A CURIOUS piece of memorabilia has been passed to the Bugle by Raymond Franks of Stourport- on-Severn. It’s a 171-year-old red leather-bound pocketbook, containing the 1841 edition of the British Almanac of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge.
Raymond writes, “This was given to me some years ago by a relative who was in the police at the time. He told me he found it in a garden shed after being called out to a house after someone had died there. He was in the police at Dudley.”
The Almanac truly is a treasure trove of useful information for anyone in 1841, but it is the handwritten additions to the book that are of real interest.
On the inside cover there is a recent note, written in ball-point, which reads, “This diary was found in 1963 by Mr S. Church, loving father of Lynda, Christine and Timothy Church.” But throughout the book are much older notes, written in the copperplate handwriting that was taught to all Victorian children.
The title page has a name and address, “Mrs Hannah Reade, Addiscombe Road, Croydon, January 1841,” and throughout the calendar section of the almanac are notes, presumably written by her husband. The first, chronologically, reads “Monday morning 20th December 1841 my dear son James Emmanuel Reade was born about 5 minutes before 10 o’clock AM. Matthew Reade.”
The births of a further nine children are then recorded in the same manner: “Half past one o’clock noon on Monday 11th March 1844 my dear son Matthew John Reade was born. Matthew Reade.”
“Thursday morning about 5 minutes before 7 o’clock AM 16th October 1845 my dear daughter Julia May Reade was born. Matthew Reade.” To this is added a footnote, “Died of scarlet fever on Monday morning 30th August 1858 about 20 minutes to 11AM.”
“On Saturday 1st of May 1847 about 5 minutes past 12 o’clock (day) my dear daughter Hannah Matilda Reade was born. Matthew Reade.”
“At 4 minutes past 10 o’clock AM on Friday the 3rd August 1849 my dear daughter Mary Ann was born. Matthew Reade.”
“Second January 1852. On Friday morning about half past 9am my dear daughter Elizabeth Reade was born. 2nd Jan ‘52. Matthew Reade.”
“On Tuesday the 7th March 1854 my dears sons, twins, Peter Edward and John Paul were born Peter Edward at 25 mins past 9 o’clock AM and John Paul at 10 o’clock AM 35 minutes difference between their births. M. Reade.” To this is added a note that the second twin John Paul “Died Sunday evening 2nd November (of bronchitis) 1856.
“On Thursday the 10th of July 1856 my dear son Edward Reade was born about half past 6 o’clock AM. Matthew Reade.” Later, Matthew added, “Died 3rd March 1857 (of convulsions).”
And finally, “On Wednesday morning the 9th February 1859 about 10 minutes to 4 o’clock PM my dear daughter Catherine was born. Matthew Reade.”
How did this pocketbook recording the births of a Croydon family find its way to the Black Country? A clue comes from a scrap of an envelope found inside the book, postmarked in Liverpool, 6th July, 1892, with the following address: “Mr P. Reade, Chain and Anchor Proof House, Netherton.” Was this P. Reade of the proof house the same Peter Edward Reade, the eldest twin, born in 1854? The 1891 census lists a Peter E. Reade living in Pensnett, was he the same man?
The almanac contains pretty much all the information a person would need to know in 1841 and as such, presents a window on a world quite different to our own. After the calendar and sections on astrological information, tides, and public holidays there is a section “Miscellaneous Register” that begins with a list of the royal family of Great Britain:
“The Queen: Alexandrina Victoria, born May 24, 1819; married to Prince Albert Francis Augustus Charles Emanuel of Saxe Coburg and Gotha, Feb 10, 1840.
“The Queen Dowager: Adelaide Amelia Louisa Teresa Caroline, widow of King William IV, sister of the reigning Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, born August 13, 1792.
“Royal Princes and Princesses: Ernest Augustus (King of Hanover), Duke of Cumberland, born June 5, 1771; married May 29, 1815, to Frederica Carolina Sophia, daughters of the Duke of Mecklenburg Strelitz, and widow of Frederick William, Prince of Solms Braunfels, born March 2, 1778. Issue, George Frederic, born May 27, 1819.
“Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, born January 27, 1773.
“Adolphus Frederick, Duke of Cambridge, born February 24, 1774; married May 7, 1818, to Augusta Wilhelmina Louisa, daughter of the Landgrave of Hesse; born July 25, 1797. Issue, George William, born March 26, 1819, Augusta Caroline, born July 19, 1822, Mary Adelaide, November 27, 1833.
“Sophia, born November 3, 1777.
“Cousin to the Royal Princes and Princesses: Princess Sophia Matilda of Gloucester, born May 29, 1773.
“Her Majesty’s Mother: Victoria Maria Louisa (Princess Dowager of Leiningen), Duchess of Kent, sister of the King of the Belgians, born August 17, 1786.”
The almanac omits Victoria and Albert’s firstborn child and lists Victoria’s uncle Ernest Augustus, King of Hanover, as heir to the throne, but by 1841 that was no longer the case. Victoria gave birth to Princess Victoria, future Empress of Germany, on 21st November, 1840, presumably after the almanac had gone to print, hence the inaccuracy.
The almanac then lists all the members of the various royal households, with titles such as Secretary to the Board of Green Cloth and Hereditary Grand Falconer. The book also lists the government of the then Prime Minister Lord Melbourne, every member of the House of Lords, all MPs, all bishops, and all lords lieutenant. There are details of the British colonies, courts of law, universities, scientific institutions and clubs.
Listed under “Miscellaneous Information” are the 51 reigning sovereigns of Europe (there are 12 sovereign states today) along with the Emperor of Brazil and the US President, the addresses of public offices, details of postal services and deliveries, mail coach routes, voting rights, and, of interest locally, the ironmasters’ quarterly meetings, which were held at Walsall, Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Stourbridge and Dudley.