Thursday, 25 January 2018

For Burn's Night, Scotland in Yorkshire

Interactions between Scotland and Yorkshire were clearly, from the surviving terms in the dictionary, many and common-place. Those words which explicitly reference Scotland seem mostly to do with trade between the two areas, as Scottish men brought wares down from their home country to be sold around the county.

Scotch cloth, for example, was a fabric said to resemble ‘lawn’ (a plain weave textile of linen or, latterly, cotton) but cheaper - it was sometimes said to have been made with the fibre of nettles.

And what better to wear with your scotch cloth shirt than a scotch cap? In his will of 1551, Thomas Greenwood of Wakefield stated:
Unto Edwarde Sundderland as it apperethe in my booke of parcels for a remnantte of calve skynes so that the said Edward do allowe to me xxs which I paid for hym to William Parkyns, besides a Scotche cappe that he had of me, and I owe unto hym for whitte carsaye
This was not a scotch bonnet or a tam o’shanter but something more like a Glengarry cap or Balmoral bonnet. The OED has examples from 1591 and describes it as ‘a man’s head-dress made of thick firm woolen cloth, without a brim, and decorated with two tails or streamers.’ Something similar is now worn by Scottish military regiments:
A Balmoral Bonnet, similar to a scotch cap
These items were probably brought down from Scotland by the scotchman: a sort of catch-all term for travelling drapers, hawkers and sellers of scotch cloth. They called regularly, in isolated rural hamlets, and offered a credit system which helped to make them successful. There are numerous references to scotchmen in the Quarter Sessions from the seventeenth century:
  • Alexander Miller… and another Scotchman taken up with a pack on his back (1705, Gisburn) 
  • Mary Hanson had bought the musling of one Robert Maxfield a Scotchman (1721) 
  • One piece of red and white printed linen which she saith she exchanged with a Scotch Man for her son’s hair in 1736 (1738, West Riding)
Depositions given during Quarter Session give some excellent detail about the life of a scotchman. John Smith was arrested in Kirkheaton in 1682:

Saith that he was borne in Scotland and Dumfrees and he came into England the fooreende of May last and sells hollan and scotchcloath, cambrick, muslins, callecoe and blew linne and that he came Almondbury to Kirkheaton and there was taken up by the watch and hath used this pedding traide for five yeares last paste in England and that he byes the comodityes, except the scotchcloath, of Mr Hardwick and Mr Hey both of Leeds

There are also burial records for peddlars who died on the road. Many were buried without names, their peripatetic lifestyle meaning they were unknown to the inhabitants of their last resting places:

'A Scotchman borne att Edenborough Cominge out of the South dyd as he was brought from Borrowbridge and was buryed att Kirby' Oct 25 1666 N/PR/KM/1/1 North Yorkshire County Record Office 
By 1881, Joe Whiteley of Lancaster Street in Barnsley was referring to himself as a ‘Scotch Traveller Drapery’. His West Riding surname, combined with his birthplace of Holmfirth, suggests that by this date, scotchman had become a more generalised term for a travelling salesman:
From the 1881 Census, showing Joe Whiteley, Scotch Traveller
Scotchmen generally dealt in cloth, so they probably weren’t carrying pounds of nails on their backs. In addition, the existence of the word scotsemnail in Yorkshire from the medieval period seems to predate the arrival of the scotchman by several hundred years. The word is found frequently in the county from the early fourteenth century and seems to derive itself from a Scots dialect term: a seam was a nail, especially one which fixed together the planks of a clinker-built boat. The suffix ‘-nail’ may have been added by clerks who were unfamiliar with the regional word - probably the Yorkshiremen who bought and used them just referred to them as scotsem.

References to scotsemnails occur in the York area from the fourteenth century:

1371 Et in 10.m de Scotsomnail emptis pro celura, dando pro c. 5d, 41s 8d
1434 In v. m Scotesemnailes, 5s 5d
1518 Item paid for ij M skotsym, ijs
1535 It’m twoo thowsand skott Semes (Stillingfleet)

1537 scotsem nayles otherwise called lathe nayles (Sheriff Hutton)

Scotch cloth: A textile fabric which resembled 'lawn' but was cheaper.
Scotch cap: A man's head-dress made of thick firm woollen cloth, without a brim, and decorated with two tails or streamers.
Scotsemnail: A 'scottish nail', one that could be clenched.

Alexandra Medcalf
Project Archivist, Yorkshire Historic Dictionary (@YorksDictionary)

Food in the Archives

‘Gett a fatt roasting pigg and cut off its head'
Walking through the strongrooms within the Borthwick, you never know quite what you will find. There is a Crown of Thorns, an ostrich egg, and a box simply labelled ‘Hair cuttings (family).’ So I was not surprised to learn that within the archive of the Wood family (later Earls of Halifax), intermingled with estate records, political journals and family correspondence, are a series of handwritten recipe books. We say ‘books,’ but in fact it is a box full of notebooks and loose sheets on which people have scribbled down recipes. While these are rarely dated, they appear to cover much of the 19th century. However, mixed in with the rest is a large, bound volume, written in by various hands, with a collection of loose sheets tucked inside, that give us a good idea of what the family ate.

As you would expect of 19th century aristocrats, the Wood family indulged in some sumptuous and
luxurious meals. One recipe provides the cook with instructions on how to boil a lobster, to be served with a fish sauce made from anchovies, onion, vinegar and horse radish. Pickled walnuts appear to have been a delicacy, as there are three separate recipes for how to prepare them. There is also a straightforward recipe for ‘Oyster Loaves.’ All the cook has to do is hollow out some French rolls, and push the oysters inside. Unfortunately for the cook, not all recipes were so effortless. The recipe for a pork dinner starts with the line: ‘Gett a fatt roasting pigg and cut off its head’!

A recipe with a drawing of a ‘little onion’ at the top
However not all of the recipes in this books are for such decadent meals. Served alongside various meats was a combination of boiled cabbage, mashed potato and onion. There are also recipes for macaroni, dumplings, and dried tongue. Those in the mood for a really humble meal would perhaps have chosen ‘Ham Toast.’ As the name suggests, this was ham on toast with a little scrambled egg on top. It may even have been served with their own home-made ‘Cetchup,’ the boiled innards of mushrooms.

Around the same time as the Wood family were eating ham toast and mashed potatoes, the girls of the Grey Coats School in York were enjoying a similar fare. Grey Coats was a charity boarding school for poor girls founded in 1705, and the kitchen account books today survive with the rest of their archive within the Borthwick. Looking through the account book for the period 1827 to 1848, it appears the girls were largely fed on meat and potatoes. Unlike the poor Wood’s cooks, these kitchen staff bought ready-made sausages and bacon, as well as tripe, pressed beef and pork pie. In the winter months, the school would consume around ninety pounds of potatoes a week; nearly two pounds per student! Oatmeal was consumed at a similar rate, and cabbage also frequently appeared on the menu.

In a later account book, plums and other fruit begin to appear.
In both sets of documents, fruit make a rare appearance. Fruit appears within a few dessert recipes
with the Wood’s documents, including ‘sweetened apricots’ (similar to stewed apples), and the particularly delicious sounding ‘French puffs’. These were made from grated apple mixed with sugar, cream, eggs, butter, flour, nutmeg and orange flower water, which was then fried.  Meanwhile, the girls of Grey Coats’ School gained their five a day from gooseberry, apple and rhubarb pies. A similar account book from the 1920s shows that the girls did later eat a wider selection of fruit, including: bananas, Seville oranges, and plums. It’s worth noting, though, that the account books feature regular payments to a gardener, as well as an annual supply of turf. It is entirely possible that the kitchen staff were growing much of the fruit served to the students, meaning it wouldn’t appear in the account book.

‘Yeast for bread’ and ‘yeast for cakes’
As may have been apparent, puddings featured heavily in the menus of both the Wood family and Grey Coats School. The school account books show weekly purchases of yeast, but ‘yeast for bread’ was costed separately to ‘yeast for cakes.’  The account book show purchases of treacle, trifle, custard powder, and a regular supply of butter and eggs specifically ‘for gingerbread’.  The Wood family also enjoyed gingerbread. Their recipes ‘Honeycomb gingerbread’ and the intriguingly named ‘Transparent gingerbread.’ Perhaps, like the fabled emperor’s coat, only those worthy of gingerbread can see it. Within the bound volume of recipes, there is not only a section dedicated to desserts and puddings, but another for cakes and yet another for creams. They flavoured cream with everything from lemon and Seville orange, to almonds and brandy. However, the most prevalent recipe within the book is rice pudding. Not only are there three different rice pudding recipes within bound volume, but multiple recipes tucked in, all written on scraps of paper in different hands, all using slightly different ingredients, and all claiming to be the ‘perfect’ rice pudding.

Recipes at the time were not solely concerned with food, and neither was the account book of Grey Coats School. Alcohol appears in both sets of records The Halifax book has a whole section dedicate to make special ‘flavours’ of wine (raspberry, gooseberry, spiced cider), while the staff at Grey Coats
A recipe for beef tea addressed to Sir F. L Wood
school were allowed to order alcohol through the kitchen. As such there are entries for ‘ale for Beswick,’ ‘port for Goot’ and ‘ale for the abbot’. Mixed in are also payments for stamps, window cleaning, ‘manure for Matron,’ and ‘cab fare to the hospital’. The very last entries in the later account book are for Morris dancing and a book on folk dancing. The Wood family, meanwhile, were quite concerned with medicine. Their recipes include formulas to cure toothache, rheumatic cramps, and ‘violent discharges,’ among others. At the end of the aforementioned creams section, there is a recipe for ‘Artificial Ape’s Milk’, an indigestion cure that would surely be necessary after all that dessert! Perhaps most touchingly, tucked into the back of the volume is a letter addressed to Sir F.L. Wood (Francis Lindley Wood (1771–1846)). It contains meticulous instructions on how to prepare beef tea, ending with the line “this is an excellent thing instead of broth for a sick person.”

These are by no means the only food-based records found at the Borthwick, but together they paint a picture of what people at both ends of society were eating in the latter half of the 19th century. On the whole, it seems to have been a diet of meat and root vegetables, but with plenty of pies, cakes and gingerbread to follow. Perhaps not the healthiest way to eat, but delicious nonetheless!

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Eyewitnesses to History in the Retreat Archive

This is the sixth in a series of blog posts celebrating the Retreat archive as we publicise the availability of the digitised archive. As we have worked on this digitisation project there have been many items that have caught our eye along the way. In this blog post, one of our digitisation assistants, Jane Rowling highlights some of the interesting items she has encountered.


One of the pleasures of digitising an archive like that of The Retreat, is the number of throwaway comments and random snippets which refer to bigger events in the history of Britain and the world. The correspondence files are particularly rich in this regard, and offer a fascinating insight into life during history’s “Big Events”, through the eyes of people who were there at the time. This blog will pick out a few of my favourite examples, although there are many more among the thousands of digitised documents from this archive which can be found online by browsing our catalogue.

The Tooley Street Fire

Writing in 1885, Mr Charles Cave Wilmott, a patient at The Retreat, recalled one of his experiences as a London resident earlier in his life:

“I got into a Bus and at the Elephant & Castle and we all saw a conflagration at London Bridge. We had a diffy to Cross the bridge. The fire It was opposite the other side of the Thames, and I to saw them squirting water over the Tower Walls, the scene was awfull [sic]. Braidwood the Head of the fire begrade [sic] a most brave man. I forget whether any of the firemen were killed several bu people were buried in the debris. The fire Brigade with Braidwood marched behind the funeral cortege down Shoreditch to Kensall Green Semetry [sic], The playing the dead march in Saul. It was a grand sight.”

This memory has many parallels with the Tooley Street Fire of 1861, which was often referred to as the greatest fire since the Great Fire of London. This took place in the warehouses which lined the Thames close to London Bridge and took two weeks to extinguish. As with other disasters in the Victorian city, the Tooley Street Fire drew crowds of over 30,000 people, standing on the bridge and the opposite side of the river, bringing traffic to a standstill, and accounting for the difficulty which Mr Wilmott’s bus experienced in crossing. James Braidwood, the Superintendent of the London Fire Engine Establishment, was in fact killed during the effort to extinguish this conflagration, buried under a wall which collapsed on him as he was attempting to assist one of his firemen. A funeral cortege like the one Mr Wilmott remembered , a mile and a half long, carried Braidwood to his final resting place. This event was a major spur for the creation of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in 1866.

The First World War

Day to day history is also captured in vivid detail in the Retreat Archive. The First World War had a greater impact on everyday life in Britain than any previous war. For the first time, war was on the doorstep, and it’s effects can be seen everywhere in correspondence dating from 1914 to 1918. This led to the issuing of new rules and regulations which would govern people’s lives, and a level of fear began to affect even the most mundane of interactions with strangers. 

Take, for example, the case of Harold Schluter, a patient at The Retreat in 1914. While shopping in York, he entered a branch of WHSmith to order a book on flight, and was promptly reported to the police by the shop assistant on suspicion of being a German spy. 

A letter from WHSmith justifying the action of the assistant stated that "as the name was distinctly German, the paper in question was 'Flight' and apparently the address of the customer unknown, he considered on the account of the warning issued within the last few days, that he had a public duty to perform"

As was drily noted in the Retreat’s response to the shop’s apology: “I hardly think a German Spy would be likely to order in advance a paper on flying and give his name openly to anyone.”


The First World War was a difficult issue for members of the Society of Friends, like Dr Bedford Pierce, the Superintendent of the Retreat. Correspondence from 1914-1918 is littered with references to the War, to conscription, and to the problems arising from being a committed pacifist, but also feeling a deep sense of loyalty towards Britain. 

In a letter to a friend, dated 27th February 1918, Dr Pierce wrote: "I am interested in hearing about your son going out. I fear it will be an anxious time for you. One cannot but feel that this year the promise of spring is hateful. It would be much more encouraging if there was a little prospect of an end to it, but if the settlement is by fighting it will be a long time before the conclusion is reached.” This links to the feelings of many members of the Society of Friends, who felt that Germany and her allies represented an evil which must be resisted, but that fighting was not the answer. 

Dr Pierce was often asked to allow patients to present themselves for medical inspection by the army doctors in order to see whether they could be judged fit to join up and fight. In some cases, this was allowed for the patient’s own peace of mind, despite the fact that they would almost certainly be judged unfit due to their mental or physical conditions; some patients suffered great distress at the thought that they had not volunteered to serve their country. As a result of this suffering, which could exacerbate existing mental illnesses like depression, or delusions of having committed a great sin by damaging self-esteem, Dr Pierce often arranged for patients to see army medical officers to be examined, producing a flurry of correspondence with family and friends.

Another document in this archive shows the calm before the storm of the First World War from a different perspective. 


This postcard, dated just two weeks before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the event which is often described as the final spark to the tinderbox of conditions which existed before the First World War, was sent from Frankfurt. There is no sign in the sunny photograph of any dark clouds on the horizon. The postcard’s sender writes: 


“Thankyou very much for your kind note. I am staying for the present at Pension Metropole Frankfurt. The weather is lovely.”

Technology in the Home

The Retreat Archive also offers a view of a world of rapid technological advance, with recognisable innovations that we still use in some form today, as well as some which never quite caught on.


The competition between gas and electric lighting in the home is captured in this advertisement of 1906/7, which declares that gas was “now as convenient as Electric Light”. In the twenty-first century, with almost ubiquitous electric lighting, it seems odd to remember that this was by no means a foregone conclusion, and that the struggle between electricity and gas companies was fiercely competitive.


Another invention which we can recognise today is the dishwasher, but this one, advertised in 1921 seems very large and complex by today’s standards. The advert confidently declares that the “Channel Race” Patent Crockery Washer is “A machine you will eventually buy.” 

The early twentieth century produced a wealth of labour-saving devices for domestic use, as the era of the domestic servant came to a close. After the First World War, women who had taken on work which had previously been the preserve of men often wanted to continue working rather than return to domestic service. Although many women lost their wartime jobs in favour of men returning from the fighting, the world of work, and attitudes to female labour both inside and outside the home had changed forever. 

These are just a few of the topics, relating to wider themes in history, which can be accessed through the archives of The Retreat. 

More information about the Wellcome Library funded project to digitise the Retreat archive can be found on the project pages of our website. Digital surrogates from the Retreat archive project are available via the Wellcome Library and can also be found by following the links from the Retreat catalogue.

Misadventures in Parish Magazines

Micklefield, 1996
In the 1980s, York Minster Library sent a letter round to all the parishes in the modern Archdeaconry of York requesting past and future issues of their local parish magazine. Over eighty-five parishes complied, and the resulting collection of nearly 6,000 magazines span exactly 150 years. York Minster Library no longer has room for such a collection, and so it was transferred to the Borthwick a few months ago. Since then, it has been my job to sift through this collection; sorting them by parish, weeding out any duplicates, packaging them into archival boxes, and creating a list of exactly what is there. Along the way, I have occasionally become distracted by the contents of the magazines, and it’s these interesting and entertaining nuggets that I want to share.

Parish magazines, by their very nature, cover the more quotidian aspects of village life. Details of village fetes appeared often.  In one particular appeal for shoes, the author has specifically requested that ‘pairs of shoes be tied together and clearly labelled with their size’ after the ominous sounding ‘events of last year.’ However, the editors also liked to pay homage to national events. One from June 1953 contains a ‘Guide to the Symbolism of the Coronation’ to ensure parishioners understood what they were watching. A few years later, one magazine included an insert listing the major policy points of various political parties, and imploring readers to use their votes wisely in the upcoming national elections.

While modern parish magazines often exist purely to inform locals of upcoming events, earlier parish magazines aimed to educate as well. The Archbishop of York released a monthly insert for the parish magazines in his Archdeaconry expanding on a recent sermon or making a comment on news articles. A large number of these have survived.  Similarly, writing a regular article for the parish newsletter appears to have been part of a vicar’s job description.  Many parish priests used these articles to discuss fairly light-hearted issues, such as the changing of the seasons or the presence of birds outside the vicarage. But occasionally vicars would use this article to discuss bigger issues. In one particularly memorable magazine from 1960, the vicar writes at length about the ‘problem of
Malton, 1942
pornography.’ It’s unclear how well this went down with his parishioners, but the following month he returned to writing about the local wildlife. There was some excitement in our office when I came across a series of articles written by J.S. Purvis. Many of you will know that he served as the first Director of the Borthwick. Less well known is that he was the vicar of Malton during the 1940s. As such, he was writing entries for the local newsletter, and in the wonderful circular way of the world these articles now rest in the archive he founded.

Dalby and Whenby, 1901
Missionaries were also encouraged to write regular articles for the publications of parishes that sponsored them. Many of these are encouraging and uplifting tales about recent conversions written to thank parishioners for their support and to encourage them to continue to give. There is, however, one notable exception. One lady had just returned from a three-year stint on a remote island in the Atlantic Ocean, where her husband had been serving as a missionary. She wrote a series of articles, in which she is highly disparaging of the islanders, referring to them repeatedly as ‘savages’. She bemoans the lack of bread (no wheat was grown on the island) and records how difficult she found it to keep her family fed without it. She gave birth to a son while still on the island, but her recounting of this event focuses mainly on how the locals didn’t know how to give birth properly! At the end of her series, the editors of the magazine included an advert from a national organization seeking missionaries to serve in Asia. It seems unlikely that anyone from the particular parish volunteered.

In the first half of the 20th century, many parish magazines included a page of ‘Household Tips and
Dalby and Whenby, 1093
Advice’ written by a local woman. These included tips on housekeeping and raising children, as well as recipes and book recommendations. One that bemused me greatly was the suggestion that mothers read Anne Frank’s diary in order to gain a better understanding of their own teenage daughter. Tips were also welcomed from women throughout the parish. One particularly interesting tip recommends that you use ‘a pair of gay striped bath towels’ as curtains in the bathroom, as they will bring colour to the room while also absorbing the moisture in the air. These pages started to disappear in the 1960s, but Weighton kept their ‘Housekeeping Tips’ going longer than most. The woman responsible for this page continued to provide tips for inside the house, but in 1960 she was joined by a local man who provided tips on DIY and gardening. While I’ve yet to use any of his gardening advice, I can safely say that his guidance on how to bleed a radiator continues to be extremely useful.

The magazines at this time also aimed to appeal to children through stories and puzzles. One particular parish released a multifaceted puzzle for children each month, with answers to be posted through the puzzle-setter’s letterbox. However, she wrote in one edition, so few children remembered to put their names on their answers, that she rarely knew who had won! The stories aimed at children varied quite widely. Some told bible stories or stories from the lives of saints. Others covered tales from history. One parish had the noble intention of attempting to portray the entire history of
Weighton, 1960
Christianity as a serialised comic strip. Unfortunately when the magazine ceased publication two years later, the comic writers were still covering the Roman period. Some magazines, however, followed a more traditional route, and children were greeted with a highly moralistic tale.  One featured a ‘young cripple’ who received a vision from God telling her that she would dance with him in Heaven. Another tells the story of a young Chinese boy who traveled far and wide to find a brown bunny for the young daughter of a British missionary, and attempted to convince children to become missionaries when they grew up.

There were also serialised stories for adults found within the parish magazines. Dating right back to
Norton, 1927
1863 and continuing until the late 1950s, each story was released chapter by chapter over the course of the year. Again, these were written by locals, and usually by local women. In the early days, they followed one of two patterns. Both feature a young country girl who is kind and good, and who cares for a child or disabled relative. In the first type of story, she falls in love with a brooding man with a dark secret, despite his best attempts to push her away. His family have lived in the family for generations, and there have always been rumours about their strangeness. Through the heroine’s perseverance (and usually a dramatic accident/storm) the hero eventually turns to Jesus and becomes a good person. The couple get married and live happily ever after, the dark past completely forgotten. In the second variation the young country girl already has a beau, but her/his father/uncle/grandfather/ a random old man in village refuses to allow them to marry. Through good works, perseverance (and occasionally some trickery), the young girl again convinces the old man to convert to Christianity, and the couple are allowed to wed. One of these that especially stood out to me is entitled ‘The Case of Jabez Quirk.’ For reasons that are never explained, Jabez has buried his family’s fortune under the bell tower of the local church. Jabez’s nephew and his girlfriend (who, yes, is kind and good, and cares for her wheelchair-bound aunt) work out where the gold is hidden. With the help of the local vicar, they dig
St. Paul's, York, 1955
up the treasure, and use it to blackmail Jabez into allowing them to marry. Jabez is so unimpressed by this that he dies of anger, and everyone else lives happily ever after. When written like this, it appears an odd plotline, but in the parish magazine it is engaging and entertaining, and I found myself avidly routing for the nephew and his girlfriend to find the treasure.

The dramatic bus stop scene
Micklefield, 1937
After the First World War, the serialized stories became more varied. One features a rising opera starlet, who drives her car too fast through a village, crashes, and spends the next six weeks in hospital. Initially she is difficult, making excessive demands on the nurses and constantly asking to be moved to a better hospital in London. Through the hard work of the doctor, she learns to be less selfish and so teaches the local children to sing. And of course, she marries the doctor and gives up her opera career. My personal favourite is the story of a young lady, named Jean but called Louie, who must choose between carrying for her mother ( ‘inept at housework of all kinds’) or pursuing a career as a potter. A young man from London takes up lodging in her house and offers her a job at his father’s factory. Unfortunately the next few editions of that particular magazine have not survived, and the next thing we know he is in court accused of a serious crime, while she meets him at a bus stop to explain that they can never be together.  The December edition of this story is also missing, but I like to think it had a happy ending!

Within a week of these magazines arriving at the Borthwick, a researcher came to consult them. Hopefully this is a sign of the collection’s future popularity, as they are a fascinating resource of social history for the modern Archdeaconry of York. They cover all the major events of the 20th century, while also providing a glimpse of the everyday life of parishioners, with a few comic scenes along the way. I only hope others find them as intriguing as I did. In the meantime, I shall continue to peruse the serialised stories during my breaks…