The History of Christmas Cake

Whilst writing this, I’m listening to Bing Crosby Christmas songs, with the Christmas lights switched on. An unusual choice for a 26-year-old, you may think, but for me this has a personal connection. A running joke in my family was that my beloved grandad looked like the Crooner, so I always like to listen to him as it feels grandad is still here, despite him no longer being with us. Just in case you haven’t get it yet, I love Christmas, but I don’t like the tradition Christmas cake, Christmas pudding or mince pies. Whilst I don’t, everyone else in my family does. Our kitchen has smelt very Christmassy for the last month whilst my mum has been busy baking Christmas cakes for our family and friends. I’m sure lots of your houses will be filled with the treat too, whether homemade or store brought. It got me wondering of how Christmas cake has become a tradition at Christmas time.

Samuel Collings, Christmas in the Country (1791), Private Collection/Bridgeman Images

Up until the Industrial Revolution, Christmas was celebrated between 6th December and 6th January as the cold weather meant little work could be done in the fields. Presents were given, but usually to mark the beginning, St Nicholas’ Day and the end, Twelfth Night, also known as Epiphany. Boxing Day was usually the day presents were given to servants.[1] As the present giving was spread out, food was one of the largest part of the celebrations. Food that could be made ahead of time and served cold were popular as they could keep for season.[2] Food with fruit in was one of the flavours most preferred, as these usually kept longer.

Originally the flavouring we now associate with Christmas cake came in the form of a plum porridge, which was made to line people’s stomachs at Christmas aver a time of religious fasting over Advent.[3] This porridge was added to over time to include other fruits and honey, so much so it resembled something closer to a Christmas pudding.[4] From the sixteenth century, the oats became replaced with flour and eggs, which meant it took on the consistency of a cake. Spices were also becoming more available at this time, which were meant to represent gifts offered to baby Jesus by the three wise men.[5] Richer families also began to add lots of decorations made from sugar and marzipan to the cake to show they could afford it.[6]

Whilst this does sound more like the Christmas cake we recognise today, it was still not quite the same. It was made from the leftovers of all the puddings eaten over the Christmas period and was elaborately decorated with icing and figurines.[7] As Twelfth Night was celebrated by whole households the cake the centrepiece of the feast. It was shared by everyone, including servants. Both a dried pea and dried bean were placed into the cake and whoever found them would be the King and Queen for the day, no matter what social standing they had normally.[8] This tradition had largely disappeared by the Georgian times, but Twelfth Night cake was still eaten.[9]

George Cruickshank, Frontispiece to a set of Twelfth-night characters, showing a Cossack and Napoleon in front of a Twelfth Night Cake (c. 1813), © The Trustees of the British Museum

By the time of the Industrial Revolution, Twelfth Night itself was mostly a bygone thing. Most people had moved to live in cities, with little time to celebrate Christmas for a whole month, has had gone before. Instead, Twelfth Night became Christmas Day, as that was the day most people had off work.[10] From this, the Twelfth Night cake became known as the Christmas cake. In the 1870s, Queen Victoria officially banned Twelfth Night as she feared any celebrations that did occur would become too out of control and potentially riotous.[11] Thus the Christmas cake would finally be cemented to Christmas.


[1] Johnson, B., ‘A Georgian Christmas’, Historic UK, https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/A-Georgian-Christmas/

[2] Ibid

[3] Great British Bake Off, History of the Christmas Cake, https://thegreatbritishbakeoff.co.uk/history-christmas-cake/

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Leach, H. M. and Inglis, R., ‘The Archaeology of Christmas Cakes’, Food and Foodways, 11.2-3 (2003), p. 146; ‘Christmas Cake’, https://www.whychristmas.com/customs/christmascake.shtml

[8] Johnson, B., ‘A Georgian Christmas’, Historic UK, https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/A-Georgian-Christmas/

[9] Ibid.

[10] ‘Christmas Cake’, https://www.whychristmas.com/customs/christmascake.shtml

[11] Jane Austen Centre, ‘A History of Twelfth Night Cake’, https://janeausten.co.uk/blogs/desserts/twelfth-night-cake

Fergus Suter and Jimmy Love: The First Professional Footballers, Part 2

Welcome back to the second part of the story of Fergus Suter and Jimmy Love, two of the first professional footballers. The first part focused on how Scottish Players, including Suter and Love came to play football in the mill towns of Lancashire, as well as a closer look into the life of Suter himself. You can find the first part here. This follow-on post will look into the short and tragic life of Jimmy Love, so be prepared for the emotion to come.

As previously mentioned, I first came across the story of Fergus Suter and Jimmy Love in the Netflix drama, The English Game. Jimmy’s character is portrayed as a kind, loving and caring young man, who see’s Suter not just as a friend, but a brother figure. He was by far my favourite character in the show. As usual, my curiosity got the better of me and I had to investigate the life of the real Jimmy Love. I was incredibly sad to find out that he is hardly remembered at all compared to Fergus, as really little is known about him. However, I must offer my thanks once again to Andy Mitchell, who is almost the only person who has seriously explored who the real Jimmy Love was. Most of what I have written has come from his sources with his permission to reference.

Jimmy or James Love was born in Glasgow in 1858, but sadly lost his mother at five years old. His dad also confusingly called James, which was why Jimmy was used as his name to differentiate the two. When I saw this, I instantly made a connection with Jimmy as my own mum lost her mother at the same age, and soon gained a step mum. The family moved from Greenock, around 25 miles outside of Glasgow, to Partick, which is now a suburb of Glasgow, in 1876. Following this move, Jimmy decided to set up his own street cleaning business and joined Partick football club in his spare time.[1]

James Harkness and Kevin Guthrie as Jimmy Love and Fergus Suter in Netflix’s The English Game (2020)

Things didn’t go well with his business and he went bankrupt in 1878, but absconded from his court appearances about the matter.[2] In fact he’d left Scotland altogether and moved to Darwen in Lancashire. At first this may sound odd, but Love had played against Darwen whilst playing for Partick, so he probably knew people there and that he could easily pursue his love of football there. He became a part of the Darwen football team and secretly began to get paid to do so. As previously explained, Jimmy was one of many Scottish footballers, especially Partick players, who went on to play for Lancashire teams, mainly because of the better skills they had compared to English players.[3] It turned out to be a good decision on Jimmy’s part, as he became a celebrated goal scorer for Darwen, which also led the way for Fergus Suter, a fellow Partick player, to decided to join Darwen a few weeks after Jimmy.[4] In April 1879, the club played a benefit match where proceeds were raised for both Fergus and Jimmy.[5]

For whatever reason, possibly the chance of earning more money, as Fergus later recalled, saying he was bribed both Jimmy and Fergus moved on to play for nearby Blackburn Rovers. Jimmy made his first appearance for them in November 1879, but his last ever match was played in January 1880. It’s not known why he stopped playing football, especially as he was a good player. Still, Jimmy had been part of the Darwen team that made history for being the first northern team to get to the quarter finals of the FA Cup, but with the passage of time, his part in that has been partly forgotten.[6] This is probably in part to Suter, who carried on playing until his retirement in 1888 and became a household name in the world of football for winning the FA Cup three times.[7]

Report of the death of Jimmy Love in Egypt on the 27th of September 1882, Glasgow Herald, 10 October 1882

Sadly, for Jimmy, his own retirement from football in January 1880 is where most stories of him tend to end, most likely because of the unknown circumstances of it. Thankfully, Andy Mitchell has picked up the story of what happened to him after his football career was over, and it was as far away from football, and Lancashire, as you could possibly imagine. Just a month after his last game for Blackburn, Jimmy made the 40 odd mile journey to Liverpool to sign up for the Royal Marines. In his sign-up papers, he was described as a painter who was 5ft 6.5 inches tall with dark complexion, brown eyes, and brown hair.[8] He must have followed it through as he was next seen in the 1881 Census living in barracks at Chatham in Kent, a well-known naval base at the time. He had also been promoted to the rank of corporal.[9]

The Marines, Jimmy being among them, were sent out to fight in Egypt in 1882 as the Egyptians started an uprising after the British and French began to have a bigger amount of control over the country following the leader, Khedive Ismail Pasha’s financial ruin.[10] For Jimmy, this mission was ill fated as he died of a fever at the young age of 24 in Egypt.[11] His body stayed in Egypt but his name is mentioned in a memorial dedicated to the Marines who fought during that Egyptian Campaign.[12] For his service, he was posthumously awarded with a medal, which was given to his father, James Love.[13] In honour of her then dead younger brother, Jessie Love, who went on to marry David Muirhead, another Partick player, named her son Jimmy Love Muirhead.[14] What a touching tribute and perhaps a glimmer into how much Jimmy meant to his family. Still, the tragedy didn’t end their as Jimmy Muirhead died as a young man himself on the battlefields of World War One.[15] To say that name was unlucky for the Love family is a massive understatement.

Colours given to Rochester Cathedral on 27 May 1950 after final parade of Chatham Group, Royal Marines, who were disbanded that year. Wikimedia Commons

All in all, I hope you’ve enjoyed my first ever two-part blog post, even if it’s not on my usual kind of topic. After discovering the real and moving story of Jimmy Love in particular, I felt I had to share his story. When I first read about his untimely death in Egypt, I’m not ashamed to admit I had a bit of a cry. Whether Jimmy had been a famous football player or not, the story of dying so young and so much to live for, as well as the story somewhat repeating itself in the next generation, is an awful thing for the family to have gone through. Anyway, I hope this post has helped raise the profile of Jimmy Love as a player who paved the way for his friend Fergus Suter, and just as seen in the English Game, probably helped and supported his friends along the way, whatever his personal reasons for leaving the sport were.

I would once again like to end on a thank you to Andy Mitchell for investigating Jimmy’s story in the first place, as it is certainly one that I feel needs to be told more. If you would like to know more about Jimmy, Fergus and Partick, I would thoroughly recommend Andy Mitchell’s blog on Scottish Sport, where most of the information I have referenced is from with his permission. I would also thoroughly recommend you watch The English Game on Netflix, as it tells the story not just of how football as we understand it today was created, but the class divisions that separated it in those early days of professionalism.


[1] Mitchell, A., ‘The True Story of Jimmy Love, the Very First “Scotch Professor”’, Scottish Sport Historyhttps://www.scottishsporthistory.com/sports-history-news-and-blog/the-true-story-of-jimmy-love-the-very-first-scotch-professor

[2] Mitchell, A., ‘The True Story of Jimmy Love, the Very First “Scotch Professor”’

[3] Mitchell, A., ‘From Partick With Love- The Story of Jimmy Love and Fergie Suter, the First Professional Footballers’, Scottish Sport History, https://www.scottishsporthistory.com/sports-history-news-and-blog/from-partick-with-love-the-story-of-jimmy-love-and-fergie-suter-the-first-professional-footballers

[4] Mitchell, A., ‘From Partick With Love- The Story of Jimmy Love and Fergie Suter’

[5] Mitchell, A., ‘The True Story of Jimmy Love, the Very First “Scotch Professor”’

[6] Mitchell, A., ‘From Partick With Love- The Story of Jimmy Love and Fergie Suter’

[7] Mitchell, A., ‘From Partick With Love- The Story of Jimmy Love and Fergie Suter’

[8] Mitchell, A., ‘The True Story of Jimmy Love, the Very First “Scotch Professor”’

[9] Mitchell, A., ‘The True Story of Jimmy Love, the Very First “Scotch Professor”’

[10] The National Archives, The Egypt War of 1882, https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/battles/egypt/

[11] Mitchell, A., ‘The True Story of Jimmy Love, the Very First “Scotch Professor”’

[12] Imperial War Museum, Royal Marine Light Infantry Egypt 1882, https://www.iwm.org.uk/memorials/item/memorial/16491

[13] Mitchell, A., ‘The True Story of Jimmy Love, the Very First “Scotch Professor”’

[14] Mitchell, A., ‘The True Story of Jimmy Love, the Very First “Scotch Professor”’

[15] Mitchell, A., ‘The True Story of Jimmy Love, the Very First “Scotch Professor”’

Fergus Suter and Jimmy Love: The First Professional Footballers, Part 1

Whilst looking for something to watch on Netflix recently, The English Game kept popping up as a recommended programme to watch. From the trailer, it’s clear to see that this period drama of a different sort is based on the class struggles that dominated the early years of football, or soccer to you American readers, as a standardised game in the late nineteenth century. Anyone who knows me will know I hate sports of any kind really. I was the despair of my P.E. teacher at school, who I remember asking my mum if there was any sort of physical activity I liked at all. Still, football has seemed to surround me a little bit lately, whether I like it or not.

I’m currently an archives assistant on a coal mining project at my county’s local archives, which focuses on the health and welfare provided for miners by their employers. Sport, especially football, was a large part of this. Many local mining teams produced top players, who went on to play for well-known professional football clubs, and they even had their own leagues too. For me, the part that interested me was the social and class aspects surrounding the game. That reason, as well as The English Game being written by Julian Fellows, the writer of one of my favourite period dramas, Downton Abbey, was what persuaded me to watch. Little did I realise the research rabbit hole this would lead me down and the discovery of the interesting lives of Fergus Suter and Jimmy Love, the Scottish players shown in the series, who are seen as the game’s first professional players. As both their stories are worth exploring in detail, I thought it would be best to do a post on each of them.

Netflix’s The English Game (2020)

Football has been around for centuries. Prior to the establishment of the Cambridge Rules written in 1848, football didn’t have a set of standard rules throughout the country. It varied depending on location and was more similar to what we now call Rugby. Ashbourne in Derbyshire, not far from where I live, still plays this form of the game once a year and is known as Shrovetide Football. The whole town plays in a giant scrum and it all looks very messy. The English Football Association (FA), created in 1863, made teams use the rules created in 1848, but it heavily relied on upper class teams from universities and private schools, who made up the board for it. The Scottish Football Association followed ten years later in 1873. It was in this environment that Fergus Suter and Jimmy Love began playing football from the mid-1870s.

Fergus Suter was born in Glasgow in 1857 as the son of an Irish stonemason who had moved to Scotland in search of work. Just like his father, Fergus went into the stonemason trade and became a stonemason’s apprentice.[1] Partick, the area of Glasgow he grew up in, was known for it’s football club, although initially this was a different team than Partick Thistle who play now. Suter, as well as Jimmy, were two of the first players for the team after its formation in 1876, as many working-class men played for football clubs in their spare time. Fergus’ brother, Edward, also played for Partick. However, Fergus left in the autumn of 1878 and moved to Darwen in Lancashire, following in the footsteps of his teammate Jimmy Love. Andy Mitchell who has done extensive research into the lives of both players suggests that Suter left due to financial worries when Partick stonemasons went on strike about pay.[2]

Fergus Suter, Blackburn Rovers full-back, from 1880 to 1889, The Cottontown Digitisation Project, Wikimedia Commons

It may sound strange now to think that players moved so far away from their home teams before the game had become professional, but the Scottish players, particularly those who played for Partick were sought after by the Lancashire teams. The Scottish players were much more experimental with their game strategies, opting for combination playing involving all members of the team, rather than the rather messy one preferred by the English teams.[3] The introduction of this new way of playing soon became more popular and helped to raise standards as a whole. The Scottish players brought to Lancashire by the football clubs were found jobs in workplaces that would allow time for training and playing the game and would ensure travel expenses and compensation for lost earnings.[4] This was perfectly acceptable behaviour as this allowed the game to continue to be amateur as by the rules. However, Suter admitted in a press interview given in 1902, that he and some of the other players, were being paid to play, not a regular amount, but £10 (around £660 in today’s money) when necessary.[5] At that time, the payments were considerably more than the average earnings of either unskilled or skilled labourers.[6] It’s no wonder that Suter very quickly gave up his job as a stonemason and solely relied upon the money he was earning from football. This made him the first official professional player in footballing history.

In February 1879, the Darwen team showed how far they had come, hoping to make the toffs of football and the FA. take working-class teams seriously. They played the Old Etonians, one of the main teams at the time, who’s players made up the board of the FA. itself. At half time the Old Etonians were winning 5-1, but by the end of the match, it was a 5-5 draw. In those days, extra time wasn’t a given and it had to be decided before a match or it would have to be replayed if a draw was the final result. The first rematch was a 2-2 draw, and the Old Etonians only just won the third match, going on to win the FA Cup for that season. Darwen had made history for being the first northern team to get to the quarter finals of the FA Cup.[7]

Despite the success Fergus had with Darwen, he moved on to play for Blackburn, another Lancashire team. Blackburn had bribed Suter with £100, around £6,600 in today’s money to make the move.[8] Family legend has also speculated that Suter made the move because of fathering an illegitimate child.[9] Whatever the reason, he went on to win the FA Cup with them three times and stayed with the team for nearly a decade until he retired in 1888. Following his retirement, he remained in Blackburn, but by then working as a publican, until just prior to his death in 1916.[10]

The Blackburn Rovers Team for the 1884-85 and 1885-86 Seasons, Wikimedia Commons

Fergus Suter is now well remembered as the first professional player in the football game. He was part of a team of innovators that helped create the game that is known around the world today. However, that is not the end of his story. Following the release of The English Game, his grave in Blackburn Old Cemetery has been restored, with the work finishing just last month. Blackburn Rovers have helped for the restoration of the original headstone and a new memorial stone has been placed on it to show his contribution to football.[11]

More on Jimmy Love will be coming up in part two, who has an even more interesting, though tragic story to tell. In the meantime, if you would like to know more about Jimmy, Fergus and Partick, I would thoroughly recommend Andy Mitchell’s blog on Scottish Sport, where most of this information is referenced from. He was a research consultant on The English Game. He has also written books on the subject, including one about Arthur Kinnaird, another character in the English Game, who went on to be a President of the FA.


[1] Mitchell, A., ‘From Partick With Love- The Story of Jimmy Love and Fergie Suter, the First Professional Footballers’, Scottish Sport History, https://www.scottishsporthistory.com/sports-history-news-and-blog/from-partick-with-love-the-story-of-jimmy-love-and-fergie-suter-the-first-professional-footballers

[2] Mitchell, A., ‘From Partick With Love- The Story of Jimmy Love and Fergie Suter’

[3] Mitchell, A., ‘From Partick With Love- The Story of Jimmy Love and Fergie Suter,’

[4] Huggins, M., The Victorians and Sport (London: Hambledon and London, 2004), p. 131.

[5] Mitchell, A., ‘From Partick With Love- The Story of Jimmy Love and Fergie Suter’

[6] Huggins, M., The Victorians and Sport, p. 131.

[7] Mitchell, A., ‘From Partick With Love- The Story of Jimmy Love and Fergie Suter’

[8] Huggins, M., The Victorians and Sport, p. 131.

[9] Mitchell, A., ‘From Partick With Love- The Story of Jimmy Love and Fergie Suter’

[10] Mitchell, A., ‘From Partick With Love- The Story of Jimmy Love and Fergie Suter’

[11] Blackburn Rovers, ‘Magical’ Memorial as Rovers Celebrate Suter’s Memorable Milestone, https://www.rovers.co.uk/news/2021/april/magical-memorial-as-rovers-celebrate-suters-memorable-milestone/

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery in London is perhaps one of the most curious and unique sights in the whole of the city. It is certainly one that I have wanted to visit myself for a long time. As I live so far away from London, it’s still on the list for places to go at some point in the future. For those of you unfamiliar with the cemetery, you may be asking why a place of burial would be a good place to visit. It is actually well known for its unique architecture, most notably the Circle of Lebanon, a circle of burial vaults designed in the style of classical architecture. Whilst the cemetery now boasts some renown, I only discovered recently how the very existence of this amazing place full of history and notable people was once under threat.

Highgate Cemetery from Prickett, F. and Potter, G. W’s, The History and Antiquities of Highgate, Middlesex (1842), British Library

During the early part of the nineteenth century, London’s population was booming, sadly so too was its death rate. The inner-city plots allocated for burials were unable to cope with the sheer numbers of burials needed. This meant that bodies were very much placed into the same graves as strangers, and even given quick lime to help them decompose quicker to make room for future burials! For public health reasons, the authorities decided new and better provisions needed to be made.[1] Many new out of city places were brought, including the site that would become Highgate Cemetery. Initially, 17 acres of land, costing £3,500 (or around £211,000 in today’s money) were brought in 1836, with the cemetery officially opening three years later.[2]

People of all classes were buried at the cemetery, but it is the richer plots for which the cemetery became well-known for. Architecture based on Gothic, Egyptian and Classical architecture all became a draw for people, making it a unique place to be buried. The wealthy competed for more elaborate grave monuments to add to the existing architecture of the chapels and vaults. This competition certainly encouraged others to be buried at the site.[3] In total, there are around 850 notable people buried there, ranging from author, George Eliot, Karl Marx, and Elizabeth Siddal, a model for many famous Pre-Raphaelite paintings.[4] Karl Marx’s grave at the cemetery is said to be the most visited grave in London.[5] My favourite story is of bare-knuckle fighter, Tom Sayers, who had the biggest funeral held at the cemetery, possibly even in the whole of London, which was attended by 10,000 people, with his beloved dog as the chief mourner.[6] Sayers was popular because he was known to fight opponents who were bigger than himself, but only ever lost one fight in his career.[7]

Photograph of Tom Sayers with his trophies taken by F. W. Nicholls (1860), Wikimedia Commons

For many years, the cemetery was the place to be buried and it had to be extended by another 20 acres in 1856.[8] This popularity wasn’t to last those as it began to decline following the First World War. Many of the gardeners who worked there were called up to fight, leaving the site looking a bit shabby. From then on, a slow decline in popularity occurred until 1975, when The Friends of Highgate Cemetery was established to restore and maintain the site.[9] Now the cemetery is known to attract not just tourists, but also all kinds of wildlife.

It has become a place of historic interest, but also an active public space. Talks, tours and other events are often used to cater for the needs of visitors, giving it new meaning and life, just those buried there, but those living who are connected to the place, whether they be members of staff, the Friends group that run it, local, and of course the visitors.[10] The most recent high profile burial at Highgate is that of George Michael who sadly died in 2017. Whilst his death is still very current and still private, I hope that with time, he too will come to be looked on with the same reverence that is given to the older burials in the cemetery.

J. Armagh, Egyptian Avenue, Highgate Cemetery (2007), Wikimedia Commons

[1] Highgate Cemetery, https://highgatecemetery.org/about/history

[2] Highgate Cemetery, https://highgatecemetery.org/about/history

[3] Highgate Cemetery, https://highgatecemetery.org/about/history

[4] Johnson, B., ‘Highgate Cemetery’, Historic UK, https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryMagazine/DestinationsUK/Highgate-Cemetery/

[5] Highgate Cemetery, https://highgatecemetery.org/about/history

[6] Highgate Cemetery, https://highgatecemetery.org/about/history

[7] Britannica Encyclopaedia, Tom Sayer, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Tom-Sayers

[8] Highgate Cemetery, https://highgatecemetery.org/about/history

[9] Highgate Cemetery, https://highgatecemetery.org/about/history

[10] Mader, M., ‘Public Events at a Historic-Religious Site’, in Mader, M., Saviello, A. and Scolari, B. (eds), Highgate Cemetery: Image Practices in Past and Present (Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft Mbh & Co, 2020), p. 180.

A ‘Love of Wandering’[i]: The Webb Family Abroad- Guest Post by Harriet Bird


Harriet Bird graduated with an undergraduate degree in History from Nottingham Trent University in 2019 and is currently studying for her master’s in Museum and Heritage Development. After beginning a volunteer position at Newstead Abbey in 2018 she became interested in the history of the Webb family and has begun researching this alongside her studies.  

Scotland, France, Italy, Switzerland, Madeira, Egypt, South Africa, Jerusalem, India, Japan, Australia, New Zealand. The Victorian owners of Newstead Abbey travelled extensively.  

From an early age, William Frederick Webb (1829-1899) was used to travelling to different countries. Although born in England, he was largely raised in France and was known as “the French boy” when he began his education at Eton College.[i] After leaving Eton he became a captain of the 17th Lancers and spent time in Ireland, however, “the monotony of regimental life” did not suit Webb and he resigned his commission and turned his attentions to Africa.[ii] At the age of 22, he landed in South Africa to begin a two-year expedition of the country.[iii] After reluctantly leaving Africa early in 1853, he visited India after hearing so much about the country but found “after the free life of the African wilderness the India of those days failed to attract him” and he returned to England by the end of the year.[iv]

Figure 1: A photograph of five of the Webb children stood in front of Eagle Pond in the gardens of Newstead Abbey. Photograph from Webb Family Photo Album.

In July 1857, Webb married Emilia Jane Goodlake (1835-1889), the daughter of Thomas Mills Goodlake of Wadley at Farringdon in Berkshire (1808-1877).[v] The couple moved to Pepper Hall in Yorkshire where their first three children, Augusta Zelia (1858), Geraldine Katherine (1860), and Wilfred (1861), were born. Shortly after Wilfred was born in spring 1861 the family moved to Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire, where four more children followed, Ethel Mary (1862), Mabel Cecilia (1863), Algernon Frederick (1865) and Roderick Beauclerk (1867).

The Webb children’s childhoods were filled with tales of their father’s excursions abroad, in particular, his expedition to Africa, so much so that Augusta later claimed, “Africa played such a familiar part in our childhood’s days as to be almost as real to us as our home surroundings”.[vi] From surviving letters and family photograph albums, we find that William and Emilia continued to travel and often took the children with them. Not only did the family spend their summers in Scotland at Arrochar, but they also travelled abroad to places such as Switzerland, Italy and Egypt.[vii] Emilia managed to fulfil her “great desire” and visited Jerusalem, as Augusta related, “it was a very real and true pilgrimage”, and she was “very proud of her pilgrim’s ring”.[viii]  It is perhaps not surprising that their children continued to travel and may have acquired the same “love of wandering” Augusta describes her father as having.[ix]

Figure 2 : Photograph taken by a member of the Webb family identified as Jerusalem. Photograph from the Webb Family Photo Album.

Three years after her marriage to Philip Affleck Fraser in July 1889, Augusta found herself settling in Jamaica during her husband’s work with the railway.[x] Already an experienced and talented author having published articles and short stories in the periodicals in England, Augusta began her first full-length novel. Inspired by her new surroundings and the stories told to her by the local population, A Study in Colour was published in 1894. A second novel, Lucilla (1895), and a collection of short stories, A Reluctant Evangelist (1896), followed, all published under the pseudonym, Alice Spinner. Augusta’s fourth work, Livingstone and Newstead, was published in 1913 under her married name.

In the 1890s Geraldine and Ethel got the opportunity to accompany their father on a trip to Japan. On their return, inspired by their visit, rooms began to be filled with purchases and souvenirs, the Henry VII bedroom being redecorated to create a Japanese Room. Ethel also took this inspiration out into the gardens and set about designing a Japanese Garden, her sketches and research having survived to be shown to visitors at the Abbey today.

Death also haunted trips abroad. In 1889, Emilia became “hopelessly ill” and the “South African climate had been recommended to her”.[xi] Accompanied only by her husband, she travelled to South Africa where the weather did “allay much of her suffering” but in December she passed away just two months after arriving.[xii]  Two years later, a visit to Madeira was extended for some time on account of Mabel’s “delicate health” and her “suffering from the effects of a severe fall”.[xiii] When she eventually returned to England in July it was decided for her to undergo an operation, however, shortly after chloroform had been administered Mabel “sank rapidly” and died from a complication with her heart.[xiv] In 1898, Webb, like his wife, had travelled abroad for declining health.[xv] Suffering from acute laryngitis, Webb spent his last months in Egypt, passing away in February 1899 potentially from heart failure.[xvi]

Figure 3: Photograph of a sphinx taken in Egypt. Photograph from the Webb Family Photo Album.

In December the same year, Geraldine married Sir Herbert Charles Chermside (1850-1929) in a quickly arranged and quiet ceremony on account of Chermside’s departure for South Africa on active service on 4 January 1900, both Geraldine and Ethel later joined him.[xvii] Following his appointment as the 9th Governor of Queensland, a post he held between 1902 and 1904, the couple relocated to Australia.[xviii]  Whilst there, Geraldine visited New Zealand in October 1903, her husband joined her for Christmas before they both returned to Australia at the end of January 1904.[xix] Like her parents, when her health was failing she travelled abroad to Switzerland for improvement but died in June 1910.[xx]

The youngest Webb sibling, Roderick, also found himself in Australia. Likely leaving England after being examined by a bankruptcy court in 1896 for debts of over £11,000, Roderick is reportedly to have taken up mining, farming and “dairying” in Australia.[xxi] Like his father, Roderick had begun a military career after leaving school, a career he retained in Australia after taking the position of aide-de-camp to his brother-in-law, Chermside.[xxii] During the war, he was ordered to East Africa where he died from heart failure in 1916.[xxiii]

With Newstead Abbey as their base, the Webb’s travelled extensively for exploration, enjoyment, employment and easing of illness. Their combined “love of wandering” led them to places as far away as Australia and Japan and their travels often coincided with important landmarks in their lives making it almost impossible to tell their story without reference to them.   

Photographs from the Webb Family Photo Album used with kind permission from Simon Brown, Curator of Newstead Abbey.


[i] Fraser, A.Z. 1913. Livingstone and Newstead, London: John Murray, p.3.

[ii] Ibid, pp.1-2.

[iii] Ibid, pp. 2-6. See Chapters 2-6 for an account of his time in Africa and meeting with Dr Livingstone.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid, pp. 41-42.

[vi] ‘Marriage in the High Life’, Morning Post, Thursday, 16 July 1857, p.5. ; Fraser, Livingstone, pp. 64-65.

[vii] Fraser, Livingstone, p.33.

[viii] A copy of the Webb family photograph album is available for visitors to look through at Newstead Abbey and some of the letters are also on display.

[ix] Fraser, Livingstone, p.170.

[x] Ibid, p.3.

[xi] Bryan, P. (2000), The Jamaican People, 1880-1902: Race, Class, and Social Control, University of West Indies Press, p.40, 199.  

[xii] Fraser, Livingstone, pp. 248-251.

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] ‘Sad Death of the Daughter of Mr Webb, of Newstead Abbey’, Mansfield Reporter, Friday, 3 July 1891, p.8.

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] ‘Mr W. F. Webb’, Nottingham Evening Post, Saturday, 25 Feb 1899, p.4.

[xvii] Ibid. ; ‘Stray Pellets’, Sporting Gazette: The County Gentleman, Saturday, 18 March 1899, p.345.

[xviii] ‘Major-General Sir H. Chermside and Miss Geraldine Webb’, Nottingham Journal, Thursday, 28 Dec 1899, p.6. ; ‘Major-Gen. Sir H. Chermside, G.C.M.G., C.B., to Miss G. K. Webb’, Gentlewoman, Saturday, 13 Jan 1900, p.56.

[xix] ‘Queensland’s New Governor’, Pall Mall Gazette, Wednesday, 1 Jan 1902, p.8. ; ‘Army Personal’, Army and Navy Gazette, Saturday, 11 Jan 1902, p.28. ; ‘Sir H. Chermside Resigns’, The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld: 1872-1947), Friday, 30 Sep 1904, p.4.

[xx] ‘Lady Chermside’s Departure’, The Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser (Qld: 1861-1908), Tuesday, 6 Oct 1903, p.12. ; ‘Governor Gone’, The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld: 1872-1947), Wednesday, 16 Dec 1903, p.7.

[xxi] ‘Death of Lady Chermside’, Nottingham Evening Post, Thursday, 23 June 1910, p.6.

[xxii] ‘The Affairs of Roderick B. Webb, of Cowton, Yorks, and Newstead Abbey, Notts’, The Freemans Journal, Thursday, 12 Nov, 1896, p.7. ‘Obituary: Major R. B. Webb’, Warwick Examiner and Times (Qld: 1867-1919), Wednesday, 9 Aug 1916, p.1.  

[xxiii] ‘Obituary’, Warwick Examiner, 1916, p.1.

[xxiv] Ibid.

Victorian Art Depicting the Poor

Social Realist paintings were created as direct response to the squalid conditions the poor were living in. The theme was short lived, only really lasting in the 1870s. It aimed to protest against the harshness of the Poor Law, which had meant that outdoor relief was cut and relief was centralised to the workhouse.[1] Despite prior attempts to show the plight of the poor and the conditions they lived in, there still remained a reluctance to portray any hardness in the lifestyle surrounding any image of them.[2] There was a fear that poverty had changed its meaning since industrialisation, so there was some desire to portray it in order to gain understanding. However, attempts often felt otherworldly as they sought  to portray the ‘new citizens of the Empire’.[3] The main theme of art from the early nineteenth century onwards was patriotic, portraying national greatness and reaffirming the superiority of middle class contemporary morality.[4] This meant that there was little appeal for paintings depicting the poor as they were seen as undoing national greatness. It was especially evident in the theory suggesting that the condition of people’s bodies reflected the health of the State. If the poor were in ill health, they were living in “conditions which might give rise to social and political unrest.”[5] To outwardly make not of this possibility would undo the State as a whole. For this reason, many portrayals of the poor showed them in a ‘fashionable’ light, where they still had some invisibility or were purposefully kept at a distance from the intended audience. This helped to reinforce the upper classes social standing because they still were able to control the way in which the poor were portrayed.

S. L. Fildes (1844-1927), Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward, 1874; Royal Holloway, University of London

In the 1870s, there was a change to the work of some artists, most notably Luke Fildes, known for his famous Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward (1874). It was based on a similar engraving that featured in The Graphic newspaper, which encourage artists to capture real life, especially if it helped make poverty a public rather than private concern.[6] The idea for the painting came from the experiences Fildes had when he first moved to London, and in his own words he described how he would never “forget seeing somewhere near the Portland Road snowy winter’s night the applicants for the admission to a casual ward”.[7] It purposefully painting showed the different types of people who were reliant on this new form of indoor relief by showing the darkness that a life in poverty created.[8] Art critics had a mixed response to the painting. Some believed that it was “the most notable piece of realism” showing “the startling impression off all wayward and unlovely reality” but others saw it as “revolting for an art which should seek to please, refine and elevate” the poor in the eyes of others.[9] Fildes used this painting as a protest against the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 which stopped all outdoor relief and centred the relief of the poor only within the workhouse. In terms of the painting, it is a direct condemnation of the indignity many poor had to go through to get help. They would first have to report to a police station in order to gain a night ticket for the workhouse, as seen by the policeman in the far left who is talking to a gentleman who looks like a lost ‘explorer’ of the slum.[10] The people who did manage to get some help were often called the ‘undeserving’ poor, so called as they had to prove they were deserving of relief offered by the parish.

D. G. C. Rossetti, Found, c.1869; Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, USA

The ’undeserving’ poor were not allowed help as they were classed as undeserving and were left to fend for themselves. A main category of this type of poverty depicted in art at the time was the fallen woman, a woman who prostituted herself. The image of the fallen woman came to represent the idea of sexual immorality that the middle class believed was rife within the working classes. Female weakness within Victorian art was seen as a way of showing some compassion but not enough to put off a middle-class audience.[11] The Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, used his unfinished painting Found (c.1869), to represent the prostitution that Dickens and Mayhew had already debated about in their writings.[12] The painting depicts a rural man encountering an old lover who had moved to the city and has now become a prostitute. Urbanisation and industrialisation are seen as the reason for her moral ‘affliction’ and is purposefully compared with the righteousness of her rural lover.[13] The loss of rural innocence and her possible fate is symbolised in the calf that has come into the city from a rural life only to be led to slaughter.[14] Women who did not conform to middle class feminine ideals were used by artists because it was able to create more distance between the audience and the poor they depicted. Distance was also created by the frozen sense of drama which Lamborne indicates was a key feature of paintings depicting fallen women.[15]

In contrast to the fallen woman being used metaphorically for the wrongs of the working poor, the masculinity of the labouring man was the metaphor for how the city was able to improve people’s spiritual life. Ford Madox Brown (another Pre-Raphaelite artist) was able to portray moral concerns surrounding the poor in Work, one of the most famous paintings of the Victorian age.Even Brown himself suggested the inspiration for the painting was his belief that labourers were “at least as worthy of the powers of an English painter as the fisherman of the Adriatic, the peasant of the Campagna or the Neapolitan lassarone”, because they were still working, even they were the lowest in society.[16] The navvies who do the main and physical work are seen as heroes who bask in light whereas the aristocracy are in the dark background as they do not participate in work.[17] The street urchin girl at the front also shows a feminine ideal of work as she shows a motherly persona towards her siblings but the red colour of her dress and her exposed shoulders subtly indicate that she has the signs of a future prostitute.[18]

F. M. Brown, Work, 1852-65; Manchester Art Gallery, UK

Despite the good intensions of Social Realism, it was never fashionable as the middle class were the main buyers of art, meaning those depicted would have represented their work force. For this reason, they were not interested in the pity created in the paintings, for the people in them were their capital.[19] Despite the artists hoping to create a realistic portrayal of the poor, the Victorian poor, sentimentality did play a role. With the middle-class audience in mind, an altered image was needed to create a hidden message of social realism. This came in two forms: the idea of the fallen woman, who appealed to the middle class because it did not conform to their feminine ideals, thus distance was created between themselves and the model within the painting; the masculinity of the working poor could also appeal to the middle class connection with work and moral improvement.[20] There also would have been those who purposefully wanted to turn a blind eye, so having a painting of the poor would have been just too close to home for some.


[1] Paxman, J., The Victorians: Britain Through the Paintings of the Age (London: BBC Books, 2009), p. 68; Des Cars, L., The Pre-Raphaelites: Romance and Realism (London: Thames & Hudson, 2000), p. 49.

[2] Paxman, J., The Victorians, p. 63.                                   

[3] Flint, K., The Victorians and the Visual Imagination (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 156.

[4] D’Arcy Wood, G., ‘Visual Pleasures, Visual States: Art, Entertainment, and the Nation’ in Klancher, J. (ed), A Concise Companion to the Romantic Age (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), p. 246; Pulham, P., ‘The Arts’ in Williams, C. (ed), A Companion to Nineteenth-Century Britain (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007) p. 449.

[5] Flint, K., The Victorians and the Visual Imagination, pp. 152-153.

[6] Paxman, J., The Victorians, p. 66; Korda, A., Printing and Painting the News in Victorian London: The Graphic and Social Realism, 1869-1891 (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2015), p. 93.

[7] Fildes cited in Paxman, J., The Victorians, p. 69.

[8] Paxman, J., The Victorians, p. 78.

[9] Art Journal, July 1874 cited in Paxman, J., The Victorians, p. 70.

[10] Paxman, J., The Victorians, p. 68.

[11] Des Cars, L., The Pre-Raphaelites, p. 52.

[12] Des Cars, L., The Pre-Raphaelites, p. 52.

[13] Des Cars, L., The Pre-Raphaelites, p. 52; Baringer, T., Reading the Pre-Raphaelites, Second Edition(New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012), p. 109.

[14] Baringer, T., Reading the Pre-Raphaelites, p. 109.

[15] Lamborne, L., Victorian Painting (London: Phiadon Press Limited, 1999), pulp. 375.

[16] Ford Madox Brown cited in Paxman, J., The Victorians, p. 81.

[17] Baringer, T., Reading the Pre-Raphaelites, pp. 113-114.

[18] Baringer, T., Reading the Pre-Raphaelites, p. 115.

[19] Paxman, J., The Victorians, p. 72; Pulham, P., ‘The Arts’, p. 450.

[20] Korda, A., Printing and Painting the News in Victorian London, p. 94; Baringer, T., Reading the Pre-Raphaelites, p. 18.