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

Thursday, 7 May 2015

The school books of Thomas Skaife

A month into Project Genesis and work has progressed from the horticultural records of James Russell to the Borthwick's ‘private deposits,’ a group of some fifty archives that range in date from the 11th to the 20th century and in subject from the manors of medieval Yorkshire to Colonial America and 1950s Nigeria. 
As you might imagine such a diverse group of archives contains more than a few gems, such as these exercise books used by Thomas Skaife while he was a student at ‘Mr A. Nesbit’s Academy, Manchester’ between 1822 and 1824.  
The title page of Thomas Skaife's copy book.

Such books are a rare survival among estate and family papers where you might more usually expect to find property deeds, household accounts and correspondence, making Thomas’  ‘Ciphering Book’ and beautifully penned copy books filled with mathematical tables, specimen problems and calligraphy all the more charming.
Specimen page from the copy book commemorating Admiral Nelson whose death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 was still within living memory.  The text reads 'To Heroes yet unborn shall Albion tell /How Nelson triumphed and how Nelson fell,' together with the famous signal sent from HMS Victory, 'England expects every Man to do his Duty.'
The Skaife family originated from Braisty Wood and Kirkby Malzeard in Yorkshire.  In the fifteenth century they had been keepers of the cattle for Fountains Abbey and the time of the Abbey’s dissolution in the sixteenth century Robert and William Skafe were the tenants of the Abbey’s lands in Braisty Wood.  In 1601 Thomas Skaife purchased a lease of Braisty Wood from Sir William Ingilby and the family settled there permanently, building a house there in 1656.  For the next nine generations the successive owners of the estate were named Thomas - presenting something of a challenge for the researcher – but it is possible the young Thomas Skaife who studied at Manchester was the son of Thomas and Elizabeth Skaife who married in 1808.  Thomas Skaife the elder died at Manchester in 1855 and his son inherited the estate and later became a common councillor at Ripon.   The exercise books, together with other deeds and papers pertaining to the Skaife family, were donated to the Borthwick Institute in 1969.
Page from Thomas Skaife's 'Ciphering Book' showing specimen mathematical problems - in this case using measurements of wine and rum.
But what of the mysterious Mr A. Nesbit whose academy put such an emphasis on penmanship and practical arithmetic?  He was Mr Anthony Nesbit, the son of a Northumberland farmer who became a successful school teacher and was the author of several very popular textbooks on arithmetic, measurement and surveying in the nineteenth century.   His school, the ‘Classical, Commercial and Mathematical Academy’ opened in Oxford Street, Manchester around 1821 and remained there until 1841 when he moved the enterprise to London, establishing the ‘Classical, Commercial and Scientific Academy’ at Lower Kennington Lane in Lambeth.
Mr Nesbit died in 1859 but he was not the last of his family to make it into print.  His granddaughter Edith is still widely known today as the author of the bestselling novel ‘The Railway Children.’

Monday, 27 April 2015

'Who Do You Think You Are? Live!' 16-18 April 2015

Who Do You Think You Are? Live! (or WDYTYA, as it’s known) is the UKs biggest family history event. It’s estimated that over 10,000 visitors come each year to immerse themselves with everything that is on offer. For some, it’s pleasure, for others it’s a serious business. No visit is complete without a bag filled with handy leaflets, freebies and notes. Previously held at London’s Olympia until 2015, the show has been a staple of the family history calendar for some years now.

The show’s move this year to the NEC in Birmingham gave us a unique opportunity to take part. Sadly, for many archive services the costs of attending an event as large as WDYTYA are prohibitively expensive. With the event moving to Birmingham, we were able to team up with East Riding Archives and Local Studies, North Yorkshire County Record Office, West Yorkshire Archive Service and York Explore as the Consortium of Yorkshire Archives alongside and in partnership with the Yorkshire Group of Family History Societies.

The Consortium (as it became known) was able to offer leaflets, guides and general advice from each of the participating services. Staff from the Borthwick, East Riding and York Explore were able to come to the NEC and work on the stand - this would prove to be a fascinating experience, even if it was punishing on the feet!

If you haven’t been to WDYTYA, it’s hard to get a grasp of the size and scale of the show. Held in a vast hall in the NEC complex, it features stands from the major online family history providers; The National Archives, Imperial War Museum and countless local and family history societies, along with a multitude of other providers - anything from plastic wallets to full body massages seemed to be on offer.

Our home for the next three days...

I was able to be at the NEC to set up the stand and for the first two days of the event. Certainly, the setup session was unlike any other family history fair I’d seen - never have I had to dodge forklift trucks before, nor had a carpet hastily laid quite literally under my feet! After displaying our leaflets tastefully on our stand, it was time to go back to the hotel to rest up and prepare for the challenge ahead.

The walk to the hall the next morning was quite something  - note to future attendees, the NEC complex really is quite large. As the speakers boomed out that the show was open I began to get an idea of how busy the show was likely to be. Firstly, eager attendees with maps searching our particular groups they wanted to speak to; followed by others scoping out what was on offer. By 10:30am we were in full flow, a rush of friendly faces, questions and comments that didn’t seem to end until the show closed at 5:30pm

Day one!
The second day followed the same pattern as the first, though what really struck me was the variety of questions on offer. No two people were researching the same places and topics, though it was also fun to hear strangely similar queries - who knew Whitby had so many people wanting to research it? By the end of the three days, well over 1,000 people had visited the Consortium of Yorkshire Archives stand.

Thinking specifically about the Borthwick’s involvement, it was great to be there just to let people know about the amazing array of records we hold that can help them in their research. It was great to be able to highlight collections like our Parish records, Wills collection, and Cause Papers which could really enrich and flesh out the research that attendees were undertaking.

More to the point, it was just great to be able to meet so many people who were excited about the possibilities they could see in using our records, and who were just happy to see us there.

But, at the end of the third day, it was just great to have a sit down!

Next time....?