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Not currently on display at the V&A

Indenture

1 Jan 1837 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This unusual document records an agreement between Thomas Massa Alsager, a journalist living in Queen's Square, London, and his eldest daughter Margaret, concerning the care of her dolls' house.

This indenture suggests that children's dolls' houses in the early nineteenth century were actively played with, rather than being purely objects of display. It also challenges the idea that they may have been relegated to the nursery - Margaret Alsager’s house is in the parlour, a relatively public space.

It is also interesting that a twelve year old girl was given enough status and agency to sign her own name on a contract with her father. This contract gave her responsibilities and checked her desire to light fires within the toy house, but it also conferred rights. It is reminiscent, in that way, of the Codes of Conduct often drawn up by and for schoolchildren today.



object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
handwriting in ink on paper, stamped wax
Brief Description
Contract between Thomas Massa Alsager and his daughter Margaret Alsager, ink on paper, England, 1837
Physical Description
Paper document, with wavy top edge typical of indentures. The text of the contract covers most of the front of the contract, with two signatures at the bottom, each accompanied by a red wax seal. The document has creases where it was previously folded into thirds in each direction. On the reverse, the middle section is dated, and the top right section has the signatures of witnesses.
Dimensions
  • Height: 19.2cm
  • Width: 24.2cm
Style
Production typeUnique
Marks and Inscriptions
  • This Indenture made the first day of January One thousand Eight hundred and Thirty seven Between Thomas Massa Alsager of Queen Square in the County of Middlesex Esquire of the one part and Margaret Alsager of the same place spinster of the other part Witnesseth that for an in consideration of the rent and convenants herein after received and contained The said Thomas Massa Alsager Doth demise and base unto the said Margaret Alsager All that Messuage or Dwelling House, commonly known by the name of the ‘”Doll’s House” now situate and Being in the back drawing room of No. 26 Queen Square aforesaid with all the appurtenances thereof to Have and hold to the said Margaret Alsager for the full term of four years, the said Margaret Alsager yielding and paying therefore every month the sum of one shilling lawful money of Great Britain The first payment to be made on the first day of February next And the said Margerat Alsager Doth hereby covenant with the said Thomas Massa Alsager that she will well and truly pay the said Rent without any deduction or abatement whatsoever And also that she will insure the same From accidental fire by agreeing to pay to the said Thomas Massa Alsager a fine of twenty shillings Every time she the said Margaret Alsager shall introduce into the said dwelling house a real lighted candle or Light any real fire in the stoves. Provided always and it is hereby agreed that this covenant shall not Exclude the introduction of any candle the flame whereof shall be made of red foil red worsted red glass Or any other incombustible, nor the filling any of the stoves with coals the same not being in an Ignited state And the said Maragret Alsager doth further covenant that it shall be lawful for the Said Thomas Massa Alsager on giving two days notice in writing to remove the said messuage from The back drawing room into the front drawing room, front parlour, back parlour or music room at any time As to the said Thomas Massa Alsager shall seem fitting. And also that in case of the non payment of The rent hereby reserved or the non-performance of the covenants herein contained it shall be lawful For the said Thomas Massa Alsager to take possession of the said messuage and enter the same (if it be possible for the said Thomas Massa Alsager so to do) and thereof utterly to dispossess the said Margaret Alsager anything contained herein to the contrary notwithstanding Ths. M. Alsager Margaret Alsager (Recto)
  • Signed sealed and delivered being first dully stamped in the presence of……. E. Alsager A. Capel E. Alsager Jun. Mary Alsager Dated 1st January 1837 Thomas Massa Alsager Esq. To Miss Margaret Alsager Lease of messuage in Queens Square (Verso)
Object history
Thomas Massa Alsager was a well-known figure in London society. Mostly self-taught, he rose to be the first financial editor in the City, and co-editor of the Times. He was chair of the Clothworker’s Company and rescued that organisation from financial failure during his leadership in 1836-7 (the same year as this Indenture).

The Alsager’s house was the site of literary and musical entertainments and debate; Thomas was a founding member and host of the Beethoven Quartet Society, and visitors to the Alsager’s home included Keats and Charles Lamb.

Historical context
This is a unique document, giving a very special insight into the relationship between father and daughter, and how the reality of property ownership and legal responsibility was playfully translated into the rules governing dolls’ houses. The document has survived, but Margaret’s dolls’ house, sadly, has not.



The Indenture

An indenture is a legal deed. The name comes from the ‘indents’ along the top edge; each person would have a copy of the contract, both written out on one piece of paper and then cut in half in a distinctive pattern that would protect against forgery.



This indenture is very small compared to the full-scale documents drawn up to lease houses. However, it does contain all the correct terminology, seals, and clauses. It throws up some interesting legal questions about the status of Margaret Alsager, her dolls’ house as property, and the financial agreement she is entering by signing this indenture with her father.



Natalie Owen, Associate at Shoosmiths LLP, has considered whether this document would have had any legal status in the 1830s:



“In short, we don’t think the deed would ever be binding as a deed cannot be entered into by a minor and the dolls’ house is a chattel and not a piece of ‘real’ land. Therefore the deed would, at best, be a contract between father and daughter”.



Thomas Massa Alsager – a very busy man

Thomas Massa Alsager was born south of the Thames in Southwark in 1779, the fifth child of Thomas and Mary. His father died in 1790, so Thomas Massa was apprenticed to his mother for seven years as a setter (his job was to stretch new fabric to the width required) eventually gaining Freedom of The Clothworkers’ Company in 1800. When he became an apprentice, he may have signed an indenture with his mother, setting out the terms of his training.



Throughout the 1810s and 1820s, Thomas Massa developed his professional and social life. He hosted regular parties full of drunken card games, exchanged books with John Keats and Charles Lamb, and in 1817 became City Correspondent for The Times. He played in the orchestra of His Majesty’s Theatre (the Grove Dictionary of Music claimed Thomas Massa “could perform on all the instruments in the Orchestra”). All the while, he continued to have a cloth business in Southwark and was rising in the ranks of The Clothworkers’ Company.



In 1821, aged nearly 42, Thomas Massa married 17-year-old Elizabeth Roper. Friend William Ayrton described the young wife as “beautifully pretty. She has not what are called perfect features, but the ensemble is exquisitely pretty and engaging. She is, as yet, quite unlearned.” The couple had 13 children, meaning Elizabeth was pregnant or nursing almost constantly from her marriage to her death in 1845, aged forty-one. It was a short life filled with loss and grief.



The first two girls died as babies. Margaret was the oldest surviving child, born in 1824. She was followed by two pairs of twins: Elizabeth and Mary, then Caroline and Anne (who died). The first boy, Richard, died as a baby. Marianne, born in 1830, was the first Bloomsbury baby, being born in the Queen Square house. Then came Catherine and Thomas, named after his father and grandfather. Thomas Massa wrote to Elizabeth’s friends, inviting them to visit his wife when she was out of confinement.



In 1836, Thomas Massa was elected to the highest rank of Clothworkers – Master of the Company. In this position, he discovered mismanaged trusts and impending disasters in finance and repute. Through his “zeal and ability”, Thomas Massa brought the Company’s records into order and made amends for former errors.



1 January 1837 saw Thomas Alsager draw up the contract with his 12-year-old daughter. Perhaps she’d had the dolls’ house for several years by then, and this was a New Year induction into the world of legal responsibility. It also shows his sense of humour, for how could a document in such pompous legal jargon not be tongue-in-cheek, especially when it includes a caveat concerning Thomas Massa’s inability to enter the dolls’ house:



“In case of the non payment of the rent hereby… it shall be lawful For the said Thomas Massa Alsager to take possession of the said messuage and enter the same (if it be possible for the said Thomas Massa Alsager so to do) and thereof utterly to dispossess the said Margaret Alsager anything contained herein.”



The indenture gives us a glimpse into the layout of the Alsagers’ house in Queen Square. Given two days’ notice, Thomas Massa can move the dolls’ house “from the back drawing room into the front drawing room, front parlour, back parlour or music room”. The absence of the nursery on this list of rooms, normally found at the top of houses of this size, suggests that the dolls’ house could have been too big for Thomas to carry up the stairs!



The children kept coming for the Alsagers; another Anne (who also died) and finally Sarah in 1843. We can imagine that Margaret, 17 years older than her youngest sister, had a considerable role to play in bringing up her siblings, but also as hostess at her father’s home concerts, when Elizabeth was engaged with childbearing. Margaret was Secretary of her father’s Queens Square Select Society, and later in life, she recalled “the keen delight when I was sometimes allowed to sit up late, when 14, and then later, to write articles from his dictation, as he walked up and down the room, the words flowing so smoothly from his lips”. She added “my mother was an invalid for some few years before her death, so a great deal devolved on us girls”. Margaret’s responsibilities increased further when her mother Elizabeth died on 29 October 1845.



The tragedies continued. A year later, in September 1846, Thomas Massa was dismissed from The Times newspaper. The profits for the year had been falsely reported, and though he wasn’t responsible, as one of the Managers he was forced to resign. Friends and servants reported how low, unsettled and depressed Thomas Massa was acting. On the anniversary of his wife’s funeral, he attempted suicide, and was discovered by his cook with his throat cut. A surgeon managed to revive Thomas Massa but he lived for only nine days. The inquest found insufficient evidence to decide on Thomas Massa’s state of mind at the time of his death, and so he was allowed a formal burial at Kensal Green cemetery – rather than the midnight interment inflicted on those who took their own life in sound mind.



The Clothworkers’ remembered “in their departed friend and Brother, the uniform practice of the strictest integrity, blended with great ability, perseverance and zeal, which added to an unwearied devotedness of purpose, a gentlemanly and courteous demeanour, and extensive knowledge”. Wordsworth wrote of his shock at the loss of “a man of sober mind and sound judgement”.



A few months after her father’s death, on 20 March 1847, Margaret married William Scrope Ayrton (1804-1885), at Christchurch, Marylebone. The groom was a similar age to Thomas Massa when he wed Elizabeth Roper. The ceremony was witnessed by Margaret’s cousin John Oxenford, a financial journalist-playwright-Wagnerian, and William’s father, who had been a close friend of Thomas Massa and had similar interests in music, law and finance.



William and Margaret moved far away from the Alsager circle to Yorkshire. Within four years they had three children, and a wet nurse was living with them. Margaret would eventually have at least 12 children herself, though she survived through all those births and lived into her 70s.
Place Depicted
Summary
This unusual document records an agreement between Thomas Massa Alsager, a journalist living in Queen's Square, London, and his eldest daughter Margaret, concerning the care of her dolls' house.



This indenture suggests that children's dolls' houses in the early nineteenth century were actively played with, rather than being purely objects of display. It also challenges the idea that they may have been relegated to the nursery - Margaret Alsager’s house is in the parlour, a relatively public space.



It is also interesting that a twelve year old girl was given enough status and agency to sign her own name on a contract with her father. This contract gave her responsibilities and checked her desire to light fires within the toy house, but it also conferred rights. It is reminiscent, in that way, of the Codes of Conduct often drawn up by and for schoolchildren today.



Associated Object
Collection
Accession Number
B.168-2013

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record createdJune 28, 2013
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