Archive for the ‘John F. M. Dovaston’ Category

DURING Gerard’s visit to Shrewsbury in September 2012, dropping into Shropshire Archives yielded a fascinating encounter with the turn of phrase of John Clavering Wood’s good friend, John Freeman Milward Dovaston (1782-1854), via a collection of letters written to Rev Thomas Archer (1780-1843) spanning 1805-35. The letters coincide with the years when Archer was a single man in Oxford, through his marriage and the arrival of children, to his incumbency at Whitchurch, near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire.

A sketch of "Crazy Jack" Dovaston by Scottish artist James William Giles, Aug 1842. From ‘Two old Shropshire naturalists’, Forrest (1910) in Transactions of the Caradoc and Severn Valley Field Club, page 128

A sketch of “Crazy Jack” Dovaston by Scottish artist James William Giles, Aug 1842. From ‘Two old Shropshire naturalists’, Forrest (1910) in Transactions of the Caradoc and Severn Valley Field Club, page 128

The series begins with Dovaston’s letter of 20 June 1805 to Rev Archer, then at St Aldates’ Oxford. Dovaston, aged 23 years, is holidaying from the Temple at Stamford in Lincolnshire with Octavius Gilchrist (1779–1823), man of letters and an antiquary.

Dovaston protests his juvenile knowledge of the law: “For as yet I am but the lag in the lower form, and little skilled in the soft phrase of courts,” and refers to Shropshire as “his father’s house”.

Dovaston requests Archer to visit him: “If you come on horseback (which I should prefer), I wlll meet you at any intermediate town on the other side of Birmingham…” He signs it, “a rolling stone gathers no moss”.
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In Letter 1422/4, addressed to Archer at Shutford, near Banbury, Oxon, Dovaston expresses the “pleasures of anticipation from an obscure village in Shropshire”, and mentions his own birthday (30 Dec) as “unpolluted with the tinsel of ephemeral frivolities…”

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On 31 March 1808, Dovaston’s father (also John) died at West Felton. Later that year on 15 October, writing from West Felton, Dovaston addresses a letter to Rev Archer of Whitchurch Vicarage, Bucks, appealing for a visit, and embarrassed about being so long in writing:

‘Tis seldom that I am in a letter writing humour, and when in that humour, still more seldom in a letter writing condition, being perhaps far from pens, ink and paper, three sine qua nons (more Arabic) to the writing of letters. Should you ever chance (or if you do not chance, you must) to come into Shropshire because do not forget a little hut(?) at West Felton near Shrewsbury, where one Jack Dovaston is governor — Here are beds, etc, etc. etc, for you and yours, tho’ I go and lie in the pig sty, or with any other learned brethren elsewhere.

Cannot you come this winter? or next Summer? or when? We have organs for you to play on, churches for you to preach in (with ample room for reformation), plants for you to gaze at, ditches to search insects in, apparatus for philosophy, shops for your mechanical powers, stars for you to admire (equal to any in Oxford) and above all, good roast beef, good ale and excellent pipes and tobacco.

Come along, come along, what the devil would you have more? What, why a hearty welcome to make use of them, in the company of your friend and real well wisher, John FM Dovaston (1422/5)

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Plaque to Dovaston

JFM Dovaston inherited the Nursery from his father. The estate and dwelling near Oswestry no longer remain. (Photo: G Benjamin)

On 10 June 1809 from West Felton, D writes: “…yet my wish is selfish – for what prompts my wish for you to come, is the pleasure you will give your friend.”

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In 1813, Archer is now incumbent at Whitchurch, Aylesbury and on 1 June 1813 (1422/8), writing from West Felton, Dovaston makes the only mention of Wood in this series of letters – namely Gerard’s ancestor John Clavering Wood (1778-1835) – when he says:

Dear Archer, Tho’ Wood is my neighbour (and we country folks call each of them neighbours tho’ fifteen miles apart), I have not seen him since Shakespeare’s birthday, which I must perhaps tell you, was the 23rd April. I have but little doubt but he received your very kindly sent parcel of the plants from Oxford; and I enclosed to him your letter to me about them, but he has not answered me. When I see him, depend on it, I will JAW him about it.

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In a particularly reflective mood, Dovaston’s Letter of  27 November 1828 (1422/9) provides a summary of his life… There’s more rumination in the letter of 24 March 1829 when he writes, “I had and have multitudinous pegs whereon to hang the rich drapery of memory…” and later (7 July 1830), “My life has had a great deal more shine than shower…”

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3 August 1832:

We kept the 23rd April as usual [Shakespeare’s birthday], for (I think) the 25th time, and among others drank your health with cordial conviviality – and last Friday this day week, our merry Festival on the heights of the Breidden Mountain was celebrated (during a solar eclipse) on one of the finest days of this fine summer. I have never once missed that Festival for upwards of forty years. The lasses were very gay, and the gallants very merry and we kept it up at that altitude till nearly midnight. I was the senior member present, and they brought me roaring down the mountain like old Silenus amid his nymphs and bacchanals. … That mountain is the most noted in all Britain for the greatest number of the rarest plants. Some are exclusively peculiar to that habitat.

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Dovaston makes mention of the disease, the Collaring Morpheus, and the series ends with the letter of 7 January 1835 (1400/21) with:

Within these last three years, Death has made sad havock among mine: I have lost seven – not common acquaintances – but of the dearest, brightest, and best of men God ever made for friendship, men of my own age, that I had known and loved from infancy….

On 24 June, JC Wood of Marche Hall also passed away, thus adding to Dovaston’s ‘sad havock’. On 22 May 1843, the following entry appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine (p. 214):

Clergy Deceased: At Whitchurch, Bucks, aged 63, the Rev. Thomas Archer, Vicar of that Parish. He was of Peterhouse, Cambridge, M.A. 1807, and was presented to Whitchurch in 1812 by Lord Chancellor Eldon.


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Round and About West FeltonTHE diarist of A Shropshire Squire, John Clavering Wood (1778-1835) was a regular visitor to “The Nursery”, the West Felton estate of his friend John F. M. Dovaston, and one of their common interests was trees!

One tree – in particular, a cutting from ‘Shakespeare’s crab apple tree’ at Bidford (west of Stratford) under which the Bard is said to have spent a night – is the subject of our article in the current parish magazine Round and About West Felton, edited by Patricia Mabe.

The striking photo on the issue’s front cover is Dovaston’s home ‘The Nursery’ (courtesy of Phil Dovaston, NZ), though it had been significantly added to by subsequent Dovaston owners.

Sadly, the home and its well-stocked garden are no more, but at least a little part of it grew at Shakespeare’s birthplace for almost 100 years. Read the article.

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Three Letters from LiverpoolA TIP kindly provided by London researcher Janet Freeman inspired an enquiry to the Liverpool Record Office’s Roscoe collection. The happy result was finding three letters from Capt. William Wood, the father of diarist J. C. Wood of Marche Hall, addressed to William Roscoe (1753–1831) of Liverpool.

An historian, writer and parliamentarian, Roscoe actively denounced the African slave trade upon which so much of Liverpool’s wealth was sustained.

While the full text of the letters is yet to be received, the brief summaries indicate that Capt. Wood was discussing politics with Roscoe, as well as wishing to introduce a ‘young friend’ who wrote poetry (1812). This would have been none other than his son’s close friend, John F.M. Dovaston (1782-1854) of West Felton near Oswestry.

The letters will provide further facets to the intriguing slice of Salopian life depicted in A Shropshire Squire. No doubt there are many more letters of Capt. W. Wood and his son John Clavering Wood in library collections elsewhere… How wonderful it would be to discover them!!!

Read the Roscoe family story here.

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Shropshire Squire on the ShelfTHE very successful launch of A Shropshire Squire took place in Oswestry (17 miles NW of Shrewsbury and 190 miles NW of London) on Wednesday evening 9 June 2010.

Convened by the Oswestry and Border History and Archaeology Group (OBHAG), and held at Booka Bookshop and Cafe, Church Street, almost 40 book lovers honoured the debut of John Clavering Wood’s diary and letters, which were written almost 200 years ago.

This event would not have taken place but for a remarkable coincidence in Brisbane six months before and the impetus of Mrs Lyn O’Connor, a long-term local resident and wife of the late Professor Brian O’Connor of the Oswestry Orthopaedic Hospital.

Oswestry Launch of Shropshire SquireThe event was all the more surprising considering that the guest speakers, the book’s editors Gerard and Gloria, were unable to be present. Undaunted, the OBHAG organisers declared that ‘the show must go on’. Mrs O’Connor, the only person in Shropshire who had met the editors, hosted a get-together two evenings before the launch to ensure that introductions began before the main event.

On the night, Booka Bookshop’s Carrie and Tim Morris arranged the venue beautifully with a superlative display and excellent food. As the guests arrived, many discovered that they had acquaintances and connections in common.

Following a brief welcome by OBHAG chairwoman Irene Milhench, Mrs O’Connor’s Speech outlined the Wood family’s Antipodean connections, and the chance Brisbane meeting between her daughter Tamsin and the editors who lived nearby. Derrick Winter chose the short straw of being Gerard’s stand-in for the evening and read Gerard’s speech that had been e-mailed from Brisbane a week earlier.

More from Oswestry Launch of Shropshire SquireLooming large in the book is the personality of the diarist’s close friend, John F. M. Dovaston, poet, musician and natural historian of West Felton (3 miles from Oswestry). As a result, an enthusiastic contingent of West Felton residents came to the launch, including Pat Mabe, the editor of the West Felton Magazine, and Kirsten Nicholas, Mrs O’Connor’s elder daughter. Perhaps the fresh glimpse of Dovaston which is offered by A Shropshire Squire will engender new interest in this ‘almost-forgotten romantic poet’.  Jessie Hanson, an historian and Oswestry-resident who attended the launch, expressed surprise that more work had not previously been done on Dovaston.

Other attendees included Derek Williams, librarian at the Local History Centre, Oswestry Library, as well as historian and author, John Pryce-Jones, who were able to correlate some events and names from the book with current locations and family connections. Other visitors had a stronger interest in J.C. Wood’s Marche estate (near Westbury) where Gerard’s Wood forebears lived from ca. 1800 to 1891, especially since the Hall and the Manor still stand.

Four extracts from the book were read. Jessie Hanson recited the story about the fumes from the Hanwood bleaching factory. Derrick Winter, being a former chemistry teacher, correctly identified the rogue substance as chlorine. Kirsten Nicholas read the piece about the death of Squire Wood’s faithful dog Tan-Terry which left everyone a little teary. Assuming Dovaston’s voice, in order to read two extracts from his letters, were Gwyneth Winter and Pat Mabe.

Making the journey from Shrewsbury were Laurence le Quesne and his wife Mary, both having previously had Australian sojourns. Laurence kindly penned the book’s Foreword.

SFHS Open Day on 5 June 2010

At the Shropshire Family History Society's Open Day on 5 June 2010, Chris Abram displayed pre-launch copies of "A Shropshire Squire".

On behalf of the editors, a copy of A Shropshire Squire will be presented to Oswestry School by Kirsten Nicholas (a former teacher there), in recognition of John Dovaston’s having been a pupil in the 1790s. In addition, Laurence le Quesne will deliver a copy to the Shrewsbury School where Dovaston finished his schooling (and where the diarist’s son John Wood may have done as well).

The editors are assured that the key players in Shropshire derived a great deal of pleasure from this interesting project. Sincere thanks to them all for their hard work in the weeks leading up to the event and on the evening itself. Needless to say, this comprehensive account would not have been possible except for the first-rate ‘go-betweening’ fulfilled by Tamsin O’Connor of New Farm, Brisbane, along with a report by Derrick Winter and photos from Tam Hazan and Chris Abram.

As for Oswestry’s Booka Bookshop, the consensus is that it is a great asset to the community, and long may it flourish!

Following the February debut of Tom Hurstbourne or A Squatter’s Life, the launch of A Shropshire Squire completes the unique milestone of two books by the same-named John Clavering Wood (grandson and grandfather) being published in the same year.

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