Thursday, 7 December 2017

A Yule... Clog?

"Wassail drink were allus best, when o'er a yule-clog boiled"

Illustration of people collecting a Yule log from Chambers Book of Days (1864), p.734. 
I think I can safely assume that any Brit, at least, reading this blog will be familiar with the concept of a Yule log at Christmas. These days, it probably takes the form of a delicious swiss roll coated in milk chocolate. However historically, in Yorkshire and further north into Scotland, the Yule log was more usually termed a Yule clog. Nothing to do with footwear - a clog was originally any substantial or roughly shaped piece of wood. This definition pre-dates the shoes by hundreds of years and in fact it’s probable that our modern day clogs take their name from the historic term for a piece of wood.

Father Christmas with a Yule log,
Illustrated London News, 23 Dec 1848
The Yule clog was burnt on the fire at Christmas and was the subject of lots of traditions and superstitions. In the East Riding, it would be brought into the house on Christmas Eve and set on the hearthrug in front of the fire. In some areas the clog was sprinkled with corn and cider, or a girl would sit on top as it was dragged inside. Each person in the house would then sit silently upon it and wish three wishes (which were sure to come true if only they were kept secret). In Swaledale, it was deemed unlucky to have to light it again after it had been begun and it shouldn’t be allowed to go out until the whole clog had burned away. However, a fragment of it must be rescued and kept as kindling to light the next year’s clog. In Ripon, the chandlers sent large mold-candles and the coopers yule clogs, which had to be large enough that it didn’t all burn away in one night. On some farms, the servants were entitled to ale with their meals as long as the Yule clog lasted.

Unsurprisingly, candles were closely associated with the yule clog. Mrs Day, a native of Swaledale, related in 1914 that

‘just before supper on Christmas Eve (where furmety is eaten), while the Yule log is burning, all other lights are put out, and the candles lit from the Yule log by the youngest person present. While they are lit, all are silent and wish. It is common practice that the wish be kept a secret. Once the candles are on the table, silence may be broken. They must be allowed to burn themselves out, and no other lights may be lit that night’.

The similarity in spelling between the Yule log and the Yule clog is interesting. You could easily be forgiven for assuming that they are closely related terms. Possibly they are, but the etymology (that is, the roots of the words, back into Old English or Norse) for both words are so obscure that it’s impossible to say with any certainty.

Yule clog: the heavy piece of wood burnt on the fire at Christmas, in Scotland in particular.

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

  • Brand, John, Observations on popular Antiquities, Vol. 1, 1813.
  • Crowther, Jan, ‘Christmas Facts and Fancies (with particular reference to East Yorkshire),, accessed 6th December 2017.
  • Partridge, J. B., ‘ Folklore from Yorkshire (North Riding)’, Folklore, Vol. 25, no. 3, 1914, pp. 375-377.
  • Rose, H. J., ‘Folklore Scraps’, Folklore, Vol. 34, no. 2, 1923, pp. 154-158.
  • Turner, J Horsfall, Yorkshire Anthology: Ballads and Songs - Ancient and Modern, 1901.  

Thursday, 30 November 2017

"Save your digital stuff!"

A blog post from Jenny Mitcham our Digital Archivist - written for International Digital Preservation Day

Most of us have a computer of some description (sometimes more than one!). Working with digital has become very much a part of our everyday life, but what do we do with the stuff that we create on the computer? How do we make sure that the important bits (those bits that we want to keep) are looked after for future generations?

Memories in the form of physical photographs have been handed down to children and grandchildren since the advent of photography, but now we create digital photographs (often with no intention of ever printing them out), how do we ensure they last as long as their analogue counterparts?

It is my job as a digital archivist to think about these sorts of things...but that doesn’t mean that everyone else shouldn’t be thinking about them too. The fragility of digital information should matter to all of us if we care about our personal and collective histories and the digital legacy that we want to leave behind.

Today is International Digital Preservation Day, a day that aims to: “create greater awareness of digital preservation that will translate into a wider understanding which permeates all aspects of society”

I think it is fair to say that many of us are better at looking after our physical things than our digital files. A couple of years ago I blogged about a personal example of this, discussing the different levels of care that even I apply to a physical photo book over the digital originals. Ironic really given my job description!

So today I’d like to talk about Personal Digital Archiving - not what I do in my job but what you can do to look after your digital stuff. 

What is a personal digital archive?

A personal digital archive doesn’t have to be anything formal or special, it doesn’t necessarily need to be visible or accessible to anyone other than you as the owner. It is your own collection of digital files that you have decided that you want to keep hold of, perhaps just for your own purposes or perhaps with the intention of handing them down to your children or grandchildren in the future.

Just like we may have kept physical photographs, film or audio recordings and correspondence in the past, now we keep digital photographs, digital video and audio and email.

But digital is by its very nature fragile. While we have the ability to keep many copies of the same thing we also have to guard against problems such as:

  • Hardware obsolescence (will there be a computer that can read this disk in ten years time?) 
  • Software obsolescence (will there be a programme that can open this file in ten years time?) 
  • Hard drive failure (my computer has died and I’ve lost everything!) 
  • Accidental damage (I’ve overwritten or deleted my files by mistake!) 
  • Malicious damage (a computer virus has corrupted all of my files!)

I found some of my old data from the 1990's in a bedside drawer. Does anyone else still have data stored on floppy disks?

We should all be taking some small steps to actively manage our digital stuff. If you care about it, don’t leave its survival to chance.

How to manage a personal digital archive?

The good news is, there are many things we can do as individuals to manage our own personal digital archives. All it takes is a little bit of time and thought and potentially some financial investment in a good backup or storage solution.

File and directory naming

Descriptive file naming and the use of logical directory structures will help ensure that you can locate your files when you need them. This doesn’t actually take a lot of time when it is done at the point of creation. Unfortunately it does take much longer when you have to go back and make sense of many years of accumulated digital ‘stuff’...or worse still if someone else has to sort through your digital legacy in the future.

Gone (thankfully!) are the days when we only had 8 characters with which to create our file names (and 3 additional characters with which to record the file extension). Back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s there was good reason why our filenames were cryptic, but today there is no excuse for not naming files in a descriptive and logical manner.

Happiness for me is knowing what a file is when I double click on it to open it up. This is such a basic thing but makes a real difference when you are trying to locate something. Having to open up lots of files in order to find the one you want is not only frustrating, but so easily avoidable.

Weeding and deleting

Storage is relatively inexpensive and this means it is all too easy to just keep things for the sake of it. If you keep everything you’ve ever created this will make it harder to find the really valuable things in the future. It is worth periodically checking over your digital files and weeding out those things that do not have longer term value and do not need to be kept. 

Storage and backing up

A reliable digital storage solution is key to managing your digital files. There are no hard and fast rules as to which type of storage is best but I have a few tips.

It is difficult to manage data that is scattered over numerous types of portable media. Portable media certainly has its fair share of problems. We were once told that CDs were indestructible but this is clearly not the case! USB sticks are handy to have but are also incredibly easy to lose. Other portable media types such as floppy disks are now obsolete - when did you last see a PC with a floppy disk drive? It is better to gather your digital files in one place where there is adequate space - your PC hard drive, a portable hard drive or a cloud service for example.

You should implement regular backups. It is very risky to have only one copy of the files that are important to you as they could easily get damaged, corrupted or stolen. You should ensure that files are backed up and stored elsewhere. Think about what would happen to your data if there was a fire, flood or break in at your home or office (note I had to think about just this a couple of years ago).

Make sure that you have other copies of your data elsewhere that you can access if you need to. You could use a cloud service provider for example or store a portable hard drive containing a copy of your files in a different location.

Whatever you choose to do, try not to make it too complex and if you can make use of an automated backup service, this can often be more robust and reliable than remembering to do it yourself!

Where do I find out more?

This post has only really touched on the very basics of managing your personal digital archives but there are so many great resources available on this topic if you want to explore this in more depth.

Firstly we have some good practice guidance on the Borthwick website for those people and organisations who are creating digital files - Managing your digital material: some good practice guidelines for donors and depositors. It was originally aimed at those who are intending on donating or depositing their material to an archive but the advice is applicable to anyone working with digital files.

Preserving your digital memories by The Library of Congress is a really helpful and easy to follow brochure. It gives tips on how to preserve some of the most common elements of a personal digital archive: Digital Photographs, Digital Audio, Digital Video, Electronic Mail, Personal Digital Records and Websites. It is really quick and easy to read with one side of key tips and pointers for each of these media types. Well worth a look.

Guidelines for creators of personal archives from the Paradigm project is a useful resource if you want to know more about file naming, documentation, file formats and backing up. From the same project, 11 top tips for preserving your personal data is a great quick reference guide to what you can do to manage your files and when you should do it.

Perspectives on Personal Digital Archiving is an fascinating and eclectic selection of blog posts from the Library of Congress relating to personal digital archiving, brought together into one publication. It includes ‘Four easy tips for preserving your digital photographs’ and an interesting piece called ‘Remember when we had photographs?’. In a call to action entitled ‘Forestalling personal digital doom’ the author states “Like organizing a closet, or rearranging a kitchen cabinet, personal digital archiving is easy to put off, easy to forget and easy to make excuses for avoiding.” Hopefully after browsing this selection of short essays you will be encouraged to tackle it head on!

Born Digital: Guidance for Donors, Dealers, and Archival Repositories by the Council on Library and Information Resources is well worth a read if you are planning to offer your digital files to an archival institution or repository. It is aimed at both donors and repository staff and perhaps of particular interest in this context is appendix D which is a checklist of recommendations for donors and dealers.

Feeling inspired?

If this post has inspired you to do something to protect your digital legacy today, we’d love to hear about it! Add a comment to this post or Tweet to @UoYBorthwick with the #IDPD17 hashtag to tell us what you’ve done.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Introducing... the Yorkshire Historic Dictionary

Historic documents abound with unknown words. Some are localised or specialist terms which may still be in use today in isolated areas or amongst experts. Others are obsolete, having been either subsumed into a synonym or died out with changes in domestic or industrial practice.  Woodland managers still talk about standards in coppicing and falconry enthusiasts use the term nare but no-one wears strandling, drinks from a costrel or transports goods in a frail. Sometimes word survival is unclear: does anyone sleep under a caddow today? Do you frame thissen when you’re working purposefully? When you get into an argument are you fratching?

MD79 Northallerton Field Survey map 
In November 2017, we began an ambitious new fifteen-month project to create a dictionary of historic Yorkshire terms. Building on the work of Dr George Redmonds who has over a sixty-year career amassed a catalogue of 9,000 terms and phrases, the project will produce a published Yorkshire Dictionary (with the Yorkshire Archaeological and Historical Society Record Series) as well as an interactive online version.

Language is important to our understanding of our culture, our identity, our heritage, our landscape. As I read through the Dictionary entries I am struck by the specificity of many of the terms. A frank is a stall or sty in which hogs are fattened. A gyle-fat is a vat in which the wort is left to ferment during brewing. A carr was wet boggy ground where willows and alders grew. To simply call these things, as we might today, a stall, a vat, or a marsh distances us not just from the objects but from the activities and landscapes they were connected with. This, in turn, devalues them and removes these aspects of our history from our collective identity.

Will of John Dickson, clothier, March 1587/8
Through capturing these words and their meanings and making them freely available to the world we hope to promote a greater understanding of Yorkshire’s culture and identity, both in relation to the past and as it relates to the people of Yorkshire today. While dialect has receded it has certainly not died out and there are plenty of words and phrases in the Dictionary which will be recognised by modern readers. We hope that modern users of Yorkshire dialects will help to enrich the dictionary by providing their own evidence of use of dialect terms - perhaps even recording people using terms in their day-to-day lives.

The Dictionary will have sophisticated interpretative elements to enable the terms to be explored not just for meaning but for geographic or temporal use, as well as how terms related to particular industries or practices, or specific types of landscape. All of the software created will be open-source, so that (hopefully) other interested organisations can create their own regional language dictionary.

The Yorkshire Historic Dictionary project was generously funded by the Marc Fitch Foundation in memory of David Hey, who died in 2016. David was a respected and admired local and family historian who published works on (among others) the history of Sheffield, rural metalworkers, and surname history. He was a long-time friend and collaborator of Dr George Redmonds. The project is based at and managed by the Borthwick Institute for Archives, in partnership with Dr George Redmonds and the Yorkshire Archaeological and Historical Society.

For further information about the project, follow the dedicated Twitter feed @YorksDictionary or contact the project archivist at

Monday, 13 November 2017

The Rowntree Archives: Poverty, Philanthropy and the Birth of Social Science

In August 2017 the Borthwick Institute launched a new 27 month project ‘The Rowntree Archives: Poverty, Philanthropy and the Birth of Social Science.’  The project, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust, will arrange, describe, publicise and make publicly available the archives of the four Rowntree Trusts, the Rowntree family, the research papers of Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree and the follow up research into Seebohm’s groundbreaking study of poverty undertaken by Professor Sir Tony Atkinson in the 1970s.  

For many the name of Rowntree is synonymous with chocolate and confectionery.  The Rowntree Cocoa Works, founded by the family in York in the nineteenth century, produced internationally famous brands such as Kit Kat, Aero and Smarties and continues today as part of Nestle.  But equally central to the Rowntree name was the family’s commitment to philanthropy, social welfare and social action and it is this crucial aspect that underpins this new and ambitious archive project.  As members of the Society of Friends, (otherwise known as  Quakers) the Rowntrees believed that ‘wealth and property beyond the needs of the individual should be used for the common good.’  These principles were put into action in their family business.  The Rowntree Cocoa Works employed welfare officers and a works’ doctor, dentist and optician and introduced profit sharing and pensions schemes, social clubs, a library, and paid holidays for their workers.  

Henry Isaac Rowntree (rear left) and Joseph Rowntree (front centre)
with other apprentices at the Rowntree shop in York in 1858 [ARCH 02/5/8c]

The Rowntrees recognised however that broader social, economic and political efforts were needed to effect real change on a national, and even international, level. ‘I feel that much of the current philanthropic effort is directed to remedying the more superficial manifestations of evil or weakness,’ wrote Joseph Rowntree in 1904, ‘while little thought or effort is directed to search out their underlying causes.’  It was to these ‘underlying causes’ that the Rowntrees turned their attention, and their wealth, with far reaching consequences.

As early as the 1860s Joseph Rowntree had undertaken a detailed analysis of poverty in England, carefully gathering evidence from the development of the poor laws, public spending, and crime and literacy statistics to inform his essay ‘British Civilisation: In what it consists. And in what it does not consist.’  He followed it in 1865 with another essay ‘Pauperism in England and Wales’ which laid the blame for such stark inequality at the feet of church and state, calling it a ‘monstrous thing’ that so many should endure a daily struggle for existence in a land ‘rich beyond all precedent.’  His essays were so strongly worded that he was asked to tone them down before they could be read even to his Quaker brethren.

Joseph’s careful analysis of statistical evidence to inform his social and political arguments was adopted with great effect by his son Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree who is widely regarded today as one of the founders of empirical sociology.  Like his father, Seebohm was concerned with the underlying causes of poverty.  He had read the empirical research of Charles Booth into conditions in London and sought to apply similarly rigorous methods to the smaller urban population of York to examine the prevalence of poverty outside the capital and to assess to what extent poverty was due to the inherent vice and weaknesses of the poor (an enduring belief) or an inevitable result of insufficient income.  His 1901 book ‘Poverty: A Study of Town Life’ utilised evidence gathered from house to house inquiries in 388 streets, speaking to 11,560 York families. Their experiences were measured against Seebohm’s parameters for basic subsistence (based on evidence gathered from multiple nutritionists and physiologists and costs of rent, food and clothing in York) which was termed the ‘poverty line’ as well as statistics on public health and mortality.  

An illustration of Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree's 'poverty line'  - as used in his lecture tours [Rowntree Archive].

His work concluded that 27.84% of the city’s population lived beneath the poverty line, which equated to 43.4% of the working population, a higher figure than commonly believed at the time.  Moreover his analysis of the causes of this poverty, dividing families into primary or secondary poverty, showed that 9.91% of the total population of York had insufficient income to reach even the most basic level of subsistence, no matter how prudently they spent their wages.  As Seebohm freely acknowledged in his book, an existence on or even just above the poverty line was a cheerless and austere one, with few, if any, opportunities for education, affordable socialising, or participation in civic life.  York’s many public houses were understandably attractive in the absence of any alternative means of leisure or recreation and it was alcohol that too often contributed to pushing families into secondary poverty.

Seebohm’s York study was the first of many analyses of the conditions of the poor in the British Isles, all utilising the same mix of quantitative and qualitative evidence to reach conclusions based on sound scientific methods.  His work continued to challenge to prevailing notion that the poor were to blame for their own predicament and to suggest political and social measures to improve their health, education and living conditions.  He turned his attention to the unemployed in 1911, the condition of agricultural labourers in 1913-1914, and the way employers could better address the needs of their workers in 1918 and 1921.  In 1935 he followed up his first survey of York with ‘Poverty and Progress’, visiting every working class household in the city to assess what progress had been made since 1901.  He also produced influential studies of the needs of the elderly in 1946 and of ‘English Life and Leisure’ in 1947.  

David Lloyd George (left) and Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree
His work was enormously influential.  The 1901 book went through several editions and was followed by investigations of poverty in other regional towns and cities, for example by C. F. G. Masterman in 1909 and Arthur Lyon Bowley in the 1920s and 1930s, and much later by ‘follow ups’ to his work by Professor Tony Atkinson in the 1970s and Meg Huby, Jonathan Bradshaw and Anne Corden in the 1990s.  Crucially his work came to influence national policy.  Seebohm became a friend of Liberal politician David Lloyd George and advised him on aspects of public policy, including the Old Age Pensions Act of 1908 and the National Insurance Act of 1911.  His 1918 work ‘Human Needs of Labour’, which was revised in 1937, advocated for a national minimum wage, the introduction of a family allowance and regulation of working hours and conditions, and was lauded by the British Medical Journal as an invaluable aid for doctors and policy makers.  He worked for the Ministry of Reconstruction after the First World War, advising ministers on post war housing requirements and was part of Lloyd George’s Liberal Industrial Inquiry of 1926-1928.  During the second world war he corresponded with William Beveridge and contributed to the Beveridge Report which led to the founding of the post-war Welfare State.  

Seebohm’s work, and indeed the ideals of his family more generally, were bolstered financially after 1904 by the foundation of the Joseph Rowntree Trusts.  Believing that ‘money is generally best spent by persons during their lifetime’, Joseph invested half of his wealth into three Trusts: the Charitable Trust, the Social Service Trust and the Village Trust.  In keeping with his own work on poverty, it was his wish that their funds not be put to ‘remedying the more superficial manifestations’ of weakness or evil in society, but in seeking out their causes.  

Draft of Joseph Rowntree's 1904 memorandum setting out vision for the Rowntree Trusts [JRVT/MT93/1/2/a]

Initially overseen by Joseph’s sons and nephews, many of the Charitable Trust’s early grants went to Quaker run schemes; Seebohm’s research into poverty and the adult schools to improve literacy with which numerous members of the Rowntree family were involved.  The Village Trust in turn set out to make the case for decent affordable housing by overseeing the creation of New Earswick, a clean and sanitary model village outside of York with adequate living space, amenities and leisure facilities at a rent the average worker could afford.  

In contrast the Social Service Trust was designed to have a more overtly political role, as evidenced by its foundation as a limited company, not hampered by the rules that governed charities.  From the beginning it sought to challenge the ‘power of selfish and unscrupulous wealth which influences public opinion largely through the press’ by actively acquiring failing national and regional Liberal newspapers and launching new periodicals such as The Nation and the Contemporary Review.

In the 113 years since their foundation, the Trusts have gone through several name changes, with the Village Trust now the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust, and the Social Service Trust now the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust.  However the Trusts have continued to support social, economic and political research, to maintain the village of New Earswick, and to fund educational and political causes at home and abroad, most notably in Africa, South America and Eastern Europe.  They have played important roles in the establishment of the University of York in 1963 and given key early support to Amnesty International, the Electoral Reform Society, the Child Poverty Action Group and the Centre for Policy Studies, amongst many others.  

The archives of these groups and individuals therefore offer a unique opportunity to trace hugely influential ideas about poverty, public health, working conditions, political reform and pioneering scientific methodology from their genesis in private notes, minutes and correspondence to their investigation, analysis, publication and impact on public attitudes and political policy.  Parts of the archives have been at the Borthwick for some years but have yet to be fully sorted, arranged and described according to modern archival standards.  Further deposits of Trust and family material in recent years mean that there is now a substantial and internationally important body of material in one place, with enormous research potential that can only be fully unlocked once it has been properly processed and made available through our online catalogue Borthcat.

This, then, is the scope of the project.  In addition to new and augmented catalogues, the archives will be further contextualised by the creation of authority records, giving the histories of the people, families and organisations mentioned in the records, and by the creation of detailed subject and place access terms, under the guidance of an expert Project Board.  Once completed users will have access to eight complete catalogues, cross referenced with each other and with other archives in the Borthwick and elsewhere, and complemented by their accompanying historical information.  Some of its content is known already, but much is not and it is to be hoped that this project will improve our knowledge and understanding of the Rowntrees and their work as much as it will improve accessibility to the records they left behind.


Anne Vernon, ‘A Quaker Business Man: The Life of Joseph Rowntree, 1836-1925’ (York, 1982).

Paul Chrystal, ‘The Rowntree Family of York’ (Pickering, 2013).

Howard Glennerster, John Hills, David Piachaud and Jo Webb, ‘One Hundred Years of Poverty and Policy’ (York, 2004).

Brian Harrison, ‘Rowntree, (Benjamin) Seebohm (1871–1954)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 7 Aug 2017]

The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd, ‘Trusting in Change: A Story of Reform’ (2004).

The Joseph Rowntree Trusts, ‘The Joseph Rowntree Inheritance, 1904-2004’ (2004).

Chris Titley, ‘Joseph Rowntree’ (London, 2013).

Thursday, 20 July 2017

An English Socialite in Paris: The Letters of Lady Victoria Stanley

‘Fun like sunshine, mixed with sense like salt’ was how an anonymous correspondent in The Times described Lady Victoria Bullock following her untimely death in November 1927, at the age of only 35.   This description is borne out in the lively bundle of letters by Lady Victoria which were deposited at the Borthwick as part of the Hickleton Papers, the extensive archive of the Earls of Halifax, which include the papers of Lady Victoria’s eldest daughter, Ruth, wife of the 2nd Earl.

The 19 letters span 28 years of Lady Victoria’s life in all, with the majority dated between 1918 and the mid 1920s.  They provide a fascinating glimpse into the world of an aristocratic socialite in the years after the First World War, when continental Europe was once again accessible to those who could afford it and the Roaring Twenties brought new fashions, music and attitudes.  

Lady Victoria Stanley. Copyright: Daily Sketch, 1915.

The only daughter of Edward Stanley, son and heir of the 16th Earl of Derby, and Lady Alice Montagu, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Manchester, Lady Victoria was born into the privileged world of British high society in the closing years of the reign of Victoria.  

One of the earliest letters in the bundle, written to her ‘darling sweet Mamma’ in March 1902, describes a quiet country childhood at the family’s Coworth Park and Knowsley estates with her brothers Edward and Oliver, riding her pony Kruger, playing in the gardens and practicing the piano.

Lady Victoria to her mother, the Countess of Derby, in 1902
Borthwick Institute, Hickleton Papers

Wedding of Lady Victoria Stanley and Neil Primrose.
Copyright: Daily Mail Historical Archive, 1915

In 1915, at the age of 22, she married Liberal MP Neil Primrose, son of the 5th Earl of Rosebery, in a ceremony attended by Queen Alexandra and three of the royal Princesses, as well as David Lloyd George and a young Winston Churchill.  Their daughter Ruth was born in April 1916, but the marriage was cut tragically short by Primrose’s death in active service during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign in November 1917.

Thus at the age of only 25 Lady Victoria found herself a wealthy widow and when her father, to whom she was extremely close, was appointed Ambassador to France the following year, she went with him, arriving in Paris in the closing months of the war and at the very thick of the political and diplomatic action.  She found the city to be ‘the most wonderful place in the world’ and her 1918 letters are full of famous names and crowded social engagements as the great and the good began arriving in Paris for the post-war negotiations.  Sir Henry Wilson, Lloyd George and Admiral Hope attended her ‘England luncheon-party’ in late 1918. Sir Henry, she wrote, was so ‘terribly bored’ with his fellow politicians, or ‘frocks’ as he called them, that he ‘lunches, dines and comes to tea’ whenever he can. She played lawn tennis with Sir Eric Drummond, later the first Secretary-General of the League of Nations, and the Duc d’Albe invited her to go to Spain after the war. ‘As I have already made plans to go to Monte Carlo,’ she wrote, ‘I don’t believe I shall ever get back to England!’

She bought Parisian clothes and persuaded her friend Bee to do the same, admitting to her mother that she had ‘led her into temptation in the way of clothes,’ and that she herself had entirely lost her head in this direction and ‘bought masses’ of the new fashionable shorter skirts and thin silk stockings.

Her father’s post as Ambassador came to an end in 1920 but the surviving letters show that Lady Victoria was all too happy to remain, at least for long periods of time, in France.  In June 1919 she had married again, this time to Malcolm Bullock, a Captain of the Scots Guard and later Conservative MP for Waterloo.  The letters Lady Victoria wrote to him over the next 4-5 years, addressed always to ‘My own darling’ and signed from ‘ever your very loving wife, Victoria,’ reveal plenty of the fun and the salt described by The Times.  Her observations to him are often acerbic and rather funny. Writing from Paris in 1921 she describes the Duke of Marlborough and his bride as being ‘very much the young engaged couple, who have decided not to dance with each other but make googly eyes across the room instead.’  

Lady Victoria to her husband Malcolm Bullock, 1921
Borthwick Institute, Hickleton Papers

At another dinner she was made (as the only foreigner) to sit next to the King of Romania, who to her horror only wanted to talk about Bolshevism, meanwhile the Duchess de Guiche ‘evidently thought she should be next to him & sniffed round my place like a dog round a lamp post.’  On that occasion she seemed to rather admire her fellow guest Daisy Fellowes who managed to avoid having to stand all evening in the presence of royalty by immediately feigning a bad foot so she could retire to a chair in the corner and be left alone.  In a later letter, dated 1924, she wrote she was having ‘such a marvellous time that it is almost turning my head. I feel well dressed, I feel I am almost amusing, in fact all the things the Cadogans think they are & are not!’

Lady Victoria was evidently extremely popular, her letters chronicling a whirl of social engagements with numerous people, from lunches and dinners, to balls, plays, drives, dancing, golfing, horseriding and long evenings at the casino, sometimes until 4am.  ‘I am having a glorious time here & I feel quite mad,’ she told her husband in one letter of summer 1921, ‘I tremble to think what I shall be like with a mask on at the Bal de l’Opera on Saturday!’

Lady Victoria to her husband Malcolm Bullock, 1921
Borthwick Institute, Hickleton Papers

In a letter sent in April 1924 she sets out the numerous entertainments she has arranged for her husband’s imminent visit, including dinners out and trips to the theatre and the music hall.

Lady Victoria to her husband Malcolm Bullock, 1924
Borthwick Institute, Hickleton Papers

Her letters show that she continued to be a keen, though canny, shopper, writing to her husband that she had been ‘quite good about clothes,’ only buying an evening dress and skirt from Paton, an afternoon dress, two knitted skirts and some jerseys from the Russian ladies, which were ‘just like Chanel’s & quarter the price.’  In an unexpectedly modern anecdote, she also writes that she had her ‘nose done’ in January 1921, though it is not clear from the letter what exactly this entailed.  Rather startlingly, it involved her being given ‘a liberal application of cocaine’ to prevent her feeling anything during the procedure. ‘The doctor kept on warning me that I might feel faint or hysterical from the effects but I have a very odd constitution as I felt absolutely nothing!’ She concluded that the only remarkable thing it made her do was write some letters she had been avoiding.

Lady Victoria to her husband Malcolm Bullock, undated

Perhaps her most enduring interest however was horseracing.  This was perhaps hardly surprising given her ancestry.  The Epsom Derby was named for the 12th Earl of Derby and her father, the 17th Earl was a prominent owner-breeder, his horses winning the Epsom Derby, the Epsom Oaks, and the St Leger Stakes.  Lady Victoria’s 1902 letter to her mother references their horse Pellisson failing to win his race and the racing at Knowsley and even amidst the whirl of her new Paris life in 1918 she found time to ask her mother who she should back ‘for the Cambridgeshire’ and to wonder whether Cecily remembered to do her bets for her that week.  

Her 1920s letters are filled with further references to her own and her family’s horses chances at different races. Of the 1921 Prix de Diane she writes ‘It was rather a slap in the face to the French jockeys that the first three...yesterday were ridden respectively by Bullock, Donoghue & Childs. Maurice de Rothschild’s victory was received in stony silence.’ ‘I really think I must have seen thousands of horses,’ she writes in another undated letter from France, ‘I have been going around neighbouring stud farms in the mornings, then racing in the afternoon & yearling sales in the evening,’ adding that her expeditions had served to remind her just ‘how little I really know about horses.’  Only a year before she died she started a racing stable of her own in France with Major Dudley Gilroy.  

Lady Victoria to her husband Malcolm Bullock, undated [1920s]
Borthwick Institute, Hickleton Papers

Both of her daughters, Ruth Primrose and her child with Captain Bullock, Priscilla Victoria, shared their mother’s love of racing and would later become two of the first three women admitted by the Jockey Club in 1977. Priscilla’s grandchildren, Andrew and Clare Balding, are in turn well known today for their involvement with racing, as a trainer and an amateur jockey, journalist and television presenter respectively.  

Lady Victoria Bullock’s death in 1927 came as a devastating shock to her family.  Whilst hunting with the Quorn near Lowesby Hall, she struck her head on a low bridge and was thrown from her horse and found unconscious.  Her husband quickly arrived from London and her mother from Knowsley Park. An urgent message was sent to her father, who was on his way to Cannes, and he returned by aeroplane early the following morning, but to no avail.  Lady Victoria never regained consciousness and died at 3pm on the afternoon of the 26th November.  

The last two letters in the bundle were sent to Captain Bullock after her death. The first is a letter of condolence from fellow MP Winston Churchill, who sent his deepest sympathy to Bullock on the 10th December, ‘though well I know how useless words are, & how nothing but the passage of time mitigates gradually the pain & awful sense of deprivation.  You & Victoria were so suited to one another, so devoted to each other...that this separation & destruction of yr happiness seems doubly cruel.’  

Winston Churchill to Malcolm Bullock, December 1927
Borthwick Institute, Hickleton Papers

The second is from her father, written at the close of the year from France and accompanying ‘a photograph of our darling.’ ‘I can’t talk or write to you about her,’ the letter reads, ‘I am too great a coward, but I loved her - as no man has ever loved his daughter & with her has gone all joy from my life.’  Touchingly he adds that he wants Bullock to know that he will be to him ‘all that I tried to be to her’ and that he has in the earl ‘a friend to whom you can always turn & who would always try the best of his ability to help you.’ He ends by sending his son in law every good wish for 1928, knowing that ‘for you, as for me, no year in future can be a happy one - except the one in which I rejoin her.’

For her family and those who knew her, the words of the anonymous Times correspondent were all too true, ‘without her, the world was a duller and greyer place.’

The letters of Lady Victoria Bullock, nee Stanley, are part of the Hickleton Papers at the Borthwick Institute for Archives.