The Inland Water Transport in Mesopotamia (London: Constable and Co., 1921)

Matt Leonard, ‘Eastern culture on the Western Front’ World War I Centenary: Continuations and Beginnings

John Starling and Ivor Lee, No Labour, no Battle: Military Labour during the First World War (Stroud: History Press, 2009).

W H Willcox, ‘The Treatment and Management of Diseases due to Deficiency of Diet: Scurvy and Beri-Beri’ The British Medical Journal 3081 (1920), 73-77.

Guoqi Xu, China and the Great War: China's Pursuit of a new National Identity and Internationalization (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005)

Basra War Cemetery’ Commonwealth War Graves Commission


14 July 2015

Bastille Day in Delhi

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’.


The storming of the Bastille

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

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

10 July 2015

Anyone for Tennis? Relaxation and Social Mingling in the Gulf

As royalty and celebrities gather at Wimbledon for finals weekend, during a fortnight in which players, tournament officials and spectators have had to cope with soaring  temperatures,  it does well to ponder the prospect of playing a match in the heat and humidity of the Gulf in the first half of the twentieth century.  Although this may sound quite unappealing, tennis formed a vital part of the daily routine for the British officials posted there, alleviating boredom and stress. It also became an important meeting point with the Ruling Families in the Gulf.

For these reasons, if a tennis court was not available it could add considerably to the frustration of a posting.  In 1911 Captain David Lockhart Robinson Lorimer, Political Agent in Bahrain, made a request to Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Percy Cox, Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, for provision of a court in Bahrain. He submitted that he had already built one at his own expense in Ahwaz, Persia, such was the importance of the facility.   

  Request for a tennis court in Bahrain
Request for a tennis court in Bahrain

IOR/R/15/2/53 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


A tennis court also formed an essential part of the fabric of social interaction between British officials and the Ruling Families.   Brian Stoddart pinpoints the role tennis played as a game introduced by Britain into its areas of imperial influence and empire: “Tennis was different in social purpose and directed towards a different social clientele. It was deemed a ‘social game’, meaning that it was designed to bring people of like mind and social rank together in a leisure setting rather than to stimulate competition, stress development of sporting skills, or strive for excellence. Consequently, tennis ‘parties’ (the term itself suggesting a nonserious purpose) were invariably staged at courts in the grounds of private homes, with participants drawn from upper social echelons”. Thus in the 1930s, Shaikh Hamad, was pleased to have a court and pavilion built where he could entertain European guests.

Note that Shaikh Hamad had built a court and pavilion

IOR/R/15/1/236   Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


In the same way that Wimbledon today forms an important part of the social calendar of ‘the great and the good’, so in the early 20th century, the tennis court with a pavilion in the gardens of the Gulf was a venue for influential social mingling before the area was transformed by oil and luxurious hotels (with tennis courts) assumed a similar role.

Francis Owtram
Gulf History Specialist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership 

Further Reading:
'File 3/2 Agency Buildings, from 1912' IOR/R/15/2/53
'File [B 29] Arab States monthly summaries from 1929 to 1931'
B. Stoddart, (2006) ‘Sport, Cultural Imperialism and Colonial Response in the British Empire’, Sport in Society: Cultures, Commerce, Media and Politics, p.871

Another way to alleviate the boredom of Empire - Circumnavigating Warbah and Rollicking Riproars, or how to cure the boredom of Empire