Untold lives blog

127 posts categorized "Arts and crafts"

09 April 2021

Non-essential retail in nineteenth-century London

As we look forward to the re-opening of non-essential retail outlets in England, we’d like to share a book about nineteenth-century London shops.  Nathaniel Whittock’s On the construction and decoration of the shop fronts of London published in 1840 has illustrated descriptions of a variety of businesses and is available as a digital item.

Shop front of Storr and Mortimer, goldsmiths, 156 Bond StreetStorr and Mortimer, goldsmiths, 156 Bond Street - Plate 1 from On the construction and decoration of the shop fronts of London Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Storr and Mortimer, goldsmiths and jewellers, was situated at 156 Bond Street.  It was one of the original shops when the houses in Bond Street were first built.  Whittock praised the Ionic style of the shop front for being neat and elegant.  The plants appearing through the trellis work gave a light and pleasing effect.

Shop front of Turner and Clark, mercers and drapers, Coventry Street
Turner and Clark, mercers and drapers, Coventry Street - Plate 3 from On the construction and decoration of the shop fronts of London Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Turner and Clark, mercers and drapers, had premises in Coventry Street, Haymarket.  The shop front was decorated with a light, elegant pediment and ornaments of gilt on white-veined marble.

Shop front of W.H. Ablett & Co, outfitting warehouse, Cornhill

W.H. Ablett & Co, outfitting warehouse, Cornhill - Plate 5 from On the construction and decoration of the shop fronts of London Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

W.H. Ablett & Co was an outfitting warehouse in Cornhill.  Both storeys of the shop were used for displaying articles sold there, including swords!

Wine & spirit warehouse

Astell’s wine and spirit warehouse at 119 Tottenham Court Road - Plate 10 from On the construction and decoration of the shop fronts of London Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Astell’s wine and spirit warehouse stood at 119 Tottenham Court Road, on the corner of Grafton Street.  Two storeys had been converted into one so that huge vats of alcohol could be accommodated inside.  Whittock judged the shop front to be grand but not gaudy.

UpholstererSaunders and Woodley, upholsterers, Regent Street - Plate 13 from On the construction and decoration of the shop fronts of London Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The costly front of Saunders and Woodley, upholsterers, in Regent Street was in the style of Louis XIV.  Willock was pleased by the 'very splendid effect', which he deemed quite appropriate for so showy a business.  Piers were formed by the trunks of palm trees terminating in foliage, with capitals of burnished gold.  The elegant iron railing was coloured bronze to match the carvings.

BooksellerGrey, bookseller and stationer - Plate 15 from On the construction and decoration of the shop fronts of London Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Bookseller and stationer Grey was given as an example of a shop converted from a dwelling house in a manner that would not breach restrictions in the lease about commercial use.   The parlour windows were used to display books, and the shutters were lined with shallow glass cases sufficiently deep to contain prints and other wares.

India warehouseEvrington’s India shawl warehouse, 10 Ludgate - Plate 18 from On the construction and decoration of the shop fronts of London Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Evrington’s India shawl warehouse at 10 Ludgate occupied an old building with low ceilings.  Whittock thought the frontage simple and elegant, but not in accordance with the magnificence of the interior.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Nathaniel Whittock, On the construction and decoration of the Shop Fronts of London, illustrated with eighteen coloured representations, exhibiting the varied styles of the current period, for the use of builders, carpenters, shopkeepers etc (London, 1840)

10 March 2021

Hannah Danby – JMW Turner’s housekeeper

John Danby, a successful organist and glee composer, lived in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, and was a near neighbour of the Turner family, who lived in Maiden Lane.  He suffered with poor health, probably rheumatoid arthritis, and died, aged 41, in 1798.  After Danby’s death, his wife, Sarah, began a relationship with Turner and lived with him for short periods of time at various addresses. This was never a permanent arrangement and they never married.

In 1809, JMW Turner began to employ Danby’s 23-year-old niece, Hannah, to look after his London house and gallery in Queen Anne Street, off Harley Street.  Born in about 1786, Hannah was the daughter of one of John Danby’s brothers but it is not clear which one and Turner does not name him.  There are records of William, Christopher, Richard, Thomas and Charles.  Charles, who was a bass singer and actor was living at 24 Tottenham Street in 1794 and in 1801 he lodged with Turner in a house he was renting at 75 Norton Street but there is no record of Hannah living with him.

Turner's house 47 Queen Anne StreetTurner’s house and gallery at 47 Queen Anne Street West, photographed in the 1880s courtesy of The Tate 

Hannah remained as Turner’s housekeeper until his death in 1851 and then stayed on as custodian of his gallery until her own death in 1853.  She took her job very seriously and was very protective of Turner’s privacy.  As well as her domestic duties, she sometimes helped Turner in his studio, telling the son of Turner’s great friend, Henry Trimmer, that she would often set Turner’s palette.

The sexual relationship between Hannah and Turner, as portrayed in the film Mr Turner, is speculative but quite possible from what we do know of Turner’s private life.  He was certainly very fond of her, referring to her as 'My Damsel' in a letter to a friend.  He also gave her the self-portrait that he had painted in his teens. 


JMW Turner - self portrait as a youth

JMW. Turner by JMW. Turner - watercolour, circa 1790 NPG 1314 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

Some people have even suggested that it was Hannah and not Sarah Danby who was the mother of Turner’s two daughters but there is no real evidence for this, and, in his will, Turner refers to them as the 'natural daughters of Sarah Danby'.

Hannah suffered from a skin complaint that worsened with age.  One unsympathetic visitor described her as 'a most frightful-looking creature - a short woman, with a very large head, wearing a dirty white gown, and with a ragged dirty thing tied round her head and throat, making her already large head twice its natural size.  She looked like those ogres one sees in the pantomimes'.  When she died, the cause of death was given as 'eczema exedens'.

Newspaper article about Turner's house at 47 Queen Anne Street

Article entitled ‘Turner’s Den’ from Cassell's Old and New London  – reprinted in Sheffield Daily Telegraph 8 August 1876 British Newspaper Archive

Towards the end of his life, Turner spent most of his time in Chelsea, with Sophia Booth, and rarely visited Queen Anne Street.  Hannah became increasingly worried about him and eventually found a piece of paper with the Chelsea address in one of Turner’s coats.  On 16 December 1851, Hannah and her friend, Maria Tanner, walked down to Chelsea to search for Turner.  When they arrived at the address, they were told by the neighbours that, indeed, a man fitting Turner’s description lived there and that he was close to death.  Hannah did not feel up to going inside and, instead, went for help to Turner’s cousin, Henry Harpur, who was also his solicitor.  Turner died two days later, on 19 December.

Hannah was seen to be in great distress at Turner’s funeral and many of his friends showed her kindness in the following months, Ruskin’s father, John James, taking her gifts of food, including new-laid eggs.  In his will, Turner left her £100 per annum, with an additional £50 per annum for looking after the gallery.

Hannah only survived Turner by two years, dying at Queen Anne Street, aged 67, in December 1853.  She was buried in Old St Pancras Churchyard but her grave was probably one of those destroyed by the coming of the railway.  In her own will, she left Turner’s self-portrait as a youth to John Ruskin.

David Meaden
Independent Researcher

 

Turner's House logo

Turner’s restored house in Twickenham will reopen as soon as the current lockdown rules permit.  Check the website for details.

Further reading:
Selby Whittingham, ‘JMW Turner, marriage and morals’, The British Art Journal, Vol. 15, No. 3 (Spring 2015), pp. 119-125
Franny Moyle, The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Time s of J.M.W. Turner  (London, 2016) 

Sarah Danby – JMW Turner’s lover

02 March 2021

Astley’s Amphitheatre presents ‘Storming and Capture of Delhi’

Tucked into an Indian diary of Charlotte, Lady Canning was an unexpected find - a playbill advertising the entertainments offered at Astley’s Royal Amphitheatre during Christmas week 1857.  If you had sixpence to spare, you could find yourself in the Upper Gallery, while for a guinea you could be in the comfort of one of the boxes.  On offer was a ‘National Military Spectacle’ called ‘Storming and Capture of Delhi’.  A series of scenes in three acts, it was described as being ‘…founded upon the present events in India’.  The play covered the outbreak of the Indian Uprising or ‘Indian Mutiny’, the relief of the siege of Cawnpore (Kanpur) and its violent aftermath, and finally the assault on Delhi and its capture by British troops.  These events played out from May to September 1857, Delhi being retaken by the British on 20 September.  The play opened in London on 25 November 1857, scarcely two months later.  Portraying current events, it served as both popular entertainment and dramatized news production.

Playbill for Storming and Capture of Delhi
Playbill for Astley’s Amphitheatre, December 1857 Mss Eur F699/2/2/2/6 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Situated on Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth, Astley’s opened in the 1770s.  It burned down and was rebuilt three times – in 1794, 1803 and again in 1841.  The space was enormous with a pit, gallery and viewing boxes, and a large circular arena in addition to a stage.  It was rather like a cross between a circus and a theatre. The  Illustrated London News in 1843 described the newly rebuilt Astley’s as an octagonal structure, richly decorated with columns, hangings, chandeliers, and a stage measuring 75 x 101 feet.  No expense had been spared on its rebuilding.  Circus proprietor William Cooke leased Astley’s from 1853 to 1860 and revived its popularity; the venue became famous for equestrian displays, including adaptations of Macbeth and Richard III performed on horseback.

Astley's Amphitheatre

Astley’s Amphitheatre from R. Ackermann, The Microcosm of London (London, 1808-1811) Images Online

‘Storming and Capture of Delhi’ was written by the dramatist Charles A. Somerset, about whom very little is known.  In the 1861 census he is 66, unmarried, and an ‘Author Dramatic’, originally from Bath.  He is one of several lodgers at 2 Pitt Street, Southwark.  This is almost certainly the same Charles Somerset living in Devonshire Street, Lambeth in 1841, who is described as a ‘Writer’.  He had been writing for the stage since the 1820s; a check of the British Library catalogue reveals a wide repertoire from historical drama (Bonaparte in Egypt), comic operetta (Good Night Monsieur Pantalon), farce (The electric telegraph, or, the fast man in a fix) to pantomime (King Blusterbubble, and the demon ogre).

The spectacle on show during the winter of 1857-58 had all the hallmarks of an Astley’s production.  There were live animals, including troupes of trained horses as well as real Indian buffalo, zebra and elephants.  According to the reviews, ‘The compiler of the drama…has not encumbered the action with a complex plot or sentimental story but given a rapid succession of stirring scenes…’.   These included daring chases on horseback, stage combat including firing musket rounds, and comic interludes such as British troopers donning women’s bonnets to confuse the enemy.  There was even a romantic sub-plot involving Miss Mathilda, a General’s daughter, and Frank Phos Fix, an artist and volunteer Hussar. 

In addition to individual items like the ‘Storming of Delhi’ playbill, the British Library holds a significant collection of approximately 234,000 playbills dating from the 1730s to the 1950s. Some have been digitised, and many are being made available via the Into the Spotlight project.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Mss Eur F699/2/2/2: Indian Journals of Charlotte Canning.  The Astley’s playbill has been housed in a fascicule at Mss Eur F699/2/2/2/6.
Add MS 52969 K 'The storming and capture of Dehli', grand military spectacle in three acts. Licence sent 24 November 1857 for performance at Astley's Royal Amphitheatre 23 November 1857.  Cover signed William Cook, lessee and manager, and W. West, stage manager.  Songs included in MS. LCO Day Book Add. 53073 records the stipulation that all oaths be omitted as well as the names of General Wheeler and his daughter ff. 29. (Part of THE LORD CHAMBERLAIN'S PLAYS AND DAY-BOOKS; 1851-1899, 1824-1903. Add MS 52929-53708: [1851-1899]).
The play was reviewed in The Morning Advertiser on 26 November 1857.  It was also advertised as still being on at Astley’s in The Globe, 26 January 1858.
Charles A. Somerset’s plays can be found amongst the Pettingell manuscripts at the University of Kent, while Somerset’s letters to TP Cooke are held by the V&A Department of Theatre and Performance.

 

31 December 2020

New Year’s Gift

The New Year’s Gift we are offering you is not wrapped in paper and ribbon.  It is an East India Company ship which sailed from England in March 1613/14 for Surat and Bantam in company with the Hector, Hope and Solomon.  However the fleet was carrying many gifts chosen for rulers in Asia to encourage the granting of trading privileges.

n engraving by Renold Elstrack of the Emperor Jahangir, holding a hawk An engraving by Renold Elstrack of the Emperor Jahangir, holding a hawk c.1616-21. Image courtesy of the Royal Collections Trust 

The presents selected for the Mughal Emperor included a scarlet cloak embroidered with silver, a velvet-covered chest of bottles with ‘hot waters’ (spirits), and several pictures.  The paintings were of King James; his wife Queen Anne; Tamerlane; the Emperor himself; East India Company Governor Sir Thomas Smythe; and three English ladies.

The East India Company was worried about the effect the long voyage would have on the paintings.  Would the colours fade or other damage occur?  They provided detailed instructions for the preservation and repair of the artworks.  Painter-Stainer Edward Gall, trumpeter on New Year’s Gift, was entrusted with carrying out remedial work and directing the making of frames.

Extract from 1613 document giving instructions for remedial work on paintings aboard New Year's Gift Instructions for remedial work on paintings IOR/G/40/25  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


The ships were also taking looking glasses to Asia.  The Company feared that these might decay and had sent Robert Young to be trained in foiling.  Young was to teach this skill to four or five of his fellow factors so that they could make repairs if he died.

Robert Young died in November 1614 in India.  Edward Gall also perished and his will leaving everything to his wife Eleanor was proved in the City of London.  The National Archives has a number of wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury for other men who died during the voyage.

Many who died in the New Year’s Gift bequeathed items they had acquired in Asia: ‘China girdles’, Chinese porcelain, silk textiles, spices – pepper, mace, nutmeg.  Quarter gunner William Crandall was bringing home 159 lb of pepper when he died.  Sailor Anthony Owen had a barrel contaning 100 lb of mace.

Personal belongings such as clothing and bedding were often left to named crew members.  Otherwise they were sold before the mast and the proceeds added to the estate.  Caulker Christopher Turpin left his tools to his mate Richard Dickson, together with a gown and a remnant of striped taffeta.  This cloth was perhaps left over from the suit of striped taffeta which Turpin left to Richard Brabson – sounds very natty!  Turpin also owned three dimity waistcoats and a laced suit.

Sometimes bequests were made to sailors as thanks for care during sickness.  Close friendships between shipmates are revealed, some pre-dating this voyage.  William Crandall asked his ‘good friend’ Captain Martin Pring to invest a sum of £20 to provide a nest egg for Crandall’s daughter Elizabeth when she came of age.  Master’s mate Lawrence Spooner asked for 30 pieces of satin to be sold and the proceeds invested for the benefit of Pring’s five children.  Spooner left Pring his sword, Euclid’s Elements, clothing and linen.  Pring’s wife Joan received porcelain and a waistcoat, and her mother 20 shillings for a ring.

Poignantly, Lawrence Spooner allocated money to restore the graves of his wife and daughter in Tamworth.  He wanted a likeness of his wife over her monument, with a bowl or spoon in her hand, and the Latin inscription ‘Quisquis eris qui transieris, perlege, plora’ – ‘Whoever you are who pass by, read, weep’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Library IOR/G/40/25 East India Company instructions to the fleet from Thomas Elkington’s notebook.
Will of Edward Gall MS 9172/29 London Metropolitan Archives and Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section.
The National Archives PROB 11 - wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury.

 

29 December 2020

Suffrage scrapbooks: forgotten histories of political activism

When you picture a scrapbook, you likely conjure up an image of a homemade album dedicated to the family or a hobby.  It’s less likely you’ll think of scrapbooks as records of political campaigns, such as women’s suffrage.  Yet here at the British Library, 37 bulging hardback scrapbooks tell us a personal history of suffrage activism through the eyes of Alice Maud Mary Arncliffe Sennett (1862-1936).

Women's Social and Political Union membership card from the scrapbook of Maud Arncliffe SennettWomen's Social and Political Union membership card from the opening volume of Sennett’s first scrapbook. , British Library C.121.g.1.


Actress turned businesswoman; Sennett was a dynamic, strident suffrage campaigner.  She served time in prison on Black Friday in 1910 and again in 1911 after smashing the Daily Mail’s office windows.  She also set up the Northern Men’s Federation for Women’s Suffrage.

Article 'Why I want the vote' published in The Vote 26 February 1910An article 'Why I want the vote' written by Maud Arncliffe Sennett in 1910 for The Vote, journal of the Women’s Freedom League.

Through all this campaigning, she scrapbooked prolifically.  She kept the key from her husband’s stay at Bloomsbury Street hotel before he picked her up from prison.  More conventionally, she carefully lifted articles from a plethora of publications, encircling them with annotations.

In one instance, next to an article on Herbert Asquith published in 1910, she criticised his ‘cruel looking mouth and sinister eyes’ and wrote how she would like to ‘shoot Asquith right at the place where his heart ought to be’.  Sennett’s scrapbook facilitated her critical engagement with press coverage on women’s rights.

Sennett also used her scrapbooks to record the support networks underpinning her activism.  One way she did this was through preserving congratulatory letters praising her public speaking.  In her first scrapbook, she included a letter from suffrage activist Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, who described Sennett as the ‘one of the greatest platform successes she had ever known’.

Before this letter however, Sennett pasted in another one.  It was from her servant Bessie.  Working for her mistress since at least 1906, census records identify Bessie as Eliza Punchard, who lived with her husband and three sons in Beckenham.

After hearing Sennett’s speech, Bessie wrote, 'Do you know you made a simply splendid speech, I was so proud of you’.  She continued, writing how she would happily go to prison of her accord if it would help the cause; she would ‘make the sacrifice in my own right not to feel that you will be worrying over me if I should go’.

Lifting the cover of Sennett’s fourth scrapbook powerfully articulates Sennett’s appreciation of her servant’s support.  In a beautiful, flowing font, Sennett dedicates her scrapbook to Bessie, ‘the only one true and trusted friend I have found…the star to which I have hitched by wagon of loneliness’.  Bessie’s support meant a great deal to Sennett, so much so that she immortalised it in the front of her scrapbook.

Sennett’s scrapbooks offer an intensely personal history of the suffrage activism, blurring the lines between the personal and the political. She chronicles the exceptional and mundane, turning to an assortment of materials to offer her history of the suffrage campaign.

Over a century later we are given a tantalising glimpse into the material, emotional histories of suffrage activism, as well as forgotten women such as Bessie, who played a vital part in women’s political campaigning.


Cherish Watton
PhD student studying a history of scrapbooking in Britain from 1914-1980 at Churchill College, Cambridge.  She founded and runs the website Women’s Land Army 
@CherishWatton


Further Reading:
Read more about Arncliffe-Sennett’s scrapbooks.
Read more about suffrage scrapbooks in the American context in Ellen Gruber’s Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance. Oxford University Press, 2012, chapter 5.

 

11 August 2020

Receipts of the Late Thomas Lakin

Despite an active career as a potter, Thomas Lakin (1769-1821), whose pieces can be found in collections globally, is almost entirely absent from the written history of Staffordshire Pottery.  He is scantily mentioned in the pottery directories of the time, and was omitted completely from Simeon Shaw’s History of the Staffordshire Potteries, one of the principal texts on the history of the industry.

Lakin spent his working life in the Leeds and Staffordshire potteries.  He worked a number of years for John Davenport in the Longport glassworks, and traded in pottery under numerous titles including 'Lakin & Poole', 'Lakin & Son' and 'Lakin & Co.'.  Before his death he was a Principal Manager of the higher departments of the Leeds Pottery.  An obituary in The Staffordshire Advertiser, which asserted his reputation, noted ‘he had long been distinguished for his taste, judgement and ingenuity as a potter'.  Little is known of Lakin’s personal affairs: unlike many of his better known contemporaries, he did not leave a business or family archive.  He did however leave what is considered one of the seminal published texts on 18th century pottery techniques - Potting, enamelling and glass-staining ... Receipts of the late Thos Lakin ... with ... directions for their preparation and use in the manufacture of Porcelain Earthenware and Iron Stone China, etc. printed for Mrs Lakin (Leeds: Edward Baines, 1824).

Published post-humously by his wife Catherine, the text contains a variety of trade recipes for various enamels, coloured glazes, underglazes, glass staining, and more used by Lakin.  The preface by his wife provides us with the only published primary biographical source for Lakin, beyond newspaper clippings.

The British Library’s Add MS 89436 is a manuscript copy of Potting, Enamelling & Glass Staining.

Cover of Thomas Lakin's 'Potting Enamelling and Glass Staining'Thomas Lakin's 'Potting Enamelling and Glass Staining' Add MS 89436

Manuscript copies of texts continued to offer an alternative to printed publications well into the 19th century.  Various factors led to their production: practice of penmanship, dissemination of ‘banned’ publications or plays, and cost or scarcity of the printed text.  Lakin’s volume was a considerable £50 on release.  Thanks to its uniqueness, and valuable content, the volume would have been in high demand and probably sold quickly.  Manuscript copies were likely made by those that either could not afford the printed version, or simply could not get their hands on it.  The British Library’s copy stands out for its remarkable penmanship and beautiful calligraphic coloured title page.

Enormous care and time was taken to produce this copy, and no doubt it would have been treasured by the owner throughout their career.  Add MS 89436 may have been copied by a potter, from a fellow potter’s printed copy.  It wasn’t unheard of for potters themselves to have well-practised penmanship, as surviving business ledgers demonstrate.  This was likely a result of extensive record keeping and the need for legible documentation within the business.

A recipe for 'cobalt blue' by Thomas Lakin.Add MS 89436, a recipe for 'cobalt blue' by Thomas Lakin.

Several other manuscript copies of Lakin’s text have been up for auction in the past decade, and can be found in collections globally, including one at the Rakow Research Library, Corning Museum of Glass, in New York.

Zoe Louca-Richards
Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Please note that due to work-flow restrictions resulting from Covid-19 action this material may not be accessible via the reading rooms until later in the year.

Thank you to Patricia Halfpenny from the Northern Ceramic Society for her assistance in tracing information relating to Thomas Lakin and his career.

Further Reading:
LAKIN, Thomas. Potting, enamelling and glass-staining ... Receipts ... with ... directions for their preparation and use in the manufacture of Porcelain Earthenware and Iron Stone China, etc. Leeds : printed for Mrs Lakin, by Edward Baines, 1824.
Harold Blakey, “Thomas Lakin: Staffordshire Potter 1769-1821”, Northern Ceramic Society Journal, Vol. 5, 1984. pp.79-115.

 

28 May 2020

The mysterious Captain Gladstone, RN - a bookbinding James Bond?

Beautifully tooled bookbindings signed with the initials C.E.G. appear on printed books dating from the early 20th century.  These are the initials of Charles Elsden Gladstone (1855-1919) of the Royal Navy. 

Extract from record of service for Charles Elsden Gladstone The National Archives ADM 196-19-266Extract from record of service for Charles Elsden Gladstone - image courtesy of  The National Archives, ADM 196/19/266 ©Crown Copyright

The National Archives chart his somewhat unusual career.  Like his later fictional counterpart James Bond, he attained the rank of commander.  Also like Bond, he used cutting edge tech.  There is even a suggestion of covert intelligence gathering activities!  Admiralty service papers refer to an early specialism in torpedos, submarine weaponry and skill in photography which aided research on the subject of armaments.  He saw action in 1873 when he was landed with the Naval Brigade in the Ashanti War, while serving on the corvette H.M.S. Druid.

Photograph of starboard side of H.M.S Druid, a corvette at sea with sails down, 1880Photograph of starboard side of H.M.S Druid, a corvette at sea with sails down, 1880 - image courtesy of Royal Collection Trust 

As for hobbies, Gladstone’s name is included in the annals of specialist societies relating to microscopy and optical magic lanterns, interests which suggest he had a keen eye and feeling for accuracy.  His family house was based in Thanet where he lived with his wife, a son, a governess and enough domestic help to make his situation comfortable.  Gladstone’s life, therefore, is quite well documented, but, annoyingly for the fans of bookbinding, not his connection to the craft!

Apparently Gladstone family lore confirms that Gladstone bound books but what does this mean?  Traditionally, binding was a two stage process, making the structure (called ‘forwarding’) and applying the decoration (‘finishing’).  Practitioners did not usually teach themselves.  Apprentices spent seven years training with an accredited bookbinder.  Did Gladstone master both techniques and who taught him?  I have found no evidence either way.

People outside the craft did learn to bind but were usually guided by professionals in some way.  A contemporary of Gladstone’s, Irish barrister Sir Edward Sullivan (1852-1928), ‘finished’ ready-bound books to a high standard.  Today, these bindings fetch high prices, as do Captain Gladstone’s though to a lesser extent.  Was this a pastime for Gladstone or the means of raising income?  The latter seems unlikely as his navy salary was good and his retirement pay (from 1904) was £400 a year.  In 1919, the Liverpool Probate Registry listed the gross value of his estate as £27030 2s 5d.

Gladstone’s well bound colourful goatskin book covers, displaying a range of finishing skills, are attractive additions to sales catalogues.  Antiquarian book sellers have included images on their websites, notably David Brass Rare Books, Temple Rare Books (see Temple Rare Books online Book of the Month January 2014), and Nudelman Rare Books.  The bindings usually (though not exclusively) include all-over designs comprising small flower and leaf motifs, have smooth spines and elaborately decorated turn-ins.  Here is the British Library’s example, Alfred de Musset's On ne badine pas avec l’amour.

Gladstone's binding of Alfred de Musset's 'On ne badine pas avec l’amour' with small flower and leaf motifs Alfred de Musset, On ne badine pas avec l’amour (Paris, 1904) British Library shelf mark C.188.114 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

 Tooling on the turn in of Gladstone's binding showing the initials C.E.G.

Tooling on the turn in showing the initials C.E.G.  - Alfred de Musset, On ne badine pas avec l’amour (Paris, 1904) British Library shelf mark C.188.114 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

For a naval officer Gladstone was a quite remarkable bookbinder!

P.J.M. Marks
Curator, Bookbindings

Further Reading:
The National Archives Admiralty records ADM 196/19/266; ADM 196/38/621; ADM 196/40/207
Dreadnought Project
Commander Charles Elsden Gladstone

 

04 May 2020

A (g)lovely gift from Peter the Great to John Evelyn

Gloves are an indispensable accessory.  They protect our hands from all manner of harm, and have served as a glamorous fashion statement for centuries.  Before their wider availability in the mid-18th century, gloves were treated as the embodiment of both power and protection; their luxury status and embedded symbolism making them the ideal gift of the wealthy.

John Evelyn's doe-skin glovesAdd MS 78429, John Evelyn's Doe-Skin Gloves, 17th century, British Library. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

These 17th century gloves belonged to the diarist John Evelyn (1620-1706).  Typical of their time, they are made from light doe-skin, embroidered with fine gold work flowers, and lavishly embellished with spangles (the 17th century equivalent to sequins) and gold fringe.  The significant skill required to produce gloves at this time rendered them a particularly expensive accessory, worn chiefly by the elite.  Designs were elaborate and ornamental, and as a general rule, the more ostentatious the glove, the more commanding (and rich) the hand.

Historically the gloves were believed to have been gifted to Evelyn by Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia (1672- 1725).  The story goes that whilst a tenant at Evelyn’s London property Sayes Court in 1698, Peter all but trashed the house and grounds.  From destructive wheelbarrow races through Evelyn’s immaculately landscaped gardens, to using paintings for target practice and furniture for firewood, the young Tsar was not as ‘great’ as his epithet may imply, and certainly not a model tenant.

Sayes CourtAdd MS 78628. A Plan of Sayes Court and its Gardens. Images Online Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Since it had been William III who had arranged the Tsar’s tenancy, the Treasury covered the £350 9s 6d of property damages incurred from his wild antics.  The gloves were sent by the Tsar to Evelyn as an apology for the terrible inconvenience.

Beyond merely being an expensive gift, the act of presenting gloves at this time was intimately connected to their symbolic and ceremonial past, and had accumulated numerous motives: a royal or political sanction, a gift of honour, a symbol of challenge, or of amity, a figurative token of love or a legal exchange.  The act was even embedded in the ceremonial investiture of monarchs, and in international diplomacy as a token of fidelity.  Queen Elizabeth I, who is alleged to have owned over 300 pairs of gloves, is believed to have engaged extensively in political glove gifting. The Evelyn Gloves are in fact remarkably similar to a pair that now reside at the Ashmolean Museum, that were presented to the Virgin Queen during a visit to Oxford.  By the 17th century, gloves were exchanged frequently between the wealthy, and so symbolic was the act that it wasn’t even seen to matter if they fit.

Unfortunately, the story behind the gifting of these gloves has never been corroborated with evidence, and so continues to remain speculation.  However, if we are to believe the myth, the message the Tsar was sending was far grander than a simple ‘sorry’. Not only would they have served as a not so subtle reminder to Evelyn of the Tsar’s superior status, but could also be seen as a humble extension of respect and friendship.  One wonders however, if this is the case, whether Evelyn might have preferred instead that the Tsar show his respect by not ruining his lawn.

Zoe Louca-Richards
Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
Angus Trumble, The Finger: A Handbook, (Melbourne: Melbourne University Publishing, 2010)
British Library, Evelyn Papers, (Add MS 78168-78693)

 

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