Editathon-ing away, the Victorians rule the waves!

Well, that’s a Saturday spent usefully. No, I haven’t joined the Boy Scouts — although it’s a thought. Instead I spent the day at a seminar organized by the British Library in conjunction with Wikipedia. From the BL’s point of view, it was a way of promoting its special collections and areas of interest to a wider audience, and particularly to those who cannot travel to the library itself.

The group seemed to be mostly divided between computer-folk and Eng.Lit. people, with the odd sprinkling of historians (well, one, I think, me) and a classical music person, plus a table-ful of enthusiastic sci-fi-ers.  (Did you know it was a BL speciality? Well, now you do.) Plus Lauren Collins from the New Yorker, taking notes so as to write us all up, we assume as hopelessly comic characters.

We split up into groups to create pages highlighting different areas of the BL collection that we were interested in. The table I was on was Victorian, and we produced Wikipedia pages on Barry Ono, whose train-spotterishly vast collection of penny-dreadfuls is now owned by the BL; on Andrew Forrester, who wrote short-stories with one of the very first female detectives; on Ruth Traill, as far as I have determined, the first fictional female detective; and on a late Victorian novelist whose name I have shamefully forgotten.  I also added a bawdy 1830s song about the fire that destroyed the old Houses of Parliament to the Burning of Parliament page, just to lower the tone.

At lunchtime we broke off to find out what everyone else had been doing, and lo and behold, the Victorians had conquered the world — the sci-fi buffs had been working on Mary Shelley and the Brontë’s juvenilia; the poetry table on Victorian poets; and even those working on the BL table had focused on their 19th-century collections.

I’m sure there’s a lesson to be learned from this, although I’m damned if I know what it is. In the meantime, if you need a rude drinking song, check out Wikipedia’s Burning of Parliament page.


  1. chris hughes

    June 6, 2011 - 8:35 am

    What a wonderful song:)! I’d vote it should be sung by the assembled cast at the Opening of each Parliament:) – almost as good as ‘Christmas Day in the Workhouse’!

  2. inspectorbucket

    June 6, 2011 - 8:41 am

    Oh, I wish!
    More of these songs coming in my next book. Really thrilled to have found them!

    • chris hughes

      June 6, 2011 - 9:24 am

      My family parties were livened up by all kinds of rude songs to which we all knew the words by the age of about eight! – not sure whether they would now be banned by the legislation proposed by Nanny Cameron. Our particular favourite was The Codfish Song which my uncle sang with us all joining in the chorus. We sang it en famille at my cousin’s daughter’s wedding – much to the surprise of the in-laws – but by then had discovered that it is a very, very old song indeed – rumoured to have been sung by Cromwell’s Ironsides.