For the fourth of my archive blogs I have chosen to talk about a very interesting item from our Duncan Grant collection. Titled ‘A Wayside Register’ and dated 1894 on its worn black leather cover; it is essentially a travelling scrapbook of disparate material accumulated during 1894 and the following years by Grant’s family. The book includes handwritten lists of guests to various parties in such wide-ranging locations as Malta and Rangoon, press cuttings, menus, invitations to social events, photographs and evening entertainment schedules pasted in apparently at random. The material inside the scrapbook offers a vivid snapshot of the kind of slightly exotic social whirlwind that the Grants and their peers lived in. Included is a fold-out handwritten schedule for a billiard tournament in Rangoon, including dinner rules and entrance fees: some of the former being quite strict, for instance rule number three dictates that there should be no champagne, while rule number four has it that guests were allowed just ten minutes after the meal to smoke. The patriotism of the period is evoked by a printed note of ‘The King’s Dinner’ from July 1902 for King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, along with a recitation of the National Anthem. There are numerous photographs and press cuttings relating to events of passing interest in the news, including one story from a French newspaper of a Canadian, Lieutenant George Smyth, jumping with a canoe from the Invalides Bridge, Paris, into the Seine. The story goes on to say that after this feat Lieutenant Smyth calmly bailed out his craft, climbed into it and floated off down the river. Loose photographs slipped inside the pages provide us with a tantalising glimpse into past lives. Fragile and yellowing with age, the photos show, variously, the frontispiece of an almost laughably ornate Indian temple; a girl named ‘Nora’ playing with her dogs in her garden during some balmy long-forgotten July; images of boats and yachts, and of the people merrily holidaying aboard them. Duncan Grant himself and his mother, Ethel Grant, appear on a list of guests invited to Paris. Overall, this scrapbook offers a fascinating insight into times gone by.
Do you have anything in your own family archives that provide a similar window into the past?
Written by David Pilling