Friday, March 20, 2009

Black Clothes For Self And Children

My trouble is that I can't stick to one thing, I'm a digital jack-of-all trades and a somewhat sad master-of-none. I know this because a long succession of people have told me so, starting with Mrs Turner in Primary School (strange, I have been thinking of her a lot recently). Well, it's got to stop. What I need is focus. Direction. I need to grow up. In future these blog postings will be on SERIOUS subjects, they will be on-message, they will be professional.
Today I would like to announce that Microsoft will finally launch the non-beta version of its new web browser, Internet Explorer 8. It has many new and advanced features including ....
Talking of browsers, I was browsing around the web the other day when I came across the Charles Booth Online Archive. Charles Booth (1840 - 1916) was an English philanthropist and social researcher best known for his recording of life in working class London at the end of the nineteenth century.  His research papers are kept at the Library of the London School of Economics and they have recently made them available via a online digital archive. Amongst the various papers are six notebooks containing transcriptions of Stepney Union casebooks, 1889-1890 which record detailed case histories of the inmates of Bromley and Stepney workhouses and of people who received outdoor relief from the union. Do yourself a favour, forget work for a minute, forget your current worries and cares, and just dip in at random and have a read of the case notes.
I turned to the first case in the first volume - that of Mary Ann Brown. In 1889 she was 48 years old and living at 112 North Street Stepney. A widow of six years, she gave birth to 16 children 5 of whom had survived. The cause of her "pauperism" is listed as the death of her husband, a lighterman, in 1883. The notes list the circumstances of poor Mary Ann Brown in shocking detail (all the more shocking because these are the original hand-written notebooks). From the money she received from her husband's Burial Club she paid £6 for his funeral, bought a mangle for £5 in order to try and support herself in the future, and with what remained "bought black clothes for self and children". When she was no longer able to support herself as a washerwoman she applied to the Poor Law Guardians for support. The various reports chart the tragic history of Mary Ann : eviction from her rented accommodation, the illness of her children, the eventual death of her youngest son Charles. Her son Robert becomes a member of "the Union Shoeblack Brigade" and two other children are taken into the workhouse. 
The notebook moves on to the next case and you never know what happens to Mary Ann. But I defy anyone to flick through the digital pages of these notebooks and not be moved. Who the hell wants to talk about Internet Explorer when there are things like this to read?

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