During our retrospective cataloguing project our Assistant Librarian, Nick Wall, has discovered an assortment of unexpected items hidden in an 18th century ladies pocket book.
Within the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library's rare books collection there is a set of 17 ladies pocket books dating from 1768 to the early 19th century.
Some of these books contain - as well as the usual calendars - information on topics around health and beauty. Some are illustrated with engravings of the hairstyles and fashions of the day, as well as general household tips such as ‘how you choose a good cut of meat’, ‘a method for preserving carnations in cold climates’ and ‘making burnt rye as good as coffee’. The books also contain ballads, songs and country dances, which is where our interest chiefly lies.
Ladies pocket books were used as annual diaries or 'pocket companions' for women of the time. They contain printed information and illustrations considered useful and relevant to the year in question. They would also have been used to keep a record of appointments, accounts and other important information in the daily activities of a well to do woman of the 18th - 19th centuries. Examples of handwritten notes in these little books show a practical record of daily housekeeping matters and engagements, but also evidence of sad and private moments; for example, a note in one book from the year 1768 dated May 27 simply says 'My dear Sophia buried today in Paddington Church. Aged three years and three months' - a poignant reminder of the high levels of infant mortality suffered in the 1700's.
The Library holds these pocket books, which have been kindly donated over the years from a range of individuals. They offer a valuable insight into the daily social activities of people of the time, and provide an incredibly useful record of what dances and songs were popular and new, say, in the year 1798.
The unexpected items (pictured above and below) appear in one of the pocket books for the year 1796. The book has, throughout its pages, what looks like various samples of platinum blonde hair, tied into tidy bows.
We're not yet certain what they are or how old they are; whether they are fine threads, samples for a wig, or if they are actual pieces of hair.