Spoken Histories

If you listen to Radio 4 regularly you can’t have failed to have heard the trailers for The Listening Project.  The Listening Project is a partnership between BBC Radio 4, BBC local and national radio stations, and the British Library in which people are asked to share a conversation with a close friend or relative, to help to build a unique picture of our lives today. Some of these conversations will be broadcast across BBC radio and archived by the British Library, preserving them for future generations.

 If you have been lucky enough to catch one of the actual programmes (many of which are still available on iPlayer) you will have hear just how powerful oral testimony can be and how it can provide extraordinary insights into the everyday lives of individuals.

 Oral history has a unique ability to capture vital details and impressions that would otherwise be lost. This is why the Trust is collaborating with The Centre for Rural Economy (CRE) at Newcastle University and the British Library on Capturing Life in Practice. The project will conduct in-depth interviews to record and preserve accounts of veterinary practice within living memory, in the words of vets themselves. As with The Listening Project the recordings will be made permanently accessible at the British Library.

We also plan to use material from the recordings to invite young vets to reflect on issues that affect their work today, and to promote public understanding of the veterinary profession and its role in society.

If you are interested in finding out more, if there is someone whose story you want to bring to life, or if you can offer funding to support a specific interview, do get in touch we are waiting to hear from you!

Three Williams – all veterinary pioneers

Plaque to 19th century veterinary pioneers

Plaque celebrating 19th century veterinary pioneers

When  I walk past this plaque on the staircase in Belgravia House I often think about who we would include if we were to update it.

The RCVS annual report for 1924/25 records the plaque as being funded by an anonymous donor; however there are a series of letters in the Frederick Smith Collection which show that it was Smith himself who funded the memorial at a cost of £10.

He gave precise instructions as to the wording and how it should look, writing on 19 September 1924 that “the letters should be black and the plate should receive a thoroughly good golden lacquer which will prevent it tarnishing for years.”

On 22 February 1925 he asks that the text of the plaque be reproduced in The Veterinary Record so “that many men will hear of Moorcroft and Youatt before they die.”  He believed that “all know the name of Percivall”  though you could question if that really was the case as Percivall had died 70 years earlier.

Given Smith’s passion for the history of the profession it makes sense for him to want to renew interest in these pioneers of the 19th century.  I wonder if it worked?

As for 20th century veterinary pioneers, we might be too close to make a balanced judgement but my suggestion would be John McFadyean.

Who would yours be?

A Sporting Nation – Great British Horsemanship

Love them or loathe them the Olympic Games have arrived.  Britain’s oldest royal park, Greenwich Park, will host the Equestrian(and modern Pentathlon) events.   The picturesque venue dates back to 1433 and is the former hunting ground of the rich and athletic.  King Henry VIII introduced deer to the park in 1515, and considering himself an accomplished athlete, engaged in stag hunting and horse racing on the grounds.

Horsemanship and its related activities feature prominently in our Historical collection, so we couldn’t resist pulling out some information on the affluent country gentleman’s favourite pastime.

Livestock, in health and disease by J. Prince-Sheldon (1903?) recommends gymnastics and drill as a warm up for children learning horsemanship.  Horse riding was thought to have a number of health benefits and was often prescribed to patients whose damaged health was brought about by ‘insolence and excesses of the table, or by sedentary pursuits – intellectual or financial’.   Prince-Sheldon also cautions his readers to ‘never begin to fight with a horse unless you have breath and strength enough to win’. Sound advice.

What of female equine enthusiasts? A ‘Mrs Hayes’ instructs women on riding side-saddle in her book The Horsewoman (1893).  To ride a horse one need ‘good hands, strong seat, firm nerves, even temper and physical strength’.   Mrs Hayes recognised that perhaps the women of the day lacked the last attribute, physical strength, but were a man’s equal in ‘touch, patience and courage’.  Mrs Hayes endeavoured to match the type of horse to a woman’s figure:

‘A young lady with a slight pretty figure will look best on a horse which is all blood and quality; though a portly and dignified matron will be best suite with one of the weight carrying hunter stamp ’.

Terai hat and Norfolk jacket

Terai hat and Norfolk jacket

The subject of ‘Riding Dress’ is addressed even before instructions on riding.  The question of what a woman should wear when out riding was an important consideration – one on which Mrs. Hayes had strong views.  A lady may have wished to wear the latest fashions when riding but her only aim would have been to attract attention to herself and in doing so  ‘she will neither look, nor, in many cases, will she prove to be a horsewoman’.  The author believes that a veil has no place on a horsewoman as it ‘confers no possible benefit on its wearer, if her sole object is to ride and not to show off’.

The modern horsewoman is lucky not to be subject to quite as much sartorial scrutiny and we look forward to seeing Great Britain compete in the dressage events at the weekend.