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Saturday 25 September 2010


Stephen Salter is my 6x great grandfather and oldest identifiable Salter ancestor. He or his father brought the family from Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire to Coleshill in Buckinghamshire … no, Hertfordshire … no, Buckinghamshire … no, Hertfordshire.

Coleshill, home of the early Salters;
a little piece of Hertfordshire in Buckinghamshire
until the Counties (Detached Parts) Act of 1844

Coleshill isn’t an island. It’s a landlocked little village on top of a steep hill between Amersham and Beaconsfield. But although it’s completely surrounded by Buckinghamshire, it is (by an accident of history and land ownership) a detached part of Hertfordshire – a little island of Herts in a sea of Bucks. When counties were taking shape, Coleshill and the parish of Amersham in which it lies belonged to someone whose main property was going to be included in Hertfordshire, so Coleshill jolly well had to be in Hertfordshire too.

It wasn’t until 1844’s Counties (Detached Parts) Act that this and similar anomalies throughout the country were rationalised. Until then its unusual status was open to exploitation. In a nutshell, the parish didn’t fall under the jurisdiction of Buckinghamshire magistrates, and was beyond the everyday reach of Hertfordshire magistrates. So it was, at least potentially, a refuge from justice, and for one man at least, a refuge from injustice.

One of Stephen Salter’s neighbours in Coleshill was Thomas Ellwood, student and  friend of the poet John Milton and an important figure in the early history of the Quaker movement. Ellwood (1639-1713) had been much persecuted and imprisoned for his faith. In 1669 he married Mary Ellis, a Coleshill girl, and moved to a house just inside the parish boundaries of the village! He must finally have felt safe, and wrote a cheerful poem that year giving directions to his sanctuary:

Two miles from Beaconsfield, upon the road
To Amersham, just where the way grows broad,
A little spot there is called Larkin's Green,
Where on the bank some fruit trees may be seen;
In midst of which, on the sinister hand,
A little cottage covertly doth stand.
"Soho!" the people out and then enquire
For Hunger Hill; it lies a little higher.
But if the people should from home be gone,
Ride up the bank some twenty paces on,
And at the orchard end, thou may'st perceive
Two gates together hung. The nearest leave,
The furthest take, and straight the hill ascend,
The path leads to the house where dwells thy friend.

Hunger Hill, Thomas and Mary Ellwood’s home in Coleshill

Ellwood lived the rest of his life there, and it’s hard to resist the thought that he and the Salters discussed theology outside some brick-built cottage in the village. Surely meetings with Ellwood must have contributed to the shaping of the Salter family religious conscience, which is evident in their domestic and public life, their sense of public service and personal denial, throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Stephen Salter’s great great grandson William Augustus Salter became a Baptist minister, the first Salter to attend university when the University of London opened its doors in 1828. But in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Salters of Coleshill were makers of bricks and tiles. Their work survives in Coleshill in several old buildings including their own home (then a farmstead and now a rather grand house called The Rosary, which remained in the ownership of the family until it was sold on by Stephen’s great granddaughter Mary Smith).

There in Coleshill, Stephen laid not only the foundations but also the bricks and mortar of a family legacy.

The Rosary, c1930 and c2000, built with Salter bricks and tiles

Saturday 18 September 2010


My 12x great grandfather John Sadleir commanded a company at the siege of Boulogne in 1544. Which is pretty impressive, until you meet his brother, my 13x great uncle Ralph Sadleir. Ralph served under four English monarchs from Henry VIII (for whom he was Secretary of State) to Elizabeth I (who appointed him Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster). As a man serving in such high public office, Ralph had a hand in many events of national importance.

Portrait of a Man, by Hans Holbein, painted in 1535
and considered a possible portrait of Sir Ralph Sadleir (1507-1587)

His state papers contain details of his roles in the suppression of two rebellions and as ambassador for many years to Scotland. They were edited and published in Edinburgh 222 years after his death by a descendent, Arthur Clifford, with historical notes by none other than Sir Walter Scott. The two thick volumes of them are a priceless collection of first hand accounts covering 50 years, 1537-1587, from Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries to Elizabeth’s execution of Mary.

Ralph first entered royal service in 1518, at the tender age of 11, under the patronage of Thomas Cromwell, earl of Essex. Cromwell himself was then under the patronage of Cardinal Wolsey. Wolsey fell from grace for opposing Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon; Cromwell rose by facilitating it, and Ralph rose with him. Cromwell fell very suddenly from grace in 1540 when he was blamed (and beheaded) for Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves, and Ralph kept on rising.

Thomas Cromwell (c1485-1540) by Hans Holbein, painted in c1533

He was perhaps lucky that Henry died only seven years later, before Ralph had time to fall from grace himself. In the event, Henry still regarded Ralph highly enough to appoint him to the Council of Regency for his underage heir the future king Edward VI. As a favourite of Henry and official protector of Edward, Ralph was now pretty well set up for life.

Ralph must have had mixed feelings about the execution of his mentor Cromwell. Not only did he owe Cromwell his elevated position in court; the earl of Essex was also godfather to Sadleir’s first two sons. The letter survives, quoted in the State Papers, in which Ralph asks Thomas to act as such for the second boy:
“Syr, after myn humble comendacions … it is so, that my wyfe, after long travaile, and as payneful labour as any woman could have, hathe at the last brought furth a fayre boy; beseeching you to vouchsafe ones agayne to be gossip unto so poore a man as I am, and that he may bear your name. Trusting ye shall have more rejoyse of him then ye had of the other; and yet ther is no cause but of gret rejoyse in the other, for he dyed an innocent, and enjoyeth the joyes of heven …
“At Hackney, this Saturday, at iii of the clocke at after none, with the rude and hastie hand of
Your most assured and faithful serante duringe his lyf,
Rafe Sadler.”

Gossip originally meant godparent. The child did indeed take Thomas’ name – in 1603 Sir Thomas Sadleir, Ralph’s son and now sheriff of Hertfordshire, entertained James VI of Scotland for two nights. James was en route from Scotland to London to become James I of England, succeeding Elizabeth I who, 16 years earlier, had beheaded his mother Mary Queen of Scots.

As evidence of happier times in Mary and Elizabeth’s fractured relationship, Mary had invited Queen Elizabeth (with King Charles IX of France) to be King James’ gossip. And although James could not be expected to remember it, the father of his Hertfordshire host in 1603 had been present at his birth in 1566.

Mary, Queen of Scots, her infant son who later became James the First, and Sir Ralph Sadleir, painted by Benjamin Haydon (1786-1846), a historical artist of whom Charles Dickens wrote:

“No amount of sympathy with him and sorrow for him in his manly pursuit of a wrong idea for so many years … ought to prevent one from saying that he most unquestionably was a very bad painter, and that his pictures could not be expected to sell or to succeed."

Present whereabouts of the painting, and indeed the authenticity of the scene it depicts, unknown.

Saturday 11 September 2010


This is a tale of one man’s Imperial African adventures, but it also refers to terrible injuries which he sustained. If you’re squeamish about the latter, look away now. If on the other hand you are curious about the former, read on. Don’t worry – the details (in paragraph 7) are sketchy.

John Cooper-Chadwick’s grandfather was my 3x great grandfather, so we are cousins of a sort. The snippet of biography I have found about him is a paragraph of gems, a handful of little prisms through which you can get blurred glimpses of Britain’s Imperial Past. It begins:
“served with Sir Charles Warren’s Expedition in S Africa 1878-81, with Bechuanaland Border Police 1885 and with Rhodes’ Pioneers in Mashonaland 1888”

Sir Charles Warren (1840-1927)
photographed by Herbert Rose Baraud of London in the 1890s

Sir Charles Warren was something of an Imperial Stormtrooper, a troubleshooter whose business in 1878-81 was the suppression of an uprising in Bechuanaland, then a British Protectorate and now the state of Botswana. His main talent was as a military surveyor, in which role he made some contributions to archaeology in the middle east. It was the need to establish borders in the Northern Cape (northern South Africa) that first took him to that region. After his successful quelling of the Botswana rebellion, he later secured the region against Boer incursions from the Orange Free State to the east, in time for John C-C’s service there in 1885.

(Sir Charles’ subsequent career was less glorious. A spell as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in London made him many enemies – his political clashes, his grandiose uniform, his failure to solve the Jack the Ripper case, and his Bloody Sunday suppression of a demonstration in Trafalgar Square all contributed to his resignation in 1888. He returned to military service; as a General in the Boer War he was described as “perhaps the worst … and certainly the most preposterous … a duffer” whose indecision led to the catastrophic British defeat at Spion Kop.)

From Botswana JCC moved to Mashonaland, now the region around Harare in Zimbabwe. Cecil Rhodes’ Pioneer Column officially moved into the territory in 1890, to secure the area ahead of any German, Portuguese or Boer efforts to do so. It was a remarkable incursion of a mere 250 men, which in three months that year founded Rhodesia, imposing a a new political and moral order on the native populations of Mashonaland and Matabeleland. When the column was disbanded in October 1890, its members were given land to become the country’s first white farmers.

King Lobengula of Matabeleland and Mashonaland (c1845-c1894),
by Ralph Peacock after E.A. Maund

If JCC was there in 1888, then he was part of Rhodes’ entirely unofficial softening campaign. Rhodes’ first step was to sign a treaty with the Matabele King Lobengula, giving not Britain but Rhodes’ own British South Africa Company mining rights and administrative powers in the area. It seems that JCC formed part of Rhodes’ administration in some way, possibly attached to Lobengula’s entourage.

The evidence for this is in the 1894 publication of JCC’s memoir (of which a new edition was printed in April 2010), and here comes the squeamish bit, from his biography again:
“author of Three Years with Lobengula (which he wrote with a pen tied to his elbow joints as a result of losing his forearms in a shooting accident)”

Lobengula was a powerful warrior in his youth and ruled through terror and kidnap; but in middle age he became obese and ill. Rhodes secured his treaty partly through the services of his doctor who treated Lobengula for gout. When it became clear that Rhodes’ plans included the colonization of his kingdom, Lobengula tore up the treaty and ordered the British out. But his large and disciplined army – Matabele means men of the long shields – was no match for British maxim guns. He died in January 1894 a hunted man, in a tzetze-ridden swamp, probably of smallpox or dysentery.

Lobengula’s army fought fiercely to protect their king’s retreat in December 1893

John Cooper-Chadwick’s injuries were the resul not of war but, as he admits, of his own carelessness; he was leaning with both hands on the muzzle of his loaded gun when his dog leapt up and stumbled on the trigger. He was, if these dates are correct, only 14 when he first went to Africa, and under 30 when he had his accident. Retiring to the family home in Tipperary he married at the age of 32 the daughter of a local JP, with whom he had two sons. Having already lived an extraordinarily full life, he lived another 52 no doubt eventful years, long enough to see the birth of his two grandchildren. I rather wish I had known him.

John Cooper-Chadwick (1864-1948), centre,  in 1885,
at Langford Camp on the Orange River

Saturday 4 September 2010


I described in an earlier post how Richard Verrall was set up by the Duke of Newcastle to run a Whig coffee house in the Sussex town of Lewes. The Duke was sparing no expense to ensure the Whig party’s advantage in the town. He was also pouring money into a club which met every Wednesday in a richly appointed Club Room at the White Hart Inn across the road from the coffee house. The landlord of the White Hart was none other than Dick Verrall, Coffee House Richard’s father, 4x great grandfather of my great aunt Helen Verrall.

The White Hart Inn Lewes
Victorian on the outside, Elizabethan on the inside

As a building the White Hart goes back to the late sixteenth century, when it was a mansion belonging to ancestors of the Duke of Newcastle. Much evidence of this remains in the internal lay-out of the rooms and some surviving paneling. But in the early 1720s Dick Verrall remodelled it (presumably with Newcastle backing) as a large hostelry. Downstairs there was a bar and parlour as well as the essential service areas – kitchen, buttery and brewhouse, and stables (the pub car park of the day, which could accommodate 100 of its patrons’ mounts). Upstairs, as well as the Duke’s Club Room, the premises now contained a “Great Room” with a balcony, a billiards room, three private “best bedrooms” and a dormitory in the attic for lesser guests.

Between the White Hart and the coffee house (which also contained the Lewes Assembly Rooms), the Duke of Newcastle’s influence on the town, exerted at arm’s length through the Verralls, was substantial. In addition to their roles in hospitality, several Verralls also served as constables for the town, a post which included duties as returning officer for parliamentary elections at which the Duke and his fellow Whigs hoped to do well! Dick was a constable; so were his sons Edward, Henry who ran the coffee house after the early death of his brother Richard, and William who took over the running of the White Hart after his father’s death in 1737.

As an exercise in mutual back-scratching, Dick had persuaded the Duke to engage young William Verrall in his kitchens. Although it might have been a hiring based on politics rather than talent, William took to cooking with great enthusiasm. He served his time under the Duke’s brilliant French chef M. de St Clouet who later returned to France to serve Marechal Richlieu (a nephew of the Cardinal’s).

… in keeping with tradition …

When William took over at the White Hart he immediately began to promote it for its cooking “after the French method.” The inn went from strength to strength, bolstered by the new stagecoach routes between Lewes and London, and by the political successes of the Duke of Newcastle. William not only cooked for the classier clientele of his inn but also ran an outside catering operation for the gentry of the surrounding area.

By 1759 (the year Guiness was first brewed) he was able with some confidence to publish his book, “A Complete System of Cookery,” an early classic of the genre full of surprisingly modern recipes and useful tips for kitchen equipment and work practices. Its admirers included his contemporary the poet Thomas Gray, and the cookery writer who reintroduced French cuisine to Britain in the mid twentieth century, Elizabeth David. It was republished in 1988, reprinted in 1999, and a new edition will appear in April 2011 complete with the notes which Gray made in his own copy of it.

William Verrall’s “A Complete System of Cookery” (1759)

The Duke of Newcastle’s investments all paid off, and he served two terms as Prime Minister, during which he was much caricatured as the George W Bush of his day, a geographically ignorant buffoon. History views him a little more kindly, particularly for 1759 (the year of Verrall’s publication) which became known as Annus Mirabilis, the year of miracles, because of his success in foreign policy especially against the French.

Verrall’s own fortunes mysteriously went into sharp decline. His first wife had died in 1757. Perhaps grief distracted him from the business of running the White Hart; perhaps illness did; or perhaps his success as a chef caused him to take his eye off the ball. For reasons unknown, he was declared bankrupt and his inn and stock sold off in March 1761, only two years after the publication of his book. He was dead within the month.

He was survived by his second wife, whom he had married only a few weeks earlier on 2nd March 1761. Perhaps she was unaware of the state of his finances, or his health. Certainly she declined to act as his administrator when his will was proved later in the year. She herself died four years later. But William’s culinary legacy lives on.

William Verrall’s “A Complete System of Cookery” (1759)
reprinted 1988, 1999 and 2011
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