Tag Archives: Clarendon

Her Majesty’s stationery

When I came across a large tranche of letters from Queen Victoria to one of 19th-century Britain’s longtime Foreign Secretaries, George Villiers, 4th Earl of Clarendon (in office 1853-58, 1865-66, 1868-70), I didn’t expect to find one of the most striking things about them to be the queen’s writing paper.

Queen Victoria wrote hundreds of letters to George Villiers over a span of 21 years, mainly about foreign policy matters, but while these letters have been partially published (in a 1907 edition which you can find in the Bodleian Libraries and digitised at Project Gutenberg) what those published transcripts don’t convey is the festive, even gaudy, quality of the queen’s headed writing paper.

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Mystery items in the Clarendon archive

Did we just find Victorian condoms in the Clarendon archive?

Emptying out a leather wallet found with a box of mainly 1850s letters sent to the 4th Earl of Clarendon, I came across a few stray items: a bad sketch of a woman called Josephine, a scrap of newspaper [*see an important update at the end!], and some folded tissue. It’s not unusual to find scrumpled bits of tissue paper in archives, and sometimes that tissue is wrapping something precious, so it’s always worth investigating.

This tissue struck me as unusual, however – what caught my eye was the shaped and curved edge, and the tiny hint of ribbon. Was this a folded glove, perhaps?

Tubes of yellowed paper or parchment or tissue with ties of narrow blue ribbon

Folded tissue with ribbon

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Dear Papa

'My Dear Papa, I want so to see you again. I love you so much. Your affec[ate] son'. Letter from young Francis Hyde Villiers to his father, the 4th Earl of Clarendon

Letter from young Francis Hyde Villiers to his father, the 4th Earl of Clarendon [click to enlarge]

Too cute not to share, this heavily folded letter was written by Francis Hyde Villiers to his father George, 4th Earl of Clarendon, in the mid 1850s.

Sir Francis Hyde Villiers (1852-1925) went on to be Minister to Portugal, Ambassador to Belgium, and possessor of a formidable moustache, but here he’s just a very young boy who misses and loves his dad.

The letter is preserved in the archive of the Earls of Clarendon (2nd creation), currently being catalogued.

 

Congratulations, have a fish

Congratulation letters are a common feature of archives, celebrating milestones like getting a new job, having a baby, or winning awards and honours. There are many bundles of these letters and telegrams in the archive of George Villiers, the 6th Earl of Clarendon (1877-1955) which pat him on the back at moments including the birth of a son (July 1916), and being appointed Governor General of South Africa (1930). They range from paid-by-the-word concise telegrams to long and effusive letters, but they’re pretty predictable – there aren’t too many ways to say congrats on your new job after all.

Tag for a congratulatory fish, from the archive of the Earls of Clarendon (2nd creation), April 1938

Tag for a congratulatory fish, April 1938 [click to enlarge]

Until I came across this, in a pile of about 100 letters celebrating Lord Clarendon’s appointment as Lord Chamberlain of the Household.

The congratulatory fish was sent to the Earl by the Fisher family from Ednam House Hotel in Kelso, Scotland. Hopefully it arrived in London in lots of ice.

The Lord Chamberlain post was the culmination of the 6th Earl’s long career in government and public service. It also reflected the Hyde and Villiers’ families longstanding connections with the royal household which went back to the 1st Earl of the 1st creation, Edward Hyde, who not only served as Lord Chancellor to Charles II in the 1660s, but was the grandfather of two queens: Mary and Anne. More recently, the 6th Earl’s own father, the 5th Earl, Edward Hyde Villiers, had served as Lord Chamberlain from 1900-1905.

The job is an onerous one. As the most senior officer in the royal household, responsibilities include organising all ceremonial activity, including coronations and the State Opening of Parliament. Before 1968, the Lord Chamberlain also acted as the official theatre censor and bane of playwrights, with the power to ban plays when it was “fitting for the preservation of good manners, decorum or of the public peace“.

The 6th Earl was Lord Chamberlain for 14 years until officially relinquishing the role on 21 October 1952 at the age of 75, on medical advice. He was the second longest-serving Lord Chamberlain of the 20th century and during his term was responsible for the ceremonial for royal events including the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip in 1947 and the 1952 funeral of King George VI.

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

The World’s Best Food At Your Doorstep

Another wonderful list of foodstuffs from the Clarendon collection!

Typescript catalogue of Le Buffetier's Delicatessan, London, Sep 1954

Catalogue of Le Buffetier’s Delicatessan, London, Sep 1954 [click to enlarge]

This plain but inspiring catalogue is the September 1954 list of foods available from the London postal delicatessan Le Buffetier’s (Piccadilly Parcels Ltd: “The World’s Best Food At Your Doorstep”). It’s a four-page cornucopia of exotic tinned and jarred foods from countries ranging from Denmark to China and it’s both modern (food by post!) and deeply retro. Foie gras aside, just about everything listed is something you now wander past in the average supermarket but in 1954 it was expensive deli fare. For well-off, cosmopolitan British customers like Verena Villiers, Countess of Clarendon, who had experienced foreign travel and foreign postings, it may have been the only way to taste the foods that they had grown to love.

1954 was also the last year of food rationing, and unless Le Buffetier’s customers had black market sources or kind overseas friends to pay companies like Piccadilly Food Parcels to send them care packages (as in this 1948 advertisement in a South African newsletter, PDF, page 26), this could have been the first time they had had access to these delicacies in the 14 years since rationing was introduced. (Verena Villiers did, in fact, have kind overseas friends sending her food parcels from abroad, including eggs, breakfast tea and bacon from Canada; vitamin-enriched margarine, lard, and tinned beef from South Africa via Denmark; and cake from New Zealand.)

From South Africa, where the Countess of Clarendon lived in the 1930s with her husband, then Governor-General, Le Buffetier’s offered tinned rock lobster, as well as tins of mangoes, paw paw and guavas. (‘Last month we offered these fruits to those looking for “desserts with a difference”. This month we offer them as established favourites’.)

The list of vegetables on offer, meanwhile, included up-market things like artichoke bottoms but also the now incredibly prosaic tinned sweetcorn, tomato puree and Italian peeled tomatoes. Today, a standard 400g/14oz tin of Italian peeled plum tomatoes will set you back 40p in Sainsbury’s, and you can buy them for less. In 1954, a 16oz tin was 1s 9d, or a little over £2 in 2017 money.

Catalogue page of Le Buffetier's Delicatessan by Postal Service, Sep 1954

Catalogue page of Le Buffetier’s Delicatessan, including Chinese food, Sep 1954 [click to enlarge]

And those humble tinned tomatoes were among the cheapest items on offer. In their Chinese food and condiments section, a 7oz bottle of soy sauce was 3s6d (roughly £4.18), or you could introduce more umami to your food with “Ve-Tson” gourmet powder (you can still buy Ve-tsin gourmet powder, aka monosodium glutamate, or MSG) which would set you back 4s10d, or £5.77.

The list includes other brands that we recognise today, like Knorr Swiss soup, which in 1954 you could enjoy in a range of flavours that outshines 2021, including egg scramble, napoli and asparagus, as well as the still-available chicken noodle and spring vegetable. The price is startling though: 6 packets for 10s6d, or £12.53. (This part of the list also introduced me to the word ‘goluptious’, which means delightful or luscious. Use it in a sentence today!)

Even more pricey and, as far as I can tell, no longer available, is something that might now be considered much more exotic than soy sauce: tinned grouse and partridge. Two tins of whole roast grouse in port wine jelly was 30/-d, or £1 10s, which is £35.80 in 2017 money, or approximately one day’s wage for a skilled tradesman in 1955. (You could have a 15oz tinned parfait bloc de foie gras, meanwhile, for 112/-d, or £133.65.)

Also exotic today, and very reminiscent of TV chef Fanny Cradock, who made her TV debut in 1955 and loved a piping bag, is the egg mayonnaise from Germany: ‘this item of exceptional quality is packed in a tube with star shaped opening for decorating and completing cold dishes’ (four tubes cost 12s, or £14.32).

It’s a lovely, evocative glimpse at 1950s food culture, and a heady reminder of the ways British tastes, and supply logistics, have transformed over the past 70 years.

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

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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