Untold lives blog

151 posts categorized "Leisure"

21 February 2023

Well-being and living conditions in tropical climates

The India Office Economic Department series of annual files contains much interesting material, for example IOR/L/E/7/996, File 1274 of 1920: ‘Research bearing upon the well-being and conditions of lives of natives and residents of the United Kingdom in the tropical climates’.  The file includes correspondence between departments and the conclusions of the research ‘Note on Housing in the Tropics’ by Andrew Balfour and ‘Notes on Tropical Climate and Health’ by Leonard Hill, 20 March 1920.

The research notes demonstrate that there are already strategies in place that the locals use to cope with the heat and humidity such as sirdabs or tykhanas, i.e. underground chambers.  However, they are ‘not bearable to the European’ because the air remains stagnated unless there is an electric operating punkah, a ceiling cloth fan.

Mrs Gladstone Lingham reading under a punkah in a comfortably furnished room at Berhampore.Mrs Gladstone Lingham reading under a punkah in a comfortably furnished room at Berhampore WD2904 (1863) British Library Images Online

Therefore, the goal of the document is to look for the best choices in house orientation, design, construction and hygiene.  The authors make clear that regional variations should be taken into consideration when implementing the suggestions, mostly regarding proximity to the Equator, proximity to the sea and humidity.

The recommendations involve having a good water and food supply, effective waste disposal and choosing light colours.  In terms of construction, it is important to bear in mind the direction of prevailing winds and how close the building needs to be to other buildings and settlements.  The building should sit in permeable and clean soil, if possible it should be elevated and have good natural drainage, good circulation of air and plenty of light, and far from large bodies of water to avoid excessive humidity.

Andrew Balfour compares the existing construction materials and presents the available advantages and disadvantages of concrete and cement in comparison with wood and the common mixture of mud and manure. He suggests ‘double walls’ with thin inner and outer layers made of cement with the space between filled with sand or asphalt to be heat and vermin proof.

He stresses the importance of shades and verandas, of high ceilings with openings to release the hot air and to leave some space between the roof and the ceiling that is ventilated and has screened openings to avoid vermin.

He also sees the benefit of sleeping in hammocks on the roof for the early risers.

Section of report about the benefit of sleeping in hammocks on the roofIOR/L/E/7/996, File 1274 - Report, p.5.

Leonard Hill notes call attention to the importance of health to cope with the climate.

Notes on the dangers of mosquitoes  IOR/L/E/7/996, File 1274 - The dangers of mosquitoes, Hill's notes, p. 1.

He points out the importance of appropriate clothing, diet and exercise, since the weather might influence metabolism.

Notes on a tropical dietIOR/L/E/7/996, File 1274 - tropical diet, Hill's notes, p.1.

The subject of alcohol consumption is brought up both in the report and notes as ‘club life’ might become a problem.

Notes on club life IOR/L/E/7/996, File 1274 - club life, Hill's notes, p.6.

He also advocates for the health benefits of a good tan.

Notes on the benefits of a sun tan IOR/L/E/7/996, File 1274 - sun tan, Hill's notes, p.6.

Although the reports present interesting ideas, both for mitigating tropical infectious diseases and for a better adaptation of people, European or otherwise, to tropical climate, the Medical Adviser disregarded the documents saying ‘there is nothing here which promises to be of any assistance to India’.

Extract from the Medical Adviser's report  15 May 1920. IOR/L/E/7/996, File 1264 - Medical Adviser's report, 15 May 1920.

Bianca Miranda Cardoso
Cataloguer, India Office Records

Further reading:
The IOR/L/E/7 collection consists of 1567 volumes that bind the Annual Files of the Departments of:
• Revenue, Statistics and Commerce, 1882-1887
• Revenue and Statistics, 1887-1921
• Commerce and Revenue, 1921-1924; Economic and Overseas, 1924-1929.

Adaptation to different climate conditions has been mentioned in previous Untold Lives blog posts -
Severe weather hits Britain in January 1763 

Indian soldiers’ views of England during World War I sharing natives of India’s comments on the mostly wet and cloudy British weather.


19 January 2023

Celebrating the Lunar New Year on the front lines in World War One

On 11 February 1918 workers from the Chinese Labour Corps based on the front lines in France took a day off from their work and celebrated the Lunar New Year.

The Chinese Labour Corps had been created in 1916 and comprised of over 100,000 men recruited from China to provide support to the British Army during World War One.  They were brought to the front lines of the War in France and Belgium to help with work including building tanks, digging trenches and burying the dead.  Labour Corps workers signed employment contracts for three years and most returned to China after the war.

The Illustrated War News ran several features looking at life on the front lines for members of the Chinese Labour Corps in January and March 1918, and on 6 March 1918 it featured their New Year celebrations in a double page spread.

 Chinese Labour Corps workers in France celebrating the Lunar New Year on 11 February 1918Chinese Labour Corps workers in France celebrating the Lunar New Year on 11 February 1918 - The Illustrated War News. London, 1918. Wq7/4519 Vol.8 pp.18-19

The feature showed Chinese Labour Corps workers based in camps and cantonments across various neighbourhoods in France celebrating the Lunar New Year on 11 February 1918.  The celebrations included entertainments and amusements similar to those they would have taken part in back in China and ranged from jugglers and stilt-walkers to shows and processions.

The celebrations were organised by each neighbourhood with every camp within it staging a different entertainment or show to provide an opportunity for the workers to be able to visit the other camps, enjoy all the festivities and see everyone.

Members of the Chinese Communities in Britain were also able to get involved in supporting the Labour Corp workers celebrations by making financial donations to the Chinese Legation in London for the purchase of gifts to be sent to those on the front lines.

Chinese Legation in London packing crates of New Year’s gifts to be sent to the workers in France and BelgiumChinese Legation in London packing crates of New Year’s gifts to be sent to the workers in France and Belgium - The Illustrated War News. London, 1918. Wq7/4518 Vol.7 p.39

Another image featured in The Illustrated War News on 2 January 1918 showed several gentlemen from the Chinese Legation in London packing crates full of the New Year’s gifts that had been purchased to be sent to the workers in France and Belgium.

The Lunar New Year celebration images from The Illustrated War News March 1918 are included In the British Library’s Chinese and British exhibition, which is now open until 23 April 2023.  The exhibition features the invaluable contributions which Chinese Labour Corps workers made to the British war effort, with images and objects including trench art items made by individual members of the Chinese Labour Corps.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
The Illustrated War News. London, 1918. Wq7/4518 Vol.7 p.39
The Illustrated War News. London, 1918. Wq7/4519 Vol.8 pp.18-19


05 January 2023

Walker’s Manly Exercises

Walker’s Manly Exercises was one of the books recommended as a suitable Christmas present in a recent post on this blog.  This ‘practical book devoted to the science of manly recreations’ comprised sections on the importance of physical exercise; locomotive exercises; aquatic exercises;  and riding. The sixth edition published in 1839 added chapters on racing, hunting, and shooting. Active exercise could ‘confer beauty of form’ and contribute to ‘an elegant air and graceful manners’. 

Title page of Walker’s Manly Exercises showing men rowing with sailing boats in the backgroundTitle page of  Walker’s Manly Exercises

Elementary exercises are best performed in cool air, but never immediately after a meal.  Smooth grass or a sandy beach are the most suitable locations. The coat should be removed and sharp objects removed from remaining pockets.  A light covering should be worn on the head – a straw hat is ideal – and the shirt collar left open. The trouser waistband should not be tight and shoes or boots should have no iron.  Exercising must begin and end gently. Excessive exercise can lead to premature old age and death.

There is an interesting description of the training regimes of pugilists and pedestrians (professional walkers/runners). Their diet was strictly controlled and limited mainly to meat, with the addition of biscuit and stale bread.  Ale was drunk, or red wine.  Sweating was promoted by running four miles in flannel.

Man walking in smart outfit and tall hatWalking from Walker’s Manly Exercises

The section on locomotive exercises covers walking at different speeds, running, leaping, vaulting, balancing, carrying weights, throwing the discus, climbing, and skating.

Climbing with ladders, poles and ropesClimbing with ladders, poles and ropes from Walker’s Manly Exercises

Detailed instructions with illustrations are given for each type of exercise, many of which are the forerunners of modern athletic and gymnastic disciplines.

Running - two different positions for the legs are shownRunning from Walker’s Manly Exercises

Running is ‘precisely intermediate to walking and leaping’, being a series of leaps from each foot alternately, and it inflicts violent and constant shocks to the internal organs of the body.  The record for running a mile is said to be four and a half minutes.

Two images of a man in a top hat and a tail coat figure skating
Skating from Walker’s Manly Exercises

The dangers of skating are pointed out: not just falling through weak ice, but inflammation of the chest because of cold winds. After this come two pages of treatments recommended for drowned persons.

Swimmers in the foreground with rowing and sailing boats in the backgroundSwimming from Walker’s Manly Exercises

The best place to swim is the sea, then running water – ponds are the worst.  The best time is before breakfast during the months May to August.  When the sun is at its hottest, thick hair should be kept wet and bald heads covered with a handkerchief soaked in water.  Short drawers should be worn, together with canvas shoes in some places.  It is important to be able to swim in a jacket and trousers.

RidingRiding from Walker’s Manly Exercises

The chapter on riding has a section on driving horses which digresses into a discussion on roads, coaches and carriages.  Carriage drivers are warned not to go into the City of London through the Strand, Fleet Street, or Cheapside between noon and 5 pm because of crowding.   There are droves of oxen in the City around midday on Mondays and Fridays.  By an Act of Parliament, drivers of hackney coaches have to give way to gentlemen’s carriages under a penalty of 10 shillings.

Do browse this book online. The British Library has digitised editions published between 1838 and 1860.  Its scope is far wider than the title suggests and there are fascinating nuggets providing insights into life in Britain during the nineteenth century.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Walter Thom’s 'Pedestrianism'
Victorian Pedestrianism (1) – Robert Makepeace aka ‘The American Stag’
Victorian Pedestrianism (2) – 1,000 Miles in 1,000 Hours


01 January 2023

Happy New Year!


Happy New Year from Untold Lives!

A large group of people drinking at a cocktail party

Drawing of a cocktail party by Hynes -

"I wonder why one always has a cherry in a cocktail?"
"So that one shall not drink on an empty stomach."

From The Bystander 29 May 1929, British Library shelfmark ZC.9.d.560, page 474 Images Online


21 December 2022

Books suitable for Christmas and New Year

Are you still looking for ideas for Christmas gifts?  Maybe we can help?  In 1858, Irish bookseller and stationer Thomas Smith Harvey published a catalogue of books suitable for Christmas, New Year, and birthday presents.

 Title page of Catalogue of books suitable for Christmas  New Year  or birthday presentsTitle page of Catalogue of books suitable for Christmas New Year or birthday presents Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The catalogue is divided into ten sections.

Poetry covers four pages, ranging in price from 1s to 31s 6d.  As well as works from famous poets such as Longfellow, Shakespeare, Byron, Scott and Milton, there are books entitled Language and Poetry of Flowers; Moore’s Irish Melodies; Elegant Arts for Ladies; and Book of German Songs.

Religious books – as well as bibles, Harvey was offering Buchanan’s Christian Researches in India; Quarles’ Judgment and Mercy; Bogatsky’s Golden Treasury; and Morals from the Churchyard.  This last one intrigued me and I discovered its full title is Morals from the Churchyard; in a series of cheerful fables.  Here is the contents page and I am surprised that it was possible to create ‘cheerful fables’ from some of the graves listed here.

Contents page of Morals from the Churchyard; in a series of cheerful fables - graves of little child, mother, lovers, suicide etc

Contents page of Morals from the Churchyard; in a series of cheerful fables Public Domain Creative Commons Licence 

The next category is books for the country – natural history etc.  It includes British Rural Sports; Cassell’s Natural History of the Feathered Tribes; Anecdotes of Animal Life; A World of Wonders Revealed by the Microscope; Mechi’s How to Farm Profitably; Rarey on Horse Training; and Walker’s Manly Exercises.

Title page of Walker’s Manly Exercises with a picture of rowing and sailingWalker’s Manly Exercises Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

There is a section devoted to biography, history, travels, and science.  Titles here include Kansas, or Squatter Life and Border Warfare; The Bridle Roads of Spain; Gavazzi’s Last Four Popes; Things Not Generally Known; How A Penny Became A Thousand Pounds; Overland Route to India; and Mornings at the British Museum. The book Unprotected Females in Norway perplexed me until I found the title continues: or, the pleasantest way of travelling there, passing through Denmark and Sweden, with Scandinavian sketches from nature.

Title page of Unprotected Females in NorwayEmily Lowe, Unprotected Females in Norway; or, the pleasantest way of travelling there, passing through Denmark and Sweden, with Scandinavian sketches from nature (London, 1857) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Here is one of the sketches drawn by the author Emily Lowe showing a Norwegian wedding taking place near Bergen.

Norwegian wedding near Bergen showing a couple and a priest, with a woman holding a baby in the backgroundNorwegian wedding near Bergen from Unprotected Females in Norway  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Perhaps surprisingly there is only one page for fiction although Harvey does state that he can provide a large assortment of cheap works.  His selection included Slick’s Nature and Human Nature; Marie Louise, or the Opposite Neighbours; and Never Too Late to Mend.

Eight pages are devoted to books for young people – three and a half for boys, four for children, and just half a page for girls.  The boys’ section is full of sport, exploration, travel, adventure, and inspirational works: Sporting in Both Hemispheres; Wild Sports in the Far West; Boyhood of Great Men; The Story of the Peasant Boy Philosopher.  For children, Harvey promises a great variety of cheap books for the very young and lists a selection of moral tales and story books such as Stories for Village Lads; Memoirs of a Doll; Norah and her Kerry Cow, as well as Learning to Converse.  The girls’ books include Fanny the Little Milliner; Extraordinary Women; and Amy Carlton, or First Days at School.

A number of almanacs and diaries are offered as well as miscellaneous articles – gutta percha skates; ‘boys’ telescopes’; pocket compasses; microscopes; mathematical instruments; and small magic lanterns with slides.

When you have finished buying and wrapping your presents, have fun searching in our catalogue Explore the British Library for books listed in Harvey’s catalogue.  Many have been digitised and can be enjoyed online.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Thomas Smith Harvey, Catalogue of books suitable for Christmas, New Year, or birthday presents (Waterford, 1858)

15 December 2022

Character, costumes and comedy: Pantomime posters in the Evanion collection

Henry Evanion (1832-1905) was a nineteenth-century conjuror, entertainer and collector.  His vast collection of ephemera includes local politics, advertisements for household products and theatrical posters including advertisements for pantomimes at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

A visit to see a pantomime marks the start of the festive season for families across the country.  This Christmas tradition has roots in 16th-century ‘Commedia dell’Arte’.  Innovations to the pantomime tradition in the 19th century included the introduction of outrageous costumes, slapstick comedy and audience participation.

Evanion’s collection of theatrical posters includes three pantomimes staged by Augustus Harris (1852-1896), who managed Drury Lane theatre from 1879-1896.  Harris was a young, ambitious actor and theatre manager.  The pantomimes were the centre of his ambition and the ‘money-making centrepiece’ of the theatre’s season.

 Poster of Puss in BootsEvan.1903. - Augustus Harris's pantomime Puss in Boots, Drury Lane (1887).

Puss in Boots, the pantomime for the Christmas season in 1887 was an elaborate show with Charles Lauri Junior in the title role.  A review of the show in The Penny Illustrated Paper praised Charles Lauri, writing that ‘it would be impossible to excel Mr. Charles Lauri’.  The review went on to praise the ‘richly embellished’ show and ‘attractive charm of the scenery’.

Beauty in a white dress surrounded by roses, with the Beast at her feetEvan.196. Image of Belle Bilton as Beauty in Augustus Harris' pantomime Beauty and the Beast (1890).

For the 1890 pantomime, Augustus Harris staged an elaborate tale of Beauty and the Beast.  The pantomime drew audiences in by casting Belle Bilton as Beauty.  Outside of the stage door, Belle was embroiled in a public drama after secretly marrying Lord Dunlo.  His father (the Earl of Clancy) forced Dunlo to petition for a divorce and attempt to discredit Bilton’s name.  The pantomime built upon public sympathy for Belle by casting her in the title role of the 1890 show.  Just like in the pantomime, Belle got her ‘happily ever after’ when Lord Dunlo defended her in court and the couple were happily married until Belle’s death in 1906.

Augustus Harris’s pantomimes were a staple of the festive season by 1894 and performances of Dick Whittington continued to attract audiences.  Continuing with the tradition of casting popular stars, Dick Whittington featured a core casting of Ada Blanche as Principal Boy and Dan Leno as Idle Jack.  Both actors appeared in numerous pantomimes at Drury Lane with Ada appearing from 1892-1898 and Dan from 1888-1903.  By the 1890s, gender switching was commonplace in pantomimes and the female principal boy and pantomime dame were accepted conventions.  The repeated core cast across the pantomimes meant that audiences knew what to expect from a Drury Lane pantomime.

Ada Blanche as Dick Whittington in a green costume sitting on a swing with his catEvan.4029. Figure of Ada Blanche as Dick Whittington with cat on a swing. The image reads ‘Dick Whittington now in full swing at Drury Lane theatre’.

The pantomime season for 2022 has started and theatres across the country will be full of families enjoying the long-established festive tradition.  The inspiration for the costumes, laughter, elaborate sets and celebrity appearances comes from Victorian pantomimes at theatres like the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.  The Evanion collection is currently being prepared for ingest and display in IIIF on the British Library’s Universal Viewer.

Amy Solomons
PhD Placement Student, Heritage Made Digital

Further Reading:
James Hagy, Early English Conjuring Collectors, James Savren and Henry Evanion (Shaker Heights: Ohio, 1985).
J.P.Wearing, ‘Harris, Sir Augustus Henry Glossop’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004.
The Penny Illustrated Paper, London, Saturday, 31 December 1887, p.423a.
The Story of Pantomime 
Victorian Vaudeville – Tripping the Light Fantastic

13 December 2022

The oldest cyclist in the UK

At the age of 80, Mordaunt Martin Monro was advised by his doctor to take up tricycle riding.  He was assured that this would add ten years to his life.  Mr Monro was to be seen pedaling around near his home in Enfield, Middlesex, until shortly before his death at the age of 92 on 21 March 1899.  The cycling press named him ‘the oldest wheelman in the United Kingdom’.

Tricycle of the 1880s1880s tricycle from Nauticus in Scotland - A tricycle tour of 2,462 miles. Including Skye & the West coast (London, 1888) Digital Store 10370.d.28 BL flickr

Monro’s dedication to tricycling was shared by his friend Daniel Gilsenan.  In his 80s, Mr Gilsenan was a familiar sight in Enfield riding a tricycle which pulled a trailer carrying his widowed sister Justina Clark as a passenger.  Most appropriately, Daniel lived in Raleigh Road.

Mordaunt Martin Monro was the child of Captain James Monro of the East India Company’s maritime service by his second wife Caroline née Martin.  He was born at Hadley in Middlesex on 3 November 1806, just a fortnight before his father died.  His mother had him educated at home by tutors, and he then received practical instruction in agriculture at nearby Rectory Farm.  At the age of 22, Monro took over Bury Farm in Southbury Road and his mother lived there with him until her death in 1848.  Daniel Gilsenan worked as his farm bailiff for 26 years, and his sister Jane was servant and housekeeper for Monro for over 30 years.  When Monro retired from the farm, he lived with Daniel and his wife Lucy.

Monro was associated with Richard Cobden and John Bright in anti-corn laws agitation, and in 1849 was a founder member of the National Freehold Land Society, also known as the National Permanent Mutual Benefit Society.  The Society aimed to enable working men to acquire 40 shilling freeholds and thereby the right to vote.  Monro served as director, trustee and chairman, and remained connected to the Society until his death.

Both Caroline and Mordaunt Monro joined the Society of Friends and attended the meeting house at Winchmore Hill.  Mordaunt supported the anti-slavery movement and the 1850s Peace Movement.  He was a regular and generous donor to the Enfield and Tottenham Hospitals, and paid £5 a year to fund the winding of the clock at Enfield Church.  Although said to be of a retiring disposition, Monro held public office, as Poor Law overseer and then as one of the first members of the local board of health.

Mordaunt Monro was also involved in the temperance movement.  He began to abstain from drinking alcohol in 1840 and founded the first Temperance Society in Enfield, using a converted barn as a meeting place.  This barn was also used as premises for an evening school.  In August 1843 he hosted at his farm a meeting of the Total Abstinence Society which was addressed by the Irish celebrity temperance campaigner Father Mathew.  Hundreds of people attended on a very hot day and were supplied with temperance refreshments from tents erected in a large field.  The temperance pledge was taken by about 400 people on that day.

Newspaper article about Father Mathew at EnfieldFather Mathew at Enfield - Hertford Mercury and Reformer 19 August 1843 British Newspaper Archive 

Daniel Gilsenan survived his friend for five years.  He died on 1 August 1904 at his house in Raleigh Road.  Enfield had now lost both of its most elderly cyclists.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper ArchiveHertford Mercury and Reformer 19 August 1843, Westminster Gazette 24 March 1899, The Middlesex Gazette 25 March 1899, Soulby’s Ulverston Advertiser and General Intelligencer 17 September 1903.

Previous posts about Captain James Monro -
The sale of East India Company maritime commands

Private trade and pressed men – the voyage of the Houghton to China


21 November 2022

Football in the Gulf – some snippets from the early years

With the start of FIFA World Cup 2022 in which Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iran will be competing, here is a look at a few mentions of football in the Gulf from the 1930s to the early 1950s from the digitised archives of the Qatar Digital Library. The Administration Report for the Bahrain Agency for 1933 reported there were ‘seven football clubs in Bahrain.'.

Administration Report for the Bahrain Agency for 1933 reporting on sportAdministration Report for the Bahrain Agency for 1933 reporting on sport IOR/R/15/2/297

Apart from regular fixtures, special football matches were arranged on a number of different occasions.  In January 1935 on the anniversary celebrations of the accession of Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa as ruler of Bahrain, the Bahrain Sports Club arranged a fancy dress football match.  The British Political Agent, Colonel Percy Loch, wrote to the Adviser to the Bahrain Government, Charles Belgrave, that he would not be able to attend due to an afternoon reception and then Shaikh Sir Hamad’s dinner.

Football matches were also often arranged on the arrival of a British ship in port.  For example, in October 1951 the British consulate in Muscat wrote to Sayyid Tarik bin Taimur (the father of the current ruler of the Sultanate of Oman, Sultan Haitham) to ask if he would care to play in a Muscat team against a visiting team from HMS Loch Quoich.

Letter from British consulate in Muscat  to Sayyid Tarik bin Taimur Letter to Sayyid Tarik bin Taimur to ask if he would care to play in a Muscat team against a visiting team from HMS Loch Quoich  IOR/R/15/6/301, f 28

As in contemporary times football and politics are often inextricably intertwined.  In the late 1930s the provision of sports facilities including ‘soccer fields’ featured in a report by a journalist entitled ‘IS JOHN BULL’s FACE RED’ which lampooned British officialdom for its perceived ineptitude in the handling of the oil opportunity in Bahrain.

Report on provision of sports facilities including ‘soccer fields’'Articles in Press on Gulf Affairs'  IOR/R/15/2/178

Then, as today, the provision of facilities to play football in the Gulf can attract comment in the media both positive and negative.

Francis Owtram, Gulf History Specialist
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

Further reading:
File 8/8 1931-34 Bahrain Agency Administration Reports and Related Papers [‎102r] (208/310), IOR/R/15/2/297
'File 6/58 Accession Celebrations on H. E. Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa's accession as the Ruler of Bahrain Islands', IOR/R/15/2/1276
'File 9/1 IV Visits of HM Ships' [‎28r] (55/96), IOR/R/15/6/301
'Articles in Press on Gulf Affairs' [‎50r] (101/728), IOR/R/15/2/178


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