Following the declaration of war on 4 August 1914, an outpouring of patriotism swept Britain as many sought to ‘do their bit’ for the war effort. Lord Robert Baden-Powell was quick respond to the situation, sending out word that Boy Scouts should be mobilised and ready to serve their country in whatever capacity was needed. To those yet to become part of the scouting movement, his public message was: “To the boys of Britain: come and join the nearest troops in your district and do your duty like a man."
March is recognised as Women’s History Month, so to mark it we shall trace the family history of someone who blazed a trail for women in the field of medicine. The glass ceiling may still prevent many women from achieving as much as a man can today, but our Victorian ancestors were even less open to allowing members of the female sex into the male preserve of a top profession. Queen Victoria may have been days away from inheriting the throne, but it was a male-dominated world into which Elizabeth Garrett was born on 9 June 1836 at Whitechapel. Her destiny was to shake up the establishment of a male-controlled medical profession, as well as becoming very involved in the women’s suffrage movement.
Before the foundation of the Meteorological Office in 1854 (and sometimes thereafter, when the network of weather stations was still very small), many people all over the British Isles kept detailed daily diaries in which they recorded not only the general aspect of the weather but also matters such as the temperature, rainfall and atmospheric pressure. And many others of our ancestors kept a close record of the weather in more ordinary diaries, letters and other communications too.
Ever since ancient times, universities have been hotbeds of radicalism and controversy. Today’s institutions have recently been at the forefront of debates about whether to ban controversial speakers and whether marketisation, through tuition fees and expanded choice, is an ethical and workable model for higher education in the 21st century. These debates go to the heart of both the limits and extent of freedom of speech and what the role of a university in a modern society should be. But when we look back at the history of universities we can see that similar debates have raged since the very first institutions took shape in medieval times. Indeed, while we might think our ancestors’ student lives may have been much different from our own, there were many similarities.
Last month we examined the bodice or ‘body’ section of an outfit and here we focus on one of its main features, the sleeves. In women’s dress and, to a degree, menswear, sleeves have protected our arms, preserved modesty, conveyed status and helped to create the fashionable silhouette. From the late-1000s, when classical T-shaped garments first began to acquire more shaping, slender sleeves with elongated cuffs prompted condemnation from Christian moralists.
Hertfordshire was founded in the Norse–Saxon wars of the 9th century, and developed through commerce serving London rather than agriculture. Its clay soil was not well-suited to crop cultivation with a medieval plough, although the county did grow good barley which later became important for brewing.
Could your ancestors write their own names or did they mark official documents with a cross? Why did great-grandfather write so cryptically on a postcard home during the First World War? Why did great-grandmother copy all the letters she wrote into letter-books? How unusual was it that great-uncle sat down and wrote a poem, or a memoir? This book looks at the kinds of (mainly unpublished) writing that could turn up amongst family papers from the Victorian period onwards – a time during which writing became crucial for holding families together and managing their collective affairs. With industrialisation, improved education, and far more geographical mobility, British people of all classes were writing for new purposes, with new implements, in new styles, using new modes of expression and new methods of communication. This book shows family historians how to get the most out of documents written by their ancestors.
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