Death in the Archives

Here’s another piece I wrote during my Arvon creative writing week for history writers. I’ve taken some old research and done something new with it. The aim of this piece was to be present in the text as a character, talking about myself and reflecting on my own experiences. The other aims were to fill the piece with changes of ‘texture’, as our tutor called it. It seems an odd word, but it makes sense: a piece of writing needs changes of pace, tone, point of view, etc., otherwise the reader feels it’s all too samey and they get bored. A third aim was to try to include dialogue or reported speech, though I only made a token gesture at that.

Death in the Archives Continue reading

Archives and History News: First World War collections under threat, Downton Abbey, and digital asylum records

In case you hadn’t noticed, some kind of global conflict thing started 100 years ago. The Tower of London’s moat became a beautiful sea of ceramic poppies to commemorate British soldiers who died during the First World War. The Imperial War Museum re-opened its revamped galleries to much fanfare. Then the government decided to slash the museum’s funding by £4 million! The museum will absorb these cuts by closing its library, slashing or shutting down education services, and cutting jobs. So now we can see exactly how our government really feel about this important aspect of our history. It’s all right for people to enjoy art installations, as long as they don’t start actually, you know, learning anything, doing any research, or finding things out for themselves. Heritage is lovely – as long as we don’t have to pay for it, and everyone involved is a volunteer. This is a shocking scandal. Yes I know we could spend our money on far more worthy things than heritage, blah blah, but it’s the sheer hypocrisy of the thing that makes my blood boil. If you feel as strongly outraged as I do, please sign this petition to prevent the funding cuts. Please also publicise this, and urge others to sign the petition.

The Imperial War Museum

Continue reading

La Rentre: Ten books about the Victorians

We’re now well and truly into September, the nights are drawing in and it’s starting to feel a little autumnal. As the French would say, it’s la rentree – that time of year forever associated with going back to school after the holidays.

So why not make the most of that back-to-school feeling by brushing up on your knowledge? Here are ten wonderful books about the Victorians, to ease you back in to historical studies! Continue reading

Archives and History News: Glastonbury Festival, women in the First World War, and sound recordings!

Glastonbury festival has gradually moved from from hippy counter-culture to mainstream middle-class staple. The V&A now keeps an archive about Glastonbury, the final nail in the counter-culture coffin. Glastonbury is dead. Long live Glastonbury!

An image from the V&A’s Glastonbury archive

Continue reading

Christmas in the Asylum

Imagine spending Christmas inside Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum in the nineteenth century. What a horrible thought!  A long way from the cosy Dickensian Christmas of the roaring fire, Christmas tree, roast goose and plum pudding that the rest of Britain was enjoying.  But was Christmas in the asylum really so much worse than on the outside?

Broadmoor’s main entrance

Continue reading

On the Bookshelf: Inconvenient People by Sarah Wise

Sarah Wise’s 2012 book Inconvenient People: Lunacy,Liberty and the Victorian Mad-Doctors explores the real-life stories that inspired the well-worn Victorian cliché of the sane woman carted off to a lunatic asylum by scheming relatives. Inconvenient People’s most startling revelation is that in almost all cases the wrongfully incarcerated asylum inmates were men. The idea of the woman in peril was just as titillating to the Victorians as it is to us, but in those days only men had money, and money was the main motivator for wrongfully declaring someone a lunatic. Continue reading

Henry Onequi, Broadmoor patient and dastardly villain

My book on Victorian Broadmoor will feature the life stories of many individual patients, some well-known, others less so. But there are some patients that I just can’t squeeze into my book, so I will give you their stories here instead.

This week I present to you Broadmoor patient and dastardly moustache-twirling villain Mr Henry Musgrave Onequi. Continue reading

Bedlam’s dead uncovered…

Gallery

As the epic Crossrail tunnelling machines were burrowing their way across London last week they uncovered a mass grave.  More than 4,000 skeletons have been discovered, coming from a plague pit and Bedlam’s (Bethlem Lunatic Asylum) graveyard.  London’s archaeologists are … Continue reading