Maintaining the Project's Legacy

Back in October 2020, Elmbridge Museum launched its ‘Objects of Empire’ project, which saw items from the museum collection with previously unexplored links to the former British Empire displayed at Walton Library. It was accompanied by an online exhibition to document these hidden links, along with a range of other resources which explored the theme across the museum sector.

Now, a year since the project first launched, we’re continuing its legacy. After delving into the collection once more, we’ve published a list of 11 extra items in our care which are linked to the British Empire. This research will be reflected permanently in our collections database, diversifying the range of terms used to categorise each item and ensuring the link to Empire is not hidden for future users. In this blog post, we’ve investigated the background of each item.

We aim to carry on building on the project’s legacy year-on-year, and gradually improve our understanding of how the Empire is reflected across our whole collection.

Amy Swainston, Exhibitions & Interpretation Officer

Matt Williams, Collections Project Officer

Published:
21 October 2021
See previous post:
Educational hardback book 'Royal School Series, The World at Home, Europe, Standard V', pub T Nelson & Sons, 1887Educational hardback book 'Royal School Series, The World at Home, Europe, Standard V', pub T Nelson & Sons, 1887

School Textbook

1887

Contemporary books and literature provide some of the most useful insights into how Britain wanted her empire to be viewed. Nowhere is this clearer than in school text books, which often taught young and impressionable students about the expansion of the British Empire from a favourable stance which promoted Britain’s actions within its colonies. This hardback textbook, which was part of the Royal School Series published in 1887 and is entitled ‘The World at Home: Europe, Standard V’, is a prime example of a school book which does just that. Despite its declaration that “care has been taken to select, in connection with each country, the points of greatest interest, and the best descriptions of them”, the book still presents Britain and its empire as superior to the rest of the world.

The book expresses the opinion that “the position of England in relation to the countries of Europe is of less importance than her connection with her own vast dependencies and colonial possessions… England stands firm among the countries of the world. England is better fitted to be the centre of a great Empire than any other country of Europe.”

This provides a stark contrast to the textbook’s often scathing commentaries on other countries, stating that “Holland is one of the queerest countries under the sun” and “the houses of the common people in Turkey are miserable in the extreme”.

What is perhaps most interesting about this particular book, however, are the scribbles and drawings made onto it by its Victorian student owner, K. Dall.

Detail from inside the 'Royal School Series, The World at Home, Europe, Standard V', pub T Nelson & Sons, 1887Detail from inside the 'Royal School Series, The World at Home, Europe, Standard V', pub T Nelson & Sons, 1887
Detail from inside the 'Royal School Series, The World at Home, Europe, Standard V', pub T Nelson & Sons, 1887Detail from inside the 'Royal School Series, The World at Home, Europe, Standard V', pub T Nelson & Sons, 1887

Detail from inside the 'Royal School Series, The World at Home, Europe, Standard V', pub T Nelson & Sons, 1887

Detail from inside the 'Royal School Series, The World at Home, Europe, Standard V', pub T Nelson & Sons, 1887


Detail from inside the 'Royal School Series, The World at Home, Europe, Standard V', pub T Nelson & Sons, 1887Detail from inside the 'Royal School Series, The World at Home, Europe, Standard V', pub T Nelson & Sons, 1887

Ivory Objects

  • Ivory Fan
  • Ivory Necklace

Ivory Fan

In last year’s Objects of Empire exhibition, we explored the growth of the Ivory trade during the British Empire and how this resulted in ivory becoming a fashionable material in the UK. We have come across more items in our collection that are either made of ivory or have ivory in part of the object.

This 1960s paper fan has ribs and end ribs made of ivory, margined with a gold painted groove. At the centre is a coloured print of three girls dancing, entitled.  “La Danse du Schall,” Lamte Delt and Gatine Sculpt. It was bought from Polyannas in March 1966.

Ivory Fan, bought from Polyannas in March 1966.

Ivory Necklace

This large cross and necklace is made completely of ivory. Both these items show how ivory was a popular material for luxury goods during and after the demise of the British Empire, and they also show how the legacy of imperialism can have physical manifestations such as everyday objects.

Ivory necklace with cross

The Century Geographical Readers No. 6, 1890The Century Geographical Readers No. 6, 1890

The Century Geographical Readers, No. 6

1890

This geography book of 1890 explains how countries came to be in the British Empire, and the motives for establishing an empire in the first place. The chapter on India describes how Britain came to occupy India and how they rule. The rise of British power in India is told from the British perspective and focusses on the economic benefits of occupying the country. Page 43 describes how the people of India appreciate the benefits of Britain’s presence, stating that the British bring a ‘firm and steady rule’ to India that it lacked before.

It can be argued that this book tells a one-sided story of how the British came to dominate India and that it omits references to Indian suffering inflicted by the British, downplaying Indian resistance. In this case, this book would be presenting a rose-tinted view of Britain’s actions in India.

Detail from the book

“The feeling in the colonies that the various members of the British Empire form one nation, that all are Britons of one family, separated only by distance, was strikingly shown during the late war in Egypt.”

Quote and image of ‘General Graham welcoming the Australian Contingent at Suakim’, in The Century Geographical Readers No. 6

Her Majesty's Printers' Pictorial Volume, Part 3. One of a collection of ten magazines entitled 'Sixty Years A Queen', by Herbert Maxwell Bart MP, 1897.Her Majesty's Printers' Pictorial Volume, Part 3. One of a collection of ten magazines entitled 'Sixty Years A Queen', by Herbert Maxwell Bart MP, 1897.

Victorian Magazine

1897

The 22nd of June 1897 saw public parades, festivals, thanksgiving ceremonies and celebrations across the British Empire. The occasion was Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, a milestone which had never been reached by any other British monarch in history and was subsequently marked by a two week ‘Festival of the British Empire’ across all of Britain’s territories. A multitude of longer-lasting accounts and nostalgic reflections on the Queen’s reign were produced to mark the occasion, one of which was this book, ‘Sixty Years a Queen’ by the MP Sir Herbert Maxwell Bart. In 1897 it was sold in ten parts, each of which had a different coloured cover and told the story of the Queen’s long rule.

These magazines were intended as a celebration of Queen Victoria’s reign rather than a level-headed assessment of it, and we should therefore approach their contents with some scepticism. The commentary of the magazines is often biased, intent on presenting the empire and Queen Victoria’s rule over it in a glorious and positive light.

This edition, part six in the series, is particularly interesting because it covers the expansion of the empire into Africa and Australasia. It demonstrates how many Victorians were keen to justify their country’s involvement in empire building as a progressive act.

“The present seems a fitting place to give a sketch of salient points in the expansion of British Colonies in various parts of the world – Colonies which, for the greater part, had no existence before Queen Victoria came to the throne.”

Sixty Years a Queen Magazine, Part 3

Items linked to Empire Day

During the first half of the 20th century, Empire Day was an important date in the British calendar. Empire Day was made an annual event in 1916, a time when the British Empire was at its zenith. The purpose of the day was to instil certain values in children such as patriotism, duty and self-sacrifice. Celebrated on the 2nd May, it was mainly celebrated in schools where children who would take part in patriotic events such as singing, parties and parades. Empire Day continued until 1958; by this point the Empire had started to crumble and the day was renamed British Commonwealth Day. These items are a reminder of a time when patriotism was more overtly encouraged and the concept of what Britain consisted of was much larger than it is today.

Newspaper clipping from Empire Day in ElmbridgeNewspaper clipping from Empire Day in Elmbridge

Newspaper Reports

c.1910s - 1920s

This news cutting details what Central School Walton did to celebrate Empire Day, in which an Empire Day address was given. The address included the line ‘if our splendid ancestors had not carried out their work we should indeed be “Little England” – simply a little island called England in the North Sea.’ Awards were given to children who wrote the best essays on the Empire.

The cutting is sadly undated, but probably dates to c.1910s – early 1920s. Sir Godfrey Lagden, who delivered the address at the Empire Day celebrations, was a well-known British colonial administrator in Africa who had retired to Weybridge in 1907.

Download a copy of the original news clippings and transcription below.

Watch original footage of Empire Day celebrations on the British Pathé website here

The British Empire Exhibition

This poster shows Empire Day at the British Empire exhibition on 1924, put on to show off the industry and natural resources of the British Empire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Download the original items here!

See our primary sources from Empire Day in the borough

Empire-Day-At-Walton-Newscuttings.pdf
Download ( 0.25 mb)pdf icon
The-British-Empire-Exhibition-Poster.pdf
Download ( 0.23 mb)pdf icon

Remembrance Day Programme

1932

In the original Objects of Empire exhibition, we explored the way that items from the First World War referred to Britain’s overseas territories, presenting them with a patriotism, pride and unity which often glossed over the true nature of the empire. This British Legion programme was produced for the ‘Festival of Empire and Remembrance’ which took place in November 1932, well over a decade since the Armistice. It demonstrates that just seven years before the start of the Second World War, the memory of the First was still fresh in the minds of many, and still being used as a tool to promote Britain’s empire.

Interestingly, the inside of the programme booklet states that one of the principles of the British Legion was “to perpetuate in the civil life of the Empire and the World the principles for which the Nation stood in the Great War”, once again emphasising the place of Britain’s territories in the popular consciousness.


Find out more about the RBL in the 100 Years of Remembrance exhibition
A programme for the Festival of Empire and Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall, 11th. November, 1932.A programme for the Festival of Empire and Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall, 11th. November, 1932.
The Rover Book for Boys, c.1930sThe Rover Book for Boys, c.1930s

The Rover Book for Boys

c.1930s

The Rover Book for Boys was a series of books in the early 20th century that usually contained stories about young British boys. This copy which we have in our collection, from the 1930s, includes a story called ‘Leave it to Wango’ which contains racial stereotypes and language that would be considered racist and unacceptable today. We acquired this book in the 1970s along with other children’s books to create a record of what children were reading in the early 20th century.

This book can be used as an example of how immigrants, and in particular people of colour, were regarded by some British people in the 1930s.

Cotton handkerchief printed in polychrome with royal portraits and sepia pictures in corners of parts of Empire, 1935Cotton handkerchief printed in polychrome with royal portraits and sepia pictures in corners of parts of Empire, 1935

Cotton Handkerchief

1935

This cotton handkerchief from the 1935 Silver Jubilee marks out the royal role in Britain’s Colonies since the reign of Queen Victoria. It contains the portraits of King George V and Queen Mary, with the dates of their reign up to the jubilee – ‘1910 to 1935’ – printed below them. They are surrounded by four colourful depictions of the mainstays of British royalty, namely the Houses of Parliament, Windsor Castle, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace. The depictions convey what would have been considered the essence of Britain and British architecture, typical of memorabilia of this time.

What makes this handkerchief even more notable, however, are the pictures on the outer edges. Each corner depicts in sepia an outpost of what was then the British Empire, showing the contrasting landscapes of India, Australia, the continent of Africa and Canada in turn. The overall message is one of pride in Britain’s vast empire, but also a clear statement of each territory’s secondary status to Britain, which takes centre stage in the depiction in full colour. It is typical of many other representations of royalty at the time of the Silver Jubilee, which tied the King and Queen’s images closely to the empire to bolster its waning success.

Framed Certificate of merit presented to Esher and District by the British Empire Cancer Campaign, Framed Certificate of merit presented to Esher and District by the British Empire Cancer Campaign, 1960

Framed Certificate

1960

In many items preserved in Elmbridge Museum’s collection, the language of the British Empire is prominent. Perhaps more surprising is when it occurs in items from recent history, produced after the empire’s decline. This framed certificate of merit is one such object. It was presented to Esher and District by the ‘British Empire Cancer Campaign’, in recognition of the £4796 members raised in response to the appeal.

Of particular note is the dating on the certificate – 1960. This was four years after the Suez Crisis had caused a turning point in Britain’s imperial status by signalling her declining imperial power to the rest of the world. Yet still, in the years after Suez, Britain clung on to the last strands of the empire which had formerly been the largest in the world, reluctant to accept its weakening position on the world stage. One of the main manifestations of this was through wording and expressions: it took years to remove references to ‘the British Empire’ in everyday language like this. The British Empire Cancer Campaign eventually developed into Cancer Research UK, but evidence of the country’s imperial past does still remain to this day in the names of many institutions and honorary titles such as the OBE and MBE.

Discover More

Explore the original Objects of Empire exhibition to discover more items with links to the former British Empire in Elmbridge Museum's collection.

Go to the Objects of Empire Online Exhibition

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