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12. The privy seal writ: an unwelcome gift

By Laura Flannigan  (@LFlannigan17)

One of the main methods by which accused parties were summoned to appear before central English law courts in the early modern period was the privy seal writ. Issued from the royal Chancery at Westminster to the litigant (for a fee), this writ was a small document in Latin or English, folded into a bound packet.  A wax seal measuring around 1 ½ – 2 ½ inches depicting the seated monarch and the royal arms (denoting it as the monarch’s ‘private’ or personal seal) was affixed to the outside. Testimonies given by messengers and plaintiffs to the courts throughout the sixteenth century describe, in detail, the delivery of these small but imposing items in public spaces and in the presence of witnesses.  Owing to the vague nature of the text of the writs – which usually identified only the recipient’s opponents, and not the matter for which they were being summoned – reactions to being handed one could be extreme. Though the writs came with a financial penalty if ignored, those on the receiving end might ‘throw [the writ] on the ground’ or otherwise ‘violate’ the document and the seal whilst uttering ‘opprobrious words’, and some went so far as to unsheath their weapons. More unusually, one defendant in 1525 threatened to make the bearer ‘ete the said letters’. In the 1510s, a litigant’s servant actually was caused ‘to have eten all [the] seid prive seale with the wex and… swallow it doon’. In the increasingly litigious society of early modern England, this was a gift no-one wanted to receive.

Image: Court of Chancery, made available under a public domain licence.

Treason law in England from 1351 to the present

By Stephanie Brown (@StephEmmaBrown)

In 1305, William Wallace was hanged, drawn, and beheaded. Notes from the court state that ‘his heart, liver, lungs and all his entrails be cast into the fire and burned’ and ‘his body be cut into four parts.’ His head was to be placed on London Bridge, with each ‘quarter’ of Wallace hung at Newcastle upon Tyne, Berwick, Stirling, and the town of St. John ‘for the terror and punishment of all who pass by’.[1]

Crimes against the monarch or realm have often been treated harshly under English common law. Owing to Wallace’s role in the Scottish wars perhaps this severe punishment was to be expected. Legal historian, Sir John Baker, suggested that absence of legislation on treason was a risk to liberty and justice.[2] A tyrannical ruler could choose to inflict the greatest punishment for the slightest offence. This is the likely reason why in 1351 the Commons and the Lords petitioned King Edward III to outline treason, resulting in it being the first major offence to be defined by statute.[3]

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11. The not so invisible college of Cambridge

By Anna Gibbons

This picture depicts the first permanent home of the ‘invisible college’ of Cambridge. The National Extension College (NEC) was set up in 1963 by Michael Young. He wanted to help adult learners who needed a ‘second chance’, the generation who had had their educations disrupted by the Second World War. He envisaged the NEC as a pilot for a ‘University of the Air’ – what would become the Open University – a novel experiment in distance learning. The limitations of education through formal institutions, the inflexible time constraints, could be overcome.

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10. A Ticket for the Gift of the King’s Cure

By Christopher Whittell (@ChrisWhittell

The object for today’s calendar is this entry ticket to the ceremony of the Healing of the King’s Evil, issued during the reign of Charles II.  Due to the very high demand to attend the ceremony, it was given to invited guests, whom were sufferers from a disease called scrofula, as proof of their invitation. At the time, it was considered only curable by the gift of the healing powers of the king, who during the ceremony also gave the sufferer an angel, a gold coin or token with an image of an angel imprinted on it, to wear round their necks.  Although some consider it to be genuine, as it has the appearance of a one-time detector or River Thames find, the weight disparity between this one and other examples, could mean that this is a very rare, unique example of a contemporary counterfeit, a devious way for someone to meet Charles II and receive his gifts.

Image: A Ticket to Attend the Royal Touching Ceremony of Charles II, author’s own photograph.

9. 1891 Map from Populations Past

By Dr Alice Reid (@amrcampop)

This map, from PopulationsPast.org, shows the sex ratio among working-age adults in 1891, calculated from census data. Areas in red have more men than women and areas in blue have more women than men. Geographical differences in the sex ratio reflect nineteenth century migration patterns and employment opportunities which pulled people towards or pushed people away from particular areas. The mining areas of South Wales, Durham/Northumberland and the Yorkshire/Derbyshire coalfield were particularly attractive to young men. Military and Naval bases in Hampshire and the Thames estuary also turned those areas red. Low sex ratios in some of the blue areas were also due to a job-market which was more favourable for one gender, but this time for women. This can explain the blue blush to the west of London, where there was plentiful work for women as domestic servants, and the area around Manchester where many women were employed in textile factories. Low sex ratios in rural areas, however, are more likely to have been produced by higher migration of men away from such places. Finer geographical detail and a range of other variables and years can be found on the interactive atlas website www.populationspast.org.

Image: from www.populationspast.org, used with the permission of Dr Alice Reid (Principal Investigator)

8. School attendance medals: a status symbol?

By Helen Sunderland (@hl_sunderland)

In the first decades of mass schooling in late nineteenth-century Britain, attendance was a persistent issue. Parents often resented having to send their children to school, which for many meant forfeiting much-needed income. To improve attendance levels, education authorities rewarded children who had spotless attendance records with medals. A year without any absences would earn a child a medal. Particularly keen students could rack up a whole collection over their school career.

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7. Cylindrical Slag Block: Archaeological Discoveries in Lejja, South-eastern-Nigeria

By Chioma Vivian Ngonadi (@ChiomaNgonadi12)

The process of precolonial metalworking is recognised by the presence of material fingerprints such as slags, remains of blooms, or finished objects (Chirikure 2013). In Lejja-Igboland, southeastern Nigeria, iron smelting is an indigenous craft specialization that flourished on an industrial scale from around 2000 BC (Eze-Uzomaka 2013). Evidence, in the form of relic furnaces and extensive slag and tuyere remains, are widely visible in the landscape today. The vast number of slag blocks on the surface reveal that iron working in this region was a highly sophisticated, long-lived and well-developed tradition with techniques that involved relatively large-scale metal production (Ngonadi 2017). The main village square in Lejja contains over 800 slag blocks weighing between 34 and 57 kg (Eze-Uzomaka 2013).

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6. Travelling to India: a handy list for the whole family

By Mobeen Hussain (@amhuss27)

As a colonial officer in India, it was paramount that one knew what to expect and how to prepare for the sweltering climate. The mid to late nineteenth century saw a surge of advice books and manuals, mainly written by men, for families voyaging to the Subcontinent. One such book was entitled Real Life in India, embracing a view of the requirements of individuals appointed to any branch of the Indian Public Service (1847) by ‘An Old Resident’ which detailed precise lists of items required, ranging from home furnishings and hygiene products to clothes and ladies’ equipment for the ship. This list included white cotton stockings, white silk dittos, white muslin clothing and white nightdresses alongside soap, perfume and toothpowder. The emphasis on white represented the colonial preoccupation with purity, propriety and health in a climate that was perceived to be exotic, degenerating and dangerous, especially for women. Many of the items listed also attempted to transport and replicate the perfect English home from the metropole to the colony and such manuals were aimed at middle-class women, in particular, who would be able to afford to hire a host of ‘native’ servants (a departure from their lives in England). Resources from the colonies also enabled a more diverse consumer culture to flourish in the metropole, one that allowed a housewife to purchase branded ‘Windsor’ soap and choose from a variety of other cosmetic products sold by local producers and international companies.

Image: By an old resident, Real life in India, embracing a view of the requirements of individuals appointed to any branch of the Indian public service; the methods of proceeding to India; and the course of life in different parts of the country, London: Houlston and Stoneman (1847), Wellcome Collection, London, pp.145-146.

 

 

 

 

5. Victorian Hair Jewellery

By Maggie Kalenak

Either encased under glass in brooches, lockets and hair accessories or woven with wire to create three-dimensional ornaments and chains, the use of hair in sentimental jewellery was a fixture of British fashion from the 17th century through the end of the 19th, reaching its height in popularity between 1810 and 1850. Representing the Romantic fashion for the sentimental, in 1854 Wilkie Collins wrote that hair jewellery, was, “in England, one of the commonest ornaments of women’s wear.”[1] Hair, especially women’s hair, was largely fetishised and commoditised in the 19th century.  Being worth its weight in silver for most of the century, hair was an outward symbol of class, gender, taste and sensuality. The exchange of hair between lovers, friends and family members represented the most intimate of relationships. The wearing of hair became an expression of love and being loved. Hair was used in both romantic jewellery (exchanged between sweethearts) and mourning jewellery which would be created from the hair of the dead and worn by friends and family in remembrance. An iconic example— after the death of Prince Albert in 1839, Queen Victoria was never again without a lock of her beloved’s hair on her person. The creation of hair jewellery was both a skill worked by women in their homes and also, by the mid-19th century, a commercial industry.

Image: Photograph by Maggie Kalenak

References:

[1] Wilkie Collins, Hide and Seek (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 256. First published in 1854.

Critiquing cultural spaces: an interview with Alice Procter of the Uncomfortable Art Tours

By Alice Procter (@aaprocter) and  Mobeen Hussain (@amhuss27)

Alice Procter is a historian of material culture based at UCL. She has six years of tour guiding experience at heritage sites and galleries and runs Uncomfortable Art Tours, podcasts and writes under the umbrella of The Exhibitionist. I had the chance to interview you her about her work and to discuss how her tours fit into wider critiques of national history, spaces and narratives.

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4. Fuvu la kichwa cha Mkwawa (The Skull of Mkwawa’s Head)

By Jeremiah J. Garsha (@jjgarsha

In 1898, Chief Mkwawa committed suicide after leading a seven-year revolt against German rule. His head was severed to claim a bounty, and then displayed as ‘a family trophy’ in the home of a British-born German colonial administrator. It was then defleshed and the skull was shipped to Germany, where it entered into the entangled streams of skulls collected across the German empire to support the creation of racial sciences. Shortly before the First World War, Mkwawa’s skull disappeared into a museum, university, or hospital archive. After the war, British plenipotentiaries inserted a clause into the Treaty of Versailles calling for a return of ‘the skull of the Sultan Mkwawa’. This article was in the ‘special provisions’ section detailing ‘historical souvenirs or works of art’, where Chief Mkwawa was orientalised as a Muslim ruler and his skull ornamentalised, becoming what the German-born British statesman Viscount Milner playfully called ‘a craniological curiosity’. Throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, the British continued to press Germany to hand over Mkwawa’s head, repeatedly being told that the skull was lost. In 1954, the Bremen museum director contacted the British to inform them that skulls taken from East Africa had been located as the museum’s holdings and were recatalogued following their storage in salt mines during the Second World War. Sir Edward Twining, Governor of Tanganyika, personally flew to Bremen and, using the head measurements of Mkwawa’s descendants, identified Mkwawa’s skull and had it sent back to the colony. The skull was handed over to Mkwawa’s grandson during a recruitment ceremony to enlist colonial soldiers to fight in the Mau Mau emergency across the border. It was then transported to a Mausoleum-Museum where it still sits on display today, owned by the Tanzanian government and yours to view for the price of admission.

Image: Skull of Mkwawa, made available under a public domain licence.

3. The Singapore Stone

By Alasdair Chi 

The Singapore Stone, as a stele or shards, remains the longest-enduring extant proof of Singapore’s antiquity. Erected by the mouth of the Singapore River by the 13th century, and possibly even earlier, its 52 lines may have recorded the dealings of some great empire or monarch, or perhaps a more prosaic statement of authority.

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2. A Renaissance Mirror

By Zoe Farrell (@zoeffarrell)

In an age before electrical lighting, in cramped cities with few sources of natural light, mirrors acted as a tool to bring light into homes. They were also decorative, placed alongside paintings to accentuate the splendour of ordinary domestic environments.[1] Venice, and particularly Murano, became the centre of European mirror production during the Renaissance, with Venetian mirrors earning their fame both for their technical innovation and their beauty.

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1. Catholic AIDS Link Memorial Quilt

By George Severs (@GeorgeSevers10)

On World AIDS Day, 30 years after its establishment as a global health event to commemorate those who have died from AIDS-related illnesses, today’s calendar post looks at how objects were produced as a tool of this commemoration. Perhaps the best known ‘AIDS object’ is the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. Conceived of in 1985 by San Franciscan activist Cleve Jones, in 1988 the nearly 8,300 quilt panels memorialising individuals who had died of HIV/AIDS, was displayed outside the White House in protest of the government’s slow response to the epidemic.

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