Friday, December 28, 2007

Victorian Lives: Joshua Cawthra, the Man with Handel on His Monument

Today I begin a new occasional series of posts describing the lives of extraordinary Victorians.

The first entry is supplied by Richard Wilcocks, past chairman of the Brontë Society and a bass in the Leeds Festival Chorus, a Victorian musical institution founded in 1858. A version of this essay appeared in the program for a performance earlier this month of Handel’s Messiah by the Leeds Festival Chorus. Richard is currently researching the beginning of the chorus, the opening of Leeds Town Hall by Queen Victoria (also in 1858), and the visits to Leeds of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass. If you would like to contribute a short essay to this series, please get in touch.

Joshua Cawthra, the Man with Handel on His Monument

Guest Post by
Richard Wilcocks

About a dozen years after the Burmantofts Cemetery in Leeds opened its gates for the first time in 1845, a fine monument was erected within its high walls to a Joshua Cawthra, who died on 3 January 1856 at the age of 54. The opening bars of "I know that my redeemer liveth," from Handel’s Messiah, were inscribed upon it, followed by "This monument was erected by his musical friends."

I first stumbled upon the monument several years ago on a visit to what is more often known as Beckett Street Cemetery, opposite the Thackray Museum. Now closed, it is a fascinating, overgrown place, with about 180,000 people buried in 28,000 graves, which gives an insight into the rigid class structure and religious divisions of the times.

After pushing through brambles, I rediscovered it near Anglican Walk last September. A rusty spike on the top indicated where some stone ornament had once been placed, and an empty can of glue at its base was the only tribute. I planned to find out about the man resting below with his wife Martha and three of their children.

There was not much which was relevant on the Internet, so I sent out e-mails, made phone calls, and looked at eye-straining microfilm versions of the three local newspapers of the time at the Central Library: the Leeds Intelligencer, Mercury, and Times. Soon, information and help was flowing in from descendants, librarians, and local historians.

Born in 1802 in the village of Hightown, near Liversedge, Joshua Cawthra was listed in a directory for 1835 as a "singing master" living at 11 Little Queen Street in the middle of a grimy, unhygienic, and rapidly expanding Leeds. He was still there for the 1851 census, with seven of his nine children: one had died and another had married. He was a "professor of music," which puts him more or less in the category of "tradesman," well below the gentry and a few rungs up from a labourer. The average age of death for a Leeds tradesman in 1842 was 27, for a labourer 19. Cholera had rampaged through the city in the warm summer of 1849, many of its victims piled into unmarked graves in the Burmantofts Cemetery. Joshua and his family were lucky.

He must have had a beautiful voice: he was at one time the precentor of the Albion Chapel in Albion Street, marked "Independent" on the old maps. He seems to have moved on to embrace the establishment soon after the reconstruction and refurbishment of Leeds Parish Church in 1841 by the Vicar of Leeds, the energetic Dr Walter Farquhar Hook, a High Churchman and a Tractarian. Joshua was the First Tenor for many years in the Parish Church choir.

He knew the composer Samuel Sebastian Wesley, installed by Hook as organist and choirmaster at the Parish Church, and he must have been a frequent visitor to the Music Hall in Albion Street, the largest saloon in Leeds before the Town Hall was built.

At the time of his death, he had moved a hundred yards or so to 32 Somers Street. During an unspecified illness that lasted for a year, he was visited by many friends, who later organised a subscription for his monument. On Sunday, 6 January, one hundred of these, along with choristers from the Parish Church, met outside his house to sing "Is there not an appointed time," a funeral anthem by William Knapp.

On the journey to the cemetery, the mourners probably looked up at the Town Hall, which was then under construction. Large numbers of carriages with harnessed horses were waiting in Beckett Street as two to three thousand people gathered on the cobbled paths and amongst the tombs in the consecrated section. Bell-like women in wide, flounced crinolines, men in frock coats and stove pipe hats, most of them with mantles and shawls to ward off the cold, watched as the cortege entered through the gate reserved for Anglicans. No doubt amongst them were his wife and children, including Thomas, the youngest at nine.

Some packed into the small chapel to hear Purcell’s anthem "Thou knowest, Lord." Over the grave was sung Luther’s hymn "Great God, what do I see and hear." This, according to the Leeds Times of 12 January, "was an appropriate termination to the solemn ceremonial, the trumpet solo being performed by Mr Bowling in the unavoidable absence of Mr Spark."

Joshua’s son Thomas was written down as a "warehouse boy" in the 1861 census, but music was in the family’s blood, and he was eventually to become the long-term organist at St Bartholomew’s in Armley, Leeds, famous in his time. His son, also a musician, was named Thomas Handel Cawthra.

Shown here: Photos of Cawthra's monument in Burmantofts Cemetery, Leeds, by Richard Wilcocks.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

"Christmas Eve" by John Everett Millais

This is John Everett Millais's magnificent Christmas Eve (1887), an oil on canvas lent to Tate Britain from the private collection of the late Sir Paul Getty. It's currently part of the Millais blockbuster exhibition taking place at the museum through 13 January.

Say the curators: "This picture was painted from Murthly Castle, the seat of Sir Archibald Douglas Stewart, 8th Baronet of Murthly, who annually rented Birnam Hall, a large lodge in the garden of the castle, to the Millais family. The tower in the painting dates from the fifteenth century. There is a stillness to the picture, but a sense of human presence is none the less conveyed in the snow: cart grooves, human footprints, and possibly the tracks of a dog."

Murthly Castle is located near Dunkeld in the Highlands of Perthshire, Scotland, where Millais and his Perth-born wife, Effie (the former wife of John Ruskin), made their first home. Laura Gascoigne's recent article for The Spectator, "Scottish love affair," details Millais's affection for this area, which, according to his son, he "knew by heart . . . every bit of the ground and every turn of the [Tay] river."

Some critics have called this picture "bleak" but bleakness is not the emotion it inspires in me. What I feel instead is that serenity unique to midwinter dusk, just before the afternoon light fades into gathering night. Millais paints an unseasonably mild Christmas Eve: instead of the snap of frigid air he gives us the smell of damp earth and leaves, with melting snow no deeper than the jackdaws' knees. Is it warm or cold within the castle's harled rubble walls? You decide.

By the way, although the castle remains a private family home, it can be rented for weddings and other events. The Chapel of St Anthony the Eremite in the castle grounds was updated in 1843-45 by James Gillespie Graham and AWN Pugin and features a fresco by Alexander Christie depicting the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine. It was the first Catholic place of worship in Scotland to be dedicated after the Reformation.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Great Gifts for Victorianists, Part III

Herewith the third and final installment of gift ideas for those interested in all things Victorian. In case you missed them, you can read Part I here and Part II here.

Peeper reader Mad Scientist recommends the "For the Home" section of the J. Peterman Company website, which offers, among many other intriguing things, this fantastic pub sign (above).

"As with the commander of an army, or the leader of any enterprise, so is it with the mistress of a house," wrote 25-year-old Isabella Beeton in Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management (1861), a guide to cooking and cleaning that paved the way for today's domestic divas, including Martha Stewart and those terrifying women from How Clean is Your House?. It's available in an Oxford World's Classic edition at Amazon. Add a mug or coasters with illustrations inspired by the book (the "jelly" coaster is shown here), the superb biography The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton by Kathryn Hughes, and a DVD of the 2007 PBS/Masterpiece Theatre production The Secret Life of Mrs Beeton and you have a present that even the fastidious Mrs B would have approved of.

The always reliable British Library online shop offers the "Great Works" crockery collection, including ceramic mugs, bowls, cups, saucers, and plates with extracts, in the authors' handwriting, of works by Charlotte Brontë, Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Barrett Browning (the charming teapot shown here features Sonnets from the Portuguese), and Oscar Wilde. The children's range includes adorable pieces illustrated with characters from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Become someone's favorite aunt or uncle instantly by pairing a Queen of Hearts bowl with the Alice's Adventures Underground: Turning the Pages CD-ROM. Kids can flip through the interactive illustrated facsimile of Carroll's manuscript while listening to Miriam Margolyes (Professor Sprout from the Harry Potter films) read the story. Pure magic.

Staying with the domestic theme for a moment longer . . . Historic Royal Palaces offers this 1837 date mug, marking the year in which Victoria became queen, and a lilac loving cup, pill box, square tray, and tankard inspired by the lace on her wedding gown.

From the Florence Nightingale Museum shop comes a replica of the famous Turkish camp lantern carried by the "lady with the lamp" and packets of Brown Windsor Soap, a favorite of the queen, who sent more than 200 pounds of the bergamot- , lavender-, and clove-scented stuff to the Crimea in December 1854.

Benjamin Pollock's Toy Shop offers exquisite toy theatres based on Victorian originals, all of which come with characters, scenery, and script; dioramas; jumping jacks; music boxes; paper dolls; hand puppets; marionettes; optical toys; and nineteenth-century tinsel prints. The tiny store in Covent Garden is one of my favorite places in London; now you can also order online.

Charles Booth's Descriptive Map of London Poverty, 1889 is available in a four-sheet set from the Museum of London. Framed, it would make a nice gift for anyone interested in the social history of Victorian London. (It would also make original wrapping paper for that first edition of Dickens's Oliver Twist mentioned in my last post.) The Ragged School Museum offers a number of children's books on the history of the East End and efforts to improve the living conditions of the destitute. Barnardo's, a children's charity founded by Thomas Barnardo in 1867, continues to work on behalf of children affected by poverty, abuse, and discrimination. Read more about this Victorian institution here; learn how to support its work and give a holiday gift with a difference here.

The British Library is the source for some of my favorite gifts to give this holiday season: audio CDs.

Among the Victorian personalities captured in rare recordings on Voices of History I are William Ewart Gladstone, Christabel Pankhurst, Andrew Carnegie, Florence Nightingale, and William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army. Voices of History 2 features Alfred, Lord Tennyson; Henry Irving; Ellen Terry, Arthur Sullivan; Arthur Conan Doyle; and Henry Morton Stanley. On Poets: The Spoken Word, Tennyson reads his "Charge of the Light Brigade," Robert Browning his "How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix," WB Yeats his "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," and Rudyard Kipling his "France."

Also available on separate CDs are Kipling's
Just So Stories (read by the great Geoffrey Palmer); The Jungle Books and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and Other Stories (read by the equally great Madhav Sharma); and Bernard Shaw Radio Broadcasts, which will give you an inkling of just how much this brilliant man must have intimidated writers, actors, and composers as one of the most powerful Victorian critics of the arts.

Palmer also reads my favorite Victorian comic novel, George Grossmith's The Diary of a Nobody, in a new recording published by silksoundbooks. If you're not already familiar with this book, I highly recommend it as an effective antidote to holiday angst.

On the website of the newly reopened London Transport Museum, you can browse an immense archive of historical posters, then request photographic prints of the ones that strike your fancy. Shown here is a poster from 1902 announcing special late trains to accommodate those celebrating the coronation of Edward VII (later postponed to August because of the king's illness). While you're at the site, be sure to visit the Victorian Transport section and learn about horse trams and steam locomotives.

And last but certainly not least, Liberty (founded in 1875 by Arthur Liberty) has breathed new life into two of its Victorian archival prints by applying them to evening bags, travel accessories, and diaries, notebooks, and telephone/address books: Hera, a peacock-feather print from 1876, and Ianthe, a glorious Arts and Crafts swirl from 1900. Perfect for the Victorianist fashionista in your life.

Happy holidays to all.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Great Gifts for Victorianists, Part II

Here's the second installment of gift ideas for those passionate about the Victorian era. (You can read Part I here and Part III here.)

A beautiful bell pull inspired by William Morris's "Tree of Life" pattern is available from English Heritage, as are cushion covers in "Tree of Life" and "Orange Tree" (shown here). I also love the "Crown" zip purse and pincushion.

The Watts Gallery in Compton offers The Lady of the Rocks, a small, nicely detailed sculpture based on the figure of Eve in George Frederic Watts's oil painting Eve Repentant (1897). The Gallery also carries a wide range of books, prints, and cards relating to Victorian art, architecture, and design.

If Millais is more to your taste, you're in luck. In conjunction with Tate Britain's blockbuster exhibition on the artist, all sorts of things Millaisian are available, from an artist's pen wrapped in an image of the drowned Ophelia to a rather beautiful scarf with a cut-out leaf pattern at the ends. Plus, of course, the requisite fridge magnets, notebooks, shopping pads, books, and CDs.

The life and work of Charles Darwin has inspired a wide array of items that would make excellent gifts. From the Unemployed Philosophers' Guild comes an 11" doll (shown here) and a cute die-cut greeting card. Young naturalists will love the large plush Galapagos tortoise from The Jungle Store and the Bug Box from English Heritage. offers a 26" wood model ship kit of HMS Beagle; if your manual dexterity leaves something to be desired, you can commission a custom-built replica of the ship instead. Better yet, make a gift in your own or someone else's name to the HMS Beagle Project, which will launch a sailing replica of the ship in 2009 to mark the bicentenary of Darwin's birth. The replica, crewed by scientists and sailors, will retrace the 1831-36 voyage of the original Beagle. You can buy shirts, mugs, tote bags, buttons, and stickers at the Beagle Project's website.

Speaking of ships, the Cutty Sark conservation project continues at Greenwich in the wake of last May's devastating fire (read my post of May 21 describing the fire here). The Cutty Sark was a British merchant sailing vessel built for the lucrative nineteenth-century tea trade with China. The Cutty Sark Trust's online shop offers a number of items that would make brilliant presents, including a captain's mug inspired by the original dinnerware used on board the Cutty Sark; a key fob made with metal from the original Cutty Sark foremast of 1869; bone china mugs, night lights, and pill boxes; glass paperweights and leather coasters; handcrafted Irish leather purses emblazoned with the iconic Tudgay painting of the ship; and pirate shirts for the kids. You can also support efforts to save the ship by making an online donation.

The aforementioned Unemployed Philosophers' Guild offers several 4" finger puppets/refrigerator magnets of interest, including Darwin, Charles Dickens, Sherlock Holmes (shown here), Karl Marx, and Virginia Woolf, as well as Muppet-like dolls of Holmes, Marx, Woolf, and Oscar Wilde.

For Lewis Carroll fans, there's a Cheshire Cat mug (the grinning tabby disappears when you fill the mug with hot coffee or tea); Alice's "Enchantmints," which are packaged in an illustrated tin; a Mad Hatter pill box, and die-cut Alice, Mad Hatter, White Rabbit, and Queen of Hearts greeting cards that come with sheets of stickers (you can also buy all of these together in a set of eight).

Know someone fascinated by Victorian taxidermy? The legendary Paris shop Deyrolle (depuis 1831!) is an Aladdin's cave of goodies. Start with their four-page "Cadeaux de Noël" listing, then poke around the "Animaux Naturalisés" section. For a mere 26000 €, you can have this cheetah, magnificent scourge of British settlers in colonial Africa. (Or perhaps, madame, you would prefer the pair of baboons, which could be even more troublesome, non?) Deyrolle is also your source for beautifully painted ostrich eggs; exquisite notebooks and playing cards decorated with nineteenth-century prints of fish, giraffes, and orchids; bags of exotic shells from around the world; bird-calling instruments; and everything you could possibly need to organize your own (comparatively pathetic, je vous assure) butterfly collection.

In the "dream on!" category, how about autographs, manuscripts, and letters by Prince Albert, Lewis Carroll, Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Lord Alfred Douglas, George Eliot, William Holman Hunt, Henry Irving, Edwin Landseer, Samuel Plimsoll, Arthur Rackham, Algernon Swinburne, or Ellen Terry? All are available from the venerable Maggs Rare Books in London. If it's a first edition of Dickens's Oliver Twist you're after, try Ash Rare Books, also in London.

Prefer brooding sociopaths to workhouse waifs? For works by the Brontë sisters, you'll need to keep a keen eye on Sotheby's and Bonhams (not to mention your bank balance); the latter just sold a first edition of Emily's Wuthering Heights for £114,000. The Brontë Parsonage Museum and Brontë Society online shop offers affordable, unusual jewelry based on drawings by Charlotte and on wallpaper used in the Brontë home, as well as a good selection of books, posters, postcards, and CDs. It even has counted thread cross stitch sampler kits based on samplers worked by Charlotte, Emily, and Anne when they were children.

Need a special gift for a steampunk aficionado? Try the "Steampunk Gift Guide" at Make, where you can find mechanical trilobites, cog earrings, leather bib aprons, steam engine kits, and a "make-your-own-Edison phonograph" kit. Very cool stuff.

And over at Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood, blogger Stephanie Pina has provided her own list of gift ideas for PRBphiles.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Great Gifts for Victorianists, Part I

I've scoured the web to bring you a few ideas for holiday gifts that will endear you to the Victorianist in your life (or make nice little presents for yourself).

Have you spotted an item that would make a great gift for someone interested in Victorian Britain? Let me know by making a comment to this post.

You can read "Great Gifts for Victorianists, Part II" here and "Part III" here.

First up, this very cool globe from Greaves & Thomas, which superimposes characters from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland onto a map of the constellations. It comes in a 33" hand-colored version or a much less expensive 12" version. The image here doesn't really do it justice, so click on the link and prepare to be amazed.

The V&A Shop carries an unusual selection of house and garden tools dressed up in William Morris prints, including hand trowels, secateurs, and cultivators in "Anemone" and hammers, pliers, and screwdrivers in "Daisy." Not a DIY-er? The shop also carries Morris-print notebooks, coasters, and scarves; books on Victorian design and decorative arts; Voysey tea towels; a limited edition vase based on a design by William De Morgan; a replica of a Leeds creamware mug originally created to commemorate the Great Exhibition in 1851; a silk replica of a handkerchief designed for Queen Victoria's coronation, and much, much more.

Your favorite Victorian novelist may have worn an embroidered smoking cap just like this one, from James Lock & Co., hatters to the Royal Family. Sure to lend a bohemian air to your evenings at home!

The Historic Royal Palaces online shop offers 21 items related to the Victorian period, including doll clothing, books, enamel boxes, jewelry, handkerchiefs, bookmarks, tankards and flasks, and tea paraphernalia.

From the online gift shop of Balmoral Castle, one of Victoria's favorite retreats, comes a fabric Christmas tree ornament, a miniature plate (shown here) inspired by English fine bone china commissioned by the queen for the Great Exhibition of 1851, and cuff links that entwine the initials of Victoria and Albert.

I've been a collector of Pot Belly Historical Miniature Boxes by Harmony Ball for a few years now; several of these small figurines depict Victorian personalities, including Queen Victoria, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens (shown here), Oscar Wilde, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Their little heads pop off so you can store tiny treasures inside.

The best gift of all:
Consider becoming a member or making a donation to one of the following organizations that support the preservation of the Victorian past: The National Trust, The William Morris Society, Leighton House Museum, or The Victorian Society.

Shown at top: a Victorian Christmas tableau at Dennis Severs' House, 18 Folgate Street, London.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Christmas Trees at Windsor Castle

From The Times, 27 December 1848:

"A Christmas tree is annually prepared, by Her Majesty's command, for the Royal children.

"The tree employed for this festive purpose is a young fir, about eight feet high, and has six tiers of branches. On each tier or branch are arranged a dozen wax tapers. Pendent from the branches are elegant trays, baskets, bonbonniers, and other receptacles for sweetmeats, of the most varied kind, and of all forms, colours, and degrees of beauty. Fancy cakes, gilt gingerbread, and eggs filled with sweetmeats are also suspended by variously coloured ribands from the branches.

"The tree, which stands upon a table covered with white damask, is supported at the root by piles of sweets of a larger kind, and by toys and dolls of all descriptions, suited to the youthful fancy, and to the several ages, of the scions of Royalty for whose gratification they are displayed.

"The name of each recipient is affixed to the doll, bonbon, or other present intended for it, so that no difference of opinion in the choice of dainties may arise to disturb the equanimity of the illustrious juveniles.

"On the summit of the tree stands the small figure of an angel, with outstretched wings, holding in each hand a wreath. Similar trees are arranged in the various apartments of the Castle for the Duchess of Kent and the Royal household.

"These trees are objects of much interest to all visitors at the Castle, from Christmas-Eve, when they are first set up, until Twelfth-night, when they are finally removed. They are not accessible to the curiosity of the public, but Her Majesty's visitors accompany the Queen from room to room to inspect them when they are illuminated.

"Her Majesty's tree is furnished by his Royal Highness Prince Albert, whilst that of the Prince is furnished according to the taste of Her Majesty. The other trees are jointly provided by Her Majesty and the Prince, who plan and arrange the gifts of the table."

Shown at top: Queen Victoria's Christmas tree at Windsor in 1850 as painted by James Roberts (1824 - 1867). The presents around the tree are from Prince Albert. The Royal Collection © 2003, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Calling All Victorians

An extensive collection of historical British phonebooks, including many published during the Victorian period, is now available (for a price) online.

Included are more than 1,780 British Telecom phonebooks dating to 1880, the year after public telephone service was introduced in the UK.

From The Times, 28 November 2007:

"Little is known of him, and the house in which he lived has been razed to make way for another, more important piece of our heritage. But Mr J. W. Alt, of 14 Queen Victoria Street, London EC4, is assured a place in the footnotes of history as the person whose name appeared first in the first British telephone book.

"Mr Alt’s name is in a rare telephone book from 1880, and his and the 280 million that followed in the first 104 years of British directories have been digitised into a searchable archive.

"After Mr Alt come the names of men and women who distinguished themselves by more than their alphabetical precedence. In 1928 one might have called Edward Elgar, in the twilight of his composing career, on Stratford-on-Avon 30. Sylvia Pankhurst, daughter of Emmeline, pacifist and chronicler of the women’s suffrage movement, was available in 1931 on Buckhurst 2436, while she was living at West Dene, 3 Charteris Road, Woodford Green, Essex."

Read the rest of the Times article here.

Despite the fact that (according to BT's own website) "records produced before the date of privatisation are classed as public records under the Public Records Acts, 1958 and 1967" and "BT Archives undertakes the company's statutory responsibilities under these acts to preserve and make available public records to members of the public [italics mine] after 30 years," access to this new collection is restricted to those who fork over a fee to Annoying, to say the least.


BT information sheet: "British phone books from 1880" (PDF)
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