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Preface, October 2007By Lawrence Goldman
Welcome to the ninth online update of the Oxford DNB in which, as every May and October, we extend the dictionary's coverage of men and women active 'from the earliest times' to the twentieth century. This update also coincides with the third anniversary of the Oxford DNB's publication in 2004. In the three years since then updates have added new biographies of some 1300 people, as well as more than 300 'theme' articles for quick reference and research.
The October 2007 update adds biographies of 111 men and women, active between the twelfth and the late twentieth century. In addition to new biographies the update includes a further 35 'reference group' essays—our expanding selection of well-known groups, clubs, and networks in the British past, available (for people with subscriber access) in the themes area of the online edition. October's update also includes one new feature essay to mark the anniversary of another (this time fictional) historical gathering, William Walker's 1862 engraving of distinguished men of science, 1807/8—an early contribution to the creation and conceptualization of the 'industrial revolution'.
The principal focus of our new biographies in October 2007 is on regional lives: people with a close association with a particular region of the British Isles whose achievements gained them national attention and today make them subjects of interest for archivists, librarians, teachers, and students. In keeping with this focus, part of this update continues our project (begun in May 2007) to provide biographies of every pre-Reformation English bishop. October's selection adds a further seventeen episcopal lives, from Chichester to Ely to Carlisle, between the twelfth and sixteenth century.
As well as recording regional lives in a national context the Oxford DNB—and especially its online edition—is increasingly being used to see 'national figures' in their local context. Here Britain's public libraries and record offices play a crucial role as centres for local history, helped since 2006 by the Oxford DNB's availability online in nearly every English public library, all those in Northern Ireland, and many more in Wales and Scotland. Online technology means that most public libraries now offer remote access, allowing library members to log on to the dictionary for free from home (or from anywhere else). Combined with the Oxford DNB's geographical search facility, this excellent (and all too little known) library service now provides everyone with the potential to learn more about the shapers of town, city or county, as well as national, life. More information on free access to the complete Oxford DNB via your local library is available here.
As ever, full details of the October 2007 update are available from the New online contents page. Extracts from the update are also available here or from the October issue of the Oxford DNB's free monthly magazine.
Regional lives: beer and skittles
New entries on eighteen brewers extend the Oxford DNB's existing coverage of almost 100 men and women included principally as drink manufacturers. All our new subjects—several of whom are presented in family articles charting the rise of brewing dynasties—were responsible for nationally recognized brands. But, as is common with this industry, all are strongly associated with the places where they founded their businesses: in Yorkshire John Smith (1824–1879) of Tadcaster and Joshua Tetley (1778–1859) of Leeds; Manchester's Henry Boddington (1813–1866); the Simonds family of Reading and the Meux of London; Samuel Brain (1850–1903) in Cardiff; and the Tennent family of Glasgow. Alongside brewers October's update adds a life of Bessie Williamson (1910–1982) who—as the head of the Laphroaig distillery on the isle of Islay—was Scotland's only twentieth-century female distillery owner. Completing the set is the Hereford MP Charles Radcliffe Cooke (1840–1911), who promoted his county's local beverage so energetically that he was labelled the 'member for cider': he ensured that it was stocked in House of Commons' bars and advised a daily consumption of six apples and a pint of cider before bed.
Collectively the brewers highlight some common themes in the history of nineteenth-century manufacturing, taste, and social mobility. All were able to respond to the developments that created the mid- to late Victorian 'beer boom': a growth in demand born of rapid population increase and rising disposable income among the working class, use of the railways to establish national products (when many predicted the industry's decline with the end of the coaching inn), and the popularity of lighter pale ales at home and overseas. Collectively our new lives also suggest some interesting biographical themes. One is the importance of marriage in establishing their businesses: the rising fortunes of most of our brewers can be traced to their early connection with wealthier and more established families. Equally the extraordinary life of Valerie, Lady Meux (1852–1910), a Devon butcher's daughter and one-time actress who became one of the country's wealthiest women through marriage to the heir to the London brewing family's fortune, shows the other side of this relationship. Secondly, our new lives show both the rapid social elevation of these brewing dynasties, of whom the Meux are the prime example, and a readiness to become prominent benefactors in their localities, as shown in the activities of Brain in Cardiff, Boddington in Manchester, or the Tetleys of Leeds.
Benefaction and civic pride were characteristics shared with other individuals included in October's update. An extremely prosperous cloth merchant, William Browne (d. 1489), applied much of his accumulated wealth to finance works of charity in his native town of Stamford, Lincolnshire; the almshouse he endowed still survives, as do memorial brasses to his family in the parish church. To commemorate the elevation of Leeds to city status in 1893 a local industrialist, Walter Harding (1843–1927), financed the ambitious bronze sculpture scene that continues to dominate City Square, having previously helped to fund a public art gallery in the city.
Alongside beer, our skittles (of a kind) are provided in new entries on popular entertainers. From the mid-1940s to the late 1970s the clown Charlie Cairoli (1910–1980) was the main attraction at the Blackpool Tower circus, well known for his slapstick routines with their abundant use of soapy water. Originally from northern Italy, Cairoli became a British subject in the 1950s and is now commemorated by a permanent exhibition at Blackpool Tower. During the 1940s the town also played host to another clown, Nicholai Polakovs (1900–1974), better known as Coco, who began a forty-year involvement with the Bertram Mills circus in the late 1920s; Cairoli and Coco are joined in this update by a third performer, Adrien Wettach (1880–1959), who as Grock entertained British audiences between 1912 and 1924. New regional entertainers of a different kind include the Northumberland piper and rogue Jimmy Allan (1734–1810), whose name and legend live on in an eponymous pipe tune, and the Newcastle songwriter and ballad singer Joe Wilson (1841–1875). A librarian at the British Museum, Theo Marzials (1850–1920), was responsible for a string of popular songs and ballads in the 1870s and 1880s, as well as collections of verse (one of his compositions has been claimed as 'the worst poem ever written'). The financial backers of Teddy Solomon (1855–1895) were meanwhile disappointed in their hopes that his prolific output of operettas would rival the popularity of Gilbert and Sullivan. Music of a higher brow was the life's work of the concert pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch (1890–1963)—a favourite of Churchill—whose performances to wartime audiences included the lunchtime concerts held in the National Gallery.
Early twentieth-century Blackpool life is again recalled in the biography of the swimmer Lucy Morton (1898–1980), one of three Olympic gold medallists now added to the dictionary. Morton's talent was nurtured by Blackpool corporation and she was a double world record holder by 1920; four years later she became the first British woman to win an Olympic swimming gold. Her success came nearly three decades after that of the weightlifter Launceston Elliot (1874–1930), Britain's first Olympic gold medallist in the inaugural games of 1896. Elliot later became a music-hall strongman who concluded his act by supporting a troupe of sixteen men on his back. The Essex cricketer and all-round sportsman Johnny Douglas (1882–1930) also won gold in 1908 as a middleweight boxer. However, he is better remembered as the captain of the England cricket side that suffered a 5–0 whitewash at the hands of the Australians in the ill-fated Ashes tour of 1920–21, a margin of defeat unequalled in that fixture until 2006-7. Untimely death links Douglas (who perished in a shipping disaster) with other sporting figures included in October's update. Possibly the most gifted British racing driver of the interwar years, Dick Seaman (1913–1939), died in his mid-twenties after crashing in the Belgian grand prix in June 1939, his reputation rapidly fading on account of his tenuous association with the Nazi state (Hitler sent a wreath to his funeral). The Munich air disaster claimed the former Manchester City footballer Frank Swift (1913–1958), the first goalkeeper to captain England. The showjumper Caroline Bradley (1946–1983) overcame the disappointment of being omitted from the British team at the 1972 Olympics to become one of the most skilled riders in the world at the time of her sudden death.
Examples of sporting excellence are matched by lives devoted to widening participation in physical recreation. Irene Marsh (1875–1938), the founder of the Liverpool Physical Training College, belonged to the generation of women educators for whom physical exercise was a cornerstone of female emancipation. A representative of the succeeding generation, Gladys Wright (1891–1980), first principal of Nonington College of Physical Education in Kent, promoted gymnastics in the 1930s with a view to creating 'a fit nation: a people beautiful in body and sound in mind'. Acting on his doctor's advice to take open-air exercise, the St Albans businessman Samuel Ryder (1858–1936) became a keen golfer; his addiction to the sport led him to offer a gold trophy, the Ryder cup, for a competition between British and American professionals.
Among those now added to the dictionary a number owe their noteworthiness to a readiness to challenge the conventions of their times. Demands for political reform in the 1840s galvanized the Ashton-under-Lyne schoolmaster William Aitken (1812?–1869) and the Croydon printer Thomas Frost (1821–1908), who produced some of the best-known recollections of the Chartist movement; Aitken endured a period of imprisonment and, like many other British radicals of the time, travelled to the USA. At the end of the nineteenth century Britain became a refuge for opponents of tsarism in Russia, including Felix Volkhovsky (1846–1914), who fled from Siberia and settled in west London, where his home became a meeting place for the community of Russian émigrés. Born in the Ukraine, Volkhovsky is one of three people in the update (Polakovs and Moiseiwitsch being the others) to have been born in the territories of the Russian empire.
A trio of women asserted their personal independence through changes in religious affiliation. Twenty-two-year-old Emily Loveday, born in Hammersmith in 1799 but schooled in France, scandalized opinion in the early 1820s by publicly defying her father's wishes and embracing Roman Catholicism. Later in the century the court of probate upheld the will of a wealthy widow and convert to Catholicism, Jane Weld (1806–1871), a significant benefactor to Westminster Cathedral, whose bequests to Roman Catholic causes had been challenged by her surviving family. Lady Evelyn Cobbold (1867–1963), who had married into the Suffolk brewing family, converted to Islam, and became the first British Muslim woman to make the hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), her diary of which she published in 1934. Alongside this trio, the biographies can now be written of two Essex religious writers, Cicely Johnson and Rose Thurgood, following the discovery of conversion narratives that provide a fascinating insight into the life of puritan women in the early seventeenth century.
In keeping with this quintet, other new subjects are remembered for following a variety of religious trajectories. A prosperous skinner in the city of London, John Claydon (d. 1415), made his house a centre of heterodox activity, which brought him to the notice of the authorities. Recantation of heretical views was followed by relapse; his possession of books in the English language was considered suspicious, associating him with the Lollard movement, and he was executed by burning at Smithfield in September 1415. Moses Levy (1782–1854), a Jewish slavery abolitionist and the founder of a colony in Florida, came in the mid-1820s to London, where his cause was taken up by millenarian protestants, but he resisted their attempts at conversion. The writer and artist Peter Anson (1889–1975) was among the majority of the Anglican Benedictine community on Caldey Island who entered the Roman Catholic communion in 1913; he settled in north-east Scotland where he took a special interest in mission work among fishermen. Having drifted towards the Church of England over some two decades, the cultural critic Philippe Mairet (1886–1975) was received into the Anglican communion in 1943. Another wartime change of affiliation was that of the England rugby international and Fleet Street columnist Peter Howard (1908–1965), who was drawn to the revivalist Moral Re-Armament movement. Perhaps the most unconventional figure was Beatrice May Baker (1876–1973), the progressive, internationalist headmistress of Badminton School between the wars, whose sources of religious inspiration ranged from Plato to Marx; in chapel 'Jesus often had to share the stage with Lenin'.
Other notably independent women in the update include the diarist Betsey, Lady Fremantle (1778–1857), whose memoir provides a detailed record of life on board her husband's Royal Navy ship during the Napoleonic war, travels in continental Europe, and the raising of nine children. Lady Fremantle's life at sea brought her into close contact with her husband's commanding officer, Horatio Nelson, whose biographer, Carola Oman (1897–1978), is also added to the dictionary, together with the feminist writer Emily (Micky) Hahn (1905–1997). With the patronage of royalty, noblewomen, and bishops, Lady Isabella King (1772–1845), an aristocratic socialite in regency Bath, formed the Ladies Association to establish a conventual home for parentless single gentlewomen. Although dismissed by some contemporaries as a 'transient resting place for young ladies speculating on their advancement in life', her institution was inspired by the idea of reviving female religious communities in England.
Lives of invention
An abundance of independent spirit is also found in a new set of biographies on inventors and technical innovators. Many of these are again noteworthy for their strong regional connections, as in the case of George Bennie (1891–1970), whose prototype 'railplane'—a self-propelled passenger car intended to travel at 200 m.p.h. along an overhead rail—offered a vision of the future in 1920s Glasgow. Visitors to Brighton who today travel on the city's electric railway (the world's oldest) owe their experience to the local electrical engineer Magnus Volk (1851–1937); Volk's other creations for his home town included a 'seashore electric tramroad' that offered passengers a 'sea voyage on wheels' in a car running along a track on the seabed. Attempting to understand the tides over which Volk's tram ran was Edward Roberts (1845–1933), who designed and had built a mechanical tidal predictor, two metres tall and weighing more than two tonnes, which he and his son used to compute tides commercially. Roberts's machines constitute a pioneering family of analogue computers; his predictor is now on display at the World Museum, Liverpool.
Effective, if unorthodox, inventions also feature in the career of the paper manufacturer John Dickinson (1782–1869), whose first patent was for a non-smouldering, non-explosive cartridge paper and who followed this with, among other creations, the pre-paid and the gummed envelope for use in the new postal system. Ingenuity was likewise a characteristic of the submariner and recipient of the Victoria Cross Martin Nasmith (1883–1965), whose tactics included a fake periscope—comprising an oar and tobacco tin mounted on a raft—which he used as a decoy while patrolling in the Sea of Marmara in 1915. Finally, Geoffrey Pyke's contribution to naval warfare almost resulted in an even more unlikely structure in the early 1940s. Pyke proposed a fleet of ice ships (made from a composite of ice and powdered wood, known as Pykecrete) to be used in the north Atlantic as mobile airports and freighters. Having gained Churchill's approval, Pyke worked on plans with the Austrian chemist and later Nobel prizewinner Max Perutz.
It was with the aim of fostering innovation through financial awards that a well-connected group of individuals came together in 1753 to create the Society of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce. Alongside those already included we now add biographies of three more of its founding members: Jacob Bouverie, first Viscount Folkestone (bap. 1694,
A final set of innovations was the responsibility of a trio of government advisers and civil servants now added to the dictionary. Despite failing to persuade governments to adopt commercial methods of bookkeeping, and spending his later years in disgrace for his own financial misconduct, the pioneering public accountant Peter Abbott (1774/5–1850) undoubtedly helped to pave the way for closer links between central government and the accounting profession. A private secretary to two Edwardian prime ministers (Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith), Vaughan Nash (1861–1932) used his influence to attempt to revitalize English village life during a period of agricultural decline. In between Abbott and Nash came the career of George Graham (1801–1888), the second head of the General Register Office, which organized the registration of births, marriages, and deaths, and the decennial population census. Graham gained the position through outright nepotism—his brother, the home secretary, appointed him—but his ruthless administrative ability purged inefficiency and turned the GRO into a highly effective collector of the data essential for government. His quiet achievement continues to benefit the thousands of people who can now locate their ancestors in the census records, and registration certificates, which his department created.
Groups in British history: prigs, rats, and steamboat ladies
The thirty-five reference group essays added in October 2007 continue our project to offer a history of significant networks, clubs, and associations in which men and women came together to shape Britain's past. Chronologically our latest selection ranges from the mid-thirteenth-century Montfortians—the followers of Simon de Montfort—to the 1950s when the Movement saw the emergence of a set of writers, nominally led by Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin, who rejected modernism for realism. In part the Movement's importance, and to critics its offensiveness, derived from its members' celebration of their non-metropolitan upbringing. As with our new biographies, a number of October's groups also highlight aspects of regional history—be this religious practice (Cambridgeshire's Little Gidding community of the 1640s), intellectual life (the Great Tew circle), extra-parliamentary reform (the Birmingham Political Union), or academic debate (the Associated Prigs of Oxford). Our new essay on Cromwell's major-generals highlights a comprehensive regional network of nineteen officials whose purpose was to extend the protectorate's reach into every corner of the land. Essays on two further groups—the St John's Wood clique of nineteenth-century painters, and the writers, artists, and drinkers in 1930s and 1940s Fitzrovia—show the diversity of social networks within London's many districts.
Groups constructed by warfare take us overseas. The 'forgotten army' was the name adopted by British soldiers who believed that their campaign against the Japanese in Burma and north-east India received insufficient recognition from military leaders and the British public. In north Africa the soldiers of the 7th armoured division became known as the 'desert rats' after their commander's wife likened their skills to a jerboa (or desert rat) she observed in Cairo zoo; it was she too who was responsible for sketching the animal insignia that soldiers of the division came to wear with pride. A more diffuse military network is that of the war poets of 1914–18, who from the late 1920s were often regarded as a homogeneous group with shared experience of the western front. Subsequent studies have led to broader definitions of the war poets, with attention given to the work of non-combatants and of women writers who served. Even so, the literary and military connections between such authors as Graves, Sassoon, and Owen remain central to any discussion of a grouping that retains strong resonances in the popular imagination.
Like the writers of the First World War, the 'metaphysical' poets of the seventeenth century formed a network whose shared identity owes as much to scholarly debate over anthologization and style as it does to writers' face-to-face encounters. However, other new groups drew on more tangible connections. Several—including the contributors to the sixteenth-century anthology The Mirror for Magistrates, to the controversial Yellow Book of the 1890s, or to The New Age review—were connected by their involvement in a shared literary project. Some, like the members of the London Revolution Society (in the 1790s) or the MARS group (from the1930s), joined organizations to effect reform—be this in franchise extension or architectural taste—while others came together to establish new recreations, as did the Victorian founders of the Alpine Club, who promoted mountaineering. Finally, the 'shared journey' experienced by members of a network, though in most cases metaphorical, was very real for those involved with two more groups included in this update: the Jesuit missionaries who came to late Tudor England and the 'steamboat ladies', the 700 former students of Oxford and Cambridge who, denied a degree at their own institutions, sailed to Trinity College, Dublin to graduate between 1903 and 1907. A third group, the Providence Island Company, sought to colonize the New World in the 1630s, though its members and projectors remained on this side of the Atlantic.
If you'd like to read more about the groups project you may be interested in the online essay here and in my recent article 'Group analysis' in History Today (July 2007). Readers with access to the complete Oxford DNB (and this includes almost every member of a British public library) can also browse in the current set of 160 groups available in the themes area of the online edition. A selection of existing group essays is also freely available, along with some highlights from the new groups in the October 2007 update.
Our next online update
Our next online update will be published in January 2008 and will continue the Oxford DNB's coverage of recent and contemporary history with biographies of men and women who died in 2004. Our next set of group essays will appear as part of the next-but-one update, to be published in May 2008.
Lawrence Goldman, editor