Footprints left in “Hair Powder”

December 1, 2013 at 9:42 am (books, fashion, history, news, people, research) (, , , , , , , , )

Every once in a while I come across a *fun* piece of information. This one is not only fun it’s also a step back in time, a moment from the lives of the Smiths of Erle Stoke Park.

The year, circa 1795/6.

As governments still desire to do, the English Parliament needed money. But how to get it, where to get it? Some bright idea occurred to someone: Let’s tax something! Ah, yes… cast your mind back: The Stamp Act; a tax on Tea; how about paying tax based the number of windows in your house, or the number of dogs in your kennel.

In 1795 that brilliant idea served to tax that commodity so many used on a daily basis: Hair Powder.

gilray_powder tax

Unlike someone counting your windows or your dogs, this was based on obtaining a certificate. A tax of One Guinea gave you leisure to powder for the year (in this instance, through to 1 August 1796). Joshua Smith of Erlestoke Park, Wiltshire was a Member of Parliament; what choice did he have but to pay:

William Hiskins, under-butler to J. Smith, 11 April.
Augusta Smith, daughter of Joshua Smith, 11 April.
Emma Smith, daughter of Joshua Smith, 11 April.
Joshua Smith, housekeeper, 11 April.
Sarah Smith, wife of Joshua Smith, 11 April.
Alexander Struthers, footman to Joshua Smith, 11 April.

NB: See the page “Servants – Clerks – Governesses” for more household

My favorite portion of the announcement is a section, which reads: “… NO MORE IS TO BE DEMANDED OF ANY PERSON upon taking out a Certificate for using or wearing of Hair Powder, upon any Pretence whatever, except where there are more than two unmarried Daughters in a Family, in which Case a DOUBLE CERTIFICATE stamped with two Stamps, of One Pound One Shilling each, is required to be taken out.”

If you can locate a copy of Beryl Hurley’s booklet “The Hair Powder Tax, Wiltshire” (1997), you can read about the Smiths of Erlestoke yourself! Needless to say, powdering wigs and hair quickly went out of fashion…

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I Want to Read…

March 11, 2011 at 8:16 pm (books, introduction, news, people, places, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

…DIARIES and LETTERS!

It occurred to me that blog readers might be interested in a bit of “hmmm… what’s she raising money for??” explanation. (see the Austen Book Raffle posts).

I’m more than happy to bend a few “eyes” (and ears) about my research project! (As friends and family know, to their detriment…)

To start at the very beginning: I visited Northern Wales — Llangollen to be exact — and was just ENCHANTED with the story of the Ladies of Llangollen, Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler. I began collecting “first-hand” information, and posted it on my website. Surprisingly, there was abundant material! Though much found was of the second-hand, mythic variety, there were some great finds.

One “find” was a Duke University diary. Once belonging to MARY GOSLING, the diary turned out to contain several trips – to the English coast, to the battlefields of Waterloo, and a certain trip to Ireland that took the Gosling family through Northern Wales. And — wait for it! — they visited with the Ladies! Were shown around Plas Newydd (the home of the Ladies of Llangollen; now a museum), in fact!

But who were these GOSLINGS??

(And, by the way, Mary hadn’t much to about the Ladies, other than what was already known about them – ie, how they dressed and how they never travelled far from home.)

With the internet, I struck gold. Found a series of diaries written by Lady Smith, the 2nd daughter of William Gosling of Roehampton Grove, a banker. Now, in Mary Gosling’s diary, there was a man who brought his family to see Bank of Ireland currency MADE. Who, other than a banker, would have the ability to go that? And Mary had them departing from “Roehampton”!

But, without seeing these later diaries of Lady Smith’s, it was mere supposition that Mary Gosling = Lady Smith.

The main reason these Lady Smith diaries were listed online was that they were included in part of an exceptional large microfilm collection. Essex County was in PART FIVE, which I learned was a far cry from Part One — the only series owned by the closest “big” educational facility within easy driving: Dartmouth College (New Hampshire). Oh, the drive home that day was a disappointment.

Again: thankfully the internet — and online college & university catalogues — helped me track down a handful of places with the full series (or at least through series five). A trip to Colonial Williamsburg brought me within easy distance of one of those few: Old Dominion University. I’ve never seen such a lovely library! And once I found the rolls of film with Lady Smith’s diaries, I was well rewarded: There was the SAME handwriting, the same reference to “My Sister” (Mary never calls Elizabeth Gosling anything other than “my Sister”.)

I had found my girl!

Or, should I say girls — for that day I spotted my first reference to young Emma:

If I had KNOWN that in looking up some Jane Austen books I’d have found ALL of Charles Joshua Smith’s siblings, I would have saved myself TONS of digging… Alas, it’s almost a “happier” circumstance to piece the family together: 9 Smith siblings in all!

“Mr Austen, Mr Knight, and Mrs Leigh Perrot” in the diary entry above (Emma and Edward’s first child’s christening!) were the giveaways about the Jane Austen connection.

And thanks to that connection I got to see TONS of diaries and letters and memorabilia (for instance, a lock of young Drummond Smith’s hair!) at the Hampshire Record Office, when I lived in England for two months in 2007 in order to transcribe as much material as possible. For most of the time, I worked six days a week at the archive (thanks to their generous hours) and on the seventh — well, I began well: reading and reviewing the work of previous days, but it was summer and, yes, some Sundays I spent in the park near Winchester’s town hall.

I had already inter-library loaned those rolls of microfilm with Lady Smith’s diaries; purchased a roll of film with all of the existing diaries written by Charles Joshua Smith (Mary Gosling’s husband; Emma Smith’s eldest brother), which the Essex Record Office houses. Now I had a growing collection of letters and diaries by the likes of Emma, her mother Augusta Smith, her sisters Augusta, Fanny and Maria; a diary series belonging to Fanny’s eventual husband, the Rev. Richard Seymour was briefly worked on at the Warwickshire Record Office (their hours were much shorter than HRO’s…).

In short, I’ve seen much, typed a LOT, and still there is more material for me to “visit” — if not in person (expensive) then via film.

And that’s where the Book Raffle comes in. Edward Austen (later Austen Leigh) made some delightful silhouettes, and his descendent, Freydis Welland, put them together into a book, originally published by private press: A Life in the Country. The pictures are accompanied by Jane Austen quotes. The book was then published “commercially” by the British Library.

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A Richard Seymour Sighting!

February 17, 2011 at 3:52 pm (news, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

In “conversation” over email with Charlotte Frost (see the post on her new biography of Sir William Knighton), it turned up that Ms. Frost had seen a photograph of the Rev. Richard Seymour — husband of my dear Fanny Smith — among a group of family photos!

Now, the Warwickshire Record Office has the not-very-good photo of a portrait of a young Richard (see portraits page), but can you imagine: seeing, “in the flesh”, a photo of someone you only know through his words and deeds? Quite THRILLING!!!

Richard has a nice “following” in Warwickshire, thanks to the talks given by Alan Godfrey. Alan had kindly invited me to offer a talk on Fanny Smith when I was in England in 2007. Seems a lifetime ago. We had a great turnout that Friday evening — thanks in no small part to Alan’s organization skills. I was able to have in hand a drawing of dear Fanny, probably done by her eldest sister Augusta, but maybe done by her sister Emma. This was done when Fanny was in her 20s and reminds me of the work of Mrs Carpenter — very likely, as that artist was commissioned for a number of pieces in the Smith family, which means the girls had the opportunity to watch her work, as well as study her methods.

By the way, Richard is described by Ms. Frost as “a man in his 60s, seated at a desk”. How wonderful if the same holding turns up a picture of … Fanny!

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Where Art Thou?

April 25, 2009 at 10:19 am (books) (, , , , , , , , )

Thirty-five years ago a series of diaries got dropped off by their then-owner in order for the WARWICKSHIRE RECORD OFFICE to microfilm them. That roll of microfilm is the one I worked with in 2007. Unable to travel again to England, I recently contacted the WRO to request a copy of that microfilm. ALAS: they need to contact the owner, for whom they only have a 1974 address!

I more expected them to inform me that they had no master and could not copy the research room’s copy. Instead, this conundrum! How to find someone, or more likely that someone’s heirs, thirty-five years later?!? However, the archivist who contacted me said he/she would try – and I gratefully accepted that slim hope.

But this situation made me think of the one published account, with extracts from the diaries of the Rev. Richard Seymour of Kinwarton (Fanny’s husband). The book, published in 1954, is THE NINETEENTH CENTURY COUNTRY PARSON, edited by A. Tindal Hart and Edward Carpenter.

The preface to the text thanks “Miss A.M. Seymour, The Diaries of Richard Seymour.” Its opening line acknowledges that “we are inevitably and deeply indebted to a large number of contributors, who had lent us unpublished diaries or furnished oral reminiscences of parsons they have known. It is, unfortunately, quite impossible to record all their names here; but we should like, publicly, to thank those from whose MSS we are reproducing extracts in Part II.” Richard’s diaries, of course, make up part of Part II.

I must confess that it is heartening to see that the diaries were still in family hands in the 1950s (the preface is dated 1951), though that seem so long ago now… nearly sixty years.

Richard’s early diaries give vital information on his relationship to Fanny and her family; they even record Richard’s bedside visits to the dying William Gosling (Mary’s father). What more they hold, I could not uncover during my way-too-brief look at them. In the introduction to the Seymour section, Hart & Carpenter write: “The Diary itself, which stretches unbroken from January 1st, 1832 until November 26th, 1873, presents a day to day picture of the life and work of one of the more prosperous and better connected nineteenth century country rectors. And what a busy and varied life it was! There are long pleasant holidays spent on the continent and in nearly every part of the British Isles; there are visits to well-to-do relations in their lovely country residences; and there are sight-seeing jaunts to the Metropolis. Kinwarton rectory and gardens were large, but so was the family and the staff of servants. When the Seymours were in residence the house always seemed to be overflowing with guests…” Indeed, among the guests would be Mary’s children, especially her two daughters, who rather floated from the homes of various relations in the years between the death of their grandmother Mrs Smith in 1845 and their brother reaching his majority in 1848. They raised funds for new service books, which were gifted to St. Mary’s, Kinwarton, on Christmas Day, 1847.

Takeley Local Historical Society (see their section called “Loose Ends”) has long sought information on the whereabouts of the diaries of the Rev. Robert Hart (grandfather of Arthur Tindal Hart); and now I ask: If anyone can help secure permission for WRO to copy their roll of microfilm, please contact me!

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