Category Archives: Spotlight

Hot air ballooning

Here’s how you make a hot air balloon:

Take 23 yards of red and white persian silk, and sew them together in alternate strips.

Then mix:

Boil for about an hour over a slow fire, strain when cool, and mix with an ounce and a half of spirits of turpentine.

Use this mixture to varnish and seal the seams of the balloon.

Create gas to fill your balloon by combining 19 pounds of iron filings, 40 pounds of concentrated vitriolic [sulphuric] acid, and five times as much water in a barrel which is connected by a copper siphon to another barrel that is nearly filled with water. Connect that barrel to the balloon itself by a long metal tube.

(Avoid fire at all costs. And beware explosions.)

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Oxfordshire folklore

A hedgehog

A very lean hedgehog, by erinac@eus – own work, Public Domain

Did you know that the fat of a hedgehog can cure deafness? Or that killing a black beetle brings on rain? Or that you should spit on the ground if you pass a pair of grey horses? Or that you can cure cramp by tucking some brimstone under your pilow?

So say the people of Oxfordshire, as recorded by Percy Manning, an antiquarian and archaeologist, in the early twentieth century.

These charms against illness and bad luck are from a series of folklore notes  which cover topics ranging from animals to ghosts, omens, weather maxims and witches, altogether a wonderful compendium of wit, wisdom, magical thinking and superstitions in Oxfordshire.

If you’d like to read them for yourself, they can be found in the Percy Manning archive at the Bodleian Library at MSS. Top. Oxon. d. 190-192.

This blog post is written as part of our project to increase the accessibility of the Bodleian's Percy Manning holdings in the run up to the centenary of Manning's death in 2017. We are grateful to the Marc Fitch Fund for its generous support of this project.

Executions in Oxford

Another snippet from the Percy Manning archive, this time from his ‘Oxford Collections’ scrapbooks which contain notes, newspaper clippings and assorted ephemera on topics ranging from Academic Halls to Earthquakes to Knucklebone Floors, to Lady in the Wall to …. Well, it’s wonderfully diverse!

This one is a simple clipping from the Oxford Times of 21 July 1888, and a chilling reminder of where the saying ‘you might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb‘ comes from. A compendium of executions carried out in Oxford between 1778-1888, it lists 44 men and their capital crimes, which range from murder to… sheep-stealing.

A list of executions in Oxford, 1778-1888, from MS. Top. Oxon. d. 180, fol. 69.

Executions in Oxford, 1778-1888, from MS. Top. Oxon. d. 180, fol. 69 – click to enlarge

John Grace, John Cox and Richard Cox were executed on the 27th of March 1786 for stealing sheep (joined at the gibbet by Miles Ward, whose crime was robbing Magdalen College, Oxford); Jessie Wiggins was executed for stealing sheep on the 24th of March 1801 and Richard Wiggins (a relative?) on the 2nd of August 1818. There are five horse thieves too, the last of whom was executed as late as 1827, after which the list of crimes men are executed for narrows sharply to highway robbery, arson and murder.

It’s perhaps interesting that no women were executed – it’s likely that they were transported instead – although one woman is listed, poor Mrs. Barmister, whose husband James was executed for her murder on the 10th of July 1815.

The list also includes Thomas White, who robbed Blenheim House (Palace?), and Charles Walter Wyatt, the postmaster of Witney, whose crime was stealing money from his customers’ mail. They were executed together at Oxford Castle on the 6th of August 1787 in front of ‘a prodigious assemblage of spectators’. Manning’s scrapbook includes a description of their deaths copied from Gentleman’s Magazine.

A description of the execution of Thomas White and Charles Walter Wyatt, from MS. Top. Oxon. d. 180, fol. 68.

The execution of Thomas White and Charles Walter Wyatt, from MS. Top. Oxon. d. 180, fol. 68 – click to enlarge

These two particular deaths were notable because they were executed

…according to a new mode, the more sensibly to affect the prisoners who were made spectators of the melancholy catastrophe

Literally spectators – their fellow prisoners were compelled to stand near the gallows and watch. And then

the cords were fixed, the caps pulled over their faces & in little more than 2 minutes having themselves requested dispatch, the platform sunk & the unhappy wretches were launched into eternity

Unfortunately though, it looks like the Oxford Times list of 1888 is incomplete. The Oxfordshire History Centre has a fuller list here (taken from Oliver’s City of Oxford Almanack, 1929) and it adds more sad detail, including more sheep and horse thieves like Joseph Wren, aged only 17, who was executed in March 1783 for stealing a horse, bridle and saddle. And William Bowler, aged 23, executed in the same month for stealing a single sheep. Yes. Just one.

Using the Oxfordshire Record Office list for the period 1778 to 1836, I tallied:

  • 1 execution for forgery
  • 2 for arson
  • 5 for murder
  • 14 for stealing a horse or sheep
  • 16 for every other kind of theft, including burglary and highway robbery

After 1836 people were executed for murder alone, 13 more executions up to 1921. 18 murders in 144 years seems like quite a small number, somehow (perhaps I’ve been watching too much Morse). Then again, nobody in these lists is being executed for manslaughter or any other killing offence. In Oxford’s courts, it seems, ending somebody’s life really did mean less risk to your neck than nicking that proverbial lamb. Grim.

This blog post is written as part of our project to increase the accessibility of the Bodleian's Percy Manning holdings in the run up to the centenary of Manning's death in 2017. We are grateful to the Marc Fitch Fund for its generous support of this project.

Lizzie Bennett – Blacksmith

Percy Manning (1870-1917), an Oxfordshire antiquarian, archaeologist, and local historian, bequeathed his collection of drawings and prints, photos and detailed notes on everything from sports and pastimes to local folklore (and much more besides) to the Bodleian Library, while his archaeological collections went to the Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers Museums.

To mark the upcoming centenary of his death, the Bodleian is contributing to a mapping project that will pinpoint these collections against the places they relate to, and this involves adding more details to our existing catalogue.

This collection is full of delights, from 18th-century prints of rural idylls that are now thoroughly built-up Oxford suburbs to detailed notes on Oxfordshire dialect words and obscure local festivals.

Elizabeth Bennett, blacksmith, in a 1708 manuscript account of works at Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, MS. Top. Oxon. c. 230, fol. 45v.

MS. Top. Oxon. c. 230, fol. 45v – Click to enlarge

And this pleasing thing, the last entry in a 1708 account book that records building and landscaping work done on the then-unfinished Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, only 3 years into what would be an eyewateringly expensive 29-year construction project.

An account of blacksmithing work done in December 1708 by Eliz[abeth] Bennett at Blenheim ‘Castle’, her job included making 32 dozen holdfasts for the joiners (at 2 shillings a dozen), making new handles for three saws, mending a pump in the meadows, and making wedges and clouts (patches or plates) used in the stairs. But in addition to making items for a fixed price, she also charged for work by the pound weight. Twenty five pounds of iron works for a grindstone at 4 pence a pound earned her 8s 4d (100 pence total) and 31 pounds of wedges and clouts, also at 4 pence a pound, made her 10s 4d.

The total for what would have been several days or weeks of highly skilled work? 4 pounds, 17 shillings, 2 pence. Not bad at all if you compare it to a female servant’s income at about that time – maidservant Sarah Sherin made £4 a year in 1717, while in the farming world, a female labourer called Goody Currell was paid 4 pence a day at an Oxfordshire farm in 1759, fifty years later.

Elizabeth appears three times in this account book, which only covers the outlay on  Blenheim from October to December 1708. In October (fol. 9v) she had a more lucrative commission, earning a handsome £8 12s 9d doing very similar work, including another 12 dozen holdfasts (this time, puzzlingly, at a mere 6d per dozen, a quarter of the amount charged in December – perhaps they were a simpler design?). She also made small cramps at 3½d per pound: over two hundredweight of small cramps which, needless to say, is a lot of small cramps, earning her £3 19s 0d.

Nothing has made me so grateful for decimalisation as checking the maths of an early modern accountant. Elizabeth made precisely 2 hundredweight, 1 quarter, and 19 pounds of small cramps in October. That’s an astonishing 271 pounds of metal work. 3½d per pound earns her 948½ pence. And with 240 pence in a pound (20 shillings in a pound, 12 pence in a shilling) that’s… well, have fun working that one out. By my reckoning it comes to £3 19s and 0.4d, so they seem to have shorted her a farthing or so. I had the benefit of a digital calculator, however. Kudos to Mr Henry Joynes, the architect who signed off on these accounts.

In November, Elizabeth made over £14 making more small cramps (a lot more – 767 pounds total) and 12 ‘gudgeons’, which the Oxford English Dictionary tells me means:

A pivot, usually of metal, fixed on or let into the end of a beam, spindle, axle, etc., and on which a wheel turns, a bell swings, or the like

But how much would a male blacksmith have been making? Well, luckily, the account book also has entries for a John Silver, Blacksmith, who earned himself the grand sum of £46 9s 9d in October, and then £12 9s 9d in December. Interestingly, however, he was paid exactly the same pound rate of 4d to make wedges and clouts (but was paid 4d a pound to make holdfasts for the joiners, rather than being paid by the dozen). Plus he, like Elizabeth, was paid 3½d per pound to make small cramps. Was this a smiths’ guild-mandated price? Or perhaps the result of a tendering process: did Elizabeth and John simply offer the lowest bids? Would they have charged more than this usually, or about the same?

Poster for the 1898 National Exhibition of Women's Labour, Netherlands (Gemeentemuseum, The Hague). Uploaded to wikicommons by Jan Toorop.

Poster for the 1898 National Exhibition of Women’s Labour, Netherlands (Gemeentemuseum, The Hague). Uploaded to wikicommons by Jan Toorop.

And as for who Elizabeth Bennett was? An interesting puzzle! It isn’t so unusual to come across craftswomen in this period and earlier – there’s a picture of a woman forging a nail in the 14th-century Holkham Bible – and the work of women silversmiths like Hester Bateman is extremely collectible to this day. Like Hester, it’s likely that Elizabeth was a widow carrying on her husband’s trade, but there are no Bennetts listed on this (very unofficial) directory of Oxfordshire blacksmiths, and no Bennetts working near Oxfordshire either. Perhaps she was a member of a local craft guild – possibly an Oxford guild? – but surviving records are poor (although a good chunk of the what’s left is, conveniently enough, here at the Bodleian). Perhaps she took an apprentice after 1710, in which case, there should be a registration record. And there’s always parish records, of course, to, try and track down her baptism and death dates, and any marriages. I for one, would love to know more!

This blog post is written as part of our project to increase the accessibility of the Bodleian's Percy Manning holdings in the run up to the centenary of Manning's death in 2017. We are grateful to the Marc Fitch Fund for its generous support of this project.

1916 Live: documents recounting Ireland’s Easter Rising published in real time

Dublin Metropolitan Police report, 24 April 1916 - MS. Nathan 476, fol. 35

Dublin Metropolitan Police report, 24 April 1916 – MS. Nathan 476, fol. 35 – Click to enlarge

Guest post by Naomi O’Leary

The small pink slip is a snapshot of a world about to be upended. Jotted in cursive is a message from the Chief Superintendent of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, telephoned to all stations. It reports the movements of a suspicious vehicle, at that moment parked at the headquarters of Irish radical nationalist activity, Liberty Hall. The note is time-stamped 10:50am, the 24th of April, 1916. It is one of hundreds that will be published on social media this month, telling the story of the Easter Rising in real-time exactly one century on.

Outwardly, the streets of Dublin were quiet on that bank holiday Monday. But behind the doors of Liberty Hall, feverish preparations were underway. Men and women had gathered with rifles, rations, ammunition, and a stack of hastily-printed posters declaring an independent Irish republic.

Within days, British artillery guns would be raining shells on Dublin city. A chain of events was about to be set in motion that would presage the fall of the British Empire. The writer of the telephone note sat in Dublin Castle, the centre of British power in Ireland for centuries. She could not have imagined that within six years, the stronghold would be handed over to an Irish government, in a scene that would be repeated around the world in the coming decades as former colonies broke free.

The following telephone messages, each time-stamped to the minute, capture the cascade of events. At 11:20am: “Fifty volunteers have now travelled by tram car 167 going in direction of the city”. At 11:50, an anonymous report: “The volunteers are turning everyone out of St Stephen’s Green Park”. By 12:20, the world had changed. The Superintendent of the G Division, which tracked political crime, telephoned to the representative of the British Monarchy in Ireland, Lord Lieutenant Wimborne: “The Sinn Fein volunteers have attacked the Castle and have possession of the G.P.O.”

I came across these hundreds of telephone messages in the personal papers of Sir Matthew Nathan, who was the top civil servant in Dublin Castle that spring of 1916. Jotted down in the thick of events, sometimes in frantic handwriting, they such give a vivid account of the six day rebellion I felt my pulse beat faster.

Their brevity and immediacy reminded me of my own reporting of live events as a journalist, particularly of protests that threatened to spill out of control.

With the kind permission of the Bodleian Library and the help of volunteer transcribers, I have put together a project to mark the centenary of the rebellion by publishing each update on social media at the time it was logged, exactly one hundred years later. A short version of the updates will go out on Twitter from @1916live, while full documents will be published simultaneously at www.1916live.com.

The reason the documents survive as a collection is precisely because they give such a rich account of the rebellion. As the most senior figure in Dublin Castle, Nathan resigned after the revolt and was called to explain how it had happened to a Royal Commission of Inquiry in London. He gathered up his correspondence along with the telephone and telegraph records of Dublin Castle, and arranged them into chronological order into a collection that was later bound in leather. It was one among hundreds of boxes of his papers given to the Bodleian Library after his death. The documents in it span the course of the rising, concluding with the rebels’ surrender on April 29th.

This project will allow anyone in the world to experience this key moment in history as it unfolded through a unique primary resource. Publishing the telephone notes on Twitter seems particularly appropriate, as they are the records of a new system of technology from the time that allowed for real-time communication, which ultimately gave British authorities a key advantage in their response to the rebellion. The material will remain online afterwards as a freely accessible resource for the future.

For any questions or suggestions, please contact 1916live@gmail.com

Shakespearean Talk

This year, 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare, the Bodleian Libraries are taking part in Oxford’s year-long celebration Shakespeare Oxford 2016.

On the 18th of March, David Crystal and his actor/director son Ben Crystal gave the second of a series of fifteen free talks on Shakespeare that will be held at the Weston Library. The lecture, ‘How To Talk Like Shakespeare’, focused on the inspirations and evidence for David’s soon to be published book, the Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation, which is the first full description of the way that Shakespeare and his cohort actually spoke in the 16th-17th centuries. The talk featured short performances by David and Ben to demonstrate the differences between the usual modern ‘received’ pronunciation of Shakespeare’s work and the way the plays would have sounded in their original pronunciation (OP).

You can see them in action for yourself in this Open University video.

Friday’s lecture beautifully illustrated the case David makes on originalpronunciation.com for why we should be care about how Shakespeare and his actors spoke:

  • Rhymes that don’t work in modern English suddenly work.

  • Puns missed in modern English become clear.

  • New assonances and rhythms give lines a fresh impact.

  • Original pronunciation illustrates what is meant by speaking ‘trippingly upon the tongue’ (Hamlet).

  • Original pronunciation suggests new contrasts in speech style, such as between young and old, court and commoners, literate and illiterate.

  • OP motivates fresh possibilities of character interpretation.

As archivists, we get to add that OP makes us consider our early manuscripts in a new light! In the Q&A session after the talk, Mike Webb, the Curator of Early Modern Manuscripts here at the Weston Library, mentioned the 1645-1649 account book of Mary Gofton (described online here). Spelling wasn’t fully fixed in this period and Mary often writes phonetically. It would have been easy to overlook this or perhaps even to mark the author as badly educated, or just a poor speller, but this phonetic spelling turns out to be a fantastic gift. Reading the account book aloud and doing your best impression of OP, Mary’s voice jumps out of the text. You can see a sample of the account book below: the perfectly OP-sounding ‘Lettell Mall’ and ‘Lettell Neck’ [Nick] are her grandchildren.

Gofton account book (MS. Eng. e. 3651)

Gofton account book (MS. Eng. e. 3651) – Click to enlarge

David Crystal also discussed the effect that OP has on audiences and actors. One outcome of using OP is that the plays become more engaging to people who are put off by, or find difficult to understand, the ‘posh’ received pronunciation (RP) that we have all come to associate with Shakespeare. (Interestingly, there was nothing like received pronunciation in Shakespeare’s day – distinct class-based accents seem to be a product of the nineteenth century.)

Another advantage is that actors who would normally fake RP don’t have to hide their native accents because OP wasn’t itself an accent, more of a dialect, and it underlay many distinctive regional accents in the early modern period. So, for example (with apologies to all linguists!) ‘temptation’ and any other word ending in ‘tion’ was pronounced something like ‘temp-tay-see-on’ in OP, whether the speaker came from Devon or London, while today it’s pronounced something like ‘temp-tay-shun’ by most English speakers, wherever you come from. And for that majority of modern English-speaking people who don’t use RP, whether they’re from the UK or other English-speaking countries, OP can sound more familiar and intelligible than RP – not surprising, as it was the foundation accent for so many English-speaking countries.

If you want to hear more OP in action, there are plenty of demonstrations and transcriptions online. Why not start with Ben Crystal performing Hamlet’s ‘To Be, or not to be?’.

John Clay Sanskrit Librarian

Camillo-crop

The library welcomes Camillo Formigatti  who will take up the position of John Clay Sanskrit Librarian on 1st February. Camillo has a doctorate in Indology from the University of Hamburg and has previously worked as a Research Associate on the Sanskrit Manuscripts Project, Cambridge.  He is extremely excited at the opportunity to promote the world of Sanskrit literature, which is brought to life in the Clay Sanskrit Library series and which is preserved in the Bodleian Libraries’ historic collections of manuscripts and books. Describing it as, ‘the type of job I always hoped I might one day be able to do,’ Camillo looks forward to sharing insights into this rich and ancient literary heritage over the coming months.

Sir Cecil Clementi and the University of Hong Kong

Currently being catalogued at the Bodleian Library are papers of Sir Cecil Clementi (1875-1947), Colonial Secretary in British Guiana (1913-1922) and Ceylon (1922-1925) and Governor of Hong Kong (1925-1930) and the Straits Settlements (1930-1934).  These compliment the Clementi papers already received and catalogued by the Library in 1997 (shelfmark: MSS. Ind. Ocn. s. 352).

Clementi spent many years working in Hong Kong having first been posted there as a cadet in 1899.  He was involved with the foundation of the University of Hong Kong and wrote the words (in Latin) of the University Anthem which was performed at the opening ceremony on 11 March 1912.

In 2011, Professor Chan Hing-yan re-orchestrated the Anthem as part of the University’s centenary celebration (listen here).

Clementi returned to Hong Kong as Governor in 1925.  He was made Chancellor of the University the same year and in 1926 was awarded an Honorary LLD (Doctor of Laws).

Images

(1) Denman Fuller, Cecil Clementi and the University of Hong Kong. University Anthem (Novello and Company Limited, London: c.1912)

(2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cecil_Clementi

The Englishwoman’s Guide to Living in the Commonwealth

There is a great deal of focus on the lives and work of the officers of Her Majesty’s Overseas Civil Service and civil contractors working abroad. Here at the Bodleian in our Commonwealth and African collections researchers often consult our many official and personal papers including those of the Overseas Service Pensioners’ Association.

But what about the wives and children that came with them? They had to deal with living in a foreign country with different customs, languages and climates. Many of them, at least initially, had no work routine to settle into or familiar faces to rely on.

Think for a minute of the thousand little things in your everyday life that you take for granted. Dealing with them in another land—even in a large metropolitan city (which many of them were not posted to)—could be confusing enough. For those who moved to a provincial outpost or a small island it was even more of a culture shock.

House and scenes from daily life in the Seychelles

Photo of a WCS member’s house and from her daily life in the Seychelles.

Take something as basic as buying common household goods: Where do you find needle and thread? Do they even have oats here? Can you buy beef? Often you needed to find a local substitute and even if they were available it might be packaged different, you might be looking in the wrong shop or you can’t find the words to describe something that seems so obvious to you. This could end up being an exercise in frustration where you found yourself wandering aimlessly for hours and returning empty handed.

WCS promotional leaflet with a stylized red sun inset with a globe.

WCS promotional leaflet.

Enter the Women’s Corona Society (WCS).

Most people will not have heard of it, but to the emigrating Englishwoman it was a lifeline. They gave courses on food, childcare, and health as well as providing a support network for the wives and families of those who were working abroad. It could be a lonely life with the husband away at work all day and lot of leisure time on your hands.

6 WCS educational pamphlets.

A selection of leaflets for the various courses on offer to their members.

The WCS provided courses to educate the new arrival on living overseas, charities to be volunteers in, visits and outings to familiarise them with the local area and people, social gatherings to relax and meet others in the society etc.

WCS autumn programme featuring doctors and experts speaking on various subjects.

WCS autumn programme.

A schedule of autumn courses shows the range of topics covered from the practical to the educational with doctors, officials and other experts speaking on ‘Malaria and Other Insects Borne Diseases’ to ‘Nature Studies Overseas’ to ‘Beauty round the World’.

One of the WCS members paints an evocative picture of what a prospective newcomer could expect upon arrival.

‘Often, on arrival, a family may live for a while in a hotel – and this can sometimes be a lonely start for a wife whose husband is out at work all day and she knows no one to talk to.’

And for ‘families who go straight into their own homes, the facilities of the Corona “Survival Basket” are often very welcome until their own luggage arrives.’

 

A selection of invitations for London members..

A selection of invitations for London members.

It was not just with the practical aspects of living overseas that WCS helped with. One of the most important things they provided was a social network.

This was fostered by theatre parties, afternoon teas, and charity events.

It wasn’t only a resource and a society for when you were abroad though. They also had a thriving social scene around their London headquarters; as shown by the selection of invitations to the right.

Whether their husbands’ tours of duty were done and they had to reintegrate to British life, or they were Commonwealth citizens moving to the UK for the first time, the WCS was equally there to help them find their feet as well.

Sometimes for returning expats the UK was the most foreign land of all when your friends, family and life had moved on without you.

Denis Healey obit.

The recent death of former Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey at the age of 98 reminded me of a curious connection in the Roy Jenkins archive. Not only were Healey and Jenkins Labour Party and ministerial colleagues but in 1986, The Times commissioned Jenkins to revise what turned out to be Denis Healey’s very premature obituary.

Typescript of page 9 of Roy Jenkins' revised obituary of Denis Healey, © Roy Jenkins estate

Typescript of page 9 of Roy Jenkins’ revised obituary of Denis Healey, MS. Jenkins 440, © Roy Jenkins estate

Corrected typescript insertions for Roy Jenkins' revised obituary of Denis Healey, © Roy Jenkins estate

Corrected typescript insertions for Roy Jenkins’ revised obituary of Denis Healey, MS. Jenkins 440, © Roy Jenkins estate

This newly released file [see MS. Jenkins 440] contains multiple manuscript and typescript drafts of the obituary, as well as Jenkins’ notes and research, including photocopies from The Times regarding Healey’s famous phrase “they must be out of their little Chinese minds”.

Enclosed with the file is a letter from John Grigg, obituaries editor for The Times, calling the final version “a masterpiece in the genre”. It’s by no means the only acclaimed biographical work by Roy Jenkins. A life-long author as well as a life-long politician, he specialised in political biography. He wrote well-received books about Attlee, Dilke, Truman, Asquith, Gladstone, Churchill and Roosevelt and (not least) his own memoir, A Life At The Centre (1991). You can find drafts and related papers for his books and his journalism (including more obituaries) in the Roy Jenkins archive at the Weston Library. He also wrote five pieces for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, including articles on his former Labour colleagues Harold Wilson and Tony Crosland [DNB subscription required].