Letters From the Past

 

  • by Antony Ramm, Local and Family History, Central Library

While researching upcoming events on the life and career of the 18th-century Leeds Schoolmaster and Antiquarian, Thomas Wilson, we were directed by the ‘manuscripts’ section of the card catalogue in our Local and Family History department toward a very-intriguing collection of letters:

The particular interest this collection held for the Wilson talk and exhibition is that the Leeds man was known to have corresponded with two individuals known as Richard Richardson: a father and son, both Botanists and Antiquarians based at Bierley Hall, near to Bradford. So – of course – the excitement generated by this card in our catalogue depended entirely on the hope that these letters were to one of those two men by that name.

We were to be disappointed – and yet, we weren’t. While the letters were quite clearly not to either of ‘our’ Richardsons – the dates did not match – they were still fascinating. Because what we found was a selection of late Eighteenth-Century letters, about thirteen in total and all in superb condition, from one Thomas Barstow of Leeds to one Richard Richardson of Chester, both men in the merchant trade then so prominent across the North. Our research into 18th-century Leeds has thrown-up no mention of these letters in the existing literature.

Notes, presumably written by a previous Librarian, are attached to each selection of the letters and provide some further details as to their contents, which includes details of everyday life in the period. One note in particular was especially interesting, describing “a curious incoherent letter”:

Intriguing! Even if the handwriting across all letters does make a proper analysis of their contents more difficult, at least for this reader (which is perhaps a small transcription project for anyone with sufficient expertise?). But, in any case, perhaps it does not matter: the presence of such features as 230-year old handwriting and original wax seals is sufficient to bring the viewer of these letters that much closer to their writers and recipients, to close the gap between then & now – even without knowing the full contents, or context, of these epistolary communications. As objects, the letters have a haunting quality that transcends the functional purpose of the words.

Little definitive could be found about Thomas Barstow, his life and career, although mention is made of a ‘gentleman’ of the same name serving as the Leeds Town Clerk from 1765 to 1792. That same Barstow lived in a fine Georgian house on Kirkgate, opposite the Parish Church, an evocative image of which can be seen below:

1900s. Kirkgate Improvement area. Premises of R.Goulden, grocer, M. and A. Dickinson and Sons, corn dealers. Next is the entrance to Barstow’s Yard which has a sign ‘Good Beds’ over the entrance. The proprietor, H. Noble also has a store next door. Sign above Nobles Stores reads Nobles Ideal Working Mens Home. A tobacconists shop is on the right. On the left of the photo are various advertising hoardings. There are several men standing on the pavement. Taken from www.leodis.net

If you wish to view the Barston-Richardson letters, or think you may be able to help us transcribe them, do please get in touch on 0113 37 87078 or via localandfamilyhistory@leeds.gov.uk. Tickets for the Thomas Wilson talk are still available, and an accompanying exhibition will run from July 3-13 in Room 700, on the 1st Floor of the Central Library.

The Lady Tram-Conductor

The very first Leeds tram on its trial run to test the track on 2 July 1911. This picture, by Eric Farr, is based on a photograph of the tram in Morley Bottoms. (From the David Atkinson Archive, via Leodis.net)

Here’s a little insight into First World War-era Leeds for you today, in the form of a poem written by Burley resident Edward Carless, and dated 12 February 1916:

The Lady Tram-Conductor: A Working Man’s Tribute

Strange things happen in time of war;
A lady now conducts the car!
In uniform, so smart and trim,
She’s stepp’d into the place of him
Who answered to his country’s call,
And left his home, his work, and all.
In this way she’s released a man,
Doing her “bit” as best she can;
And if the truth of her we tell,
We must confess she does it well.
She’ll punch your ticket, and will smile,
And this will do in easy style;
And as she goes around the car,
Will sweetly call out where you are;
You’re right with her, daylight or dark,
From Lawnswood unto Roundhay Park.
From Pudsey unto City Square;
Just board the car, and pay your fare,
Telling her where you want to be,
And she’ll remember, this you’ll see,
And be you working-man or toff,
At the right place will put you off.
Let us think of what she’s doing,
When we on the car are going;
To our work, or out for pleasure;
Let us give to her full measure;
For the useful part she’s playing;
And may no one hear us saying
Aught that would grieve, or would offend,
But rather be to her a friend.
Let each one bear him as a man,
Help these conductors all he can.
Our admiration they all earn;
And if a strange job we’ve to do,
Keep a good heart, and buckle to,
Remember those across the foam,
Fighting for country, and for home,
These lads face all; naught to they shirk;
Let’s put that spirit in our work;
It’s a big job we have to do,
Let’s pull together; we’ll pull through.

The poem was self-published as a simple leaflet, made available by its author at the price of one penny from his home address of 8 Thornville Street, where he’s listed in Kelly’s Directory of Leeds from 1917:

It seems to be the only example of verse published using this method in our collections, which makes it an interesting item, as well as a different way of looking at ‘war poetry’. For another alternative take on life during wartime, read our previous post, A Leeds Schoolgirl Reflects on WW1 – and let us know, by commenting below, if you’ve ever come across any other examples of historical poetry published by post.

Crime and Punishment in Leeds, 1850

  • Volunteers’ Week takes place every year from 1-7 June. Leeds Libraries held a celebratory reception yesterday, recognizing the efforts of our volunteering team – including event supporters, At-Home Service deliverers, partners and, of course, heritage volunteers – several of whom have written for this very blog. Today, we hand over to another of these, Joan Ellis, who’s been researching the history of crime in Leeds, including the strange case of an ‘assault with a worsted sock’…

When I volunteered to research historic crimes for the Local and Family History Library, the brief seemed quite wide. At my induction, an 1850 edition of the Leeds Mercury on microfilm was chosen to show how the newspaper archive worked, but it wasn’t long before I decided this would be a good starting-point. As the aim was to create something that could help people find information on past family members, I decided to create a spreadsheet detailing crimes reported in the Leeds Mercury during the first six months of 1850 (an achievable sample to start with). I further decided the best way forward was to record details of hearings which appeared to have had an outcome – for example, committed for trial, fined, or dismissed. This would make it relatively easy for users to look up information in an easy-to-access format.

Postcard view of Armley Jail, opened in 1847 (leodis.net)

After reviewing the first few articles, it soon became apparent what fields I would need to record the information. The full spreadsheet has many columns but I’ve listed the main ones below:

  • The date of the newspaper edition (January-June 1850).
  • The page on which the article appears.
  • The headline under which the article appears. (Not only should this make it easier to find the original, but this can often be interesting in its own right. For example, the headline ‘An Elderly Orphan’ reports the tale of an elderly man of nearly 60 arrested in a state of ‘helpless intoxication’ who, when asked whether he had anyone to look after him replied that he had neither father and mother.)
  • Where the hearing was held.
  • The name of the person accused and any further information given in the article, for example where they are from and/or their occupation. (I soon discovered there were inconsistencies in the spelling of names, sometimes within articles, a notable example being the case of the ‘Horrible Murder and Mutilation at Otley’ report, where the original spelling of one of the accused was Towlarton, but appeared as Tollerton in the trial report. In the same example the name Jacques/Jaques was interchangeable within and across the articles.)
  • As with the accused, I have tried to include information such as where the victim resides, their occupation, etc.
  • Identifying the charge in a consistent way was not always easy. I have again tried to use the information contained in the article, but the results are somewhat arbitrary. As a result larceny, theft, stealing from shop door are pretty much the same but appear as separate entries.
  • The outcome – whether the charge was proved, dismissed or whether the outcome was to ‘commit for trial’.
  • The sentence. Fines, penalties and short prison terms were all imposed at the hearings, along with any prison terms identified from the sentencing reports, such as found in the ‘Trial reports and outcomes from Leeds Borough Sessions’.

Many of the reports involved public houses, and I have also compiled a list of pubs mentioned in the various articles, some of which are still in existence, or have only relatively recently closed down.

In all, I recorded some 869 cases, of which 385 cases (about 44%) were some form of theft or robbery. There is then a sharp drop to 83 cases (9.5%) involving assault. Licensing laws are the next highest taking up 79 cases (9%), with Bye Laws, etc, following closely behind at 60 cases (6.9%).

As mentioned above, the charges field was somewhat arbitrary so, in summarising the data, I have tried to combine relevant entries to give a general idea as to events in 1850. As can be seen, cases of fraud, intent to defraud, etc, have an entry – 40 cases. So too do cases involving counterfeit coin, embezzlement, etc – 38 cases. Combined, they have 78 cases or 8.9%.

Then, as now, clampdowns on various crimes can highlight certain types of crime. For example, there are 19 cases of gambling reported. Fourteen of these were at Huddersfield, where a ‘Superintendent Heaton’ seemed to have been determined to stamp out the practice of playing ‘unlawful games of chance’. The full stats are available in the spreadsheet, and I reproduce a copy below (you will notice that I have combined the charges which fall into broad areas):

I have also summarised below the number of charges by town. As some of the cases were taken straight from sentencing reports – for example, the Yorkshire Assizes trial and sentencing reports – the accused, victim and offence would be listed, but not where the offence occurred. Where full trial reports have been covered, which include where the offence took place, I have not included these if they do not fall in the Leeds or surrounding areas covered:

Armed with my spreadsheet, I soon became immersed in my research, and it was clear that I had fallen into a Dickens novel set in and around Leeds.  What stands out is that there was a lot of petty crime, for which some quite hefty sentencing could be given. For example, there was a case where stealing cheese resulted in a 16-year-old boy being transported for seven years. There was also a case where a 12-year-old was transported for stealing a book, as his father and a brother were under sentence of transportation.

The perception of the ‘accused’ could also affect the outcome. I refer to one particular case where a women of ‘dissolute habits’ had been dragged into a field by four men and left for dead. They were charged with manslaughter but they were discharged, the judge having referred to the victim as a ‘woman of abandoned habits’. Perhaps the most ‘sensational’ case was the one relating to the ‘Horrible murder and mutilation at Otley’, mentioned above. This involved several men working on excavating a reservoir at Romalds Moor. After a good afternoon and evening drinking in Otley, the men started breaking the windows of houses on their way back to their lodgings. Why they did this does not come to light, but when the men were challenged by residents, a sequence of events occurred, resulting was several stabbings, one of which was fatal. The initial report of this incident was very poor copy, so I have transcribed this article and, for consistency, the trial report relating to this case.

Despite being plunged into what could at times seem like a dark history of Leeds, there were some lighter moments. The ‘elderly orphan’ mentioned above was one example. Another was about a ‘man from the country’ who had visited Leeds in order to buy some pigs and, after visiting ‘several public houses’, he and a companion met with two females in Kirkgate and took them to a dram house. On leaving, the man went ‘up a yard’ with one of the females, who put her hand into his coat pocket and took out his purse. Whilst remonstrating with the woman, another woman came up to ask what was going on. The report suggested the purse was passed to the second woman. It went on to report that the complainant’s wife, ‘a great strapping woman’, attended the examination in court and ‘looked thunder and daggers at her other half as he detailed one foolish act after another’.

A yard off Kirkgate, 1901 (leodis.net)

There were other one-off cases which evoked other emotions. A washerwoman was charged by a surgeon with ‘injuring and spoiling his grass’ by spreading her clothes out to dry in his grass field. The article goes on to report that the surgeon noticed the clothes in the field and walked his horse about on them. He also complained she assaulted him with a worsted sock. Another example was a report of two ‘idle vagabonds’ who had spent the night at the Vagrant Office and were charged with tearing up their clothes in order to compel the Relieving Officer to provide them with new ones. They had done this thinking they would be sent to Wakefield and there be provided with clothes. One of the boys was in ‘a state of nudity’ and had been provided with a sheet. The report goes on to say that if they appeared again, they might be treated to ‘a sound thrashing’. The outcome was for them to be sent back to prison until some coarse wrapping could be stitched into a smock and trousers.

What was fascinating about this piece of research was the way it opened up the geography of Leeds. Many of the streets and lanes still exist, as do most of the areas of Leeds mentioned in the articles. Interesting also was the way certain areas of Leeds and its surroundings were regularly mentioned – the Bank being one area – whilst there were several mentions of the ‘Old Post Office Yard’ just off Kirkgate, one of which referred to a ‘house of ill-fame’.

In all, I found this a fascinating look at Leeds and the surrounding area in 1850, albeit on the darker side of life. I hope anyone using this piece of research will find it as interesting and as informative as I have.

  • A huge thanks to Joan for this fascinating and useful study. We’re still in the process of compiling her research and findings into an accessible resource but are happy to assist with any enquiries you may have about it. Email us at: localandfamilyhistory@leeds.gov.uk. Also, keep following the Secret Library blog to find out about future heritage volunteering opportunities this summer.

A Snapshot of Leeds on June 3, 1917

  • by Antony Ramm, Local and Family History, Central Library

Tomorrow will mark a century since a nationally significant, but oddly little-known, event in the history of Leeds: the 1917 Peace Convention at the Coliseum. This “saw 3,500 people from across Britain gather at the Leeds Coliseum (now the O2 Academy) in solidarity with the February Revolution which had overthrown the brutal Tsarist autocracy in Russia. The Convention voted to hail the inspiration of the Russian Revolution, defend civil liberties, call for an end to the First World War and vote to set up Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils in Britain in solidarity with the Soviets being formed in revolutionary Russia.” Present on the day, among others, were Bertrand Russell, Ramsay MacDonald, Sylvia Pankhurst, Tom Mann, Philip Snowden, Charlotte Despard, Ernest Bevin, Dora Montefiore and Willie Gallacher.

Different people, of course, took very different views of this gathering’s aims and intentions: a split which can be seen quite clearly in these contrasting reports from the Yorkshire Evening Post and the Leeds Mercury respectively. 

Of particular note, in the Post article, are the descriptions of the Convention attendees: “You looked around the sea of faces, and hardly one of them was normal…[a] collection of all the fads and frenzies and fanaticisms, all the disordered minds and discontented souls – the intellectual and spiritual wreckage of a strenuous age.” The reactions of some local Hotel owners are also worth highlighting:

But, rather than retelling any further the story of that gathering, this blog shall focus on the slightly wider – and yet also narrower – picture: a snapshot of Leeds on that same weekend, one-hundred years ago, derived from newspaper articles and advertisements. Readers interested in finding out more about the Convention itself are directed toward a recent book (copies of which are available to buy or loan in the Central Library) and a fascinating series of talks and workshops taking place tomorrow (the quote in the first paragraph of this article is taken from that event’s website).

So, Leeds on that weekend of June 3, 1917: in short, a mixture of the historically-memorable and the mundane. As well as the Peace Covfefe, Leeds – perhaps not coincidentally, in the tumult of War and its attendant social upheaval – saw a series of violent clashes between English and Jewish youths:

Not all were caught up in those twin dramas, however, with leisure –  especially consumer-goods and, in particular, tools to aid efficient home keeping – grabbing much of the focus on the Monday following June 3:

Shopping, principally for food, was another theme. Notable here was the apparent hope that the War would “teach the English housewife to cook” and also enable her to learn “the art of shopping”. Gender, and the socially-approved division of roles (into what we might call ‘girl jobs’ and ‘boy jobs’) seems a clear concern of the time (we might also think of the earlier pejorative description of some Convention attendees as “men [who] wore their hair long…[o]r wore ties as big as sashes.”)

This is made even clearer in this advert, which frames the War in the context of “strength and manly power”: “Courage, Ambition, and Energy”; in the process making assumptions about what ‘masculinity’ should mean, just as the earlier pieces made assumptions about the preferred ways of living for women (shopping, keeping a good home):

That is to say: the advert suggests a deep anxiety about gender roles – and such ideas were also causing trouble for some newspaper readers:

Even if others spotted the longer-term changes to gender taking place in society as a direct result of the War (changes which were, no doubt, the catalyst for those anxieties):

These social changes  are also clearly indicated in this piece showing the shifts in employment patterns for one Leeds business:

Despite (or, perhaps, because of) those social changes, the mundane realities and fantasies of daily life continued:

While theatre listings testify to a continued need for diversion of a different kind:

Popular entertainment can sometimes be seen as a kind of willful ignorance of what’s truly important; and the letter at the bottom of this final extract sees our author excoriating the Peace Convention on the grounds that it was an unwarranted luxury in a time of death on an unimaginable scale – expressing, at the same time, the deep and complex links between war, class and gender. For some, however, the weekend brought a poignant finality, as the top piece in this extract shows; gone, too, another connection to the older Leeds fast disappearing in the face of an increasingly modern city:

*****

Of course, not much of this will be new to anyone familiar with the general thread of the nation and Leeds during those years – but there is a certain kind of thrill or interest in juxtaposing the seemingly-unrelated major and minor aspects of a society, gaining a sense of the (partial) totality at any given moment in time and space.

In doing so, such a approach reminds us – if we need reminding – that what normally counts as ‘historical’ and ‘important’, what gets written about and remembered, what gets commemorated, is only ever part of the whole story of any given History; and, for many people, even less than that.

That’s absolutely not to say that the 1917 Peace Convention is not worthy of assessment and analysis – clearly it is – only that the daily textures of everyday life are equally of value; and that the stories, the histories, we can piece together from the flotsam and jetsam of fleeting moments are as significant as any other. And that those fleeting moments remain something of an untapped resource for telling the vital histories of everyday people living everyday lives.

Such histories remain, for the most part, packed tightly, embedded in the collections held at libraries and archives; awaiting discovery. For any willing and intrepid explorer in the past, a whole world awaits: a legion of stories to be found, shared and heard.

Visit the Local and Family History department at Leeds Central Library

New Addition to our Collections: Samuel Marsden

  • by Antony Ramm, Local and Family History, Central Library

The broad outline of Samuel Marsden‘s life and works are well-known: born Farsley, 1764, Samuel emigrated to the Australian colonies in 1793 after accepting an appointment as assistant to the Chaplain of New South Wales. There he took up residence at Parramatta, where he had charge of the religious instruction of convicts. Marsden was an influential figure in the early history of New South Wales, both for his clergy work but also his role as a judge and his employment of convicts for farming.

It was in that latter agricultural station that he is best known to us today: returning to Yorkshire in 1807, Marsden brought with him 165lb of wool, which was received enthusiastically by English manufacturers cut off from their usual supply of Merino wool by conflict on the European continent. Marsden visited King George III, wearing a suit made from the Australian wool; so impressed was the monarch by this display of sartorial elegance that he presented Marsden with five Spanish sheep from the Royal flock. These sheep, transported back to Parramatta, were the ancestors of an extensive flock of fine-woolled Australian sheep.

In 1814, Marsden visited New Zealand for the first time, along with six Maori chiefs who had been staying with him. There, he delivered the first Christian sermon on New Zealand soil (fittingly, on Christmas Day); an occasion that was commemorated in 1907 with the erection of a magnificent cross on that same spot. Marsden was to make six further missionary visits to New Zealand before dying in Sydney, aged  74. A full-length biography of this pioneering individual is available from our Information and Research department.

The Local and Family History department is delighted to say that, alongside an existing folder of materials related to Marsden’s life – copies of newspaper articles and original correspondence, mainly relating to the creation of a memorial to his life in Farsley – and an 1819 edition of his New Zealand diary – we have recently added another set of materials to our collection . These were very kindly donated to us by Bob and Lorraine Marsden, of Sydney. Bob is a direct descendant of Samuel Marsden (as well as Thomas Plantangent, Edward I and William the Conqueror!) and the material he has collected for us mainly concern Samuel’s time in Australia and New Zealand.

These do much to flesh out the story of the Farsley man after he left the West Riding and are an invaluable addition to our stock. Of particular note are copies of maps showing the exact locations Marsden settled in; a detailed Marsden genealogy; a transcript of his last will and testament; and full colour photographs of the Marsden Cross in New Zealand and Marsden’s farm ‘Mamre’ in New South Wales. We cannot thank Bob and Lorraine enough for this very thoughtful bequest.

Please visit us on the 2nd Floor of the Central Library to view these new additions to our Marsden collection, or contact us on 0113 37 86982 and via localandfamilyhistory@leeds.gov.uk to find out more.