Old Leeds Cold Cures

Cough pills advert from the Leeds Mercury, November 1917

Cough pills advert from the Leeds Mercury, November 1917

When coughs and colds sweep the offices of The Secret Library – as they do around the beginning of every winter – it’s not a pretty sight. But we are, after all, a hardy bunch, accustomed to the draughts and drips of a 130-year-old building, so we soldier on. And one of our most invaluable weapons in the defence against disease is the Leeds Household Book of 1917.

If you’ve ever fancied a knock-up supper of Oyster Custard, Boiled Cheese or Spiff Pudding, then this is the book for you. Indeed, it’s also for you if you’ve ever wondered what Spiff Pudding actually is. But where the volume really comes into its own is in its plethora of easy home remedies for illnesses of all kinds – all collected by editor Blanche L. Leigh.

Leigh seems to have been quite the Edwardian domestic goddess, if this and her other work, the Souvenir Cookery Book of 1905, are anything to go by. We found it slightly disappointing, then, to discover from the 1911 census that she actually employed a housemaid:

Blanche L. Leigh on the 1911 census

Blanche L. Leigh on the 1911 census

Incidentally, her husband here, the dental surgeon Percival Tookey Leigh, went on to become Lord Mayor of Leeds in 1935, and you can see his portrait in the Leeds Civic Collection. If you thought his middle name was unusual, Blanche’s middle initial is revealed to stand for ‘Legal’. (We checked it against her burial record from St Mark’s Church in Woodhouse and, yep, it really does say that.)

Anyway, going back to her Household Book, let’s turn straight to the aforementioned ‘Toilet and Medical Remedies’ section, from which we’ve extracted the following home treatments for the common cold. Do please note that they’re NOT offered here as a substitute for proper medical advice – in the same way that oyster custard will never be a substitute for actual food – and we’ve put each cure to the test so that you don’t need to.

REMEDY #1: Glass of hot rum and milk, with a piece of butter, when retiring. (Suggested by Mr. W. Bell of Mexborough)

EFFECTIVENESS: We’re quite partial to a cocktail or two before bed anyway, so this particular tonic didn’t come as much of a stretch. In fact, we’re pretty sure we once ordered it by mistake at a top Leeds nightspot, where it went by the name of a Cow From Hell. In reality, it’s more like an Eggnog Without The Egg, but it did take our minds off our sore throats nicely until we fell asleep. At least until we woke up an hour later with a forgotten lump of melted butter stuck to our pyjamas. 7/10.

REMEDY #2: One teaspoon bi-carbonate of soda to ½ pint of boiling water; when cold add 2 teaspoons of sal-volatile.

DOSE: Half a wine glass every half hour for two hours, then every four hours. (Suggested by Mrs. Turton of Chapeltown)

EFFECTIVENESS: Sal-volatile is another name for smelling salts – a common household item in 1917 that has since fallen out of favour. We’re not sure drinking the stuff is a good idea, especially at regular intervals. Nevertheless, we liked the fact that this elixir was measured out by the wine glass because it seemed a waste not to open a bottle of red at the same time, just to help it go down. Did it work? Well, four hours later, we couldn’t really remember. 5/10.

REMEDY #3: Mix 3 gills of water with 4 oz. mustard. Put into this a piece of flannel the size required, and let it simmer half an hour, or until it has absorbed the mustard. Then apply the flannel warm to throat or chest. This gives quick relief and does not blister the skin. (Suggested by Mr. Wooley of Harehills)

EFFECTIVENESS: Whilst we agree this treatment doesn’t blister the skin, we feel it only fair to point out that it does tend to leave it the colour of stale omelette. And, unless you have a fancy dress party to go to, having the complexion of Homer Simpson isn’t our idea of a healthy glow. Our advice: stick with the barking cough. 4/10.

For 502 more pearls of wisdom, the Leeds Household Book is available to consult in the Local and Family History Library at shelf mark L 641.5 L53.

Beware the Heraldic Beasts

As you wander the staircases of Leeds Central Library you can’t help but notice the lions and dogs carved into the ends of the stair railings.  There are various lions and dogs in different poses including one of a lion sitting majestic in a stance reminiscent of the ones guarding the neighbouring Leeds Town Hall to two beasts appearing to argue over which ones gets the latest books first!

Magnificent lion on the stairs

Magnificent lion on the stairs


From the first floor up there are matching lions and dogs on each staircase however because the right hand staircase was redirected to face Centenary Street during the construction of the municipal buildings, the first dog you meet on the ground floor in the atrium has no matching pair on the alternate staircase.

The emaciated beasts

The emaciated beasts

One thing they all have in common is their emaciated appearance with protruding rib cages and prominent spines.  As a child growing up in Leeds I always heard stories about the Town Hall Lions getting up for a wander around Victoria Gardens as the Town Hall clock struck midnight, I can’t help but wonder if the Library heraldic beasts looked on enviously unable to leave their posts in search of food.

Arguing on the stairs

Arguing on the stairs

Sitting in splendour

Sitting in splendour

 

Come and see how many lions and dogs you can find on our magnificent staircases in the Central Library.

Wrap Up Warm!

As the thrills of Halloween and Bonfire Night recede, and November really starts to dig its heels into the frosty ground, we tend to start thinking about warmer clothes and Christmas gifts. That’s a fact that certainly hasn’t changed over the last eighty years – as this lovely 1938 catalogue demonstrates – but the nature of those clothes and gifts definitely has. In a moment, we’ll take a look inside and find out how exactly, but first let’s have a quick look where the catalogue came from.

Autumn-Winter Catalogue, 1938-39

Autumn-Winter Catalogue, 1938-39

Well, the quick answer is that it came from the Local and Family History department of Leeds Central Library! It’s part of our selection of brochures, journals and the like, all relating to old shops and businesses from the city’s past. Which shop it originally came from is a more difficult question: the catalogue’s unusual in that its company name isn’t actually stated anywhere inside, but there are a couple of clues on the cover above. Firstly note the large letter M logo and, secondly, if you look at our yellow sticker on the top-right corner, you’ll see that part of the classmark we’ve given it is MYE – which, according to our electronic catalogue, is short for Myers & Co.

The mystery’s not quite solved yet, though… If you look through a 1938 trade directory, the only Myers & Co. clothing company you’ll find is a furriers based at 42 Lower Brunswick Street. Our catalogue offers a lot more than furs, as we’ll see, and also advertises ‘centrally located, spacious showrooms at Leeds, Hull and Grimsby’ – a description not quite satisfied by this photo of the property in question on our Leodis website.

Clearly there’s more research to do, and that’ll begin (at least for this writer) by simply asking around. We can also cross-reference our Leeds trade directory against directories from Hull and Grimsby, looking for the ‘Myers’ shops in common… or, if that turns out to be a dead end, even just the shops with names beginning with M who specialise in clothes and soft furnishings. But who wants to do that when we could be eyeballing some vintage fashions? Let’s open the blasted catalogue and find out what you might have been wearing when the weather changed in 1938!

These are the new coat styles for Autumn and Winter!

These are the new coat styles for Autumn and Winter!

Women’s frocks in the 1930s had moved away from the flat-fronted, ‘boyish’ shapes popular in the 1920s to a more feminine silhouette, reflected in the cinched waists of these stylish coats. Towards the end of the decade, as the Second World War loomed, a militaristic influence gave women’s jackets the boxier shoulders, wide lapels and ‘storm’ collars seen here, while small hats (worn at an angle to show off – rather than shield – the face) also grew in popularity.

New Season’s Most Popular Styles

New Season’s Most Popular Styles

Fashions for men changed at a much slower rate, and the overcoat styles featured here would have been popular for over a decade previously. The double-breasted, belted coat shown bottom-left recalls the hard-boiled image of macho detectives popular throughout 1930s fiction and film, while the ‘New Raglan Style’ of the sleeves was a fairly recent innovation and made overcoats in particular more fitted and comfortable.

For the fashionable five-year-old

For the fashionable five-year-old

Note the prevalence of Peter Pan collars among these kiddies’ coats. The trend harks all the way back to 1905, when Maude Adams became a huge star with her portrayal of ‘the boy who wouldn’t grow up’ on Broadway. This detail, added specially for her costume, became a whimsical staple of children’s fashions for decades afterwards – perhaps a sign of an era when, some would argue, children really didn’t ‘grow up’ as quickly as they do today.

These are the gifts to give him!

These are the gifts to give him!

Similarly, the children’s gifts advertised in the Kiddies’ Corner of this page reflect the huge popularity at the time of the Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which had been released in the UK on 12 March 1938. Although widely expected to be a flop, the first full-length, English-language animated feature wowed audiences and quickly earned Walt Disney enough money to finance the building of his own film studio, which stands in Burbank, Los Angeles, to this day.

With fairytale films like Frozen, Maleficent and the upcoming Into the Woods all the rage at the moment, perhaps we’ll see a resurgence of Peter Pan collars in our winter wear this year. Pop into Local and Family History if you fancy finding more fashion inspirations from the past!

Read More: The Gunpowder Plot

  • by Antony Ramm, Information and Research, Central Library

This is an entry in our Read More series. These are ‘long-form’ articles, where staff offer a curated and detailed look at areas of our book collections, usually based around a specific theme or subject. These posts aim to guide the interested reader through to those books that offer a more in-depth look at a topic, or which are classics in their field.

As most people know, the 5th of November commemorates the prevention of an attack on King James I and Parliament in 1605. And most people know the broad outline of that “Gunpowder Treason Plot”: a group of conspirators; gunpowder in the House of Lords (guarded by Guy Fawkes); and, perhaps, a faint recollection that the events had something to do with Catholic grievances against the State. For the most part that is all the knowledge anyone needs: Bonfire Night – like most cultural rituals – has evolved over time into a more general community activity; an event that persists because of a continuing need for social experience, rather than because of any continuing stake in the arguments on either side of the original debate.

But that is not to say further exploration of the Plot itself is a waste of anyone’s time. Quite the opposite: in its tangling of (perceived) State oppression and a planned terrorist ‘spectacle’; the ‘deep politics’ of espionage and counter-espionage; intercepted communications and torture – we can see an affair with curiously modern parallels.

Similar contemporary parallels have not been lost on earlier observers. Mary Whitmore Jones, in her The Gunpowder Plot and Life of Robert Catesby (Catesby being the lead conspirator) – available, as are all the titles mentioned in this blog, from our Information and Research department – draws a comparison with the events of 1605 and those of the early 20th-century: “In these days of Anarchist plots…[i]t be may be interesting to recall the story of the greatest projected crime in English history, the Gunpowder Plot”.  Other titles that provide a narrative of events include Gunpowder, Treason and Plot (Lewis Winstock) – an excellent short, illustrated, introduction – and C.Northcote Parkinson’s similarly-titled work.

Gunpowder treason and plot

Gunpowder Treason and Plot

A glance through the Gunpowder Plot literature is also a reminder that, as well as those who uphold the ‘official’ narrative, every conspiracy attracts its share of conspiracy theorists. Such debates have raged among observers of the Gunpowder Plot ever since an Italian diplomat wrote, in 1605, “[t]hose that have practical experience of the way in which things are done hold it as certain that there has been foul play and that some of the [Privy] Council secretly spun a web to entangle these poor gentlemen.” The introduction to Hugh Ross Williamson’s The Gunpowder Plot lays out a fascinating account of the differing positions taken by historians over the centuries. Titles mentioned by Williamson that are available to read in the Information and Research department include A Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot (David Jardine); John Gerard’s What Was the Gunpowder Plot?; and Samuel Rawson Gardiner’s What the Gunpowder Plot Was.

What was the Gunpowder Plot? and What Gunpowder Plot was.

What was the Gunpowder Plot? and What Gunpowder Plot was.

Gardiner’s book was a response to Gerard’s accusation that Robert Cecil, the first Earl of Salisbury, and the spymaster for King James I, had manipulated the conspirators as a means to discredit the cause of Catholic recusants. Cecil – one of the most intriguing figures in all of English history – has his life and career covered in two biographical studies (interested readers are also directed toward relevant titles available elsewhere in our library service). The wider historical context is explored in such titles as The Early Stuarts: 1603-1660 (Godfrey Davis), while Whitsun Riot: An Account of a Commotion Amongst Catholics in Herefordshire and Monmouthshire in 1605 (Roland Mathias) is a fascinating look at another Catholic ‘plot’ in the same year as Catesby’s doomed effort.

Those conspiracy theories mentioned above have their roots in the various inconsistences and omissions in the official record. Anyone wishing to explore for themselves the murky details of the plotting, the capturing and, finally, the trial of the conspirators, would be well advised to spend some time with the primary sources on which historians’ accounts have been based. One place to start would be A Jacobean Journal: Being a Record of Those Things Most Talked of During the Years 1603-1606, which gives a modern reader a sense of how contemporaries reacted to the events as they unfolded (extract below).

A Most Horrible Conspiracy Discovered

A Most Horrible Conspiracy Discovered

Most importantly, however, the Information and Research library also holds a copy of the 1606 title A true and perfect relation of the proceedings at the seuerall (sic) arraignments of the late most barbarous traitors – that is, the text of the plotters’ trial as it occurred.

 

Text from the trial

Text from the trial

This fascinating contemporary document, as close as most modern readers will get to being in the room with the conspirators at their interrogation, is – strangely – bound together with a book from 1614 entitled Titles of Honour by the jurist and legal scholar John Selden. While Selden’s work remains a key early text in the field of peerage law, there seems no clear reason why these two titles have been collected together; if any library users know the answer, please let us know!