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Saturday 26 March 2011


Parents just love alliteration, don’t they? In my Salter family tree there are countless Samuel Salters and Sarah Salters and Sophia Salters – and a positive explosion of Stephen Salters. This, parents of the future, is not helpful to us genealogists. If anyone reading this can help sort out the following, please do.

I was going to write a nice short post about my cousin Stephen. His great grandfather, also Stephen Salter, is my 4x great grandfather. I was just going to write about the fact that my cousin was an architect, and hope that I got lucky on Google in finding some building or other that he worked on.

Well, you go looking for one Stephen Salter, architect; you find three! There was plenty to go at on Google, and my admiration for a man with such a long and varied career crumbled around p15 of the search results when I noticed that many of the buildings I was looking at had been built long after my cousin’s death. Nothing’s ever simple.

Who designed this building?
a)  Stephen Salter, b) Stephen Salter, or c) Stephen Salter
(Examinations Hall and Laboratories
of the Royal College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Physicians)

I already knew that cousin Stephen’s father, b. Hammersmith c1801 (who I suppose is also a cousin, and is definitely, and inevitably, also called Stephen Salter) was also an architect. The father started out as an architect’s modeller, and at some point his son must have joined him in the practice – two sons in fact. Cousin Stephen’s brother Frederick Thomas Salter (c1830-1866) was an architect too, from at least the age of 21 until his untimely death.

Is it confusing things to mention at this stage that cousin Stephen had a son b. Wesminster c1859, also called Stephen, who mercifully was not an architect but a physician surgeon? I think not, because his medical career rules out the possibility that this third generation is responsible for the buildings designed after cousin Stephen’s death.

Instead, I have found a Stephen Salter b. Ryde on the Isle of Wight 1861, who was also (yep) an architect and was also (yep) “son of Stephen Salter.” Pretty sure he’s not one of mine, but further proof of parental fondness for the alliterative arts.

Who designed this building?
a)  Stephen Salter, b) Stephen Salter, or c) Stephen Salter
(Wesley Hall, now Cowley Road Methodist Church, Oxford)

So there we are: three architects, three Stephen Salters (or six if you include all the ones I’ve mentioned who were mere relatives of architects). The next problem is to sort out who designed which building – and there was a period in the 1860s and 1870s when all three were alive.

I think that’s enough for now! More confusion next week when I list the buildings I know about and try to allocate them to the right architect. (Some pretty impressive buildings, by the way.)

Saturday 19 March 2011


My 7x great grandfather Thomas Gurney of Bedfordshire was already shrouded in the mists of time when my 3x great grandfather William Brodie Gurney wrote his “Particulars,” a biography of himself “and his immediate ancestors,” in 1845. Even in 1845, details were sketchy.

WBG would dearly have loved to match this Thomas with a Thomas who was of the great Gurney family of Norfolk, ancestors of whom had come over from Gournay in Normandy with William the Conqueror and actually fought at the Battle of Hastings). But in genealogical terms it is only considered “probable.” Personally I’d have been frustrated not to be able to prove the connection – Hastings, that’s some pedigree – but for WBG, Thomas had another, more certain and far more impressive connection.

William Brodie Gurney was a prominent non-conformist campaigner in his day. Many of his children would either become or marry non-conformist ministers, continuing a proud tradition of religious dissent which stretched back … well, at least four generations, to Thomas Gurney of Bedfordshire.

George Fox (1624-1691)
founding father of the Society of Friends

Thomas was a Quaker, and an almost exact contemporary of George Fox (1624-1691), the founder of that Society of Friends, as it was more formally known. More than that, Thomas was at one time travelling with Fox as the latter went about the country preaching his disaffection with the established Church of England. Reception was sometimes hostile, sometimes even violent. In Derby in 1650 Fox was imprisoned (and not for the first time) for blasphemy – and when in court he commanded the judge to “tremble at the word of the Lord,” the judge mockingly described Fox and his followers as “quakers.” The name stuck!

The following year Fox went to Lichfield with a party of Friends, a party which must have included my ancestor Thomas. How do we know? Because in 1845 WBG told the story of a family treasure in the possession of his grandfather (also called Thomas Gurney) who was Quaker Thomas Gurney’s grandson: a well worn pocket knife, on the cover of which were carved the initials “T.G.” and the inscription “Given to me by George Fox at Lichfield.”

Whatever happened to that knife?! WBG’s grandfather died before he was born; did Wiliam’s father inherit it? Did he? Hang Hastings – I’d love to know where that pocket knife ended up.

Thomas the elder, for all his companionship with George Fox, eventually became a Baptist, a denomination which the next four generations of his family would actively serve in a variety of offices in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and London. But they kept that priceless pocketknife!

George Fox at Lichfield
a painting by Robert Spence (1871-1964)

(It was at Lichfield that Fox asked his friends to wait in the house while he obeyed a call from the Lord to go into town and proclaim “Woe to the bloody city of Lichfield!” It was only later, he claimed, that he learned of the legendary martyrdom of 1000 Christians there under the Roman emperor Diocletian in around 300 AD, which he presumed is what the Lord must have had in mind. But Lichfield was also the more recent scene, in 1612, of the last public burning for heresy in England. That would certainly have been fresher in the minds of dissenters only 39 years later.)

Saturday 12 March 2011


The advance of non-conformist congregations in the nineteenth century was a grand movement of empowerment for the ordinary people of England. They had for centuries been the little people, the fodder, the also-rans in the hierarchy of English social structure. Their place in society was to know their place, which was below, permanently below, those better than themselves – those above them, the wealthy and powerful.

Gradually it became clear that this social order was not fixed. It was possible to challenge it, to better yourself and change your position in that order. The Church of England of course had no interest in promoting this idea. Its higher clergy were the wealthy and powerful. It was up to the radicals, the Dissenters, to preach Change and a New Order. It was an early example of Liberation Theology.

Joseph Angus (1816-1902)
Baptist minister and educator,
engraved by Thomas Armitage in 1890

Non-conformists sought improvement on every level – spiritual, physical and social – and the key to self-improvement, or usefulness as they called it, was Education. My 3x great uncle Joseph Angus embraced this doctrine wholeheartedly. He had a thorough education himself – studying for the ministry at Stepney College in the east end of London, then graduating MA from Edinburgh – and liked it so much that he devoted most of his life to it.

He was appointed president of his alma mater Stepney in 1849, having earlier served for six years as its secretary. He remained at its helm until he stepped down in 1893 at the age of 77. Under his watch the college moved, in 1856, to a new location in Regent’s Park where it became more closely associated with University College London. UCL had originally been founded in 1828 by non-conformists (including my 3x great grandfather) whose sons were excluded from any other English universities.

The original buildings of Stepney College, founded 1810

As Regents Park College the institution moved once again, in 1928, to Oxford. It still thrives there, and one of its greatest assets is the incomparable Angus Library, built around his own enormous collection of non-conformist publications. Angus himself wrote prolifically. As well as theological texts his works included handbooks on English Language and Literature, in which he was an examiner much in demand.

He was also an energetic fundraiser. Before his presidency of Stepney he was for ten years secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society, and in that time raised £32,000 to repay debts and expand its missionary operations. At Stepney he raised a similar amount to endow the college with scholarships for its students and professorial chairs for its teaching body.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)
Baptist minister and college non-attender

In one notable instance did Angus’s passion for education not prevail. In 1852 a young man called Charles Spurgeon arranged to meet Angus as president of Stepney College, at which the former was considering enrolling. An absent-minded servant ushered the two men into different rooms within the building, forgetting to tell each of the presence of the other. They never met, and soon afterwards Spurgeon decided not to attend Stepney.

Instead Spurgeon accepted a position as minister at New Park Street Chapel in Southwark, which had been Angus’ own first appointment as a Baptist pastor in 1838. Now he was concerned that Spurgeon should not “settle without thorough preparation. He may be useful in either case, but his usefulness will be much greater, he will fill at all events a wider sphere, with preparation than without it.”

Charles Spurgeon preaching at Surrey Music Hall, 1858

In fact Spurgeon turned out to be pretty “useful,” even without a higher education. He became without doubt the nineteenth century’s brightest Baptist star, a crowd-pulling and charismatic preacher. For him, New Park with its capacity for a mere 1200 worshippers had to be rebuilt as the 5000-seater Metropolitan Tabernacle. Joseph Angus spoke at the first of many memorial services for Spurgeon in 1892.

Saturday 5 March 2011


Henry Bayley was a first cousin of my great great grandmother Ellen Bayley. With his brothers William and Charles he inherited the family cotton mill, Bridge Street Mill in Stalybridge, Cheshire, from his mother. In the 1830s they set about a programme of improvement and expansion, building a new operation on the other side of the river Tame on a plot of land called “The Stakes," which became known as Bayley Street Mills. William and Charles eventually withdrew from the business leaving Henry in charge.

Plaque on Stalybridge Town Hall
commemorating the General Strike
which was sparked by William Bayley

I know nothing of Charles at all, I’m afraid. But William (who features in Benjamin Disraeli’s novel Coningsby) was the Bayley responsible for triggering a national General Strike by his intransigent response to the Plug Riots of 1842 (see my earlier post). It is little wonder that he chose to play a less active part in mill ownership, having made himself so deeply unpopular with the workforce.

Henry, I feel, could not have been more different in temperament to his brother. As a young man he showed considerable promise as a musician, which must mark him out as a civilized man! He encouraged other local musicians, and was himself “a player of quality,” promoting several concerts at Stalybridge Town Hall. (By this I reckon he redeemed his brother William’s future role at the building – William became the town’s first mayor when it was incorporated in 1857!)

Henry by contrast was a prime mover in the setting up of the town’s “Gentlemen’s Glee Club.” These glee clubs were a popular feature of middle class life in the mid-nineteenth century, particularly in the towns and cities of northern England. They were originally dedicated to amateur choral performances, although in time they broadened to encompass other art forms. (In Manchester the world-renowned Halle Orchestra can trace its roots to the Manchester Gentlemen’s Glee Club.) Henry Bayley is credited with attracting “several celebrated London actors” to give performances in Stalybridge.

Stalybridge Harmonic Society
(Could one of the musicians be Henry Bayley?)

As if that were not enough, in 1844 he was a chief supporter of the new Stalybridge Harmonic Society, another choral body. This one was formed when the choir of King Street Chapel fell out with their minister! Thereby, surely, there hangs a tale worth digging out.

Maybe he was just driven to save the good name of Bayley in the wake of his brother William’s exploits. As William was serving his third and final term as mayor, Henry was subscribing to the inaugural New Year’s Day Aged Persons’ Tea Party for the over-70s. The event ran from 1860 until at least 1907, when Samuel Hill’s wonderful book Bygone Stalybridge (from which I get most of what I know of Henry) was published.

Sadly I cannot relate whether Henry ever attended the tea party as an eligible guest. He died, suddenly, at the age of 71; so his opportunities were few. But he left a cultural mark on Stalybridge which long outlived him.

(I should mention one other aspect of his life which may also have placed him firmly opposite his older brother William. In 1841, the year before the Plug Riots, Henry was chairman of the local branch of the Anti-Monopoly League, a society connected to the Anti-Corn Law League and to the Chartists whose agitation was behind the riots. When Henry assumed control of the family mill years later, he must have had a very different approach to management and a very different attitude to his workforce.)

Both pictures are from the splendid archive of
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