Category Archives: books

Huggett’s Life Below Stairs

Photo1386How much do you know about the Victorian way of life? No, I don’t mean great feats of engineering that helped to shape the technologically-oriented world of today. I don’t mean the much-romanticized life of aristocracy and tales of idle extravagancy. No. I mean the little people, the littles of the little-the servant class. I already wrote about the probable life of a Marjon’s maid (St. Marks then). But In contrast we have the folk in Huggett’s Life Below Stairs. And yes, the life of a servant was one full of drudgery, endless days of hard work. We all know about the life of servants in big houses, but those weren’t nearly as bad as the lives of Maids-of-All-Work, the ‘slaveys’ or ‘trotters’ as they used to call them, because of their trained gait that was supposed to convey the greatest amount of enthusiasm and willingness to serve. And if you were doubly-unlucky and went with all your family into a workhouse, you might have been snipped into domestic service by someone who was looking to save some money. Not only would you be expected to do tasks that you never done before, but you’d be scolded for not knowing how to do them AND worked around 18 hours per day. Providing I would survive the long days of work, I’d be driven mad with sleep deprivation within a week. No wonder some folk would rather choose the life in the streets than a fate not much better than slavery. But that’s not all. Do you think that we’re living in extremally lookist society? That’s nothing comparing to Victorian standards, where you could be a footman if you were tall and handsome and only a stable boy if you were not. Appearances and orders of importance were as rigid among the elite as they were among the little folk. If the work wouldn’t kill me, trying to remember the rules sure would. How was that important that ‘the housemaid might not use a veil or a parasol’ but both were permitted to a lady’s maid’( in Huggett 1977)? The mind boggles at the hierarchy among the serving people, most probably made so those who were looked down upon have someone to look down on too.
But I’ve been talking too long already. If you’re utterly fascinated by the history of day-to-day life, check out Huggett’s Life Below Stairs.

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Music books

Photo1365We had a very generous donation recently, consisting of three books. This is especially interesting because they are both about and by one of ours. Two were edited and one written by one of our past students, Peter Dickinson. He is a trustee of The Bernarr Rainbow Trust. The trust is a charity that supports music education, a thing very much marginalized. The man, the trust was named after, was a long time Marjon’s teacher, a Director of Music and very respected music professor. The books are: ‘Bernarr Rainbow on Music’ that is a collection of his memoirs and writings. Even that I never studied music, I am always interested in stories of people lives. Very often it would reveal details of day-to-day existence you would never consider before and the book is worth checking for that bit alone. ‘Music Education in Crisis’ that is a gathering of Rainbow’s lectures, a bit too hard for me to understand, but of great interest to someone that is serious about studying music. The last one is ‘Words and Music’ which is Dickinson’s own experiences of life immersed in music. Among them are the recollection of his meeting with W.H. Auden and Philip Larkin and insight on being a British composer living in 20th century. I must say, that I am a musical ignoramus and music is the only form of art that I could never do. But I have to admit that this is interesting stuff. Have you ever tried to read three books at once? That is a little bit difficult. But I was instantly reminded of the fact that the beginnings of our university is very much connected to music.
It is rarely that we have new books submitted as a donation. So, to Peter Dickinson who so generously bought them for us: Thank you sir, you are a star.

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Accidental Meeting

A few weeks back we have been out to visit the Naval Heritage Centre in Plymouth for their open day. It was a visit full of exciting discoveries and wonder as their collections are quite beautifull and interesting, all concerning naval history and the life of ships and people who were involved with the navy. The greatest attraction was a visit to HMS Courageous, which allowed me to complete one of my dreams- to see how a submarine looks from the inside (the answer is, of course, ‘awesome!’).
But that was not all. Among the objects put up for a display was a small clipping of a document with an illustration by C. W Bracken. Bracken was one of our students in the years 1887-1888. In our collection is a book by him, ‘A History of Plymouth and Her Neighbours’. The book was first published in 1931 so it is far from a proper material to study, even with the additional last chapter that was added after the war and carried over into new editions. Still, it was funny to see that at one point, even respectable professionals thought that the area of Plymouth was colonized by Egyptians, I’m not even joking: ‘(Plymouth)…had its origins not from the ubiquitous Phoenicians on their tin-seeking expeditions, not from immigrants from the adjacent continent, but from Egypt…’
Egipt or not, we were quite surprised with W.C Bracken hanging innocently on the wall of the Naval Heritage Centre, like it was waiting for us to see it. We would love to have a copy in in our collection.

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Chuck? Donate? Keep?

 

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Pretty illustration in a pretty book. Too bad it’s Fielding

We have many books that found their way into the archives from the library and they are going to stay by a virtue of being authored by one of our students or staff. Others are here because they mention Marjon is some way. But there are other books that wander by, the ones that won’t stay. They are usually withdrawals from the library, so called ‘weeds’. They might be outdated, they might be damaged or they simply haven’t been checked out for a long time. Those don’t have place in the archives. But do they have a place somewhere else?
I was digging through such a pile recently and found a beautifully bound book. The pattern on the binding had caught my eye so I opened it. To my dismay the pretty book was The History of Tom Jones by Fielding. I hate Fielding. Yes, he was very influential. Yes, he was one of the fathers of modern novel. Yes, he was a smart guy that revolutionized the police force (Bow Street Runners anyone?). But I absolutely can’t stand the way he writes. That makes this pretty book an equivalent of a paperweight to me. I can’t read it.
But then, it’s still a beautiful artefact. It’s well preserved and it looks like there was a mistake in print of the introduction. The printed annotation mentions it, but it’s seems like somebody made corrections by hand (what would be the total copies printed if they did that?). So what would you do with a beautiful paperweight like that? Chuck away? The bibliophile in me howls for blood at this thought. Keep it and never read? The pragmatic in me scoffs at that? Donate? If I only knew somebody that enjoys Fielding… What would you do?

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So much effort for a cup…

Clay Pit

Clay Pit

So many books seem to be finding their way to the archives when they finally finish their life on the library shelves. Maybe I should make it a permanent column here in the blog? Today we have A History of the Cornish China-clay Industry by R.M. Barton.
The ways of making china was once one of the most well-kept secrets of the world, like Coca-Cola formula or the algorithms of Google. Come to think of it, do you know what makes the thin shell of a tea-cup can stand the searing heat of boiling water?
Clay is not enough. The white kaolin needs other minerals to become a strong china: china-stone, serpentinite, soap-stone… all of those things happen to be or once were mined in Cornwall.
Then they are the pits, where the clay had to be mixed with water and then pumped out. Very different from what we normally understand under a term ‘mining’.
The mined material has to be moved, so the industry made great difference to the infrastructure of the region, most notably the rail and ports.
The pits produce mountains of waste materials that changed the landscape of Cornwall. Interestingly enough, the nature has her own way to colonize the man-made hills.
Of course, I’d be here forever if I wanted to talk about every subject in this book, but I can say two things. It is certainly nice to be able to point out china ingredients from a mineral display while on holidays. It is also nice to realize why the Eden Project’s site is shaped as it is.

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Lost to interpretation

If there is one thing that I have learned since my arrival to the archives is that very often you can follow the reasoning of people from the past. You see who they were and what they did and why it was important to them. Take Kay-Shuttleworth. He was a doctor-> he saw what poverty did to people-> he didn’t like it-> he had an idea how to fix it. It’s logical. You can follow the process.
Not so with Fawnthorpe. Fawnthorpe was a student of St. John’s and later he became the principal of Whitelands College. This college was a school dedicated to training of female teachers. Hmm, a guy trained to teach boys is a head of school training girls. Well I suppose they couldn’t make a woman headmistress back then, the monocles in all the England would be in peril if they did. Ok, what else is Fawnthorpe known for? A little book called Household Science: readings in necessary knowledge for girls and young women. So the guy who trained women to be teachers also wanted them to be domestic goddesses?
Photo1077But the oddest thing in all this is the Whitelands College May Queen Festival. It all started with Ruskin. Yes, THAT Ruskin. Among many great things that he was, Ruskin was weird. He held very bizarre view concerning feminine purity and innocence. I suspect that the world still suffers because of these ideas. Faunthorpe was Ruskins friend and admirer and following these strange perceptions, he Ruskinmayqueenorganized the May Queen Festival, where a girl would be crowned as a May Queen. It was a celebration consisting of pageants, dances, processions, fun and games. An enormous amount of preparations go into these. There were elaborate dresses made especially for the girls and each one would be presented a golden cross, to tie this festival’s pagan origins to the traditions of Christianity. This festival is celebrated to this day, even that since 1985 it is allowed to choose a King instead of a Queen. It all looks pretty and fun, a venerable tradition if I ever seen one. But I can’t help being weirded out by the roots of it all- one man’s inability to see women as they are and creating an elaborate ceremony based upon it. So, what was with you Faunthorpe? How did Ruskin roped you into it all?
So how do you interpret Fawnthorpe? An enlightened educator or a relic of outmoded thinking? A co-conspirator to other man fantasies or just a guy that wanted to use the occasion to do something nice for young women under his care? I admit that I don’t know.

Pictures are from Whitelands College May Queen Festival by Malcolm Cole

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William Finch’s The Sea In My Blood

Photo1030So, as I mentioned before, William Finch’s The Sea In My Blood is a story from his youth about his life among the smack-sailing fishermen of Lowesoft.
He went for his first fishing trip at age nine, having finally convinced his father to take him. He tells about that certain ‘something’ that made him do it, the same thing that binds lives to it. And I myself can attest that there is truth to it, being a daughter and grand-daughter to seamen.
It might seem strange to us that a child of nine would be taken along the fishing trip, but back then a boy as young as twelve would be ready to take on job on a smack. Starting from a position of a cook he would learn the trade from the adults. And he had to learn fast, avoiding the mistakes that might cost them their lives.
What I love about the book the most is the sea stories. The stories of ships and how they have whims and personalities of their own. Of storms and narrow escapes. Of good times and bad times for the fishing folk. There are stories of skeletons found in the fishing nets bad accidents and mysterious circumstances. And the best part is they are all true.
And I cannot omit the smack-men’s humour: ‘Cooky served corn beef, the first I have ever seen or tasted. ‘’Look out f’r bits a fur. They make it fr’m cats’’.:-)
The book is not only full of salty stories, but also of beautiful drawings he made himself. He illustrated the technical aspects of smack-sailing, such as equipment, sails, manoeuvring but also captured scenes from daily life, and what’s the most important, the likeness of people who lead this kind of life and the times when the sea was even more dangerous than it is today.

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