We welcome short blog pieces from those working on any aspect of the conference theme, and on Victorian history, literature, and art more generally. Contributions may relate to an area of scholarship, or might be more informal.
If you have an idea for a short post, or have prepared an item already, please contact the conference organisers Alice and Claudia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I didn’t get to know my great uncle, my grandmother’s brother, until I was in my late teens and studying for my History degree. The relationship had a profound impact on me and shaped the course of my studies and my professional life. What makes this relationship interesting is that my great uncle had died 60 years before we ‘met’.
Frank Towle was born in Kingston Upon Hull in 1924, the eldest child of Ivy and Harry. As a boy he enjoyed roller-skating, summer camps and spending time with his sisters, Brenda and Marjorie my grandmother. At the outbreak of war he was 15, and separated from his mother and younger sisters who had been evacuated to nearby Driffield. He wrote to his mother describing the air raid shelter he had helped construct in his grandmother’s garden, signing off ‘your ever loving son’. Frank was also a workingman, employed by Freemans, a company who repaired the damaged gas pipes following the numerous air raids.
On the 3rd of March 1943, three months after his 18th birthday, Frank was conscripted into the army for the ‘duration of the emergency’. He was based in Lincoln at ‘New Barracks’ on Burton Road, an Infantry Training Centre. Frank made friends with other new recruits, and enjoyed boating on the lake where he helped new friend Bing’s hat to sink with an oar! On the 5th of April, the chaplain, who was also the vicar of the regiment, confirmed Frank at Lincoln Cathedral. His family travelled to Lincoln on the train to attend the confirmation, they stood outside the cathedral as the soldiers marched in. Marjorie bought a small metal Lincoln imp and had it made into a brooch for her coat, a symbol of her solidarity with her brother. After six weeks Frank earned his cap badge, a bi-metal sphinx with ‘Egypt’ and ‘Lincolnshire’ inscribed on it, and was assigned to the fourth battalion. Frank remained with them throughout 1943 and early 1944, training all over the country including the on Isle of Bute, the Salisbury Plain and in Kessingland.
D Day, the assault on Nazi occupied France on June 6th 1944, was a key turning point in the war, leading to the surrender of the German army in May 1945. Frank and the 4th Lincolns should have crossed the Channel just one day after this initial invasion force however, because of poor weather and the congestion on Gold Beach, it was delayed for several days. Despite it still being dull and rainy, Frank and his fellow Lincolns eventually left the marshalling area for Newhaven and the infantry landing ships, on Friday the 9th of June or D-Day +3. From this point Frank lived his life as a soldier on the fighting front, experiencing intense periods of fighting, interspersed with short rests. Frank and the 4th Lincolns fought their way through France, including heavy engagements at Le Harve and the Falaise pocket, and into Belgium.
Frank acquired a camera from a German prisoner and sent his mother a photo of himself and his comrades in a French orchard. In the accompanying letter Frank wrote that he hoped the war would be over by Christmas as he did not want to spend his birthday, the 25th of December, on the front lines. He also joked that Monty, Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, must think he was a robot as there was no sign of leave. Sadly Frank did not experience a period of leave or spend Christmas at home with his family. He was killed sometime in the last 4 hours of the Battle of Poppel, on the Belgian Dutch border, by a piece of Shrapnel to the head. It was the 7th of October 1944, and his mother’s birthday. Frank was 19.
Frank’s parents were informed by a telegram, sent on the 17th of October, 10 days after his death that he had been killed. He is buried at Leopoldsburg War Cemetery with many others from his brigade. The family chose the opening lines of the Rupert Brooke poem ‘The Soldier’ as the inscription on his headstone: ‘There’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England’. Frank and the soldiers he died with are also remembered on a memorial stone in the village of Poppel, his name being one of 27 listed. This memorial, paid for by the municipality, is apparently quite unique being one of only a handful in the area, which actually mentions the names of the soldiers killed.
On the 1st of August 1951, Ivy received a letter from the Lincolnshire regiment, informing her that a memorial book was to be laid in Lincoln Cathedral. The Colonel of the Lincolnshire Regiment would present it during a remembrance service on the 11th of November 1951, at 10.30am. In the service Colonel Griffiths, of the Lincolnshire Regiment, presented the book saying. ‘Mr Dean, I present to this cathedral Church the book containing the names of 1176 officers and men of the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment who gave their lives in the service of their country during this last war. I bid you take good care of it and I beg you to guard it with reverence.’ The Dean replied ‘Sire, we shall reassure this book which you commit to our keeping in grateful and abiding memory of those whose names are written in it.’ It is thought that Frank’s family did not attend the service, as it was too painful. The memorial book remains in the cathedral to this day in the soldier’s chapel.
A gap of 60 years separated the death of my great uncle Frank Towle, aged 19, and my own 19th birthday in the midst of my History degree. At this point I ‘met’ Frank through the letters and documents my grandmother had saved. Despite the separation of the years, we are linked by blood and by my remembrance of his life and untimely death.
By Annabelle Esme Dobson, PhD student, Bishop Grosseteste University
Emily Mary Osborn, ‘The Bal Maidens’, National Museum Wales, National Museum Cardiff, c.1870 [oil on canvas].
Women have always worked in diverse occupations and trades, often as part of the family economy or as assistants to their fathers or husbands. Their work was not restricted to unpaid, unquantifiable, domestic work on behalf of the family. Ivy Pinchbeck’s pioneering study Women workers and the industrial revolution 1750-1850 highlighted the variety of jobs in which women were employed and reinforced the view that women’s status as wage earners represented a ‘fundamental break with their dependent, “hearth tied” past’. Her study researched female employment in agriculture, industry, textiles, metal trades and mining. Pinchbeck identified over 283 separate female occupations (not including sub-divisions within the job); evidence of women’s huge participation as an active workforce and of their financial value. However, Leonore Davidoff claimed that ‘working-class women were always an ignored presence, providing catering, cleaning, and even sexual services’. She argued that ‘the conception of work is already so deeply gendered’. Furthermore, she debated that women are kept out of the cash nexus, reinforcing the ‘male-breadwinner/ woman-homemaker’ dichotomy. Women’s entry into all forms of paid employment such as farm work, potteries, and mining challenged this dichotomy.
One of the industries that women worked in was mining. In the nineteenth century Cornish mines many women and girls worked as bal maidens mining tin, copper, lead, manganese, uranium, antimony, arsenic, iron and zinc. Female workers were needed to dress the copper and tin ores and their job entailed washing, panning, sorting ore from waste, or grinding and breaking rock-bearing ore. One process that was solely performed by women was ‘spalling’; this was breaking the larger rocks using a long handled hammer. Next the stones were ‘stamped’ then the fine material would be sent on for separation at the ‘buddles’. It was then sent on for further further separation at the ‘trunks’ and ‘kieves’, until the finest ‘slimes’ were separated at the tin frames – a very long process!
The process at copper mines was slightly different. After ‘spalling’ the women and girls would wash and sort the different ores which was a very wet and dirty job! Then ‘cobbers’ used a short handled hammer to break the picked ore into smaller pieces, and the ‘buckers’ used a flat hammer to grind the ore into a fine powder. This was physically demanding work and only the strongest and fittest were able to do it! ‘Buddling’ and ‘jigging’ were then carried out in the same manner as for tin. Additionally small teams of women and girls work at ‘griddling’ or ‘barrowing’ where they would work in pairs using hand barrows.
Working as a bal maiden was a hard, dirty manual job. But within Cornish mining communities it was not thought of as a strange or peculiar occupation for females – women had always worked in mining. It was not until Victorian middle class notions of a woman’s ‘proper’ place in the home questioned the unsuitability of the bal maidens work that their number started to decline in the 1880s.
Women were seen to be behaving in ways that challenged traditional patriarchal authority and established standards of propriety. One particular area of women’s lives that reflected these changes was clothing. With a greater need for increased flexibility, freedom of movement, and the necessity for protection when engaged in manual labour, women’s clothing radically changed from Victorian and Edwardian ideals of feminine attire to robust, practical costumes.
Reformers called for emancipation from the ‘dictates of fashion’. Early attempts at dress reform to outer garments, in the 1870s, were met with resistance from society despite widespread knowledge as to the health dangers of tight lacing and heavy skirts supported from a constricted waist. The bal maidens appear to have conformed, to some extent, to traditional nineteenth century female polite dress. They wore a long dress over which they wore a hessian work apron called a ‘towser’ and on their head they wore a curious headdress called a ‘gook’. The gook was a summer bonnet made of card and fabric and shaped in such a fashion as to totally protect the face and shoulders from the harsh effects of the sun and to provide additional protection from any flying debris. The bal maidens became particularly well known for their elaborate bonnets and gooks, with different districts developing individual styles.
When I tell people that I research Victorian mining women they are always very surprised. The usual response is ‘I never knew that women worked in mining’. I tell them: ‘Yes – women have always worked in mining!’
I. Pinchbeck, Women workers and the industrial revolution 1750-1850 (1930, London: Virago press, 1985), p.2
K. Hamilton, in I. Pinchbeck, Women workers, introduction.
Pinchbeck, Women workers and the industrial revolution, pp.317-321.
L. Davidoff, ‘Gender and the “Great Divide”: Public and private in British Gender History’, Journal of Women’s History, 15, no.1 (2003), p.13.
L. Davidoff, Worlds between: Historical perspectives in gender and class (1995, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007), pp.73-102
Dyhouse, Girl trouble, p.6.
D.J. Warner, ‘Fashion, emancipation, reform, and the rational undergarment’ Dress: The Journal of the Costume Society of America, 4, no.1 (1978), p.24
Tracey Jones is a Heritage Consortium AHRC PhD Candidate at Teesside University. Her research investigates female identity by looking specifically at the relationship between dress, occupation and displays of femininity. Tracey’s PhD thesis ‘Gender and Identity: The relationship between femininity and dress in Victorian mining districts in England and Wales’ is a comparative study of the costumes worn by the pit brow lasses of Wigan, bal maidens of Cornwall and patch girls of South Wales.
Tracey graduated from Bishop Grosseteste University with a First in English and History, the Dulcie Duke Local History Prize and the Vice Chancellor’s Prize for Academic Excellence. She then studied at the University of Leicester at The Centre for English Local History, for a Masters in English Local and Family History with a full Master’s Excellence Scholarship. She graduated with a Distinction and the Harold Fox Local History Prize.
To study the complicated life of Mary Ann Girling (1827-1886), Methodist preacher turned Messiah, is to disappear down the rabbit hole. Girling hailed from Suffolk. The little that is known of her early life speaks of hardship: she suffered from depression, lost eight of her ten children, and had been severely ill and bedridden. In later years, she explained to journalists that it all changed in December 1858 when Christ visited her in her bedroom. He reappeared three times. Six years later Girling quickly became a sensation, emerging in the villages of Suffolk to preach the Second Coming of Christ, and displaying supernatural powers. Her gospel events, characterised by ecstatic dancing, drew large excitable crowds. She was mocked and heckled—and was the target of rotten eggs on more than one occasion—because of the liveliness and exuberance of her radically apocalyptic sermons, but also because her public appearance made many people uneasy. She seemed to embody the subversion of the boundaries that have long defined Victorian society.
To many of her contemporaries, Girling defied any attempt at categorisation altogether—a woman who had abandoned her family to preach in public? A preacher who attracted followers across class and gender divides? How she proclaimed her own divine authority? Throughout her career as mystical leader Girling was pushed to the heterodox fringe of society and framed as irrational, idiotic, insane, and to be avoided. When the animosity in Suffolk became too much, the self-styled prophet and her devotees traded the rural setting for a rented chapel under the railway arches of London. There, with the trains running above her, she encountered the same reactions as before. Most people came to see the millenarian prophet and her ‘Shakers’, so nicknamed in reference to Ann Lee’s Shakers in America because of the convulsions and ecstatic, uncontrolled dancing on stage. The crowds came to be entertained, to make fun of Girling, and to accuse her of mesmerism or witchcraft.
Simultaneously, however, Girling was frequently invited into the living rooms of the City’s middle classes for private sermons and conversions. People were repulsed by her, but also fascinated. The reporter of the supernatural and unorthodox, Charles Maurice Davies, attended two sermons and wrote of the ecstatic shaking and Girling’s commanding presence, but also of the ‘bored youth’ in the room who heckled and sang deliberately falsely. In London as well as in Suffolk, Girling remained a contested and controversial sensation.
‘Inside the meeting house’. Illustration of Girling’s gospel event under the railway arch of Walworth, London, Police News Illustrated, 1871.
Relentless harassment, combined with the fact that the owner of the space under the archway no longer wanted to see his property reduced to a scene of turmoil and violence, meant that the Girlingites were once again forced to move, this time to a lodge on the edge of the New Forest. There the charismatic mystic founded a full-fledged community with her followers: a location dedicated to shared prayer, devotion, and to preparing for Judgment Day. She remained, for many Victorians, a ‘difficult’ figure; someone who continuously, and seemingly deliberately, crossed established social boundaries. In the New Forest Girlingite community family, marriage, materialism and money became meaningless. Children were raised by the group and celibacy was rule. Worldly concerns were largely irrelevant when the millennium was imminent.
In the New Forest the Girlingites’ behaviour became, to observers, increasingly outlandish and outrageous, especially after they were evicted from the lodge and took to living in tents by the side of the road. The women of the cult wore bloomer costumes and worked the fields, while the men had long hair and often wandered around the countryside aimlessly. Girling herself wore loose white dresses and wreaths of flowers, going barefoot with her stigmata revealed, and at times emerging from her tent blindfolded, speaking in tongues. Though commentators derided the community their articles served only to enhance the spectacle, so that by the late 1870s tourist coaches in the area included Girling’s encampment on their trajectory.
‘Trips! Trips!! Trips!!!’ Advertisement for a tourist trip around the Bournemouth area, including Girling’s ‘Shakers’ Encampment’.
To study Mary Ann Girling is to jump down the rabbit hole because it is so difficult to move beyond the impressions made of her by her sceptical contemporaries. They wrote about her; Girling herself left only a four-page religious tract, and her followers were not concerned with their legacy with the apocalypse imminent. Critics persisted in portraying her message as backwards superstition and her devotees as ‘deluded’, ‘simple folk’ or ‘queer, impracticable creatures’—juxtaposed with the ideal of a rational, scientific modernity, much like literate Victorians approached the perceived primitive beliefs in the colonies. Similarly, contemporaries described her as a product of, and a reaction against, Victorian progress. But to depict the reception of Girling and her cult as a conflict between ratio and superstition or between progress and reactionary communitarianism is simplistic. One has but to look at the social diversity within her cult following: these were not all people with nothing to lose, not all victims of the industrialisation. In Girling’s tents lived labourers, craftsmen, landowners and politicians; men, woman and children; poor and rich. They abandoned their families, jobs, social status to live in Girling’s faith community, and abandoned any control over their bodies to dance in millenarian ecstasy.
No wonder Girling and her Girlingites continued to befuddle her contemporaries as well as historians until long after her death in 1886.
Philip Hoare, England’s Lost Eden: Adventures in a Victorian Utopia (London, 2005).
Lawrence Popplewell (ed.), Moving the Shakers (Southbourne, 1993).
Charles Maurice Davies, Unorthodox London: Or, Phases of Religious Life in the Metropolis (London, 1873).
Herbert Thurston, The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism (London, 1952).
Tine Van Osselaer, ‘Stigmatic Women in Modern Europe: An Exploratory Note on Gender, Corporeality and Catholic Culture’, in M. Mazoyer (ed.), Evolutions et transformations du mariage dans le christianisme (Paris, 2016), pp. 269-289.
Kristof Smeyers is a PhD candidate at the University of Antwerp. He has worked for the Bodleian Library and the National Bank of Belgium (publishing an economic history of the country in 2016), and is a member of the research project Between Saints and Celebrities: The Devotion and Promotion of Stigmatics in Europe.
(January – ‘Hard Frost’, The Comic Almanack, January 1836)
In past centuries when the Winter season actually consisted of months of snow, hard frosts, freezing temperatures and frozen lakes and rivers; people put on their skates and took to the ice. In London ice skating on lakes, in the nineteenth century, was hugely popular as can be seen from the numerous reports in journals and papers such the Illustrated London News. If you were interested in skating, not just for pleasure but for sport, it was to the Fens in Lincolnshire or Cambridgeshire that you would come.
‘While in the parks of London and its suburbs – skating is practised as an
Amusement and an art, in the Fen country of the eastern counties it is
Admired as a hard exercise and a veritable sport’.
(Sporting Times, February 1871)
Speed skating was where the talents of skaters were really put to the test and competitive levels were high. In the Fenland Notes & Queries for January, 1899 there are many listings of competitions that took place in Lincolnshire in the late 1700’s. In 1788 the ‘March Men’ met the ‘Crowland Men’ to skate at the Dog in Doublet and then again in January of 1795. Crowland Marsh was the venue for many skating competitions as were Wisbeach and Spalding. The Stamford Mercury, in January 1820, reported that visitors, totalling more than 4000, came from as far away as 20 or 30 miles!, to watch the skating competitions in ‘the ancient town of Croyland’ [Crowland]. As the gentleman wrote in the Sporting Times of 1871, ‘to see the fen skating in its glory it is necessary to be present at a skating match.
The winters of 1820’s, 30’s and 40’s in England were particularly severe and speed skating matches were held all over the Fens. Spectators would stand behind ropes lining each side of the course. A race was usually 2 miles long. This would be measured out in a half mile stretch and skated twice up and twice back. It would a straight run on swept ice. A post, flag or barrel would mark each end of the course and the ‘bellman’ would ring the bell to signal the start of the race. Those taking part were often referred to with terms such as ‘better class of labourer’. Often it was the working class men who were the finest skaters. This was usually due to lack of employment for agricultural workers in a rural country in the winters thus giving them plenty of free time to practice their skills and hopefully win some money in the races and competitions. Being able to turn skilfully whilst travelling at speed was considered an ‘art’.
‘Our illustration represents a spirited scene in the neighbourhood of the washes of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire in the late frost’
‘Our metropolitan skaters are ……but little aware of the extreme interest attached to Skating in the above counties’.
(‘Skating in Lincolnshire’ in The Illustrated London News, January 23rd 1847)
The National Skating Association was formed in 1879 due to the ever growing public enjoyment of the sport. Literally thousands of people were reported as turning up to watch the skaters on the marshes, their cheering often made the sound of the bell difficult to hear.
Obviously weather conditions were of paramount importance to whether or not skating could go ahead. Hard frosts and cold weather for days on end usually resulted in the most ideal conditions. One of the reasons why fen skating rarely can take place in this country now. Still, well documented names such as William ‘Turkey’ Smart, his brother George’Fish’ Smart and ‘Gutta’ Percha will probably continue to be written about when recalling the heyday of winter skating on the Fens.
MA Interdisciplinary Studies of the Nineteenth Century
The following blog post is by Michelle Poland, a PhD Student at the University of Lincoln.
What shall sever me
From the love of home?
Shall the weary sea,
Leagues of sounding foam?
Shall extreme distress,
Shall unknown disgrace,
Make my love the less
For my sweet birth-place?
Tho’ my brains grow dry,
Fancy mew her wings,
And my memory
Forget all other things –
Tho’ I could not tell
My left hand from my right –
I should know thee well,
Home of my delight!
– Alfred Tennyson (c. 1827)
In the quietest of the Lincolnshire Wolds lies Somersby, a curious little hamlet designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Rectory, now a private home called Somersby House, was home to the Tennyson family from 1808 to 1837. Reading, writing, rambling, wandering, battling, and play-acting, the Tennyson brothers and sisters made the life of the place their own. One of their favourite pastimes was the writing of stories in letters. Alfred, of course, was regarded as chief storyteller, with one of his serials called The Old Horse supposedly lasting several weeks. Under the careful instruction and guidance of his father, the Revd Dr Tennyson, Alfred continued to write with “undiminished energy” and by 1826 he had already published Poems by Two Brothers.
Much of Tennyson’s poetry is indebted to this small stretch of country, palpable in single lines throughout “Idylls” and in passages of In Memoriam. Though Tennyson denied any biographical parallels in his work, his intimate knowledge of the Lincolnshire countryside greatly influenced his poetic output. First published in 1830, “Ode to Memory” offers, or at least hints at, a rather evocative illustration of Somersby as it would have been (and still very much remains to this day):
…the woods that belt the gray hill-side,
The seven elms, the poplars four
That stand between my father’s door,
And chiefly from the brook that loves
To purl o’er matted cress, and ribbéd sand,
Or dimple in the dark of rushy coves
Drawing into his narrow earthern urn
And this from the same poem:
Pour round mine ears the livelong bleat
Of the thickfleecéd sheep from wattled folds,
Upon the rigéd wolds
We hear of the “woods that belt the gray hill-side”; of the poplar and elm trees that neighbour the parsonage; of the dearly loved brook that runs beneath the village, “narrow” enough for a boy to jump in; and of the sounds of sheep that were so familiar to that Lincolnshire countryside.
Tennyson wrote to a Lincolnshire friend in 1845, “I have a love for old Lincolnshire faces and things which will stick by me as long as I live.” This lifelong affection for his home perhaps explains why he endeavoured to write the group of dialect poems so long after his departure from Somersby. He had taken great care to remember the dialect correctly, undoubtedly helped by the fact that he had retained his “Linkishire” accent throughout his life. It is also evident from various conversations that he was proud of these poems and enjoyed including them in famous recitals of his works to his friends and admirers. From the verses of “Northern Farmer, Old Style” (1861) to “The Church-Warden and the Curate” (1890) we hear more specifically of Lincolnshire localities: “As fer as fro’ Thursby thurn hup to Harmsby and Hutterby Hall”: Of “Gigglesby Greeän” and “Gigglesby Hinn”, and “Owlby an’ Scratby”: and the wolds too return as “the Wowd”.
Though Tennyson was never to immortalise Lincolnshire in the same way that Wordsworth did for the Lake District, or Hardy did for Dorchester, its landscape, “depicted with all the truth and accuracy of a photograph”, will nevertheless live forever in his pages.
AT Lincoln Legacies
The Tennyson Research Centre
Newly housed in the Lincolnshire Archives is the Tennyson Research Centre (TRC). The TRC is the most significant collection on Alfred Tennyson in the world, attracting hundreds of visitors every year, from local schoolchildren to international scholars, poetry lovers to history enthusiasts. The collection boasts a truly remarkable range of primary material related to Tennyson, including Tennyson’s library, manuscripts, proofs, letters, photographs, and various personal belongings.
Founded in 1960, The Tennyson Society works closely with the TRC. It exists to promote the study and understanding of the life and work of Alfred, Lord Tennyson and has a worldwide membership. Their annual events include a lecture, weekend conference, and memorial service, and members are regularly updated via email on Tennyson related news and events. Since 1967, the Tennyson Research Bulletin (TRB) has been issued annually, containing academic articles on the latest Tennyson research and reviews, as well as more informal features. This year the society celebrates the 50th anniversary of the TRB. Other publications, such as monographs and occasional papers, are published intermittently.
Tennyson can be found in the grounds of Lincoln Cathedral, which was recently voted the nation’s second favourite cathedral (unfortunately it was unable to topple real-life Hogwarts, Durham Cathedral). A memorial statue to him by George Frederic Watts is situated on the East Green bearing the words of his poem Flower in the Crannied Wall.
Philip Collins, Tennyson, Poet of Lincolnshire: An Address to the Tennyson Society (1983), Tennyson Research Centre, Lincoln.
H.D. Rawnsley, Memories of the Tennysons (Glasgow: James Maclehose & Sons, 1900).
Charles Tennyson, Alfred Tennyson (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1949).
Extracts taken from previous work, see http://www.tennysonsbirthplace.co.uk/. Somersby church is the first to be granted HLF funding to carry out essential restoration work and the installation of a Tennyson display. Visit the website to find out more about the project and his formative years in Lincolnshire