English country houses and gardens

DSC00700The online course I’m currently doing is called ‘Literature of the English Country House’ run by the University of Sheffield. I decided to read a few other books loosely on the theme, some of which have been on my shelves for some time.  Most of these relate more to English country house owners, houses or gardens rather than literature set in country houses; but I thought they would provide some useful background – and make me read some of my unread books!

The first, chronologically, is Earls of Paradise: England and the Dream of Perfection, by Adam Nicholson (2008). It was also published as Arcadia: the Dream of Perfection in Renaissance England, which was the title I read some years ago. Having sold my copy, I had to borrow the library’s copy, under the ‘Earls…’ title.

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Occupation: whitesmith

In the 1861 English census, John Tankard was a whitesmith who employed two men and four boys. He lived in Woodhouse Lane, Leeds in the parish of St John the Evangelist. John and his wife Frances had five children – a daughter aged 10 and four sons aged 8, 6, 4 and 1. Elizabeth Tankard was a visitor.[1] By the 1871 census they were living at 1 Woodland View, Chapel Allerton (now a suburb of Leeds), and he employed two men and one boy. Two of his sons were whitesmiths, so they may have been two of their father’s employees.[2] John’s nephew Ebenezer Tankard was also a whitesmith in Leeds in 1871.

Ebenezer 1871 detail

These people were my ancestors, although not direct ones; but I’ll come to that later. Firstly, I was intrigued to know more about a whitesmith. Most people will have some idea what a blacksmith does – or did – but I wasn’t sure about a whitesmith.

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Morrell family in Scotton, Yorkshire – upwardly mobile?

In Emma Rothschild’s 2011 book The Inner Life of Empires: an eighteenth-century history, she investigates the history of one (large) Scottish family – the Johnstones. She describes it as a “microhistory”, but a “large history in relation to space” (several members travelled and lived overseas, many were slave owners); “a history of individuals of diverse legal conditions and social classes… it is a history of economic life, of political ideas, of slavery, and of family relationships…. It is an exploration of new ways of connecting the microhistories of individuals and families to the larger scenes of which they were a part.” (pp. 6-7)[1]

This is the kind of history I would like to do with my families, but on the smaller scale of blog posts! Unfortunately, I don’t have the sort of material evidence she had for the Johnstones – letters, legal cases, etc. Most of my ancestors were of the poorer classes, some signed their marriage certificates with their mark, so presumably hadn’t learned to write. But with limited evidence and on this smaller scale, I’ll attempt a microhistory of two generations of my Morrell ancestors who lived in or near the small Yorkshire village of Scotton in the nineteenth century.

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John Read: Ostler, Post Boy, Omnibus Driver, Bill Sticker

John Read was born about 1822 in Wem, Shropshire. He was one of my great-great-grandfathers. I know little about him, but I do know some of the places he lived in and his occupations. So let’s see what that might tell us about him and his times. I should mention that variant spellings of his surname are Read, Reed, and Rade – the most common, and what his descendants used, is Read.

Wem, Shropshire – birthplace

He was a ‘Shropshire lad’[1]. This is the location of Wem – I had never heard of it until I found it in the census records as his birth place.[2]

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‘The Mission’ and Historical Jesuit Missions in Paraguay in the 1750s

This was an essay I wrote for a history course at Victoria University in 2007 comparing the film “The Mission” with actual events. See also photos of Iguassu Falls on my page here.
film mission

The Mission and historic Jesuit missions in Paraguay in the 1750s

The 1986 film The Mission tells a story set in the Jesuit missions of Paraguay (now the borderlands around Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil) in the mid-eighteenth century. The Jesuits established their first mission in the area in 1609. By the early 1700s about 30 missions existed, with a population at its highpoint in 1732 of 140,000. The indigenous people of the missions – the Guarani – had large cattle and other livestock holdings, cotton and yerba plantations, produced textiles, and engaged in trade with Spanish towns. They formed the largest militia in the region and were used on numerous occasions by the governors of Buenos Aires and Paraguay to fight other Indians, the Portuguese and quell local settler rebellions. The film The Mission shows very little of this history, despite beginning with the caption: ‘The historical events represented in this story are true, and occurred around the borderlands of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil in the year 1750’. But clearly not all the events could have taken place in 1750 and their representation is not entirely true. As this essay argues, the film conflates about 130 years of mission history to present a story of ‘good’ missionaries, ‘bad’ Spanish and especially Portuguese, and child-like Indians in need of protection and guidance from the missionaries. Continue reading