Friday, 17 October 2008

The Platt family

Maurice Byford contacted me with stories about his eminent ancestors, the Platt family.

The birth of Thomas Platt (1760-1842) was registered at St Dunstan in the West, Holborn, but the family moved into the Bloomsbury parish of St Andrew soon after. Thomas attended Magdalen College, Oxford, and in May 1780, was admitted as an Attorney and Solicitor in the superior courts at Westminster. He became a member of Serjeants Inn, Chancery Lane, City of London. By the early 19th century, Thomas and his wife, Catherine, were living in Brunswick Square. They seem to have had five sons and one daughter, of whom four sons survived their parents. Thomas's obituary in The Times (19 October 1842) states that he was the father of the [legal] profession for more than 60 years. He retired on the death of Lord Ellenborough and was presented with two silver vases. He completed the publication, with two others, of Flora Graeca by Dr John Sibthorpe, professor of Botany at Oxford, with whom he had studied. In 1796, Thomas helped set up a freehold estate in Sussex to fund the publication (1806-1813) of this 10-volume work.

It's likely that Thomas was interested in natural history because his father, Samuel, had a large collection of books on this subject, which he bequeathed to his third son, Samuel junior. Samuel junior (1771-1854) also became a barrister and lived at 33 Keppel Street with his wife Julia (nee Dorrell) and children. When he died, he left 'my large bookcase and all my shells, fossils and the cabinet containing fossils and subjects of Natural History' to his son, Thomas.

All of Thomas senior's sons entered the legal profession. His eldest son, Thomas Joshua (1788-1862), went to Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge. He was admitted to the Inner Temple (1806) and called to the Bar (1816). He was a King's Counsellor (1834), Bencher of Inner Temple (1835), Serjeant at Law (1845), knighted (1845) and Baron of the Exchequer (1845-56). He was living at 39 Tavistock Square in 1833. He married Augusta (Cuming) at St George, Bloomsbury, in 1814. Nine of their children were baptised at St Pancras Old Church (1815-1832). Their son, Charles (1820-1902), also attended Trinity College, Cambridge, and was called to the Bar in 1852.

Thomas and Catherine's second son, Samuel (1795-1862), followed his brother to Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge, but transferred to Magdalen College, Oxford. He was admitted to the Inner Temple (1818) and called to the Bar (1825). He was a Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant for Middlesex. In 1841, he was living at 22 Russell Square.

Their third son, George (1802-) was the solicitor for the 1841 Census, at which time he was living with his wife, Sophia, at Sayers Street in the parish of St Andrew, Holborn. Their fourth son, William (1804-) attended Brasenose College, Oxford, and was called to the Bar in 1830.

This is a greatly condensed version of the very complicated family history sent by Maurice, so I hope I've entered everything correctly. This is a family with strong Bloomsbury roots. As members of the legal profession, they lived in an area easily accessible to all the Inns of Court in London.

The picture shows the title page of a book entitled Delightes for ladies, to adorne their persons, tables, closets, and distillatories: with beauties, banquets, perfumes and waters (1611) by Sir Hugh Platt, an ancestor of the legal Platts, whose own son, William, was admitted to the Inns of Court in 1612.

Bloomsbury Searchers

Carol Gilbert mentioned the 'Bloomsbury Searchers' in her article about the Foothead family. Searchers were people hired by London parishes to certify the cause of death for listing in the London Bills of Mortality. These were begun early in the 16th century, mainly to warn of plague epidemics, and published weekly. Most searchers were elderly women who were also often long-term pensioners of the parish. They were probably seen as expendable in the event of the highly infectious nature of plague but certainly they could learn to recognise its very florid symptoms.

As far as other causes of death are concerned, there is no historical evidence that searchers were given instructions on how to do their job so the trustworthiness of their findings is disputed. However, they did not always have to rely totally on their own judgements because of input by the medical practitioners (assuming that ordinary people could afford these) and lay people who had been attending the sick person. Nevetheless, the Bills of Mortality were the earliest example of how death trends could be observed. Even with the introduction of the Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths Act (1836) in England and Wales (1855 in Scotland), many registered deaths remained uncertified by a medical practitioner. It was only in 1926 that deaths in England Wales could not be registered without a doctor's certification of death from natural causes or a coroner's order for burial.

The picture shows a page from The London Bills of Mortality, 1664-1665. During this week there were 112 deaths from plague out of 558 deaths in total (20 per cent). There were 206 Christenings.

The Foothead family

Carol Gilbert sent the following information about her Bloomsbury ancestors.

'My great, great grandfather, James Felix Foothead, was born in Bloomsbury in 1801. On his later marriage certificate he gives his father's name as James and his occupation as schoolmaster. The family research I have done so far indicates that at this point the family was Roman Catholic, and that makes finding details a trifle difficult until later in the century. I have early baptismal records from the Portugese Chapel in Lincoln's Inn, but these are incomplete as many were destroyed by fire. However, I believe James senior to be James Hayles Foothead, son of John-Jonathon Foothead and Frances Hayles.

It appears that the older James had an 'interesting' past and may be the same James that was convicted and sentenced to 7 years deportation in 1786. This is not only recorded in the Old Bailey records but also in a letter from his older brother John - a student priest in Rome - to a fellow priest in England. John, who was definitely a son of John-Jonathon and Frances, died in 1788. The family appears to have hit hard times immediately following the debt of John-Jonathon who was declared bankrupt in 1783. At that time he was running a brick-making/building business in Covent Garden, but was recorded, shortly before that, as living in Gilbert Street, Bloomsbury.

James senior had a second brother, Charles George Foothead, who is described on his wife's death certificate as 'Professor'. He lived at 14 Southampton Row in the early 1800s. A daughter, Catherine, died at this address in 1806. This was recorded by the Bloomsbury searchers (more about these in the next article). His wife was Hannah Frances Rogers who died in Birmingham in 1845. In 1811, Charles George was still in Southampton Row, according to the London Directory, so it is safe to assume that his other two daughters, Marianne (1805-40) and Eliza (1808-) were born there. Charles served on the Old Bailey Middlesex Jury in 1808 and died in 1831, leaving a very perfunctory Will. At that time he was living in Fitzroy Square (Fitzrovia). By 1813, he was placing advertisements in The Times using this address. He is also listed, with Charles, as having an educational premises/stationers at Great Leonard Street in 1811.

Around 1822, a 'Mr Foothead' was recommended by Burke of Burke's Peerage, as an excellent tutor in classics for the education of the sons of the US ambassador to England. He is also mentioned as a tutor in the Bloomsbury area in the Memoirs of a Highland Lady (Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus). However, there is no way of telling whether this was Charles or James.

James Felix joined the East India Company Army and served in India for many years. He twice married native Indian girls who both died in childbirth. Two of the children, William and Eliza, returned to England with him. He married in 1849, after his return to England, and for a while ran the new Lascar Seamen's Mission in Limehouse (East London). He died in Islington (north London) in 1880. His son, Edward James Foothead, my great grandfather, emigrated to New Zealand in 1871.'

The picture shows the British Museum in Montague House, facing Russell Street, in the early 19th century, as the Footheads would have seen it.

Bloomsbury Gap

I'm afraid there has been a lack of articles for some months because the hunt for people with ancestral ties to Bloomsbury proved more difficult than I imagined when I set up the blog. However, another burst of publicity has led to contact with a number of people whose ancestors lived in this increasingly vibrant area of London and will help us build up a picture of its development during the 19th century. I'll also aim to add historical information of relevance to individual family histories.

The photograph shows the London (later Royal) Homeopathic Hospital, at the corner of Queen Square and Great Ormond Street, in the late 19th century. It was one of 12 hospitals built in this square mile of London.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Bloomsbury Connections

I'm interested in hearing from people with ancestral connections to Bloomsbury, and not just those who were born, lived or died there. Perhaps your ancestor was an employee in one of the various institutions established in Bloomsbury during the 18th and 19th century such as the Foundling Hospital (pictured), or they might have established a business. Don't worry if the information you have is minimal. I might be able to discover more in the history archives, and you'll also be making potential connections with others who can fill in the gaps.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Bloomsbury Parishes, 1877

These are the Bloomsbury parishes from Stanford's parish boundary map, 1877. According to this information, there are twenty parishes wholly or partly within the Bloomsbury area. Of these, six are wholly within Bloomsbury.

They are Holy Cross, All Saints St Pancras, St George's Bloomsbury, St Peter (Regent Square), St George the Martyr (Queen Square), and St John Holborn (Red Lion Square).

Of the other fourteen, we are only interested in the streets which fall within our borders, ie. Tottenham Court Road (west), Euston Road (north), Gray's Inn Road (east) and New Oxford Street/High Holborn (south).

These parishes are: St Andrew (Wells Street), St John (Fitzroy Square), and St Mary - only Tottenham Court Road.
St James (Hampstead Road), Christ Church (Somers Town), and St Saviour - only Euston Road (New Road).
St Albans - only Gray's Inn Road.
St Andrews - only Gray's Inn Road and High Holborn.
All Saints (Islington) - only Gray's Inn Road and Euston Road (New Road).
St Pancras (pictured, c.1890) - only Euston Road and streets south of here.
St Jude (Gray's Inn Road) - only Gray's Inn Road and streets west of here.
St Giles in the Fields - only St Giles High Street, Broad Street, High Holborn and streets north of here.
St Bartholomew's, and Trinity (Gray's Inn Road) - only Gray's Inn Road and streets west of here.

Albert Isaiah Coffin and the Tomey family

I have just received an e.mail from Kay Williams whose ancestors, George Tomey and his second wife, Sarah, lived in Little Russell Street (1841), 49 Duke Street (1851, now Coptic Street) and 31 Dorset Street (1861), which is half a mile west of Bloomsbury. The Tomeys were involved with Albert Isaiah Coffin (1790/1-1866), an American medical botanist, who came to Britain in 1838.

Coffin (pictured) may have begun orthodox medical training but claimed to have been influenced by Native American healers, after being successfully treated for tuberculosis. He first practised in Manchester, using key remedies, lobelia (an emetic) and cayenne pepper (for warmth). He wrote 'Botanic Guide to Health' (1845) and 'Treatise on Midwifery and the Diseases of Women and Children' (1849). One of Coffin's assistants, John Skelton, was a great influence on John Boot, the father of Jesse and founder of Boot's pharmaceutical company and high street chemist chain. The institutions of British herbalism, notably the National Institute of Medical Herbalists, can be traced back to Coffin, who was active in London from the late 1840s.

Apparently, the Tomey family were a 'project' of Coffin's as he studied them for a number of years. Kay doesn't have the details of this surveillance but has given me the contact details of a distant cousin who might.

Coffin died on 1 August 1866 at 24 Montague Place, Russell Square, which is in the heart of Bloomsbury.

For more information about Albert Isaiah Coffin, click on the link:

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

The Hatton Family

Patricia Player writes: My husband's great, great uncle, Charles Frederick Hatton, is recorded as residing at 12 New Oxford Street at the time of the 1891 Census.

Charles was born at 5 Freeling Street, Islington, on 16 January 1853, son of Clerk Rattray Hatton and Elizabeth Ayres (Clerk Hatton was born in Edinburgh, attended the Edinburgh Academy, and according to the published Register of Pupils for the Academy, became Translator of Foreign Documents at Chancery Lane, London).

Charles' grandfather, David Hatton, of 97/98 Princes Street, Edinburgh, was a carver, gilder and printseller to the King. David Hatton published many of the works by the well known Scottish artist, Henry Raeburn (1756-1823).

Charles Frederick Hatton is recorded as being employed at the Courts of Justiciary, London. He married Frances Sarah Taylor at Islington in 1881.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Bloomsbury photographs and documents

If you have family photographs and documents that would help bring this project to life, I'd be very pleased to include them on this blog and to deposit copies in the archive that we're hoping to establish at University College London. They'll also be important for future exhibitions.

I've been working on a similar project, The Children of Craig-y-nos, which also has a blog at You can see how we've built up the project over the past sixteen months with memories, images, letters and other memorabilia. We've also had two major exhibitions and a third is booked for this summer at Swansea Museum, south Wales.

If you want to send me original material (by registered mail for safety), I can scan it to high resolution and return it (by registered mail). If you have electronic versions so much the better.

Monday, 21 April 2008

The Horne Family

Vivienne Lewis (nee Horne) writes: I am a direct descendent of the Horne family who were involved in the coal merchant business and subsequently banking and insurance in central London. Just recently I found out that my great-great-great grandfather had a house in Gordon Square which I believe is in the centre of Bloomsbury. In the 1841 Census he is recorded as living there with his wife Ann, his son Neale Horne and wife Louisa, their daughter Ann, and two more members of the Horne family, namely Mary and Julia, but I do not know their relationship to the others. Also recorded as living there are three female servants and one male servant. Unfortunately, in the 1841 Census there are no numbers listed in Gordon Square, but the entry above is of the Musgrave family, which includes a barrister and the entry below is of a James Harding who is recorded as being an artist.

The Horne coal merchant business was located at Bankside, and both Thomas and his Brother, William, were born on Bankside, the business having been founded by their great-grandfather, Benjamin Horne. As a point of interest, William's son, Edgar Horne, was a founding member and the first chairman of the Prudential Insurance Company, and subsequently his son, William Edgar, was also Chairman of the Prudential.

Before Thomas Horne relocated to Gordon Square, he had been living at his house in Bankside (where the Globe Theatre now stands), with his business close by. They were of Quaker origin, with a social conscience, and in the 1830s he had tried unsuccessfully to get a standard pay rate fixed for the porters so they would not have to compete with each other when work was scarce. This fact I found out from a book published last year called The House by the Thames: and the people who lived there, written by Gillian Tindall (London: Pimlico 2007).

Although I have yet to find out whether Thomas had any input into any of the institutions in Bloomsbury, he does come over as an individual who liked to be involved. At the time of the 1841 Census he was 56 and he was still alive in the 1861 Census when I found him living at 21 Highbury Grove, Islington.

Bloomsbury People

Do your ancestors have Bloomsbury connections? If so, I'd like your help in creating an archive of 19th century literary, medical and scientific Bloomsbury (1800-1904), a period which saw its metamorphosis from swampy rubbish-dump to centre of intellectual life.

The Leverhulme-funded Bloomsbury Project is a University College London initiative that will trace the foundations of many diverse local institutions including Great Ormond Street Hospital, the British Museum Round Reading Room, the Swedenborg Society and Mudie's Circulating Library. It will also feature many of the individuals who made significant contributions to learning in the area. A website is being developed and will be added to as the project progresses over three years:

However, I'm also keen to receive information about the ordinary professional and working people of Bloomsbury - the writers, journalists, publishers, librarians, hospital employees, doctors, dentists, scientists - who contributed to this increasingly vibrant and unique area of London. Bloomsbury is defined as the area of cental London bounded by Euston Road (north), Gray's Inn Road (east), New Oxford Street / High Holborn (south) and Tottenham Court Road (west).