Thursday, 4 August 2011

Bloomsbury Project goes live

The Bloomsbury Project, of which this blog has been a feature, has now been completed after three years research, and the website has been launched.

The project was established to investigate 19th-century Bloomsbury's development from swampy rubbish-dump to centre of intellectual life. The project has traced the origins, locations, and reforming significance of hundreds of progressive and innovative institutions. Many of the extensive archival resources relating to these institutions have also been identified and examined, and Bloomsbury’s developing streets and squares have been mapped and described.

While all this was going on in the academic realms of UCL, the Bloomsbury People blog set out to find information about the 'ordinary' people who lived and worked in the area. In fact, most of the people featured were very far from 'ordinary' and it has been a pleasure to correspond with their descendants who have so enthusiastically shared these Bloomsbury lives. This blog is now closing but I hope that anyone finding it in the future will be able to learn something new about the area, most especially from the online resource.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

2nd Viscount Frankfort de Montmorency and a case of libel

I’ve just received a fascinating e.mail from Raymond Foster whose ancestors, the Newsoms of Bloomsbury Square, were featured in February. Raymond writes: ‘… as a result of researching Jane Hovil Newsom's father, John Sawyer I happened upon some material about an Elizabeth Sawyer who resided at 35 Montague Place (Bloomsbury) in 1861 and who I thought might have been a relative. The Census for that year describes her as a widow aged 34 years, born in Tenterden, Kent, and records a range of young children and a retinue of servants and also a visitor, described as an uncle, L.H. Sawyer, aged in his late 50s and normally resident in Dublin.

Nothing particularly noteworthy about that and I can't establish any definite link with Jane Hovil Newsom (nee Sawyer) living just round the corner in Bloomsbury Square (and later by the way in Southampton Row). What caused me some surprise though was that 10 years later, in 1871 there is (another?) Elizabeth Sawyer recorded at exactly the same address - 35 Montague Place - but this one is aged 40, born in Brighton and described as an annuitant. There were no children present, just one servant and an Irish Peer, Viscount Frankfort - Lodge Raymond de Montmorency, 2nd Viscount Frankfort de Montmorency to give him his full title. I did a little research on the 2nd Viscount, born in 1806, and discovered that apart from being an Old Etonian and guardsman, he was in 1861 on trial in London for publishing an indecent communication (reported in "Victorian London" by Liza Picard). He apparently served a year's imprisonment with hard labour in Pentonville but was able to avoid the hard labour component of his sentence by paying towards his keep in prison. I also read that there was a strong suggestion that he was in fact insane, and at least one instance of assault - by spitting on someone in the street - was evinced in support of this. I'm sure there must be more material available about this intriguing character. I don't know if this is at all relevant to the "Bloomsbury People" project but it might add a little extra flavour. It hasn't added anything definite to my own family research but it did provide some entertainment! Incidentally I am fairly sure that the Frankfort line is now extinct! Best wishes, Raymond Foster (no relation to the 2nd Viscount as far as I know).’

The Frankfort de Montmorencys were Irish peers, owning thousands of acres in Carlow, Cavan and Kilkenny. They were, nevertheless, absentee landords and the agent who managed the 2nd Viscount’s estates described him in 1843 as ‘becoming as oblivious in Matters of business as he is insane in other Matters’ (page 2 of online document). This was the time of the devastating Irish famine and the Viscount was said to be ignorant of the extent of distress (as many absentee landlords were). In 1842, he was living in Paddingon, west London, when Alice Lowe was tried at the Old Bailey for stealing property from his house. The Viscount’s testimony is garbled to say the least and it turned out that Alice Lowe had been living with him for several weeks prior to the ‘theft’. A pawbroker who gave evidence maintained that she had been a regular customer for four years and intimated that she regularly co-habited with ‘noblemen’ and pawned their valuables. Alice was found not guilty.

In 1843, the Viscount sent a notice to every member of the House of Lords complaining of ‘grievances and injuries, which for several years have seriously interfered with, and in some instances fatally destroyed his domestic arrangements, placed him at variance with his family connections …’ etc. Four years later he appeared at the Middlesex Sessions on a charge of assault (the spitting episode mentioned by Raymond), and then in 1852 he was tried at Bow Street Magistrates Court for defamation and libel after circulating letters supposedly from members of the aristocracy. In fact, the content of the letters suggest that the Viscount was seriously deluded. He mentions a ‘secret committee’ tampering with intimate friends, turning the inabitants of the country into cannibals and taking children of rank out of their graves, etc. etc. The Liverpool Standard, commenting on this case, observed: ‘That [the Viscount] is a fit subject for a lunatic asylum can hardly be doubted; but that his disease of mind has been induced by depraved habits is abundantly obvious.’ Full details of these events are online (scroll down to end of document).

The photograph above (xynt4x Flickr) shows Montague Square with the back of the British Museum on the left and the offices of Senate House, University of London on the right.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Alfred Gibbs Bourne, UCL, and Sir (Edwin) Ray Lankester

Mark Bourne’s account of his great, great grandfather’s experience at UCL under the tutorship of the eminent zoologist, Ray Lankester (1847-1929, top picture), fired my curiousity to know what became of Alfred Gibbs Bourne. As with many of Lankester’s students, he did rather well.

Mark writes: ‘Alfred Gibbs went to Madras in 1886 to join the Presidency College and became Professor of Biology. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1895. In 1903 he was appointed Director of Public Instruction and worked on changes in the secondary education system, introducing the Secondary School Leaving Certificate System. After his retirement, he took charge as director of the Indian Institute of Science. He held this position from 1915 to 1921. He was knighted Knight Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire in 1913.’

Alfred had been in India for less than a year when he received a letter from Lankester, obviously in response to the draft of a paper that he had asked his old tutor to read:

Letter from E. R. Lankester to A. G. Bourne, 18th January 1887

‘I am now going to pitch into you. I think your paper on Earthworms very bad. It is the old complaint I have to make which I have made to you and dozens of younger men – viz. you will not take the trouble to say what you mean – in fact are infernally lazy. Even your reference to “Q.J.M.S.” shows damnable shirking. It ought to be “Quart. Journ. Micros. Sci.” You coolly assume that everyone knows all about the thing before you begin to write. In consequence your paper is most uninteresting. You never explain what the Perichaetes are or in what points they are known to vary – or what remarkable anatomical characters they exhibit. You don’t describe any of your species fully and you give no drawings. You coolly say often at great length with an air of solemnity and importance “The presence of so and so was not determined” which really ought to be written “I am so lazy and careless that I did not trouble to ascertain this important fact – and I won’t even now take the trouble to do it – but prefer to write without doing so”. The whole style of that kind of work is damnable. You have heaps of these worms & have no excuse for sending home slovenly work. ...’

One hopes that Alfred, having spent some years as Lankester’s student and also as his laboratory assistant, was not overly perturbed by this attack on his scholarship. Mark suggests that Lankester, in fact, held his old student in high regard: ‘His letters of recommendation of Alfred to other institutions and publishers (including that very the same paper!) were always very complimentary. I think it was he also who was a proposer for Alfred's membership to the Royal Society.’ And the respect was mutual: ‘Alfred certainly seemed to have a lot of respect for him even when Ray seems to be travelling off to Europe, leaving Alfred (somewhat in the lurch) to deal with a lot of the responsibility for teaching the students.’

Mark also attached a photograph (above) of Alfred’s wife, Emily Tree Glashier (later Lady Bourne). She was an acclaimed botanical artist and teamed up with other artists at Kodaikanal to produce illustrations of the local flora. Many of Alfred's scientific articles were also illustrated by her. For readers interested in 19th century earthworms, here's a link to an original illustrated article by Alfred Gibbs Bourne.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

The Bayntons of Bloomsbury

Simon Auger contacted me for help in find out more about his maternal ancestors, Thomas (baptised 1718) and Mary (nee Tufton) Baynton (d. 1776) who lived in Field Court, Gray’s Inn between 1767 and 1776 (they also lived, for a very brief time, in Queen Square).

Thomas and Mary came from Wiltshire and were married in Dursley in 1745. Their five children were all baptised in Bloomsbury, at St Andrew Holborn – James Lewis, baptised 1753; Thomas in 1767; John in 1769; Samuel in 1771; Sarah in 1773. Samuel is Simon’s 4x great grandfather. Simon has no information about Thomas’s death or his occupation although Samuel (and possibly also John) became a greengrocer. If anyone reading this blog is a Baynton descendent, we’d very much like to hear from you.

Putting on my historian’s sleuth hat I’m interested in the 14-year gap between the birth of the Baynton’s first child, James Lewis (1753) and their second, Thomas (1767). There doesn’t seem to have been a problem with Mary’s fertility as she had three more children in quick succession so what might be going on here? It’s possible that Mary had a number of miscarriages or stillbirths between her first and second sons and these wouldn’t have been recorded. It’s also possible (and perhaps more likely) that Thomas was working away for much of this period. Perhaps he was in the navy or military. These might be useful lines of enquiry for Simon to pursue.

The lovely picture above (top) shows two 18th century houses in Field Court (thisisforever, Flickr), and the one below depicts a snowy Field Court looking towards Gray’s Inn Square (J D Mack, Flickr). This area is now populated with legal businesses.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Bloomsbury missionary becomes head of a church

Bloomsbury People has featured a number of stories about Bishop Andrew McLaglen, the father of Hollywood star, Victor McLaglen. Andrew McLagen was consecrated in November 1897 as bishop of the Free Protestant Episcopal Church of England (later known as the Evangelical Church of England). This church was formally dissolved in 1997 although it remains active in the US and Canada.

From knowing absolutely nothing about Bishop Andrew McLaglen's background when the first blog about him was posted on 6 August 2009, other than the fact he had been an apprentice missionary in Bloomsbury from 1877-1879, the Bloomsbury Project now has a link to the church through its current Primus and Bishop of California, the Most Reverend Edwin D Follick, who is also Director of University Libraries and University Chaplain, South Baylo University, Anaheim, California. Bishop Ed has sent me a photograph (top picture) of three of the first bishops of the Free Protestant Episcopal Church. It shows (from left) the Most Reverend Lord Leon Checkemian, DD LLD, the first Archbishop; the Right Reverend James Martin, DD LLD; and the Right Reverend Andrew Albert McLaglen, DD LLD.

The photograph was reproduced on the souvenir programme of the 12th Annual Convocation and Dinner of St Andrew’s Ecumenical Research Intercollegiate Fellowship, held at St Andrew’s Collegiate Church, Stonebridge Road, Tottenham, North London, on 4 September 1965. This church was acquired in 1967 by the Church of God but maybe it was later demolished or used for a different purpose because I cannot find reference to a church in Stonebridge Road. Laziness on my part because I haven’t actually been to investigate!

The middle picture shows Bishop Edwin Follick (right) presenting a sculpture to the Most Reverend Charles D Boltwood, DD LLD, Bishop Primus of the Free Protestant Episcopal Church, in 1978. It was Dr Boltwood who wound down the operations of the FPEC in the UK and transferred the church records to North America.

From humble beginnings in Bloomsbury, this story has travelled the world and pulled in more information about Victor McLaglen’s ancestry than I believe was generally known before. And by another strange twist of fate, I was talking to an elderly friend about the Bloomsbury Project and its stories when he informed me that he had known Victor’s daughter Sheila and her husband, and had even met (only once) the great actor himself. His recollection was that Victor arrived, having clearly enjoyed a ‘couple of drinks’!

Finally, I had to include a photograph (bottom) of Victor with his daughter Sheila and son Andrew.

Bloomsbury writer gives Charlie Chaplin idea for film

Some time ago Jenny Woolf contacted me to draw my attention to a book by Thomas Burke (1886-1945) entitled Living in Bloomsbury. London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1939. Although the book is now out of print, it’s possible to buy it very inexpensively through Amazon and I’ve just placed an order for a second edition (1947) costing £5.00.

Thomas Burke was a prolific author of fiction and non-fiction, publishing his first short story, ‘The Bellamy Diamonds’ in 1901 at the age of fifteen. He was born in Clapham, South London, and seems to have been orphaned (or at least became fatherless) early in life, ending up in a home for middle-class poor but ‘respectable’ boys. Much of his non-fiction work about London, particularly the East End, is considered to be romanticised but a number of his stories captured the imagination of the burgeoning film industry and were adapted for Hollywood. D W Griffith, for example, used Burke’s short story ‘The Chink and the Child’ from Limehouse Nights (1917) as basis for his silent movie, ‘Broken Blossoms’ (1919), and Charlie Chaplin derived ‘A Dog’s Life’ (1918) from the same book.

I’m not certain whether Burke ever lived in Bloomsbury but he certainly died here – at the Homeopathic Hospital, Queen Square, on 22 September 1945, at the very end of World War II.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Love Letters of Alfred Gibbs Bourne

Mark Bourne contacted me with a fascinating account of his great, great grandfather’s experience at University College London (UCL). Alfred Gibbs Bourne, aged 20 (top picture), was a biology student at UCL in 1879. He studied biology under (Sir) Edwin Ray Lankester (1847-1929) who had been appointed to the chair of zoology in 1875. Alfred subsequently became Lankester’s assistant and worked as his demonstrator. Mark quotes from two journals written by Alfred during this period. He says: ‘The journal is essentially a love letter and was exchanged at several intervals with his wife-to-be, Emily, during an enforced separation to allow them to continue their studies. However, of interest to your project might be some descriptions of his life as a student demonstrator.’

Written on 25th Nov 1879:

'From 2 to 5 the practical zoology class lasts + I have to look after it all, settle what is to be done, provide material + be generally responsible for the whole thing. Ray sometimes does not come in but leaves it all to me. I have three demonstrators to help me, 2 of whom are “swell men" who have taken their degrees at Oxford + are both older than myself so that I feel a little shy of telling them what to do.
On Tuesday + Thursday we have the Ladies' Class + I have to take that myself – Lankester generally giving them a little time. - Oh how I wish my own darling was in it. Wouldn't I take pains over it then – as it is I do my best for them because it will be rather a good thing to say afterwards if they pass their examination that I had something to do with the teaching of the first ladies who ever took a degree.'

In 1878, UCL became the first British university to admit women on the same terms as men.
'You have heard of my Ladies Class - the council have settled that it had better not be continued after Xmas - they have been in the habit of attending Lankester's lectures & then 2 afternoons a week coming to me upstairs for practical work - They have thus asked me to continue with them giving them private lessons - i.e. two of them ... have asked me to take them at home two evenings a week - my first impulse was to say no - chiefly on your account & I would do so in a moment if I thought you would not like it, but then I thought that you had too much trust in me to abstain from teaching 2 young ladies Biology - my great wish to do it lies in the fact they are the first ladies who have gone up for a Science degree & of course if I could pass them well it would be greatly to my credit & I might get more work to do another year & if I stick to Biology it will be very important that I should get plenty of coaching, that's the thing that pays. I hardly like however arranging to coach these women without knowing what my own darling would wish, as all I do will be only a means to make her happy in life & care for her'.
Mark says that as a science student himself (Earth Sciences, University of Oxford), he finds accounts of his great, great grandfather’s life very interesting. He also noticed in our video of the Bloomsbury project, an image of women being taught in 1878 and in fact this image (bottom picture) was taken in the zoology department – notice the animal skeletons on the desks.