Tuesday, 29 May 2018

The natural history of Richmond Park

All civilised and humane persons have a love of the natural world, or at least what remains of it. Here is the eminent surgeon Sir Frederick Treves discussing the wildlife of Richmond Park in a letter dated 22 March 1918 to fellow surgeon Sir John Bland-Sutton (Royal College of Surgeons Archives, MS0287/19):

  • 'Weasles are common here and I am sorry to say my gardener killed a polecat in the garden. Hares were fairly common when I came here ten years ago [Treves lived at Thatched House Lodge near Richmond Park] but I have not turned up one for the last three or four years'.
  • 'The birds here are quite magnificent. In spite of the war the nightingale never left us.'
  • 'Few Londoners will believe that I can nearly always show a long-tailed tit on Ham Common.' 

The letter is absolutely charming, although painful to read in some ways - you have absolutely zero chance of seeing/hearing a nightingale in Richmond Park these days, let alone a hare or even a polecat! Absolutely extraordinary to think that Treves saw these things so close to central London back in 1918. That said, I regularly see long-tailed tits in my garden and I live in Stepney Green, so that's good news at least.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

The Bayeux Tapestry

Well I may as well get in on the act. It's taken a long, long time, but it looks as if we nearly got here a couple of times before:
  • MEPO 2/9484: police protection for transporting the Bayeux Tapestry - exhibition subsequently cancelled 1953
  • FO 924/1628: commemoration of the Norman Conquest - possible exhibition of Bayeux Tapestry in London 1966
Obviously it didn't work out, but we've always been worried about the Tapestry:

  • FO 371/40995/18: parliamentary question by Lady Apsley about the whereabouts of the Bayeux Tapestry, which was reported to have been removed by the Germans. In response, Sir J. Grigg answered that it was likely that the tapestry was in a store in the south of France with other objects from French National Museums July 1944.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Winston's growl

Whatever his failings as a politician (and there are far too many to list here), he's seldom out of the news, and here's my minor contribution to the myth.

Recently found in CAB 3/383/15, a note from Winston Churchill to the Minister of War Transport, dated 13 February 1943 and concluding with this startling adjuration:

  • 'Prepare then your paper, and let us go into it in the coming week.'

Churchillian or what! You can almost hear that growl of his.

Monday, 4 December 2017

The best days of your life...

...is what my grandmother used to say about your schooldays, and to judge from the following further extracts from the elementary school reports at TNA that I've been looking at, I may have been too dismissive; she may have been on to something:

ED 21/23419: Ballaugh Supplementary Class, 14 May 1913 (Mr J. W. Veysey)
  • 'Nature study is taken with considerable success and the children are keenly interested in this branch of their studies. Another year they might be encouraged to collect and classify the wild flowers in which the district is unusually rich.'
ED 21/23419: Ballaugh Supplementary Class, 8 June 1914 (Mr H. Ward)
  • 'They display a special interest in Nature Study of all kinds and have an intimate knowledge of both the plants and birds of the locality.'
An interesting contrast to the previous extracts I made, and it's difficult to imagine a better evocation of the last gasp of golden Edwardian nostalgia without resorting to fiction - might be time to reread Laurie Lee's Cider with Rosie, although that was slightly later of course.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Further wanderings

The following brief extracts from Isle of Man elementary school inspection reports at TNA paint a particularly vivid picture:

ED 21/47210: Maughold New Central Board School, 9 July 1920

  • 'Children should not be allowed to render songs in violently discordant fashion & slackness, hesitancy, indifference should not characterise physical exercises.'
ED 21/47211: Michael Parochial Board School, 13 July 1921

  • 'The children recite well & sing sweetly; sight singing from both notations is well taught & with considerable success. Drawing presents pleasing features, appreciation of form, colour & finish seem to be well marked.'
ED 21/47213: Dalby Board School, 28 May and 2 June 1919

  • '... the older children have recently made creditable progress, though they are still backward for their age.'
ED 21/47218: St Maughold's RC School, 6 and 18 July 1921

  • '... energy in general is low, so they read silently & study in a vague, otiose way, not without enjoyment, but without scrutiny or criticism.'
Now that's the sort of bracing stuff that would knock our young people into shape! 

Friday, 3 November 2017

Further wanderings...

The loss of the London pub: now that is an ongoing tragedy that will surely be of great interest to economic and social historians in the future. And as a measure of how bad things have got in my part of east London what better place to start than Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, where we find a gem of a document in a somewhat unlikely setting:

L/BGM/A/12/1/13: Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green, Housing Committee: Minutes 1946-48 

  • See 8 April 1947 for a remarkable report that lists all of the licenced premises in the old metropolitan borough of Bethnal Green, giving name, exact location and brewery. A grand total of 175 premises for the discerning drinker to choose from: what, I dread to think, remains - a question of interest for CAMRA members and any other pub historians out there.  



Thursday, 19 October 2017

Wanderings (and wonderings) among the archives

First in a series of random and surprising items that may be of interest to someone somewhere, stumbled upon by chance and hurriedly noted while working in various London archives.

This week's offering from the London Metropolitan Archives, and the political powerhouse that was the Parks and Open Spaces Committee:

LCC/MIN/09014: London County Council, Parks and Open Spaces Committee: Presented Papers 1942-43

The POSC meeting of 26 February 1943 considered the following:

  • Letter from the Ministry of Information, dated 12 February 1943, re proposal to erect a plaque at 8 Gray's Inn Place to commemorate the fact that Sun Yat-Sen had lived there from 1896. The letter makes clear that this was a gesture to keep the Chinese sweet...