Untold lives blog

122 posts categorized "Arts and crafts"

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)

 

16 April 2020

The London social season of 1863

‘Easter comes to interrupt the opening season, but London is all alive again with excitement.’

This was the opening line to an article in The Era on 29 March 1863 looking forward to the start of the London social season.  Sport, opera, art, music and the weather were all matters up for discussion.

Article in The Era 29 March 1863Article in The Era 29 March 1863 British Newspaper Archive

The first anticipated event was the annual University Rowing Match, with the favourite to win being described as ‘the great mother of Churchmen and Tories’, otherwise known as Oxford.

The opera season was due to commence the following week and is described in great detail with the highlights of that year being remarked on as Patti at Covent Garden, Titiens at the Haymarket and Verdi being ‘a double star’ with both his last work and his most recent being shown in London.  The author is a little critical of the music of the season remarking that, although music is always ‘eloquent everywhere’, there had been a ‘recent affliction of concerts of an awful length’.

Johanna Therese Carolina Tietjens or TitiensOpera singer (Johanna) Therese Carolina Tietjens (Titiens)by Adolphe Paul Auguste Beau 1860s NPG x74495 © National Portrait Gallery, London  National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

Then it is the turn of art, with the painters all preparing to show off their latest works at the Royal Academy.

There is also an observation that there would normally be remarks and pleasantries about the weather as it was the start of spring, but as they had heard that even the Crystal Palace could not be ascended owing to ‘winds of seventy miles an hour’, pleasantries no longer seemed appropriate.

The article ends with mention of the social calendar of the Prime Minister, Viscount Palmerston, who is on his way to Scotland for a visit to Glasgow.  His inauguration as the Rector of Glasgow University took place on 30 March 1863.

The social season of 1863 certainly sounded like a busy and exciting one in London.  Hopefully the 70 mile an hour winds didn’t deter the public from attending their social engagements and enjoying the delights of culture and entertainment that were on offer that year.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
The Era, 29 March 1863 - British Newspaper Archive also available via findmypast

 

10 December 2019

Sarah Danby – JMW Turner’s lover

Sarah Danby was born Sarah Goose in Spilsby, Lincolnshire, probably in 1766, as she was christened, a Roman Catholic, in Baumber on 5 April in that year.  She was brought up in Lambeth and became a singer and actress.  On 4 April 1788, she married John Danby, a successful organist and glee composer, with whom she had five daughters and one son, two of whom died in infancy.  The Danbys first lived in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, and were near neighbours of the Turners, who lived in Maiden Lane. 

John Danby's death May 1798 reported in True Briton John Danby's death reported in True Briton 19 May 1798 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

John Danby suffered with poor health, probably rheumatoid arthritis, and died, aged 41, at home on 16 May 1798, sadly just at the close of the benefit concert organised by his friends at Willis’s Rooms that very evening.  At that time the Danbys were living at 46 Upper John Street and Sarah was two months pregnant with their fifth daughter, Theresa.  John Danby was buried in Old St Pancras Churchyard but his grave was destroyed with the coming of the railway.  His name can be seen on the Burdett-Coutts Memorial Sundial.

 
John Danby’s name on the Burdett-Coutts Memorial SundialJohn Danby’s name on the Burdett-Coutts Memorial Sundial.  (author’s photo)

Sarah began a relationship with Turner and lived with him for short periods of time at various addresses but this was never a permanent arrangement and they never married.  Various reasons have been suggested and the truth may well be a combination of some or all of the following: 
Turner often made disparaging comments about matrimony, probably as a result of his observation of his parents’ troubled marriage and perhaps as the result of an early failed relationship.
Sarah was a Catholic; Turner was not.
Sarah was dependant on a pension from the Royal Society of Musicians, which would stop if she lived permanently with Turner.

Life study of a female figure, possibly Sarah Danby, from one of Turner’s notebooksLife study of a female figure c.1812-13 , possibly Sarah Danby, from one of Turner’s notebooks -  Tate Britain  Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

They had two daughters together; Evelina (1801–74) and Georgiana (1811–43) but Turner saw little of them and he spent his latter years mostly in Chelsea, with Sophia Booth.  After Turner’s death in December 1851, Sarah lived in poverty in William Street, Marylebone, with her unmarried daughter by John Danby, Marcella, a music teacher, and her granddaughter Louisa Symondson.  Turner left Sarah nothing in his will and she was forced to sell various drawings and sketches that he had given her, just to survive.  She applied for an increase in the pension she received from the Royal Society of Musicians but this was refused.

Crossing The Brook - painting by Turner'Crossing The Brook' by Turner.  The two girls are thought to be his daughters, Evelina and Georgiana - Tate Britain Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported))


Sarah later moved to George Street, near Euston Square, where she died on 16 February 1861.  The Registrar recorded that she was 100 (she was probably 95) and that she had eaten beefsteak for her dinner the day before she died.  She was buried in a pauper’s grave in Kensal Green.

Sarah’s death was quickly followed by law suits involving her family.  In April 1861 Marcella was taken to court by her niece, Caroline Frances Lamb, and Caroline’s husband, Edward Buckton Lamb, over the administration of Sarah’s personal estate, which was valued at under £200.  Marcella then countered with a case against the Lambs to recover letters and documents relating to Sarah’s accounts and private affairs.  She also recovered the large sum of £1621 9s 7d which was paid into court by the Lambs.  Yet when Marcella died in 1863, her estate was valued at less than £100.  A mystery which remains to be unraveled!

David Meaden
Independent researcher

Further reading:
Anthony Bailey, Standing in the sun (London, 2013)
Stephen J May, Voyage of the slave ship, J.M.W. Turner's masterpiece in historical context (Jefferson, North Carolina, 2014)
Dictionary of artists’ models, edited by Jill Berk Jimenez (London, 2001)
Article on John Danby by Selby Whittingham in New Dictionary of National Biography
The life of J. M. W. Turner, R.A.; founded on letters and papers furnished by his friends and fellow academicians, Walter Thornbury, 1897.
 

Turner’s restored house in Twickenham will reopen on Saturday 11 January 2020.
Wednesday-Sunday: 12 –1pm: self-guided visits.
Guided tours Wednesday to Sunday at 1.00, 2.00 and 3.00pm.  Last entry 3pm.

Turner's House logo

 

 

08 October 2019

Crystal chandeliers for the Shah of Persia

In 1819 the Persian Ambassador Mirza Abul Hassan Khan arrived in London on a diplomatic mission from the Shah of Persia.  He bore gifts of jewellery, ornamental swords, beautiful rugs, carpets and paintings, and Arabian horses for the King and Prince Regent - an image captured by the artist Henry Chalon. 

A Representation of the Persians in the Costume of their Country Attending at Carlton Palace with Portraits of the Horses Presented to His Majesty by the Ambassador from the Emperor of PersiaHenry Bernard Chalon, A Representation of the Persians in the Costume of their Country Attending at Carlton Palace with Portraits of the Horses Presented to His Majesty by the Ambassador from the Emperor of Persia  (1819?), Tate (T02357) digital image © Tate released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

Relations between Britain and Persia were cordial, the countries having signed a treaty of alliance in 1812, but the situation was sensitive due to the possibility of Russian expansion into Persian territory.  As part of the diplomatic dance, reciprocal gifts were commissioned for Fath Ali Shah.  ‘As a pledge of the continuance of our respect, we shall send by way of Bombay some of the productions of this Country, which … we trust will be accepted as a further indication of the sentiments with which we are impressed’ wrote the East India Company Court of Directors in March 1820.

Seal decorated in gold, from letter in Persian from the Shah of Persia to the East India CompanySeal decorated in gold, from letter in Persian from the Shah of Persia to the East India Company, 1819 [IOR/L/PS/19/189, f 4] Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Blades & Co., Royal glassmakers of Ludgate Hill, crafted 'lustres' or suites of candelabra to be delivered to the Shah, intended to decorate the newly refurbished Golestan Palace in Tehran.   At the behest of John Blades and with the permission of the East India Company, Edward James Matthews set sail from England to Bombay in October 1820, tasked with accompanying the cases of fine glassware.

Transporting fragile and highly breakable items to Persia was a tricky business.  Having arrived safely in Bombay, Matthews was instructed to take the eighteen cases to Bushire on the Persian coast.  He travelled on the Frances Warden, arriving in early August 1821.  Henry Willock, the Chargé d'Affaires at Tehran wrote to Matthews requesting that he oversee the onward transport of the glassware and installation of the chandeliers.  ‘I have to request that you will remain at Bushire until the arrival of the Persian Officer who will be charged with their Transport, and I have further to beg that you will accompany their progress to the interior and strive by every Act of Necessary precaution to secure their preservation’.

It is over 750 miles overland from Bushire to Tehran.  It proved impossible to transport the cases by cart, so Matthews arranged for them to be carried on men’s shoulders the whole way.  The journey took five months – ‘an undertaking of infinite difficulty… I may say danger’. Thankfully the glassware arrived intact, and was ‘most graciously received by the King.  His Majesty expressed his approbation and praise of the great care and diligence evinced by Mr Matthews’.   Letters of thanks from both the Shah and Mirza Abul Hassan Khan arrived back in London with Matthews, together with a gift to the Company of the Shah’s portrait. 

Letter in Persian from Mirza Abul Hassan Khan to the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the East India Company, giving thanks for gifts of lustres sent to the ShahLetter in Persian from Mirza Abul Hassan Khan to the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the East India Company, giving thanks for gifts of lustres sent to the Shah, [1823]. [IOR/L/PS/189, ff 23-24] Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The return leg of Matthews’ journey proved eventful. He travelled to St Petersburg via Tabriz, but was shipwrecked in the icy waters of the Baltic in December 1822.  Illness confined him to Oesel Island (Saaremaa) for 4 months, until he finally reached England in June 1823, a journey of ‘2 years, 7 months and 23 days’. 

Letter from Edward J. Matthews to the East India Company describing his experiences, dated 29 Jul 1823 Letter from Edward J. Matthews to the East India Company describing his experiences, dated 29 Jul 1823 [IOR/E/1/151, 603-604]  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

As a result of his efforts, Matthews was awarded the badge of the Lion and the Sun by the Shah, and Blades and Co. were awarded a Royal Warrant from the Persian Court.  Much of the correspondence from Matthews in the India Office Records pertains to his attempts to get the Company to reimburse him for his out of pocket expenses.  A warrant to pay him £368 and 7 shillings was finally made on 26 Sep 1823.

 

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer Modern Archives & Manuscripts

Further reading:
IOR/E/1/151: Miscellaneous Letters Received 1823
IOR/E/1/259: Miscellanies 1823 [Miscellaneous Letters Outwards], entries 1290, 1291 & 1838
IOR/R/15/1/25: Political Residency Bushire Vol 25: Letters Outward, 1822
IOR/L/PS/19/189: Correspondence with the Court of the Shah of Persia, 1819-1823

 

15 August 2019

Gerasim Lebedev, a Russian pioneer of Bengali Theatre

Whilst browsing through a list of inhabitants of Calcutta in the 1790s one particular entry caught my attention.  In June 1794 a Russian musician by the name of Gerasim Lebedev was listed as a resident of Calcutta.  As it seemed unusual to find a Russian in India at that time, I was intrigued to learn more.

List of European Inhabitants in Calcutta June 1794IOR/O/5/26 – Gerasim Lebedeff’s entry in a list of European Inhabitants in Calcutta, June 1794 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Lebedev was born in Yaroslavl Russia in 1749, the eldest son of a church choirmaster.  The family later moved to St Petersburg where Lebedev sang in the choir, performed in theatre and began to learn English, French and German, also teaching himself to play violin.

In 1792 Lebedev accompanied the new Russian Ambassador to Vienna as part of a musical group.  However he left this employment shortly afterwards and began to tour Europe, earning a living as a violinist.

By February 1785 Lebedev was in England.  He sailed for India aboard the East India Company ship Rodney, arriving in Madras in August 1785 where he obtained the patronage of the Mayor, Captain William Sydenham, and earned a living putting on musical programmes.

In August 1787 Lebedev moved to Calcutta where he was to live for the next ten years, and where with the support of a Russian doctor he was able to establish himself as a musician.  Lebedev was interested in Bengali language and music and he is considered to be the first person to perform Indian music on western musical instruments.

In 1791 Lebedev was introduced to a teacher named Goloknath Das who taught him Hindi, Sanskrit and Bengali.  He used his new language skills to translate plays into Bengali and in 1795 he opened the first drama theatre in Calcutta.  The two plays he translated were Love is the Best Doctor by Molière, and The Disguise by M. Jodrelle.  They were performed on 27 November 1795 and again on 21 March 1796, with music composed by Lebedev himself and lyrics from a Bengali poet Bharatchandra Ray.

Poster advertising Lebedev’s first performances of his plays on 27 November 1795Poster advertising Lebedev’s first performances of his plays on 27 November 1795. Image taken from Wikimedia (Public Domain)

The shows were very well received and Lebedev received great encouragement from Calcutta society, including the Governor-General Sir John Shore.  The performances are today considered to be the first performances of modern Indian Theatre.  But Lebedev’s success was short lived as his theatre burned down shortly afterwards.

Lebedev was also involved in several disputes with both the British administration and one of his former employees and was asked to leave India in 1797.  Lebedev returned to London where he set about publishing works on the Indian Languages including A Grammar of the Pure and Mixed Indian East Dialects in 1801.

Lebedev returned to St Petersburg shortly afterwards and was still working there on publications on Indian languages in 1817 when he died at his printing house on 27 July 1817.

Plaque erected in Calcutta in 2009 to mark the location of Lebedev’s theatrePlaque erected in Calcutta in 2009 to mark the location of Lebedev’s theatre. Image taken from Wikimedia. Attribution: By Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY 3.0

In 2009 the Kolkata Municipal Corporation and the Cultural Department of the Russian Federation Consulate in Kolkata erected a plaque in Ezra Street, Kolkata to commemorate the site of the pioneering theatre Lebedev had opened there in 1795.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
A Grammar of the Pure and Mixed East Indian Dialects, by Herasim Lebedeff (London, 1801) V4516.  (The introduction pp. i-viii gives a summary by Lebedev of his life up until the publication of this work.)
IOR/O/5/26 List of European Inhabitants in Calcutta, June 1794.

 

11 June 2019

Writing with quills

Where there’s a quill, there’s a way of telling how old it is; although not infallible it can give an idea.  The clue is by the way it is dressed – how the feathers are cut and shaped.  What many people do not realise is that there are left and right-handed quills depending on which side of the bird’s body the pinions come from.  The last quill in the image below is a left-handed one.

 

QuillsQuills  17thC   17th/18thC  18thC  18th/19thC    19thC
Photos courtesy of Museum of Writing Research Collection-University of London

It’s a feather!  So what?  You can pick them up all over the place.  Maybe, but those feathers charted the course of history and literature for about 1,800 years, when they competed with and eventually lost out to the steel nib.  Many scholars are almost certain now that it was the Romans who changed the feather from an instrument of flight to an instrument of writing with the goose as the main victim.  However, we have to wait half a millennium until we get visual evidence for the quill and that is from a mosaic in the church of San Vitale, Ravenna dating from around 547 AD.

St Matthew writing with a quillSt. Matthew writing with the quill arrowed. The Church of St. Vitale, Ravenna. Photo courtesy of Alan Cole

The quill continued to flourish with almost twenty-four million being imported into London alone in 1831, despite the plentiful supply of steel nibs that had been introduced about eight years earlier.  Quills were used in every walk of life including, of course, by authors and poets.  Among these was Alfred, Lord Tennyson who, whilst living on the Isle of Wight in the mid-1850s, bent the end of his quill and threw it down in disgust.  It was picked up by a local farmer, William Thomas, in whose family it was kept until its donation to the Museum of Writing.

Quill belonging to TennysonThe quill belonging to Alfred, Lord Tennyson showing its bent nib. Photo courtesy of Museum of Writing Research Collection-University of London


Alan Cole
Honorary Consultant, Museum of Writing Research Collection

Come and see Tennyson’s quill in our exhibition Writing: Making Your Mark 

Exhibition poster for Writing - Making Your Mark

 

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