Category Archives: 1800s

Now we can read a book!

It was Monday 6th September 1852 that saw the opening, in Manchester, of the United Kingdom’s first free lending library.

On Wednesday 8th the Taunton Courier & Western Advertiser reported that:

‘The opening of the Manchester Free Public Library has been looked forward to with a good deal of interest, and it will not be a matter of surprise that great anxiety was manifested by the public to be present on the occasion. The ceremony took place in the spacious room in which are stored the volumes designed as a library for reference, whilst the distinguish visitors intending to take part in the proceedings were received in a room of corresponding proportions on the first floor, containing the books which form the public lending library. At twenty minutes past eleven o’clock, when the noblemen and gentlemen invited to take part in the proceedings had taken their seats in the upper room, there were nearly a thousand persons present, a great portion of who were ladies. Sir John Potter presided, and the following noblemen and gentlemen took their seats on either side of the chair’. Here is not the place to list them all but a Mr Thackery and a Mr Charles Dickens were amongst the gathering. The latter was –‘received with the most cordial cheering and gave an introductory speech which provoked laughs and cheers’.

The York Herald later told us that ‘the total cost of the building, in its present state, with its fittings and furniture, was £6,963 6s 2d. The extent of shelving already provided would accommodate from 6,000 to 7,000 additional volumes. The number of volumes purchased to date is 18,028 and their aggregate cost was £4,156 – or about 4 shillings 7 pence per volume on the average. In addition to the books thus acquired, 3,292 volumes have been presented to the library. The number of volumes at present contained in the library of reference is 16,103’.

I just love the specific publishing of data in the newspapers of the time.

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‘To Autumn’ by John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;  conspiring with him how to load and bless with fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run; to bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees, and fill all fruit with ripeness to the core; to swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells with a sweet kernel; to set budding more, and still more, later flowers for the bees, until they think warm days will never cease, for summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?  Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find thee sitting careless on a granary floor, thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind; or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep, drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook spares the next swath and all its twined flowers: and sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep steady thy laden head across a brook; or by a cyder-press, with patient look, thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they? Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,— while barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, and touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue; then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn among the river sallows, borne aloft or sinking as the light wind lives or dies; and full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn; hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft the red-breast whistles from a garden-croft; and gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Britain’s first known car fatality

It happened on Monday 17th August 1896 when Bridget Driscoll was knocked down by Arthur Edsell who was reportedly driving at 4mph.

The Morning Post’s report on Friday 21st tells us that Mr Percy Morrison held an inquest at Penge on the body of Bridget Driscoll, the 44 year old wife of a labourer of 137 Old Town, Croydon, who was fatally injured by a motor-car at the Crystal Palace on Monday 17th August.

May Driscoll, daughter of the deceased, said she had gone to the Palace with her mother and a friend named Elizabeth Murphy to see the Catholic fete connected with the League of the Cross taking place that day.  They were on the Terrace when she saw three motor cars approaching, the last one of which was coming at a very fast rate, and going from one side of the road to the other.  The ladies safely avoided the first two cars, but the third one, which was a good distance behind, swayed towards them. As soon as Miss Driscoll had run close to the rails she turned and saw the car passing over her mother.

At the subsequent inquest the Coroner [c] asked: Did the car knock the deceased down?’  The Witness [w] replied: ‘Yes’.

[c]: ‘Did the driver appear to be attending properly to his duty?’

[w]: ‘I don’t think he understood how to drive; he kept going from one side to the other, whereas the other two were going straight.’

[c]:’Did your mother do anything to warn the driver?’

[w]: ‘Yes, she put her umbrella up.’

[c]: ‘Was your mother quite sober?’

[w]: ‘Yes, and I am sure she did not fall down in front of the car.’

The jury returned a verdict of “accidental death” after an inquest enduring some six hours, and no prosecution was made.

The man who earned the first Victoria Cross

It was on Wednesday 21st June 1854 that 20 year old Charles Davis Lucas won the first Victoria Cross. He came from County Monaghan in Ireland and had joined the Royal Navy when he was thirteen. Now twenty, he was a Mate on HMS Hecla as part of an Anglo-French fleet at the eastern end of the Baltic bombarding the Russian fortress of Bomarsund.  The fortress mounted some eighty massive guns and, as HMS Hecla drew closer to Bomarsund, a live shell landed on the Hecla’s deck and lay there, smoking evilly and obviously about to go off, to murderous effect.

Charles Lucas coolly picked the shell up, carried it to the ship’s side and dropped it into the sea, where it exploded with a huge bang and a giant fountain of spray. Lucas was promoted to lieutenant from that day and his was the first act of heroism to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

The medal was not actually instituted until 1856, but it was made retroactive to cover the Crimean War. Queen Victoria took a keen interest in the decoration which bore her name and it was she who suggested the words ‘For Valour’ beneath the medal’s bronze Maltese cross – rather than ‘For the Brave’, which she pointed out could be taken to imply that other people were not.

Charles Lucas’s campaign medals, including his Victoria Cross, are now displayed at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. They are not the original medals though – they were left on a train and never recovered!  Replacement copies were made, though the reverse of the Victoria Cross copy is uninscribed.

The crosses were actually made of metal from Russian cannons captured at Sebastopol. It was a crucial innovation that the medal was awarded completely regardless of rank and on no consideration other than a single act of valour or devotion in the presence of the enemy.

Many years later the writer C.S.Forester used this incident to good effect in one of his Hornblower stories.

The steamship Great Eastern’s first voyage.

The steamship Great Eastern was built to carry 4,000 passengers from England to Australia without refueling.  However – for its first long distance journey it had been arranged that it would leave Southampton about 4 o’clock on Saturday afternoon, 16th June 1860 to cross the Atlantic to New York.  There were large crowds at Southampton to watch – but when 4 o’clock arrived nothing happened!  At 7 o’clock the steam began and everyone got ready to cheer.  Nothing happened!  There were stories that the delay was because the crew were drunk!  It is certainly true that the company director Daniel Gooch, who was traveling aboard, was not at all pleased!  It was not until 8 o’clock on this Sunday morning 17th June 1860, after a night at it’s moorings, that the Great Eastern finally slipped her moorings in Southampton waters and started on her first voyage to America.  The newspapers of the day note that she had just 35 paying passengers on board – 2 or 3 of who were ladies!   There were also eight company non-paying passengers, and a crew of 418. Among the passengers were two journalists; two engineers – Zerah Colburn and Alexander Lyman Holley –- and three directors of the Great Ship Company.

Although the weather was described as ‘thick and stormy’ it was recorded that she ‘threaded the narrow and tortuous channel down the Solent, and through the Needles, in safety, under the pilot-age of Mr Bowyer’.

Various telegrams give us a deeper understanding of the delays and departure.  One says ‘The weather was far too thick and stormy to render it prudent for her to have got away last night’.  Perhaps it is as well she didn’t, as on passing Hurst Castle a ‘large troop ship could be plainly distinguished stuck fast among the rocks near the Needles.’

There are, though, also stories that the delay was because the crew were drunk!  It is certainly true that the company director Daniel Gooch, who was traveling aboard, was not at all pleased!

On the water for the first time – Oxford vs Cambridge and a Boat Race

It was on Wednesday 10th June 1829 that the first Oxford University vs Cambridge University boat race took place.  It was rowed over a two and a quarter mile course from Hambledon Lock to Henley Bridge.  The Morning Post of 12th June 1829 reported:

THE GRAND ROWING MATCH BETWEEN OXONIANS AND THE CANTABS: This match, between the Students of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge took place on Wednesday afternoon in Henley Reach. The interest excited was very great, and the contest was remarkably severe. Both parties exerted themselves to the utmost. For some time the issue was very doubtful; but Victory ultimately decided in favour of the Oxonians.

We now [2018] have had 164 races completed – one was a dead-heat; 80 have been won by Oxford and 83 by Cambridge.

Just in passing – I’m a Cambridge man but I’ve never rowed a boat.  I have watch many of the races though – sitting in front of the television!

Ragtime gets closer

Last week we started our story with a broad overview of ‘Ragtime’ from both sides of the Atlantic.  This week we’ll have a look at early British popular music. This music can be seen as originating in the 16th and 17th centuries and from this we can trace the arrival of printed musical copies which were sold cheaply and in great numbers through to the 19th century.

Most of the instruments used by British brass bands had existed for some time but they only became a mass activity in the 1840/50s out of village, church and military bands. For many these brass bands were an expression of the local solidarity and their newly formed and often rapidly growing communities.

This developed as a result of a steady increase in the number of households with enough surplus cash to purchase musical instruments and instruction in music and with the leisure time and cultural motivation to engage in recreational music-making. This high point of the parlor song came in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a distinction arose between ‘art music’ and ‘popular music’, even if it was not expressed exactly in those terms.

The increase in urban populations and the rise of the bourgeoisie brought a need for public demonstrations of social standing, since it was no longer common knowledge who was important. Attending concerts was, among other things, a means of displaying status.  What for a working-class audience might be down-to-earth, plain-speaking and funny – for the bourgeois audience might appear as rude, vulgar, and silly! Perhaps this is why inversion was common in popular form – for example, lust not love, crudity not politeness, degradation not sublimity, materiality not spirituality.

For the middle class, culture was in itself instructive but first required that people be instructed in it; hence the didactic character of attempts to encourage working-class ‘appreciation’ of music. The People’s Concert Society, founded in 1878, was an amateur organization dedicated to making high-status music known among the London poor. The Society began Sunday concerts of chamber music in South Place, Moorgate, in 1887. From the succeeding year, admission was free, or a voluntary contribution could be made, and attendance was good.

The British Brass Band Movement, in the second half of the century, was another example of ‘rational recreation’, with the willingness of factory owners to sponsor works bands. These bands had their roots in the industrial North, but the steel, ironworks and shipping companies of east London also had bands in the 1860s. Some of the difficulties and distractions facing London bands compared to bands further north have been discussed by Dave Russell. Huge annual contests were held at the Crystal Palace during 1860-63. The first of these, a two-day event with entrance prices of 2s 6d for the first and 1s for the second day, attracted an audience of 29,000. The test pieces for the contests at the Crystal Palace placed an emphasis on high-status music: selections from Meyerbeer’s grand operas were the favourite choices, as at the Belle Vue contests in Manchester that same decade.

The labouring poor may have been sung about and even felt to be understood in certain socially-concerned drawing-room ballads, but their lives often lay outside the experience of those who sang the ballads. Antoinette Sterling, who so movingly sang ‘Three Fishers Went Sailing’, confessed that not only had she no experience of storms at sea, but ‘had never even seen fishermen’. Actual acquaintance with fishermen was undoubtedly unnecessary, since the subject position such ballads addressed was that of the middle class.

So we have now had a glance of both sides of the water in the years as music met with the changing needs and attitudes.
Our story, though, was born as being from ‘Ragtime to Rock ‘n’ Roll’. That arrives next week – on Wednesday 25th April 2018.   Please be there!

From The Weekly Telegraph 1905

I must admit that I do not know the actual source of the following but it is from a very reliable friend of mine who ‘published’ it in our Family History magazine quite some time ago.

Issue no. 2272 – Estab. 1862      Saturday 28th October 1905     Postage One Penny

                                                               Deceased Wife’s Sister
He: “I can’t understand why an Englishman always wants to marry his deceased wife’s sister”

She:  “Why? I should have thought anyone could see.  It saves him the bother of breaking in a new mother-in-law.”

The gunfights I had as a child – but don’t worry too much about the heading

Yesterday – 26th October 1881 – was the day of the gunfight at the OK Corral; the most famous – or was it infamous – shoot out in the Wild West.  It took place in Tombstone, Arizona when the Earp family [Virgil, Wyatt and Morgan] had a shoot-out with the Clantons [Ike, Phineas and Billy] and the McLaurys [Tom and Frank].

The sight of this gunfight is now a tourist attraction with life-size replicas of the combatants and a daily re-enactment of the 30-second exchange of bullets that have resounded through history and captured the imagination of cowboy enthusiasts the world over.

I was one of those ‘cowboys’ here in England back in the 1940s and, maybe, into the early 1950s.  My children – and grandchildren – just look blankly at me when I tell them of the ‘battles’ I had when I was their age.

Do you have any situations like this? I’d love to hear about them if you have.

I can but hope!

In 1948 the Grey Walls Press in London published a book, edited by S. L. Locker, called ‘The Nature Diaries and Notebooks of Richard Jefferies’.

For Saturday 16th October 1878 Richard is in Surbiton, Surrey and records a fascinating scene: ‘Wasp and very large blue-fly struggling, wrestling on leaf.  In a few seconds the wasp got the mastery, brought his tail round, and stung once or thrice; then bit off the fly’s proboscis, then the legs, then bit behind the head, then snipped off the wings, then fell off her leaf, but flew with burden to the next, rolled the fly around, and literally devoured its intestines.  Dropped off the leaf in its eager haste, got on third leaf, and continued ‘till nothing was left but a small part of the body – the head had been snipped off before.

This was one of those black flies – a little blue underneath – not like meat flies, but bigger and squarer, that got to the ivy.  Ivy in bloom close by, where, doubtless, the robber found his prey and seized it.

Now, I spend a reasonable amount of time in my garden, and watch all kinds of birds and insects, but have never seen anything like this.  Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m watching and writing in 2017.  The book was published in 1948 and this recorded event took place in 1878.  Do you think that if I watch in my garden in 2018 I may see something similar?