Friday, 2 October 2015

A Tale of Two Sisters

In March 1915 an application was made for two little girls to be admitted to St Stephen’s Orphanage in York.  Contrary to its name, those admitted to St Stephen’s were not necessarily orphans in the accepted sense of the word, the rules of admission required only that girls had lost at least one parent, that they could supply a baptism certificate, and that someone was willing to pay a weekly sum for their care. 

The rules for admission to St Stephen's, as printed in the application form of Winifred Brooks.

In this case their father Albert Brooks made the application, undertaking to pay 4 shillings and sixpence a week for each of his daughters.  The application forms are otherwise perfunctory; both girls were examined and found to be in good health, six year old Winifred had previously suffered from measles, four year old Hilda had not. 

Winifred Brooks' application.

In many cases an application form, and perhaps a baptism certificate, are all that survives for the residents of St Stephen’s.  However, for Winifred and Hilda a particularly tragic set of circumstances has left what amounts to a small family archive among the orphanage papers that tell of the impact that war and disease could have on an ordinary York family in the early years of the twentieth century.

The children’s applications were accompanied by two letters of support which provide a succinct account of the difficult situation faced by the Brooks family in March 1915.

‘The case of the Brooks is a sad one,’ the vicar of St Lawrence in York, Reverend Hutchings, wrote to the orphanage, ‘the wife quite young died of consumption and left the 2 children.’   Another supporter attests to the children’s good character, ‘I knew their mother and visited her for 2 years before her death and constantly saw the children, who are nice & well behaved, and are very bright.’  Both give a positive account of Albert and his wife, one writing of the ‘great regard’ they held for Mrs Brooks, and the other calling Albert ‘a decent fellow’, although he didn’t know ‘where he works or what his work is.’

A letter sent in support of the application by an 'R. Birch' of St Saviourgate, York.

Fortunately the St Stephen’s papers answer this question, including as they do Albert’s marriage certificate which describes him as a ‘confectioner’ as well as a later letter signed by D. S. Crichton, head of the Social Department at the Cocoa Works, the chocolate factory set up by the Rowntree family on Haxby Road in York.  It was perhaps there that Albert met his future wife Jane, or ‘Jennie’ Wytcherley, who was employed in the factory’s Cream Department.  The notice of their marriage appears in the firm’s Cocoa Works Magazine, dated 27th March 1907. 24 year old Albert Brooks of the packing and stores department was presented with a ‘beautiful over-mantel’ to mark the occasion, while 22 year old Jennie received the firm’s wedding gift, their fellow workers wishing the couple ‘much happiness and long life.’ 

They were married three days later at St Lawrence Church.  In March 1908 their daughter Winifred was born, followed by Hilda two years later in November 1910.  The 1911 census finds the small family living at 5 Apollo Street; 28 year old Albert, a ‘confectionery packer,’ 26 year old housewife Jane, 3 year old Winifred and the infant Hilda. 

Sadly this happy family life was not to last.  By 1912 Jennie was already suffering from the tuberculosis that was to kill her.  The York Tuberculosis Dispensary, later York Chest Clinic, opened its doors in 12th December 1912 and its records show that Mrs Jane Brooks of 5 Apollo Street applied for treatment for the disease just four days later.  She was treated by ‘open air ward’, possibly at Yearsley Fever Hospital which had opened in January of that year, but sadly died in February 1915 at only 30 years of age. 

On the 22nd February Albert paid for the interment of his wife at York Cemetery in a burial plot that would later be shared by her parents.  The burial certificate recording the grave number and cost is included among the orphanage papers.

The certificate issued by York Public Cemetery for the burial plot of Jane Brooks.

Exactly one month later, on the 22nd March 1915, Albert placed Winifred and Hilda in St Stephen’s Orphanage.  It’s possible he enlisted in the army immediately afterward, certainly by November he was a Private in the 4th Battalion of the Grenadier Guards stationed in France.   

We do not know if Albert wrote to his daughters at the orphanage or visited them during the following year, the minute book of the orphanage committee covering the years 1911-1918 has unfortunately not survived.  However we do know that Albert’s army career, like that of so many others, ended at the Somme. 

The orphanage records include an official notice from the War Office stating that Private A. Brooks of the Grenadier Guards was posted as wounded and missing after the engagement ‘at Overseas’ on the 25th September 1916.  

The notice stating that Albert Brooks had been reported 'wounded and missing' in action in September 1916.

Further enquiries were evidently made, at least in part by D. S. Crichton at the Cocoa Works, and the resulting letters, kept by the orphanage, allow us to piece together what may have happened.   “I was told by [Private] Brake,  4th Company, 4th Grenadier Gds. that he saw [Private] Brooks wounded at Les Boeufs on September 25th on the way over,’ wrote Private Adams of the 4th Battalion in April 1917, a reference to the principal offensive in the capture of the French village of Les Boeufs that took place on that day, resulting in heavy casualties.

The reply to D. S. Crichton at the Cocoa Works reporting the account given by Private Adams.

It seems likely that Albert was shot during his battalion’s initial advance.  In a letter dated March 1917 a Private H. Weekes described how the Grenadier Guards made a charge on the 25th and ‘when we had got half way over, I saw Albert Brooks making his way back to the dressing station with a bullet wound in the arm.’  Whether he made it to dressing station or not, Private Weekes couldn’t say, ‘the Germans were shelling very heavily at that time.’  Poignantly, he added, ‘I am very sorry indeed to hear that he is missing as we were the best of pals right from our early soldiering up to the afore said date.’ 

 Page 1 of Private Weekes' letter. 
Page 2 of Private Weekes' letter.

‘I fear that this must be one the many cases,’ read a subsequent response from The Red Cross enquiry department to D. S. Crichton, ‘where a second and fatal casualty has occurred on the way to a dressing station.’  As this letter was still being written a final typewritten note came in from a Corporal Shenton that appeared to confirm his theory.  It said simply, ‘At Ginchy he was killed by a shell in the communication trench.  I was told this by a stretcher bearer who was a man who had just joined us from a Labout Batt[allio]n.’  

The report passed on to D. S. Crichton by the British Red Cross in 1917.

Albert’s body was never found and his name is now commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial in France, one of the 72,000 soldiers who were lost, presumed dead, at the Somme before March 1918.  More than 90 per cent of that number died, like Albert, between July and November 1916.  At home in York he is commemorated in the King’s Book of York Heroes, one of the 1,443 men (and two women) from the city who were killed in the First World War.

Private Albert Brooks in The King's Book of York Heroes.
Copyright Chapter of York: Reproduced by kind permission.
What then became of Winifred and Hilda?  The lost minute book means we do not know when or what they were told about their father’s fate, although they, like so many families, received an official memorial from Buckingham Palace. 

The next reference to the girls comes two years later, in 1918, and brings us full circle back to the Cocoa Works where the story of their family began.   A bundle of correspondence sets out arrangements for the trustees of Rowntree’s Death Benefit Scheme to pay Albert’s pension fund over to St Stephen’s for the maintenance of the two girls.  A further £50 was also given on the condition that the trustees of the scheme were permitted ‘at any time to see the children’ and to receive yearly reports of their progress; reports which we know, from a later entry, were duly forwarded ‘from time to time.’

In 1920 Mr Crichton wrote again on behalf of Rowntree to offer  payment for the continued education of Winifred, an offer that was gratefully received, and in 1925 another lump sum was paid by Rowntree ‘for the Brooks children’ out of the Rowntree War Memorial Fund. 

Sadly, Hilda disappears from the orphanage records after this date, but ‘Winnie Brooks’ appears again in June 1926 when she was taken on as a staff ‘probationer’ at St Stephen’s. However her ambition was not to remain at St Stephen’s and in the same entry it is added that ‘Miss Marshall also said that Winnie Brooks much wished to become a missionary and she hoped that Messrs Rowntree would give assistance for her training.’ Perhaps they did, for in March 1927 the committee minutes note that she had left to begin her training at St Brigid’s and staff were pleased to hear ‘excellent accounts’ of her progress over the following year.

The story of the Brooks family, as told by the orphanage records, appears to end there. Spanning twenty years in all, it is just one example of the many thousands of personal stories that can be found in the Borthwick’s collections, and one of millions in archives across Europe that tell of the human cost of the First World War. If you would like to explore the records of St Stephen’s for yourself, the collection is fully open to the public (although records that are less than 100 years old are subject to data protection).  Alternatively, perhaps you know what happened to Winifred and Hilda Brooks after they left St Stephen’s? If so, we would love to hear from you. Our contact details can be found on our website at

Many thanks to Mr and Mrs Poole for their help in searching the York Public Cemetery records.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Treasures on display: York University Open Day displays, 19th and 21st September

Saturday 19th and Monday 21st September will see us undertake one of our yearly highlights - the annual University Open Day. Aimed primarily at students thinking of applying to study here in the near future, Open Day provides us with an opportunity to show off some of the fantastic archives we hold on site - so, we thought we’d give you a bit of a taster of what we have on show for the 2015 Open Days!

We’ve got Archbishops’ Register 10A - the entries on this page date from the period of the Archbishop William Zouche and the Black Death (May 1349, in this case). Each entry records the ordination of a new applicant to various levels of the clergy (Deacons and Subdeacons, in this case). Each individual is replacing another member of the clergy - at the time, almost certainly victims of the plague, clergy being the front line of support for sufferers in pastoral comfort, taking confessions, and preparing them for the afterlife.

The University of York was established in 1963 - but efforts to get a University established date back much further. Here’s a copy of a 1647 petition campaigning for the establishment of a University in York, stating that without a place of learning, ‘the blind lead the blind, and both shall fall into the ditch”

Great estates - such as that of the Halifax family - created great appetites. Here we have an example of an 18th century recipe book from our Halifax Archive. Anyone for pickled mushrooms and pigeon?

Tales of nautical derring-do abound in this log book of Admiral Robert Fairfax (1665-1725). Latterly MP and Lord Mayor for York, the entries here document his time aboard the Cornwall  between the 19-21 September 1697. Sadly, it seems the weather off Cork harbour wasn’t particularly clement, Fairfax noting the drizzly rain, strong winds, bad gales and generally stormy weather.

Bringing us into the 20th century, the records of the first Earl Halifax are a fantastic resource for students of modern political history. On display, we have the notes of conversations between Lord Halifax and Adolf Hitler in 1937. The passage here presages many later developments in the war and are a fascinating record of a conversation - in tone, firm and assured - between two political heavyweights on the eve of War.  

This is just a small sample of what we have on offer - we also have medical case books, items from the Sir Alan Ayckbourn archive, Wills, Rowntree’s advertising material and records relating to 18th century slavery. In addition, we’ll display some great items from Special Collections - including a rare record of fire in York Minster in 1829 (along with some salvaged wood from the timbers made into something quite special)

The documents will be on display between 12pm-2pm on Saturday 19th and Monday 21st September in the Yorkshire Room, located in the Raymond Burton Library. Staff will also be on hand to advise you too. And, although the day will be aimed at prospective students, everyone is more than welcome to pop in and say hello - and don’t forget, our Microfilm Room will be open until 10pm as usual on both days.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Living Legends: the Marks and Gran Archive at the Borthwick

Sunday 13th September saw the presentation of the British Comedy Society’s Living Legends of Comedy Award to the writing partnership Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran. Often thought of solely as comedy writers, the Marks and Gran Archive held at the Borthwick illustrates their wider work in the development of television comedy; and especially their ground-breaking work in the ‘comedy drama’ genre.

Born in north London, Maurice Gran (1949) and Laurence Marks (1948) initially met at a Jewish youth club in Finsbury Park, North London in the 1960s, though their creative partnership would not spark into like until they began attending ‘Player-Playwrights,’ a scriptwriting club that met at the British Drama League offices in Fitzroy Square.

A chance meeting between Marks and comedy writer Barry Took led to an opportunity for Marks and Gran to write for The Frankie Howerd Show. They continued to submit scripts and in 1980 their sitcom, ‘Holding the Fort,’ was commissioned by London Weekend Television and ran for two years.
Their comedy-drama ‘Shine on Harvey Moon’ was a success, running for three years in the 1980s before being revived in 1995. The duo followed up this success with popular sitcoms such as ‘The New Statesman,’ 1987–92, ‘Birds of a Feather,’ 1989–98, and ‘Goodnight Sweetheart,’ 1993–99. ‘The New Statesman’ won an International Emmy Award in 1988 and a BAFTA for best comedy series in 1991.

In 1989 Marks and Gran set up their own production company, Alomo Productions. The company’s first production was 'Birds of a Feather'. Subsequent Alomo productions include ‘Get Back,’ 1992-93, featuring Ray Winstone as a victim of the economic recession, ‘Goodnight Sweetheart,’ and comedy drama ‘Love Hurts,’ which ran from 1992-1994. In 1992 Marks and Gran were awarded the prestigious BAFTA Writers’ Award.

Marks and Gran (left) with the cast and production team of Birds of a Feather

In 1996 they were commissioned by Channel 4 to write ‘Mosley,’ a mini-series telling the story of the British fascist leader Oswald Mosley. In 1993 a meeting with playwright Sir Alan Ayckbourn led to Marks and Gran their first play, ‘Playing God,’ a comedy about a dying rock star that premièred at Ayckbourn’s Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in 2005.

 In 2006 they followed this with ‘The B’Stard Project,’ a stage adaptation of their New Statesman sitcom which toured the UK until 2007 and enjoyed a run in the West End, and in 2010 their play ‘Von Ribbentrop’s Watch’ premiered at the Oxford Playhouse, based on their 2008 Radio 4 drama of the same name. In 2012 they co-wrote a ‘Birds of a Feather’ stage show which subsequently toured the UK before the show’s revival on television in 2014.

In 2008 Marks and Gran were invited to write the script for a new musical, ‘Dreamboats and Petticoats,’ based on a popular compilation album.

In addition to writing for stage and screen, both Marks and Gran are Visiting Lecturers at the University of York, running student workshops in the Department of Theatre, Film and Television.
Stretching over 35 boxes of diverse material, the Marks and Gran Archive (ref MGRA) presents the researcher with a unique archive of drafts. scripts, audio-visual recordings, correspondence and background research material that give a unique insight into the duo’s creative process.

Fourth draft script of Relative Strangers, 1986
The Archive includes items related to Birds of a Feather, Shine on Harvey Moon, the Frankie Howerd Show, The New Statesman (both stage and screen) and Goodnight Sweetheart (again, both stage and screen versions). The archive also contains a wealth of supporting materials (including research, drafts and correspondence) enabling the researcher to get inside the creative process – the tensions, the successes and creative precision which brings a production to life. Additionally, there are scripts for projects which, for one reason or another, never saw the light of day, including scripts and a rare recording of Still William, excerpts of will be shown on Sunday as part of the British Comedy Society presentation.

Although the collection is still in the process of being fully listed, a detailed box list is available. The Archive was deposited with us as part of the Samuel Storey Writing and Performance collection, which includes the archives of Sir Alan Ayckbourn, David Storey, Charles Wood, Julia Pascal, Peter Whelan and Barry Took.

Gary Brannan and Sally-Anne Shearn

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Shedding new 'Lite' on Atkinson Brierley

Understanding the condition of an item is the first concern of a conservator when faced with a new object. A range of tools can be utilised to compliment the conservator’s knowledge of materials and degradation in this undertaking. Historically, microscopes, magnifying glasses and loupes have been used to take a closer look at the surface layers and media of an item. Today, USB digital microscopes are becoming an ever more common tool in the modern conservation tool kit, as the fast pace of technological development sweeps us along into the future.

Such devices offer an increased flexibility for microscopic analysis; these highly portable, hand held devices can work on both vertical and horizontal surfaces, and allow us to take images and video of an item at the touch of a button. This technological shift allows us to take, use and share images with far greater ease. In the conservation studio at the Borthwick Institute for Archives we have been trialling the use of the Dino-Lite digital microscope in a number of projects and on a range of archive items.

AB 7/33B - Barclay's Bank, Norwich, 1925
The Dino-Lite can be an excellent educational tool and we are currently using it to help our new intake of conservation volunteers observe the material they will be working with on a microscopic scale. Our conservation-volunteering programme has entered its fourth year, and our new volunteers will join our established group to clean the plans of the Atkinson Brierley Architectural Archive. With six new recruits to train, the conservation team is harnessing the power of the Dino-Lite to help the new volunteers understand both the condition of the plans prior to cleaning and the problems that interventive conservation treatments such as cleaning, can cause.

The pictures below show a cleaned plan, dirt on the surface, and ingrained dirt.

The condition and material of the plans within the Atkinson Brierley Architectural Archive is varied; it is consequently vital to establish an appreciation of how abrasion and damage can occur on a microscopic level before our new volunteers get started. The connection between media and the substrate of the plan can be illustrated using a Dino-Lite to show the mottled, tangled surface of fibres which make up its surface, and how inks flow and penetrate the substrate of paper whilst graphite pencil lie on its top; such phenomena allow us to properly appreciate the consequences of cleaning and how it may disturb the material and media in a way which isn’t immediately noticeable with the naked eye.

Pictures above show damage to fibers, fragile pencil and ink penetrating the substrate of paper. Pictures below show pigment displacement due to water damage, abraided pen and fabric fibers at risk of further loss and staining both in and on the surface of the fabric fibers.

The Dino-Lite images will help the volunteers understand the damage the plans have already endured, and how they will affect them as they carry out cleaning treatments. It will also allow the volunteers to understand the different materials they will encounter. Some plans are on a waxed fabric paper, designed to go on site during building works: whilst others are late nineteenth or early twenty century watercolour paper, covered in graphite pencil, pen and watercolour paints, the volunteers will shift between these very different materials suddenly, and it will stretch their analytical skills and judgement as they decide how to proceed. They will need to appreciate how the strength of the paper can be understood through the length and flexibility of the fibres which comprise it – the Dino-Lite will allow us to show that and hopefully allow them to act appropriately. The dirt on the plans is also varied, with all the dust, soot and dirt of a building site and coal heated rooms settling on them, with our Dino-Lite we can see how this dirt can be sharp and abrasive or comprised of soft, fine particles and show how one may scratch the surface whilst another settles deep into the substrate of the paper.

We have a variety of methods for surface cleaning the plans, which allow us to minimise the risk of damage to the plans during treatment. We have undertaken this programme of cleaning as part of our ongoing work to care for and preserve the archives held at the Borthwick Institute. Dust and dirt on the surface of plans and documents can increase the rate of chemical deterioration, the continued presence of dirt also allows it to become ingrained and increasingly difficult to remove. Further to this, dirt obscures the information the plans provide for the readers who use our archive. As we are committed to providing access for research it is important to us that our holdings are preserved in the most healthy state possible, the preservation measures we are undertaking for the Atkinson-Brierley project is no small feat, the collection contains 6,324 plans and almost all will require cleaning.

Paint sitting on top of the fabric fibers at risk of further loss
AB 7/33B - Barclay's Bank Norwich, 1925

The conservation volunteers will spend three weeks sessions training in the handling of architectural plans, condition checking and conservation cleaning. Their training will focus on the cleaning of 115 plans of former Barclay's Bank building in Norwich, built in 1929-31 by E. Boardman & Son and Brierley & Rutherford. Now a grade II listed building built of Portland stone, red brick and slate, it stands as an important architectural landmark in the heart of Norwich. The plans show every level of the buildings construction from its Doric columned doorways to its plumbing and clerestory windows. These plans have survived in varying condition depending on the paper used in their creation, the conditions in which they have been stored and the time they have spent on site. They provide the ideal examples of differing conditions and materials within the collection at large.

I would like to welcome our new volunteers to the conservation department and the Atkinson-Brierley project and to thank all of our volunteers whose ongoing dedication and commitment have allowed us to clean over 2300 plans in the collection so far.

AB 7/33B - Picture of Barclay's Bank, Norwich

-- Tracy Wilcockson, Conservation Volunteering Co-ordinator

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The Sextoness of Goodramgate

One of the most enjoyable aspects of Project Genesis are the personal stories that emerge from the many and varied archives held here at the Institute. Most recently the addition of the Borthwick’s charity records to the online catalogue revealed the story of Grace Green and, through her, a rather unexpected female occupation.

Grace appears in the records of Lady Conyngham’s Charity, a trust established in 1816 to provide yearly pensions for ten poor clergymen, twelve ‘poor and distressed’ widows of clergymen, and six poor women of York aged over 50.

Many early applications for these pensions survive in the archive and the applications of poor women of York make particularly interesting, if poignant, reading, chronicling as they do bereavements, illness, and misfortune and the limited and too often inadequate means of employment open to women in the early nineteenth century.

Grace’s application is part of the earliest bundle, dated 1816-1817. She describes herself as a 67 year old widow living in Goodramgate and, in contrast to the usual occupations of washerwoman, seamstress, nurse and teacher listed in the various applications, states that her existing financial support ‘arises from the office of Sexton of the Parish Church of the Holy Trinity… which she has held upwards of Thirty Years now last past.’ The Church of the Holy Trinity was Holy Trinity Goodramgate, York, and her application was endorsed by James Dallin, then rector of that parish. 

Grace Green’s application to Lady Conyngham’s charitable trust.

A sexton is a parish officer, usually responsible for the maintenance of the church buildings and churchyard and for the digging of graves. At a time when women were barred from most public offices, Grace’s occupation was somewhat surprising but, as research proved, she was not the first woman to hold this office, nor even the first one in York.

The existence of ‘sextonesses’ can be traced back to at least 1671 when a female sexton was recorded at Islington in Middlesex. A sextoness was also employed at nearby Hackney in 1690 and 1730. It is not yet clear how common this practice was, but in 1739 it proved controversial enough to prompt a court case when Sarah Bly, the widow of the sexton of St Botolph without Aldersgate in London, was elected to succeed her late husband to the post.

Mrs Bly had polled 209 votes to her opponent’s 196; crucially, forty of her votes came from female householders in the parish. Her opponent, John Olive, took the matter to the Court of King’s Bench, requiring judges to decide not only whether a woman could hold the position of sexton, but whether women could vote in such elections at all.

Fortunately for Sarah Bly and those who came after her, after five months of deliberations the court ruled that as women had held higher offices (Anne, Countess of Pembroke and hereditary Sheriff of Westmoreland was used as an example), and as ‘the office of sexton was no publick office, nor a matter of skill or judgement, but only a private office of trust,’ it was perfectly legal for any woman who paid her church rates to hold the office and to vote in the elections for it.

The first known sextoness in York died just twenty years later in 1759 at the exceptional age of a century or more. She was described in The Gentleman’s Magazine of that year as ‘Mary Hall, sexton of Bishop-Hill, York City, aged 105, she walked about and retained her senses till within three days of her death.’ The London Evening Post adds that Mary had succeeded her husband to the office and that, between them, they had ‘enjoyed that Place 69 years.’

Burial record of ‘Mary Hall saxton aged 100 years’ in the burial register of St Mary Bishophill Senior, York, in 1759.

It would seem that widows succeeding their husbands to office was a common factor in the election of sextonesses, perhaps as a means of continuing financial support for the family. This was certainly true of Grace Green who succeeded her husband Thomas, a weaver, to the post at his death in 1802.

Thomas had been sexton of Holy Trinity Goodramgate since at least 1795, the year that Grace appeared as a witness in a case brought before the church courts for sexual defamation as the 42 year old ‘wife of the sexton.’ Thomas died aged 81 and in the following year the churchwardens’ accounts of Holy Trinity Goodramgate list the ‘sexton’s salary 24s, her bill 8s 2d.’ Thereafter there are yearly references to payments made to Grace Green for her sexton’s salary and for additional work such as cleaning the church, washing, and cooking.

It is not clear what else her duties entailed and whether she did in fact ever dig any graves or whether this job was delegated to another. Certainly there is evidence that sextonesses could and did carry out the more physical aspects of the job. In Kingston upon Thames, near London, the redoubtable Hester Hammerton rang the church bell and dug all the graves in the churchyard herself from 1730, when she succeeded her father in the role of sexton, until her death in 1746. Hester, who wore a loose gown and a man’s waistcoat and hat on every day but Sunday, ‘possessed great bodily strength,’ according to an 1820 memorial of her, and on one occasion was said to have confronted two would-be thieves in the church and ‘resolutely seized one of them by the collar and threw him over the reading desk into the pew below.’

Hester, or Esther, Hammerton of Kingston Upon Thames in James Caulfield’s ‘Portaits, memoirs, and characters, of remarkable persons: from the revolution in 1688 to the end of the reign of George II (1820).   Image used with kind permission of Digital Library@ Villanova University.

Sadly the parish records for Holy Trinity Goodramgate offer no such stories for Grace. Her sexton’s salary of £2 a year, rising to £4 and 4 shillings by the 1820s, provided her with a very small income, small enough that she was moved to apply to Lady Conyngham’s Charity for additional help in 1816. Unfortunately her application was unsuccessful and the parish records show that Grace continued as sexton until around 1834, two years before her death in 1836 at the age of 90.

Grace was not the last of her family to hold the office however. In the same year that Grace’s name ceases to appear, a ‘Mary Green’ begins to be paid the sexton’s salary instead. Mary was the daughter of Grace and Thomas, born in 1782, and she continued in the role of sexton until 1863 when ‘thro’ old age & infirmity’ she was finally succeeded by the parish clerk, Isaac Barker, bringing to an end 61 years of Green family sextonesses at Holy Trinity Church.


James Caulfield, ‘Portraits, Memoirs, and Characters, of Remarkable Persons : From the Revolution in 1688 to the End of the Reign of George II,’ Volume III (London, 1820)

Sarah Richardson, ‘The Political Worlds of Women: Gender and Politics in Nineteenth Century Britain’ (Oxford, 2013)

Hilda L. Smith, ‘Women writers and the early modern British political tradition’ (Cambridge, 1998)

Friday, 5 June 2015

Sledmere House - Rising from the Ashes

Sledmere House today (picture courtesy of Sledmere House) 
One of the largest and most interesting sets of plans in the Atkinson-Brierley collection is that relating to the rebuilding of Sledmere, a country house in East Yorkshire. The house was built in the 1751, and in the 1780s and 1790s underwent significant renovations. Like many grand Yorkshire houses in the period, it was updated with fashionable Adam-style interiors by Joseph Rose, a specialist in fine plasterwork, and the gardens were landscaped by the famous Capability Brown.

The Library at Sledmere House today (picture courtesy of Sledmere House)
However, disaster struck in 1911, when fire gutted the building. Though estate workers and local people did their best to rescue Sledmere’s treasures, the building required extensive repair. This is where Walter Brierley came in. Using Rose’s original plans and surviving photographs and drawings, Brierley and his team worked to restore the house to its previous glory, as required by the then owner Sir Tatton Sykes. The plans reveal the intricate detail of this work, including beautiful coloured  ketches of the parquet flooring and plasterwork which decorated the celebrated long library.

AB 7/1a Detail of  proposed design for parquet floor in
library, Borthwick Institute for Archives 
AB 7/1a Details of proposed design for parquet floor in library,
Borthwick Institute for Archives 

Meanwhile, the plans of the house exterior show how it was rebuilt and extended in sympathy with Georgian architectural fashions. Rebuilding continued through World War One, and by the late 1920s, Sledmere was once again a vibrant country estate. Thanks to the careful restoration of Brierley and his team, Sledmere survives today for visitors to discover elements of both Georgian and Edwardian aristocratic life. Here at the Borthwick Institute for Archives, the 181 Sledmere plans and archived correspondence tell the story behind his massive and marvellous restoration, newly cleaned and available for all to enjoy!

AB 7/1a: South West Elevation of Sledmere House, Borthwick Institute for Archives
Further reading:
Ruth Mather, Volunteer, Atkinson Brierley Conservation Project

You can read more about the Atkinson Brierley Project on the blog and on our website.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Who came to see the Retreat? A look through the Retreat Visitors’ Books

Queen Victoria and the Duke of Wellington didn’t visit the Retreat!
The monarch would never have signed herself “Queen Victoria” in 1856, and the signature of the Iron Duke in 1821 fails to match up with authenticated examples. Mischievous or deluded patients from the democratic Retreat “family” were probably responsible for these entries.
Queen Victoria’s name appears in the visitor’s book RET 1/4/4/2 but we don’t think it is a genuine signature
But many well-known people, from all over the country and from abroad, really did come to see the Retreat in its early days and they signed their names in the Retreat General Visitors’ Books: three volumes covering the years 1798-1822 (RET 1/4/4/1), 1822-1835 (RET 1/4/4/2) and 1837-1861 (RET 1/4/4/3).
Genuine royal visitors included the Grand Duke Nicholas, brother to the Emperor Alexander of Russia, who visited with a party of Russian notables on 12 December 1816. Important Russian visitors seem to have been a feature of the Retreat’s early years: in August 1814, the Emperor’s physician came, as did a Russian princess, and in July 1818 Grand Duke Michael, another brother of the Emperor, arrived with his suite.
On 25 August 1822, “Augustus Frederick, Kensington Palace”, signed his name in the Visitors’ Book. This was Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843), the sixth son of George III. The Duke was very interested in the arts and sciences, was involved in many charities, and had progressive political views, being a supporter of the abolition of the slave trade and of Catholic emancipation.
Augustus Frederick’s signature
Such an interest in reform characterised many Retreat visitors. The Utopian idealist Robert Owen, who developed the socially enlightened and pioneering model village of New Lanark (like the Retreat, this was a place of pilgrimage for all who were interested in progressive social ideas) visited the Retreat on 6 May 1815, remarking that “on visiting houses of this kind his feelings had been harrowed up but at this house he was not so affected”. Another well-known social reformer, who visited the Retreat several times, was the Quaker prison reformer Elizabeth Fry.

The three Retreat General Visitors’ Books have long been well-known to Retreat historians, and they repay close study. Yet there has been no thorough analysis of them to examine the appeal of the Retreat and to tease out the meaning of its fame among different social groupings. There is not even a complete index of the visitors’ names. But clearly, visitors flocked as a result of the publicity generated by Samuel Tuke’s Description of the Retreat, (1813). As William Brereton Grime, a visitor from Manchester, remarked on 4 July 1816, he “was confirmed in the good opinion he had formed of it by reading Mr Tuke’s book”. The model care offered by the Retreat not surprisingly attracted those who were also involved in the management of the insane.  Thomas Maynard Knight from Finsbury Square, London, for example, came on 16 and 17 April 1817 “on purpose to gain information respecting treatment etc being about immediately to open a house called The London Retreat for the reception of about 12 Persons mentally disordered”.
Looking through the names of visitors, they clearly fall into a number of often overlapping categories: the famous visitors, who came largely in the earliest years when the Retreat was such a novelty; doctors from Britain, Europe and  the USA, coming to see the Retreat regime for themselves; Quakers, coming to see the Retreat of which they must have heard so much (and perhaps because a family or friend was a patient); ordinary people, often whole families or larger parties, visiting the Retreat because it was famous (sometimes one can clearly see local people bringing their guests to see the Retreat because it was one of the tourist sights of York), and some visitors who defy these categorisations, such as the seven Seneca Red Indian warriors, who signed the visitors book on 8 May 1818 with their names in pictures: Long Horns, Beaver, Black Squirrel, etc. They had been brought to England to be toured around theatres, and they were then appearing at the York Theatre Royal. In this case, it was not the Retreat that was being shown off but the visitors themselves who were the object of interest: a number of local Quakers came up to the Retreat to meet them.
So what names in the visitors’ books have caught my eye?
Amelia Opie (1769-1853) visited on 9 December 1834. She was a novelist, poet, radical and philanthropist, the wife of the painter John Opie and the friend of the writer and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. She had become a Quaker in 1825 and must have been interested to see the famous Quaker Retreat.
Ignatius Bonomi (1787-1870) visited on 14 September 1815. He was a Durham based architect, who gained a considerable architectural practice in the north east of England. He is sometimes called “the first railway architect”, because in 1824 he designed the first railway bridge, over the River Skerne at Darlington, for the Stockton and Darlington Railway. Bonomi later had a family connection with York: his sister Mary Anne married Dr George Goldie (1784-1853), who became York’s premier physician and was also a very frequent visitor to the Retreat, often bringing guests with him.
Having studied nineteenth century doctors for my doctoral thesis, I was interested to see some old friends visiting the Retreat. On 9 September 1819 the young, recently qualified, Manchester surgeons Thomas Fawdington and John Boutflower visited the Retreat together: at that time they were junior resident doctors at the Manchester Infirmary, which was given as their address. They went on to have successful careers in Manchester and Salford respectively, and were both active as teachers in the Manchester medical schools. In June 1819, Joseph Atkinson Ransome, Honorary Surgeon to the Manchester Royal Infirmary, came to the Retreat, and in September 1822 Edward Carbutt MD, Honorary Physician to the Manchester Royal Infirmary, was a visitor. Both of these doctors were Quakers. It is not known what other connections, if any, Carbutt had with the Retreat, but in the Retreat archive (RET 8/8/2) is a copy of a handbill which was issued by Carbutt in 1815 to support his cause during a dispute he was then having with a doctor competitor for the post of physician to the Manchester Infirmary.
As my son now lives in Copenhagen, I was interested to see two Copenhagen doctors signing the visitors’ books. Dr Franz Gothard Howitz of Copenhagen came on 9 August 1818 and Dr Carl Otto, came on 9 April 1822. These men were successively Professors of Forensic Medicine at the University of Copenhagen, and Otto also succeeded Howitz as physician to the Copenhagen prison. Howitz had argued that many of the criminals in the prison were in fact mentally disordered and could thus not be responsible for their crimes. Both he and, to an even greater extent, Dr Otto, were phrenologists (phrenologists believed that the size and shape of the skull indicated mental faculties and character traits). A closer reading of the Retreat visitors’ books shows that other phrenologists visited the Retreat. On 17 March 1817, for example,“B. Donkin  London, Craniologist, Disciple of Dr Spurzheim” came. Johann Spurzheim (1776-1832), a German physician, is famous as one of the chief proponents of phrenology. And in fact he himself had visited the Retreat only two months earlier, on 30 January 1817; recorded in the visitors’ book as “Dr Spursheim (Craniologist)”.

This is one of a series of blog posts published as material from the Retreat archive is digitised and made available online. More information about the Wellcome Library funded project to digitise the Retreat archive can be found on the project pages of our website. Digital surrogates from the Retreat archive project so far are available via the Wellcome Library.
Kath Webb
Borthwick Institute
May 2015