Archive for July, 2010

Cost of Living in the 1890

It’s always interesting to see how much other people are paid. Even more so if its one of your ancestors from over a hundred years ago! Many of our collections have records that shed light on how wealthy or destitute our ancestors really were.

The Herbrand-Russell Special Collection contains many receipts and invoices as well as records of pay. Like the below image of the ‘Servants pay list’ from 1890.

‘Charles Harris’ was the horse groom for the wealthy ‘Lord Herbrand-Russell’ and was paid £2.5s1d (pounds, shillings and penny) each week. According to the list, his pay was handed to him in two separate lumps twice a week. 

This equates to £135 in today’s money. His two helpers received £123 per week and were also paid in two instalments each week.

On this kind of pay the servants certainly wouldn’t of been able to afford the kind of luxuries that Lord Herbrand-Russell treated himself to on a weekly basis. Luxuries that are now days considered essentials.

Servants Pay List.

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A bill for three days worth of meat from the local butchers £1.6s 8d (£80 in today’s money).

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Monthly grocery invoice for Lord Herbrand-Russell £14,2s 11d (£847 in today’s money).

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Bill for a bottle of Sherry £0.5s (£15 in today’s money).

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Printed Ephemera

Ephemera is transitory written and printed matter not intended to be retained or preserved. It includes trade cards, bookmarks, catalogues, greeting cards, pamphlets, headed letters, posters, prospectuses, stock certificates, tickets and magazines.

There is even an Ephemera Society dedicated to the ‘collection, preservation, study and educational uses of hand-written and printed ephemera’.

Different types of ephemera are produced to meet the needs of the day, such items reflect the moods and mores of past times in a way that more formal records cannot. They can give us real insight into fashions, attitudes and the costs of daily living.

The Society of Genealogists is always on the look out for rare material to add to its ever expanding collection and our head librarian recently stumbled across this 1904 printed ephemera called ‘To Uxbridge from the City by Tram, Tube and Car’. She has since searched the internet to see if there are any other known copies and is yet to find one. A charming guide of things to do, places to see and shops and restaurants at every tube and tram stop from the City of London to Uxbridge. Some of the shops and restaurants advertised are still in business today.

It includes many pictures of buildings, institutions, restaurants, shops and their shop keepers from 1904.

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Another typical example of ephemera you can find within our collections is this 1884 ‘Grand Hotel, Eastbourne. Visitors Guide’ which would have been given to people staying at the hotel.

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Family Bibles

The Bible was once regarded as more than just a holy scripture, they were sacred objects in themselves. Given the most important place in the house and filled with family records and memories, the "family Bible" served as the spiritual centre of the home.

Publishers catered to this market by producing ever-larger Bibles, complete with explanatory articles, colour illustrations, pages for recording births, marriages and deaths, and ornamental covers for wealthier families.

Family Bibles can be a superb resource for genealogy research. The births, marriages and deaths of generations are listed as the Bible is passed down through the family. Even if you already have this information, seeing it penned down in an ancestors handwriting will be much more thrilling!  

Family Bibles tend to have survived more in America than in Britain, much the same applies in Australia and New Zealand. This is not always the case so ensure to ask around, older relatives may have an old family Bible buried away in the loft, not realising it would be of help to your research. Family Bibles were such a commonplace during the Victorian era, that they can’t have all vanished in the UK!

The Family Bible below was sent to us by ‘The Episcopal Diocese of California’ last year. It was published in Cambridge in 1637 and belonged to the ‘Hardy’ family. It lists 13 births from 1710 – 1794 and is a bit of a mystery as to where the Hardy family came from and how their family Bible found its way to California. This would be a great project for a keen genealogists to work on.

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Marriage Licences

The Society hold a collection of around 3,000 original marriage licences from churches around London and Middlesex from 1768 –1892. Many of the Document and Special Collections also contain individual marriage licences.

Marriage licences give valuable information regarding places of origin and family members. This can be vital information given the difficulties inherent in researching London families in the years before Census and General Registration.

Each license tells its own unique story like the one featured below which shows Henry Bulley and Frances Ellen Blood, two “minors” marring each other again for the second time in February 1834. They eloped for their first marriage to Greta Green in Scotland and were perhaps then ordered by their parents to marry again ‘properly’.


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Some of the 26 volumes of original marriage licences.

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