Tag Archives: clarendon cataloguing

To prevent mail robberies!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Royal velvet

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

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

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

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

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

Who were they?

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Secret ciphers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A pottle of strawberries (on this day in 1842)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A flying woman

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

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

My dear Bertie

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

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

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

Luckily, it was not difficult to find out more.

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

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The search is over…

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

A pirate’s life?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Honoured Father’, the letter begins:

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Princess Alexandra’s Irish poplin dress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philadelphia, 1777-1778

In 1777-1778, the American Revolutionary War was raging, and a British army officer based in Philadelphia, Guards Brigade battalion commander Brigadier John Howard, penned three remarkable letters to Thomas Villiers, the 1st earl of Clarendon (2nd creation).

Print illustration of the Battle of Germantown, 1777, by Christian Schussele, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Battle of Germantown, by Christian Schussele, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The first letter was written on the 14th of October 1777, from Germain Town Camp [sic], ten days after the Battle of Germantown, a major battle in the campaign for Philadelphia. British commander Sir William Howe had captured Philadelphia in September 1777 after winning the battles of Brandywine and Paoli and on the 4th of October, George Washington launched an ambitious counterattack against British forces based at Germantown on the outskirts of the city. The attack failed, partially foiled by a thick fog which hampered communication, but Howe chose not to pursue the Continental Army as it retreated, and at the onset of winter withdrew his forces to Philadelphia, while the Americans, largely unscathed, wintered in Valley Forge.

Brigadier Howard’s 14th of October letter to Thomas Villiers gives an eyewitness account of the British victory at the Battle of Brandywine that September, opening with a description of the circumstances and objectives of the campaign for Philadelphia:

From the natural strenth of this Country, in extensive Woods, Stong Posts, and Rivers, all military operations must be slow. And more especially in a country where we cannot depend upon the information or friendship of one single inhabitant; for either from motives of fear, interest, or enmity, we find America universally against us

He continues:

As this Province and its neighbourhood has been the chief supply of the Rebel Army, and Philadelphia the seat of their imaginary government, it being the Heart of their new created Empire, the Rebels judged they could not risk too much to keep it in their possession

After describing the manoeuvres at Brandywine, Howard describes the Battle of Germantown:

Gen[era]l Washington, with all the force he could possibly collect together, has since attacked us in our Camp: He was very much favoured in his approach to it by a very thick fog: We had thirteen Battalions less that day than at the Affair of the Bradywine and notwithstanding this diminution of our strenth he was repulsed with very considerable loss

But the letter is not entirely upbeat. Howard continues with an argument for more troops in the face of an insurgency:

Notwithstanding these successes, I must beg leave here to remark, that we have yet a very formidable Enemy to contend with; as it is the strenuous united efforts of America, that invariably perserveres with unremitting zealous rage against our cause. For this reason, my Lord, when any Post is to be occupied by us, for the security of magazines, Forrage, Stores or Country that should be covered, as we cannot put confidence in the People either for information or defence, it puts us under the necessity of making such considerable Detachments that it weakens the […] army

Not mentioned in this letter, possibly because Howard was unaware of it, was that a week earlier the British had suffered a major defeat in the Saratoga campaign. Following this, British prime minister Lord North made serious moves towards a settlement that would end the war, sending the Carlisle Peace Commission to America to negotiate with the Continental Congress for a form of self rule.

Brigadier Howard’s next letter was written from Philadelphia on 19 April 1778, as the Carlisle Commissioners were sailing toward America. Howard enthuses about two draft Parliamentary Bills which had just arrived on American shores, proposing to abolish taxation in America. Howard is confident that they will help to turn Americans against the war (he was certainly correct that the American leadership was concerned):

The military part of their continental people who act as […] Generals etc will not like to return to the Cobblers Stall or Hatters shop from which they came and they of course will reject every idea of pacification, but the Inhabitants at large I believe will, or at least ought, to receive it with satisfaction

And he remains concerned, and scathing, about American opposition:

I have just heard that the continental Governor of the Jerseys has burnt at Trenton, by the hands of the hangman, the copy of the Draught of this Bill which has been published: your Lordship will judge by this what zeal and rage exists among them, and what enemies they are to every subordinate order of good government.

Still in Philadelphia on 10 May 1778, following both the Continental Congress’s rejection of the peace terms offered by the draft bills and America’s alliance with France, Howard writes a more despairing, and prescient, third letter:

It is easy to win a Battle, but very difficult, nay almost impossible, to retain a country against the will of its inhabitants; in doing which, we fight against ourselves, by the difficult maintenance and keeping up the army that conquer’d it. I am convinced it is wasting our strenth to carry on, for any lenth of time, interior active operations of war.

He was not arguing for retreat, however:

I am as well convinced the only way to have made the Americans return to their duty was, and is, by chastisement; I mean, my Lord, by burning every town, village & house that were not materially our friend.

He concludes:

Had we proceeded, in the course of our service in this country, with this rigor, this rebellion had been long ago ended, and without it, give me leave to assure your Lordships, if Great Britain sends us fifty thousand men, it will not do

Howard’s brutal, scorched earth proposition might make for an interesting counterfactual history, but he was correct in one way, as we know: although war was waged for years to come, the British were not able to retain the country against the will of its inhabitants. On 3 September 1783, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the United States at last achieved its independence.

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

Female blacksmiths and natural daughters

Today I discovered exactly how compulsive family history research can be when I went down a census rabbit hole after finding records of what appeared to be a female blacksmith in the Bodleian’s archival collections.

The Bodleian holds the Barham family papers which came here with the extensive Clarendon family archive thanks to Lady Katherine, the Countess of Clarendon (1810-1874), who married the 4th Earl after the death of her first husband John Foster Barham, a Member of Parliament for the rotten borough of Stockbridge in Hampshire and the son of Joseph Foster Barham, a prominent Pembrokeshire landowner who also owned substantial numbers of slaves in Jamaica. [You can find slave inventories and estate accounts in the Barham Family Papers.]

Top half of a bill for blacksmithing costs owed by William Barham to Mary Hulbert, 1834, Clarendon Archive (Earls of the 2nd Creation), Bodleian Libraries

Top half of a bill for blacksmithing costs owed by William Barham to Mary Hulbert, 1834, Clarendon Archive (Earls of the 2nd Creation), Bodleian Libraries [click to enlarge]

The portion of 4th Earl of Clarendon’s papers which I am currently cataloguing, however, includes some additional Barham-related letters and papers such as this tantalising invoice of payments owed by William Barham, Lady Katharine’s brother-in-law, to Mary Hulbert, blacksmith. The invoice is a long list of work completed between April and November 1834, totalling £3 1s 1d, and is marked as unpaid.

Having learned five years ago that a woman smith worked on Blenheim Palace in 1708, I was particularly interested in the identity of this blacksmith: Mary Hulbert.

A plain search for Mary Hulbert on Ancestry produced a haystack’s worth of results, but I took a punt on the Stockbridge connection, and found that there was, indeed, a Mary Hulbert listed in the 1841 census in Stockbridge and that the Hulbert family included a blacksmith. But disappointing my hopes that she would be labelled a blacksmith in her own right, that blacksmith was her husband, George. And in fact, I soon found lower down the small stack of William Barham’s invoices (which include a bill for two nights away from home that tots up the cost of a bed, half a pint of best brandy, another bottle of brandy, and a bottle of gin) yet another 1834 blacksmith’s invoice, this one from…George Hulbert, also unpaid.

This was a useful reminder to always check related records before going down rabbit holes, but I was still curious about Mary Hulbert of Stockbridge, who, assuming she was the Mary Hulbert named on this invoice, was at the very least involved in her husband’s business. In fact, given that the jobs and dates on the two blacksmithing bills are different, it remains possible that Mary really was doing work on her own account, and more of it and at a greater value than George, whose bill only lists jobs on 29 May and 7 June 1834 worth the comparatively small sum of 4s 11d.

Interestingly, birth and marriage records show that Mary was 16 years older than her husband: he was 22 when they married in 1822, and she was 38. I wondered if perhaps Mary’s father had been a blacksmith and George Hulbert his apprentice, but in fact, no, a quick and dirty search suggests that her father Thomas Young was a maltster, while a 1784 Hampshire directory lists another George Hulbert as a blacksmith in Stockbridge, so it looks like smithing was the Hulbert family trade.

Although it seemed more than likely at this point, I still couldn’t be certain that the Mary and George Hulbert sending bills to William Barham were the Stockbridge Hulberts. I thought it would be worthwhile to have a look at William Barham’s records to see if he had a direct connection with the town, given that he himself was never Stockbridge’s MP.

And that’s where things got intriguing.

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