Material Culture, Memory, and Violence in the Home: Towards Healing Histories Exhibition

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CHAT Exhibition 2015, (left:) poster display, and (right:) interactive multimedia digital display (©PSP / KJarrett 2015)

Last autumn (31st October – 1st November 2015) I provided an exhibition for the Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theory (CHAT) conference (at the Humanities Research Institute, University of Sheffield, my Alma Mater). Since then I’ve been writing up this work, and investigating the sources further (which is an ongoing process).

The exhibition – ‘Material Culture, Memory, and Violence in the Home: Towards Healing Histories’ – was presented in two parts: a poster display, which basically outlined what PSP does, and an interactive multimedia digital display, which introduced topics of study and preliminary findings. I hope to make the latter available online soon; the former is now available here. The Abstract for the exhibition is as follows.

Material Culture, Memory, and Violence in the Home: Towards Healing Histories: Abstract

The ‘Past Sense’ Project (PSP) brings together contemporary and historical archaeology, and psychotherapy, to consider the significance of material culture within contexts of domestic and sexual abuse, past and present. PSP will pilot a range of approaches to explore how collaborative community encounters with historic landscapes and buildings, artefacts, and other historical sources might enhance the process of identity (re-)construction and trauma management, for survivors of childhood and adulthood violence and abuse.

Methods include experimental auto- and co-archaeologies that integrate personal narratives and reflections within analyses of data obtained from archaeological surface- and building surveys, and auto-archive material. This will involve considering the (re)construction of meanings for material culture in relation to memory and identity, through studies of artefact biographies, and attending to the production and appropriation of transitional objects, through autobiographical studies.

We will also test the incorporation of recording, analysis, and interpretation of archaeological and other historical material (including written evidence, oral histories, photography, and artistic images) from earlier periods (particularly the 19th – mid 20th centuries) within community work – potentially involving creative elements (such as storytelling and artwork). In doing so, we will explore how engagement with material relating to domestic life in the more distant past (where appropriate, integrating historical material relating to domestic and sexual violence) might enable traumatised individuals and groups to confront experiences of violence in the more recent past.

By examining diachronically continuous and changing abusive practices, and socio-political responses to abuse, we aim to foster recognition of dominant ideologies, and the practical, detrimental, effects of structural gender inequality. Emphasising acts of resistance to violence in and around the home, we endeavour to highlight personal and collective achievements that might reinforce and augment both a sense of self, and of community, for survivors of abuse.





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

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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.

The PSP journey so far on the paper trail: 19th – early 20th century Domestic Violence

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Archaeological experience has shown the importance of providing a historical perspective when studying a particular issue, at a certain point in time – including the recent past. I’ll (very briefly) discuss this – and the importance of studying the local in relationship to wider spacial contexts – in the following post. But for now, I’ll outline the primary written sources of the 19th and early 20th centuries that I’ve begun to consult in researching histories of domestic violence within and beyond the East Midlands.

Notwithstanding the above comments, to some degree I’m also reflecting upon the sources with regard to my own experiences and encounters (which I intend to outline in the future) – see the previous and following posts, for brief discussions on this topic.[1]

Following the 19th – early 20th century paper trail – the route travelled so far…

I began exploring written evidence for DV in the past several years ago, when examining the works of ‘undercover’ investigative journalist and social reformer, Ada Chesterton, for references to domestic material culture within poverty-stricken and destitute homes, hostels and communities in London (which form part of the data I use in a paper – in prep.  – on early 20th century household material environments). Unsurprisingly, there are references to DV in Chesterton’s work (though terse, and  fewer than I expected to find).[2]

This encouraged me to survey local (Derby), regional (East Midlands) and wider (e.g. London, Birmingham) contemporaneous social reformist and philanthropic ‘reports’ (e.g. Working-class wives. Their Health and Conditions, published 1939, discussed here); memoirs (such as Elsie Goodhead’s The West End Story), verbal narratives / conversational memories (with local people), and a range of oral histories; and numerous works of fiction, to examine how DV was covered at the time; I also took a quick look through court records.

Preliminary surveys of this category of evidence unsurprisingly suggested differing attitudes towards DV amongst and between the various social reformist and investigative sources, and oral accounts (though of course a wider range of sources must be investigated to determine how representative this diversity might be). Memoirs & verbal narratives / conversational memories tended to describe DV as an accepted (and to some extent, inevitable) condition of urban neighbourhoods in the early 20th century (commonly associated with poverty in the public imagination) – and works of fiction (again unsurprisingly) tended to replicate this attitude to dramatic effect.

I also spent some time going through local (Derby) / regional (Derbyshire) court records from the 19th and early 20th centuries, during which I came across many more – often successful – cases brought by women against their husbands for violence.[3] I’ve also recently started to go through local newspaper archives (beginning with papers dating to the  19th century) to see how DV was reported – by searching for the (albeit ambiguous terms ‘wife beating’ and ‘wife assault’). When reporting cases, articles seem to represent the differing attitudes noted above, in quoting perpetrators and victims, as well as witnesses – usually lodgers, neighbours, friends, family, and doctors; and police, magistrates, and lawyers / solicitors. Inevitably, sensational and bizarre incidents are given more prominent headlines, position and space on the page. Though there are differences in these reports when compared to modern press coverage of DV,  at times they appear remarkably similar. I’m continuing this research, and will post particularly informative extracts.

I’ve found some comparisons in the presentation of DV between the newspapers and the late 19th and early 20th century novels that I’ve begun to assess (such as Aurthur Morrison’s Child of the Jago, and Winifred Holtby’s South Riding). However, there are again differences. In this category of evidence, DV is often (though not always) represented through stereotypes (as might be expected), reflecting less varied attitudes than found in the other sources, which I’ll discuss through short reviews of each work, if time permits.

In the following post, I’ll discuss preliminary findings from examining the above range of sources, and consider how this might inform subsequent PSP research.


[1] The practicability of carrying out detailed interdisciplinary research may be dependent upon securing funding and institutional association – independent research without electronic library and data access is proving problematic, constraining development.

[2] I’ve written about Chesterton’s comments on poverty, homelessness, and housing on one of my blogs, here; and published short online articles through the Voluntary Action History Society, here and here. I also plotted the locations of some of the families that Chesterton discusses – often citing the comments of women – within her 1936 book I Lived in a Slum, here, with information on the families, and quotes from the book). Chesterton’s journalism highlighted both the extent and conditions of  poverty and homeless for women in 1920s and 1930s London; drew attention to the broad social backgrounds of homeless women, and the realisation that ‘respectable’ people might easily be reduced to ‘outcasts’ due to circumstances beyond their control, and considered some of the causes of homelessness (including structural problems, such as inadequate housing); and discussed the efficacy of philanthropic and government responses to homelessness and poverty, proffering suggestions – of variable worth -for improvement.

[3] If interested in crime in the past, useful guides to the available resources are available here and here; I’ve also put a little information relating to crime in late 19th and early 20th century Derby here and here; and the 1911 census record of inmates in the County Gaol here.