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Saturday 26 November 2011


When we were growing up, the only family “heritage” of which my father spoke was the line of his great grandmother, the staunch non-conformist Gurney family. There was never any mention of the more recent (and, you might think, more influential) lines of his Castle mother or Reyner grandmother – or indeed of his own male line, the Salters of Hertfordshire. From a purely genealogical point of view this seems like a terrible waste of ancestors!

This post marks the second anniversary of this weekly blog, in which I try to recover and celebrate some of those lost ancestral souls. Since my father took whatever he knew about his non-Gurney forebears to the grave with him, it has not always been a simple matter to snatch even a glimpse of the lives of some of mine. The Reyners are a case in point. They too were liberal non-conformists, a family of Lancashire cotton mill owners for several generations. But I am not in touch with any Reyner cousins (if you’re reading this, Reyner cousins, please write!); and for a long time I knew only the name of my great grandmother, Jane Reyner.

Arthur's sister, Jane Reyner (1850-1938)
my link to the world of Lancashire cotton

This morning however I stumbled across three of her brothers and sisters of whom I had previously never heard. Better still, one of them is described in the sort of detail which no amount of FreeBMD or Ancestry statistical records can convey. I now know I had a great great uncle Arthur, who was

a bachelor of uncertain health, and lived at Thornfield Hall near to Ashton-under-Lyne, with a mother whose strength and stateliness of spirit, coupled with extreme personal fragility, advanced years, and only occasional visibility through the bevelled glass of an ancient brougham, constituted her one of those occasional reproductions of Queen Victoria which appeared during the reign of that monarch, his life being one in which music, travel in Switzerland, Gladstonianism, a perilous habit, for one of his weight and build, of riding to hounds, and the current number of the Nineteenth Century, played a great part.

It sounds as if Arthur was a bit of a playboy. He certainly doesn’t seem to have played any active part in the running of the family mills, and only appears on one British census return throughout his adult life (suggesting that he travelled aborad a lot). He never married, and clearly enjoyed the good life, judging from the weight and build which made riding to hounds such an ill-advised hobby. The Nineteenth Century was a monthly literary magazine which from 1877 to 1972 published debate by leading intellectuals of the day.

Brougham carriage 
as occupied by Queen Victoria (left) and Helen Reyner nee Bayley (right)

The description of his mother Helen Reyner, née Bayley (1816-1892) is tremendous! How  I wish I had more pictures of this pair of ancestors. Helen was 15 years younger than her late husband Frederick Reyner and outlived him by just that length of time, shutting herself away in Thornfield Hall, the family home, and mourning Frederick (who died in 1877) in perpetuum just as Queen Victoria had been mourning Prince Albert since 1861. Arthur died only ten years after his mother.

These descriptions come from a 1917 article about industrial relations in the northern cotton mills, and it was in this sphere that Arthur did make a mark in public life. He was the president of the Federation of Master Cotton Spinners’ Associations which represented the mill owners, although he seems to have fulfilled the role with mixed results:

In his speeches on the public platform great fluency of thought and expression struggled with anguish against a marked defect of utterance. He had Robert Lowe's inability to perceive the effect he was making on his audience, and his position as leader at once of a Liberal organisation which wanted all sorts of democratic changes, and an Employers' Federation which wanted a reduction of wages, was a vexatious inconsistency, and probably accounted very largely, though it was not suspected at the time, for the recurrent Conservatism of the borough in which he lived.

The tension between his liberal non-conformist inclination to help the working man and his capitalist responsibilities to the family business must have been hard to balance. Around the time of his mother’s death Arthur was one of three employers appointed by the Federation to negotiate a new deal with employees about working practices in the mills. The deal, following a bitter dispute over wage cuts, was thrashed out in a room at the Brooklands Hotel outside Manchester in one all-night session in March 1893 and became known as the Brooklands Agreement. Arthur was the first signatory, but in fact his ill health (perhaps made worse by his mother’s dying days) meant that he was absent from the negotiating table for much of the process.

Sir Charles Macara (1845-1929)
closer of the 1893 Brooklands deal
(and in 1891 creator of Lifeboat Flagdays)

In fact the absence of Arthur and his “defect of utterance” from the final stages made the agreement possible. He had adopted a much harder line over the 5% wage cut and subsequent 20 week strike than his conservative colleague Charles Macara; with Arthur indisposed, Macara was able to take a more flexible approach with the trade union leaders and reach a satisfactory compromise. The Brooklands Agreement introduced a structure of negotiation, conciliation and appeal procedures which remained in place for more than 20 years.

One rather happy side effect of the rancourous 20-week dispute was also described by the same 1917 writer. As the dark satanic mills, and their chimneys, stopped working, pollution levels began to fall:

[The lock-out] lasted long enough to clear the sky, and nearly long enough to clean the earth. Distant objects acquired that startling visibility which in South-east Lancashire usually signifies nothing more serious than " the wakes," and the operatives wandered up and down amid unfamiliar tracts of morning and afternoon, and were, for all their faith and fortitude, in the suspended and deeply disordered state of those who are all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Saturday 19 November 2011


Louisa Salter, a first cousin of my great grandfather’s, spent her life surrounded by new editions of the Bible, or rather by men driven to produce more accessible versions of it.

Her uncle the biblical scholar William Augustus Salter, my great great grandfather, worked with the Religious Tract Society to produce the Annotated Paragraph Bible – which as the name implies introduced paragraphs and footnotes to the King James translation to make it more readable by the ordinary man and woman. And her husband’s legacy was The New Testament in Modern Speech, a translation from the Greek into nineteenth century English which has regularly been reprinted since its publication in 1903.

The New Testament in Modern Speech, published 1903,
translated from the Greek by Richard Francis Weymouth

Louisa married Richard Francis Weymouth in 1892 when she was already 49 years old. Like so many daughters of her times, she had been obliged by convention to remain unmarried well into adulthood, caring for her widowed mother. She shared this duty with her only sister Charlotte Amelia Salter; Charlotte’s early death in 1871, and that of their mother only a few months later, must have been cruel blows.

Richard Weymouth was considerably older than Louisa – aged 70 at the time of this, his second marriage. He was a lay Baptist biblical scholar, having been educated like Louisa’s uncle William at the nonconformist-funded University of London. Richard returned to the university as a Fellow in 1869 and taught there until his retirement in 1886. During this time he also edited the Resultant Greek Testament, a standardised form of the original Greek text of the New Testament agreed by a consensus of leading biblical scholars of the day, from which he would prepare his modern-speech translation.

The Resultant Greek Testament, published in 1892,
edited by Richard Francis Weymouth

He and Louisa enjoyed ten years together before he died in 1902 – the Weymouth New Testament, as his translation is now known, was published posthumously. Its success after his death will at least have helped to provide for Louisa in her own old age. One of the executors of her own will in 1917 was her late husband’s secretary Rev Ernest Hampden-Cook, who had prepared Richard’s manuscript for publication. Ernest had obviously become a family friend. Keeping in touch with him must have eased Louisa's sense of loss after Richard's death.

Ernest had published his own volume of biblical criticism, The Christ Has Come, in 1891, the year before Louisa and Richard were married. His book took a strong preterist stance on biblical interpretation – that is, the view that much of the Bible, particularly the books of Daniel and Revelations, contain prophecies which were fulfilled in the first century AD.

The Christ Has Come, published in 1891,
written by Rev Ernest Hampden-Cook

Weymouth’s New Testament has also been cited in support of a preterist viewpoint, central to which was a second coming of Christ in AD 70 and the promise of a third coming yet to happen. It is tempting to imagine that a lonely Louisa, losing in the space of a few months the last two members of her immediate family, turned to the possibility of a third coming of Christ for spiritual comfort in a time of despair. She would not have been the first or last spinster of the parish to long for future happiness in any form. If she did, then (whatever the truth behind preterism) that comfort brought her belated joy in the form of her husband.

Louisa should not be confused with her first cousin also called Louisa Salter, her uncle William’s daughter, who married William Windle Pilkington the St Helens glass magnate.

Saturday 12 November 2011


Michael Castle, my 4x great uncle, was part of a powerful merchant family in 18th century Bristol. He was a whisky distiller in partnership with his older brother Robert and a third businessman called John Ames. Together they ran several public houses as well as the Bristol Distillery; and when Robert died (while in office as mayor of Bristol in 1803), Robert and Michael’s younger brother Thomas, my 3x great grandfather, took his place in the partnership.

Michael Castle (1762-1821)
modern manufacturer

I’ve written about the distillery previously here. Recently I found out that the distillery was a modern operation, employing state-of-the-art technology – the energy source which powered the Industrial Revolution. In 1793 Castle & Ames took delivery of a mighty Boulton & Watt beam engine.

It was the largest of three Boulton &Watt “sun-and-planet” machines known to have been supplied to manufacturers in the city of Bristol in the 1790s. Sixteen engineering drawings for the Castle and Ames machine survive in the archives of Boulton and Watt, held by Birmingham Central Library. Sun-and-planet refers to the gearing mechanism, one wheel revolving around another, which transferred the up-and-down vertical motion of a beam engine onto a round-and-round horizontal drive shaft.

Matthew Boulton (1728-1809) and James Watt (1736-1819)
both painted by Carl Frederik von Breda in 1792,
the year before they supplied Castle & Ames

The Watt in Boulton & Watt is James Watt, the Scottish engineer who improved the efficiency of steam engines beyond all recognition when he was asked to repair an early machine at Glasgow University in 1763. Watt the mechanical genius understood his limitations as an entrepreneur, and to realise the full potential of his innovations he went into partnership with Matthew Boulton, a Birmingham manufacturer.

In 1776 Boulton & Watt began producing engines which used only 25% of the fuel of previous steam engines. They transformed the industrial landscape not only by producing a more efficient, powerful machine but by cutting industry’s ties to other forms of power. In particular, factories no longer had to be positioned near a suitable head of water to drive the water wheels which had previously been the best source of energy.

Boulton & Watt engine
originally supplied to Barclay & Perkins Brewery, Southwark
(now in the National Museum of Scotland) -
sun-and-planet gear clearly visible

Boulton & Watt manufactured 450 engines between 1776 and 1800. They were used in a broad range of settings to drive other machinery or to pump water. In Bristol, besides the Castle & Ames distillery, engines were supplied to a woolen manufactory and a lead works. I don’t know exactly how the Castle & Ames one was applied in their production of strong spirits; but a surviving Boulton & Watt sun-and-planet engine now in the National Museum of Scotland was originally used in a London brewery to grind barley and pump water.

Boulton & Watt continued to develop new models, and in April 1823 the Bristol distillery, now known as Thomas Castle & Co following the death of both Robert and Michael, ordered a new larger crank-type beam engine from them, for which again drawings survive in Birmingham Library. As a measure both of the distillery’s progress and Boulton & Watt’s, the new engine had a six-foot stroke compared to the old one’s five; and where the old one delivered in the region of 15 horse power, Thomas Castle’s new machine was capable of a whopping 40 h.p. Matthew Boulton summed it up when he boasted to the diarist James Boswell who was touring his factory in Soho, Birmingham: "I sell here, sir, what all the world desires to have - POWER."

Saturday 5 November 2011


Mary Castle, a first cousin of my great grandfather, got married in 1865, the same year her new husband Edmund Daubeny began a living as rector of St Thomas’s, then a country church in the village of Bedhampton near Havant in Hampshire. They married in Bedminster – no connection at all to Bedhampton but a rapidly expanding industrial suburb of Bristol.

Church of St Thomas the Apostle, Bedhampton
served by Rev E.T. Daubeny for 19 years, 1865-1884
(photographed in 2007 by M. Eyre)

The Castles and the Daubenys were both old Somerset families who migrated to the city of Bristol in search of wealth and power. The Castles were particularly successful, supplying the town with councillors, sheriffs and two mayors and making a fortune in the distillation of spirits, part of the Triangular Trade on which Bristol was built.

It was natural when Mary got married that they would wish to bestow some of that wealth on their new son in law. His new church had been built in 1140 – a Norman arch survives at the western end of the chancel – and Edmund followed contemporary thinking in deciding that it was long overdue for a makeover. There were undoubted limitations to the old building. It lacked a vestry for a start, although it did have a beautiful Georgian rectory ten yards away across the lane which no doubt fulfilled the function more than adequately.

St Thomas before the vestry extension of 1993,
showing the Castle vestry, bell tower and north aisle

Between 1869 and 1878 Edmund undertook a series of improvements. As well as adding a small vestry to the north of the chancel and replacing the wooden bell tower with a stone one, he increased the capacity of the nave with new pews and a fine north aisle. All these building works were undertaken with generous donations from the Castle family back in Bristol. At the same time he found in the garden of the rectory the remains of the Norman font, in use I suspect as a Victorian planter. This was restored and replaced in the church, where it now serves its original function once more.

Perhaps the biggest outward change introduced by Edmund was a change in the church’s dedication. It had been known since at least the 16th century as St Nicholas, and in 1869 it was renamed St Thomas in deference, I imagine, to Thomas Castle the principle subscriber to the works. Thomas was Edmund’s brother in law, Mary’s half-brother by their father’s first marriage. He was probably giving money recently inherited from their father, who died just a year after Mary and Edmund’s marriage.

Old Bedhampton School
a place of Dust, Stone and Daubeny
according to the logbook
(photographed in 2007 by M. Eyre)

Although presumably life as a country rector was not too demanding, Edmund Daubeny was obviously an active incumbent, determined to leave his mark on his church and his community. The year before he began his program of works on the fabric of the church, the first ever school in Bedhampton opened its doors, under the tutelage of the splendidly named Miss Dust. According to the early school ledgers, both the village squire (the equally splendidly named Mr Stone) and the rector were regular visitors to the school and took a keen interest in her work.

The Norman font and the Victorian pews and north aisle
(photo by permission of 
from whom much fascinating detail informs this article)
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