Curios in the Archive: Elkington Family Treasures

As an Archives Assistant in the Archive of Art and Design, one task that I am charged with is the box listing and cataloguing of archives. This can be a very interesting process and sometimes leads to the cataloguer making new and exciting discoveries. This is particularly true of personal papers within our collections.

One collection that I have recently been working on cataloguing is the archive of Elkington & Co., a metalwork manufacturer and electroplater in the 19th and first half of the 20th century. The collection consists primarily of records relating to the company. A later acquisition, however, contains records relating to the Elkington family, the owners of the company, rather than to the company itself. This part of the collection contains an assortment of interesting items.

Photograph: old lady ca.1850 1 item

Photograph of an elderly lady, possible from the Elkington family, ca.1845 – ca.1860 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

These photographs are an unusual find as I have never yet found photographs of this early a date within one of our archives. The faintness of the images, the fact that they change from positive to negative in the light and their highly mirrored surfaces lead me to believe that the photographic medium is probably the very early daguerreotype. This, coupled with the clothing of the individuals depicted, is indicative of a date of ca.1845 – ca.1860. Presumably they are members of the Elkington family, but unfortunately no names have been attached to the images. This gap in information is always a hazard when conducting archival research.

Photograph of a young man, possibly from the Elkington family, ca.1845 - ca.1855 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Photograph of a young man, possibly from the Elkington family, ca.1845 – ca.1860 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Another item of interest a very unusual notebook which consists of various miscellaneous writings. The book appears to have been passed around the Elkington family for different individuals to write something in it and send it on to someone else – this occurred from 1874-1900. The first entry in the book is entitled ‘Madcap Manuscripts or Random Ritings’, which provides an apt description of the contents.

A wonderful entry entitled ‘Cricket Extraordinary’ describes a cricket match of ladies verses gentlemen, cricket being an acceptable past-time for ladies during the Victorian era. The cricket match was played in ‘a galaxy of beauty and elegance’. The ladies came out of this particular skirmish on top and the writer never remembered ‘to have seen a more exciting match’. Thanks to the writer, the details are now preserved in perpetuity.

Description of a cricket match, AAD/1998/6/10 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Description of a cricket match, ca.1874, AAD/1998/6/10 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Another stand-out entry is ‘The Autobiography of Chicky’. The name is a clue to the nature of the ‘writer’. A further one is provided at the end of the autobiography which states the measurements of an egg laid by Chicky on 15th March 1870. This entry is a description of the life of a much beloved chicken who died in 1876 at Moseley Hall.

The Autobiography of Chicky the chicken, 1876 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

‘The Autobiography of Chicky’, a chicken at Moseley Hall, 1876, AAD/1998/6/10 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Chicky appears to have had a very affectionate life. She writes ‘the mother of the children who bought me was very kind to me. She was an invalid and she used to lie in her chair with me on a piece of paper picking up a few crumbs, and then I used to crawl up her sleeve’. She had ‘a room all to myself at the top of the house and slept in a basket’. It is clear from this description that this chicken was treated as more than just livestock by the family.

The Autobiography of Chicky, 1876, AAD/1998/6/10 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

‘The Autobiography of Chicky’, a chicken at Moseley Hall, 1876, AAD/1998/6/10 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

This is just a small description of some of the curios that can be found within the Archive of Art and Design. It is sometimes difficult to convey the contents of such items in a catalogue entry and the odd bits of information that they might contain. This means, as a researcher, you never know what treasures you might find.

One thought on “Curios in the Archive: Elkington Family Treasures

Nick McKie:

This is a long shot! Our local park has a 10ft high bronze statue representing ‘Peace’ inscribed Joseph Durham sculptor 1862. I’ve found an 1862 albumen photograph online which I am sure is the same, or its sister. Photo taken in the Royal Horticultural Socy gardens 1862 ‘by an amateur’. Our statue was donated to the park in 1911 by one Sydney Simmons, and I have been unable in spite of long enquiry to track its journey 1862 to 1911. It is of Queen Victoria and was meant to be central to the memorial to the 1851 exhibition: Prince Albert died in December 1862 and so his statue became central to the memorial and that of the Queen found its way into the garden rather than onto the monument. The commission to the 1851 exhibition cannot say how and when the statue left them and joined Friary Park N20. Can you see a way forward, or could you redirect the enquiry to an interested area. I’ve got a fair amount of background material. Thankyou!

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