Odds and quads

Gladys Aylward, the English missionary pictured with two of her adopted children (see image, right), became a household name when her heroic exploits escorting 100 orphans to safety through war-torn China were turned into a Hollywood biopic, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958).

August 11, 2011

Somewhat improbably, the role of the diminutive former housemaid from North London was taken by the statuesque Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman. Archives and artefacts relating to Aylward are being acquired by the library at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

They include some material from the time she served as the official foot inspector in Shanxi Province during the 1930s, enforcing the local government edict against foot-binding.

To illustrate the terrible damage caused by the practice, Aylward collected examples of the embroidered Chinese slippers that a woman with fully grown feet would have worn, together with a pair of three-inch shoes designed to fit someone with bound feet. She also kept a pair of scissors to cut away the bandages from the broken feet of Chinese girls and women.

Send suggestions for this series on the treasures, oddities and curiosities owned by universities across the world to: matthew.reisz @tsleducation.com.

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