Untold lives blog

136 posts categorized "Arts and crafts"

31 December 2021

New Year greetings from a Victorian scrapbook

To welcome the New Year, we’re sharing some Victorian greetings cards taken from a scrapbook in the British Library collections.  An inscription at the front of the volume reads ‘E.M.L. from J.M. 76’.  The identity of these people is a mystery.  There are several items in the book linked to Church of England clergy and members of the gentry in Buckinghamshire - Princes Risborough, Stokenchurch, Horsenden, Aylesbury, Wendover, Hughenden.  Does this clue help any of our readers to identify E.M.L. or J.M. in the 1870s?

New Year card with red holly berries and foliage - 'May the Old Year's last smile brighten thy Christmas hours'.

New Year card with pink and red flowers -  'May your New Year be full of gladness and joy'.


New Year card with pink rose buds - 'Opening rosebuds fair as ye, May the coming New Year be'.

New Year card with anchor and white and pink flowers - 'Happiness attend thee through the coming year'.            Card with 'A Happy New Year'  surrounded by white and pink, and red carnations.Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

New Year greetings from Untold Lives!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
A scrapbook of printed ephemera British Library RB.23.b.7952

22 December 2021

Clever Christmas Jokes: festive illustrations from 1910

The December 1910 edition of The London Magazine decided to move away from the tradition of sharing typical Christmas jokes for the festive season, and instead to draw its readers’ attention to a selection of Yuletide drawings.  The magazine considered that the drawings chosen were 'Characteristic examples of the best humorous black-and-white work of the day'.

The artists featured included:

  • W. Heath Robinson, famed for his 'mechanical humour' with many of his works featuring wheels, ropes and other mechanical aids.

Testing Christmas Puddings: An Imaginary Mechanical Process involving a small boy being fed puddings whilst seated in a weighing device 'Testing Christmas Puddings: An Imaginary Mechanical Process by Mr. W. Heath Robinson', The London Magazine, December 1910, p. 499 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

  • George and Norman Morrow, who came from a family of illustrators, renowned for their illustrative work both in colour and black and white featuring 'a brimful of Irish Wit'.

Three illustrations of how toys are made – testing small-arms in the toy armoury, a speed test for toy motors, and casting funny masks from life.'How Christmas Toys are Made' by George Morrow – The London Magazine, December 1910, p. 500 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

  • John Hassall,  'a master of line', whose works are considered to be the best in their field, and F. H. Townsend, who was best known as an illustrator for Punch magazine.

Three illustrations of 'Clever Christmas Jokes' - ‘Hope’ where an artist is told his Christmas picture might be accepted for publication if he changes almost everything in it; ‘Oil on Troubled Waters’ where a pudding is lit with paraffin after brandy fails to ignite; and ‘Cigars’ where a young woman wants to buy a box of cigars suitable for a fair, slim gentleman.'Clever Christmas Jokes' - ‘Hope’ by Norman Morrow; ‘Oil on Troubled Waters’ by John Hassall; and ‘Cigars’ by F. H. Townsend – The London Magazine, December 1910, p. 501 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

We hope, as the editors of The London Magazine did in 1910, that these festive illustrations have provided something a little different from the usual Yuletide jokes and brought a little cheer for this festive season.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
P.P.6018.ta - The London Magazine, December 1910, No.2 [new series], pp. 496-502.


31 August 2021

East India Company appointments by the Prince Regent – (1) Henry Meredith Parker

In December 1812 the Chairman of the East India Company received a letter from Colonel McMahon, Private Secretary to the Prince Regent.  The Prince had asked McMahon to express how much he would be obliged if the Court of Directors granted him a writership for Bengal for a young gentleman aged seventeen whom the Prince was desirous of serving.  The Company directors resolved unanimously that His Royal Highness should be presented with the nomination of a student for East India College with a view to appointment as a writer on the Bengal establishment.

Prince Regent's request for a Bengal writership December 1812Request of the Prince Regent for a Bengal writership December 1812 IOR/B/156 p. 996 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Nominations for East India College were normally shared amongst the Company directors, but sometimes others were granted the privilege of putting a name forward, for example politician Lord Sidmouth.

The young man being favoured by the Prince Regent was Henry Meredith Parker.  In July 1813 Henry was appointed Deputy-Assistant Commissary to the Forces but he then reverted to seeking a career in the East India Company.  In December 1813 the Court of Directors resolved that he should be appointed as a writer in Bengal without having to attend East India College if found suitable.  Henry was examined by Samuel Henley, Principal of East India College, and rated ‘preeminently qualified’.  The sureties who put up money to guarantee Henry’s good behaviour were his father and Colonel McMahon.

Writer's petition for Henry Meredith ParkerWriter’s petition for Henry Meredith Parker January 1814 IOR/J/1/29 f.19v Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Henry’s application papers state that he was born on 4 June 1795 in St George’s Surrey.  He had to provide details of his parents’ situation, profession and residence: ‘My Parents Mr and Mrs William Parker, reside in Bridge Street in the Parish of Lambeth on their Private Income’.  Henry did not reveal that his parents were both well-known entertainers.  His father William Parker was an equestrian specialist and for some years proprietor of a circus in Edinburgh.  His mother was Sophia Granier, a singer, dancer and actress from a large family of stage players. Henry played the violin in the orchestra at the theatre in Covent Garden.

Why did the Prince Regent wish to help Henry with his career?  It seems that the Prince had seen the Parker family perform.  William Parker had an older daughter Nannette by his first wife, and she was a celebrated actress who married the popular Scottish actor Henry Erskine Johnston.  Apparently the Prince took a fancy to Nannette and forced his way into her dressing room.  Her furious husband sought out the Prince and gave him a thrashing.  Johnston was arrested but managed to escape, hiding in London before fleeing north.

Henry Meredith ParkerSketch of Henry Meredith Parker from Colesworthey Grant, Lithographic sketches of the public characters of Calcutta (Calcutta, 1850) 

Whatever the reasons behind his appointment, Henry flourished in India.  Away from his duties at the Board of Customs, Salt and Opium, he had a busy social life - acting, making music, and writing poetry, plays and prose. His friend, the journalist J. H .Stocqueler, described him as ‘a man of rare talents and brilliant attainments’.  Henry’s younger sisters Sophia Zenana and Josephine joined him in India and married Bengal civil servants.

Obituary for Henry Meredith Parker
British Newspaper Archive – obituary for Henry Meredith Parker in Homeward Mail from India, China and the East 19 September 1863

Henry Meredith Parker died in Richmond, Surrey, on 17 September 1863.  His obituary in the Homeward Mail said that Henry was accomplished, kind and genial, the life and soul of British society in Calcutta.

I have found another writer’s nomination by the Prince Regent in 1815 and I’ll tell you about that in our next post.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/B/156 pp. 996, 1000 - Minutes of the East India Company Court of Directors 9 and 11 December 1812.
IOR/B/158 pp.960, 1210 - Minutes of the East India Company Court of Directors 23 December 1813 and 4 March 1814.
J. H .Stocqueler, Memoirs of a journalist (Bombay, 1873).
Philip H. Highfill, A biographical dictionary of actors, actresses, musicians, dancers, managers & other stage personnel in London, 1660-1800 (Southern Illinois University Press, 1973-93).
Donald Campbell, Playing for Scotland – A history of the Scottish stage 1715-1965 (Edinburgh, 1996).
Máire ní Fhlathúin (ed.), The poetry of British India, 1780-1905, Volume 1 1780-1833 (London, 2011), pp.237-269 Henry Meredith Parker.
British Newspaper Archive – obituary for Henry Meredith Parker in Homeward Mail from India, China and the East 19 September 1863 (also available via Findmypast).


26 August 2021

Hilda Elizabeth Henry - 'a skilled craftswoman of exquisite taste'

The British Library celebrates the work of famous or professional historical figures but also gives an insight into the lives of lesser known people, one of whom was art teacher, Hilda Elizabeth Henry (1885-1936).

Sheffield School of Art in 1857 - view of exterior of buildingSheffield School of Art - these purpose-built premises in Arundel Street opened in 1857 - Illustrated Times 22 November 1856 British Newspaper Archive via Findmypast.  The School was renamed Sheffield Technical School of Art in 1903.

At a time when women’s lives revolved around the home, Hilda was something of a pioneer.  She was born in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and when the family moved to Sheffield continued her education there at the High School, at University College and at the art school.  The Sheffield Technical School of Art accepted women students and furthermore recognised Hilda’s talent by awarding her a prestigious 'Montgomery medal'.

Both sides of a Montgomery Medal, one with the head of James Montgomery in profile

Sheffield School of Art , Montgomery medal, 1852

Despite periodic bouts of ill health, Miss Henry made a successful career in education. From 1910-25 she taught art at the Cheltenham Ladies' College where she bound a copy of Rolland’s Vie de Michel-Ange in 1915.

Spine and upper cover of Rolland’s Vie de Michel-Ange by Hilda E. Henry

Decorative detail from the cover of Rolland’s Vie de Michel-AngeSpine and upper cover of Rolland’s Vie de Michel-Ange by Hilda E. Henry

She has been described as 'clearly an amateur', but she took her work seriously and signed herself  'Hilda E. Henry. Binder'.  The fact that she chose to present it to the college is an indication of her satisfaction with her work.

Book label - 'Presented by Miss H. Henry'Interestingly, the College had another connection with bookbinding via one of their governors, the celebrated practitioner Sarah Prideaux, member of the College Council from 1907-1922.  Did Miss Prideaux ever see Miss Henry’s binding, which was kept in locked case (M19) and if so, what was her opinion?

From 1925, Miss Henry was much in demand in Tamworth as mistress of the Tamworth Art School, art mistress of the Grammar School and the Girls' High School, and supervisor of the art teaching in the elementary schools of the borough.  The council paid her £60 a year for the latter post.

Miss Henry’s interests were wide ranging.  She exhibited tooled and embossed leather work at the Autumn Exhibition of the Royal Society of Artists in 1929.  Her pupils were also encouraged to find new ways of artistic expression including leather work, lino cutting and embroidery as well as the customary design, painting and drawing.  Perhaps the most telling tribute to her abilities as an art teacher was a compliment paid by Mr F. Burkitt, the headmaster of the Grammar School: 'She had already made the boys look forward with pleasure to each art lesson, and what was more valuable, to do work of their own accord out of school'.

PJM Marks
Curator, Bookbindings, Printed Heritage Collections

The copy of  Rolland’s Vie de Michel-Ange bound by Hilda E. Henry was acquired recently by the British Library and is awaiting cataloguing.


24 August 2021

'A Curious Herbal' inspiring current day creatives

Let us introduce you to a remarkable woman called Elizabeth Blackwell and her book, A Curious Herbal.  The British Library is lucky enough to have three copies of this important book.  Elizabeth Blackwell, born in the early 1700s, was the first British woman to produce a herbal.  She drew, engraved and coloured the 500 illustrations single-handedly.  The unusual story behind the herbal’s creation makes it even more interesting.

Garden Cucumber by Elizabeth BlackwellGarden Cucumber, Plate 4, Elizabeth Blackwell, A Curious Herbal, 1737-1739. British Library 34.i.12-13. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Elizabeth’s husband Alexander was a shady character.  He practiced as a doctor in Aberdeen but had no formal medical training or qualifications.   When he was challenged the couple fled to London.  Alexander then tried to establish himself as a printer.  However, the authorities discovered that he hadn’t completed the mandatory apprenticeship.  His breach of regulations incurred a heavy fine which he couldn’t pay.  So he was sent to debtor’s prison.  Elizabeth decided to publish a herbal to support herself and her child, and raise enough money to secure her husband’s release from prison.

Love Apple by Elizabeth BlackwellLove Apple, Plate 133, Elizabeth Blackwell, A Curious Herbal, 1737-1739. British Library 34.i.12-13. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Elizabeth published A Curious Herbal in parts between 1737 and 1739.  Several leading botanists endorsed her.  She also approached Sir Hans Sloane who granted her access to the foreign plant specimens in his collection (see the blog post Introducing Elizabeth Blackwell to Hans Sloane).  There were 500 engraved illustrations in total, all hand-coloured by Elizabeth herself.  Normally this would require three separate professionals.  She drew specimens not only from England but also many from North and South America.  These specimens were brought to England by colonists and botanists who often had links to slave labour plantations.

'Female Piony' by Elizabeth Blackwell'Female Piony', Plate 65, Elizabeth Blackwell, A Curious Herbal, 1737-1739. British Library 34.i.12-13. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Elizabeth’s plan worked. Her profits secured Alexander’s release from prison. But, despite his wife’s heroic efforts, he was not a reformed man. His debts built up once more and he became entangled in a political conspiracy in Sweden. He was beheaded for treason in 1748. Elizabeth Blackwell faded from the historical record after this – we don’t know much about the rest of her life. But she will always be remembered for being a pioneer in botanical illustration and for her heroic efforts to help her (useless!) husband.

Guinea Pepper by Elizabeth BlackwellGuinea Pepper, Plate 129, Elizabeth Blackwell, A Curious Herbal, 1737-1739. British Library 34.i.12-13. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

This summer A Curious Herbal is being used to inspire current budding botanical illustrators taking part in the Entangled Sketchbook Challenge organised by Lancaster University.  The Challenge invites people to examine the natural world around them using a series of prompts to make daily notes, doodles and drawings to record details of what they find, including the date, time and weather.  The hashtag for sharing these drawings on social media is #EntangledSketchbooks.

Challenge participants can also ask for their favourite sketchbook pages to be considered for an online exhibition that will be part of the Entangled Festival, a week-long celebration of arts, environment and technologies, which is taking place online and outdoors in Morecambe Bay from 18- 26 September 2021.  To submit drawings for this, please email good quality photographs or scans to entangledfestival@gmail.com using ‘Exhibition submission’ in the email subject line.

Good luck to everyone taking part in the challenge.  We hope Elizabeth Blackwell’s wonderful illustrations provide delight and encouragement for you to draw some nearby plants, flowers and trees.

Maddy Smith, Curator Printed Heritage Collections, and Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom), Digital Curator 


17 August 2021

Old Crop-Ear – JMW Turner’s horse

A few years ago, the owners of a house built on land in Twickenham, previously owned by JMW Turner, dug up some bones in their garden.  The police were called but the bones turned out to be of animal rather than human origin.  Could this be the final resting place of Turner’s horse?

In 1813, when Turner and his father William (‘Old Dad’) moved into Sandycombe Lodge, the house that Turner had designed and built in Twickenham, they brought with them their horse, Crop-Ear.  Turner bought a nearby small plot of land as grazing, and probably stabling, for the horse.  In Walter Thornbury’s early biography, Turner’s great friend Henry Scott Trimmer describes ‘an old crop-eared bay horse, or rather a cross between a horse and a pony’.  Turner and his father were often seen in the area riding in a gig pulled by Crop-Ear.  When Trimmer accompanied Turner on sketching expeditions, sometimes going as far as Runnymede, he says that they went ‘at a very steady pace, for Turner painted much faster than he drove’.

JMW Turner, Frosty Morning - figures of man and child standing near two horsesJMW Turner, Frosty Morning, 1813, Tate 00492 , digital image © Tate released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

Turner used Crop-Ear as a model and he appears most memorably in Turner’s celebrated painting Frosty Morning.  In fact, both horses in the picture are probably modelled on him.  Some of Turner’s detractors said that he was unable to paint horses and paid another artist to do it for him, a claim which he vehemently denied.  Thornbury reports Henry Trimmer asking Turner if it was true that Gilpin had painted the horse in Hannibal Crossing the Alps.  Turner replied firmly that it was his own design and that no other painter had ever touched any picture of his.

Crop-Ear came to a tragic end in his stable, somehow managing to strangle himself in his reins. Turner was reported as being very upset by this sad accident. He and his father had to drag the body from the stable and bury it somewhere on his land.  No mean feat. And the mystery bones?  They turned out to be from a cow.

Car park  at St Margaret’s Tavern TwickenhamOld Crop-Ear’s final resting place? Car park at St Margaret’s Tavern Twickenham Photograph © David Meaden

Crop-Ear is most likely buried on the land that Turner bought as grazing.  When he sold Sandycombe Lodge in 1826, he kept the meadow, eventually selling it, at a handsome profit, to the Windsor, Staines & South Western Railway, which arrived in Twickenham in 1848.  The St Margaret’s Tavern now stands on the site and Crop-Ear, like a well-known English monarch, may well be buried under the car park.

David Meaden
Independent Researcher

Further reading:
Walter Thornbury, The Life of J.M.W. Turner R.A. founded on letters and papers furnished by his friends and fellow Academicians, Volume 1 (London, 1862)


Turner's House

Turner’s restored house in Twickenham is open. Check the website for details.


08 July 2021

JMW Turner’s Daughters - Part 2 Georgiana

Georgiana, the younger daughter of JMW Turner and Sarah Danby, was born in 1811.  She later said that she had been born in Surrey but that may not be correct.  On 18 June 1840, Georgiana married Thomas James Thompson, seven years her junior and described as a chemist, at St Mary Magdalene Church in Bermondsey.  Georgiana’s age is given as 21, the same as her husband’s, but 21 was often routinely recorded to show that they were of full age and could marry without the permission of parents/guardians.  Turner did not attend. Georgiana refused to acknowledge Turner and gave her father’s name as ‘George Danby, deceased’.  No George Danby is recorded amongst John Danby’s relatives.

In the 1841 census the couple were living at 10 Webber Row, Lambeth, near to where Waterloo Station is now, with Thomas’s profession now recorded as a clerk.  In June 1841, Georgiana gave birth to a son, Thomas William Thompson, who was baptised in October the same year.  The Thompsons were living at 24 Goswell Terrace and Thomas senior is, once again, described as a chemist.  Sadly, Thomas William died in November 1842 and was buried in Bermondsey.  Georgiana was already pregnant with another child.

Photo taken 2021 of exterior of Lying-In Hospital Lambeth

Photo taken 2021 of an inscription over the door of Lying-In Hospital Lambeth - licensed for the reception of pregnant women in the reign of George IIIExterior of Lying-In Hospital Lambeth 2021 - photographs © David Meaden

In February 1843, she was admitted to the Lying-In Hospital, Lambeth, where she died, aged 31, of puerperal fever and was buried at St Mary Magdalene, Bermondsey.  Her child survived and was baptised as Thomas Markham Thompson at St John’s, Waterloo.  His father was now described as a schoolmaster.  Sadly, Thomas Markham died at the age of five months and was buried in Bermondsey.  Like her sister, Evelina, Georgiana was due to receive a bequest from her father’s will but died eight years before him.  This meant that the only direct line of descent from Turner was through Evelina’s children.

Churchyard of St Mary Magdalene  Bermondsey showing gravestones stacked against the wall

Churchyard of St Mary Magdalene, Bermondsey 2021 photograph © David Meaden

There have been various speculative stories about the parentage of Evelina and Georgiana.  One is that Evelina’s real father was JMW’s father, William (‘Old Dad’).  This is usually based on the evidence of the baptismal register, which refers to her father as William Turner.  However, Turner was always known as William, never Joseph, and his father referred to him as ‘Billy’.  Another is that the girls’ real mother was, in fact, Hannah Danby, Sarah’s niece and Turner’s housekeeper.  There is no real evidence for this, and in his will, Turner refers to the girls as the ‘natural daughters of Sarah Danby’.

Over the years there have been others who have claimed to be Turner’s children but Evelina and Georgiana are the only ones that he acknowledged himself.

David Meaden
Independent Researcher

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 Times of J.M.W.Turner (London, 2016)
Anthony Bailey, Standing In The Sun – a life of J.M.W.Turner (1997)

JMW Turner's Daughters - Part 1 Evelina

Turner’s topographical watercolours

Turner's House

Turner’s restored house in Twickenham has reopened. Check the website for details.


06 July 2021

JMW Turner’s Daughters – Part 1 Evelina

Shortly after the musician and glee composer John Danby died, aged 41, on 16 May 1798, his widow Sarah began a relationship with the artist JMW Turner, who was a near neighbour in Covent Garden.  Their daughter, Evelina, probably named after the title character of Fanny Burney’s novel, was baptised at Guestling in Sussex on 19 September 1801.  The register records her as ‘Evelina, daughter of William and Sarah Turner’.  According to the 1861 census, she was born in Hastings.  In 1811, a second daughter, Georgiana, was born.

In the early years of their relationship, Turner lived with Sarah for short periods of time at various addresses, but this was never a permanent arrangement and they never married.  Turner did not spend a great deal of time with his daughters, although some of his friends reported seeing young girls with a family resemblance, from time to time, at his Queen Anne Street house and gallery.  They are also thought to appear in some of his paintings, notably Evelina in 'Frosty Morning' (1813) and both in 'Crossing the Brook' (1815).

TuJMW Turner, Frosty Morning - Winter landscape with a man and young girl, and a horse pulling a cart

JMW Turner, Frosty Morning, 1813, Tate 00492 , digital image © Tate released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

On 31 October 1817, sixteen-year-old Evelina married 28-year-old Joseph Dupuis, a civil servant, at St James’s, Piccadilly, under the name of Evelina Turner.  Her mother, Sarah Danby, was a witness but Turner did not attend.  Joseph Dupuis had a long career in the diplomatic service.  In 1818 he was appointed British Envoy and Consul to Kumasi, part of the kingdom of the Ashanti (now Ghana).  He became regarded as an expert on African affairs, although some of his superiors felt that he had made too many concessions to the Ashanti.  Between 1819 and 1832, Evelina gave birth to seven children, four of whom survived infancy.  In the 1840s the Dupuis family moved to Greece and then back to London in the 1850s.  According to the census records, they were living at 44 Queen Square, Bloomsbury, in 1861 and at 135 Upper Kennington Lane, Lambeth, in 1871.  Their unmarried daughter, Rosalie, lived with them at both addresses.

JMW Turner, Crossing the Brook - view of the Tamar Valley with three girls at the brook. One has waded across, and is looking back to her dog in midstream which is carrying her basket.  The other girls are preparing to cross.JMW Turner, Crossing the Brook, 1815, Tate N00497, digital image © Tate released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported) 

Dupuis had incurred heavy debts and, following the death of Turner’s housekeeper Hannah Danby in 1853, he applied, unsuccessfully, to manage Turner’s gallery in Queen Anne Street.  Evelina had been left £50 in Hannah Danby’s will, with the stipulation that it was not to be used to pay her husband’s debts.  She was amongst those who challenged Turner’s will and when it was finally proved in 1856, she received, in addition to £100 a year from the original will, annuities based on £3,333 worth of Turner’s 3% consols.  This was clearly not enough because, in November 1865, Evelina wrote to Jabez Tepper, the solicitor who had represented various Turner cousins, asking for help to ‘alleviate the sorrows which oppress the last lineal descendant of the race of Turner, the surviving daughter of an artist of such repute’.

Dupuis’ debts must have been substantial because when Evelina died of a heart attack in Lambeth in 1874, a few months after her husband, she left an estate of less than £800 to her daughter Rosalie.

David Meaden
Independent Researcher

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 Times of J.M.W.Turner (London, 2016)
Anthony Bailey, Standing In The Sun – a life of J.M.W.Turner (1997)

JMW Turner's Daughters - Part 2 Georgiana

Turner’s topographical watercolours

Turner's House

Turner’s restored house in Twickenham has reopened. Check the website for details.


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