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Saturday 26 April 2014


Our old dog used to have what we called a Mad Hour, every day at around 6pm. She would race excitedly from room to room, claws clattering on the old wooden floors of our cottage, pursued half-heartedly by her lumbering humans until we all collapsed in a heap in front of the log stove. It was utterly pointless but exhilarating for her and us, a release of all the discipline and control of our lives the rest of the day. She was a collie, a sheep dog, wired for obedient activity, bred to move only on the shepherd’s whistle. The Mad Hour was her Letting-Go time.

A dog with a bone - Maddy (1993-2005)

I’ve been doing some Bad Genealogy lately, my own Mad Hour. Like all Bad Things it’s not to be encouraged, but it’s been exciting to indulge in. I’ve been allowing myself some wild speculation for a change instead of the usual responsible, painstaking, dogged pursuit of correlated, checkable hard facts. The hard work of the latter is more rewarding in the long run because it deals in accurate truth; but the liberating What-If of the former is a chance to burn off some researcher steam on days and weeks when the facts are just not turning up.

I’ve been stuck at my 5x great grandfather John Gavine (1766-1839), a weaver from Forfar in Angus, Scotland. His is the generation of Gavines that takes me back into the eighteenth century, when records are much less complete. Regular British population censuses, for example, only began in 1841, two years after John’s death.

In the search for any concrete evidence of his parents, I have been casting my net ever wider, searching the birth, marriage and death records in ever increasing circles of space and time, until this week I have just started scooping up ANY Gavine who lived anywhere in Angus or neighbouring Kincardineshire at ANY time.

Scotland’s east coast north of Dundee – Angus, Kincardineshire and Aberdeenshire

I suppose that’s just Mad Genealogy – the Bad Genealogy is when you start to think, “Hmm, surely that Alexander Gavine born in such-a-year and in such-a-place is the same as this Alexander Gavine having children twenty-five years later twenty-five miles away?” It could be, but all you've got is coincidence, not proof.

The Mad Genealogy threw up some interesting results. There are distinct clusters of Gavines, groups of Gavine families living in Gavine hotspots up and down the east coast of Scotland. The Bad Genealogy was in starting to see patterns in the dates and places. I imagined that every time I extended my search another ten or twenty years back in time, the clusters moved a little further northwards towards Aberdeen.

Gavine clusters shown on Robert Dudley’s “Carte particolare della costa di Scotia”, produced in Florence c1647 (image from the Royal Scottish Geographical Society)

I told myself that this demonstrated a historic migration from Echt in Aberdeenshire at the start of the eighteenth century, to Arbuthnott and Inverkeilor in the mid-eighteenth, and into industrial Tayside around Monifieth and Dundee by the end of the century. I began to look for evidence to support this theory, searching for Gavines with dates and places that fit it and ignoring those that didn’t. The fact is that although the clusters exist, they have existed more or less simultaneously throughout my eighteenth century timescale. Sure, a James Gavine married in Monifieth in 1791; but another one got married there in 1678. Sure, William Gavine had a son in Aberdeenshire in 1706; but another one had a daughter there in 1800.

I fixed on one family, midway between Echt and Inverkeillor, which I told myself were part of the earliest stage of that migration. In the 1730s, one family of Gavines lived in the tiny scattered farming parish of Fetteresso, just inland from Stonehaven. Robert Gavine had at least two children born there, Elizabeth (b. 1732) and Robert junior.

From his children’s birthdates Robert senior must have been born around the turn of the century, before the Union of the Scottish and English crowns, before the Old and Young Pretenders, before the two rebellions, the ’15 and the ’45. He died young, on 14th July 1736, in Bogheadly, a township of two or three farms within Fetteresso. He probably did not live to see the birth of his son, who (the parish records show) was baptised on 15th September that year.

Bogheadly Farm, Fetteresso in Kincardineshire, from the south in 2008 (image from

Robert Gavine lived in an ancient landscape. Angus and Kincardine with their natural harbours and fertile soils formed one of the largest of the Pictish kingdoms during the first millennium AD. Nor were the Picts the first to appreciate the area’s qualities. James Smith, a farm labourer, was digging sand from a hillock to the southwest of the Bogheadly farmbuildings one day in October 1863. He stumbled on a stone kist (a small stone-age slab-lined grave 90cm by 60) containing a crouched burial, a beaker and a crescent necklace of black jet beads. The National Museums of Scotland describe the necklace as “an expensive prestige item for ostentatious display, imported from Yorkshire sometime between 2300 and 1800 BC.”

With my Bad Genealogy hat on, I could convince myself that I’ve traced my Gavine line back not just to its early eighteenth century ancestors in Bogheadly but beyond – to its Pictish forebears and to an ostentatious, bead-flaunting Gavine woman from 2300 BC. In reality of course I’m still stuck at my 5x great grandfather John. Good ancestors, bad genealogy. Mad hour over.

Incomplete jet necklace found in a kist burial at Bogheadly, Fetteresso in Kincardineshire (image from the National Museums of Scotland, who now hold the necklace in their collection)

Saturday 19 April 2014


Many of these articles take as their starting point one of the hundred or so letters written or received by my 3x great uncle Charles Castle of Bristol, preserved in his writing case and now, a hundred and fifty years later, in my keeping.

The correspondence builds up a picture of his character, his family and business associates, and his life both domestic and international. I only have one portrait of him, a stern, slightly pompous figure in a uniform; and there’s no way of knowing whether it captures the man at all. It’s lazy, but only natural, to assume that it does.

Captain Charles Castle (1813-1886)

I always refer to him in these articles as Captain, the rank he attained in October 1852, although in 1862, towards the end of his military career he was promoted to Second Major. He served in the Royal North Gloucester Militia, a periodic, non-professional regiment, the sort of unit that was the forerunner of today’s Territorial Army Reserves.

At the end of the eighteenth century it had been mobilised to deal with insurrection in Ireland; and in the early nineteenth it was stationed on the south coast of England against an expected French invasion. All this was before Charles Castle was born, and when the French were defeated at Waterloo in 1815 the regiment was mothballed for thirty seven years.

It was raised again in July 1852, at the outbreak of the Crimean War, and it must have been then that Charles signed up. No sooner was the Crimean action concluded than the Indian Mutiny broke out, and the North Gloucesters were pressed into service once again – not in India but in Ireland where they relieved regular troops which were required in the subcontinent.

The Band of the Royal North Gloucester Militia, marching in Cirencester in the 1860s

Charles was by now a prominent local businessman, a wine importer, a solicitor, and a Liberal campaigner. There’s no suggestion among his papers that he was among the six hundred men of the regiment who actually went to the Crimea to fight in two drafts in 1854 and 1856; or that he was himself posted to Dublin in 1857.

Perhaps he would have liked to go to war – he was still a batchelor (he married in 1861), and he may have felt he had missed out on the Crimean and Indian campaigns. The regiment was stood down again in 1858. In 1859 it is his name at the bottom of a printed invitation from Bristol Town Council summoning the city’s respectable citizens to a meeting:
Bristol, 24th January 1859
The MAYOR having had under consideration the propriety of forming a RIFLE CLUB or CORPS in this City, I am directed to request the favor [sic] of your attendance here at Two p.m. on Wednesday the 2nd February, to discuss the subject.
I am, Sir,
Yours obediently,

There was a new threat of French invasion, because France had discovered that an assassination attempt on the life of her emperor Napoleon III had used bombs made in Birmingham. Charles Castle’s initiative in Bristol was part of a wider national sentiment which resulted on the 12th May 1859 in the Secretary of State for War Jonathan Peel giving the go-ahead for the formation of volunteer rifle corps in every county, and of volunteer artillery corps in coastal towns.
 Felice Orsini, campaigning for the Union of Italy, tried to assassinate Napoleon III on 14th January 1858 with the backing of English radicals; one bomb exploded under the emperor’s coach, killing eight and wounding one hundred and fifty people (painting by the Italian artist Vittori Romano in 1862)

Charles wasted no time following Peel’s announcement. Only two days later he wrote to Daniel Burges, Bristol’s Town Clerk,
4 Carlton Place Mall
Clifton 14 May 1859
Dear Mr Town Clerk,
May I request the favour of your inserting my name in the list of men ready to form a Volunteer Rifle Corps in this City. This of course must be subject to my obtaining permission to hold a Commission at the same time I retain my Captaincy in the R.N.G.M. which I do not much doubt.
As I take great interest in its formation it will give me much satisfaction to afford any assistance in my power to the Mayor and yourself to promote its success and I should be ready to attach myself to a Rifle Battalion to perfect myself in the drill etc (which is rather different to ours) before the Bristol Corps is called out. This would enable me better to instruct others.
Believe me Dear Mr Town Clerk
Yours very truly
Charles Castle

There writes a man prepared to do whatever it takes to play his military part. Frustratingly there are no further references to the Rifle Corps in Charles’s papers. But given that the North Gloucesters were still inactive at the time of his promotion to Second Major in 1862, I’m inclined to think that he was elevated while on secondment to the Corps.

A Gloucestershire Rifles volunteer – two Corps were formed in the wake of Peel’s announcement, the 1st Gloucestershire (City of Bristol) Rifle Volunteers and the 2nd Gloucestershire Rifle Volunteers

In 1872 all militias and volunteer corps, which had been regulated by the Home Office, were placed more logically under War Office control. The Royal North Gloucester Militia became the reserve battalion for the 28th (North Gloster) Regiment, and, after a further restructuring exercise in 1881, simply the 4th Battalion of a new Royal Gloucestershire Regiment. Across the country the Volunteer Rifle Corps replaced the militias as reserve battalions for the new county regiments, a new level of legitimacy for Captain Castle’s Volunteers which he lived long enough to witness.

Saturday 12 April 2014


There is circumstantial evidence that my 5x great grandmother Jean Mudie (c1764-1842) is descended from the Mudies of Dundee, prominent merchants and guildsmen of that city. At this distance in time I may never be able to prove or disprove it. But if it’s true, I have in Charles Edward Mudie a cousin worth honouring.

Charles Edward Mudie (1818-1890)

Charles’s father was a stationer and bookseller in Dundee, a burgess of the city. But in 1810 at the age of twenty-nine he moved with his wife to London, opening new premises in Cheyne Row, just off the Chelsea Embankment. The shop prospered, selling newspapers and secondhand books, and the couple raised a family – Charles was born there in 1818 and in time entered the family business.

At the age of twenty-two Charles opened a new branch in Bloomsbury and began to publish books himself. In 1842 he started lending books to the impecunious students of the University of London nearby, charging them a guinea a year (£1.05) to borrow one book at a time. Thus Mudie’s Subscription Library was born.

Mudie’s Select Library

It was a huge success, and after ten years Mudie’s Select Library (as it was known) moved to larger premises at 509-511 New Oxford Street. Eight years later in 1860 those premises were themselves enlarged, and over time the company opened branches in the industrial centres of Northern England – in Birmingham, York and Manchester – although never as far north as his roots in Scotland.

Mudie’s buying power was immense. Emerging at the same time as WH Smith, he had a comparable influence on the publishing industry. He would not stock novels of what he considered dubious morality, which in turn influenced Victorian literary taste. On the other hand in 1859 he bought five hundred copies of Charles Darwin's newly published On the Origin of Species, thereby greatly contributing to the dissemination of Darwin’s theories.

First edition of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations (Chapman & Hall, London, 1861) in three volumes

In 1861 he bought almost the entire first edition, and most of the second, of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. The purchase illustrates another aspect of his influence on publishing practice. Novels were expensive, and generally beyond the financial reach of even the new middle classes. It was one of the reasons for the success of Mudie’s lending libraries - readers borrowed instead of buying. The publishing industry responded by issuing longer novels in parts, usually in three volumes which could be bought separately over time, as Great Expectations was. As well as increasing sales for the publisher, the three-volume novel or triple decker was also good for subscription libraries who could charge for three loans instead of one.

The triple decker disappeared almost overnight in 1894 when both WH Smiths and Mudie’s stopped stocking them. By then cheaper single volume editions of many works had begun to appear. Private subscription libraries were also under attack by then, from the rise of the public lending libraries of many town and county councils. As I wrote here recently, that’s what did for the Lewes Library Society in 1897.

Readers with armfuls of books outside Mudie’s Select Library Limited, in an illustration in London Society, 1869

Mudie’s, which had become a limited company in 1864, soldiered on until the 1930s before different reading habits, cheaper books and free public libraries finally killed off Charles Edward Mudie’s influential library model. Today, local libraries are closing at an alarming rate across Britain because of deep government cuts to council funding. Who’s to say we won’t see a return of private subscription libraries such as Mudie’s in the near future? Proud as I am of my possible cousin, I hope not.

Saturday 5 April 2014


Where are you, Jean Mudie? I know your name, your years of birth and death, your mother’s and father’s names (Ann, and James who died in 1776). I know your husband and your descendants for seven generations ending in me. I go back to you, but I can’t see where you came from.

Jean Mudie is one of my sixty-four 5x great grandmothers. I couldn’t put a name to most of the other sixty-three, so I suppose I should be quite pleased even to know hers. Hers was not a high family; and that far back, information is scarce. She was most probably a weaver like her husband John Gavine. He was born in Forfar, a weaving town in the county of Angus in Scotland, but moved to the nearby city of Dundee as a young man, perhaps in search of work. There he met and married Jean in 1792 at the age of 26, and there their four children were born.

A weaver and spinner in Dundee, with a loom and wheel of the sort in use at the end of the eighteenth century (photo: Dundee HeritageTrust)

John did well to catch a Mudie. The Mudie family were prominent merchants in the city for centuries – Sir Thomas Mudie was Provost (the Scottish equivalent of mayor) of Dundee from 1648 to 1653, and there’s a large Mudie population with its own plot in Dundee’s ancient burial ground, The Howff.

The Howff is considered one of the most important historical cemeteries in Scotland, some say second only to Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh. Like Greyfriars, the Howff sits on land once occupied by a Franciscan monastery, whose monks were known as grey friars from the colour of their habits. Both institutions were abolished by the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the Reformation in the late 1550s, and both were designated as new burial grounds for their respective cities in the early 1560s because the old ones were full.

The Howff, Dundee (picture by K.A. Laity from her splendid blog)

In Dundee the Franciscan church had been used by the city’s craft and trade guilds for assemblies. When the church was pulled down, they continued to meet on the site, and so the Greyfriars’ Yard became known as the Howff (the Scots word for a meeting place). One of the earliest references to such gatherings in the graveyard is for Dundee’s weavers. According to an article by the late Colin Gibson, the weavers are recorded as having "convenit within ye Holff and comowne burriall” on 13th June, 1585. (Holff is a variant spelling, Gibson notes, in the same way that Golf and Gowff are variants.) The now-demolished north wall of the yard used to carry the inscription “This is the braboners’ head roum.” Braboner is the old Scots word for a weaver.

The Howff was in use as a burial ground for three hundred years, from its designation by Mary Queen of Scots in 1564 to the last interment there in 1857. From early on the Mudies had their own "place" or plot there. Provost Sr Thomas Mudie was buried there in 1660, beneath the mortcloth. This "cloth of death" was available for rent from the city's Guildry to be draped over the coffins of its favourite sons and daughters, and the records still exist for its hire from 1655 to 1817. Each trade within the Guildry had its own mortcloth, although unfortunately the records don't show which cloth covered Sir Thomas. Ten other Mudies were similarly honoured.

The burial records for the Howff survive from the late seventeenth century onwards and in their transcribed form the entries for Mudies alone cover fourteen pages (compared to less than two for Gavines, for example). Amongst them there are some fifty references to Mudie weavers including, in 1772, the burial of Robert, son of James Mudie, weaver. Could this be an infant brother to Jean?

My head is full of Mudies and weavers and Howff burials. But the truth is, I don’t know what James Mudie did for work, or how or whether he and his daughter are related to the rest of the large extended Mudie family in Dundee. All I know is what I’ve told you, and in addition that both Jean and John Gavine are also buried in the Howff. There must be a connection somewhere!
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