Friday, 24 March 2017

5 Things: The St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel, York

Recently I added the archive of the Unitarian Chapel on St Saviourgate, York, to our online catalogue Borthcat. I knew next to nothing about the chapel or the archive when I began, not even that it was the oldest surviving non-conformist place of worship in the city, dating to 1693! I expected to find administrative and financial records, perhaps some publications and ephemera collected over the chapel's long history, but instead I found a wonderfully rich archive that reveals as much about the private lives of its congregation as it does the working life of the chapel.

The following are five items (out of hundreds) that I have selected to demonstrate the wealth of interesting and unusual items that can be found in the archives of local institutions.

1. Pardon of Christopher Brooke of Lincoln’s Inn, 1626.

BI, UCSS/5/19

One of the earliest items in the archive is this grant of pardon made by King Charles I to Christopher Brooke of Lincoln’s Inn, one of the London Inns of Court.  It is a grant of general pardon, covering everything from murder and insurrection to theft, and it has a large Royal Seal attached displaying the enthroned King on one side and the King on horseback on the other.  

BI, UCSS/5/19

 It’s not clear from the document itself why Brooke should need such a blanket exemption, or indeed who exactly Brooke is.  Speculation in the office that he was a seventeenth century spy sadly proved unfounded.  A more likely bet is that he was the son of Robert Brooke, a merchant and alderman of York in the late sixteenth century.  Christopher was his eldest son and was educated at Cambridge before becoming a bencher of Lincoln’s Inn in 1610.  In 1626 he returned to York to take up the post of Justice of the Council of the North and it is probable that he was granted the pardon to ensure his clean criminal record before taking public office, and not for any nefarious reasons.

2. An Account of Mr Driffield’s Household Furniture, 1791

This small book is from a cache of papers in the archive labelled ‘Driffield and Bielby’, and named for two local Unitarian mercantile families who entered into a business partnership in the late eighteenth century. Again it is unclear how their papers, which include business accounts, property papers and plans, came to be in the archive but this particular item offers a fascinating glimpse into the layout and contents of what must have been a comfortably situated eighteenth century house and shop.  Compiled by a Thomas Hardisty of Castlegate, York, the account most closely resembles the inventory often found with probate documents.  However a search of the probate indexes here at the Borthwick has found no Driffield wills registered around 1791 and certainly the Driffield most closely connected to St Saviourgate Chapel, merchant Robert Driffield of Mount House who has a handsome memorial on the chapel wall, did not die until 1816.


The account shows us that Mr Driffield had 14 rooms in his house, including his ‘shop’.  The rooms included six bedrooms, all with feather beds, hangings, dressing tables and looking glasses.  Some had additional chests of drawers, desks and washstands in mahogany and oak.  One had a ‘glass Fearne and glass’, another a ‘picture.’  Downstairs he had a dining room with ‘Scotch carpits’, a ‘Mahogany Tea Table’ and six chairs.  The room adjoining contained his ‘oak dining table’ and all his tableware.  The account lists cups, saucers, coffee mugs, three tea pots, ‘blue China plates’, decanters and glasses.  He had both a large and small kitchen filled with pots, pans, kettles and ‘toasting prickers’. Finally his parlour with its mahogany table, oak desk, chairs, stool, ‘Hair seat’ and tea chest, as well as a bird cage, ‘4 Pictures’ and ‘carpits.’  The total value came to £110, with a further £23 and 4 shillings added from the value of fixtures and fittings in his shop.


3. Laws of a Book Society established at York, 1795.

The archive includes another small cache of books and papers, this time belonging to the Wellbeloved family.  Their connection to the St Saviourgate Chapel is an obvious one, Charles Wellbeloved had come to York in 1792 as assistant to the chapel’s minister Newcome Cappe.  He succeeded to the ministry at Cappe’s death in 1800 and was a prominent York figure, active in reformist and antiquarian circles for the rest of his life.  

BI, UCSS/10/5

Just one of the many clubs and societies he played a part in was the York Book Society, established in 1794 as a circulating subscription library.   The society initially met at Reverend Wellbeloved’s home.  It was later reconstituted as the Subscription Library Society and from 1812 it had its own premises on the corner of Lendal and St Helen’s Square.   The early ‘Laws’ of the society kept by Wellbeloved show that subscription was one guinea a year, with an additional sixpence charged for missing the monthly society meeting.  Books were to be borrowed first by the member who suggested it, and then passed on to other members in order of seniority.  

The library at that time comprised 35 titles, although this had risen to 140 by 1799 and included such titles as the ‘Life of the Empress of Russia’, ‘Miss Williams’ Tour in Switzerland’ and ‘Bishop Watson’s Apology for the Bible.’

BI, UCSS/10/5

4. Journal of travels on the continent, 1819

Whilst these family papers showcase the involvement of Charles Wellbeloved in York civic life, the majority of items in this small cache are actually by his son, John, including lecture notes, poems and a journal detailing his all too short trip to Europe in the summer of 1819, when he was 21 years old.    

John Wellbeloved was the second son and the one expected to follow his father into the ministry.  He had studied divinity at Manchester College, winning the prize for Greek composition, and the poems he wrote there are a reminder that student life has not changed as much as we may think.  In his poem ‘In Praise of Coffee’ he writes of long hours studying and the reviving effects of his favourite drink,

When late at night we weary trudge,
In learning’s thorny way.
Our strength and spirits will revive,
And all our pains allay.

BI, UCSS/2/8

His father wished for him to become more fluent in German and so in July 1819 he left for the continent with a friend of his father’s, Dr John Kenrick.  In spite of the ‘villanous coffee’ he had to drink in Germany, his journal gives a lively account of the trip, describing the beauty of the countryside and addressing remarks to his family at home who would read it upon his return.  On one evening,

‘Being encouraged by the ladies I ventured to make an attempt at a Waltz with Miss Acherbach.  And now Anne [his younger sister], you must not think a Waltz in Germany the horrible thing which it is thought to be in England.  The ladies here stand up as naturally to a Waltz as they do in England to a country dance & nothing more is thought of it.’

John and Kenrick had planned to spend the winter in Göttingen but tragically it was not to be.  At the end of September, the pair were at Homburg, near Frankfurt, when John became ill with typhus.  He died within the fortnight and was buried in the cemetery of the Reformed Church there.  A college friend described him as ‘gifted by nature with superior talents’ whilst possessing ‘a thoroughly warm, benevolent and guileless heart.’  Years later, Kenrick wrote that his parents never recovered from his loss.

5.  'Reflections on the Public Ministry of Christ deduced from the Records of the Four Evangelists' by Catharine Cappe, 1821

BI, UCSS/3/6

This is the only book in the archive authored by Catharine Cappe alone, yet Catharine looms large in the history of St Saviourgate Chapel and indeed in the cause of Unitarianism and York life in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.  The daughter of Jeremiah Harrison, the incumbent of Long Preston and Skipton, and later of Catterick, Catharine converted to Unitarianism as an adult.  In the eighteenth century Unitarianism was considered as a radical form of dissent from Anglican orthodoxy.  Catharine argued that philanthropy was a way of countering negative views of the movement and encouraged women to take an active role in public life, as she herself did following her move to York in 1782.  She set up a spinning school for girls with her friend, Mrs Gray, that same year, and went on to reorganise the city’s Grey Coat School for Girls from 1785.  In 1788 she set up a female Friendly Society to provide financial support to women in times of hardship.  

In 1788 she also became the second wife of Newcome Cappe, the minister of St Saviourgate between 1755 and 1800.   During their marriage Catharine assisted her husband with his ministry, transcribing his earlier religious writings and taking dictation of his new sermons.  After his death in 1800 she edited her husband’s work into a number of publications, including ‘Discourses chiefly on Devotional Subjects’ in 1805 and ‘Discourses Chiefly on Practical Subjects’ in 1815.  She was also an important benefactor to the Yorkshire Romantic poet Charlotte Richardson, arranging for her first book of verse to be published by subscription in 1806.
On her own account, Catharine published at least three books.  Her ‘Account of Two Charity Schools for the Education of Girls’ was printed in 1800, and her autobiography ‘Memoirs of the Life of Mrs Catherine Cappe’ and ‘Reflections on the Public Ministry of Christ deduced from the Records of the Four Evangelists’ were both published after her death in July 1821.


If you would like to read more about the St Saviourgate Chapel Archive, you can read the entry on our online catalogue HERE, or why not visit the chapel's own website.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Spotlight on the Retreat archive: Pianos at the Retreat

This is the third in a series of blog posts celebrating the Retreat archive and our digitisation project as it nears completion. The Retreat is one of the most important institutions in the care and treatment of mental health patients. Over the last two and half years, staff at the Borthwick have been working through the archive, preparing the documents for digitisation, carrying out conservation treatments where appropriate and photographing each item page by page.

This has been a huge task. Over 600,000 images have been created so far and the focus has been on handling each item with care and capturing a high quality image efficiently and effectively. Of course there have been many items that have caught our eye along the way. In this series of blog posts project staff pick out some of the interesting items that they have encountered.

Here Jenny Mitcham, our digital archivist writes about the pianos at the Retreat.

My input into the Retreat digitisation project has not been very hands on. I haven’t been conserving the archive, digitising the documents or updating the catalogue. For the most part, I haven’t had cause to interact with the archive at all. My focus has been on facilitating the smooth running of the project, keeping an eye on the budget, arranging meetings and writing progress reports.

I’ve always been pleased when some of the more ‘challenging’ items (from a digitisation or conservation perspective) get brought into our project meetings so we can make decisions about how to proceed. This is normally the closest I get to actually seeing the material that we are working with! This does make it harder for me to pick out an item to blog about when I haven’t actually seen many items.

However, there was one occasion last year when had to go down to the strongroom to collect an audio tape from one of the boxes that was going to be sent out to a contractor for digitisation as part of this project. Whilst looking in the box to try to find accompanying information for the audio a file entitled ‘Pianos’ (RET/1/5/5/7/22) caught my eye.

As a keen piano player myself I was immediately interested in what this file might contain.
It covers the period 1924 to 1945 and includes letters about repair or purchase of pianos, lists of pianos at the Retreat (they had more than you might expect) as well as a fairly ambitious piano-tuning schedule. You can browse this whole file online through the Wellcome Library catalogue so do have a look.

Looking through this file was an interesting little glimpse into one of the lighter elements of life at the Retreat. At first I was surprised by just how many pianos they had. In 1924 they list 8 pianos but at the latest mention (in 1945) they appear to have 16. No wonder they needed to maintain detailed lists and tuning schedules.

Much of the file relates to piano tuning. Lists stating that “Twelve of the following piano’s to be tuned each quarter” show which of the many pianos were tuned on which date. This rigorous schedule was pretty much adhered to. My (fairly well used) piano is only tuned once a year so I was struck by how regularly they tuned them. They clearly were an important part of life at the Retreat for both patients and staff and consequently needed to be looked after well.

Of course, some pianos did reach the end of their useful life in this period. The earliest item of correspondence in the file, a letter from John Gray and Sons, ‘pianoforte, gramaphone and organ specialists’ on Coney Street, York in 1924 stated that “Our representative called to tune the piano in the attendents sittingroom of the Retreat yesterday and found it in a very bad condition. He patched it up as best as he was able but he reports it is really waste of money to have anything more done to it and it would be more satisfactory if it was replaced by a new one.”

The Retreat reply with “We will consider the question of the renewal of the piano in the Attendants’ sitting room, but I hardly think we shall be prepared to buy a new one at the moment”

In 1935 a report on Retreat pianos noted that “The pianos in the Attendants’ Quarters and the “Secretaries’ Dining Room” are very poor indeed.” I wonder if this was still the same piano as had been discussed in 1924?

Much of the correspondence within the file concerns the purchase and relocation of an Allison grand piano from Darlington to the recreation room of the Retreat in the 1930’s for the sum of £50. This took some time to arrange (over 2 years) but was clearly seen as something that was worth holding out for. Writing to the Retreat in March 1933, a letter from Darlington states:

“I have played on the Allison Piano belonging to Mrs Dresser this afternoon and think it is a good one. The tone is full, the touch sympathetic, and except for being rather out of tune because it has not been played on lately, the piano is in excellent condition.

“It might be possible to get a piano for less than £80 in a sale room, but it would be difficult to find one quite so good as this with certainty.”

So who used all of these pianos at the Retreat? We can find out a bit about this through other elements of the archive. A quick search of the online catalogue locates several photographs of staff playing the piano at the Retreat. The earliest being this faded and carefully posed photograph of the sitting room of the nurses home in the early 20th century


Another image of nurses in the sitting room of the second nurses home (RET/1/8/5/6/3) dates to the period covered by the pianos file and a later set of images (RET/1/8/5/8) taken in this same room, this time from the 1950’s, are less formal and shows a group of nurses singing round the piano. You can even zoom into the image to see what music they are playing!



We also know that pianos at the Retreat were played by patients. Looking at the list of rooms in which the pianos were stationed, some were clearly placed in areas where patients could access them. It is known that some patients also had their own private pianos that they brought with them to the Retreat. For example our catalogue entry for an oil painting by George Isaac Sidebottom (who was a patient at the Retreat from the 1890’s) mentions the fact that he acquired a piano for his room (RET/2/1/7/5).

And coming full circle, the audiotape that first led to me encounter this file about pianos at the Retreat itself provides further evidence of how they were used. It is a recording of a staff revue ‘Sunny Side Up’  held at the Retreat on the 6th August 1960 to raise money for The Retreat Appeal (RET/1/5/5/7/27). Accompanying the singing is (I believe) a piano. Perhaps this is the Allison grand piano that came from Darlington in 1935? You can listen to the audio in full through the Borthwick Catalogue.


But apparently it wasn’t always this way. In the early nineteenth century the Quaker attitude towards amusements was different. Activities such as playing cards, music and dancing, theatre going and even the reading of novels were frowned upon. As the century progressed attitudes relaxed and the Retreat archive reflects this. Harold Capper Hunt a Steward of the Retreat wrote in his book ‘A Retired Habitation’ in 1932 that “When Dr. Kitching handed over the reins to Dr. Baker he expressed the hope that his successor might be able to to add to the number of pianos in the Institution. It was a sign of the times. The ancient Quaker prejudice against music was beginning to give way …” Dr. Baker was Medical Superintendent from 1874 to 1892 so this is several years before the file we are looking at, but it is interesting to see the early signs of this move towards a more relaxed attitude towards music.

We can no doubt find out lots more about pianos at the Retreat by going into other areas of the archive in more depth - for example other administrative or correspondence files, or the section of the archive that specifically relates to entertainments (RET/1/5/5/7). The archive is now available online so do explore it and see what else you can discover.

Today at the Retreat pianos are still present. Of course there are not as many as there were in the 1930’s and 40’s - perhaps inevitable as more modern forms of entertainment have taken over. However I am told there are still 5 pianos at the Retreat (and another in their unit at Strensall). They continue to be tuned - but on the slightly less ambitious schedule of approximately once a year! Today at The Retreat there is music therapy, music groups and a choir. Last year they also arranged their own pianathon - non-stop piano playing throughout the day! I was really pleased to hear that music is still such an important part of life at the Retreat.

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 are available via the Wellcome Library.