Oxford DNB home page
page layout image
Subscriber home page
page layout image

Preface to the online release, September 2013

By Lawrence Goldman

New Online Contents, September 2013

> Highlights from the September 2013 update

Welcome to the twenty-seventh online update of the Oxford DNB, in which, as every May and September, we extend the dictionary’s coverage of men and women ‘from the earliest times’ to the twenty-first century. The September 2013 update adds biographies of 116 individuals active between the thirteenth and the early twenty-first century, with a special focus on those who shaped the history of the city of Birmingham and the adjoining industrial Black Country.

September’s release also continues three long-term research projects to extend the dictionary’s coverage of black and Asian figures in Britain; the British Empire and Commonwealth; and the abbots, abbesses, priors, prioresses, monks and canons who made up the late-medieval religious. In addition to these sets of biographies, we offer a selection of other lives ranging from the thirteenth to the late-twentieth century.

As ever, full details of the September 2013 update are available from the new online contents page, and a free selection of extracts and highlights is available here. The complete dictionary (58,780 biographies and over 500 theme articles) is available, free, in nearly all public libraries in the UK. Libraries offer ‘remote access’ that enables you to log-in at any time at home (or anywhere you have internet access). Elsewhere the Oxford DNB is available online from schools, colleges, universities, and other institutions worldwide. Full details of participating British public libraries, and how to gain access to the complete dictionary, are available here.

Birmingham and Black Country lives

Lives connected with Birmingham and the adjoining Black Country form the principal theme of the September 2013 update to the Oxford DNB. Boundary extension in 1911 made Birmingham the second city in England, in terms of area and population. This update charts some of those who left their mark on the city and surrounding region; it coincides with the opening (also in September 2013) of the new Library of Birmingham, now the largest public library in Europe.

A continuous territorial link with the city is traceable through the Calthorpe family (per. 1717-1910), associated with the Edgbaston estate to the west of the city, purchased in 1717 and surviving into the twenty-first century. The original purchase was made by Sir Richard Gough (1655-1728) who had made a fortune in Far East trade, and retired to Edgbaston Hall as a rural retreat near to, but secluded from, the city and its industries. His son, Sir Henry Gough, first baronet (1709-1774), a merchant and member of parliament, married into the East Anglian Calthorpe family. In the next generation Sir Henry Gough, second baronet and first Baron Calthorpe (1749-1798), also an MP, adopted the Calthorpe name on inheriting that family’s estates and settled in Suffolk. From 1786, building leases began to be granted on the Edgbaston estate for substantial detached residential villas. The first baron’s younger son, George Gough-Calthorpe, third Baron Calthorpe (1787-1851), was responsible for the laying out and expansion of the suburban estate. The estate’s golden years came during the ownership of Frederick Gough-Calthorpe, fourth Baron Calthorpe (1790-1868), who lived for a while at Perry Hall, Staffordshire. His support for charitable and educational institutions in Birmingham culminated in the donation of Calthorpe Park to the town in 1857, while his estate became home to the leading families who propagated Birmingham’s ‘civic gospel’. The estate was inherited by Frederick Henry William Gough-Calthorpe, fifth Baron Calthorpe (1826-1893), who was more detached from Birmingham and incurred anti-aristocratic sentiment from its inhabitants. These were vented when his son and successor, Augustus Cholmondeley Gough-Calthorpe, sixth Baron Calthorpe (1829-1910), was a tory candidate for one of Birmingham’s parliamentary seats in 1880, and came bottom of the poll. He went on, though, to support the new University of Birmingham and gave land to local churches and charities.

Among the early residents of the Edgbaston suburb was the jeweller and political reformer James Luckcock (1761-1835). Although a leader of the movement in Birmingham for parliamentary reform in the post-Waterloo years, Luckcock regarded his work in organizing Sunday schools as his more important contribution to civic life. His fellow reformer George Edmonds (1788-1868) was among those imprisoned for his leading part in the unlawful election of a ‘legislative attorney’ to represent the town in 1819, when Birmingham had no separate representation in parliament, and went on to organize the Birmingham Political Union. Such developments alarmed one of the town’s leading physicians, John Darwall (1796-1833), an opponent of political change, but an innovator in his own field. He undertook a path-breaking study of the health of Birmingham’s workers, treated poor patients free of charge, and kept careful notes of all his cases. The reputation of the surveyor John Pigott Smith (1798-1861) was secured by his authoritative map of Birmingham (1828) following which he oversaw the resurfacing and drainage of the town’s roads and streets, which were regarded as a model of their type—though his ambitious schemes for improving the town’s drainage ran into opposition from an early generation of economy-minded councillors.

The gun trade was among the most distinctive of Birmingham’s industries. As well as being a successful gun maker, the Quaker Samuel Galton (1753-1832) was a leading figure in Birmingham scientific and civic affairs at the end of the eighteenth century. His family’s gun-making firm, dating to 1702, prospered from government contracts and supplied slave traders in West Africa, for which he was disowned by the Friends in Birmingham in 1796. Birmingham’s interlocking business families are illustrated by John Dent Goodman (1816-1900) who went on to lead the Birmingham gun trade at the time of the Crimean War, when it was threatened by competition from Enfield and also faced the challenge of machine-made guns. Goodman oversaw the foundation of the Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA) which soon became the largest privately-owned rifle maker in Europe. William Greener (1806-1869) was the founder of another Birmingham gun-making dynasty. He settled in Aston in 1844 to be near local suppliers of components, and was noted for his wide-ranging inventiveness, and won large military orders, though mainly for muzzle-loaders. His son William Wellington Greener (1834-1921) won numerous medals, principally for sporting breech-loaders, of which he became the largest manufacturer in Birmingham.

In a town known for its brass industries, Robert Walter Winfield (1799-1869) set up a foundry that became the most successful in Birmingham. Having taken out patents on metallic bedsteads, Winfield established a dominance in that trade, with large exports to the British empire. Richard Prosser (1804-1854), who established a business in the Birmingham brass-founding trade, took up the cause of patent reform, to secure the rights of inventors. His son, Richard Bissell Prosser (1838-1918), born in Aston, made a career in the new Patent Office in London, where he carried out his father’s project to publish and index patents from 1617, and himself published a record of Birmingham inventors and inventions, showing the town’s pre-eminence. Birmingham-born engineer George Edward Belliss (1838-1909) acquired a business in the town making steam engines, and developed a light, high-speed engine for propeller-driven ships, and soon became a leading manufacturer of marine engines. He formed a partnership with a naval engineer Alfred Morcom (1848-1905), and—in addition to supplying the Admiralty—diversified into the expanding new market for electricity generators. The machine-tool manufacturer James Archdale (1839-1925) began on the shop-floor and set up in business in Birmingham in 1868 with just three employees. By 1910 he employed 600, the armaments industry being a major customer for his firm’s precision tools.

Fine art metal working is represented by Francis Alfred Skidmore (1817-1896), a Birmingham-born silversmith who established a business in Coventry making chalices. He applied his expertise in medieval metal work to a range of nationally-prestigious projects, including cathedral restorations (notably a choir screen at Hereford) and public buildings (including St Pancras Station and the Albert Memorial). Among those who worked to raise the standing of one of Birmingham’s long-established industries was the jeweller Jacob Jacobs (1839-1896), whose family—originally from Poland—had set up in business in Birmingham’s jewellery quarter. During the trade depression of the mid-1880s he helped to found a trade association to regulate the industry, while also establishing a technical school to create a well-trained workforce. His collaborator in these innovations was Charles Green (1844-1906), who learned the jeweller’s craft and joined his family’s firm.

Two family-owned businesses in the twentieth century catered for the demands of the mass consumer market. Alfred Joseph Johnson (1873-1936) was a toy manufacturer who seized the opportunity presented by the ban on foreign toy imports during the First World War to create one of Britain’s leading toy-making firms, Chad Valley. A Swiss pastry chef, who had settled in Birmingham, Christian Kunzle (1879-1954), built up a highly successful business making high-quality cakes and chocolates under the Kunzle name, profits from which he channelled into philanthropy in his adopted city. In the previous century Louisa Anne Ryland (1814-1889), the Edgbaston-born heiress to a fortune made in the Birmingham wire-drawing industry, devoted her energies and much of her wealth to the town which had brought prosperity to her family.

The newspaper proprietor Sir John Jaffray, first baronet (1818-1901), who had arrived in Birmingham in 1844—and who became a partner in the Birmingham Journal, the Birmingham Post and the Birmingham Evening Mail—was also a significant benefactor of the town’s hospitals and art gallery. A notable figure in Birmingham’s Liberal politics, John Thackray Bunce (1828-1899) was editor of the Birmingham Daily Post for thirty-six years, was involved in planning the new central library (1866) and also the school of art, which opened in 1885—the first municipally-run art school in the country. John Skirrow Wright (1822-1880), a button manufacturer, was chairman of the Liberal party organization which famously secured all three seats for the constituency at the general election of 1868. His sudden death, while attending a committee meeting in the newly-built Council House, was followed by the unveiling of a statue in front of the municipal buildings. Samuel Timmins (1826-1902), a hardware manufacturer responsible for compiling a remarkable survey of the region’s metal-working industries, was among the circle of active citizens who promoted Birmingham’s civic gospel. The ideas underpinning such civic activism were recorded and published as a result of the shorthand reporting of Marie Bethell Beauclerc (1845-1897), who taught shorthand at the Midland Institute to large attendances and introduced typewriting to the city’s commercial practice, as well as pioneering a new career for professional women. A new generation of municipal improvers was represented by William White (1820-1900), who set up in business in Birmingham as a bookseller and printer, was a dedicated teacher at a Quaker Sunday School, promoted temperance, and as a town councillor organized slum clearance. His work in improving Birmingham’s housing was continued by George Baker (1825-1910) who persuaded the council to build the city’s first municipal housing.

Three Birmingham architects whose lives are included in the update helped to shape the city’s built environment. The new Council House, completed in 1879 in a modified Italo-French Renaissance style, was the work of Henry Richard Yeoville Thomason (1826-1901). Julius Alfred Chatwin (1830-1907) established an architectural practice there and designed schools and commercial buildings during the mid-Victorian years, before turning to church architecture. William Henry Bidlake (1861-1938) became an influential teacher of architecture, and drew national and international attention for his respect for the vernacular craft tradition in his domestic and church commissions.

Sir Whitworth Wallis (1855-1927), the first keeper of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, which opened in 1885, sought to make the gallery ‘something more than a picture exhibition’. His legacy included fine collections of metalwork, ceramics, and examples of relief ornament, valuable as examples to the city’s craft trades, as well as building up the museum’s holdings of Pre-Raphaelite art. An early student at the Birmingham Municipal School of Art, Florence Camm (1874-1960) went on to join her family’s stained glass studio in Smethwick, working on ecclesiastical and domestic stained glass, for which she was a prize-winner at the Turin International Exhibition in 1911. Another student at the city’s art school, William James Bloye (1890-1975), was noted for his public sculpture in the city, of which over fifty examples are recorded. In the 1930s the brothers (Henry) Robert Melville (1905-1986) and John William Melville (1902-1986) were leading members of the Birmingham group of surrealist painters.

Birmingham’s traditions of internationalism and anti-slavery attracted many outsiders. The Baptist missionary James Mursell Phillippo (1798-1879), who established Sunday schools and Bibles classes among the enslaved in Jamaica, from 1824, maintained a lifelong connection with the Baptist community in Birmingham. The American peace campaigner and consul in Birmingham, Elihu Burritt (1810-1879), found its political culture and faith in moral progress congenial. A Baptist pastor Peter Thomas Stanford (1860-1909), who had been born into slavery in the United States, spent five years as a minister in Birmingham. Stanford’s reputation for justice, equality, and enterprise made the city a place where a passionate advocate for racial justice could expect a warm reception. Humanitarian relief for refugees was the lifelong concern of Francesca Mary Wilson (1888-1981), who took up a teaching post in Edgbaston where she opened her home first to émigrés from revolutionary Russia then to those fleeing Nazi Germany and civil war Spain.

Child welfare is another theme running through the lives now added to the Oxford DNB. Sabrina Sidney (1756/7-1843), a London foundling who was taken to Shrewsbury, was the subject of an extraordinary experiment in child development at the hands of Thomas Day, a member of the Lunar Society of Birmingham, and heavily influenced by the writings of Rousseau. Birmingham’s destitute street children were the object of the philanthropic work of Sir John Throgmorton Middlemore, first baronet (1844-1924), who was convinced that children’s opportunities would be improved if they were removed to adopted homes in Canada, and so began a programme of organized emigration, whose results were later seen as controversial. Julia Lloyd (1867-1955), born into a Black Country family of Quaker ironmasters, became interested in the Froebelian kindergarten movement and worked to make kindergartens available to the poor in Birmingham. The Quaker educationist Margaret Ann Backhouse (1887-1977) encountered on a visit to North America the Camp Fire Girls (CFG) movement, established by progressive educators in Canada and introduced the CFG movement to Britain, at Bournville. In 1947, alongside an American colleague, Backhouse accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the British and American Friends. Dame Geraldine Southall Cadbury (1865-1941) had married into the Cadbury family, and devoted her life to social reform, developing a specialist interest in the treatment of young offenders, on which she was recognized as a national authority. Her husband Barrow Cadbury (1862-1958) shared her interest in penal reform.

Three of the daughters of Joseph Chamberlain perpetuated that family’s tradition of public service. The eldest Beatrice Mary Chamberlain (1862-1918) broke away from a domestic role to manage elementary schools in London, but remained connected with the West Midlands’ heart of the Unionist party, and fought for separate women’s organizations within it. Her half-sisters (Florence) Ida Chamberlain (1870-1943) and (Caroline) Hilda Chamberlain (1872-1967), involved in public administration to address food shortages during the Great War, became active after the war in the Women’s Institute movement and in local government. Through their correspondence with their brothers Austen and Neville Chamberlain, the sisters created and preserved a record of interwar British politics and diplomacy. Catherine Courtauld Osler (1854-1924) followed a family involvement with the women’s suffrage movement, advocated women’s involvement in local government, and took an especial interest in infant welfare. A landowner’s daughter from Berkswell, Solihull, Lettice Annie Floyd (1865-1934) became a member of the militant Women’s Social and Political Union and was twice imprisoned.

A member of Birmingham’s Quaker Sturge dynasty, Mary Darby [Maida] Sturge (1865-1925) was among the first four women students at Mason College, Birmingham. She later took up general practice in the city, where she promoted the position of women in the profession. In the early twentieth century an Edgbaston schoolteacher (Martha) Beatrice Webb (1863-1951) gave up her teaching post to enrol as one of the first women medical students at the newly-founded University of Birmingham. Her surviving letter books preserve in unusual detail a record of this experience. The Birmingham medical practitioner, John Francis Hall-Edwards (1858-1926) undertook early experiments in the use of X-ray photographs for surgical purposes at enormous personal cost, as the effects of radiation led to the amputation of his left hand and four fingers from his right hand. After his death, Hall-Edwards was among those commemorated in Hamburg, Germany, on the Radiation Martyrs’ Memorial. A leading figure in the Birmingham University Medical School, Sir Arthur Peregrine Thomson (1890-1977) had himself studied medicine there and established a substantial private practice in Edgbaston, gaining a reputation for his diagnostic flair. After medical training in Bombay and London, Dhani Ram Prem (1904-1979) settled in Birmingham as a general practitioner on the eve of the Second World War; in 1945 he was elected the city’s first Asian councillor, and in the 1960s took a leading part in combating racial discrimination.

One of Birmingham’s first Labour councillors was Eldred Hallas (1870-1926), who supported Britain’s participation in the First World War, and was accounted the city’s first Labour MP. Charles James Simmons (1893-1975), twice wounded during the First World War, was twice imprisoned for campaigning for a negotiated peace and against army field punishments. He continued as a peace campaigner between the wars and served for two periods as MP for Birmingham and West Midlands constituencies. Returning to Birmingham after being wounded and gassed on the Western front, Percy Lionel Edward Shurmer (1888-1959) became well-known as a pugnacious street orator, was elected to the city council, and became an MP for Sparkbrook, formerly a Conservative and Unionist seat, in 1945 when Labour gained a majority of the city’s seats. Among those who lost their seats in 1945 was the Conservative and Unionist Geoffrey William Lloyd, Baron Geoffrey-Lloyd (1902-1984), who reconstructed the party’s organization in the city, and went on to hold ministerial office in the 1950s, notably at the education ministry, where he introduced ambitious school building plans.

In 1938 Birmingham marked the centenary of its charter of incorporation with a historical pageant, the most ambitious of those organized by the pageant master Gwen Lally (1882-1963). For the Birmingham pageant she mobilized a cast of 8000 citizen actors in a historical chronology, from the age of dinosaurs to modern manufacturing. Two subjects offer differing perspectives on Birmingham’s more recent past. In her recollections, written late in life and published at the end of the twentieth century, Kate Dayus (1903-2003), described her poverty-stricken upbringing in back-to-back housing in Hockley, on the edge of the Jewellery Quarter, but also how she successfully set up in business on her own account as an enameller. Henry Charles Gunter (1920-2007), born in Jamaica, joined friends in Birmingham in 1948, where he became the first black member of his union branch and the first black delegate to the Birmingham Trades Council. He was active in campaigning in the early 1950s against the colour bar and racial discrimination in the workplace.

Several lives included in the update were connected with the Black Country, the industrial region to the north and west of Birmingham. The entrepreneur John Shaw (1782-1859), was apprenticed in Birmingham and learned the craft of the travelling salesman before setting up in business as a ‘factor’ in Wolverhampton. Such men played a crucial role in industrialization, in Shaw’s case distributing the hardware products of Birmingham and the Black Country to wholesalers and retailers both around Britain and also India. His grandson Sir (Theodore Frederick) Charles Edward Shaw, first baronet (1859-1942), a town councillor and MP, diversified the business into machine tools in the twentieth century. John Shaw’s widow Elizabeth Shaw (1788-1869) had provided essential support to the family firm, overseeing the warehouse and dealing with the accounts, both during his lifetime and after. Following her husband’s early death Eliza Tinsley (1813-1882) took over the running of what became a major nail and chain-making business, with a new factory at Tipton. Trading in her own name, Tinsley supplied orders to large customers, such as the Admiralty, and as far as Australasia.

Thomas Parker (1843-1915), brought up in the iron trade in Coalbrookdale, Shropshire, became a partner in a firm in Wolverhampton that manufactured electrical accumulators, and was responsible for electrification schemes around the country, including the Liverpool overhead railway. His interest in fuel-economy and smoke abatement led to his invention of Coalite smokeless fuel. Sir Alfred George Beech Owen (1908-1975) took over his family’s steel and component business at Darlaston after his father’s early death, and organized it on Christian principles with extensive welfare and recreational facilities. Succeeding generations of the Williamson family (per. c. 1855-c. 1934) ran a metal-working business originating in Wolverhampton, but established permanently outside the Black Country, at Worcester. William Blizard Williamson (1810/11-1878) founded the Worcester business, making tinplate domestic goods, and his two sons William Blizard Williamson (1839/40-1895) and George Henry Williamson (1845-1918) learned the trade at the tinsmiths’ bench, and went on to develop innovations such as lever lid tins for paint, custard powder, and treacle, and airtight tins for tobacco, the latter becoming the firm’s main product. Under George Evans Williamson (1887-1970), grandson of the founder, the firm made the bold step of entering the food canning industry but the need to raise capital ended the family ownership of the Worcester firm, which was subsumed into the Metal Box conglomerate.

Three Black Country figures continue to be remembered for their differing contributions to the region’s culture. Tipton, in the Black Country, is associated with the bargeman and prize-fighter William Perry (1819-1880), who honed his fighting skills on the Black Country’s canals. By eighteen years-of-age he was already known as the ‘Tipton Slasher’. To divert young men away from the attractions of such rough pastimes, John Blackham (1834-1923), a draper in West Bromwich, founded the Pleasant Sunday Afternoon association which aimed to provide convivial fellowship within a religious framework. The Oldbury fish-stall holder and ironworker, John Thomas [Jack] Judge (1872-1938) earned beer money by writing songs, of which ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’, composed in 1912, achieved national popularity when sung by troops disembarking in France in August 1914.

> Back to top

Black and Asian lives

The September 2013 selection of black and Asian lives begins with the African-American dancer William Henry Lane (c. 1824-c. 1854), who performed as Master Juba in New York, where Dickens saw him in 1842. He came to England in 1848 where he became a star attraction. Lane faded from view, and it is likely that he died in a Liverpool workhouse. A decade later a fugitive slave, Jack Burton [alias John Anderson] (fl. 1831-1862) turned to the powers of the British courts to over-rule those of Canada, after he was threatened with extradition from Canada to the USA for killing a slave-catcher. He was able to come to Britain, where he was warmly received, and spent some time in Corby, Northamptonshire, before sailing for Liberia. Edward Peter [Eddie] Whaley (1877x80-1960), born in Montgomery, Alabama, and Harry Clifford Scott (1879-1947) from Cleveland, Ohio, formed an African-American comic double-act who in 1909 made their first appearance in Britain, where they settled, and where, for thirty years, they enjoyed headline billing. A singer and actor of Barbadian descent Isabelle Harriet Lucas (1927-1997) travelled to London in 1954 and appeared on stage and television for forty years. One of the post-Windrush exodus of West Indians to Britain, Kelso Benjamin Cochrane (1926-1959), a carpenter born in Antigua, also arrived in England in 1954 and settled in Notting Hill, scene of racial violence in 1958. Cochrane was fatally stabbed by a group of white youths in May 1959, but none of the culprits was ever charged.

Asian subjects now added to the ODNB include Princess Catherine Hilda Duleep Singh (1871-1942), a daughter of the deposed ruler of Punjab. She was born in London and brought up in Suffolk, becoming a supporter of the women’s suffrage movement, but spent most of the interwar years in Germany before returning to Buckinghamshire where she opened her home to refugees. Anna May Wong (1905-1961), born into a Chinese family in California, entered the film industry, and based herself in Britain during the 1930s where she starred in films and on the variety stage, and was a prominent society figure. Also during the 1930s Dosabhoy Framji [Dosoo] Karaka (1911-1974), born in Bombay, spent eight years in Britain, including a period at Oxford University where he became the first Indian president of the Oxford Union, before returning to India as a reporter for a nationalist paper. Medical practitioner Diwan Singh (1894-1983) qualified in medicine at Amritsar and set up in general practice in Birmingham as the first turbaned doctor in Britain, before moving to Shepherd’s Bush, where he was president of the Sikh place of worship and chief spokesmen of the British Sikh community. Gyani Sundar Singh Sagar (1917-1996) was uprooted from his Punjab birthplace after the partition of post-independence India, and settled in Manchester where he fought against restrictive rules which excluded turban-wearing Sikhs from employment as bus conductors. Sagar went on to incur fines and imprisonment before he successfully secured exemption for turban-wearers from the law that required helmets to be worn by riders of motor-cycles.

> Back to top

Empire and Commonwealth lives: Indians in British East Africa

Six lives reflect different aspects of the Indian community which became established in British East Africa. After leaving his home in Kutch, India, in search of work, Alidina Visram (1851-1916) went on to establish a large-scale business enterprise in British East Africa, laying the foundations for the sugar, cotton, rubber, and tea industries there. Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee (1856-1936), a businessman from Karachi, India, moved to East Africa during the construction of the Uganda railway, established east Africa’s first non-white newspaper, and became the first Indian member of the legislative council of the British East Africa Protectorate, where he campaigned for equal rights for Indians. Manilal Ambalal Desai (1879-1926), a lawyer from Bombay, moved to Nairobi, where he founded newspapers which adopted an anti-colonial stance, and was a leading representative of Indians in Kenya while also forming close links with African political activists. Muljibhai Prabhudas Madhvani (1894-1958) from Saurashtra, India, joined his elder brother in Uganda in 1908, and went on to become managing director of a large family business there—growing and refining sugar, as well as operating cotton ginneries, oil mills, and soap factories. Considered a socially-responsible employer, Madhvani was a major philanthropist in Uganda, especially in education and health. A printer, Makhan Singh (1913-1973), born in the Punjab, had moved with his family to Nairobi when still a child, and founded the Labour Trade Union of East Africa, open to workers of all races and religions. At a general strike in 1950, during which he demanded full independence for Kenya, he was arrested and detained without charge until 1961. Also born in the Punjab, Sophia Mustafa (1922-2005) was brought up in Nairobi and—after becoming a refugee following the partition of India and Pakistan—she returned to East Africa where in 1958, backed by the Tanganyika African National Union, she was elected the first non-white woman on the legislative council of Tanganyika. Her concern was to create one nation, irrespective of race; after independence she became a member of parliament.

> Back to top

The late-medieval religious

New additions to our coverage of the medieval religious range from instances of revival and expansion in the thirteenth century, to an example of failure of leadership on the eve of the dissolution of those communities in the early sixteenth century. Matilda de Bailleul (d. 1212), abbess of Wherwell, from the Flemish town of Bailleul, probably took vows as a nun at Wherwell Abbey in recompense for the sacking of the abbey by William of Ypres in 1141. After her arrival in about 1173, the abbey was reborn: she restored its buildings and properties, restructured its administration, won new patrons, and expanded its community of nuns. Michael of Amesbury (d.1253) was elected abbot of Glastonbury in 1235, having shown business acumen as the abbey’s chamberlain, notably in erecting a fulling mill. As abbot he continued to exploit the abbey’s resources, stripping peat from Godney moor to fuel the abbey’s hearths. Litigation was his preoccupation, though his long legal battle to remove the abbey from the patronage of the bishop of Bath was ultimately unsuccessful. Following the election of John of Taunton (d. 1291) as abbot of Glastonbury in 1274, the bishop surrendered his patronage to the crown, and the new abbot concentrated on an ambitious building programme on the abbey’s estates, incurring considerable debts, while helping to carry through a new code which placed more emphasis on intellectual study. Elected twenty-second abbot of the Cistercian abbey of Jervaulx in 1511, Robert Thornton (d. 1533) was a figure of significance in the north of England, appointed to a royal commission to gather corn in 1528, a year of famine. His rebus and a black mourning vestment are preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Edmund Forest [Shoyer] (d. in or after 1525), from a Gloucestershire yeoman family, was elected prior of the Augustinian priory of Llanthony in Wales, one of the wealthiest Augustinian houses. As president of the Augustinian general chapter in 1518, Forest failed to respond to Cardinal Wolsey’s urgings for improvements within the order, and after a visitation of his own priory was himself removed.

> Back to top

Other lives: Northumberland, Aberdeen, Yorkshire, Cardiff, Fermanagh, and London

A dungeon in the castle at Newcastle, which is still known as Heron’s Pit, is associated with William Heron (d. 1257/8). A sheriff of Northumberland, Heron spent his career in administration in the north of England at a time when the country’s rulers sought to squeeze more money from the counties; Heron is recorded as carrying out his office in a grasping and arbitrary manner. The identity of the medieval war poet John Page (fl. 1418-1422) is not precisely known, but from several possible candidates of that name from among Henry V’s army and royal retinue it is possible to narrow the likely candidates. His narrative poem The Siege of Rouen, an account of Henry’s siege of Normandy’s garrison between 1418 and 1419, is both a valuable historical source and a thoughtful literary response to the atrocities committed during the Hundred Years’ War. A City of London merchant and politician Sir John Swinnerton (bap. 1564, d.1616) lost out in rivalries between syndicates competing to acquire rights to manage customs revenues, but was a notable lord mayor of the City in 1612-13, when the corporation began building work in Londonderry and that city received its charter. He was also closely associated with literary life, was dedicatee of about twenty published works, and sufficiently conspicuous to be satirized in a contemporary play.

Two lives illustrate aspects of Jacobite allegiance in the early eighteenth century. John Gordon of Glenbucket (c.1673-1750), spent his working life as a factor on the duke of Gordon’s estates in north-east Scotland, where support for the royal house of Stuart was strong, and fought with the Jacobite army in 1715. After his surrender he became a Hanoverian agent, but reverted to his earlier Jacobite allegiance and took part in the 1745 rising, after which he fled abroad. Robert Gordon (bap. 1703, d.1779), consecrated in 1741 as the last bishop of the nonjuring Church of England, was present when Charles Edward Stuart addressed fifty English Jacobites during a clandestine visit to London in 1750. A late eighteenth-century political movement is reflected in two Yorkshire lives. Pemberton Milnes (1729-1795) of Wakefield, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, was head of the county’s most successful woollen business and, as a leading religious dissenter in the West Riding, was a keen supporter of parliamentary reform, attending the first meeting of the Yorkshire Association. That he was said to have drunk more port-wine than any man in Yorkshire secured his reputation for conviviality. The full-time clerk of the Yorkshire Association was an attorney and founder of the Yorkshire Law Society, from Hedon, near Hull, William Gray (1751-1845), a devout Anglican, who managed successful election campaigns, but is now as well known for his surviving note books and autobiographical records and the insights they provide into domestic life in the period.

Business, philanthropy, and Wales’s place in the transatlantic economy are the themes of two Cardiff-based subjects. Sir William Reardon Smith, first baronet (1856-1935) established a successful merchant shipping line based in Cardiff, where he became a notable benefactor, contributing to hospitals, a nautical training school, and most significantly the National Museum of Wales at Cathays Park. A professor at University College, Cardiff, the economist Brinley Thomas (1906-1994), was most widely remembered for his study of migration of both population and capital from Great Britain to the USA in the context of the cycles of the economies either side of the Atlantic; also active in public life in Wales, he chaired the Council for Wales.

Two final lives, now added to the Oxford DNB, record the results of two painstaking studies of very different phenomena. For forty years the county surveyor in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, James Parsons [Jim] Burkitt (1870-1959) pursued an amateur interest in ornithology. He was reckoned one of the most important British ornithologists in the first half of the century, mainly on account of his study of robins at his home Lawnakilla, near Enniskillen, undertaken over several years in the mid-1920s during which time he charted their territories and behaviour. Ralph Rylance (1782-1834), from Bolton-le-Moors, Lancashire, embarked on a literary career in London, where he undertook a series of small editorial jobs. He spent two years compiling the Epicure’s Almanack, published in 1815 with notices of 650 eating houses in London. However, the idea of a Regency ‘good food guide’ did not take off and nearly two-thirds of the copies were pulped within two years. It would be 150 years before there appeared another comprehensive guide to dining in the capital.

> Back to top

Our next online update

Our next online update will be published on Thursday 9 January 2014 and will add biographies of 220 men and women who died in the year 2010.

Lawrence Goldman, editor

> Back to top

> New online update, September 2013

Copyright © Oxford University Press 2017
Privacy Policy and Legal Notice