October 12, 2015, by Kathryn Steenson
Manuscripts Mysteries: Canada, Cake and Clergymen
The stereotypical, romanticized view of archives is one where researchers delve into a box of yellowed, long-forgotten papers to uncover clues and solve a mystery. But what happens when the boxes present more questions than they answer?
For the last few months we’ve been turning to social media in an attempt to find out more about some of the documents we have. The focus has been on material, particularly photographs, from within the last 100 years. This is just on the brink of living memory, and we hope that someone will recognise a grandparent or remember the details of a story they were told.
The first image is a photograph from the Records of High Pavement Presbyterian (Unitarian) Chapel, Nottingham, 1576-1982, amongst a very small group of small portraits collected by prominent member of the congregation and Warden of the Chapel, John Crosby Warren (d 1931). It dates from about 1900, and as most of the other men in the photos have been identified as clergymen, it seems likely that this gentleman was too. Do you know who he is?
This album (Ref: MS 57) is a gem and it’s such a shame we know relatively little about it. Behind this peacock-feather cover are 133 small watercolour paintings and 15 photographs, mainly of Canada, from 1884. The only clue to the identity of the artist is an inscription on the title page reading “(With the British Association) Our Silver Wedding Trip illustrated by camera and brush. I.M.M 1884”.
The paintings and photographs record a journey to Canada from Liverpool in 1884. Most of the images are of landscapes, including the River Mersey, icebergs, Quebec, Niagara Falls, Toronto, and various lakes, waterfalls and rapids along the American-Canadian border. The watercolours are simple but strikingly pretty, and convey the scene much better than some of the photographs. Compare the drawing and photo of Niagara Falls below – the lack of colour and murkiness caused by the spray can’t capture the beauty of the waterfall and rainbows the way the watercolour can.
The British Association for the Advancement of Science held their meeting in Montreal in 1884. A report in The Times suggested that some 800 members made the trip, which didn’t help narrow down who this mystery artist (IMM?) and their spouse of 25 years could be. Can you?
Finally, the oldest and probably most frustrating mystery surrounds the owner of this recipe book (Ref: MS 355). The inscription inside the cover reads “Caroline Waeick, from her affectionate mother, May 20th 1839″.
The volume describes over 150 recipes in 189 manuscript pages, all written in the same hand, presumably that of Caroline’s mother. The recipes in the collection cover all types of cooking and preparation of food, including fruit preservation, fish and meat dishes, puddings, wine and beer. Most of the recipes are fairly standard. This image shows a Bakewell Pudding recipe, but there are others for rather more basic dishes such as boiled fish.
Who was Caroline Waeick? Was the recipe book a present on her marriage or majority? Ordinarily an unusual surname is very helpful in tracing people, and records of births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales reveal only a few entries for this surname during the nineteenth century, most in London. Of the two Carolines mentioned, one was a baby girl who was born and died in 1841 and the other a woman who married in 1855, neither of whom seem the right age to be receiving a recipe book in 1839.
Unfortunately material becomes divorced from its context all too often. How many of us have family photos with nothing more than a familial descriptor (or even worse, just the word ‘Me’) hastily scribbled on the back?
And please – label your photos!