The collection comprises ten original sketchbooks, albums, and scrapbooks compiled by Mary Leighton (1799–1864) and her children. They cover the period 1824-1860, and were intended for private, family use. The materials provide a compelling example of the role of drawing and album-keeping in Victorian England. More than simple pastimes, these activities helped families such as the Leightons to locate themselves in the social order. The drawings contained in these ten sketchbooks and scrapbooks often portray the estates of acquaintances, picturesque landscapes, and portraits that—along with the maps, prints, and other materials in the volumes—track the family’s circulation in society. Through the drawings and ephemera they created and preserved, Mary and her children placed themselves within a well-educated and well-traveled social network that spread far beyond the borders of their native Shropshire.
These materials sketch not only a social identity but also help construct a national one. Their depictions of the Welsh countryside, for example, may appear as pure paeans to the sublimity of the landscape, yet they also suggest the importance of Wales to a broader British identity. In his book The Passengers, Mary’s brother John Parker laments Wales’ long-lost independence while arguing that “the only fair prospect for Wales . . . is a closer, more intimate union with England” (47). Mary’s drawings of the Menai and Conway suspension bridges, which facilitated tourism and commerce in Wales, may be understood as promoting such a view. So may her sons’ drawings of such historical figures as Llewellyn and William Wallace, who are perhaps included in the scrapbooks not so much as Celtic leaders, but as British heroes.
The volumes’ construction of identity reflects a fascinating intersection of the public with the domestic, revealing the family’s interests in, and relation to, the broader world through this personal and private medium. References to contemporary and historical political events jostle with tender or comic depictions of family and friends; illustrations from published books and periodicals are transformed into children’s drawing exercises. Together these materials trace the boundary between the public and domestic realms in the first half of the nineteenth century, while at the same time conveying its permeability.