All posts by charlotte

To prevent mail robberies!

A United Kingdom General Post Office printed poster on how to securely send bank notes through the post, 9 Feb 1782

General Post Office poster on how to securely send bank notes through the post, 9 Feb 1782 [click to enlarge]

A helpful 18th-century public information campaign by the General Post Office advises the unwary about how to safely send bank notes through the post.

It is recommended to all Persons, at present uninformed, who may have Occasion to send BANK NOTES by the Post, to cut them in two Parts, according to the following Specimen where it is marked with a  black Line, and send them by different Posts; first writing the Name, Date and Year at one End of the Note, and the Letter and Number at the other End; by this Means each Part will contain a sufficient Specification of the Whole, and prevent any kind of Difficulty in the Payment of it at the Bank of England…in case of the Loss of the other Part.

Highway robbery–your money or your life!–was a very real and present danger in 1782, so this was useful advice.

Bank notes, which were issued in denominations up to a staggering £1000, were a much more discreet and sensible way to carry or send money than hauling around bags of golden guineas, and interestingly, it seems that the growing circulation of notes was one of the reasons for the decline in highway robbery in England in the 19th century, because paper currency was more traceable than coins. And it tickles me to think that it’s possible that enough people started using this secure, two-step technique to send their money through the post that it was no longer worth the effort to hold up a mail coach.

Also notable? This poster only concerns Bank of England notes. The Bank of England did not have a monopoly on issuing paper currency in England and Wales in the 18th century (or for a surprisingly long time afterwards), but this reminder that the Bank would make good on half a note might have encouraged people to use their notes rather than a provincial bank’s.

Another thing it’s interesting to see is the use of the placeholder names John Doe and the now less well-known Richard Roe. To a British reader these might sound very American, but those names have actually been used in English law since the middle ages, and John Doe still is, in some instances, even though we don’t use it to name unidentified bodies!

These papers, of the Earls of Clarendon of the second creation, are currently being catalogued and will be available to readers in 2022.

Royal velvet

Vivid purple and gold artificial flower made from Queen Elizabeth's 1937 coronation robe by the Girls of the John Groom's Crippleage

Artificial flower made from Queen Elizabeth’s 1937 coronation robe [click to enlarge]

This gorgeous purple lily with downward-curling petals and a golden stem is one of two pieces of royal fabric in the archive of the Earls of Clarendon (2nd creation), along with a swatch from a dress of Princess – later Queen – Alexandra. The artificial flower was made in 1937 from the velvet coronation robe of Queen Elizabeth and presented to Verena, Countess of Clarendon, who attended the coronation.

It deserves a better picture (sorry about that) but you can see just how vivid and deeply coloured the purple velvet still is, as are the petals’ golden undersides, the gold thread-wrapped stem and the five tubular stamens at its centre. Although a tiny gold bauble “anther” is still delicately glued in place at the tip of one stamen, it looks like it might have lost four others, and if so, perhaps that’s because it was actually worn by the Countess enough times to damage it slightly. But for an artificial flower (and fabric!) made so long ago, it’s in remarkable condition, thanks to the fabric spending the last 84 years safely hidden and protected from light, damp and insects in its small presentation box.

For me, though, the most interesting thing is the label which tells us who made it: the Girls of The John Groom’s Crippleage.

Who were they?

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Jenny Joseph poetry notebooks digitised

Digitised copy of 'Warning', from Jenny Joseph's poetry notebooks [MS. 12404/41]

Digitised copy of ‘Warning’, from Jenny Joseph’s poetry notebooks [MS. 12404/41]

Five of Jenny Joseph’s poetry notebooks [MS. 12404/41have been digitised and you can now see every page on Digital.Bodleian.

The notebooks are a rich distillation of 60 years of Jenny Joseph’s writing career, starting in 1949, just before she came to the University of Oxford to study English. The third notebook (page 3) includes a draft of her most well-known poem, ‘Warning‘ – When I am an old woman I shall wear purple / With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me – two famous first lines which you can see corrected in this draft.

She wrote the poem in 1961 and first published it in the newsletter of the old people’s home her husband was working in at the time, and then in the magazine The Listener in 1962. She revised it further for her 1974 Cholmondeley Award winning poetry collection Rose in the Afternoon. The poem was a slow burner which surged in popularity in the 1980s, particularly in America, and it was widely anthologised and re-used for everything from tea-towels to cancer campaign adverts. The poem took on a life of its own, even losing its author at times – the Jenny Joseph archive includes a poster that attributes the lines to a mythical ‘Anonymous’. In 1996 ‘Warning’ was voted Britain’s favourite post-war poem and it even inspired new social groups like the Red Hat Society, a club for women over 50. You can find recordings of Jenny Joseph reading ‘Warning’ on YouTube, and readings of four other poems at the Poetry Archive.

 

Secret ciphers

Deciphered diplomatic code in a letter to Thomas Villiers, later 1st Earl of Clarendon, 12 Aug 1746

Deciphered diplomatic code in a letter to Thomas Villiers, later 1st Earl of Clarendon, 12 Aug 1746 [click to enlarge]

An 18th-century British diplomatic cipher is revealed in a 1746 letter to Thomas Villiers.

Decades after this letter was sent, Villiers revived an extinct title and became the 1st Earl of Clarendon (2nd creation) but in August 1746 he was the Hon. Thomas Villiers, second son of the Earl of Jersey, and working in Berlin as Britain’s envoy to the court of Frederick II (the Great) of Prussia, following a succession of diplomatic positions with the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Electorate of Saxony and the Archduchy of Austria.

Frederick the Great liked Villiers enough to, many years later, give him a special grant to use the Prussian eagle on the Villiers family coat of arms but Horace Walpole, the writer, historian, and Whig politician thought that Frederick liked Villiers mainly because Frederick was wary of genuinely capable men: ‘[Villiers] has,’ Walpole wrote, ‘been very much gazetted, and had his letters to the king of Prussia printed, but he is a very silly fellow’ (Walpole, Corr., 20.17).

Whatever Thomas Villiers’ qualities as a diplomat, this coded letter shows something of his everyday work and the importance of confidentiality in the diplomatic service. They were right to be cautious. The ‘My Lord Sandwich’ the letter refers to, who is currently in Breda in the Netherlands, is the 4th Earl of Sandwich (the very man the sandwich is named after) who, at the Congress of Breda, apparently employed the British secret service to intercept and read French secret correspondence. This move helped Britain to diplomatically outmanoeuvre the French at the Congress, which were the peace talks to end the ruinous War of Austrian Succession.

This letter to Villiers is most interesting because it shows not just a number-based cipher, but the deciphered plain text. And although the letter itself doesn’t reveal any thrilling state secrets, it does show the essential exchange of keys so that sender and receiver can read the code.

And that, unfortunately, is about the limit of my understanding of cryptography. If there are any cryptographers reading, feel free to drop into the comments!

These papers, of the Earls of Clarendon of the second creation, are currently being catalogued and will be available to readers in 2022.

A pottle of strawberries (on this day in 1842)

Two evocative lists from the Clarendon archive show the impressive range of foods that a Victorian country estate was capable of producing.

The Grove, an estate in Hertfordshire on the outskirts of Watford, was the country seat of the Earls of Clarendon (2nd creation) for about 170 years after it was purchased by the 1st earl Thomas Villiers in 1753.

A list of fruit and vegetables sent from the Grove estate, 22 July 1842

Fruit and vegetables sent from the Grove estate, 22 July 1842 [click to enlarge]

Two lists addressed to the Countess of Clarendon itemise the vegetables, fruit, game, poultry, fish, wood, eggs, butter and bakery items ‘Sent from the Grove the 22nd day of July 1842′, presumably to the Clarendons’ London house. It includes heads of artichokes, pecks of french beans, dozens of carrots, bushels of peas, sticks of rhubarb, baskets of salad and bunches of sorrell, and, since the printed list was not sufficient, there are handwritten additions itemising pecks of black cherries, pottles of mushrooms and strawberries, and a box of cut flowers, amongst other wonderful things.

A list of provisions sent from the Grove estate, 22 July 1842

Provisions sent from the Grove estate, 22 July 1842 [click to enlarge]

The list of non-vegetable items sent that day looks sparse by comparison but it’s still a staggering amount of food: 1 fawn, 1 leaveret (hare), 12 eggs, 5lb of butter, 5 loaves of bread and 36 fagotts of wood. It’s notable that this is only the list for one day. There is another printed list of fruit and vegetables sent on the 19th of July 1842 with very similar amounts of food. The household was catering on a grand scale.

I was reasonably familiar with pecks and bushels and heads, but curious what a ‘pottle’ amounted to. The Oxford English Dictionary came to my rescue, as it often does. A pottle was, when used to measure liquids and dry goods like corn, equal to half a gallon (approximately 2.3 litres). But when used for strawberries it is, enigmatically, just a small basket of conical shape, designed to protect soft foods in transit.

And what might they have done with their strawberries? This recipe for strawberry salad, by the celebrity French chef Alexis Soyer, published in his useful work of affordable, plain cookery A Shilling Cookery for the People (1845), might not have been fancy enough for the countess, but it does at least make good use of a pottle of ripe strawberries, should you also have a gill of brandy handy.

These papers, of the Earls of Clarendon of the second creation, are currently being catalogued and will be available to readers in 2022.

A flying woman

Letter from the Viceroy of India to the 6th Earl of Clarendon, 1932

Letter from the Viceroy of India to the 6th Earl of Clarendon, 1932 [click to enlarge]

My dear Bertie

writes the Viceroy of India to his friend the 6th Earl of Clarendon in a letter of 15 March 1932:

Thanks so much for your letter, & the personal one enclosed. My poor boy has had a very rough time, & the girl appears to have gone mad about this pilot. […] it will be hard for him to start again all alone. I really thought my two young people were the happiest couple in the world.

When I read an opener like that I lean in for the whole story: please continue, Viceroy! But that, sadly, is all he divulges about the girl or her pilot.

Luckily, it was not difficult to find out more.

The ‘poor boy’ was the Viceroy’s son, Inigo Freeman-Thomas, and the girl was Maxine “Blossom” Miles. And she, it turns out, led an absolutely fascinating life.

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The search is over…

Haggis the dog, Papers of the Earls of Clarendon (2nd creation), c. 1932

Haggis the dog, from the papers of the Earls of Clarendon (2nd creation), c. 1937

…I think I’ve found history’s cutest dog.

This is Haggis, in a photograph sent by an unknown friend to Verena Villiers, the Countess of Clarendon, in the 1930s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These papers, of the Earls of Clarendon of the second creation, are currently being catalogued and will be available to readers in 2022.

A pirate’s life?

Oil painting of the HMS Resolution, a third-rate Royal Navy ship of the line, sailing in a gale, c. 1678 [by Willem van de Velde the Younger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

The HMS Resolution, a third-rate Royal Navy ship of the line, c. 1678 [by Willem van de Velde the Younger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

A mysterious, unsigned, undated copy letter in the Clarendon family archive describes a sailor’s discovery of an inhabited island.

The mysteries are: who was the sailor, where was the island, and when was it “discovered”? But before all that: is this letter even real, or a fantasy?

A helpful, scrappy note that accompanies the letter, also unsigned and undated, makes a suggestion:

A letter written in Ld Cornbury’s hand but whether from a Mr. Ja[me]s Hyde son of the Chancellor who was a Sailor or who else does not appear

Lord Cornbury (d. 1753), who this note speculates is the copyist, was the son of Henry Hyde, 4th Earl of Clarendon (1st creation), and would have been the 5th Earl if he hadn’t died before his father, which made the Clarendon title temporarily extinct. I have to respectfully disagree with the note, however. I think the handwriting belongs to Thomas Villiers (1709-1786), who succeeded to the Clarendon title as the 1st Earl of Clarendon (2nd creation). If the identity of the copyist is not necessarily reliable then, what about the identity of the original author?

James Hyde (d. 1681) was the son of Edward Hyde, the original 1st Earl of Clarendon, who was Lord Chancellor to Charles II. James Hyde died aged only 31 and I haven’t yet been able to find evidence that he was a sailor but let’s assume that this is family knowledge and take the note-writer at his word. Early modern sailors started their careers extremely young, which means that if this really is a letter James Hyde wrote, it dates, roughly, to the 20 years between 1661 and 1681.

‘Honoured Father’, the letter begins:

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Princess Alexandra’s Irish poplin dress

Royal marketing from William Fry & Co., Irish poplin manufacturers, March 1863

Royal marketing from William Fry & Co., Irish poplin manufacturers, March 1863 [click to enlarge]

This fabric sample and leaflet, a lovely slice of Victorian marketing ephemera, can be found in the papers of Katharine Villiers, Countess of Clarendon (1810-1874).

The Irish poplin fabric, a pale violet- or mauve-coloured blend of silk and wool, hand-woven in Dublin by Wm. Fry & Co., was made into a travelling dress worn by eighteen-year old Princess Alexandra of Denmark on the 7th of March 1863, the day of her arrival at Gravesend Pier and first journey into London. Three days later, at Windsor Castle, Alexandra was to marry the Prince of Wales, Bertie, who eventually became King Edward VII, so the reception for her was grand, the crowds enormous, and press interest high.

Princess Alexandra, it was reported, ordered (or simply received – accounts vary) the fabric as one of her wedding presents. It was woven in a colour that Queen Victoria apparently particularly liked, which was a smart diplomatic move but also a fun reminder that Queen Victoria, who is mostly remembered for her mourning black, actually had favourite colours. (What the reporters did not mention, for some reason, is that the British court was still in official mourning for Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert, who had died in 1861, and all court ladies were restricted to wearing lilac, grey or…mauve.)

Princess Alexandra’s dress was a publicity triumph for the poplin manufacturer Wm. Fry & Co, and the company did not hesitate to capitalise. Their marketing leaflet proudly highlights their exhibition medals and also includes extracts from 14 different newspapers that covered the princess’s arrival and mentioned her poplin dress in glowing terms. And with this leaflet came a beautiful, and beautifully well-preserved, fabric sample: ‘Part of the Original Piece of Irish Poplin Worn by the Princess of Wales’.

It’s one thing to read about the dress, and another to be able to see that the fabric, which looks very plain at first glance, has a changeable quality when viewed from different angles, so it shimmers as it moves, a little like iridescent shot silk. You can see its lustre in Henry Nelson O’Neil’s (accurate!) oil painting which commemorated Princess Alexandra’s arrival at Gravesend. A style leader for the rest of her life, the painting also records Alexandra’s purple velvet mantle, the Russian sable around her neck, and her white silk bonnet trimmed with lilies and blush roses.

The princess’s travelling dress certainly needed a lot of poplin: 1863 was a high-point for the bell-shaped, hooped crinoline of the type illustrated here in a painting of Alexandra’s sister, so the yardage was impressive. On the back of the fabric sample sent to the Countess of Clarendon is jotted the cost of the 14 yards required for a full dress: £5 12s. A quick conversion via the National Archives reveals that that amounted to 27 day’s wages for a skilled tradesman in 1860, or the cost of one cow.

Most importantly, however, one of the news extracts included in the manufacturer’s leaflet is a 9th of March report by the Freeman (probably the Freeman’s Journal of Dublin) which notes:

As each working man gazes to-night upon the illuminations in honor of the marriage of the Prince, he will remember that the first public act of the Princess was one that will make the produce of the Irish loom ‘the fashion’ at court […] and will circulate thousands of pounds as wages amongst the artizans of Dublin

The choice of this fabric was not just a diplomatic triumph for Princess Alexandra, but a decision that would boost an entire industry: this single dress worn by one young woman had the potential to change the fates and fortunes of hundreds.

These papers, of the Earls of Clarendon of the second creation, are currently being catalogued and will be available to readers in 2022.

Dame Hermione Lee archive now available

Photograph portrait of Professor Dame Hermione Lee, by John Cairns (2020)

Professor Dame Hermione Lee, by John Cairns (2020) (reproduced with permission)

The archive of British academic and biographer Professor Dame Hermione Lee is now available at the Weston Library, comprising the working correspondence and papers of a notable author, academic, and public intellectual, including literary papers, academic and scholarly papers, and papers relating to Lee’s journalism, public lecturing and broadcasting work.

Hermione Lee studied English Literature here at Oxford University and then taught at the College of William and Mary, the University of Liverpool, and the University of York before, in 1998, returning to Oxford, where for ten years she was the Goldsmiths’ Professor of English Literature, as well as the first female professorial fellow of New College. Between 2008 and 2017, Lee served as the president of Wolfson College, Oxford (founding the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing), and is now Emeritus Professor of English Literature. In 2013 she was made Dame for her services to literary scholarship.

Hermione Lee is a major figure in the academic study of life-writing and the archive reflects her teaching life as both a university academic and public lecturer and speaker, including research notes and lecture texts in her principle teaching areas of American literature, post-colonial and Commonwealth literature and 19th-21st-century biography.

To the wider public, Lee is perhaps best known for her broadcasting and biographies. The archive contains extensive research material and drafts for her award-winning biographies of Virginia Woolf (1996), Edith Wharton (2006) and Penelope Fitzgerald (2013). It also includes research and drafts for her biographies of Elizabeth Bowen (1981) and Willa Cather (1989); her OUP Very Short Introduction to Biography (2009); her collection of essays on life-writing, Body Parts (2005); as well as research and drafts for scholarly articles and essays and for Lee’s decades-long career as a book reviewer and literary journalist.

Lee first came to prominence as a journalist and commentator as the presenter of Channel 4’s flagship literary discussion programme Book Four from the day Channel 4 launched in 1982. She has since presented numerous TV and radio programmes for broadcasters including the BBC, some in partnership with her friend, the author Julian Barnes. The archive will be a useful resource for those interested in the history of literary programming in the UK, not least because it contains multiple shooting scripts.

Another feature of the archive is Lee’s meticulous research for that ephemeral book festival phenomenon: the public interview and round table discussion. It includes preparatory material for a series of encounters with Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing, as well as authors including Margaret Atwood, Ben Okri, Joyce Carol Oates, John McGahern, Anita Desai and Salman Rushdie.

This extensive working archive of an academic, biographer and broadcaster is now available to readers in the Weston Library.

Cataloguing was generously funded by the Wolfson Foundation.