Archive Boxes
The Boxes

As any person with a knowledge of the Whipple hopefully knows, we have a very wonderful collection on phrenology. This post will focus on the archival material rather than the books. The archival material was donated in 1998 by the publishing firm C.W. Daniel Co. Ltd. It had belonged to Frances Hedderly, who was a former President of the British Phrenological Society.

Along with letters, drafts of articles, information on the liquidation of the Society and courses on phrenology, there is a collection of phrenological analyses. These mainly fall into a pattern of someone writing to Miss Hedderly at the Society and asking if there is someone near to where they live, or if she is available, to perform a phrenological reading. An appointment is made, the reading is done and sometime later a report is produced. In some cases, further contact is made and later appointments booked. This tends to happen when parents have their young children (the ones I looked at were all boys) analysed and then have the procedure repeated when they are about 14. One of the reports is about a 5 year old called Clive. His mother gets in contact with Miss Hedderly again when he is 14 to set up another appointment and writes that the first report mentioned Clive “developing a strong capacity for the enjoyment and appreciation of music”, and now, at the age of 14 he plays the piano, viola, violin and the organ at the local spiritualist church. Sadly there is not a copy of the second report to see what the future holds for Clive.

Handwritten measurements
Handwritten phrenological measurements

But why do people want to be analysed? As we have seen above, it is concerned parents worried about their child’s development and future. One son is described by his mother as “anti-social” and she points out he has never liked being around other people. Perhaps phrenology can explain why. He also doesn’t know what career path to take. It is suggested that he joins a debating society to meet people and takes up the study of nature. Another lady writes that her son wanted to be an RAF pilot but has been rejected on minor medical grounds. The mother had a phrenological analysis performed 25 years previously on herself and has had a wonderful career and wants it to help her son find a career too.

I’ve enjoyed having a quick look through these letters and reports, and especially seeing a few hand drawn maps giving Miss Hedderly directions to their homes and the mentions of delays in letter writing due to holidays, house moves or work commitments. The days before sat-nav and email!!!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.