Tag Archives: Barbier

Guest Post: The Barbiers and the French Army

After completing her work on the Barbier archive, our CUROP intern Katy Stone shares her final, fascinating discoveries about life in the French army at the end of the nineteenth and turn of the twentieth century.

For my final blog about the Barbiers I’d like to share some contrasting discoveries about Cardiff-born Georges and Jules Barbier’s experiences of military service with the French Army, revealed through their heartfelt letters written from 1898 to 1904. As shown in a blog by last year’s CUROP student Pip Bartlett, all of the Barbier brothers – due to their dual nationality – completed mandatory national military service with the French Army well before the First World War, with both Georges and Jules subsequently remaining ‘poilus’, or ordinary field soldiers.

Georges Barbier and the comfort of letters in Le Mans

In 1899 Georges Barbier was deployed to the 26th Artillery in Le Mans and many of his letters support Pip’s previous insight that, out of all the family members who went to war, he undoubtedly suffered the loneliest military experience. In one letter dated 3 February 1899, he paints a dark picture of the stark living conditions within his regiment, describing his barracks as a “dirty shack” and expressing gratitude to his brother, Paul Barbier fils, for writing to him – “it is such a blessing to receive letters in this hole”. Georges was clearly unhappy in his regiment and their frequent exchange of letters was not only a source of comfort, but also a channel for escapism. To make things worse, he appears to have found it difficult to fit in with his peers – “all those who sleep in the same room as me are vagabonds, so I have no luck at all”. Hard work was, surprisingly, a blessing in disguise for Georges and I was struck to find him striving for more – “The work is very hard, but that I don’t mind in the least for when I have plenty of work I have not time to worry, which is a very good thing for me”. This eagerness throws light on the mental challenges faced by many soldiers on a daily basis – he was “completely disgusted with life” and would “rather do hard labour than be controlled by a lot of morons who can’t read”.

Scan 1

Barrack detail from a letter dated 20 Februray 1899

Other letters give an insight into his basic military diet – “I live on bread and cheese and once a week I eat meat, on Sundays”. It was also surprising to learn that Georges had to pay for his military meals out of his own pocket, and that his limited financial means meant there was no spare money for any luxuries – “I find that I eat very little here. I have no appetite, and not only that but I have to pay for everything I eat”. A letter to his mother, Euphémie, dated 31 January 1899 reinforces the daily struggle faced by the majority of his peers – “I was so ashamed to buy for so little that I nearly broke down, when there was a lot that could not do as much”. Life was tough in the French Army and although stress and anxiety may have been accountable for his poor appetite, the demands of the physical work also contributed to his struggles with mental and physical health. In his letters he complains of toothaches, headaches and sore feet, yet despite “suffering a great deal”, he avoids going to see the doctor because he “would have to stop work, not only that but I would be unable to go out in the evening”. Another letter sheds light on his perception of being treated differently to his French peers due to his British identity – “You know I have been very sick and had to get treatment in town because the major refused to recognise me … I believe it’s because I’m English”.

Scan 2

Insignia of the Soissons Regiment, 1899

Jules Barbier “far from being miserable” at Soissons

Jules Barbier seems to have experienced a far less despondent national service with an infantry in Soissons. He recalls being “received very kindly” at the barracks, and remarks that “there are some nice boys” and “all the officers have been very kind”. In contrast to the discrimination faced by Georges at Le Mans, Jules mentions that his captain remarked “it was very nice of me to come and do my service from England”. This would have no doubt boosted his enthusiasm and spirits, enhancing his military experience and possibly reinforcing his bond with his French heritage. The Barbier Archive gave me the impression that Jules, to some extent at least,  enjoyed his work in the French infantry, often describing his activities in a buoyant tone – “Yesterday I was taught to salute and about different ranks of officers. I was given my rifle, and tomorrow we will exercise”. This is in stark contrast to the more physically demanding and draining responsibilities encountered by Georges.

Scan 3

Self-portrait of Jules E. Barbier in a letter to his mother, 5 August, 1899

Like Georges, however, Jules often reported that money and food were particularly scant, referring to himself as being “as poor as a church mouse”. In one letter dated 11 February 1899, he feels ashamed for having to borrow 15 francs from a friend, alluding that money was a lingering concern. All his money was solely spent on necessities – “I’m just eating, I’m always hungry”, suggesting that there was no such thing as disposable income in the French Army. Despite having a more positive experience than his brother, Jules’s time in the military was also hampered by illness; “I am in the infirmary. Last bed. I was taken ill with a fever and also with my throat in fact. I have got an abscess there and it is very painful”. But the fact that he was admitted to the infirmary, and a promise that his captain “would come to see me in the hospital”, suggests that the quality of pastoral care was far superior to that experienced by Georges. In one letter Jules announces “I am far from being miserable” and is eager to return to his duties – “Time passes very slowly here in the hospital. I would be pretty eager to go back to the barracks”.

Early colour printing of a barracks scene, 1899

When I embarked on my summer placement with the Barbier Archive at Special Collections and Archives, I did not expect to discover such contrasting personal accounts of life in the French Army through the eyes of the sons of Cardiff. Sometimes harrowing, often spirited, but always heartfelt, this fascinating archive paints a vivid picture of everyday life at a time when the world was on the cusp of one of its most turbulent periods. It has been an absolute indulgence to be able to tease out yet another remarkable story in Cardiff’s history.

 

Advertisements

Guest Post: The Barbier Family in Victorian Cardiff

Yet another fascinating post on the Barbier family courtesy of Katy Stone, who is discovering much about this exceptional family, and life in Victorian Cardiff, by working her way through their archive as part of a CUROP project to catalogue this unique resource.

In this blog post, I’d like to share my discoveries about life in Cardiff during the Victorian era (1837-1901), as seen through the eyes of the Barbiers. Since I started working with the archive earlier this summer, I have sifted through boxes of letters from 1898, 1899, 1900, 1901, 1903 and 1904, and they have given me a fascinating insight into daily life in the Welsh capital during the late 19th and early 20th century.

Sadly, the letters reveal that poor housing conditions, outbreaks of infectious disease and premature death were not uncommon in Cardiff. Much of the archive in this period is dedicated to correspondence from Euphémie Barbier to her son Paul Barbier Fils. In one of her letters I discovered that a servant of the De Guélis household fell ill with diphtheria due to unsatisfactory sewage arrangements in the house. I have also found repeated reports of influenza, particularly during 1898 and 1899, and in one unfortunate case the family’s milkman died very suddenly, showing how the epidemic could lead rapidly to pneumonia. Euphémie’s letters also highlight poor dental health. The younger Euphémie Barbier (known as Phémie), suffered terribly from neuralgia (intense pain along a nerve, especially in the head or face). One letter from 1898 recounts how her mother had called the doctor as her daughter’s hands and face were “twitching”. I was particularly struck by Euphémie’s explanation of how she tried to bribe the doctor with cups of strong black coffee to encourage her to visit again, underlining the high demand for access to medical care. Her letters also mention a variety of other disorders including brain tumours, lumbago, ringworm and chicken pox. Victorian Cardiff’s poor sanitary conditions are boldly summed up by Georges Barbier’s stark description of the city as a “dirty hole”.

The Barbier letters also reveal stories about the widespread use of curious medicines during this era. In a letter from 1898, Euphémie Barbier advised her son to take “rhubarb pills” or “Epsom salts” to help alleviate the deafness in his ear. Another example from 1898, tells of the application of cocaine to treat an abscess on Isabelle Barbier’s mouth, which surprised me given it’s illegal today! More often than not though, simply taking a bath was recommended to relieve the painful symptoms of various ailments and illnesses. In one letter, Georges Barbier even recommends mixing disinfectant into bathwater in order to kill germs, which sounds a bit extreme to me!

1 Barbier Victorian Cardiff

The poor quality of public health appears to have put a strain on family finances as contemporaries were often forced to take time off school or work to recover. I quickly noticed from the letters that there was a daily struggle to make ends meet. Euphémie’s lists of household spending usually included only basic commodities, highlighting that luxuries were rare. Opportunities to go out or travel were often missed, and Euphémie remarked that it was “unfortunate” to have to live like that on a daily basis. In fact, as the mother of the Barbier Family, her letters are often preoccupied with money worries, describing the pressure to pay taxes as “tormenting”.

The archive also reveals Victorian attitudes to education, with a letter written by Uline Barbier featuring an illustration of a boy wearing a ‘dunce’ hat drawn by Paul Barbier Fils. Pupils who were slow at learning were made to stand in a corner wearing a tall pointed hat decorated with a letter D or sometimes the word ‘dunce’, while the teacher and their peers mocked them. Nowadays this seems harsh, but contemporaries believed that all pupils were capable of learning and that a slow or backward pupil was being deliberately lazy or reluctant to learn. I was stunned by a criticism made by Phémie’s geography teacher, Joan Reynolds; “I know that your mental capacity is not great, in fact we all know that you have not much brain power”.

4 Barbier Victorian Cardiff

Victorian Cardiff is certainly portrayed as a close-knit, vibrant community by the archive, with many letters uncovering a wealth of clues about the social activities of the Barbiers during this era. They often dined with family friends, danced, listened to music and played chess, for example, and generous gifts like brandy, chocolates, sweets and even chickens, were often received. Personally, I think this shows how much the Barbier Family were truly valued and respected by their friends and the wider Cardiff community.

I also noticed references to a number of monuments to civic pride in Cardiff during this period. Phémie writes about an exhibition for the stores of Cardiff to promote their businesses to the public at Park Hall, a theatre and cinema that was situated along Park Place, for example. Dances were also held in places such as Aberdare Hall, a residence for female students established in 1883 by the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire, which now stands a Grade II-listed Gothic revival hall of residence belonging to Cardiff University.

Overall, the Barbier Archive offers colourful insights into many aspects of life in Cardiff during Queen Victoria’s reign. It has been particularly fascinating to discover a series of health epidemics, and the pessimistic outlook people held towards potential learning difficulties. I look forward to sharing further discoveries that emerge from the extraordinary range of materials I have encountered whilst working on this magnificent archive, which holds great potential for future researchers.

Guest post: Paul E. E. Barbier and Cardiff University

This guest post comes from Pip Bartlett, undergraduate in French and Italian in the School of Modern Languages at Cardiff University. Pip is currently working on a CUROP project to catalogue the Barbier family archive.


I have been very keen to discover more about Paul E E Barbier, one of the first Professors of French here at Cardiff University. However, because he seemed to do and achieve so much throughout his lifetime, I thought it best to split my posts up; one about his work with Cardiff University, and the other regarding his involvement within the wider Cardiff community.

At first, I found it quite difficult to pinpoint specific details relating to Paul E E Barbier, as much of the archive, particularly those pertaining to the later years, seems dominated by material about his son, Paul E A Barbier (very confusing, I know). Although I am focusing on cataloguing letters, I found the wider archive useful when trying to piece together information about the elder Paul. This includes newspaper cuttings and various other documents which mention his name. The previous owner of the archive has compiled two booklets, one about Paul’s father Georges Barbier and the other about his wife, Euphémie Bornet. Although neither are specifically about Paul E E Barbier, they do contain some interesting information and help to give a contextual background. I have also found useful sources via Welsh Newspapers Online. Simply typing ‘Paul Barbier’ into the search bar reveals hundreds of results. Although some are irrelevant, a number of articles relate to Paul E E Barbier, some of which I have quoted in this post.

Paul and Euphémie

Paul and Euphémie

Paul E E Barbier was born in 1846 in the Doubs Valley region of France, close to the Swiss border. His father, Georges Barbier, was a pastor of the protestant church. In 1862, the family moved to London where Georges became the pastor of the French Protestant Church in Soho Square. Whilst in London, the family took in young Swiss women, training to be governesses – this is how Paul met his future wife, the Swiss-born Euphémie Bornet. I am unsure how old they were when they met, but I did learn from the booklets that they were together for ten years before finally marrying in 1872. After their marriage, Paul became a French master at Felsted Grammar School in Essex and later moved to the famous Manchester Grammar School where he remained for 10 years. Euphémie also worked at a school in the area called Aubonne House School for Ladies. In some of the earlier sections of the archive, I have discovered many letters from Euphémie writing from Aubonne House to her parents and siblings. The couple had eight children who were raised speaking both French and English, evidence of which can be seen throughout their letters and correspondences in the archive.

In 1883, Paul was appointed Lecturer of French at the newly opened University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire in Cardiff (now Cardiff University). The whole family moved to Cardiff and Paul set to work developing his department, later being promoted to Professor of French Language and Literature (I am unsure of the exact date). After moving around Cardiff (evident from changes to address in letters), Paul and Euphémie eventually settled at 21 Corbett Road, where they remained until Paul’s death in 1921.

From what I have learnt from material in the archive, Paul Barbier was a valued and well-respected member of the university by both staff and pupils. One article I found from the Revue Mensuelle Galloise ‘Cymru’, March 1909 describes Professor Barbier as ‘a wonderful personality, uniting in himself gravity and humour to an extraordinary degree […] He can keep his classes laughing throughout his lectures if he thinks fit to do so; and can again, when he pleases, bring them to verge of weeping’. An obituary from French publication ‘Chronique de Londres’ (1st October 1921) says, ‘Barbier était d’une nature enthousiaste et d’une extrême générosité de coeur; aussi jouissait-il d’une popularité peu commune, et ce sont des milliers d’étudiants qui apprendront sa mort avec une réelle tristesse’ (translation: ‘Barbier was a man of enthusiastic nature and extreme generosity; he had an unusual popularity and thousands of students will be met with real sadness after learning of his death’).

Not only did Paul Barbier teach, but he also examined. The same obituary states that Paul Barbier was examiner in chief for every university in Wales, as well as the universities of London, Dublin, Oxford and Cambridge. An article from the Evening Express (5 January 1906) entitled ‘Honour for Professor Paul Barbier’ regards his appointment as examiner in French for the University of Cambridge as ‘a great distinction’.

Despite living in Cardiff for most of his life, Paul E E Barbier retained his French roots and seemed to be in contact with many different people in France. He and his wife regularly made visits to Paris with his students, evidence of which can be found in letters to their children back home written during these trips. In March 1905, it was announced that the University of France would be awarding Paul Barbier with the highest academic distinction, that is, the diploma of Officer of Public Instruction (le diplôme de l’Officier d’instruction publique). An article in the Evening Express dated 14 March 1905 illustrates the award ceremony held at the University of South Wales and Monmouthshire. It describes Professor Barbier being given the award with ‘the accompaniment of enthusiastic cheers from the large company of students’.

Whilst researching Paul E E Barbier, I came across a couple of small anecdotes which I found amusing and wanted to share. The first is about a ‘scandal’ at the University in 1910. According to a letter from the ‘University of Wales’, questions for a French exam were leaked prior to the examination. I found a ‘poison pen’ letter addressed to Professor Barbier (dated 23 June 1910) in which the author, who remains anonymous, is ‘extremely disgraced’ by the rumour that Professor Barbier has been involved in the ‘scandal’. The author describes Paul Barbier as ‘a man so very lacking in dignity, common sense and those virtues so essential in a university professor’, before going on to say, ‘in your early days you could have clowned exceedingly well… the cap and bells and the fool’s bauble would have befitted you admirably, were it not that the traditional fool was essentially a sapient individual, which you are not.’

Anonymous 'poison pen' letter to Barbier, 1910

Anonymous ‘poison pen’ letter to Barbier, 1910

It would seem that regardless of how popular and valued someone is, they are always going to have enemies! I also found a letter from Paul E E Barbier to one of his children (the exact one is unknown) dated 26th September 1895. In French, he tells the recipient to be more careful with their grammar having read a letter to their mother in which there were many mistakes with the subjunctive mood!

It is evident that Paul E E Barbier was an esteemed member of University staff, valued by both his colleagues and students. He was a known name not only in Wales, but throughout the whole of the United Kingdom, with his efforts also being recognised and awarded by institutions in France. It has been fascinating to research more about his work with the University, and I hope that my next blog post will share more light on his involvement within the wider Cardiff community.