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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. Naming for Empire

    In the course of studying for an MA in Imperialism and Culture, I have been examining how enthusiastic working class Britons were about the Empire in the period 1870-1914. This debate has long exercised historians, such as John Mackenzie, Bernard Porter, and Antoinette Burton.

    Mackenzie, a pioneer of cultural imperialism argues that the working classes were enthusiastic about empire and that they were particularly influenced by propagandist media, such as music hall songs, popular newspapers and juvenile literature. He highlights the adventure stories and heroes of empire, and the fervour with which many working class people greeted them. He quotes Mafeking night, 18 May 1900 (when impromptu parties took place across Britain to celebrate the relief of besieged British forces), as a striking example of this imperialistic passion.

    In contrast, Bernard Porter writes dourly, “For the working classes who participated in Mafeking night the whole occasion was probably little more than a celebration of the safety of their comrades in uniform.”1 Richard Price challenges them both by arguing that the enthusiasm emanated more from the lower middle classes and that this was evident in the voting patterns of the ‘khaki’ election of 1900. The boundary between the upper working classes and the lower middle classes can be difficult to distinguish but at the time of the war in South Africa, four fifths of British society is believed to have been working class.2

    Wherever the balance of the argument falls, there is no denying that a passion amongst the British people for the heroes, military successes and adventures of empire grew hugely up to the turn of the century. In the Second Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902, this enthusiasm reached its peak. And it was in this period that an interest in current affairs spilled over into the naming of children.

    In my Naming Napoleon blogpost, I look at the popularity of the name Napoleon during the nineteenth century and why this was so. In assessing these, I came across siblings or middle names of the Napoleons which indicated an interest in heroes or military adventure. Napoleon’s British foes, such as Horatio, Nelson, Wellington and Wellesley were all in evidence, as were as the names of mythical heroes such as King Arthur. In the 1899-1902 period, names such as Arthur and Horatio, as well as those of Saxon kings, Alfred and Harold, were common.

    By 1898, however, Horatio was becoming associated with another Horatio Herbert: the hero of the Battle of Omdurman in the Sudan, then Lord Kitchener of Khartoum. Although Kitchener preferred to use his middle name, both forenames saw a surge in popularity in the birth registrations3 from this date. From 1900 (as he progressed to Chief of Staff during the Boer War, eventually being appointed Secretary of State for War in 1914), the hero worship of Horatio Herbert continued along with the popularity of his forenames. In 1892, a Horatio Herbert Bryant was registered in Bradford West, with several more following in subsequent years. Even ‘Kitchener’ was used as a forename; first appearing in the GRO birth registrations of December quarter 1898: Kitchener Sladden of West Ashford. There was a marked increase in Kitchener related names in 1902, but no Kitcheners4 were registered between 1905 and September quarter 1914 – the onset of the Great War. The imperial link also seems clear with Horatio Kitchener (Goole, 1898) and Horatio Baden (Hendon, 1900).

    The connection of Kitchener with the then Colonel Baden Powell continues with Kitchener Baden P R Coleman, who was registered in Ipswich in September 1900 (4a, 973). Baby boys with the names Baden, Baden Powell and Baden Mafeking appear regularly in GRO records between 1899 and 1920, when post war socio-cultural values began to turn against overt references to military imperialism. The GRO birth indexes for England and Wales5 show that between 1837 and the beginning of the Siege of Mafeking in October 1899, only ten children were registered with the first name Baden. In contrast, from the December quarter 1899 and the outbreak of war in 1914 there are hundreds of Badens, several of whom were given the middle names Powell or Mafeking to emphasize homage to the hero of the siege.

    Checking some of these Badens on the 1911 census6 shows many of them were from working class families, with fathers who were miners, labourers and factory workers. There is a sense that by making a lasting public statement of their enthusiasm for Baden Powell, and possibly support for his military and imperial activities, that the parents of these children wanted to show the wider world that they were part of the empire-supporting community.

    Besides Kitchener and Baden-Powell, other heroes celebrated through babies’ names include Field Marshal Fredrick Sleigh Roberts (1832-1914), commander of the field army in the Boer Wars, who was nicknamed “Bobs”. Kitchener Bobs Thornton in Headington (1902), Bobs Baden P Ellis from St Saviour (Sep 1900) and Bobs Baden Jones of Fulham in the same quarter are all clear examples. The forename “Bobs” appears in the GRO birth registrations from March quarter 1900 through to September 1901, and then reappears in March quarter 1915. This posthumous reappearance may show respect for Roberts’ death7 in France, three months into the Great War, when visiting troops from his birthplace of India.

    The registration of a Bobs Germiston V Sargeant in Lexden, 1900, highlights an enthusiasm for naming children after imperial places or scenes of military adventure. This phenomenom appears to have been particularly prominent during the Boer War specifically. Previous wars do not seem to have had the same effect: between 1854 and 1901, for example, only five births were registered in the name of the Crimea (Tayler, Ebers, Evans, Boswell and Price) and another five after Balaclava (Tucker, Gibbins, Lofthouse, Smith and Smith).

    Germiston is a city in the East Rand. Roberts commanded forces to attack there on the 29th August 1900, enabling the capture of Johannesburg two days later. Master Sargeant’s parents may have been influenced in their name choice by the overtly biased reporting of the time, as evinced in Winston Churchill’s The Boer War: London to Ladysmith Via Pretoria and Ian Hamilton’s March (Longmans Green, 1900):

    Advancing with great speed and suddenness through Elandsfontein, Lord Roberts surprised the Boers at Germiston, and after a brief skirmish drove them in disorder from the town, which he then occupied. So precipitate was the flight of the enemy, or so rapid the British advance, that nine locomotives and much other rolling stock was captured . . .

    Although the macho exploits of Roberts, Kitchener, and Baden-Powell were feted in newspapers and boys’ own literature across the Empire, there was one woman whose name became celebrated in this period. This was the war correspondent, Sarah Wilson8. Lady Sarah Isabella Augusta Wilson (1856-1929), to give her her full title, was the aunt of Winston Churchill (at the time, he was a war correspondent for the Morning Post). ‘Sarah Wilson’ was a common name, even when used as forenames, but in the period from June quarter 1900 to March quarter 1901 there was a marked rise in the number of female children registered thus with the GRO. More evident are the births of “Lady Sarah Wilson” (June 1900: West Bromwich and Hastings) and “Lady Sarah W Hunter” (Sep 1900, Middlesbro). Significantly,

    Sarah Wilson wrote for The Daily Mail, which was even then known for its sensationalist coverage and large working class readership. Its influence in 1900 is difficult to over-estimate. One history of the paper states: “By the start of the Boer War its circulation had risen above a million, far higher than any newspaper in the world.”9. When Sarah Wilson wrote in gushing terms about the heroic adventures of Baden-Powell, therefore, thousands of working class people would have either read or heard about them. It is probably no exaggeration to suggest that her writing10 influenced the naming of some of the “Baden”s mentioned above.

    “Sarah Wilson” aside, parents tended to stretch their imaginations when choosing to name girls after imperial themes. Several opted for place names, like Ladysmith and Pretoria. The reasons behind giving children these names are less obvious than in the case of naming for adventurous heroes. These parents may have wanted to celebrate the relief of sieges or British successes in the War, but in some cases (e.g. “Colenso Peace”) middle names suggest a less enthusiastic attitude to military activity. Some of the parents may have wanted to demonstrate their Britishness or to mark celebrations that they associated with the events of war. In the case of Pretoria, it may just be that they thought it sounded pretty as a name.

    From census returns and middle names, we know that most Pretorias were female, but there were exceptions: Pretoria Fredrick Adams from Devon, Pretoria Harold Banting from Gloucestershire, and Pretoria Mafeking Robert Randall from Berkshire. The most common combination for girls was Pretoria May – according to FreeBMD there were two hundred and nineteen registered between March quarter 1900 and September quarter 1908. British troops, under the command of Roberts, took Pretoria, the capital of the Transvaal, on 5 June 1900, but preparations had begun in the previous month. Other interesting, and obviously imperial combinations were Pretoria Mafeking Blomfom11 Ellis in Lancashire, Pretoria Anna Ladysmith Sexton from Erpingham in Norfolk, Pretoria Victress Spencer from North Yorkshire, and Pretoria Baden Wiseman in Bury St Edmunds.

    Some of the imperially named children had parents with a military connection. They may have wished to express support for British troops or demonstrate their association with their former regiments. Pretoria May Pritchard, for example, was the daughter of army pensioner, James Thomas Pritchard, and another was the child of a drill instructor. There are examples, too, of parents who had lived in various corners of the empire, such as the family of Pretoria Madge Taylor, whose brother, George A, was born in Dalhousie, India.

    Other parents seemed keener to give their children grand or distinctive names, not necessarily linked to the Empire: viz Pretoria Maud South (b1900), the daughter of Cartridge Foreman in Kensal Rise and her brother, Lord Algernon South.

    Before 1900 no child was registered in England and Wales with the name Mafeking. In May 1900-September 1901 forty-nine children (boys and girls) were registered in England and Wales with Mafeking as their first name. There was also a Mafeking Henry J Jones in Edmonton June 1905 and a Mafeking V Diskett in Dorchester June 1921. This Mafeking’s mother’s maiden name was Cawley; her mother may have been the Mafeking Cawley who was born June 1900 in Sherborne, making her naming less imperial and more familial. Middle names for earlier Mafekings, however, included Baden, May, Victor, Herbert, and Roberts.

    Between March quarter 1900 (when the Britains besieged in Ladysmith were relieved by troops under command of Lord Dundonald12) and Sep 1900, the births of twenty-four Ladysmiths were registered. There was also Ladysmith Winifred R Taylor, June 1902, in Islington, Ladysmith May Lambert, Sep 1903 in Sheffield, and Ladysmith J Lynas in Leyburn, 1931. This last may have been the daughter of Ladysmith Iceton (b. 1900), who died in Northallerton, North Yorkshire. Of the other Ladysmiths, the only middle name that stands out is that of Ladysmith Shamrock and Thistles Dujon of Peterbro’. As the shamrock and thistle were the national flowers of Ireland and Scotland respectively, this may suggest support for these nations or specific regiments. Miss Dujon appears to be of imaginative parents with a brother named Prince George Alexander Dujon (1910-1988) and a sister named Princess Edna A(E)lvizea Dujon. The name choice may indicate eccentricity, but also an emphatic patriotism from her father who was born outside Britain but within the Empire. John (later Julyan John) Dujon was from the West Indies but settled in Peterborough, where he was working as a labourer in an iron foundry in 1901. By 1911 he was working there as a greengrocer hawker.

    Not all families were keen to name every one of their children after imperial themes. However, it was amongst the working classes that these unusual naming practices most commonly appear. Plumber’s daughter, Ladysmith Lack, for example, had a younger brother named Buller – named after Victoria Cross hero, Major-General Redvers Buller. The name Redvers was extremely popular between 1900 and 1902, both on its own and in combination with the imperially-associated Bullers, Gordon, Victor, Baden, Stanley, Kitchener, Nelson, Cecil, Roberts, Hector, Macdonald13 and Colenso14.

    Kimberley is first recorded as a first name in June quarter 1896 with Kimberley George Foster of Totnes. The next set of Kimberleys were boys and girls registered after the relief of its siege, between March 1900 and June 1901. The name re-emerged in June 1915, but only regained popularity in the 1950s.

    Naming children for empire was more common than the examples here may suggest. Although names in this post are distinctive and show an obvious connection to the Anglo-Boer War and the Empire, many more children were named after imperial heroes with common names. Thus, children born in this period who are named Cecil after Cecil Rhodes can be difficult to distinguish from those named for non-imperial reasons. Where middle names are checked, the link appears stronger. “Cecil Rhodes” appears fairly regularly between 1882 and 1897 when larger numbers appear. 1900 saw thirty-five Cecil Rhodes, whilst the June quarter of 1902 saw the registration of twenty-two. The numbers of boys registered as “Charles Gordon”, for example, saw a marked increase in numbers from February 1884 when General Charles Gordon, Royal Engineer and Christian zealot was sent to the Sudan to ‘rescue’ Egyptian forces from the Mahdi, but soon became besieged in Khartoum. After his death, or popularly perceived martyrdom, in January 1885 to December 1910, hundreds of boys were registered with his name.

    Peace came to South Africa on 31st May 1902. After this, the obvious naming after imperial heroes faded away. Evidence suggests that this explicit imperial fervour reached its peak during this war. However, some of the overt support for militaristic imperialism was reinvigorated in the Great War and names such as Kitchener made a limited return after 1914. Naming for empire may have been short-lived, but it was significant. Unlike Winston Churchill and other establishment figures mentioned here, most of those who named their children after imperial themes never contributed consciously to history books. Through their children’s names, however, these parents were able to indicate to future generations how they felt about the War, and of the impact it, and its representation in the popular newspapers of the time, had on their lives.

    1Bernard Porter, The Lion’s Share: a short history of British Imperialism 1850-2004 (Harlow: Pearson, 2004)

    2 Michael Blanch in Warwick, Peter (ed), The South African War. The Anglo-Boer war 1899-1902 (1980), p210

    3 Birth registrations in this post are based mainly on the records of the General Register of England and Wales (GRO). The indexes of these records can be accessed via a number of online sites, including www.ancestry.co.uk (Ancestry), www.findmypast.co.uk (FindMyPast), www.FreeBMD.org.uk (FreeBMD) and www.thegenealogist.co.uk (TheGenealogist).

    4 As a forename

    5 Accessed via www.freebmd.org.uk

    6 Accessed via www.findmypast.co.uk

    7 Field Marshal Lord Roberts died 14 November 1914 of pneumonia in St Omer, France.

    8Wilson’s South African Memories can be read online at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/14466

    9http://www.dmgt.co.uk/uploads/files/The-Story-of-the-Daily-Mail.pdf

    10For an example of her support of Baden-Powell, see Wilson’s article: http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/9542340

    11Presumably a reference to Bloemfontein

    12The Relief of Ladysmith took place on 1 March 1900. Winston Churchill entered Ladysmith at the side of Lord Dundonald.

    13 Major General Hector “Fighting Mac” Macdonald (1853-1903) – Hector a very popular name: in Scotland in 1900 it was the 25th most registered boy’s name, but from September quarter 1899 there are hundreds of ‘Hector Macdonald’ forenames.

    14 The Battle of Colenso (in Natal, on the Tugela River) took place on 15 December 1899. It was one of the worst defeats of the war for the British, and thus may seem an unusual choice of name for British parents. Colenso appears in the GRO records in 1894. Up to March quarter 1904 there are four recorded. In 1902 a male child, Colenso Peace E Chipping was recorded in December quarter in Chertsey. His father, James Chipping, was a bricklayer.

  2. Lessons in Nursing Care from the Early Years of the NHS

    The first series of Call The Midwife ended last night on BBC 1. The show was a huge ratings success, with its final episode being watched by 9 million viewers. Much of its appeal lies in the fairly accurate recreation of 1950s Poplar and of its realistic scenes of childbirth.

    Today, with UK healthcare under threat from the NHS bill, this portrayal of the Service’s successful early years may hold some clues as to how it could more simply be reformed. There have already been calls for the NHS to go ‘back to basics’, with the return of matrons and a focus on patients’ essential needs. Could a return to 1950s methods of nursing care, whilst retaining 21st century scientific and technological advancements, be the answer?

    Decades before the NHS was created the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale, regarded open windows as the hallmark of a healthy hospital ward. Open windows were much in evidence on Call The Midwife, both in the hospital wards and in houses of the East End.

    This basic policy is supported by an article in today’s Independent, which reports on a microbiologist who believes air conditioning and an ultra-sterile environment are harming patients by contributing to infections. Jack Gilbert of Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago and head of the Earth Microbiome Project, explained the science behind his theory:

    Open windows let bacteria in from outside and you will either dilute out the pathogens, or you are not allowing the pathogens to establish themselves because there is too much competition for the nutrients and energy that the bacteria need to survive. . . There’s a good bacterial community living in hospitals and if you try to wipe out that good bacterial community with sterilisation agents and excessive antibiotic use, you actually lay waste to this green field of protective layer and these bad bacteria can just jump in and start causing hospital-borne infections.”

    Contemporary scientists are not alone in their praise of basic practice, as seen on Call The Midwife. My godmother, a retired chief midwife, was impressed by the authenticity of the breech birth scene in episode two. Mothers on the babycentre.co.uk webchat, agree. They believe that the 1950s method of covering the baby’s head with a towel, in order to keep it warm and prevent it taking a breath in the birth canal, was preferable to their experiences, which had resulted in lung pumps and incubators.

    Having been through childbirth twice, I agree that the birth scenes in this programme are the most realistic I’ve seen on any television drama. Happily, like mine, most of the births shown in the series ended successfully. However, one of the most tragic scenes was that in episode 4 where middle-aged headmaster David loses his beloved wife Margaret after she suffers eclampsia. Eclampsia and pre-eclampsia remain dangerous conditions. As now, good ante-natal care is key to identifying present and prospective complications. Sadly, Margaret was shown to have left her ante-natal appointment before being seen by the midwives.

    In the early 1970s, my mother saved the life of a farmer’s wife from a remote area who was admitted with pre-eclampsia:

    “We had to take her into a single room with the blinds down and keep her sedated. Suddenly she began fitting and her heart stopped. With no second to spare, I had to give heart massage until we felt a pulse. After this, she was given an emergency caesarean section, and both she and her premature baby survived.”

    mumnurse

    My mother, who began her training in 1963, warmly remembers the camaraderie of the early years:

    “There was much more of a family feel than there is in today’s nursing. There were many people aged 18, mostly young women, with very very few men in general nursing. We were all enthusiastic, really loved the patients and all the young ones felt we were in it together.”

    Like the midwives who lived together at Nonnatus House, my mother and her colleagues lived in a nurses’ home where hierarchy was much in evidence:

    “We were awe of the sisters, and the matron could sometimes be quite terrifying! We were issued with so many dresses, so many hats and so many aprons. There were the hospital laundries which did all the laundry and starched your hats. This helped keep infections down. The matron and sisters were very strict about hair being kept back, and absolutely no wearing of jewellery.”

    Community and personal relationships are seen as central to nursing care in the television series, and were very much key values for nurses of my mother’s generation:

    Everything was about caring for people, the care of the person. Especially as young nurses, we got to know the patients and their families. Great emphasis was put on nutrition – also the going out. The fluids in and the fluids out, as it were. Anyone who wasn’t up and about, we had their charts and went around making egg and milk drinks, making sure they were all well-nourished.

    I trained in a big hospital where we rarely saw the matron, but the assistant matrons did daily rounds. We had to make sure that we knew everything about our patients. The senior staff would walk round and ask any question at all. We had to be particularly alert with one, who asked the blood results of each patient, which we had to know without looking. Also, we looked after the whole ward so we knew every patient there.”

    This later changed, with nurses only being assigned a small number of patients on each ward.

    Some viewers have expressed relief that they do not have to give birth, drug-free, in a bug-infested slum in the bomb-shattered East End of post-war London. But many more are attracted to the positive experiences shown on Call The Midwife: the strong community, inexhaustible humour, and, above all, the patient-centred nursing care. On a day when so many are criticizing and heckling the Prime Minister and the Health Minister for their planned reforms, it seems appropriate to remember the value of high quality nursing in those early years of our National Health Service.

    The Guardian’s obituary of Jennifer Worth (Jenny Lee), who died shortly before the series was filmed, can be read at http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jul/06/jennifer-worth-obituary

    For more on the local history aspect of Call The Midwife, see the The Sugar Girls’ blog: http://www.thesugargirls.com/call-the-midwife/ 

  3. Family History For Kids: New iPhone App

    As a genealogist and mother, I am keen to encourage my two boys, aged 6 and 8, to explore their ancestry in whatever way they can. So far, we have made family visits to exhibitions, living museums, and the former homes of ancestors. We watch history programmes on television, and period films. The 6 year old made a picture family tree chart by chopping up copies (I emphasize COPIES) of old photographs. And the 8 year old consulted census returns for a ‘family homes’ school project. But what they really, really like is playing with gadgets.

    Imagine their excitement when they were let loose on my usually prohibited iPhone to test a new app, Records Their Stories. This app is designed to aid family historians interview and record their relatives’ memories, using a list of over 100 suggested questions covering a range of topics.

    screen-shot-questions

    I gave the boys full control of the process. The 8 year old downloaded the app from iTunes http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/record-their-stories/id483574271?mt=8 He worked out how to select the questions he wanted to ask, and how to flip back to them during recording (press the question mark on the microphone). We found keeping all the questions on the phone easier and tidier than having loose papers everywhere. Once everything was downloaded and they had worked out what to press, the children found the app very easy to use. They could enter their own questions via ‘edit Questions’ but they were both happy with the range offered. Their grandfather also enjoyed the process, with the iPhone adding distraction and levity to the interview.

    screen-shot-recording

    Although the app contains its own editing device to cut out all the pauses, coughs and interruptions that are inevitable when children interview their grandparents, we opted for the professional editing service from the Record Their Stories team. The finished edit included a polished mix of the interview, and numerous additions, such as the soundtrack to their grandfather’s favourite film – Singin’ In The Rain – and a bicycle bell and crashing noise to highlight his most embarrassing moment. Our edited version was just over 2 minutes long, but we’d recorded for at least quarter of an hour. In order to make the most of the professional edit you will need to record for as long as you can with as many relatives as possible.

    When my grandmother was still alive, I tried recording an interview with her using a cheap cassette with sellotape over the holes. We gave up after a while, as she tired easily and became confused. Thinking back, I know I would have recorded more with her if I didn’t have to lug around a radio-cassette player. If I’d owned an iPhone then, I would definitely have used Record Their Stories to interview Grandma whenever I could. Even though I lived with her for 15 years, I’m beginning to forget the way she spoke and her many expressions that I never hear anyone use now – ‘Dolly Daydream’, ‘a five and twenty to six’ . . . My children have already backed up their interview with their grandfather, and plan to record interviews with other older relatives whenever they see them.

    After listening to the edited interview, I asked the 8 year old how he had found the process and what he thought of the App. He replied simply: ‘Awesome!’

    screen-shot-editing

    The Record Their Stories iPhone app is available to download now. Professionally produced bespoke CDs from the RTS team start at £90 per recording.

    Website: www.recordtheirstories.com 

    Demo Video: http://vimeo.com/32479136 

    Fresh Air Production is a team of award winning radio and audio producers, with clients including The BBC, UKTV, BMW and Channel 4.


  4. A British Christmas in India 1780

    Eliza Fay (1756-1816) is one of the best-known female chroniclers of European life in India during the late eighteenth century. Although she was no Jane Austen, Eliza’s writing was fresh and perceptive. What her letters lack in finesse, they make up in directness and humour. And, whilst she was not sophisticated, Eliza was adventurous and keen to learn about India, its cultures and people. Her enthusiasm is conveyed through the letters she wrote after her arrival in India with her lawyer husband in May 1780.

    More than a century later, it was this freshness and eye for detail that inspired EM Forster to arrange for the British publication of Eliza Fay’s letters in 1925.

    After their arrival in India, Eliza and her husband settled in Calcutta. It was there that she was living at the Christmas of that year. Eliza detailed her first Christmas in India in a letter to her sister on 27th January 1781 (Letter XVIII):

    My Dear Sister,— Since my last we have been engaged
    in a perpetual round of gaiety. Keeping Christmas, as it is
    called, though sinking into disuse at home, prevails here with
    all its ancient festivity. The external appearance of the
    English gentlemen’s houses on Christmas Day is really
    pleasing from its novelty. Large plantain trees are placed
    on each side of the principal entrances, and the gates and
    pillars, being ornamented with wreaths of flowers fancifully
    disposed, enliven the scene.

    All the servants, from the Banian down to the lowest menial,
    bring presents of fish and fruit ; for these, it is true, we are
    obliged in many instances to make a return perhaps beyond
    the real value, but still it is regarded as a compliment to our
    burrah din. A public dinner is given at Government House
    to the gentlemen of the Presidency, and the evening concludes
    with an elegant ball and supper for the ladies. These are
    repeated on New Year’s Day and on the King’s birthday. I
    should say have been, for that grand festival happening at the
    hottest season, and every one being obliged to appear full
    dressed, so much inconvenience resulted from the immense
    crowd, even in some cases severe fits of illness being the
    consequence, that it has been determined to change the day
    of celebration to the 8th of December which arrangement
    gives general satisfaction. I shall not attempt to describe
    these splendid entertainments further than by saying that they
    were in the highest style of magnificence. In fact such grand
    parties so much resemble each other that a particular detail
    would be unnecessary and even tiresome.

    Eliza then goes on to describe a social event of ‘some time ago’ giving further insight into the social mores of the Georgian British abroad:

    Mrs. Hastings was of the party. She came in late, and
    happened to place herself on the opposite side of the room,
    beyond a speaking distance: so strange to tell, I quite forgot
    she was there ! After some time had elapsed, my observant
    friend, Mrs. Jackson, who had been impatiently watching
    ‘ my looks, asked if I had paid my respects to the Lady
    Governess? I answered in the negative, having had no
    opportunity, as she had no chance to look towards me when
    I was prepared to do so. ” Oh !” replied the kind old lady,
    ” you must fix your eyes on her, and never take them off till
    she notices you. Miss C— dy has done this and so have I.
    It is absolutely necessary to avoid giving offence.” I followed
    her prudent advice, and was soon honoured with a complacent
    glance, which I returned, as became me, by a most respectful
    bend. Not long after, she walked over to our side, and
    conversed very affably with me, for we are now, through
    Mrs. Jackson’s interference, on good terms together.
    She also introduced me to Lady Coote and her inseparable
    friend, Miss Molly Barrett. It was agreed between them
    when they were both girls, whichever married first, the other
    was to live with her : and accordingly when Sir Eyre took his
    lady from St. Helena, of which place her father was
    Governor, Miss Molly, who is a native of the island, accom-
    panied them to England and from thence to India, where
    she has remained ever since. Thus giving a proof of steady
    attachment not often equalled and never perhaps excelled.

    A few months after this was written Eliza Fay and her husband separated. The split left her struggling to maintain her social status. She tried her hand at a number of dubious business investments, several of which required her to continue her travels. She was later to record journeys to England, New York and India.

    Sadly, after several bouts of bankruptcy, Eliza died insolvent on 9 September 1816 in Calcutta, where was buried the following day (British Library ref. IOR:N/1/9-10).

  5. 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

  6. 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

  7. Here and There: The Story of the Bangladeshi Community in Camden

    I was lucky enough to be invited to a private view last night (Thursday 27 October 2011) of the latest exhibition at Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre .Here and there

    The exhibition, Here and There, details the lives of members of Camden’s Bangladeshi Community through their experiences in both Bangladesh and London. Curated by the Bengali Workers’ Association, the exhibition focuses on the Community’s life in Camden from the 1950s to the present day.

    Today the Bangladeshi Community is well-integrated into Camden life and many members now work as professionals in the area. Bengalis are well-represented politicially too: Councillor Nasim Ali OBE, the Leader of Camden Council, is featured in the exhibition; and Councillor Tulip Siddiq gave an introductory talk at the launch.

    The exhibits themselves are comprised of oral testimonies, recorded as part of a history project by members of the Oral History Society. Robert Wilkinson of the Society told us how few recordings have been made of Bangladeshi memories. He welcomed the Lottery funding that enabled this exhibition and the opportunity to keep these stories alive.

    One of the highlights of the evening was a fascinating talk by the founder of the Bengali Workers’ Association, Abdul Momen. Mr Momen is featured in the exhibition, and related to the audience some of his memories of growing up in Bengal and his esteemed work in Camden, which led to him saving lives through community action and welfare support.

    Born near Calcutta in 1938, Mr Momen’s childhood was disrupted by his father’s career in the postal service. The regular moves across Bengal meant Mr Momen attended eight schools: the saddest part of this, he told us, was that he couldn’t play football as he was never at a school long enough to join the team. He also remembered dark times, such as the horrendous Bengal Famine of 1943. Mr Momen was horrified by the sight of extrememly thin women begging for the starchy water from cooked rice. Happier memories included those of summer holidays at his grandmother’s rural house, where every morning he ran out to collect the ripe mangoes that had fallen from the trees. His life changed completely in 1969 after he received a scholarship to do a doctorate in English at Leeds University. In 1971 he was appointed Asian Community Officer in Camden.

    In February 1976 Mr Momen founded the Bengali Workers Action Group, now the Bengali Workers Association. This acted as an advice centre for issues such as immigration, accommodation and welfare. Today the Association continues to act as a support for members of the Bengali community as well as working closely with NHS Camden, the police, and local and national government. I met Tahmina Khanom who works with senior members of the community, helping to alleviate problems of isolation and language difficulties.

    A wide range of topics are covered in the exhibition, including the themes of village life and education in Bangladesh, migration and the lives of Bangladeshi women; and aspects of life in the UK, such as community, marriage and employment.

    Beside talks, we were also treated to poetry readings, Bengali dancing and wonderfully tasty samosas from the excellent caterers Ambala in nearby Drummond Street.  I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and learning more about my Bangladeshi neighbours.

    The exhibition runs from 8 October to 19 December 2011, and is warmly recommended to anyone visiting central London over the next couple of months.

  8. NAMING NAPOLEON: how exploring first names can give an insight into Victorian world history.

    Napoleon’s Bodyguards at Waterloo 2010

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    A recent trip to the battlefield of Waterloo in Belgium reminded me of a friend who had found a Napoleon Bonaparte JASPER/JESPER (1854-1918) in her family tree. As I explored the relics of Napoleon in the Waterloo Visitor’s Centre and watched films of his defeat by the Duke of Wellington, I began to wonder why any British parents of the 19th century would wish to name their son after this great enemy of Britain and Europe. As Napoleon Jasper’s siblings had traditional English forenames like John and Mary, there seemed no obvious answer. By investigating further, I discovered that the reasons behind naming a son Napoleon were more complex than I could have imagined.

    ‘Napoleon Bonaparte’ Ancestors

    According to the GRO indices, since 1837 there have been ten boys registered with the forenames, Napoleon Bonaparte. This does not include Napoleon Louis Charles Bonaparte NEALE (1857-1857), Napoleon Buonaparte Money (1827-1888), Napoleon Buonaparte Pugh (m. 1865, Liverpool), Napoleon Bonaparte/Buonaparte Smith (b. 1831, Hull), or Napoleon Buonaparte Soult Jones (b. 1838, London) – the last of whom appears to have been named after the Emperor and one of his leading generals. Beside Mr. Jasper (born in Dudley), the others were:

    • Napoleon Bonaparte Clarke (1839-1917), who became a dock worker in his native Hull.
    • Napoleon Bonaparte Farmer (1841-1889), who was later known as Napoleon Louis Bonaparte FARMER. His father worked as a farmer in Kent, but Napoleon and his brother, Beversham, became brewers.
    • Napoleon Bonaparte Coldwell (1848-1904), who grew up in a weaving family in Huddersfield. The names of his brothers – Edwin, Wellington, Wallace and Albert – show clear military enthusiasm on behalf of someone in the family, but certainly not a complete lack of patriotism.
    • Napoleon Bonaparte Gibb, who was born in Newcastle in 1850.
    • Napoleon Bonaparte Johnson, who was born in Kent in 1853 to a Plate layer from Nottinghamshire. The family migrated to Australia a few months later.
    • Napoleon Bonaparte BOTTOMLEY (1860, Keighley), who sadly died in 1869, but was clearly the child of imaginative parents. As well as Napoleon, Mr and Mrs Bottomley’s children included Inkerman, after a dubious success for the British and French in the Crimean War, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, after the American abolitionist and author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, who lived June 14, 1811 – July 1, 1896. Mr Bottomley worked as a paper maker, possibly involving the books from which he gained inspiration for his children’s names.
    • Napoleon Bonaparte Beaumont (1870, Durham), who died shortly after birth.
    • Napoleon Bonaparte Burrows (born 1881 in Leicestershire), who became a carman and named one of his sons Arthur.
    • Napoleon Bonaparte Soloman/Solomon (1890-1975), who was the son of Napolean (sic) [Bonaparte] Soloman (b. 1859), whose brothers included Wallace William (after the Scottish hero of Braveheart fame), Arthur Wellesley, and Charles Napier, born 1856 (apparently after Sir Charles James Napier [1782-1853], the British general and Commander-in-Chief in India). The Solomon family continued the tradition with further births of Napoleons in Suffolk.

    Leaving aside the Bonaparte part of the name, there were even more Napoleons. I particularly like Napoleon Nathaniel Coffee (b. 1855, Westminster), and Napoleon The Great Lambeth (b. 1853, Chichester). Although Napoleon Lambeth was born in 1853, during the reign of Napoleon III, the epithet ‘The Great’ undoubtedly refers to Napoleon I.

    362px-napoleon_in_his_study

    It is interesting that only seven years after the Battle of Waterloo, the Boulton family of East London, chose to baptise their son after the defeated Emperor. The family clearly liked the name so much they used it twice: John Napoleon Boulton (bap. 1822) and Webber Napoleon Boulton (bap. 1829). Several of the Napoleons were also named after their fathers – perhaps indicating that being named Napoleon had done them no harm. Napoleon Bonaparte Jasper named his son, Henry Napoleon (1879- 1967). And there was also Napoleon Alfred Bowler (bap. 1853, Greenwich) son of Napoleon Alfred Bowler, and Napoleon Edward Bembridge (bap. 1872, Southwark St Saviour) son of Napoleon George Bembridge. Napoleon John Atkins, son of the same, was baptised in 1890 in Hoxton; Napoleon George Anderson, son of the same, was baptised 1854 in Lambeth; and Napoleon Edward Ainger, son of Napoleon Ainger (a Gentleman and sometime mercantile clerk), was baptised at St Luke, Old Street in 1848. Napoleon Ainger senior had been born in the City of London to a gentleman, William Ainger in 1817– just two years after Waterloo.

    Could this naming, so close to the date of Wellington’s victory, indicate a lack of patriotism? Perhaps not, when you consider the number of Napoleons who are also named after feted British military heroes, like Nelson and Wellington: viz Napoleon Horatio Robert Wortley (b. 1854, Salisbury). Arthur was a common name in the 19th century, but one of the main reasons for this was the popularity of long-lived war hero, Sir Arthur Wellesley (1769 – 1852), the 1st Duke of Wellington, who later became both Commander-in-Chief and Prime Minister.

    lord_arthur_wellesley_the_duke_of_wellington

    I found five Napoleon Arthurs in the GRO index:

    Births Dec 1859 – Napoleon Arthur Jones, Salford  

    Births Mar 1862 – Napoleon Arthur Murrell, Steyning

    Births Dec 1869 – Napoleon Arthur Dubois, Holborn 

    Births Sep 1876 – Napoleon Arthur Good, Pancras  

    Births Dec 1902 – Napoleon Arthur B Shepperd, Southampton

    And this does not include the many Napoleons with brothers named Arthur, including Napoleon Reybord of Lambeth (who also had a sister named Josephine), and the aforementioned Napoleon Bonaparte Soloman. Unsurprisingly, looking at English and Welsh birth registrations overall, there were many more Arthur Wellesleys than Napoleon Bonapartes. 

    330px-alexander1256

    War heroes in general were popular, with a number appearing to be named after the ancient Greek conqueror, Alexander the Great – Napoleon Alexander Spicer, born to a Paper Manufacturer in Buckinghamshire in 1841 who went onto be a Naval Officer; there was also Napoleon Alexander Matley of Ashton (1842-1845) and Napoleon Alexander Cravino, who was born in the Lambeth area in 1842. Napoleon Cravino’s name can probably be explained by his father’s former career of Captain in the French Army. The Alexander theme was also clear in the 1840 naming of Arthur Wellington Alexander Nelson Hood of London. Not all Napoleons were influenced by military heroes, however. Some parents showed a sense of humour when naming their children, such as the artist who, in 1839, named his son Napoleon Tristram Shandy Inskipp, after the bawdy comic novel of 1760.

    Who was Napoleon Bonaparte?

    The great Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was born Napoleone Buonaparte on French-owned Corsica in 1769. Although a Corsican Nationalist and consequent hater of the French, Napoleon became an officer for the French Army at 16. Aged 20 at the time of the French Revolution, Napoleon witnessed the scenes first hand. He was also present when France became a Republic on 10 August 1792. Ascending swiftly through the French military ranks, Napoleon made his name repelling the British-supported Royalist invasion of Toulon in 1793. He later defeated Italy in 1796 (he became its King in 1805) and Austria in 1797. By 1799, he had overthrown the French Directory, become First Consul of France, and styled himself Napoleon I. In 1804, France became an empire and Napoleon its first emperor.

    By 1812, Napoleon had conquered most of Europe and his strategic skill was evident to the world. Within the next two years, however, his power was to slip away amidst attacks by other European nations (notably, Russia, Britain, and Prussia), and he was forced to abdicate on the 6th April 1814. Despite being exiled on the tiny island of Elba, Napoleon managed to escape to France, gather supporters en route and march to Paris. Meanwhile, the Prussians and the Allies (the British Army, the King’s German Legion, plus several thousand troops from the Netherlands, Hanover, Brunswick, and Nassau), led by the Duke of Wellington, were marching to meet him. This ‘Hundred Days’ period culminated in Napoleon’s final defeat on the 18th June 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo. After this, Napoleon was exiled to St Helena, where he died almost seven years later – possibly as a result of breathing arsenic from green wallpaper. Eventually his body was returned to France, where he was reburied in glory at Les Invalides, Paris.

    So, why would anyone in Britain choose to name a child after him?European migrants made up some of the families of Napoleons, such as the 1838 Napoleon Joseph De Veaux born into cosmopolitan Holborn, or Napoleon Eugene Deshormes [De Cloislin], who was born in Shropshire in 1840 to a Professor of Languages from Paris. The defiantly named Napoleon Victor Renieuville was born in East London in 1856 to a Carpenter and Joiner from Normandy, France.

    Although Napoleon was clearly a hero to the French, many British people also respected his achievements. Even Wellington described him as “the greatest general in the modern world”. Napoleon’s military prowess and qualities as a statesman were undoubtedly impressive – particularly as his success came from talent rather than privilege. His men admired him for guiding them to victory despite a lack of supplies, and for ensuring that they were paid fairly. Napoleon was also hailed in France for the end of revolutionary discord, and his introduction of a fair tax system, and an education system based on social equality. Across Europe, he was celebrated for his legal reforms: the Code Napoleon extended across Europe and is the basis of legal systems in many European countries today. Magnanimously, he also showed great personal qualities by forgiving those who betrayed him.

    The Other Napoleon Bonaparte: Napoleon III

    384px-franz_xaver_winterhalter_napoleon_iii

    Confusingly we cannot be certain whether all the above Napoleons were named after the same person. Although Emperor Napoleon I (1769-1821) is the most famous today, there were other Napoleons in his family. Napoleon I’s son, Napoleon II (1811-1832), became titular Emperor of the French on his father’s abdication in 1815. However, he never returned to France after his exile in Austria, and died soon afterwards of tuberculosis.

    More significantly for the births in the 1830-1870 period, there was Napoleon III (1808 – 1873) – son of Napoleon’s brother, Louis (1778-1846), who had been born in Corsica as Luigi Buonaparte. Luigi later changed his name to Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, and became a French Prince and King of Holland. In the 1840s and 1850s, contemporary newspaper reports reveal how French and European politics was dominated by the figure of Napoleon III, also known as Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, but originally born Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte. The clue to his influence on the names can be seen with Napoleon Louis Charles Bonaparte Neale. It appears that Master Neale was named after this man in 1857. There was also the 1871 birth in London’s St Pancras area that included the names of both the recently deposed Napoleon III and the Prussian architect of his downfall – Napoleon Bismarck Du Cann.

    After an early career in the Swiss Army and a brief exile in England, Louis-Napoleon took advantage of the family reputation and won a popular vote in 1848, becoming President of France’s Second Republic.  In 1851, demonstrating the ambition of his uncle, he then overthrew the state, and seized the French throne. He finally became Emperor Napoleon III on the 2nd December 1852 (ruling until 4 September 1870). He is remembered as the last monarch of France.

    Britain’s Armies had fought hard to prevent Napoleon I from seizing power across Europe, but in the 1850s, Britain united with France (and Turkey and Sardinia) against the Russians for the infamous battles of the Crimean War. Thus, in this period, the name Napoleon represented a friend of Britain, and a support in a notorious conflict. The Crimea is known today for the Charge of the Light Brigade (quickly immortalized in 1854 by the then Poet laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson), the balaclava, and the innovatory nursing of Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole. Napoleon III, showing the military zeal of his uncle, participated in several other wars, including the Second Opium War, the Second Italian War of Independence, the Franco-Mexican War, the Taiping Rebellion, the 1866 campaign against Korea, the Boshin War, and the Franco-Prussian War. However, the 1870 Battle of Sedan was a battle too far, and proved the end of Napoleon III’s reign. In the aftermath of defeat, the territory of Alsace-Lorraine was ceded to the newly-formed German Empire – reinforcing an enmity between France and Germany that was to continue into the 20th century.

    Napoleons Today

    Births of Napoleons continued to be registered in Britain throughout the twentieth century. The name has recently acquired a new audience through the cult film, Napoleon Dynamite. I spoke to a Mr Napoleon Russell Hill about why he was called Napoleon. He told me that his mother liked unusual names – his sisters having grand names also. When his younger brother was born, however, his father said “enough of the silly names”, and insisted the baby be called George. Mr Hill has no real problem with the name – other than its being so distinctive that everyone always knows who he is. Within the family, however, he is known as Leon.

     Naming Napoleons in the past seems to have been inspired by a variety of motivations. Clearly, Napoleon Bonaparte III had some influence on the Napoleons born in the 1830s through to 1873 (when he died – in England). Many Napoleons were named during the period of the Crimean War (1853-1856), when Napoleon III’s name regularly appeared in British newspapers. And the French participation in that war is probably also significant; especially when we consider the Bottomley family with their sons, Napoleon and Inkerman. On the other hand, regarding that same family’s admiration for the abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe, they may also have respected Napoleon I’s civil policies of social equality. Furthermore, some parents may have been inspired by tales they had heard when themselves children some twenty, thirty or forty years previously. Recruitment propaganda for the Armed Forces, and history lessons of military conquests by the likes of Alexander, Wellington and Napoleon, may also have contributed towards the names. Victorian society and culture held military heroes and reforming statesmen in high esteem. This regard is evident in the names the British Victorians chose to bestow upon their children.

  9. Postal Museum & Archive

    post-map

    Earlier this year, I was researching for a client at the Postal Museum & Archive in Farringdon. At the time, the Archive, around the corner from the vast postal headquarter’s of London’s Mount Pleasant, was in the process of updating its website and adding new material.

    The new website is now ready for use at http://postalheritage.org.uk

    There are some great features to the website such as a blog (http://postalheritage.wordpress.com/2011/06/13/women-in-the-post-office/), history of the post office (http://postalheritage.org.uk/page/history), galleries (http://postalheritage.org.uk/page/144/Online-Exhibitions) and the updated online catalogue (http://catalogue.postalheritage.org.uk/).

    Family historians will probably be most interested in the Family History Research section (http://postalheritage.org.uk/page/genealogy) which includes examples of appointment books (http://postalheritage.org.uk/page/appointments).

    If you are planning a visit to the Archive, I recommend ringing in advance and remember to take some ID! Overall, the Archive and its new website are excellent resources for anyone researching Post Office ancestors.

  10. 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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