Saturday, 22 October 2016


Who's been eating all the Melton Mowbray Pork Pies?

I recently found this clip in the family notices column of the Nottingham Review of 22nd August, 1828.


‘At Hinckley, on Tuesday week, Mrs. Hopewell, wife of Mr. J. Hopewell, and widow of the late Simon Richards, aged 54.   She was one of the favoured progeny of nature, and would have made an excellent companion for the celebrated Daniel Lambert, weighing, as she did, some time back, 24 stones!   The width of her coffin, across the breast, was three feet.’

Leicester's favourite son for many decades - but now probably superseded by Gary Lineker - was Daniel Lambert who was born in Leicester on the 13 March 1770 into a family of gamekeepers, huntsmen and field sportsmen. By the time of his death 39 years later he weighed a massive 53 stones and his waist measured in at over nine feet. As a noted fan of field sports and an avid follower of the hunt, he is said to have been a regular visitor to Melton Mowbray.  BBC Leicester further tells us: 

' ... throughout his boyhood, Daniel was active, healthy, athletic - and slim. In fact, he was an excellent swimmer from the age of eight and taught many other children to swim in the River Soar. His family background also meant he was a keen rider, spending much of his time galloping around the rural landscape surrounding Leicester. The history books tell of a time when, whilst out riding one day, he came across a wild bear which he punched to the ground, causing her to roar out in pain and flee. In 1791, at the age of 21, Daniel took over from his father as the Keeper of Leicester's House of Correction on Highcross Street and before long he'd earned himself a reputation as a benevolent jailer who took great care of his inmates' welfare, introducing a raft of improvements to the city prison which won him the respect of those behind bars as well as prison reformers of the time. Although this was the making of his career, it may have been the undoing of his health.

A Growing Lad.

    In spite of not being a drinker or a big eater, within 11 years of taking up the job, he tipped the scales at a whopping 32 stone, with his office job blamed for his huge weight gain. Philip French commented that it is believed he may also have had a medical condition that caused his weight. By the time he hit his late thirties he had swelled to nearly 53 stone, could no longer climb the stairs and special arrangements had to be made when he travelled. Just to finally set it in your mind, reporter Julie Mayer estimates that one Daniel Lambert equals seven of her! In 1806 the Stamford Mercury reported that Daniel was having a carriage made specifically to transport him to London where he intended to exhibit himself as a natural curiosity. He ended his days living in his London apartments where people would pay a shilling just to come and see him.
    When he finally died at the age of 39, the measurement around his calf was three foot one inch and his waist was a massive nine foot and four inches. He died at an inn in Stamford and his body had to taken out of the building by removing a wall. His coffin was built on wheels and it took more than 20 men to lower it into his grave. During his life he had become quite a personality, and was used in a cartoon as an emblem for a hearty Britain against the threat of Napoleon. Historians from Leicester have even reported that a waxwork of Daniel was doing the rounds in American museums not long after his death - such was his popularity!
    It seems that the interest around Daniel is still strong, with a number of people visiting the Newarke Houses just to learn more about the larger than life character. The museum has on display many of his possessions including a selection of made-to-measure clothes and a large chair.'

Daniel Lambert   
(13 March 1770 – 21 June 1809)

 (Occasional visitor to Melton Mowbray - when he could find someone to take him!)

Monday, 10 October 2016


The Strange Story of 'Sally' Jesson (1777-1852)

The small village of Scalford in Leicestershire lies some four miles north of Melton Mowbray, a distance I might perhaps walk on a good day, but to continue on to nearby Goadby Marwood, a further two miles and with the thought of requiring to return on foot would test most people today.  Not so in the middle of the 19th century when wheeled transport went by way of unpaved tracks and the ubiquitous footpaths which criss-crossed the rural scene through woods and fields and from place to place, served as the most direct routes for the many pedestrians.

So spare a thought for the poor rural postman of the time who did not have the convenience of an urban route in a town, with houses and businesses standing side by side, but who was required to deliver his packets far and wide in all weathers - and not with the little red vans which we see today. Their website, 'Heritage Royal Mail', marking 500 years of serving the country, informs us that:

'In 1516, Henry VIII knighted Brian Tuke, the first Master of the Posts. This act was the catalyst for the creation of the Royal Mail we know today. Tuke had the influence and authority to establish key post towns across the country and build out a formal postal network. From these origins, the postal service has survived 21 monarchs and two World Wars, and employed hundreds of thousands of people. Perhaps its most famous innovation is the Penny Black stamp, introduced in May 1840. As the world’s first postage stamp, the Penny Black paved the way for the prepaid, one-price-goes-anywhere postage system we use today.
Victorian Pillar Box
In 1852, significant changes were to be made in the national postal service and from that date, rather than travelling to the local post office to deliver a letter or parcel for onward transmission, a contraption known as a 'pillar box' - made of cast-iron and fixed into the ground - was made available for the reception of mail for delivery; they initially appeared in a livery of light green paint. People who needed to travel long distances to a post office in order to send a letter, would now be able to walk perhaps just a few yards and pop it into the box - if it carried the required pre-paid stamp. These permanent containers place at the side of the road were emptied by the postal workers and the contents delivered on such a frequent basis, that a letter posted first thing in the morning could be read and a reply written, then posted by the recipient to be received within the same day.

A Postman of circa 1860
With this brief background of the postman's lot in the market town of Melton Mowbray in the early Victorian era, I would like to tell of an unconventional character who is now apparently absent from the knowledge or memory of local people. An amazing story unfolded for me in local newspapers of the day and I would like to recall and share the story of the odd life and times of long-time Scalford resident, Sarah Jessop which was revealed at the time of her death on the 17th October, 1852.  There are two short newspaper reports, each a little different, which attracted my attention and which can best provide a contemporary account of the amazing life of this 'eccentric' character.

Nottinghamshire Guardian

    'On Saturday last the quiet little village of Scalford was the scene of some excitement caused by an auction sale of the goods and wearing apparel of a noted character named Sarah Jessop, who during a long life had plodded between that village and Melton, as the ‘Scalford Mail,’ wending her weary way in all weathers until old age and infirmities induced fears that she would die on the road.  But the appointment of a Post Office messenger had of late superseded the old lady's self imposed duties, and she had ceased to be seen in Melton, whence, for more than half a century she had fetched letters for Scalford, and her good friends at Goadby Hall [at Goadby Marwood].  The articles sold consisted chiefly of wearing apparel, amongst which were 60 gowns and aprons, 6 bonnets, 30 caps, 6 shawls, 50 handkerchiefs and several cloaks, shoes and slippers.  The sale attracted about 200 persons to see the last of poor old Sally, and pay a kindly tribute of respect to her memory, for with all her oddities she was truly trusty and punctual post-woman, and died at the hale old age of 75.  The auctioneer, Mr. W. Clarke, with his usual jocularity succeeded in realising nearly £20 - a sum far beyond what was expected, for the friends of the deceased refused to furnish her funeral lest the cost of it should exceed the worth of her effects, and therefore placed the matter in the hands of parish officers.'

(Reproduced from the Nottinghamshire Guardian, Thursday, 28th October 1852)


The Leicestershire Mercury

'SCALFORD. - Death of an Eccentric Character.  

    There are few persons who have resided at or within ten miles of Melton Mowbray, during the last half century, but knew the eccentric Sarah Jessop, or, as she was more commonly called “Old Sally,” or the “Scalford and Goadby Walking Post.” She followed up that occupation, indeed daily for nearly 50 years, until recent alterations in the Post-office affairs at Melton when a postman was appointed.  Such was her punctuality, that let come what weather it might, she was true to her time from Scalford at the Melton Post-office, and also to the time of her departure.  For many years no carrier plied between those towns, and Sally has carried immense loads of goods on her head etc. and was regarded as one of the most wonderful women known.  Since she has given up the “Post,” she has lived comparatively retired, at her native village, Scalford, in her own house.  Her mother carried on a similar profession to her death, and various rumours were afloat of her having been a “witch.”  Many anecdotes of her are still prevalent in this neighbourhood among those who lived in her day.  The death of Sarah Jessop took place at Scalford, on Sunday, the 17th inst., after a few days illness at the age of 75 years.  The eccentricity of her character, the willingness of her disposition, her punctuality to all orders entrusted to her care caused her to be universally respected; and her remains were followed to the grave by a very numerous assembly of all classes.  It is estimated that during her public life she had walked more that 110,000 miles.  The disposal of her goods and chattels took place on Saturday last by auction, when upwards of 250 persons were present.  Among the articles sold were 60 gowns and aprons, 6 bonnets, 30 caps, 6 shawls, 50 handkerchiefs and several cloaks, shoes, slippers etc., which realised upwards of £20, a sum far exceeding the expectations of her relatives, who refused to furnish the funeral, lest they should not cover the expense, but left the parish authorities to manage it for them.  She had been a saving woman all her life. and we hear that on removing her things, a few pounds in gold etc. were found.'
Reproduced from The Leicestershire Mercury, Saturday 30th October, 1852

Sadly, to date, I have been unable to discover much of the background of Sally and her family, but I would like to think that the people of Scalford would perhaps one day, be able to provide some form of tribute to one of their 'forgotten' parishioners - perhaps the naming of the next new street in the village to her honour - as a reminder of such an eccentric personality and a gesture of respect to her memory. If any reader does have knowledge of her existence, I would love to hear from them.

Visit Royal Mail Heritage site

Tuesday, 27 September 2016



This blog, which relates to my area of Leicestershire, is currently in self-imposed suspension of almost a year due to many other distractions in my life (not relating to illness of any kind!).  I don't intend to close it; I await the inspiration to get me back on the rails and better sooner than later.  In the meantime, thank you for checking in.


In the meantime, from my regular perusals of the old newspapers, can I offer you this little tit-bit, clipped from the Lincolnshire Chronicle of 1823 on a moment of high apoplexy on the part of its exasperated Editor: who writes ...

    'We cannot but be disgusted by the blasphemy and impiety to which some of our Whig-Radical contemporaries have recourse, in order to endeavour to weaken in men's minds the love of the church through the medium of exciting a contempt for its ministers.  What can be more deserving of open and avowed indignation than the conduct of the editor of the Mercury in inserting into that journal the following vulgar and disgraceful paragraph:-
"John Rolf, bellows-blower at the Bath Abbey Church, completed his 45th year of office on the 25th inst.  His salary is two guineas per annum: the bellows-blower in the pulpit below has two thousand per annum." 
There is in political writing a certain allowed limit (too often, alas! overstepped) to the shafts of satire and it is with much regret that we see, by the present ministerial question for the abolition of church-rates, the affairs of eternity mingle with temporal matters: but can the editor of the Mercury, as a politician, excuse so vile an attack upon a minister of God - can he, as a gentleman, palliate so ridiculous and aimless an insult upon a man?  As for the value of his insinuation, which would denote a vast quantity of of emoluments, it is too insignificant to attach to it aught but a conviction of the paucity and weakness of the arguments against a church establishment, when recourse is had to such a lame quiddit.'  [a quibbling subtlety]


Sunday, 11 October 2015


FRAMLAND HOUSE - The Johnsons.

Circa 1966

    Recently re-visiting my rapidly increasing and creaking collection of photographs, I came across the above family image which brought back memories for me from some 50 years ago.  My attention was arrested though, not by the people in the foreground (my wife with her father-in-law), but by the presence behind them of the rather grand looking, Georgian styled Framland House, as this old building was always known but is sadly now, just that memory.  This once grand, three-storey residence stood elegantly for over a century with its ornate front door abutting Burton End at the foot of the 'new' railway bridge as it begins its rise on the main road to Oakham; immediately opposite and across the road, stands the old building now known as Cardigan House. The now vanished 'footprint' of Framland today relates pretty well with the entrance to the town Railway Station and the new Borough Council offices.

    Seen on the Ordnance Survey map of 1895, the substantial dwelling is shown to be in three separate sections, all adjoined to a sizeable garden contiguous with a small public path which still leads pedestrians and small vehicles to the joys of the Play Close further on.  I have memories of the decaying and abandoned home, which in its final years provided a haven for young children who seemed to have been free to wander about its spooky innards in a search for the reported 'ghost' which was alleged to haunt the crumbling rooms, peeling wallpaper, cracked paint, broken windows and all. Deterioration rapidly set in as the rain and weather permeated the structure via a roof now robbed of its leaden waterproofing and rotting windows.  The abandoned gardens would later provide valuable space for a few rented allotment plots, eagerly utilised by an older generation of gardeners from which, no doubt, bountiful harvests were produced over the years.

Ordnance Survey map circa 1895
    Thus far, I have failed to discover the date of original construction, the origins of its name, or that of the builder, but whilst waiting for someone to perhaps put me wise, I am plumping for a date of around the beginning of the 1870s. Though the characteristics of the house - especially the line of the roof and the style and size of the windows - might suggest a Georgian connection, I cannot accept that it was built as early as the 1820s. From what I have discovered, I currently hazard a guess that the first owner was most likely local resident, Robert Winter Johnson (1833-1884), builder and architect of some repute in his day who was later to be employed as Surveyor for the Local Board, later to become known as Melton Mowbray Borough Council.

Framland House on the left. Circa 1965.

    An attractive building aesthetically and perhaps, pleasing to the eye, it also possessed the somewhat severe lines of an public institution or civic establishment, it might well have stood much longer into the 21st Century in different circumstances but fate was to decree that Framland House would just about reach its hundredth anniversary before the wrecker's ball arrived to create extra width and public safety at an awkward part of the main approach to the busy railway station. I personally remember well a time in the 1970s when slates continued to fall from the roof and bad weather frequently caused chunks of rusting cast-iron guttering to crash down to the pavement to the obvious great danger of passers-by. Of course all this insecurity created problems of illegal trespassing and wanton damage which a boarded-up building always attracts. With the apparent difficulty of tracing a legal owner or someone responsible for its proper maintenance, the old unwanted building faced the eventual ignominy of a compulsory purchase order which accelerated its inevitable demolition.  In 1976, another historic part of the old town vanished from the scene, together with its many secrets and some interesting moments witnessed.  In the course of my research back over those 100 years I have discovered some most interesting facts about some of the people who once lived in the old house.

Framland House in Burton End showing St Marys Church.

    On the 15th July 1911, Framland House went up for auction but failed to reach its reserve price of £800 and it is reported that local property agent Shafto H. Sykes later acquired the property by private treaty and placed it on the rental market via Shouler and Son, local Auctioneers and Estate Agents. A notice in the Grantham Journal was to offer readers:
"A substantially constructed family residence, with yard, stabling and garden - comprising 2,800 square yards - in Burton Street near the Melton railway station. Contains 3 reception rooms, 11 bedrooms and a kitchen."

Monday, 3 August 2015


With thanks to Wikipedia

In a local newspaper recently, I came across an intriguing historic report of 'special' court proceedings which had taken place at at my local Magistrate's Court during the time of the 2nd World War.  At the sitting, the evidence played out related to a seemingly trivial confrontation between a frustrated 'traveller' and a group of soldiers billeted in the town. Consequent research of the legislation allegedly breached on that occasion, opened up for me an extremely interesting period of political dissent at the time of the very birth of the Labour Party of Britain as we know it today.  My intrinsic interest at the outset is the Melton Mowbray connection and the part that a few young soldiers played locally at the time of a great world awakening, but in passing, I would like to touch upon the interrelationship of the statute allegedly breached, with the ideals of a nascent political party proposing to represent the working classes and its acceptance by a then mainly Conservative population.

From time immemorial, matters of creating disaffection - or unrest - within the military community and indeed, amongst serving police officers, had been dealt with under the 'Disaffection to Mutiny Act of 1797' and in the early 1920s, National government began to talk of re-writing the script to at least soften the intended severity of the consequences of the act of mutiny, then a capital crime punishable by death. The legislator's were to become a little compromised however, when in 1924 the seditious and 'mutinous' intervention of the 'Campbell Case', was to create great unease amongst political thinkers, not to mention the still powerful military machine of Britain.  In its opening paragraph, Wikipedia explains the provocations of Campbell and its ramifications:

'The Campbell Case of 1924 involved charges against a British Communist newspaper editor for alleged "incitement to mutiny" caused by his publication of a provocative open letter to members of the military. The later decision of the government of Ramsay MacDonald to suspend prosecution of the case ostensibly due to pressure from backbenchers in his Labour Party proved instrumental in bringing down the short-lived first Labour government.... (read full article)

The New Act. 

In the statute books of England, there remains today the infrequently used piece of legislation which first saw daylight in the austere times of the 1930s. Known as the 'Incitement to Disaffection Act of 1934 (Chapter 56 24 and 25 Geo 5), it is described as:

'An Act to make better provision for the prevention and punishment of endeavours to seduce members of His Majesty’s forces from their duty of allegiance.'   [16th November 1934] and Sec. 1. of the Act provides a 'Penalty on persons endeavouring to seduce members of His Majesty’s forces from their duty or allegiance.' The Act further explains:

'If any person maliciously and advisedly endeavours to seduce any member of His Majesty’s forces from his duty or allegiance to His Majesty, he shall be guilty of an offence under this Act.'

A very small Act in the name of King George V, it seems to have eased its passage through the Houses with few problems but a contentious reference to the potential power of the police to search the premises of likely suspects, did create discontent within the nascent Labour Party at whose conference of 1935, promises were made to remove the Act from the statute books as early as possible in the event of them coming to power. Parliamentary jousts in the Times newspaper of the day, record the disdain with which the Act was held, but as that newspaper records on the 17th April 1934, the voting was not even close:

    ' ...  The critics of the Labour and Liberal opposition fastened on to this part of the Bill and denounced it as an undue invasion of private right.  MR LAWSON had only contempt for persons who gave soldiers and sailors advice that would get them into trouble, but he declared that the Bill would empower a certain type of magistrate to treat the possession of literature, for example, on the Marxian doctrine and the Russian Five-Year Plan as coming within the scope of its provisions.  Mr. DINGLE FOOT described the Bill as worse than the law of 1797 [mutiny]

    The second reading was carried by 277 votes to 63.
As stated, assent was finally passed on the 16th November that year.


In  the early weeks of 1941 in the small market town of Melton Mowbray, the early unnerving effects of yet another world conflict had largely settled down, though preparedness remained the watchword as billeted soldiers from divers British regiments - not to forget the presence of allied American and Canadian troops - awaited whatever call to arms might be forthcoming.  But not everyone was serving good King George in his fight against a dominant enemy across the water and as folk-lore tells us today, there were several of those who knew the ropes as to how to circumvent the earning of the King's shilling.  The Grantham Journal of 31st January, 1941, published the following report:


For Trying To Cause Disaffection

Defamatory statements about the British Army and the Government were alleged to have have been made by Herbert Baxter, aged 39, described as a van dweller and horse dealer, of no fixed abode, who was sentenced to three months hard labour at a special court at Melton, yesterday week, when he appeared on a charge of endeavouring to cause disaffection among persons in His Majesty's Service in respect of three soldiers - Gunners G.A. Sullivan, D.L. Noakes and E.T.R. Smart. 
Gunner Sullivan stated that on January 15th, defendant came to the place where soldiers were quartered, and asked if they had a dog belonging to him. He told him they had not got one there, and defendant replied that the police informed him that he would be able to find it there. An argument followed, and accused became abusive and used bad language. In the course of subsequent conversation, defendant made slurring statements resecting the Army, and said that he would not go into the army and the Army would not get him.


After referring to the fact that they (the soldiers), only got a shilling a day, defendant, witness continued, stated that he had 28 horses 11 dogs and plenty of cash. Defendant added that he did not care if "Jerry" did invade this country as he could not be worse off. Accused also made disparaging remarks about their rifles and ammunition, and went on to refer to a searchlight camp, which, he said, had been bombed, killing a number of people. Witness said they knew nothing about this. Defendant then said, "God save the King, but who is going to save me?" Witness was so disgusted he walked away.
Cross examined by Mr. J. Hincks, Leicester, for defendant, witness said later a sergeant came along, and ordered accused to go, as he was causing disaffection among the men.
Mr. Hincks: He did not cause you to be dissatisfied did he? - I'll say he did. How would you like someone to say that you are getting a shilling a day, and he has 28 horses, 11 dogs and £40 in his pocket?
What this man has said to you has not made any difference to you in your loyalty to the Service? - It made me disgusted. Why should he, a man of everyday type, have more than me? Why should he say such things? Why shouldn't he be in the army?
He is 39.
Gunner Noakes gave corroborative evidence, and stated that defendant said to them, "What about you fellows earning a bob a day in a place like this when there are others at such places as Birmingham, Coventry and Sheffield earning £8 and £10 a week! What worse off would you be if Jerry got here? No good at all. What would the Government do for those who were injured? - Nothing." Witness said that he got so disgusted that he walked away.
Mr. Hincks: You took it all as ridiculous? - No, I would not say that. It certainly caused me to feel disgusted and dissatisfied. Defendant said something to the effect that he would not defend his own country, and that he would not work for a shilling a day.


Gunner Smart said that the defendant absolutely demanded the dog when he came to their quarters, saying the police had told him to fetch it. Defendant then went on to make serious allegations about the Army and the British Government, and added that if Hitler invaded the country they would not be any worse off.
Mr Hincks: You did not take any notice of what he said? - I came away disgusted. It upset my feelings to think that a man like that should speak so of his country.
As a soldier you are just a good today as you were before he spoke to you? - Yes sir.
Didn't he say, "I am a loyal subject, and when my time comes for joining up I will go? - No, I did not hear that.
Detective Officer Jones gave evidence of arrest, and remarked that when the defendant was brought to the Melton police station he made a statement in which he said, "I would not have known what the soldiers got if they hadn't told me."
Defendant on oath, stated that P.C. Haines told him to go to the soldiers where he could get his dog. He saw Sullivan, who denied that there was a greyhound bitch there. A few minutes later a sergeant came up and said, "there's no bitch here, you go and get a policeman." The sergeant never ordered him away. He stood talking to the soldiers for about half an hour.
"I have no political views." observed defendant. "I am a British subject and when my time comes for me to join up I will go. I had no intention in my own mind of causing disaffection amongst the soldiers."
Mr. Hincks submitted that there was no case to answer. If anything was said it had made not the slightest difference to the soldiers and his client at no time had any intention of creating disaffection.
It was stated by the police that defendant had 24 previous convictions against him since 1920.
The chairman, Mr. R.W. Brownlow, congratulated the soldiers on the way they had given their evidence.
- 0 -

Well, I was not quite one year old at the time that 'van dweller', Walter Baxter was sent away to spend his 40th birthday doing hard labour at Leicester prison, but from my lofty perch here and some 74 years further on, I hope that the sentence was not too onerous for him.  I have reason to believe that he died in 1967.

Sunday, 12 July 2015


Golden Days.

As is well known to almost everybody who knows me, I once spent six years of my now extended life in the small islands of Bermuda; six of my most impressionable years and very consequential ones in that I was married on 'the rock' and created there my two much loved children.  It is also well known that although we left the island for good in 1969, I, like Sir George Somers - the founder of Bermuda - left a fair piece of my heart behind to maintain tabs with its progress.  In October of this year, Lynn and I will return to celebrate our golden wedding anniversary, a chance for us to have perhaps a last look around at the island I once fell in love with.

But this post is not produced as a personal updating, more a moment to draw attention to the forthcoming publication of what promises to be a beautiful new book of sketches which relate to the early days of Bermuda's colonisation which has been put together by Dr Edward Harris and his team at the National Museum of Bermuda. Knowing Edward as I do, I can easily imagine his sheer excitement on first seeing the amazing collection of previously unseen sketches of his native island, some having been painted as long ago as 1834 and his immediate realisation of the massive significance of their existence and public exposure. This 'Savage' portfolio only very recently came into the public gaze from within the possessions of present descendants of the Savage family in England, who have kindly donated the collection to the Museum for the people of Bermuda to enjoy and to be enlightened of an earlier era.

I produce a description of the book's cover below, the front of which has a most evocative depiction of a tranquil Market Square at St Georges - in those early days still the capital of Bermuda - which iconic venue, graphically, is amazingly little changed and might well have been painted today.  The blurb at the right I have reproduced below.

Front cover and spine of the book.

DSavages Bermuda

The forgotten landscape of Bermuda in the
1830s is recovered in this remarkable collection
of paintings by the prolific and talented
Royal Artillery surgeon Dr. Johnson Savage.
These images—some of the earliest masterful
watercolours of the Island—were produced
before the perfection of photography and
ahead of later waves of overseas artists who
discovered Bermuda’s painterly paradise.
The paintings were the start of an extraordinary
relationship between Bermuda and several
generations of the Savage family. The volume
includes exquisite images from Savage’s later
posting in Corfu; his work as a skilled medical
illustrator; paintings by his short-lived Royal
Navy Midshipman son Arthur; and an
account of the doctor’s grandson, Arthur
Johnson Savage, RE, who completed the great
Ordnance Survey of Bermuda in 1900.
A final chapter traces the history of Savage’s
family, including present descendants who
donated the important Bermuda collection of his
paintings to the National Museum of Bermuda.

The back cover shows pen portraits of the three major characters of the Savage family, together with a sketch depicting the despatching of a whale.

How and Why?

The story of the acquisition of these exciting and precious mementos of a Bermuda of almost two centuries past, began in 2013 at a conference of surveyors in Britain which touched upon the Hurd geographical survey and the great 'lost' chart of Bermuda. At the end of the conference, a Peter Savage would step forward to tell of his personal possession of an album of water colours of the islands which were the work of his great-great grandfather, Dr Johnson Savage. The significance of this cache of artistic treasures became apparent almost immediately with the result being the publication of 'Dr Savage's Bermuda.' in October 2015. From his weekly column, first published in the Royal Gazette of March 22nd 2014, let Museum Director, Dr Harris, explain:

Dr Savage's St George's walkabout.

One day in the three year period 1833-36, perhaps around the heady days of emancipation of the remaining slaves in Bermuda, the young Royal Artillery surgeon, Johnson Savage, set about on a walkabout in the parish of St George's, armed not with sword and musket, but with brush and paint, intent on capturing scenes, rather than enemy soldiers.
When he left Bermuda in 1836, perhaps in the early summer, as one of his illustrations is dated to May of that year, the artist doctor took with him some 40-odd watercolours and drawings of the Island, a cache of images of local life that would become lost to memory in the Island for over 170 years.
In later 2013, Dr Adrian Webb gave a lecture to a conference of surveys in Britain on his research and writings on Lieut. Thomas Hurd RN, the composer of the great Hurd survey and chart of Bermuda, another major work of art lost to Bermuda until Dr Webb brought it to local attention in 2009.
At the end of the talk, he was approached by one Peter Savage, who told hm that his family possessed an album of watercolours of Bermuda executed by his great great grandfather.
A further connection to Bermuda lies in the fact that one of Peter's grandfathers, Arthur Johnson Savage RE, was responsible for the Great Ordnance Survey of the Island that was published in 1901 and is still in print.
A meeting was arranged through Dr Webb and in late November 32013, Peter and Rosemary Savage graciously met him and Dr Edward Harris (of the National Museum of Bermuda) at their home in England, for a walkabout of the album of paintings by Johnson Savage, at the end of which Peter announced that he and his siblings, William and Jenifer, wished to donate the album to the National Museum and in effect the people of Bermuda.

Dr Harris, director of the National Museum left, with Major Peter Savage and his wife, Rosemary. 

The walkabout of the album followed a geographical roadmap, which started in the old capital of Bermuda at St George's and progressed westward via Ferry Reach to the Main and onwards, passing Somerset Bridge to the islands of Somerset and Ireland, the last being where the Royal Naval Dockyard and its major Hospital (naturally painted by the surgeon) were located.
The images capture Bermuda exquisitely, as the good doctor was a most accomplished artist and draughtsman.
The paintings will be published in a book in late 2015, partly in celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the National, that will also contain biographical and other artistic information on the Johnson Savage family and its long connection with Bermuda, as a son also visited the Island as a Midshipman and kept a log book that has painted images in it.

I have assisted in a small way with the research of this publication and with the kind permission of the NMB and Dr Harris, I can reproduce a tiny sample of the fine artistic work of Dr Savage which is to be found within its pages.  I think these will provide a good idea of the quality of the many engaging illustrations which appear in the eagerly anticipated publication and will provide, especially for Bermudians who know their Island well, many hours of figuring out where these amazingly recorded locations lie in this 21st Century.

I look forward to attending at the official publication in October, invited as I am due to a small personal part played in researching the project over the previous months. I am sure that the end-product will prove to be a best seller - and not only in Bermuda - as a reminder of how we once lived in the days before photography was established as the standard method of recording important moments. Whether the book lies on a coffee table or in a reference library shelf, this wonderful gift of the Savage family will deserve its permanent place in the bibliography of Bermudian literature for the future education of all.

© John McQuaid - July 2015

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

MARY KIRBY - 1817-1893

The House in the Park

Most people living in Melton Mowbray today remember an old house which until quite recently, stood unoccupied and rather forlorn at the side of Asfordby Road and abutting the local River Eye at the rear.  Known to locals within living memory of its later existence as ‘Six Elms’, they were also aware that amongst the previous and later residents were a Mr and Mrs Roper.  Balanced - quite precariously it was discovered quite recently - on the steep northern bank of the River Eye as it passes through the green fields which once formed part of the land known as Wilton Lodge, the house was once a popular attraction in the summer months when rowing boats could be hired for leisure purposes on the river and canal encircling the adjacent parkland. The old Victorian house, with its lovely gardens leading to the banks of the river is sadly no longer there and in its place, as I write, is the embryo of a 96 room modern care home which will very soon take its place. Six Elms - or more formerly, 55 Asfordby Road - was demolished some four or five years ago, returning the steep sloping ground to its former contours, but the secrets and stories with which the house was connected are retained and recorded today as an intrinsic part of Melton Mowbray’s rich and interesting past. It is fascinating to have delved a little further into the records to discover the story of the house, its origins and its first residents and many visitors. Certainly not a mansion, this modest sized home did originally bear the appellation ‘Rudbeck House’, which reportedly once related to a small stream - or beck - which ran into the River Eye and the name is now retained in Rudbeck Avenue, just across the road. 

"Six Elms' from the River Wreake.

The construction and later existence of Six Elms, or Rudbeck House, retains an interesting enough history in itself but it is the original residents of almost a century and a half ago who are the main subject of my interest.  In particular, I intend to recall the story of the fascinating life and times of Mary Kirby who was to become the wife of the Rev. Henry Gregg, vicar of nearby Brooksby and her inseparable younger sister Elizabeth with whom she successfully wrote and published several small books. Recently published in the United States, Bernard Lightman's scholarly tome entitled, ‘Victorian Popularizers of Science: Designing Nature for New Audiences’, refers to the same Mary Kirby and her published literary contributions, which were used in the education of young people when he writes:

‘… Mary Kirby (1817-1893) began her career as a popularizer of science after the sudden death of her father, John Kirby, a devout Dissenter and Leicestershire businessman in 1848. Due to business losses in the 1840s, John Kirby was unable to leave as much as he had hoped for his daughters. Mary and her unmarried sisters were forced to find work. In her autobiography she recalled that she and her sister Elizabeth “soon began to plot and to plan for book-writing.” Their first effort, A Flora of Leicestershire (1850, Hamilton, Adams, and Company), came out of Mary’s botanical interests. It catalogued over nine hundred flowering plants and ferns from the Leicestershire region, grouping them according to the the orders of the natural system while discussing their habitats and location. Mary, listed as the author on the title page, was the driving force behind the project.  Elizabeth contributed the descriptive notes. Rather than writing more technical manuals, many of their subsequent works were more geared towards a juvenile audience. They adapted stories from the classics for children, wrote fiction and churned out a series of books on natural history. They became a writing team who worked from their home. In 1855 they moved to Norwich and hooked up with the publisher Jarrold, who invited them to write what would become Plants of Land and Water (1857) for his “Observing eye” series. Besides working with Jarrold on subsequent projects, their natural history books were published by T. Nelson and Sons and the Religious Tract Society. In 1860 Mary married the Reverend Henry Gregg. Elizabeth lived with the Greggs in Brooksby, Leicester, a small village in a rural parish. The sisters continued to write together until Elizabeth's death in 1873. Over the course of their careers they wrote over ten natural history books, many of them selling well enough to call for more than the first edition. Stories about Birds of Land and Water ([1873], Cassell), the last book they wrote together, sold 18,000 copies.’

Notwithstanding her twice widowed father's fears and dark premonitions as to what quality of future he might be able to provide for his children, it seems that his eventual demise in 1848 at the age of 67 would create fewer problems than he might have feared, as his daughters especially, had created their own provisions for the moment. Mary, as the second born sibling of six, was to emerge as the guiding and matriarchal figure in the family and without doubt she led a most interesting and varied life. Well travelled and self-educated at divers places of learning around the Leicester area and beyond, she was to be an early torch-bearer for the feminist agitators who awaited in the years ahead; indeed, in her autobiography and long before the arrival of Mrs Pankhurst et al, she was to write on the subject of making an independent living as a woman:  
' ... earned money seems always the sweetest and best of any; and we were glad to find a ready sale for our manuscripts, and also to put the profits into our pockets... we wrote a piece once of what would happen a hundred years hence; how the men would be thrust out from all the professions by the women, and even the government of the country would be carried on by women, and in the houses of parliament there would not be a man to be seen.'             

Her personal journey through life, which was destined to be truncated due to a lingering and debilitating illness which would plague her final years, was faithfully recorded in a journal which she had taken over from her father on his death and in which she continued to report the comings and goings of the family until the time of her own death, was published in 1888 as a public document and bears the title, ‘Leaflets From my Life: A Narrative Autobiography’. It is a fascinating discourse on local life in days gone by and is today easily found on the internet to download or read at leisure; a pursuit I would heartily recommend, especially to Meltonians,  as being a highly illustrative pastiche of domestic, country life in the heyday of Victorian England.


Mary Kirby (1817-1893)

Early Days

In a paper kept at the Leicester University, David L. Wykes has traced the early years of the Kirby family of Leicester via a personal journal maintained by a John Kirby who was born in 1781 and who was one of 15 children.  This large family was involved with both farming on the north side of Leicestershire and banking, but as a child of apparent ‘delicate health', and with a surfeit of available hands to assist on the land, his father - Thomas Kirby (1753-1826) - was to steer John into the hosiery business for which the prosperous borough of Leicester was then well recognised and established. Learning his trade in Cosby, Lincolnshire from the age of 16, he was wholly unsuccessful in his travails as he moved from place to place and so it was almost certainly a red-letter moment in his life when in the February of 1807 at the age of 27, he was to marry Mary Ellis whose family were also a part of the hosiery trade. It was conjectured that this union would enhance his future prospects in the world of business and soon the couple had set up a home in Cank Street, Leicester and although never actually affluent in the true sense of the word, their status in the Borough was said to be comfortable. Sadly though, this marriage was to end without warning after just four short years when Mary died at the age of 29.  A son, John, had been the only child born to this marriage in 1809, but he did not survive.  In October 1812, John Kirby would marry again.

Sarah Bentley was to be his second wife and five children were to be born. Sarah Bentley Kirby was the first in 1812 to be followed by Mary (1817), a boy, Thomas Bentley Kirby arrived in 1819, followed by Katherine (1822) an bringing up the rear, Elizabeth in 1823. Their father was however, almost permanently beleaguered mentally by a great personal fear of his ability - or inability - to provide sufficient income in his business to properly support and provide a decent social existence for his growing family and this angst seemed to have caused him to vacillate between bouts of good days and very bad ones.  His responsibilities to the distaff side of his family, the future of his four young girls, seemed to have weighed heavily on his mind, as this entry from his journal might suggest:

‘On a review of the state of my affairs I find that while my property is diminishing, my family is increasing, I am therefore making progress towards Bankruptcy which is a galling idea and calls imperiously on me for greater economy, and self denial in all the luxuries of life.  I am therefore most resolutely determined in the present year to retrench every avoidable expense, to study and practice the most frugal methods of housekeeping.’

This realisation was likely to have been expressly cogent in light of the fact that the reality of such impecunity amongst his charges might well hinder the girls' future selections of potential partners. As Bernard Lightman conjectures in his book, the situation would go some way to account for the later independent success of each of the girls, who would strive to seek remunerated occupations as a means of independent support, rather than to sit about the drawing rooms of the large houses, just looking pretty and hoping. 

In 1825, John Kirby purchased a house in nearby Friar Lane, in the large garden of which he would build a two-storey warehouse and this address was to become the family home until his death and beyond.  His financial anxieties turned out not to manifest themselves quite as severely as he had consistently feared as we learn that his only son, Thomas, did indeed become financially independent of the family and was to helpfully detach himself from inheritance of the hierarchy at an early stage in his life. In the meantime, his sisters would move about the country managing to secure suitable employment for themselves. John's second wife Sarah was to die in 1835 at the young age of just 45 years and the girls, all still young would hopefully have taken heed of what she had taught them thus far.  Her namesake and eldest daughter, notwithstanding brother John's declared disinterest in any family benefaction, was not to command the inheritance of the estate when their father did eventually die in 1848, when it was generally agreed that Mary Kirby would legally - or by arrangement - inherit the family home in Friar Lane which would be rented for future income. 

It was Mary, acting as matriarch and her youngest sister Elizabeth, who were to become the true entrepreneurs and leading lights of the Kirby family - although all four girls married well and led lives worthy of being retold in print - with their later production of literary works. Mary was to provide the wide scope of knowledge with Elizabeth providing much of the text and at the same time bringing in to service her undoubted talent as an artist in illustrating the mainly educational works.  Mary, in her travels about the country, had developed a life-long interest in and detailed study of the natural life of the flora and fauna, animals and birds which were common to the fields and gardens of everyday England, not to mention a later diversion on a discourse of the animal life in far off lands. Initially putting their stories together for personal use in the classrooms and nurseries of friends, the reportedly 'jolly little books' were soon to be taken up by hungry publishers,  ever keen in the early Victorian days to source new and interesting literature for an ever growing market of children who were by now attending the burgeoning new national schools in ever increasing numbers. To learn more of Mary Kirbys life, I have already suggested her extremely interesting and informative diary, published under the title, ‘Leaflets From my Life: A Narrative Autobiography’ (1888) and I can also point to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in which Canadian feminist writer Ann B. Shteir has contributed an entry.  On the subject of the literary efforts of the two women, Ms Shteir writes:

‘Mary and Elizabeth Kirby worked as a sisterly writing team for twenty-five years, and produced a steady stream of more than twenty-five publications that included illustrated books, serial tales for magazines, school books, and fiction of an improving kind. In The Discontented Children, and how they were Cured (1854), their first original story book, the children of a gentleman and a gamekeeper are given the opportunity to experience each other's lives; the rustic children, restored to their parents after adventures and hardships, were ‘only too happy to find themselves once more among their equals and in their proper station’. The second edition, in 1859, contains illustrations by Phiz. Their natural history books, written principally for young readers, were informational rather than moralizing. Plants of the Land and Water (1857), one of two of their books issued in the Observing Eye series, presents botanical information and ‘curious facts’ about the uses of plants, in the form of ‘Short and Entertaining Chapters on the Vegetable World’. Their books on insects were Caterpillars, Butterflies, and Moths (1857) and Sketches of Insect Life (1874). The Sea and its Wonders (1873), with short informational chapters on topics such as the Gulf Stream and the turtle, aimed to ‘allure’ the young reader to study ‘the great book of Nature, rather than to perplex him with a strictly scientific arrangement’. Chapters on Trees (1873), a ‘Popular Account of Their Nature and Uses’, aims for a general rather than juvenile readership, and is well stocked with botanical information as well as history and folklore about trees from around the world.’

Following the death of their father on the 28th October 1848 at the age of 67, Mary and Elizabeth were granted two years of rent-free living in the family home in Leicester at Friar Lane and following the decision by her now successful brother Thomas to waive his rights of inheritance, they later obtained the freehold to secure their roots for a few more years. With their successful and profitable venture into writing they were able to maintain at least a comfortable life style. Working as a competent team for more than 25 years they produced a steady average of one book per year, many of which are still available today with original copies ostensibly fetching a good price. During the 1850s Mary and Elizabeth Kirby travelled about the country more and more, living for spells of time in Norwich and Great Yarmouth, but it was also around this period that sister Elizabeth was to display her more obvious and frequent signs of delicate health to which the supporting and loving care of her sisters became more apparent. Through all of this the co-authors were able to maintain a regular writing schedule, but it was also about this time that Mary, seemingly passing beyond her best courting years, was to face a more serious personal distraction when Cupid came to call.

The Reverend Henry Gregg

During her time spent in Norfolk during the 1850s with Elizabeth, Mary Kirby was to renew acquaintances with a man of the cloth which had originated in her own county of Leicestershire.  The Reverend Henry Gregg was born in 1820 of a reportedly 'working-class family' in the village of Harby, which lies in the heart of the Leicestershire Vale of Belvoir ('Beever' as we locals strangely pronounce it!).  From the days of his early youth his simple faith and trust in his Lord had led him to work away from home in the very poorest parts of London including Hatton Park and Finsbury. Attending at Kings College, London, Henry passed the required examinations and soon took up his first curacy with the Rev. Robert Montgomery, incumbent of the Percy Chapel in Hatton Garden.  In the 1850's he worked as a scripture reader and for six years as such, he is said to have worked tirelessly with people of the lowest and deprived parts of the capital, but the working friendship came to a sad end after six eventful years with the untimely death of his protege.  Henry returned to the county of his birth to become curate of Hoby-cum-Rotherby.

Marriage ...

From Hoby in 1859, Henry was to transfer to the ancient city of Norwich where he took up a curacy at St Michaels and it was here, in the 40th year of his life, that his acquaintance with Mary Kirby took a more serious turn.  Of this period Mary writes in her autobiography:

 ‘On Friday we had an equal number of visitors, and Mr. Gregg came in, in good time for tea. I set Miss W. a chair beside him; thinking of course, as her uncle lived at Rotherby, she would have plenty to say about Hoby, and Rotherby and Frisby, and all the poor people and gentle-people those villages contained.
 But no such thing; she very soon come whispering up to me to say, she could not get on with Mr. Gregg, for she did not know what to talk about.  Of course, I had to change places with her and come to her assistance.
 We opened a conversation on the book he had borrowed “Lucy Neville”; and after a few compliments had been passed on it, he said he should like to send a copy to his sisters, if we could let him have one.
 And so he called the next day, and we had the pleasure of seeing him many times, without having any idea of an attachment.
 We know it to be a fact that marriages are made in Heaven; and so it is, when two persons intended by the “higher powers,” to come in to that sacred relationship to each other, meet in the social circle, they are drawn, as if by an invisible hand, or supernatural sympathy, together.
 And so it was - every time Mr. Gregg and I met, we felt that mysterious influence - call it what you like - I will call it love!
 On the highest authority we are told, that “Love is of God,” for “God is love”; and therefore we cannot estimate too highly the joy and happiness of loving and being beloved.
 One fine morning in May, Mr Gregg came in, to call at the cottage, and I had an instinctive feeling of what he was going to say, and that he was about to make me an offer of his heart and hand.
 And so it came to pass - and he had not been long with me before words were spoken, and vows exchanged, which were to bind us together for our lives, - or more correctly speaking “until death should us part.”
And later ...
 'On the first of August, 1860, as early as eight o'clock in the morning, we had a very quiet wedding in the little church of Higham, a hamlet of Norwich, and a half mile from the cottage, although I suppose we must have lived in the parish. I was taken by Dr. Holland, according to his promise, in his brougham, and with a pair of fine horses, while in the second carriage, came Elizabeth the bridesmaid, and Mr. Gregg. The incumbent the Rev. Hoste, was ready waiting for us; and he laid the ring upon the book, and everything was done, as Mr. Gregg observed, "properly and in order." As we stood at the alter, I felt an overpowering sense of gratitude to the Almighty, for having protected us from so many dangers, and guided us though so many difficulties, and now "He had set our feet in a large room."'

... And a Rectorship.

It was to be a short sojourn in Norfolk following the marriage and a joint - even three-way - yearning for a return to pastures best known to the three of them would soon see the newly-weds returning to Hoby along with Mary's younger sister Elizabeth, who was never to marry. Sadly, the early days of this marriage were not to be as wonderful as they might have wished, it being marred with problems encountered by Henry's many temporary and sometimes distant curacies causing Mary to become increasingly anxious, for him "... not to take another, but to find a living, and be his own master and enjoy a permanent home." Fine words and thoughts, but Rectorships were attainable then only to those who had the means and the money as well as an agreeable social situation.  Henry's own family were very low down in the social pecking order and the question of any family inheritance was but a pipe-dream and notwithstanding that Mary's father had not in fact died impecunious, the Kirby wealth, already divided, would not stretch this far.  But a minor miracle was about to occur when a letter was received in Norwich from the Squire of Brooksby, apprising Henry of the recent death of the Rector of Brooksby; a jovial postcript to the letter read to the effect that he might be advised, 'to look about for a young lady to come with him as his wife - and who knows? perhaps to buy the living for him!'

The arrival of this letter is said to have created much excitement within Mary's troubled mind and to her great surprise, no one was more excited at the prospect of a settled and stable living than her younger sister and partner-in-writing, Elizabeth, who was to set in train a financial plan to make the dream come true. As Mary further explains in her journal:
'... Meanwhile, Elizabeth had not been idle in making enquiries about the Brooksby living, and her letters to the lawyers had been flying through the post, like so many arrows flying through the air.  And she began to suggest the subject with Mr. Gregg himself, who felt delighted at so fair a prospect opening unexpectedly before him.  He was in ignorance of our resources, and never for a moment anticipated our being able to lay down the sum required for the living.  But Brooksby was the very parish in all England he would wish to have, and to be brought again amongst the people who were attached to him, and who he knew so well.  Like many clergymen, he understood little or nothing of business, and did not care to enter into the discussion of of pounds, shillings and pence; indeed after his marriage, the whole management of the money matters devolved upon me, and he never wished to know anything about them.  But Elizabeth was keen to get things settled and as soon as she thought it prudent to leave me, away she went to Leicester, to Samuel Stone, the family lawyer, and put the affair in his hands; telling him, that she held herself quite ready and willing to sign conjointly with me, any deed of mortgage that might be required on the Friar Lane property.  And then, she stayed at my brother's in West Street, until the arrangements had been made, and the important business successfully carried though.'
And so, pretty well in a nutshell and certainly in extremely fast time, a package was devised and arrangements were to become 'fait accompli'. With the estate inheritance - including the family home in Friar Lane - together with personal savings and a collection of 'family jewels' all brought together, the proceeds were utilised to purchase the living at Brooksby.  With all of the Kirby siblings apparently rising to the occasion in order to raise the social profile of Henry Gregg and his new wife, this amazing effort must rate as a very magnanimous gesture and such a situation could hardly be envisioned in modern-day ecclesiastical life. The upshot was that on the 20th August 1960, the Bishop of Peterborough (Bishop Davies) was to officially announce the institution of Henry Gregg as the new Rector of Brooksby - Rector! an almost impossible dream had surely come true - perhaps even a miracle?


We are sometimes told in life, to be 'careful what we wish for' and this might have been the case for the Kirby sisters and the Rev. Henry Gregg during those early days of their return 'home' to Leicestershire.  Mary writes profusely in her journal, along with gay descriptions of Brooksby, of a wonderful reception at the Hall, with parties, dances and receptions to welcome the return of the new rector and his lady wife.  Henry was soon to rekindle his relationships with most likely every person in the three parishes from whom he had not that long since waved his goodbyes. But within the reality of their grand achievement in settling in the area that they had coveted so much, lay the very awkward truth that the there was no rectory house to go with the living of the church.  The incumbent residents of Brooksby Hall, a Mr and Mrs Charlton had opened up their large house as a welcoming gesture and further to offer it as a temporary residence for the incomers. But this was not what any of them had visualised for their new life and very soon, a family residence, a trois, was eagerly being sought, as Mary records in her book:
"We had already driven over to Melton, and found there was no house to be had there, except in the Market Place, and that was out of the question.  And now, Mr. Charlton drove us over to Syston, in the waggonette; and though the village seemed to me a wild and uncouth place, I had to make the best of it, and consented to live there, in the house on the Barkby Road."

Mary's best however, was unfortunately not to be good enough, but in defiance of her instant aversion to the area, she explains the saving grace of Barkby Road as a home, in assuring that once more, at the least; "We were together as the 'threefold cord,' as Mr Gregg had more than once referred to them.  And it was enough, she said,  "since love spread our table, and presided at our board."  The writing continued and for a while, domestic bliss ruled the day with the ladies scratching out a living with their books and pamphlets and visiting local schools to address the children, whilst Henry carried out his parish duties with his usual loving zeal and his special attention to the less well-off, not to mention his added responsiblities as Chaplain to the Melton workhouse.

Syston - the Rev. Edward Morgan.

It was a serious set-back in Mary's organised life which was to pave the way for the family's eventual re-location to Melton Mowbray, an event which was related to her husband Henry in his new posting.  Within weeks of their arrival back in Leicestershire and their resettlement in lodgings at Syston,  Henry was persuaded by the incumbent vicar of that parish to fill in a few shifts for him to cover his occasional absences.  Under the heading, 'The Vicar and his Carpet Bag' she writes,
 'The first question asked by those who settle in a new place (particularly in a village) is this - what about the clergyman? - is he a good man? And then follows another query - is he a pleasant man?  For religion being crafted on a crab-stick, the two are not necessarily combined.  The Vicar of Syston was the Rev. Edward Morgan; and when we arrived, he was on the continent.
 A farmer in the village,  farmer Bennett, whose services with horse and cart, we had been glad to enlist, told us that when the vicar was first appointed, evangelical clergymen were scarce; and a crowd of the parishioners met him halfway on the road to Leicester, with flags, and a band of music, to give him a cordial reception.  But by this time, the people had become tired of him, for he was very old, and had been the Vicar nigh on fifty years. And then we heard about Mrs. Morgan, whose death, some few years back, had been felt as a great loss, both to rich and poor.

 Mr. Bennett went on to tell us, that whenever the Vicar found himself in any perplexity ("muddle" was the word) he always took up his carpet bag, and departed. At the present moment he had come to a deadlock with the Wesleyans. He had been conducting meetings, for united prayer, in the church school-room, and on his invitation, the Wesleyans had attended them; but when the return invitation came, and he was asked to join them in their meetings, conducted by their own ministers, in their own room, - here was the difficulty.

 What could he do? He could not go, and he could not refuse; so he had discreetly taken his carpet bag, and was off on the continent.'
The dissenters were not to be shaken off to easily though and even after long periods of absence, mobs, often unruly and occasionally violent, dogged the good reverend's fading years and took advantage of his increasing old age and weakness to press their Wesleyan views. In the meantime, Henry took in the slack and covered his ecclesiastical duties parallel with his own work and that of many others, often happy to take advantage of his kind disposition. It was a situation that they could and would not, tolerate for long and the crunch time was to arrive in in the shape of a particularly frightening incident which she describes thus:

"Mr Gregg and I had been one Saturday, to Leicester; and walking home from the station, we saw before us, the Vicar and a common looking man, - I cannot mis-apply the term gentleman. They walked quicker than we did, and were evidently going on to the vicarage;  when Mr. Morgan turned round, and catching sight of us, left his companion, and came to meet us.
 I had a suspicion of who the 'man' might be, so I enquired, and was informed that he was no other than the curate! "That man! I exclaimed, he is no clergyman - he looks more like a ticket-of-leave man!"  And then I begged that he would not bring him to our house, as I would have nothing to do with him.  We very soon found out what sort of person had come to the village; for he began to frequent the public houses, and to associates with the lowest characters in the place.
Within a very short time, with Henry having withdrawn his assistance, this new man took charge of the day to day running of the Syston church, at the same time drawing towards him some pretty rough people from all around. Dear old Rev. Morgan was pretty ineffectual in maintaining his badge of office and Mary tells of the day when things were to come to a head when about noon, her household was disturbed by the sound of an unruly mob. From the secure confines of her room she describes the scene:
"In another minute, we saw but too plainly what was the matter;  the poor old Vicar had been run down the street by the curate, who brandished a thick stick over his head and was followed by a crowd of rif-raf men and boys, shouting and whooping like whipping-Toms; I unbolted the door and there was Mr Morgan, in a most exhausted state, and literally hanging on the knocker for support;  I took hold of him and pulled him in;  and stared so hard in the curate's face, that he shrank back, and went away."
The mob persisted for quite a while and seemed intent on waiting for the vicar to return to the street, but he was of course protected by Mary and Henry who eventually got him to a safe place, but the incident was sufficient for the Kirby's to make their final and rapid re-location.  She is said to have heard one of the mob complaining about Henry's action, "Oh dear sir! how you have disappointed us! we did mean to give the old man a good husting!" Although the three were still not particularly wealthy in the general meaning of the word, the the literary work was becoming an increasingly remunerative occupation and it was decided that they would cut their losses and start again. They chose to do so in the nearby market town of Melton Mowbray.


In the meantime and following their hasty departure from the problems of Syston, home for a while was now to be back at the Hall in the relatively tranquil setting of Brooksby and their return to the fold was welcomed with the usual warmth by the Charltons. But Mary and Elizabeth's thoughts and aspirations were polarising at the possible acquisition of real-estate which might then be available in the nearby town of Melton Mowbray. Several journeys back and forth in the carriage were made from Brooksby and it was soon apparent that nothing suitable was likely to be found in the existing housing stock, but in 1872 when the ladies chanced to meet up with Mr Wakerley, the highly respected and competent architect and house builder, their dreams of ownership began to be realised. Excuse me if I borrow quite a sizeable tranche of Mary's notes from her book at this stage as, for Melton Mowbray readers especially, her evocative description of the land she eventually acquired and which we still recognise today, evokes a special nostalgia of times long gone.

'When the architect's plan had been sufficiently corrected, and as soon as all the preliminaries were all settled, our new house was built for us, at a little distance out of Melton, on the Asfordby Road, in a field where the ground was very uneven, and which had a steep bank in it, and in the bank, a gravel pit.
 This bank was of special interest to us, as the different lines of strata lay exposed to view, in such a slanting position, that the earth must have at some time been upheaved, to leave them in that oblique and tilted fashion.  We picked up a great many fossils there, many sorts of shells, and even large ammonites.

 But when all the gravel that we wanted for the walks had been taken out, Mr. Gregg had the floor of the pit beaten flat, and made a large roomy arbour there, by lodging a roof on the top of the bank, and supporting it below on two thick posts.

 It was a very sheltered spot, screened from every wind; and here we used to sit and look down a winding river (the river Eye), bordered with with willows and fringed with reeds and rushes, and covered on the surface with yellow water-lilies, arrow heads, and many other flowers.

 Our little domain was bounded by the Earl of Wilton's Park, with its surroundings of fine old elms.  And as soon as our house was finished, and the rooks saw human beings were coming to live in it, they began to build, and formed a colony on the tops of the tallest trees.

 And as the river meandered through the park, and opportunity was afforded in the winter for skating; on one occasion the ice was very thick, when a number of persons, some of them ladies of the hunt, skated down as far as Sysonby and landed in Mrs Wright's Garden.

 Whenever the frosts were severe, Mr Gregg would prepare some food for the birds and feed them himself at his study door.  There would come a flock of more than fifty at a time of all sizes and colours, and with the birds a large rat used to waddle up the steps, and as tame as a kitten, take his care of the provender.

 Now and then there would be a gathering of holiday makers in the park, and occasionally a flower show would be held there, or some other festive sight was to be seen.

 I remember once a balloon (probably Mr. Green's) was the attraction for a great number of persons.  It was probably filled on the ground, and a successful ascent was made, amid shouts and cheers, and the loudest applause.

 How enjoyable was that summer time when we could have a row in the boat every afternoon, and gather the water lilies, or wile away an hour or two in quiet happiness; Elizabeth and Mr. Gregg managing the oars, and I being able to steer.
 When we were tired of the garden, we had only to open a wicket gate and wander away to a foot-road to Sysonby, where we could linger on one of Mr. Latham's seats, which he had placed under a group of trees for the benefit of passers by.
 This tranquil scene is a thing of the past - I might say of bye-gone ages, for in these modern days of progress and improvement, there is scarcely a place to be found where peace and quietness are allowed to reign.
 The seat and the trees are alike chopped up, and in their stead the Great Northern Railway Company has carried an embankment, and runs its trains along the top of every quarter of an hour; the steam whistle, and such like necessary evils, have long ago scared away our beautiful birds, and changed the whole aspect of the once secluded valley.'

Oh dear, those infernal railway people! The Northern line through the town was opened to the public in 1876, some 30 years after the Midland Railway had first arrived in the town.

Elizabeth dies.

During the first half of 1873, less than two years after moving into their exciting new home in the park, Mary Kirby was to suffer possibly the most traumatic and distressing phase of her life thus far, when at Rudbeck House on the 23rd June 1873, she was cruelly parted from the life-long companionship and love of her dear and devoted youngest sister, Elizabeth. On returning from a trip to the dentist at Leicester, Mary reports having 'perceived a spot of inflammation on her sister's cheek conjoined with a perceptive loss of her strength.' Begging the indulgence of her readers she asked to be 'allowed to pass over as lightly as possible the events of the week which followed,' during which an existing condition of the eruptive skin disease known as phlegmatus erisypelas, developed into a fever which proved to be beyond the reach of contemporary medicine; as Mary recalls:
 'When one so closely bound by the ties of affection, as well as of blood, is taken from us, it seems that this world and the next were but separated by a curtain, a semi-transparent veil; and we feel as if we were drawn with them, half-way beneath that curtain, and could catch a vision of the light beyond, and hear the faint echo of their songs, and almost realise the joys of Heaven ...

... It was the last day in June (1873), when she was carried to her long home and laid to rest in the Brooksby churchyard.  And the stone, we had placed upon the tomb, records the fact of her having presented the living to Mr. Gregg.'   

(Elizabeth Kirby who died aged only 49 years, issued four books in her own right: Steps Up the Ladder, or, The Will and the Way (1862), Dame Buckle and her Pet Johnny (1867), Lost Cities Brought to Light (1871), and Margaret's Choice (1872).) 

After Elizabeth ...

In the decade which followed the calamitous death of Elizabeth, Mary's life seems to have moved into a steady decline of general disinterest and an almost complete end to the writing and publishing of her works ensued.  Elizabeth was of undisputed importance to the duopoly and although today it is understood that Mary was the main driving force, from reading between the lines of her 'Leaflets' there are many grounds for believing that Elizabeth was indeed a major force. The youngest sister was without doubt a leading part of the trinity which had lived and worked hand-in-hand for so long and was equally loved by both Mary and her husband Henry. So the Greggs got on with their lives being very much involved with life at Brooksby and the neighbouring parishes.  During the year following the sad departure, lightning was to strike the steeple of Brooksby Church, which problem was apparently to tax Mary and Henry's resolve somewhat, the initial strike created a fracture which later resulted in a total collapse of the structure. With the couple's help, the church was restored to good order in 1874 and the detailed story of this event can be read here, along with the history of Brooksby Church here.    

Mary did seem to increase her social activities within the town and in the parishes where her husband practised his living, but the decrease of her literary production becomes apparent within the pages of her journal, the contents of which would finally come to a stuttering halt upon the crushing and unexpected occasion of the death of her dear husband Henry on a November day in 1881. Her final chapter describes with much pathos her utter devastation on the sad episode of his demise and although she lived for a further 12 years, albeit with an escalating and debilitating illness, she was not to add another word. A version of her 'Leaflets of my Life' autobiography was published in 1888.

"He knew us no longer ..." 

"... and now I must claim to be forgiven if I linger with a melancholy pleasure over the last happy morning we spent together, and recall every one of the trivial events that happened, and which stand out before me like so many figures on the canvas.
 It was November (1881) but bright and sunny, and as Mr Gregg sat in his easy chair by the fire reading the paper and telling me the news, I was at work for him, and well do I remember the many little things he brought out for me to do. First of all his umbrella must be mended, and have a fresh elastic band put round it; and then his new slippers, that were not quite easy [and] must be cut down a little in the front, and the cut place have a rosette put on to hide it; and then a hole in his Sunday vest had to be mended, and a bit of cloth stitched on the back quite out of sight, but so as to prevent his little knife from getting through the the lining of the pocket.
 I went up the long walk to meet him, and in a moment perceived that something was the matter; he looked paler than I had ever seen him; and death seemed to be written on his face. But when he put his hand to his side and said the pain was there, I felt an alarm amounting to terror. We came in at once by the study door, and after Mr Gregg had taken some hot brandy and water, he lay down upon the sofa, and I began to rub his side; but alas! the pain was so severe he seemed hardly able to bear it, and in a moment was bathed in such perspiration, that it ran off his face like water.
 'We heard him breath my name, but in a few seconds he had lost consciousness, and knew us no longer.'

The Melton Times reported:

   The Rev. Henry Gregg - whose death took place so suddenly on the 9th inst. at his residence, Melton Mowbray, and cast a gloom over the whole neighbourhood - was born at Harby, in the Vale of Belvoir, in 1820. From his early youth he was distinguished and ennobled by his simple faith and trust in God. He devoted himself to His service, and passed the required examinations at King's College, London.  His first curacy was with the poet, the Rev. Robert Montgomery, then incumbent of Percy Chapel, Hatton Garden. Mr Montgomery fully appreciated his humble-mindedness and love for the poor, amongst who he laboured in the very lowest parts of London. After six years of happy friendship the tie was severed by Mr. Montgomery's untimely death. After a lapse of some few years Mr. Gregg returned to his native county, as curate of Hoby-cum-Rotherby. In these parishes he made himself beloved by every man, woman, and child, and when he left that sphere of duty the poor had saved their pence for the purpose of presenting him with a handsome writing desk, and this desk he valued to the last day of his life. From Hoby, in 1859, he removed to Norwich, and his last curacy was St. Michael. In 1860 he was united in marriage with the elder of two sisters and Elizabeth, the younger one, had the gratification of presenting him to the rectorship of Brooksby. It was his earnest wish to be near friends at Hoby and renew his former ties there
   The feelings of his parishioners and friends was well expressed by the homage paid him at his funeral on Monday, when all were filled with regret. The UnionWorkhouse sent up its quota of grief, and the children sang their sacred songs about his grave. He had been appointed chaplain in 1868, and the peaceableness of his character was very conspicuous in his dealings with the officials there. He was the friend of all, and old and young regarded him as their friend.'

All Good Things ...

Mary died on 15th October 1893 at Six Elms at the age of seventy six years. She was buried in the same grave as her husband and her sister Elizabeth near to the walls of the Brooksby church. Little is known of her final years and life after the passing of Henry and Elizabeth but her social life was pretty robust in the town in which she had finally made her home and she numbered many of its residents as her friends. In the Melton Times of Friday, October 20th 1893, a modest notice told of her passing thus:

Death of Mrs Gregg.


    It is with the deepest regret that we have to announce the death of Mrs. Gregg, of this town, which occurred at her residence, on the Asfordby Road early on Sunday morning. The deceased lady was the daughter of the late Mr. Kirby, of Leicester, and came from one of the oldest families in that town. She was married to the Rev. Henry Gregg, the late rector of Brooksby, and who resided at Melton for many years, having previously lived at Syston, there being no rectory at Brooksby. In conjunction with her sister, the late Miss Elizabeth Kirby, she was the authoress of several well-known works. Many of the tales in the Quiver, Cassell's magazine, and some years ago, the Family Herald, were the results of their joint labours, and they were also the joint authoresses of a series of very popular and instructive school books, entitled "The world at home," Published by Messrs. Nelson and Sons.  Mrs Gregg was a brilliant conversationalist and possessed a ready wit and a marvellous power of satire and repartee. Her 'Leaflets from my life" - the last production from her pen, were very fully reviewed in these columns at the time of their publication. She had been in failing health for a long time past, and of late her condition had been such as to cause the utmost anxiety to her friends. She leaves two sisters surviving her, one of them, Madame Coulin, having lived with her for some years and being well known and greatly respected in Melton. The other sister has been grievously afflicted for a great number of years. Mrs. Gregg's kindness of heart caused her to be highly esteemed by all with whom she came into contact. She was 76 years of age.

Relating to the above; 'Madame Coulin' refers to sister Katherine, then a widow and resident at Six Elms and reference to the 'grievously afflicted' is the oldest sibling Sarah Uwins, also then a widow, but who would outlive them all having spent almost half a century in a Nottingham asylum, detained under the Lunacy Act; she was to die in 1903 at the age of 86. Both of these Kirby sisters married well and have extremely interesting personal biographies of their own to relate which I might refer to at some time in the future.  Mary is reported to have fallen on increasingly hard times with the loss of her various incomes and her will, dated 27th January, 1891 left an estate of £730 to Katherine (about £70,000 today). The remains of Mary, Henry and Elizabeth, now all lie together in a tomb at the side of Brooksby church.