Archaeology

Getting up close and personal: a case study of domestic violence in late Victorian Derby (work in progress)

Posted on Updated on

Things have been quiet here for the last few weeks – but I’ve not been twiddling my thumbs!

I’ve been trawling the archives to look closely into the lives of a family in late Victorian Derby, headed by George Henry Millington, and his wife Edna (nee Moss), whose court case in April 1883 not only hit local and regional newspapers, but was also reported as far afield as Portsmouth.

The local daily newspaper reports on the day of the court hearing (the other accounts will be presented in subsequent posts):

“Godliness not cleanliness.” George Henry Millington, cab driver, Angel Yard, Burton Road, was summoned for assaulting his wife, Edna, on the 26th inst. The complainant stated that the defendant came home and asked her where she had been. She replied that she had visited her mother, whereupon he took her by the throat, and struck and kicked her out of the house. In answer to the Bench the complainant stated that she and her husband were always quarrelling. He did not like her go in to the meetings of the Salvation Army. She did not stay out until eleven o’clock at night. The defendant said that since his wife had commenced to “go with the Salvation Army, she had neglected the children and the house”. The rooms were quite filthy, and it was on that account that a quarrel arose. The Mayor ‒ If she goes with the Salvation Army, she ought to have remembered that cleanliness is next to godliness”. The Mayor said the Bench did not consider there was sufficient evidence to convict the defendant, and therefore dismissed the charge. He had evidently received great provocation from his wife, who had certainly neglected to keep her children and the house tidy and clean, than which nothing could be more provoking to a man. He hoped that the exposure in that court would have the effect of making the wife more careful, and leading a better life.

I intend to present my findings (which include information on their eldest two children, Fredrick William, and George Henry – whose exploits also ended in court, and resulted in their ‘transportation’ to an Industrial school near Bristol; and on the Salvation Army in Derby at this time) in various places, as soon as I’ve exhausted the lines of inquiry to which I have access (which with the reopening of the Local Studies Library today, after closure for a year, will hopefully expand), and have condensed the dozens of pages of information that I’ve accrued into a more manageable narrative.

I became interested in this family as their experiences raise a number of issues of relevance to this project; and because the more I looked, the more historical evidence I found that shone a light upon interrelationships between social structures and cultural frameworks, and violence in the home. I feel that by integrating their story within workshops that explore ways for traumatised survivors of domestic and sexual abuse to use history therapeutically, this case study may enable individuals to reconsider their own experiences as part of a stream of collective encounters that are, to a large extent, influenced by forces situated outside the person (though that evidently affect the ways that people together and alone think and behave toward one another).

This purview may help survivors to deconstruct the victim-blaming strategies so often adopted by abusive partners (and frequently endorsed by others, including those in and with authority). It may also demonstrate to victims and survivors that they are not alone, but are part of a community that is not only represented by those present in person today. In undertaking this research, I have been struck by the ‘connections’ that might be felt between the long-suffering, long-deceased, and those who today continue to experience abuse, and are trying to find ways to manage the trauma left in its wake. Although the material and cultural environments that determine and frame the everyday lives of past and present women of course differ profoundly (and are liable to influence behaviour and attitudes – including emotional response – as is the psychological makeup of the individual), many experiential similarities are evident. In exploring the lives of past victims, I have been moved to give recognition to their experiences – particularly those who appear not to have received justice (who, as today, may have had their injuries compounded through the very mechanisms supposed to protect and assist them: police, courts, families, neighbours, and other putative support networks).

By telling their stories – making visible the hitherto hidden and forgotten pains of the past – we might bring about some degree of restitution for both the dead, and the living. This is not about ‘shaming’ either victims, or those who committed acts of brutality, who cannot defend their actions – for, as is evident within the archives, the accused are commonly given voice within newspaper reports of court hearings, and (as in this case) their actions advocated through the pervading ideologies of the day that permitted the physical ‘correction’ of women by their husbands for not fulfilling their “proper” (expected) ‘duties’ of housekeeper, child-carer, and subservient, attentive, wife. And, by examining the sources, we are able to recognise the ‘conditioning’ of men to their ‘rights’ over women, and so understand the cultural contexts that permitted violent acts (though this exercise certainly does not excuse such behaviour, as it is also apparent from many accounts of family life that violence was not ‘necessary’ to maintain a well-ordered home environment).

Instead, I shall tell these stories so that we might better appreciate our own parts in the complex intersections of society and culture that enable violence to take place with impunity – and to consider ways that we might (singly and together) constrain abuse (which, considering the numerous social and economic effects of violence in the home, will benefit those who have not directly encountered violence in the home, as well as those who have: for the monetary cost of domestic abuse, see the NICE 2014 Costing Statement; for more information on the economic effects of domestic abuse, see the findings of the British Crime Survey). These stories show that – as today – the ’causes’ (catalysts is perhaps a better term) and effects of violence in the home went beyond putative ‘faults’ of the individual, and disfunctionality of the family, neighbourhood, or other communities (which in this case involve gender, class, and religion); and that by studying these stories in depth – conducting ‘microhistories‘ – we might better understand the social problems that give rise to, and derive from, domestic abuse, and might elucidate the practical impact of political and economic structures upon everyday behaviour and beliefs. It is for these reasons, and for the benefits to individuals and families in the present that might come from giving voice to the powerless in the past, that I foreground the personal through such case studies.

As I conduct this research independently (i.e. without funding or institutional support – though supported by PSP co-director Debra), and due to data protection issues, there is a limit to where my investigations might take me in tracing the descendants of this family, and contacting them directly. I therefore send out an appeal to them (or anyone who may know them to pass on this inquiry), to contact me with any further information they may have relating to their ancestors. I also ask for them to pardon my bringing to light episodes of their ancestors’ lives that some might wish to forget or conceal; in return, I hope that they may find at least some of the information that I have uncovered of interest, and if carrying out family history, that there is something of use among the sources that I have collated (which, though within the public domain, might be more easily accessible to me than them, due to my location).

Some of the places that feature in the case study
Some of the places that feature in the case study (@Google Earth / PSP) – click on image for a larger version

I am fortunate in my ‘placement’ (which also provoked my interest in this particular case): my proximity to (currently within walking distance), and familiarity with, the landscape in which this case takes place enables me to consider the effects of surrounding upon the experiences of this family (despite the demolition of most of the housing encountered through this case, on the whole the contours, alignments of roads, and spatial relationships, remain, as do some of the more prominent buildings, and I am fortunate in having access to a large private collection of local historic photographs, to which I refer while exploring the sites mentioned in newspaper reports). My familiarity is a part of my own family history: the area in which Edna Moss and George Henry Millington lived before they married was home to my family for at least seven generations (including myself and my son) – my own grandmother was even born in the street housing the Millington parental home in the 1870s. I therefore hope that some of the information I present might give colour in other ways to those investigating Millington and Moss family histories – I intend to create a picture of their home environments through studies of maps, housing, and material culture, informed by discoveries made during recent archaeological excavations.

Aerial view (1921) of neighbourhood in which Millington family lived at the time of their first court case (1883)
Aerial view (1921) of neighbourhood in which Millington family lived (in the court behind the building – the Angel Inn – seen at the tip of the church tower, centre) at the time of their first court case (1883), Briton From Above, from here – click on image for a larger version

While I continue to research and write up my studies of this case, readers may see a provisional family tree of the two families here (PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS, AND LIKELY TO CONTAIN ERRORS! This is particularly so for the extended family: some branches of the tree are recorded in order to determine – and possibly eliminate – potential distant relationships.)

Provisional family tree for the Millington and Moss Families, 1860s-90s
Provisional family tree for the Millington and Moss Families, 1860s-90s (@PSP / Find My Past) – click on image for larger version

In attempting to extend public engagement with this study beyond the existing opportunities (e.g. the local talks and workshops I intend to develop; blog; Twitter and Facebook; the academic and popular publications that I am in the process of developing), I am contemplating developing ‘profiles’ for the couple involved in this case using social media, so that anyone so inclined might engage in (an imaginative!) dialogue with them, in order to ask general questions about daily life, or more specific questions relating to experiences of violence. So please get involved with this story if you would like to know more, or feel you have something to contribute.

Advertisements

‘Putting up a fight’: a Culture of Resistance to Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse

Posted on Updated on

‘Putting up a fight’: a Culture of Resistance to Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse

(Trigger warning: please be aware that, although this post does not discuss acts of abuse and violence in detail, it does discuss sexual and other forms of abuse in general.)

Introduction

While domestic violence and sexual abuse might leave certain material traces within abusive homes (for examples, see my conference paper, here), community archaeological studies might more effectively attend to resistance to abuse, than focus upon abusive and violent acts, which risk re-traumatising victims and survivors of violence and abuse.[i] Concentrating on acts of resistance may potentially affect positive outcomes, as well as being more palatable for broader audiences, consequently providing opportunities to raise awareness of the need for greater public support for over-burdened, and under-funded, services that rely upon voluntary action and charitable donations (such as Childline, NSPCC, Rape Crisis, SV2, Women’s Aid, and Refuge). Although PSP might consider how material culture was and is used in abusive acts, this may enable exploration of the ways in which victims appropriate and subvert instruments of abuse, and other material culture, in acts of resistance.

Society, community, and domestic abuse: affecting and responding to change in attitudes and behaviour

Many today experience domestic violence and sexual abuse, but (despite changing definitions and legislation) these phenomena are, of course, nothing new;[ii] historical perspectives may inform legal and social services, and empower victims and survivors, and enhance support networks. Examining attitudes and reactions to domestic violence and sexual abuse in the past might provide opportunities to (re-)consider modern structural (political and economic forces), social (community and family), and individual endeavours to both prevent abuse, and support victims and survivors. Studies of violence and abuse in the homes of previous generations involving (and, it is hoped, ultimately driven by) victims and survivors might go beyond ‘top down’ approaches, and in themselves provide opportunities for both resistance, and prospectively, self-determination. Such studies may provide more distant (and potentially less disturbing) ‘spaces’ for reflection and understanding of abusive behaviours, and reactions to such acts, in the present day, which might in turn inform and enhance personal, collective, and systemic development.

Even a cursory appraisal of primary and secondary historical sources reveals the influence of structural attempts to control and prevent abuse and violence in the home (such as legislation and the provision of care), which vary according to time and place, upon social and personal attitudes. The process of law affects how victims and survivors of violence and abuse categorise and describe their experiences; how the public perceive and respond to abuse and violence; and how perpetrators perform and conceal or display abusive and violent acts. Legislation may either reinforce or transform (albeit gradually) public opinion regarding the social acceptability (or unacceptability) of particular abusive and violent practices, and abusive and violent behaviour in general.[iii] For the victim and survivor, the law may therefore act either to validate, or contest, the sense of wrong engendered by violent and abusive acts. But, in coming together to reflect upon experience, victims and survivors may recognise areas of legislation that do not adequately protect from abuse and violence, or effect justice, and in turn, might change legislation, and public opinion, through campaigns and protest. Again, collaborative historical studies may be integral to reform.

Legislative and social welfare systems also provide (a) language(s) through which victims and survivors might articulate their experiences (and emotional responses). They also serve to inform victims and survivors that their experiences are far from unique, which those isolated from friends, family, and wider society (a common abusive ploy) might not realise. Recognition of shared experiences might enhance notions of community, and prospectively support, for victims and survivors.

Strategies of resistance

As individuals, victims may adopt a myriad of resistance strategies when facing violent and abusive situations, although those who have not experienced violence in the home might more easily imagine resistance in physical terms – as self-defense, or ‘putting up a fight’, against violent acts. While this might occasionally be possible (in some cases), and perhaps (more rarely) be effective in ending or delaying violence (albeit often only temporarily), this may more frequently be either ineffectual, or unfeasible. Even when the physical strength of perpetrator and victim are more or less equal (which of course is extremely unlikely in situations of child abuse, and may be uncommon in many, if not most, situations of domestic violence), various factors may compromise the capacity of victims to counteract assault.

We must also remember that domestic abuse might include sexual abuse; and perpetrators of either domestic abuse or child sexual abuse might subject their victims to other forms of abuse, including emotional and psychological abuse. Children are of course dependent upon adults for financial support, as may be victims of domestic violence; perpetrators might subject either children, or adult partners, to economic abuse, and children may experience neglect.[iv] These various forms of abuse may combine with other, more obvious, inequalities, such as differential physical strength (as mentioned above), or explicit lack of social power. In themselves, or in combination, they may reduce or remove the capacity of the victim to re-act, particularly with regard to escape (which is impossible for many victims), or seeking help (to which victims may not in any case have access). Threats (against the victim, or those close to them) frequently prevent ‘fighting back’ (in whatever form – including what many who have not experienced abuse often imagine to be easy: the act of ‘telling’). Long-term emotional or psychological attrition may leave the victim with a sense of worthlessness, and no emotional ‘energy’ to effect change. Abuse might affect the mind so far as to even compromise freedom of thought. Techniques such as ‘gas-lighting’ might alter the victim’s sense of reality; and psychological trauma can affect phenomenological perception. Terror can provoke subconscious ‘coping strategies’, such as Dissociation (my colleague Debra’s specialism), that create distance between mind and bodily experience, causing mental fragmentation, and influencing re-action. Resistance, in any form, might therefore often be impossible, and the capacity for resistance might change (irregularly) over time, depending on both internal and external factors.

However, where resistance is possible, this might take highly individualistic and variable forms, although (as noted above) social interaction of victims and survivors reveal common strategies of resistance, as do historical studies. Resistant practices may range from the victim rejecting the marital bed for the spare room – or leaving the family home, either temporarily or permanently; calling the police or social services, or seeking help in other ways; the concealment of objects – such as clothing, cosmetics or soap (where the jealously and possessiveness of domestic violence perpetrators is manifest in their ‘forbidding’ the victim to wear ‘feminine’ or supposedly alluring clothes, wear make-up, or wash), or contraceptive pills (where domestic violence perpetrators aim to control their victim’s body, and believe that motherhood will increase the dependency of their victim); the collective verbal and physical obstruction of the victim’s friends (who might together prevent, and draw attention to, violence acts); the individual ‘telling’, ‘answering back’, or conversely, to the deliberate silent stillness of victims – the refusal to react being frequently the only option available for active protest against physical and sexual assaults.

The victim might not always, or often, describe their behaviour in terms of ‘resistance’, nor be consciously aware of their own achievements in resisting abuse. Resistance might also be contested or undermined – not only by the perpetrator, but also by family and friends (of both victim and perpetrator), and the wider community (including authorities). Resistance might be framed in terms of ‘acting up’ – ‘stubbornness’ or ‘disobedience’, or ‘attention-seeking’ behaviour. Historical studies of violence and abuse demonstrate how this may be part of a process within which abusive practices are ‘normalised’, whereby the violence enacted by those in power is seen as an acceptable response to ‘aberrant’ behaviour, and the victim seen as ‘deserving’ of ‘correction’. Victims might internalise such attitudes, and may come to define their ‘lack of co-operation’ in such ways.

But by recognising, through historical studies, common resistant practices ‒ past and present, victims and survivors might more easily realise their achievements in re-acting (however subtle) against abuse. Victims and survivors may draw upon such recognition in sustaining, or reconstructing, a sense of self, and in developing or enhancing a sense of community, to which they belong through shared resistance, as well as abusive experiences.

***

The next post will take the topic of resistance culture further, by considering how archaeological studies might be used in developing a Heritage of Resistance as a resource for victim and survivor communities.

Notes

[i] See the Home Office definition of domestic abuse and violence; for definitions of child abuse and sexual violence, see e.g. NSPCC.

[ii] The British Crime Survey / Office for National Statistics provide estimates of the numbers of people each year who experience domestic violence and abuse (see the Home Office Violence Against Women and Girls Policy; see also HMSO 2013 A Call to End Violence against Women and Girls Action Plan. See NSPCC website for figures of child abuse, and 2014 report. For studies of domestic and sexual abuse in the past, see for example, Elizabeth Foyster (2005) Marital Violence: An English Family History, 1660-1857; Shani D’Cruze (ed.) (2014) Everyday Violence in Britain, 1850-1950Gender and Class; and Clive Emsley (2005) Hard Men: The English and Violence Since 1750.

[iii] For example, see Foyster, op cit. (note ii.)

[iv] See note i. for definitions of abuse and violence.