Untold lives blog

172 posts categorized "Women's histories"

29 December 2021

18th-century bills of fare for December and January

If you think that you have been overindulging during the festive season, it may cheer you to read these menu plans for three-course meals.  They are taken from the 1791 edition of Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy.

Here is ‘The Order of a Modern Bill of Fare’ for December.

The Order of a Modern Bill of Fare for December Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

First course –
Cod’s head; chickens; stewed beef; fricandau of veal (slice cut from the leg); almond puddings; Soup Santea (ham, beef, onions, carrots, turnips, celery, sweet herbs, cloves, mace, leeks, ‘cabbage-lettuce’, sorrel, chervil, and ‘a crust of French roll’); calves’ feet pie; fillet of pork with sharp sauce (based on wine vinegar and sugar); chine of lamb; tongue; fried and boiled sole.

Recipe for Soup Santea or Gravy Soup - ham, beef, onions, carrots, turnips, celery, sweet herbs, cloves, mace, leeks, ‘cabbage-lettuce’, sorrel, chervil, and ‘a crust of French roll'Recipe for Soup Santea or Gravy Soup from The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (1791) p.148  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Second course –
Wild fowl; lambs’ fry (liver); orange puffs; sturgeon; galantine (boned, stuffed meat); jellies; savoury cake; prawns; tartlets; mushrooms; partridges.

Third course –
‘Ragooed palates’ (ragout of tongue?); Savoy cakes; Dutch beef scraped; China oranges; lambs’ tails; half moon; calves’ burs; Jargonel pears (a variety that ripens early); potted larks; lemon biscuits; fricassee of crawfish.

We’re stumped by ‘half moon’ and ‘calves’ burs’ – any ideas out there?

The suggested menu for January is just as lavish.

The Order of a Modern Bill of Fare for JanuaryPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

First course –
Chestnut soup; leg of lamb; petit patties; boiled chickens; chicken and veal pie; cod’s head; roast beef; tongue; raisolds (rissoles); Scotch collops (slices of meat cooked with onions, salt, pepper and suet); vermicelli soup.

There should also be a side table with dishes of ‘Garden Stuff suitable to your Meat’ placed on a water dish filled with hot water.  Sauces in boats or basins are to be placed at the corners.

Second course:
Roast turkey; marinated smelts (fish); tartlets; mince pies; roast sweetbreads; stands of jellies; larks; almond ‘tort’; maids of honour; lobsters; woodcocks.

Third course –
Morels (mushrooms); artichoke bottoms; Dutch beef scraped; macaroni; custards; cut pastry; black caps (baked apples); scalloped oysters; potted chars (fish); stewed celery; rabbit fricassee.

Anyone for baked beans on toast?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading;
Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (1791)


23 December 2021

Gift ideas from 'Beeton’s Christmas Annual' 1873

Are you looking for ideas for presents to give your loved ones?  Perhaps you will find inspiration in our selection of advertisements taken from Beeton’s Christmas Annual  1873. 

Advertisement for The Literary MachineAdvertisement for The Literary Machine Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

We start with The Literary Machine patented by J. Carter of London and used by Princess Louisa.  The device held a book, writing-desk, lamp, or meals in any position whilst also screening the user’s face from the fire.  It could be applied easily to a bed, sofa, chair, or ship’s berth, and was invaluable for students and invalids – ‘A most useful and elegant gift’.

Choice perfumery and Christmas novelties from Eugene RimmelChoice perfumery and Christmas novelties from Eugene Rimmel Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Next we have choice perfumery and Christmas novelties from Eugene Rimmel, perfumer to the Princess of Wales.  Rimmel’s perfumes included Ihlang- Ihlang, Vanda, Henna, Snow-White, Violet, Tea, Coffee, and the intriguingly named Jockey-Club.  As well as skin powders, creams and soaps, Rimmel offered crackers, boxes, baskets, fans, Christmas tree ornaments, and perfumed cards and almanacs.

Rowland's gifts for Christmas and New YearRowland's gifts for Christmas and New Year Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Rowlands’ products were said to be perfect for those planning to celebrate Christmas and New Year in company.  Their macassar oil imparted ‘a Transcendent Lustre to the Hair’, whilst Kalydor gave a radiant bloom to the cheek and a delicate softness to the hands and arms, removing ‘cutaneous defects’.  Rowlands’ Odonto made teeth pearly white and gave a pleasing fragrance to the breath.

Advert for the Nose Machine

Advert for the Nose Machine Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

How about a Nose Machine?  Alexander Ross of High Holborn was selling for 10s 6d ‘a contrivance which , if applied to the nose for an hour daily, so directs the soft cartilage of which the member consists, that an ill-formed nose is quickly shaped to perfection’.  Anyone could use it without pain.

Gifts from H. G. Clarke of Covent GardenGifts from H. G. Clarke of Covent Garden Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

H. G. Clarke of Covent Garden offered gifts to amuse. The Magic Sailor would astonish and provoke roars of laughter as he danced in time to any tune.  Owners of The Wizard’s Box of Magic would be equipped to perform ‘ten capital conjuring tricks sufficient for one hour’s amusement’.  The Enchanted Tea Chest allowed 100 perfumed things to be produced from an empty box.

Beeton’s Englishwoman’s Almanac and Ladies’ AnnualBeeton’s Englishwoman’s Almanac and Ladies’ Annual Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Also on offer was Beeton’s Englishwoman’s Almanac and Ladies’ Annual for 1873, ‘the most useful and attractive Almanac brought before the Public’ priced at one shilling.  The editor had contributed letters to the ladies on some delicate subjects and there were three coloured pictures: ‘I’ll have your tootsies’, ‘Brave boys, defiant geese, and a wise dog’, and ‘The lover’s vow accepted’.  Mrs Treadwin of Exeter had designed four point lace d’oyleys and the publication contained ‘a mass of practical matter connected with domestic and family requirements’, with ruled sheets for keeping accounts.

Advert for Christmas number of The Ladies Advert for Christmas number of The Ladies Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Christmas number of The Ladies was packed with seasonal stories, plays, songs, games and amusements, as well as 24 pages of high-class pictorial engravings by popular English artists presented in a decorative wrapper.

Iron wine bins and racks for mineral watersAdvert for Farrow and Jackson Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Farrow and Jackson, ‘Original Inventors’ of London and Paris, were selling a variety of iron wine bins and racks for mineral waters.

Advert for Page Woodcock’s Wind Pills Advert for Page Woodcock’s Wind Pills Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

And for anyone over-indulging in drink and food over the festive season, Page Woodcock’s Wind Pills were available, having wrought ‘wonderful and miraculous cures in Birmingham’.

Seasonal greetings from Untold Lives!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Beeton’s Christmas Annual 1873


09 December 2021

Elizabeth Polwhele’s taste in reading

A recent acquisition at the British Library may potentially provide more information about the reading taste of the playwright, Elizabeth Polwhele (c. 1651-1691).  We believe we now have a book owned by Polwhele.  The first edition of Hannah Woolley's The Gentlewoman's Companion (1673) is signed with the name 'Elizabeth Polwheile' (Shelfmark C.194.a.1455).  Whether this is the playwright deserves further investigation - copies of Polwhele´s handwriting survive in the manuscripts of her comedy The Frolicks and her tragedy The Faithful Virgins.

Tilte page of The Gentlewoman’s CompanionTitle page of Hannah Woolley,  The Gentlewoman’s Companion; or, A Guide to the Female Sex: containing directions of behaviour with letters and discourses upon all occasions Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Gentlewoman's Companion is a female conduct book that features recipes, advice, remedies for illness, including a cure for greensickness (anaemia) - a condition mentioned in Polwhele´s comedy by the rake Rightwit, who offers sexual intercourse with the heroine as a cure for this ailment.  Woolley's preface states that she ‘considered the great need of such a Book as might be a Universal Companion and Guide to the Female Sex, in all Relations, Companies, Conditions, and states of Life, even from Child-hood down to Old-age’.  On the subject of marriage, Woolley cautions: 'Whatever you do be not induced to marry one you have either abhorrency or loathing to; for it is neither affluence of estate, potency of friends, nor highness of descent can allay the insufferable grief of a loathed bed'.

Like Woolley, Polwhele´s work engaged with the complications faced by young women and young wives in maintaining a virtuous reputation whilst preserving their personal happiness.  Clarabell, the witty breeches heroine of The Frolicks, asserts her independence by telling her father who has chosen suitors for her that she 'would not have one to displease me' and will not let her father choose for her.  Polwhele's strong-willed heroine anticipates Hellena in Aphra Behn's The Rover (1677), who also actively resists the future planned for her.  Polwhele was ahead of her time in having Clarabell connect the breeches disguise with independence rather than eroticism, referring to her 'legs and a willing mind' that carry her across the city to free Righwit from debtors´prison.  Polwhele's The Faithful Virgins featured female rivals who unite through friendship, 25 years before this theme was explored in Catharine Trotter's Agnes de Castro (1696).

Charlotte Goodall  in the Breeches Role of Adeline for Battle of Hexham - plumed hat, long hair, cloak, left hand extended with shield, sword in right hand.Charlotte Goodall (actress, 1766 – July, 1830) in the Breeches Role of Adeline for Battle of Hexham by George Colman. Source Royal Collection Trust, RCIN 655229.

It would be wonderful to discover more books from Polwhele's library - even fragmentary traces of what she read could tell us more about her level of education, and her literary influences, to help provide a more complete picture of this talented woman, who described herself as ‘haunted with poetic devils’ and wrote ‘by nature, not art’.  Both Woolley and Polwhele are important figures in the history and development of early women's writing, so the possibility that this is the playwright herself united with Woolley in the British Library's collection is extremely fitting.

Beth Cortese
Assistant Professor in Restoration and 18th Century Literature at the University of Iceland. Her PhD entitled ´Women's Wit onstage, 1660-1720' focused on the representation of witty heroines in the work of female and male playwrights.

Further reading:
Polwhele, Elizabeth. c. 1671. The Frolicks, or The Lawyer Cheated, edited by Judith Milhous and Robert D. Hume. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977.
—— c. 1670. The Faythfull Virgins. Bodleian Library MS Rawl. poet. 195, fols. 49-78.
Woolley, Hannah. 1673. The Gentlewoman’s Companion; or, A Guide to the Female Sex: containing directions of behaviour with letters and discourses upon all occasions. London: A. Mawell. British Library General Reference Collection, Shelfmark C.194.a.1455.


02 December 2021

Oysters in the Black-Out

You can catch this Maison Prunier menu, dating from December 1940, in the small display about the Second World War, Life on the Home Front, in the Treasures of the British Library Gallery until 11 December 2021.  It forms a counter-point to the ration books in the same case which reflect the introduction of food rationing in January 1940 and the queues and hardships that followed.

Maison Prunier Menu December 1940Maison Prunier, Menu, [London], December 1940. B.L. shelfmark: LD.31.b.752.

The first Maison Prunier was opened in Paris in 1872 by Alfred Prunier and his wife Catherine.  Their granddaughter Simone, with the assistance of her husband Jean Barnagaud, took over the Parisian restaurant, which had become famous for its oysters, on the death of her father Emile in 1925.  Ten years later she opened the London branch in St. James’s Street, off Piccadilly and near Green Park.  Having looked at several potential buildings in the area she had chosen a dauntingly large site which had previously been a Rumpelmayer’s teashop.

The interior decoration was created by her friend, the artist Colette Gueden, and was based on Simone’s childhood recollections of Jules Verne’s Twenty thousand leagues under the sea.  The design included two glass cases which created the illusion that you were eating while looking out from portholes in a submarine.  The opening reception on the evening of 17 January 1935 was almost too successful in creating publicity and the restaurant was overwhelmed with eager clients the following day.  Among the subsequent patrons were the then Prince of Wales and Mrs Simpson.

Simone championed the use of cheaper fish including herring and mackerel and her book, Madame Prunier’s fish cookery book, was first published in 1938 and reprinted several times.  In contrast to the restaurant perhaps, it was aimed at a fairly general audience, providing recipes for both the proficient and the less-proficient cook.

With the advent of war and the black-out in September 1939 the evening trade at Maison Prunier initially declined, but a prix-fixe menu encouraged people to return and by January 1940 it also opened on Sundays to attract those on weekend leave.  At the start of the Blitz in September 1940 the restaurant closed for dinner but again Simone came up with a plan to encourage customers back.  She appointed a taxi-driver specifically for Maison Prunier and advertised an air-raid lunch and a black-out dinner as you can see here.  With the difficulty of obtaining supplies and rationing, this was not a simple operation, and customer numbers remained relatively low.  Items which are rationed are clearly noted on the menu and as you can see 'only one dish of meat or poultry or game or fish may be served at a meal'.  However, the famous oysters were still available.

Though affected by bomb blasts and subject to the general restrictions on the amount that could be charged for meals, Maison Prunier survived the war and continued in business at St. James’s Street until 1976.

Alison Bailey
Lead Curator of Printed Heritage Collections 1901-2000

Further reading:
Madame Prunier, La Maison: the history of Prunier’s. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1957. B.L. shelfmark: 7939.g.12.
Madame Prunier’s fish cookery book / selected, translated and edited, with an introduction and notes, from Les poissons, coquillages, crustacés et leur préparation culinaire par Michel Bouzy, by Ambrose Heath. With a special foreword by Madame S.B. Prunier and decorations by Mathurin Meheut. London: Nicholson & Watson Limited, 1938. B.L. shelfmark: 7944.pp.13.


18 November 2021

The danger of supporting German Cathedrals during the Second World War

Showing support for German creations when at war was dangerous, as Sydney Cockerell found out four years into the Second World War.  The former director of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge penned a letter to The Times on 10 July 1943 lamenting the damage to Cologne Cathedral made by British forces.  Whilst he wrote that it was probably unavoidable, he argued that as a nation Britain should not be afraid to express regret of damage to historical monuments, even those situated in enemy countries.  The reaction to this statement is contained in dozens of letters sent to him, collected in the British Library’s Modern Archives.

He received numerous statements of support for his view, with many providing detail of the damage sustained.  Others agreed with him that it was probably unavoidable, and even that the Germans may have known that British forces would hesitate to harm such beautiful buildings.  However, other commentators were not so positive, as can be seen in this letter below which assumes he must be ‘a tottering silly old fool for writing such tripe’.

A letter sent from Newark to Cockerell 13 July 1943A letter sent from Newark to Cockerell 13 July 1943 – Add MS 52771 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

A harsh reply, but arguably the worst was to follow.  Another man wrote to Cockerell saying ‘people with your namby pamby views are not wanted in this country & are unworthy of the freedom enjoyed here’.  He goes on, ‘You are not fit to be called an “Englishman” & should be denaturalised & sent to Germany…you would promptly be shot, in some ways the Germans know better how to deal with your type’.

A more rational reply was given by an inhabitant of Coventry, arguing that instead of showing support for German cathedrals, he should focus closer to home, specifically on Coventry Cathedral.  She writes of the ’11 hours of diabolical bombing’ which ‘utterly destroyed it’ in November 1940.  Furthermore, her husband was killed that night on duty as an Air Raid Warden, and her home destroyed.  Included with her letter were two postcards showing the damage done.

Interior view of Coventry Cathedral before the bombingCoventry Cathedral before the bombing Add MS 52771, f. 104v Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The shell of Coventry Cathedral after the bombingCoventry Cathedral after the bombing Add MS 52771, f. 105v Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Following all these replies, Cockerell went on the offensive. In a further letter written to The Times nine days after the initial one, he asserts that ‘fine architecture is part of the common heritage of humanity, irrespective of frontiers’.  He also bemoans the angry replies, arguing if such people would feel no regret if Beethoven or Mozart were forgotten, ‘As patriotic Englishman, should we now repudiate these enemy composers?  Fine architecture is music and rhythm in stone’.  His archive contains many more letters of support than negative replies, though many are keen to stress that damage is often inevitable, a point he himself makes on multiple occasions.

Cockerell would continue to lament damage to historical monuments throughout the War, including Rouen Cathedral.  He received an interesting reply in an unsigned and undated letter: ‘Most people…would rather see a fine, modern power station (the symbol of a full and glowing life for everyone) than an old cathedral (the symbol of an evil past)’.

Whatever the truth of this statement, this short episode shows how expressing support of historical monuments situated in enemy countries was risky and could lead to vitriol and hatred.

Jack Taylor
Doctoral researcher at the Open University.  His CHASE-funded research explores sexual violence between men in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

Letters, original illustrations, photographs, books and leaflets, together with items issued to air raid wardens form part of the Life on the Home Front display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery. The free display gives a flavour of the experience of those living and working in Britain during the Second World War.  It runs from 14 September until 11 December 2021. 

Further reading:
Add MS 52771 - Cockerell Papers, Vol, CXLIX, Correspondence rel. to the bombing of Cologne Cathedral, 1943 (ff. 92-122b); Correspondence and photographs rel. to the damage to Rouen Cathedral, 1944 (ff. 123-162).
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Alan Bell, ‘Cockerell, Sir Sydney Carlyle (1867–1962), museum director and book collector’.


11 November 2021

Life on the Home Front

From descriptions of shared conditions such as bombing and rationing to individual accounts of evacuation, internment and civilian war-work, a small free display running until 11 December 2021, gives a flavour of the experience of those living and working in Britain during the Second World War.  This is a brief introduction to the items on display at St Pancras.

View of Home Front exhibition cases at the British LibraryView of Home Front exhibition cases at the British Library Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Bombing raids had a devastating impact on civilian life.  On display are the air raid appointment cards, badges, chevrons and whistle of Edgar and Winifred Wilson who served as air raid wardens in St Albans, and a copy of Bombers over Merseyside giving an indication of the heavy bombing of Liverpool.

Opening of book entitled Bombers over Merseyside showing LiverpoolBombers over Merseyside. [Liverpool], 1943. 9101.ff.7 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The British Museum in London was also hit by incendiary bombs.  This photograph shows the damage in 1940 to the King’s Library Gallery, built to house the collection of King George III.

Damage in 1940 to the King’s Library Gallery at the British MuseumKings Library Gallery, British Museum, [1940]. British Library Corporate Archive, Photograph Box A1, no. 51 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In order to escape the bombs, children were evacuated to the countryside.  For some this was a happy episode but for others it was a miserable, dislocating time.  An account by Rita Cowell describes her experience of evacuation to Exmouth, Devon, during which she was treated as a ‘domestic skivvy’.  Another account is taken from News notes produced by the League of Coloured Peoples, an organisation which campaigned against racism.  It describes the prejudice faced by two young boys evacuated to Blackpool.

‘Back to the land’  pen and ink cartoons by Baroness WentworthJudith, Baroness Wentworth, ‘Back to the land’, pen and ink cartoons. Wentworth Bequest. Add Ms 75276  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Other items reflect the hardships of rationing.  Civilians were advised to grow their own vegetables and to salvage waste for reuse.  Some women as in this cartoon were sent to work on farms to help food production.  Not all foods were rationed and the restaurant Maison Prunier remained open through the blackouts, offering oysters to its clients.

Other documents record the work of volunteers including Vera Lloyd’s diary of her time with the Women’s Timber Corps.  Dilys Powell, film critic for The Sunday Times, volunteered as an ambulance car driver and George Orwell, novelist, as a member of the Home Guard.

Many men and women registered as Conscientious Objectors.  They were assessed at a civilian tribunal on the strength and sincerity of their beliefs.  The Scottish poet Ruthven Todd describes working as a stretcher-bearer until his tribunal.  Michael Tippett, the composer and pacifist, writes to his friend Evelyn Maude on the back of the Wormwood Scrubs Prison paper with a list of requests.  Tippett was imprisoned following his refusal to accept the result of his tribunal to undertake non-combatant military duties.

Letter to Evelyn Maude from Michael Tippett  Wormwood Scrubs Prison  1943Michael Tippett, Letter to Evelyn Maude, Wormwood Scrubs Prison, 1943, MS MUS 1757/5 f.26 Case 4
Usage terms - Reproductions of Michael Tippett’s writings are included by kind permission of the Trustees of the Sir Michael Tippett Will Trust.  Except as otherwise permitted under your national copyright law this material may not be copied or distributed further.  Held by© The Sir Michael Tippett Will Trust

Many Germans and Austrians fled the Nazi regime and thousands of refugees arrived in the UK.  However, on the outbreak of war, all Germans and Austrians resident in the UK were classed as ‘enemy aliens’.  Large numbers were interned in camps across the country.  The letters and diaries of Ernst Roth, Konrad Eisig and Gwyneth Hansen reveal some of their experiences.

The final items on display reflect the war-time experiences of the novelist E.R. Braithwaite and The British Honduran Forestry Unit.  Members of the Unit, sent to help fell trees in Scotland, were greeted with substandard accommodation and a lack of warm clothes.  In his book, Amos Ford, one of the first contingent, recounts that the Hondurans often felt isolated in the remote Scottish forests but that, after initial mistrust, relationships with the local population improved and some married local women.

Photograph of members of the British Honduran Forestry Unit in Scotland from Amos A Ford  Telling the truthMembers of the British Honduran Forestry Unit from Amos A Ford, Telling the truth: The life and times of the British Honduran Forestry Unit in Scotland. London, 1985. X.329/20351  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The items on display represent only a small selection of the wealth of material relating to the Second World War in the Library’s collections and much more can be found via our catalogues.

Laura Walker
Lead Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Life on the Home Front at the British Library St Pancras

09 November 2021

Invalids in the Nilgiri Hills

In The Bengal and Agra Annual Guide and Gazetteer for 1841 is a section on the benefit of the climate of the Nilgiri Hills for invalids, followed by hints for those trying to recover their health.

View of the Nilgiri Hills showing lush greenery and an Indian man and woman following a line of buffalos walking downhill.View of the Neelgherry or Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu by Captain Richard Place Barron  - British Library 1784.c.10 plate II Images Online

The Guide stated that the restorative powers of the climate in the hills for those suffering from Indian diseases was evident, but the preventative powers of that climate were overlooked.  It recommended that people suffering from the following diseases should be transferred at once to the hills –
Fever (unknown in the hills)
Dyspepsia (when not connected to a ‘serious derangement’ of the liver)
Debility ‘in every degree’
Habitual constipation
‘Local and cutaneous affections of every description’
All pulmonary complaints
‘All female complaints, properly so called’
‘Hepatic diseases in their milder forms’
Rheumatism ‘muscular or mercurial’
Gout – improvements in the condition were possible rather than cure

The hints for invalids recovering in the hills started by stressing that warm clothing was of vital importance.  ‘Every invalid as he values life’ should be provided with a good stock of flannel clothing - banians (jackets or shirts), cummerbunds with strings to tie round the middle, and drawers.  Footwear should be stout shoes and boots worn with worsted stockings.  Cold feet was a general complaint of newcomers, especially females, and could be remedied by wearing lambswool or worsted stockings.

The invalid should avoid exposure to the night air and never be out after sunset.  Early rising was neither necessary nor prudent, and the invalid should wait until the sun had risen sufficiently to drive away the cold and moisture of the night.  However care must be taken to return home before 9am to avoid the powerful effects of the sun.

A diet of light animal food with bread or biscuit was recommended, with vegetables, pastry and cheese.  Port or sherry was preferable to lighter wines, and beer unnecessary.

Exercise should be taken so that it produced ‘a gentle action on the skin’ and not fatigue, and exposure to the sun should be avoided.  Riding was better than walking, ‘it being less exciting’.  Once acclimatized, exercise should be increased gradually.

When recovery was well advanced, daylight hours should be spent in the open air as far as strength would permit.  Those who had suffered from fever should avoid the jungle at the foot of the hills.  If unfortunately detained there, a course of purgatives should be taken followed by small doses of quinine.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
The Bengal and Agra Annual Guide and Gazetteer for 1841

31 October 2021

Hauntings at Hinton Ampner

Amongst the papers of the Ricketts and Jervis family (Add MS 30001-30013) at the British Library lies an 18th century account of ghoulish goings-on.

Add MS 30011 documents a series of curious observations made by the Ricketts family and their household, who were tenants from 1765 until 1772 of the old Tudor house which once stood on the Hinton Ampner estate in Hampshire.  Primarily comprising a handwritten account of the frightful events by Mary Ricketts, the volume also contains a plan of the old house, a chart recording spectral sightings and noises, and later correspondence relating to this famous haunting.  Other correspondence referencing the hauntings can also be found throughout the wider collection (Add MS 30001-30013).

Mary Ricketts’ account of the hauntings at Hinton Ampner  written for her childrenAdd MS 30011, f.1. Mary Ricketts’ account of the hauntings at Hinton Ampner, written for her children, 1772. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Mary Ricketts’ account begins with a note to her children and a brief history of the estate, and then continues to retell her experiences in detail, noting that ‘soon after we were settled at Hinton I frequently heard noises in the night, as of people shutting, or rather slapping doors with vehemence’.  Initially the family had assumed it the staff who were responsible.  However, after making his own investigations, Mr Ricketts could find no evidence of this.

William Henry Rickets (1736-1798), a plantation owner, spent a significant portion of his time in Jamaica.  In 1769 he travelled without his wife and children, leaving them at Hinton Ampner, and it was during this absence that the disturbances became more terrifying and frequent.  ‘Vanishing’ figures, slamming doors, footsteps at the ends of beds, chilling cries and moans – the Hinton Ampner hauntings offer all of the prerequisite features of a perfect 18th century ghost story.  One male figure frequently spotted was said to be dressed in particularly drab clothing, leading some to believe it the ghost of Edward Stawell, 4th Baron Stawell, who previously occupied the house and had died there in 1755.

Portrait in oil of Edward Stawell wearing a tan coat and wig.Michael Dahl (c.1659-1743), 'Edward Stawell (c.1685–1755), 4th Baron Stawell', oil on canvas, c.1710-c.1720, National Trust. [Wikimedia Commons]

It seems even four-legged residents could not escape the ordeal.  Mary writes:
‘I had frequently observed in a favourite cat that was usually in the parlour with me, and when sitting on table or chair with accustomed unconcern she would suddenly slink down as if struck with the greatest terror, conceal herself under my chair, and put her head close to my feet. […] The servants gave the same account of a spaniel that lived in the house’.

When Mary’s brother Captain Jervis and his friend Captain Lutterell stayed to witness the events for themselves, they ‘declared the disturbances of the preceding night were of such a nature that the house was an unfit residence for any human being’.

Opeing section of Henry James  The Turn of The ScrewHenry James, 'The Turn of The Screw', Colliers Weekly 1898. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Mary’s account was published in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1871.  Not only is it one of Britain’s best known historic hauntings, but it has been speculated that the ghostly goings on at Hinton Ampner, and specifically Mary’s account, may have also served as inspiration for Henry James’ 1898 gothic horror 'The Turn of the Screw', first published as a serial in Colliers Weekly.

The old Tudor house at Hinton Ampner, the site of the 'haunting' was demolished in 1793.  Its foundations were uncovered by the National Trust in 2014, 50 yards from the new house.  For more on the history of the Hinton Ampner estate, its former inhabitants, and its current collection, see the National Trust's Hinton Ampner webpage.

Zoe Louca-Richards
Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts


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