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65 posts categorized "Innovation"

29 June 2023

Harvey's pneumatic dusting machine at the India Office Library

In August 1904 the India Office Library in London took delivery of a pneumatic dusting machine from Charles J Harvey of Kidderminster.  Thomas Walker Arnold, Assistant Librarian, urged the Clerk of the Works to sanction the purchase of Harvey's machine in time for the cleaning of the Library scheduled to begin on 1 September.

Harvey's pneumatic dusting machineHarvey's pneumatic dusting machine from Frank James Burgoyne, Library Construction, Architecture, Fittings, and Furniture, Volume 2 (London, 1897)

Arnold put forward three points in support of the purchase.
• The machine would prevent the enormous amount of damage being done to the bindings of books by the cleaners and messengers banging the books together to get the dust off.  The annual bill for binding was ‘considerably swollen’ because of this.
• The ordinary method of dusting with a cloth caused coal dust to be smeared over the bindings and made the books impossible to clean properly afterwards.  The dusting machine used suction and would prevent vellum and other light-coloured bindings from being spoiled.
• The machine would allow for the removal of dust and dirt from the shelves.  Current cleaning methods merely transferred the dust from one part of a room to another as very little dirt was carried away in the dusting cloths.

In September, the purchase of the pneumatic dusting machine was agreed at a cost of £6 6s less a 5% discount.

Charles J Harvey had registered the patent for the dusting machine.  His notepaper shows his address for telegrams as ‘Inventions, Kidderminster’.  The machine removed loose dust by suction and sent it to a calico bag.  A lever worked the bellows (labelled E on the drawing above).  Air suction was created at a nozzle (A) and a flexible tube was fitted to this. Differently shaped cleaners or brushes could be attached to the other end of the tube depending on the surface to be dusted – table tops, shelves, the tops of books.

The India Office Library was not alone in its concern about dusting large numbers of books.  In 1901 the librarian of Aberdeen University wrote a report on the systematic dusting of books, having corresponded with several of the older libraries in Britain.  Some  librarians believed that cleaning could do more harm than good, especially to old and fragile bindings.

The British Museum had a staff of twelve employed entirely with dusting books.  It took two years to complete a circuit.  Each book was brushed with a damp cloth and then wiped with a dry cloth.

The Bodleian Library at Oxford employed a special staff of six men once a year to dust the books most exposed to dust.  It had used pneumatic dusting machines but found they offered no advantage.

At Trinity College Dublin one man dusted books continually, with a tour of the library taking a couple of years.  A pneumatic brush had been tried there but something stronger and more durable was needed for a collection of 250,000 volumes.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/SUR/6/11/12 Purchase of a pneumatic dusting machine for the India Office Library.
Frank James Burgoyne, Library Construction, Architecture, Fittings, and Furniture, Volume 2 (London, 1897).
The Aberdeen Daily Journal 20 December 1901  - British Newspaper Archive also via Findmypast.

 

20 June 2023

Charles Tuckett junior - bookbinder, inventor, author, researcher and … bankrupt

What did one have to do to succeed in Victorian London?  On the evidence of the life of bookbinder Charles Tuckett junior, versatility, luck, talent, intellect and an engaging personality were not enough.  Despite publications and patents to his name and esteem from both his British Museum Library colleagues and his trade society (the Bookbinders’ Pension Society), Charles died in 1875 at the age of 54 after a long illness, bankrupt, with his teenaged son Frederick as chief mourner.  However the Hampstead and Highgate Express emphasised that ‘affectionate respect was sincerely and mournfully given’.  Many important figures attended the funeral.

A bookbinding workshop in Victorian LondonA bookbinding workshop in Victorian London from A Description of Westleys & Clark's Bookbinding Establishment, 1845

The Tuckett family comprised father Charles, sons Charles, Robert Daniel and John.   The surname was synonymous with bookbinding; notably at the British Museum, and at their own business nearby in Bloomsbury.  They were also official binders to the Queen and Prince Albert.  Charles Tuckett senior managed the Museum workshop for 40 years and Charles junior worked there too.

Plate from Tuckett's Specimens of Ancient and Modern Bookbinding showing the cover of Il Petrarcha published in Venice  1521Plate 3 of Specimens of Ancient and Modern Bookbinding showing the cover of Il Petrarcha (Venice, 1521). 

Photograph from British Library’s database of bookbindings of Il Petrarcha  published in Venice  1521Photograph from the British Library’s database of bookbindings on the same book, Il Petrarcha (Venice, 1521)

Charles junior was devoted to raising the profile of books and bookbinding.  In 1846, he published a book titled Specimens of Ancient and Modern Bookbinding Selected chiefly from the Library of the British Museum.  He subsequently organised displays at locations which would attract the interest of influential members of society, for example the Society of Arts.  Tuckett’s book reviewers encouraged him to extend his study of bindings by issuing more volumes, including a wider range of styles, but it was not to be.

Review of Tuckett’s Specimens of Ancient and Modern Bookbindings from The Bookseller 26 April 1861Review of Tuckett’s Specimens of Ancient and Modern Bookbindings from The Bookseller 26 April 1861, p. 213.

Charles junior’s interests were wide ranging, though books were central to his concerns.  He was keen on practical experimentation.  His 1860 patent recorded ‘an improved method of ornamenting book covers, which is also applicable to other purposes’ received much publicity in the newspapers.  It incorporated a new way of adding or changing colour on the surface of leather.

Detailed account from Tuckett’s new dye process patent 1860Detailed account from Tuckett’s new dye process patent, No. 2408 of 5 October 1860.

The year 1865 proved to be a turning point in the fortunes of the Tucketts.  There was a serious workshop fire in the Museum.  Tuckett senior was held responsible and dismissed.  The capable Tuckett junior assumed his father’s post of Museum Binder.  He oversaw a team of experienced binders including Stephen Would and Joseph Darby.

The Trustees and the august and knowledgeable Keepers of printed books and manuscripts relied upon Tuckett to preserve their fragile collections, maintain the workforce and balance the budget.  Additional stress and calls upon his time were caused by the family business as well as his other occupations.  The 1871 census, lists Tuckett as the supervisor of 55 men, three boys, and fifteen women.  His family home was at 7 Maitland Park Villas, Haverstock Hill, an up and coming area.  A household of his second wife, seven children under the age of thirteen and five servants must have been extremely expensive to maintain.

Perhaps Tuckett over-extended himself: the London Gazette recorded his bankruptcy under an act of 1869.  After years of ill health, which may have impacted severely on his work output, Tuckett died in October 1875.  He predeceased his father, who died five months later in March 1876.

P.J.M. Marks
Printed Historical Collections.

Further reading
Tuckett (C. , Junior ) Specimens of Ancient and Modern Bookbinding. Selected chiefly from the Library of the British Museum . (London , 1846)
The American Bookmaker (August 1894).

 

01 June 2023

Sir Stafford Northcote’s voyage down the new Suez Canal

A travel journal of the British politician Stafford Northcote includes a first-hand account of the opening of the Suez Canal.

Oil painting of Sir Stafford Henry NorthcoteSir Stafford Henry Northcote, 1st Earl of Iddesleigh, by Edwin Longsden Long (1882) NPG 2944 © National Portrait Gallery, London  National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

On 17 November 1869, the Suez Canal was opened for the first time and Sir Stafford Northcote, Earl of Iddesleigh and former Secretary of State for India, travelled to Port Said for the inaugural voyage.  Aboard Sir George Stucley’s yacht, the Deerhound, Northcote joined the procession down the new canal on the eighteenth vessel.

Steamships passing through the Suez CanalSteamships passing through the Suez Canal from Cassell's History of the War in the Soudan (London, 1885) BL flickr

The opening was attended by the great and the good, including the Emperor of Austria and Queen of Holland.  Following the opening ceremony, the evening of 16 November closed with a display of ‘illuminations’ and the dawn of 17 November began with a 21-gun salute!

However, the procession did not go completely to plan.  The captains navigating the new canal were short of experienced pilots to guide them.  The Deerhound soon received news that a vessel had run aground ahead.  This put them in ‘a ticklish position, sometimes drifting on to the bank, sometimes bashing’ into the ship in front.  Fortunately they were able to steer past several grounded vessels, and only briefly ‘stuck in the mud’ themselves.

On reaching Lake Timsah, the guests saw ‘a large building has been erected for a state ball, capable of accommodating 2000 or 3000 persons properly’ near the shore.  The Viceroy of Egypt had also summoned ‘a host of arab chiefs from Upper Egypt to come and encamp on the long sandy beach’.  Northcote praised the camp, calling it ‘by far the most interesting part of the sights which have been provided for us’.

In the evening, Northcote went ashore to attend the reception in the temporary ballroom.  He did not stay long, but took the opportunity to visit ‘the supper room and got some excellent ices, and dates, sugarplums, biscuits and very fair champagne at the buffet’.

Map of the Suez CanalMap of the Suez Canal from Lucien Lanier, L'Afrique (Paris, 1899) BL flickr

But the aim of the trip was not champagne and dancing.  On reaching Port Said, Northcote wondered at the luck of Egypt, now able to ‘boast the possession at once of the oldest and the newest of the great works of man’.  And on completing his voyage he began to consider the economic impact of this new trade route:
‘What the effect of the canal may be upon commerce it is too early to speculate.  Will Marseilles and Lyons fair so much by the abbreviation of the route to India as to cut out Liverpool and Manchester?  Or shall we build vessels which will run through from England to Bombay?’

Cover of Stafford Norhtcote's travel journalCover of Northcote's travel journal – photograph by Matthew Waters

Northcote’s voyage from Falmouth to Egypt to see the new canal and back again was recorded in his travel journal which is now available to view at the British Library (Add MS 89674/1).  This volume also includes a record of a second trip around the Mediterranean in 1882.  It is accompanied by a second diary (Add MS 89674/2) covering two journeys to North America in 1870 and in 1871.

Matthew Waters
Manuscripts Cataloguer

Further Reading:
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – Northcote, Stafford Henry, first Earl of Iddesleigh
Add MS 89674/1 - Journal of Stafford Northcote recording trips to Egypt and around the Mediterranean
Opening of the Suez Canal

 

22 March 2023

Patent Preserved Potato

Edwards’ Patent Preserved Potato was the 19th-century equivalent of Smash.  An advert from 1857 claimed that ‘This economical and pure Vegetable keeps good in all Climates, and is a preventative of Scurvy from the use of Salt Provisions’.  A dish of mashed potatoes could be cooked in a few minutes at a cost of less than ½d per 8oz ration.  The product also took up far fewer cubic feet than fresh potatoes.

Preserved potato advert from Nautical Magazine July 1857Advertisement for Edwards’ Patent Preserved Potato, Nautical Magazine July 1857

Patent Preserved Potato had been used for many years by the Royal Navy, HM Emigration Commissioners, Greenwich Hospital, merchant shipping, and the East India Company.  In 1841 the East India Company put a small quantity of Edwards’ Patent Preserved Potato on board three ships, Seringapatam, Northumberland, and Reliance, as an experiment for feeding troops on the outward voyage to India.

Surgeon F Chapman who was in medical charge of the troops on the Seringapatam reported that the potato had been fed to the troops twice a week.  Chapman was enthusiastic about the potatoes, saying that he could ‘without hesitation speak of them in the most favourable terms, believing them to be highly nutritious and conducive to health and nearly if not quite as good as the fresh vegetable’.

The Medical Board at Fort William Calcutta also tested the dried potato. They thought the flavour ‘somewhat inferior’ to fresh potatoes but conceded that might have been caused by the sample coming from a cask which had been open for a long time, causing the contents to deteriorate.  On the whole, the Board considered the product would be a useful article of diet in situations where fresh potatoes could not be obtained.

Preserved Potato was fed to British troops in the Crimea.  The Times’ correspondent there said it was ‘too good to last’ and new supplies were awaited.

Professor of Chemistry, Dr Andrew Ure, provided an analysis of the nutritional value of the Preserved Potato – starch, ‘fibrine of demulcent antiscorbutic quality’, vegetable albumine, and lubricating gum.  It was nearly as nutritious as wheat flour and more nutritious than peas, beans, sago, or arrowroot.

Purchasers were warned to ensure that they procured the genuine article which had brass labels and red cases marked with the name of the sole manufacturers: F King & Son, late Edwards & Co.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/4/766 pp.125-127 Letter concerning the testing of Edwards’ Patent Preserved Potato on board ships, May 1841.
IOR/F/4/1987/87952 Report from the Medical Board on Edwards’ patent preserved potato, put on board the ship Seringapatam as an experiment for the use of the troops, 1841-1842.

 

15 November 2022

Star Baker or Avid Taste-Tester? – Exploring Evanion’s 19th-century baking ephemera collection

Henry Evanion, born 1832 in Vauxhall, London, was a 19th-century conjuror and entertainer.  Evanion’s career began aged just 17 and throughout his life, Evanion performed across the country in small towns, entertained royalty in private performances and had a successful run at the Crystal Palace in London.  Evanion was also an avid collector of paper ephemera from an early age and amassed thousands of items during his lifetime.  The Evanion Collection represents his widespread interests, with themes including local politics, Victorian entertainment and miscellaneous advertisements for products related to everyday household life.

Are you a star baker?
Bakers in the 19th century were spoilt for choice thanks to an increase in products available for home-baking and the enduring popularity of cookery books like Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1859-1861).

In the Victorian period, the development of new ingredients meant that bakers could make quicker and cheaper puddings.  One Victorian invention was self-raising flour, which was first introduced in 1845.  By the 1880s, it had become a baking essential for households with an 1885 advert from McDougall’s (Evan.6234.), claiming that the flour was for ‘everyday use’ and that it could help to ‘avoid indigestion’.

An advertisement for McDougall’s patent self raising flour, with a boy in a chef's hat holding a large pie in a dishAn advertisement for McDougall’s patent self raising flour (c.1885). Evan.6234

A second revolutionary development was egg powder, a cheaper alternative to using eggs in baking.  An advert from 1885 (Evan.4244.) for Freeman’s egg powder shows a  young woman surrounded by the bakes she’s made using the product.  The advert claims that Freeman’s is the ‘largest sale in the world’ and can be used for cakes, pancakes, plum puddings and Yorkshire puddings.

Advertisement card for Freeman’s Digestive Egg Powder.  A young woman, holding a packet of Freeman's egg powder in each hand, stands behind a table on which is displayed a range of cakes and puddings, made from the product.Advertisement card for Freeman’s Digestive Egg Powder (1885) Evan.4244.

Revolutionising Puddings?
An advertisement for Freeman’s Pudding Powder from 1886 (Evan.6504.) offered an alternative for those unable to find the ingredients to make a pudding.  The notice, titled ‘So Glad I Saw This’ tells the story of a woman who asked her friend for the recipe to make a pudding and was surprised to find that the pudding was a powder mix with added milk and sugar.

An advertisement for Freeman’s Delicious Pudding Powder, with a judge taste-testing the pudding with the caption ‘delivering judgement – delicious’An advertisement for Freeman’s Delicious Pudding Powder (1885) Evan.6228

This advert for the mix from 1885 (Evan.6228.) offers to send ladies one of each flavour (almond, lemon, vanilla, peach, chocolate and nectarine) for free by post for 12 stamps.  The witty advert features an image of a judge taste-testing the pudding with the caption ‘delivering judgement – delicious’.  Pudding mixes like Freeman’s revolutionised Victorian desserts because they were a cheaper and quicker alternative to traditional puddings which were labour-intensive and required lots of ingredients.

Next time you are baking a cake, watching a cookery programme or buying a sweet treat from a local bakery, think about the variety of ingredients available today and the ease of opening a tin or using a packet mix to speed up the process. These developments came from 19th-century products like the ones featured here. You can explore more 19th-century baking material via the Evanion catalogue online.

Amy Solomons
PhD Placement Student, Heritage Made Digital

Further Reading
Andrea Broomfield, Food and Cooking in Victorian England, A History (Praeger Publishers: Santa Barbara, 2007).
James Hagy, Early English Conjuring Collectors, James Savren and Henry Evanion (Shaker Heights: Ohio, 1985).
Elizabeth Harland, ‘The Evanion Collection’, The British Library Journal, vol. 13, no. 1 (Spring 1987), pp. 64- 700.

 

29 September 2022

The HCLF, chatbots and balancing cats

What links chatbots with balancing cats? The Human-Computer Learning Foundation (HCLF) was founded in 1994, by computer scientist Donald Michie; psychologist Jean Hayes Michie; and television producer Rupert Macnee (son of Patrick Macnee, star of the 1960s TV show The Avengers). The HCLF was a charitable trust created for the purposes of furthering for the public benefit 'the awareness, understanding, and use of human-computer learning and artificial intelligence'.

Photograph of Donald Michie and Jean HayesDonald Michie and Jean Hayes (Add MS 88958/5/4), reproduced with permission of the estate of Donald Michie

The HCLF defined human-computer learning to mean "that the human and computer partners both learn from each other as they go along, exchanging partly formed concepts while each assisting the other to bring nascent ideas and conceptualisation to levels difficult for either to attain alone".

The administrative papers of the HCLF were collected over the life of the organisation by Rupert Macnee, and donated to the British Library in 2020. Rupert served as secretary for the HCLF from its inception. The archive includes registration and legal documents, correspondence, accounts, meeting minutes and articles. Many are printed on the back of documents relating to Macnee's work as a television producer.

Letter regarding the charitable status of the proposed HCLFLetter regarding the charitable status of the proposed HCLF, Add MS 89496/2. Reproduced with permission of Rupert Macnee and the estate of Donald Michie.

The HCLF felt that technology and the internet's rapid development was causing people to be left behind, creating a gap in skills required to obtain jobs. The papers trace how the HCLF began developing downloadable computer games designed to build the user's perceptual and motor skills, whilst simultaneously developing the knowledge base available to the computer. One of these games involved a pole-balancing 'polecat'. An idea to try and incorporate the popular Japanese manga and cartoon chat character Doraemon to boost sales in Japan was suggested, but after actually seeing the character's appearance they deemed his design to be too round for their requirements. Some skills could be learnt using a voice instruction system developed by the HCLF, known as "Automated Voice-Over Training". Macnee provided the test voice for the system, likening it to Obi-Wan Kenobi tutoring Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. They discussed the idea of partnering with Disney or Warner Brothers to create a version for children.

Developing the 'polecat' game with a view to incorporating the character DoraemonDeveloping the 'polecat' game with a view to incorporating the character Doraemon, Add MS 89496/3. Reproduced with permission of the estate of Donald Michie.

The archive also reveals how the HCLF developed a 'chatbot' computer program called Sophie, similar to Massachusetts Institute of Technology's ELIZA program from 1964. Sophie was presented as a casual member of staff working for the HCLF. Visitors could 'chat' to her on the HCLF website, but after a certain amount of interaction the visitor would be told that Sophie had to get back to work. As an alternative they could pay and subscribe to her Conversation Club, where they could chat for as long as they wanted. Sophie was programmed to analyse the questions she was asked and provide suitable answers. 'She' would learn from each interaction. A fictitious profile and backstory was created for Sophie, including a family, which had some amusing results. Her brother John worked for 'Woofie Bits dog-food manufacturers', and her sister Julia's religion was listed as 'nature-worship,  vegetarian'.

Details from the biographical profiles for 'Sophie Martin' and family members

Details from the biographical profiles for 'Sophie Martin' and family members, Deposit 10206. Reproduced with permission of the estate of Donald Michie.

Tragically, Donald Michie was killed in a car crash in 2007, and the HCLF was disbanded shortly afterwards. The study, development and use of artificial intelligence for language learning, however, has continued.

Jonathan Schofield
Manuscripts cataloguer

Donald Michie at the British Library
The Donald Michie papers at the British Library is comprised of three separate tranches of material, gifted to the library in 2004 and 2008. They consist of correspondence, notes, notebooks, offprints and photographs, and are available to users through the Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue, under references Add MS 88958, Add MS 88975 and Add MS 89072.

The archive of the Human-Computer Learning Foundation can be found at Add MS 89496. For copies of agreements relating to the HCLF please see Add MS 89072/2/3.

 

30 August 2022

Coxwell’s concrete lemon

A recent donation to the India Office Private Papers is an ensign’s commission granted to Anthony Merry who joined the East India Company as an army cadet in 1798.

Commission as ensign granted to Anthony MerryCommission as ensign granted to Anthony Merry – India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F759 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Anthony Merry was baptised at Great Warley in Essex on 2 September 1783, the younger son of Anthony Merry and Margaret (née Hornby).  When Anthony senior died in 1785, his will confirmed the marriage settlement made with Margaret together with a further £200.  The settlement appears to have included the manor of Hayleys in Epping.  Anthony did not mention his children.  The bulk of the remaining estate went to his sister Elizabeth Pinnell and other relations.

Margaret Merry re-married twice.  In 1786 she wed widower William Dowson of Chamberlain’s Wharf Southwark, and their son William was born the following year.  Dowson died in 1791, leaving Margaret £100 and the use during her lifetime of Millfield House in Highgate.

In 1795 Margaret married another widower Henry Coxwell, a chemist and druggist in Fleet Street London.  They had a son Charles in 1795 and a daughter Elizabeth in 1797.  Coxwell was a member of the Committee of Chemistry at the Society for the Promotion of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, and the inventor of concrete lemon.

Invention of concrete lemon by Henry Coxwell- Bath Chronicle 1799Invention of concrete lemon by Henry Coxwell - Bath Chronicle 7 March 1799 British Newspaper Archive

Concrete lemon was crystallized lemon juice, ‘the pure acid part of the fruit in a solid and dry form, resembling in appearance white sugar candy’.  Coxwell signed each package sold as a guarantee of its authenticity.

Handbill advertising Coxwell's concrete lemonHandbill advertising Coxwell's concrete lemon - British Library General Reference Collection Cup.21.g.24/5 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The crystals were said to be ‘convenient and elegant’, dissolving instantly in cold water, and cheaper than fresh lemons or lemon juice.  They could be used to make punch, lemonade, or sauces.  Ships of the Royal Navy and East India Company were supplied with Coxwell’s concrete lemon to help guard sailors against scurvy.

Thomas Trotter's comment about the use of Coxwell's concrete lemon by the Royal NavyThomas Trotter, Medicina Nautica; an Essay on the diseases of Seamen vol III (London, 1803), p.76 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Henry Coxwell died at Millfield House in 1832, ‘deeply and deservedly lamented by all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance’.  His library was sold three years later.  This included a collection of modern medical books together with others on a variety of subjects – travel, plant, insects, literature, philosophy, politics.

Newspaper advert for the sale of Henry Coxwell's libraryAdvert for the sale of Henry Coxwell's library - Sun (London) 19 October 1835 British Newspaper Archive

Anthony Merry died before his stepfather, in 1831.  His career in the Madras Army had been very brief.  In February 1801 Lieutenant Merry was stationed at Seringapatam with the 1st Battalion, 2nd Regiment Native Infantry.  He wrote to  his commanding officer, Major Thomas Riddell, expressing his wish to resign the Company’s service and to proceed to Europe at the first opportunity.  Major General Brathwaite recommended that this request be granted, given Merry’s general character and conduct.  Merry was permitted to resign and told to go immediately to Madras and be ready to embark for Europe.

After his return to England, Anthony Merry served as an officer in regiments of the Royal Militia.  He married Elizabeth Strivens in 1805 and settled in Kentish Town in north London.  It appears the couple had four children: Margaret, Robert, Eliza (died in infancy), and William Henry.  Anthony’s East India Company commission was carefully preserved and passed down the family before being gifted to the British Library.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Commission as ensign granted to Anthony Merry – India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F759.
Baptism of Anthony Merry – India Office Records IOR/L/MIL/9/108 f. 466.
Papers in Madras Military Proceedings 1801 about Anthony Merry’s resignation - India Office Records IOR/P/254/70 pp.1788-1791, 1794-1795.
Will of Anthony Merry 1785 – The National Archives PROB 11/1127/339.
Will of Anthony Merry 1813 - The National Archives PROB 11/1785/332.
Will of Anthony Merry 1835 - The National Archives PROB 11/1849/369.
Will of Sukey Merry 1840 - The National Archives PROB 11/1921/375.

 

09 August 2022

Sanitary technology at East India House and the India Office

In a previous post, we looked at issues of sanitation at the Fort William Garrison in Bengal, which included a description and plan for new urinals.  This is not the only reference to urinals in the India Office Records and Private Papers.  The East India Company was also concerned with improvements in sanitation closer to home.  In 1851, the Company headquarters was East India House in Leadenhall Street in the City of London, a building that had been remodelled and extended at the end of the 18th century.  By 1851, in light of new sanitary technology, improvements were required.  A report from the Clerk of Works recommended that the urinals near the General Court Room be upgraded.  They needed to be enlarged and fitted 'with enamelled slate Partitions, with the doors acting to throw a jet of water each time it is used'.  The Clerk had done his research, having viewed the urinals at the House of Lords and at the City of London Club House, but in his opinion by far the best design was those in use at the South Eastern Railway Station (London Bridge) and these he proposed be replicated at East India House.  The bill for the works, presented at a Finance and Home Committee Meeting on 18 February 1852, was for £64 16s.

Plan A - diagram for fitting up urinalsPlan A included in IOR/L/SUR/6/6, ff.259-265: Account submitted for fitting up 2 sets of urinals 25 April 1884 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In 1858 the India Office took over from the East India Company, and the newly formed Government department moved in 1867 into a purpose built building in Whitehall designed by George Gilbert Scott.  By 1883, plans were put forward to improve the sanitary fittings, and approval was sought for initial works to be carried out on urinals in both the basement and on the second floor, as an ‘experiment’.  It was agreed that the basement was problematic, being the area 'where there is the most difficulty in securing careful usage', and as such required urinals proposed in Plan A, with a continuous water flow.  For the second floor urinals, where 'sufficient care and cleanliness in the use of the urinals can be depended on', plan B was to be used which employed an overflow system into a slate channel.  Again, the Clerk of the Works had done his homework, and Plan B was based on a similar system employed at the Bank of England.  The refurbishment was considered 'a great improvement as to cleanliness, and that [the urinals]… can more easily be kept in order and in good repair', and as such funds were authorised for works to be extended throughout the building.  In 1885, the total costs of the project were reported as £473 5s 9d compared to the original estimate of £450.

Plan B - diagram for fitting up urinalsPlan B included in IOR/L/SUR/6/6, ff.259-265: Account submitted for fitting up 2 sets of urinals 25 April 1884 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

It is interesting to note that the sanitation works at the India Office included improvements in water re-use.  Waste water from the hydraulic lift system was stored in a cistern and was used for flushing both WCs and urinals.  But when the lifts were used frequently, the cistern achieved capacity and the excess water literally went down the drain at Charles Street.  Changes to the pipes and plumbing were put in place to move more of the waste water around the building and so use more of it for flushing.

On a final note, for anyone interested in researching sanitation and sanitary conditions in our records, it is always useful to search using a variety of contemporary terms.  Think ‘lavatories’ and ‘privies’ as well as ‘urinals’.  You never know what you might find.

Lesley Shapland
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further Reading:
IOR/L/SUR/1/1, ff.117-118: Finance & Home Committee 16 April 1851. Alterations to Urinals.
IOR/L/SUR/1/1, f.157: Finance & Home Committee 18 February 1852: New urinals.
IOR/L/SUR/6/6, ff.259-265: Account submitted for fitting up 2 sets of Urinals for the India Office and recommendations for fitting up others, 25 April 1884, includes plan A and plan B.
IOR/L/SUR/6/7, ff.5-6: Accounts submitted for fitting up urinals and altering supply pipes to Lavatory basins in the India Office 16 March 1885.

 

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