Category Archives: Social Sciences

Percy Manning catalogue

The new catalogue of the Percy Manning collection is now available online.

Percy Manning centenary poster

Manning centenary

Percy Manning was a historian, folklorist and archaeologist with a special interest in Oxfordshire. When he died in 1917 he bequeathed his extensive collection to the Bodleian Library, the Ashmolean Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum. It includes not only his own research notes and books on Oxfordshire history but also his personal collection of everything from medieval manorial records to watercolour paintings by established artists to actual archaeological finds (the archaeological papers went to the Ashmolean, and the artefacts to the Pitt Rivers). It’s a fascinating collection, full of hidden and forgotten histories as well as beautiful paintings and drawings of buildings and views across Oxfordshire which date back to the eighteenth century.

Created with the financial support of the Marc Fitch Fund, this new finding aid brings together all our existing descriptions of the Percy Manning archive, which were previously scattered across a variety of book, manuscript, map and even music catalogues. It also allowed us to do something new: to list all the Oxfordshire places that are named or referenced in the collection, whether it’s a manorial map of Bladon, or a snippet of folklore from Bicester. If you live in Oxfordshire, try searching for your town, village, or city, and see what you can find!

Oxford is celebrating Percy Manning’s centenary this spring with an array of events and activities including (but not limited to!) an exhibition in the Weston Library, a study day on 18 February at the Oxford University Department of Continuing Education, a lecture at the Weston on 22 March, a museum trail at the Pitt Rivers Museum, an Ashmolean showcase of Percy Manning’s archaeological finds and a City Museum exhibition on Mummers and Maypoles. Other events include the unveiling of a blue plaque, family activities, music workshops, and a Centenary Celebration Concert with Magpie Lane and the Headington Quarry Morris Dancers. Full listings are available at the Folk in Oxford website.

Parliament Week: Britain and Europe: Britain’s third (and final) attempt to join the EC, 1970-73

Britain’s two previous attempts to join the European Community – in 1963 and 1967 – had been humiliatingly rejected by the French. Two British prime ministers – Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson – had both failed. Brought to power in the 1970 elections a new leader, Ted Heath, was determined to have a third try. But Heath faced two massive challenges: negotiating a place for Britain in Europe, and bringing the British public with him.

Like so much related to the history of Britain’s relationship with Europe, the story of Britain’s three attempts to join the EC are largely forgotten by the general public. Yet, as well as fundamentally changing the course of British post-war history, they can clearly inform current discussion of Britain’s place in Europe.

Getting in

So, what had changed between 1967 and 1973? First, and perhaps most important, was the fall from power of General de Gaulle. De Gaulle, who had vetoed both British applications, was a victim of the 1968 student protest which forced him from the office he had held for a decade; in his place, the new president Georges Pompidou was considerably more sympathetic.

Brought to power in the 1970 general election, the Conservative government of Ted Heath decided that the time was right to revive the application that had been left dormant in 1967 after the veto. For Heath, the domestic pressures for Britain to enter the EC were just as powerful as they had been for Wilson. The lack of export markets for British industry was becoming an ever-greater problem and hastened the decline of British living standards. In 1945, Britons had been 90 percent better off than citizens of ‘the Six’; by 1969, they were six percent poorer.

Negotiations opened in June 1970 alongside parallel negotiations with Britain’s traditional allies Ireland and Denmark. In January 1972, Heath finally signed the accession treaty in Brussels.

Party and people

The diplomatic negotiations were just the first obstacle that Heath faced; bringing Britain into Europe would also require the support of his party and the British electorate. This was a challenge that faced the Conservative Whips as they tried to make sure that enough MPs would vote with the government to pass the European Communities Act – the piece of legislation that was finalise the negotiations. It is on this aspect that many of the papers held by the Conservative Party Archives at the Bodleian focus.

CCO 20/32/28: ‘Report and Analysis of the State of the Party’ (c. Jan 1971).

CCO 20/32/28: ‘Report and Analysis of the State of the Party’ (c. Jan 1971).

The Conservative Party, which had stood on a pro-European platform since Macmillan, clearly had a parliamentary mandate if only its MPs could be brought on-side. Looking at the Conservative Party’s 326 MPs in January 1971, the Whip’s Office was not entirely happy with what they saw. At least 218 could be counted on to support the government’s position but 75 were ‘in doubt’ and 33 ‘against’. Although comparatively small in number, the 33 (not to mention the large in-doubt contingent) could stop the government getting the votes it needed to pass the bill, especially considering the divided and disorganised state of Labour. The judgement on the 33 was pretty damning: ‘a hard core of right-wingers, backed up by some Powellites, Ulster members, a handful of new Members, and one or two who for specialist reasons oppose entry…[and] 15 of the anti’s come from the old brigade…who have always been against the Market and always will be.’ (CCO 20/32/28) By August 1971, when the terms of the negotiations had become clear, there was a big rallying to the government’s side. Just 21 were estimated to be implacably hostile and almost all of the undecideds had been won over. The Whips were also delighted to note that this rallying ‘has taken place in the House, in the Parliamentary Party; it has also taken place in the Conservative Party outside the House and amongst voters as a whole.’ (CCO 20/32/28)

CCO 20/32/28: ‘Third Report and Analysis on the State of the Party on Common Market Issue. August 1, 1971’.

Some voters writing into the party expressed their concerns whilst others wrote in support. Ultimately, however, the issue remained unsolved and the public divided. With the Labour Party also ambivalent towards Europe (a radical change of direction), confrontation was inevitable. In 1974, new elections brought Labour back to power with the promise that continued British membership of the EC would be decided by referendum. The result – a surprise 60 percent majority in favour of staying – guaranteed Britain’s role as a major player in European integration for almost half a century.

Guy Bud

Parliament Week 2016: Britain and Europe: Britain’s second attempt to join the EC, 1966-67.

‘Now, the question is asked – will France veto us, and should we be deterred from application for fear that they will? I think the situation in 1967 is markedly different to what it was in 1963.’ (MS.Wilson c. 873)

Speaking here at the Labour Party Conference, the Foreign Secretary George Brown was undoubtedly wrong. Britain’s second attempt to join the European Communities (EC) in 1967 would end, ultimately, in the same ignominious failure as its first – shot down by a French veto, wielded by General de Gaulle. However, Brown was certainly right about one important thing: both Britain and Europe were very different in 1967 to how they had been just four years previously.

Britain’s three painful attempts to join the European Union’s predecessor are, today, almost totally forgotten by the general public. Yet they can serve an important role in informing current discussions, not least as a reminder of why Britain was so keen to join the union in the first place.

MS.Wilson c. 873, iii.3: ‘Britain and the EEC’ speech to PLP

1963 and 1967: Similarities and Differences

Considering the embarrassment of Britain’s failed attempt to enter the European Economic Community in 1963, it is perhaps surprising that the issue returned to public discussion so quickly. Between 1958 and 1963, Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government had attempted to get Britain into the association but had been humiliated, in 1963, when the French president General de Gaulle vetoed British accession outright. In contrast, Britain’s 1967-68 attempt, unflatteringly dubbed ‘the Probe’, under the Labour government of Harold Wilson looks very similar. Yet this is not how it seemed to contemporaries.

Britain was a very different place in 1967 to what it had been under Macmillan. For one thing, the attitude of the Labour Party – traditionally the less ‘European’ of the two – had changed profoundly. Under Hugh Gaitskell, Labour had vigorously opposed entering the Common Market. In government after 1964, their new leader Harold Wilson led a surprising volte-face.

This reversal was even more remarkable given Wilson’s own initial stance. In a speech given in 1962, the draft of which is preserved in the Bodleian, Wilson had voiced scepticism at the stance taken by ‘the Six’ EEC members and, especially, the Belgian statesman Paul-Henri Spaak:

Now, M. Spaak began by saying “We [the British] forget that we are the askers”. [Perhaps not his intention, but] Seemed to suggest [the only posture fr. wh. the British can negotiation is one of suppliance] we should adopt a suitably suppliant tone. This is not our position at all… We in UK are also centre of a trading system – older, less integration, not based on any T[rea]ty or Constitution, yet an effective + identifiable trading area [community, outward looking] without wh. would be a gt. deal poorer…(MS.Wilson c. 873)

MS.Wilson c.873, iii.3: ‘Problems of Western Foreign Policy’ (undated speech at Wilton Park).

Partially, Wilson’s rethinking can be seen as an attempt to outflank his rival – the pro-European, Conservative leader Ted Heath. But it was also a reaction to Britain’s changing circumstances.
Importantly, British industry was in ever-faster relative decline. Lack of investment, as well as poor labour relations, led to economic stagnation in contrast to more dynamic continental economies, such as West Germany, which had access to the European market. In 1945, GDP per capita was about 90 percent higher in Britain than in continental Europe; by 1967, the difference was just 6 percent. Soon, Britons would be poorer than Europeans.
What really prevented British industry from reaching the ‘white heat’ to which Wilson aspired was a lack of markets. Britain’s own European Free Trade Area (EFTA) could simply never compete with the Common Market set up within the EC. ‘All EFTA countries now seem to accept that the goal is that they should all sign the Treaty of Rome’, noted a Conservative Party report in 1966 (CRD 3/10/2/3). Likewise, the Commonwealth was clearly failing to live up to the expectations of those who hoped that it would one day form a viable trade block of its own. In short, Britain needed Europe or – as a Conservative report concluded – entering Europe was ‘the only immediately practicable way of revitalising British industry’ (CRD 3/10/2/3).

CRD 3/10/2/3: ‘EFTA + Appreciation for Association to EEC’ (28 Oct 1966).

CRD 3/10/2/3: ‘EFTA + Appreciation for Association to EEC’ (28 Oct 1966).

But if Britain had changed profoundly, so too had Europe. The EC had begun to move in a new direction – one that emphasised the power of national authorities within a ‘Europe des états’ – and this suited the British. Likewise, the new Common Agricultural Policy removed the problem of continuing Britain’s heavy subsidies to farmers which had been a major obstacle in the 1958-63 negotiations. Perversely, much of this change had been brought about by the same man whom the British reviled for his earlier veto.

CRD 3/10/2/3: ‘Preliminary Report by the Industrial Sub-Group’ for the Committee on Europe (c. Nov-Dec 1966).

CRD 3/10/2/3: ‘Preliminary Report by the Industrial Sub-Group’ for the Committee on Europe (c. Nov-Dec 1966).

As a Conservative briefing put it:

The British attitude towards…General de Gaulle has…often become tinged with elements of hypocrisy and envy. Hypocrisy because sometimes he has done certain things straight-forwardly which we have done deviously and envy because sometimes he has done things successfully which would like to have achieved ourselves. (CRD 3/10/2/1/1)

CRD 3/10/2/1/1: ‘Brief for Mr Heath for the Television Programme ‘Britain in Search of a Continent’ on 9th June’ (8 Jun 1966).

CRD 3/10/2/1/1: ‘Brief for Mr Heath for the Television Programme ‘Britain in Search of a Continent’ on 9th June’ (8 Jun 1966).

Negotiations

Uncertain of their position – and, especially, the opinion of de Gaulle – Wilson chose to approach the European negotiations cautiously. Stuart Holland, an Oxford academic, was despatched to gauge the French government’s mood through a personal contact, Pierre Joxe. The results appeared encouraging.

This low-key approach did not find favour with the more pro-European Conservative Party:

The Labour Party appear to want to start the negotiations by sending someone round Europe drawing up a list of all the difficulties. And this is justified by earthy metaphors about not buying goods before you have inspected them. This is not a deal to buy a second-hand car. You do not go around Europe kicking at bits of the Common Market for all the world as if you were looking for rust under the mudguard in the hope of being able to knock £5 off the purchase price.  (CRD 3/10/2/1/1)

CRD 3/10/2/1/1: ‘Statement on Britain and Europe’ (27 Mar 1966).

CRD 3/10/2/1/1: ‘Statement on Britain and Europe’ (27 Mar 1966).

Britain officially submitted its application to join the EC in May 1967, joined by its traditional non-EC trading partners: Ireland and Denmark. Everything seemed to be going well.
Then, on 27 November 1967, de Gaulle walked into a press-conference and, apparently out of the blue, vetoed British EC membership. It was yet another humiliation.
But the mood in Britain had changed in favour of Europe – and, importantly, the British government refused to withdraw its application for membership. Other members of the ‘the Six’ were also becoming increasingly sympathetic to British entry and impatient with de Gaulle’s personal agendas. Negotiations would eventually be re-opened in 1970 and would culminate, in 1973, with Britain finally fulfilling the twenty-year hope of entering the European Communities.

Source: Daddow, O. J. (ed.) Harold Wilson and European Integration: Britain’s Second Application to Join the EEC (London, 2016).

Guy Bud

Parliament Week 2016: Britain and Europe: Britain’s first attempt to join the EEC, 1958-1963

‘I will not disguise from the House, as I have not attempted to disguise from the country, the deep disappointment of the Government and, I think, of the whole nation, at the turn of events. […] If the European vision has been obscured, it has not been by a minor obstruction on one side or the other. It was brought to an end by a dramatic, if somewhat brutal, stroke of policy.’ ( HC Deb. 11 Feb 1963, vol. 671, fols. 943-1072.)

Speaking at a parliamentary debate in February 1963 shortly after Charles de Gaulle’s veto of British membership of the European Economic Community (EEC), it is perhaps easy to understand why Harold Macmillan was quite so bitter. After close to five years of negotiation, British hopes of joining the European Union’s antecedent had just been crushed – publicly – by a former ally, President Charles de Gaulle.

Britain, the Commonwealth, and Europe

Succeeding Anthony Eden as Prime Minister in 1957, Macmillan’s six years in power spanned a period of almost unprecedented change in Britain’s geopolitical status. The Suez Crisis of 1956, which had brought down the Eden government, demonstrated to the world that Britain was no longer a superpower in comparison to the United States or Soviet Union. No longer a major imperial power or, at least, no longer the major imperial power it had been twenty years before, the country was caught in a kind of malaise. The result was a difficult period of soul-searching about where Britain’s future should lie.

By the late 1950s, Britain’s economy was also encountering problems. Although Britain remained a rich country – richer, per capita, than most of continental Europe – the disparity between the levels of economic growth in Britain and the rest of Europe were becoming increasingly obvious. In order to keep in business, British industry needed ever-increasing overseas markets for its products.

Against this difficult backdrop, Britain was caught between two centres of gravity. One the one hand, the Commonwealth pulled the country towards its traditional export markets in the former colonies. Although very informal and disorganised, the Commonwealth – and especially the ‘White Dominions’ (notably Canada, Australia, and South Africa) – appeared to offer a way for the British to keep the economic benefits of empire as well as its sentimental attachments. On the other, attempts to form an economic union in Continental Europe were viewed with a mixture of scepticism and alarm.

In March 1957, six European countries (France, West Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Italy) signed the Treaty of Rome, paving the way for a supra-national organisation intended to facilitate trade and political cooperation between the member-states. Macmillan faced a dilemma. Although not totally incompatible, Britain could not move towards both the Commonwealth and the EEC at the same time.

A difficult decision

The Macmillan archives on deposit at the Bodleian provide a fascinating snapshot of the difficulties of the decision, especially in the period immediately after the signing of the Treaty of Rome. They also show Macmillan’s attempt to play a difficult double game between what he termed ‘the practical’ and ‘the idealistic’ (Bodleian, MS. Macmillan dep. c.920, fol. 21). While he could certainly dress his actions in the ideology of Europeanism, he was also acutely aware of the dangers which a united Europe would create for a disengaged Britain.

MS. Macmillan dep. c. 920, fol. 21: Luncheon Speech for European Free Trade Area, 20 Feb 1957. Reproduced with kind permission of the Trustees of the Harold Macmillan Book Trust.

MS. Macmillan dep. c. 920, fol. 21: Luncheon Speech for European Free Trade Area, 20 Feb 1957. Reproduced with kind permission of the Trustees of the Harold Macmillan Book Trust.

In a speech written for the European Movement Industrial Conference in February 1958, Macmillan wrote that he saw Free Trade as an ideological glue to cement unity within the Continent:

‘The European idea is gaining every day in strength and purpose. […] The Treaty of Rome is a major achievement and one which we welcome because it will bring increased prosperity and strength to our friends and partners on the Continent. We believe that it is of the greatest importance to the future of Europe that the European Economic Community should be linked from the outset with the other free countries of Europe through a Free Trade Area. Such an association could draw the European nations steadily closer together in their political and economic relations…to the immense and lasting advantage of Europe and the free world as a whole.’(Bodleian, MS. Macmillan dep. c.920, fol. 110)

MS. Macmillan dep. c. 920, fol. 110: macmillan to Beddington-Behrens, 17 Feb 1958. Reproduced with kind permission of the Trustees of the Harold Macmillan Book Trust.

MS. Macmillan dep. c. 920, fol. 110: macmillan to Beddington-Behrens, 17 Feb 1958. Reproduced with kind permission of the Trustees of the Harold Macmillan Book Trust.

In other company, however, it was clear that his approach was much more grounded on the realities of the British position:

‘Of course it might be argued that we could use all our influence to break up the six and to prevent their plan coming into being. I think there would be great dangers in this. First of all, it would be a very wrong thing to do, and secondly, it would probably not succeed.’ (Bodleian, MS. Macmillan dep. c.920, fol. 24)

 

MS. Macmillan dep. c. 920, fol. 24: Luncheon Speech for European Free Trade Area, 20 Feb 1957. Reproduced with kind permission of the Trustees of the Harold Macmillan Book Trust.

MS. Macmillan dep. c. 920, fol. 24: Luncheon Speech for European Free Trade Area, 20 Feb 1957. Reproduced with kind permission of the Trustees of the Harold Macmillan Book Trust.

Macmillan realised that Britain could not preserve its economic and political status in Europe from outside a united Europe and, despite his reservations, began to negotiate with European leaders to get Britain in.

Painful process

Informal negotiations with ‘the Six’ began in 1958. Unfortunately for Britain, the same year saw the rise to power of General de Gaulle in France. Although concerned about the escalating war in French Algeria, de Gaulle still saw British membership of the EEC as potentially damaging to France’s international position and especially to its leading role within the EEC.

Britain went to the polls in 1959 and re-elected Macmillan, giving him the mandate to formally apply for Britain to enter the EEC in 1961. Edward Heath, as Foreign Secretary, was sent to Brussels to open formal accession talks.

Politically, British discussion on EEC membership hinged on two issues: the privileged position of the Commonwealth and agricultural subsidies. Both immediately created problems. The British refused to extend Free Trade to food because this would mean removing the existing heavy subsidies given to British farmers and a rise in food prices as a result. The Six, however, also refused to allow the Commonwealth to hold onto its existing trading privileges, despite Macmillan’s attempt to use separate negotiations with the Commonwealth as leverage against the Europeans. For Macmillan, the process was deeply dispiriting. ‘I think sometimes our difficulties with our friends abroad result from our natural good manners and reticence’, he wrote in June 1958.

Gauging the public reaction to the process is difficult. The Labour Party, under Hugh Gaitskell, was certainly hostile. The Conservative Party Archive at the Bodleian does preserve a number of angry letters on the issue; many complain about the perceived ‘betrayal’ of the Commonwealth, others voiced suspicion of European motivations.
Certainly the Conservative Research Department worried that Macmillan’s ‘rational approach based on a simple analysis of our political and economic problems’ might make the attempt to join the EEC sound, publicly, like ‘an act of desperation’. (Bodleian, CRD 2/43/2)

Ultimately, however, public opinion was never put to the test. In January 1963, de Gaulle vetoed British membership of the EEC with his famous comment: ‘non’. Britain would have to wait until 1973 – and endure another humiliating French rejection – before it would finally take a seat in the EEC.

Guy Bud

2016 Conservative Party Conference

The 2016 Conservative Party Conference was held at Birmingham’s International Conference Centre (2-5 October) and, as in previous years, the Conservative Party Archive was there.

Jeremy McIlwaine (Conservative Party Archivist) and myself left behind the quiet confines of the Bodleian Library where the collection is housed and took a very small number of items from the Archive ‘on tour’.

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Capturing and Preserving the EU Referendum Debate (Brexit) – UK Web Archive blog

Following the announcement in May 2015 that there would be a referendum on the UK’s EU membership, the Legal Deposit UK Web Archive, led by curators at the Bodleian Libraries, started a collection of websites.

The team of curators includes contributors from the Bodleian Libraries, The British Library, the National Libraries of Scotland and Wales and also Queen’s University Belfast (for the Northern Ireland perspective) and the London School of Economics (for capturing and preserving individual documents, such as the pdf versions of campaigning leaflets).

The collection scope is to capture the ‘Brexit’ debate and the debate around the EU Referendum as well as the wider context of UK/EU relations, including:

  • Media coverage
  • websites of political parties and other political institutions and groups
  • campaigning and lobbying
  • trade unions, professional organisations, businesses
  • academic debate
  • culture and arts
  • public opinion through blogs, comments, and if possible social media.

We primarily archive UK websites under the Non-Print Legal Deposit mandate, but also decided to include some sites outside the UK, if relevant – e.g. websites of UK expats in Europe, or political parties, interest groups and think tanks in the EU and in EU member states – on a permission basis.

The collection (at the time of writing) has 2590 target websites. Some of these are whole websites; others will be a single news story or blog post.

Access and availability
The majority of the collection will be available in the reading rooms of UK Legal Deposit libraries, including both British Library sites, the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford, the National Library of Scotland, the National Library of Wales, Cambridge University Library and Trinity College Dublin. As is usual for web archive collections, there is a delay between collection and availability of up to a year, allowing for cataloguing and for ingest into digital library systems.

by Svenja Kunze, Project Archivist, Bodleian Libraries (Oxford University)

Source: Capturing and Preserving the EU Referendum Debate (Brexit) – UK Web Archive blog

The 1975 Referendum on Europe

Car campaign sticker

[Car campaign sticker, CCO 508/11/9-16]

The United Kingdom joined the European Economic Community (as it then was) on 1 January 1973 after negotiations by the Conservative government led by Edward Heath. In the run up to the subsequent 1974 General Election the Labour Party pledged, in its manifesto, the United Kingdom’s first nationwide referendum on whether to stay part of the Economic Community on renegotiated terms or to completely part company. With a Labour victory, the new Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, followed through on his promise and a referendum was held on 5 Jun 1975. The outcome was an overwhelming victory (67%) for the ‘In’ campaign.

The 1975 vote in favour of Europe did not, however, end the debate on the United Kingdom’s membership of what is now a much expanded European Union.  As we await the results of a second referendum on whether to ‘remain’ or to ‘leave’ on 23 June, the Conservative Party Archive provides much research material to those interested in exploring the Party’s position with regard to the 1975 EU referendum and toward the EEC/EU more generally during this period.

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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.

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.

The 1968 Sheffield Brightside By-Election: An Archaeologist in the City of Steel

Colin Renfrew Campaign Flyer

Colin Renfrew Campaign Flyer: CCO 500/18/115

Following the death of the Labour MP Harry Harpham on 4 February 2016 the Sheffield constituency of Brightside and Hillsborough goes to the Polls today for the election of a new MP.

Created in 2010 following a review by the Boundary Commission, the constituency is essentially the successor to the Sheffield Brightside. Since its creation for the 1885 General Election Sheffield Brightside had elected a Conservative Member of Parliament only twice: James Hope in 1900 and Hamer Russell in 1931. Indeed, since 1935 it had been a staunchly held labour seat which is perhaps identified in the minds of many today with David Blunkett, its long-standing labour MP, 1987-2015.

The papers of the Conservative Party Archive held at the Bodleian Library allow us to look back to the last by-election of Sheffield Brightside on 13 June 1968 held after the death of Richard Winterbottom who had been elected in the 1950 General Election. Continue reading