Tag Archives: book history

Guest post: A Welsh Servants’ Library from 1815

This guest post is from Dr Melanie Bigold, Reader in English Literature in the School of English, Communication and Philosophy, Cardiff University.


The Cardiff Rare Books collection holds many texts which provide both provenance details (that is, information about former owners), as well as various types of evidence of historical use (for example, marginal annotations). Indeed, Cardiff’s collection is notable for the marked-up state of many of the books. Our librarian, Lisa Tallis, recently published an article on some examples from the Salisbury Collection in the Welsh History Review, and I have also written about marginalia in the Restoration Drama Collection.

My current research is on female book ownership between 1660-1820, so I have been revisiting the provenance details of hundreds of books in the Cardiff collection. One of the truly interesting tangential discoveries of research on women owners is that it has led me to the libraries of even more marginalised figures in the history of book ownership: servants and labouring-class individuals. For example, at Alnwick Castle, I discovered that a list mislabelled as one of the Duchess of Northumberland’s libraries was actually that of her servants. In the 1750s, Elizabeth Percy, first Duchess of Northumberland (1716-1776), made a list of the 131 books that she made available to her large household. The article about this exciting source is currently available open access here. A list of the 131 titles is also available open access on the Bibliographical Society’s website here.

As a result of the excellent work of rare books cataloguer, Christine Megowan, Special Collections and Archives at Cardiff has recently yielded a similar piece of evidence from 1815. The female owner of the library in question was Frances Ann Grey (née Pryce) (1780-1837), the heiress of Dyffryn House in Glamorgan, Wales. Frances’s father, Thomas Pryce, was a coal merchant who bought the estate in 1759 and christened it Dyffryn, but records for the estate and its various owners go back to the seventh century. Unfortunately, the eighteenth-century house that Frances lived in no longer exists, but the Victorian house and Edwardian gardens still known as Dyffryn House are now managed by the National Trust.

Thomas Pryce had two daughters: Frances, the eldest, born in April 1780, and the younger, Elizabeth, must have been born just over a year later as she is recorded as dying, age 21, in September 1802.[1] Their mother, also named Frances Ann, died in March 1782, age 32, perhaps due to complications in the birth of Elizabeth. Thomas Pryce died in 1789, leaving Frances as his heir. In 1802, Frances married William Booth-Grey (1773-1852) – the second son of George Harry Grey, 5th earl of Stamford, of Dunham Massey, Cheshire. Frances was likely the mechanism for this second son to acquire an estate, as William joined Frances at Dyffryn House and shortly became High Sherriff of Glamorgan. A watercolour portrait of the two is held in the National Trust collections at Dunham Massey and can be viewed here. The couple had no children and the estate passed back to a Pryce kinsman on Frances’s death in 1837.

Inscription: ‘For the use of the Servants At Duffryn 1815’.

Beyond these scraps of information, not much is known about Frances, so it was wonderful to find a trace of her impact on the pages of one of our rare books. Special Collections has a single book that hails from Dyffryn House: a copy of Dr. Goldsmith’s history of Greece: abridged, for the use of Schools (London, 1787). The ink inscription on the front pastedown tells us that the book was ‘Mrs Grey’s’, and that it was ‘For the use of the Servants At Duffryn 1815’. In addition, on the final pastedown is a list of ‘Books in the Housekeeper’s room’, followed by the titles of twenty books, including the Goldsmith tome. In other words, this is a list of the library assembled by Frances for the benefit and entertainment of her servants. The titles include an interesting mix of histories, literature, religion, and reference works.

List of titles.
  1. The Whole Duty of Man [Richard Allestree, first published 1658]
  2. The great importance of a religious life [William Melmoth, first published 1711]
  3. Y Psallwyr [Psalms of David]
  4. Cyngor Gweinidog [William Holmes, The Country Parson’s advice to his parishioners, first published in English in 1742, and translated into Welsh in 1769]
  5. 2 Vol’s of Sermons by Wilson [probably Thomas Wilson, Thirty-three sermons published in Bath in 1791, in 2 volumes]
  6. Answer to all excuses for not attending the Holy Communion [Edward Synge, An answer to all the excuses…, first published 1697]
  7. Select Psalms
  8. On the existence of God [unknown, several possible titles]
  9. One Volume of Blairs Sermons [Hugh Blair, Sermons,first published 1777]
  10. Enfields Speaker [William Enfield, The Speaker, first published 1774]
  11. Salmon’s Gazeeteer [sic] [Thomas Salmon, The Modern Gazetteer,first published 1746]
  12. History of Greece Robertson [William Robertson, The History of Ancient Greece, 1768]
  13. History of Greece Goldsmith [Oliver Goldsmith, The Grecian History, was first published 1774. The abridged version present in the Cardiff collection came out in 1787]
  14. History of England Goldsmith [first published 1764. Perhaps this was the abridgement in 12mo published in 1774]
  15. Barclay’s Dictionary [James Barclay, A Complete and Universal Dictionary, first published 1774]
  16. Guthrie’s Grammar [William Guthrie, A New Geographical, Historical, and Commercial Grammar, first published 1770]
  17. The practice of true devotion [Robert Nelson, first published 1715]
  18. Nicholl’s [sic] Paraphrase [William Nicholls, A paraphrase on the Psalter or Psalms of David, first published 1707]
  19. Thomson’s Seasons [James Thomson, The Seasons, first published together 1730]
  20. 2 Shenstones Works [William Shenstone, The works in verse and prose, first published 1764]

It is impossible to determine the edition date for many of the titles, but apart from the books of Psalms; The Whole Duty of Man (1658), Richard Allestree’s perennially popular book of practical devotion; and Edward Synge’s An Answer (1697), all of the titles first appeared in the eighteenth century, and many in the latter half of the century. While this suggests a relatively current library, the date of the Goldsmith edition – 1787 – tells us that the books were probably second-hand copies. The other factor to note about our Goldsmith book is that it is small – not much larger than a smartphone. Known as duodecimo (12mo) format, it is similar in size to those found in other servant libraries from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. For example, at Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk (a National Trust house) there is a servants’ library of twenty-five books in their own miniature, locked bookcase. These books are all duodecimo. This was a common size for chapbooks, the small and cheap little books sold by travelling pedlars or chapmen. Seen as ephemera, most early examples of these popular books have not survived. Margaret Spufford’s wonderful study, Small Books and Pleasant Histories: Popular Fiction and its Readers in Seventeenth-Century England (London, 1981), is still the definitive history on chapbooks. Sadly, our list does not contain any of the famous old chapbook titles.

Instead, in 1815, it is religious titles that dominate the list (11 of the 20 titles), but there is more variety here than other examples of nineteenth-century servants’ libraries. The Felbrigg servants’ library, for example, is entirely religious (all 25 texts were published by the Religious Tract Society). Frances’s selection, on the other hand, has more in common with the servants’ library at Alnwick Castle. Like the duchess, Frances provided her servants with books of a practical nature; that is, works that could help them learn about the world as well as advance their job prospects. For example, there is a book to help the servants learn to read. The long title of William Enfield’s The Speaker (item 10) explains that it contains ‘miscellaneous pieces, selected from the best English writers… with a view to facilitate the improvement of youth in reading and speaking.’ There are also general knowledge dictionaries and grammars. James Barclay’s ‘Dictionary’ (item 15) is not just a dictionary of words and definitions in the modern sense, but also contained a history of ‘the counties, cities, and market towns in England, Wales, and Scotland’, ‘a sketch of the constitution, government, and trade of England’, and ‘an outline of antient and modern history’. Likewise, Guthrie’s ‘Grammar’ (item 16) provided geographical knowledge about the ‘Land and Water, Continents and Islands’, ‘Climate, Air, Soil, vegetable Productions, Metals, Minerals’, among other things. The Modern Gazetteer (item 11) was another work of geographical and historical knowledge, written by a man who circumnavigated the world with George Anson in the 1740s. These works imparted general knowledge about the world beyond Wales, and as such provided both instruction and entertainment.

For those who had mastered their reading, there was also more ambitious fare in the form of James Thomson’s celebrated long poem, The Seasons (item 19), as well as William Shenstone’s collected works (item 20). Thomson’s paeon to the natural world was ubiquitous in eighteenth-century country house libraries; Shenstone, however, appears less frequently. Nevertheless, he wrote in the same vein as Thomson, with a focus on the countryside, rural life, and sensibility, and the appearance of these two authors suggest an interest (either from Frances or among the servants) for poetry with a connection to the land. They also hint at the preference in Welsh homes for poetry over novels. In my study of women’s libraries in Wales, poetry was almost always more prevalent.

There is also a focus on history which is one of the most popular genres in women’s libraries in the period. In addition to the Cardiff copy of Oliver Goldsmith’s abridged history of Greece (item 13), the list also mentions Goldsmith’s history of England (item 14), and another history of Greece from William Robertson (item 12). Goldsmith’s and Robertson’s Grecian histories were adaptations of the French classic Histoire Ancienne (1730-38) by Charles Rollin. This popular source was translated as well as abridged into many different languages over the course of the eighteenth century. Goldsmith, who was always short of funds and in search of publishing opportunities, produced a novelistic version that does not credit its source, while Robertson, Keeper of the Scottish Records, attempted a more traditional historiography that, in its second edition, credited his source as a French abridgement of Rollin.[2] The appearance of these three histories show that eighteenth-century publishers were responding to and creating a popular history market for readers of all ages and abilities.

However, the most unique aspect of this list is that it contains Welsh-language texts. This is the earliest example I have found of Welsh texts in a country house servants’ library. These include, ‘Y Psallwyr’ (item 3), which is the Welsh translation of the Psalms of David, and ‘Cyngor Gweinidog’ (item 4), a translation of William Holmes’ work, The Country Parson’s Advice to his Parishioners. This tells us that there were Welsh speakers among Frances’ servants, and, perhaps more importantly, that she supported them with their own Welsh-language texts. It likewise reveals the expansion of Welsh-language publishing.

In her study of two English provincial booksellers, Jan Fergus notes that, among the working classes, servants often had the most leisure time and that they tended to be more literate.[3] Frances Grey’s list confirms such literacy for both English and Welsh speaking servants. It also shows the extent to which women like Frances supported the members of her household in improving and extending their reading. Now if only I could find the list of her library. 


[1] Archaeologica Cambrensis (1861), p.110.

[2] Giovanna Ceserani, ‘Narrative, Interpretation, and Plagiarism in Mr. Robertson’s 1778 “History of Ancient Greece”’, Journal of the History of Ideas 66, no. 3 (2005): 413–36.

[3] Jan Fergus, ‘Provincial Servants’ Reading in the Late Eighteenth Century’, in The Practice and Representation of Reading in England, ed. James Raven, Helen Small, and Naomi Tadmor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 202–25, 204.

Prifysgol Caerdydd yn Lansio Gwasanaeth Digidol Newydd: Casgliadau Arbennig Digidol 

Mae casgliad arbennig o lyfrau cain – gwaith oes yr artist Shirley Jones – yn ganolbwynt ar gyfer gwasanaeth digidol newydd sbon, wedi’i ddatblygu gan staff Casgliadau Arbennig ac Archifau. 

Mae Casgliadau Arbennig Ar-Lein, sy’n lansio heddiw, yn rhannu casgliadau prin gydag ymchwilwyr, myfyrwyr, ysgolion a’r cyhoedd yn rhad ac am ddim. 

Bydd casgliadau prin ac unigryw i’w gweld ar-lein, rhai am y tro cyntaf erioed

Gyda dros 1,700 o eitemau prin wedi’u cyhoeddi yn barod, mae’r gwasanaeth yn hwyluso mynediad fel erioed o’r blaen, gan ddefnyddio ffotograffau manwl a phrydferth. Mae llawer o’r eitemau sydd i’w canfod ar y gwasaneth yn hynod o brin, ac eraill yn hollol unigryw i’r Brifysgol. 

Meddai’r Archifydd Alison Harvey: “Mae llyfrau Shirley i’w canfod mewn casgliadau preifat – mae’n weithred radical i’w rhannu gyda phawb, ar-lein, am ddim – gwaith oes, sy’n cael ei rannu gyda bendith Shirley.” 

Golwg fanwl ar waith yr artist Shirley Jones, sydd wedi gwneud rhodd o’i gwaith oes i’r Brifysgol

“Mae’n wahanol iawn i sganiau llwyd y dyddiau a fu: dylunwyd y gwasanaeth i gyd-weithio gyda systemau eraill, sy’n cynyddu’r potensial ar gyfer creu deunyddiau dysgu, arddangosfeydd rhithiol, ymchwil a llawer mwy.” 

Bydd Casgliadau Arbennig Ar-Lein yn tyfu wrth i ragor o eitemau gael eu digido, gan greu trysorfa o ddeunydd ymchwil, a chasgliadau nodweddiadol fydd o ddiddordeb i lyfr-bryfaid yng Nghymru a thu hwnt. Ymysg eitemau eraill sydd ar gael am y tro cyntaf ‘mae:  

ffotograffau unigryw o fyfyrwyr Ysgol Dechnegol Caerdydd ym 1898  

dyddiaduron nyrs o Ryfel Cartref Sbaen 

cofnodion lliwgar o fywyd myfyrwyr dros y degawdau 

Myfyrwyr Ysgol Dechnegol Caerdydd ym 1898

Esboniodd Pennaeth Casgliadau Arbennig ac Archifau, Alan Vaughan Hughes: “Rydan ni’n falch iawn i fod yn rhan o gyfundrefn IIIF, y Brifysgol gyntaf yng Nghymru i ymuno. Mae’n safon digido arloesol, fydd yn drawsnewidiol ar gyfer ymchwil a dysgu.” 

“Mae hyn gymaint mwy na rhoi lluniau ar y we: trwy IIIF, rydan ni’n rhan o fframwaith ryngwladol sy’n gwneud ein casgliadau yn fwy hygyrch i ymchwilwyr a’r cyhoedd yn fyd-eang.” 

Gallwch bori Casgliadau Arbennig Ar-Lein fan hyn: Casgliadau Arbennig Ar-Lein 

Cardiff University Launches a New Digital Service: Digital Special Collections

A unique collection of handmade books – the life’s work of artist Shirley Jones – is the centrepiece of a brand-new digital service developed by Special Collections and Archives.   

Cardiff University Digital Special Collections, which launches today, is free to use and shares rarely seen treasures with researchers, students, schools and the public, for free.  

Rare and unique items have been made available online for the first time, including the life’s work of artist Shirley Jones

Over 1,700 rare items are already available, photographed in exquisite detail – enabling access like never before to the University’s collections. Many of the items are extremely rare, while others are completely unique to the University.  

Archivist Alison Harvey said: “Shirley’s books are usually in private collections, and it’s quite radical to make them available to everyone, for free, online – a lifetime of work, which we’re sharing with Shirley’s blessing.”    

A detail from Shirley Jones’ collections, viewed through a deep zoom viewer, which lets users explore rare and unique collections in detail

“It’s a long way from the greyscale scans of the past: Digital Special Collections is designed to work with other platforms, to create teaching materials, online exhibitions and more. The potential for future research and impact is immense.”   

Digital Special Collections will continue to grow as more items are digitised, creating a trove of research material and cultural highlights for book-lovers across Wales and beyond. Other items made available for the first time today include 

  • unique photographs of students learning trades at Cardiff Technical School in 1898  
  • handwritten diaries from an intrepid nurse, written during the Spanish Civil War 
  • retro photographs of student life stretching back to the Victorian period 
Cardiff Technical School Students in 1898

Head of Special Collections and Archives, Alan Vaughan Hughes explains: “We’re really proud to be the first University in Wales to adopt the IIIF standard. This framework allows the kind of functionality that will transform how we use collections for teaching and research.  

“This goes way beyond just putting images on the internet: IIIF means that our collections are now part of an international framework and makes them more accessible globally, to researchers and the public.”   

Digital Special Collections can be accessed here: Digital Special Collections   

Guest post: Book inscriptions and family history research

Following on from the success of the recent Family History Show at UWE Exhibition and Conference Centre, Dr Lauren O’Hagan shares some of her top tips for using book inscriptions as an entry point into family history research.


Most of us have dusty, old books tucked away in our attics, cupboards or garages that once belonged to our parents, grandparents or distant relatives. These books are an unexpected and useful resource for carrying out genealogical research. Inscriptions provide us with the names and addresses of unknown ancestors, or they can also offer personal information not found elsewhere about their daily lives and hobbies.

Here’s a guide on how you can use book inscriptions in your family history research:

1. Family Bibles
Considered the ‘life blood’ of Christian families, Bibles were once used to record births, deaths, marriages, and significant life events, such as a child’s illness or a son going off to war. Civil registration was not introduced until 1837 (in England and Wales) and was made compulsory in 1874: Bibles are therefore a useful way to trace your family roots without having to trawl through parish records.

2. Birthday Books and Daily Scripture Books
Popularised in the mid-nineteenth century, these gift books contained printed content and blank spaces to record birthdays. Many owners also used them to document deaths, marriages, funerals, christenings, new jobs, moving house and world events. They are an important way to explore a family member’s social networks.

3. Autograph Books and Confession Books
These books shed light on ancestors’ wit, humour and irony because they required owners, and their family and friends, to answer pre-written questions on their personality, tastes and interests, such as: What is your idea of happiness? What are your favourite qualities in a man/woman? Who is your favourite author?

4. Ownership Inscriptions
This is the most basic form of inscription, consisting of the owner’s name, and may also be accompanied by their address and date of inscription. This information can be essential when starting out on the journey into your family history. Sketches, poems, newspaper clippings, comments and even curses to protect books from theft can also appear alongside an ownership inscription, all of which can help make your ancestor come to life as a person.

5. Gift Inscriptions
Books inscribed as presents from one person to another can show links and relationships between people that may be harder to discern from more official records.

6. Author Inscriptions
These inscriptions are often written by the author to the recipient at a book signing or event, and can give an insight into your ancestors’ reading tastes and interests.

7. Prize Inscriptions and Prize Stickers
Awarding books as prizes for attendance and good behaviour was common across schools, Sunday schools and clubs in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. Books containing prize stickers are a real treasure trove because they contain comprehensive details of the awardee, their address and the specific institution that they attended. This can supply information on their religious denomination, and help focus local archive searches of school and Sunday school records.

8. Bookplates
Bookplates are small, decorative labels used to denote book ownership. Traditionally, bookplates were used only by the upper classes who commissioned artists to custom-design ciphers, rebuses or armorials with heraldic symbols relating to their lineage. These symbols can be identified fairly easily using resources such as the College of Arms database. By the early twentieth century, most bookplates were pictorial and showcased images that reflected anything from an owner’s favourite sport or literary character to their religious or political beliefs. These bookplates offer a whimsical way of discovering the person behind your ancestor’s name.

9. Marginalia
These marks or comments made in the margins of books can give us a sense of our ancestors’ thought process and how they engaged with their books.

10. Booksellers’ and Binders’ Labels
Many books from the Victorian and Edwardian eras feature booksellers’ or binders’ labels, which tell us the specific location that a book was purchased or bound. These labels can often be cross-referenced with the ownership inscription to aid initial census searches.

Hopefully, these handy tips will encourage you to search your house for old books and get starting on your family history research! Enjoy!

No learning-lockdown here!

Our doors may be closed, but whether from our attics, bedrooms, or desks-under-the-stairs, we are still here to support your learning, creativity, and well-being during these unprecedented times.

No rest for the wicked, nor the self-isolated: we’ve been busy preparing a guide to free, digital primary sources from heritage organisations all over the world over on our website. But as well as the big hitters, there are a whole host of blogs and online research projects for those of you who can’t currently acquire all the sources you may need for your studies (or are just plain curious or bored).

Here’s a list of just a few that may help bridge that gap:

The Recipes Project: Food, Magic, Art, Science, and Medicine

 

Feeling peckish? I for one have a more severe case of the munchies now that I’m consigned to binge-reading and Netflixing for the foreseeable future, and this site is an excellent way to satiate it without heading out for non-essential M&Ms. As the website states, it’s an international collaborative research project where scholars interested in the history of recipes explore the weird and wonderful ways that recipes – for magical charms, cosmetics, food, and remedies – offer a unique window into the past. It’s full of interesting posts, sources, and more importantly for those growling stomachs – recipes, so most definitely worth a look, especially, and there’s no judgement here – we’re all getting by as best we can – this medieval Russian hangover cure. Check out their Additional Resources too.

Dr Alun Withey

What this fabulous and funky historian of early modern medicine and social history does not know about the strange, superb, and hairy aspects of early medical practices and facial grooming, quite frankly, is not worth shaving for. Packed with fascinating posts spanning a huge array of themes that encompass our medical and social past, from ‘polite’ hands, roasted mice, pigeon cures to bloodletting and beard sculpting, you could lose yourself for hours in Dr Withey’s blog. There’s even an abusive parrot in there. Well, I guess we’ll all be ‘talking to the cowing birds’ before long.

Medieval Manuscripts blog

When in doubt, check out the British Library’s website – this blog on their medieval and earlier manuscripts is well worth a look. As well as publicising their digitisation projects and other activities, this blog contains a wealth of interesting posts on the people, collections, and details relating to their unique manuscript collection. From digitised Middle English manuscripts to Greek papyri, this will satisfy all your manuscript needs. In addition, its generous visual content and links to other related materials could give you the illusion that you are actually sitting in the British Library, manuscript rather than TV remote to hand. Medieval Manuscripts is the perfect way to illuminate and chill!

15cBOOKTRADE

This completed project on the history of the book trade during the fifteenth century by Oxford University considers the thousands of surviving books from the invention of modern printing by Gutenberg in c. 1450, to 1500 as material and unique documentary evidence of one of the most important developments in our cultural history. With the aid of a rare, unpublished ledger of a Venetian bookseller in the 1480s, which records the sale and prices of some of 25,000 printed books, the project addresses five fundamental questions relating to the introduction of printing in the West: Distribution, use, and reading practices; The books’ contemporary market value; The transmission and dissemination of the texts; The circulation and use of illustrations; and Visualisation – a database that helps us to visualise the circulation of the books and the texts they contain, over space and time. How amazing is that? Everything you need to know, and see, about the very start of the printing and book trade, without having to leave your house! Bonus points during these current times, and an absolute hat-trick for anyone interested in the history of literacy, printing, and the book trade in the second half of the fifteenth century.

Curious Travellers

For all of us in need of a bit of virtual travelling, we can explore Snowdon and any other eighteenth-century Welsh tourist hot spot without worrying about social distancing, by simply visiting this website. This four-year AHRC-funded research project, launched in September 2014 and jointly run by the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (CAWCS) and the University of Glasgow, looks at Romantic-period accounts of journeys into Wales and Scotland. The writings of the Welsh naturalist and antiquarian Thomas Pennant (1726-1798) provide the main focus, and a range of other materials will help satisfy any Welsh (and Scottish) wanderlust we may be harbouring during our home-stays.

There are some nifty, freely-available research tools, including a database of Pennant’s extensive and scattered correspondence, and a searchable online corpus of some 60 (previously unpublished!) Welsh and Scottish Tours. led by Dr Mary-Ann Constantine of the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies  (CAWCS) and Professor Nigel Leask of the University of Glasgow, Curious Travellers goes well beyond your traditional Rough Guide.

On History

This blog provides access to all the news, articles and research from the Institute of Historical Research (IHR). Check out their reviews of the latest historical publications via the Reviews in History series; see all their open access initiatives and links to other blogs and resources such as the Royal Historical Society’s Historical Transactions Blog, and New Historical Perspectives – the latest book series for early career scholars; or read extracts from the Camden Society publications, some volumes of which are available through British History Online. BHO is a digital collection of over 1,280 volumes of primary and secondary sources on the history of Britain and Ireland primarily focusing on the years 1300-1800. All transcribed content on the site has now been made freely available online until 31 July 2020! There is plenty of online content, news, and historical features to keep you going for months.

History Past and Present

The University of Nottingham has a series of lively and informative blogs written by students, staff and academics on a wide range of subjects across multiple disciplines. The Arts and Humanities section posts on a range of topics including popular culture, cultures, language and area studies, and even Bringing Vikings back to the East Midlands – hopefully they respect social distancing and anti-bac-wipe their axes on a regular basis! The History Past and Present blog offers a wide range of instructive and motivating posts on academic articles, publications, key historical events, themes and topics.

So plenty to keep studious, curious, and jaded minds going throughout the current lockdown. Consider this your virtual-learning comfort blanket – and don’t forget to check out our new guide to digitised primary sources.

Until we see you again: stay indoors, stay safe, and read a blog – over and out!

The Family History Show, South West

A report from research associate, Dr Lauren O’Hagan, who ran a stall on ‘Book Inscriptions and Family History Research’ with civic engagement officer, Sara Huws, at the Family History Show at UWE Exhibition & Conference Centre, Bristol on 8 February.


People were already queuing in their hordes when I arrived at the UWE Exhibition and Conference Centre early on Saturday morning. Some with notepads and pens, some with cameras, some with flasks and packed lunches, some even with camping chairs. “I just can’t wait to see him in the flesh,” one woman exclaimed as I made my way to the entrance. No, we weren’t at a concert awaiting the arrival of Ed Sheeran or Drake; we were at the Family History Show, the biggest genealogical event in the South West of England, where dozens of avid amateur researchers had braved the rain to talk to experts in genealogy.

The Family History Show is the brainchild of Discover Your Ancestors magazine who first launched the show in York in 2011. Since then, its popularity has been growing steadily and, now, shows are run annually in York, London and Bristol, attracting hundreds of visitors from all across Britain. Judging from the crowd outside, today’s event in Bristol looked like it was going to be a big one!

As I entered the exhibition hall, I was met with four long rows of stalls featuring everything from dating old photographs and exploring historic maps to tracing ancestors in British India and discussing ethical dilemmas in genealogy. There were also opportunities to attend lectures on DNA testing, house dating and historic clothing, as well as to purchase postcards, books, folders and other genealogical paraphernalia.

A quick initial stroll around the hall made it clear that England was very well represented (with stallholders from the local Bristol area, as well as Devon, Cornwall, Oxfordshire, Worcestershire and beyond), but we were the only stall representing Wales. This meant that not only did we have the task of promoting book inscriptions and family history research, but also the added pressure of flying the flag for Wales and all other heritage industries in the country!

We quickly set up our stall (a good central location!), adorning it with a selection of prize books, laminated inscriptions and pamphlets, as well as freebie tote bags and pencil crayons. If we couldn’t lure visitors with books, at least we could lure them with giveaways! But as it turned out, we didn’t need to worry about that.

At 10:00 on the dot, a loudspeaker announcement declared the opening of the show. And so the floodgates were opened and dozens of men and women piled in.

From the outset, our stall seemed to attract a lot of attention, setting the pace for the day ahead. For the next six hours, Sara and I barely had a moment to rest!

Visitors seemed genuinely fascinated to hear about my novel way of approaching family history research and were keen to take away a copy of the two-page pamphlet I had produced with ‘top tips’ for using book inscriptions to explore ancestry.

As people browsed through the selection of inscriptions on the table, they seemed temporarily transported back to their childhood and opened up, sharing their own family memories and stories. It was genuinely touching to hear personal perspectives on inscriptions and what they meant to individuals. Many of these stories concerned family Bibles and prayer books and how they were passed down from generation to generation until the present day. Most admitted that they had never read the books, but they would never get rid of them because they were such a tangible link to their ancestors. Some, on the other hand, confessed that they had binned the books but steamed off the prize labels to keep because to do otherwise would be “to erase history.”

My favourite stories of the day include the simple tale of how one woman’s great-grandmother saved up to buy a copy of The English House for her great-grandfather, a builder, as well as the moving story of how one pocket prayer book survived World War One with bullet holes through its cover. I was also fascinated to hear the number of stories about inscriptions as first-hand evidence of national events. One lady recalled how her great-aunt had witnessed the transportation of Queen Victoria’s coffin from Osborne House to mainland Britain and documented the event in an inscription. In it, she had described how the sun shone off the jewels on top of the coffin, something that “you would never get from official records.” As she told me, marks like these made you realise that “Queen Victoria was nobody special; she was just one of us.” These examples really show how inscriptions and books can offer personalised versions and, thus, new perspectives on national events.

One of the most positive things for me was the way in which my research seemed to stimulate people’s own interest and curiosity in book inscriptions. Many stated that they couldn’t wait to go back home and start rummaging around to find what old books they had. Several people even noted down my email address so that they could send me their own examples to add to my dataset. It was also encouraging to hear people say that I had changed their way of thinking and that they would now look at their books in a new light. One man informed me that my research had “a lovely way of humanising ancestors” and “bringing the past to life.”

Being the only Welsh presence at the Family History Show, we also received a surprising number of visitors who were interested in investigating their Welsh ancestry. Sara dealt expertly (in both English and Welsh) with a barrage of different questions about all aspects of Welsh identity, from religion and language to sports and jobs, and even skillfully handled a tricky debate on nationalism. She even convinced a few people to start learning Welsh. Result!

Feedback from visitors showed that most people were unaware that Cardiff University Special Collections and Archives existed, let alone that it was open to the general public and not just students and academics. After informing visitors of the types of records held there, many expressed an interest in visiting. We were also able to send a fair few people Glamorgan Archives’ way (you can thank us later, guys!). Many visitors also had no previous knowledge of Archives Hub, an excellent website for searching across archive collections held in the UK, so we were able to promote the resource too.

A key factor that seemed to unite all stalls across the event was the connection between the past and present and the idea that we are really no different to our ancestors. This theme came up time and time again, whether in the examples of postcards showing Edwardians ‘foodstagramming’ their meals at a table, confession books where friends and families took part in ‘clean copy challenges’ or bookplates which people used as ‘status updates’ and ‘selfies’. Just like now, people laughed, cried, worried and cared about similar things to us. Tangible objects like book inscriptions or photographs remind us of this and bring us back in touch with the human side of our ancestors, making them more than just a name on a census record.

The day just flew by and before we knew it, it was 4:00 and time to wrap up the show. Naturally, the show ended in the only way that a Family History Show could end: with a Tannoy announcement that somebody had left a copy of the 1933 electoral register on the Somerset & Dorset Family History Society stall. You wouldn’t get that anywhere else!

So, all in all, we had a brilliant day out and thoroughly enjoyed talking to different people, hearing fascinating stories and promoting the value of book inscriptions for family history research. I even received two public speaking invites and generated interest in my forthcoming exhibition and book (stay tuned for both!). And as a scholar of Edwardian book inscriptions, I was delighted to pick up a free copy of the latest edition of Discover Your Ancestors featuring who else but King Edward VII himself standing regally on the front cover looking over his subjects.

My first experience of a family history show but definitely not my last!

Using census records to trace the owner of a birthday book… with an unexpected twist!

This guest post comes from Dr Lauren O’Hagan, sociolinguistic researcher of Edwardian material culture and class conflict.


In 1798, statistician John Rickman wrote an article stressing the need to conduct a census in Britain. He argued that “the intimate knowledge of any country must form the rational basis of legislation and diplomacy” and “an industrious population is the basic power and resource of any nation, and therefore its size needs to be known.” Two years later, the Census Act was passed in Parliament and in 1801, the first ever detailed, national survey was carried out. Since this date, a census has been conducted in Britain every ten years.

While the census can help the Government to develop policies, plan public services and allocate funding, for researchers, historians and genealogists, it is an incredibly valuable tool for discovering the lifestyles and characteristics of past generations. Census records provide official evidence that enables stories of individuals to be pieced together, retold and preserved for the future. When working with book inscriptions, these records are particularly useful in solving provenance mysteries. Indeed, I have the census to thank (partially) for unravelling a mystery I encountered in the Janet Powney Collection last week.

The mystery concerns a beautiful pocketbook, bound in brown cloth boards and published by Ernest Nister in the late nineteenth century. The book was entitled The Poetical Birthday Book and as the title suggests, it features a short poem per day by such popular poets as Tennyson, Longfellow and Wordsworth, with a blank space alongside where family, friends and acquaintances of the book owner could mark their birthdays.

Birthday books were a Victorian invention, which grew in popularity in the 1860s as a result of increased popular interest in graphology, personalisation and celebrity culture. For the increasingly literate population, they were seen as status symbols and were particularly used by middle-class men and women to map their expanding social circles.

Throughout my research, I have come across many birthday books and the owner’s name is usually inscribed somewhere on the front endpapers. However, the endpapers of this book were surprisingly bare. Always enthusiastic about a provenance challenge, I decided to track down the owner by researching the other names inscribed in the volume… all with the help of the trusty census, of course!

I began by making a list of all the names in the book. There were twenty-three in total, of which seventeen were women and six men. Given the social taboos of the time about women socialising with men, I started with the assumption that the book’s owner was likely to be a woman.

Next, I grouped the names together according to surnames. This resulted in nine Murrays, two Goldsmiths, two Taylors, two Watts, one Grange, one Sewell, one Collings, one Hallam, one Humphrey, one Dickinson, one Armstrong and one Pakeman. The large number of Murrays suggested that the book’s owner may also be a member of the Murray family.

Without any knowledge of the address or location of these individuals, I decided the best way to start researching would be to look up the people who had included their middle name when inscribing their birthdays in the book. The inclusion of a middle name drastically narrows down results and can make all the difference when trying to pinpoint the correct person in a record. Of course, in this case, having the specific day and month of their births was also incredibly useful.

I started by inputting the name George Cameron Murray (January 19th 1892-1978). Luckily, this only brought up one result. Bingo! The 1911 census confirmed that I had the right George when I learnt that his sister was Winifred Hannah (December 23rd 1885-1935), his brother was Norman Ramsay (July 29th 1882-1945), his father was Patrick (September 14th 1849-1919) and his mother was Hannah (April 18th 1851-1925). All of these names and birthdays were also inscribed in the birthday book. This evidence gave me my first possible clue that either Winifred or Hannah may be the owner.

The census records informed me that Patrick Ramsay was a bank manager who was born in Rothbury, Northumberland, but had moved to Cambridge as a young man and then later to London. From 1891 onwards, he and his family lived in Chiswick – an area on the outskirts of the city that became popular amongst the upper-middle classes in the late nineteenth century. His daughter Winifred was a physiotherapist, his son George was a bank clerk, while his son Norman was a solicitor. Norman was an interesting character; immigration records show that he settled in Australia in 1908 and became involved in various cases of fraud and bigamy. He appears regularly in the Adelaide police gazettes throughout the 1910s and 1920s and even served four years in prison for his crimes.

Next, I turned to Sarah Hall Murray (March 7th 1880-1974). I decided to limit my searches to either Rothbury, Northumberland (Patrick Murray’s place of birth) or Chiswick, London (Patrick’s current address). This proved fruitful. I immediately found her in Rothbury and confirmed that she was the daughter of Patrick’s younger brother, George. I was also able to establish that the other Murrays in the book (Ada, Thomas, Evelyn and A [Anne]) were other nieces and nephews of Patrick. Again, this indicated that either Hannah or Winifred was the book’s owner.

As I began to research the other names in the book, I quickly established a trend. Like Patrick and his family, most lived in Chiswick and were linked to the banking trade. Matilda Humphrey (May 9th 1865-?) and Katie Goldsworth (July 7th 1864-1933) were wives of bank managers, while Kate Pakeman (June 21st 1863-1911) was the wife of the manager of a financial firm. These facts now started to make me lean more towards Hannah Murray as the book’s owner. Perhaps the wives of these bankers socialised regularly with one another?

Then, I found the name Duncan ‘Dodo’ Goldsmith (July 4th 1895-1915), the son of the aforementioned Katie Goldsworth, also recorded in the book. Being of a similar age to Hannah’s own children, Duncan may have socialised with them or attended the same school. The affectionate nickname ‘Dodo’ certainly suggests some level of intimacy with the family. Equally, Beatrice Madeline Grange (October 30th 1885-1969), recorded as ‘Madeline’, was found to have been a schoolfriend of Winifred, as were Birdie Dickinson [née Cooper] (May 21st 1885-?) and Louisa Hallam [née Halt] (May 27th 1885-?). Seeing the amount of young girls the same age as Winifred in the book, I now began to think that she was the book’s owner and not her mother.

Of the remaining names, most were found to be located in the Chiswick area. Hilda S. Armstrong (August 17th 1884-?), Julia Taylor (July 12th 1899-?) and her sister Ann E.F. Taylor (July 24th 1818-1896), as well as Elizabeth A. Watts (May 24th 1856-?) and her daughter Emma Watts (March 1st 1882-?) all lived in the same street as the Murrays at one time or another. Unfortunately, Harry Collings (August 25th) was too common a name to be traced with certainty in the records, while A.F. Sewell (October 18th) was too vague.

So, after five hours of extensive research, I had narrowed the owner down to two possible candidates: Hannah or Winifred.

I decided to take a break from researching to photograph the little volume. As I set the book up on the supportive cushion, I noticed that its two front pages were stubbornly stuck together. I carefully pulled them apart and you would not believe what I found underneath… an inscription hand-written in black ink: “To dear little Wynnie Murray as a well-earned prize June 1893.” Argh! So, after all that effort, the book had contained an inscription all along; it was just buried under years of stiff pages from non-use. Despite this frustration, I still felt pleased with my Holmesque detective work and that the book’s owner had finally been determined. However, I also vowed to myself never to make such a simple mistake again!

Guest post: Behind the Night-light: A Forgotten Bestseller

This guest post comes from Dr Lauren O’Hagan, sociolinguistic researcher of Edwardian material culture and class conflict.


“He is not quite a cow, but a little green bull
He lives in a large field where there is no up and no down
He always wears beautiful trousers
You may like him at first, but you will soon get tired of him
He is very pretty, but oh, so good!
He collects nothing”

Read the above lines and you’d be forgiven for thinking that they came from one of Quentin Blake’s nonsense verses or a lost Dr Seuss book (minus the rhymes!). In fact, they are taken from Behind the Night-light, a 1912 book that captures the poetic musings of a three-year-old girl, Joan Maude. Back in December of last year, I shone a spotlight on another Edwardian child star: Daisy Ashford and her successful novel The Young Visiters. Like The Young Visiters, Behind the Night-light was also a bestseller in its day, only to have faded into obscurity over time. I’d like take the blog space this week to acquaint unfamiliar readers with this delightful and forgotten book.

Behind the Night-light was published by John Murray in June 1912 and went through four reprints in its first six months. It is its fourth reprint from January 1913 that graces the shelves of the Janet Powney Collection in Special Collections. Considering the way that most children’s books of the period were decorated, the book has decidedly bland black cloth covers. However, tucked within, page after page is filled with intriguing and humorous tales about an original world that little Joan Maude created from the comfort of her childhood playroom.

According to the title page, every story and poem in the book has been “described by Joan Maude and faithfully recorded by Nancy Price” (her mother). As Price explains in the preface:

“These quaint beasts who roam that delightful country ‘behind the night-light’ are the exclusive discovery of a child of three. Their names, their habits, etc., are entirely hers. My task has merely been to record them in language as near the original as possible.”

And this originality is certainly apparent in the contents page alone as we are introduced to such unique characters as the Kiddikee, Boo-Choo and Fat-Tack to the Mossip, Hitchy-Penny and Jonket. Through Joan Maude’s imagination, we learn about Bomblemass, an animal who “grows no teeth, carries a stick, wears a green plush coat and ties on his legs with black silk ribbon” or the Gott family “who all lost their ears because they wouldn’t listen.” We meet the Stickle-Jag “who has a coat made of hundreds and thousands, so that he can eat bits off of it when he can’t find the sugar basin” and the Lowdge who “collects dust and lives in the middle of it.” And so on and so forth across its fifty pages of creativity.

A key factor that influenced book sales was the fact that Joan Maude wasn’t just any little girl; she was the daughter of Nancy Price (1880-1970), a huge star of the Edwardian stage. Price had been part of F.R. Benson’s theatre company for many years, touring extensively in the provinces performing Shakespeare plays. In 1902, she caught the attention of Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree who cast her as Calypso in Stephen Phillips’ production Ulysses at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. She later went on to play Hilda Gunning in Letty (1904), Mrs D’Aquila in The Whip (1909), one of the Pioneer Players in The First Actress (1911) and India in The Crown of India (1912). This meant that at the time of the book’s publication, she was perhaps as famous and recognisable as any of the big Hollywood stars today. Price would go on to establish the People’s National Theatre in 1930, as well as the English School Theatre Movement, which toured productions of Shakespeare plays to working-class children. She was awarded a CBE for services to the stage in 1950.

Upon release, Behind the Night-light was met with tremendous praise by the newspapers. The Era (8 March 1913) described it as “a collection of quaint and original animal fancies” and the Norwood News (12 December 1913) called it “a revelation of wonderful things, while The Pall Mall Gazette (8 June 1912) claimed that the monsters would have found a friend in Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky.

One year after the book’s publication, Nancy Price enlisted the services of Joan Maude’s godmother, Liza Lehmann, also an English operatic soprano and composer, to turn the book into a stage show. By summer 1913, Behind the Night-light was playing all across England from the Manchester Theatre Royal and Bedford Town Hall to Torquay Pavilion and Ilkley King’s Hall. Reciting the rhymes were such big stage names as Jeannette Sherwin and Guide M. Chambers, and even Nancy Price herself at one special performance in London.

Up until the late 1920s, Behind the Night-light was also a favourite musical for schools to perform. Local newspapers raved about how pupils in Sevenoaks performed the songs at the Royal Crown Hotel (Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser, 30 November 1917), as well as how children at Steyne School in Worthing put on a show for an enthusiastic audience at Connaught Hall (Worthing Gazette, 7 November 1923). It is also claimed by Nancy Price that many of the expressions from the book went into common use and could be heard amongst such varied people as a professor of history and a pavement artist. “Don’t be a gott” was used to describe someone with a bad temper who wouldn’t listen and “a lowdge” became a term for somebody who ran very quickly.

Being the daughter of a famous actress and finding fame herself at such an early age meant that Joan Maude was always destined for stardom. In 1921, at the age of 13, she made her stage debut in Cairo at His Majesty’s Theatre in London. By the time she hit adulthood, Joan Maude had already starred in more than twenty stage productions all across the West End. As the ‘talkies’ became popular in the 1930s and 1940s, Joan Maude made her move from the stage to the screen, starring in a wide range of comedies, dramas and romances. Perhaps her most famous role was in Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death (1946).

After some fifteen years of popularity, Behind the Night-light stopped touring, schools ended their performances of the musical and sales of the book decreased. Whether the novelty of the book had simply wore off now that Joan Maude was all grown up or whether she herself wanted to distance herself from the book that had first made her famous remains unclear. Nowadays, Behind the Night-light is practically unknown; a cursory Google search brings up just 33 results.

Looking at Behind the Night-light today, perhaps the most surprising observation is the book’s complete absence of images. With such rich descriptions of a world conjured up by Joan Maude, it is a real oversight not to have accompanied the text with vivid illustrations. This may have also secured the book’s longevity as children grew attached to such characters, remembered them more distinctly and then passed them onto their own children. 2020 will mark fifty years since the death of Nancy Price. To me, this seems like a glaring opportunity for a publisher to pick this book back up, update it, populate it with colourful imagery and introduce these charming characters to the children of today.

Guest post: Deciphering the indecipherable in the Janet Powney Collection

This guest post comes from Dr Lauren O’Hagan, sociolinguistic researcher of Edwardian material culture and class conflict.


As a scholar of book inscriptions, what really frustrates me is when a mark of ownership has been thoughtlessly removed from a book. Often, all that is left is a jagged tear line acting as evidence of the bookplate or prize sticker that once was affixed to the endpapers. This careless act of erasure silences voices of past generations and with them, a wide range of social networks, thoughts and feelings that offer new perspectives on life in a particular time period and sociocultural context.

Yet what angers me even more is when an inscription is left in the book but has been scribbled through, almost taunting the reader with its partially obscured information. This is often the work of a later owner who deliberately seeks to stake their own claim to the book, giving no thought for people like me who spend their days researching them! Nonetheless, with a little time and patience, the indecipherable can become decipherable, as I found out last week when working on the Janet Powney Collection.

Towards the end of the day, I picked up a beautiful 1873 edition of Aesop’s Fables. It was custom-bound in dark green full calf leather boards with raised bands on its spine and embossed with a gilt armorial typical of non-state school prize books in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. The armorial on the book’s cover was framed by the abbreviation ‘SCHOL: DIG: SOC: BRAS’ and ‘JACOBO HICKSON FUND’ with the date ‘A.D. MDCLXXXVII’ underneath.

Unlike the working-class prize books of board schools, which were bound and decorated in-house by publishers, prize books for middle- and upper-class children typically arrived at a local bindery unbound and were subsequently custom-bound according to each school’s requirements. In contrast to working-class prize books, far greater attention was also paid to their internal properties. As can be seen in this copy of Aesop’s Fables, the paper is of a higher quality and endpapers are marbled. As grammar and boarding schools considered it important to uphold tradition, it was no coincidence that books such as this one were made to resemble the fine bindings of the eighteenth century.

 

 

Turning to the front endpapers to consult the prize sticker and discover which school awarded the book, I was horrified to find that it had been completely defaced. An attempt had been made to remove the sticker and when the resistant glue had put up a fight, the previous owner had resorted to scribbling through all the information in black ink, totally obscuring the writing below. I had a challenge on my hands that I was determined to overcome!

Using my rudimentary Latin knowledge, I was able to make an educated guess that the abbreviated ‘SCHOL’ was school (schola), while the ‘SOC’ was society or association (societatus). The other two abbreviations posed more of a problem. Although the full name of the awarding institution was printed on the prize sticker, the act of vandalism had made the words almost indistinguishable. Using a magnifying glass, I was able to identify ‘DIG’ as ‘dignif[?]’, which was enough information to help me roughly translate the word as ‘dignified’ or ‘worshipful’. The last word was more difficult. It looked like it read ‘Brasiatorium’. However, the only translation of this word that could be found in Latin dictionaries was ‘brewery’ or ‘malthouse’.  Curioser and curioser…

After feeding various combinations of words into Google, I came across the Worshipful Company of Brewers (WCB). The WCB is one of the oldest Livery Companies of the City of London and received its first charter from King Henry VI in 1438. Could this be our ‘societatus’ and if so, what did the school part mean?

The next clue I decided to chase was the ‘Jacobo Hickson’ behind the fund that was presumably used to purchase the book and award it to its recipient. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was not uncommon for rich entrepreneurs to leave money in their will to fund books for children. Could Jacobo Hickson be one of them?

After a number of unsuccessful searches for Jacob Hickson, rare books cataloguer Christine Megowan had the clever idea of translating ‘Jacobo’ into its English equivalent: ‘James’. Immediately, this brought up a wide range of results, all of which confirmed that James Hickson was indeed a brewer. Born in 1607 in Melton Mowbray, Hickson moved to London as a young man, became a brewer and was later elected an alderman of the City of London. He was one of the three main benefactors of the WCB, along with Richard Platt and Dame Alice Owen.

Hickson used his fortune to carry out philanthropic work. He built and endowed almhouses in South Mymms and bequeathed money in his will to Dame Alice Owen’s School in Potters Bar and Aldenham School in Elstree. Both schools still exist and to this day, they receive Beer Money, in the form of a commemorative coin, from the Master of the WCB. Was it possible then that the ‘schola’ mentioned in the prize sticker was either Dame Alice Owen’s or Aldenham?

Before investigating this thread further, I wanted to get to the bottom of the coat of arms. It clearly did not match that of the WCB (three kilderkins between three pairs of barley garbs). Could it belong to Hickson? Avidly flicking through an online version of an old heraldic dictionary for the surname Hickson, I was thrilled to find that the Hickson coat of arms was described as “two eagles’ legs, erased à la quize, sa., in saltire sable, the dexter surmounted of the sinister, or and sable” or in plain English, two eagles’ legs, upper-part shown only, crossed over, right on top of left, gold and black. Bingo!

As if all of this information was not enough to prove that the book was given by the WCB using money allocated in the bequest of James Hickson, a name at the bottom of the prize sticker confirmed this. Underneath the scribble, the name E.N. Buxton could be roughly made out with the title ‘Soc Bras [?]’ next to it. Consulting the records of the WCB, I found that an Edward North Buxton was the Master at the time that this book was awarded. Edward North Buxton (1840-1924) was a conservationist and Liberal Party politician. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and became a partner in the London brewing firm of Truman, Hanbury, & Co. It was through his work with this brewery that he obtained the position of Master of the WCB in 1875.

To determine once and for all the school with which the WCB was linked, I turned to the other name underneath the scribble at the bottom of the prize sticker: Herbert Williams, schola magister (school master). Scanning through census records, I found that Herbert Williams (1826-1903) was a Church of England clergyman who went on to become the “headmaster of a brewer’s company school” in 1871. Aldenham School being for boys and Dame Alice Owen’s School being for girls, I was able to state with confidence that Aesop’s Fables was awarded to a pupil of Aldenham School by its headteacher, Herbert Williams. Aldenham School was founded in 1597 by Richard Platt, Master of the WBC. The WBC were its appointed governors and remain its trustees today.

The final piece in the puzzle was the pupil himself: R.W. Russell. This inscription was the perfect example of yet another pet peeve of mine – inscribers who only use initials for first names! This can make it incredibly challenging to track down the person. After several hours of trawling through census forms and consulting school records, I found a Robert William Russell who was born in St Alban’s, Hertfordshire and attended Aldenham School from 1871-1877. He then went on to study at Oxford University. Unfortunately, no census records have been found for Russell after this date, which may suggest that he moved abroad.

—–

Despite the numerous challenges posed by inscriptions such as these, with a bit of perseverance, it is possible to decipher them. Thanks to a combination of digital and traditional methods, I have been able to unlock the history of the WCB, one of its benefactors (Jacob Hickson), masters (E.N. Buxton), brewer’s school (Aldenham School) and pupils (Robert William Russell).

How, after Russell’s death in 1934, the book passed to a female grocer’s assistant in Penarth, Wales – Dorothy Davies of 16 Hastings Avenue (according to the defaced inscription at the top of the prize sticker) – is perhaps a mystery worth unravelling some other day…

Guest post: Exploring women’s libraries and book ownership, 1660-1820

This guest post comes from Natalie Saturnia and Molly Patrick, undergraduates in English Literature, who took part in a research placement this summer as part of the Cardiff Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (CUROP). Natalie and Molly worked as research assistants on Dr Melanie Bigold’s project, ‘Her books: Women’s Libraries and Book Ownership, 1660-1820’. Dr Bigold’s project aims to create the first comprehensive database collection of women’s libraries in the long eighteenth century.


Travel and the Eighteenth-Century Woman

Natalie Saturnia

My post, funded by the Cardiff Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (CUROP), was focused on finding and organising the preliminary research databases. My daily work included transcribing and cataloguing the booklists identified by Dr Bigold, and trying to identify specific editions of texts using databases such as the English Short Title Catalogue.

Thomas Maurice, The History of Hindostan (1795)

Frontispiece of Thomas Maurice, The History of Hindostan (1795)

While spending time with booklists of influential eighteenth-century women such as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Elizabeth Vesey, and Elizabeth Greenly, I noticed a prominent lack of fiction texts across their catalogues. Before embarking on my research placement, I had assumed that most of the texts literary women owned would include fiction and the classics. While their lists still included a number of novels, particularly in Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s collection, their catalogues also contained a considerable quantity of travel texts. Because this was a surprise to me, it piqued my interest and I chose to do further independent research to figure out the reasoning for their travel collections.

Detail from Thomas Maurice, The History of Hindostan (1795).

Detail from Thomas Maurice, The History of Hindostan (1795).

My initial reaction when I saw the quantity of travel books was that it showed a desire in these women for knowledge beyond their own domestic borders. Alison Blunt writes that,

work on British women travellers has focused on their ability to transgress the confines of “home” in social as well as spatial terms. The travels and writings of individual women suggest that they were empowered to travel and transgress in the context of imperialism while away from the feminized domesticity of living at home.[1]

While this specific quote only refers to female travellers who documented their own journeys, perhaps the same can be assumed for women who read and owned travel writing. In the case of Lady Mary Montagu, she did travel, yet she also collected travel books. This, along with her own documentation of travel in her Turkish Embassy Letters, proves that she valued the experience and knowledge gained while traveling and felt she was enriched because of it. One of her travel books Le Gentil Nouveaux Voyage au Tour du Monde (1731) translates to the ‘the nice new trip around the world’. This text possibly reflects a desire in Montagu to learn and study parts of the world she had not travelled to, which again demonstrates the value she placed on travel.

In contrast to the other women I researched, Elizabeth Greenly’s book list contained a large collection of Welsh travel books, such as Wales illustrated: in a series of views by Henry Gastineau and Wanderings and excursions in North Wales by Thomas Roscoe.[2] Born in Herefordshire, Greenly later lived in Wales and maintained a lifelong interest in all things Welsh. Before she became less active later in life due to a stroke and rheumatoid arthritis, she used to ride her horse between Herefordshire, Monmouthshire, Glamorganshire, and Breconshire. Her collection of Welsh travel books exemplifies an early sense of Celtic pride which is further evidenced by her ‘ardent support of Welsh causes of the day, including Iolo Morganwg (Edward Williams 1747-1826).’[3] Greenly’s detailed knowledge of the Welsh border counties clearly enhanced her desire for literature on the surrounding area. It may also have been the case that, as a local gentlewoman, she was actively supporting Wales-related books through her purchases.

Henry G. Gastineau, Wales illustrated, in a series of views (1829?-1830)

Henry G. Gastineau, Wales illustrated, in a series of views (1829?-1830)

Ultimately, I believe that these women, whether or not they were privileged enough to travel themselves, valued the insight that travel books provided. Travel books about places foreign to them allowed them a glimpse into parts of the world they were unable to experience first-hand. As for travel books of familiar places, it often represented and reinforced a sense of identity. Indeed, as an expat myself, I am acutely aware of how integral geographical location is in relation to identity. More importantly, I think travel, whether across short or long distances, instilled in these women as sense of pride in their own intrepid spirit. Their library collections speak to that spirit of travel, adventure, and self-creation.

While ‘Her books: Women’s Libraries and Book Ownership, 1660-1820’ is still a work in progress, the new perspectives I gained and conversations I started during my month of research on these women’s catalogues has ignited my own research ambitions. Most importantly, though, the process has highlighted the many new insights that a comprehensive catalogue of female book owners during the long eighteenth century will provide.

[1] Alison Blunt, ‘The Flight from Lucknow: British women travelling and writing home, 1857-8’, Writes of Passage ed. James Duncan and Derek Gregory (London: Routledge, 1999), p. 94.

[2] Henry G. Gastineau, Wales illustrated: in a series of views, comprising the picturesque scenery, towns, castles, seats of the nobility & gentry, antiquities, &c (1829?-1830) and Thomas Roscoe, Wanderings and Excursions in North Wales (1836).

[3] Dominic Winter, Printed Books & Maps (2016), p. 83.

 

Divinity Books in Women’s Libraries: Teaching Femininity

Molly Patrick

Sarah Jones' inscription in The Christian Life [1695], by John Scott.

Sarah Jones’ inscription in The Christian Life [1695], by John Scott.

The eighteenth century was an important period in the history of women’s literary participation. The growth of personal libraries coincided with this increased engagement and book collections reflect, as Mark Towsey argues, the intellectual and cultural aspirations and values of their owners.[4]  Elizabeth (Smithson) Seymour Percy, the first duchess of Northumberland, Mrs. Katherine Bridgeman and Elizabeth Vesey all had extensive personal libraries which featured many advice-giving divinity books. By examining what these texts teach women, it is possible to see how femininity in the eighteenth century was constructed and justified using the authority of God.

Elizabeth Seymour’s library catalogue includes a sub-section dedicated to Divinity texts, many of which function as pedagogy.  Featured in Seymour’s collection is The Whole Duty of Man by Richard Allestree (first published in 1658). In the chapter entitled ‘Wives Duty’, women are given advice on how to conduct themselves in marriage. They are told that God will ‘condemn the peevish stubbornness of many Wives who resist the lawful commands of their Husbands, only because they are impatient of this duty of subjection, which God himself requires of them.’ This shows that religious, devotional works were often used to establish women’s subordinate position, using God as an authority to these teachings. The book also gives specific instructions regarding how the wife should act if asked to do something ‘very inconvenient and imprudent’ by her husband: she should ‘mildly […] persuade him to retract that command’, not using ‘sharp language’ and she should never steadfastly ‘refuse to obey’. Clearly restricting the wife to a passive, subordinate role, this passage confirms the unequal power dynamics of seventeenth-century marriage. In addition, The Whole Duty of Man blames women for men’s sinful behaviour: ‘how many men are there,’ Allestree asks, ‘that to avoid the noise of a forward wife, have fallen to company-keeping, and by that to drunkenness, poverty and a multitude of mischiefs’. Here, a stereotype about the nagging wife are held against women in general.

Richard Allestree's The Ladies Calling (1673)

Richard Allestree’s The Ladies Calling (1673). The copy in Special Collections belonged to an seventeenth-century woman, Elizabeth Scudamore.

Richard Allestree’s sequel, The Ladies Calling (1673) and The Causes and Decay of Christian Piety (1667) also appear in the divinity section of Seymour’s personal library collection. The Ladies Calling questions the origin of gender inequality, but nonetheless reproduces a similar message advocating a subordinated, passive femininity. Allestree avers that ‘in respects of their intellects [women] are below men’; however, ‘Divinity owns no distinction of genders’ as ‘in the sublimist part of humanity, they are their equals.’ The Causes and Decay of Christian Piety, on the other hand, inscribes the argument that religiously devoted women pose a threat to established gendered roles. Allestree contends that ‘when women neglect that which St. Paul assigns them as their proper business, the guiding of the house, their Zeal is at once the product and excuse of their idleness’. Indeed, Allestree implies that women only seek religious vocations in order to avoid their natural place in the domestic sphere. In this sense, divinity texts from the eighteenth century not only advise women to be passive and subordinate, but also caution them against turning to a religious life.

Katherine Bridgeman’s collection evidences a similar interest in divinity texts. In her edition of The Rules and Exercises of Holy Living (1651), Jeremy Taylor advises that women should ‘adorn themselves in modest apparel with Shamefacedness and Sobriety, not with broidered hair, or gold, or pearl, or costly array’. This narrative of passive femininity permeates a multitude of divinity texts in Bridgeman’s collection, such as in Robert Nelson’s The practice of True Devotion (1721). Nelson defines women’s ideal religious expression as ‘their chastity’ and ‘modesty’, which are both passive acts signifying a withholding as opposed to active expression. Both Bridgeman and Seymour’s collections feature divinity books which promote a repressed, subordinate version of femininity and it could be argued that their libraries reflect a wider view of women and their place in eighteenth-century contemporary society.

The content of the books featured in Elizabeth Vesey’s library, however, offer an alternative view of women, femininity and their place within religion. One such work that exemplifies this difference is Robert Barclay’s Apology for the True Christian Divinity: being a Vindication of the people called Quakers (first published in 1678). The text openly disputes women’s subjugation within religion and the established church. Barclay contests the idea, apparently deriving from ‘the church’, that ‘women ought to learn […] and live in silence, not usurping authority over man’. Barclay notes that, in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle writes rules concerning ‘how Women should behave themselves in their publick preaching and praying’. This, he argues, is evidence that early religious figures did not refute women’s right to actively express their religion. Deborah Heller points out that Elizabeth Vesey was accumulating her library at the same time as significant changes were happening in literary, social and cultural environments. Around the mid seventeenth-century, ‘owing to the proliferation of novels and conduct literature, there was a rapid transformation, and a powerful new identification of women with subjectivity’.[5] The presence of Robert Barclay’s book in Vesey’s library seems to confirm women’s alignment with greater religious subjectivity.

In conclusion, the personal library collections of Elizabeth Seymour and Katherine Bridgeman include a multitude of pedagogical divinity books. These texts encourage women to be passive, subordinate to men and to avoid public religious activity. Elizabeth Vesey’s book collection, however, seems to inject a different narrative. Taking Robert Barclay’s Apology for the True Christian Divinity as an example, it is possible to see how Vesey’s collection, unlike the books found in Seymour’s and Bridgeman’s libraries, focus on women’s religious and personal empowerment. Vesey’s collection demonstrates a possibility of different cultural and social aspirations, an alternative way of thinking about women’s role in contemporary society.

[4] Deborah Heller, ‘Subjectivity Unbound: Elizabeth Vesey as the Sylph in Bluestocking Correspondence’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 65.1 (2002) pp. 215-234. P. 218.

[5] Mark Towsey, ‘‘I can’t resist sending you the book’: Private Libraries, Elite Women, and Shared Reading Practices in Georgian Britain’, Library and Information History, 29.3 (2013), 210-222 (p. 210).