A Brief Note About My Free Day

Today I traveled out to Oxford University and visited the Weston Library to view a manuscript tied to my thesis research. The Digby 41, fol. 2 contains Friar Daw’s Reply and Upland’s Rejoinder, two texts related to the early reform movement of Wyclif, the Wycliffites, and the Lollards. What makes this manuscript interesting is that Upland’s Rejoinder is written in the margins of Friar Daw’s Reply. I viewed, made notes, and took extensive photographs of the manuscript in order to conduct various examinations of paleography and codicology. Important aspects of FDR includes a theory of an interpolater who made corrections to the original hand, and that UR is written in two separate hands. Problems with the manuscript include damage, fading, reminding, and text in the margin along the binding being hidden. I have posted a few photos below to show the difficulties involved with these texts.



Class Division and the Philanthropic Minded

Thursday morning’s Victorian walking tour provided a thorough examination of class division and the philanthropic desires of individuals such as Charles Dickens and Octavia Hill. Our guide, Kim, situated us by the river Thames in order to describe the activities children performed along the mud-banks  in order to survive. The same area was a popular destination for Dickens to take nighttime walks: the steps by the mug house sign were along his path. This was also where Sikes arranged a trade for Oliver Twist and by the bridge where betrayal led to Nancy’s death. The mud-banks were no kind of beach or safe haven for young children; they scavenged for items along the river bank – through rubbish and sewage with no gloves – and often drowned in the toxic water. In Morrison’s Child of the Jago, Dicky Perrott steals gold and jewelry in order to get cake and tea. Morrison mentions the East End Mission where middle class missionaries seek to educate and civilize young children.

While one would expect the church to take a greater role in caring for the poor, they created work houses for the floods of poor people coming from the countryside. The conditions of workhouses were made so bad so people would choose to get other jobs, but the workhouse overflow caused a greater expense on the church and led to many people becoming disabled from various injuries. The conditions for the poor had little to no upside; though they sometimes worked in the Borough Market, they could not afford the expensive vegetables and meats sold there. The 19th century diet included bread, gruel, porridge, and maybe three herrings per week.

If the poor had any chance at survival, it was because sociological studies by Henry Mayhew and Charles Booth shed light on the horrible conditions and child eath rates. The poor seemed to have no where to seek help; the churches worsened conditions (quite ironically) and charities gave funds to families or individuals meeting strict requirements. Though some large companies such as Anchor Brewing offered jobs and housing, they held strict guidelines to get the most from their employees.

It was finally through the founding of board schools by such individual as Dickens and affordable housing, family services, and public libraries by Octavia Hill that began to turn life around for the lowest class of London. Without philanthropic measures such as the Peabody Trust, preservation attempts by the various individuals, the value the London City Council places on history, and the services by tour guides like Kim, valuable history would be lost and never recovered.

Westminster Abbey: Sacred Places and Sacred Spaces

Today’s visit to Westminster Abbey provided a unique experience that added significance to many periods and areas of British history. Westminster Abbey was consecrated in 1065 by Edward I (Edward the Confessor) and is still in use today for daily services, visitors, and royal services.  Though the architecture dates through the 16th century, the gothic style remains consistent, even in the restored portions of the chapels. Edward’s enlargement of the church (though it was a monastery at the time) sought to set it apart from St Paul’s Cathedral. Edward’s original building survives in the arches following Henry III’s rebuilding of the church in a new Gothic style.

The greatest significance for my study of the later medieval period includes tombs, catacombs, and various other stylistic features found in the chapels. In one chapel, I examined its misericords, the small ledges that project from the understudy of hinged seats in stalls that allow for seating. The left side of the chapel contained examples thought to be of a more appropriate nature, while the right side began to show an increased variety of images that included unusual beasts, knights in battle, and a domestic scene that showed a depicted a wife beating her husband.

The tombs of Edward III, Richard II, and Geoffrey Chaucer provide connections to a period of British history that included the 100 Years war, The Black Death, the Peasants Revolt of 1381, and The Canterbury Tales. Though Edward III transformed England into a great military power, the 100 Years war put a great strain on the economy and included poll taxes on the poor. Following the Black Death in 1348, England’s population had decreased by nearly 40 percent. These events remind us that England had long been familiar with social uprisings related to pressure by the government on the lower class. Edward III’s Statute of Laborers limited the wages of the poor after the Black Death and prohibited their movement in search of higher wages. After Edward died of a stroke in 1377, his ten-year-old grandson, Richard II took the throne. Richard’s reign did little to improve conditions for the peasantry since John of Gaunt’s influence was great. Discontent and no change in social conditions led to The Peasants Revolt of 1381, many deaths, and destruction. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales illustrate an important element of estates satire and remain a significant part of the British cannon.

Below, I include photos of Westminster Abbey and the tombs of Edward III, Richard II, and Geoffrey Chaucer.

Fate and Destiny in Arthur Morrison’s A Child of the Jago

Today’s Victorian walking tour of London’s East End led us to Shoreditch High Street, which until the 1890’s was known as the Old Nichol slum, the location that Arthur Morrison bases his novel A Child of the Jago on. Morrison’s savage depiction of street violence and infantile death highlights the neglect and lack of order in the original Nichol’s Slum. Fate and destiny play an important role in the novel and the reality of the individuals who lived in Old Nichol; they would fall into alcoholism and crime for the sake of survival. By the year 1888, the city of London had experienced the murders of Jack the Ripper, the uprising of the Match Stick Girls, and the London City Council decided that Old Nichol, being the worst slum, should be pulled down and rebuilt. Though Parliment and other reformers had attempted to improve the lives of the working class since the 1830’s, their efforts secured a specific fate and destiny for them – worsened poverty and a likely death. The five to six thousand people that lived in Old Nichol were removed, or for a better use of lanague, displaced and never to return. The city council designed a new community with set rents, strict rules, and planned architectural features that meant a new area built around a circular park with air and light.

Just as the city council secured the fate and destiny of the people of Old Nichol (unless you argue that their fate was already settled), Morrison presents a novel where his characters also have a destiny, a certain faith, a meeting with death. One could liken Morrison’s short and snappy chapter lengths with the brief lives of those in the Jago, or as Dicky is told by another Jago resident, Old Beveridge, that “for a child like him, there are only three ways out of the Jago: gaol; death on the gallows; or to join the Igh Mob.” Since this blog post cannot provide a full critical reading of Morrison’s novel, the message speaks for itself and Dicky begins a life of crime at the age of eight, he steels for Aaron Weech, his father Josh is arrested and later executed for murder, and the constant uproars of faction fighting lead many to their untimely deaths. Despite Father Sturt’s attempt to be the hero, the dark hold of the Jago would take its victims as it pleased; infants had no protection in Morrison’s vision of the Old Nichol. For many of the working class residents of London, they could thank the philanthropic work of individuals such as Octavia Hill and John Ruskin, who sought to revitalize neighborhoods in London’s East End.

I have added a few photos of the original Old Nichol slum and a couple of photos of modern Shoreditch High Street.

Women’s Clothing, Class Division, British Imperialism in India, and Cotton/Muslin Dresses

Today’s excursions included a visit to the Tate museum and the Victoria Albert Museum. Though I did not find an obvious trend at first, a bit of reflection  resulted in a significant social issue in Voctorian society. Paintings at the Tate Museum of women by artists such as George Clausen, D.G. Rossetti, John Everett Millais, and Theodor von Holst pictured women of a middle and upper class status in fine clothing. A trend during out tour at the Victorian Albert Museum was focused on British relations with India for cotton that was spun, woven, and made in to muslin for articles of clothing. The V&A had clothing worn by wealthy individuals from the Victorian period that showcased with fine workmanship, quality of fabrics, and how Indian culture influenced style. The poorer classes depicted in Dickens’ novels would not have worn such expensive garments, often owned second hand clothing, and women patched their dresses when necesarry. In Amy Levy’s Romance of Shop, the narrator often described patches to garments and shoes that belonged to Gertrude. The Lorimer sisters had to make thrifty decisions in orde to keep their business afloat.  One could attempt to picture the difference in women’s clothing in Dickens’ Great Expectations; the class differences between Mrs Joe, Ms Havisham, and Estella would illustrate the inherent disparities between the haves and have nots. One could also further examine the social differences in Levy’s Romance of Shop to show the differences within the Lorimer sisters, their Aunt Caroline, and Constance Devonshire.

Women’s fashion changed in England in the 17th century when the British East India Company traded in Indian cotton, silk fabrics, and muslin. Muslin was a popular choice for clothing due to its light weight and ability to keep one cool in hot, arid climates. The fabric, as noted by our museum guide, was left undyed as well as dyed, embroidered, or painted to match the patterns and motifs of clothing in India. Muslin was often described by Jane Austen in novels such as Mansfield Park when Mrs Rushworth turned away two housemaids for wearing white gowns. White fabric was thought to denote aristocracy and since it was difficult to keep clean. Calico, a cotton fabric equal to muslin, was known for its floral prints in the Victorian period. The word calico comes from Calicut – or as we know it as Calcutta. Though Victorian fashion and its portrayal in literature of the period can be discussed at a greater length, I have posted a few photos from both museums below.

Victorian LondonWalking Tour: Smithfield Market and Saffron Hill in Dickens’ Oliver Twist

On today’s Victorian London Walking Tour, we visited many sites featured in novels by Charles Dickens. Dickens’ description of Smithfield Market in Oliver Twist stood out since we were walking in the rain and mist of a Sunday morning. The market has existed since the 10th century and is close to the oldest the church of St. Bartholomew the Great, which was founded in 1123. The area of Smithfield has been witness to executions such as Sir William Wallace and Wat Tyler – Tyler being significant to my study of late 14th century medieval religious reform and the Peasants Revolt of 1381. Today’s mist reminded me of Dickens’ description of “thick steam perpetually rising from the reeking bodies of the cattle,” and the dirty chimney tops of the surrounding buildings. He speaks of the “thieves, idlers, and vagabonds of every low grade… mingled together in a dense mass,” but the area was empty and quiet. The modern market showed no sign of the daily mass slaughtering of sheep and pigs, no cries of the hawkers or the roar of voices from the pubic houses – the pubs were empty and closed. Though Oliver Twist was published in 1838, the area is still dirty and smells of flesh as one passes through the center. We also learned that the Museum of London will be relocating from its Barbican site to the General Market Building in the future.

We also passed through Saffron Hill where Fagin’s associate, Jack Dawkins (Artful Dodger) takes Oliver. Oliver was dragged through Saffron Hill, a place Dickens described as a dirtier and place of more wretchedness than he had ever seen. He spoke of the narrow, muddy streets and the stench in the air. I found it ironic that we entered what is now known as the diamond district just beyond the border of Saffron Hill, the idea that an area once know to thieves and pickpockets was still filled with small shops – now with expensive jewelry instead of small children crawling at the doors and heard screaming from the inside. The shops and public houses were closed and quiet as we passed by them, though one could still feel the dark, cold chill of Bill Sikes presence in the shadows.

Romance of Shop: Charing Cross Station, Wapping Project, and The Brunel Museum

Whitney and I first visited Charing Cross Station, which is next to York Place where Frank Jermyn and Mr. Oakley share a studio. Frank and Mr. Oakley provide opportunities for the sisters to take photographs of draperies but as we discussed in class, the men’s intentions could be brought into question. The lower portion of York Place now houses a Five Guys location. Located down the street from Charing Station, one will find the National Gallery. In the novel, Frank sends his ingravings to the Royal Academy which was relocated to the Natinal Gallery in 1868. Lord Watergte hopes that the sisters will make slides for a presentation that his is to give at the Royal Accademy. Pictured below is Charing Cross Station, The National Gallery, York Place, and the building across from York Place where the Lorimer sisters would have kept shop and resided.

Whitney and I attempted to visit the Wapping Project but learned from a bookshop owner that it had closed two years ago. It was a venue that housed photographic exhibitions and at one point, was home to a collection of work by Annie Leibovitz, a re known female photographer. Jules Wright, the operator of the venue, supported many young artists during the venue’s operation.

The Brunel Museum is a museum in the Brunel Engine House that was designed by Sir Marc Isambard Brunel during the Victorian period and was part of the infastructure of the Thames Tunnel. The museum holds artwork and provides a performance space for various events. Whitney and I attempted to view the contents and renovated tunnel shaft, but they did not accept debit/credit cards. Brunel was famous engineer and designed machines that provided work for many unskilled laborers in the early 19th century. Brunel’s work became the basis for what we now know as London’s underground tunnel system that provides transportation across the city. Brunel’s tunnel involved the laying of millions of bricks and opened at the Wapping side of the Thames in 1842.


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