Archive by Author | colindunkerley

5th January 1962. Self-Help.

Today in 1962 The Times reported a speech by the Director of the British Institute of Management, John March: ‘Young men who enter industry need a sense of service and duty…there is still something to be said for Samuel Smiles’ doctrine of self-help’.(1)

The origins of self-help lay in Smiles’ speech to the Mutual Improvement Society and published as Education of the Working Classes. ‘Knowledge is of itself one of the highest enquiries; ignorant man passes through the world dead to all pleasures, save those of the senses’.

Smiles epitomised the Victorian Age distinguished by the scourge of ‘sin’, by progress, religion, morality, elitism, industrialism, improvement, duty and idealism. It was also an age of filth, cholera, typhoid, malnutrition, extreme poverty, crime, lack of any social services, slave labour, subservience and deference being,‘Harsh, Brutal and Short’.

Outwardly a notion of morality and respectability strode parri-passu with an evangelical puritanism and kept those aspiring to piety and respectability down the social scale with hope in an increasing urban society allied with paternalism and deference.

One other with a sense of public idealism in the 19th century was Jeremy Bentham having derived from Hobbes the motivating principles of ‘pain and pleasure’, the stick or carrot notion, though seemingly the age had more stick than carrot and considering Bentham’s philosophy was to seek ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’, would seem to have failed.

However it was an age of laissez-faire liberalism, for those who could benefit, and that wasn’t the urban masses whom Smiles had in mind, as seen in the 1882 Liberty and Property Defence League formed under Lord Elcho (Wemyss).

This was a movement of industrialists and landowners concerned about the creeping power of corporate action as embodied in socialists and trades unions who were growing under the aegis of the Liberal Party of Gladstone. Liberty is a two-edged sword.

(1) ‘Smiles That Modern Plutarch: GB Shaw, Fabian Essays on Socialism 1889.

Ref: stories.

Ref: Hoskins Eric. 2000. Industry and Society, a Social History. 1830-1951.


3rd January 1660/61. Don’t Put your Daughter on the Stage…

In 1934 lyricist Noel Coward wrote a song: ‘Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage Mrs Worthington’, a reminder of the precarious nature of acting which for women went back to the 17th century when the first English professional actress was a Mrs Coleman who played Ianthe in Devanant’s ‘Siege of Rhodes’ at Rutland House in 1656. Four years later Margaret Hughes became the first woman to appear on the English stage ‘in public’.

1934 Record Label of Coward song.

The keen theatre-goer diarist Samuel Pepys records today in 1660/1661: ‘Saw Beggar’s Bush at Gibbon’s Tennis Court, Vere Street, Clare Market’, this at a time when the theatre came into favour again after the Civil War. (1)

Mrs Coleman was a mistress of Rupert a cousin of Charles II who made her public debut as Desdemona in Othello. Until then men had played all women’s parts and within a month Pepys’ was recording: ‘To the Theatre… And here the first time that I ever saw a women come upon the stage’. The respectable diarist John Evelyn however wrote, ‘He seldom went to the theatre [now] foul and indecent women now permitted to appear and act’. (2)

Before women appeared on stage, pre-pubescent boys would have played their roles which can be traced back to the Medieval Mystery Plays and Moralities. It was common for children of the Chapel Royal and cathedral choirs to appear until the Church regarded it as a profane.

The King soon issued a licence making it official in England. ‘Whereas women’s parts in plays have hitherto been acted by men in the habits of women… we do permit and grant leave for the time to come that all women’s parts be acted by women.

The new generation of plays broke away from the morality of the Medieval Mystery Plays and Masques and Garrick made acting a respectable profession which by being attaching to aristocratic households, broke away from strolling vagabonds performing where they were wont.

By the reign of Charles II the Real Tennis Courts were being converted to theatres following the French practice, and Gibbon’s was so used between 1660-3. It was variously called Theatre Royal and Vere Street Theatre and was the first permanent home of Thomas Killigrew’s King’s Company and the stage for many early professional actresses; in the present age now viewed as celebrities.

(1) The custom until the date change in 1752 was to use Old and New Style.

Beggar’s Bush plot revolved around the notion that it is better to be a country beggar than a tyrannical king, which wouldn’t have gone down well in the previous reign.

(2) Thomas Coryate, who visited Venice 50 years earlier had, ‘observed certain things that I never saw before, for I saw women act…’


Acting and its association with impropriety was a feature down the ages. Acting of plays in private places was said to be, ‘injurious to females, it encouraged vanity, excites applause, destroys diffidence and familiarises with the opposite sex’. (Gisborne).

Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park centres on a play production scene in the house which caused outrage when the owner Mr Bartram returned from the West Indies.

1st January 1965. Sign of The Times.

1936: signs at RAC factory Victoria. London.

Today aluminium alloy continental road signs were adopted in Britain: In 2001 a survey by the RAC found that many motorists were ignorant of their meaning, not surprising as there seems to be a proliferation in modern signage. What the well meaning perpetrators of this blight ignore is that you take your eyes of the road for long at your peril.

It was as a result of the 1903 Motor Car Act that Britain’s Local Government Boards began advising on road signs. It was after the Act’s consolidation under the Road Traffic Act of 1930, that we saw the erection of the once familiar cast-iron signs with studded reflectors with ‘Halt Major Road Ahead’ and ‘Children’ showing a satchel-carrying girl and a be-capped boy.

Signage was investigated by a 1957 Committee under Colin Anderson, Chairman of P&O under T.G. Usborne of the Ministry of Transport. This resulted in a new committee in 1963 chaired by Sir Walter Worboys of Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) and Usborne which decided on signage of a new uniform white on blue motif by the Jock Kinneir/ Margaret Calvert partnership.(1)

Kinneir wanted to abandon block capitals in favour of mixed-case, sans serif, a stripped down font with strokes at the top and bottom of the letters, but though seen as ‘plebeian’, he said these were easier to read at speed and regarded capitals as authoritarian. It took two years to agree.

Calvert and Kinneir created firstly for the M1 in 1960s a new typeface called ‘Transport’ after analysing the existing types to make them ‘easily understood at speed and introduced upper and lower cases for place name recognition, limited the amount of information to essentials, and introduced the graphic device of a branched, pointed line to indicate junctions.

Old ‘Torch of Learning’ road sign. Blackawton, Devon.

Old school sign at Glastonbury, Somerset.











Old ‘T’ Junction at Stourport on Severn.


A background colour of recessive blue, warned of a motorway; ‘A-roads’ (a carefully selected shade of green), or minor road (white, with thinner lettering to combat the halo effect, white has on the eye), completed the ensemble.

Calvert created warning signs in the sixties such as ‘Children Crossing’ and later regretted not drawing the ‘spade’ which didn’t suggest an umbrella. She didn’t like the ‘badly proportioned prissy and patronising example of elderly crossing the road, as ‘not like our robust family of pictograms’. The ‘Cow’ was based on Patience on a relative’s farm; the deer and horse are based on Muybridge’s 19thc photographs of animals at speed.

Following their success of road signs Calvert and Kineir later tackled British Rail. BAA. NHS and directional signs for the army.

Margaret Calvet’s work was celebrated in the British Design 1948-2012: ‘Innovation in the Modern Age’ which opened at the Victoria & Albert Museum in March 2012.

(1) It was design expert Herbert Spencer who demonstrated a need for an overhaul after noting the confusion between Marble Arch and Heathrow of shapes, colours, symbols and lettering, ideas included in his 1961 Typographica. This was to lead to the Warboys Committee.

The new signage was made at a Borehamwood factory near London.


Ref: Signs.


31st December 1539. The Old Order Changeth.

Today in 1539 was a poignant time for the monasteries in general and for Durham in particular when the last Office was sung before its dissolution.

However Durham was one of those religious foundations to survive with its penumbra of outbuildings which served the monastic community as it served as one of the ‘New Foundation’ with its freshly founded posts of dean, prebendaries and ancillary staff, created out of the cathedral priory, in 1540.

Interior of Durham. Note Norman pillars.

The oddity of many medieval churches was the doubling of cathedrals with a monastic role having a bishop as the nominal abbot with the real head being the Prior.

These monastic houses were ‘cathedral priories’ which Henry VIII dissolved then refounded apart from Coventry which was spare to requirement in the diocese of Coventry/Lichfield, and so demolished.

This see was first at Lichfield then transferred to Chester in 1075 and to Coventry 1102, but the continued claim of Lichfield to be a diocese was recognised in 1228, in title ‘Coventry-Lichfield’; the bishopric of Chester was founded in 1189 and again in 1327.

Chester Cathedral from the east.

Bath cathedral priory, nominally a cathedral, became a large parish church, but many former monasteries were elevated by the King to cathedrals including Westminster Abbey, Gloucester, Peterborough, Oxford, Bristol and Chester so as a result retain many of the  cloisters and buildings of the once monasteries.


The Last Office 1539 and the Dissolution of a Monastery: Geoffrey Moorhouse.

30th December 1859. The Stereotype.

Today in 1859 saw the birth of Henrietta Rae one of the few women painters who tackled large-scale classical and allegorical works of art.

One of her better known works was the 1891 painting of Florence Nightingale a stereotype of the nurse as the ‘Lady with the Lamp’, contrasting with the Dickensian slatternly, enebriated ‘Sairy Gamps’ of the nursing fraternity. (1)

Lithograph of Henrietta Rae’s Florence Nightingale.

Stereotyping has had a commanding influence on the human psyche, particularly in advertising, important in human generalisations and ‘stock’ characters. (2)

Children from an early age are exposed to the stereotyping of nursery rhymes, the Commedia dell ‘arte as developed in Punch and Judy, in Pantomime and situation comedy.

Henrietta Rae died in 1928 in Upper Norwood, London at a time when nursing was still regarded as a vocation and underpaid as a result.

(1) Miss Nightingale at Scutari (1854) in the Crimea War and frequently reproduced as the ’Lady with the Lamp’. Florence had arrived at Scutari, a suburb of Constinople, on November 4th.

(2) Stereotyping was an aspect of Mediaeval Mystery Play where the notion of ‘Vice’ developed into the Villain in later Renaissance plays right up to the era of Pantomime. It was also inherent in Bunyan’s, allegorical Pilgrim’s Progress.


26th December 1818. Doles.

It was a long standing tradition in Britain of giving aid to the poor at Christmas 200 years ago as reported in the Leicester Chronicle Today in 1818 when a wealthy landowners distributed a, ‘fat beast, four sheep and 2008 yards of linen cloth to neighbours’.

Another example of seasonal benevolence was when Sir Thomas and Lady Stanley of Hooton, ‘with accustomed liberality, ordered to be distributed to the poor of Hooton and Eastham useful articles for the season of the year, and certain quantities of coal to all deserving poor of the same by their morals and good conduct-And to children of the Vicar’s school at Eastham established for the education on the national plan…her ladyship on Monday last, presented to each boy a new hat and to each girl a new bonnet…the benevolent Baronet had 2 bullocks slaughtered to distribute to his poor work-people on Christmas Eve’.

Paddington Church 1750 and 1805. Old and New London History Vol. 5.

The practice of throwing bread and cheese from the church tower to the poor at Paddington, London, starting in the 17th century was recorded by the Morning Post on 22nd December 1818, a tradition which continued until 1834.

Many similar accounts are recorded and country church notice boards still recall the ‘Doles’ of bread (carrying on from the monastic tradition), which were the lot of the needy poor of the parishes, and which were only to cease when a greater awareness of the poor in society saw the social welfare reforms of the 19th century.


Throwing Cheese and Bread from the Belfry. Windows into History. Roger Pocock. Dec.2018.

Chelsea Chronicle. 25.12.1813.

24th December 1861. The Colour of Mortality.

‘Call no man happy until he is Dead’: the philosopher Solon to the wealthy Croesus: ‘Are not the days of my life few‘: (Book of Job). Sackcloth and Ashes in classicaltimes and in the Bible are symbols of mourning and penance.

If one had bought the Guardian newspaper Today, a Tuesday December 24th, 1861 it was still showing its mourning borders for the death of Prince Albert on the 14th.

After Albert’s death Queen Victoria set the standard for mourning even to the extent of sending ungrammatical scrawls conveying messages to her Ministers even thirty years after Prince Albert’s death, on black-edged writing paper.(1)

Black borders were a widespread practice, as seen when Archibald Primrose who became 5th earl of Roseberry in 1868 who on the death of his Jewish wife Hannah de Rothschild had black borders on all his stationery.

Befitting the age, outward displays were key; grief was represented on many levels, from the use of black-lined stationery and jet-black jewellery, to elaborate funeral arrangements and periods of self-imposed social exile.

Jet was the fossilized remains of the monkey-puzzle tree the best being found in abundance in the cliffs at Whitby and was much in vogue in Victorian times. Foreign jet is not so hard and can be identified by the brown mark shown when scratched onto paper.

The period of mourning was decided not by personal sentiments but by a socially understood timetable, for the death of a husband it was 2-3 years; a wife 3 months; parent or child 6 months, down to first cousins 4-6 weeks.

Each period had its own code down to the shade of black types of cloth worn and width of hatbands. The black clothing and heavy veils were known as ‘widows weeds’ (OE waed: garment) and could be supplied by Jays of Regent Street opened in 1841. Triangles of black on garments or armbands were token uses of mourning.