We are a nation of animal lovers who are besotted with our pets so it is no surprise to discover a wide range of animals featuring in the archives held at Hampshire Record Office. From dogs learning to ride scooters to cats helping with the gardening, there are an innumerable number of sources concerning our beloved pets and animals to be discovered. For this blog, I’m going to share with you some of my favourite animal archives, which I have unearthed in the strongrooms at Hampshire Record Office.
As you might expect, there are countless letters, photographs and diaries referring to dogs and cats from a country that now has an estimated 8.5 million dogs and 7.4 million cats. They appear regularly in family archives from the 19th century onwards. Surprisingly, these documents often reveal how our relationship with pets has changed very little over the years. For instance, dressing your pets up may be considered a recent novelty, but this is far from the case. Winifred Lamb, for example, is pictured here in the late 19th century, with her dog which she has dressed up in a gown (23A15/C1).
You can also find Lassie the dog sporting a fetching hat in the photograph album of George Edwards of Binsted Wyck from c1920 (38M49/E11/64).
Meanwhile, in comparison, cats have continued to be aloof, leading them to be a bit more difficult to spot. A perfect example of this is a photograph of parishioners outside St Katherine’s during a visit to Arundel in 1926 (48M92/PZ4/34). Can you spot the cat in the background?
At Home and Abroad
Pets, especially dogs, have always demanded our attention, as a letter from Anne Sturges Bourne to Marianne Dyson, 3 Feb 1826, indicates (9M55/F4/3). Anne’s ‘dear, loveable, beautiful Tiny’, her pet dog, had ‘not yet recovered the joy of seeing us, after a fortnight’s absence; but he has not been out walking yet, so misses his country rambles, & a white puppy he used to play with.’
Our pets don’t just stay at home but also follow us around the world and into the most dangerous places, as revealed by The Royal Green Jackets Regimental collection, held at Hampshire Record Office. The collection documents how dogs have served alongside their owners in various conflict zones, including the Western Front and Borneo. Members of the regiment even had some more unusual pets, including a pet baby seal, named Honk, in the 1960s.
Other unexpected animals can be found as pets throughout the archive, including a donkey, pig and this monkey.
The photo albums of Miss Katherine Winn of Holly Hill, Sarisbury, from the 1920s-1940s contain a menagerie of animals, including Clarence, Cuthbert and Claud the family ducks, Billy the tortoise, Ginger and Jock the dogs, Blackbird the horse, Cornelius the rooster and Bluebell the cow (38A01).
Raptors, eagles and owls were pets for Daniel and Richard Meinertzhagen, the eldest sons of the family who lived at Mottisfont Abbey during the late 1890s. The garden buildings included an extensive aviary, home to what was then said to be England’s largest collection of eagles and other raptors. Daniel’s favourite bird was a female white-tailed eagle with a nine-foot wingspan. A full-time keeper called Adams was employed to look after the birds.
It was said that local people feared for the safety of their pets, their livestock and even their children when the eagles were on the wing. The trout-rich waters of the River Test were a fertile hunting ground for the birds, and one lone fisherman is said to have had the shock of his life when his hooked fish, his line and much of his rod was seized, ‘in a fearful explosion of feathers and talons’ (John Lord, Duty, Honour, Empire : The life and times of Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, 1970).
The Mottisfont Eagles and Adams the bird keeper (HRO Ref 12M96-37)
After Oxford, Daniel Meinertzhagen was sent to Germany to improve his German and learn the tricks of the banking trade. Whilst there, he fell ill with acute appendicitis. He died at Bremen on 13 February 1898, aged just 22. Daniel was brought home and buried in the small churchyard at Mottisfont. His death was a severe blow to his parents. For his mother, Georgina, the estate was ever after tainted by the loss of her son. The lease was surrendered within a couple of years and the family moved away.
As a lasting memorial to Daniel a fine stained glass window was commissioned for Mottisfont parish church from James Powell and Sons of Whitefriars. The window occupies a prominent position on the south side of the nave. The left side contains Daniel’s biblical namesake with a noble but rather benign looking lion. The other figure, St John, is shown with an eagle, as is traditional, an image which also had great personal significance for the Meinertzhagen family. The cusps of both panels contain yet more eagles and owls: Daniel’s birds preserved in perpetuity.
Another unusual pet can be discovered in a letter to Charlotte Long from Henrietta Molyneux Herbert, third Countess of Carnarvon, who writes concerning the return of her son, Dr the Hon Alan Herbert, from the siege of Paris by the Prussians in 1870-1871, with his pet hen (75M91/P5). Apparently, Alan lost his luggage on the train, but still managed to bring back an old hen that had been with him since the siege had started. Alan became fond of the hen and didn’t have the ‘courage to sign her death warrant’. The hen would walk about the room with ‘ease & competence’ and Alan simply couldn’t leave her behind. He was even offered 100 Francs during the siege, when many Parisians were starving, yet he simply ‘could not part with it’. Henrietta wrote the letter in the hope that it might amuse Charlotte’s children and informed her that she would visit with Alan and the hen.
Fictional animal characters can also be found in the archives. One of my favourite discoveries is the story of Algernon the rabbit, written by Violet Phillimore for her children in the early 20th century (115M88/F26/41).
‘Once upon a time there was a rabbit called Algernon and wishing to see the world, and to get his mother some food, he set out one day with a basket on his arm to pick mushrooms.’
Unfortunately for Algernon, he was caught trespassing and picking mushrooms by a man. Luckily the man forgave Algernon and invited him to his home:
‘“Well, never mind this time, if you leave our tent alone in the future, and you had better come downstairs with me, and see my daughter Jane, who is very fond of rabbits, least the good ones.”’
However, it was a trap and the man and his family locked Algernon up in a library containing books titled ‘how to cook rabbits’. It didn’t look good for Algernon. However, it turned out that not everybody in the family wanted to eat him, with the man’s other daughter coming to the rescue and setting Algernon free. After their escape she said:
‘“Oh darling rabbit” she sobbed, “I must go back now, and they will kill me I expect for letting you out.”
“You shall never go back again, you dear, kind little girl,” said Algernon, “Tell me your name?”
“Dulcibella,” said she, smiling.
“Well Dulcibella you shall come and live with mother and me always, and I will take care of you.” So he took her hand, and they laughed and ran home to Mrs Rabbit, who was so pleased to have Dulcibella, and they all lived happily ever afterwards.’
These are a few of the animal archives I’ve found which depict the varied pets kept, and the love shown to them, by Hampshire people over the years. What weird and wonderful animals can you find in the archive? Search our online catalogue to discover more or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest for regular special content.
Matthew Goodwin, Archivist
Hampshire Record Office and Royal Holloway, University of London have also been working together on the history of pets. A pop-up display ‘Pets in the Archives’ will be up at the record office until early April and there will be a talk and other activities on Thursday March 29th. Click here for more details.
You can also read a corresponding blog ‘Pets in Diaries at Hampshire Record Office’, written by our very own Dr Jane Hamlett here.