Authenticity Hoo-Ha pt. 2: Did Lord Byron and Princess Victoria etch their names on the windows?

Sir Hilary Jenkinson held that authenticity is one of the defining characteristics of the archive. Here is the second of three blog posts about some recent authenticity issues.

On being asked to visit a former hotel to pick up a donation of records, any archivist would expect there to be guest books. Less expected is a pane of window glass. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the “Byron Window” is the most unusual item I have accessioned in twelve years as an archivist. Why is it called the Byron Window? Because it is said that Lord Byron (i.e. George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, 1788-1824) scratched a poem onto it. The lines read:

Where so ever is folly court
Mortal unthinking will resort
For want of reason, still,
Shame on our sex! As for the fair
They all want something everywhere
And something want they will

These etched lines have not gone unnoticed. The Byron Window is mentioned in a variety of magazine articles, including a feature in Derbyshire Life in 2010, and the sale catalogue from when the Temple Hotel was auctioned in 1975.

But how do we know this to be the work of Byron? We don’t, really – in fact, I am not even sure that the squiggle nearest the poem says Byron!

D8116/3/1: The Byron Window

D8116/3/1: The Byron Window

An article on the Andrews Pages cites William Adam’s 1840 guide book “The Gem of the Peak” as evidence that the poet visited the Old Bath in Matlock Bath, and at first glance, I thought the Adam reference extended to the etched window itself – however, it certainly isn’t mentioned in any of the editions we hold here.

William Adam describes The Temple as “originally built as a lodging house or appendage to the Old Bath for the comfort and convenience of those visitors, who wished to be out of the noise and bustle of a crowded Inn”, and observes that the house had been “much improved and enlarged” by its owner, Mrs Evans. He also remarks that the name of Walter Scott is inscribed on a window in room 5 (without making any claim as to who made the inscription).

So, hang on… William Adam was interested enough in Byron to mention his visit to Matlock Bath and interested enough in inscriptions on windows to mention Scott – but did not think to tell us about Byron inscribing a window?

What puts the kybosh on the thing is the date right next to those lines. “6 Oct 1784” is the easiest bit of the whole thing to read, and dates it to before Byron’s time.  (Unless the date and the poem are unrelated?  I would be delighted to be proved wrong!)

The window pane is, transparently, something that a large number of people have inscribed over the course of centuries – so whether or not their number includes Lord Byron, this is an amazing addition to our collections.  I don’t think I have the heart to investigate the other claim, which is that a young Princess Victoria put her name on the same bit of glass!

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Authenticity Hoo-Ha pt. 1: Did the Rolling Stones sign the guest register at The Temple Hotel?

Sir Hilary Jenkinson’s “Manual of Archive Administration” (1922) maintains that authenticity is one of the defining characteristics of the archive.  A trio of authentication problems have imposed on my time recently, so I thought I would share them with you in three blog posts.  Here is the first.

Derbyshire Record Office recently accepted the donation of some records from The Temple Hotel in Matlock Bath (D8116). The hotel is no longer open for business, but has a long history of hospitality behind it.  Among the signatures in one of the guest registers, you can find the names of Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts, giving their address as The Rolling Stones, and the date as 16 January 1965. I hope it was really them! The names are in the same hand (fishy, do you think, or easily explained?) and they do not bear much similarity to autographs that can be found online.

D8116 1 2

D8116/1/2: Temple Hotel visitors book, Nov 1963 to July 1971

This is the only bit of the register you will get to see without an applicable exemption under data protection legislation! But these registers will be freely available to all researchers in generations to come.

Several fan websites go into minute detail about where the band were at any given moment, and from these it seems that the Rolling Stones were making a live appearance on Ready, Steady, Go! on the 15th and were then in a recording session in Los Angeles on the 17th. They must have spent the 16th on a transatlantic flight. Mustn’t they? Does anyone remember seeing 2/5 of The Rolling Stones around Matlock Bath that winter?

Let us suppose the signatures above are not genuinely those of Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts. What then of archival authenticity?  Good news: Sir Hilary would still regard the register as an authentic record of the hotel’s activities, deriving as it does from the business function of recording guests’ details. Since the Immigration (Hotel Records) Order 1972, hotels have actually been under a legal obligation to maintain such a record – but of course there was already a long-established practice of registering hotel guests. And there was an equally long-established practice of hotel guests signing in a false name for nefarious purposes, or just for a giggle.  It’s an authentic record of a transaction – it’s the transaction itself that was lacking in authenticity.

Fun fact about hotel guest registers: one of America’s greatest writers signed himself “Samuel Clemens” and gave his profession as “Mark Twain”.