Category Archives: long time ago

Record Novel

Seems like we’ve found a piece of the records that fit the index I have written about before. It’s a record of baptisms, marriages and burials of the parish of St. Andrews in Plymouth for the years 1581 to 1618. That tome used to be a part of the library for some reason. And if you think that such tome can be of any good just to people looking for their ancestors or researchers trying to prove their theories- think again. I’ve written a few times before how archives can be a source for authors, but this thing is in a league of its own. First of all- names. I am terrible with names. I never know how to name a character. But there it is- a book full of names- real names that once belonged to real people. Go nuts- it’s better than the old-fashioned phonebook. Secondly, there are ready-made novels in there, up for grabs. Don’t believe me? Read this:
Fortunatus, s of a negro of Thomas Kegwins the supposed father being a Portugal.

What just happened there? A story of lovers being torn apart by their respective fates, or is it a story of dastardly deeds and base villainy? And what about the child itself? Was his name a cruel joke or a sign of blessings to come?

Pennel, Richard s. of Silfester dec{eased}, a stranger

So did Richard ever learned who his father was? Or what was that made him arrive in Plymouth? Did the past caught up with Silfester causing him to die before Richard was ever born?

Goold, Clement of London, Master of the ‘Susan’ of London, slayne with a falcon shot.

Ok, this one I just have to know: what sort of a trouble a captain of a ship can get himself into to get shot with a ‘falcon shot’? Accident? Murder? Revenge? Somebody write this novel ASAP.
Who would have thought that a record of burials marriages and baptisms was hiding whole novels inside? Strapped for an idea for your new novel? Go pester your local archivist.

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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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Deserved?

Where did your school(s) stand on the subject of corporeal punishment? I only went to one where the teacher, a clearly ill-suited matron, was free with her hand and various improvised implements. We lived in terror, and I’m glad that those methods are mostly living in the past. Like this story published in ‘Marjon Magazine’, dated summer 1998:
‘…after one series of tests Mr Hansen called a Welsh boy to the front. ‘I’m going to give you the cane Davies. Do you know why?’ Davies did not know and we could not even guess. Davies was very bright and for non-conformist chapel-goer conformed very well. ‘Because Davies,’ said Mr Hansen. ‘you’re second in the class and but for one stupid error you would have been first.’ Davies was duly caned. None dared complain.’
Yikes! Now whether you’d say he deserved it, or that you think that to err is human, you can clearly see the drive to absolute perfection that was pressed into old way of life- anything but would not be accepted. But my subversive curiosity would not let me stop wondering: if Davies was now second in class, who had risen over him to be the first?:-)

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Skeletons in boxes

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This label comes from one of the donations from one of the former staff members. It is for a company that supplied medical and science equipment, most famously skulls and skeletons. They were operating in late 18th century and yes, it was a time when you could just go out and buy yourself a human skeleton neatly packed in a box for your convenience. Crazy, huh?

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Guy Fawkes’ Day Commotion

The best stories in the archives, in my opinion, are the stories of the old days of the school(s). And the best of those again are the stories you come up while looking for something completely different. During one of ‘manhunts’ i.e looking for a past student of ours, I came across this memory from the very early days in St Mark’s Magazine(1894). The article was titled ‘Odd Moments 66-7’. One of those ‘moments’ goes like this:

‘The Vice-Principal in those days dear Freddy, objected to a bon-fire on Guy Faux(sic) Day- the Dad didn’t. Roughs came in from Fulham Road, kicked the fire about, and did other damage. Not content with that, they came in every night for a wee after and were objectionable. The First Room, baing select and god-like, wouldn’t do anything, the Green Room said ‘’shut the door’’, and were empathetic, while the Math was in those early days Radical and encouraged the people to kick up any row they like.’

It ended with the ‘Patriotic Second Room’  waiting in ambush for the roughs with ‘Two fencing sticks, an Indian club or two and other weapons.’

Well, let nobody tell you that today’s students are rowdy while the students of the past would be involved into all sorts of trouble, and very nearly started a gang war.

 

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Leavers’ Dinner

Leavers’ Dinner. Funny time to write about it. Usually held at the end of third’s year second semester. But this would be time for people to start thinking if they should like to go or not. (I didn’t go to mine if you’re wondering.)
As the Leavers’ Dinners are a long and well-established tradition, so are the menu retained in the archives. Here are some examples from the years passed.

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Here we have the menus from 1947, 1985 and 1992.
A few fun facts pulled out of those:

  •  Ok, so I can’t read the menu from 1982 as it is completely in French, so if I had been there I would have not known what would come from the kitchen next. And ‘Carottes a la Vichy’ sounds kind of…political:-)
  •  The vegetarian option is absent from all of these except the 1992’s one, I guess before that you’d have to stuff yourself with potatoes and peas before that.
  • All of them state that the smoking at the table is permitted after the loyal toast or after the coffee had been served. Um…not that I’m vehemently anti-smoking but…
  •  Some copies of the menus are signed by the people attending, just a personal touch to the memento from that day.

So, here they are- just menus, but still quite fun.

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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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