Untold lives blog

15 posts from March 2016

31 March 2016

Professor Frederick Browne - Help of the hairless & Victorian blogger

Lack hair?  Going grey?  Suffer from 'dandriff' and scurf?  Need a sure fire winner at the races?  The hairdresser, ‘Professor’ Frederick John Browne, could address all of these issues, and more. 

A gifted self-publicist, Browne made use of the 19th century’s version of social media.  In addition to handbills and newspaper advertisements, he publicised his salon and wares on the covers of inexpensive popular novels issued by instalment.  Part nine of Shirley Brook’s Sooner or Later  celebrated Browne’s “ventilating and invisible peruke”.  The Professor hijacked popular songs substituting his own hair-related  lyrics, (“How sweet to the tresses is Browne’s Toilet Gem!” to the tune of ‘Home Sweet Home’); produced a sixteen page guide to his services modestly entitled “The Rising Wonder” and kept his clients up to date with his activities via regular issues of Professor Browne’s Toilet Almanack.

Publications by Professor Browne
 B.L. C.194.a.752. Although ignorant of Instagram, Brown recognised that an image had more impact than words. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Browne, recognising the importance of visual marketing, included images (and colour where possible), facts and figures (not exclusively hair related), tips on hair care and reviews of new Browne merchandise (including the much lauded ‘concave slanting scurf brush’. 

Newspaper advert for concave slanting scurf brush

Morning Post 20 September 1846 British Newspaper Archive  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

His writing was characterised by humour and rhyme.  The parodies and punning references to literary and contemporary figures (from Shakespeare and Johnson to Louis Napoleon) appealed to the emerging educated middle classes. 

The sheer number of verses is overwhelming and occasionally drollery can feel a little strained, for example when recommending his cologne, ‘The Jockey Club Bouquet’, Browne recounts a dream in which a jockey brandished a fragrance bottle under his horse’s nose claiming “this magic essence which has come from Browne’s, Will make me a winner at Epsom Downs”.  Similarly, the Byron tablet soap which guaranteed “a perpetually soft white hand”.

Browne’s was actually a brand involving the extended family.  The shop was staffed by Browne (1807-1856), his wife Lydia (1806- 1868), and his son, Shem Frederick (1834-1863), as well as numerous assistants (“all well experienced and able Practitioners”).  Shem’s son (1863-1942) was named after the founder of the shop, Frederick John. The premises was owned by the Clothworkers Company and there are records which state that the family paid the lease from 1843 until at least 1882.

Advert for Professor Browne's hair cutting saloon
Image courtesy of John Johnson Collection 

The comfortable salon in Fenchurch Street, was furnished like a gentleman’s club, albeit one with private rooms for dyeing or having one’s hair “brushed by machine”. It was open from 8am (and sometimes 7am) to 9pm.  Patrons could sit by the fire and browse newspapers, purchase the many fragrances and elixirs Browne had developed and patented, or discreetly examine “the Largest Stock of Ornamental Hair in the World always on view".

PJM Marks
Curator of Bookbindings

Further reading:
The rising wonder
The John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library
Gender and Material Culture in Britain since 1600 / Hamlett, Jane (Editor); Hannan, Leonie (Editor); Grieg, Hannah (Editor). Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
Advertisement in The Tomahawk A Saturday journal of satire 19 February 1870.


29 March 2016

Let a Pineapple Speak For You

The transmission of secret messages through codes or ciphers has throughout history often been a matter of life or death. One only needs to think of Mary Queen of Scots, who was beheaded for treason when her cipher was broken, or Alan Turing, who, by creating a machine to decode messages encoded by the Enigma, saved millions of lives in the Second World War.

For the expression of romantic emotions, less complex codes have found a wide usership. Most famous among these is perhaps the language of flowers. A beautiful example of a key to flower symbolism is this little book illustrated by Kate Greenaway.

   Title page from Language of Flowers
Sample page from Language of FlowersPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

Title and sample page from Language of Flowers, illustrated by Kate Greenaway. c.1884, 7032.aaa.19

During the Victorian age, the language of flowers became extremely popular, which made it a widely understood means of communication. However, this rendered ‘floriography’ useless to anyone desiring to keep romantic communication private in order to circumvent parental disapproval or public humiliation.  The unknown author(s) of the 1854 Electro-magnetischer Liebestelegraph, oder neue Zeichensprache zur Verständigung unter Liebenden und Anderen (‘Electro-magnetic love telegraph, or a new sign language for the communication between lovers and others’) therefore believed a new secret language was required.

Title Page from Electro-magnetischer Liebestelegraph oder eine Zeichensprach zur Verständigung unter Liebenden und AnderenPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

Title page from Electro-magnetischer Liebestelegraph oder eine Zeichensprach zur Verständigung unter Liebenden und Anderen. 8415.a.64

The exchange of ordinary items was encoded to transmit very specific messages. If the item was inconvenient, for example a postman or an oven, then a toy replica, a drawing of the item or the word alone was used. The author(s) took great pains to come up with whole sentences that could be signified through objects.

Page from Electro-magnetischer Liebestelegraph oder eine Zeichensprach zur Verständigung unter Liebenden und Anderen.Public Domain Creative Commons Licence Page from Electro-magnetischer Liebestelegraph oder eine Zeichensprach zur Verständigung unter Liebenden und Anderen. 8415.a.64

The assigned meanings are supposed to resemble the ‘natural significance’ of their objects. A letter or postman means ‘awaiting a message from you’; a hand -‘desiring your hand in marriage’; a knife -‘your words have caused me deep pain’; a peacock -‘your vanity makes you unbearable’; an oven -‘being near you warms my heart.’ Curious examples include a Badewanne (bathtub), signifying ‘only from the moment I saw you did my life truly begin’; a Pantoffel (slipper) -‘to kiss you would be a punishment for me’; a Kaffeelöffel (coffee spoon) -‘when I see you, all my sorrows disappear’; a Biber (beaver) -‘if you can offer me a house of my own, ask again’; or an Ananas (pineapple) -‘nothing compares to the sweetness of your kiss’.

The author(s) of this work were aware that their code was not the most poetic way for the communication between lovers. Moreover, it is probably a good idea to take this Liebestelegraph with a grain of salt, as the text moves between helpful instructions and amusing banter. The appendix for example includes helpful suggestions of other ways for secret communication such as musical code (see image below), or hiding a message on a candy wrapper, which is an example for steganography (simply hiding a message), which constitutes the oldest form of secret writing.

Page on secret communication by musical code Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 Keeping the Liebestelegraph in mind, however, can also add a bit of secret fun to the exchange of ordinary items in everyday life. Perhaps the next time someone hands you a book, you should ask yourself: is he or she trying to say ‘let my pleading open your closed heart to me’?

Lena Böse
Intern, Western Heritage Collections

Further Reading:
Simon Singh, The Science of Secrecy. The Secret History of Codes and Codebreaking. (London, 2000) YC.2001.a.11619

Visit the website of the Royal Collection Trust to learn more about the Victorians and floriography


27 March 2016

Daddy’s Easter egg – fatal if eaten before a meal

Happy Easter!  Are you enjoying tucking into those chocolate eggs?  Do you know who gave them to you?  After reading this, you might want to check…


Brighly coloured Easter eggs

 Easter Eggs courtesy of Clip Art

Our story begins with a dispute over the estate of Annie Holmes of Huntington near York who died on 13 April 1919. A will dated 7 April 1919 named the executor as Mrs Holmes’s brother Thomas Liddle, a farmer of Shiptonthorpe. Francis Holmes, her husband, alleged that the will was a forgery, producing a will dated 2 April 1919 of which he was the executor.  A court ruled in favour of Mr Holmes, and Liddle was referred for trial before York magistrates on a charge of conspiring to forge a will. Peter Oliver and Joseph Dawson, the witnesses to the will, were also prosecuted.

In April 1920, Francis Holmes and six witnesses in the forgery case received packages of chocolates through the post wrapped in telegraph forms. There were messages such as ‘Daddy’s Easter egg; with love’, ‘Grandad’s Easter eggs’, ‘Eat your Easter egg’, and ‘Easter eggs; one for all’.  After dinner on 13 April, John Raper Thompson of Huntington ate one of the chocolates.  He became ill shortly afterwards and developed the symptoms of strychnine poisoning. Doctors said that if he had not consumed a meal just before he ate the sweet he was very likely to have died.  Analysis of the chocolates sent to others revealed half a grain of strychnine in each –potentially a fatal dose.

At the York Assizes in June 1920, Liddell, Oliver and Dawson were found guilty of forging a will and of perjury.  The court moved on immediately to the trial of Liddell for attempted murder by means of the poisoned chocolates.  The jury found him guilty of administering poison with intent to endanger life but acquitted him of attempted murder.  The judge described the chocolate case as ‘outrageous’ and sentenced him to ten years’ penal servitude to run concurrently with a five year sentence for forgery and perjury.  Oliver and Dawson each received a sentence of eighteen months without hard labour.

Back to those eggs now. Bon appetit!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading :
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Dundee Evening Telegraph  11 June 1920;  Gloucestershire Echo 24 June 1920 and 15 July 1920; Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 16 July 1920  


24 March 2016

Claudius Rich and Samuel Manesty

In the East India Company’s ‘Hall of Fame’, Claudius James Rich features prominently as a most esteemed Company servant.  He was a gifted linguist well-versed in Persian, Arabic, Syriac, Turkish and Hebrew,  and an accomplished scholar on cuneiforms.  In contrast, Samuel Manesty only merits a mention in the ‘list of infamy’ as an unscrupulous opportunist famous for his unauthorised diplomatic mission to the Persian Court in Teheran as a self-appointed British Envoy in 1804.

However, on reflection, this comparison between the two men is not fair. 

The son of a slave-ship owner, Samuel Manesty ventured to the East Indies as a 19-year-old boy in 1778.  Valued by the Company for his knowledge and experience in dealing with local authorities and native merchants, he was posted to Basra as a Company Resident in the early 1780s.  Claudius Rich wasn’t yet born. 

The two men crossed paths when Claudius Rich was appointed the new Resident of Baghdad.  When Rich arrived in Baghdad in 1807, Samuel Manesty had already been a resident at Basra for half of his life.  Understandably, Manesty assumed a supervisor’s role for the 21-year-old Rich.  But Claudius Rich was unimpressed by the older man’s patronising attitude:
'He thinks to have me in complete subjection in Bagdad, and that I will be no more than his assistant, though bearing the title of Resident… This, though all very well for an acting Resident, will of course not do for me; …  He particularly recommends me to write and inform him of even the most trivial occurrence, and seems much disposed to interfere in the detail of the Bagdad Residency…'  (Rich’s letter to Sir James Mackintosh, 1807).

View of the Tigris at Baghdad Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

View of the Tigris at Baghdad from William Perry Fogg, Arabistan: or the Land of “The Arabian Nights " (London, 1875) 

Young Rich’s arrogance did not end there.  Rich married Mary, daughter of Sir James Mackintosh, high court judge of Bombay.  Manesty, having lived in Basra for over 25 years, married a local woman, daughter of an Armenian merchant.  On the day of Rich’s arrival at Basra, Manesty invited Mr and Mrs Rich to his dinner party, especially asking Mary to meet his Armenian wife.  Rich, with undisguised contempt , declined to bring his wife with him.  He mentioned this incident to Mackintosh: 'He (Manesty) at least wore the semblance of friendship, which was all I wanted, knowing him to be incapable of anything sincere; but I was much irritated by his presuming to mention Mrs Manesty, and to expect that I would permit Mrs Rich to associate with a dirty Armenian drab…'.

These shocking words not only show Rich’s deep-seated dislike of Manesty, but also offer an insight into Rich’s attitude towards the local people, in whose languages he was expert.  It is ironic to notice that many so-called “Orientalists” were often openly prejudiced.

One possible explanation for such attitudes is that the so-called “Orientalists” considered themselves masters of the ‘natives’ as opposed to those who had ‘gone native’.   To ‘go native’ implied ‘de-civilization’ by the ‘Orientals’.  Some later travellers remarked that some who had lived in the East for too long appeared corrupted in character with traits of ‘Oriental’ manners. Samuel Manesty for one became a target of such mockery.

Classically educated Claudius Rich had immunised himself against the ‘native’ influence by marrying a traditional English lady.  He made it clear that he did not intend to follow in Manesty's steps in his future career.

X W Bond
Former Curator of India Office Private Papers

Further reading:
IOR/G/29/28.  Persian Gulf Factory Records: Manesty’s proceedings in Persia, Dec 1803-Jul 1805
Denis Wright,  Britain and Iran 1790-1980 (2003)
C.M. Alexander,  Baghdad in bygone days, from the journals and correspondence of Claudius Rich (1926)

21 March 2016

Eliza Armstrong – still elusive!

In April 2012 I posted a piece about Eliza Armstrong, the young girl involved in W T Stead’s attempt to highlight the scandal of  child prostitution.  I tried to discover what happened to Eliza afterwards and appealed for help.  This is an update - Eliza is still proving to be elusive.

After the Old Bailey trial, Eliza was placed in the Princess Louise Home for the Protection of Young Girls in Wanstead Essex for good schooling and training before going into service. It was reported in the press that she did well at the Home and in June 1886 she was awarded a prize for general good conduct. By June 1889 she had been taken by the matron to ‘a situation with a good family in the country’.

I suggested that Eliza moved to North-East England and married Henry George West. Gavin Weightman has kindly sent me details of this marriage at the Register Office in Newcastle on 24 October 1893. Eliza Armstrong is aged 21 like our Eliza, but her father’s name is given as William Armstrong house carpenter, not Charles Armstrong chimney sweep.  However the 1901 census states that Eliza West was born in Edgware Road London – very close to Charles Street where our Armstrongs lived.  Is this just a coincidence? I have searched for an Eliza Armstrong born about 1872 to a William Armstrong in the Edgware Road area who could have married West in 1893 but have drawn a blank so far.  Can anyone do better?

Newspapers published a number of stories about Eliza’s family after she went away. In February1886 her father Charles was found guilty and fined for assaulting Ellen Jones a neighbour who appeared in court with ‘a fearfully discoloured eye and swollen cheek’. He claimed that her injuries were the result of her falling over his door mat when drunk. 

 ‘Assault by a sweep’ illustrating the Charles Armstrong court case

 ‘Assault by a sweep’ illustrating the Charles Armstrong court case, although the name plate says ‘W. ARMSTRONG SWEEP’ -  Illustrated Police News 6 March 1886. Taken from British Newspaper Archive.

Six months later Eliza’s 12 year-old brother John aged was arrested for begging in the Edgware Road. He said he wanted money to go to the music hall. His mother Elizabeth said he was a bad boy. She had beaten him, kept him without clothes and sometimes without food, but nothing made him behave. John was taken to Paddington workhouse.

Elizabeth Armstrong was sentenced to fourteen days’ imprisonment in August 1888 for being drunk and disorderly and for assault. She had struck Ellen Tuley of Charles Street with a sweep’s broom and kicked Police Constable Nicholas. Her defence claimed the Armstrongs had been subjected to systematic annoyance ever since the Stead case. Charles was so affected that he had lost his reason and was in Marylebone Infirmary.  Workhouse records describe how Charles was hearing spirit voices and seeing imaginary objects. He was declared insane on 4 August 1888 and taken to Colney Hatch Asylum where he died in 1890.

In July1897, Elizabeth applied to Marylebone Police court for news of her 16 year-old son Charles whose period of five years’ detention at Macclesfield Industrial School had recently ended. Having corresponded regularly and affectionately, his letters had suddenly ceased the previous December when he had said was keen to come home to help her.  The magistrate promised to investigate. And so shall I – another Armstrong mystery!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Sheffield Independent 12 December 1885; Illustrated Police News 6 March 1886; Cardiff Times 14 August 1886;   London Evening Standard 4 June 1886; London Evening Standard  3 August 1888; Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper 9 Jun 1889; Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper 11 July 1897.

St Marylebone Workhouse papers relating to Charles Armstrong’s detention are held at London Metropolitan Archives.

20 March 2016

Art meets Science: Newton, Blake and the British Library

At the end of British Science Week I'm using arguably the British Library's most famous resident as a gateway into some of our manuscript collections. In case you hadn't guessed, I'm talking about Sir Isaac Newton, who died on this day in 1727.

The large statue of Newton, which sits outside the British Library, was made by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi in 1995. Rachel Huddart has written a brilliant blog about the statue here.


Statue of Sir Isaac Newton by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, 1995, in the Piazza of the British Library. Untitled

The statue was based on an extremely rare colour print and watercolour of Newton by William Blake which is now in the Tate Gallery. So rare, in fact that only two versions of this print exist.


Newton by William Blake, 1795- circa 1805, colour print, ink and watercolour on paper,  © Tate  N05058 [image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 ]

One of the star items in the manuscripts collection at the British Library is William Blake's notebook which contains drafts of his poems as well as many drawings.

Blake william notebook 070520

Folio 12 from The notebook of William Blake (The Rossetti Manuscrtipt), c irca 1787 - 1847, pen and black ink with pencil. Add MS 49460. Untitled

In folio 12, Blake has written part of the poem 'You don't believe' along the left-hand edge. The poem makes reference to Newton in the second verse:

Reason says 'Miracle': Newton says 'Doubt'.

Here, Blake's belief in miracles can be seen in contrast to what Andrew M. Cooper calls Newton's 'self-excluding observational stance'.

Newton came to London in 1696 to oversee the Royal Mint. The British Library also owns significant material relating to the Mint including account books and diaries.


Detail of a page from the account book of Thomas Simon, chief engraver to the Royal Mint (1660-1665) Add MS 45190. Untitled

Newton was also President of the Royal Society between 1703-1727. The British Library has important groups of manuscripts relating to the Society including the Thomas Birch and Hans Sloane Collections.


Volumes from the Birch Collection relating to the Royal Society. Add MS 4300-4323, British Library. Untitled


Dr William Croon's account of the weight of a carp, 1663, detail from Add MS 4432, f. 1, Royal Society Papers, Thomas Birch Collection. Untitled

The British Library has extensive scientific collections across all departments. Take some time to look at our contemporary pages, browse the Science blog as well as explore the earlier collections in the Manuscripts and Archives catalogue.

Alexandra Ault, Curator, Manuscripts and Archives 1601-1850




19 March 2016

Falling from the skies in style: Early references to the parachuting in the British Library

Aviation is widely regarded as a major scientific and technological breakthrough but another low-tech invention associated with flying is the parachute.  Made of light, strong materials with a large surface area, the parachute slows the motion of an object through an atmosphere by creating drag or aerodynamic lift. Conceptual images depicting parachutes can be found within an anonymous Italian manuscript from the 1740s, showing a free-hanging man clutching a wooden frame attached to a small canopy. The more famous depiction by Leonardo da Vinci was made a decade later. Similar sketches appear in numerous printed works throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, however the first actual descent was not attempted until 1783 by Louis-Sebastien Lenormand in France. Together the Scott and Fitzgerald collections within the philatelic collections chart major milestones in British and Global aviation including early references to parachuting.

Image 1

Oldest known depiction of a parachute, Add MS 34113, f. 200v, British Library Untitled

The first two successful parachute descents made in Britain were conducted by John Hampton; his first attempt being made at Montpelier Gardens in Cheltenham on the evening of 3 October 1838. According to an account published on page four of the Spectator dated 6 October 1838 he made an uneventful descent from 9,000 feet landing safely after thirteen minutes.  The H. Eric Scott collection contains a page from the Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction No. 953, which illustrates Hampton’s second descent by parachute at Crenmorne House, Chelsea the following year on 13 June 1839. These images depict the several phases of his attempt, beginning with his ascent in a basket attached to a closed umbrella like parachute secured by a cord to the hot air balloon. At a certain altitude the umbrella like parachute was opened and detached from the balloon by cutting the cord, allowing the parachute to descend slowly back to earth and touching down safely on the ground, a feat which looks far from comfortable.

Image 2

Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction No. 953, H. Eric Scott Collection, British Library Untitled

Sybil Fitzgerald’s global collection pioneer airmail contains material for India including an interesting sheet printed in November 1837 entitled Monsr. D. Robertson’s Grand and Last Ascension at Calcutta. It contains details for a projected balloon voyage to Europe which sounds bizarre involving the use of balloons shaped like elephants and fish bearing the arms of the East India Company and Queen Victoria which would rise to a height of 12,000 feet (2000 fathoms). Prior to its departure on the winds to Europe, Robertson suggested that a small monkey would descend by parachute. Since nothing else can be found regarding this outlandish proposal it is hoped the monkey had a lucky escape!

Image 3

Monsr. D. Robertson’s Grand and Last Ascension at Calcutta, November 1837. Sybil Fitzgerald Collection, British Library Untitled

The Scott and Fitzgerald collections can be viewed by appointment in the philatelic collections by emailing: [email protected]

Richard Scott Morel
Curator, Philatelic Collections

'White, Lynn: Lynn White: The invention of the Parachute', in Technology and Culture, vol. 9, No. 3 (July 1968), pp. 462-467
The British Library, Add MS 34113, f. 200v
The H. Eric Scott Collection, volume 1
The Fitzgerald Collection, India

16 March 2016

Dame Anne McLaren: a noted career

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

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.


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.


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.


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. There is currently one tranche (Add MS 83830-83981) available to readers through the British Library Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue with a second tranche planned for release later in 2016. Additionally one of Anne McLaren’s notebooks containing material from 1953 to 1956 (Add MS 83843) is on long-term display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery.

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.

This post forms part of a series on our Science and Untold Lives blogs highlighting some of the British Library’s science collections as part of British Science Week 2016.

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