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Saturday 29 January 2011


I was writing recently about the history of Suir Castle and its Massy family occupants, which I have been putting together with the help of several people who got in touch via this blog. One of them sent me this snippet of Irish life as reported in Hansard, the official record of proceedings at the British Houses of Parliament.

27th March 1882
SIR WILLIAM HART DYKE asked Mr Attorney General for Ireland, if his attention had been called to the position and case of Mr F Massy, of Suir Castle, Golden: whether it is true that, at the request of the Government, Mr Massy gave a piece of ground for the erection of a police hut; whether in consequence of this loyal act, he has been Boycotted, and deserted by his domestic servants and farm labourers; and whether the Government intend to take any steos for the relief of Mr Massy, and to supply him with assistance to work his farm, now out of cultivation owing to his loyal aid offered to the Government?
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (MR W.M. JOHNSON) The Chief Secretary requests me to inform the right hon. Baronet that his attention has been given to the position and case of Mr Massy, of Suir Castle; that it is the fact that Mr Massy, at the request of the Government gacve a site for the erection of a police hut; and that, in consequence of this act in the interests of law and order by Mr Massy, he has been “Boycotted,” and has been deserted by his domestic servants and by his farm labourers. I have only to add that the Chief Secretary will see that anything in the power of the Government shall be done to alleviate Mr Massy’s position.

Francis Massy, who owned Suir Castle House and its surrounding 330 acres of farmland,  was descended in a different branch from my 5x great grandfather Hugh, First Lord Massy - his great grandfather. It’s a fascinating little exchange in Hansard, not least because it uses the word Boycotted. These days it’s a very familiar idea, the withdrawal of economic support for political ends. But in 1882 the expression was only two years old, having arisen from a situation exactly like Massy’s. Captain Charles Boycott was a ruthless land agent in Co Mayo. When he began evicting tenants for non-payment of rent (they had asked for a reduction because of a bad harvest), the whole community ostracised him: farmhands refused to work his fields, shops would not serve him, tradesmen wouldn’t come to his house, the postman even refused to deliver his mail.

Captain Charles Boycott (1832-1897)

It wasn’t an isolated action, but the first implementation of a policy devised by Charles Stewart Parnell for the Irish National Land League. The Land League aimed to stop evictions and reduce rents. Its tactics were to boycott landlords, and also anyone who applied for the tenancy of a farm from which a landlord had evicted the tenants. Its leadership came up with the verb “to boycott” because they didn’t think the ordinary Irish people would understand the word “ostracise.”

I don’t know whether Massy’s application for assistance was successful. Charles Boycott used the British press to draw attention to this new tactic by the Irish Nationalists. A Boycott Relief Fund was set up and well supported. A force of 50 Orangemen from Co Cavan was dispatched to Co Mayo to save the Captain's harvest, protected from violent protests along the way by around 1000 policemen and a regiment of troops. The whole operation cost around £10,000, for the sake of salvaging Boycott’s crops which were subsequently valued at about £350.

Police guarding the Orangemen’s camp
at Lough Mask House, Boycott’s home, November 1880

It seems unlikely that, two years into this Land War (which lasted until 1892), Massy’s plight would have attracted the same support. The Massy family had come to Ireland with that enemy of Irish nationalism Oliver Cromwell, and seem to have done little to ingratiate themselves with the local population in the intervening 200 years. According to my correspondent, they “had a reputation for being very difficult and tough landlords. Evictions were apparently common and there was quite a bit of ill-feeling towards them amongst the locals.” He had spoken to someone who told him a story of a barracks on Francis Massy's land being blown up, resulting in repercussions for the locals. Offering a piece of land for a police station to suppress the Land League will not have improved Massy’s standing in the community.

A nice little family footnote to this story – the notes for Hansard were being taken by my great grandfather William Henry Gurney Salter, who was Official Shorthand Writer to the Houses of Parliament at the time. Massy and Salter bloodlines would meet in the following generation!

Saturday 22 January 2011


I have so far avoided the cliché that every picture tells a story. It seems to me more the case that there are many pictures that don’t explain themselves – that need someone to tell their story for them. A photograph of a big cake decorated with the words “Happy Golden Wedding Anniversary John and Jean Piper” is clear enough; but what on earth, for example, is going on here?

John and Jean Piper on their golden wedding anniversary, 1917

John Piper and Jane Farquhar Reid, my great great grandparents, sitting in a bed! They were married in Sorn in Ayrshire in June 1857. It was something of a shotgun wedding, and their first child Mary was born the following September. Nevertheless, it was an enduring partnership, and their ruby wedding anniversary in 1897 was an occasion for a great family celebration.

John and Jean Piper’s ruby wedding anniversary, 1897

Joining them in the lane behind Barshouse, their home in Sorn, were (for the record), L-R:
Anne Gavine who the following year married their son James; their son Tom (see my earlier post about his bicycle shop); Kate Reid who married their son William; Maggie, who would marry bicycle Tom six years later; their son James, my great grandfather (see my post about his whisky warehouse); John and Jean at the heart of things; behind them John’s brother James (who would die only two years later); Jane’s sister Margaret and her husband (Mr Kirkland); behind them John and Jean’s son William; and the Lymburners (who we know were related somehow to John or Jane!).

That’s the story of that picture. But what about the first one? It’s reputedly John and Jane’s golden wedding anniversary, although it’s also reputedly “around 1918,” which would make it their diamond anniversary instead. It doesn’t matter: the date isn’t the story. Why were they celebrating it with a risqué two-in-a-bed anniversary photograph in their 70s or 80s? The truth, and the story of the picture, is this: Jane was confined to bed, not by age or love but by a cow which had kicked her a few days before.

That’s not the story of John and Jane’s marriage of course. When Jane died in 1920 (at Barshouse, and probably in that bed) their shotgun marriage had lasted 63 years. No doubt it had its ups and downs, but the fondness which started it all persisted to the end. John died only a year later.

Saturday 15 January 2011


For at least five generations, the Tough family lived and worked in the tiny triangle of Scotland defined by Larbert, Falkirk and the village of Dunipace. They were blacksmiths and joiners, skills very much in demand at the largest local employer, the giant Carron Ironworks. Directly or indirectly the works sustained a massive and thriving economy in the densely populated central belt of Scotland, driving the emerging industrial revolution. There was work and opportunity for all.

You would think there was no incentive to travel out of the area, but my great great grandfather John Tough was out of the country at least twice. The first time was without his consent or knowledge! John’s father (also John) was a roadside blacksmith, and for a few years in the 1840s he found himself working 250 miles away “down south,” in Staffordshire.

I don’t know what took him there. It’s very tempting to imagine that it was in some way connected with that English cradle of the industrial revolution, Coalbrookdale, home of Abraham Darby’s ironworks just over the county border in Shropshire. Darby’s pioneering techniques had inspired the founders of Carron.

Certainly it was a Shropshire barmaid, Betsy Vaughan, who caught John Senior’s eye and who fell for his Scottish charm. They married, and their first three children, including John Junior, were born in Staffordshire. So by the time the family returned to Dunipace (in time for the 1851 census) John was already well travelled.

By 1861, at the tender age of 12, John and his 9-year old brother David were in harness as footservants for the rather grander Gilchrist family up the road in Airth. But as soon as he was old enough and strong enough for hard manual work he started at the local sawmill – first, stoking the steam-driven engines which hauled the logs and drove the circular saws, and later operating the machines himself.

It was responsible and relatively well paid work. In time John married Grace, a girl from nearby Grangemouth, and raised his own family (including my great grandfather, another John). He could afford little luxuries and even save a little money for special occasions; and in the 1890s he took the family away on holiday, to Northern Ireland.

The cross-channel steamer from Glasgow arriving in Portrush (1904)

Although excursions had been growing in popularity and availability since their introduction by Thomas Cook in 1841, a journey from Dunipace to the Giant’s Causeway was still quite an undertaking. Those less well-off would settle for the daytrip “doon the watter” by paddle steamer from Glasgow to Dunoon.

The Giant’s Causeway Electric Tramway passing Dunluce Castle (1890)

But until the First World War a steamer service carried more affluent Scottish holidaymakers direct from Glasgow to Portrush, the resort town for the Giant’s Causeway. In the last two years of the service, 25,000 passengers travelled in each direction. John would have had a journey of several trains to take him as far as Glasgow, and a tramline from Portrush Railway Station ferried holidaymakers to the Causeway itself.

John Tough (b. 1849) seated, his son John (b. 1879) standing
and a daughter (probably either Grace or Bessie)
Giant’s Causeway, 1890s

However well travelled my great great grandfather was, it must have been the holiday of a lifetime.

Saturday 8 January 2011


It’s funny how things come in bunches – buses for example, and some days everywhere you look you’ll see nothing but ambulances, or magpies, or reruns of Friends. I don’t get much feedback at all from this blog, which is perfectly okay with me; but in the last month or so I’ve had three very different contacts from readers of an old post here about Rebecca Delap. It’s led me to some enjoyable detective work and the piecing together of a story.

Suir Castle and demolished mansion from the east, 2004

Rebecca was my 5x great grandmother. She married Hugh Massy on 16th April 1754 and almost exactly nine months later, on 13th January 1755, their first child Francis Hugh Massy was born at their marital home. They lived in Suir Castle, near the village of Golden in Co Tipperary – the principle Massy residence, the family seat at Duntrileague in Co Limerick was presumably still occupied by Hugh’s father. I described my visit to Suir in that earlier post. Before my visit it had just been a name on a genealogical chart to me, and afterwards all I really knew was that at some point a mansion house had been built beside the old fortified tower; both were ruined when I went to see them.

My image of it was transformed by a picture sent to me by my first correspondent. It’s a sepia watercolour of "Suir Castle and the old mansion house" by the Irish artist George Victor Du Noyer. The chap who sent it thought it looked deserted, and added that it was certainly unoccupied ten years later when it was given no value in Griffith’s valuation of 1850.

Suir Castle and deserted mansion from the west, 1840

He also put me in touch with a fellow Massy descendent, a distant cousin living in the Yukon in northwestern Canada. From her fantastically detailed family tree research I found the names of several of Rebecca and Hugh’s children who had been born at Suir, the most recent (Rebecca’s granddaughter Rebecca!) in 1816.

Then this week a third person got in touch. He’d been walking in the area, found the castle, was intrigued enough to Google it, and found my post. In the course of comparing notes with me he told me of a nearby Georgian or Regency building called Suir Castle House which has changed hands recently and is still after many facelifts a home.

So …  it’s still work in progress, but putting all this together, the four of us can now tell quite a lot of the Suir Castle story. The mansion there may well have been built for newly-weds Hugh and Rebecca Massy. There is no information yet of any earlier event than the birth of their first born. It was a family home for at least two generations of Massy: Hugh and Rebecca, and then their son Francis Hugh Massy (the first to be born in the Suir Castle mansion). Francis Hugh’s eleven children were all born at Suir, and the eldest, Francis, is styled Francis Massy of Suir Castle, suggesting a third generation of occupancy before the mansion was deserted by 1840. (Francis’ father Francis Hugh died in 1817.)

Suir Castle House, c2005

But if the new Suir Castle House is genuinely of Regency date, it was built somewhere between 1811 and 1820. As it happens Francis Massy of Suir Castle got married in 1820, to one Anne Molloy. So perhaps he built Suir Castle House for another pair of Massy newly-weds, himself and Anne. (Unfortunately I don’t know where their children were born: it would confirm all this speculation if it turned out to be Suir Castle House!)

Hugh, Lord Massy, was elevated to the peerage in 1776, and presumably Rebecca became Lady Massy. But Rebecca was Hugh’s second wife, and the Lordship passed through the children of his first marriage. Although the Massy family was a dominant force in Irish society, the Suir Castle branch never achieved the status of the more senior branch of the name. But at least we can piece together some of its history through the buildings it lived in.

Suir Castle, 2004
(and that's another story ...) 

Saturday 1 January 2011


Norwood Manor Day Nursery in Lambeth, London, describes itself as occupying “an old listed mansion.” I haven’t discovered the building’s full history, but I do know that it  didn’t start out as a mansion.

Norwood Manor Day Nursery in 2009,
and its listed railings

It’s built on land which was originally parcelled out by the commissioners in 1810 to one Benjamin Shaw, following the Lambeth Inclosure Act of 1806. This was one of a series of second-wave parliamentary enclosures designed essentially to rationalise the many awkward strips of wild or waste land cluttering up the country and make them more productive or useful. I don’t know Mr Shaw’s story; but in many cases, and perhaps his, commoners were given an alternative piece of land if they owned or used one which was being enclosed. (The history of English enclosure is complicated and controversial. It is seen by some as depriving the peasant class of previously held land rights and forcing them to become, in effect, the urban proletariat; and by others, as a necessary step in making land management more efficient and viable for those with the capital to invest in it, in effect giving rise to capitalism.)

I digress. Benjamin Shaw saw the opportunity for a quick profit and sold the land on, to my 4x great uncle William Salter. William, a pious Dissenter, donated it in 1819 for the building of West Norwood Congregational Church. It was a generous, virtuous act; but it was one for which he didn’t complete all the necessary paperwork. When he was taken seriously ill two years later, a fine chapel and schoolroom had been erected but the land still technically belonged to William. And so therefore did the buildings now standing on it; and William was now so unwell that it didn’t look as he would live long enough to make the proper legal transfer of ownership himself.

So, on the 6th June 1821 he hurriedly wrote a new will. But it did not, as you might expect, leave the land to the “Society of Protestant Dissenters of the denomination called Independents of the Calvinistic persuasion,” as he called them. Instead, he left it to his wife Mary Elizabeth and his two brothers David and Samuel, on condition that they give the land and buildings to the church; and then only on condition that the land be used and enjoyed for worship by the said society “and for no other use or purpose whatsoever.”

Quite why William couldn’t bequeath the land directly to the church is beyond me. Perhaps there were legal restrictions on bequests to dissenting denominations. But William died only two weeks after making the arrangement, and as far as I know his will was executed according to his wishes. He was only 51.

West Norwood Congregational Church

The church is a handsome neo-classical building with wings which housed school rooms. It still stands today as the Norwood Manor Day Nursery, and no doubt its founders and the donor of the land would be pleased that it is still playing a role of provision for children. In 1981 its low forecourt walls and the original tall plain spearhead railings were given Grade II listed status (although not as far as I can tell the building itself). But that bit about it only being used for Independent Calvinistic worship seems to have fallen by the wayside. I wonder if anyone has noticed?
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