Trick or Treating in the UK

Almost all pre-1940 uses of the term “trick-or-treat” are from the western United States and Canada. Trick-or-treating spread from the western United States eastward, stalled by sugar rationing that began in April 1942 during World War II and did not end until June 1947. 

Magazine advertisement in 1962

Early national attention to trick-or-treating was given in October 1947 issues of the children’s magazines Jack and Jill and Children’s Activities, and by Halloween episodes of the network radio programs The Baby Snooks Show in 1946 and The Jack Benny Show and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in 1948. Trick-or-treating was depicted in the Peanuts comic strip in 1951. The custom had become firmly established in popular culture by 1952, when Walt Disney portrayed it in the cartoon Trick or Treat, and Ozzie and Harriet were besieged by trick-or-treaters on an episode of their television show. In 1953 UNICEF first conducted a national campaign for children to raise funds for the charity while trick-or-treating

Despite the concept of trick or treating originating in Scotland in the form of guising, the use of the term ‘trick or treat’ at the doors of home owners was not common until the 1980’s. Guising is devoid of any jocular threat, and according to one BBC journalist, in the 1980’s it was still often viewed as an exotic and not particularly welcome import, with the BBC referring to it as “the Japanese knot-weed of festivals” and “making demands with menaces”.  In Ireland before the phrase “trick or treat” became common, children would say “Help the Halloween Party”. Very often, the phrase “trick or treat” is simply said and the revellers are given sweets, with the choice of a trick or a treat having been discarded.

English: A typical Halloween "trick or tr...

English: A typical Halloween “trick or treat” party in Dublin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


In Scotland and Ireland, “guising” — children going from door to door in disguise — is traditional, and a gift in the form of food, coins or “apples or nuts for the Halloween party” (in more recent times chocolate) is given out to the children dressed up in various costumes. The tradition is called “guising” because of the disguises or costumes worn by the children. In the West Mid Scots dialect, guising is known as “galoshans”.  Among the earliest record of guising at Halloween in Scotland is in 1895, where masqueraders in disguise carrying lanterns made out of scooped out turnips, visit homes to be rewarded with cakes, fruit and money. Guising also involved going to wealthy homes, and in the 1920s, boys went guising at Halloween up to the affluent Thornton Hall ,South Lanarkshire.  An account of guising in the 1950s in Ardrossan, North Ayrshire, records a child receiving 12 shillings and sixpence having knocked on doors throughout the neighbour-hood and performed. There is a significant difference from the way the practice has developed in North America with the jocular threat. In Scotland and Ireland, the children are only supposed to receive treats if they perform for the households they go to. This normally takes the form of singing a song or reciting a joke or a funny poem which the child has memorized before setting out. Occasionally a more talented child may do card tricks, play the mouth organ, or something even more impressive, but most children will earn plenty of treats even with something very simple. Often they won’t even need to perform. While going from door to door in disguise has remained popular among Scots and Irish at Halloween, the North American saying “trick-or-treat” has become common.

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Caribbean Market of Yesteryear


Arcade (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Several shots of the Caribbean market in Brixton‘s Granville Arcade; West Indian shoppers, mostly women pick over fruit and vegetables on the market stalls; sweet potatoes, some kind of pink member of the aubergine family, pumpkin, okra (Lady’s Finger) and bananas are seen. C/Us of signs advertise exotic (for 1961) fruit and vegetables. Women stand at a meat / butchers’ stall.

M/S of the top of an archway reading ‘Granville Arcade / London’s Largest Emporium’; M/S of the arcade entrance, pan left to show a railway bridge. More shopping and market shots; West Indian women look at nuts and pulses, clothes; two young black boys look at a toy stall; a small boy eats a mostly melted ice cream. A baby girl sits in a pram as her mother shops for shoes. Nice general shot looking down the arcade at the stalls and shoppers.

This is excellent footage!

Note: on file is a news article from the Daily Express about the market and ‘the fast-growing influx of British Citizens from the West Indies and Africa who have made London their home’.

Courtesy of The British Pathe Film Archive just click link to video Caribbean Market  please be aware these article are copy righted and can not be downloaded or used without payment for use.  


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The Virgin Queen Of England

Portrait of Elizabeth I (1533 - 1603) The Arma...

Portrait of Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603) The Armada Portrait 1600c. (Photo credit: lisby1)

Elizabeth I (7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603) was queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called “The Virgin Queen“, “Gloriana” or “Good Queen Bess“, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty. The daughter of Henry VIII, she was born into the royal succession, but her mother, Anne Boleyn, was executed two and a half years after her birth, and Elizabeth was declared illegitimate. On his death in 1553, her half-brother, Edward VI, bequeathed the crown to Lady Jane Grey, cutting his two half-sisters, Elizabeth and the Roman Catholic Mary, out of the succession in spite of statute law to the contrary. His will was set aside, Mary became queen, and Lady Jane Grey was executed. In 1558, Elizabeth succeeded her half-sister, during whose reign she had been imprisoned for nearly a year on suspicion of supporting Protestant rebels.

Elizabeth set out to rule by good counsel, and she depended heavily on a group of trusted advisers led by William Cecil, Baron Burghley. One of her first moves as queen was the establishment of an English Protestant church, of which she became the Supreme Governor. This Elizabethan Religious Settlement later evolved into today’s Church of England. It was expected that Elizabeth would marry and produce an heir to continue the Tudor line. She never did, however, despite numerous courtship’s. As she grew older, Elizabeth became famous for her virginity, and a cult grew up around her which was celebrated in the portraits, pageants, and literature of the day.

In government, Elizabeth was more moderate than her father and half-siblings had been. One of her mottoes was “video et taceo” (“I see, and say nothing”). In religion she was relatively tolerant, avoiding systematic persecution. After 1570, when the pope declared her illegitimate and released her subjects from obedience to her, several conspiracies threatened her life. All plots were defeated, however, with the help of her ministers’ secret service. Elizabeth was cautious in foreign affairs, moving between the major powers of France and Spain. She only half-heartedly supported a number of ineffective, poorly resourced military campaigns in the Netherlands, France, and Ireland. In the mid-1580s, war with Spain could no longer be avoided, and when Spain finally decided to attempt to conquer England in 1588, the failure of the Spanish Armada associated her with one of the greatest military victories in English history.

Elizabeth’s reign is known as the Elizabethan era, famous above all for the flourishing of English drama, led by playwrights such as William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, and for the seafaring prowess of English adventurers such as Sir Francis Drake. Some historians are more reserved in their assessment. They depict Elizabeth as a short-tempered, sometimes indecisive ruler, who enjoyed more than her share of luck. Towards the end of her reign, a series of economic and military problems weakened her popularity. Elizabeth is acknowledged as a charismatic performer and a dogged survivor, in an age when government was ramshackle and limited and when monarchs in neighbouring countries faced internal problems that jeopardised their thrones. Such was the case with Elizabeth’s rival, Mary, Queen of Scots, whom she imprisoned in 1568 and eventually had executed in 1587. After the short reigns of Elizabeth’s half-siblings, her 44 years on the throne provided welcome stability for the kingdom and helped forge a sense of national identity.


The last speech delivered by Queen Elizabeth I of England. Given to 141 members of the House of Commons on 30 November 1601.

Mr Speaker,

We have heard your declaration and perceive your care of our estate. I do assure you there is no prince that loves his subjects better, or whose love can countervail our love. There is no jewel, be it of never so rich a price, which I set before this jewel: I mean your love. For I do esteem it more than any treasure or riches; for that we know how to prize, but love and thanks I count invaluable. And, though God hath raised me high, yet this I count the glory of my Crown, that I have reigned with your loves. This makes me that I do not so much rejoice that God hath made me to be a Queen, as to be a Queen over so thankful a people. Therefore I have cause to wish nothing more than to content the subject and that is a duty which I owe. Neither do I desire to live longer days than I may see your prosperity and that is my only desire. And as I am that person still yet, under God, hath delivered you and so I trust by the almighty power of God that I shall be his instrument to preserve you from every peril, dishonour, shame, tyranny and oppression, partly by means of your intended helps which we take very acceptably because it manifesteth the largeness of your good loves and loyalties unto your sovereign.

Of myself I must say this: I never was any greedy, scraping grasper, nor a strait fast-holding Prince, nor yet a waster. My heart was never set on any worldly goods. What you bestow on me, I will not hoard it up, but receive it to bestow on you again. Therefore render unto them I beseech you Mr Speaker, such thanks as you imagine my heart yieldeth, but my tongue cannot express. Mr Speaker, I would wish you and the rest to stand up for I shall yet trouble you with longer speech. Mr Speaker, you give me thanks but I doubt me I have greater cause to give you thanks, than you me, and I charge you to thank them of the Lower House from me. For had I not received knowledge from you, I might have fallen into the lapse of an error, only for lack of true information.

Since I was Queen, yet did I never put my pen to any grant, but that upon pretext and semblance made unto me, it was both good and beneficial to the subject in general though a private profit to some of my ancient servants, who had deserved well at my hands. But the contrary being found by experience, I am exceedingly beholden to such subjects as would move the same at first. And I am not so simple to suppose but that there be some of the Lower House whom these grievances never touched. I think they spake out of zeal to their countries and not out of spleen or malevolent affection as being parties grieved. That my grants should be grievous to my people and oppressions to be privileged under colour of our patents, our kingly dignity shall not suffer it. Yea, when I heard it, I could give no rest unto my thoughts until I had reformed it. Shall they, think you, escape unpunished that have oppressed you, and have been respect less of their duty and regardless our honour? No, I assure you, Mr Speaker, were it not more for conscience’ sake than for any glory or increase of love that I desire, these errors, troubles, vexations and oppressions done by these varlets and lewd persons not worthy of the name of subjects should not escape without condign punishment. But I perceive they dealt with me like physicians who, ministering a drug, make it more acceptable by giving it a good aromatical savour, or when they give pills do gild them all over.

I have ever used to set the Last Judgement Day before mine eyes and so to rule as I shall be judged to answer before a higher judge, and now if my kingly bounties have been abused and my grants turned to the hurt of my people contrary to my will and meaning, and if any in authority under me have neglected or perverted what I have committed to them, I hope God will not lay their culps and offenses in my charge. I know the title of a King is a glorious title, but assure yourself that the shining glory of princely authority hath not so dazzled the eyes of our understanding, but that we well know and remember that we also are to yield an account of our actions before the great judge. To be a king and wear a crown is a thing more glorious to them that see it than it is pleasant to them that bear it. For myself I was never so much enticed with the glorious name of a King or royal authority of a Queen as delighted that God hath made me his instrument to maintain his truth and glory and to defend his kingdom as I said from peril, dishonour, tyranny and oppression. There will never Queen sit in my seat with more zeal to my country, care to my subjects and that will sooner with willingness venture her life for your good and safety than myself. For it is my desire to live nor reign no longer than my life and reign shall be for your good. And though you have had, and may have, many princes more mighty and wise sitting in this seat, yet you never had nor shall have, any that will be more careful and loving.

For I, oh Lord, what am I, whom practices and perils past should not fear? Or what can I do? That I should speak for any glory, God forbid. And I pray to you Mr Comptroller, Mr Secretary and you of my Council, that before these gentlemen go into their countries, you bring them all to kiss my hand.

PD-icon.svg This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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Licensing Laws In Warwickshire And The Changes Made To Our Ale-Houses

According to a small article that l read the other day, a number of pubs at one time only served beer, the reason was that their license only allowed such sales! As the article went onto to say 150 years ago these ale houses and a few including such names as The Volunteer and the Vine in Warwick, could not provide spirituous liquors.

The fact that to sell only beer was the norm at the time, it was only the drink that their patrons, quaffed down in tankards! The problem was that a number of the patrons from out-of-town and the rise of the tourist, led a number of people to order spirits which due to not have a license, that allowed such a provision ,they were not able to comply.

So at the annual licensing day in Warwickshire there were two applications from ale house keepers, for a certificate to sell spirits. It was only then that both licenses were granted and public houses become no longer just ale houses, but could equally cater as a hostelry for the out of towners’ and the new tourists from various other countries, that started flocking into Warwickshire.

According to: the alcohol licensing laws of the United Kingdom regulate the sale and consumption of alcohol, with separate legislation for England and WalesNorthern Ireland and Scotland being passed, as necessary, by the UK parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the Scottish Parliament.

In 2006, Parliament replaced the previous licensing laws for England and Wales, regulated under several different Acts, with a single unified system covering a range of “regulated activities”. Rules as to when establishments can open, for how long, and under what criteria are now not laid down in statute but are individual to the premises and are contained in the conditions on each premises licence


#acesocialnews, #britainshistory, #alcohol-licensing-laws, #alcohol-licensing-laws-of-the-united-kingdom, #ale-houses, #england, #hostelry, #license, #northern-ireland, #northern-ireland-assembly, #public-houses, #scotland, #scottish-parliament, #uk-parliament, #volunteer, #warwickshire

The Histortorical Facts About Coventry

Lady Godiva by John Collier, c. 1897, Herbert ...

Lady Godiva by John Collier, c. 1897, Herbert Art Gallery and Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Coventry began as a Saxon village. It was called Coffantree, which means the tree belonging to Coffa. Trees were often used as meeting places. In this case a settlement grew up around the tree and it eventually became called Coventry.

Then in 1043 Leofric, the local Earl and his wife Godiva founded a Benedictine monastery at Coventry. They granted the monks land on which to graze sheep. (In the Middle Ages Coventry became famous for its wool industry).

Lady Godiva certainly existed (she is mentioned in documents of the time) but whether her famous naked ride through Coventry took place it is impossible to say. According to the story her husband Leofric was taxing the people of Coventry heavily and Godiva begged him to remove the tax. He jokingly said he would lift the tax if she rode through the town naked. Godiva did so! The story was first written down by Roger of Wendover (died 1236) and it may be true. However Peeping Tom is a much later addition to the story of Lady Godiva. He was not mentioned until the 17th century.

From the early 12th century Coventry was divided into 2 halves. The northern half was controlled by the Prior (the head of the priory or small monastery). The southern half of Coventry was controlled by the Earl.

However the Prior slowly lost his power. After 1265 he rented his half of Coventry to the Earl. Then in 1345 Coventry was given a charter (a document granting the townspeople certain rights). From then on The merchants of Coventry formed a town council and elected the mayor and magistrates. Ten years later, in 1355, the Prior gave up all his claims to Coventry.

At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 Coventry had a population of about 350. By the standards of the time it was a fair-sized settlement. Coventry grew rapidly in the Middle Ages. By the late 14th century it had a population of 4,817. By the standards of the time Coventry was a large and important town. By the end of the Middle Ages the population of Coventry reached 6,500.

The main industry in the Medieval Coventry was weaving and dyeing wool. In Coventry there were many workers in the cloth trade, drapers, tailors, dyers and weavers. There were also fullers. They cleaned and thickened cloth by pounding it in a mixture of clay and water. In Coventry there were also many leather workers like saddler’s, shoemakers and glovers. There were many other craftsmen in Coventry such as millers, bakers, butchers and bakers, blacksmiths, carpenters, coopers, cutler’s and goldsmiths.


Coventry-4520 (Photo credit: Coventry City Council)

In 1340 the merchants of Coventry were formed into a guild, which looked after their interests. A meeting hall, St Mary’s hall, was built for the guild in 1340.

From the late 12th century Coventry was probably surrounded by a ditch and an earth rampart with a wooden palisade on top. After 1335 a stone wall was built around Coventry. The wall was built-in stages. Most of it was finished by the early 15th century but it was not totally complete till 1538.

In the Middle Ages Coventry had a castle. Broadgate is named after the gate at the entrance of the castle. By 1250 a manor house, Chelysemore Manor, was built South of the town. The grounds around it were called Chelysemore Park.

Much Park Street and Little Park Street after both named after the park attached to the house. Burges is a corruption of ‘between the bridges’, as it stood between the bridges over the Sherbourne and Radford Brook. Spon End may be called that because it was the place where wooden roof tiles or ‘spans’ were made. The Butts was the place where men from Coventry practiced archery. (By law they had to practice every Sunday afternoon).

In the 13th century friars came to Coventry. The friars were like monks but instead of withdrawing from the world they went to preach. Franciscan friars arrived in Coventry about 1234. They were known as Grey friars because of their grey costumes. The Carmelites arrived in Coventry in 1342 They were called white friars and lived in the Southeast corner of Coventry.

There were also ‘hospitals’ in Coventry in the Middle Ages. They were run by the church. The Hospital of St John the Baptist stood at the junction of Hale Street and Bishop Street. In it monks cared for the sick and poor as best they could.

In 1520 Coventry had a population of 6,601 but it slowly declined and by 1587 it was only 6,502.

In 1506 a merchant named Thomas Bond left money in his will to build a ‘hospital’ or almshouse for old men. In 1509 William Ford left money in his will for another ‘hospital’ or almshouse. In 1538 Henry VIII closed the friaries in Coventry. In 1539 the priory was closed. Coventry Grammar School opened in 1545. Bablake Free School was founded in 1567.

Like all towns in those days Coventry suffered from outbreaks of plague. One severe outbreak was in 1603.

In 1642 came civil war between king and parliament. Charles I attempted to enter Coventry with an army but he was refused entry and Coventry remained in parliament’s hands for the of the war. During the civil war prisoners were held in the Church of St John. In 1647 a writer said that prisoners were ‘sent to Coventry‘. The phrase came to mean excluded from polite society.

In 1662 Charles II ordered the people of Coventry to destroy the walls around the city (perhaps remembering how his father had been refused admission in 1642). Most of the walls were broken up and the stone was used for new buildings, but the gates remained. The traditional industry of Coventry, weaving and dyeing wool declined. On the other hand a new industry appeared. As early as 1627 silk was woven in Coventry. By the end of the 17th century silk weaving was an important industry.

At the end of the 17th century the travel writer Celia Fiennes described Coventry: ‘Coventry stands on the side of a pretty high hill. The spire and steeple of one of the churches is very high and is thought the third highest in England. In the same churchyard stands another large church, which is something unusual, two such great churches together. Their towers and the rest of the churches and high buildings make the town seem very fine. The streets are broad and well paved with small stones.

The traditional wool industry in Coventry continued to decline although silk ribbon weaving boomed. From the mid 18th century watch-making also became an important industry in Coventry.

In the later 18th century most of the town gates of Coventry were demolished as they impeded the flow of traffic. New Gate went in 1762. It was followed by Gosford Gate and Bishop Street Gate in 1765. Spon Gate went in 1771 and Greyfriars Gate was demolished in 1781. Bastille Gate survived until 1849 but today there are only 2 surviving gates, Swanswell and Cook Street.

The Market cross in Coventry was destroyed in 1771. It was rebuilt in 1976. In 1793 a dispensary was opened where poor people could obtain free medicines. Coventry gained its first newspaper in 1741 and from 1790 night watchmen patrolled the streets fo Coventry. (It is doubtful if they were very effective!).

The first stretch of Coventry canal was built-in 1769. By 1790 it connected Coventry to the Trent and the Mersey.

In 1801 the population of Coventry was 16,000. By the standards of the time it was quite a large town. By 1851 the population of Coventry had reached 37,000 and by 1900 about 62,000.

There were many improvements in Coventry in the 19th century. A gasworks opened in Coventry in 1820 and the town soon had gas street lighting. In 1836 the first real police force was formed in Coventry. In 1847 a cemetery was opened. Since 1541 Coventry had been a county on its own. In 1842 it was made part of Warwickshire again.

The railway reached Coventry in 1838. Also in 1838 the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital was opened. Gulson Road Hospital was built-in 1843.

In 1871 a smallpox epidemic in Coventry killed 166 people. As a result a fever hospital was built-in 1874.

Nevertheless life in 19th century Coventry gradually improved. Late in the 19th century the council built sewers in Coventry. A Technical Institute was founded in Coventry in 1887 and in 1902 it became the Technical College.

Coventry City Football Club was founded in 1889. Furthermore the first telephone exchange in Coventry opened in 1889 and the first electricity generating station opened in 1895.

Steam driven trams began running in Coventry in 1884. After 1895 they were replaced by electric ones.

As Coventry grew it spread outwards. Union Street and Whitefriars Street were built about 1820. In the mid-19th century houses were built around Swanswell. From the middle of the century Earlsdon and Chelysemore were built up. In 1890 the boundaries of Coventry were extended to include Radford. By 1900 growth had spread to Foleshill.

Silk weaving was still booming in Coventry in the early 19th century but it declined rapidly after 1860. The Cobden Treaty was made with France in 1860. It allowed free trade. French silk ribbons flooded into England and the ribbon makers of Coventry were ruined. Many emigrated.

A man named Thomas Stevens 1828-1888, had another idea. He made silk pictures, which he called Steven-graphs and built up a successful business.

New industries appeared in Coventry during the 19th century. The first bicycles were made in Coventry as early as the 1860s. In the late 19th century cycling became very popular and the bike making industry boomed. In 1897 the first cars were made in Coventry.

An ambulance service began in Coventry in 1902. Coventry gained its first cinemas in 1910. The first motor-buses in Coventry ran in 1914. The first council houses were built-in 1917.

The parish church of St Michael was made a cathedral in 1919 and War Memorial Park in Coventry opened in 1921.

In the early 20th century watch-making in Coventry declined. So did bicycle making. On the other hand car manufacture boomed in the early 20th century but it declined after the 1950s. In 1916 G.E.C. began making electrical goods in Coventry. At the end of the century the main industries in Coventry were engineering and making electronic equipment.

In the 1920s council houses were built at Radford and Stoke Heath. In the 1930s council and private houses were built at Holbrooks and at Stivichall. Many private houses were built at Coundon and Keresley Heath. Other private houses were built around Tile Hill Lane. At the same time the council began slum clearance in the town centre and began building council houses to replace them.

The boundaries of Coventry were extended in 1928. Stoke was absorbed as well as Pinley, Whiteley and Stivichall. Part of Foleshill was also absorbed in 1928. The other part was absorbed in 1932 when the boundaries were extended again. At that time Coundon was also absorbed. So were Willenahall, Wyken and Walsgrave on Sowe. In 1937 Trinity Street was built. Corporation Street was built-in 1939. A southern by-pass was built-in 1940.

Coventry suffered severely in the Second World War. The two most severe bombing raids were on the night of 14-15 November 1940 and 8-9 April 1941. The city centre was devastated by the bombing. St. Michael’s Cathedral was destroyed apart from its spire and outer walls.

The huge task of rebuilding Coventry began in 1948 when Princess Elizabeth laid the foundation stone of the new city centre. A statue of Lady Godiva was unveiled in 1949. In the 1950s Coventry city centre was rebuilt and in the late 1960s an inner ring road was built.

After World War II council houses were built at Tile Hill and Whitmore. In the early 1970s council flats were built at Hillfields. Private houses were built at Allesley, Walsgrave on Sowe, Binley and Stivichall.

The first mosque in Coventry was built in Eagle street in 1960. The same year Lanchester College of Technology was built.

Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre opened in 1958. In 1960 the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum was built. A School of Music was built in 1964.

#acesocialnews, #britainshistory, #broadgate, #coventry, #domesday-book, #england, #godiva, #lady-godiva, #middle-ages, #west-midlands

Sir Isaac Pitman – and – Pitmans Shorthand

Français : Photo de Isaac Pitman. La photo est...

Français : Photo de Isaac Pitman. La photo est utilisée avec la permission de la collection Pitman de l’université de Bath. (consultez description anglaise de cette photo pour les détails sur l’autorisation) Image fournie par The Pitman Collection, University of Bath (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English phonographer, born at Trowbridge, Wiltshire, on the 4th of January 1813, and educated at the local grammar school. He started in life as a clerk in a cloth factory, but in 1831 he was sent to the Normal College of the British and Foreign School Society in London. Between 1832 and 1839 he held masterships at Barton-on-Humber and Wotton-under-Edge, but he was dismissed by the authorities when he became a Swedenborgian, and from 1839 to 1843 he conducted a private school of his own at Bath. In 1829 he took up Samuel Taylor‘s system of shorthand, and from that time he became an enthusiast in developing the art of phonography. In 1837 he drew up a manual of Taylor’s system and offered it to Samuel Bagster (1771-1852). The publisher did not accept the work, but suggested that Pitman should invent a new system of his own. The result was his Stenographic Sound-hand (1837). Bagster’s friendship and active help had been secured by Pitman’s undertaking to verify the half-million references in the Comprehensive Bible, and he published the inventor’s books at a cheap rate, thus helping to bring the system within the reach of all. Pitman devoted himself to perfecting phonography and propagating its use, and established at Bath a Phonetic Institute and a Phonetic Journal for this purpose; he printed in shorthand a number of standard works, and his book with the title Phonography (1840) went through many editions. He was an enthusiastic spelling reformer, and adopted a phonetic system which he tried to bring into general use. Pitman was twice married, his first wife dying in 1857, and his second, whom he married in 1861, surviving him. In 1894 he was knighted, and on the 22nd of January 1897 he died at Bath. Sir Isaac Pitman popularized shorthand at a time when the advance of the newspaper press and modern business methods were making it a matter of great commercial importance. His system adapted itself readily to the needs of journalism, and its use revolutionized the work of reporting. He was a non-smoker, a vegetarian, and advocated temperance principles.

But of course what he is really know for his simply “Pitman’s Shorthand that has roots as far back as the 1800’s and is even still in existence today!

Before he created his system, Pitman had used Samuel Taylor’s system for seven years, but saw its weaknesses. Taylor’s symbols had greater similarity to the older Byrom system, and were too bulk and impractical to use.

Pitman first presented his shorthand system in 1837 as Stenographic Sound-hand. Like most systems of shorthand, it was a phonetic system based on phonetic and not orthographic principles. The symbols did not represent letters, but rather sounds, and words were, for the most part, written as they were spoken. There were twenty-four consonants that could be represented in Pitman’s shorthand, twelve vowels, and four diphthongs. The consonants were indicated by strokes, the vowels by interposed dots.

Pitman used similar-looking symbols for phonetically related sounds. He was the first to use thickness of a stroke to indicate voicing (voiced consonants such as /b/ and /d/ were written with heavier lines than unvoiced ones such as /p/ and /t/), and consonants with similar place of articulation were orientated in similar directions, with straight lines for plosives and arcs for fricatives.

Thus, a characteristic feature of Pitman shorthand was that voiceless and voiced sounds (such as /p/ and /b/) were represented by strokes that differed only in thickness (the thick stroke representing the voiced consonant). Doing this required a writing instrument which was responsive to the user’s drawing pressure: specialist fountain pens, with fine, flexible nibs, were originally used, but pencils later became more common.

Another distinguishing feature was that there was more than one way of indicating vowels. The main vowel of a word or phrase was indicated by the position of the stroke with respect to the lines of the notebook. For example, a small circle drawn above the line translated to as/has and the same circle drawn on the line translated to is/his. However, there was a more straightforward way of indicating vowels, which was to use dots or small dashes drawn close to the stroke of the preceding consonant. The type of vowel was dependent on the relative position of the dot or dash to the stroke (beginning, middle, or end).

Another feature of Pitman’s shorthand allowed most vowels to be omitted in order to speed up the process of writing. As mentioned above, each vowel was written next to the consonant stroke at the beginning, middle or end of the stroke. Pitman’s shorthand was designed to be written on lined paper and when a word’s first vowel is a “first position” vowel (at the beginning of the stroke), the whole shorthand outline for the word was written above the paper’s ruled line. When it was a second position vowel, the outline was written on the line. When it was a third position vowel it was written through the line. In this way, the position of the outline indicated that the first vowel could only be one of four possibilities. In most cases, this meant that the first and often all the other vowels could be omitted entirely.

There are at least three “dialects” of Pitman’s shorthand: the original Pitman’s, Pitman’s New Era, and Pitman’s 2000. The later versions dropped certain symbols and introduced other simplifications to earlier versions. For example, strokes “rer” (heavy curved downstroke) and “kway,” (hooked horizontal straight stroke) are present in Pitman’s New Era, but not in Pitman’s 2000.

English: Example of Pitman 2000 shorthand - sm...

English: Example of Pitman 2000 shorthand – smaller Polski: Przykład stenografii Pitmana w wersji Pitman 2000, z podręcznika – pomniejszone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pitman created and popularized his shorthand system at a time when the newspaper industry was expanding greatly. His system was adapted to the needs of journalism, and it greatly simplified the work of reporters.

Pitman’s brother Benn settled in Cincinnati, Ohio in the United States, and introduced Pitman’s system there. He used it in the 1865–1867 trial of the conspirators behind the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. In Australia the system was introduced by another Pitman brother, Jacob.

At one time, the Pitman system was the most commonly used shorthand system in the entire English-speaking world. It had been adapted to at least 30 languages, including French, Spanish, Welsh, Afrikaans, Malay, and Hindu. Part of its popularity was due to the fact that it was the first subject taught by correspondence course. Today in many regions (especially the U.S.), it has been superseded by Gregg Shorthand, developed by John Robert Gregg.

Pitman’s grandson, James Pitman (1901-1985) also joined the family business founded by his grandfather, and was responsible for developing the Initial Teaching Alphabet (ITA), a phonetically augmented alphabet designed to minimize the discrepancies between spelling and pronunciation which can cause problems in the early development of reading skills.

The modern face of Isaac Pitman today


  • 1837. Pitman, Isaac. Stenographic sound-hand. London: Samuel Bagster.
  • 1840. Pitman, Isaac. Phonography, or, writing by sound: a natural method of writing all languages by one alphabet, composed of signs that represent the sounds of the human voice: adapted also to the English language as a complete system of short hand, briefer than any other system, and by which a speaker can be followed verbatim, without the use of arbitrary marks. London: Samuel Bagster and Sons.
  • 1845. Pitman, Isaac. A manual of phonography, or, Writing by sound a natural method of writing by signs that represent the sounds of language, and adapted to the English language as a complete system of phonetic short hand. London: S. Bagster and Sons.
  • 1849. Pitman, Isaac. Exercises in phonography; designed to conduct the pupil to a practical acquaintance with the art. London: F. Pitman.
  • 1860. Pitman, Isaac. The phonographic reader: a series of lessons in phonetic shorthand. London: F. Pitman.
  • 1897. Pitman, Isaac. Key to exercises in the “Phonographic reporter” or part II. of Pitman’s shorthand instructor. London: I. Pitman & Sons
  • 2003. Pitman, Isaac. Course in Isaac Pitman shorthand. Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 0766161692


  • Baker, Alfred. 1908. The life of Sir Isaac Pitman (inventor of phonography). London: I. Pitman & Sons.
  • Pitman, Benn. 1902. Sir Isaac Pitman, his life and labors. Cincinnati, OH: Press of C.J. Krehbial & Co.

External links

All Links Received December 11, 2007.


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