Monday, 5 October 2015

Skipping in The National Archives and beyond

Continuing the theme of quirky material in The National Archives (TNA) I decided to investigate references to my daughter’s hobby of jump rope skipping.  Skipping is an activity which requires only one simple piece of equipment, a rope: as a result, skipping is accessible to anyone, but I did not anticipate that research into skipping would lead me to entries for convict women, saucy pictures and nudity, through to automated skipping machines and murder. 

I was surprised to find the earliest reference to skipping at TNA in the records of convict transportation to Australia. 
In 1843, Jane Billington, aged 26; Sarah Reid, aged 49; Eliza Normington, aged 19; Elizabeth Hutchinson, aged 21; and Ellen Mortimer, aged 45 were on board the female convict ship Woodbridge, bound for Hobart’s Town, Van Diemen's Land. The journal of Jason Lardner, Surgeon Superintendent, records that in October 1843 the five women came down with scurvy, for which they were issued with oatmeal instead of salt provisions and given a mixture of medicine, including lemon juice, and instructed to exercise by skipping every evening.

“General exercise was adopted every evening by means of skipping ropes etc."

TNA ADM 101/75/3/5 folio 17.

The next references to skipping were found in a series of photographs from 1885 onwards and demonstrate the popularity of skipping amongst women, who were generally restricted in their options for physical exercise.

'Crossing the Line' - This pastoral scene captures two women turning a long rope for their children.

TNA COPY 1/371/16, 15 January 1885. 
Copyright owner: Henry Baldwin William Luks. 
Copyright author: Luke Berry. 

In contrast, a rather saucy photograph appeared in the same year, in which a woman is shown posed in a studio setting with a skipping rope over shoulders and catching her dress up on right side so that it shows her legs.

TNA COPY 1/374/416 , 7 December 1885.                      
Copyright owner: Edward Smith. Copyright author: J A Smythe.

A similar pose by the same photographer shows actress Constance Stanhope
TNA COPY 1/375/52, 16 January 1886.

Constance Stanhope began her career as an actress in British provincial theatres.  She appeared at the Vaudeville Theatre, London, toured America and went on to tour with the D'Oyly Carte before returning to the Vaudeville in London. Reviews of her work can be found in publications such as The Era, a weekly newspaper famous for its theatrical reviews, sport and gossip.

Eadweard Muybridge (1830 -1904) was an English photographer from Kingston upon Thames, who gained attention for his pioneering work in photographic studies of motion, and early work in motion-picture projection. An 'interesting' example of his work can be found in TNA COPY 1/384/74 from 1887, which shows the motion of a bare-breasted woman skipping through a sequence of 36 photographic images, demonstrating movement from right hand side, front, and back. 

Somewhat defeating the physical benefits of skipping, the USA patent registers includes patents for skipping machines, which appear to turn a rope, thus saving the skipper from turning the rope.

US patent, publication number US1480833 A (filed May 1922) contains the application of Englishman, Patrick J Neilon, then living in  Cleveland, Ohio, to register his design for a skipping machine.

'The present invention has for its purpose the provision of a machine of this character, especially adapted for use at playgrounds, places of amusements or resorts, or may be used in gymnasiums for exercising purposes.

A similar application in 1960 from Robert D Parkhurst can be found in the US records at publication number US2980423 A. 
'A primary object of this invention is the provision of a mechanically rotatable device having a laterally projecting element thereon over which the child may skip or jump as the device is rotated.'

Uses for a skipping rope took a more sinister turn in 1963 when Percy Edwin McPherson was convicted of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, following the death of his with Vilma Audrey McPherson on 4 February 1963 in Loughton, Essex, by strangulation with a skipping rope. Fortunately, I have not found any similar reports in the assize records concerning the misuse of a skipping rope.

Jump rope is no longer confined to the playground but is an international sport: I am very proud that my daughter was a member of the youth team at the World Rope Skipping Championships 2010. Today the British Skipping Rope Association (BRSA) is the governing body of rope skipping within the UK and enables British skippers to compete at European, world and international levels.
So go on, encourage your child to find a skipping club near you.


Skipping at sunset on the beach at Moreton Bay, Brisbane.

Other sources:

Thursday, 20 August 2015

From English Skittles to Ten Pin Bowling in the Archives.

As part of my on-going investigation into unusual subject matter found in The National Archives (TNA), my husband challenged me to discover references to his hobby of ten pin bowling. After some preliminary investigations into the game, I found that its origins lie in the traditional game of skittles. Searching under that term proved the most productive and demonstrates the importance of opening one’s mind to different terminology when searching any archive.

Skittles or nine pins is a traditional game played in English pubs and involves players taking turns to throw wooden balls down a lane in an attempt to knock over nine wooden skittles at the end of the lane. It is the fore-runner of the relatively modern game of ten pin bowling. The game differs from lawn bowls, in which the aim is to bring the ball to rest near a stationary ball called a jack.
                       Early sixteenth century woodcut

3200 BC, Egypt - In the 1930’s British anthropologist, Sir Flinders Petrie, discovered a collection of objects in a child's grave that appeared to him to be used for a crude form of bowling.

3rd or 4th century AD, Germany - Church parishioners played a game with a club or Kegel (said to represent the Heide ‘heathen’). A stone was rolled at the Heide, and those successfully toppling it were believed to have cleansed themselves of sin.

1366 - Edward III banned his troops from playing the game so that they would not be distracted from their archery practice.

1455 - The roofing over of lanes in London for lawn bowls was the beginning of bowling as an all-weather game.

1477 - Edward IV issued an edict against "bowles, closh, kayles, hand-in and hand-out" for similar reasons given in 1366. The game of kayles involved knocking down pins with a stick instead of a ball.

Playing Kayles (British Library, Ms. 22494, f. 42) 


July 18, 1588Sir Francis Drake was playing a game of skittles as the Spanish Armada approached in the English Channel. When informed, Drake continued to play saying, "We still have time to finish the game and to thrash the Spaniards, too." He lost the game, but won the war.

Early 1600's The illustration shows pilgrims in America throwing a small ball at small pins.

1824 - The extent of the popularity of bowls and bowling can be demonstrated by the number of street names in London in the early nineteenth century with a bowling reference.
James Pigot & Co.'s, Metropolitan Guide & Book of Reference to Every Street ... and Public Building in the Cities of London & Westminster:
Bowl Yard, Brownlow Street, Drury Lane
Bowling Alley, Thames Street
Bowling Alley, Tooley Street
Bowling Green, 49 King Street, Boro
Bowling Green, Lisson Green
Bowling Green Lane, 44 Coppice Row, Clerkenwell
Bowling Green Lane, 27 High Street, Marylebone
Bowling Green Row, Haberdasher’s Walk, Hoxton
Bowling Pin Alley, Bream’s Buildings [Chancery Lane]
Bowling Street, Dean’s Yard, Westminster
Bowling Street, 10 Turnmill Street, Clerkenwell

Playing skittles was often associated with anti-social behaviour, perhaps because of its connection with inns and public houses.

1828John Griffiths, aged 18, a carpenter, convicted at the Old Bailey in May 1828 of larceny against his parents. Sentence: 7 years transportation.

TNA HO 17/45/61 -
“[John Griffiths] who always conducted himself
properly, and attended his employment, until
about the month of April 1827, when he became
in the habit of visiting skittle grounds, and other
similar places, and whence he became acquainted with persons of bad character…”

1841 Connecticut, USA -  Nine pin bowling was banned in that State due to its association in gambling and crime. It is said that at this point that another pin was added so that the game could continue, creating the game of ten-pin bowling.
Gambling on games of skittles was not confined to the USA as records found in The National Archives demonstrates.

30 April 1846, Manchester - MH 12/9361/278, Folios 440-443. Letter from Robert Weale, Assistant Poor Law Commissioner, to the Poor Law Commission, including the deposition of John Tomlinson, regarding the unsuitability of Jeremiah Burrows, Publican, to be Collector of rates for Sutton on Ashfield.
“On the several occasions that I visited the Peacock Inn kept by Mr Burrows I observed persons playing in the ground adjoining the house at the games of shoes [a form of quoits] and nine-pins. I heard the person who were playing betting on the games and the stakes they placed for was ale.”

20 September 1852 – TNA PCOM 3/40/4299, Samuel Ridgeley was convicted of unlawfully obtaining a large sum of money by fraud and unlawful device and ill-practice in wagering on the event of a certain game called skittles at the Central Criminal Court at London, Middlesex.
Sentence: 7 years' transportation.

1853 - TNA ADM 101/87/8/4, the medical and surgical journal of David Lyall, Surgeon on HMS Assistance, records while the ship was employed in the Arctic Region during the winter of 1853, a skittle alley was built next to the ship for the entertainment of the crew.

1890 – TNA BT 31/4753/31406 and BT 34/692/31406, Company No: 31406; Turners' Lawn Skittles Company Ltd. Incorporated in 1890 (dissolved before 1916).

1894 – TNA BT 31/5988/42253 and BT 34/1004/42253, Company No: 42253; Patent Automatic Parlour Skittle Syndicate Ltd. Incorporated in 1894 (dissolved before 1916).

1938 – TNA BT 31/35735/343726, No. of Company: 343726; The Southbourne Skittle Club Ltd. Incorporated in 1938 (dissolved in 1950).

The notion of skittle allies being an unsuitable place for young people continued into the 20th century when American airbases began to employ young men as attendants.

1948-1956 – TNA LAB 19/498, Undesirable vacancies: employment of juveniles in amusement parks, fun fairs, etc and "pin-boys" and "skittle alley" attendants in United States Army Air Base at 
Bentwater, East Anglia.

2. Wages and Hours
 (para 2)
The normal working hours are from 1.30 p.m. to 10.30 p.m. on six days per week. The day off is not allowed on Saturday or Sunday....

7. Conclusions
(a) This is an unskilled and unprogessive job.

1960 – TNA COAL 80/2015/3 - Photograph depicting: ten-pin bowling. Groups of young people play in a three lane alley.


Nothing to do with the game of bowling but I found this entry from 1708 quite amusing:
TNA PROB 18/30/53 Probate lawsuit Bowling v Ball, concerning the deceased Jane Bowling, spinster of St Bride, London.

Other Sources:
The Bowling Museum --
Online Guide to Traditional Games --

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Patchwork Quilts in The National Archives

The word `quilt' derives from the Latin word cucita meaning a bolster or cushion, which in turn derives from the Classical Latin consuere meaning accustomed to, stitch or sew together. A quilt is traditionally a type of blanket made up of three layers, the top and bottom layers made of whole sheets of cloth with a middle layer of wadding. The layers are joined using ties, stitching and decorative embroidery. Records found in The National Archives (TNA) generally includes references to quilted bed covers, while other museums hold examples of quilted women's petticoats, babies' caps and men's waistcoats:

TNA LR 9/132, 1703, ‘Receipt of Richard Shedford for the cost of a bed, blankets and quilt purchased by Mr Soley. 

TNA PROB 11/580/334, 30 June 1721, ‘Will of Richard Morgan, Quilt Maker of Saint Olave Silver Street, City of London’.

TNA HO 47/22/9, 10 April 1798, ‘Report of J Adair on Elizabeth Taylor, convicted at the Denbigh Quarter Sessions, on 5 April 1796, for stealing a feather bed, blanket, quilt and other items, value 10/-, property of Mary David.

While references to quilting can been traced back to the Middle Ages, references to patchwork quilts do not appear in English or Welsh records until the eighteenth century. A patchwork quilt is a variant form of quilting in which paper patterns are used to cut different fabric shapes which are then pieced together to form the top layer.

One of the earliest known patchworks is the 1718 silk patchwork coverlet held in the Quilters’ Guild Collection. While quilting was considered a professional skill at this time, patchwork was a ladies’ leisure pursuit, using expensive silks and printed cottons which were cut from paper templates (another expensive commodity) following the mosaic patchwork method.

The Quilters’ Guild Collection - Detail from 1718 Silk Coverlet

Simpler and cheaper fabrics were used by the lower classes whose quilts had functional purposes, although the design and making of them acquired different cultural relevance across time and place.

Quilt V&A 1797 - maker unknown 

Patchwork was deemed a suitable activity for female convicts on board transport ships.The Lord Sidmouth was one of three convict ships carrying female prisoners from England and Scotland to New South Wales in 1822/23. As a result of T. Bensley’s 1821, ‘Third Report of the Committee of the Society For the Improvement of Prison Discipline ...’ a set of rules was recommended by the Ladies' Association for female prisoners at Newgate. These Rules were probably already in place by the time the Lord Sidmouth was ready to set sail in 1822, as demonstrated by the following extract from the journal of ship’s surgeon Robert Espie:

 7 September 1822 at Woolwich. Mrs Pryor came on board and completed all her arrangements having given each of the women a quantity of patchwork and other articles to employ them during the voyage. (TNA ADM 101/44/10, folio 6).

Extract from the Third Report of the Committee of the Society For the Improvement of Prison Discipline ...’

Possibly because of the scarcity of resources in the early settlements of North America and Australia, the ability to recycle old and scrap material into colourful quilts meant that quilting became, and still is, a popular art form in those countries.

 Melbourne, 2014

An exhibition of patchwork was even the subject of an anti-terrorist investigation in 1980. An entire file (TNA WORK 12/866) is given over to security issues raised when Kilkenny Design Workshops proposed mounting an Irish Patchwork Exhibition in the Fine Rooms of Somerset House, being one of 90 events planned to take place in London during February and March 1980 under the umbrella programme, ‘A Sense of Ireland’.

Now it's my turn - C18thGirl, 2015 - work in progress.

And if this has whetted your appetite to make a patchwork quilt, here’s how - courtesy of Angharad Jones …