Beginnings and Endings: History Carnival 150

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It’s been one month since I started my new job at the University of Essex. Settling in has been a busy and fun process. The moving company now tells me that my boxes should be in England by the weekend. One month and a new start in life has simply become life… Being in a reflective state of mind, I’ve chosen to focus this month’s History Carnival on the theme of beginnings and endings.


Let us begin, then, with a voyage. Over at Halley’s Log, Kate Morant has started blogging Edmond Halley’s third voyage on the Paramour (1701), this time to observe the tides in the English Channel–and maybe do some spying.

The ultimate traveller just might be Morrissey… or Richard III… who appears to have been doing some time travel. This is possibly my favourite tweet of the month. (Well, it’s technically from October rather than September, but it arrived just as I was writing this post.)

And there is a great introduction to the artist Sonia Delaunay over at Art and Architecture, mainly where we learn about how she began a new life in a new city and took up new ways of doing art.

A big welcome to Sheilagh O’Brien who has just started blogging at Enchanted History! Her first post on marriage to the Devil couldn’t be timed more perfectly, being on the Essex witch trials and mentioning–of course–Colchester. There is more witchy history over at The Witch, the Weird and the Wonderful, where HJ Blenkinsop considers how the black cat became the witch’s familiar.

Jan van de Velde, 1626. A witch at her cauldron surrounded by beasts. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Jan van de Velde, 1626. A witch at her cauldron surrounded by beasts. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

A cracking criminal tale from Catherine Curzon at A Covent Gardern Gilfurt’s Guide to Life. In 1807, Strasbourg residents were being subjected to a new and elaborate con in which a gang of thieves played the roles of exorcist, devil and prophetess to dupe their victims.

Where there are thieves, there must be those who pursue them. Margaret Makepeace at Untold Lives tells us the story of the Metropolitan Police’s first-ever day on the job… that came complete with a review of their performance in the Morning Post the day after!

There are some great posts from historians reflecting on the profession and practice of doing history. Brodie Waddell at The Many-Headed Monster has a series of posts considering what problems exist in the history profession–specifically about training doctoral students and the casualisation of labour. In this post, he has “Seven Practical Steps” for what we can do to improve it.

Johann Staininger, a man with a very long beard. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Johann Staininger, a man with a very long beard. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

It’s not all doom and gloom, of course. Sometimes it’s a bit fuzzy. Congratulations to Alun Withey who has just launched his new project on beards in history, which he introduces over here.

From Victorians’ facial hair, it is but a short hop to Jacob Steere-Williams’ post at Renaissance Mathematicus, in which he critiques the “privileged hipsters living the solipsist dream of a phantasmagorical Victorian world in the twenty-first century.”

Steere-Williams argues that simply wearing nineteenth-century clothes and using nineteenth-century technology is an insufficient–even dangerous–start to understanding Victorian experience. This is “far from an inocuous appropriation of powerless objects from the past. There is a very real danger in a cherry-picked, tunnel-vision of history, one that ignores power, inequality, racism and privilege.”

Along the same lines, Matt Champion’s evocative post at the Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey points out that

it isn’t enough to simply record what we find on the walls. It is a start. No more than that. The key though has to be understanding what we are seeing. To try and find our way into the mindset and motivations of the long-dead who left these tantalising messages for the future.

Silences as a way into a field of study, or a block to that study, is the theme of “The Truth about Child Sexual Assault” (1900-1950) by Mark Finnane and Yorrick Smaal at The Prosecution Project. What might be a tantalising start when studying graffiti is the frustrating (possible) end here. As Finnane and Smaal note: “The consequences of this silence continue to frustrate scholarly research.”

Henry Heath, 1841. Three dandies smoking and drinking coffee. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Henry Heath, 1841. Three dandies smoking and drinking coffee. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

It is Welcome Week here at the University of Essex and my mind is filled with thoughts of the teaching to come next week. The Recipes Project has been running a great series on teaching historical recipes throughout the month of September, but let me draw your attention to Carla Cevasco’s post on “Teaching High School American History with Cookbooks“. It’s a fascinating post about introducing students to recipes for the first time, as well as the intersection of (for example) immigration policy, food cultures and anxiety.

But who needs university anyway? (Shhh. Let’s not tell the government, who is already in the process of dismantling UK academia.) Thony Christie looks at “The Penny Universities”, or how the first coffee houses in Britain became places where one could attend lectures by paying a penny–the price of a cup of coffee. While I like coffee (occasionally), I’m not sure that this would put bread on my table.

As every teacher knows, term time has its ups and downs. At some point, stimulants and tonics will be needed. D. Brooks at Friends of Schoharie Crossing takes a look at Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters, good

For the cure of Dyspepsia, Indigestion, Nausea, Flatulency, Loss of Appetite, or any Bilious Complaints, arising from a morbid inaction of the Stomach or Bowels, producing Cramps, Dysentery, Colic, Cholera, Morbus, &c., these Bitters have no equal.

Pharmacy jar, used for nerve ointment, The Netherlands, 1730. Credit: Science Museum, London.

Pharmacy jar, used for nerve ointment, The Netherlands, 1730.
Credit: Science Museum, London.

And with some 47% alcohol. A better bet than (at least the initial runs of) The Cereal Beverage” offered by the Chemung Beverage Company in 1927. Kelli Huggins (Chemung County Historical Society blog) discusses how the cereal beverage rapidly became a bit more high-powered, despite it being illegal. The “near beer” of Schenectady, as described at the Grems-Doolittle Library Collections blog, would also be a bit disappointing… Coffee it is, then. And maybe some bitters, too.

While thinking about the rhythms of the academic year, it’s worth reading this post on the traditional calendar in West Virginia by Danna Bell at the Library of Congress on “Finding Traditions: Exploring the Seasonal Round“. What is beginning now will end in only ten weeks, followed by grading, research and Christmas holidays, only to begin again in January…

And next month, there will be yet another History Carnival, this time hosted by Sharon Howard over at Early Modern Notes… so start saving up your posts, just as the West Virginians will be preserving foodstuffs. See you there!



A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed

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By James Hawkes

Saving lives may have been Sir Hans Sloane’s day job as a physician, but in one case he even saved a friend from the hangman: Patrick Blair, who had been sentenced to death for high treason.

A Scottish surgeon and botanist, Blair had known Sloane since 1705 after persuading a fellow Scotsmen to introduce him. Sloane and Blair corresponded for several years on diverse subjects, from botany, elephants, medical practices, books and more. But in the aftermath of the failed Jacobite rising of 1715, Blair also discovered the real importance of networking and patronage.

Britain was in a state of political upheaval for decades following the Glorious Revolution of 1688. James II may have been dethroned,  but his followers–Jacobites–repeatedly attempted to restore him to the throne. The Union of the English and Scottish parliaments in 1707 was resented by many in Scotland and strengthened Jacobitism.

Sloane, born a Presbyterian son of Ulster planters, was staunch Whig and loyal to the new royal family. Not only was his brother, James, a Whig Member of Parliament, but Sir Hans was a royal physician. In 1714, he had even attended Queen Anne upon her deathbed, prolonging her life long enough to thwart the schemes for a Jacobite restoration and to secure the Protestant Hanoverian succession.

Just one year later came ‘the Fifteen,’ a poorly organised Jacobite uprising in both Scotland and western England. Blair joined the revolt in Scotland as a surgeon, but was captured at the Battle of Preston and sent to Newgate Prison, London. He desperately wrote to his friends in the hopes of obtaining relief for himself and his suffering family.

my poor wife and children are in greatest misery and distress and that the very little they have to Live upon in Life to be utterly Lost so that they are Like to be reduced to a starving condition unless the Government shall see fit to show me their mercy and grant me relief.

A prisoner in a Newgate cell just a decade after Blair left. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

A prisoner in a Newgate cell just a decade after Blair left. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

In these pathetic pleas Blair also denies that he was ever truly a Jacobite, insisting that the rebels gave him no choice. One might suspect that Sloane found these claims a little hard to swallow given that he probably knew that Blair came from a Jacobite family and was religiously a Non-Juror–a member of the schismatic Episcopalian church who refused to swear allegiance to any but the exiled Stuarts.

It is only natural that Blair sought to preserve a sense of normality during this time of personal crisis. For instance, he sent Sloane a letter discussing their mutual botanical interests and his desire to do some gardening for Sloane, “I want to be serviceable to you for the obligations I received from you. The plants spring in my mind as fast as they do in the ground you proposed I might assist you with Last.”

Despite the efforts of his friends, including Sloane who visited him in prison, Blair was condemned to death following his guilty plea. He continued to beg for Sloane’s help.

But now having in the most submissive manner subjected myself to his majesty’s mercy I hope by your intercession… to obtain his most gracious pardon and Liberation … I therefore humbly crave you’l be pleasd to use your endeavours in that matter.

Blair had good reason to be frightened, as the Lord High Steward’s sentence of death against other rebels a few months earlier declared that they were to be brought from the Tower and:

drawn to the place of execution. When you come there, you must be hanged by the neck, but not until you are dead; for you must be cut down alive, then your bowels must be taken out and burnt before your faces; then your head s must be severed from your bodies and your bodies divided each into four quarters and these must be at the king’s disposal.[1] 

Although most of the condemned had their sentences commuted to a ‘mere’ beheading, it’s unlikely that Blair would have been reassured. There was a distinct possibility that he could end up one of the relatively few Jacobites made an example of, either through execution or exile to the colonies. Although Blair hoped that Sloane could secure him a pardon, the government kept him waiting until midnight before his scheduled execution to inform him of his reprieve.

Afterwards, Sloane continued to support Blair financially by helping him to relocate and put his life back together.  This demonstrated not only the enduring value of wealthy and well-connected friends, but also how friendship could cross political and sectarian boundaries. Despite the polarised and often violent atmosphere of politics in this period, friendship and the higher cause of the Royal Society and Republic of Letters still trumped politics.

Broadside image of the Pretender, Prince James, Landing at Peterhead on 2 January 1716. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Broadside image of the Pretender, Prince James, Landing at Peterhead on 2 January 1716. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Of course, aside from simple friendship, cultivating these connections may have represented something of an insurance policy for Sloane, just in case the King over the Waters should ever follow in footsteps of his uncle Charles II and make a triumphant march into London.

[1] Margaret Sankey, Jacobite Prisoners of the 1715 Rebellion: Preventing and Punishing Insurrection in Early Hanoverian Britain, (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2005), 27.


Changes… and a History Carnival!

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If you’re still around, dear readers, then you will have noticed that the blog has remained quiet–despite the end of my maternity leave. There is a reason for this: I have been caught up in a flurry of paperclips and packing. At the start of September, I began a new job as Lecturer in Digital History at the University of Essex.

John Constable, Wivenhoe Park, Essex. The house and some of the parkland are still on the University of Essex campus, 1816.

John Constable, Wivenhoe Park, Essex, 1816. The University of Essex is built on Wivenhoe Park. You can still see the house and some of the parkland (but, sadly, not the cows and swans).

This entailed packing up my office of thirteen years (in addition to my house). To simplify my life, I gave books and periodicals to students and sent my article library for recycling, along with all the other masses of paper that accumulate over a career.  In the end, I whittled the library down to a mere 523 books and two boxes of papers. Sloane would scoff, no doubt.

These are the two boxes of papers that escaped recycling and are in the process of being transported by ship to England. Looking at this picutre, I realise that I forgot my little office rug.

These are the two boxes of papers that escaped recycling and are in the process of being transported by ship to England. Looking at this picture, I realise that I forgot my little office rug.

To mark the new academic year and a new job, I’m hosting the 150th History Carnival on October 1.  If you don’t know what a History Carnival is (or missed the last one),  please  check out the 149th one hosted by Ana Stevenson. For Carnival 150, I’m particularly interested in featuring posts on the themes of beginnings, endings or change.* To nominate your favourite blog posts from around the interwebs in September, just fill in this form. I look forward to reading all the nominations.

*But don’t worry if your favourite September post doesn’t seem to fit that theme–nominate it anyway!


Public and Private Gardens in the Eighteenth Century

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By Chelsea Clark

Sloane was unique in his collecting habits and connections to gardens. He was passionate about obtaining plant specimens and discovering their various medical uses, however, appeared to be less interested in being personally involved in gardening. This is apparent when comparing his practices to those of his friend and colleague, Richard Richardson.

Despite the growing popularity of private gardens in England, Sloane did not have a garden of his own. His method of collecting botanical specimens was to dry them and press them in books, or keep them as seeds. Many of his letter correspondents cultivated gardens of their own and experimented with acclimatizing foreign specimens to English soil. Why did Sloane assist the Chelsea Garden at its time of crisis (mentioned in first post) if he was not trying to gain access to a garden of live specimens? How did his apparent abstinence from gardening connect with his support of the Chelsea Garden for the advancement of pubic botanical knowledge?

Sloane valued the plant knowledge that could be obtained from the garden knowing that it would indirectly aid him in his own pursuits as well as the greater scientific community. The published catalogue of the first transfer of fifty specimens (Philosophical Transactions, 1722) stated that Sloane’s motivation was to “encourage and promote an Undertaking so serviceable to the Publick.”

Curiously, there were no records of letter communication from Phillip Miller, the botanist placed in charge of the Chelsea Garden, to Sloane in regards to the Chelsea Garden. It seems most likely that the lack of correspondence reflects Sloane’s close proximity to the garden and opportunities to see Miller in person. (Though, arguably, it might also suggest that Sloane was disconnected from the garden.)

The Physic Garden, Chelsea: men botanizing in the garden. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

The Physic Garden, Chelsea: men botanizing in the garden. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Richard Richardson, maintained a garden of his own at his home in North Bierley. His private garden earned a reputation as the best in North England and housed both native and foreign plants, including a hot house for growing exotic fruits. Richardson collected for his garden himself on explorations as well as obtained specimens through his associations with other private and public gardens. From his letters to Sloane, Richardson appears passionate about exotic specimens, whether it was acclimatizing them to English conditions or fabricating greenhouses to mimic their native growing conditions. This was a much different approach to specimens than Sloane’s.

Richardson mentioned his garden in North Bierley several times to Sloane. It contained botanicals that even the Apothecaries’ Chelsea Physic Garden lacked. Richardson obtained plants for his personal garden from public gardens, such as the Edinburgh Physic Garden. This exchange of plants between private and professional gardens is an interesting feature of English gardens.

These private collectors were also part of an exchange network with Dutch and French professional gardens. One reason was that the men who were collecting, like Richardson, had the wealth and leisure to maintain a garden and were associated with scientific societies like the Royal Society of London. Their collection of botanicals was not just for aesthetic reasons or to display their status, but their scientific functions gave collectors the authority and expertise to trade with the professional gardens of physicians and apothecaries.

In a letter to Sloane dated 13 November 1725, Richardson mentioned an “unfortunate accident” that occurred to some “scotch plants” from the Physic Garden at Edinburgh which he “proposed to have brought back … for my garden.” In addition to collecting from other gardens to fill his own, Richardson mentioned also wanting to make his collecting habits useful to others by collecting plants from northern England for the Chelsea Physic Garden and Mr. Miller. Unfortunately, he ran into some difficulties in creating such a relationship with Miller. On 8 April 1727, Richardson wrote about exchanging mosses with Miller for some seeds. On 19 November 1728, Richardson mentioned receiving a list of desired plants from Miller and had been collecting what was still in season from his garden to send to Chelsea.

Richardson’s attempt at a reciprocal relationship of exchange from his garden to the Chelsea public garden soon fell apart. By 16 March 1729, Richardson had stopped receiving letters from Miller. Even after a visit to Chelsea in the summer, during which Miller promised he would send Richardson a letter detailing which plants the garden was lacking, Richardson wrote to Sloane on 3 November 1729 that he had not received a letter of this sort. For some reason, unknown to Richardson, their amicable exchange ceased. (For more on relationship etiquette see this post regarding Abbe Bignon and Sloane).

Richardson sought out associations with other gardens, and he demonstrated great attachment to and took great care with his own garden. It is likely that Sloane received dried plant specimens or seeds from Richardson’s personal garden that had originally come from Miller at the Chelsea Garden, given that he was recieving other dried specimens from Richardson. Other than that, Sloane’s involvement in the Chelsea garden appears to have been kept separate from his desire to collect and classify, stemming instead from his desire to expand the public’s botanical knowledge and to ensure supplies of medical specimens.


Eighteenth-Century English Gardens and the Exchange with Europe

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By Chelsea Clark

Statue of Sir Hans Sloane in the Society of Apothecaries Physic Garden in Chelsea. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Statue of Sir Hans Sloane in the Society of Apothecaries Physic Garden in Chelsea. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

The Sloane Correspondence is a rich source of information about gardening in the eighteenth century. The science of gardening at this time was a shared experience between friends and colleagues who traded specimens and cultivated their collections with great curiosity. Although gardens could be either privately or publicly managed, the collaborative aspect of gardening served many different purposes depending on the individual collectors or institutions involved.

English gardens were built for multiple purposes, from personal and private pleasure gardens to university organized and maintained medical gardens. Both the Chelsea Garden and several private upper class estate gardens during the latter half of the eighteenth century in Britain were a combination of these purposes. They were both aesthetic and practical, housing rare exotic treasures to display the owner’s status as well as contained local and distant medical botanicals for practical medicinal uses.

Apothecaries and physicians relied on many botanical remedies and thus needed access to gardens. This resulted in many of them becoming expert gardeners. According to a Parisian physician at the time, Jean Fernel, a competition between apothecaries and physicians inspired an invigorating cultivation of gardens with both common and acclimatized plants in order to maintain “dignity and authority” over the other.[1]

The Physic Garden, Chelsea: a plan view. Engraving by John Haynes, 1751. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

The Physic Garden, Chelsea: a plan view. Engraving by John Haynes, 1751. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

The Chelsea physic garden was originally property of the apothecaries of London, though it fell on hard times in the early eighteenth century. Physician, Sir Hans Sloane, become benefactor to the garden because he saw the value in the botanicals it provided and its potential to provide benefical botanical knowledge for the public. Sloane saw the importance of the garden for all types of medicinal use as well as for the maintenance and growth of botanical trading within England, Europe, and the newly acquired Colonies.

In 1722, Sloane leased a parcel of his land in Chelsea to the Company of Apothecaries of London on the condition that they maintain the garden for “physick” and send the Royal Society fifty specimens per year until 2000 specimens had been given.[2] The reason given for requiring the annual gift of specimens was to encourage the constant growth of the garden and to ensue it continued to be used for its proper purpose.[3]

French gardens were similarly split between public and scholarly gardens, however French gardens were steeped in state involvement with the promotion and running of gardens. The Jardin du Roi, established in 1640, was in name and function the garden of the French King, Louis XIV.  It was also used by the Academie des Sciences for their exploration and acclimatization of botanicals and open to the public. The garden was maintained under state direction, as was the search and collecting of new specimens to fill the garden. It was managed as an economy that was “simultaneously social, financial and natural historical.”[4]

Jardin des Plantes, Perpignan. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Jardin des Plantes, Perpignan. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

French botanical collecting was tied to their colonial expansion and French collectors were most interested in botanicals with economic value.[5] As a result of higher state involvement, French motivations were focused on economic gain rather than scientific curiosity; collecting and cataloging the world’s botanicals was less of a priority, resulting in the cultivation of different types of plants than in England, which centered on medicinal rather than economical specimens.

The discussions about gardens between Sloane and many of his British correspondents did not mention any state support or involvement. Their collecting appeared to be motivated by a desire to discover all the local and exotic species and where they were naturally found. As was the case for France, English collecting in its colonies did have an economic component; however, the perceived economic value of plants was not mentioned as the primary motivator of botanical collectors.

Without immediate state direction both personal and professional English gardens became significant players in the European exchange of botanicals. English private collectors and gardeners were successful at expanding their knowledge of species and contributing to scientific knowledge, while the French were successful at extracting economic value from their exploration of plants. Even though the French gardens were open to the public, the English exchange relationship between the personal collectors and the professional gardens allowed for information about botanicals to spread freely and the development of gardens across England. English gardens had perhaps less economic value than their French counterparts, but provided an abundance of natural history knowledge and practical medicinal value for its public.


[1] Harold Cook, Matters of Exchange New Haven: Yale University Press, (2007): 31.

[2] Isaac Rand, “A Catalogue of Fifty Plants Lately Presented to the Royal Society, by the Company of apothecaries of London ; Pursuant to the Direction of Sir Hans Sloane, Bart. Bresident of the College of Physicians and Vice President of the Royal Society,” Philosophical Transactions, 32 (1722).

[3] Ruth Stungo, “The Royal specimens From the Chelsea Physic Garden, 1722-1799,” Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 47, no. 2 (July 1993): 213.

[4] E. C. Spary, Utopia’s Garden Chicago: Chicago University Press, (2000): 51.

[5] Spary, “ “Peaches which the Patriarchs Lacked”: Natural History, Natural Resources, and the Natural Economy in France,” History of the Political Economy 35, 2003: 14-41.

I-CeM Resources site under construction

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Thanks to a grant from the arts and humanities research council, this website, providing resources and educational tools for I-CeM is now under construction!

Straight From the Horse’s Mouth

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By Jacqeuline Schoenfeld

Like Lisa Smith, I am a sucker for animal stories. As a child (and young adult) some of my favorite movies included Homeward Bound, Babe and George of the Jungle. There is something irresistible about an American Bulldog, a Golden Retriever and a Himalayan cat that are best friends. And really, a pig that herds sheep and a gorilla who talks, need I say more? Given my intrigue for a good animal story, you can imagine my excitement when I stumbled across the following letter.

In 1732, Charles Bere wrote to an unnamed recipient to inform him/her of an interesting case concerning a horse:

Peter Clarke of Hammersmith Baker did the ninth day of January 1732 produce & show me a stone taken out of his Mares gutt which weighed seaven pounds and three quarters and measured round – Twenty inches.

Three horses standing in a field, listening to the horn of a huntsman, who is seen with his horse and hounds in the woods beyond. By Lilian Cheviot. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Three horses standing in a field, listening to the horn of a huntsman, who is seen with his horse and hounds in the woods beyond. By Lilian Cheviot. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Yes. You read that correctly…

Once my initial disbelief wore off, I did a quick search in the letter database, only to learn that a similar event occurred six years earlier.  On 14 December 1726, Zabdiel Boylston from Boston, New England informed Sloane of a horse that had consumed a large stone:

The Stone I now send you was taken out of a gelding[.] [W]hen first taken out [it] weighed five pounds & about Eight ounces, … and measure[d] round one way, seventeen Inches & 3.q’rs and ye. other was sixteen Inches & 3 quarters.

Upon reading the eighteenth-century letters, I was left wondering how and why two horses would consume indigestible objects. After all, the stone consumed by the horse in Bere’s letter was only slightly smaller in circumference than a NFL regulation size football!

After searching through a few veterinarian journals, I came across an article by Dr. Aytekin et al. in which the authors describe a condition found in horses and other animals known as ‘pica’. Pica, defined “as a depraved or abnormal appetite [that is sometimes] regarded as a sign of nutritional deficiency or boredom”, is characterized by the consumption of rocks, dirt and other indigestible objects. Dr. Aytekin and his colleagues admit that researchers do not fully understand the underlying causes of pica; however, the authors suggest that a lack of certain amino acids, vitamins, soda salts or phosphates in an animal’s diet may contribute to the emergence of pica.

Could it be that the horses discussed in Bere and Boylston’s letters were acting out of boredom or simply attempting to supplement their diets? This cannot be said with certainty but it seems like a plausible explanation for their unconventional dietary substitutions.

And while we are on the subject of unconventional diets… I think this is a good time to redirect our attention to a story from the English county of Gloucestershire earlier this year. According to an article in the Daily Mail (18 March 2015), it seems that packs of wild boars have taken a liking to hunting and eating newborn lambs in the Forest of Dean, a popular tourist site.

According to veterinarian Clare Harvey (quoted in the article), it is not strange for boars to consume meat, after all they are omnivores–but the boars’ disposition to hunt suggests that “they may have developed a taste for fresh meat”. In other words, the consumption of meat does not necessarily suggest attempts at dietary substitutions or even signal strange behavior–rather, it is the manner in which these boars have acquired meat that is less than conventional.

A wild boar on the run. Etching by J.E. Ridinger. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

A wild boar on the run. Etching by J.E. Ridinger. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

So, what does a horse that swallowed a stone the size of a football and herds of wild boars roaming the Forest of Dean hunting lambs have to do with natural history in the Sloane letters? Then and now, our desire to understand the world around us seems strongest when it comes to explaining instances that seem strange or out of the ordinary. This is as evident in Bere and Boylston taking the time to write down and share their observations as Dr. Harvey’s attempts to explaining the boars’ taste for fresh meat. But Boylston’s letter also hints at the element of entertainment involved in looking at curiosities.

A sheep and two lambs standing on a meadow, with one of the lambs feeding on the mother. Etching by C. Lewis after E. H. Landseer. 1873 By: Edwin Henry Landseerafter: Charles George Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

A sheep and two lambs standing on a meadow, with one of the lambs feeding on the mother. Etching by C. Lewis after E. H. Landseer. 1873 By: Edwin Henry Landseerafter: Charles George Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

According to Boylston, several people were present when the stone was removed from the gelding and many more came to see it. What really makes me smile is Boylston’s tone as he explains, “altho [the stone] was not found in an Humane … it was in one of ye. most noble of ye. brutal kind[.]” So here we are, almost 300 years later and our ability to find wonder and entertainment in natural phenomena persists.

Previous milestones

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This post was originally featured on , on . You can read the original article here at

The below is the list of milestones from the I-CeM project to date. All future news updates will be posted to this blog!


September 2013: Final data delivered to the UK Data Archive

Final data for the I-CeM project was delivered to the UK Data Archive.

June 2012: Project recommencement

The work of the project recommenced in June 2012.

October 2011: Project freeze

Decision taken, in agreement with the Economic and Social Research Council, to freeze the I-CeM project for a period of time and to re-activate the project, at a later date.

September 2010: British Society for Population Studies (BSPS) Annual Conference

Dr Christine Jones, Research Assistant with the I-CeM project, presented a paper on Disability classification at the British Society for Population Studies (BSPS) Annual Conference at the University of Exeter, 13-15 September 2010.

June 2010: Disability History Group Conference

The Disability History Group Conference 2010, was held at the University of Central Lancashire Preston. Dr Christine Jones presented a paper on Saturday 26 June 2010 entitled Towards a coding for disabilities recorded in the British Census: 1851-1911.

April 2010: European Social Science History Conference

The European Social Science History Conference 2010 was held in Ghent, Belgium. Professor Edward Higgs presented a paper entitled The British Integrated Census Microdata (I-CeM) Project on Thursday 15 April 2010 as part of the ‘New Developments with Large Historical Databases’ panel.

March 2010: The Economic History Society Conference

The Economic History Society Conference 2010 was held at Collingwood College and the Science Site, University of Durham. Professor Kevin Schürer and Professor Edward Higgs led a panel discussion on Saturday 27 March 2010 entitled The Integrated Census Microdata (I-CeM) Project at the University of Essex.

April 2009: I-CeM Project begins

I-Cem project begins.

On Hans Sloane’s Copies of De Humani Corporis Fabrica

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Title page. Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica libri septum, 1555. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Title page. Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica libri septum, 1555. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Thanks to Felicity Roberts, I’ve learned that a copy of Vesalius’ De Humani Corporis Fabrica Librorum Epitome (Basel, 1543) once owned by Hans Sloane went up for auction at Christie’s on 15 July.  Although the list price was a £70,000-£100,000, the book ended up going for £60,000.

Christie’s has just started a Discovery series of short videos to highlight pieces with particularly interesting histories. First up: Sloane’s book! Go take a look at “The ‘Google Maps’ of the Human Body” now.

What I love about this video and post is how well it captures Sven Becker’s enthusiasm when it came to finding something unexpected in the course of researching the book’s provenance. The sale also caused some excitement on the C-18L listserv, with some contributors wondering whether the book had been stolen or its notes forged.

Alison Walker, who leads the British Library’s Sloane Printed Books Project, attended the auction and has been tracing the book’s provenance in more detail. This has required a bit of digging, but the process involved in uncovering a book’s history is fascinating. It’s worth quoting Alison’s findings (which she shared in an email to me) at length. She reports that the book, which was from the Duke of Westminster’s collection,

seems to have been sold as a duplicate by the British Museum in 1769, and appears as lot 336 on p. 12 of S. Baker and G. Leigh, A Catalogue of the Duplicates of the British Museum which will be sold by auction… April 4 1769 and nine following days, London, 1769. Normally one would expect to see a British Museum duplicate sale stamp on the book, but it seems to have been omitted in this case. It is listed on p. 54v of the interleaved copy of J.A. van der Linden, Lindenius renovatus, 1686, which Sloane used as his catalogue of Latin medical books. The book may have been acquired by Sloane in the 1720s or 1730s, though there is no precise acquisition date in his catalogue, and no indication of its previous provenance.

Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica, 1543. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica, 1543.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

She has now included the book in the Sloane Printed Books database–a useful tool for suggesting the comings and goings of books in Sloane’s library over the years. (And, believe me, it is easy to lose track of time when playing with the database.)

The British Library still holds several other versions of De Humani Corporis Fabrica once owned by Sloane, including an especially fancy Epitome printed on vellum. And along the way, the British Library has sold off other copies from Sloane’s collection. For example, one 1555 edition of the book now at the Royal Society library was purchased during a duplicate sale in 1830.

Although there was a bit of excited speculation about fraud or theft surrounding this sale, a bit of historical detective work can uncover a much more prosaic explanation. Records do sometimes get lost–or never created, as in this case.

The featured image: putti killing a dog, from book 7 of De Humani Corporis Fabrica (Basel, 1555). Credit: Wellcome Library, London. I’ve always hated putti.

H is for Hawker

This post was originally published on this site

This post was originally featured on , on . You can read the original article here at

‘Napoleon called us “a nation of shopkeepers.” The remark would have been infinitely more degrading if he had called us a nation of hawkers, but certainly quite as true, for there is not one portion or spot of this island but is overrun with them.’[1]


The Coster-Girl

Throughout the nineteenth-century, hawkers, street-sellers and costermongers were a common sight in towns and villages throughout Great Britain. In London the streets were filled with stalls, barrows and women and children carrying baskets selling items as diverse as cat meat, second-hand clothing and coffee.  Hawkers and costermongers were as much a part of life as Tesco and Sainsburys are today. The number of people involved in hawking was extremely high;  in the years 1849-1851 Henry Mayhew estimated that there were between 30,000-40,000 relying for their income on street selling, an occupation which frequently involved the entire family, from the eldest to very young children. He calculated these figures by first acquiring figures relating to the amount of street sellers frequenting the major fruit, vegetable and meat markets in the capital per day, and then:

‘a survey was made as to the number of stalls in the streets of London – forty-six miles of the principal thorough fares were travelled over, and an account taken of the “standings”. Thus it was found that there were upon an average upwards of fourteen stalls to the mile, of which five-sixths were fish and fruit stalls. Now, according to the Metropolitan Police Returns, there are 2,000 miles of street throughout London, and calculating that the stalls through the whole of the metropolis run upon an average only four to the mile, we shall thus find that there are 8,000 stalls altogether in London… I am informed, on the best authority, that twice as many costers ‘go rounds’ as have standings; hence we come to the conclusion that there are 18,000 itinerant and stationary street sellers… in the metropolis; and reckoning the same proportion of wives and children as before, we have thus 45,000 men, women and children obtaining a living in this manner.’[2]

Of these, a significant number were registered hawkers, each paying up to £2 a year (by the late nineteenth century) for their licence – but it is thought that a large minority were unlicenced, casual sellers, working illegally and constantly in fear of the police.


Mayhew interviews a number of hawkers and through this we have a window into their lives, what caused them to resort to making a living this way, and we see a way of live that is perhaps surprising to us with our modern notions of Victorian propriety, for Mayhew’s investigations bring to light the fact that very few couples who made their living as costermongers were married.

‘The costermongers, taken as a body, entertain the most imperfect idea of the sanctity of marriage. To their undeveloped minds it merely consists in the fact of a man and woman living together, and sharing the gains they may each earn by selling in the street. The father and mother of the girl look upon it as a convenient means of shifting the support of their child over to another’s exertions; and so thoroughly do they believe this to be the end and aim of matrimony, that the expense of a church ceremony is considered as a useless waste of money, and the new pair are received by their companions as cordially as if every form of law and religion had been complied with.’[3]

Mayhew suggests that only a small proportion of hawkers and costermongers were married in the legal sense, however, in their society this, he argues, was the norm. During an interview with an eighteen year old girl working the streets as an apple seller, she told him, ‘I dare say there ain’t ten out of a hundred gals what’s living with men, what’s been married Church of England fashion.’[4]


The women most certainly don’t appear from the records to have had an easy life – he discusses how the men would beat their wives and children for any minor misdemeanour, including talking to another man, or not bringing home enough money, their working day running from four or five in the morning, often until very late at night.  Income was sparse and unreliable, and the children working from the age of seven, alone on the streets, could make the difference between the family surviving, or being forced to enter the workhouse. ‘The gals begins working very early in our work; the parents makes them go out when a’most babies. There’s a little gal, I’m sure she an’t more than half-past seven, that stands selling water-cresses next my stall, and mother was saying, “Only look there, how that little one has to get her living afore she a’most knows what a penn’orth means.”’[5] 


Alongside the forcing of children to work the streets there is, in pamphlets, and in Mayhew’s work, the insinuation that a number of girls apparently working as hawkers were, in fact, working primarily as prostitutes.  In 1858 Felix Folio discussed how, ‘prostitution is also carried on, in our large manufacturing towns, under the cloak of hawking. Good looking young girls, coquettishly dressed, carry a basket of fruit, generally oranges, when in season, and call at public-house and other places during the day, and at night they visit the vicinities of theatres and casinoes.’[6] Flower-sellers were also notorious, particularly in London, for being associated with prostitution. Mayhew interviewed a nineteen year old girl who had been in and out of prison since she was thirteen and who’s father would refuse to feed her unless she bought home ‘a good bit of money’. She admitted that she had fallen in with a group of ‘loose’ flower sellers, and she supposed that her parents were well aware of how she made her income. Certainly flower selling was still involved, but she was a prostitute rather than purely a street-seller.  Of course, we cannot and should not assume that all hawkers and costermongers were criminals or that all of the girls were prostitutes – far from it. Many were decent people trying to make a living, some very successfully, but the under-classes, those who had no regular employment and lived hand to mouth, day to day, would see street-selling as a way to gain some type of income, no matter how small, needing no skill or training unlike so many of the other occupations open to women.


At the end of the nineteenth century the Women’s Industrial Council again looked at the problem of hawking, and the reasons why women took to the streets with their barrows and baskets, and their interviews with a number of women of different ages, with different incomes, highlights the problems faced, and the dire wages hawkers could hope to bring home. One, a widow with five children, only two of them in work, sold in the streets from 10-1 daily, buying fresh goods in the afternoon and mending and cleaning them which would suggest that she was dealing in second-hand goods, possibly clothing; she stated that most days she earned nothing at all. A second woman who gave her age as between 40 and 50 years, and was a mother of seven children, six of whom were still in school, had spent her whole life as a fish hawker, her husband and her son both being involved in the family trade. Her story shows how precarious hawking could be in that some weeks the family would make £1, whilst others they would lose £1. Another married woman typified those who had fallen on hard times and been forced to take to the streets to sell. Her husband who had held down a steady job through much of their marriage had been made redundant and, there being no further work available, had set up a barrow which she helped to run. Similarly a young widow found herself in a position where she was forced to work the streets selling flowers to make ends meet – however, this was no longer possible, her wages were dropping quickly as her customers bought seeds and grew their own flowers, and she was frequently bringing home less than 6d a day – totally insufficient for a widow with two small children.[7]


Hawking was, for many, what might be considered a fluid occupation. Some were born to it, raised from very young (there is evidence that babies were suckled while their mothers manned the barrow) to work the streets, but for others it was a last resort – a way of making a few pence that might make the difference between paying the rent and putting bread on the table (literally bread – many of the interviews show that anything else was a rare treat) and having to enter the workhouse. At its best, when sales were high, it was possible to make a decent living, particularly for the ‘professional’ hawker, and the women involved seemed pleased with their lot and proud of their work. When times were tough, however, it was a thankless task, dodging the local police, frequently not having enough income to purchase more stock, and, if Mayhew is to be believed, being beaten senseless by an angry partner on a regular basis.



[1] Felix Folio, ‘The hawkers and street dealers of Manchester and the North of England manufacturing districts generally… being some account of their dealings, dodings and doings’, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Collection, 1858.

[2] H.Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor, (Wordsworth Editions Ltd, Ware, 2008), p. 9

[3] Mayhew, p. 56

[4] Mayhew, p. 62

[5] Mayhew, p. 61

[6] Folio , ‘The hawkers and street dealers of Manchester and the North of England manufacturing districts generally… being some account of their dealings, dodings and doings’, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Collection, 1858. p.32

[7] C. Black, Married Women’s Work, (London, Virago, 1983), pp. 48-51