Category Archives: 18th century

A Brief Encounter with Jane Austen’s Aunt and Cousin, Paris 1786

Eliza de Feuillide, nee Hancock (1761-1813), by an unknown artist

Visitors to the Jane Austen exhibition (Which Jane Austen?) will have seen a small diary whose anonymous author attended a party in Paris where both Jane Austen’s aunt and cousin were present.

Although the diary has been in the Bodleian since 1945, the Jane Austen connection had not been noticed until I stumbled across it in 2015. In June of that year a number of History and English students came to a workshop in the Weston Library to help us discover the authors of some anonymous manuscript travel diaries in Bodleian collections. We called the workshop ‘Travelling Incognito?’ Archivists in Special Collections surveyed the diaries briefly before the workshop to assess them for readability, condition and potential research interest. During this process, a page in one of the diaries, MS. Eng. misc. e. 250, caught my attention. The catalogue entry for the diary is brief: ‘Journal of a tour in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, late 18th cent. 60 leaves; marbled wrappers.’ The author mostly describes towns, houses and gardens he visits, and perhaps apart from his visit to the Royal Court at Versailles where he saw Marie Antoinette, there is nothing especially remarkable about the diary. No year is mentioned, but we can date it to 1786 from the correlation of days and months and some references to recent events. One or two pages for no apparent reason are written in French, and it was on one of these pages (fol. 19v ) that I noticed some interesting names in reference to a dinner in Paris on 17 June. The description of the dinner reads as follows:

Saturday 17th

… Nous avons aujourdhui dine chez Monsr. Pattle ou il se trouvait le Doct. Geary, deux Anglais, Made Hancock anglaise & sa fille[,] un Curé[,] Mde Villette & Monsr. Pattle qui se trouvait bien indispose, mais il nous a reçu avec beaucoup d’honnetété & nous a conté beaucoup d’Histoires –  Mde Hancock en des Indes & connait tres bien Mons Sumner, Mde Yorke, la famille Birch &ca. Le Doctr ma dit que sa fille etait de Monsr Hastings. …

[We dined today at Mr Pattle’s, where were Doctor Geary, two Englishwomen, Madame Hancock and her daughter, a Curé, Madame Villette and Mr Pattle, whom we found was very unwell,  but he received us with great sincerity, and recounted to us numerous stories. Madame Hancock was in the Indies, and knew well Mr Sumner, Madame Yorke, the Birch family etc. The Doctor told me that her daughter was Mr Hastings’s …]

What are we to make of this? At first I was struck by the author’s apparent interest in India. The fact that Madame Hancock had been ‘en des Indes’, and had known various people out there, was clearly of interest to the author who may well have had connections with India and the East India Company, and appears to have had mutual acquaintances there with Mrs Hancock. The name of the host, Pattle, was sufficiently unusual to be worth an internet search, so I tried my luck and put the names Pattle, Hancock, Sumner, Yorke and Birch into a search engine together with India. The results were encouraging. One ‘hit’ was on a document created by the British Library, People and Places.  A guide to materials relating to India at the British Library Western Manuscripts Collections.  This guide revealed that one Thomas Pattle had been a director of the East India Company; that Richard Sumner was also an East India Company official, and that Warren Hastings, as Governor-General of India, had corresponded with him. The names Yorke and Birch are also listed in an Indian context, but the name that really stood out was that of ‘Tisoe Saul Hancock’, Surgeon at Fort William (Bengal), especially as his name came up in the context of letters he had written to Warren Hastings. Also mentioned in the British Library Guide was ‘Mrs Hancock’. Copies of Mr Hancock’s letters to his wife and daughter, and his will, are among the papers of Sir Warren Hastings. The significance of all this is that Tysoe Hancock’s wife was Philadelphia Hancock, nee Austen. She was Jane Austen’s aunt.

Portrait of Warren Hastings by Tilly Kettle, c.1772 (© National Portrait Gallery, London)

So now let us return to the dinner at Mr Pattle’s house in Paris in June 1786. Those knowledgeable about the history of Jane Austen’s family will have noted straightaway that the ‘fille’ of Mrs Hancock, also present at the dinner, must be Eliza. And of course, Eliza and her mother were in France in 1786 because Eliza had married a French Army Captain, Jean-François Capot de Feuillide. Jean-François made the mistake of making (possibly bogus) claims to aristocracy and ended up a victim of the guillotine, by which time the Hancocks had returned to England. Eliza was thus Jane Austen’s cousin, and Jane knew her well. She was 14 years older than Jane, and according to the article on Jane in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Eliza was ‘a frequent visitor to Steventon and a powerful influence on her cousins.’ Her vivacious and witty nature is thought to be reflected in the character of Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park, published shortly after Eliza’s death in 1813. By then, Eliza had married Jane’s brother Henry, so that she was Jane’s sister-in-law as well as her first cousin. The most interesting thing about the passage mentioning the dinner in Paris is the apparent reference to a story circulating at the time, that Eliza was the natural daughter of Warren Hastings (stated in the rather bald French, ‘sa fille etait de Mons r Hastings’). Whatever the truth or otherwise of the rumours surrounding her birth, and this subject remains controversial among Austen scholars, it is very interesting to see that the story was apparently circulating in Paris in 1786, even among those very close to Mrs Hancock and her daughter.

None of this has helped us to identify the author of MS. Eng. misc. e. 250, but it does suggest a network that might be pursued. And during the course of the Travelling Incognito workshop, the student assigned to work on this diary discovered that the author had visited Mr Pattle on 13 June. His house was in Place Royale, and the author delivered to him ‘our letters and parcels’, one of which was from Mr Hastings, thanking Mr Pattle for his offer of his services ‘on the trial’. So it certainly would appear that there is some connection between the author and Warren Hastings, and that perhaps some official business took him to Mr Pattle’s house.  Warren Hastings’s impeachment for alleged corruption in India began in 1787 and he was acquitted after a trial that lasted until 1795.

It was during this first visit that Mr Pattle invited the author to dine on the 17th. He describes Mr Pattle as a 76-year-old man with one eye. This identifies Mr Pattle as Thomas Pattle of Paris, whose will of 1788 is among the Prerogative Court of Canterbury records held at the National Archives. Mrs Maria Villette, presumably the Madame Villette noted in the diary, was a major beneficiary, in recognition of the care she had taken of Pattle and his affairs.  Julia Margaret Cameron, nee Pattle, the noted photographer and great aunt of Virginia Woolf, was Thomas Pattle’s great granddaughter.

This takes us some way from the brief entry in the anonymous diary however. Of more interest in this context is a reference to the same Thomas Pattle and his Paris residence in the correspondence of Jeremy Bentham (see  The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham, Electronic Edition, ed. Sprigge et. al., InteLex Corp., Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S.A., 2000). Just a year before the anonymous diarist met Thomas Pattle and the Hancocks in Paris, on 17 August 1785, Jeremy Bentham wrote a letter to his father, Jeremiah, on 17 August 1785:

“I scribble in haste from Mr. Pattle’s Country house at Argenteuil, formerly the House of the Marquis du Chatelet, and Residence of Voltaire, present Mrs. Villette, Mr. Pattle, Captn and Mrs. Brook and Mr. Roger Metcalfe… .”

Later in the letter he adds:

“I met your Friend Dr. Keary here on Sunday who made the most affectionate Enquiries after you.”

It may not be significant, but it was a ‘Dr Geary’ who confided to the anonymous diarist the story of Eliza Hancock’s alleged origins. The editors of the Bentham correspondence were not able to identify Dr Keary. Could our diarist have mispelt his name? The editors did have something to say about Thomas Pattle however, noting that Samuel Bentham, Jeremy’s brother,  had stayed with a Mr Pattle at Paris in 1775.

In September 1785 Jeremy Bentham wrote to Jeremiah from Florence, ending a long letter with the following:

“I don’t know that I saw Lady Craven. I had a pretence to call on her from having seen her beautiful little boy, Keppel at Mr. Pattle’s (Mrs. Villette and she are great friends) … .”

This brings us once more into the Jane Austen orbit, for she had connections with the Cravens through her great friend Martha Lloyd, and through Thomas Fowle who was betrothed to Jane’s sister Cassandra before his untimely death in the West Indies, both of whom were descended from a junior branch of the Craven family. The Countess Craven in Jane’s day, daughter in-law- of the Lady Craven  mentioned by Bentham, read and offered her opinions of some of Jane Austen’s novels, as indeed did Warren Hastings (see footnotes in the The Letters of Jane Austen  published by OUP, 1995; online database version published by InteLex Corp., Charlottesville, 2004).

The diary remains on display in the Which Jane Austen? exhibition in the Weston Library until 29 October.

The Simon Digby Oriental Collection – curation and care

 In April of 2015, the Trustees of the Simon Digby Memorial Trust deposited a large collection of Oriental Manuscripts belonging to the Late Simon Digby (1932-2010) with the Special Collections Department of the Bodleian Libraries. Almost a year later, the collection was officially donated to the Library.

Mr. Simon Digby, a descendent of Sir Kenelm Digby (d. 1665), whose Western and Oriental manuscript collection the Bodleian Library also holds, was a Fellow of Wolfson College, and a scholar, linguist, translator, and collector. He was Assistant Keeper of Eastern Art at the Ashmolean Museum from 1972. Above all a lover of India, Mr. Digby spent a great deal of time in that country (indeed, he was born and died there). However, the bulk of his collection was amassed in Britain at the auctions of manuscripts from the collections of Thomas Phillipps of Middle Hall (d. 1872); Sir Richard Burn, KCIE, ICS (d. 1947); A. H. Harley (d. 1951); and others.

MS. S. Digby Or. 210 – A 15th-century illuminated manuscript of poetry from Herat in Afghanistan.

The Simon Digby Oriental Collection consists of over 260 manuscripts the majority of which are in Persian, with a handful in languages such as Arabic, Urdu, Turkish, and some in Indian languages including Sanskrit and Gujarati. The collection contains important and rare works in the fields of Indian history, biographies of Sufi Saints, and biographies and poetry of the Persian Poets of the Sabk-i Hindī or Indian Style.

Upon arrival in the Library in April 2015, the entire collection was sent to a specialist conservation laboratory for thorough drying and cleaning. When the books returned, some months later, staff in the Oriental Department began work assigning new shelfmarks, making observations on the general condition of each book and measuring each volume for a custom made archival box. Certain items were also flagged up for extra care from the conservation department of the Library.

Each manuscript is housed in its own custom-made archival box.

At the same time, work began on cataloguing the collection for which Mr. Digby’s extensive notes and handlist proved very useful. These notes together with information obtained through examination of the volumes were converted into online catalogue records in the Fihrist database – a UK based union catalogue of manuscripts from the Islamic world. Browse the S. Digby Oriental Collection on the Fihrist Database [work-in-progress]. To date, 168 entries appear on Fihrist, and work is currently underway to catalogue from scratch the remaining works for which no notes exist.

Detail from MS. S. Digby Or. 129 – A history of the coinage of India.

Speaking about the Library’s acquisition of the S. Digby Collection, Bahari Curator of Persian Collections at the Bodleian Libraries, Alasdair Watson, said, “Mr. Digby was, perhaps, one of the last of the true ‘gentleman collectors’, and his collection is substantial both in terms of numbers of items as well as richness of content. Acquiring a collection such as this is a really once-in-a-lifetime experience for any library curator and it is a great privilege to be involved in its long-term preservation and care as well as in helping to make it available for scholarly study.”

 

 

 

 

Index of Chandra Shum Shere manuscript collection now digitized

Chandra Shum Shere1On 20th December, the Bodleian’s Clay Sanskrit Librarian, Dr. Camillo Formigatti, was pleased to be able to announce the launch of a complete digital version of the Index Catalogue of MSS. Chandra Shum Shere by T. Gambier Parry, revised and completed by E. Johnston. This small project was made possible by a generous grant from the Max Müller Memorial Fund.

The PDF files are available on the Finding Aids – Oriental Manuscripts & Rare Books: South and Inner Asia webpage of the Oxford LibGuides website. They are listed under the section Sanskrit. Dr. Formigatti has prepared a set of three different files:

• Index Catalogue of MSS. Chandra Shum Shere vol. 1 (A-Tarpaṇa)
• Index Catalogue of MSS. Chandra Shum Shere vol. 2 (Tarpaṇa-Muktāvalī)
• Index Catalogue of MSS. Chandra Shum Shere vol. 3 (Muktāvalī-Haumikaprāyaścitta-Modern Indian Languages)

Each file is available in two different resolutions: the first for fast internet connections and fit for printing, the second for slower internet connections and to be displayed on-screen. All files are provided with bookmarks for easy navigation.

We hope this basic navigation tool will help all manuscript lovers to find their way through the thousands of manuscripts in this valuable collection.

Thai Manuscript Conservation Association Workshop at the Bodleian

On 14th and 15th December staff from Bodleian Special Collections and Digital Library Systems and Services welcomed representatives from the Manuscript Conservation Association of Thailand. Delegates included Mr. Boonlert Sananon, President of the MCA, Mr. Boonlue Burarnsan, Vice President of the MCA, and Mrs. Phatchanun Bunnag, Registrar of the MCA.

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During the first day of the workshop delegates discussed the latest developments in TEI /XML cataloguing standards for Thai manuscripts at the Centre for Digital Scholarship. On the morning of second day of the workshop the delegates visited the Conservation workshop. This was followed by a lecture by given Mr Saneh Mahapol, from the Fine Arts Department of the Ministry of Culture on the conservation of palm leaf books in Thailand.

The workshop ended with delegates helping the library to identify and make basic TEI descriptions of uncatalogued Thai manuscripts in the Bodleian’s collection.

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A Mughal Hunt Manuscript shown as the Artist Intended

One of the joys of working for the Bodleian is the capacity of manuscripts to surprise. During the final preparations for The hunt in Mughal India exhibition , I was asked to look at the mount of one of the manuscripts for display (MS. Ouseley Add. 171, f. 6r). The 1947 mount tightly framed the miniature, which is painted in subdued greens and browns. When folded back from the miniature, the artist’s border of warm pink and gold was revealed, bringing the whole composition to life. It was a pleasure to give permission for the old mount cover to be removed so the picture could be displayed as the artist had originally intended it to be seen.

ms_ouseley_add_171_6r

ms_ouseley_add_171_6r_after

A further hidden masterpiece that cannot be shown in the exhibition is the reverse of the painting of the nobleman hunting with a decoy blackbuck (MS. Douce Or. b. 3, f. 29r), which is covered with exquisite calligraphy. The relationship between the calligraphic panel and the painting has yet to be fully researched.

ms_douce_or_b_3_29r

The hunt in Mughal India exhibition runs until the 8th of January and is open to the public. Readers at the Bodleian Oriental Institute Library can also see an associated exhibit of modern printed books relating to the theme of the Mughal hunt.

oil_mughal_hunt

First catalogue of the Bodleian’s own historic archive now online

Today sees the online publication of the first catalogue for the Bodleian’s own organisational archive – ‘Library Records’. This archive is a unique and valuable resource which provides evidence of the activities of the Bodleian throughout its 400 year history. To this day, the Bodleian remains one of the foremost cultural institutions in the world and the archive is of particular interest to researchers considering the history of libraries and librarianship, scholarship and the transfer of knowledge, the study of the book, and manuscript studies.

The Library Records collection includes papers concerning Library finances, the construction and repair of buildings, the acquisition and cataloguing of collections; correspondence with donors, depositors and enquirers; and records of readers’ admission and book orders.

Treasures from the Library Records collection include the earliest known ‘reader’s card’ from 1613/14 and an admission register signed by Iris Murdoch and Philip Larkin, 1940.

Image of earliest known Bodleian reader's card

Library Records c. 1693
Located amongst the collection of Bodleian papers made by Bodley’s Librarian, Falconer Madan this small slip of paper gave Henry Barkley of All Souls College, Oxford permission to use the Bodleian Library. It was signed by the Registrar of the University, Thomas French, on 17 February 1613/14, and a note was added in the Library to record that Barkley was admitted as a reader the same day.

Bodleian Admissions Register signed by Iris Murdoch and Philip Larkin, 1940.

Library Records b. 521
An example of a Bodleian Admissions Register signed on the 17 October 1940 by Iris Murdoch of Somerville College and Philip Arthur Larkin of St. John’s. Despite the privations of the Second World War scholarship continued and the Bodleian remained open. Other records in the archive detail the Library’s contribution to the war effort and document Air Raid Precautions undertaken, accounts of collections taken on deposit from other institutions and lists of books removed for safekeeping to Avoncliff.

Theo Boorman and Oliver House

 

 

Foot-men

Statues from Villa dei Papiri in Ercolano. By Marie-Lan Nguyen (2011). Wikicommons.

Statues from Villa dei Papiri in Ercolano. By Marie-Lan Nguyen (2011). Wikicommons.

20 September 1720

“Yesterday was a great foot-race at Woodstock, for 1400 libs, between a running footman of the duke of Wharton’s, and a running footman of Mr. Diston’s, of Woodstock, round the four mile course. Mr. Diston’s man being about 35 years of age (and the duke’s about 45) got it with ease, outdistancing the duke’s near half a mile. They both ran naked, there being not the least scrap of anything to cover them, not so much as shoes and pumps, which was looked upon deservedly as the height of impudence, and the greatest affront to the ladies, of which there was a very great number.”

–A transcript from “Reliquiae Hearniane, ii. 112″ in Percy Manning’s volume of notes on sports and pastimes in Oxfordshire (Weston Library, MS. Top. Oxon. d. 202).

 

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.

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.)

Continue reading

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.