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Paul’s blog

The Quakers and the English chocolate industry

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Both the Fry and Cadbury families were of course Quakers and, like the Rowntrees in York, one of their priorities was to provide their workers with as good working conditions as possible. As well as that, Cadbury and Rowntree provided sanitary and comfortable housing, educational, social and recreational facilities. Joseph Fry employed a nurse and a doctor to attend to the medical problems of his staff; ran ‘continuation classes’, or further education, for the girls, provided a gym with instructors, facilities and pitches for football, tennis, cricket and bowls and organised the Operatic Society, the Camera Club, the Debating and Dramatic Societies. Girls leaving to get married received a copy of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. Fry epitomises the inextricable association of English chocolate manufacturing with the Society of Friends, or Quakerism. Friends were excluded from the only teaching universities in England at the time, Oxford and Cambridge, because of their non-conformism and the universities’ association with Anglicanism; they were debarred from Parliament and the guilds; they were restricted in what they could and could not do as lawyers because they refused to take oaths; the arts were considered frivolous and they were disqualified from the armed services because they were pacifists. One of the few alternatives left to privileged and well to do young Quakers was to pursue a life in industry or business, and this is what many did. They often brought with them a tradition of high quality management and fair trading practices, rigorous scientific research and innovative technical development as well as an obsessive preoccupation with quality and a breathtakingly detailed attention to business administration. One of the legacies of the frequent Meetings routinely held by the Society of Friends and the travelling required to get to these Meetings and to spread the word was…

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THE SUPERSITIOUS ROMAN: talking cows and weeping horses

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Superstition was rife and omnipresent in the Roman world, presumably as much amongst women as men. Persius singles out god-fearing grandmothers and aunts, in his satire on the inefficacy of men’s clandestine prayers to the gods. Prayers are expert in averting the evil eye and may predict a life of extravagant wealth, a good marriage, an altogether rosy life: but Persius is far from convinced and no nurse will ever hear a prayer from Perseus . Juvenal too satirises the anxia mater at the temple of Venus for optimistically wishing her daughter’s beauty 1. In a world where it was considered unpropitious for a black cat to enter your house or a snake to fall from the roof into your yard 2, where it was unlucky if a statue of a god was seen to sweat blood 3, where a horse was born with five legs, a lamb with a pig’s head and a pig with a human head, where a rampant bull ran up three flights of stairs, and a cow talked 4, and where a statue laughed uncontrollably, a horse cried hot tears 5 , in a world where it was inauspicious to sneeze in the presence of a waiter holding a tray or to sweep the floor when a guest was standing up 6, where it was de riguer to whistle when lightning flashed , in such a world it should come as no surprise to hear what were probably exclusively female superstitions such as only trimming your nails on market days – and then starting with the forefinger and doing it in silence – but never at sea; Pliny records that in certain Italian towns it was forbidden by law for women to walk through the streets carrying a spindle . We see how certain days…

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Wayward Julia Augusti (39 BC – AD 14), daughter of the world’s most powerful man

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Julia Augusti, or Julia Caesaris, was the only blood child of Octavian, later Augustus, the only child from his politically motivated marriage with Scribonia, his second wife ; Julia was born in 39 BC, step-sister and, later, second wife of Tiberius, maternal grandmother of Caligula and Agrippina the Younger, grandmother through marriage of Claudius, and maternal great-grandmother of Nero. Livia, then, was Julia’s stepmother, Antonia her husband’s (Tiberius’) stepsister. Julia’s birthday could not have been less auspicious: she was born the day on which Octavian divorced her mother to marry Livia Drusilla. Initially, Julia may have lived with her mother if we assume that the reason why Scribonia engaged Scribonius Aphrodisius was to tutor her daughter. Scribonia was, nevertheless, soon relieved of her maternal duties and Julia went to live with her father and Livia 1. Here she would have enjoyed the company of Livia’s children from her first marriage to Tiberius Claudius Nero: Tiberius, three years older, and Drusus, about the same age.   In keeping with Augustus’s attempts to resuscitate the familia and restore family values, both through example and later through legislation, the Leges Juliae, Julia received a strict upbringing and a formal education in the imperial household. The hope and intention, naively, was that Julia would grow up a paradigm of traditional wifely values, a good matrona in a society devoid of stuprum and adultery, where modesty, pietas and simple living were the order of the day. To that end Julia’s curriculum included lanificium, working the wool – that ancient skill which Augustus saw as symbolic of the good old days when extravagance and adultery were unknown. The Emperor, as we have seen, promoted homespun by wearing it himself and letting the world believe that all the women of the imperial household were skilled in wool work…

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The Feckless Fifties

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York is one of the few British cities that is blessed with authoritative, extensive and detailed research on its social life and activity. Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree (1871 – 1954) first reported on York’s social situation in 1899,   inspired and stimulated by the research work of his father Joseph Rowntree in York, and of Charles Booth in London. One of the first statistical studies ever conducted, his comprehensive, no holds barred, no stone unturned survey into the living conditions of the York poor involved investigators visiting almost every working class home; in other words 11,560 families or 46,754 individuals. Rowntree’s findings were published in his 1901 ground breaking, landmark study, Poverty: A Study of Town Life – a book which helped lay the foundations for the modern welfare state and established the poverty bar as a credible benchmark. His description of Hungate then, gives a flavour of this exhaustive work and neatly summarises the situation: he describes the area as typical of urban slum life while only too mindful that by no means everyone there was so feckless: ‘reckless expenditure of money as soon as obtained, with the aggravated want at other times; the rowdy Saturday night, the Monday morning pilgrimage to the pawn shop…the despair of so many social workers’. Two further York studies followed. Seebohm’s third York poverty survey was published in 1951 as Poverty and the Welfare State, with George Russell Lavers. The subtitle was A Third Social Survey of York Dealing only with Economic Questions. It concluded that poverty was now considerably less of a problem, despite remaining pockets, mainly amongst the elderly. Welfare benefits, though, could eradicate much of this. Primary poverty afflicted 846 families and was down to 2.77% of the working population and 1.66% of the total population compared with 31.1% and 17.7% in 1936….

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John Wilhelm Rowntree’s racism and the Banderlogs

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Describing a mix of chocolate business and sightseeing, John Wilhelm’s Mexico diaries are fascinating, if not, at times, somewhat disturbing: the ‘copper coloured’ coolies were ‘comely women to look at, small and graceful, and with such a carriage … [with]strikingly refined faces in sharp contrast to chattering wooly-pated niggers with their coarse features, obtrusive manners, and overflowing conceit. The nigger is to the white what the Banderlog were to the jungle … they are hopelessly incompetent, incorrigibly idle, overpowering in their conceit and more effervescent than the Parisians … They are however very picturesque and the women … carry themselves magnificently and walk like Greek Goddesses.’ Copies of this were sent to Frank Rowntree ‘with instructions for it to be read to Acomb Adult School on the Sunday following receipt’. John Wilhelm’s use of the word ‘nigger’ may possibly not have been quite as offensive then as it is to modern ears. The word was being used generally in a pejorative sense from around 1900 although advertisers, for example, continued to use it for some time after. There is no mitigation, however, for the comparison with Banderlogs. Bandarlogs, monkey people, is used by Kipling in The Jungle Book where they are regarded as pariahs by the rest of the jungle. Their trade mark song goes: We are great. We are free. We are wonderful. We are the most wonderful people in all the jungle! We all say so, and so it must be true. In Chicago racial discrimination was there for all to see; John Wilhelm’s reaction on seeing race-segregated waiting rooms is tinged with irony and to some extent inconsistent with his racist pronouncements above: ‘I suppose coloured people are never ladies and gentlemen. It is strange that, an Englishman, from a benighted country which still supports such a…

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Witch-lite: The Bogeywoman is Coming to Get You

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In ancient Greece and Rome not all aspiring witches made the grade. But all was not lost to those intent on following the chthonic way of life. Anyone who failed proficiency in witchcraft could always qualify as that sister of witches – the scary bogeywoman, just as malevolent and equally repulsive. Some of Greece’s pre-eminent philosophers believed that ‘of all wild things, the child is most unmanageable…the most unruly animal there is. That’s why he has to be curbed by a great many bridles’. One of these bridles, apparently endorsed by flustered wet nurses, was the introduction of the bogeywoman into the impressionable imaginations of children in their charge.   Bogeywomen often appeared as big bad wolves – precursors of the one which terrified little Red Riding Hood. They ate naughty boys and girls alive and were never without a child   freshly devoured in their stomach.   In ancient Greece the queen of bogeywomen was Mormo – a horrifying donkey with the legs of a woman – variously a queen of the Lystraegones who had lost her own children and now vengefully murdered others’, or a child-eating Corninthian .   Another was Empusa who appeared either as a cow, a donkey or beautiful woman; Empusa could be a beautiful, cannibalistic child-eater.   Yet another was Gello, evil female spirit and child snatcher. The Roman’s equalled Mormio with Lamia – a sexy Libyan woman whose children by Zeus were murdered by Hera; like Mormo she too was a cannibal and exacted revenge by murdering other women’s babies , eating them alive. Lamia and Empusa were sometimes described as as phasma – ghosts, or nightmares. For the Roman there was a deity who looked after every single aspect of life and death: bogey-women and witches and their deterrence were no exception. Cunina looks after the baby…

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The opening battles of the 1st Punic war

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Messana (264 BC) The First Punic War started with the battle of Messana. Messana (modern Messina) had been something of a rogue state since 288 BC when it was ruthlessly and mercilessly taken by a group of discharged and unscrupulous Campanian mercenaries who called themselves Mamertines, children of Mars, after the Oscan god of war, Mamers; they had originally been hired by Agathocles of Syracuse. The surviving Messanians were evicted, their property and women shared out between the mercenaries. In 264 BC an ambitious, expansionist King Hiero II of Syracuse laid siege to Messana with a promise to execute the inhabitants when it fell. The Mamertimes were notorious pirates with ‘mafiosi’ tendencies, so unsurprisingly had few genuine friends on Sicily. Nevertheless, a Carthaginian flotilla led by Hanno helped out by persuading Hiero to end the siege; the Mamertines were then stuck with Hanno and the Carthaginians. To get rid of them they enlisted the help of the Romans who were increasingly anxious over the proximity of Carthaginians to Italy. Hiero II then allied with Carthage.   However circuitous and accidental the route may have been that brought them to this point, the Romans and the Carthaginians were now potentially at loggerheads. The Senate and the popular assembly were divided over what action to take: war weariness and the unsettling prospect of a Carthage sitting on Rome’s doorstep opposite the very foot of Italy were equally powerful considerations. In the end, the Romans   were finally swayed into action by the consuls of the day and their desire for military kudos and the prospect of much booty. A timid commander sailed away in the face of Rome’s relief expedition but his government back home were somewhat angered at having lost Messana in such an undignified fashion. The Carthaginians accordingly sent their own force,…

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