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The Oxford DNB October 2016 update


The October 2016 update of the Oxford DNB adds biographies of 89 men and women who shaped British history from the 16th to the 21st century. A full list of new lives is also available, along with the editors' introduction to the update.

Online access to all 89 new biographies, together with the ODNB's 59,972 existing entries, is freely available anywhere, any time — via UK public libraries, and university & college libraries worldwide.


Tirzah Garwood: the Oxford DNB's 60,000th biography


The October 2016 update sees the inclusion of the 60,000th person to the Oxford DNB online. Tirzah Garwood (1908-1951, right) was a wood-engraver and designer, and was married to the artist Eric Ravilious.

Garwood also wrote a notable memoir, Long Live Great Bardfield & Love to You All, which charts her involvement with a circle of inter-war artists including Ravilious, Edward Bawden, and Peggy Angus (1904-1993) — another new addition to the Oxford DNB (see below).

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Hull: UK City of Culture, 2017


Ahead of its year as UK City of Culture, Hull — and its people — feature prominently in the new update.

The ODNB already includes entries on over 300 men and women with links to Hull and its environs. October’s update adds a further 40 biographies of Hull figures active between the sixteenth and early twenty-first century.

New additions include the composer and conductor, Ethel Leginska (1886-1970, left), who was born in Hull, and gave her first performance in the city’s St George’s Hall. Leginska later moved to the United States where she became a noted composer and the first woman to conduct some of the world’s leading orchestras. Jean Hartley (1933-2011), was the co-creator of the Marvell Press — which published The Less Deceived — the first volume of poems by Philip Larkin, following the poet’s recent arrival in Hull. As university librarian, Larkin worked with Hull’s vice-chancellor, the chemist Sir Brynmor Jones (1903-1989), after whom Larkin’s new library was named.


The fabric of Hull life owes much to architects such as Joseph Hirst (1863-1945), who designed the City Hall, and to Alfred Gelder (1855-1941, left) who laid out the modern cityscape — as well as to benefactors including the shipowner, Zachariah Pearson (1821-1891), after whom the city’s main park is named.

Several Hull architects also made their name beyond the city — among them Gelder whose firm designed what’s now the Baltic Centre, Gateshead, and Henry Lockwood (1811-1878) who built the City Hall, Bradford, and the town of Saltaire for the mill owner, Titus Salt.


Artists and performers from the region include the Hull-born film actor Dorothy Mackaill (1903-1990), who made more than 70 films in Hollywood, and the singer Ronnie Hilton (1926-2001, right) who became a popular balladeer in the 1950s. Among notable artists are the painter, Frederick Elwell (1870-1958), and the sculptor William Day Keyworth (1843-1902) whose city statues commemorate the poet Andrew Marvell and the abolitionist, William Wilberforce.


Wilberforce’s political manager Thomas Thompson (1754-1828, left) became the first Methodist to sit as an MP in the British House of Commons.

His prominence as a trader recalls other new biographies including the Hull mariner, William Barron (1835-1913), whose career spanned the final years of British whaling, and the Maister family. As Baltic merchants, the Maisters became leading Hull figures in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, and their Hull residence — Maister House — is now owned by the National Trust.

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Legacies of British Slave-ownership

Since 2015 the Oxford DNB has been working with a team of historians at University College London’s new Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership. In this update we publish the first outcomes from this partnership: new biographies of 35 men and women who were notable slave-owners, or recipients of compensation from the Commissioners of Slave Compensation after the passing of the Abolition Act in 1833.

The new biographies include Christopher Bethell Codrington (1764-1843), an absentee owner who spent heavily on his house, Dodington Park, Gloucestershire, and on expanding the estate. Codrington had little interest in improving the condition of the enslaved people on his estates, and as an MP opposed abolition. Joseph Marryat (1757-1824) — father of Frederick Marryat, naval officer and novelist — was another absentee owner of enslaved people who, in London, was a staunch lobbyist for the white planters and a defender of both slavery and the slave trade.

Some of the activities made possible following compensation are witnessed in the lives George Rainy, John Moss, and Margaret Grant. George Rainy (1790-1863) spent 30 years in Demerara running the family business, trading sugar, and supplying credit to the plantation owners, and received £50,000 on emancipation. On his return to Britain, he bought the islands of Raasay and Rona off the west coast of Scotland, where he was responsible for clearances to make way for sheep farming. In 1823 John Moss (1782-1858) purchased a plantation in Demerara and later represented Liverpool’s planters in negotiations with the government for compensation after abolition, when he and his brother received over £40,000. Moss was an early promoter of railways, and the first chairman of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.

Margaret Grant (1834-1877) became the sole heir of her uncle, Alexander Grant, of Aberlour House on the River Spey, who had made a fortune in the West Indies as a sugar merchant, planter, and slave owner. She made large donations to philanthropic and ecclesiastical causes in the north-east Scotland. After her death, her wealth became the subject of a highly publicized legal action, known as the ‘Aberlour succession case’. John Stewart (1789-1860), a slave owner in Berbice, was probably of African descent. He was awarded compensation for the enslaved people on plantations inherited from his father. As an MP, Stewart represented the concerns of the West India interest while establishing business interests in the City of London. He is thought to have been the first MP of black or mixed race.

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Global and creative lives

2016 marks the 300th anniversary of the birth the landscape gardener, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. In this update we add a life of John Spyers (c.1731-1798), who became Brown’s principal draughtsman. Spyers’ depictions of the gardens at Hampton Court Palace were taken up by Catherine the Great of Russia, who was keen to adopt English landscape designs.


Other lives now added to the Oxford DNB include William Dickson (bap. 1751, d. 1823, left) who became a hugely active, important — and until now little known — campaigner for the abolition of the slave trade in Scotland.

An associate of William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson, Dickson embarked on a speaking tour of Scotland in 1792, prompting petitions to the House of Commons.

Other new biographies include Susan Phillips (1755-1800), sister of the novelist Frances [Fanny] Burney, whose letters provide a detailed survey of English musical life in the 1780s and 1790s. A new appraisal of the Norfolk philologist, translator, and philanthropist Anna Gurney (1795-1857) illuminates both her wide-ranging intellectual interests, and the ways in which, as a female scholar, she disseminated her work among private networks. Educated at home, Gurney became extremely proficient at languages and, anonymously, in 1819 published a literal translation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

In addition to Tirzah Garwood (our 60,000th addition to the Dictionary), modern women artists now included are the Chilean-born designer and muralist Peggy Angus (1904-1993), and the French-born opera and theatre designer Maria Elena Bjørnson (1949-2002), whose sets included Phantom of the Opera (1986), for which she supervised every production of the musical, worldwide.

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2500 new links to 'Art UK' and other external resources


In January 2016 we began a project to link Oxford DNB articles to relevant biographical content in other national collections, including the British Library ‘Sounds’ archive and the BBC Radio archive.

Links to these external sites are found under ‘Other online resources’ in the left-hand panel of an Oxford DNB biography, as (left) for the Pre-Raphaelite artist, John Everett Millais.

In October we add a further 2500 links from ODNB entries to biographical content in other national collections. These include:

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Oxford DNB: who would you like to meet?

Horatio Nelson Nyree Dawn Porter Constantine I Anne Boleyn Winston Churchill Eileen Agar

  • the Oxford DNB online is freely available via public libraries across the UK. Libraries offer ‘remote access’ allowing members to log-on to the complete dictionary, for free, from home (or any other computer) twenty-four hours a day. The Dictionary is also available online via university and college libraries worldwide.
  • as well as 59,879 life stories, the ODNB offers a free, twice monthly biography podcast with over 250 life stories now available. Selected episodes are now also available on SoundCloud.
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