Untold lives blog

15 posts categorized "Newsroom"

10 July 2021

Italy v England

As we wait for the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy, I thought I’d look for stories about the earliest matches between the two countries in the British Library’s newspaper collection.

The first match between the two sides took place in May 1933 in Rome.  The result was a 1-1 draw.  The Sunday Pictorial published this picture ‘received by photo-telephony’ of the England goalkeeper Hibbs punching out the ball.

England v Italy 1933 - England goalkeeper Hibbs punching out the ball.British Newspaper Archive - With thanks to Reach PLC. Digitised by Findmypast Newspaper Archive Limited. All rights reserved.

In November 1934, the Weekly Dispatch reported that touts were charging £2 2s for tickets for the forthcoming England-Italy match at Highbury when the cheapest official entry fee was 2s.  Touts were expected to ask prices as high as £5 for the best seats just before kick-off.  England won 3-2.

The next match was held in Milan in May 1939, resulting in a 2-2 draw.  The President of the Italian Federation of Football, Lt Gen Giorgio Vaccaro, expressed the belief that the tie would help to cement the friendly relationship between the two countries.

Italy and England played their first fixture after World War II in Turin in May 1948.  The score was 4-0 to England.

The teams played again in November 1949 at White Hart Lane: England won 2-0.  Two boys from City School Lincoln were suspended by their headmaster for taking a day off to attend the match.  Jeffrey Poole, 14, and Peter Wheatley, 13, had gone with a small group of choirboys led by the Rev R F Walters, curate of St Swithin’s Church.  Their parents and the curate believed that the punishment was too harsh.  Jeffrey and Peter had no regrets, showing reporters a treasured souvenir programme and sharing memories of an exciting trip to London.  The boys were allowed to return to school after their parents wrote to the head regretting their action and promising it would not happen again.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast) e.g. Sunday Pictorial (listed under Sunday Mirror) 14 May 1933; Weekly Dispatch 11 November 1934; Sheffield Daily Telegraph 9 May 1939; Torbay Express and South Devon Echo 3 December 1949; Boston Guardian 14 December 1949.


17 June 2021

Women’s football in the 18th century

Following on from our post celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first Women’s FA Cup Final, this post delves back further into the history of the women’s game.

I was surprised to find a newspaper report of a women’s football match at Bath in October 1726.  ‘Yesterday a new and extraordinary Entertainment was set on Foot for the Divertion of our polite Gentry; and what should it be but a Match at Foot-Ball, play’d by six young Women of a Side, at the Bowling Green.’

Report of women's six-a-side football match 1726Report of women’s football match- Ipswich Journal 8 October 1726 British Newspaper Archive

Women’s football featured at the birthday celebrations held in 1790 at Brighton for the Prince of Wales and his brother the Duke of York.  There was a cricket match played by the Duke and ‘many gentlemen of rank and fashion’.  Other amusements included two 11-a-side football matches, one for the inhabitants of Brighton and the other for young women.  Each game had a prize of 5 guineas for the winning team.  There was also a ‘jingle-match’ won by John Baker who dressed up in bells and escaped capture by ten blindfolded people for half an hour.  Baker won a jacket, waistcoat, and gold-laced hat.

Another story which caught my eye was a report of a  football match held at Walton near Wetherby in Yorkshire in 1773.  The married gentlemen of Walton played the bachelors for a prize of 20 guineas.  A fiercely fought contest was waged for over an hour ‘with many falls and broken shinns given on each side’.  The wife of one of the married men was watching her husband being hard-pressed and decided to go to help him.  She was not intimidated by seeing him brought down by the superior strength of his antagonist, but went after the ball and secured victory for her husband’s team.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast)  - Ipswich Journal 8 October 1726; Chester Chronicle 3 September 1790; Leeds Intelligencer 2 March 1773.


31 August 2020

Music hall entertainment for Bank Holiday Monday

In August 1882 the New Star Music Hall in Liverpool advertised a varied bill for Bank Holiday Monday – magic, singing, comedy, dancing, opera.  The venue sought to attract customers not only through the quality of performers booked but also by its claim to be the coolest and best ventilated hall in England.

Bank Holiday Monday programme for the New Star Music Hall in Liverpool August 1882

Bank Holiday Monday programme for the New Star Music Hall in Liverpool - Caernarvon and Denbigh Herald 5 August 1882. British Newspaper Archive

The acts for the evening of 5 August 1882 were listed as-

    Bryant’s Great Marionette

George Bryant operated marionette performances from the 1870s.  Here is a picture of his Marionette Minstrels from a bill for the Winchester Music Hall in Southwark –a ‘Novel, Wonderful and Amusing Speciality’, ‘the Best Mechanical Entertainment in Europe, consisting of Songs, Dances, Jokes, Choruses etc’.

Picture of Bryant's Marionette Minstrels playing instruments from a bill for the Winchester Music Hall in SouthwarkBryant's Marionette Minstrels from a bill for the Winchester Music Hall in Southwark - British Library Evanion Collection 752

    Don Esparto, the Mystagogue, and Miss Lilian Haydn, the Enchantress

Don Esparto was the stage name of illusionist William Smith from Barrow Upon Humber, Lincolnshire.  He combined conjuring with mesmerism.  In one show, he made a man eat a candle in the belief that it was a string of sausages.  Miss Lilian Hadyn acted as his assistant and was described in newspapers as vivacious and a very good serio-comic.

    Sisters and Brother Phillips, the Burlesque Trio, The Three Comical Cards

This ‘Witty, Whimsical and Pantomimical’ act was formed in 1870 by W H Phillips who wrote the songs and material performed.  In 1886 he complained of ‘unprincipled copyists’ malignant vindictiveness and jealousy’.

    Brady and Johnson, the Inimitable Comic Duettists

Albert Brady and Marion Johnson were the stage names of married couple John and Mary Brady.  They performed sketches.

    Mr Harry Steele, Comic Vocalist and Eccentric Skater

Steele’s catchphrase was ‘By Jove! I was nearly down again’.

    Miss Milnes, Soprano Vocalist

The repertoire of Agnes Milnes, ‘the queen of song’, included opera and sentimental ballads.

    Mr George Vokes, Grotesque Comedian

Vokes was said to excite ‘the risible faculties of the audience by his comicalities’.

George-VokesGeorge Vokes by Alfred Concanen, circa 1870s © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

    Mr Harry Starr, American , Dutch, and Irish Character Comedian

Starr enjoyed considerable success as a variety artist and then became an actor and dramatist.

    Sisters De Laine, Fascinating Duettists and Champion Skipping Rope Dancers

In 1894, Alice De Laine opened a dance academy in London for music hall aspirants which specialised in tuition for skipping rope dancing.

Sisters De LaineAdvert for Alice De Laine's dance academy - Music Hall and Theatre Review 31 August 1894 British Newspaper Archive

       The Band - Grand Selection from Donizetti’s opera Anna Bolena

The performance started at 7.30pm. Tickets for the front stalls cost 1s 6d, stalls and promenade 1s, and the body of the hall 6d.  The Liverpool Mercury described the evening’s programme as ‘unusually interesting’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. London and Provincial Entr’Acte 26 July 1873; Caernarvon and Denbigh Herald 5 August 1882; Liverpool Mercury 8 August 1882; The Era 22 August 1880, 3 October 1885, and 8 May 1886; Midland Counties Advertiser 1 November 1888; Music Hall and Theatre Review 31 August 1894.

28 April 2020

The Derby Post-Man

By the 1720s the London press was in full flow, but newspaper printing elsewhere in England was only just getting started.  The earliest provincial newspapers began in Norwich (The Norwich Post) in 1701 and Bristol (The Bristol Post Boy) in 1704.  From here the printing of newspapers gradually spread to other regions, reaching Derby in 1720.  We have recently purchased a single unrecorded issue of The Derby Post-Man dated Thursday 6 July 1721.  This small weekly newspaper also survives in three issues at Derby Central Library and a fragment at the Bodleian Library.  Not only is this newspaper the first printed in Derby, it is also one of the first examples of printing in general from Derby.

The Derby Post-Man dated Thursday 6 July 1721.

The Derby Post-Man dated Thursday 6 July 1721 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Its front page features a large woodcut of a stag lying in a fenced enclosure and below that is an elaborate imprint, revealing that The Derby Post-Man was printed and sold by Samuel Hodgkinson at the Printing-Office in Derby, but it was also sold by various agents across the region.  Copies could be obtained from Birmingham, Uttoxeter and elsewhere, demonstrating the reach of this little newspaper.

Provincial newspapers are different from modern local newspapers; they contained London news for people in other areas of the country, only printing a small amount of local news and advertisements.  This issue of The Derby Post-Man reproduces an extract from the London Weekly Bill of Mortality, mortality statistics that were printed on a weekly basis from the late 16th century.   This extract includes deaths from a variety of conditions, including the intriguingly named 'headmouldshot' and 'rising of the lights'.  ‘Headmouldshot’ described a condition in which a newborn’s skull is compressed by delivery, causing fatal brain pressure.  It still exists but is now treatable. 'Rising of the lights' is an antiquated term for croup.  The horrible cough caused by croup sounded like the children were bringing up a lung, or ‘raising their lights’.

Derby Post Man Weekly Bill of Mortality photograph (1)

Weekly Bill of Mortality Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Snippets of news from St. James’s Evening Post follow, dated 29 June.  It took a week for the London newspapers to reach Hodgkinson in Derby and for him to print the stories in The Derby Post-Man.  Helpfully, the snippets of news from European cities are accompanied by a description of each place.  Marseilles is described as an ancient city in France, Parma as a rich and populous city in Italy and Hamburg a strong city in Denmark.  Handwritten news was another way in which news spread across the country.  It was seen as more up-to-date and reliable than printed news and provincial newspapers often extracted stories from manuscript newsletters.  This issue of The Derby Post-Man contains political news from 'Jackson’s letter'.

This issue of The Derby Post-Man also contains a poem about the South Sea Bubble written by 'a Lady'.  The South Sea Bubble was a period of speculation that ruined many British investors in 1720.   This poem is called 'Upon a lady’s being offered a purse by one of the late Directors of the South-Sea Company' and it is a scathing criticism of the South Sea Company.  It is precious evidence of a woman contributing to a newspaper during this period.  The poem is unrecorded elsewhere and would have been lost if this issue of The Derby Post-Man hadn’t survived.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections


16 April 2020

The London social season of 1863

‘Easter comes to interrupt the opening season, but London is all alive again with excitement.’

This was the opening line to an article in The Era on 29 March 1863 looking forward to the start of the London social season.  Sport, opera, art, music and the weather were all matters up for discussion.

Article in The Era 29 March 1863Article in The Era 29 March 1863 British Newspaper Archive

The first anticipated event was the annual University Rowing Match, with the favourite to win being described as ‘the great mother of Churchmen and Tories’, otherwise known as Oxford.

The opera season was due to commence the following week and is described in great detail with the highlights of that year being remarked on as Patti at Covent Garden, Titiens at the Haymarket and Verdi being ‘a double star’ with both his last work and his most recent being shown in London.  The author is a little critical of the music of the season remarking that, although music is always ‘eloquent everywhere’, there had been a ‘recent affliction of concerts of an awful length’.

Johanna Therese Carolina Tietjens or TitiensOpera singer (Johanna) Therese Carolina Tietjens (Titiens)by Adolphe Paul Auguste Beau 1860s NPG x74495 © National Portrait Gallery, London  National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

Then it is the turn of art, with the painters all preparing to show off their latest works at the Royal Academy.

There is also an observation that there would normally be remarks and pleasantries about the weather as it was the start of spring, but as they had heard that even the Crystal Palace could not be ascended owing to ‘winds of seventy miles an hour’, pleasantries no longer seemed appropriate.

The article ends with mention of the social calendar of the Prime Minister, Viscount Palmerston, who is on his way to Scotland for a visit to Glasgow.  His inauguration as the Rector of Glasgow University took place on 30 March 1863.

The social season of 1863 certainly sounded like a busy and exciting one in London.  Hopefully the 70 mile an hour winds didn’t deter the public from attending their social engagements and enjoying the delights of culture and entertainment that were on offer that year.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further reading:
The Era, 29 March 1863 - British Newspaper Archive also available via findmypast


01 April 2020

The 1901 census

The 1901 UK census was taken on 1 April for people living at midnight on Sunday 31 March.  The fact that it fell on April Fools' Day did not escape the newspapers who published reminders that there were penalties for people who played tricks.  Any person wilfully giving false information was liable to a fine not exceeding £5.

1901 census - cartoon of  an enumerator with a census schedule chasing a man with a gunEvening Post (Dundee) 1 April 1901 British Newspaper Archive 

The government appointed 50,000 enumerators, male and female.  Each received a fee of one guinea, with an extra payment of 3s 6d for every 100 people enumerated above the first 400.  The average responsibility of an enumerator was 300 families or 1500 people.

The enumerators left a schedule at every house or tenement in their district during the week ending 30 March 1901.  They took a note of the name of every person who received a schedule and of all uninhabited buildings.  Householders were assured that ‘strict care will be taken that the returns are not used for the gratification of curiosity’.

Each head of household had to fill in ten columns of information.
(1) The names of all occupants, listed in a set order where applicable – head, wife, children, other relatives, visitors, boarders, servants.
(2) Relationship to the head of household.
(3) Whether married, single or widowed.
(4) Sex.
(5) Age last birthday – inaccuaracies for domestic servants were sometimes caused by their reluctance to admit their real age for fear of dismissal.
(6) Occupation – there were elaborate instructions aimed at securing precise definitions. For example, nurses had to be categorized into hospital, sick, monthly, or domestic.
(7) Employed, employee, or working on own account.
(8) Working at home or not.
(9) Place of birth.
(10) ‘Deaf, dumb, imbecile or feeble-minded, blind or lunatic’.

On 1 April, the enumerators began the long task of collecting all the schedules and giving advice on completion where necessary.  Some reported being sworn at or threatened with violence.  One enumerator in Batley Yorkshire wrote to the local newspaper about the poor district of Daw Green.  He reported his concerns after visiting a dwelling consisting of two rooms, a kitchen with a bedroom above.  There were 14 people living there from two or three families, aged between two months and 40 years.

Poem The Census Man

Poem 'The Census Man' from Evening Post (Dundee) 1 April 1901 British Newspaper Archive 

The enumerators had to copy all the details from the schedules into an enumeration book by 8 April and deliver the schedules to the local registrar.  Between 8 and 22 April the registrar checked the enumerators’ work and passed the books to the superintendent registrar who forwarded them to the Census Office in Miilbank London by 27 April.  There, 200 clerks classified the entries and made preliminary returns after a couple of months before the issue of the final volume of statistics about two years later.

1901 census advert for Heggie the tailor in Dundee

Advert for Heggie the tailor in Evening Post (Dundee) 1 April 1901 British Newspaper Archive 

Dundee tailor Heggie took the opportunity of the census to take out a advert in the local Evening Post.  He advised all men in the town who were wearing the same suit purchased from him around the time of the last census to visit his premises to be measured for a new one: ‘That the wearers of those Garments have got their money’s worth can’t be disputed’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Leominster News and North West Herefordshire & Radnorshire Advertiser 18 January 1901; Oxfordshire Weekly News 27 March 1901; Evening Post (Dundee) 1 April 1901; Batley Reporter and Guardian 4 April 1901. The British Newspaper Archive is also available through findmypast.


29 February 2020

A Leap Year tragedy

Early on the morning of Tuesday 1 March 1892, a Thames waterman named Holeyman was in his boat at St George’s Stairs Horselydown when he saw the body of a young man floating in the river.  He attached a rope to the body and brought it on shore. 

Southwark Bridge c.1825Southwark Bridge on the Thames from David Hughson, London; being an accurate history and description of the British metropolis (London, c.1825) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The dead man’s clothes were searched at the mortuary by Mr Upton, the coroner’s officer, and Police Constable Longman.  They found a copy of a newspaper from Monday evening in a pocket, indicating that the body had not been long in the water.  There were also several bunches of keys and a Leap Year proposal of marriage from a girl.

From the letter, it appeared that the young man’s last name was Baths.  He was described in newspaper reports as being ‘of gentlemanly appearance, aged about twenty-five, with dark hair and eyes’.  As he was carrying 43 keys, the press speculated that he had held a responsible position in a City office.

The young man was later identified as Edward Walter Batho.  He was a collector for the Automatic Cigarette Company.  Presumably the keys opened vending machines?  An inquest was held by Mr Langham and the jury returned an open verdict.  I have been unable to discover any more about the circumstances of this sad death. 

Edward Walter Batho was born in Deptford 1868, the son of Robert, a butcher, and his wife Elizabeth.  Edward had a large number of siblings.  His father died in 1879 and Elizabeth supported her youngest children by working as a sextoness in a church in the City of London.  She died in 1890. 

In the 1891 census, 23-year-old Edward was living in Abchurch Lane in the City as head of a household with his sister Amy aged 19 and brother Henry, 17.  Edward was described as a ‘Railway Collector’.  Less than a year later, Edward was dead. 

So we are left to wonder - who was the girl who wrote the marriage proposal?  Can a reader shed any light on this mystery?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive e.g. Coventry Evening Telegraph 2 March 1892; Aberdeen Press and Journal 9 March 1892; Illustrated Police News 12 March 1892


03 February 2020

La Freya – 'artistic visions and superb poses'

On 3 February 1908 the Swansea Empire was offering a varied bill of entertainment – music, magic, comedy, ventriloquism, the American Bioscope, and La Freya ‘The Parisian Beauty, in a Novel Speciality’.

Theatre bill for Swansea February 1908South Wales Daily Post 3 February 1908 British Newspaper Archive


La Freya was a French vaudeville performer whose act consisted of ‘artistic visions and superb poses’.  She appeared at theatres the length and breadth of Britain between the years 1907 and 1915.  In 1909 she was on the bill at the Euston Theatre of Varieties which stood opposite St Pancras Station, a stone’s throw from the British Library’s present site.  

Euston Theatre of VarietiesEuston Theatre of Varieties from The Era 16 June 1900 British Newspaper Archive 

Advert for Euston Theatre of Varieties April 1909Advert for Euston Theatre of Varieties from Music Hall And Theatre Review 2 April 1909 British Newspaper Archive 

Taking the stage, La Freya stood on a podium in front of a black velvet curtain, dressed in a thin white silk body suit.  Her body was used as a screen.  She adopted a variety of poses as her husband projected lantern slides he had painted to ‘clothe’ her.  The ‘Decors Lumineux of Mr La Freya’ transformed her into visions such as a fairy, a butterfly, a mermaid, a gondolier, and a Scottish Highlander in full warpaint. 
  Full-length portrait photograph of La Freya

Portrait photograph of La Freya by Antoni Esplugas - Government of Catalonia, National Archive of Catalonia courtesy of  Europeana

La Freya and her husband had developed the act when they were working at the Folies Bergère in Paris.  The act lasted for ten minutes and the strain of standing still made La Freya sick when she first performed it.  She overcame this, although the lights continued to hurt her eyes.

The couple went to England intending to stay for just one season but ended up staying for several years, apparently because their management would not let them leave.  However La Freya and her husband did travel abroad for short seasons.  For example, from September to December 1910 they were in the United States, captivating audiences in New York, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia.

Review of La Freya's act from Cincinnati Commercial Tribune 10 November 1910 Review of La Freya's act from Cincinnati Commercial Tribune 10 November 1910 via findmypast Copyright: 'Fair Use' allowed (NewspaperARCHIVE.com)

They sailed to South Africa in June 1911 with other performers to fulfil engagements with Sydney Hyman at the Empire in Johannesburg.  By September La Freya was back on the London stage.

In June 1912 ‘Mr and Mrs La Freya’ were passengers on SS Medina to Australia.  They appeared in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, and Brisbane and the act was well-received.  A special tableau was created – the personification of Australia with Sydney Town Hall in the background.

The Australian press was keen to interview the couple.  La Freya spoke to journalists in English with her husband acting as interpreter.  She came from the south of France and her husband, identified as Monsieur La Mort, from Paris.  The Sydney Sunday Times  published a special illustrated feature on La Freya’s fitness regime, with advice on how to achieve a corsetless figure through ten or fifteen minutes’ exercise every day.

‘Mr and Mrs La Freya’ were bound by contracts for two more years and were aiming to make as much money as possible.  Then they planned to retire whilst La Freya was still a big name in vaudeville.  She wanted to concentrate on setting up a house and garden in the south of France, whilst her husband intended to shoot and fish.

It seems that La Freya disappears from the newspapers in early 1915.  So did she retire to lead a quiet life far away from the public gaze?  Can anyone tell me what happened to ‘the most perfectly formed woman in the universe’?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive
Trove newspapers from Australia
Anita Callaway, Visual ephemera – Theatrical art in nineteenth-century Australia (2000)


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