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Saturday 21 January 2012


I have the contents of the writing desk of my great great great uncle Charles Castle, passed down to me by my uncle John Salter. It’s a treasure trove of correspondence from the mid-nineteenth century. Uncle Charles was active in Bristol politics and business, and the letters are peppered with details which build a rich picture of the times.

Charles Castle (1813-1886)

Tucked in amongst all the letters and business papers is the greatest jewel in the box, his passport. The document and its associated visas provide some great snapshots of Charles’ life. The main passport is a simple printed form folded up and pasted into a red leather wallet on which is stamped in gold “CAPTAIN CASTLE. Passeport”. It’s beautifully tooled and inside is the maker’s name: J.LEE 440.WEST STRAND LONDON.

Charles Castle’s passport

Also stuck into the wallet is a book of blank pages, and on the last Charles has written in pencil, “+Austria, +Bavaria, +Prussia.” Sure enough, elsewhere in the book or on the passport sheet itself are stamped Visas from the London consulates of each of those states, all dated 1st August 1861. The passport itself was issued two weeks earlier on 18th July and signed, as was the custom, by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Lord John Russell.

 The passport unfolded - Bavarian visa just visible top left

It’s a wonderful artifact – everything about it is of historical interest. John Russell, a liberal, served two terms a prime minister. In the 1850s his government was brought down by his own foreign secretary Lord Palmerston, who joined a vote of no confidence in him after a long-running personal feud. In 1861 the tables were turned and Palmerston was the PM, Russell the foreign sec. It was Palmerston’s sudden death in 1865 that raised Russell once again to the top spot. In the year this passport was issued, he stopped being Lord John Russell when he was elevated to the peerage as Earl Russell.

The separate visas for Prussia, Bavaria and Austria tell the story of the Deutsche Bund (German Federation), formed in 1815 and about to disintegrate under tension between Prussia and Austria. Bavaria had been an independent kingdom since 1806. It sided with Austria, who lost the Austro-Prussian War of 1866; it then backed Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and remained independent even after it joined the Bund’s replacement, the Deutches Reich (German Empire) in 1871.

“Captain Charles Castle … accompanied
by his wife … with a maid Servant.”

But the chief joys of this passport and its visas are their dates of issue. Two days after Charles had rushed round the consulates of London getting his stamps in order, he was off to Melton Constable in Norfolk – to get married! The passport was made out to “Captain Charles Castle (British Subject) accompanied by his wife, travelling on the Continent with a maid Servant.” It was for their honeymoon!

Castle, who was 48, had led a fairly carefree dilettante life up to this point, and perhaps felt he needed to settle down at last. His new wife Ada Crickland, born like Charles in the Clifton area of Bristol, was half his age, and he may have watched her grow up. The marriage was, as far as I can tell, a success, although touched with sadness; three of their four children (all girls) died before their father, all under the age of 20. Only Charles and Ada's second daughter Mary lived to spinster old age, and it was from her that my uncle John inherited her father’s papers and passport. I wonder who I’ll leave them to!

Mary Castle c1925
with her great nephews John and Charles Salter

Charles Castle, an orderly man, used his 1861 passport to store visas acquired for earlier journeys in the 1840s. Truly fascinating historical documents, they will be the subject of a future post here.

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