How history smells and feels…

After an (over) long break imposed by conferences and Easter, I’m picking up this blog again. Within the project team, we are now beginning to draft outlines for the book that we’re going to write, and that involves trawling through thousands of historical manuscripts… so it seems good to make some of them available to you again.

Today, I’ve been working through the RAD’s Annual Reports, looking for the changes in ‘feel’ that occurred in the organisation in the late 19th century. There’s a definite shift, through the 1890s, from an organisation that feels more like a club, warm, healthy, thriving, boisterous, active… to one that is mired in bills and maintenance, and good-for-you callisthenics, and doilies.

It’s hard to put my finger on the change, except to compare it to my own boyhood experiences of sensing within the village that I grew up in.

The RAD pre-1880 comes over like an old pub snug; smelling of warm leather and pipe smoke… or like the village shop where you could taste the fizz in the sweets before you bit into them… or my grandparents’, where the fire smelled of coal, the parquet smelled of polish, where there was always a worn cardigan on the back of the bedroom door to hug, and where it was OK that the water was cold because it always seemed to taste of the smell of toothpaste.

The RAD post-1892/3, on the other hand, is beginning to feel like the village hall – smelling of stale baked potatoes, Calor gas heaters, dusty pianos, the wet of abandoned umbrellas dripping onto a cement floor in the entrance, water from the tap so cold that it makes your hands ache, and the eternal worry that your bike is being stolen from the railings outside.

Your senses won’t be attuned to the same things that mine are, and you might not be able to share my experiences unless you also grew up in a small village in East Anglia, but I hope this gives you more of a ‘feel’ for the RAD in its evolution in the late 1800s.

I’ll try and provide more as I get into the 1900s.