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Saturday 23 February 2013


I broke my clavicle at the beginning of the month – muddy hillside, lost footing, briefly airborne, the stuff of You’ve Been Framed. I’m on the mend, but typing is still a one-handed, wrong-handed inconvenience; so forgive a short and self-indulgent article this week.

I’m reminded of the fall of an ancestor, and it makes me count my blessings. I’ve written here many times of my 3x great uncle Charles Castle. The contents of his writing case handed down to me have been the source of many good Tall Tales. Amongst his many roles in life was that of a Gloucestershire magistrate, and he lived in later life at Frome Lodge in Stapleton, just north of Bristol.

Charles Castle (1813-1886)

On June 29th 1882, two days after his 69th birthday, he had some business in the city centre which took him to Broadmead. Originally the site of a Dominican priory, the area became part of the expanding city in the eighteenth century. John Wesley founded a Methodist chapel there in 1739 and a Quaker meeting house also opened ten years later.

It became a thriving commercial district, boasting two handsome arcades, but suffered greatly with much of Bristol from heavy bombing during World War Two. The area was hastily rebuilt in the 1950s, and has been redeveloped since the 1980s in a series of shopping malls, the modern equivalent of those old arcades.

Broadmead Upper and Lower Arcades after the Bristol blitz of 1940-41; the Lower Arcade was rebuilt and survives today 
(photos from the wonderful Flikr stream of brizzlebornandbred)

Back in 1882 Uncle Charles was riding through Broadmead in his trap when his horse stumbled and fell. With the shafts of the trap fixed either side of the horse, the vehicle tipped violently sideways and threw Charles out onto the street.

Luckily a policeman was on patrol at the scene. PC Ravenhill sprang into action. Perhaps he had given testimony at one of the injured magistrate’s court sessions and now recognised him. Certainly he now bundled my battered old uncle into a cab and dispatched it to Bristol Infirmary.

There they patched him up. Although no bones were broken Charles had landed heavily, with severe bruising to his knees and the back of his head. He must have had a very sore time of it back at Frome Lodge.

Frome Lodge, Stapleton, now divided into apartments

But we know from the census taken the previous year that the sixty-nine-year-old will have been thoroughly looked after. As well as his wife Ada and two teenage daughters Mary (18) and Frances (15), he had four female servants. Somehow from his photograph I don’t imagine him to have been an easy patient, so my sympathies are with his cook Sarah Manley, parlour maid Elizabeth Rowsell, house maid Alice Davies and the daughters’ “school room maid” Emily March – at 20 years old barely older than her pupils. With seven women at his beck and call I dare say the recuperation of Uncle Charles, a retired major of the Gloucestershire Militia, was as comfortable as it could be.

I of course have been a model patient. And I give thanks to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary for patching me up.

Saturday 16 February 2013


My Masterman cousins, second cousins twice removed, were all remarkable achievers. There were seven Masterman children in that generation, six boys and a girl, all of them gifted either academically or in sport, or both. The eldest was Ernest, who had perhaps the finest mind of all of them.

The six Masterman brothers, photographed by Thomas Stearn in 1899
Back L-R: Harry, Charles and Walter
Front L-R: John, Arthur and Ernest

He was a born scientist, a compulsive enquirer and recorder. After training in medicine he took up a post in 1892 at the Anglican Hospital in Jerusalem. This was a missionary hospital, founded in 1840 by the London Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews when British imperial missionary zeal was at its height.

Ernest in time became its director, and fell under the spell of Palestine to the extent that he lived almost the whole of the rest of his life there. Amongst his contributions to medicine was important research into malaria. He died in Jerusalem on 29th March 1943 and is buried in the protestant cemetery on Mount Zion,where his first wife also lies.

A community of ex-patriot Englishmen and their families grew up around the hospital, and Ernest involved himself in its activities with enthusiasm. As early as 1849 the British consul and his wife had formed the Jerusalem Literary and Scientific Society to serve the intellectual needs of the Bits abroad. This was the perfect circle for Ernest and he was an active member. When the society folded he hosted and chaired its final meeting on 10th November 1913.

The July 1910 Quarterly Statement of the Palestine Exploration Fund

In 1865 members of the Literary and Scientific Society donated capital to the tune of £300 to set up the Palestine Exploration Fund “for the purpose of investigating the archaeology, geography, manners, custom and culture, geology and natural history of the Holy Land.” This ridiculously broad scientific remit gave Ernest’s rigorous curiosity full scope and he wrote dozens of academic papers about the region. It is no surprise that he became secretary of the P.E.F. His eye-witness account of the capture by British forces of Jerusalem in 1917, then held by Ottoman and German troops, is an intelligent commentary, full of understanding of local history, custom and culture.

The archaeological activities of the P.E.F. seem particularly to have caught Ernest’s imagination, and soon after his arrival in Jerusalem he became close friends with the Irishman Robert Macallister, a pioneer of Palestinian archaeology, best known for his excavations at Gezer in Canaan (which made it the oldest positively identified biblical city). In 1900 Macallister in turn drew Masterman’s attention to a geological phenomenon, the changing levels of the Dead Sea.

The Masterman Rock at Ein Fescha by the Dead Sea

A compulsive scientist, Ernest immediately set about observing and recording the change. Starting in 1900 and then twice a year for the next thirteen years he carved a line on a rock at the water’s edge. Thus he literally made his mark on Palestine; and today you can see very clearly what he was observing and recording. Some twenty or thirty feet above the modern road along the shore of the Dead Sea you can still see Ernest’s first level of 1900, a horizontal line in the stone and the initials PEF.

Saturday 9 February 2013


Talfourd Salter, a cousin of my great grandfather, was a working solicitor. Transcriptions of a number of his cases, argued at the Old Bailey in London, are available online. They’re little slices of life, verbatim accounts of cross-examination in trials from the poignant to the comical.

 The Old Bailey’s Central Criminal Court (pictured in 1856) 
where Talfourd Salter was counsel for the prosecution 
on 22nd February 1858

Talfourd, for example, was responsible for introducing a baby elephant as a surprise witness for the defence on one occasion. On another however, his counsel for the prosecution shed light on a sad domestic tragedy.

On 12th October 1845 Charlotte Winstanley and Francis Henry Law got married, in St Mary’s Church in the London burgh of Lambeth. Charlotte was 17, the daughter of a gaslamp lighter; Francis, a marble polisher, was the son of a soldier. Charlotte’s father, himself the son of a soldier, had received enough of an education to be able to read and write; but neither Charlotte nor Francis could do so – they each signed the wedding register with an unschooled “X”, their “mark.”

The record of the wedding of 
Francis Henry Law and Charlotte Winstanley

As far as I can be sure, those crosses are the only mark either of them has left. I can find no return for the couple in the next national census seven years later. The only other reference is the one in the archives of the Old Bailey. On 22nd February 1858 Talfourd Salter conducted the prosecution of Francis, who was accused of the murder of Charlotte.

Six weeks earlier on 12th January (it was a Tuesday) the couple came home from the pub (it was midday), “both” (as one witness put it) “in liquor, the prisoner very much so, the deceased not so much.” Charlotte was however “very aggravating that morning,” and as the drunken Francis tried to focus on dusting the goods in his shop he asked her repeatedly to be quiet. They quarreled, and he told her that, “if she did not hold her noise, he would smash her head.” It was a red rag to a tipsy bull. “Do it,” she sneered. “Do it.”

Francis grabbed a five-pint tin saucepan with his right hand and lunged at her. She ducked, but he left a shallow cut about an inch and a quarter long on Charlotte’s left temple. Now reeling, she went for him with the lid of the pan which had fallen off as Francis swung it. A visitor Thomas Wise restrained her; the fight was over and already Francis was full of remorse. As Talfourd established in cross-examination, Francis called to his brother upstairs, “William, run and fetch Mrs Johnson. I’ve cut Charlotte’s head and I think it’s serious, and I’m sorry for it.”

A saucepan and lid of the type used

Thomas and William took Charlotte at once to a chemist who bandaged her wound and, as he told Talfourd in court, changed the dressing five times over the next nine days. Francis, witnesses affirmed, was attentive and kind throughout that period – indeed William testified that “during the whole of their married life they lived on most excellent terms.” For her part Charlotte told anyone who asked about the bandage that she had banged her head getting coal in.

The Laws went every Thursday to the theatre. Two days after the fight Thomas went with them and reported that Charlotte seemed better, although against the advice of both the chemist and Francis that “she ought not to go to the public house afterwards, she went in and had a glass of gin after we came from the theatre.” She was out again the following Tuesday at a raffle where, perhaps from vanity or discomfort, she did not wear her bandage. At the theatre that Thursday 21st January she looked a little worse.

Beer good, gin bad: 
William Hogarth’s engravings from 1751 still seem relevant in 1858

The demon drink and the removal of her dressing were Charlotte’s undoing. The wound became infected and Charlotte contracted erysipelas. She’d had it before; as Dr John Payne, who began to treat her on the 22nd, testified: “Some persons are more predisposed to it than others. Being given to drinking is one of the most common causes of it – I should call her a person singularly predisposed to erysipelas.”

The condition causes fever, vomiting and a painful orange-peel blistering of the skin, which spread not from her wound but from Charlotte’s neck across her face. It’s also known, because of this symptomatic rash, as holy fire, and in the most severe cases it leads to necrotizing fasciitis – the so-called flesh-eating bug. After nine days Charlotte died of the holy fire on Sunday 31st January 1858.

The consensus was that although the cut from the saucepan might have exacerbated the erysipelas, it was itself, as Dr Payne put it, “very slight.” “Such a wound,” the chemist John Wade concurred, “would not cause death.” “She died of erysipelas,” the doctor stated, “and I think the wound had very little to do with it.” Talfourd Salter didn’t press the charge of “feloniously killing and slaying Charlotte Law,” and Francis Henry Law was acquitted. And with that, Francis and Charlotte disappeared from history. Charlotte's father died a year later.

Many thanks to Diane, descended from Charlotte’s uncle Samuel, for her help in piecing together this sad story.

Saturday 2 February 2013


I wrote here recently about my 29x great aunt Gundreda de Gournay, who was a great granddaughter of William the Conqueror. Believe it or not, it only occurred to me afterwards that – since I am descended from her brother Walter – I too must be a descendent of the man who invaded England in 1066. D’oh!

My ancestral Gurney line stretches back quite convincingly nearly 1100 years to my 35x great grandfather Eudes. Eudes was a Viking, a follower of Viking leader Rollo the Dane, to whom in 912 the battle-weary French king Charles the Simple ceded a daughter Gisèle in a marriage-for-peace settlement, along with lands in northern France – lands still known as the Norseman’s lands, the Norman’s lands,  Normandy. 

Charles the Simple gives his daughter Gisèle to Rollo in marriage (from a 14th century manuscript)

Rollo in turn rewarded Eudes with land of the Pays de Bray in Normandy. It suggests that Eudes wasn’t a particularly close follower: Bray comes from the same Gallic root as brackish, and means a swampy, muddy marsh. 

Nevertheless Eudes stuck at it and his son Hugh was the first man to fortify the already ancient village of Gournay-en-Bray. Hugh’s son Renaud de Gournay was the first on record to adopt the village name as his own.

11th century decoration on a column in St Hildevert’s Church, Gournay-en-Bray (otherwise rebuilt after fire destroyed most of Gournay in 1174)

The Norman Gurneys arrived in England with Gundreda’s great grandfather (Renuad’s grandson, my 31x great grandfather) Hugh de Gournay, one of the Conqueror’s most senior commanders. Hugh, with his son also called Hugh, fought alongside William at the Battle of Hastings, bringing with him “numerous forces that did great execution amongst the English” according to one 19th century historian. He benefited from the distribution of conquered lands just as Eudes had done before. In Hugh’s case he was given Yarmouth in Norfolk, and Gurneys have been an important family in that county ever since.

But remarkably, 1066 was not Hugh de Gournay’s first visit to England with a Norman invasion force. Thirty years earlier he led a Norman fleet in another assault on British shores.

A Norman fleet (from the Bayeux Tapestry)

King Cnut (he of the waves story) died in 1035. He ruled much of Scandinavia and England and his passing triggered several contests for the various crowns which he had vacated. Cnut had won the English throne after defeating the Saxon incumbent Edmund Ironside (son of Aethelred the Unready) in 1016. In 1036 a certain prince Edward hired Norman mercenaries to get it back for the Saxons.

The Norman force, in ships under Hugh de Gournay’s command, landed somewhere near Southampton. The attempt was, at least at this stage, unsuccessful. After a small skirmish in the area Hugh, Edward and the rest of the troops returned to Normandy. Hugh pursued a successful military career there before having another crack at England with William in 1066.

Edward the Confessor and William the Conqueror 
(from the Bayeux Tapestry)

This Edward was in fact the future Edward the Confessor (a son of Aethelred’s second marriage), who spent his early life in exile in Normandy as a king of England in waiting, and finally ascended the English throne in 1042. It was his death in 1066 which triggered the events leading up to Hugh’s return with William later that year at Hastings. So my 31x great grandfather Hugh de Gournay fought for two of the great early English kings, Edward the Confessor and William the Conqueror (who as it turns out is another of my 31x great grandfathers!).
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