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I am often asked by clients where they should search if they cannot find a record in the British Library or The National Archives, or online at sites such as the FIBIS database, Family Search, Find My Past, Ancestry, or India Office Family History Search. The answer I have to give is, contact the church in India.

Emma Jolly, in the article St Stephen’s Church, Ootacamund

Emma Jolly writer, historian, genealogist
  1. Streets of Dickens

    For fans of Charles Dickens and those who would like to know more about him, this  bicentenary exhibition is not to be missed. Streets of Dickens: Holborn, Hampstead, St Pancras is the latest celebration of the author to open in London, and can be seen at Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre, on the second floor of Holborn Library. The Archives are situated conveniently around the corner from the Charles Dickens Museum in Doughty Street (due to close from 10 April-December 2012).

    As described in my article for London Historians, ‘Charles Dickens in Camden’, the novelist had many associations with the area. Further links have been discovered by historian Ruth Richardson and are explored in her new book, Dickens and the Workhouse (OUP, 2012).

    The exhibition is one of the largest I’ve attended at the Archives, and is well illustrated with copies of photographs, prints and drawings in the collections. Amongst the original items featured are letters by the novelist from the 1830s and 1855, an 1857 Tavistock House Theatre poster, a 1924 drawing of Mr. Pickwick by Joseph Clayton Clerk, and a Burial Register of Highgate Cemetery showing the April 1851 entry of Dickens’ baby daughter, Dora Annie.

    All Dickens’ local residencies are covered, such as the now-demolished 16 Bayham Street with its views ‘over the dust-heaps and dock-leaves and fields . . . at the cupola of St. Paul’s’ (John Forster). For those unfamiliar with dust-heaps, the exhibition helpfully provides a print of those in Somers Town 1836 and displays Dickens’ description of them in Our Mutual Friend.

    Streets of Dickens is open now until 21 December 2012. Camden LS & Archives, Holborn library, 32-38 Theobalds Road, London is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 10-7; Saturday 10-5. Free entry.

  2. Dickens and London

    … the great heart of London throbs in its Giant breast. Wealth and beggary,

     

    vice and virtue, guilt and innocence, repletion and the direst hunger, all treading

     

    on each other and crowding together, are gathered round it. Draw but a little

     

    circle above the clustering house-tops, and you shall have within its space,

    everything with its opposite extreme and contradiction, close beside.

    Master Humphrey’s Clock, 1841

    Portrait of Charles Dickens 19th century © Museum of London

    Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth on 7 February 1812, but lived much of his life in London. Although he died in Kent, his remains lie in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey where he was buried on 14 June 1870. The city fed his imagination and Dickens spent decades reproducing London’s streets, sights, smells, sounds and people in his many written works.

    As part of the 2012 bicentennial celebrations mentioned in the previous blog, the Museum of London has created a stunning exhibition celebrating Dickens’ links with the capital. Exhibits are drawn not just from the Museum’s own extensive collections, but from museums and archives across Britain. There are also particularly notable items, such as Dickens’ writing desk, from private collections.

                  Copyright Museum of London

    From 1822, when the Dickens family settled in Camden, to 1860 when the author took permanent residence at his Kent home of Gad’s Hill Place, London was his home. He explored it by day and, often, by night. As he walked mile after mile he planned stories in his head. Visitors to the Museum can hear a reading of Night Works, Dickens’ description of London after dark, whilst watching William Raban’s 19 minute specially-commissioned film, The Houseless Shadow, made in October 2011.

    Throughout those four decades, Dickens’ life changed dramatically. He went from schoolboy and then impoverished son of a prison inmate to the greatest celebrity of his time. His peers changed from workhouse orphans working alongside him at the blacking factory by Hungerford Stairs to famous authors, millionaires and aristocrats from across Europe and the United States.

    Hungerford Stairs 1830 by John Harley. Copyright Museum of London

    Hungerford Market, 1830 by John Thomas Smith © Museum of London

    It is thus remarkable that the Dickens and London exhibition captures so much of his own varied life along with the lives of his characters. We see blacking pots, for example, like those Dickens’ worked with in his childhood employment, sitting not far from the author’s bank ledger – a reminder of his later riches. There are displays on the theatre, which Dickens adored, including a footlight from Wilton’s Music Hall. Also featured are themes of childhood, death, transport, wealth and poverty.

    Dickens London Map © Museum of London

    Copyright Museum of London

    The full geographical area of the capital is covered: there is ‘A copy of Verses from the Year 1835, humbly presented to all the worthy inhabitants of the Parish of St Pancras’ in the north to household items excavated in 1996 from Jacob’s Island in Rotherhithe in the south east. St Pancras parish included Camden where Dickens lived and which inspired scenes from David Copperfield, A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities. Jacob’s Island is probably most associated with scenes from Oliver Twist, particularly that of the dramatic death of villainous Bill Sykes.

    Unlike in the British Library exhibition, the displays here are concerned with Dickens’ world – what many refer to as ‘Dickensian London’ – rather than a detailed focus on what he wrote. However, this does not detract from its success. And those who are interested in how Dickens wrote will delight in the presence of three original manuscripts: Dombey & Son (1847) and Bleak House (Nov 1851) from the Victoria & Albert Museum,

    Dickens's Manuscript for Bleak House © V&A images/Victroia and A

    Bleak House manuscript. Copyright V&A Images

    and Great Expectations (1861) lent by the Wisbech and Fenland Museum. Visitors can also experience Dickens’ work like its first readers by flicking through a replica copy of an instalment of Little Dorrit (Copyright V&A Images).

    Little Dorrit partwork © Museum of London

    I once researched a family who lived around the corner from Charles Dickens in Holborn. One of my first thoughts was did he ever know them or see them? Did they inspire any of the characters in his novels or short stories? Although it is almost impossible to find out, this reminded me that many of those who inspired Dickens are the ancestors of people living today. That specific family would have recognized a watchman’s box in the centre of the exhibition, that stood outside Dickens’ old home at Furnival’s Inn – the home that neighboured theirs.

    For family historians who have at least one ancestor who lived in London between 1820 and 1870, therefore, Dickens’ writing is a unparalleled source of relevant social and domestic detail. This exhibition provides an extension of that. The exhibits bring Dickensian London alive.

    Overall, for anyone with even a passing interest in either Dickens or the social history of Victorian London, this exhibition is not to be missed.

    Useful Links 

    www.Dickens2012.org

    http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/dickens

    http://www.dickensmuseum.com/

    http://charlesdickenspage.com/dickens_london.html

    http://charlesdickenspage.com/ruth_richardson-cleveland_street_workhouse.html

    http://www.bfi.org.uk/whatson/bfi_southbank/film_programme/january_seasons/dickens_on_screen

    http://twitter.com/Dickensbookclub

    Dickens and London tickets

    Adult £8 (£7 advance booking);Child/concession £6 (£5 advance booking);Under 5s FREE; Friends of the Museum FREE; Flexible family tickets are also available

  3. A Hankering After Ghosts: Charles Dickens and the Supernatural

    I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book,

    to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my 

    readers out of humour with themselves, with each other,

    with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses

    pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.

    Preface to A Christmas Carol (December 1843)

    Dex.316

    If, like me, you are a fan of Charles Dickens, you have much to look forward to over the next year. In the run up to 7 February 2012, the bicentenary of Dickens’ birth, galleries all over the world are dusting off letters, books, and illustrations of the great author and his many works.

    To start us off in London, the British Library have a smallish exhibition in its Folio Society Gallery – the perfect size for a lunch break visit. The rich Christmassy feel also provides welcome escape from currently chilly London streets.

    Christmas permeates the display. There are several editions of A Christmas Carol, a theatre poster for an early performance, an oral recording by Ralph Richardson and Paul Scofield, plus a copy of the semi-autobiographical short story ‘A Christmas Tree’ (1850). Indeed, we learn that it was the ghost stories told around the fire in his childhood Christmases that first inspired Dickens’ imagination to ‘hanker’ after the supernatural.

    Childhood influences are highlighted throughout: from the supernatural imagery of The Arabian Nights to the ‘fiendish enjoyment’ of young Charles’ nurse in relaying ghostly tales. But later, more tragic events were also to inspire his writing. The deaths of loved ones, like Mary Hogarth, were said to have ‘haunted his dreams’. Similarly, Ebenezer Scrooge was to be haunted at night by the ‘ghosts’ of those he had once cherished.

    The Victorian obsession with the supernatural is highlighted through examples of spirit (or psychic) photographs and a display on spiritualism. Dickens satirized the spiritualists but was fascinated with the macabre. A close friendship with one of the finest exponents of the ghost story, Wilkie Collins, only served to further his interest. Although he sought to rationalise supernatural phenomena such as mesmerism, Dickens was not above sensationalizing them to terrify his readers. An original copy of Bleak House, for example, lies open on an illustration showing the spontaneous combustion of the alcoholic Krook.

    Amongst featured items in the exhibition are illustrations, theatre posters and a letter written by the author to his wife, Catherine. One of my favourite items was a copy of The Terrific Register – a penny weekly magazine whose tales of horror haunted Dickens throughout his life. He later remembered ‘there was an illustration to every number in which there was always a pool of blood, and at least one body . . .’

    The exhibition is free and runs from 29 November 2011 – 4 March 2012: Monday, Wednesday-Friday 9.30 – 18.00, Tuesday 9.30 – 20.00, Saturday 9.30 – 17.00, Sunday and Bank Holidays 11.00 – 17.00.

    For more on Dickens, see my article ‘Charles Dickens in Camden’ at the London Historians website http://www.londonhistorians.org/?s=articles

  4. Save Camden Local Studies and Archives

    On 19 May 2011, Dan Carrier reported in the Camden New Journal (link to online article) that Camden Local Studies and Archives (Camden LS Homepage) is under threat of closure following the publication of the results of the Council’s library consultation.

    The article stated: “as the results of a library consultation are number-crunched and the Town Hall considers how to cut about 25 per cent of the service’s budget, the archives look likely to be merged with Islington’s or closed.”

    John Richardson, Chairman of the Camden History Society (http://www.camdenhistorysociety.org/) argues the consultation suggested that respondents “were in favour of spending less on local studies, not closing it.”

    It is not likely that Camden can merge its archives with that of Islington as Islington’s Local History Centre (Local History Centre) does not have the space to retain the vast resources that Camden LS currently holds (believed to be 180,000 items). Recent rumours suggest the archive could move to London Metropolitan Archives (http://search.lma.gov.uk/opac_lma/index.htm) However, critics of this move, such as the Camden History Society, point out that staff at LMA do not have the Camden-specific knowledge and experience that current researchers find so useful.

    As Dan Carrier wrote, the collection includes muskets from “the Napoleonic wars to maps of every drain in the borough”. With the bicentenary of Charles Dickens’ birth in a few months time, it is important to note that three Dickens unpublished letters are also held in Camden LS. Many of these items are uncatalogued. In London, the only archive larger than Camden’s is that of Westminster City Archives (http://www.westminster.gov.uk/services/libraries/archives/).

    It is ironic that councillors are looking to closing the Archives as part of a cost-cutting exercise. On numerous occasions, the Archives have, in fact, helped Camden Council to save money. Former chief archivist Malcolm Holmes told the New Journal of one example whereby using some of the old maps in the collection enabled the Council to save “around £150,000 in 1970s money”.

    It is also odd that Camden’s Council should choose to close the archive whilst in nearby Hackney a new state-of-the-art Archives is currently being built (http://www.hackney.gov.uk/ca-archives.htm) The borough of Hackney is just as badly affected by the cuts, and it is unclear why  investments in local history can be made by its Council but not by Camden’s.

    Camden Local Studies and Archives helps a wide variety of people – many of whom live outside the borough and were not party to the consultation. Those who currently use the Archives include: social, economic & house historians, genealogists, economists, journalists, teachers, schoolchildren, students, council employees, lawyers, builders, and authors. For family historians, its collections of parish rate books (dating from 1726),  local newspapers, electoral registers, theatre programmes, the registers of Highgate Cemetery and the photographs of local interest are invaluable. It also holds the unique Heal Collection on St Pancras and the Kate Greenaway Collection.

    Those who have voiced concern about the impending closure, include best-selling author of The Fields Beneath, Gillian Tindall, as well as Camden New Journal readers from London and beyond. In a letter to the newspaper, Camden resident, Lester May, wrote that, “Camden Council seems set on closing the local studies library and archives service in order to save around £135,000 . . . Thus one of the best resources of its kind in London, perhaps in the country, will be lost and this at a time when more people are interested in their family and local history than ever before. . . The loss of the local studies collection and archive would be permanent. There is sufficient in the council’s reserve of £95.8million for consideration to be given to funding the local studies library and archive service such that it is retained as a local service within the borough, ideally where it is currently located in Holborn.”

    John Richardson states that the Camden History Society “is particularly concerned . . . [about] its closure and its contents [being] shipped elsewhere . . . Camden are taking £135,000 out of the Local Studies budget, in effect making it impossible to function.” He argues further that this not what the consultation response indicated.

    The collections cover the area of the present London Borough of Camden. This includes the history of Hampstead, Holborn, St Pancras, Camden Town, Somers Town, Kentish Town, parts of Highgate, and the parishes of Hampstead, St Andrew Holborn above Bars, including the Liberty of Saffron Hill, St George the Martyr Queen Square, St Giles in the Fields, St George Bloomsbury, and St Pancras. The earliest parish records date from 1618.

    Update 7 June 2011

    Yesterday, on Monday 6 June, I attended a Camden Council scrutiny meeting of the library report. The Town Hall was packed with library and archives supporters. Gillian Tindall, author of The Fields Beneath, spoke as part of the deputation on behalf of the Camden History Society. She said that if Camden Local Studies is closed, it will be “a great loss for future generations” and “would be a black stain” on Camden Council’s record. Holborn Library Users Group was also represented (the Archives are housed in Holborn Library’s building). The group’s deputation argued that the loss of the Archives to Camden would be irreplaceable, and condemned the report’s suggestion that Local Studies provision be outsourced. The speaker further said that no library buildings in whole or in part should be sold without full public consultation. This was greeted with cheers and clapping from the gallery.

    Tudor Allen, Senior Archivist at Camden Local Studies & Archives, told the Councillors present that he would like to publicize the value of the material they hold. He reminded those present that the collection is invaluable.

    One councillor announced that she had to contact the Archives that very day about the oldest Market in Camden for a press release. This only goes to show how essential Camden Local Studies is to the smooth running of the entire council.

    Fiona Dean, the Council’s Assistant Director of Culture, said that they had spoken with the British Library, local university libraries, LMA & Islington about housing the records. However, they were agreed that keeping the archives within Camden is preferred option. Near the end of the meeting, Councillor Tulip Siddiq, the cabinet member for Culture, stated that the Archives will stay in Theobalds Road until suitable accommodation is found for them within the borough of Camden.

    The decision on Camden’s libraries & archives will be announced at Town Hall on this Wednesday, 8 June. Supporters of the Archives are urged to telephone their councillors before next Wednesday to ask them to vote for Option D.

    A full list of Camden’s councillors can be found on the Camden Council website.

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Member of The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in ArchivesGraduate of the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies CanterburyMember of the Society of Genealogists