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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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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Just joking

Photo1360Well, remember what I said about my contributions to the archives? My first impression of Marjon, the programme I got when asking too many questions and the memories of my classmates? Well, there is this one more thing. I once brought a bottle of a homemade drinking mead, an old Viking recipe…and it’s still standing on a shelf within the archives. One hundred years more and it will be delicious😊

 

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Photo stories

We used to do an exercise when I was a student: we would get a random photo, with people we never met, and were tasked with writing a short story using anything that was in the picture. That would include reading facial expressions, body language, the position of the people in relation to one another. It’s not very easy, but if you got a good picture, you could get material for a proper story. This picture is one from our Urban Learning Centre. I have seen it before, but only now I see how rich it is in writing ideas.

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Check out the two girls in the middle and their opposing expressions: one is laughing, the other is worried. What do they see? Why are they reacting so differently? Maybe it’s a race and they both have a bet? Not in money though, but with something as precious, something they both want, but there is enough for just one…
How about the three boys in the top right corner? The two of them are looking with interest while the other missed the whole incident. If the three of them were friends, is he the one that is the ‘slow one’ always a step behind those two? Do they laugh at him secretly, because he needs the joke explained to him? Or maybe he knows something those two don’t, a secret that the other two will never know?
How about the hugging kids? I can’t read the face of the one facing the camera. Is she crying or laughing? Does she seek comfort or is giving a celebratory hug to her friend or sibling?
I guess, the inspiration material is only limited by your imagination, but I’ve found this particular picture much more inspiring that many we had used during my course. And the archives have many, many more like this one.

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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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‘HMS Hero’ by Michael Roberts

Have you ever read a poem or a piece of non-fiction and think: ‘hey it’s almost like I can see it’ ? And then realize that thanks to the magic of internet, you actually can.
I was reading a poem by our favourite poet, teacher and rebel- Michael Roberts.
HMS Hero

Pale grey. her guns hooded, decks clear of all impediment,
Easily, between the swart tugs, she glides in the pale October sunshine;
It is Saturday afternoon, and the men are at football,
The wharves and the cobbled streets are silent by the slow river
Smoothly, rounding the long bend, she glides to her place in history,
Past the grimed windows cracked and broken,
Past Swan Hunter’s, Hawthorn Leslie’s, Armstrong’s
Down to the North Sea, and trails and her first commission.
Here is grace; and job well done; build only for one end.
Women watch from the narrow doorways and give no sign,
Children stop playing by the wall and stare in silence
At gulls wheeling above the Tyne, or the ship passing.

 
And there she is, HMS Hero herself:

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Can’t you just imagine her, passing a coastal town, still so new and unscarred by the battles? I can.

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