Untold lives blog

334 posts categorized "Work"

24 May 2022

Hidden Letters: When Documents Contain a Surprise

One of the responsibilities of an archival cataloguer is attempting to determine the provenance of the documents they work with, how each document came into being, and the journey it went on before arriving at the archive.  In some cases this can be a relatively easy task: details of provenance may be clearly recorded, either within the document itself or externally.  But occasionally a document is discovered somewhere entirely unexpected, sometimes even within a collection which the archive has held for many years.  Just last year a previously unknown letter by Giacomo Casanova was discovered inside a copy of his Memoirs held by the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge.  The letter was written to his nephew in 1791, but the volume it was inside wasn’t published until 1833, 35 years after his death.  How and when it ended up there has gone unrecorded, but there is at least an obvious reason for an association between these two documents.  A similar situation involving two documents held by the British Library cannot be simply explained by any such thematic link, and appears to be a connection that came about completely at random.

Inscription at the start of the journal of the ship SandwichInscription at the start of the journal of the Sandwich, inside which hides a document from 75 years later (1755), IOR/L/MAR/B/606C, f 2, India Office Records, British Library Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

IOR/L/MAR/B/606C is a journal of a return voyage by the East India Company ship Sandwich from England to India and Mocha in 1753-55, one of hundreds of similar documents within the India Office Records covering trading voyages from the 17th-19th centuries.  But nestled between its pages is what seems to be an entirely unrelated piece of paper, containing copies of four testimonial references written in 1830 for the then newly-qualified English doctor Alfred Swaine Taylor (IOR/L/MAR/B/606C, ff. 98-99).  This is by no means an insignificant document, the references come from some of the most respected physicians of their day: Honoratus Leigh Thomas, recently retired as President of the Royal College of Surgeons; Joseph Henry Green, Professor of Anatomy at both the RCS and the Royal Academy; Thomas Addison, a celebrated diagnostician who would go on to be the first to describe conditions including Addison’s disease and pernicious anaemia; and Sir Astley Cooper, another former President of the RCS who was renowned for his pioneering treatments of aneurysms and hernias.  What it does not contain is anything directly relevant to an ocean voyage 75 years earlier.

Portrait  photograph of Alfred Swaine Taylor

Portrait  photograph of Alfred Swaine Taylor by Maull & Polyblank NPG Ax87530 © National Portrait Gallery, London National Portrait Gallery Creative Commons Licence

However, there is a slight connection between the two documents.  Taylor’s father was Thomas Rumbold Taylor, a captain with the East India Company, and though the journey recorded in the Sandwich’s journal is too early for him to have been involved with, he did captain the EIC ship Glory on a voyage to India and Ceylon [Sri Lanka] in 1803-05, for which the journal is preserved as IOR/L/MAR/B/295A.  Is this connection mere coincidence, or might a researcher have inadvertently cross-contaminated the records while looking into this very link?  Might Taylor himself have mislaid his references while researching his father’s profession?  If this was the case his prospects do not appear to have suffered, he would be appointed Lecturer in Medical Jurisprudence at Guy’s Hospital, London, the following year, and go on to a distinguished career in toxicology and forensic medicine.  As for how the document ended up where it is, we will likely never know.

Testimonial for Alfred Taylor from Sir Astley CooperTestimonial for Alfred Taylor from Sir Astley Cooper (1830), IOR/L/MAR/B/606C, f 98v, India Office Records, British Library Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Matt Griffin
Content Specialist, Gulf History, British Library Qatar Foundation partnership

Further reading:
Money matters: the discovery of an unpublished letter by Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798)

 

12 May 2022

The Cost of Living Crisis, Part 2: Inflation in 1800

The current struggles with inflation encompass some of the highest rises in living memory, but current rises pale in comparison to the exceptional case of the year 1800 where inflation reached a dizzying 36%.  This is the highest known figure in British history.

Satirical print  from 1800 entitled 'Hints to forestallers, or a sure way to reduce the price of grain!' , A fat 'forestaller' is dragged along (left to right) by a rope round his neck which is pulled by a chain of countrymen, to the cheers of a crowd.Satirical print from  1800 entitled ‘Hints to forestallers, or a sure way to reduce the price of grain!!’ British Museum number 1868,0808.6904 © The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

The explanation given for this incredible rise is that the twenty years of Napoleonic Wars had drained the country’s resources and an ever increasing demand provoked by the industrial revolution.  The economy struggled to supply ample arms, food and fuel to the Army and Navy, and shortages emerged across all sorts of everyday goods.  This drove up the price of clothing, beverages, candles, coal, animal meat, dairy and cereals, so that the common person dealt with rises across most of the items they would ever seek to purchase.  Such goods had been increasing in price for decades as an increase in population and a decrease in mortality rate meant an increase in demand.  Given the incredible rises, wages struggled to keep up, so how did the government analyse the situation at the time?

Extract from a letter written from the Office for Trade at Whitehall: ‘…a mob of people (I think mostly boys)…with a band of musick…shouting Bread! Bread!'Extract from a letter written from the Office for Trade at Whitehall: ‘…a mob of people (I think mostly boys)…with a band of musick…shouting Bread! Bread! Add MS 38234, f.155  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Correspondence to Earl of Liverpool from the Office for Trade offers an insight into the tension on the streets. The Office representative describes crowds of people at Bishopsgate protesting about the price of bread, gathering and shouting in the streets of London.

 

Further correspondence (below) to the Earl describes the mood of the country at large.

Extract from a letter dated London 23 October 1800 to Lord Liverpool - ‘The Present dreadful alarm spread with the uttermost industry…it spreads a spirit of discontent and inspires among the lower orders a shocking desire to mobbing, murder and plunder…the rising prices of the prices of the necessities of life…’Extract from a letter dated London 23 October 1800 to Lord Liverpool - ‘The Present dreadful alarm spread with the uttermost industry…it spreads a spirit of discontent and inspires among the lower orders a shocking desire to mobbing, murder and plunder…the rising prices of the prices of the necessities of life…’Add MS 38234, f.189.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

There are various pleas to control prices, both in the Liverpool Papers and in correspondence to Prime Minister William Pitt, the Younger, including pleas about the spiralling cost of meat and the price of salt needed for fisherman wishing to conserve fish. As well as petitions from various industries, one can also see an increasing ideological battle over the right course of economic actions. Two members of the House of Lords, Lord Buckingham and Lord Grenville, wrote to Pitt about the inflation crisis, warning the Prime Minister not to attempt to bring in legislation to reign in prices.

Lord Buckingham and Lord Grenville writing to Pitt about the inflation crisis: ‘We must [choose] between a free, unchecked and uncontrolled trade in grain flour and bread; or we must undertake to regulate it…which cannot exist in this country with its constitution, or its prosperity as a commercial people’.Lord Buckingham and Lord Grenville writing to Pitt about the inflation crisis: ‘We must [choose] between a free, unchecked and uncontrolled trade in grain flour and bread; or we must undertake to regulate it…which cannot exist in this country with its constitution, or its prosperity as a commercial people’, Add MS 89036/1/7, f.73.v.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In the letter above, Lord Buckingham states that the best that can be achieved is to ‘regulate a measure but which all grain and flour shall be sold’, but there should be no attempt to then control market prices.

Lord Grenville agrees and even provides some inspiration for his principles in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, which had been published 24 years earlier. Lord Grenville describes how he and Pitt were sceptical to the theory of the free-market, but ultimately came around to it.

Letter from Lord Grenville :‘I am confident that provisions like every other article of commerce, if left to themselves, will and must find their own level’.Letter from Lord Grenville :‘I am confident that provisions like every other article of commerce, if left to themselves, will and must find their own level’, Add MS 89036/1/7, f.85.v.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

With the government discussing the grander narratives of economics, the population had to push through the inflation crisis.  Output and growth were still up, and consequently many were making the profits needed to ride out the inflationary crisis.  Labour in the Northern cities central to industrial output actually saw real wages rise, as demand for labour was so high, but the average worker in London saw their real income fall.  This particular inflation crisis would be short and painful, as a massive fall in inflation in 1803 would see prices adjust, but such fluctuations would continue throughout the 19th century.

Jessica Gregory
Project Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

This blog post follows on from Part 1: The cost of living crisis - part 1: Bread in 1795 

Further Reading:
The Liverpool Papers: Add MS 38190-38489
Gilboy, Elizabeth W. 'The Cost of Living and Real Wages in Eighteenth Century England', The Review of Economics and Statistics, vol. 18, no. 3, 1936, pp. 134–43, 

 

10 May 2022

Grants of money made by the East India Company

In 1831 the East India Company was directed by its General Court of Proprietors to prepare a statement of expenditure since 1813 on grants of money and pensions.  This was to include grants over £200, pensions of £100 per annum and above, and all superannuation and retirement allowances, except those paid to civil and military personnel under Company regulations.  Names of recipients, amounts, and reasons were set down, and the list was printed for the information of the Company’s shareholders.

Title page of Grants of Money  Pensions  Superannuations  and Retiring Allowances made by the East India CompanyTitle page of Grants of Money Pensions Superannuations and Retiring Allowances made by the East India Company IOR/L/AG/9/8/2 no. 379  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

A wide range of European men and women received money for many different reasons, relating to activities both in Asia and in the UK.  Famous names appear.  Captain George Everest received £600 in 1830 for ‘the superior nature of his duties’ when employed on the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India.  Thomas Stamford Raffles was paid £315 in 1816 for expenses involved in publishing his History of Java.  Major General Henry Shrapnel was awarded a pension of £200 per annum in 1828 as a consideration for any future supplies to the Company of shells of his invention.

Clarke AbelClarke Abel. Lithograph by M. Gauci after P. W. Wilkin. Image courtesy of Wellcome Collection 363i.


At the top of the list of grants are two payments to surgeon and naturalist Dr Clarke Abel.  The first for £434 was made in 1818 as the value of the apparatus Abel lost in the wreck of the Alceste when returning from China with the Amherst embassy.  The second grant in 1823 for £500 was to provide equipment required for Abel’s research as a naturalist going to India with Lord Amherst.

First page of grants of money in the statementFirst page of grants of money in the statement  OR/L/AG/9/8/2 no. 379  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Further down the page are two more surgeons.  Dr Whitelaw Ainslie received £600 in 1816 for ‘the merit and utility’ of his book Materia Medica of Hindostan.  James Annesley of the Madras medical establishment was given £500 for ‘the talents, energy and zeal displayed by him, in the publication of an elaborate work on the diseases of India’.

The Abbé Dubois, a Roman Catholic missionary, received a pension of £100 per annum from 1824 for vaccinating patients in India and for his ‘high character’.

Captain Thomas Mackeson, formerly a commander in the Company’s mercantile marine, was awarded a pension of £200 per annum in 1814 for his services and a wound received from a Spaniard on board his ship.  According to the Madras Courier, Mackeson was visiting the sick on his ship the Sarah Christiana towards the end of 1809 when he was hit on the back of the head with a hatchet by a crew member.  A court martial was held in Madras in March 1810 and the man was sentenced to death.

In 1815 Lieutenant Colonel George Hanbury Pine was granted £600 for his long detention in France as a prisoner of war.

Widow Mary Ann Sawyer was granted a pension of £100 per annum in 1824 in recognition of her late husband’s service in sorting the Company’s cinnamon which ‘materially contributed to its advantageous sale’.

Royal Navy captains were given money for convoying Company ships.  Many entries concern distressed widows and children of Company men.  There are a number of pensions awarded to civil and military servants for ‘insanity’.  London employees were rewarded for long service when they retired: auditor William Wright was allocated a pension of £1800 per annum in 1825 after 54 years with the Company.

This is just a small selection from a 41-page document providing fascinating glimpses into lives which were intertwined with the East India Company.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/AG/9/8/2 no. 379 Grants of Money, Pensions, Superannuations, and Retiring Allowances made by the East India Company (Printed in London 1831).
British Newspaper Archive: Madras Courier 20 December 1809 and 27 March 1810.

05 May 2022

The Ragged School Shoe-Black Society

The Ragged School Shoe-Black Society was established in 1851.  On 31 March five boys were sent out for the first time to work in the streets of London for a fortnight’s trial.  By July, 30 boys were on the books.

Shoe-blacks at work - from the front cover of 'The Ragged School Shoe-Black Society. An account of its origin, operations, and present condition'Front cover of The Ragged School Shoe-Black Society. An account of its origin, operations, and present condition. By the Committee. (London, 1854) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The idea of reviving the obsolete occupation of shoe-black was prompted by the wish to cater for overseas visitors in London for the Great Exhibition who would want to have access to this service as they did at home.  The police were consulted, and approved stations were set up to ensure that the boys did not obstruct public footpaths.

Boys wanting to join the Shoe-Black Society had to be recommended by the superintendent of a Ragged Union School and submit a printed form stating their circumstances.  After a few days’ practice with the brushes, boys were given a month’s trial.  The shoe-blacks maintained the connection to their school and attended as often as possible on weekday evenings and Sundays.

Uniform and equipment were provided by the Society.  The shoe-blacks wore a red woollen jersey, a cap with a red band, and a black apron.  Two badges were displayed: one read ‘Ragged School Shoe-Black Society’, and the other was the boy’s distinctive letter sewn in glass beads by the girls of the Lisson Street Refuge.  Kneeling mats and boxes for resting customers’ feet were made by boys at the Grotto Passage Refuge.

Each morning the shoe-blacks from all parts of London assembled at 7.30 am at the Society’s office off the Strand to pick up their boxes and uniforms.  After prayers and a Scripture reading, they went off to their stations before returning in the evening: 4 pm in the winter and 6.30 pm in the summer.  The charge for brushing customers’ trousers and cleaning their shoes was one penny.  Officials from the Society visited the boys during the day to oversee their conduct and supply blacking.

A daily account of earnings was kept with each boy.  Sixpence was returned to the boy and the rest divided – one third to the boy immediately; one third retained by the Society; one third paid into a fund for the boy.  Once a boy had ten shillings in the bank, he could draw it out to buy good working clothes,  Further withdrawals were allowed at the discretion of the Society.  When a boy left, the balance was spent for his benefit by the superintendent of his school, on apprenticeship, an outfit for emigration, or clothing for a job.

The boys brought their own lunch to eat at their stations, but for evening meals a refreshment room was provided, run by a matron who received the profit and bore the risk. She sold bread and butter, eggs, herrings, pies, oranges, pudding, coffee and soup.

Punishments were imposed for misconduct.  Fines levied for lateness, absence, and misbehaviour were applied to a sick fund for the boys.  Rewards for earning the most money were given in the form of prizes and medals.  Entertainments and lectures were provided, with an annual treat at Midsummer.

The Society said it took boys who were ‘ragged, hopeless, and sometimes starving’ and gave them a means of livelihood and an incentive to industrious habits.   The occupation of a shoe-black was seen as a stepping stone to better and permanent employment.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
The Ragged School Shoe-Black Society. An account of its origin, operations, and present condition. By the Committee. (London, 1854).

 

03 May 2022

Case of a destitute man in London

From time to time the Public Department of the India Office in London would receive desperate requests for help from travellers who had fallen on difficulties while in London.  One such case was that of Francis Peters which came to the attention of the India Office in June 1875.

India Office minute about Francis Peters June 1875India Office minute about Francis Peters, Jun 1875 IOR/L/PJ/2/55, File 7/486 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Francis Peters had been employed on the ship Forfarshire taking Indian indentured labourers from Calcutta to British Guiana towards the end of 1874.  He had worked on the ship as a Compounder (responsible for receiving and organising the labourers on board ship) and Interpreter.  He subsequently travelled from British Guiana to Britain intending to find a ship back to India, but had fallen on hard times while in London.  The Bengal Government sent to the India Office a copy of the agreement made with Peters which showed that he received in India an advance of £10 and was to receive £25 and a gratuity of 6d for each emigrant landed alive.  He was also to receive from the British Guiana Government passage back to India which had been budgeted at £40 for that purpose.  On making enquiries with the Emigration Commissioners in London, it became clear that it was the general practice to give the compounder the return passage allowance, and they then usually came to London to find a passage back to India.  This was due to the infrequency of ships returning to India from British Guiana.

Letter from the Strangers' Home  9 August 1875Letter from the Strangers' Home to the India Office 9 August 1875 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The India Office wrote to the Strangers’ Home for Asiatics, located in Limehouse in East London.  The Secretary of the Home replied that Peters had squandered his earnings on ‘debauchery’.  According to the Secretary, Peters ‘has been residing in the house of a disreputable woman who has been to the knowledge of the officers of the Home the ruin of two or three others – one of whom who was in England last year we find actually recommended Peters to find her out which he has done to his cost’.  Peters also wrote to the India Office stating that he was ‘suffering great distress from want of a home and food’, and he begged the Secretary of State for India to overlook his faults and pardon him on this occasion.  He wrote that ‘I am daily trying to get a ship but cannot meet with any success and am now homeless’.  He claimed that he had tried to explain his case to the authorities at the Strangers’ Home but that they refused to listen to him.  He concluded that ‘The gnawing pain of hunger has made me appeal to your Lordship’.

Extract from letter written by Francis Peters  7 July 1875Extract from letter written by Francis Peters 7 July 1875 IOR/L/PJ/2/55, File 7/486 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The feeling in the India Office was that something had to be done as Peters was actually starving, even though his conduct may not have been deserving of any sympathy.  The Strangers’ Home was prevailed upon to admit him, and it was arranged that he would work his passage to India aboard the SS Puttiala as a cuddy servant (working in the galley and waiting at dinner). 

Bill for Peters’ stay at the Strangers' Home from 7 July to 6 August plus cartage to the steamer.

Bill for Peters’ stay at the Home from 7 July to 6 August plus cartage to the steamer IOR/L/PJ/2/55, File 7/486 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

On 9 August 1875 the Secretary of the Strangers’ Home wrote to confirm that Peters had left on the ship, and he enclosed the bill for Peters’ stay at the Home from 7 July to 6 August plus cartage to the steamer which came to £3 and 6 shillings.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Case of a man employed as a Compounder and Interpreter on board an emigrant ship and now destitute in London, Jul-Aug 1875, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/2/55, File 7/486.
Letter from the Bengal Government, Public No.187 of 1874, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/3/72, page 304.

 

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

 

07 April 2022

Rescue at Sea of a Man Overboard

On 30 October 1879, the Government of India forwarded to the India Office an extract from a letter written by Captain Methven of the P&O ship Kaisar-i-Hind.  Captain Methven wished to notify his employers and the authorities of the gallant act of bravery on the part of one of his officers in rescuing one of his shipmates from drowning.  Correspondence in a file in the India Office Records described the rescue.

Printed extract from the letter written by Captain Methven about the rescueExtract of letter from Captain Methven IOR/L/PJ/31124 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

This occurred at 10 am on 5 August, when an Indian seaman fell from the foreyard (the lowest yard on a ship's foremast) on to the awning and then overboard, striking an awning stanchion on the way and sustaining several injuries in the process.  The alarm was raised, but the seaman was quickly swept astern of the ship.  A life-buoy was thrown to the stricken man but he was too weak to hold on to it.  As described by the Captain, the second officer G C Brookes ‘made a full spring and took the water close to the spot, felt the lascar with his feet – at this time below the water – let himself sink and clenched him; but there were several instants before Mr Brookes came to the surface’.  A rope was thrown, which Brookes was able to grab while holding tightly to the Indian seaman, and both men were pulled aboard the ship.  Of the rescue Captain Methven wrote: ‘The act was as prompt as it was gallant.  The tide ran dangerously strong.  The man was stunned and disabled, and an instant later and he was inevitable gone…. Altogether it was well done’. 

Letter to the India Office recommending that Brookes' name be put forward to the Royal Humane Society for an awardLetter to the India Office recommending that Brookes' name be put forward to the Royal Humane Society for an award IOR/L/PJ/3/1124 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Government of India agreed with this, and recommended that the India Office bring it to the attention of the Royal Humane Society.  The incident was widely reported in the newspapers of the time, but tragically the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette reported on 29 September 1879 that the Indian seaman had died the same night from the injuries he received in the fall.

View of Westminster Bridge coloured pinkWestminster Bridge from J M Burton, Under Westminster Bridge: a tale of the London dynamiters & unemployed (London, 1888) BL flickrPublic Domain Creative Commons Licence

Newspaper reports indicate that Brookes had been involved in another rescue four years previously in London.  On 7 August 1875, the South London Chronicle reported that a man named Nicholas Socoloff, a chiropodist who worked at the London Bridge Turkish Baths, had ‘purposely fallen’ from a boat into the Thames at Westminster Bridge.  Brookes had jumped into the water and supported Socoloff until help arrived to pull him from the water.  Sadly, it was reported that three days later Socoloff hanged himself at his lodgings while in a state of temporary insanity.

The Royal Humane Society was founded in London in 1774 with the purpose of granting awards in recognition of acts of bravery in saving human life.  For the rescue of Socoloff in 1875 the RHS awarded Brookes a bronze medal, and in 1879 he was awarded a bronze clasp for the rescue of the Indian seaman.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Recommends that the gallant conduct of G C Brookes, Second Officer of the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company's Steam Ship Kaisar-i-Hind, in rescuing from drowning a lascar seaman who had fallen overboard be brought to the notice of the Royal Humane Society, 1879, Shelfmark: IOR/L/PJ/3/1124 No.120.

Correspondence with the Royal Humane Society, Shelfmark: IOR/L/PJ/2/55, File 7/495.

The British Newspaper Archive:
South London Chronicle, 07 August 1875
Civil & Military Gazette (Lahore), 16 September 1879
Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, 29 September 1879
Shipping and Mercantile Gazette, 30 October 1879
London and China Telegraph, 10 November 1879

Acts of Gallantry, Vol. 3, compiled by William H. Feyver & Craig P. Barclay (The Naval & Military Press, 2002), page 71.

Royal Humane Society

 

05 April 2022

The Bookbinders’ Provident Asylum

The foundation stone of this building in London’s Balls Pond Road was inscribed; ‘Bookbinders’ Provident Asylum, established A.D. 1839, erected 1843’.  It was funded thanks to The Bookbinders' Pension and Asylum Society (created in 1830); its aim to ‘provide a weekly pension of 6s. to 12s. and an asylum for aged and incapacitated members and their widows; also for females who have worked at the business for at least ten years’.

Bookbinders’ Provident Asylum - black and white drawing of outside of building.Bookbinders’ Provident Asylum from Illustrated London News 8 July 1843 British Newspaper Archive

Many 19th century London workers were only a step away from the breadline and a misfortune like illness or losing one’s job meant destitution, imprisonment for debt or being dispatched to the workhouse.  It is no wonder that bookbinders banded together to help people in their trade who could no longer look after themselves.  Their fund raising work attracted interest in the newspapers, including this column in The Planet.

Bookbinders Asylum  - Planet 1 Nov 1840Report of meeting of the Bookbinders’ Provident Asylum Society from The Planet 1 November 1840 British Newspaper Archive

Money-raising activities included dinners, theatrical performances, outings, and securing donations.  The latter came from a surprising variety of patrons, from Prince Albert (£25) to a miser resident in Hoxton who left the majority of his estate (£900) to the Asylum.

Unusually, we can see the faces of two early residents, James England (b.1797) (who appears in the newspaper cutting above) and Richard Stagg (b.1791).

James England

Richard Stagg

Photographs of James England and Richard Stagg from The British Bookmaker Vol. 4, no. 38  p.16 (August 1890) and Vol. 4 , no. 42  p.17 (December 1890)

By the early 20th century it had become impossible maintain the asylum in its existing set up.  The land, which had been located on the outskirts of the capital, now occupied a prime situation.  The asylum closed in 1927 and a new establishment, called The Bookbinders’ Cottages, was built in Whetstone.  It consisted of seven semi-detached two-storey blocks, each containing two dwellings.  Subsequently, the foundation was modernised and is now owned by the Book Trade Charity.

P J M Marks
Curator, Bookbindings

Further reading;
Lost Hospitals of London 
Herbert Fry's Royal Guide to the London Charities – the quote about the purpose of the Society is taken from the 1917 edition p.22 
The British Bookmaker - a journal which recorded the history of the bookbinding trade societies.
British Newspaper Archive also via Findmypast

 

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