Friday 14 June 2013

The Tuke Work Experience project. Part I: Growing up with the Tukes

Between April 15th and April 19th, the Borthwick enlisted the help of a team of Work Experience students to help us work through the large collection of Tuke material that we hold. Part of their remit was to pull out interesting documents form the collection to form a series of blog posts.

This week we look at contributions from Sara, Ceri, and Stephanie.

We are a group of students currently undertaking a work experience placement at the Borthwick Institute of Archives in York. Over the past week we have been re-cataloguing the vast Tuke family archive consisting of letters, maps, photographs, silhouettes, finance and other personal items including hair.

 The Tuke family were a notable Quaker family in York, in the 18th and 19th Century. They were active in the local community, and were involved in areas such as pioneering new mental health treatment, founding a Quaker school, a tea and coffee business and other charitable work.

 The week has given us a great insight into what it would be like to work in archives. If anyone is interested in working in this area, they should be aware that opportunities are offered twice a year for York University students to work at the Borthwick for a week.

Sara found a great piece on teenage heartache...

One of the greatest joys of working through this collection was the opportunity to glimpse into the personal lives of members of the Tuke family (perhaps the archival equivalent of peering over the hedge). The Tukes’ private declarations of love, fear, and indignation make them people, rather than personages, and human, rather than historical. A prime example comes from the correspondence of William Murray Tuke (1822-1903). In 1837, he received a letter that any 15-year-old would dread: his girlfriend was breaking up with him. 
TUKE/1/30/2/2/1. Letter from Y.Y.Y. to L.N., William Murray Tuke. 28 Oct 1837.

Though Y.Y.Y. is unidentified, L.N. is a codename for the young William. ‘My dearest L.N.’, Y.Y.Y. begins, and then she gets straight to the heartbreaking point: ‘I have long thought that as we are both too young to think about such things and yet too old to be so foolish as I now think we have been for the last two or three years [. . .] I do not wish to risk my future happiness by continuing our present correspondence’. Once you see past her handwriting and eloquence, you realize that Y.Y.Y.’s concerns are both modern and strikingly teenaged: ‘I love you as much as ever I did’, she says, but ‘I know your affections may perhaps be fixed upon another person much more worthy of your love than I am’.

With a bit more sleuthing, Y.Y.Y. might be identified and the nature of her relationship with ‘L.N.’ elaborated. For now, this letter remains a mysterious and poignant peek into the heart of an adolescent. In 1846, nine years later, William Murray Tuke married Emma Williams, yet he kept this letter until his death. Perhaps Y.Y.Y.’s na├»ve words remained with him throughout his long marriage: ‘I shall not forget you as being my first love.’

Ceri found a number of sketches and insights into the everyday life of the young Daniel Hack Tuke...
A sketch from TUKE/1/32/1/4/14
This week has given me the chance to follow an individual from early life all the way to a bearded old age. This was one of the great delights for me; Daniel Hack Tuke proved to be the most interesting character and my favourite Tuke of the week after reading his youthful doodle-laden letters to his older brother William Murray Tuke from c. 1841. His sketches of the family during Hebrew lessons (TUKE/1/32/1/4/14) or gathered at tea (TUKE /1/32/1/4/22) brightened up the letters with a mixture of colourful imagination but also morbid curiosity; tucked in with the

A sketch from TUKE/1/32/1/4/22
collection was a small card with a woodcutting and the details of a hanging at York castle. (TUKE/1/32/1/4/25) The letter about Daniel flying his kite was not dissimilar to how a child today would sheepishly admit to a misdeed. The quote “I have been flying my kite to day but is at present in a tree, not in our premises” (TUKE/1/32/1/4/19) partnered with the simple ink sketch provides a poignant childhood memory which was good to keep in mind when reading his later more grown-up correspondence. This collection, in particular was filled with animated anecdotes and was an entertaining insight into the whimsical childhood activities of this prominent figure of the Tuke family.

Stephanie also found some interesting childhood letters, this time from James Favil Copsie...

One of the nicest things about working with original documents is that you are continually reminded of the humans behind the stories that are eventually consolidated into historical narratives. The documents take you away from the general and encourage you to empathise and engage with individuals’ tribulations. This experience will probably be what I will remember best from my week working with the Tuke Collection, my complete immersion in the Copsie family’s lives. Seeing James Favil Copsie transition from a child first living away from home, profusely thanking his parents for the cakes and apples they sent him to an apprentice, falling off the Sunderland Pier and spending time with his friends, to becoming a business man, working in coffee and tea businesses and even considering setting up a mustard business, was fantastic. His childhood letters were by far my favourite though, especially one in which he discussed the breaking off of an engagement (see the quote below), as his childlike honesty contrasts with the more polite and ceremonial letters regarding marriage in other parts of the collection.

“I am glad to hear Miss Rodhams match is broke off. I remember having dear sister Favilla say that she said she would marry at the age of sixteen or before I did expect it would be a poor match as a person of fortune and sense would not have her who knew nothing she is not handsome nor learned nor yet very industrious. So that if any would chase her it would be only for money.” (TUKE/1/37/1/8/3)

To read more about our student volunteers' work with the Tuke archive see Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Bonaparte and Views of York

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