Thursday, 20 December 2018

Lawrence Rowntree – A Life in Letters (Part Two): ‘I have health & strength & can probably find some way of making myself useful at last, if I look for it.’

Written by Rosie Denton and Sally-Anne Shearn

Part one can be read here

‘I want to run over & have a talk with you sometime. I have been feeling more and more lately that I oughtn’t to be here.’ So began the letter that was to change the lives of Lawrence and his mother forever. It was January 1916 and Lawrence had been on active service with the Friends’ Ambulance Unit since the outbreak of war two years earlier. The FAU, a civilian volunteer ambulance service established by Quakers, provided vital medical support to the armed forces in extremely dangerous conditions and Laurie’s famous journal from this time, entitled ‘A Nightmare in Three Acts’, attests to the horrors he and his companions faced from their arrival in Dunkirk in October 1914. 

However by early 1915 Laurie was already beginning to have doubts about his vocation. In August 1914 he had written that he would do all he could, and offer himself ‘to what ever relief works are going,’ flatly rejecting the absolutist pacifism of some Quakers who refused to refused to play any part whatsoever in the war effort. ‘Although the horrors it entails are too great to be imagined, & one realises the wickedness of it all, still I consider it would be criminal to stand out & say “you have brought this war on your selves, I will do nothing.” For a medical student the FAU offered an honorable way to make a contribution to the war effort without engaging directly in armed conflict.



In January 1916, with military conscription looming and the war no closer to being won, he admitted to his mother that he was in the FAU rather than in the Army ‘because it was the only place that offered me the work I wanted, not because of my conscience, & I couldn’t go before a tribunal & say I was a conscientious objector.’ He goes on ‘I suppose everyone gets a call of some sort some time. I’ve been getting it for about nine months. I think it started when I met some men coming out of the trenches & I was in the car, but it’s been much stronger lately.’ He had waited ‘because I never felt before that I was really wanted, but now I am sure that I am more wanted there than here… Here am I, healthy & strong, doing work that any woman could do, when there is man’s work waiting.’ 

The letter to his mother in January 1916 in which Laurie first broached the subject of joining up.

We do not have Constance’s reply, but evidently she was as supportive of her son as she could be because Lawrence’s letter the following day begins ‘You really are an absolute brick, & you understand things better than anybody I know.’ He clearly felt great guilt for his decision and its impact on her however, adding ‘I am different to what you want me to be I know. I’m frightfully sorry, because I know it is an awful disappointment to thee, & I have tried to fall in with what you would like, but the call is too strong. It doesn’t go against my conscience: I wish it did, for thy sake, & if it did I would sooner die than do it.’ 

  Lawrence left the FAU the same month and enlisted in the army, just one of hundreds of Quakers to join the armed forces. After training, he returned to France in August 1916, this time as part of ‘C’ company of what would later become known as the Tank Corps. A month later Laurie was part of the first ever deployment of tanks in battle at Flers-Courcelette, part of the Battle of the Somme. His unit’s tank, nicknamed Creme de Menthe (film of the tank can be viewed here), took part in a successful attack on a sugar factory but Laurie was wounded and returned briefly to Britain to convalesce at Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary where his recent deployment aroused a great deal of curiosity; ‘The old tanks seem to be creating a lot of interest. Nobody knows anything detailed about them & it is amusing to hear some of the extraordinary things they say.’ It was during his time at Edinburgh that Laurie decided to apply for a commission, subsequently becoming a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery. 



His letters from the Front between 1916 and 1917 are frequent and detailed, despite the occasional liberal application of the censor’s black ink. They show his characteristic sense of humour. Of his regular post from York he wrote in 1916: ‘The postal staff have got into the habit of expecting at least one for me every day & they weep bitter tears of disappointment if there isn’t. The record was sustained yesterday by one which arrived in a state of decomposition. In fact it looked as if it had been in a rather bad railway smash & arrived marked ‘died of wounds’. We gave it a decent burial, but no one present recognized the deceased. No inquest.’ In December that year he wrote that ‘Christmas day went off as well as we expected. Luckily we didn’t expect much because we didn’t get much.’ In a letter to his adventurous little sister Jean in early 1917 he simply added the postscript ‘P.S. Whatever you do, don’t.’ 

These flashes of humour belied the terrible strain of everyday life on the Western Front. Laurie writes of the discomfort of lice, trench foot and having to sleep in a gas mask during his stints in the trenches. After one such duty in August 1917 he wrote that it was ‘blessed peace coming back to a tent & green grass after rabbit warrens & mud & everlasting smell.’ In October he reported that he and his companions had got a gramophone going ‘to try & cheer us up’, expressing the hope that the war would not last out the winter. 

 However by November he seemed less optimistic, writing of poor weather and how everyone was ‘tired and ill’. On the 8th of that month, after another turn of duty on the front line, he wrote ‘it has been so bad that it was really impossible to write. I have practically done without sleep & altogether done without any sort of a wash.’ On his return to the wagon lines he was knocked down by a car and although it did no serious damage he found it very difficult to walk as a result. He wrote longingly of family Christmases, noting on the 22 December 1916 that ‘they (whoever they are) say that the third time is lucky. This will make the third Yule-tide that I have been absent from the family board so at that rate next year I ought to be there.’ 



It was not to be. On Friday 30 November 1917, Constance met up with her sister-in-law Isabella. She remarked that she had not heard from Laurie for nearly a week. At the point, Constance said, she did not mind if it was good news or bad news, just so long as there was news. The following morning, she received a telegram: Lawrence Rowntree had been killed during the 3rd Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) on 25 November 1917, just three months before his 23rd birthday 

Over the following weeks Constance received nearly 130 condolence letters. She kept them all tied up in an old writing paper folder. Almost all of the letters commented on Laurie’s kindness and his caring nature. Many remarked on Laurie’s great love for his mother. His housemother from prep school who had recalled Laurie’s first reaction to hearing of his father’s death as being “But who will look after my mother?” imagined that he had had the same reaction upon finding himself in heaven. She was not the only writer to imagine Laurie in heaven. A prominent American Quaker who had known Laurie’s father wrote to Constance: ‘You raised Laurie alone for 12 years. Now it is John’s turn. And when you to ascend unto Heaven, they will be there waiting for you: the man you loved and the man you created together’. Constance’s best friend Winnie took a more practical approach, offering to have the then 12-year-old Jean to stay both immediately or over the upcoming Christmas holidays if it would help. Perhaps the most heartbreaking letter came from one of Constance’s childhood friends. She described Laurie as a kind and thoughtful young man, and she recalled her favourite memory of Laurie when, as a teenager, he had helped his mother host Christmas dinner. She offered her support and prayers. Then, at the bottom of the page, she simply wrote: ‘P.S. We have both now lost three apiece. Let’s not lose any more.’ 

A letter of condolence from Laurie's FAU comrades.

After receiving news of Laurie’s death his friend Roger Derby drove straight to Constance’s house to retrieve Laurie’s documents as he had promised. He subsequently wrote a series of four letters to Constance from different parts of the country explaining what he had done on Laurie’s behalf. This included selling Laurie’s Cambridge flat and furniture, collecting Tony from a friend’s house in Edinburgh, organising for Laurie’s bank account to be closed, and coordinating with the army for the return of Laurie’s belongings. In the final letter he writes that, with Dorothy’s permission, he has taken one of Laurie’s coats and a pair of gloves, as well as a photo of Laurie and Dorothy together that Laurie kept on his bedside table. He writes 'I will return them if you would like, but I would so like to have the photo to remember him by.'

Laurie and Dorothy

Constance wrote to Dorothy, Laurie’s fiancée, immediately after receiving the telegram, but she had already heard the news from Margaret, Laurie’s sister and Dorothy’s roommate. In her reply to Constance, whom she called her ‘other Mother’, she wrote that it was terrible news but not wholly unexpected. She was grateful for the time she and Laurie had had together and thanked Constance for ‘giving me your son, the most precious gift you could bestow,’ adding that she would aim to live a life worthy of Laurie so that when they met again in Heaven he would be proud of her. 

Three days letter, Dorothy wrote a second letter. This one read simply: 


Dear Other Mother,

This is far harder than I thought it would be, and I think I need my family around me. Could I come and stay?

Thy Other Daughter



A letter from Roger confirms that he drove to London to collect her the following morning.

Laurie’s other close friend, Richard, was serving in the trenches at the time and didn’t hear of his death until over a month later. It was only while on leave in Paris that he bumped into an old friend and was told the terrible news. He wrote to Constance immediately, apologising firstly for the delay and secondly for not knowing how to write a condolence letter, yet his letter is one of the most heartfelt that Constance received. He wrote that he frequently imagined life after the war. He daydreamed about returning to Cambridge and completing his medical degree, and envisioned his life beyond Cambridge. He had had many variations on this daydream, but in every single one of them Laurie was there with him. While Richard had considered that he personally might not survive the war, it had never even occurred to him that Laurie might not and he struggled to imagine a future without him. 

Richard did survive the war. He did indeed return to Cambridge and complete his studies. Roger also survived the war, despite returning briefly to France. He later invested in the railways, married and had a large family. Dorothy later married the brother of her another school roommate and went on to have two children. Margaret married only a month after Laurie’s death. It’s not clear if Laurie ever met her soon-to-be husband, but hopefully he would have approved of him! Tony also married in 1925. She continued to write through much of her life, and some of her scrapbooks and journals also survive in the Borthwick archives. True to Laurie’s word, they are funny and entertaining, and tell you precisely nothing about what she was actually doing on a day to day basis. 

It was Jean, however, who led perhaps the most adventurous life of the remaining siblings. After obtaining a history degree from Somerville College, Oxford, she briefly became a teacher but took a sabbatical in 1938 to help Jews and other vulnerable refugees fleeing the newly Nazi occupied Sudetenland.   This was, after all, the girl who had attempted to shoot down zeppelins from the roof of her house with an air rifle. Following her return to England in 1940 Jean joined the BBC. She served as a producer of educational programming for many years, retiring in the 1970s. A great advocate of education for all, she was instrumental in setting up the Open University and received an OBE in 1962.  Like Tony, she kept scrapbooks and journals throughout her life. She died in 2003, aged 97. 

Constance died in 1928 at the age of 56. True to her friend’s letter, her three remaining children all outlived her. 

But let’s not end with death. Instead, let’s end with and extract from my favourite of the letters Laurie wrote. On New Year’s Day 1917 Laurie wrote the following letter to the then 11 year old Jean: 


My Dear,

Happy New Year, and much good may it do you. I’m afraid I’ve been an awfully long time answering your letters and thanking you for the soap but I knew you wouldn’t mind my taking them in age order, and that way it takes some time to come round to you. When the only time one gets for writing is half an hour to an hour in the evening.


The soap was most acceptable. Thanks awfully. Also it was in a way a relief to get something that didn’t have to be eaten – at least I suppose some people might have eaten it, but I didn’t. I gave that up at the age of two in favour of more toothsome delicacies. 

You warned me not to eat too much turkey. Unnecessary, madam, for there was no turkey to eat. But you didn’t say anything about goose, so I ate too much of that. I got a lump of green stuff with it that I couldn’t make out until it struck me that it must be what they make pate de foie gras out of. Which as a luxury I consider to be overrated, besides entailing a certain amount of cruelty in its production. 

You haven’t told me if your heart is yearning particularly over anything in the shape of a Christmas present. If it is, acquaint me with the object. It was have to continue to yearn for a little while I’m afraid, but at the first possible opportunity it shall be procured if money can buy it. That last condition does not necessarily hold true. Don’t request an elephant or anything else of a ridiculous nature… 

Thy Loving Brother, 

Laurie

....

A catalogue for the Lawrence Rowntree Archive will be available in early 2019.


Lawrence Rowntree - A Life in Letters (Part One)

Written by Rosie Denton

Those of you based in York may have already heard of Lawrence Edmund Rowntree, the subject of a recent exhibit at York Castle Museum which was covered in the York Press. For those to whom the name is unfamiliar, Lawrence (or Laurie as he was always known) was the son of John Wilhelm and Constance Rowntree, and the grandson of the famous chocolate-maker and philanthropist, Joseph Rowntree. Until now he has been best known for the journal he wrote while serving with the Friends Ambulance Unit during the First World War.

It is this journal that serves as the basis of the Castle Museum exhibit as well as a play based on his early wartime experiences that was performed at the museum in the summer of 2017. However in late 2017 the Borthwick Institute received a gift of more than 600 letters written by Lawrence to his mother Constance Rowntree. These reveal, in his own words, the fascinating story of his upbringing as part of York’s most famous family and his fateful decision to leave the Friends’ Ambulance Unit for active military service which led to his death at Passchendaele at the age of just 22.

Laurie was born in 1895, the only son of John Wilhelm Rowntree, who would himself die young at the age of 37 leaving a widow, Constance, and Laurie and his four sisters Margaret, Antoinette (Tony), Violet (who died aged 3), and Jean. The earliest letter surviving letter from Laurie dates from 1901 when he was just six years old. His parents were away from home, and Laurie wrote to his father to let him know that all the children were safe and happy. 

Shortly after this, Laurie and his sister Margaret were sent to live with a local tutor. While Laurie was occasionally persuaded to write to his parents during this time, these letters give the very clear impression that Laurie was relying on Margaret to pass on any important news, although he does proudly report any time their hosts let him drive the horses. One letter to his father gives a glimpse of the kind of education he was receiving. ‘I wrote down all five conjugations in Latin all by myself! Then he [the teacher] told me there are six conjugations. I’m not sure.’

Laurie started at boarding school in 1904. Over the next thirteen years he wrote to his mother at least twice a week. Initially writing from prep school, Laurie continued to write during his years studying at Bootham School in York, his year studying at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, and his brief spell at Cambridge University as a medical student. 



Some things remained constant over the thirteen years’ worth of letters. For one, Laurie was forever an athlete. His letters from school relate endless results of football, rugby, cricket, and swimming matches. Each year at Bootham School, each dorm would compete against the other dorms in a variety of sports. Laurie took this competition very seriously and updated his mother on the score after every match. While in America, Laurie attempted to play American football, but quickly decided he would rather support than play. At Cambridge, he joined the rowing team. Even when writing later from the trenches of World War One, he tells Connie about impromptu football games between the men - always being very careful to mention exactly which goals he scored.

Laurie also loved to ‘fix’ things. While in the junior years at Bootham School, Laurie and his friends became fixated with the idea of creating a hydroplane. For over a year, Laurie wrote about this hydroplane in every single letter to his mother. As the letters go on, he continues to explain why it is taking so long and why they need more money for a new part. Finally, Laurie writes that the hydroplane is almost finished and that he and his friends are planning to launch it on the river. He promises to send Constance all the details of exactly what happens, but the hydroplane is never mentioned again. A quick search through the Bootham School Archive revealed that the hydroplane sank as soon as it was put on the water! 

While in sixth form, Laurie purchased a motorbike without telling his mother. Again, he decided to try and ‘improve’ the motorbike, with varying levels of success. Eventually he was forced to give up, although a much later letter hints that Constance was now using the motorbike herself, despite her initial disapproval of the machine! Thankfully all this early experience served Laurie well. While serving with the Friends Ambulance Unit, he was using his grandfather’s Daimler car as an ambulance. Unfortunately, the Daimler was not cut out to be driven on such poor or non-existent roads, nor was it used to being driven so regularly. It broke down often, and Laurie was forced to rely on all his earlier engineering experience to keep it going.

Reading these letters, it is also possible to watch Laurie grow up, and nowhere is this more evident than in his sign-off. The early letters are signed ‘Thy very loving little son’ with the word ‘very’ underlined multiple times. When he started secondary school, Laurie dropped the word ‘little’. By the time he had reached sixth form, the ‘very’ had also disappeared. While serving on the western front, Laurie’s letters became quite hurried, and the word ‘loving’ also disappears, leaving simply ‘Thy son.’ However, there is one letter written in early 1917 in which Laurie signs himself ‘Thy very loving little son.’ He then crosses out ‘little’ and adds underneath 'sorry – nostalgic habit!'




Laurie and his mother were clearly very close. In 1917 the housemother from Laurie’s school would recall that when he was told of his father’s death in March 1905, his first response was ‘But who will look after my mother?’ His letters from school show frequent concern for her health, in one he sends sympathy for her hay fever, adding with concern ‘Please don’t let him cut off your nose, as you said he was going to. I’m sure it will get better without that. And besides, it would hurt.’ 








Out of his three sisters, Laurie was especially close to his older sister Margaret. Margaret was at the Mount School in York, so as soon as Laurie started at Bootham Margaret arranged regular visits between the two of them. Laurie refers to the two of them visiting relatives together, going for walks around York, or attending social events at each other’s schools. When Margaret began to collect a series of beaus and fiancées, none of them quite met with his approval. In a letter from 1912, he wrote scathingly of Margaret’s latest romantic entanglement. In the next letter, he apologises profusely and takes back all earlier comments. However, on a separate sheet of paper with ‘DO NOT SHOW MARGARET’ written in capitals across the top, he writes that he will make enquiries about this mysterious fiancée (a missionary from Tasmania who none of the family had ever met) amongst other Quakers. 

Laurie's sisters Jean and Tony.

During the war, Margaret moved to London to help with the war effort. While at officer training camp, Laurie couldn’t often get home to Yorkshire, but he did make regular trips to London to visit Margaret. While in France, Laurie didn’t get much time to write letters, but when he did there was a strict order in which he wrote them. Margaret was third after his fiancée and his mother.


Tony photographed by Lawrence on a family holiday in  1914
Shortly after Margaret left the Mount School, Laurie’s younger sister Tony started there. Now it was Laurie’s turn to organise familial visits. He took Tony to tea in town, as well as to visit the full cohort of nearby relatives. He even put up with what he referred to as her ‘group of giggling girls.’ After Laurie left Bootham, the two siblings began to correspond regularly. The pair of them had seen Peter Pan together as young children, and it had clearly made an impression. They kept a close eye on the career of Pauline Chase (who had played Peter), and often make references to the play in their letters. Laurie wrote from America that he thoroughly enjoyed receiving Tony’s letters; they were funny, well-written, and entertaining, yet managed to tell the reader precisely nothing at all about what was going on in her life.


'Better a girl than none' - Laurie's verdict on
the birth of Jean.
Laurie’s youngest sister was born in 1905. Upon hearing of her birth, Laurie wrote to his mother ‘As I have had opportunity to say twice before – better a girl than none.’ He was clearly delighted at the idea of having another sibling, and suggested that she be called Cello. Perhaps understandably, Constance decided not to name her new baby after a musical instrument, but instead named the child Jean. As a teenager, Laurie complained about having to write to the young Jean, a decade his junior. ‘She’s just so little I don’t know what to say,’ he wrote. While Laurie was in America, the then seven-year-old Jean started to write back to him. Much like Tony’s letters, Laurie wrote that he enjoyed receiving them, but they only spoke of ‘childish nonsense’ and gave him no real news. However, by 1915 it’s clear the siblings were very fond of each other and perhaps the most similar of the four. For her tenth birthday, Jean requested a crossbow. She wanted to be able to shoot down the German zeppelins from the roof of their house. Laurie sent her an air rifle, explaining to his mother that it was simply the duty of older brothers to encourage their younger sisters.




Popular with his peers, two names feature frequently in Laurie’s letters to his mother: Roger Derby and Richard, whose surname is unfortunately not mentioned. Roger starts to appear in Laurie’s letters very shortly after Laurie arrived at Bootham School. He was a young lad of exactly Laurie’s age, who came from a prominent Quaker family in the south west. The two shared a dorm and were both determined to win the inter-house tournament. Later, when they no longer shared a room, often be entered for all the same events, but were quite happy so long as one of them won. They were clearly close and Roger was often invited to spend the shorter school holidays with Laurie. Aged eighteen, the two of them went on a motorcycling trip of the UK. Unfortunately, they did not get very far before Roger’s motorcycle broke beyond repair and the two were forced to return to Roger’s family in Bristol. The two lost contact for a couple of years after school, but were reunited when they joined the same section of the Friends’ Ambulance Service. It was a happy reunion, and once again news of Roger begins to fill Laurie’s letters. Roger did not join up when Laurie did, but returned to England as a Conscientious Objector. As such, Laurie made Roger the executor for his will, and asked Roger to take care of his family should anything happen to him.

Richard and Laurie became friends while both serving as prefects at Bootham School and became virtually inseparable. They shared both a bedroom and a prefect office. The two stayed close during Laurie’s studies at Haverford in the USA. Despite the 3000 miles between them, Laurie writes news of Richard in pretty much every letter to his mother. When Laurie arrived at Cambridge, Richard was already studying there. He had organised Laurie’s accommodation for him, and introduced him to the local Quaker community. Richard and Laurie were together when the outbreak of war was declared. Constance and Jean were on holiday in Austria at the time, and Laurie and Richard frantically worked with Laurie’s grandfather and Uncle Duncan to get them home safely. Richard stayed on with the family, and he and Laurie took the decision to join the Friends’ Ambulance Service together. Once again, they shared a bedroom. Richard joined the army shortly before Laurie and ended up serving in a different part of France, so the two were separated. However, whenever they were in the vicinity of each other, they always made sure to meet up, and Laurie always describes these meetings with joy.

Constance knew all of Laurie’s acquaintances at least by name. Unfortunately, this makes things rather tricky for the modern reader, as they often refer to people simply by initials. While at prep school, Laurie was forced to share a dorm with a boy named Pumphrey, who Laurie described as ‘quite the softest ass I have ever met.’ The two boys despised each other, and when Pumphrey enrolled at Bootham just a year after Laurie, he does little to hide his disgust. Fortunately, Bootham was a larger school than Colwall, and the two boys were able to largely avoid each other. Many year later, when Laurie joined the Friends’ Ambulance Unit, he was serving under a man known as P. J., who Laurie respected greatly. It in only on the Christmas dinner menu from 1914 signed by all the men of the unit that it becomes clear that P. J. is Pumphrey! It’s nice to know the two boys worked out their differences in the end.

Pumphrey's signature on the 1914 'War Dinner' menu



Lawrence and Dorothy
However the most important person in Laurie’s life during this time was Dorothy Cross; Tony’s old roommate and one of the ‘group of giggling girls.’ The two first started a romantic relationship when Laurie was eighteen and Dorothy was fourteen. Like Laurie, Dorothy was an athlete and her name appears on many of the Mount School sports awards from this time. She was also a committed Quaker like Laurie. Their relationship continued throughout Laurie’s time in America and Cambridge. In 1913 Laurie mentioned that Tony had written to him about a party held at the Mount School, noting that Dorothy looked very pretty – ‘As if I didn’t already know that!’ 

Dorothy moved to London during the war (she and Margaret shared a house for a while) and briefly assisted with the Red Cross in Belgium. She and Laurie were in constant contact and Dorothy was the first person Laurie wrote to whenever he had spare time. In 1916 he wrote to his mother to request she help him buy ‘an opal ring.’ She had it sent to him and he proposed to Dorothy shortly after while on leave in London. She accepted and the next letter Laurie wrote to Constance was brimming with joy and excitement. 


The two initially decided not to marry until after the war. However, many of their friends and acquaintances tried to talk them out of this, and the two wrestled with the idea of marrying while Laurie was on leave. In late 1917, Laurie wrote a letter to his mother while on leave in York. At the end, he briefly writes ‘Mrs L.E. Rowntree sends her love in buckets. Did I tell you we were married this morning?’ However, this is all that Laurie ever writes on the topic, and no marriage certificate has been found, so it remains a mystery!

Read part two here



Friday, 23 November 2018

A Year in the Life of a Borthwick Trainee

In July 2017, I became the latest in a long line of Borthwick Institute Trainees when I accepted the position over the phone while wedged between the skips out the back of York Waterstones (it was the quietest place I could find on Coney Street!). Despite this inauspicious start, I quickly fell in love with my new job. The Borthwick staff kept me busy with a wide variety of tasks and projects. All ofthem were quite happy to share their knowledge about their own personal area of expertise, and the Archive Assistants in particular happily endured my endless barrage of questions. A year on, I have finished my traineeship, and would like to share with you six items from the Borthwick archives that I think sum up my role over the last year.


Number one: Will of Jane Staple
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Naturally, a key part of being a trainee is receiving training. Palaeography, the art of reading old handwriting, was one of the hardest and yet most rewarding things I learned at the Borthwick. In my first lesson, I was asked to read the will of Jane Staple. I sent a photo of it to a friend with the caption “It’s completely illegible!” She replied that actually this was quite a nice document and they’d get harder. Not exactly encouraging! But a year on, this document is no longer illegible; and she was right: they do get much, much harder!




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Description automatically generatedNumber two: Will of Lancelot Thorpe

The Borthwick have somewhere between 750,000 and 1,000,000 wills (depending on who you ask). One of my jobs was to make copies of wills for researchers. This was a simple, yet time-consuming task, not helped by the fact that I would regularly get distracted by the contents of the wills themselves. The will of Lancelot Thorpe particularly caught my attention. The will itself was clearly written by a scribe, and is fairly standard in form and content. However on the back is a letter to Lancelot’s wife written in his own hand, explaining that he has total faith in her to act as his executrix. Lancelot died aboard ship not long after.  







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Number three: Parish Magazine from Micklefield
When I was asked to repackage and list a collection of parish magazines, I don’t think anyone realised that there were nearly 6000 of them! Again, I became hopelessly distracted by the contents of the magazines, in particular the serialized stories. This tale was a personal favourite: the story of a young lady who must choose between caring for her mother (‘inept at housework of all kinds’) or pursuing a career as a potter when a young man from London offers her a job. Unfortunately, the next few editions of the magazine have not survived, and come the next surviving issue he is in court accused of a serious crime, and she leaves him after a dramatic scene at a bus stop. The December edition of this story is also missing, but I like to imagine they lived happily ever after.





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Description automatically generatedNumber four: A Letter from Lawrence Rowntree to his sister Jean
After the parish magazines I moved on (via a couple of other projects) to listing the letters of Lawrence Rowntree.  Laurie wrote nearly 600 letters to his mother over the course of his life, starting when he was just six years old and ending with his death on the Western Front in 1917 aged just 22.  On the whole these letters were a joy to read, as Laurie’s letters are full of humour. On one occasion, he went to have his hair cut. The barber did not know his last name, and spent the entire hair cut telling Laurie how awful the Rowntree family were. Laurie wrote to his mother that he now had an entirely new view of his grandfather!  In one early letter, Laurie rejoices at the birth of his youngest sister, and asks that she be called Cello. Instead, she was named Jean. Over the next few years, Laurie often comments on how awkward it is writing to Jean, because she is just so little. By January 1917, when this letter was written, the two were clearly very close, and Laurie jokes about his Christmas celebrations and present. 


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Number five: Rowntree Black Magic Advert
To end my traineeship, I was given the opportunity to devise my own project. Having been a teacher in a previous life, I decided to use the archives at the Borthwick to create a series of teaching resource packs.  My favourite was about the use of persuasive language (to tie in with the KS3 English syllabus) as shown through Rowntree adverts. I especially love the early Black Magic adverts, because they provide little snippets of a story and leave you to fill in the blanks. Much as with the parish magazines, my imagination ran wild!






Number six: Archie

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Archie is a toy squirrel and the Borthwick’s unofficial mascot. Having been asked to help out with the Borthwick social media accounts I thought we could have a bit of fun with him. Often we would have themes or campaigns for our social media streams, such as Archives 30 (in which the Archives and Records Association set a different theme each day) or our collaboration with the English department at the University of York to try and provide dissertation ideas for undergraduate students.  Having come up with ideas for photos I wanted to take for these campaigns, I would take Archie with me and photograph him with any interesting or unusual things I found while in the Strongroom. As such, Archie ended up being photographed with some very unusual items!


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As I mentioned at the beginning, this traineeship program has been running for a long time now, and hopefully will run for many more years. While I have now left the Borthwick and returned to university to complete a Masters degree in archival and information studies, the traineeship programme goes on.  So I’d like to end with some quick advice for my successors.  

Firstly, always lift the archive boxes with two hands (trust me on this one).  

Secondly, if you ever have a spare ten minutes, there is endless fun to be found in wandering into the Strongroom, picking a box at random, and seeing what you can find.  It’s the closest you will ever come to finding buried treasure.

And thirdly, the staff at the Borthwick are fabulous. Not only are they incredibly knowledgeable about their collections and generally all things archives, but they are very happy to share this knowledge with you.  Ask as many questions as you want (you won’t annoy them) and learn as much as you can. Don’t waste this fabulous opportunity, because you are incredibly lucky to have it. Good luck! 

A squirrel sitting on top of a teddy bear

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Rosie Denton
Archives Trainee 2017-2018

Monday, 19 November 2018

When the guns fell silent: York and the 1918 flu

The signing of the Armistice in November 1918 was a bittersweet time for the people of York. Doubtless, many would have been looking forward to seeing their loved ones again after four years of conflict. Many would have been feeling the bite of the recently introduced rationing. Still more would have been feeling the Armistice all the more keenly when looking at the photographs of those they had loved and lost.

As the crowds mingled in York to mark the moment, any would have been feeling under the weather. Some may have been feeling the first signs of a cold-like virus, with a sore throat and high temperature. Others would have been at home in bed with a full blown fever, delirious, in pain with excruciating muscle cramps. Others would be in the final, terrible stages of influenza, developing a purple tinge to the skin, their breathing becoming ever more shallow, rapid and laboured as they effectively drowned in their own beds. 

The H1N1 virus - erroneously known as Spanish flu - was the final act of a war that had already claimed up to 19 million lives. The virus, most likely a mutation of a swine-borne flu, had manifested itself in military camps in the United States, and crossed the Atlantic with the massive moves of men as the US bolstered its efforts in France. The massing of men in hospitals and camps provided the ideal breeding ground, and the moves of so many men as the war drew to a close provided the ideal medium for transporting the virus all over the world. By the end of 1920, between 50-100 million people would have died from the disease and to to 500 million infected people infected worldwide. 

The reports of York’s Medical Officer of Health (MOH/Y/10) suggest that the 1918 flu hit York very much like anywhere else – in two distinct waves, the first in the summer (approximately 30th June - 27th July 1918), the next in late autumn, 'commencing just before the Armistice', though officially recorded as 12th October 1918-11th January 1919. It was this second wave that was to be the more deadly. 


MOH/Y/10: Medical Officer of Health report for York, 1919

The first signs that the city was taking the outbreak's return in October seriously came with the closing of 12 of the city's schools on the 22nd-23rd October, with a further 11 closed on the 24th-25th. 600 children had been reported as being ill up to the 25th October. On the 30th October, all of the city's schools were closed, at the very least until the 18th November.

By this point it was becoming apparent to the authorities that they were in the midst of a crisis. Unlike the summer wave, which had manifested as 'normal' flu, this iteration was much more virulent and deadly. Health visitors and school nurses were transferred to the job of supporting doctors in visiting cases at home. Here, the danger inherent in medical care was brought into sharp relief with the deaths of two home visitors from flu. 

The Medical Officer of Health 'engaged the services of disengaged midwives and other handy substitutes' to bolster the city's medical provision, with a panel formed to draw up guidance for home nursing. It was in vain. Nine of the city's doctors had reported visiting over 6000 cases between them. The MOH report notes that as a result of the flu outbreak, 'the professional nursing staffs of the city and district were absolutely overwhelmed.'

The city took further measures to try and slow the spread of the infection. It had already been noted that Armistice celebrations had provided the perfect conditions to spread the infection further, with a combination of packed tramcars and crowds jostling in the streets in scenes of spontaneous and civic celebrations. Cinemas were asked to close for an hour in the early evening to subject theatres to free ventilation and disinfectant spray. On the 18th November, the national Local Government Board recommended that all places of public entertainment should not be operate for more three consecutive hours and places should be thoroughly ventilated for a full 30 minutes between performances. By the 22nd November, this was extended to four hours.

By the end of November there were reports of multiple bodies in households, with delays in burying the dead. As a result, soldiers from local barracks had been deployed to aid the authorities in digging graves.

The Medical officer of Health, in typical fashion, reported the bare facts in his end of year report. There had been 1,318 deaths in York during 1918. Of these, 530 occurred between October and December, more than double the rate of the previous year. 226 deaths were attributed to influenza, with a further 166 being listed as being down to flu's common complication, pneumonia. It was noted that it was difficult to distinguish between the two, mainly as those who died in hospital were classed as dying of pneumonia as opposed to flu.

MOH/Y/10: Medical Officer of Health report for York, 1919

A defining feature of the 1918 flu was its mortality, disproportionately affecting those who would be classed as in their physical prime. This was reflected in York, with those aged 15-45 faring the worst. The poorest districts in the City were hit particularly hard - presumably due to their cramped living conditions – 89 deaths from influenza and 71 from pneumonia in Walmgate ward, 76 from flu and 59 from pneumonia in Micklegate ward. The outbreak had largely hit 'indoor workers' – those working in factories and offices, for instance. The nature of the workforce by the end of the war meant that the outbreak had hit women almost twice has hard as men.

The majority of people had died at home. Only 58 people had died in local hospitals – 26 in the Workhouse Infirmary, and 25 in the County Hospital. In addition to the city's own dead, 56 soldiers had died of flu at Fulford Barracks, in addition to 19 visitors to the city.

The records of the city's hospitals display, likewise, a struggle to cope with the sudden and extreme pressure they found themselves under. The Fever Hospital at Naburn was quickly emptied of cases to provide extra bed space, but even this was insufficient. York County Hospital reported 80 inpatients over the course of the outbreak, with a mortality rate of 50% for those admitted, 35% of those admitted dying within 48 hours of admission. In addition to patients admitted with flu or pneumonia, 7 patients already in the hospital contracted flu when 6 flu cases were admitted to a ward.

The House Committee minute book (YCH/1/1/3/10) records the situation. On the 12th November, 10 nurses, 2 maids and a porter were reported as being absent with flu. By this point, 16 staff had been infected. The meeting must have been a sombre one, as one nurse – Nurse Harrison – had died that morning. Accommodation was being arranged for those staff who were still recovering from flu but wished to work.


YCH/1/1/3/10, note stating that 10 nurses, 2 maids and 1 porter off duty with influenza, 12th November 1918

Patient records reveal that many of the nursing staff infected were treated in a hastily re-purposed Board Room. Treatments were rudimentary and were recorded as aspirin, brandy and, finally, morphine. Patients whose temperatures stayed below 100 degrees tended to survive; those who found their temperatures going higher than this rarely did.

The Committee 'desired to place on record their high appreciation of the zealous and devoted manner in which all the members of the staff are discharging their duties under the present exceptionally trying conditions’. This is something of an understatement. Later minutes from the hospital's Medical Board (YCH/1/1/6) stated that ‘the hospital was practically closed for two months’ due to shortage of staff, with only ‘extremely urgent’ cases admitted.

By the end of the year, the virus had passed. The 1918 strain of flu was virulent, but short lasting. It left behind in its wake yet more broken families, another swathe through a population in its prime. There is no memorial to the dead of the 1918 flu. Society, as a whole, has chosen to try and forget the deadly autumn and winter of 1918. Perhaps, as the evenings draw in and we look towards the end of the year and all the joys it brings, we should stop for a moment and remember the 400 of York’s community who lost their lives, and the many thousands more who found their lives changed forever - just as the guns stopped firing.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Magical Yorkshire


The magic of Yorkshire's history can sometimes be literal as well as figurative! 

We are all familiar with the idea of wisemen and wisewomen as people involved in occult activity. In Yorkshire, such people seem to have been helpful rather than malicious, although that didn't mean the Church approved. 

V.1567-8/CB1 f. 25v, Borthwick Institute for Archive

In 1567, Robert Garmann was the subject of testimony to the archbishop of York during a visitation, where he was accused of being a wiseman who 'had healed beastes beinge forespoken' (bewitched or charmed). The magic spell he used to break the enchantment was 

God and sancta charytie blysse the beast. 


The belief in forespeaking carried on in Yorkshire into the ninteenth century. Around 1840, a farmer from South Crosland near Huddersfield who was noted as a cow-doctor wrote down instructions for curing a forespoken cow: 

When Cattle is forspoken Catch her waters then get a new Pipkin never been used put the waters therein then Get some Glass shave both horns a little of then Cut some hair from between her horns and Tail end then get 9 Clogg nails 9 pins never used put all together into the pipkin then as near the full Moon as Possable at twelve O Clock at Night make the doors then set the Pipkin with the above in it on a good red fire and sit with it till all be boiled away and no Smook from it then take it off and when Cold scrape all the black in the pot and nails etc on to some paper then put all in as small a parcil as you can turning each end Contrary way and if any body come to the door don’t open nor speak when doing this then in the morning take the parcel and a Gimblet big enough and go to a live Oaktree and bore a hole and put the parcel in and make a peg for it and put it in and drive it up with a hammer and then Get a egg and break the small end and put tarr in when emptied and give it to the Cow next morning keep warm and give Aird water to drink a time or two till well 
Clearly, un-forespeaking an animal was a complicated process!

Other wisewomen are on record as folk healers. During the 1598 vistation, one Widdow Carre of Darfield was reputed to be a wisewoman with skill at curing sickness. And in 1693, at the Quarter Sessions in Silkstone, appeared one William Beever who was supposed to be able to 'finde things that are lost' by the use of 'a booke whiche he calls an alminacke'. 
A wiggen, or rowan tree, Barbondale

Although these people professed benign powers, there was still obviously a fear of magic and bewitchment. The wiggen (the rowan, or mountain ash) was supposed to protect people from evil. In 1674, a witch's plot was foiled because 'they tye soe much whighen about him, I cannot come to my purpose'. It was even a cure against sickness: in 1782, an Ecclesfield man's diary records an attack of ague from which he recovered after six days 'Under Bark of Wiggin'. 

We can even track the suspicion of the occult into people's names. The surname Pricker was evidently occupational but its meaning is uncertain. In some contexts a pricker was a huntsman and in others a witch-finder. One by-name which may derive from witch-finder is Helya Prickescin, who lived around Fountains Abbey 1168-1194. 

Friday, 22 June 2018

Howzat?: Cricket and the Yorkshire Historic Dictionary

A guest post by Dr George Redmonds, author of the Yorkshire Historic Dictionary 

A woodcut of three men playing stool ball, from a 1767 book 'A Little Pretty Pocket-book'
Stool-ball, 1767, from A Little Pretty Pocket-book
The game of cricket is traditionally difficult to explain, especially to foreigners, but the history of the word itself also poses problems. Even the Oxford English Dictionary has no answer, placing the words ‘Etymology uncertain’ after the entry. The first recorded reference to ‘cricket’ as a game is in the Borough Records of Guildford in 1598 – in Surrey therefore! In that year a man called John Denwick testified that he had known a certain parcell of land ... for the space of Fyfty years and more, a fact secured in his memory because hee and several of his fellowes did runne and play there at Creckett. We can presume from this that cricket was being played at the end of the reign of Henry VIII, but unfortunately it makes no contribution to our understanding of the word.

An old cricket stool, well worn.
A cricket stool
Several possible interpretations are commented on in the OED including one theory that links cricket with stool-ball, a game played especially by young women, to which there are references from before 1473. That game is still played in Sussex, where it is thought to have originated, and the relevant point for cricketers is that two stools were formerly the wickets. The fact that a low wooden stool was once called a ‘cricket’ persuaded some historians of the game that this was a vital link in the word’s meaning. The OED view on that theory is that any connection ‘is very doubtful’ since ‘cricket’ in the sense of stool ‘is itself not in evidence till a later date’, not until just before 1643. 

Excerpt from the probate inventory of George Brough, Selby, 1673
Excerpt from the inventory of George Brough, Selby, 1673,
Selby Peculiar probate
Evidence in a Yorkshire will now removes that particular objection to such a link. In 1559, when Ninian Staveley of Ripon Park died, an inventory was made of his goods, and In the Greate Chambre were 2 old chaires valued at 12s and one litill crekett stole, worth 4s. Similarly, a Selby blacksmith was in possession in 1656 of 1 letle clap table & a crekit stole. It was not invariably a compound term. In 1673, a tanner called George Brough, also from Selby, owned 2 crecketts and 5 greene chares. Of course this does not finally solve how ‘cricket’ came to be the name of the game but it certainly renews the debate about its connection with stool-ball and the south-east of England.  

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Wednesday, 13 June 2018

The Life and Letters of Queen Emma of Hawaii


Queen Emma of Hawaii
(Photo credit: Wiki Media Commons)
In the autumn of 1865, Powderham Castle in Devon received an unusual and distinguished guest. Queen Emma of Hawaii was touring England attempting to garner financial donations and support for Hawaii’s first Anglican Cathedral when she stopped for a few days at the home of the Earl of Devon. There she met his daughter, the twenty-seven year old Lady Agnes Elizabeth Courtenay. The two women became fast friends, and for the rest of Emma’s visit the two maintained a regular correspondence. These letters were clearly treasured by Agnes, as she took them with her when she married Charles Wood Viscount Halifax in 1869, and thus they eventually found their way into our collection.

Emma Kalanikaumakaamano Nae’a Rooke was born in 1836, two years before Agnes Courtenay, in Honolulu. Her parents were both High Chiefs directly descended from royalty, and her ancestors included Hawaii's first king, Kamehameha the Great. She was adopted and raised by her aunt and uncle, Grace and Thomas Rooke. Grace was also a High Cheifess, but her father had been a British-born military advisor to the crown, while Thomas was a British doctor who had moved to Hawaii in adulthood. As such, Emma was raised in both Hawaiian and English traditions and spoke both languages fluently.

Emma was sent to the Royal School, previously called the Chiefs’ Children’s School, in Honolulu to finish her education. Interestingly, as Hawaii had an elected monarchy, it was not always certain who the next monarchy would be so this school aimed to give each of the possible candidates received an equal education. While studying at the Royal School, Emma fell in love with Alexander Liholiho. He became King Kamehameha IV in 1855, and married Emma in June of the following year. They had one son together, Prince Albert Edward, who sadly died at the age of four in 1862 of a ‘brain fever’.

Emma's faith comes across in the letters she wrote
Inspired by Emma’s adoptive father, Emma and Alexander dedicated much of their reign to providing their subjects with accessible and affordable healthcare. After deciding they wished to establish a hospital in Honolulu, the king and queen travelled door-to-door throughout the islands asking for donations. As a result, the Queen’s Medical Centre was opened in 1860. The couple were also devout Christians, and in 1860 they appealed to the Church of England for permission to establish the Church of Hawaii. Permission was granted, and Emma and Alexander were baptised by Anglican vicars in 1862. The king and queen then decided to fund-raise to build a cathedral dedicated to St Andrew, as well as a connected school for girls. This was a particular passion of Emma’s, as she had noticed that, outside of the Royal School, girls were rarely educated to the same standards as boys and she wished to rectify this. However, a spanner was thrown in the works when Alexander died suddenly in 1863. Emma spent the next couple of years in mourning, but eventually decided to persevere with the project by travelling to England in 1865 to garner support and financial aid for the cathedral and school.
Emma's appreciation for the welcome she received

It’s unclear when precisely Emma stayed at Powderham Castle, but the letters she wrote to Agnes are dated between November 1865 and January 1866. Emma clearly received a warm welcome at Powderham. She wrote early on: “I appreciate deeply the affection and love extended towards me by yourself and your family, and feel that God has indeed given me true, earnest friends in Lord Devon and yourself.” Agnes later wrote to invite Emma to stay with her family over the Christmas period. Emma could not stay with them, but thanked her greatly for the invite, writing: “if you have ever experienced the warmth of true friendship extended to you a stranger in a foreign land? You will then have felt my appreciation of such affection as has been shewen [sic] to me”.


Much of the correspondence between Emma and Agnes was written while Emma was the personal guest of Queen Victoria, and as such Victoria is mentioned frequently in the letters and even had Agnes’s letters read out to her. Victoria had been godmother to Emma’s son, yet the two women had never met before Emma’s visit. Victoria recorded her first meeting with Emma in her diary, where she wrote: “nothing could be nicer or more dignified than her manner.” Agnes had recommended a maid to Emma, who passed the suggestion on to Victoria. One of the letters to Agnes deals entirely with this matter. Emma tells Agnes exactly what Victoria is looking for in a maid, ending with: “She is anxious to have a clever person that can do anything & every thing [sic] without much saying.” Not asking much then!


However, what comes through most in these letters is Emma’s dislike of the English weather. In a letter of November 11th 1865, she writes: “we have not yet seen the Fog. But it [the weather] looks black, cloudy, and smoky, and very cold…I am convinced that the sooner we go out of England the better.” Just two weeks later, Emma wrote again. She had picked up her husband’s habit of travelling by night so as to have more daylight hours to work. She notes that this is perfectly possible in Hawaii, but in England it often leads to one getting rather wet and cold. She had developed a nasty cough as a result. This was why she was unable to spend Christmas with the Courtenay family; her doctor had ordered her to retire to warmer climes to recover. Instead she spent Christmas in the south of France. Emma seems to have enjoyed the south of France. She wrote that it was much more similar to the countryside of her homeland, and that she had “not been troubled by that noisy cough which I had in England.” Much of her letter focuses on the people she met while in France. She was especially excited to meet a descendant of “one of my favourite Poets,” Sir Walter Scott, whom she found to be perfectly charming.

Emma signed with her English and Hawaiian names interchangeably 
After her return to Hawaii, Emma continued to live a remarkable life. After the king died in 1874, she ran in the election to become the next ruling monarch. Despite her hatred of the English weather, she remained staunchly pro-British during the run up to the election, while her opponent was pro-American. She lost the election in the Legislative Assembly, but such was the level of public support for Emma that a riot ensued now known as the Honolulu Court House Riot. After this event, Emma retired from public life, although a seat was always left empty for her at state occasions in case she changed her mind.


The letter Emma wrote in 1880
Interestingly, this collection does contain one further letter from Emma. In 1880, a Mr and Mrs Mills were on a journey that took them through Hawaii. They were friends with the Earl of Devon, and, remembering his daughter’s friendship with Emma, he sent them with a letter of introduction. Emma sent a letter back with a missionary returning to England in which she recalls happy times in England, and relates her joy at hearing news of her old friend. She writes that she heard Agnes and Charles “have a family of your own” and requests “do send me photos of yourselves and children.” She relates little of her own news, but does write that the man carrying the letter for her “has been fortunate enough to witness an eruption of our volcano” and recommends that Agnes ask him about the experience!

In spite of her illness, Emma’s fundraising trip to England was a success. She raised £16,000. Building work started on the Cathedral of St Andrew in 1867 and St Andrew’s Priory School was opened on Ascension Day of the same year. Both are still in operation today, and the cathedral is the home of the Bishop of Hawaii. Emma died in 1885 at the age of forty-nine, while Agnes Wood died in 1919 at the ripe old age of eighty-one.