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.