Posts Tagged ‘Shropshire’

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”.
*   *   *
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…”

*   *   *

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)

*   *   *

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.”

*   *   *
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.

*   *   *

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…”

*   *   *
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.

*   *   *

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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Shrewsbury School

Now part of the Shrewsbury School, the large building overlooking the Severn River was once the House of Industry, with which Isaac Wood was closely connected. (Courtesy, Carmel Hazan)

Shrewsbury School

Gerard Benjamin and Mike Morrogh, in front of the Shrewsbury School’s building overlooking the River Severn.

HANGING on the wall of the study at Marche Manor was this modern sketch (pictured above) of the main building of the Shrewsbury School situated high on the riverbank overlooking the school’s rowing sheds and the River Severn.

This sketch was an unobtrusive reminder that the Woods – in particular Isaac Wood (1705-1801) – were connected to that particular building. Isaac Wood (brother of Capt Wood and uncle of the diarist JC Wood) was a prominent Shrewsbury citizen: watchmaker, editor of the “Salopian Journal”, and enthusiastic promoter of the Shrewsbury House of Industry.
The building was originally Dr Coram’s foundlings’ hospital, and later housed Dutch prisoners of war, before its incarnation as the Shrewsbury House of Industry in the 1790s, a literate protagonist of which was Isaac Wood.
Salop Fire Office

Salop Fire Office in Shrewsbury’s High Street. Isaac Wood was once secretary.

Salop Fire Office

A detail from the facade of the Salop Fire Office, established in 1780.

Unitarian Church

Also in the High Street is Shrewsbury’s Unitarian Church. As an aspiring preacher, Coleridge corresponded with church secretary, Isaac Wood.

Wood was also secretary to the Salop Fire Office, subscriber to the rebuilding of the town’s English bridge in 1765, and secretary to the Unitarian Church in Shrewsbury’s High Street. Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s letter to him of 1798, declining a preaching position at the church, has been preserved.

On 15 September 2012, I was kindly given a tour of Shrewsbury School by Dr Mike Morrogh, archivist and school historian.
The tour included a look at the old House of Industry and the magnificent view of the town and river that it commanded.
A copy of A Shropshire Squire is now part of the school library collection.
It’s worth noting that though the school only moved to its current site in 1882, the diarist’s nephew, novelist John Clavering Wood (1837-1910) was clearly familiar with the school’s reputation. Why else would he make it the alma mater of two key characters in his 1865 novel Tom Hurstbourne or a Squatter’s Life?
To learn more about Isaac Wood, see A Shropshire Squire.

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Hanwood Church

Hanwood: Stained Glass roundel memorializing William Wood of Marche Hall

I was sure that there was some memorial to the Wood family in the parish church at Hanwood, 4.5 miles from Shrewsbury and 8 miles from Marche Hall. The various memorials to the Warter family were prominent, diarist John Clavering Wood’s sister Emma (1783-1863) having married prominent nearby landowner, Henry Degory Warter (1771-1853). Their son, John Wood Warter (1806-78), married Edith Southey, daughter of Poet Laureate Robert Southey (brother-in-law of Coleridge).

Re-checking each memorial still yielded no Woods. I was almost about to give up the search when I spotted the stained glass window on the right hand side near the altar.
A painting of the church which hangs in St Mary's, Hanwood.

A painting of the church as it appeared in the 18th C which hangs in St Thomas’, Hanwood.

The wording read:

(inscribed round 5 medallions of scenes from the life of Christ.) In memory of William Wood, Esq., Marsh Hall, who died Dec 22nd, 1813, aged 68. Also of Esther Wood his wife, who died Sept. 21st, 1804. Also of Anne Wood his sister who died March 15th 1810. Also of John Clavering Wood, Esq. his son, who died June 24th, 1835, aged 57. Also of William Warter his grandson, who died June 27th, 1819, aged 1 year.

This window would have been installed some time after 1835 when John Clavering Wood died.

At the base of another window is a “Sacred to the Memory of…” commemoration to: “Henry Degory Warter who died on April 5th, 1853 and Emma S M Warter [nee Wood] his wife, who died on June 3rd 1863, and also also Charlotte Gertrude Warter, their daughter in law, who died August 28, 1854. The latter (nee Harries) was the first wife of their son, Rev Edward Warter (1811-1878) of Hanwood.

On the subject of funerary memorials, this well-worded “piae memoriae” (‘of pious memory’) in St Mary’s Church, Leyton in London, dating from ca 1626, honours Eliza Wood (nee Barker), the beloved wife of Tobias Wood (a likely ancestor of the Woods of Marche Hall):

Wayle not, my Wood, thy tree’s untymely fall;
They weare butt leaves the Autumn blast could spoyle;
The bark bound up, and some fayre fruit withal
Transplanted onely, shee exchanged her soyle
Shee is not dead; shee did but fall to rise,
And leave the Woods, to live in Paradise.
At the base of another window is a dedication to Emma  Warter (nee Wood), sister of JC Wood.

At the base of another window is a dedication to Emma Warter (nee Wood), sister of JC Wood.

Hanwood window for the Woods

This part of the window commemorates John Clavering Wood (diarist of ‘A Shropshire Squire’).

Wood window at Hanwood

The window dedicated to the Wood family is at the front of St Thomas’ church, Hanwood, to the right of the altar.

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Gerard Benjamin with Carmel Hazan of Marche Manor.

Wood family descendant Gerard Benjamin teams up with Carmel Hazan of Marche Manor in September 2012.

I HAD STUDIED the details of my Shropshire forebears for more than six years, and helped to publish two books about them, without ever setting foot in the ancestral county. It’s one thing to have an image of that landscape in one’s mind’s eye, but at last in September 2012 came the opportunity to align imagination with reality…

The welcome afforded me at Marche Manor by Carmel and Kate Hazan couldn’t have been warmer. Taking in the refinements of their charming Elizabethan manor house (one roof-post reads 1620, though elements of the house are probably earlier), both inside and out, followed by a walk in the grounds and a view from a highpoint to survey the extent of the original estate. was one of those wondrous days that memory will always preserve.

Marche Manor dates from at least the 1620s.

Marche Manor dates from at least the 1620s.

Reflecting on the thought that this house and the surrounding 350-acres would have been part of the commonplace backdrop for at least three generations of the Wood family added another magical dimension to the day.

The mantle of ‘historical custodianship’ that comes with owning a heritage-listed dwelling involves expense and care, and Wood descendants in particular can be eternally grateful to Carmel and Kate for their diligent interest in the the property’s history, as well as their gracious hospitality to this particular Wood pilgrim.
inglenooks, exposed oaken beams, carved corbelles, and intricate woodwork over the fireplaces were all intriguing features of a building which was described in an 1890 Sale Notice thus:
The Manor's cosy inglenook

The Manor’s cosy inglenook

In close proximity is the old Elizabethan Manor House, a portion of which is occupied by Workmen on the Estate; this, with a trifling outlay, could be restored into a most charming and picturesque residence. (quoted in A Shropshire Squire, p 140)

The prophecy of that Sale Notice of more than 120 years ago has more than been fulfilled…

Plan of the Marche Estate

Plan of the Marche Estate (ca 1890s) – courtesy Carmel Hazan

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Marche Hall, Sep 2010IT helps to have friends in high places, in this case a helicopter instructor overflying Marche Hall in Shropshire with a camera at the ready. Despite the overcast day, here’s how the house looked on Monday 13 September 2010, with the surrounding fields, usually green, just freshly harvested.

The home’s main entrance (the white portico surrounded by ivy) looks east. At the top of the photo but obscured by greenery is Marche Manor.

A Shropshire Squire provides a different sort of ‘overview’ of the 350-acre Marche estate in offering a snapshot during 1812-1825, while in Tom Hurstbourne or A Squatter’s Life, the same spot was the inspiration for Hurstbourne Grange, which was so central to the hopes and ambitions of the book’s hero.

Thanks sincerely to photographer Tam Hazan. He apologizes for the slightly unfocussed second photo, but vibration is a fact in a helicopter pilot’s life…

Marche Hall, after harvesting

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NAMING their first daughter ‘Maria Helena Rathbone’ suggests that Capt William and Esther Wood were honouring a maternal ancestor, but who?

The noted Rathbone family of Liverpool were certainly acquaintances. William Rathbone IV (1757-1809) was a founding member of the Liverpool Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, and a Quaker for most of his life. He married Hannah Mary (1761-1839), daughter of Richard Reynolds of Bristol and Hannah (née Darby), at the Friends Meeting House, Shrewsbury.

In this way, the Rathbones were a link to the Coalbrookdale ironmasters who paved the way for the Industrial Revolution.

Hannah Rathbone’s diary shows that Captain Wood often visited their family home, Greenbank, Liverpool, between 1798 and 1805. Indeed, Maria Wood and Miss Kewley were guests at Sunday dinner on 3 November 1805.

After one such visit, William Rathbone sent this letter to Captain Wood at his home in Hanwood, Shropshire:

My dear friend,

We partook in your feelings on your return home of finding Mrs Wood so very much indisposed, and we shall with great pleasure receive the account that you have less cause for anxiety on her account, if it be in your power to send us such a one.

Be pleased to give our affectionate remembrance to her and your family. Could our wishes avail for your relief, your portion of suffering would be of short continuance. But we know not what is best even for ourselves and still less so for others. Happily there is One who does know what is for one’s good, and administers that and that only to us, tho’ it is sometimes very hard to turn it to its appointed effect.

My Book is at length finished and I send you a copy, not expecting however that you will have time to peruse much of it, and indeed fully sensible that it cannot excite much interest out of the limits of one’s own society. You will accept it however as a token of the remembrance and good wishes of  Yours very sincerely,

W. Rathbone, G’bank [Greenbank, Liverpool], 10 April 1804

Rathbone Papers, University of Liverpool, RPII.1.168 pg 196

It seems that the Woods were very likely related to the Rathbones, but the direct link has yet to be established. Can you help us to make it?

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