What's all this then?

My name is Victoria Stiles and I'm an Early Career Historian currently doing whatever odd research / consulting / outreach / tutoring jobs come my way. I blog here about some of the interesting texts I've found.
My research focusses on books about Britain and the British Empire which were in circulation in Nazi Germany but you'll also find a smattering of school textbooks, witchcraft beliefs, bog drainage, bemused travellers and weird illustrations that caught my eye.
Translations from German are my own. Comments are currently unmoderated and are mostly spam for leather jackets anyway.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Death in the 1820s and a walk in the park

On Sunday I went for a walk in Philips Park near Prestwich, which was muddy and steep in places but enjoyably varied. You can go from overgrown former formal gardens, to woodlands, to open views, to canal paths in under an hour (photos below). The Philips family house no longer exists on the site although some other buildings still do, as does a memorial to two of Robert and Ann Philips' eleven children. The memorial states that Elizabeth and Jessy Philips were "both born 1808" and "both died 1824". It's not clear from the inscription whether the twins died from the same cause or even together in an accident of some sort (leading to some grim speculation as to whether they both fell out of the huge tree behind the memorial) so I decided I needed to stop my imagination running away with itself and find out more.
This led to an evening of searching the local birth, marriage and death notices from 1824. A straightforward search of digitised editions of The Manchester Mercury turned up one of them:
11th May
On Saturday the 8th instant, after a lingering illness, at her father's house, at the Park, in Prestwich, in the sixteenth year of her age, Elizabeth Lucy, seventh daughter of Robert Philips, Esq.
So it wasn't an accident and they didn't die in the same week (at least, it would be strange to announce the death of one sister and not the other). I now wondered, somewhat morbidly, how much longer Jessy lived without her twin. Not one to leave a readily researchable question unresearched, I decided to read every death notice from 1824. Yes sir, I can Sunday.
The notice I was looking for turned up at around 2am our time and in the weekly edition dated 16th November:
On the 2d inst. At Ash Grove, Great Malvern, Worcestershire, after a lingering illness, aged 16, Jessy Anne, daughter of R. Philips, Esq. Of the Park, near this town.
At least I found my answer, although there's nothing tremendously remarkable in this notice beyond the connection to a place I went for a walk. Why have I written this up at all? Well, here's the notice which immediately followed it:
On the 3d inst. Mr. Wilde, brass-founder, Wigan, son of Mrs. Wilde, of Bolton. His death was occasioned by washing his feet in cold water, whilst in a state of perspiration.
Warm-water foot baths only, people, you have been warned!
You know how I said I went through every notice until I found what I wanted, and that didn't happen until mid-November? Of course I didn't do all that without taking a lot of notes. Here's a selection of other things which caught my eye.
1. This astonishingly detailed and grisly announcement of an aristocratic child's death and autopsy (I didn't find anything else like it).
20th January
It is our painful duty this week to record the death of Gilbert Grosvenor, son of the Viscount Belgrave M.P. and the infant heir of the wealth and honours of the Noble House of Eaton. The lamented infant departed about half-past ten o'clock on Friday night, the 9th inst. To the great grief of his noble parents and relatives, whose attention and anxiety have been unceasing. The indisposition of the interesting infant had continued several weeks; and from the peculiar symptoms which had manifested themselves in the course of the disorder it was determined that an examination of the parts should take place, which was performed by Mr. George Harrison, surgeon, under the inspection of Doctor Thackeray. On opening the body, it appeared a considerable enlargement of the liver had taken place, which had assumed a whiter hue than is natural, and had become more dense. The abdominal viscera were much disordered, and apparently had been for some time, thus preventing the regular secretions; the bladder was completely gorged, and the lungs were slightly collapsed, but not more so than is usual after death. The brain presented the appearance of one in good health, as, with the above exceptions, did the body generally. On Tuesday morning last, the body was privately interred in the family vault in Eccleston Church. - The funeral was attended by Lord Belgrave, Earl Wilton, and the Hon. Robert Grosvenor.
2. Lots of people reaching a grand old age, leading to comments on the ages of surviving relatives, past events they provided a living link to, and occasional moralising (not all that different to modern reporting on people in their 90s and 100s).
10th February
On Tuesday the 13th ult. At North Meols, near Southport, Richard Houghton, who during the greatest part of a century has been better known by the name of "Cockle Dick," He was carried to his long home by his son, grandson, and two neighbours, whose united ages, together with that of the deceased, amounted to 355 years; the deceased being 98 years of age, his son 58, grandson 40, one of the neighbours 86, and the other 73.
30th March
On the 22d inst. Nancy Froggatt, of Brierly-street, in this town, at the very advanced age of 103. - Much to her credit, she did not apply for parochial relief until about [sic] years ago, although she had a just claim, but remained satisfied with the free bounty of her neighbours and friends; a laudable example to those who fly to the Parish for pecuniary aid on the approach of every trying worldly circumstance.
6th April
On Saturday week, in her 85th year, Elizabeth, relict of the late Mr. John Sidebottom, of Mill-Brook, near Mottram-in-Longdendale, and mother to the respectable firm of Messrs. William and George Sidebottom and Brothers, of Broadbottom. She was one of the few remaining characters who witnessed the incursions of the Scotch rebels into that part of the country, in 1745.
13th April
On Friday week, at the advanced age of 81, Mr. Thomas Sharples, of the Higher Sun public-house, Church-street, Blackburn. He was the oldest publican in that town, having been engaged in that occupation about 51 years.
21st December
On Friday week, at Altrincham, greatly respected, Mrs. Ellen Rowbottom, at the advanced age of 95 - She has left behind her a numerous progeny, having lived to see four generations in her own family. - She had a most excellent memory, and could relate, with the greatest exactness, any remarkable circumstance that happened during her long life :-- Among others, she was very fond of relating the circumstance of her seeing the Duke of Cumberland come through (Ringway?), when he was in pursuit of the rebels. - She was then 15 years old.
3. Another multi-part family tragedy.

25th May
On Sunday week, after a long and severe confinement, Mr. William Washington, of the Golden Lion, Deansgate, aged 54 years.
On the 10th inst. Elizabeth, the daughter of Mr. Washington, of the Old Golden Lion, Deansgate, aged 25 years.
4. Also on 25th May, this account of the funeral of a teenager who died very far from home. I'd love to know more about these students, how willingly they came to Manchester, what they thought of their education in Christianity and a "useful branch of trade" and what happened to them all.
On the 19th ins. At Leaf-square academy, aged fifteen years, Drinave, one of the five Madagascar youths brought over to England a few years back for the purpose of being taught the principles of the Christian religion, as well as some useful branch of trade, with the intention of returning to their native country to communicate their acquired knowledge. On Sunday last his remains were conveyed from the academy to the chapel, at New Windsor, preceded by Dr. Clunie and the Rev. J. Preddie, the pall supported by the four remaining Madagascar youths, and followed by the whole of the students of the academy, with black crape and white favours on their arms. Mr. Preddie delivered an address to the students on the occasion, which evidently had an impressive effect; and Dr. Clunie, in the evening, preached the funeral sermon - The scene was altogether solemn and impressive.
5. If there's one thing I know about the early 1800s, it's that people should never travel anywhere for the benefit of their health.
6th July
On the 8th July, 1823, aged 41, on board the convict ship, Competition, in lat. 39. 54. South, long. 59. 37. East, on his passage, as surgeon on board, to New South Wales, Mr. G. Clayton, late House Apothecary at our Infirmary, which situation it was advisable for him to relinquish from his declining state of health, to resume his valuable services upon the element which was deemed more congenial to the peculiar state of his constitution. - He was highly respected by an extensive circle of friends, by whom and his relatives his early dissolution will be much lamented.
6. Finally, this elderly gentleman deserves to be singled out from those above on the grounds of GOTH GOALS.
7th September
At Bawdrip, near Bridgewater, aged 90, William Crossman. He had kept his coffin by him for 50 years, and used it as a cupboard.
Photograph of a wide variety of different shrubs, covering a large slope behind a stagnant-looking artificial pond.

A long, level viaduct in the middle distance, showing 9 of its arches, with a flat expanse of grass and a modern electricity pylon in the foreground.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

I finished! So, er, what now?

This blog had to die for a while as I got stuck into the final write-up stage of the PhD and now that I've finished and the thesis has been examined and approved (woohoo!) I'm not sure what to do with it. I want to do... something different. It started as a way of motivating myself to make sense of odd sources I found at fleamarkets and so on, but I want to do more than contribute to the growing mountain of "content" and clickbait which does little more than say "look at this weird thing - isn't the past just soooo quirky".

I want to talk more about how sources can be manipulated and how we understand and work around the inevitable gaps in our evidence. I'd also like to talk about how we're increasingly coming to terms with gaps which were previously largely unacknowledged - the fact that there is such a lack of diversity in the most dominant voices, or the biases and assumptions that shape all accounts, primary and secondary.

I'm not sure yet how to achieve this in the short, nugget format of blog posts. I'm also frankly terrified of writing something that might come back to haunt me later on. While I'm fairly sure I've got the backbone to admit that I was wrong about something when presented with new information, I still want to make sure that everything I write has been thought through as best I can. Plus, now that I'm "done", I've got job-hunting, preparing things for publication, further job-hunting, additional research, figuring out which conferences I can afford to go to and yes more job-hunting to fill my time.

In short, goodness knows what will actually get done here but I'm going to have a proper crack at making it count.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Moritz visits the British Museum

Today is the 255th anniversary of the opening of the British Museum to the public. The first few decades of tours were not without their problems, and there's a great account available on their website of the mounting discontent at delays in getting tickets and at the lack of information available to the visitors being hurried through the collections.

Twenty-three years after it opened, German writer Karl Philipp Moritz gave this account of his visit:

I have had the happiness to become acquainted with the Rev. Mr. Woide; who, though well known all over Europe to be one of the most learned men of the age, is yet, if possible, less estimable for his learning than he is for his unaffected goodness of heart.  He holds a respectable office in the museum, and was obliging enough to procure me permission to see it, luckily the day before it was shut up.  In general you must give in your name a fortnight before you can he admitted.  But after all, I am sorry to say, it was the rooms, the glass cases, the shelves, or the repository for the books in the British Museum which I saw, and not the museum itself, we were hurried on so rapidly through the apartments.  The company, who saw it when and as I did, was various, and some of all sorts; some, I believe, of the very lowest classes of the people, of both sexes; for, as it is the property of the nation, every one has the same right (I use the term of the country) to see it that another has.  I had Mr. Wendeborn’s book in my pocket, and it, at least, enabled me to take a somewhat more particular notice of some of the principal things; such as the Egyptian mummy, a head of Homer, &c.  The rest of the company, observing that I had some assistance which they had not, soon gathered round me; I pointed out to them as we went along, from Mr. Wendeborn’s German book, what there was most worth seeing here.  The gentleman who conducted us took little pains to conceal the contempt which he felt for my communications when he found out that it was only a German description of the British Museum I had got.  The rapidly passing through this vast suite of rooms, in a space of time little, if at all, exceeding an hour, with leisure just to cast one poor longing look of astonishment on all these stupendous treasures of natural curiosities, antiquities, and literature, in the contemplation of which you could with pleasure spend years, and a whole life might be employed in the study of them - quite confuses, stuns, and overpowers one.  In some branches this collection is said to be far surpassed by some others; but taken altogether, and for size, it certainly is equalled by none.  The few foreign divines who travel through England generally desire to have the Alexandrian manuscript shewn them, in order to be convinced with their own eyes whether the passage, “These are the three that bear record, &c.,” is to be found there or not.
- Travels in England in 1782

And here's a picture of by far my favourite exhibit in the museum, Hans Schlottheim's mechanical galleon.