Untold lives blog

170 posts categorized "War"

05 September 2022

Introducing Prime Ministers’ Papers from Robert Walpole to H. H. Asquith

The Modern Archives collections holds many of the personal papers of the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom.  These are rich and extensive papers, which offer an incredible insight into the British political establishment over two centuries.  Our new collection guide introduces our holdings relating to British Prime Ministers.  The collections listed are valuable resources that can offer first-hand accounts of the some of the most prominent political personalities and infamous events of modern British history.  The papers include dialogues with Royals, correspondence from politicians, petitions, personal diaries and drafts of legislation.

We have selected a few items from this huge collection that highlight some of the fascinating stories hidden within these papers.

The folio below is from the copybook of letters of the John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, Prime Minister from 1762 to 1763.  In this volume of transcripts of the Earl of Bute’s letters are a number of letters to the Prince of Wales, the future King George III.  The Earl of Bute offers his personal advice to the Prince, the transcript below offers insights into the tone of these letters.

Earl of Bute’s advice to the future George IIIEarl of Bute’s advice to the future George III, Add MS 36797, f.66v. 

The papers of Lord North, Prime Minister from 1770 to 1782, offer insights into the British State’s response to the American Revolutionary War.  Among the papers are various letters from Loyalists including a petition of prisoners requesting assistance.  The folio below is a letter from Richard Clarke on behalf of his son Isaac who was one of the merchants chosen by the English East India Company to deal with tea consignments in Boston.  He refers to the violence that erupted during the event known as the Boston Tea Party, which brought suffering to his son and ended his employment.  From here, he appeals to Lord North for compensation for his son’s loss of income.

Letter to Lord North from Richard Clarke recalling his son’s experience of the Boston Tea PartyLetter to Lord North from Richard Clarke recalling his son’s experience of the Boston Tea Party, he was ‘greatly exposed to the violence of the rioters, even before those teas were destroyed’. Add MS 61864, f.25. 

The papers of George Canning, prime minster in 1827, include files relating to the campaign to abolish slavery within the British Empire. The British trade in slaves had been illegal since 1807; however, ownership of slaves in British colonies was still legal until 1833. Some of Canning’s papers explore slavery within the British Empire, like the folio below concerning the case of a man who was contesting his enslavement in British Guiana.

Papers considering the case of a man who was contesting his enslavement in British GuianaPapers considering the case of Barra[h/k], a man who was contesting his enslavement in British Guiana. Canning Papers, Add MS 89143/1/8/2. No foliation. 

The extensive Gladstone Papers cover his four premierships and offer a unique insight into an expansive range of policy interests and political issues over the 19th century.  This letter is one of many from women’s suffrage campaigners. Millicent Fawcett writes to Gladstone’s office to thank Gladstone for his sympathy towards her sick husband.

Letter to Gladstone from Millicent Fawcett  1885Gladstone Papers, Letter to Gladstone from Millicent Fawcett, 1885, Add MS 44156, f.191v. 

These fascinating examples from the collection are just a few folios from a vast set of collections that offer unique perspectives on the history of governance, policy, power and politics in Britain from the 17th to the 20th century.

Jessica Gregory
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives

Further Reading:
Prime Ministers’ Papers and Correspondence

 

17 August 2022

Read all about it - Brendan Bracken's letters to Max Aitken

Politicians and journalists have a strange love/hate relationship.  A newspaper can bring down a politician (think The Guardian and MPs Jonathan Aitken and Neil Hamilton); equally a politician can spell trouble for a newspaper (see Tom Watson’s campaign against phone hacking).  However, they also depend on each other: politicians need to be in the public eye; newspapers need stories, ideally with sources close to the heart of government.  That relationship is important today but imagine how much more important it was in the 1930s and 1940s when, without the internet, no television to speak of, and really just one channel on the radio, the only truly mass media was newspapers, which sold in their millions every day across hundreds of local and national titles.  So the correspondence of a government minister and the owner of the country’s best selling newspaper could be expected to be rich with stories, gossip, and tips.  The letters of Brendan Bracken to Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, spanning more than 30 years and acquired by the  British Library in April 2022, do not disappoint.

Photographic portrait of Brendan BrackenBrendan Bracken by Elliott & Fry, bromide print, 13 January 1950. NPG x86452 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

The two met around 1923, possibly through their mutual friend, Winston Churchill, and soon struck up a firm friendship.  They had much in common.  Bracken had a background in financial journalism.  He became an MP in 1929, was appointed Churchill’s Parliamentary Private Secretary in 1940 (Bracken was to be one of Churchill’s closest allies throughout the latter’s long political career), and Minister of Information the following year.  Beaverbrook was an MP from 1910 to 1916 before being created a baron, and had himself served as Minister of Information in 1918.  He had been involved in British newspapers since 1911, and was the owner of the Daily Express, which by 1937 was the country’s best selling newspaper and post-war became the world’s largest selling newspaper.  When Churchill appointed Beaverbrook Minister of Aircraft Production in 1940, (the first of three War Cabinet posts he was to hold), Bracken and Beaverbrook found their interests and politics merging at the very centre of power, with all the access to information and gossip that would bring.

Photographic portrait of William Maxwell Aitken 1st Baron BeaverbrookWilliam Maxwell Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook by Howard Coster, half-plate film negative, 1930 NPG x2803 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

Bracken’s letters are full of behind the scenes rumour, news, and comment relating to politics and the press.  The letters touch on every major event and crisis of those turbulent times: the rise of Nazi Germany, appeasement, the Czechoslovak crisis, World War II, Churchill’s leadership, the reforming post-war Labour government, the economy, factions in both the Conservative and Labour parties, decolonisation and the end of empire, and the Suez crisis.  There is comment on all the major political figures of the period: Chamberlain, Churchill, Attlee, Dalton, Bevin, Bevan, Morrison, Butler, Macmillan, and Eden.  The letters also discuss major figures in diplomacy and international affairs, business and industry, the newspaper trade, Anglo-American relations, and post-war South Africa under its National Party government.

Bracken’s letters have a relaxed, informal, conversational style about them and should not just be seen as a source of political and press tittle tattle.  They can also be read as a record of a genuine friendship.   Real warmth comes through, and they contain the discussions of health, hospitality, birthday gifts, and visits to see each other that one would expect from letters between any two old friends.  These two old friends just so happened to be two of the most powerful people in the country!

Michael St John-McAlister
Western Manuscripts Cataloguing Manager

Further reading:
Add MS 89495 Letters from Brendan Bracken to Max Aitken, Baron Beaverbrook, 1925-1958
Richard Cockett, ed., My Dear Max: the Letters of Brendan Bracken to Lord Beaverbrook, 1925-1958 (London: The Historians’ Press, 1990)
Charles Edward Lysaght, Brendan Bracken (London: Allen Lane, 1979)
Charles Williams, Max Beaverbrook: Not Quite a Gentleman (London: Biteback, 2019)

 

19 July 2022

Life in Khartoum between Hicks and Gordon

A small collection of letters reveals the military career of a little-known British officer in Sudan in the late 19th century and his swift rise following a disastrous expedition.

The British Government was drawn into a war in Sudan by the bankruptcy of the Egyptian government in 1878.  The remaining shares of the new Suez Canal were bought up by the British to stabilise Egyptian debt. The British majority control of the canal gave them power over Egypt, effectively transforming it into a client state.

This intervention coincided with the rise of the self-proclaimed Mahdi, Muhammad Ahmed ‘ibn Abdullah, in Sudan, who declared war with Egypt in 1881.  With British support, the Egyptian ruler, Khedive Tewfik, launched an offensive to take back Sudan in 1883, appointing Colonel William Hicks as commander.

Head and shoulders portrait of William HicksColonel William Hicks from Charles George Gordon, Gordon and the Mahdi, an illustrated narrative of the war in the Soudan, etc (1885) Digital Store 9061.f.9 BL flickr

Henry de Coëtlogon, a retired Major from the Indian Army, received an appointment in Hicks’ staff and the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  His time in Sudan is recorded in a series of intimate letters to his wife which are now available to view at the British Library (Add MS 89463).

Head and shoulders portrait of Henry de CoëtlogonColonel Henry de Coëtlogon from Charles George Gordon, Gordon and the Mahdi, an illustrated narrative of the war in the Soudan, etc (1885) Digital Store 9061.f.9 BL flickr

The letters detail how the Army travelled by boat and camel down through Egypt into Sudan to establish their base in the city of Khartoum.  From there de Coëtlogon joined an expedition to confront the rebels in spring 1883, including a skirmish near Aba Island on 29 April 1883, before the force returned to Khartoum to wait out the monsoon season. 

For his involvement in the preparations for the return to hostilities, de Coëtlogon was promoted by Hicks to the full rank of Colonel.  However, the General chose to leave de Coëtlogon in Khartoum to maintain their base and patrol the Nile, while the main force marched on the Mahdi in September 1883.

After over a month in the desert, Hicks’ force was led into a waterless wasteland and ambushed on 5 November 1883.  Nearly the whole force was killed, leaving de Coëtlogon as the only British Officer remaining of the original Army.

Hearing the news, de Coëtlogon stopped patrolling the river and instead began reinforcing Khartoum’s walls and recalling garrisons from the surrounding forts.  He continued strengthening his position and drilling his troops for several months, all the while fearing an imminent attack, until the British government voted to send General Charles Gordon to relieve him.

Head and shoulders portrait of General Charles GordonGeneral Charles Gordon from James Smith, A Pilgrimage to Egypt: an account of a visit to Lower Egypt (1897) Digital Store 010095.ee.2 BL flickr

Following Gordon’s arrival in Khartoum in February 1884, de Coëtlogon was swiftly dismissed.  The collection even includes a letter from Gordon to de Coëtlogon, dated 20 February 1884, which praises his work and promises, with characteristic confidence and some hubris, 'you may rest assured that you leave a place which is as safe as Kensington Park'.

By mid-March the city was surrounded by the Mahdi’s forces, and a siege began which would last 317 days.  Eventually, on 26 January 1885, the walls were breached and Gordon killed.  Meanwhile, Henry de Coëtlogon had returned to Egypt and received an appointment in the police force.

Matthew Waters
Manuscripts Cataloguer

Further reading:

Papers of Henry de Coëtlogon
Gordon,Charles George (1833–1885), army officer | Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

 

07 July 2022

World War Two Reception Camps for Indian POWs

In late 1944, as Allied forces gradually re-took territory from German control in Europe, increasing numbers of prisoners of war were liberated.  These POWs needed to be organised and assessed before either being sent back to service or returned home.  The India Office Records holds several files on this process for Indian POWs, which gives an insight into the challenges of such a complex task.

Leaflet to all British Commonwealth Ex-Prisoners of War Leaflet to all British Commonwealth Ex-Prisoners of War -  IOR/L/WS/1/709  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

By the late summer of 1944, it was estimated that around 12,000 Indian POWs, together with Indian seamen and civilian internees would come into Allied hands.  Lieutenant General Molesworth, at the India Office in London, was anxious that sufficient funds be provided for rehabilitation and recreation for the POWs at the camps before their onward transit to India.  In a memo to his colleagues he stated: 'I think you will agree that these men may be kept for some time in this country and after their experiences we should do all we can to make their stay a happy one and restore their morale before they embark for India'.

Map showing location of Reception Camps in UKMap showing location of Reception Camps in UK -  IOR/L/WS/1/709  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

By November, the Prisoner of War Organisation was in full operation, with camps at the following locations:
• Near Thetford, Norfolk: Headquarters at Shadwell Court; Reception Centre at Southwood; and camps at Snareshill and Riddlesmere.
• Near Brandon, Norfolk: Rest camp at Lower Didlington, and Indian hospitals at Weeting Hall and Upper Didlington.
• Near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk: a rest camp at Fornham.
• Near Much Hadham, Herts: a rest camp at Wynches
• London: a leave camp at Dean Lodge, Roehampton.

Layout of Indian Reception Camps Layout of Indian Reception Camps -  IOR/L/WS/1/709 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The files do not contain lists of names of the Indian POWs who passed through the camps, but they contain copies of a ‘War Diary or Intelligence Summary’ which gives fascinating details on how they spent their time. 

War Diary for August 1945 War Diary for August 1945 - IOR/L/WS/1/705 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Entertainments were arranged, such as regular screenings of films (both Indian and English) in the Public Cinema Hall in Thetford, and lectures at the India Forces Club.  Volunteers helped at local farms picking potatoes and peas, and there were visits to local fairs and industries, such as a visit to the Vauxhall motor works at Luton and to the Suffolk Cattle Show at Ipswich.  Some camps held classes in arts and crafts, with lessons on carpentry, leatherwork and knitting.  One camp was treated to a variety show of Russian dancers, a conjurer and jugglers.  Sport was always popular, with a Regimental tournament held in August 1945, with football, volleyball, basketball, tug of war, Kabaddi, wrestling, long and high jumps and races.  On 16 June 1945 the rest camp at Didlington received a visit from the King and Queen who enjoyed a parade of 4,000 POWs.

Newspaper article about Queen Mary's gift of ping-pong, cards, darts and other games to Indian POWs at ThetfordQueen Mary's gift of ping-pong, cards, darts and other games to Indian POWs at Thetford - British Newspaper Archive Lynn Advertiser 3 July 1945 

Leave parties were organised to London for sight-seeing.  One group visited Tottenham Hotspur Football Ground to watch a match, and there was a visit to a garden party at Buckingham Palace. A group of Sikh officers and men attended a celebration in honour of Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji at a Sikh temple in London, and a small party of Indian officers and VCOs attended the opening of the Islamic Cultural Centre by the Egyptian Ambassador at Regent’s Park on 21 November 1944.

Newspaper report of the visit of General Sir A G O Mayne to Fornham  Park in April 1945

General Sir A G O Mayne chatting to Indian soldiers at Fornham ParkVisit of General Sir A G O Mayne to Fornham  Park April 1945 - British Newspaper Archive Bury Free Press 27 April 1945

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
War diaries: Indian POW reception headquarters, Part 1, 1944-1945, shelfmark: IOR/L/WS/1/704.

War diaries: Indian POW reception headquarters, Part 2, 1944-1945, shelfmark: IOR/L/WS/1/705.

Indian POWs' reception headquarters: personnel and administration, Part 1, 1944-1947, shelfmark: IOR/L/WS/1/709.

Indian POWs' reception headquarters: personnel and administration, Part 2, 1944-1947, shelfmark: IOR/L/WS/1/710.

Prisoners of War: India POW Reception HQ - liaison letters, 1944, shelfmark: IOR/L/WS/1/1396.

Weekly returns of patients accommodated in Reception Stations, 1945, shelfmark: IOR/L/WS/2/27.

Indian prisoners of war - reception camps, 1944, shelfmark: IOR/L/WS/2/43

 

21 June 2022

The Cost of Living Crisis, Part 3: The Price of Whale Oil

For hundreds of years the British hunted whales for their oil, blubber and bone.  Whales provided lubricant for machinery during the industrial revolution, fuel for lamps, and their baleen could be used as parts for everyday items such as corsets and umbrellas.  Traditionally the British whaling grounds lay to the north where Northern Right whales and Bowhead whale were hunted, but the prized sperm whale oil called ‘spermaceti’ would see the expansion of the trade into the southern seas.

Ink drawing of a sperm whaleInk drawing of a sperm whale from ‘A Voyage for Whaling and Discovery’ by James Colnett, f.141, Add MS 30369

The expansion of British whaling grounds is intimately tied up with the history of Empire and oil prices were often impacted by the gains and losses of colonies.  The eruption of the American Revolutionary War had a massive effect on the British whale oil trade, depleting output and raising prices.  Much of the whale oil trade had come out of the British colonies in North America, but with the advent of the war this was almost completely shut down.  At the end of the war the British wanted to create more self-sufficiency in terms of oil supply.  The American trade bounced back and the British wanted to compete in a buoyant market, so Britain imposed import duties on US oil and created the Southern Fisheries trade, focusing British whaling on the mid and south Atlantic, the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Accounts of Imports and Exports of Whale Oil showing a heavy trade deficit at the beginning of the Southern Fisheries TradeAccounts of Imports and Exports of Whale Oil showing a heavy trade deficit at the beginning of the Southern Fisheries Trade, Add MS 38352, f.123.

Notes on Acts of Parliament passed to encourage the expansion of whaling in the South SeasNotes on Acts of Parliament passed to encourage the expansion of whaling in the South Seas, 1791. Add MS 38350, f.262.

British Guiana, Madras, South Africa and Australia in the early 1800s further contributed to the whale oil trade.  They introduced landing points for ships working along the tropical latitudes pursuing the more lucrative sperm whale with its more valuable oil.  British whaling became a global enterprise and those staffing whaling ships were multinational and multi-ethnic.  Crews encompassed employed and indentured sailors, as well as enslaved and free African men.  Given the arduousness of the work, employers could not afford to refuse whalers whatever their background, therefore whaling ships were a popular destination from those escaping or freed from slavery during the 18th century.

However the War of 1812 interrupted the trade and temporarily sent the price of whale oil upwards again.  It was not until the end of the war that whaling returned without obstacles.  Production sky-rocketed to the point of over-supply, causing a glut and a fall in its value in the late 1830s.  The home-grown British whaling trade started to decline as more and more colonial oil was bought in from Australia and the government decided against further propping up the London-based trade.

Newpaper clipping describing the sale of whale oil at its highest price ever  4 September 1813Newspaper clipping describing the sale of whale oil at its highest price ever, 4 September 1813, Leeds Mercury, British Newspaper Archive, Image © The British Library Board.

A combination of free-trade policy with the Americans and the colonies decreased investors' interest in British-based whaling, and, as well as this, whale stocks were failing after hundreds of years of hunting.  The British began to import the majority of oil and so were liable to market shocks in America, such as that caused by the American Civil War.

Extract from letter from Charles Enderby to Robert Peel lamenting the decline of the Southern Whale Fisheries and the dominance of the American industry  1846Extract from letter from Charles Enderby to Robert Peel lamenting the decline of the Southern Whale Fisheries and the dominance of the American industry, 1846, Add MS 40458, f.307.

British whaling would return in the 20th century and a global, mass-commercialised whaling would cause far more devastation to whale stocks than the London and Nantucket-based industries of previous centuries.

A second ink drawing of a sperm whale Ink Drawing of a Sperm Whale from ‘A Voyage for Whaling and Discovery’ by James Colnett, f.142, Add MS 30369

Jessica Gregory
Project Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

This blog post follows on from -
The cost of living crisis - part 1: Bread in 1795
The Cost of Living Crisis, Part 2: Inflation in 1800

Further Reading:
‘An Overview of the British Southern Whale Fishery’, Bruce Chatwin, 2016, British Southern Whale Fishery
IOR/G/32/163 East India Company papers on the Southern Whale Fishery
IOR/F/4/1373/54697 Establishment of a whale fishery by the inhabitants of St Helena, 1833

 

01 June 2022

Letters from the Garrod children to their father

Among the private papers collections donated to the British Library, the Garrod Family Papers present a very special archive ranging from 1867 to 1990.  They include correspondence, files, maps, printed papers and photographs of William Francis Garrod (1893-1964) and Isobel Agnes Garrod (formerly Carruthers) (1898-1976) relating to their family life in India, Garrod's career in the Indian Ecclesiastical Establishment 1930-1946, and his service in World Wars One and Two.

A great number of letters were exchanged when William and Isobel got engaged, then married and had four children.  Among lockets of hair, newspaper cuttings and postcards, one can see them overcoming the challenges of family life, household and financial issues while keeping close family ties despite the distance between them.

Children in costumes as the cast of a play Children in costumes as the cast of a play - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

As William spent long periods of time away from home so the children grew up observing their mother write to their father and became interested in writing to him as well.  They took up this habit at a very young age, before even being actually able to write.

Scribbles and love from AndrewScribbles and love from Andrew - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

The children report frequent visits to the cinema, social and academic updates from school, sickness and all the social events their father is missing such as Christmas and birthdays.

Letter from Martin hoping that his father will be back on his birthday because he had not been for his fifth and sixth birthdaysLetter from Martin hoping that his father will be back on his birthday because he had not been for his fifth and sixth birthdays - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Drawing of Daddy, Sammy the cat and Jimmy the dogDrawing of  Daddy, Sammy the cat ,and Jimmy the dog - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Drawing of ‘Sister Steller’ from schoolDrawing of ‘Sister Steller’ from school - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

They do not often mention the war besides hoping their father is well and can come home soon.

Letter from Janet -  ‘we are quite alright and I hope you are well and will soon come back to us’

Letter from Janet - ‘we are quite alright and I hope you are well and will soon come back to us’ - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Letter from Martin hoping his father is happy at the warLetter from Martin hoping his father is happy at the war - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

However, they do show in drawings how they imagine it to be.

Drawing of war ship attacked by planesDrawing of war ship attacked by planes - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Planes attacking Nazi ship. Pilots parachute and sailors take lifeboatsDrawing of planes attacking Nazi ship. Pilots parachute and sailors take to lifeboats. - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

They also depict their image they have of their father’s role in it and the dangers he faces being away from home.

Letter from Martin with drawing of Daddy killing HitlerLetter from Martin with drawing of Daddy killing Hitler India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Luckily, those drawings are also often accompanied by captions sometimes composed by the children themselves, sometimes by thoughtful Isobel to make sure the drawings would be understood on the other end.

Daddy being saved from a snake by a squirrelDaddy being saved from a snake by a squirrel  - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Isobel is also very careful in numbering the letters in case they get lost, delayed or get to William all at once. In some of the letters one can imagine how frustrating it must have been to not have control over that and to be aware there was an inevitable delay between sending a message and it reaching William.

Letter 53 from Isobel – ‘I wonder when I am going to hear from you again and where you are’Letter 53 from Isobel – ‘I wonder when I am going to hear from you again and where you are’- India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730.

Not only does the collection give a fascinating glimpse into the life of a British family living and working in India at the end of the British Raj, it also provides the very rare perspective of children.

Bianca Miranda Cardoso
Curatorial Support Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading:
Garrod Family Papers - Collection reference: India Office Private Papers Mss Eur F730. They are available to view in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room, and the catalogue is searchable on Explore Archives and Manuscripts.

William Francis Garrod’s story from Bristol in 1893 to northern India has been explored in a previous Untold Lives blog post.
The Garrod papers also feature in anther Untold Lives blog post about the General Strike of 1926.

 

19 April 2022

The cost of living crisis - part 1: Bread in 1795

At the end of the 18th century, a succession of bad harvests severely depleted the national crop of wheat.  The harvest of 1795 in particular resulted in chronic shortages.  On top of this, the geopolitical landscape of Europe had been turned upside down by the French Revolution and the subsequent wars with the French Republic altering trade and commerce across the continent.  The combination of these pressures was a doubling of the price of bread among ordinary civilians.  Counties around Britain appealed to the Privy Council for supplies of wheat to aid their populations as people in towns felt the effect.  A number of bread riots broke out across the country as people went hungry.  Burial figures from these years show a marked increase in 1795, implying a rise in death rate.

Document entitled ‘Thoughts in Consequence of the Present High Price of Grain’ ‘Thoughts in Consequence of the Present High Price of Grain’, Add MS 38353, f.208. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Faced with increasing discontent and instability the government had to do something to address the crisis.  There was an effort to import more grain from the Quebec and the Baltic, but there were plans forged at home as well.  Records in the Liverpool Papers show how the government were concerned that big farms were benefitting from the shortage by selling their wheat at over-opulent prices.  There were suggestions of limiting the control that the big farms had over price at the markets, but little action was taken on big producers’ profits.

Instead, attention turned to stretching supply.  Members of Parliament debated a motion to force millers to not strip the bran from their flour, so supplies might go further.  Millers were a popular focus of anger during the crisis.  They were often accused of mixing in other substances into flour in order to stretch their profits, so by forcing millers to change their product from the popular white bread to an unpopular whole-wheat bread, the government hoped some of the public’s ire would be redirected to them.

Document suggesting a plan 'to force the miller to dress his flour coarser than at present’ ‘…to force the miller to dress his flour coarser than at present’, Add MS 38353, f.280.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Advice given to the government at the time shows that given there was least some bran in loaves of bread already it was unlikely that the public would notice too much change.  However, the author of the report stipulates that in his opinion the bran probably offers ‘no nourishment to the human stomach’.

Report suggesting that bran probably offers ‘no nourishment to the human stomach’Report suggesting that bran probably offers ‘no nourishment to the human stomach’, Add MS 38353, f.290. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Another suggested course of action was the mixing of grains; unlike wheat, harvests of barley, rye, oats and peas had done well.  Suggestions were made for bakers to mix grains and create new loaves of bread for sale, but again this divergence from the white loaf was unpopular.

Recipe for wheat boiled in milk as a substitute meal instead of breadRecipe for wheat boiled in milk as a substitute meal instead of bread Add MS 38377, f.116.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

When these plans were put in action it was the poorest segment of the population that would be consuming these altered loaves.  The richer demographics could choose to avoid wheaten bread altogether as they could easily exchange it for other sources of food.

The bread crisis would ease a little with a successful domestic harvest in 1796, however prices would continue fluctuate wildly over the end of the 18th century bringing continued hardship to those who relied on bread for many years to come.

Jessica Gregory
Project Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts


Further Reading:
The Liverpool Papers: Add MS 38190-38489
Stern, Walter M. 'The Bread Crisis in Britain, 1795-96', Economica, vol. 31, no. 122, 1964, pp. 168–87.

 

Food Season 2022

British Library Food Season

 

08 March 2022

Looting of golden bells from the Temple of Heaven

The Boxer Rebellion (1899-1900) began as an uprising against foreign influence in China and resulted in fighting between Chinese forces and an eight-nation alliance, which included Britain and Germany.  Following the conflict, troops from the foreign coalition occupied areas in northern China for over a year, during which time looting and acts of violence were common.

In 1920, the British Foreign Office was informed that an individual had approached German officials offering - for a price - evidence of such looting carried out by Indian Army personnel.  The individual believed this would interest the German government as the Treaty of Versailles required them to return looted items, and such evidence might give them some political benefit.  The Germans declined to purchase it, but its existence prompted the British to investigate the matter.

The evidence comprised communications between officers in the 16th Cavalry and inspired a flurry of correspondence between India and the UK.  Reading these, we can determine the sequence of events.

The Temple of Heaven, PekingThe Temple of Heaven, Peking from The Earth and its Inhabitants. The European section of the Universal Geography by E. Reclus. Edited by E. G. Ravenstein (London, 1878). Public Domain Creative Commons Licence
 BL flickr

During the occupation of Peking (modern Beijing), two golden bells were taken from the Temple of Heaven by Indian Army officers; one was taken by C. E. Thornton of the 16th Cavalry from what was subsequently described as a rubbish heap.  The commanding officer gave permission for the bells to be taken back to India as regimental trophies, where the 16th kept theirs as mess decoration.  In 1906, while Thornton was on leave for medical reasons, other officers in the regiment voted to sell the bell.  Thornton objected, claiming that as ‘finder’ he had sole rights over the bell.  The dispute prompted Thornton to contact lawyers and the bank where the bell was temporarily stored, and the whole affair was made public.  Ultimately, the British government decided that as the bells were found in ‘rubbish’ and as commanding officers had given permission for their removal, no looting had taken place.

In 1927, Mr H. Beechey started sending letters insisting on the restoration of either the bells or their value to the Temple of Heaven.  Beechey was persistent; he sent multiple letters to the Foreign Office, various politicians, the Prime Minister, and even the King-Emperor George V himself.

The recipients of his letters were dismissive of such demands; however, newspaper articles from the time suggest the general public was not.  In 1921, the Daily Express reported demands raised by Chinese voices in London for the value of the bells to be restored to the Temple.  Articles continued to appear in various papers over the next decade, but eventually the public lost interest in the story.

In 1994, there were reports in online publications of a bell returned by the Indian Government to the Temple of Heaven, one of sixteen that were taken by British troops during the Boxer Rebellion.  Whether the bells mentioned in file IOR L/MIL/7/16819 were part of this set is unclear, but perhaps there are other files in the India Office Records, waiting to be discovered, that could add to the story.

Djurdja Brankovic
Student of librarianship, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive -Daily Express, 15 July 1921
New York Herald, 3 January 1926
IOR L/MIL/7/16819 Collection 402/153 Alleged looting of golden bells from Temple of Heaven, Peking (Beijing) by British officers of Indian Army, 1920-1927.

 

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