Going on a Summer Holiday? 10: long distance shopping

This series is now one of the longest serving on our blog; I wrote several posts ago that I hoped it would not take as long to reveal as the journey which William Harris undertook around Europe between 1821-1823. Well, I have a feeling that I may have already broken that record, but at least it’s given us all a sense of the length of time which this journey from Dover, through France to Italy and then to Sicily actually took!

William continued to number his letters for his father.

William continued to number his letters for his father.

In the last post, William had just scaled Mount Etna with his band of architect friends, and found the undertaking rather easier than he had expected. By August 1822, however, William was lodging in the Franciscan convent of S. Vito, near ‘Grigenti’, alone. From my initial reading of this letter, I got the impression that William had been ill, but a second look shows little evidence of this. The group had intended to stay at a monastery before, at Taormina, but their plans were foiled when they discovered it to be full of priests awaiting the election of the new superior. So the fact that he was alone at a convent could simply be that it was a suitable location for his exploration of the ‘pure’ architectural remains of Sicily. In any case, perhaps he would not like to tell his father, so far away, that he was ill. After all, William Harris Snr., back in Norton Street, London, would wait months to receive the letter and then be unable to do much to help his son.

Of the remaining members of William Junr.’s group (two had left before the ascent of Etna), one certainly was ill: Brooks (who I described in an earlier post as the comedy partner) seems to have had bad sea sickness after the crossing from Catania. Thomas Angell and Mr. Atkinson were, however, made of sterner stuff, and had set out to explore Malta. William’s delight in the architectural remains in Sicily had been his reason, he told his father, for remaining alone. In any case, the friends were expecting to reunite, William thought, around the 21 August.

I suppose one of the other reasons why I suspect that all may not have been well with William is the brevity and directness of this letter. In the past, he had written very eloquent descriptions of places he and his friends had visited, and offered opinions on local habits. This letter, however, offers no description of his surroundings, nor of any of the ‘architectural’ (probably archaeological) sites which he visited.

William sent his letters home via his friend Mr Hunter, who lived in Paris.

William sent his letters home via his friend Mr Hunter, who lived in Paris.

Instead, the letter focuses on news from home, in London, which he had left more than a year earlier. We have already established that William’s mother did not enjoy the best of health; William considered that his parents’ removal to Peckham (at this time outside of London) would offer ‘cheerful society and a change of air’ which he was sure would be ‘very beneficial’. As well as his parents, William had a sister, Margaret, married to another architect, Thomas. In an earlier missive, he had learned that, for reasons of economy, they were removing from their home in order to let it. Because of this, he opens his letter having enclosed a letter for them, too, since he did not know where they could be reached. Again, the realities of the distance between William and his family, in terms of both time and miles, must have been playing on his mind. It had been 16 weeks prior to his sister’s letter since he had heard any news from ‘Old England’, having had no reply from his previous letter (no. 8, from Rome). Of course, he writes, his father may have replied to Naples, expecting William to be there, but the change in his plans meant at least a two month stay at Gingenti, rather than returning straight to Italy.

In spite of his desire to hear from home, time was obviously pressing: “As post time draws nigh I will now proceed to business and fill up the leisure if any remains afterwards”. This business consisted of a shopping list of materials and supplies, which William asked to be sent out to Sicily. Including pencils (from Brockman and Langdon’s, Bloomsbury), paper and watercolours, William explained that such drawing materials were ‘not to be obtained of even tolerable quality on the Continent’. Aside from these artists’ supplies for his sketching of classical ruins, William also requested that his father send out ‘a 2 feet parallel rule’, recalling that he had left it ‘either in my library table…or in the lower closet of the study’, paper ‘for memorandas’ and, from his brother-in-law Thomas, ‘tracings of the Temple of Theseus at Athens’. Finally, he asked for ‘4 day shirts…as those I have with me are nearly worn out.’ Unlike his friend Brooks, who had insisted on trunks of the latest fashions being sent out to Rome, William seems to largely have made do with that he had taken with him. Architecture and adventure seem to have been a much higher priority, for him, than clothes and supplies!

William's shopping list.

William’s shopping list.

This is the first instance of William requesting a significant amount of material from home, although he had previously mentioned in passing the cost of his travels, particularly his own frugality when living off his father’s allowance. Evidently, William had been able to spend some free time looking at his father’s responses, as he adds:

I now subjoin a list of the bills I have drawn on different bankers as they do not appear to agree with the memoranda you forwarded me

Lady Elizabeth Foster (1787)

Lady Elizabeth Foster (1787), Duchess of Devonshire 1809-1824

Although far from home, William clearly moved in circles of society which spanned the whole of Europe. Having previously visited contacts professional and personal, he asks for a letter of introduction from a mutual friend for the Duchess of Devonshire who was to stay in Rome over the winter. This was Elizabeth Christina Cavendish, who had married the fifth Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish, in 1809 and retained the title of Duchess after the succession of his son to the title in 1811. The fifth Duke had been married to the celebrated Georgiana, but Elizabeth had lived with them since 1782, having separated from her husband Lord Foster, mystifying polite society. Elizabeth certainly had two children by the Duke prior to their marriage, and some whispered that she was lover to both the Duke and Duchess. In any case, she developed a love for the continent, even accompanying Georgiana during her exile designed to hide her illegitimate pregnancy from polite society. Following the death of the Duke, Elizabeth moved to Italy and developed an interest in antiquities, even financing the excavation of the Forum for eleven years. It is likely that this interest in classical architecture, and the circles in which she moved, were the main draw for William’s hopes of an introduction, but there must still have been a touch of scandal around this 65-year old widow as well.

The tone of this letter seems, to me, to be one of stocking up, preparing to start work again after a period of inactivity. Rather than tell his father about his exploits, as in previous letters, William is anxious to make sure he has the necessary materials to continue his adventure, but is also eager to hear more from home. He mentions ‘Jane’ once more, whom his father had removed from his house in the previous autumn, noting that he had given her the key to the drawer in which his shirts were kept. Perhaps the answer to this mystery is than Jane was a servant, presumably a long term and respected servant, since William had been sorry to hear of her departure. Thinking of home also led William to think of the horses: a favoured mount, Dick, had undergone an operation in the summer of 1821. ‘Pray let me know if Dick has recovered his lameness’, William writes in his closing paragraph.

William had plenty of recourse to bankers during his trip - including to collect his post!

William had plenty of recourse to bankers during his trip – including to collect his post!

In spite of the time it took to journey around Europe in the early 19th century, it was evidently not an insurmountable exercise – at least not for those with the funds to support it. Postage, bankers and even letters of introduction to the seemingly web-like networks of society brought together like-minded individuals right across the Continent. But even with those modern developments, the distance from home could indeed feel great, and leave the intrepid traveller in danger of isolation. Yet William’s thirst for adventure took him still further in his discoveries – right into one of the biggest antiquarian scandals since the exploits of Thomas Bruce, seventh Earl of Elgin, at the beginning of the century.

A happy 2015 to you all; perhaps this year will see the closure of William Harris’ adventure!

A Thoroughly Modern Man: digital exhibition

Wood in 1911 from 'Thrift'.

Wood in 1911 from ‘Thrift’.

I’m delighted to announce that a digital version of our exhibition about Sir Howard Kingsley Wood, A Thoroughly Modern Man? (1881-1924) is now live. To learn more about Wood’s early life and work, check out the Special Collections & Archives exhibition webpages.

A Thoroughly Modern Man? was our last physical exhibition in the level 1 gallery space and ran for six weeks earlier this summer. This coincided with the publication of the first part of historian Hugh Gault’s biography of Wood, Making the Heavens Hum: Kingsley Wood and the Art of the Possible, which has been significantly supported by Wood’s scrapbooks, held in Special Collections & Archives.

A Methodist, lawyer and politician, Wood had a keen eye for detail and a strong sense of moral duty. This led him to champion causes of health and insurance for the less well-off in society. His times also coincided with radical change, including the First World War, the first enfranchisement of women and the increase in state support. Wood himself was a key player in the implementation of National Insurance, and proposed the Ministry of Health in 1918.

With concerns about European relations, levels state support, the reputation of politicians and the status of Ireland, many of the issues which Wood and the Coalition government dealt with are familiar to us today. The exhibition considered this earlier portion of his life to ask whether Wood was, in fact, a modern man, despite working almost 100 years ago.

You can explore the exhibition through tabs on the website above and follow the blog tags for more posts about Wood. If you would like to know more about Wood’s scrapbooks, please take a look at our Collection pages.

Wood would: The forgotten campaigner

Few people know who Sir Howard Kingsley Wood was, or what he did. A century, after all, is a long time in which to forget. But recent work by historian Hugh Gault, researching for a biography on Wood, has brought this little known and unassuming man into the light. To celebrate the new biography, Special Collections & Archives is curating an exploring the early part of his life: ‘A Thoroughly Modern Man? Sir Howard Kingsley Wood, 1881-1924’.

Wood in his mid 20s, a recently qualified solicitor

Wood as recently qualified solicitor, pictured in ‘The Methodist Recorder’ in 1905

Born in 1881, Wood’s lifetime saw a huge number of changes; from the First World War to the successful provision of Votes for Women, and this exhibition charts the formative influences on his life.

Wood was a politician, lawyer and a Methodist: all of these aspects of his life combined to make him a key player in significant political and social changes happening in Britain one hundred years ago. In fact, many of the issues which the turn of the century government was dealing with were not so different to those of today; health, tax, welfare and housing to name but a few.

With his background in insurance, Wood was key in setting up National Insurance; working as a Poor Man’s lawyer, he successfully prosecuted a number of employers for death and injuries at work. Standing up for the weakest in society was one of his core values: he championed pensions and other benefits for widows, orphans and relatives of soldiers fighting in the First World War. He also saw first-hand the appalling conditions in which many lived and was determined to improve them. In proposing a Ministry of Health in 1918, Wood set in motion the best of the welfare state, aiming to provide good homes, prevent disease and support the disabled. Many of his proposals are still with us today in the guise of the National Health Service and laws protecting employees from exploitation.

Wood giving a speech as Secretary of State for Air in 1938

Wood giving a speech as Secretary of State for Air in 1938

Later, Wood would continue his mission as Postmaster General, Minister for Health, Secretary of State for Air during the Second World War and finally Chancellor of the Exchequer.

This exhibition focusses on Wood’s formative years from his training as a solicitor, his experience of elections and insurance, and his role as a London County Councillor during the First World War. Come along to the Templeman Gallery (next to the Library Café) from 22 May to the 20 June to find out why this man is worthy of remembrance.

For more information about the materials in the Kingsley Wood Archive at Kent, take at look at our Collections pages. For a flavour of some of the items in the collection, see previous blog posts ‘The antiquity of new politics‘ and ‘Flu a hundred years hence‘.

The exhibition coincides with the publication of Hugh Gault’s book, the first part of a new biography of Kingsley Wood, Making the Heavens Hum: Kingsley Wood and the Art of the
Possible, 1881-1924
(Gretton Books, 2014).

Going on a Summer Holiday? 5: Mosquitos and marble

It may no longer be summer (in fact, if anyone can remember a summer this year, I’ll be impressed), but that doesn’t have to stop us thinking about exotic locations and long, sunny holidays. Having said that, the latest stage of William Harris’ journey saw him reach Florence in November 1821 – where the temperatures were far from the heights he had enjoyed travelling across France since July.

Sketch of a felucca by J. W. M. Turner (1828) (original held by the Tate)

In William’s previous letters to his father, he wrote about Dover, Calais, Paris and Mont Blanc. Having passed through Chamonix, climbed Mont Blanc and visited Geneva and Milan he then set sail on 25 October from Genoa. William and his friends sailed in a ‘felucca’, a traditional Mediterranean boat which could usually take around 10 passengers. On board, William and his three friends (Messrs. Brooks, Angell and Butts) met a Mr Edward Montagu, who was apparently educated at Cambridge and had spent the previous 8 months ‘cruising about the Mediterranean in a brig of war for his amusement’ – perhaps the nineteenth century gentleman’s equivalent of a late gap year.

As you may remember, William enjoyed his journey across the English Channel, although several other passengers were violently ill. His cruise from Genoa proved to be ‘a very pleasant little voyage’, despite the lack of comfort on the boat and some delays on the way. In the gulf of Spezia, the wind had been high and the sailors had taken on ballast – but by noon the sea was calm; the felucca ‘lay as a log on the surface of the ocean in sight of the celebrated marble quarries of Carrara’. ‘The sea agrees with me very well’, William wrote cheerfully.

The architects entered entered the port of Leghorn at 9 in the evening, where, since the Health Office was closed, the group had to sleep a second night on the deck of the small boat. William explained,

“…no vessels are permitted to land their passengers until the bill of health has been examined and the officer has been on board”

Health Office quoteThe spread of diseases such as plague and yellow fever led to increasingly strict regulation by the British government during the eighteenth century; in 1752 the Levantine trade regulation act introduced a severe quarentine clause to traders in the area. These regulations became firmer in the ensuing decades, with a new act in 1805 and an enquiry in 1823-1824. Perhaps the all of these acts and regulations gave men like William, who was ‘compelled to pass a second night upon deck’, the feeling that the law makers were imposing unneccesary bars on their travel and trade. After the influx of cholera to Britain was not prevented by quarentine in the early nineteenth century, the practice largely disappeared from the British Isles.

Once he was able to enter the port, William found that he like Livorno, in the main. He approved of the “fine square and streets paved with longe [sic] flag stones laid diagonally and roughly tooled to prevent horses from slipping” and the considerable trade carried out in the town – “upward of 50 sail of British merchantmen were there”. The architects also discovered an English cemetery in the town, which William praised as being the neatest he had ever seen, apart from Pere-la-Chaise in Paris. “Tis planted with cypress trees casting a mournful shade,” he wrote poetically, adding that “many of the alabaster vases and chimney ornaments so numerous in London” were made in Leghorn.

The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker

‘The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker’ was Smollett’s last novel.

The production of these ornaments was not the town’s final claim to fame for these travellers: in the English cemetery, they found a tomb to the memory of Tobias Smollett who had died in Leghorn in 1771 after retiring to Italy from his native Scotland. Smollett was a popular writer in the eighteenth century, who later alledgedly influenced Charles Dickens. The fact that William noted the tomb, along with his references in other letters to Byron and The Sentimental Journey by Laurence Sterne show that, like many other well educated gentleman of the day, he had studied British literature.

From Livorno, William and his friends then journeyed on to Pisa, where he was enraptured by the ‘Gotico-Tedesco’ (German Gothic) style of its architecture. He also noted

the most singular feature…is the celebrated leaning tower which actually overhands its foundation upwards of 13 feet and is almsot 180 high

Postcard showing 12th century doors to Pisa Cathedral (PC396)

In fact, the architects enjoyed Pisa so much that they prolonged their stay, ‘sketching and taking dimensions’. I hadn’t been aware of it before, but apparently nineteenth century architects spent a lot of time measuring things – from the number of young architects there appear to have been around the Mediterranean at William’s time, I think it’s impressive they all had the space to carry out their own measuring! There was, however, and important reason for Williams journey: improving his acuaintance with works of art.

After 6 days in Pisa, the group went on to Florence, arriving on 6 November. After Pisa’s hot sun, it was hard to adapt to the ‘very sharp’ wind and the frosty mornings. The onset of cold weather did, however, put an end to the annoyance of mosquitos, which William describes as ‘a very small kind of gnat’. The fact that he needed to describe the insects to his father suggests that they weren’t very prevelant in England – at least not in the fashionable part of London. Of course, we now know that mosquitos carry strains of malaria, which jeapordised the lives of many travellers…. But more on that later.

At the time when William and his friends were travelling, the modern nation of Italy didn’t exist. Instead, they travelled through various kingdoms on their way to Florence. In the terriroy of Lucca, William described

“Huge quantities of Indian corn are grown…may of the cottages were covered with large yellow ears suspended against the fronts to be dried by the sun”

Crossing the seperate territories involved passing numerous customs houses but to pass these swiftly, William advised, “the word ‘Inglese’ is really sufficient”. I doubt that such a self assured border crossing would be so easy now!

Unfortunately, not everything has such an easy journey. As he travelled, William sent home the address of his bank at the next intended stop for any letters. At Florence, William blamed ‘the stupid banker’ for forwarding on a letter to his next intended stop, in Rome. The abashed banker ‘promise[d] to write immediately and rectify the mistake’. After William’s apparently straightforward experience of travel, and the talk of sending parcels and books across Europe, in an age before motorisation, it seems impressive that things didn’t go astray more often!

In Florence, William and his friends settled “at a ‘pension’ or boarding house at the Piazza Santa Maria Novella”, assuring his father that it only cost 45 shillings per head per week.

We sat down 13 [to the pension’s dinner tables] yesterday but that did not take away my appetite.

With all of the measuring he had still to do, it was probably a good thing that William was in such resolutely good health.

He closed his letter with an enquiry after Dick, the horse, and a summary of his expenditure to convince his father ‘not [to] imagine my dispursements have been more heavy than they actually are’. Concluding with ‘congratulations to the young married couple’ – another mystery to be solved – William set off to enjoy his weeks in Florence.

There, we leave him for the rest of November, until the small group of architects travelled south to spend the festive season in Rome, and discover all of the strange traditions which the ancient city could provide.

Flu a hundred years hence

Given that there’s so much in the news about flu outbreaks at the moment, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the reactions to the influenza outbreak in 1919, from the Kingsley Wood scrapbook which covers the period November 1918 to October 1919. During this time, Sir Howard Kingsley Wood was involved in the setting up of the new Ministry of Health, as well as being part of the Local Government Board and M.P. for Woolwich.

The Spanish flu outbreak of 1918-1920 swept across the world with huge numbers of fatalities, particularly killing  younger victims through an overreaction of the immune system. Those with weaker immune systems were therefore more able to survive the virus. The devastating effects of the Spanish flu were exacerbated by the First World War, through lifestyle and the unusual population movement of seriously infected individuals.

The Daily Sketch published a self-congratulatory account of a ‘conference on influenza’ on 1st March 1919, which it claimed to have inspired. In the course of the public debate, the government’s advice to ‘keep fit’ was criticised, since fit people also fell ill. The chairman, Sir Malcolm Morris, also described the prescription of ‘a permanganate of potash and salt as a nasal douche’ as ‘”a horrible solution”‘. Dr Murray Lesli advised:

Start the day with a good breakfast ; have a brisk walk before starting work. Mental strain, lack of food and sleep, owing to the war are predisposing causes of influenza.

Oral cleanliness and good ventilation of public transport and public spaces were advocated; Dr Kirkhope, the Medical Officer for Health in Tottenham, advised that all badly ventilated cinemas should be closed. However, Kirkhope also argued that the disease was not influenza but a ‘continuation of many diseases’, since, at this time, scientists not yet conclusively discovered the causes of the flu virus.

‘Dr Lowe argued that we eat too much boiled food’

More ‘striking’ opinions included the demand by Sir St. Clair Thomson that anyone who coughed or sneezed on public transport ‘without putting a hand or handkerchief to the mouth should be prosecuted for indecency’. The possibility of taking ‘disciplinary measures’ against infected people who handled food and did not take precautions against infecting others seems to have been popular.

‘Persons with a cough should wear masks, but not the general public.’

According to this article, there was a difference of opinion amongst the experts about the ‘question of alcohol’; perhaps it is a coincidence that the lower section of the page is taken up by an endorsement of supplying whisky to those suffering with influenza!

As part of the ‘war on disease’, the first Minister for Health for England was appointed on 10th June 1919. Dr. Christopher Addison (1869-1951) had entered politics because he believed that governments were more able to change the health of the poor, and of society in general, than individual doctors. The Daily Mail announced Dr. Addison’s appointment in June 1919 as the start of a ‘war on disease’, where prevention was paramount in a country in which:

‘consumption is as prevalent today as smallpox in the seventeenth century.’

One of the many improvements associated with social welfare and efforts to improve the nation’s health following the First World War were housing reforms. As the cutting from Answers from 2nd August 1919 put it, the intention was to ‘Scoot that Slum!’ The Daily News had reported in May of the same year that over three million people were living in cramped conditions of two to a room, describing a ‘great breeding place of disease.’

‘Bred in towns, reared in alleys, mewed up in stuffy rooms, no wonder people became irreligious, bat-eyed, materialistic, and Bolshevik.’

Kingsley Wood’s opinion of the place of slums as the cause of all the country’s ills were popular amongst many public-spirited gentleman of the time, who also wanted to build for the future. However, this proved difficult for the people who wanted to live in the newly developed ideal homes. Ways and Means from 6th September 1919 describes a leaked interview which Kingsley Wood gave to the Observer, in which he claimed that the government was ‘to-day settling where the Englishman of a hundred years hence is to live.’ While we may be grateful in 2019, the people of 1919 were more concerned with the ‘leaky lodgings and lack of lavatories’ which they had to put up with while the building work progressed increasingly slowly.

The Kingsley Wood scrapbooks are not yet catalogued but are in date order. They consist of cuttings largely from Sir Kingsley Wood’s political career and items of interest from his work as a lawyer. If you would like to look at these scrapbooks, email us at specialcollections@kent.ac.uk for an appointment.