England Occupations Instruments and Toys (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military & Services  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Instruments and Toys[edit | edit source]

Instrument making as well as the making of the more mechanical toys tended to be a town occupation. There are many books in the Shire series which relate to old instruments and toys as they are eminently collectable.

Cameras[edit | edit source]

White has written on old cameras from their beginnings in 1839 until prior to WWII, and also from 1945-1965, as well as photographic accessories 1890-1970. Photographic processes and cameras have been described by Pols (Dating Old Photographs. Federation of Family History Societies, 1992).

Entertainment[edit | edit source]

The Quennells’ volumes on Everyday Things in England are fascinating and contain many line drawings. Instruments used in older forms of entertainment include magic lanterns (Greenacre), mechanical music (McElhone), old gramophones and other talking machines (Bergonzi), old telephones (Emmerson), old radio sets (Hill), and old television (Emmerson).

Musical Instruments[edit | edit source]

Hurley (The Book of Trades or Library of the Useful Arts. Vol III. Wiltshire Family History Society, 1994) has a general article on the making of musical instruments, and Weir (Village and Town Bands. Shire Publications, 1981) describes the equipment and prices of instruments for village and town bands. Museums of music and bodies such as the Royal College of Music should be able to help with specific manufacturers. Information on specific instruments can be found as follows: bagpipes (Arnold 1968), bells and bellfounding (John Camp, Jennings), drums (Hurley 1994), handbells (Jennings), harps (Wymer 1949), organs (Hurley 1994, Wymer 1949), pianofortes (Froud, Hurley 1994, Wymer 1949), violins (Hurley 1994, Wymer 1949), whistles (Gilchrist), and wind instruments (Hurley 1994, Wymer 1949).

Optical and Scientific Instruments[edit | edit source]

When a new industry or profession developed during the course of history it invariably opened up an entirely new field of craftmanship to provide the tools it required (Wymer 1949). Thus, when England became a maritime power in the Middle Ages the scientific (a.k.a. mathematical) instrument maker appeared on the scene to provide the tools for navigation. To begin with the scientists made their own instrument, devising and constructing each one as needed. Early inventions were the backstaff for measuring latitude by Davys in 1540, the theodolitus by Digges in 1571, the micrometer by Gascoigne in 1640, telescopes by Newton and Herschel, and the microscope by Hooke. By the mid-17th century Charles II established the Royal Society to bring together scientists who had hitherto worked alone, and from that time onwards England became an important centre of scientific activity. The scientists came to work more exclusively on their experiments and relied more and more on specialized instrument makers to fashion their equipment for them. In time the makers also became inventors of new products thus synergizing science, an example being the 1733 discovery of how to make optical glass by the amateur Hall. He communicated his ideas to a fellow of the Royal Society, Dolland, who advanced it further and founded the famous firm of optical instrument makers. Norman Wymer relates the early history of scientific instrument makers, whilst McConnell (Barometers. Shire Publications.) deals solely with barometers. The making of telescopes, microscopes and other optical instruments has been described by Hurley (The Book of Trades or Library of the Useful Arts. Vol III. Wiltshire Family History Society, 1994), and there is a Scientific Instrument Manufacturers Association of Great Britain. Warren (Old Medical and Dental Instruments. Shire Publications) has a fascinating book on old medical and dental instruments.

Toys[edit | edit source]

Dolls, and toy soldiers operated by strings were sold at St. Bartholomew’s Fair as early as 1133 (Quennell and Quennell), and dolls were still being referred to as bartholomew babies in the early 20th century. Other early toys were drums and trumpets, hobby horses, popguns with clay pellets, kites, and model lambs.

Dolls have been children’s toys from time immemorial, and their sale as a source of income began well before the 16th century, the date of the earliest pictures of English children playing with dolls. Dolls have been constructed of wood, wax, clay, china, bisque or plastics, then painted and dressed in the fashionable style of the time and may have had realistic hair, thus a variety of skills were needed in their construction. Dolls have been manufactured on a large scale from about 1700, often as a cottage industry in England, but from the mid-19th century also using industrial methods. Sadly, it is only possible to attribute a doll to a particular maker from about 1840 when makers started to mark their wares. Goodfellow (Dolls) has a great Shire book on the trade, whilst dolls’ houses and dolls’ house furniture are discussed by Pasierbska (Dolls’ House Funriture and Dolls’ Houses).

Toy animals have always been popular and Wymer (English Country Crafts. A Survey of Their Development from Early Times to Present Day. Batsford, London, 1946) describes a New Forest firm producing hand-carved wooden horses, coaches etc. Rocking horses are the subject of a Shire book by Bottomley, whilst Cockrill writes on teddy bears and soft toys. General sources on toy making by Schroeder are supplemented by those on children’s cars by Pennell, constructional toys by Harley, dinky toys by Cooke, toy steam accessories by Rooks, toy steam engines by Gordon, and toy trains by Salisbury.

The Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood, a branch of the Victoria and Albert Museum, has a good collection and acts as a reference source. Mayhew (Mayhew’s London, [a condensation of volumes I-III of London Labour and the London Poor]. Bracken Books, London. FHL book 942.1/L1 E6m) devoted a chapter to toymakers and their lives (Thompson and Yeo).

It should be noted that in the West Midlands, one of the major areas for metal manufacture, the term toys originally referred to small metal fancy goods from the early 18th century. There were 30 toymakers in Birmingham in the 1750s with 67 apprentices between them (Hey).

Writing Instruments[edit | edit source]

Those who made pens were termed quill dressers who would be part of the Stationers’ Company. Inkstands would not only include a container for ink, but also one for wafers used to make seals, and another for ponce, a fine powder used to prevent ink from spreading on unsized paper. The production of hand-made graphite pencils is described by Bailey (The Industrial Heritage of Britain. Ebury Press/Book Club Associates, 1982) and Harris (Portable Writing Desks. Shire Publications) has written on portable writing desks.


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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military and Services offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

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