Untold lives blog

155 posts categorized "Leisure"

12 October 2023

Mapping the Dining Culture at Holland House, 1798–1806

Holland House, Kensington, was one of the most important cultural sites in Regency London.  The cosmopolitan circle established in 1799 by Lord and Lady Holland advocated political and religious liberty, and the couple made their home a kind of alternative ministry for liberal culture and politics during decades of Tory rule, receiving European authors and politicians who they hoped would spread reform at home and abroad.  The centre of exchange for this group was the dining room, where Elizabeth Vassall-Fox (Lady Holland) was chatelaine, hosting the leading figures of the day.

Holland HouseHolland House in Kensington by George Samuel - Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

A dinner book is a written record of who dined at a given location on a given night, and Lady Holland assiduously kept such books to document forty years of her salon.  The books also acted as a diary, noting when the Hollands and their friends dined elsewhere or went to the theatre, and marking holidays in the country and abroad.

Holland House dinner bookHolland House dinner book  - British Library Add MS 51950)

The Dined project has created a database of the first dinner book (British Library Add MS 51950) which covers dinners from 1799 to 1806.  The database can be searched by date and person, and manuscript images like the one above can be browsed.  You can see information about diners in the Index of People, and about the locations visited by the Hollands in the Index of Places, and what they did in the Index of Events.  Literary figures who dined at Holland House included the poet Thomas Campbell, the novelists Matthew ‘Monk’ Lewis and Caroline Lamb, the travel writer Adélaïde de la Briche, and the philosophers Jeremy Bentham and William Godwin.  More important than any individual is the regular attendance of Henry Brougham, Francis Horner and Sydney Smith, three of the founders of the Edinburgh Review (arguably the most significant periodical of the 19th century).  The dinner books also bear witness to the period’s great events including the battle of Trafalgar and the Acts of Union with Ireland, and the death of national figures such as Nelson and Pitt.

While famous diners and events present themselves on almost every page, the books also chronicle the Hollands’ family life.  Lady Holland records her children performing scenes from Shakespeare in Christmas 1805, and is a stickler for recording birthdays, illnesses, and anniversaries, and even on one occasion notes that her mother is coming to babysit.  Browsing the books also illuminates the long-forgotten names who dined beside famous figures such as the Duchess of Devonshire, Fox, and Sheridan.  Few will now remember such figures as Richard ‘Conversation’ Sharp, the celebrity hatter who dined at the house, and organised a meeting between the Hollands and John Horne Tooke; or Don Roberto Gordon, the Hispanicized Scottish vintner who was distantly related to Byron, and who, following dinners in 1800 and 1801, convinced the Hollands to visit him in Jerez in 1803; or Serafino Buonaiuti, the opera librettist at the King’s Theatre who kept the Hollands’ library and later wrote for the Literary Gazette.  It is the presence, and the opportunity to recover, these characters and their stories that make the dinner books captivating to explore.

Will Bowers
Senior Lecturer in Eighteenth-Century Literature and Thought, Queen Mary University of London

 

07 September 2023

A Victorian holiday embarrassment

On holiday in Brittany in 1864, a Victorian clergyman from Norwich bravely tested the seaside facilities at St Malo, unfortunately with embarrassing results.

Head and shoulders portrait of Arthur Charles Copeman sporting a large beardPortrait of Arthur Charles Copeman via Wikimedia Commons

Three diaries of the Reverend Canon Arthur Charles Copeman (1824-1896), father of the medical scientist Sydney Monckton Copeman, have recently been added to the British Library’s collections.  Two describe the daily life of an English clergyman, while the third volume details a month-long tour around Brittany with his brother-in-law, seeing the sights.

Two weeks into the trip, the pair walked from Mont Dol to the town of St Malo.  Having secured a room in a local hotel, they made their way down to the beachfront, presumably to refresh themselves after their hot and dusty journey.

View of St Malo with windmills on the shore and boats sailing on the seaView of St Malo from Vues des côtes de France dans l'Ocean et dans la Méditerranée peintes et gravées par M. L. Garneray, decrites par M. Étienne de Jouy. British Library shelfmark: 650.b.7 Images Online

Copeman describes in detail what they discovered at the shore:
‘We found a congeries of little wooden cells ranged on the sea-ward side of a gentle slope which was thronged with ye ladies & gentlemen of S.Malo with whom it appears the favourite and fashionable promenade – and an office for the issue of bathing tickets which was beset with applicants’.
(Congeries, an unfamiliar word, defined by the OED as ‘a collection of things merely massed or heaped together’.)

Having secured a bathing ticket, the pair were pleasantly surprised to find it entitled them to temporary possession of two of the beach huts, together with towels and bathing costumes.

The Reverend was particularly taken with the available attire, enthusing it was ‘of the simplest construction but of imposing & indescribable effect’.  Once within this pair of loose blue shorts and sleeved ‘gaberdine’ top, he thought he would have been unrecognisable to even his closest friends.  However, Copeman believed he and his companion attracted ‘the admiring inspection of the promenade’ as made their way down to the sea.

And yet, their favoured bathing suits would prove to be their undoing.

‘When emerging after a delightful bathe, we found our wondrous costume clinging everywhere tenaciously to the skin & bringing out in strong relief every irregularity of a development somewhat obtrusively bony.’

Shocked by the betrayal of their previously modest attire, the pair ‘took fright & with a leap & a run we regained our dressing houses whence were heard roars of convulsive laughter till we re-appeared in civilised attire’.

Bathing at Brighton - bathers standing in the waves in front of the bathing machines

Bathing at Brighton from George Cruikshank, Cruikshank's sketches British Library shelfmark: RB.23.a.34787 Images Online

It is perhaps reassuring to know that self-consciousness in a bathing costume is not new, and was affecting people nearly 160 years ago.  Fortunately, the Reverend also refers elsewhere in his journal to other occasions when he bathed without incident, away from the prying eyes of a popular promenade, in locations more suitable to the shyer swimmer.

I am pleased to report that Copeman did not let this event dampen his spirits or lessen his opinion of St Malo, as this final quotation demonstrates:
‘Joking apart however no one can fail to be struck with the admirable arrangements here & elsewhere on ye French coast for the enjoyment & safety of the bathers’.

Matthew Waters
Manuscripts Cataloguer

Further reading:
Add MS 89721/3 - Journal of the Reverend Arthur Copeman of a walking tour of Brittany, France.

 

20 July 2023

Women’s football in the 1880s

As the Women’s World Cup opens in Australia, here are two newspaper items about women’s football from the 1880s which show the kinds of prejudice that the sport has had to overcome.

In June 1881, the Huddersfield Daily Chronicle reported that an evening match had taken place at the ground of Cheetham Football Club between two teams of eleven women from England and Scotland.  The players, dressed in a costume 'neither graceful nor very becoming', were driven to the ground in a waggonette, and were followed by a crowd composed  mainly of youths eager for 'boisterous amusement'.  Very few people paid for admission but many gathered outside and tried to see what was going on.  Police constables were there to maintain order whilst 'the so-called match' was being played, but after about an hour they lost control and the ground was overtaken by a mob.  The women, fearing that there would be a repetition of the rough treatment they had met with in other parts of the country, ran back to the waggonette.  They were immediately driven away amidst jeers and disorder.

'The lady footballers at play’ at the north versus south match at Crouch End in 1895'The lady footballers at play’ at the north versus south match at Crouch End - Daily Graphic 25 March 1895

In April 1887 a letter was sent to the editor of the Wakefield and West Riding Herald about 'the exhibition in the Thornes Football Club field'.  The correspondent stated: 'The sight of women so far unsexing themselves as publicly to wear the dress of men, and play a game we are accustomed to regard as a purely masculine sport, is not easily reconcilable with our ideas of the fitness of things'.  The 'athletic and inspiriting game of football' played by men was a pleasurable amusement for spectators of both sexes.  'Delicate susceptibilities' were seldom wounded by unseemly remarks made by bystanders when watching young men play football.  But at the women's match the 'few respectable persons whom the novelty of the thing induced to see and judge for themselves the propriety or impropriety of the proceedings, were speedily driven from the ground by the disgusting remarks they could not avoid hearing, as well as by their individual reprehension of the whole affair'.

The correspondent believed that 'this unpleasant exhibit' was one of the last ways in which 'womanly women' would want to earn money.  His disgust was mingled with pity 'as the unavoidable feeling arises that the barriers of modesty and self-respect must have been largely broken down before such a way of life could have been decided upon’.  The letter ends with the call to oppose anything 'that has a tendency to lessen or destroy the innate delicacy of the female character'.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast)  - Huddersfield Daily Chronicle 23 June 1881; Wakefield and West Riding Herald 23 April 1887.

 

18 July 2023

A soldiers’ guide to Bangalore

In 1917 the Army Young Men’s Christian Association in Bangalore, India, published a guide to the town for British soldiers.

Front cover of A Soldiers' Guide to BangaloreFront cover of A Soldiers' Guide to Bangalore

Henry Venn Cobb, the Resident of Mysore, wrote a foreword to the book, welcoming all ranks of His Majesty’s Forces quartered in Bangalore.  He said that they would be living amongst friends and well-wishers in as good a climate that India could give.  Bangalore was the stepping stone to what all the soldiers wanted – a speedy transfer to the far-flung battle lines.

The Lal Bagh garden at Bangalore, looking towards the glass houseThe Lal Bagh garden at Bangalore, looking towards the glass house

The guide opens with general information about Bangalore – the government, population, climate, electricity supply, manufactures and agriculture – followed by an historical overview.  It describes some places of interest both in Bangalore and nearby –
• Cubbon Park – over 100 acres in size and beautifully laid out, with a bandstand for regular concerts.
• The Museum with collections of carvings, birds, insects, fishes, shells, and geological specimens.
• The Old City and the Fort.
• Tata Silk Farm, given to the Salvation Army around 1911.
• Lal Bagh, a pleasure garden with a rare and valuable collection of tropical plants, a menagerie, and a glasshouse for exhibitions.
• Maharajah’s Palace, designed on the model of Windsor Castle.
• Bull Temple with a huge bull carved out of rock and dedicated to the god Siva.
• Ulsoor Temple, an example of pyramidical architecture.
• Military Dairy Farm run by the British Government to supply produce to its forces.
• Tata Institute for scientific study and research.
• Mysore Government Experimental Farm.
• Cauvery Falls.
• Kolar Gold Fields.
• Mysore City.
• Nandidroog, a fortified hill providing wonderful views.
• Seringapatam, an old town with a fortress.
• Sivaganga, a sacred hill.

There are sections on missionary work in and around Bangalore, and on the Y.M.C.A.

Soldiers visiting Bangalore on furlough could stay at the Church of England Institute or the Wesleyan Soldiers’ Home.  Details are provided of all the churches in Bangalore with times of services – Church of England, Church of Scotland, Wesleyan, Methodist, Baptist, Roman Catholic.

Health hints are given to the soldiers –
• Inoculation for enteric and malaria.
• Getting at least seven hours’ sleep, eight if possible.
• Taking a sponge bath every morning if nothing better is possible.
• Eating only foods known to be good and properly cooked.
• Drinking water only when the source is known to be pure, or after it has been boiled.
• Not drinking or eating too much of anything.
• Taking some form of vigorous exercise – football, hockey, cricket, fives, basketball, tennis, golf, swimming, boxing, wrestling.
• Forming ‘high ideals of sex relation’ - medical science has proved that sexual intercourse is not necessary for the preservation of virility.
Soldiers should remember the folks at home; think clean thoughts; eat clean foods; and drink clean drinks.

There are explanations for a short list of Indian words.

Explanations for a short list of words

Explanations for a short list of words

The Guide ends with recommendations for reliable merchants and business houses in Bangalore whose advertisements had paid for the publication of the booklet.  The goods and services offered include furniture, stationery and books, Indian curios, clothing, footwear, jewellery, tools, cinema, car and cycle hire, medicines, toiletries, and confectionery.


Merchants' advertisements - curios, pharmaceuticals and cyclesMerchants' advertisements - curios, pharmaceuticals and cycles

 

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Army Y.M.C.A., A Soldiers' Guide to Bangalore (1917) British Library General Reference Collection 10056.de.13.

 

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

 

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