Sunday, 19 December 2010

Black Sheep Sunday - Rev Frederick Davis

Black sheep embarrass the family whilst they are alive but they make wonderful ancestors. Brushes with the law, financial peccadilloes and sex scandals are the lifeblood of newspapers. Ancestors who got into serious trouble usually got plenty of column inches and those old newspaper articles are gold dust for the family historian.
Serious Charge Against A Clergyman
My favourite black sheep ancestor is my 2x great-grandfather, Rev Frederick Davis. Not just a bad boy but a clergyman to boot - some years ago a cousin christened him "the pervy vicar" and I'm afraid the naughty nickname has stuck.
Frederick was born in Lambeth, Surrey, in 1821. One family story suggests that his father was wealthy but disowned him after an argument. Frederick was certainly well educated but struggled for the rest of his life to establish a financially secure career.
At first he worked as a warehouseman. In 1842 he married a schoolmistress, Charlotte Aves, and by 1848 Frederick had also become a schoolmaster, following teacher training at the Church of England National Society's Training Institution in Westminster.
Frederick and Charlotte worked as a husband and wife team in a succession of church schools in East London, Essex, Staffordshire and Worcestershire. By 1858 they were running the parish school in St Columb Major,  Cornwall, when tragedy struck. Charlotte died of tuberculosis, aged 40, leaving Frederick with eight children aged two to fifteen.
Charlotte Davis Memorial Inscription
Headstone on the grave of Charlotte Davis, Colan, Cornwall
With Charlotte's death the family lost stability. Frederick initially put his daughters into an orphanage run by Anglican nuns at Wymering, near Portsmouth. By 1862 he had moved to Torquay in Devon where, for the first time, he set up his own private school rather than being employed by the Church. On the recommendation of clerical friends, he was also ordained deacon by the Bishop of Exeter and appointed curate of St John's, Torquay.
This proved disastrous. The curacy was poorly paid but so busy as to prevent him running his school properly. He lost pupils, fell out with the vicar and, within six months found himself in precarious financial circumstances. Although supposed to remain in the diocese until he was ordained priest, Frederick petitioned the Bishop to allow him to leave his curacy and move to Northfleet in Kent, to take over a private preparatory school based in the old Manor House.
The Manor House, Northfleet, Kent
The Manor House, Northfleet, Kent
Frederick rebranded the school as Northfleet Grammar School, later the Collegiate School, and advertised his willingness to coach young men for entry to the Universities and the armed forces. Some pupils came (two of them later married two of his daughters) but the school struggled and Frederick supplemented his income by covering for clergy absences in various Kent parishes, not telling them that he was only in deacon's orders.
In 1874 the churchwarden of one of those parishes wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury about Frederick:
Having been prompted to make enquiry concerning his private character in consequence of his having most persistently and impudently attempted to extort more money (to the extent of 4 guineas) than he was entitled to according to my agreement with him, I have ascertained from a most reliable source that he is inhibited by the Bishop of Rochester from doing duty in his diocese.
... Dr Claughton would not have inhibited him, unless there were good and weighty reasons for so doing. I have heard what those reasons are, but would rather not commit them to writing as they are of a most serious and damaging nature. No doubt if Your Grace orders inquiry to be made in the neighbourhood in which he lives quite sufficient cause will be found, to induce Your Grace to take immediate steps to prevent the possibility of his ever performing the duty of a clergyman of the Church of England again.
Archbishop Archibald Campbell Tait
Archibald Campbell Tait, 1811-1882
Archbishop of Canterbury
The Bishop of Rochester added his own disapprobation:
I have not actually inhibited Mr Davis ... but I do not approve of him. He behaves extremely ill to the Clergyman of his Parish.
Thomas Legh Claughton
Thomas Legh Claughton, 1808-1892
Bishop of Rochester
By 1875 Frederick had given up his school in favour of running a home for six wealthy dipsomaniacs (alcoholics). Following complaints that a lady was being detained against her will, the Lunacy Commissioners paid a visit and discovered that one of his patients was mentally ill. In the summer of 1877 he was prosecuted for running an unlicensed lunatic asylum and fined £50.
The Archbishop had reluctantly allowed Frederick to continue officiating in neighbouring parishes. On Sunday 16 December 1877 he was returning from taking services when, on a train between Strood and Gravesend, he was alleged to have indecently assaulted a 17 year old servant girl called Rosina Webb. When the case came up for trial in January 1878 Frederick did not appear. Instead, one of his sons wrote a letter maintaining his father's innocence but saying that, as he feared his word would not be believed, he had gone abroad.
A warrant was issued for Frederick's arrest and an advertisement in the Police Gazette gives us a description of the man, for whom no known photograph exists:
Police Gazette, 4 February 1878
The Police Gazette, 4 February 1878
When Frederick fled abroad he left behind him a second wife. Her existence only came to light because her birth and death dates, minus a name, were recorded on a family gravestone in Northfleet churchyard. The gravestone was destroyed in the 1960s but, thankfully, it had been carefully transcribed by an antiquarian in the 1900s. The death date led to the discovery of the name Harriet Davis in the Northfleet burial registers. Her death certificate revealed that she was the wife of Frederick Davis and that she had died of apoplexy in October 1878, aged 60. No record of their marriage has yet been found.
Frederick went first to Bruges in Belgium before settling in Dinard on the coast of Brittany in France. Both places had substantial numbers of affluent English residents, so Frederick was probably able to earn a living as a tutor. There was an Anglican church at Dinard and the incumbent, Rev Anthony Francis Thomson, was the father of one of Frederick's old pupils, Anthony Standidge Thomson, later to be his son-in-law. Frederick lived in the pretty seaside resort -  no doubt helping out with services - until his death in 1883.
The Quay at Dinard by Ethel Carrick Fox
The Quay at Dinard, Ethel Carrick Fox

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Porter tells porkies to the police

My great grandfather, John McCarthy, was born at Erith in Kent on 27th October 1863, the son of Richard McCarthy and his wife Catherine (nee Brien).
Richard and Catherine (known as Kitty) came from Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland. They were both born about 1834 and probably came to England as part of the mass emigration resulting from the Potato Famine in the late 1840s. They were married at St George's RC Cathedral in Southwark on 22 June 1856.
King St, Mitchelstown, County Cork

Richard was illiterate and unskilled. He worked as a labourer, on a farm and in a factory, before settling in Bermondsey where he became a glue maker, using the by-products of the local leather and tanning industry.

Richard McCarthy
Richard McCarthy
John McCarthy was educated at St Joseph's Academy, Kennington Park Road, a grammar school run by the De La Salle Brothers as an extension of their work at St Joseph's College in Clapham (now at Beulah Hill). Obituaries described him as "a man of good education" and "a capital linguist" fluent in both French and Spanish.
In the autumn of 1878, aged 15, John went to work  for Edward Henry Waterworth at 147 Houndsditch in the City of London. Waterworth was a commission agent and dealer in china, earthenware and glass. In March 1880 John changed jobs to work for the London Brighton and South Coast Railway at Shadwell Station, first as a porter and later as a signalman.
Shadwell Station 1910
Shadwell Station 1910

His ambition, however, was to join the Metropolitan Police. Regulations required candidates to be over the age of 20 but John was too impatient to wait that long. In August 1881, with his 18th birthday approaching, he wrote to the Metropolitan Police Commissioners, boldly stating that he was about to turn 20 and asking to be considered as a candidate.
Various background checks were carried out but, fortunately, he was not asked to produce his birth certificate. Probably unaware of his deception, three "respectable housekeepers" vouched for his honesty, sobriety and good temper, as did his parish priest, Father Patrick O'Donnell of the Church of the English Martyrs, Great Prescot Street, Tower Hill.
Church of the English Martyrs, Tower Hill
Church of the English Martyrs, Tower Hill
On 27 December 1881, John was appointed PC 66140 in N Division, based in Islington. His starting pay was 24 shillings per week plus uniform. The terms and conditions of service which he signed on entry stated that: "Every police constable in the force may hope to rise, by activity, intelligence, and good conduct, to the superior stations" and that is precisely what he did.
* "Porkies" is rhyming slang for lies, from pork pies = lies.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Wordless Wednesday - The Ark, Prince Rupert, BC

"The Ark", Prince Rupert, BC, Canada
The house in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada, where my mother was born in 1919. For obvious reasons, it was known to the family as "the Ark".
The legendary Cyndi Howells asked me why the house was built that way. As taught by Cyndi herself, I did a targeted Google search on "Prince Rupert" +houses +stilts. Up popped a result from Google Books - an article from Popular Mechanics magazine dated July 1922. It contains another photograph of the house:
The Ark in 1922
The article explains that:
The city of Prince Rupert, BC, is situated on very hilly ground, and in some instances houses were built before the grading operations were completed, which has led to many unusual sights. In one case a house was built with the first floor level with the street, but the ground was so far below the street level that it was necessary to support the basement on long timbers. A narrow wooden bridge leads from the sidewalk to the first floor of the house.
As it happens, I have a photograph of my grandmother, holding my mother in her arms, standing on that narrow wooden bridge:
Dora and Sheila Davis, 1919
I think this story illustrates three important genealogy lessons:
  1. Sharing your research in a website or blog leads directly to new discoveries.
  2. There is a good reason why professional genealogists like Cyndi teach us to ask the "who, what, where, when, why" questions about our research.
  3. It is simply amazing what you can find on Google Books.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Carols and Capers

[This is my entry for this year's Blog Caroling at Footnote Maven]

What is more natural than that a love of history should be accompanied by a love of folk music? Especially when that music is played on traditional instruments.

One of my favourite groups is The Carnival Band, accompanied by the wonderful voice of Maddy Prior of Steeleye Span, the doyenne of English folk singers.


I first came across their music with their 1987 album A Tapestry of Carols, recorded at the Quaker Meeting House, Frenchay, a short distance from my home. The album is a collection of ancient carols from across Europe, played on Renaissance instruments. Reviews on Amazon describe it as "bouncy", "merry", "heartwarming" and "joyful". It is all those things. It also makes you want to dance and worship at the same time (why not?), then invite your neighbours in out of the snow to join you in a wassail in front of a roaring log fire.

The album proved so popular that Maddy and the Carnival Band now do an annual tour of Christmas concerts around the country, called Carols and Capers. I'm hoping to see this year's show for myself when they visit Bristol next Monday evening. In 2004 they recorded a DVD of their performances in Oxford and Salisbury and some of the songs are on You Tube. 

I was hard put to choose my favourite for this year's Blog Caroling but decided in the end to share their glorious rendition of God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen. A traditional carol, which probably dates back to the 16th century, it is the Christmas carol mentioned by Dickens in the first chapter of A Christmas Carol. The beautiful words powerfully proclaim the "comfort and joy" of the Christmas message. Maddy's singing is a delight, the band's playing is superb and the icing on the cake is the delicious bass sound of the curtal. If this doesn't put you in the mood for Christmas, nothing will.


Thursday, 9 December 2010

Thrifty Thursday - Save £££ using a Library

I've been a bookworm ever since I learned to read. I've been a library user for almost as long. Aged 10, I was given special permission to use the adult library because I'd read everything in the children's section. I cried when I realised there were more books in the world than I would ever be able to read.

Yate Library, South Gloucestershire

My love for books carries over to my family history research - they are amongst my most valuable sources of information. Since Cyndi Howells first taught me how to do well targeted searches using Google, I have regularly trawled Google Books for family information. I rarely come away empty handed. I found an article about a British ancestor's unlicensed lunatic asylum in a German psychiatry magazine and have traced the career of a 19th century King's Messenger entirely through books found online. I even found The Boating Man's Vade Mecum, written by my husband's great grandfather, William Winn.

For books still in copyright, Google Books only provides a snippet view - or sometimes no preview at all. This can be very frustrating. No-one wants to buy an expensive book just to obtain the nugget of genealogy information contained in a footnote on page 169. Fortunately, there is no need to do so, if you belong to a library.

Libraries West Logo

When I find a book of interest, my first stop is the website of my local library consortium - Libraries West. Using their online catalogue, I can search for the book in over 100 libraries in a region extending from the Cotswolds to Exmoor, including major public libraries in the cities of Bath and Bristol. Obscure books can be found in the most unlikely places. I located a book about an East India Company family which had been placed into storage by the Somerset County Library service - it had last been borrowed in the 1960s. A book about London's worst Victorian slum was gathering dust on the sleepy shelves of a library in a Gloucestershire market town.

The Blackest Streets by Sarah Wise

If I find the book in the Libraries West catalogue, I can reserve it for collection at my local library, 100 yards from my front door, for the princely sum of 90p. If I do not find it, all is not lost. I next turn to WorldCat to locate the nearest library with a copy. WorldCat covers institutional libraries as well as the public library service. I recently found a rare book very close to my home in the library of my old alma mater, Bristol University. Armed with details of the holding library, and the call number of the book I require, I go back to the Libraries West website and put in a request for an inter-library loan. The fee for this service is higher, at £2.20 per book, but still much cheaper than buying my own copy - cheaper even than the postage on my own copy.

And inter-library loans are not restricted to published books. In my time I have borrowed a typed manuscript from a library in the Orkneys and even borrowed microfilm copies of an ancestor's journals from the Hudson's Bay Company Archives in Winnipeg, Canada. For £2.20, that has to be the bargain of a lifetime.