Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Christmas in June!

Dare we mention the word ‘Christmas’ whilst we have over 6 months to go until Santa does his rounds? We promise there is a good reason...
Here at Hull History Centre we are looking for examples of historical Christmas cards and we need your help! In November, we are hoping to put on an exhibition looking into the history of Christmas Cards.

Christmas card from 1936 [C DEHG/9/1/1/12]

For the origin of the Christmas card we need to go back to 1843. Sir Henry Cole, best remembered today as the founder of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, had the misfortune of having too many friends. In Victorian England, it was considered impolite not to answer mail and Cole was an enthusiastic supporter of the newly introduced ‘Penny Post’ postal system. He devised a way of responding to all of his friends by approaching an artist friend, John Callcott Horsley, and asking him to design a card which included the generic greeting “A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year To You.” This is thought to be the first Christmas card.

It took several decades for the practice to really catch on. Once it did, it became an integral part of Christmas and appreciation of the quality and the artistry of cards grew in the late 1800s. In more recent years Christmas cards have become big business. Despite the fact that they have become increasingly expensive to post and to buy, there are still plenty of people who love to send and to receive them every year.

The earliest example found at Hull History Centre so far dates from 1868. In almost perfect condition with nothing written inside, the design is extremely delicate having an intricate lacework pattern.

Earliest Christmas card to be found at Hull History Centre so far [U DDBH/26/11/225]

Here is where you come in...
Ideally we would like any Christmas cards that were not mass produced and could potentially be of historical interest.

To help you, we would be interested in the following:

  • Cards with a black background, these were in vogue in the 1870s; 
  • Single and double folded cards with silk fringes round the edges, these appeared in the 1880s; 
  • Comic and trick cards, such as two faces appearing in different moods depending on the way the card was turned, or cards that contain a hidden picture if you look at it long enough or sideways on;
  • Embroidered cards;
  • Oddly shaped cards;
  • Cards with embossed brightly colored celluloid covers; 
  • Cards sent or received during the First World War (whilst large quantities were printed, they are scarcely found today because of the paper salvage drive of 1914-1918) 
  • Cards sent by Prisoners of War;
  • Greetings sent from British Regiments;
  • Cards commissioned by Hull businesses; 
  • Cards with a famous Hull connection.

Escrick-London Command Depot Christmas card, 1917 [U DDFA3/6/44]

If you think you have anything of interest we would love to hear from you. Contact us at hullhistorycente@hcandl.co.uk giving your name and an image of the card. Alternatively, you can drop in to our building on Worship Street with any cards that you might have identified. Someone will be able to advise you on the next steps. Don't forget to tell us the story behind the card if there is anything interesting or unusual to tell.

Mayoral Christmas card, 1895 [L DLCI/1]

Any cards we receive will potentially be used in our exhibition. After this, the cards could be returned to you, or we would be happy to keep them as we will be creating an archive collection specifically for this project. This collection will be preserved so that future generations can enjoy and discuss the items therein.

Elspeth, Archivist (City Archives)

Friday, 20 April 2018

This month in Hull: April

One of the resources we offer free access to here at the History Centre is the British Newspaper Archive. This is a massive project to digitise millions of pages of British newspapers, and several Hull papers are available covering 1794-1950. The huge benefit of having newspapers digitised is that you can easily search them by date or keyword, which really opens them up for research.

It’s not always the big events that tell you the most about a certain point in history; the day to day goings-on also have stories to tell. So for this post I decided to choose an April date more or less at random and, using the British Newspaper Archive collections, see what was happening in Hull.

The date I chose is 20 April 1925, and the newspaper I looked at is the Hull Daily Mail. All images in this post are copyright Local World Limited/Trinity Mirror and were created and used courtesy of the British Library Board.

Browsing through the pages, the first thing that catches the eye is of course the adverts.


The Costello clothing store is luring in lady shoppers with their Fashion Corner advert: “Here you are with MAY peeping at you, and you are still without your SPRING outfit… ARE YOU READY FOR THE WARMER DAYS?” If only it were still around, I would be down to Costello’s for a smart two piece costume in an instant.

Elsewhere on the page, we learn that “Hull has the unique distinction of having more wireless listeners per thousand than any other town in the United Kingdom,” although sadly figures are not given.


Two men and a woman were remanded for further enquiries to be carried out after a police constable found them asleep at 2am in a furniture van in a yard. This really seems to raise questions about what the constable was doing peering into vans in the early hours, but presumably he had his reasons.


A story of a lucky escape features in “Preparing for bed. Exciting burning rescue in New George Street.” Harriet Markham, 19, accidentally set her clothes on fire with a candle she was holding and was rescued by two brothers. This kind of accident was not uncommon in the days of open fires and candlelight, but luckily on this occasion the victim survived.


There is also a fascinating glimpse into both shell shock and unemployment in the piece “Explosion brings speech.” The story tells us that “Shock has cured a Hull ex-soldier who stuttered seriously as a result of the war.” He was thrown to the ground by an explosion in Falkirk and found that his speech had returned. He was in Falkirk having walked from Hull “in search of work,” a distance of some 240 miles. Unusually, the man’s name is not given; perhaps this indicates the stigma which attached to both mental health problems and unemployment?


The British Newspaper Archive is a subscription website but you can access it for free in any Hull library, including the History Centre. Why not have a look and see what you can discover?

Monday, 9 April 2018

A new way to visualise our land and estate records

Here at the History Centre we hold an excellent set of collections relating to the landed families and estates of East Yorkshire. Families represented within our holdings include the Sykes of Sledmere, the Hothams of Scorborough and South Dalton, and the Stapletons of Carlton Towers. The collections are large and varied, and contain records useful to all kinds of researchers.

Each family and estate collection has its own strengths and weaknesses, but what they all have in common is land records. Title deeds, leases, and manorial records appear throughout these families’ records, relating to villages and parishes all over East Yorkshire and further afield.

These records can be rather daunting for researchers, as the sheer number of them and the collections' complex catalogues can make them initially tricky to navigate. We wanted to make it easier to get an idea of the areas our collections cover and to be able to visualise which areas had more than one family’s interests represented. So, we used Google Maps to create a map showing the locations of records held in our ten largest family and estate collections.

The Family and Estates Collections map

You can browse the map, or search for a specific place. Clicking on a pin brings up a link to that series in the catalogue, so users can click straight through and view the items we have for that place in that collection.

Clicking on the pin for Sledmere brings up catalogue links on the left

Another interesting function of the map is that it gives a visual representation of how landed families’ property was distributed. For instance, we can see that the Sykes family’s property was concentrated in the East Yorkshire area:

Most of the Sykes family's property is in East Yorkshire, with just a few pins elsewhere in England

while the Stapleton family held much less property in East Yorkshire, but more in North Yorkshire and up towards Newcastle:

The Stapleton family's property is mainly in North Yorkshire, the Yorkshire Dales and the north east, with a few pins elsewhere in England

The most far-flung properties are in the West Indies:

Pins show property in Jamaica and the British Virgin Islands

The purple pin on the right leads us to U DDCA2/46/1, a conveyance of a sugar plantation called Strawberry Hill, which was sold for 96,500 pieces of eight in 1795. 

The green pin on the left leads us to a series of records including U DDCV/198/1, a conveyance of plantations called Hampstead and Retreat, Mount Lebanon, and Coxheath or Lagoon Penn, along with 328 slaves, stock and implements.

Why not browse the map and see what you find? 

For more information about our family and estate collections, have a look at our research guide.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Unicorns in Towthorpe?

You never know what you’ll find amongst the documents in an archive. While working on one of our family and estate collections recently I came across an inventory which seemed to have gone unremarked since it was originally catalogued many years ago.

Inventory of the goods and chattels of John Taylor of Towthorpe
U DDLG/52/81, inventory of John Taylor

Inventories were taken after someone died, listing all their goods and property in order to value their estate. Inventories included things like money and personal possessions, but also household goods and animals.

This inventory records the goods and chattels of John Taylor of Towthorpe, a hamlet in the East Riding of Yorkshire a few miles from Driffield. It was taken on 20 March 1688 and records the few valuable possessions John left: money, a chest and a coffer, and some livestock.

Extract from U DDLG/52/81, Inventory of John Taylor

This entry records “54 unicorn, wintered abroad [i.e. fed and sheltered on someone else’s land]”. This small herd of unicorns was worth £10 “over and above about £4 paid for their wintering.” It is not recorded where they spent the winter, or what they ate.

This is the first mythical creature I’ve located amongst our documents, but there may be more. If you’ve found any, please let us know!