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Saturday 28 April 2012


Some family stories are proved or even unearthed in the course of research. Others are disproved by the same process. Some remain beyond confirmation or debunking, the stuff of legend and speculation, a story good enough to tell whether or not it turns out to be true. With that in mind I’ll just tell this straight out and you can make up your own mind. Just the facts!

Hamnet Sadleir is reputed to be the grandson of my 11x great grandfather John Sadleir. That’s the part – admittedly a fairly fundamental part of a family story – that I can’t confirm. He was a baker in Stratford on Avon where another grandson, my 9x great grandfather (also John Sadleir) also lived. They may have been cousins, they may even have been brothers. (And yes, they may have been completely unrelated.)

Stratford on Avon, home of my ancestors and their friends

Hamnet married Judith. In 1585 the Sadleirs became godparents to the newborn twins of their friends Anne and William, such good friends that the new parents even named their new children Judith and Hamnet. When William, who died in 1616, wrote his will, Hamnet Sadleir was a witness.

One of the twins, Hamnet, died at the tender age of 11. His sister Judith married, in the year of her father’s death, Thomas Quiney, a tobacconist and vintner in Stratford on Avon born around 1589. Meanwhile my 8x great grandfather (yet another John Sadleir) married Elizabeth Quiney, born in 1587. Elizabeth certainly had a brother called Thomas – I don’t know for certain that he was the same Thomas who married Judith, but Judith’s Thomas’s father was called Richard Quiney – and so was Elizabeth’s and her brother’s.

Both Thomas and Judith Quiney outlived all three of their children. Young Thomas (named after his father) and Richard (named after his paternal grandfather) died within a fortnight of each other at the start of 1639, aged 19 and 20. The third had died long ago, only six months old, in 1617. Named after his maternal grandfather, the baby’s name was Shakespeare Quiney. That’s WILLIAM Shakespeare.

19th century German engraving of the Shakespeare household
Hamnet standing to his right, Judith leaning on his left shoulder

SO! If everything I have read and connected is true: Shakespeare’s daughter Judith was the sister-in-law of Elizabeth Quiney, my 8x great grandmother. Her godfather Hamnet Sadleir, witness to her father’s will, was a cousin, perhaps brother, of my 9x great grandfather. But only if.

Oh, and Hamnet Sadleir’s name on the will is spelled “Hamlett.”

Saturday 21 April 2012


My great grandfather’s cousin Catherine Gurney (known as Katie in the family) founded four convalescent homes and orphanages for English policemen and their children. As I write I've just heard that on 22nd April 2012 a plaque is to be unveiled in Harrogate in honour of her work. It was a lifelong commitment to police welfare spurred by the observation of one serving officer whom she visited in hospital in the 1880s: that the force lacked the sort of provision afforded by the public to distressed members of Britain’s army and navy.

Catherine Gurney (1848-1930)

Her commitment came from a sense of Christian duty almost genetic in its depth. The Gurneys had been devout non-conformists since the earliest days of Quakerism, at least four generations before Catherine was born. That devotion had shown itself in radical acts of humanitarian charity such as opposition to the slave trade and the provision of education to women and children.

Katie’s desire to follow the family tradition of Christian service led her first, in the early 1870s, to start a Bible Study Class in Wandsworth – a high-security Men’s Prison in South London and scene from 1878 to 1961 of regular hangings for murder. Wandsworth was a long way from the comfortable surroundings of her west London home and she became quickly aware of the debt of gratitude owed to the policemen of the time who kept the streets safe on her journeys between the two.

The first gallows at Wandsworth Prison,
transferred from Horsemonger Lane Gaol in 1878
and installed in a shed built over a 12-foot deep drop-pit

Perhaps she chatted with them about the spark of goodness in even the most hardened criminal, or perhaps about the risk to policemen’s souls of exposure to so much evil in the world; but a remark by one of her protectors, “What? D’you think police officers have souls?”, set her thinking. Of course they did, and those souls needed nurture and support as much as any murderer’s.

In 1883 Miss Gurney founded the Christian Police Association and held prayer meetings at her home. As they became quickly popular, she moved them first to rented offices and then to a building at 1a Adelphi Terrace which became London’s first Police Insititute, a drop-in refuge from the stresses and temptations of the job.

On And Off Duty,
the magazine of the Christian Police Association in Britain

It was a landmark in police welfare, but Catherine Gurney was a woman with a mission. She began to travel the world promoting the values of the Association. In October 1891 she arrived in the United States as a delegate to the International Convention of Christians At Work. Between then and May the following year she met with representatives of police forces from Maryland to Michigan, and CPA’s sprang up throughout the eastern states (and in Toronto too!).

The very first US group was in Washington DC. In 1898 the president of the New York CPA wrote, “It has always seemed wonderful that the Lord thought so much of the policemen of America as to send Miss Gurney all the way across the water. Yes, God is interested in police officers. He it was who awakened in Miss Gurney’s heart the desire that He should bless them and Lo! what hath God wrought from that little seed.”

Policemen served as pallbearers at Catherine Gurney’s funeral in Harrogate, 13th August 1930

What indeed! Catherine Gurney, a small but determined woman, devoted 50 years of her life to police welfare. Her Christian legacy, now the International Christian Police Association, survives to this day, as does the work she began in her convalescent homes and orphanages. When her travelling days were over she remained active in their interest to the end of her life. When she died she insisted on being buried near her beloved Northern Police Orphanage and Convalescent & Treatment Centre on Otley Road, Harrogate in the grounds of All Saints Church, Harlow Hill.

Much information for this post comes from the splendid history of the CPA in the USA at There is also a fine page about her work at, from which some of the photos in this article are taken. 

Saturday 14 April 2012


In a terrific example of sucking up to the local gentry, my 3x great grandfather William Reid named at least two and arguably four of his eleven children after the incumbents of the local Big House, Gilmilnscroft House in Sorn, Ayrshire. His eldest girl and boy were named after his parents Mary and Robert. (Luckily for him his resilient wife was also called Mary.) But thereafter, until he finally ran out of options, his children were all called after Gilmilnscroft’s inhabitants, James Farquhar and his wife Margaret née Baillie, or the nearest sounding equivalent.

Gilmilnscroft House, Sorn, in 1964
16th/17th century tower house with 19th century additions

William’s second daughter was my 2x great grandmother, whom he named Jane Farquhar Reid. Jane not only sounds like James, but was also James Farquhar’s mother’s name. Next came Jane’s sister, Margaret Baillie Reid. Then came a fourth daughter, called - the name Jane now no longer being available - Janet; and finally another son, christened James. Only with his third son did William feel free to bestow his own name onto the next generation. (Thomas, Helen, Grace and John completed the brood.)

Margaret and Jane were also the names of James and Margaret Farquhar’s daughters, so William Reid must have been pretty confident that he had done everything he could to express his allegiance to the Farquhar family. He was a coachman at Gilmilnscroft, and sure enough at least five of his children successfully found employment there.

Some 19th century Farquhars of Gilmilnscroft
(servants not pictured)

His eldest, Mary, was a housekeeper and sick nurse there. Second daughter Jane was maid to Margaret Farquhar. Third daughter Margaret was a domestic servant in the house. Eldest son James was like his father a coachman and domestic servant, until he married and moved to Glasgow. William junior was a gentleman’s nurse, until he caught tuberculosis and died. (They definitely held these posts, although I don’t know for certain, except in Jane and Margaret’s cases, that they all held them in the Big House; but such situations were not available anywhere else in the immediate area.)

Jane Farquhar Reid and Margaret Baillie Reid both eventually married and left service, Jane to John Piper in 1857 and Margaret to a Mr Kirkland in 1866. About 60 years later, Margaret’s grandson James Kirkland married Jane’s granddaughter Agnes, whom I knew as my great aunt Nessie. Nessie’s sister was my grandmother, Jean Farquhar Reid Piper. They had all by then moved up in the world: Nessie married a solicitor, and Jean married a doctor!

Saturday 7 April 2012


Charlie Masterman was a grandson of my 3x great uncle Thomas Gurney. A biography of him by Eric Hopkins published in 1999 is subtitled The Splendid Failure, which is a bit harsh! If he didn’t fulfill all of his huge potential as a politician and author, he certainly accomplished more than most men.

Charles Frederick Gurney Masterman (1873-1927)

I wouldn’t dream of attempting to cover his whole life in a single post here, or even just the achievements of his political or journalistic careers. He was an occasional MP from 1906, in and out of Parliament and even Government on a regular basis only because he was unable to find a safe Liberal seat. (There were still such things before the First World War, before the foundation of the Labour Party.)

At the outbreak of the war he was serving as Financial Secretary to the Treasury, but with a background in journalism he was appointed as head of the new War Propaganda Bureau. One of his successes there was the introduction of the concept of the War Artist. In the last two years of the war he sent more than ninety artists to make a visual record of events in Europe. Although there were limitations on what they could exhibit during the war, they were given a fairly free hand in what and where they could paint. The long term legacy of the artists, who included Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash and Augustus John, is an important one.

We Are Making A New World (1918)
Paul Nash’s ironic title for a painting of No Man’s Land

Charlie’s first move at the Bureau was to recruit Britain’s most talented writers to the cause, among them H.G. Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and John Buchan (coincidentally a distant relative by marriage). Again, they were given pretty free rein in their written discourses on the war. Masterman took the view that as long as their facts were accurate, the facts spoke for themselves and that the public would be able to make up its own mind. Other disagreed, arguing that (as one writer put it), “the allied case should be as vociferously and as duplicitously made as the German [one].”

Under Masterman’s direction, “over two million books in seventeen languages were published in the first two years of the war, almost entirely without the readers’ knowledge that these were sponsored by the British government.”

Charles Masterman himself had literary aspirations. He had been editor of the literary review Granta while at Cambridge in the 1890s; in the early 20th century he was the literary editor of the Daily News; and before entering politics he had published several impassioned books about the social state of the country notably 1909’s Condition of England. Many of the writers whom her recruited for propaganda purposes were already acquaintances or even friends.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1836)
photographed in 1905 by Alvin Langdon Coburn

G.K. Chesterton was one such. Perhaps it was Masterman’s 1909 book which brought the two liberal thinkers together although it feels as if they were older friends than that. In 1910, Chesterton dedicated his new book What’s Wrong With The World to his friend with a lengthy and humorous introduction “to C.F.G. Masterman, M.P. – My Dear Charles.”

It’s a delightful few hundred words, packed with the Chesterton wit. It begins with smut: “I originally called this book What Is Wrong [and a] number of social misunderstandings arose from the use of the title. Many a mild lady visitor opened her eyes when I remarked casually, “I have been doing What Is Wrong all this morning.” And one minister of religion moved quite sharply when I told him … that I had to run upstairs and do what was wrong, but should be down again in a minute.”

Chesterton goes on to praise the writing of Masterman, “one who has recorded two or three of the really impressive visions of the moving millions of England, You are the only man alive who can make the map of England crawl with life.” In addressing the reason for dedicating the book to Charlie, he writes, “I do it because I think you politicians are none the worse for a few inconvenient ideals; but more because you will recognise the many arguments we have had. And perhaps you will agree that the thread of comradeship and conversation must be protected because it is so frivolous. It is exactly because argument is idle that men must take it seriously; for when  shall we have so delightful a difference again? But most of all I offer it to you because there exists not only comradeship, but a very different thing, called friendship; an agreement under all the arguments and a thread which, please God, will never break.”

Dust jacket for Walter S. Masterman’s The Wrong Letter
the US edition published by Dutton in 1926

That bond of friendship was strong enough for Chesterton to write another preface 20 years later, for the first pulp fiction novel by Charlie’s brother Walter S. Masterman. Chesterton, who as author of the Father Brown mysteries was no mean crimewriter himself, is again lavish in his admiration, finding (if I’m honest) far more than I did to praise about the new novelist’s first faltering steps in fiction. Walter definitely got better with practice!

I had the very great pleasure of speaking to Charlie’s son last year, and of sending him a copy of the Chesterton dedication to his father which he had never seen. Were Charlie my own father, I would be as proud as anything for him to have such a friendship as Chesterton’s.
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