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Saturday 31 May 2014


I’m descended in one branch of my family from the Mudies of Dundee. Their most prominent ancestor is Sir Thomas Mudie, who was Provost of the city from 1648 to 1653 (some sources say 1650-1658).

The Provost is the Scottish equivalent of the Mayor in English towns and cities. The title is a legacy of the so-called auld alliance, the traditionally close relationship between Scotland and France. In France, the prévôt was (before the French Revolution) the man in charge of the administrative and legal affairs of a burgh. The title was adopted in Scotland, where the office-bearer was normally the senior magistrate and leader of a town council.

The present Provost of Dundee, Bob Duncan. The present chain of office dates from 1872; the previous one (perhaps the one worn by Sir Thomas Mudie) was long enough to be coiled several times around the shoulders of the Provost

The Provost was the highest civil authority in the town; the Governor was senior to the Provost, responsible for the town’s military defence. In 1651, during Sir Thomas’s provostship, the Governor was Sir Robert Lumsden. It was Lumsden therefore, and not Mudie, whose duty it was to negotiate with the armies of Oliver Cromwell when they laid siege to Dundee in August that year.

Since the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when James VI of Scotland succeeded Queen Elizabeth and became James I of England, England and Scotland had shared a monarch from a Scottish royal house. The parliaments of the two countries however remained separate and independent.

The House of Stuart: L-R, James VI/I, Charles I, and Charles II – Scottish kings of England

James VI/I was succeeded by his son Charles I; and when the English parliamentarians fought a civil war against King Charles, the Scottish parliament remained royalist in sympathy. When Oliver Cromwell beheaded Charles I, the Scots put their weight behind his son Charles II.

Cromwell was not a man to tolerate dissent. He dispatched the New Model Army under General George Monck, which advanced through Scotland occupying town after town until it reached Dundee in August 1651. In the sweltering heat of a high Scottish summer, they laid siege to the town in an attempt to starve its population into submission.

General Sir George Monck (1608-1670)

Dundee was one of the most securely fortified towns in Scotland. Its walls were so thick that nobles from all over Scotland, and the Scottish parliament itself, kept their money in Dundee rather than in their own castles or towns. So when after two weeks of siege General Monck called on Sir Robert Lumsden to surrender, Sir Robert felt confident enough of his military position to reject the demand outright. Instead he called on Monck to surrender to him, a cheeky move which may have goaded Monck into the ensuing action.

On the morning of the 1st September Monck breached the city walls after a three-hour long bombardment. The New Model Army swarmed in and captured the town within thirty minutes of entering it. Lumsden and his officers were surrounded in the tower of St Mary’s Church and offered honourable terms on which to surrender. They did so and were promptly killed.

The Siege of Dundee, by Charles Gustav Louise Phillips (1924), depicts Sir Robert Lumsden’s last stand in the tower of St Mary’s Church

Monck gave his troops license to rape, loot and murder for twenty four hours, but such was the killing frenzy which possessed them that it took the general three days to bring them back under control. Figures are hard to estimate, but it is said that between a fifth and a third of the population was slaughtered. To this day, excavations in the city centre throw up newly discovered bones.

The town's treasury was loaded onto ships and lost at sea in a storm. The English army remained in Dundee for nine years. Lumsden’s head, still wearing its helmet, was displayed on the church steeple, and according to legend only fell from its perch in 1660 – the year the English soldiers left, the year the monarchy was restored in England and the year Sir Thomas Mudie died.

How did Thomas survive the massacre? Did he hide in his Provost’s mansion in Gray’s Close? Did he collaborate? He remained in office for two, perhaps seven years after Dundee fell. Did his religion save him? Monck had every single Catholic in Dundee put to the sword or stoned to death. But Sir Thomas was a devout Protestant in a town now controlled by a nation in the grip of protestant, puritan zeal. An anti-Catholic pamphlet, probably published in the 1650s, was dedicated to him by its author, the theologian William Guild of Aberdeen:
An ANSWER to a
Popish Pamphlet
made especially out of themselves.
the provost
and other magistrates of Dundee.
With that sort of testimonial, perhaps not even Butcher Monck was confident enough to slay Sir Thomas Mudie.

Gray’s Close, Dundee, in which Thomas Mudie’s Provost’s Mansion once stood (pictured c1925); mansion, close and city walls have all disappeared completely now

Saturday 24 May 2014


My 8x great grandfather Austin Cooper, Austin the Settler as he is known in the family, was the first Cooper in my family tree to settle in Ireland, which he did in 1661. His father held a position in the court of Charles I and Austin’s children were all born at Hampton Court, the royal palace on the Thames. At Hampton Court Austin married his bride, my 8x great grandmother Mary Dodson. Mary was a niece of the great Irish educational philanthropist Erasmus Smith, my 10x great uncle.

Erasmus Smith (1611-1691)
merchant, philanthropist

Austin remained a royalist during the English Civil War, and his move to Ireland despite the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 was the result of his having bought property from a Cromwellian officer (the real estate equivalent of sleeping with the enemy). Erasmus Smith on the other hand was a staunch republican, a shrewd merchant who supplied Cromwell’s armies with food rations, particularly during those armies’ ruthless campaigns of suppression in Ireland. One can’t help wondering how Austin and Erasmus got on.

While Austin the Settler had to sell up in England for only £1500 and start from scratch in Ireland, his uncle-in-law Erasmus amassed vast estates there. Erasmus received 666 acres of confiscated Irish land from a cash-strapped Cromwell, in lieu of payment for his services to the army. Many English officers in the same position were very happy to sell him their unwanted Irish land for ready money. By the time of his death his original 666 acres had been expanded to the tune of some 19,000 acres.

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) (1656, painted by Samuel Cooper, no relation)
and Charles II (1630-1685) (c1670, painted by Peter Lely)

After the restoration, when Charles II was installed on the throne, Erasmus Smith – unlike Austin Cooper – was able to retain his Cromwellian holdings. One of the keys to his success was an annual £100 donation to Charles II’s favourite school, Christ’s Hospital (now in Sussex, but from 1552 to 1901 in London itself). He also won favour by his establishment in 1669 of an educational Trust, funded by part of the income from the Irish estates. Such a charitable act, he convinced his former enemies, could hardly be rewarded by the confiscation of the very estates which funded the charity.

Erasmus was a pious protestant, who believed – like many of the protestant dominations which emerged during Cromwell’s regime – that education was the key to godliness. He was convinced that the Irish rebellion of 1641 (whose suppression his rations fuelled) was the result of poor education.

Erasmus Smith’s idea of education was to teach children “fear of God and good literature and to speak the English tongue.” To this end he put money into two existing Dublin institutions, Trinity College and the Kings’s Hospital School; and founded three grammar schools, at Templemore, Galway and Drogheda.

Templemore Christian Brothers School
formerly Erasmus Smith’s Grammar School (building of c1820)

Drogheda had been the scene of one of the worst of Cromwell’s atrocities in 1649, a massacre of thousands of Catholic Irish men, women and children in which I’m sorry to say another of my 8x great grandfathers General Hugh Massy may have had a hand. The memory of the event was still fresh and raw when Erasmus established Drogheda Grammar School only twenty years after it; excluding Catholic children from it cannot have helped local feeling.

Galway Grammar School (building of 1807)
after its restoration by Yeats College in 2006

Of Erasmus Smith’s three grammar schools, Templemore in Tipperary is now a Catholic school run by the Christian Brothers. Galway’s closed in 1958, but the derelict building has recently been restored and now forms part of Yeats College. Drogheda Grammar School is now run on Quaker principles for children of all faiths and none. It will celebrate the 340th anniversary of its opening in 2019.

Drogheda Grammar School’s former premises, the two red-brick buildings in which Samuel Cooper was a schoolboy. They were built 1730-1740 and demolished in 1989. The school moved to a new rural campus in 1976 (picture from

In the 1760s when Drogheda Grammar School was approaching its first centenary, one of its pupils was my 4x great grandfather Samuel Cooper (1750-1831), great great grandson of Austin the Settler. Samuel could have called Erasmus his 6x great uncle, and I wonder if he was aware of the relationship. Probably not, after four generations – but when Samuel grew up, he became a professional estate manager; and amongst his portfolio were the estates of the Erasmus Smith Schools Trust.

Saturday 17 May 2014


My 3x great uncle Joseph Angus was, like his father in law William Brodie Gurney before him, a central figure in several Baptist institutions in the nineteenth century. Like Gurney, Angus was heavily involved in the missionary work of the denomination as secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society; but like all Baptists, Angus saw education as the key to redemption, to self-improvement and therefore to making oneself more useful in the service of God.

Joseph Angus (1816-1902)
unknown artist

His greatest achievement was as head of Stepney Baptist College which trained young men to be ministers. Angus and his closest friend, my great great grandfather William Augustus Salter (1812-1879), trained there in the 1830s. Angus returned to lead the institution in 1849 and remained in that post until 1893. Under his leadership the college thrived and in 1856 moved from the east end of London to Regent’s Park in the centre of the city.

It continues today as Regent’s Park College, Oxford, and Joseph’s books still form the heart of its Angus Library, the largest collection of Baptist literature in the world. (For example it’s the only place I know that has a copy of the sermon delivered by their old college head Rev WH Murch at William Augustus’s inauguration as minister.)

Rev Joseph Angus (bearded) and Rev William Augustus Salter (seated) on the occasion of the marriage of Salter’s daughter Louisa in 1867 – both men conducted the wedding service

Through his position at Regent’s Park he was invited in 1859 to be an examiner in English at London University, which both he and William Augustus had attended as students. He served for ten years as examiner but seems to have given that up when, in 1870, he was elected as a representative for Marylebone on the new London Schools Board.

It is astonishing that it is still less than 150 years since the education of our children became a public obligation. The Elementary Education Act of 1870 made it possible (but not compulsory) for local boroughs to build schools and insist on the attendance of children. London was unique in creating a single board to oversee all its boroughs, and the LSB was the first directly elected body of any kind (not just education) to serve the whole of the city.

In its original form the LSB lasted only 34 years, but the systems and values established during its lifetime continued to influence the provision of education in London long afterwards. Members were elected every three years, and Joseph Angus served on the Board for 12 of those 34 years in three spells (1870-1873, 1876-1882 and 1894-1897).

The London School Board in session in 1895 during Joseph Angus’s last term as a member – he may be the white-bearded figure in the middle row on the right of the picture

The LSB was absorbed into the new London County Council in 1904; and in 1965 when LCC became the Greater London Council education became the responsibility of the new Inner London Education Authority. The ILEA became a stronghold of the left-wing trade union movement, a thorn in the side of several Conservative council regimes and a political battlefield for competing liberal ideologies. In a move driven entirely by politics rather than educational ideology it was abolished by Norman Tebbit and Michael Heseltine of Margaret Thatcher’s right-wing government in 1990. For the first time in London’s history, education provision was devolved to local borough level, where it remains today.

The present Conservative-led coalition has encouraged the further dissipation of education provision through so-called free schools which opt out of local education authority control. It’s a return to the situation of 1870 where local school boards only topped up the voluntary provision of places by local churches. As I write the government is also calling for the privatisation of child protection services, a shocking abdication of responsibility to our children which Joseph Angus and the other founders of the London School Board would have condemned as I do.

The monogram of the London Schools Board, which built over 400 schools in London and by 1890 provided 350,000 places for school children

Saturday 10 May 2014


My ancestral cousin Talfourd was a lawyer whose Old Bailey caseload has been the source of a few articles on this blog. He was moderately successful and lived at least the last ten years of his life in a mansion of sorts in the leafy London suburb of Twickenham. It is more likely that he rented rooms in it than that he owned the mansion outright.

Its address was Pope’s Garden, and I had always assumed that the name was a reference to some historical connection to Catholicism. In fact it’s built on the site of the celebrated garden of the poet Alexander Pope.

Pope’s Garden, Twickenham, built in 1864
(picture from the builder’s prospectus)

In 1713 Alexander Pope (1688-1744) began the translation of Homer’s works for which he would become most famous. Published in parts between 1715 and 1720, it made him a wealthy man, and in 1719 he bought land by the Thames in Twickenham. On it he built a villa owing much to the prevailing Palladian style of the age, inspired by the classical architecture of Homer’s Greece.

In its cellar he constructed a grotto, a fantastical cave decorated with crystals and mineral specimens (including pieces of the Giant’s Causeway and stalagmites from Wookey Hole). During construction they stumbled on a spring, a happy accident which allowed the warren of tunnels to be filled with the sound of trickling water.

Pope’s Grotto, sketched in 1786 by Samuel Lewis

Pope described the grotto in a letter to a friend:
When you shut the Doors of this Grotto, it becomes on the instant, from a luminous Room, a Camera Obscura, on the walls of which all the objects of the River, Hills, Woods, and Boats, are forming a moving Picture…And when you have a mind to light it up, it affords you a very different Scene: it is finished with Shells interspersed with Pieces of Looking-glass in angular Forms…at which when a Lamp…is hung in the Middle, a thousand pointed Rays glitter and are reflected over the place.

The grotto was famous, and much imitated in country houses throughout Britain. It continued to attract visitors after Pope’s death, and in 1808 Baroness Howe (the then owner of the villa) demolished the house in an effort to deter souvenir hunters and vandals. Subsequently two new houses were built on the site, mercifully preserving the cellar grotto beneath.

Pope’s Grotto in 2012

Over time parts of Pope’s gardens, which ran from the grotto down to the banks of the Thames, were sold off for further building development. A pub called Pope’s Grotto was built on one corner in 1852. Pope's Garden, the building in which Talfourd lived, was erected on the former lawn between the grotto and the river in 1864.

He must surely have visited both the pub and the grotto itself, and as an educated man he certainly read Pope’s Iliad at school. I don’t have Talfourd Salter’s copy; but I do have an 1834 pocket edition which once belonged to my great great aunt Margaret Merrifield’s great uncle Victor William Charles Ferdinand DeGaudrion.

The Iliad of Homer, translated by Alexander Pope, Esq., printed and published by J.F. Dove of St John’s Square, London; another page is inscribed "Victor William Charles Ferdinand DeGaudrion, Southampton 1834, aged 12 years"

Twickenham suffered from heavy bombing during the Second World War. In 1941, Talfourd’s old home was damaged beyond repair in one air raid; and in 1944 the pub was destroyed in another. Pope’s Garden was eventually demolished in 1954, and a new pub, still there today as the Alexander Pope Hotel, was built on the site of the old one in 1959.

Pope’s Garden in a ruinous state in 1954, just before its demolition
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