Untold lives blog

233 posts categorized "Domestic life"

05 November 2019

A family archive

Sometimes, by chance, an archive brings together seemingly disparate or unrelated material in a quite fascinating way.  A fantastic example of this from our Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts department is the truly familial archive of the civil servant and statistician, Sir John Boreham.  This includes, alongside his own papers, the diaries of his wife, Lady Heather Boreham, and the literary papers of their son-in-law, Kevin Stratford.

John and Heather Boreham with a koala bear in 1986John and Heather Boreham in 1986, by kind permission of Deborah Hudson

Sir John Boreham (1925-1994) was a statistician for the British government and director of the then Central Statistical Office between 1978 and 1985.  But, as Claus Moser wrote, ‘…he was neither a typical civil servant nor a typical statistician. He disliked bureaucracy and in all he did was unconventional, original and independent in action and spirit’.

After studying at Oxford, Boreham joined the Government Statistical Service (GSS), working first at the Agriculture Economic Research Institute in Oxford and then in the statistics division of the Ministry of Food.  Throughout the 1950s, Boreham worked for the Ministry of Agriculture, the General Register Office (GRO) and the Central Statistical Office.  In 1963 he took up the positon of Chief Statistician at the GRO.  For the next decade, he was Director of Economics and Statistics at the Ministry of Technology and then Assistant Director of the Central Statistical Office becoming director of the CSO and Head of the Government Statistical Service in 1978.

As director of the CSO Boreham faced challenges almost immediately when the new Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher formed in 1979 and sought to cut the Civil Service.  The cuts had a large impact on the CSO but Boreham remained resolute and ‘…interested above all in using statistics to improve the lot of humanity’ (Moser.)  The archive contains a letter from Thatcher congratulating Boreham on his appointment as director.

After 35 years at the GSO Boreham retired in 1985, apparently hoping to spend more time playing golf and reading French literature.  However his work was too highly valued and he became regional co-ordinator of statistical training in the Caribbean and later worked as a consultant in the Bahamas in the 1990s.

In 1948, Boreham married Heather Horth (1927-2004) and together they had three sons and a daughter.  The archive contains a series of diaries written by Lady Boreham between the 1970s-1900s, which add an interesting and detailed perspective to the history of the Borehams’ lives.  These diaries will be available to consult from the end of 2020.

Kevin Stratford in spring 1981, holding a catKevin Stratford in spring 1981 during a break from writing The Plagarist, by kind permission of Deborah Hudson

The final section of the archive covers the literary papers of the writer Kevin Stratford (1949-1984).  He died young, cutting short a career that ‘robbed this country of one of its most promising young writers’ according to Peter Ackroyd.  Stratford’s papers include his literary drafts, notes, correspondence with publishers and a series of notebooks.

Eleanor Dickens
Curator, Politics and Public Life

Further reading:
Claus Moser, Sir John Boreham’s Obituary in The Independent Wednesday 15 June 1994.
The archive (Add MS 89283) is available for consultation in the Manuscripts Reading Room.
Please contact eleanor.dickens@bl.uk for any further information.


31 October 2019

Hallowe’en Feeing Markets

Feeing markets were employment fairs held twice a year in Scottish towns, generally in May and November.  The November market was sometimes called the Hallowe’en feeing market.  People seeking work attended, hoping to catch the eye of farmers and others looking for servants to hire for the next six months.

Markets could be held at several towns in one district.  The Banffshire Journal listed feeing markets held in November 1895 in Grantown, Longside, Interaven, Dufftown, Ellon, Huntley, Aberlour, New Deer, Banff, Insch, Aberdeen, Elgin, Turnff and Keith.  Newspapers report the wages being offered at the feeing markets for foremen, horsemen, cattlemen, halflins (male adolescents), boys, and females.  By the 1890s, many women and girls were seeking employment through the alternative of register offices. 

Report of Grantown-on-Spey Feeing Market - Dundee Courier 21 November 1901Report of Grantown-on-Spey Feeing Market - Dundee Courier 21 November 1901 British Newspaper Archive 

Sometimes winter wages were reduced from summer rates.  In general those staying with the same employer were offered the same rate.  Servants who changed employer mostly had to settle for a wage reduction.  The servants had to wait for the farmer to approach them and bargain.   An agreement was often sealed with a dram purchased by the farmer and payment of a token sum to meet moving expenses. Farmers might hold back from hiring in the hope of getting workers at a lower fee later and it was not uncommon for servants to leave the market without an engagement.  Servants might accept a significant cut in fee rather than risk missing a hiring altogether.  An Aberdeen man who had worked as a foreman for a fee of £18 10s during the summer of 1905 took a subordinate position for the winter at a fee of less than £14.  Married men could receive perquisites to supplement their pay in the form of allowances of coal, potatoes, milk and meal, as well as a house and garden.

The market was enjoyed as a holiday. Vendors of fruit, sweets and toys attended.  Street musicians, stalls and merry-go-rounds provided entertainment.  Worries were expressed about the potential for misbehaviour and horseplay when large numbers of young men and women were gathered in town.  Extra policemen were sometimes drafted in to keep order, and  temperance refreshment rooms were often set up. 

The system of feeing markets had its critics.  William Watson of Aberdeenshire believed the markets were ’hostile to steady application and permanent settlement’.  He said that farmers hired on a calculation of physical strength for so much money and meat, with no thought of moral character.  Masters could easily combine at a feeing to lower wage rates.  Watson proposed the introduction of hiring through parish or village registers. However he believed that there would be a greatly reduced need for this as ‘engagements during pleasure’ would be long-lasting if there was ‘fair accommodation and humane usage’.

There were counter arguments to the claim that only brawn mattered and that good character and a reputation as a competent worker counted for nothing.  Workers tended to stay in the same district, so both farmers and servants probably knew a considerable amount about each other before the feeing.  Attempts to replace the markers with registers from the 1830s onwards largely failed.   At the outbreak of the First World War, the vast majority of Scottish farm workers were still recruited at feeing markets.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive for example Banffshire Journal and General Advertiser 26 November 1895, 30 November 1897, 28 November 1905; Dundee Courier 21 November 1901
William Watson, Remarks on the bothie system and feeing markets (Aberdeen, 1849)
Ian Carter, Farmlife in Northeast Scotland 1840-1914 - the Poor Man's Country (Edinburgh, 1979)


22 October 2019

Indian military widows

The terrible plight of the widows of Indian soldiers in the period before, during and after the First World War is revealed in a file from the India Office's vast military archive.

The earliest document in the file dates from March 1913, but the outbreak of war in the following year brought the issue to the fore.  A letter of 26 February 1915 from Viceroy Lord Hardinge to the Secretary of State for India Lord Crewe attempted to lay down rules for the granting of military pensions:

(i) The widow must be proved beyond doubt to be in straitened circumstances  ... Absolute destitution not to be a necessary condition for the widow of any person above the rank of a private soldier.

(ii) The deceased husband must have performed really good service ... Other considerations to be taken into account  ...will be (a) the rank subsequently attained, (b) the character and conduct of the deceased, and (c) the length of his service.

(iii) The date of marriage will be an important consideration. We propose that the rules should not ordinarily include widows who married after their husbands had retired ...

Indian soldiers forming the escort for the Gilgit Mission 1885-1886 from the album of George Michael James Giles Photo 104032 - detailIndian soldiers forming the escort for the Gilgit Mission 1885-1886, from the album of George Michael James Giles - detail from Photo 1040/32 Images Online

It is understandable that Imperial bureaucrats in London and New Delhi felt the need to formulate guidelines to deal with such matters, but the contrast with the appalling suffering touched upon in many of the cases cited throughout the file is stark.  Umrao Bi, thought to be aged about eighty, was the widow of Mutiny veteran Sowar Shaik Imamuddin, and in June 1914 she petitioned the British Resident at Hyderabad for assistance, stating that her husband's Mutiny medal had been lost during a flood in 1908.  The previous month Amir Bi, aged 95, widow of Mutiny veteran Sowar Azmuth Khan, applied for an allowance ' ... so that she may endure the remainder of her life without experiencing the pangs of hunger’.

The dismal theme is continued in a list of 9 June 1916 which provides brief details of 55 applications for compassionate allowances, with 26 containing the simple words 'Woman was destitute'.  The majority were widows of soldiers who had served on the British side in 1857-58.  Qamru Bi '... was 80 years of age, and was begging for a living’.  Hasharat Bi '...earned about Rs. 4 per mensem by sewing, but she was getting old and was partially blind’.  Firdaus Begum '...had a small income of about Rs. 2 per mensem out of which she had to support 2 female relatives.  She had incurred a debt of about 500’.  The children of several petitioners were themselves too poor to support their mothers.      

The sum allocated by the British authorities to cover all successful applications for relief between 1915 and 1927 was capped at a miserly Rs. 1500 per year.  Although more money was made available through the establishment of the Indian Army Benevolent Fund in September 1927, eighteen months later its administering Board had made a mere 197 grants out of 1160 applications received.

Hedley Sutton
Asian & African Studies Reference Team Leader

Further reading:


03 October 2019

Trials for concealment of birth

The Hampshire Advertiser for 6 March 1875 had a section reporting on recent crimes and sentences passed by the courts.  It included details of two young women who were charged with the crime of concealment of birth.

Girl standing in dock in court roomImage from page 145  Agnes; or Beauty and Pleasure shelfmark 12625.f.16 BL flickr

Agnes Tiller and Ellen Tubbs were both nineteen years old and working as servants in Hampshire.  They gave birth to daughters on 22 and 29 December 1874 respectively.  Agnes was accused not only of concealing the birth but also of disposing of the baby in a box in the town of Ventnor on the Isle of Wight.  Ellen's daughter, Lydia Jane Tubbs, was born in Baghurst, Hampshire.  In both cases the babies sadly died, and the birth and death indexes for Agnes’ daughter simply record her as ‘female’ Tubbs.

The girls were charged with the crime of concealement and on 1 March 1875 they were each sentenced to two weeks' imprisonment.  The judge trying the cases remarked that
'the degree of immorality in this county as shown by these cases was discreditable to Hampshire'.

Concealment of birth - article from Hampshire AdvertiserHampshire Advertiser 6 March 1875 British Newspaper Archive

Ellen was born in 1855 in Wimborne, Dorset, the daughter of Henry Tubbs, a fireman, and his wife Frances.  In 1881 Ellen can be found living with her parents in Southampton and working as a laundress.  Ellen was married in 1883 in Paddington, London to James Holmes a widower and baker from Botley in Hampshire.  They did not have any children.

Agnes continued to work as a servant.  In 1881 she was a parlour maid to the Hony family at Colbury Manor House, Eling, Hampshire.  She was married in 1886 to William Mercer, a butler, and they had a daughter Lizzie Gray Mercer born in Bedhampton, Hampshire in 1891.  In 1911 William and Agnes were living Fordingbridge, Hampshire and the census records include mention of both of Agnes' children – her daughter Lizzie with her husband William, and the daughter whose birth she had tried to conceal in 1874.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

British Newspaper Archive - Hampshire Advertiser 6 March 1875


12 September 2019

Pupils from the Asylum for deaf and dumb children

The Asylum for the support and education of the deaf and dumb children of the poor published lists of pupils’ names with some family details.  Some parents had more than one deaf and dumb child to care for.  I picked a family named in a report of 1817 to try to trace what happened to the children after they left the Asylum.

The Deaf and Dumb Asylum Old Kent Road'

'The Deaf and Dumb Asylum, Kent Road' from David Hughson, Walks through London, including Westminster and the borough of Southwark, with the surrounding suburbs (London, 1817) Noc

Pupils Henry and Louisa Tattler (or Tatler) came from a family of eleven children, four of whom were deaf and dumb. They lived in Plough Court, Fetter Lane, London. Their parents were James Tattler, a jeweller or trinket maker described in the report as ‘insane’, and his wife Mary Ann. In 1816 James was a patient at Bethlem Hospital which specialised in the care of the mentally ill.  He died in 1817, aged 44. 

Bethlem Hospital'View of the new Bethlem Hospital in St. George's Fields' 1814, Maps K.Top.27.56.2 Noc Images Online

What happened to the family after James Tattler’s death?

Mary Ann continued to live in Plough Court. Henry Tattler (born 1804) followed his father into the jewellery trade.  He was apprenticed to Robertson and Co of Villiers Street in March 1820.  In 1851 he was living in Baldwin’s Gardens Holborn with his brother James (born 1793) who was a shoemaker described as partially deaf and dumb.

Louisa Tattler (born 1807) became a bookbinder.  Around 1841 she became a pauper inmate of the West London Union Workhouse.  She was still there in 1861.

Here is what I have discovered about some of the other siblings.

Anne Tattler was apprenticed aged 13 in 1810 to Joseph Anderson, a water gilder in Clerkenwell.  It is likely that she was the mother of Alfred Tattler born in the Shoe Lane workhouse in 1818. Alfred was buried aged three months.

Frederick Tattler (born 1801) lived in the Fleet Street area and worked as a carman and labourer. He married Sarah Wickens in 1839. It does not appear that they had any children.

Sophia Tattler (born 1803) married Joseph Snelling in 1829 but died in 1831 in Holborn.

Emma Rebecca Tattler (born 1805) had mental health problems.  She was admitted in January 1840 to the workhouse in Shoreditch and became the subject of a removal order to her home parish of St Andrew Holborn.  Her mother Mary Ann gave a detailed statement about the family’s circumstances going back to her marriage to James in 1792. The Shoreditch justice suspended Emma’s removal ‘by reason of insanity’ and she was taken to Sir J. Miles’ Asylum. However the removal order was executed in March because she was said to have recovered.  Emma died in March 1842 whilst in the care of the Holborn Poor Law Union.

Charles Richard Tattler (born 1808) was a wine cooper living in Finsbury. He married Susan Lawrence in 1830 and they had five children,

Edwin Tattler (born 1814) was a pupil at the Orphan Working School in City Road.  He then worked as a cooper before joining the Army, serving in the Rifle Brigade.  He deserted in December 1834 and the trail goes cold.

The story of the Tattler family shows what can be uncovered from online resources, especially for those who came into contact with institutions and authority.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Asylum for the support and education of deaf and dumb children of the poor
List of the Governors and Officers of the Asylum for the support and education of the Deaf and Dumb Children of the Poor; with the rules ... and an introductory statement of the purposes of the institution (London, 1817)

Family history information can be found from findmypast and Ancestry under a variety of spellings for the surname e.g. St Martin-in-the-Fields Poor Law examination for Henry Tatler 1827 from City of Westminster Archives Centre and. Poor Law settlement papers 1840 for Emma Rebecca Tatler from London Metropolitan Archives.


10 September 2019

Asylum for the support and education of deaf and dumb children of the poor

An Asylum for the support and education of the deaf and dumb children of the poor was established in London in 1792 by Reverend John Townsend. The institution was maintained by charitable donations.  Its aim was to rescue deaf and dumb children from ‘a state of deprivation, ignorance, and inaction’ and to prevent them from being a burden to society. 

Portrait of Joseph Watson and drawing of the Asylum for the deaf and dumb'Joseph Watson and the Asylum for the deaf and dumb, Camberwell, in which he taught.' Engraving by former pupil George Taylor. Wellcome Collection CC BY

The Asylum opened in Fort Place, Grange Road Bermondsey.  It moved to larger premises in Old Kent Road in 1809 when there were 182 pupils.  Joseph Watson was the principal from its beginning until his death in 1829.  He had a small number of private ‘parlour’ students housed in his own quarters at the Asylum. They were taught by the Braidwood oral method, set out in Watson’s guide entitled Instruction of the deaf and dumb; or, a theoretical and practical view of the means by which they are taught to speak and understand a language.  Charity pupils were instructed using sign language.

Illustration showing a variety of people from John Watson, Instruction of the deaf and dumb; or, a theoretical and practical view of the means by which they are taught to speak and understand a languageIllustration from John Watson, Instruction of the deaf and dumb; or, a theoretical and practical view of the means by which they are taught to speak and understand a language (London, 1809-10) Noc

There was a ‘manufactory’ in Fort Place from 1801 to 1820 which offered practical vocational training in tailoring, shoemaking and stay-making for the Asylum’s children.  The manufactory also operated a printing press.

The Asylum actively aimed to spread the word about its existence throughout the UK.  Applications far exceeded the number of places available and there was a long waiting list.  Applicants had to be aged between nine to fourteen years and pupils were selected by a poll amongst the Governors.

The Asylum published reports of its work which included lists of current pupils and details of their father’s trade and location, and the number of siblings.  Children came from a variety of backgrounds, urban and rural – their parents were labourers, artisans, shopkeepers, publicans, schoolteachers, agricultural workers and small farmers, seamen, soldiers, deserted mothers and widows.

In the 1817 report there is a note about John Williams, whose father William was a stone-cutter and house painter in Merthyr Tydfil Glamorganshire with six children.  As it had been noticed that John had ‘a considerable talent in drawing’, the Asylum Committee thought it would be a good idea to allow him to receive instruction.  They arranged for John to go to the British Museum every day for practice and moved him to live at the manufactory to make his journey easier.  His work was inspected by the eminent artist Richard Westmacott who took John under his patronage.

John returned to Merthyr and earned his living as a house painter and glazier.  However he continued to paint portraits and landscapes and appears to have been well-known locally as an artist.  Examples of his work have survived including a portrait of William Moses which is inscribed: ’Drawn by John Williams, Deaf & Dumb 1814’.

It has been said that John was more talented than Penry Williams, his famous younger brother. Penry secured patronage to support his art training in London and he spent most of his career in Rome.  John died in Merthyr at the age of 51.

Our next post will look at the family of Asylum pupils Henry and Louisa Tattler from London.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Plan of the Asylum for the support and education of the Deaf and Dumb, situated in the Grange Road, Bermondsey (London, 1797)
List of the Governors and Officers of the Asylum for the support and education of the Deaf and Dumb Children of the Poor; with the rules ... and an introductory statement of the purposes of the institution (London, 1817)
List of the Governors and Officers of the Asylum for the support and education of the Deaf and Dumb Children of the Poor; with the rules ... and an introductory statement of the purposes of the institution (London,1821)
Joseph Watson, Instruction of the deaf and dumb; or, a theoretical and practical view of the means by which they are taught to speak and understand a language; containing hints for the correction of impediments in speech: together with a vocabulary illustrated by numerous copperplates, representing the most common objects necessary to be named by beginners, 2 vols (London, 1809-10)
Mary E. Kitzel., 'Creating a Deaf place: the development of the Asylum for Deaf and Dumb Poor Children in the early nineteenth century,' Journal of Cultural Geography (2017)
Derrick Pritchard Webley, Cast to the winds – the life and work of Penry Williams (1802-1885), (National Library of Wales, 1997)


22 August 2019

Are women more faithful than men? An Eighteenth-Century Couple Discuss the Differences between the Sexes

In two slim volumes of collected love letters recently catalogued by the British Library (Add MS 89402), a young couple in the mid-eighteenth century discuss their private lives, family news and, above all, their love for one another.  Written between 1758-1762, the couple’s initial correspondence display a certain caution and reveal the discreet nature of their courtship; but over time their letters become longer and more intimate, eventually detailing plans for their wedding.  Though purposefully kept anonymous, the correspondents have now been identified as Francis Smyth (1737-1809) and Mary Plumer (1741-1824).

Yet, whilst they were deeply in love, Mary and Francis did not always agree – especially when it came to the subject of male fidelity.

Cover of volume 2 of Francis Smyth and Mary Plumer’s love lettersCover of volume 2 of Francis Smyth and Mary Plumer’s love letters. Add MS 89402/2 Noc

In the spring of 1762, Francis and Mary discussed the differences between the sexes – particularly in relation to their faithfulness.  In a playful but sincere manner, the couple discussed the nature of courtship and cases of ‘jilting’, each mentioning friends who had sadly suffered heartbreak.  The exchange began after Francis detailed how a fellow student at Cambridge had been rejected by a woman who took a fancy to another man:
'I have much to tell you of my intimates in College, in the love way I have many stories but one I will tell you…a friend of mine has had a passion for a very pretty Lady for many years, & had the happiness of meeting with the kindest return to his Love. They had many meetings & were as much engaged to all appearance as two people could be…[but] about a week ago a new Lover offered, she accepted him, & discarded the old one without any concern, who is at present as unhappy as can be'.
    (Letter 25, F. Smyth to Mary Plumer, 31 March 1762)

Detail from a letter from Francis Smyth to Mary Plumer  31 March 1762Detail from a letter from Francis Smyth to Mary Plumer, 31 March 1762. Add MS 89402/2 Noc

Though sympathetic to this young man’s upset, Mary protested that men were more inclined to be “false” than women:
' I am sorry for your friend’s disappointment, & to hear that there are such Women in the world, but for one of our Sex that are false, there are thousands of yours'.
    (Letter 26, M. Plumer to F. Smyth, 2 April 1762)

Francis was dismayed by Mary’s generalisation about the unfaithfulness of men:
'I find we must still dispute! How could you blame the men as you do! to knock them down by thousands to one frail female is what I must resent!'
    (Letter 27, F. Smyth to Mary Plumer, 4 April 1762)

Yet Mary was unconvinced and remained sceptical:
'I find you are obliged to take up arms in defence of the thousand poor men I knocked down (as you term it) don’t you believe there are Male jilts as well as female? I cannot say I can complain of the inconstancy of your sex to myself…but I have felt for my friends…[and] I will have done with this disagreeable subject... '
    (Letter 28, M. Plumer to F. Smyth, 5 April 1762)

With that the matter ended.
  Detail from a letter from Mary Plumer to Francis Smyth  31 March 1762Detail from a letter from Mary Plumer to Francis Smyth, 31 March 1762. Add MS 89402/2 Noc

Despite having differences of opinion regarding the faithfulness of men, Mary and Francis remained loyal to each other and were married six months later at St. Martin’s in the Fields on 26 October 1762.

Their love letters can now be read in full at the British Library.

Violet Horlick
Kings College, London.

Further reading:
Sally Holloway, The Game of Love in Georgian England: Courtship, Emotions, and Material Culture (Oxford: OUP, 2019)


29 July 2019

Choice little dinners for July

Looking for ideas for summer evening meals?  Help is at hand!  Christina Helen Gwatkin began to compile recipe books during the 1880s when she was the newly-married wife of a Bengal Army officer.  She saved a newspaper cutting detailing ‘bills of fare for choice little dinners on three consecutive nights during July for six people’.

Dinner table laid for a mealImage taken from Isabella Mary Beeton, The Englishwoman’s Cookery Book (London, c.1870) British Library shelfmark 7949.de.26 Images Online Noc

On the first night –
• Clear oxtail soup
• Boiled salmon, sauce tartare, cucumber
• Lamb cutlets with peas
• Roast ducklings
• Cherry tart, cream
• Anchovy toast
• Cream cheese and Gorgonzola, handed with brown biscuits
• Dessert, strawberries and cherries

On the second night –
• Clear gravy soup with peas
• Salmon cutlets with piquant sauce
• Hashed duck
• Roast loin of lamb boned and stuffed, mint sauce, French beans, potatoes, purée of peas
• Fresh strawberry cream
• Apricot fritters
• Cheese fondue
• Watercress sandwiches
• Dessert, strawberries and melon

On the third night (if you still have an appetite for cooking or eating) –
• Giblet soup
• Fillets of sole à la maître d’hotel
• Rissoles of lamb
• Roast chicken with watercress, purée of haricot beans, potatoes, stewed vegetable marrow
• Currant and raspberry tart, whipped cream
• Cheese canapés
• Tomato salad
• Dessert, cherries and apricots

Mrs Gwatkin’s books include a wide variety of recipes, for example curries, chutneys, kofta balls, ragout of rabbit, gruel, a mould of pig’s feet, vinegar cake, gateau of prunes, and claret pudding, as well as cosmetic preparations such as carrot grease for the hair.  She also offers guidance on catering for 20 choir boys, 130 children on a school treat, and teas for Mothers’ Unions, Sunday Schools, and cricket.

Bon Appetit!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F664/1/3 Recipe books and press-cuttings 1883-1889 compiled by Christina Helen Gwatkin, wife of Frederick Stapleton Gwatkin, Bengal Army


Image from The Life of the Buddha

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