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13 posts from April 2016

11 April 2016

The Queen's visit to Karachi in 1961- the official view

The current visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to India perhaps provided an opportunity for them to talk to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh about their tour of the sub-continent in 1961, and to be reminded of the pitfalls that may arrive to upset months, if not years, of careful planning.

The 1961 visit was planned to coincide with a period of dry weather in the Pakistan winter, and avoided the monsoon season. Following a rain-soaked visit to the Taj Mahal, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh arrived in Karachi on 1 February 1961, and immediately embarked on a busy programme of visits, meetings and meals which are chronicled in the diaries of Lady Doris 'Dodo' Symon, wife of the High Commissioner in Pakistan.

Frere Hall Karachi
 Frere Hall in Karachi which was decorated for the Royal visit (1865) Online Gallery

The official description of the reception at the State Guest House in Karachi on 3 February 1961, states:
‘A torrential thunderstorm, as unwelcome as it was unexpected, at this time of the year in Karachi, promised disaster for the joint Reception by the Commonwealth High Commissioners due to take place … on the lawns of the State Guest House. However, since the heavens began to open about an hour before the guests were due to assemble it was just possible, by the abandonment of all the meticulous plans evolved over several months in favour of a rule-of-thumb improvisation to accommodate the 1,300 guests under cover in a space large enough to hold only a quarter of that number…By various expedients it was also possible to give all the guests – none of whom had been deterred by the appalling weather – a chance of seeing the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, and all those persons whom it had been intended to present to the Queen were in fact presented’.

‘The Royal Guests, who were not in the least dismayed at the prospect of plunging into the scrimmage … In the event all concerned inevitably had a closer view of the Royal Party – and more had a chance of exchanging a few words with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh – than if the function had taken place under normal circumstances.’

‘Before the arrival of the Queen and the President about thirty of the guests who had ventured under the “shamiana” covering the lawn had been soaked to the skin by the collapse of the rain-soaked tentage. Several more, including members of the High Commissioner’s staff, got drenched in rescuing the victims.  It was a regrettable incident but it was no-one's fault and in magnitude bore no relation to the descriptive fantasies which appeared in certain British newspapers afterwards. The weather by now had turned the streets of Karachi into standing lakes and also brought snow to Quetta.’

The Times reported that ‘at last the shamiana subsided, drenching the guests and for a few hectic moments looking like a pantomime sea as it heaved with the struggles of the trapped’. 

In our next post we’ll compare the official despatch with the memories of Madeline and Derek Morris, who were in the crowds under the shamiana.

Derek Morris
Independent scholar

Further Reading
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F669 Papers of Lady Doris Olive Symon (1899-1987) 
Never a dull moment – the life of a diplomat's wife
The Times 4 February 1961


08 April 2016

Poverty and destitution in Victorian London

My research on the Armstrong family has taken me into a world of poverty and deprivation centred on a poor area of London between Lisson Grove and Edgware Road in the Christ Church district of Marylebone.  In an 1843 report, the local registrar described a dense population, with up to seven sleeping in one room.  The general condition of the local people was ‘not very cleanly’, their habits ‘intemperate’, and their earnings irregular. Eliza Armstrong’s relations lived in Little James Street, Charles Street, Burns Place, and Stephen Street, four of the streets with the highest mortality rate in the district.


Greenwood's Map of London (1827) showing the area where the Armstrong family lived
From Greenwood's Map of London (1827) showing the area where the Armstrong family lived Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Eliza’s father Charles was born on 10 December 1844, the son of chimney sweep Samuel Armstrong and Rebecca Chapman. The banns of marriage for Samuel and Rebecca were read at Christ Church Marylebone at the beginning of 1849 but I can find no record of the marriage taking place.  Rebecca died in February 1855 at the age of 32, shortly after giving birth to a fifth daughter who died aged three weeks.  Samuel lived at 25 Charles Street Marylebone from the 1840s until his death in 1893. This was unusual - the London poor tended to be mobile even if only over short distances.  Charles Armstrong and his sisters Eliza Shillingford and Mary Ann Wyatt lived with their families near their father in Charles Street at various times. 

Piecing together Eliza’s maternal family is a challenge, especially since records show inconsistencies in names and ages.  In the 1911 census, Eliza’s mother Elizabeth said that she had given birth to ten children, four of whom had died. The first child of Charles and Elizabeth Armstrong appears to be a son Charles born in Marylebone on 17 December 1865. Charles Armstrong married Elizabeth Chivers on 25 January 1874 at St Mary Paddington. They gave separate addresses on the Paddington side of the Edgware Road although their children’s baptism records all show them as living in Charles Street.  Elizabeth’s father is named on the marriage certificate as James Chivers shoemaker and census returns give her place of birth as Bath. 

  Receiving an infirm pauper at St Marylebone Workhouse

Receiving an infirm pauper at St Marylebone Workhouse from George R Sims Living London Vol II (1901)  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Chivers family from Bath first appear in Marylebone in the 1851 census: shoemaker Jubal, his wife Ann and their three young children Robert, Elizabeth and John.  It seems that Jubal was also known as James.  He entered St Marylebone Workhouse infirmary for medical treatment in August 1857. His family at first received weekly outdoor relief of 2 shillings, three loaves of bread, and 2lb of meat. However they became destitute, living in an empty room in George Street, Lisson Grove, and were admitted to the workhouse in November 1857. James/Jubal died there in March 1858 of ‘softing of the brain’.  His son Robert absconded from the workhouse in June 1858, whilst Ann discharged herself, Elizabeth and John in April 1859.

John Chivers trained as a butcher and worked in Paddington. Robert Chivers worked as a painter but spent periods of unemployment in St Marylebone Workhouse with his wife Elizabeth and children.  The story of Robert and his family will appear in a later post.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records 

Further reading;
Fifth Annual Report of the Registrar-General of births, deaths and marriages in England
- Appendix (London, 1843)
Baptism, marriage and burial records for Marylebone held at London Metropolitan Archives
Alan R Neate, St Marylebone Workhouse (1967)
George R Sims, Living London (1901)

A Violent Pauper

Throwing off the workhouse


06 April 2016

‘A Man of very surprising Genius’: John Bagford, Bookseller and Collector

[H]e was a Man of very surprising Genius, and, had his education...been equal to his natural Genius, he would have proved a much greater Man than he was.  And yet, without this Education, he was, certainly, the greatest Man in the World in his way...

So wrote the Oxford antiquary Thomas Hearne of his friend John Bagford (b. 1650/51, d. 1716): a man of humble background and little formal education, a one-time shoemaker who made a career as a bookseller.  Since he counted among his customers such luminaries as Hans Sloane and Robert Harley – whose libraries went on to form foundation collections of the British Museum – Bagford’s activities are of no little interest in the history of the British Library and its books.  Bagford is principally remembered today for amassing important collections of early printed ballads and title-pages.  The latter he gathered with the object – unfulfilled at his death – of writing ‘an Historical Account of that most Universally Celebrated, as well as Useful Art of Typography’. 

Engraving of John Bagford by George Vertue

Engraving of John Bagford by George Vertue, after the painting by Hugh Howard.  © National Portrait Gallery, London  NPG D17936 Creative Commons License

Bagford has not always been so fondly commemorated as he was by Hearne: to nineteenth-century bibliographers, he was a ‘wicked old Biblioclast’ (William Blades) or ‘the most hungry and rapacious of all book and print collectors’ (T.F. Dibdin).  The sin Bagford committed in collecting title-pages, Blades opined in his book Bibliomania, could never be expunged by the value those fragments might have for the study of early printing.  However, such condemnations have been exceptional in assessments of Bagford’s career.  Scholars have echoed the assessment made by the librarian Humfrey Wanley:

[I]t is my Opinion, that there are but few Curious Men, but, upon the View of this Collection, will own they have met with several Titles, or other Fragments of Books, in their several ways, which they knew not of before.

Little wonder that Wanley was keen to secure Bagford’s collection for his master, Robert Harley, 1st earl of Oxford and Mortimer, against stiff competition from Hearne and other antiquaries. 

  Screen shot of catalogue entry for The Praise of Lancashire MenThe Praise of Lancashire Men, [1685?], C.40.m.10.(136), ESTC R181996

Bagford also collected printed ballads – the majority of them single-sheet impressions – and these have proven a less controversial part of his legacy.  The Roxburghe collection of ballads is named after John Ker, 3rd duke of Roxburghe, but it was for Robert Harley that Bagford had originally sourced them.  These are now at the British Library (C.20.f.7-10, also numbered Rox.I - IV). 

Screen shot of catalogue entry for The Frantick Mother, or Cupid in Captivity

The Frantick Mother, or Cupid in Captivity, [1699x1708?], C.40.m.9.(97), ESTC N69457

Bagford’s private collection of ballads is also part of our collections (C.40.m.9-11).  Personal pleasure, rather than scholarly interest, appears to have motivated Bagford – and such ephemera would have been more easily with his means to acquire them.  Hearne recalled that:

‘[H]e would divert himself with looking over Ballads, and he was always mightily pleased if he met with any that were old....he always seemed almost ravished when he happened to light upon any old Rhythms...’


  Screen shot of catalogue entry for A Remedy for the Green Sickness
A Remedy for the Green Sickness, [1678x1681], C.40.m.10.(161), ESTC R182620

One can well understand the appeal of these ballads: they are witty, often bawdy, and above all memorable, providing a fascinating commentary upon the social, political, religious and sexual mores of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  Here are a few to whet your appetites!

A Most Sweet Song of an English Merchant-Man, born in Chichester, [1690?], C.40.m.9.(43), ESTC R221302

The London Cuckold, [1682x1703], C.40.m.9.(58), ESTC R221373

The Country-Mans Kalender, Or, His Astrological-Predictions for the ensuing year 1692 [1691], C.40.m.10.(56), ESTC R236417

The Honour of Bristol, [1695?], C.40.m.10.(85), ESTC R182066

James Freeman
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections


04 April 2016

Encountering the archive

Research Support Intern, Jane Shepard, reports back from the British Library PhD Spring Symposium: Global Voices in the Archive, Monday 21 March.

Archival Roots
Global Voices speakerHighlighting the global networks which are deeply embedded in the history of the British Library, Dr Tom Overton opened the symposium opened with his keynote on Robert Browning, Anthony Panizzi, Archives and Migration. This sense of legacy was picked up on by Christian Poske, Jeremy Brown, Pauline McGonagle and Sasha Valeria Millwood in the first panel: Early Encounters with the Archive. Discussing the challenges of archival work, and the pivotal role that the cataloguer plays in translation, the speakers showed us that repositories like the British Library can ‘root’ a collection, often in contrast to the rather nomadic lives of the people they represent.


Archival Voices

Global Voices speakerKatie McElvanney, Anne-Marie Eze and Dvora Liberman went on to explore concepts of translation and migration in the next panel: Crossing Borders. Katie discussed translation and authority in her research on Russian woman’s journalism. Her account of a network of letters sent to, and from, the Russian Liberation Committee chimed with the papertrail that Anne -Marie uncovered during her investigation of the shadowy Italian art dealer Abbe Luigi Celotti. Anne-Marie referenced the absence of certain ‘types’ of people from art history, and Dvora provided an opportunity to think about other voices that are ‘hidden’ from history. Dvora uses oral testimony to provide new insight into legal proceedings in the UK, and in this paper she reflected on the interactions between interviewer and interviewee –the smiles or nods- that get lost in translation from audio recording to transcript.


Archival Figures

Global Voices speakerIn the second half of the day, the audience was treated to audio and video footage in Hannah Silva’s exploration of Live Writing: Black British Poetry in Performance – Translation from Page to Stage? This was followed by the third panel on The Translator in the Archive, which included Deborah Dawkin’s archival encounter with the author, translator and broadcaster Michael Meyer. Peter Good noted some of the intimate and touching stories preserved in the archives in his paper on the East India Company in Persia, and Pardaad Chamsaz’s introduction to the work of Stefan Zweig provided another perspective on the relationship between collection, text and originator. 




Archival Intimacy

The last panel of the day saw some of the speakers return to the stage to discuss how the archives themselves can change the direction of a research project. Geraldine Alexander, who wrote her thesis on the photographer Fay Goodwin, talked about how the British Library collection shaped her own project and threw up unforeseen connections. As the day drew to a close, the panel agreed that the archive was a space of intrigue, surprise, questions and unexpected emotional ties.

The symposium was co-organised by AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership award holders - Deborah Dawkin, Peter Good, Katie McElvanney.


01 April 2016

The curious tale of the pigeons in the workhouse

It’s April Fools’ Day but here on Untold Lives we find it difficult to plant a spoof.  Many of our stories from real life are so strange that readers couldn’t be expected to notice any difference.  So this is the true but curious tale of the pigeons at Marylebone Workhouse.

At a meeting of the Board of Poor Law Guardians for St Marylebone in October 1850, Mr Michie enquired if pigeons were being kept at the workhouse.  Secretary Mr Thorne replied that a number of pigeons had made their home in the workhouse, causing a great nuisance, but they were no longer there.  After the death of James Jones the workhouse master, a member of the parish vestry had asked who owned the pigeons and was told that they belonged to no-one.  The vestryman then sent someone to catch the birds and take them away.  Michie said that the pigeons were valuable and demanded that the vestryman be named.  Thorne revealed him to be Samuel Steele, who was present sitting amongst the ratepayers. 


Carrier pigeon

 L Wright, The Illustrated Book of Pigeons (London, 1874-76) 7295.h.1 p.288 detail Images Online  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Mr Walters observed that the birds removed were carrier pigeons.  Betting and racing books were kept at the workhouse, and gambling took place.  The late master Jones had kept the pigeons to send to the races to bring back speedy news of which horses had won so that safe bets could be made accordingly.  It was claimed that Jones actually died with a racing and betting book in his hand –‘Sensation’ amongst those present!

It was also suggested that, if the pigeons were valuable, that they should have been sold for the benefit of the parish.  The subject was then dropped and the Board dispersed ‘thunderstruck at the extraordinary revelations that had taken place’.

However this was not the end of the story.  At a vestry meeting it was alleged that Samuel Steele had netted 40-50 pigeons at the workhouse and made pies of them for himself and his family.  The inmates of the workhouse, who had fed the pigeons each day and treated them as pets, were very upset when they were removed.  John Wilson was one of the vestrymen who denounced the whole affair as shameful.  He needled Steele by drawing pictures of birds at vestry meetings, with one caricature entitled ‘Sam Steele’s pigeons’. 

Steele vehemently denied the allegations.  He retaliated by going up behind Wilson in the street and inflicting a severe blow to the back of his tormentor’s head.  Wilson struck back hard in defence before the two men were separated. Wilson offered to forget the attack if Steele apologised and put a guinea into the poor box. When Steele declined, Wilson brought a charge of assault against him. 

At Marylebone Police Court Steele offered to make an apology to the public and bench (but not to Wilson) for having committed the first breach of the peace.  Magistrate Robert Broughton decided that Steele must be punished since he had taken the law into his own hands.  He imposed a fine of 40s and costs which Steele paid forthwith. And thus the Marylebone Workhouse ‘pigeon affair’ was brought to a conclusion.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

British Newspaper Archive e.g. London Daily News 8 October 1850; Cheltenham Chronicle 10 October 1850; Bell’s New Weekly Messenger 3 November 1850

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