Untold lives blog

110 posts categorized "Leisure"

13 August 2019

Fourth ‘Queen’s Own’ Hussars in India

A small but unusual collection in the India Office Private Papers is a folder of ephemera of the British Army cavalry regiment, the Fourth Queen's Own Hussars.  The items in the folder are mostly related to the Regiment’s time overseas in the 1870s, and gives a fascinating glimpse into activities and entertainments when not on combat duties.

Ephemera collectionMss Eur C610 Noc

Raised in 1685 as Berkeley’s Dragoons as a consequence of the rebellion by the Duke of Monmouth, the Regiment would serve in many notable military actions, including Wellington’s Peninsula Campaign.  Renamed the Fourth Queen's Own Light Dragoons, the Regiment would spend 19 years in India between 1822 and 1841, and see action at the Battle of Ghazni during the First Anglo-Afghan war. 

Group of officers of Fourth Queens Own HussarsOfficers of the 4th (The Queen's Own) Regiment of Light Dragoons, 1855.  Photograph by Roger Fenton (1819-1869), Crimean War, 1855 NAM. 1964-12-151-6-35

The Regiment also served with distinction during the Crimea War, and was part of one of the most famous events in British military history, the charge of the Light Brigade.  The Fourth Light Dragoons were in the second line of the charge on 25 October 1854 against the Russian forces at Balaclava.  Of the 12 officers, 118 men and 118 horses of the Fourth Light Dragoons, 4 officers, 54 men and 80 horses were killed, wounded or missing at the end of the charge.  One of the men of the Regiment, Private Samuel Parkes was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in the charge.  The collection of ephemera contains a nominal roll of the officers and men of the Regiment who embarked on 17 July 1854, and Private Parkes is listed on page 7.  Parkes survived the charge and was captured by the Russians, spending a year as a POW. He was awarded his VC in 1857, and left the Regiment in December of that year.

Front cover of nominal roll of Fourth ‘Queen’s Own’ Hussars

Mss Eur C610 Noc

In 1867, the Regiment embarked on its second tour of duty in India.  Some of the most interesting pieces of ephemera in the collection from this period are programmes for ‘Evening Readings’ which the Regiment put on.  The programme for the evening readings for 26 February 1874, included the songs ‘They have laid her in her little bed’ sung by Private Fox and ‘A Life on the Ocean Wave’ sung by Corporal Walmsley.  Private Elliot gave a rendition of the comic song ‘Betsy Waring’. 

Front cover of programme for Evening Readings
Mss Eur C610 Noc

Evening readings programme

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On another occasion, an ‘Assault of Arms’ was staged displaying athletic prowess (dumb bell exercises, parallel bar) and combat skills (fencing, sword v bayonet, ancient combat), concluding with a boxing melée involving the whole company.

List of events for Assault of armsMss Eur C610 Noc

The Regiment left India on H.M. Indian troop ship Serapis on 6 December 1878 for the voyage back to England.  The collection includes the ship’s menu for Christmas dinner. 

Christmas dinner menuMss Eur C610 Noc

This included a soup course (mock turtle), starter of jugged hare, mutton cutlets or fricassee chicken, main course of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, roast mutton and red currant jelly, boiled turkey and oyster sauce, or roast goose and apple sauce, and finishing with plum pudding, mince pies and cherry tart.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Printed ephemera of the 4th Light Dragoons in India, including `Nominal Roll of the Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers, and Men,' programmes for evening readings and other entertainments, 1869-1878 [Reference: Mss Eur C610]
A Short History of the IV. Queen's Own Hussars, by H. G. Watkin, continued by T. W. Pragnell., (Meerut, 1923) [Reference: 8823.e.46.]
A Short History of the 4th Queen's Own Hussars, by Major T. J. Edwards (Canterbury: Gibbs & Sons, 1935) [Reference: 8820.df.30.]
4th Hussar. The story of the 4th Queen's Own Hussars, 1685-1958, by David Scott Daniell, etc. [With plates and maps.] (Aldershot: Gale & Polden, 1959) [Reference: 8840.bbb.7.]

Exploits of the Queens Own Light Dragoons

 

09 July 2019

Finding Mermanjan – Star of the Evening Part 2

We left sixteen-year-old Mermanjan in 1849 about to run away from Afghanistan to find her beloved Captain Thomas Maughan in north-west India (today Pakistan).  Accompanied only by a servant, Mermanjan rode her horse close to 1,000 miles from the Khyber Pass through Multan and Kohtri to Karachi. 

Watercolour of Indian landscapes, possibly by MermanjanWatercolour of Indian landscapes, by Mermanjan? - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

They encountered hardship and prejudice on the way, on account of being Muslim, but also found people who helped them on their way.   When the fugitives’ money ran out and they were facing hunger, Mermanjan decided to sell her ring at a local bazaar.  The shop owner paid them much less than it was worth, but an Indian soldier saw that they were being tricked and made the shop owner give them the rightful amount. 

Watercolour of Indian soldiers, probably by Thomas Maughan Watercolours of Indian soldiers, probably by Thomas Maughan

Watercolours of Indian soldiers, probably by Thomas Maughan India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

On their final stretch in Kotri when they had to cross the Indus river, they found that they didn’t have enough for the boat fare.  They pleaded with the boatman and even though he could not understand them, he had heard of Captain Maughan and his regiment. Presumably Mermanjan had written ahead to tell him that they would be arriving, and by chance the day before Thomas had sent an orderly to find them.  The boatman rushed off and caught the orderly just as he was about to buy his return ticket. He took the man to the travellers, and soon all was arranged. 

When the travelling party finally made it to Maughan’s bungalow, Mermanjan refused to dismount until her beloved came out: ‘he will only know me when he sees me on my black horse, for I am in rags and soiled and disfigured with boils and blisters and very ill’.  She sat there patiently but ‘almost fainting from fatigue and fear now that the terrible strain of her great adventure was nearly at an end.’  Maughan was urgently sent for and found her a ‘poor huddled little form’ seated on her black horse sobbing bitterly.  ‘Tenderly he carried her into her house and sent for the doctor… soon she was cared for and comforted but it was a long time before she recovered from the effects of her hardships and was very ill for many weeks’. 

In the early days after Mermanjan was reunited with Thomas, she could not be persuaded to see anyone, so nervous and frightened had she become.   A fellow Colonel remarked: ‘[he] always made an awful fuss over her, even to bathing her daily even when she was over twenty’, also buying her dolls and picture books as though she were a child.  From these years Mermanjan kept many of Thomas’s little drawings calculated to amuse his young wife - little ladies in crinolines; caricatures of his fellow officers.  She used account books to practise writing rows of letters as she gradually learnt to write in English.   She preferred seclusion ‘considered by the higher orders as indispensable to a woman after a marriage’ and took to flower arranging in the house.  

Caricatures of English Victorians in India possibly by Thomas MaughanCaricatures of English Victorians in India by Thomas Maughan?  - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

These were perhaps the happiest years of Mermanjan’s life. However, there was not to be a fairy-tale ending for our heroine.  Find out what happened next in Part 3!

Felicia Line
Independent researcher

Further reading:
Finding Mermanjan – the star of the evening – Part 1, Part 3, Part 4
Gertrude Dimmock, Mermanjan, Star of the Evening (Hendon Publishing Co. Nelson, 1970) 
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304 Maughan Collection

 

16 May 2019

Celebrating King Edward VIII’s Birthday at the Bahrain Political Agency

On 23 June 1936 the Bahrain Political Agency held an official ceremony in celebration of King Edward VIII’s birthday. Announcing it as an official holiday, the Agency made a series of arrangements to mark the occasion. It is clear that the Agency was keen to make the occasion as inclusive and organised as it could be. Arabic invitation cards were ordered from the Times Press Limited at Baghdad and Basra.

Letter from the Times Press Limited about order for Arabic invitation cards IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 30

Arabic document connected to order for invitation cards IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 32

The Agency sent personal invitations to members of the Bahrain Government including Shaikhs ‘Abdullah bin ‘Isa and Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa.

Personal invitation to member of the Bahrain Government IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 37

Messrs Jashanmal (now Jashanmal Department Stores, Bahrain) supplied the Agency with refreshments including Nice biscuits, sherbet, chocolate, crystallised cherries, and Mackintosh toffees. Whereas Messrs Ashraf Brothers (now Ashrafs W.L.L.) supplied coffee, rose water, nuts and plates.

Order to Messrs Jashanmal for refreshments IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 43 
 

Order to Messrs Ashraf Brothers for coffee, rose water, nuts and plates.IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 44

To ensure everyone’s loyalty to the British Crown, the Agency invited representatives of various ethnic and religious communities living in Bahrain including Arabs, Persians, Hindu and Jewish. Indeed this could also display a British attempt to show an inclusive policy towards everyone in Bahrain.

List of names of people delivering speechesIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 60

A list of names was circulated among the invitees. In turn, each invitee left a note near his name either to confirm or apologise. In some cases, certain individuals sent letters of apology, like the one sent by Mr ‘Abdul ‘Aziz al-Qusaibi.

List of names circulated among the inviteesIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 48

Letter of apology from Mr ‘Abdul ‘Aziz al-QusaibiIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 45

On the day, the Agency received its special guests by placing a guard of honour to wait for them at the door. After serving coffee and other refreshments, a number of invitees read out their letters of congratulation. The assistants of the heads of the Manama and Muharraq Municipalities read out the letters on behalf of their municipalities.

Letter of congratulation IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 54

Letter of congratulationIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 55

Others read out their letters on behalf of their companies or communities. These include Mullah Hasan bin al-Shaikh al-Majed, representing the Arab Bahrainis; Ghanshamdas Dhamanmal Isardas, representing the Hindu; and Mir Daoud Rouben, representing the Jewish community in Bahrain.
 

Letter of congratulation IOR/R/15/2/1663, f 58

Letter of congratulationIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 59

Further, both Haji Abdun Nabi Bushehri, representing the Iranian Shi‘a community; and Haji Muhammad Tayeb Khunji, representing the Iranian Sunni community read out their tabriknameh [congratulation letters] in Persian.

Letter of congratulationIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 56

Letter of congratulationIOR/R/15/2/1663, f 57

The language used in these letters reflected the purpose of the invitation in the first place. The letters were in praise of the British Empire, and all wishing King Edward VIII to live long and be prosperous. The similarity of their wordings display nothing but loyalty to the British Crown. Ironically, only six months after the occasion, Edward VIII abdicated on 11 December 1936 and soon his loyalty to the British Crown became a matter of dispute among many.

Ula Zeir
Content Specialist/ Arabic Language
British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme

Further reading
IOR/R/15/2/1663 'File 20/1- Vol: III Ceremonial and Celebrations: New Year's and King's Birthday's Celebrations.'
Edward VIII

01 April 2019

April Fool’s Day at the zoo

The first of April was not a day that the staff of zoos around Britain used to look forward to with any pleasure.  A popular April Fool’s Day trick was to leave a note for a colleague in an office or factory giving the telephone number of the local zoo with the instruction to ask for one of these people -

Mr C Lyon
Mr P Cock
Mr G Raff
Miss Ella Fant
Mr Wolf.

Sea lionSea Lion via Clipart

So many calls were made to Dudley Zoo on the morning of 1 April 1965 that it took three members of the office staff to cope.  The jammed switchboard was closed down at 10.45 until 14.00. One unwitting caller was connected when they asked for Mr Mole.   They were put through to Mr Moule in the catering department.

London Zoo became tired of the joke.  At one time staff would answer dozens of requests to speak to Mr Lyon by repeating wearily: ‘This is the Zoological Society.  All our lions are in cages and it is April 1 today’.  The  Primrose telephone exchange then began to help by asking questions to discover whether the call was bona fide before putting it through to the Zoo. 
 
In 1866 London Zoo was the victim of an April Fool hoax when 300 people arrived with fake tickets, lured by a bargain price and the promise of seeing a parade of lions, tigers, bears and leopards.  You can read the full story here.

Sunderland Daily Echo wrote in 1932: ‘April first is the hoaxer’s holiday when all the old “chestnuts” can be tried out again with impunity’.  So beware any notes left for you this morning and double check before you make any phone calls! 

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

 

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive: for example Daily Herald 1 April 1930; Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette 1 April 1932; Birmingham Daily Post 2 April 1965.

 

19 March 2019

Marie Corelli: Superstar Author of the Victorian Era

Of all the authors of the Victorian era, Marie Corelli (1855-1924) is not easily recalled, names such as Tennyson, Dickens, the Brontës and Mary Shelley are more likely to come to mind.  She has slipped into obscurity over the years.  Yet intriguingly, Corelli was one of the most popular authors of her time.  She was a bestselling author and an individual whose life contained many of the hallmarks of contemporary celebrity: fame, fortune and famous friends.

Postcard depicting popular Victorian author Marie Corelli Postcard depicting popular Victorian author Marie Corelli Wikimedia Commons

Evidence of the scale of her popularity is illustrated in the British Library’s Manuscript Collections.  There are a number of her publishing agreements in the archive of Marie Corelli’s publisher, Richard Bentley (Add MS 46560-46682).  One of these is the publishing agreement for Corelli’s book Wormwood (published only a few years into her literary career) which shows that she was offered a total of £800 for this title.  In today’s money this would be an advance of over £65,000, quite a lot of money for any author.  Such a sum shows just how much confidence Bentley had in Corelli.  He evidently believed that the investment would be rewarded.

Publishing agreement for Corelli’s book WormwoodAdd MS 46623, f.327

Corelli's novels combined a writing style that was melodramatic and florid.  Her interest in mysticism and spiritualism could lead to her characters expressing bizarre abilities to dematerialise and time-travel.  On top of this she had a tendency to moralise and bemoan contemporary society.  This made her novels rather liable to ridicule by critics.  However it does not seem to have affected her sales; according to the Bentley’s accounts, Corelli made over £900 in royalties alone in 1893, and £1000 in 1894.

Royalty statement for Marie CorelliAdd MS 46562, f.15

Aside from considerable sales, the stardom of Corelli is further illustrated by a number of unlikely, but influential fans, one being Oscar Wilde who stated that she told of ‘marvellous things in a marvellous way’.  She was also friends with Ellen Terry, the leading Shakespearean actress.  Another fan was the Prime Minister, William Gladstone.  Gladstone was such a fan that he popped around unannounced to meet Corelli.  To her horror, she was out at the time and was dreadfully disappointed to have missed one of the ‘profound thinkers and sage of the century’.

Marie Corelli's letter to William GladstoneAdd MS 44507, f.3

Corelli’s extroverted personality and her fame meant she was scrutinized more closely than most.  She often cut a contradictory figure.   She railed against marriage in her article 'The Modern Marriage Market', feeling that women too often were sold and traded like property, and yet she was an avid anti-suffragette.  She appealed for charity on behalf of hospitals during the First World War, but was convicted of hoarding food against regulation.  She could be fleeting with friends, but she lived solely with one woman, Bertha Vyver, for 40 years, dedicating her books to her and leaving her everything in her will.

The dedication to Bertha in Thelma, 1888The dedication to Bertha in Thelma, 1888

A century after her death, Marie Corelli’s work is largely forgotten.  Her florid style and sentimentality became unfashionable as a new generation of modernist writers took hold of the literary lime-light.  For most of her lifetime, however, Corelli’s writing brought her great success, so much so that that most of her fellow Victorians would have known her name.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further Reading:
The Bentley Papers, Add MS 46560-46682, British Library
Bigland, E. Marie Corelli: The Woman and the Legend, (London: Jarrolds Publishers, 1953)
Corelli, M and Others. The Modern Marriage Market, (London : Hutchinson & Co, 1898)
Corelli, M. Thelma: A New Edition, (London: Richard Bentley & Son, 1888)
The National Archives, Currency Converter

 

15 January 2019

Cats and games of forfeit

Did you play any board or parlour games with friends or family over the festive period?  In our Cats on the Page exhibition we feature a small pamphlet entitled The Pretty, playful, tortoise-shell cat: a new game of questions and commands.

Title page of The Pretty, playful, tortoise-shell cat: a new game of questions and commandsThe Pretty, playful, tortoise-shell cat: a new game of questions and commands (London, 1817) © British Library Board

Facing this title-page there is an image of a group of children sitting round the (slightly over-performing) fire with their cat - apparently about to begin playing the game.  The publisher, John Marshall, seized this opportunity to promote two more of his games, namely The Hopping, prating, chatt’ring magpie and The Frisking, barking, lady’s lap-dog which he also published in 1816-17.

 
Five children and a cat sitting in front of a roaring fireThe Pretty, playful, tortoise-shell cat (London, 1817) © British Library Board

Other titles produced around the same time include The Noble, prancing, cantering horse, also printed by Marshall, and The Pretty, young, playful, innocent lamb, printed for J. and E. Wallis.  (There were also similar games based on the rhyme The House that Jack built and derivatives such as The Barn that Tom built and The Mill that Charles built!).

Several are subtitled ‘a new [entertaining] game of questions and commands’ and essentially they are cumulative memory games with forfeits.  Generally someone is appointed Treasurer and passes a small item such as a thimble to the first player with the command “Take this”.  The first player asks “What’s this?” and the Treasurer replies with the first section of the rhyme (e.g. “The Pretty, playful, tortoise-shell cat…” ).  The first, and subsequent players, then repeat these actions until the thimble returns to the Treasurer.  It is then passed round again with the addition of the second section of the rhyme and so on until the entire, lengthy, rhyme has to be memorised and repeated by each player.  Should a player make a mistake or forget the rhyme a forfeit has to be paid to the Treasurer.  At the end of the game, another player is appointed to devise appropriate tasks for the retrieval of the forfeits – tasks might include solving a riddle, spelling a long, nonsensical word or being tickled.      

There seems to have been a brief flurry of these titles from about 1815 to around 1830.  Though Marshall was not the only publisher of such works he does seem to have made these games a speciality.  Presumably they were profitable since his widow subsequently assigned some of the titles to David Carvalho who continued to print them until around 1830. 

However their origin appears to have been earlier.  As you can see, there was a formula to the titles, which seems to have drawn on The Gaping, wide-mouthed, waddling frog.  This is believed to have been first recorded in print around 1760 in The Top book of all, for little masters and misses as ‘The play of the wide-mouth waddling frog, to amuse the mind, and exercise the memory’.  It is found again, with instructions, in Mirth without mischief around 1800 and we have a copy of the game based on the rhyme published by A.K. Newman & Co. around 1825.  A version of the verses was also illustrated by Walter Crane in the late 19th century.

Title page of The Gaping, wide-mouthed, waddling frog The Gaping, wide-mouthed, waddling frog (London, ca. 1825) © British Library Board

Many of the catalogue records relating to the booklets published in the early 19th century by Marshall suggest that the illustrations were by Isaac Robert Cruikshank.  We shall be looking into stories about his early life in our next post.

Alison Bailey
Lead Curator, Printed Heritage Collections 1901-2000

Further reading:
The Pretty, playful, tortoise-shell cat: a new game of questions and commands. Embellished with fourteen coloured engravings. London: Printed and sold by John Marshall, 1817. C.194.a.968.
The Top book of all, for little masters and misses. London: sold only at R. Baldwin's, and S. Crowder's, and at Benj. Collins's, Salisbury, [1760?]. Ch.760/5.(1.). Pages 15-31.
Mirth without mischief. London: printed by J. Davenport, for C. Sheppard, [1800?]. Ch.780/110. Pages [17]-33.
The Gaping, wide-mouthed, waddling frog: a new and entertaining game of questions and commands. With proper directions for playing the game and crying the forfeits. Embellished with fifteen coloured engravings. London: A.K. Newman & Co., [ca. 1825] C.194.a.842.
The Oxford dictionary of nursery rhymes. Edited by Iona and Peter Opie. New ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.  YK.1997.a.6456.
Brian Alderson and Felix de Marez Oyens, Be merry and wise: origins of children's book publishing in England, 1650-1850. London: British Library, 2006. LC.31.b.2656.

Cats on the Page exhibition supported by

Logo of Animals Friends, exhibition sponsor

 

03 January 2019

The Great War Fund Fete

On 13 January 1941 a War Fund Fete was held at Government House, Madras.  As well as raising money for the Madras War Fund, the fete was also intended as a propaganda event.

Front cover of the War Fund Fete programme India Office Private Papers Mss Eur C261/5/2 f 1 Front cover of the War Fund Fete programme 

It was a grand affair with the programme featuring 91 entries for stalls, games, entertainments and food and drink establishments, along with more practical facilities including cloakrooms and parcel stores, lost property and medical stations.  Currency for the fete was in coupons and the public had to purchase books of coupons in order to make purchases or enjoy the entertainments on offer.

One local newspaper on the day of the fete described Government House as having been 'transformed into a pleasureland' for that night's merrymaking.  According to the Madras Mail of 14 January 1941, the fete was opened when 'Tough cowboys burst open the gates at Government House yesterday and their tempestuous entrance made it possible for the public to enter at last'.

Many of the stalls were similar to those featured at fetes nowadays with lucky dips, raffles, coconut shy’s, and bagatelle.  Others however had more unusual titles, including ‘Bunty pulls the strings’ and ‘Breaking up the happy home’ (similar to today’s crockery smash stalls).  There were also elephant rides, several magic gardens and even a Chinese Laundry!  One of the most popular stalls at the Fete was that of Woolworth’s.  One local newspaper the following day observed:
'Equally crowded was the excellent “Woolworth” stall, where the most effective household oddments, artfully and thriftily contrived, were sold for a song'.

Entertainment at the fete included two bandstands and a theatre which featured dance groups and musicians as well as plays.  The performances on show included the Tamil comedy The Sub-Assistant Magistrate of Sultanpet and the Tamil play The Pongal Feast.

Food and drink were also in abundance with American style diners and saloons, coffee and refreshment stalls and a Toc H Bar.  For those looking for a full evening’s entertainment there was a Tocaitchaski bar with its own orchestra, a banqueting hall with dancing from 9pm to 2am (evening dress was optional) and a cabaret dinner, promenade and bar with the cabaret performance at 9pm.

Front page of The Mail 14 January 1941 showing the crowds surging into the feteIndia Office Private Papers Mss Eur C261/5/2, f 23 Front page of The Mail 14 January 1941 showing the crowds surging into the fete

According to the newspaper reports people attended the fete in their thousands: 'In they surged, school boys and girls, scores of excited men and women, mothers with babies and with chattering kiddies clinging to available fingers, happy young things on the arms of their beaux, while burnished cars and buses squeezed through as well'.

In a letter written on 16 January 1941 Sir Arthur Hope, the Governor of Madras, congratulated Captain Thomas William Barnard, Honorary Secretary to the Fete’s organising committee, on the wonderful success of the fete and also commented that 'Apart from the financial result, it was a great piece of propoganda [sic] which will have its effect'.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur C261/5/2 - The Great Fete at Government House Grounds Madras 13 January 1941
- Includes press cuttings from The Mail (formerly known as The Madras Mail) 14 January 1941

 

19 December 2018

Christmas bound

'Do give books - religious or otherwise - for Christmas. They're never fattening, seldom sinful, and permanently personal.' Sound advice from American magazine editor Lenore Hershey (1919-1997).

19th century green paper over boards on Naughty Boys and Girls 11526.f.1. 19c green paper over boards on Naughty Boys and Girls [1852].

Those of us born ‘non digital’ would have regularly received a festive book or two; an annual, collections of fairy tales, ghost stories or Christmas verse.  Whatever the subject, the bindings were invariably attractive. Mass production techniques developed in the 19th century meant that books once hand-bound in leather were now available in inexpensive cloth or paper covers.  The emerging middle classes in Victorian England had money to spare for the purchase of extras, notably books, and if they were instructional as well as aesthetically appealing, all the better.  Artists were employed to decorate the bindings and they often ‘advertised’ by incorporating their initials into their designs.  Notable were John Leighton, also Albert Henry Warren, William Harry Rogers and William Ralston.  Examples of their work are below.

Naturally, Christmas would not be Christmas without Charles Dickens, particularly as many of his stories were set in the festive season.  Their popularity was a money-spinner for author and publishers alike.

Cover of Christmas Stories from the Household Words. Conducted by Charles Dickens12623.g.25. Christmas Stories from the Household Words. Conducted by Charles Dickens. [The extra Christmas numbers for 1850-1858.]

Victorian publishers exploited this lucrative new market to tailor books to the tastes of children, although the two depicted in the song book below seem somewhat depressed at the prospect!

  Stories for the Little Ones - Gold blocked cloth binding designed by William Ralston11602.cc.30. Gold blocked cloth binding designed by William Ralston.  Note the initials WR towards the centre of the tail edge.

Some children’s picture books retained a didactic flavour.  The upper cover of Simple Hans and other funny pictures and stories proclaimed 'Oh children, children come and see / This funny picture-book for you and me/ Bought by our Mama dear! / So that we may grow good and wise / And ‘neath a merry laugh’s disguise/ Learn naughty ways to fear'.

Other themes were more fun, ranging from the snowy weather to seasonal tales and traditional toys.

Jack Frost & Betty Snow - Gold blocked cloth binding designed by John Leighton
12807.b.53. Gold blocked cloth binding designed by John Leighton.

Paper binding over boards on King Nutcracker, 1854.12806.e.12. Paper binding over boards on King Nutcracker, 1854.

Gold blocked cloth binding designed by Albert Henry Warren on Tales of the Toys, 1869 12807.ee.35.  Gold blocked cloth binding designed by Albert Henry Warren on Tales of the Toys, 1869 and bound by Bone and son of London.

Books could also promote sociability and enhance family life.  After the grand Christmas dinner, chapters containing stories, jokes, nonsense verse and other favourites could be read aloud and enjoyed by everyone.
 

Gold blocked cloth binding on Lewis Caroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, 1876.W14/4782.  Gold blocked cloth binding on Lewis Caroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, 1876.


Paper binding over boards on A bushel of merry-thoughts, 1868 designed by William Harry Rogers (RB.31.a.43. Paper binding over boards on A bushel of merry-thoughts, 1868 designed by William Harry Rogers (his intertwined initials are beneath the red pennant to the left).

Serious-minded relatives or godparents who held themselves responsible for the spiritual or moral well-being of their young kinsfolk, sometimes felt it appropriate to give them devotional or educational works.  One can only hope that they were not quizzed on the contents!

Five spines from gold blocked cloth bindings Spines from gold blocked cloth bindings (taken from the Library’s online image databse of bookbindings).

Annuals were popular, particularly as gifts to older children who could be trusted to read quietly to themselves (perhaps whilst the adults had an after dinner nap).

Peter Parley's Annual - Gold blocked publisher’s cloth binding 1860PP.6750. Gold blocked publisher’s cloth binding on an 1860 annual (note the designer’s signature MAC below the date). This was a gift from father to son as indicated by the manuscript notes inside: "Dec. 21st 1859. To My Dear Son Denis. A Reward for attention to his studies. D H Donnell".

 

Detail from the paper cover of London out of town12352.a.3. Detail from the paper cover of London out of town.  The price was one shilling.

In 1844, John Leighton wrote and illustrated the amusing London out of town. Or the adventures of the Browns at the sea side.  It was one of the earliest comic books and appealed to old and young alike.

Merry Christmas and merry reading!

Cover of Christmas Rhymes and New Year's Chimes11649.f.22. Blocked in colours on cloth. Mary D Brine, [Christmas Rhymes and New Year's Chimes ... Illustrated.] [1890] 

P. J. M. Marks
Curator, Bookbindings. Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading:
Edmund M. B. King, Victorian Decorated Trade Bindings, 1830-1880: A Descriptive Bibliography. The British Library and Oak Knoll Press, 2003.
The Victorian Web

With thanks to Gillian Ridgley.

 

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