Untold lives blog

352 posts categorized "Domestic life"

19 May 2022

Hugh Danby – JMW Turner’s Phantom Son

According to his first biographer, Walter Thornbury, Turner had four illegitimate children, at least one of whom was a boy.  He provides no evidence for this, except for this piece of hearsay.
“‘I once,’ says a friend, ‘heard Mr Crabb Robinson (the friend of Wordsworth) casually mention a remark dropped by the late Miss Maria Denman, when the two were out for an excursion with Rogers (I think), and had put up at an inn in a village near London. ‘That’, said the lady, pointing to a youth who happened to pass, ‘is Turner's natural son.’”

Portrait of JMW Turner standing in his studio, with paintings, a palette of paints and brushes, and a propped umbrellaJ.M.W. Turner by Charles Turner, engraving published 1852 NPG D6997 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

In his 1938 book about Turner’s hidden life, Bernard Falk says that there were, in fact, only three children, two girls and a boy named Hugh; all the result of Turner’s relationship with Sarah Danby. Turner acknowledged his daughters, Evelina and Georgiana, but never made any mention of a son, which, if he had had one, would have been unusual, given Turner’s general attitude towards women.

So, who was Hugh Danby?  Falk suggests that he was seen from time to time helping Turner’s father 'Old Dad' at the Queen Anne Street studio but, although some of Turner’s friends reported seeing a girl who resembled him, I can find no mention of a boy.

Falk also says that Hugh’s name appears in the list of people who contested Turner’s will in 1852 but not in the list of benefactors when the will was finally settled in 1856, because he had died in the interim.  However, I can find no record of a Hugh Danby who died between those years nor of a Hugh amongst the family of Sarah Danby’s husband, John.

Interior of the Court of Chancery showing the law officials in black gowns and white wigs and the people appearing in court to give evidenceCourt of Chancery, Lincoln's Inn Hall, from Microcosm of London (1808-1810)

I think that the answer lies in the litigation documents for the original case in the Court of Chancery.  In the list of claimants, the only Danby I can find is Turner’s housekeeper, Hannah Danby, who is then mentioned in the final settlement as ‘since deceased’.  However, immediately preceding Hannah’s name is that of Turner’s executor, Hugh Andrew Johnston Munro.  I believe that someone transcribing the list, possibly for a newspaper report, elided the two names, thus creating Hugh Danby.  Again, some later reports just refer to H. Danby (since deceased), making it possible to assume, erroneously, that this refers to Hugh Danby.

List of cases relating to the will of Mr. Turner, R.A. showing the names of the parties involved - Hannah Danby is listed, but not Hugh DanbyList of cases relating to the will of Mr. Turner, R.A. showing the names of the parties involved - Return to an order of the House of Lords 11 July 1861

It is my strong belief that Hugh Danby never existed.

David Meaden
Independent Researcher

Further reading:
Bernard Falk, Turner the Painter: His Hidden Life (London 1938).
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).
Walter Thornbury, The Life of J.M.W. Turner R.A. founded on letters and papers furnished by his friends and fellow Academicians (London, 1862).
Documents for the case in the Court of Chancery are held at The National Archives

Turner’s restored house in Twickenham is open to visitors.

Turner's House

12 May 2022

The Cost of Living Crisis, Part 2: Inflation in 1800

The current struggles with inflation encompass some of the highest rises in living memory, but current rises pale in comparison to the exceptional case of the year 1800 where inflation reached a dizzying 36%.  This is the highest known figure in British history.

Satirical print  from 1800 entitled 'Hints to forestallers, or a sure way to reduce the price of grain!' , A fat 'forestaller' is dragged along (left to right) by a rope round his neck which is pulled by a chain of countrymen, to the cheers of a crowd.Satirical print from  1800 entitled ‘Hints to forestallers, or a sure way to reduce the price of grain!!’ British Museum number 1868,0808.6904 © The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

The explanation given for this incredible rise is that the twenty years of Napoleonic Wars had drained the country’s resources and an ever increasing demand provoked by the industrial revolution.  The economy struggled to supply ample arms, food and fuel to the Army and Navy, and shortages emerged across all sorts of everyday goods.  This drove up the price of clothing, beverages, candles, coal, animal meat, dairy and cereals, so that the common person dealt with rises across most of the items they would ever seek to purchase.  Such goods had been increasing in price for decades as an increase in population and a decrease in mortality rate meant an increase in demand.  Given the incredible rises, wages struggled to keep up, so how did the government analyse the situation at the time?

Extract from a letter written from the Office for Trade at Whitehall: ‘…a mob of people (I think mostly boys)…with a band of musick…shouting Bread! Bread!'Extract from a letter written from the Office for Trade at Whitehall: ‘…a mob of people (I think mostly boys)…with a band of musick…shouting Bread! Bread! Add MS 38234, f.155  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Correspondence to Earl of Liverpool from the Office for Trade offers an insight into the tension on the streets. The Office representative describes crowds of people at Bishopsgate protesting about the price of bread, gathering and shouting in the streets of London.


Further correspondence (below) to the Earl describes the mood of the country at large.

Extract from a letter dated London 23 October 1800 to Lord Liverpool - ‘The Present dreadful alarm spread with the uttermost industry…it spreads a spirit of discontent and inspires among the lower orders a shocking desire to mobbing, murder and plunder…the rising prices of the prices of the necessities of life…’Extract from a letter dated London 23 October 1800 to Lord Liverpool - ‘The Present dreadful alarm spread with the uttermost industry…it spreads a spirit of discontent and inspires among the lower orders a shocking desire to mobbing, murder and plunder…the rising prices of the prices of the necessities of life…’Add MS 38234, f.189.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

There are various pleas to control prices, both in the Liverpool Papers and in correspondence to Prime Minister William Pitt, the Younger, including pleas about the spiralling cost of meat and the price of salt needed for fisherman wishing to conserve fish. As well as petitions from various industries, one can also see an increasing ideological battle over the right course of economic actions. Two members of the House of Lords, Lord Buckingham and Lord Grenville, wrote to Pitt about the inflation crisis, warning the Prime Minister not to attempt to bring in legislation to reign in prices.

Lord Buckingham and Lord Grenville writing to Pitt about the inflation crisis: ‘We must [choose] between a free, unchecked and uncontrolled trade in grain flour and bread; or we must undertake to regulate it…which cannot exist in this country with its constitution, or its prosperity as a commercial people’.Lord Buckingham and Lord Grenville writing to Pitt about the inflation crisis: ‘We must [choose] between a free, unchecked and uncontrolled trade in grain flour and bread; or we must undertake to regulate it…which cannot exist in this country with its constitution, or its prosperity as a commercial people’, Add MS 89036/1/7, f.73.v.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In the letter above, Lord Buckingham states that the best that can be achieved is to ‘regulate a measure but which all grain and flour shall be sold’, but there should be no attempt to then control market prices.

Lord Grenville agrees and even provides some inspiration for his principles in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, which had been published 24 years earlier. Lord Grenville describes how he and Pitt were sceptical to the theory of the free-market, but ultimately came around to it.

Letter from Lord Grenville :‘I am confident that provisions like every other article of commerce, if left to themselves, will and must find their own level’.Letter from Lord Grenville :‘I am confident that provisions like every other article of commerce, if left to themselves, will and must find their own level’, Add MS 89036/1/7, f.85.v.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

With the government discussing the grander narratives of economics, the population had to push through the inflation crisis.  Output and growth were still up, and consequently many were making the profits needed to ride out the inflationary crisis.  Labour in the Northern cities central to industrial output actually saw real wages rise, as demand for labour was so high, but the average worker in London saw their real income fall.  This particular inflation crisis would be short and painful, as a massive fall in inflation in 1803 would see prices adjust, but such fluctuations would continue throughout the 19th century.

Jessica Gregory
Project Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

This blog post follows on from Part 1: The cost of living crisis - part 1: Bread in 1795 

Further Reading:
The Liverpool Papers: Add MS 38190-38489
Gilboy, Elizabeth W. 'The Cost of Living and Real Wages in Eighteenth Century England', The Review of Economics and Statistics, vol. 18, no. 3, 1936, pp. 134–43, 


10 May 2022

Grants of money made by the East India Company

In 1831 the East India Company was directed by its General Court of Proprietors to prepare a statement of expenditure since 1813 on grants of money and pensions.  This was to include grants over £200, pensions of £100 per annum and above, and all superannuation and retirement allowances, except those paid to civil and military personnel under Company regulations.  Names of recipients, amounts, and reasons were set down, and the list was printed for the information of the Company’s shareholders.

Title page of Grants of Money  Pensions  Superannuations  and Retiring Allowances made by the East India CompanyTitle page of Grants of Money Pensions Superannuations and Retiring Allowances made by the East India Company IOR/L/AG/9/8/2 no. 379  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

A wide range of European men and women received money for many different reasons, relating to activities both in Asia and in the UK.  Famous names appear.  Captain George Everest received £600 in 1830 for ‘the superior nature of his duties’ when employed on the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India.  Thomas Stamford Raffles was paid £315 in 1816 for expenses involved in publishing his History of Java.  Major General Henry Shrapnel was awarded a pension of £200 per annum in 1828 as a consideration for any future supplies to the Company of shells of his invention.

Clarke AbelClarke Abel. Lithograph by M. Gauci after P. W. Wilkin. Image courtesy of Wellcome Collection 363i.

At the top of the list of grants are two payments to surgeon and naturalist Dr Clarke Abel.  The first for £434 was made in 1818 as the value of the apparatus Abel lost in the wreck of the Alceste when returning from China with the Amherst embassy.  The second grant in 1823 for £500 was to provide equipment required for Abel’s research as a naturalist going to India with Lord Amherst.

First page of grants of money in the statementFirst page of grants of money in the statement  OR/L/AG/9/8/2 no. 379  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Further down the page are two more surgeons.  Dr Whitelaw Ainslie received £600 in 1816 for ‘the merit and utility’ of his book Materia Medica of Hindostan.  James Annesley of the Madras medical establishment was given £500 for ‘the talents, energy and zeal displayed by him, in the publication of an elaborate work on the diseases of India’.

The Abbé Dubois, a Roman Catholic missionary, received a pension of £100 per annum from 1824 for vaccinating patients in India and for his ‘high character’.

Captain Thomas Mackeson, formerly a commander in the Company’s mercantile marine, was awarded a pension of £200 per annum in 1814 for his services and a wound received from a Spaniard on board his ship.  According to the Madras Courier, Mackeson was visiting the sick on his ship the Sarah Christiana towards the end of 1809 when he was hit on the back of the head with a hatchet by a crew member.  A court martial was held in Madras in March 1810 and the man was sentenced to death.

In 1815 Lieutenant Colonel George Hanbury Pine was granted £600 for his long detention in France as a prisoner of war.

Widow Mary Ann Sawyer was granted a pension of £100 per annum in 1824 in recognition of her late husband’s service in sorting the Company’s cinnamon which ‘materially contributed to its advantageous sale’.

Royal Navy captains were given money for convoying Company ships.  Many entries concern distressed widows and children of Company men.  There are a number of pensions awarded to civil and military servants for ‘insanity’.  London employees were rewarded for long service when they retired: auditor William Wright was allocated a pension of £1800 per annum in 1825 after 54 years with the Company.

This is just a small selection from a 41-page document providing fascinating glimpses into lives which were intertwined with the East India Company.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/AG/9/8/2 no. 379 Grants of Money, Pensions, Superannuations, and Retiring Allowances made by the East India Company (Printed in London 1831).
British Newspaper Archive: Madras Courier 20 December 1809 and 27 March 1810.

28 April 2022

The Soldiers’ Daughters’ Home

In December 1880 thirteen-year-old Ada Rose Mills was removed from the Soldiers' Daughters' Home at Hampstead because she had started to suffer from frequent epileptic fits.  Girls applying for a place at the Home underwent a medical examination and only those judged to be in good physical and mental health were accepted.  If, after admission, a girl was found be afflicted with ‘a malignant, infectious, or incurable disorder’, ‘any bodily or mental defect’, or subject to fits, she was returned immediately to those who recommended or placed her in the Home.  Poor Ada Rose was sent to her widowed mother in Ireland.

Soldiers' Daughters' Home at Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead in 1858Soldiers' Daughters' Home at Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead Illustrated London News 19 June 1858 . Image copyright Illustrated London News Group - British Newspaper Archive

The Soldiers' Daughters' Home at Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead was founded in 1855.  Its object was ‘to nurse, clothe, board, and educate the destitute female children, orphans or not, of Soldiers in Her Majesty’s Army, born during the service, or subsequent to the honourable discharge, of the father’.  The Home aimed to instruct the girls in ‘industrial habits’ fitting them for domestic service.  Scholarships were granted to the ‘most industrious’ to support them whilst training as regimental or parish schoolmistresses.

There were two classes of admission: by election with places supported by the Foundation, and by payment of fees.  This was the order of preference for admission when destitution was proved:
• Total orphans
• Motherless daughters of soldiers
• Fatherless daughters of soldiers
• Girls whose parents were still alive, with the father on active or foreign service.
Two sisters could not attend at the same time unless there were exceptional circumstances.

Girls were taken in from under three years of age up to thirteen, and they could not remain after they reached sixteen.  The Home’s Committee tried to find a suitable situation for each girl, and presented her with an outfit including a Bible and prayer book.  Ex-pupils were considered to be under partial guardianship whilst they remained unmarried and they could return to live at the Home temporarily if seeking a job.

Ada Rose Mills entered the Soldiers' Daughters' Home on 14 June 1877 as a scholar paid for by the Secretary of State for India.  She was born in Bangalore on 21 June 1867, the daughter of Sergeant William Mills of the Madras Sappers and Miners and his wife Annie née Hopkins.  Five siblings were also born in India.

William Mills died of a brain tumour at Secunderabad on 5 September 1873.  His widow Annie was living in Dublin when her son Archibald George enlisted in the Royal Engineers in July 1879 aged fourteen.  He had previously attended the Royal Military Asylum Chelsea for nearly three years as an apprentice.  Annie later moved to Gosport in Hampshire.

The India Office gave Annie Mills payments amounting to £32 0s 6d to support her daughter after she left the Soldiers' Daughters' Home.  Sadly Ada Rose died on 16 February 1885 aged seventeen and her mother was paid £4 for her funeral expenses.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
India Office Records IOR/L/MIL/7/15824-15836 Soldiers' Daughters' Home 1869-1902, includes IOR/L/MIL/7/15833 Admission of Ada Rose Mills in place of Emily Godden and Isabella Hamilton, 1876-1877;  IOR/L/MIL/7/15834 Death of Ada Rose Mills, an inmate of the Soldiers' Daughters' Home, 1881-1889 – the file includes a copy of the rules for the Home dated 1878.
Baptism 14 August 1867 of Ada Rose Mills IOR/N/2/48 f.158, and burial 6 September 1873 of William Mills IOR/N/2/54 f. 157, plus other entries from church records for the family – available via Findmypast.
Record of service for Archibald George Mills The National Archives WO 97/3471 no. 28 - available via Findmypast.


19 April 2022

The cost of living crisis - part 1: Bread in 1795

At the end of the 18th century, a succession of bad harvests severely depleted the national crop of wheat.  The harvest of 1795 in particular resulted in chronic shortages.  On top of this, the geopolitical landscape of Europe had been turned upside down by the French Revolution and the subsequent wars with the French Republic altering trade and commerce across the continent.  The combination of these pressures was a doubling of the price of bread among ordinary civilians.  Counties around Britain appealed to the Privy Council for supplies of wheat to aid their populations as people in towns felt the effect.  A number of bread riots broke out across the country as people went hungry.  Burial figures from these years show a marked increase in 1795, implying a rise in death rate.

Document entitled ‘Thoughts in Consequence of the Present High Price of Grain’ ‘Thoughts in Consequence of the Present High Price of Grain’, Add MS 38353, f.208. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Faced with increasing discontent and instability the government had to do something to address the crisis.  There was an effort to import more grain from the Quebec and the Baltic, but there were plans forged at home as well.  Records in the Liverpool Papers show how the government were concerned that big farms were benefitting from the shortage by selling their wheat at over-opulent prices.  There were suggestions of limiting the control that the big farms had over price at the markets, but little action was taken on big producers’ profits.

Instead, attention turned to stretching supply.  Members of Parliament debated a motion to force millers to not strip the bran from their flour, so supplies might go further.  Millers were a popular focus of anger during the crisis.  They were often accused of mixing in other substances into flour in order to stretch their profits, so by forcing millers to change their product from the popular white bread to an unpopular whole-wheat bread, the government hoped some of the public’s ire would be redirected to them.

Document suggesting a plan 'to force the miller to dress his flour coarser than at present’ ‘…to force the miller to dress his flour coarser than at present’, Add MS 38353, f.280.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Advice given to the government at the time shows that given there was least some bran in loaves of bread already it was unlikely that the public would notice too much change.  However, the author of the report stipulates that in his opinion the bran probably offers ‘no nourishment to the human stomach’.

Report suggesting that bran probably offers ‘no nourishment to the human stomach’Report suggesting that bran probably offers ‘no nourishment to the human stomach’, Add MS 38353, f.290. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Another suggested course of action was the mixing of grains; unlike wheat, harvests of barley, rye, oats and peas had done well.  Suggestions were made for bakers to mix grains and create new loaves of bread for sale, but again this divergence from the white loaf was unpopular.

Recipe for wheat boiled in milk as a substitute meal instead of breadRecipe for wheat boiled in milk as a substitute meal instead of bread Add MS 38377, f.116.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

When these plans were put in action it was the poorest segment of the population that would be consuming these altered loaves.  The richer demographics could choose to avoid wheaten bread altogether as they could easily exchange it for other sources of food.

The bread crisis would ease a little with a successful domestic harvest in 1796, however prices would continue fluctuate wildly over the end of the 18th century bringing continued hardship to those who relied on bread for many years to come.

Jessica Gregory
Project Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
The Liverpool Papers: Add MS 38190-38489
Stern, Walter M. 'The Bread Crisis in Britain, 1795-96', Economica, vol. 31, no. 122, 1964, pp. 168–87.


Food Season 2022

British Library Food Season


14 April 2022

Mary Marshall – JMW Turner’s Mother

Mary Marshall was born into a prosperous family of butchers and shopkeepers.  She was baptised at St Mary’s Islington on 13 November 1735.  She married William Turner, a barber and wigmaker, at St Paul’s Covent Garden, on 29 August 1773.  Turner was newly arrived from Devon and eager to establish himself.  When he applied for the marriage licence William declared his age as 28 and Mary’s as only 34, perhaps indicating someone‘s embarrassment at her being about ten years older than her husband to be. 

West front of St Paul's Covent GardenThe west front of St Paul’s Covent Garden by Edward Rooker (1766) British Library Maps K.Top.24.1.a. BL flickrPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

Mary’s younger brother had moved to the thriving west London community of New Brentford to become a butcher.  His name was Joseph Mallord William Marshall and when Mary gave birth to a son in 1775, he was given the names Joseph Mallord William Turner, possibly with an eye to inheritance.  A daughter, Mary Ann, was born in 1778.

There is very little reliable evidence of Mary Turner’s appearance or personality. Turner's first biographer, Walter Thornbury, built his picture of her around the supposed existence of an unfinished portrait by her son, ‘one of his first attempts’.  Thornbury writes: ‘There was a strong likeness to Turner about the nose and eyes; her eyes being represented as blue, of a lighter hue than her son's; her nose aquiline, and the nether lip having a slight fall.  Her hair was well frizzed . . . and it was surmounted by a cap with large flappers.  Her posture therein was erect, and her aspect masculine, not to say fierce.’   No-one has, as yet, been able to trace this portrait and Thornbury had not seen it himself.

There does, however, exist a sketch in one of Turner’s notebooks that has been widely believed to be of his mother.  Intriguingly, the recent scanning of Turner’s painting 'Mountain Scene With Castle, Probably Martigny', has revealed two previously unknown portraits, one of which might be of his mother. 

Thornbury described Mary Turner as ‘a person of ungovernable temper’.  Her fragile mental health deteriorated, probably exacerbated by the death of her daughter, Mary Ann, just before her fifth birthday in 1783.  When the situation at home became difficult, Turner was sent at the age of ten to live with his uncle, Joseph Marshall, in Brentford.

Although his parents’ unhappy marriage may have contributed to Turner’s negative view of that institution, there is evidence that Mary supported her son’s artistic ambitions and promoted his work amongst her friends and neighbours in Covent Garden.

In 1799 Mary Turner was admitted to St Luke’s Hospital, a public mental health asylum in Old Street.  Turner, by this time a successful and prosperous artist, has been criticised for not paying for private care.  However, St Luke’s was a highly respected establishment with specialist provision and Turner probably had to use his influential connections to get his mother admitted.   She remained in St Luke’s until December 1800, when she was discharged as incurable.

Hospitals - St Luke's and Bethlem WellcomeSt. Luke's and Bethlem Hospitals in Moorfields. Engraving by J. Peltro. Wellcome Library no. 26125i

Once again, Turner’s friends pulled strings and Mary was transferred to the Bethlem Hospital in nearby Moorfields (‘Bedlam’), now, surprisingly, described as curable.  On Boxing Day 1801, she was discharged uncured but within a week Turner managed to get her readmitted to the incurable ward, where she remained until her death on 15 April 1804.  Her name was later included on her husband’s memorial plaque in St Paul’s Covent Garden.

Turner memorialThe memorial to Turner’s parents in St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden - photograph by the author Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

David Meaden
Independent Researcher

Further reading:
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).
Walter Thornbury, The Life of J.M.W. Turner R.A. founded on letters and papers furnished by his friends and fellow Academicians, Volume 2 (London, 1862).
Records of patients at Bethlem Hospital  are available via Findmypast.
Explore Archives and Manuscripts for papers at the British Library relating to JMW Turner.

“Old Dad” – Turner and Son in Twickenham

Turner's House logoTurner’s restored house in Twickenham is open to visitors.


05 April 2022

The Bookbinders’ Provident Asylum

The foundation stone of this building in London’s Balls Pond Road was inscribed; ‘Bookbinders’ Provident Asylum, established A.D. 1839, erected 1843’.  It was funded thanks to The Bookbinders' Pension and Asylum Society (created in 1830); its aim to ‘provide a weekly pension of 6s. to 12s. and an asylum for aged and incapacitated members and their widows; also for females who have worked at the business for at least ten years’.

Bookbinders’ Provident Asylum - black and white drawing of outside of building.Bookbinders’ Provident Asylum from Illustrated London News 8 July 1843 British Newspaper Archive

Many 19th century London workers were only a step away from the breadline and a misfortune like illness or losing one’s job meant destitution, imprisonment for debt or being dispatched to the workhouse.  It is no wonder that bookbinders banded together to help people in their trade who could no longer look after themselves.  Their fund raising work attracted interest in the newspapers, including this column in The Planet.

Bookbinders Asylum  - Planet 1 Nov 1840Report of meeting of the Bookbinders’ Provident Asylum Society from The Planet 1 November 1840 British Newspaper Archive

Money-raising activities included dinners, theatrical performances, outings, and securing donations.  The latter came from a surprising variety of patrons, from Prince Albert (£25) to a miser resident in Hoxton who left the majority of his estate (£900) to the Asylum.

Unusually, we can see the faces of two early residents, James England (b.1797) (who appears in the newspaper cutting above) and Richard Stagg (b.1791).

James England

Richard Stagg

Photographs of James England and Richard Stagg from The British Bookmaker Vol. 4, no. 38  p.16 (August 1890) and Vol. 4 , no. 42  p.17 (December 1890)

By the early 20th century it had become impossible maintain the asylum in its existing set up.  The land, which had been located on the outskirts of the capital, now occupied a prime situation.  The asylum closed in 1927 and a new establishment, called The Bookbinders’ Cottages, was built in Whetstone.  It consisted of seven semi-detached two-storey blocks, each containing two dwellings.  Subsequently, the foundation was modernised and is now owned by the Book Trade Charity.

P J M Marks
Curator, Bookbindings

Further reading;
Lost Hospitals of London 
Herbert Fry's Royal Guide to the London Charities – the quote about the purpose of the Society is taken from the 1917 edition p.22 
The British Bookmaker - a journal which recorded the history of the bookbinding trade societies.
British Newspaper Archive also via Findmypast


28 February 2022

John Sanderson’s horrible housemates

The Levant Company clerk John Sanderson had arrived in Istanbul on 12 March 1592.  However, something had changed in the behaviours and manners of the English residents since his first being there.  Sanderson wrote that there had been a ‘great alteration; frome serving God devoutly and drinking puer water, nowe to badness stoutly and much wine (the witts hater).’  In Sanderson’s absence the embassy had been taken over by Edward Barton and Sanderson now had to decide whether to move in with him.  Despite his reservations, the benefits – and probably also savings– were too great to forego Barton’s offer.

Sanderson_title pageTitle page of John Sanderson's commonplace book British Library Lansdowne MS 241 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Born in 1560 John Sanderson is a rare example of an early modern man of trade who wrote a record of his life.  His miscellaneous commonplace book is held in the British Library manuscript collection (BL Lansdowne MS 241).  His short ‘autobiography’, entitled by its author ‘a record of the birthe and fortunes of John Sanderson, alias Bedic’, noted down not only Sanderson’s illnesses, fortunes and misfortunes, but also and very keenly, his many judgments (‘censures’) about other people.  And there were loads of them.

Reading Sanderson’s account, anyone who has ever been stuck in a riotous house-share with horrible house-mates will soon start to feel sympathy.  Sanderson claims that the ambassador Barton ‘vexed me to my very soule,’ although his foremost adversary seems to have been William Aldrich, who Sanderson claims to have ‘stealingly’ struck him.  After Sanderson struck him back the ambassador Barton himself ‘laid his fists one my face for so doinge, and confined me to my chamber.’  After all these fisticuffs Barton sent a stern letter to Sanderson’s room, threatening to deport him back home to England.  After the altercation Aldrich refused to dine in the same table with Sanderson and complained that he ‘outlooked him'.  Ill-will continued for some time, although the ambassador eventually tried to make amends by gifting Sanderson ‘a redd velvett goune wch the Gran Sigr had vested him with before he kiste his hand'.  Additional proof of this reconciliation was that Sanderson later acted as the ambassador’s deputy when Barton famously, and somewhat notoriously, accompanied the Ottoman sultan Mehmet III to his wars in Hungary.  However, the scuffles continued between Sanderson, Aldrich, and the steward of the house.

Based on his writings, Sanderson was a keen observer of the faults of other people.  He listed all the names or sometimes the initials of his ‘frenemies’, saying that ‘many other agreevances and discontents passed whilst I was ther, in comp of Bushell, Aldrich, Mons, Wragg, Rivers, Babington’...  The animosities between Sanderson and the two Aldrich brothers, William and Jonas, were explained by the different ‘conditions and qualities’ of the men, whereas the differences between Sanderson and Barton were probably due to breaching social hierarchies and trying to police Barton’s behaviour too much (possibly due to toxic masculine bravado).  Sanderson gave all these men derogatory nicknames ranging from ‘wicked athiesticall knave’ to ‘poysoner’ and ‘whoremonger’ and continued to record their deaths with no small amount of glee.

The selected texts from this old ledger volume bought by Sanderson’s father were edited by William Foster, the then president of the Hakluyt Society and published in 1931.  You can find this fascinating manuscript as part of the Lansdowne collection.

Dr Eva Johanna Holmberg
Academy Research Fellow, Department of Philosophy, History, and Art Studies, University of Helsinki

Further reading:
British Library Lansdowne MS 241.
The Travels of John Sanderson in the Levant 1584-1602. Ed. by William Foster. Hakluyt Society 2nd Series ; No 67. London: Hakluyt Society, 1931.
Eva Johanna Holmberg, ‘‘Passages recollected by memory’: Remembering the Levant Company in seventeenth-century merchants’ life writing’, in Trading Companies and Travel Knowledge in the Early Modern World. Routledge, 2021. p. 211-239 (Hakluyt Society Studies in the History of Travel; Vol. 1).

This blog post is the second in a collaborative series with Medieval and Early Modern Orients (MEMOs).  On the last Monday of every month, both Untold Lives and MEMOs' own blog will feature a post written by a member of the MEMOs team, showcasing their research in the British Library collections.  Follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #BLMEMOS.

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