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Saturday 27 March 2010


Some stories are long, and some are short. Some are funny; some are sad. Some touch the hem of history, but this one has no impact on anything or anyone, except Arthur's parents, nurse and siblings.

By the late nineteenth century, child mortality was greatly reduced. Samuel Salter (1773-1842) lost at least two children before they the age of two (not counting any that went unrecorded through dying at birth). Brodie Gurney (1777-1855) lost three. Their grandson William Henry Gurney Salter (1837-1928)  benefitted from advances in medical science; he only lost one. The other five of his babies made it to childhood.

Four of them made it to adulthood. Arthur wouldn't even have made it to this blog if he had died two years earlier. But he lived through a census year, 1891, just one: and here is his entry, taken on 5th April that year. 

The Salter Family census return
5th April 1891

Arthur G. ditto: 7: [born in] Kensington. Middlesex: imbecile from childhood. [He's not a scholar, we know that too.]

Also in the household, a companion for Mrs Salter; a cook; a domestic nurse; a house- and parlourmaid; an under-parlourmaid; and Esther Warren, nurse to imbecile child. 

Arthur's death aged 10 is recorded two years later in the second quarter of 1893. Se we know that his birthday was after the 5th April and before the end of June. But that's really about it.  For the rest we just have to guess - what were his toys? how did he get on with his brothers and sisters? did he want to be a train driver? did he want to be a barrister and shorthand writer to the Houses of Parliament like his father?

William and Jane Salter
on their 50th wedding anniversary, 1920
Back row, their surviving children 
(with wives and grandchildren)

Whether he struggled all along, or took a sudden turn for the worse at the end, I do know this. From what I've read in William Salter's memoirs of his own childhood, little Arthur's father was a loving family man, and Arthur's death even if expected will have hit the whole household hard. And ten years is enough to make an mark, and he won't have been forgotten. He isn't.

Saturday 20 March 2010


My eighteenth century Delap and Halliday ancestors never knew personally those in my Gurney tree. But if they had, they would have been sworn enemies. It is quite possible that the former would have been aware of the latter, and particularly of the activities of my 5x great aunt Martha Gurney. While they were enjoying the fruits of their use and abuse of slaves on a sugar plantation in Antigua, aunt Martha was campaigning for a boycott of the products which earned them those fruits.

An Address to the People of Great Britain,
on the Consumption of West India Produce
written by William Fox, published by Martha Gurney in 1791

She was a remarkable woman, a bookseller and printer of whom her biographer Timothy Whelan writes, “No British woman played a more prominent part in raising the consciousness of the English people against the slave trade.” Her pamphlet An Address to the People of Great Britain on the Propriety of Abstaining from West India Sugar and Rum (written by William Fox in 1791) sold more than 200,000 copies in Britain and America and was the best selling pamphlet of the eighteenth century. With public debate on the topic at its height, the publication ran to about 30 impressions or reprints, and drew 20 further pamphlets responding to its contents either for or against.

Report on Remarkable Trials
(including those of 32 prisoners "capitally convicted")
published by Joseph and Martha Gurney

She published fourteen such anti-slavery pamphlets and another 25 transcriptions of state trials and other proceedings – one of the benefits of being the sister of Joseph Gurney, official shorthand writer to the Old Bailey and the House of Commons, who had privileged access to such events. Joseph was also able to bring first hand knowledge of the debate over slavery which raged in parliament in 1791 and 1792.

Medallion of the logo of the Society for Effecting 
the Abolition of Slavery, produced in 1787 by the manufacturer 
and abolitionist Josiah Wedgewood; 
it became a fashionable accessory in polite society

Joseph, also a bookseller, had subscribed to the Society for Effecting the Abolition of Slavery since its founding by Quakers in 1787, and Martha published her first anti-slavery leaflet the following year. It was A Sermon on the African Slave Trade, by James Dore the minister at Maze Pond Baptist Church of which all her family were members.

Joseph introduced Martha to William Fox, another bookseller and like Joseph a member of the Humane Society. In 1782 she moved her printshop from its premises in Bell Yard of the Strand, a few hundred yards north to Fox’s place in Holborn, and it was from here that they collaborated on their campaigning publications. They became close friends personally and professionally, and when Fox died in 1794, she remained there until her death.

Plan of the slave ship Brookes, 1789,
licensed to carry 450 slaves, but often taking over 600

It is not really any surprise that Martha espoused the abolitionist cause. She came from a long line of radical religious dissenters. Nevertheless, her willingness to nail her colours so explicitly to the mast was brave – the pamphlets all carried her name as publisher when many of their authors remained anonymous (including Fox on that 1791 Address). In her shop, her nephew Brodie Gurney remembered 40 years later, she openly displayed on a wall the now-famous drawing of the sardine-like packing of slaves on the slave ship Brookes, which was commissioned by the Abolition Committee in 1789.

Trading in slaves became illegal in Britain in 1807. Having slaves however did not. In 1823 a new Anti-Slavery Society was formed, which soon called for a new boycott of West Indian produce. In 1830 Martha and William’s 1791 pamphlet was reprinted and at last in 1833 the Slavery Abolition Act was passed – a landmark of humanity which Martha Gurney can take some small credit for having helped to build.

Saturday 13 March 2010


No. 3 in an occasional series about the seemingly endless list of Austin Cooper namesakes in my family tree. This Austin Cooper is a remote cousin of my great grandmother’s to whom I hadn’t paid much attention. That changed a couple of weeks ago when I bought a beautiful coffee table book of old railway posters of Scotland.

Austin Cooper, graphic artist (1890-1964)

I’m old enough to remember the beautiful watercolour prints of scenes from around the country which used to grace the old wooden carriage compartments, and the combination of that artwork with the scenery of Scotland AND the romance of steam rail travel was irresistible. I was happily leafing through when the name Austin Cooper leapt off the page.

LNER travel poster from the 1920s, by Austin Cooper

He was born in Manitoba, although his father was an Irish farmer, and studied at the Cardiff  School of Art before winning a scholarship to the Allan-Frazer College of Art in Arbroath. He returned to Canada to work as a commercial artist, and during the Great War he served in Europe with the Canadian Black Watch. 

In 1922 he settled in London and won the first of many poster commissions from London Underground. Over the next twenty years he built an enviable reputation as a poster designer for such clients as London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), Underground Electric Railway Company, Royal Mail Line, Indian State Railways, and London Transport. 

 Summer and winter campaigns for London Transport, 1924

From 1936 to 1940 he also served as the first principal of Reimann School of Industrial Art, a private school of German origin for practical design and the first commercial art school in Britain. It was here that I think he really made his lasting mark. The Reimann played an important role in introducing continental modernism to Britain through immigrant artists and designers in the 1930s. It is credited with opening up the traditional architecture-oriented  view of  exhibition and display design to a more interdisciplinary approach based on a wider understanding of modernism in design. 

 Poster for a V&A exhibition of posters, 1931

Cooper’s book “Making a Poster” was published by The Studio in 1939. It ran to several impressions and is something of a classic design text. In it he expressed his design philosophy: “The functions of a poster are dual: to arrest the attention and then, having caught the eye of the passer-by, to deliver a message swiftly, convincingly, effectively.”

In 1943 he abandoned poster design to concentrate on painting. But public acclaim for his advertising designs and paintings led to a post-war show at the London Gallery in 1948, the first of many. Almost half a century after his death, his railway posters regularly command hundreds of pounds when they come up for sale at auction houses. (More elsewhere in Tall Tales on Austin's market town posters for LNER and his Tube posters for museums!)

 Montrose (1925) by Austin Cooper

Saturday 6 March 2010


Several of my family trees, a significant cluster, grew in the self-contained little forest of the Protestant Ascendancy in co Tipperary. Many of them have their roots in the soldiers whom Cromwell paid off with grants of land in Ireland when he had run out of money, or in the earlier plantation of Englishmen into that country by Elizabeth I. Sadleirs, Coopers, Bourchiers, Massys, Bakers … they were all there, and kept themselves very much to themselves, intermarrying rather more often than was probably good for them.

Chadwicks too. William Chadwick was the first of his line to settle in Ireland, taking advantage of the fall from grace of the Fitzgeralds of Ballinard to snap up their estate when it was put up for grabs in the 1650s. By some accounts he was an English gentleman of good standing who had to sell up in Lancashire after some political or family falling-out, taking advantage of the Cromwellian settlement to relocate out of harms way in Ireland.

Ballinard to the northwest of Tipperary is a near neighbour of Sadleirswells to the northeast. The Sadleirs of Sadleirswells (called Kingswells when the Chadwicks arrived and presumably by a more Irish name before that) had come over in Elizabethan times. Over the next two hundred years the families of Sadleir and Chadwick became very close indeed.

Settler William's granddaughter Grace Chadwick married Clement Sadleir, and Grace’s great great great grandson Richard William Ralph Sadleir (the chemist – see my earlier post) married Eleanor Wilhelmina Octavia Cooper (see my earlier post about her and the starter pack she left me).

Meanwhile his grandson William Chadwick had a grandson Richard “Parson Dick” Chadwick who married Margaret Sadleir, and Richard and Margaret’s granddaughter (you may have seen this coming) was none other than Eleanor Wilhelmina Octavia Cooper, my great great grandmother.

So I am related to settler William Chadwick through both his grandson William and his granddaughter Grace. Through the boy he is my 7x great grandfather, and through Grace's line (where they married sooner and younger) he is my 8x great grandfather.

William and Grace, his first two grandchildren, were named after him and his wife, Grace Goggin, whom he had met in England. This Grace was about four years William’s junior, and a ward of Chancery – what today we call a ward of court, which probably meant her parents had died and she was too young to inherit.

The Lord Chancellor of the day, under whose care she now fell, refused to sanction her marriage to William Chadwick – she was probably under age at least in some legal, moral or fiscal sense; and perhaps there were political disagreements between him and Chadwick which also affected the Chancellor’s judgement in those turbulent republican years.

But William and Grace were young and in love, and love will find a way. They fled to Ireland together, and Grace escaped detection as they travelled by concealing herself amongst William’s luggage – in a sack. It’s quite romantic really! And thanks to that sack, here I am nine or ten generations later.
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