Three in One – Part 2 – Sylvia Forde

Leaving behind the mystery of Janet Sarah Coke we now add a little glamour and intrigue to the Three in One tale.  Sylvia Forde was Harry Welchman’s second wife.  She too worked in the theatre, almost married a Prince and, importantly for Harry, she provided him with massive support when he toured the country.

Early Years

Sylvia Forde 1924

Sylvia Charlotte Helen Welchman (nee Forde) was born in Germany in 1902.  She was the elder daughter of Henry Bligh Forde and Hedwig von Dieskau.  Henry was an Irish naval engineer.  Hedwig is described as “of noble background” and was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria’s grand-daughter, Princess Charlotte (sister of Kaiser Wilhelm II).

Henry died in 1910 shortly after the birth of his second daughter, Feodora, who later changed her name to become the famous actress Jane Baxter.  Henry was buried in St Mary Church Cemetery in Merton.  It’s not certain when the family moved to England, settling in Wimbledon, but there is evidence of Hedwig moving in the social circles in 1913 and also, perhaps, of how both her daughters eventually became involved with the stage..

The Pall Mall Gazette of 12 July 1913 reports:

“The vocal recital given by Mrs Henry Bligh Forde in the Aeolian Hall, yesterday afternoon, was full of agreeable artistic features.  In the first place the programme had been skilfully put together, never lacking in the proper variety and interest, and also the singer herself showed she knew what to do with it.  Her voice is classed as contralto but whatever it may be in range its timbre is of a light soprano quality.  Thoroughly efficient in the manner of production Mrs Forde ….. happily suggested the moods of such songs as Schubert’s ‘Haiden Röslein’ ……”

Stage Career

So, however it came about, Sylvia embarked upon a career on the stage, followed a few years after by her sister Feodora.  The earliest reference I can find to Sylvia’s acting career is from an article in The Stage of 18 December 1919.  The article was about a production at The Ambassadors theatre – a light opera by Bernard Rolt, appropriately titled “Sylvia’s Lovers”!

The story was summarised in The Graphic of 20 December 1919:

“The Ambassador’s Theatre has got a perfect artistic gem in the little opera called ‘Sylvia’s Lovers’, written by Mr Cosmo Gordon Lennox from the French of Marivaux to music by Mr Bernard Rolt.  The story revolves around the fascination of Stanislas, the Prince of Luneville, for a country wench, Sylvia, while his cousin, the Princess Clementine shows equally plebeian tastes, by falling in love with Sylvia’s bumpkin lover.  The whole atmosphere of the thing has been caught admirably by the players …

The Stage though specifically mentions Sylvia’s role:

“Mention should be made also of ….. the delightful old world Pastoral Ballet, the typical eighteenth century strains of which are illustrated in miming by Misses Bryonie Wake and Sylvia Forde as rustic lovers.”

Acting is, and probably was then too, a fickle profession.  If Sylvia had star potential it was never realised, yet her younger sister Feodora went on to make it in Hollywood.

Extravagance – the Boccaccio scene

 

The next reference I can find to Sylvia on the stage is having a role in an apparently innovative, extravagant revue at the New Oxford Theatre, “Mayfair and Montmartre”.  After a stuttering start on its first night the papers were full of praise for this show – “The most discussed revue in London” as The Graphic described it on 15 April 1922.  “Magnificent”, “spectacular” were how other reviews described it.

 

 

Yet in all the reviews there was no mention of Sylvia. The sole reference is a picture of her which appeared in The Illustrated and Sporting Dramatic News of 22 April 1922 in which she is shown disporting one of the famous costume dresses for which, together with the extravagant scenery, the flamboyant revue became known.

 

There is sporadic reference to her stage career after that so here is a brief summary of what I have been able to discover:

In November 1923 at The Alhambra was a mixed revue of a marimba band, singers and, according to The Era of 21 November:

“Mr Seymour Hicks, with Miss Sylvia Forde, raised the audience to a high pitch of enthusiasm with the intensity of his acting.”

In the following month Sylvia appeared again with Seymour Hicks at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, in Sacha Guitry’s ‘famous’ one-act play “Waiting for a Lady”.  Associated with such names you would think that Sylvia’s career would have taken off …. but it didn’t.  Sacha Guitry was a famous French playwright and film producer, awarded the Legion d’ Honneur in 1931.  Seymour Hicks (later Sir Seymour Hicks) was a British actor, music-hall performer, playwright, screenwriter, actor-manager and producer.  The Dublin Evening Telegraph wrote:

“The enterprise of the Hippodrome management in bringing over Seymour Hicks had its reward last night.  All seats were booked out and many were turned away.  The famous actor-manager, so familiar with Dublin audiences for his successes of the past, was seen in a one-act play entitled ‘Waiting for a Lady’, cleverly adapted by Seymour Hicks from Sacha Guitry’s ‘Sleeping Partners’.  The little comedy gave Hicks opportunity for the full play of his wondrous artistry.  He was assisted by Miss Sylvia Forde, who filled her little part in an accomplished manner”.

In January 1924 she played Lady Margaret Lindlay at the Royal Court, Liverpool, in Sir Jackanapes, a romantic costume play by A W Gattie and incidental music by Hermann Lohr.  Also in the cast was Harry Welchman, who was actor-manager for the production.  Sylvia was praised by The Stage (31 January 1924) for making a success of her role ‘by her ease, simplicity and charm’.  The play was on tour and next featured at the Prince of Wales theatre, Birmingham.  The Birmingham Daily Gazette of 15 March explained that:

“The hero is a smuggler and the heroine, played by Sylvia Forde, is the daughter of a man bent on capturing him.  By all accounts it should be really well worth seeing”

I wonder if the journalist was perhaps prophetic ….. (see later).

In June 1925 Sylvia appeared again in a small part with Harry Welchman at the Alhambra for a fortnight in a three-act musical play, The Bamboula, by H M Vernon and Guy Bolton.  The lyrics were by Douglas Furber and Irving Caesar, whilst the music was composed by Albert Sirmay and Harry Rosenthal.  It appears that this followed a two-month run at His Majesty’s Theatre.  For anyone interested in the plot, according to The Guide to Musical Theatre:

The Bamboula is a Ruritanian piece built to showcase the comical prince of a mid-European country known as Corona. Whilst pursuing the rich Donna Juanita across Europe he becomes involved in a mixup of identities with a young dance instructor and simultaneously catches rumblings of rebellion from home. He solves both problems by despatching the dance teacher to Corona as ‘Deputy Bamboula’ only to find that the lad becomes popular enough with the princess and the populace to become both husband and ruler whilst he himself is spurned by the Brazilian lady in favour of a German hotelier.

In September 1926 the same Birmingham Daily Gazette commented on ‘the winsome grace of Miss Sylvia Forde’ as the Princess Margaret in the touring production of The Student Prince.  Harry Welchman was described as “the handsomest, most debonair, and most fascinating Prince that could possibly be wished for” and of the production itself they said:

“This must be surely the most sumptuous production on tour today.  The mounting and dressing are on a scale of positive magnificence – ‘no expense spared’ as they say …..”

September 1927 saw her at The Apollo in a production of The Music Master, a three act play by Charles Klein.  She played Octavia, one of the sisters, whom she ‘represented acceptably’ according to The Stage of 8th September.  However The Sporting Times slated the production:

“The rest of the acting was undistinguished, nearly as undistinguished as the writing.  However, the players did what they could with poor parts.  I was most amused by Moya Nugent and Sylvia Forde as a couple of giggling girls.  They certainly giggled fine!”

In March 1929 Sylvia came to the rescue of Harry Welchman.  As The Era of 6 March 1929 explained:

“It was a shock for Mr Harry Welchman, recently to make a costly incursion into actor-management with The White Camellia, when shortly before the first night at Daly’s, Julia Suedo, one of the principal dancers, hurt her knee.  There was no understudy, and the difficulty was to find an understudy.  Then Mr Welchman remembered that his wife, Sylvia Forde, could dance although she had not appeared on stage for eight years (sic).  She began practising the principal dance at four o’clock on the afternoon of production and continued until just before the rise of the curtain.  Although tired, naturally, she came through the performance with flying colours ……

Miss Sylvia Forde danced and played without any trace of unpreparedness.  A very praiseworthy performance indeed, which thoroughly deserved the applause bestowed upon it.”

The Sphere of 30th March explained the plot which was simple but ‘thickens’:

“Miss Sylvia Forde as the dancing girl and M. Klit-Gaarde as the sinister major in The White Camellia conspire, one through love of the prince, the other through ambition, to assassinate the king of the inevitable Central European State.”

The adjacent photograph shows Sylvia, as Sonda, attempting the assassination with Harry Welchman, as Lt Paul Carret, standing between her and the target king.

The White Camellia appears to mark a long break in Sylvia’s stage career though she made a single comeback in a revival of The Student Prince in 1939, reprising her role from thirteen years earlier of Princess Margaret.  The adjacent photograph is from the Daily Record of 14 April that year portraying her at the Glasgow Alhambra.  In one of those spooky coincidences the Evening Despatch of 11 April 1939 published a review of the Student Prince, mentioning Sylvia, and on the same page also had a picture of her sister Jane Baxter who starred in the recently finished film version of ‘The Ware Case’.

The Burmese Prince

Sylvia Forde may not have made it as a star of stage and screen but she did have one moment of fame that she perhaps lived to regret.  Romance.  It happened at the end of July/ beginning of August of 1922.

On 5th August 1922 the Straits Times of Singapore carried a small announcement on page 8 of its edition that day:

“The engagement is announced of His Highness Maha Minhla Thugyaw of Mandalay and Miss Sylvia Forde of Wimbledon.”

America was a week behind.  The Washington Herald of 12 August reported:

“English weddings with princes in attendance are quite the fashion. The next one on society’s calendar will be the wedding of Miss Sylvia Helen Forde and the prince this time will be the groom.  He is Prince Maung Maung Gyi of Mandalay, grandson of King Mindon of Burma. His father, Theebaw, last king of Burma, was deposed by the British in 1885. The prince was photographed recently while visiting Miss Forde in England.”

A month later the news reached North Dakota!

Unfortunately communication in the 1920s was obviously not as swift as today so even by the time the Straits Times made that simple announcement the story had already moved on in the British press.

The name of the Prince is reported differently in the various articles you read but in a sense that is unimportant.  He was reported as being the great-grandson of King Mindon of Burma who was the father of the last king of Burma deposed in 1885.  Having decided to study engineering in London the prince wanted to live the life of any other student and for that reason referred to himself as Mr Gyi.  It was under that name that he first met Sylvia Forde and later became engaged to her.  It was only after two or three months of ‘courtship’ that he revealed his real name and rank.

The engagement seems to have been officially announced on or about the 24th July, as the Hull Daily Mail of that date reported:

“The engagement is announced between Maung Maung Gyi his Highness the Maha Min Hla Thugyaw, son of Maung Maung U and Khin Khin, their Highnesses the Maha Min Hla Thugaung of Mandalay, the great grandson of His Majesty the late King Mindon of Burma, and Miss Sylvia Charlotte Helen Forde, daughter of the late Mr Harry Bligh Forde, A.M.I.C.E., A.M.I.E.E., late of St Brendons , Wimbledon, and Mrs H B Forde, of 57 Merton Hall Road, Wimbledon, and grand-daughter of the late Mr and Mrs Henry Charles Forde and Baron and Baroness Von Dieskau.  The marriage will take place shortly in London.”

Wrap your brains around that!!

According to the Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail of 29 July:

“The Prince has been in England a little over a year studying engineering in London, and celebrated his twentieth birthday in June.  Miss Forde is about two months younger, and they became acquainted six months ago through a friend and fellow student.  He was known to Mrs and Miss Forde as Maung Gyi, the name he has adopted since he has been in England, and not until after the engagement did they discover his real identity.”

How wonderful, you might imagine.  But protocol intervened.

Only a week after their first report the Hull Daily Mail conveyed the bad news:

“News of the projected marriage between Prince Maung Gyi of Burma and Miss Sylvia Forde of Wimbledon having been cabled to India, the young Prince’s relatives have intervened to postpone it ….. Mrs Forde believes that his former guardian has incorrectly informed the father that the marriage was to take place immediately ….. ‘That was not their intention nor was it my wish,’ the mother declares, ‘for my daughter is only 19 and I should prefer that she did not marry for another year or two.’ ….. Prince Gyi sails for Burma almost immediately, and says he is convinced that when his father knows all the facts, and they have talked it over together, he will raise no objection to the match.”

Unfortunately Prince Gyi’s faith in his conviction proved to be misplaced.  The machinery of royal protocol and bureaucracy was already in motion as the Dundee Courier of the same day explained:

“The progress of the romance of Prince Maung Chi of Burmah and Miss Sylvia Forde, of Wimbledon, has received a check which must be very annoying to the young couple.  Their engagement was announced only a week ago, and now the unromantic Registrar General’s Office has banned any prospective wedding by refusing a licence.  His minions all over the kingdom have been notified, and a civil marriage south of Gretna Green is thus impossible.  Presumably the machinery has been set in motion from far off Mandalay.  At least Prince Chi thinks so ….”

The Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail of the same date gave more information and a view from the Prince himself:

“This step has, says the Times, been taken on telegraphed instructions of the Prince’s father Maung Maung U ….. As the Prince is under age his parents’ consent is necessary before a licence can be obtained ….. The Prince explained yesterday that the objection had evidently been made under the impression that the marriage was to take place immediately.  ‘It was never our intention to marry before I was 21,’ he said, ‘but we were anxious to announce the engagement.  I understand that objection has been lodged by a gentleman who was recently acting as my guardian over here ….. I had already written to my father but think that he can not have received my letter yet and has telegraphed under a complete misapprehension as to the social status of my fiancee’.”

Poor Sylvia.  Prince Gyi never returned.

Life with Harry Welchman

Whether Sylia ever truly recovered from the forced breakdown of her relationship with Prince Gyi we shall probably never know.  18 months later though she was now taking part in the production of Sir Jackanapes in which Harry Welchman was the actor-manager of the production.  Romance blossomed once again and in July that year the couple announced their engagement which appeared in the papers in various guises.  The Dundee Evening Telegraph of 30 July chose an interesting (salacious?) slant to the story:

“DIVORCED ACTOR SINGER TO WED AGAIN.  The engagement is announced of Mr Harry Welchman, the actor singer, to Miss Sylvia Bligh Forde, daughter of the late Henry Bligh Forde.

Mr Harry Welchman is the son of the late Colonel Arthur Welchman, 12th Bengal Cavalry, and is at present appearing in The Street Singer at the Lyric Theatre.  His fine stage presence and flashing eyes make him the idol of the devotees of romantic drama with music.

Miss Forde was in the chorus of the musical play ‘Head Over Heels’ at the Adelphi Theatre last year until Seymour Hicks chose her to be his leading lady in the music hall playlet ‘Waiting for a Lady’, in succession to Miss Barbara Hoffe.

Miss Forde, who is a pretty girl, lives with her mother in Wimbledon.  Mr Welchman was formerly married to Miss Joan Challoner, a young actress from His Majesty’s Theatre.  She obtained a decree of divorce against him in 1922.”

The Birmingham Daily Gazette of 31 July referred to it rather more kindly as ‘Romance of the Theatre’ and printed the accompanying photograph.

 

They married on 9 April 1925 although the ceremony was kept secret as subsequently reported by the Belfast Telegraph of 10 April:

“HARRY WELCHMAN’S WEDDING.  Mr Harry Welchman, the actor-singer, was on Thursday afternoon, the Evening News learns, married to Miss Sylvia Bligh Forde, of Wimbledon.  The civil ceremony took place at Kingston-on-Thames register office.  A religious ceremony was afterwards held in the Savoy Chapel.  The date of the wedding had been kept secret although the engagement of Mr Welchman and Miss Forde was announced in July last..”

In February 1927 the Sketch carried a photograph of the couple in the South of France with the caption:

“A STAGE FAVOURITE OF THE RIVIERA: MR HARRY WELCHMAN AT CANNES WITH MRS WELCHMAN.

Mr Harry Welchman, the well-known stage favourite and vocalist, has been on the Riviera with Mrs Welchman (formerly Miss Sylvia Forde).  Our snapshot show the delights of picking oranges in the South.”

 

 

The following year their daughter Pamela was born and in 1931 a picture of the family appeared in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic news of 31 October.

Apart from her reprise in the Student Prince in 1939 Sylvia seems to drop out of the media spotlight from then onwards.

 

 

Pamela & Lochinvar

We know the family, including 20 year old Pamela and her horse Lochinvar, moved down to Ludgvan in Cornwall in 1948 but the next, and last, mention of her that I can find is her attendance on 26 July 1992 at the London Palladium.  The occasion was a tribute to Evelyn Laye, a contemporary of Sylvia, in aid of the Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Theatrical Ladies Guild.  Her sister, Jane Baxter, also attended.

Sylvia Charlotte Bligh Forde died a year later, having survived Harry by 27 years.  Their daughter Pamela died in 2017.  Her memorial service was held at St Erth Church in Hayle, Cornwall.  She was not interred with her parents.

Sylvia Forde 1902-1993

Epitaph

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other Information Sources:

Le Minh Khai’s seasian history blog – Prince Gyi

Guide to musical theatre – the Bamboula

London Musicals 1925-29 – the Bamboula

New York Times – Jane Baxter

Picturegoer Weekly – Jane Baxter

 

 

 

Advertisements

Three in One

The credit for the discovery of this story must go to one of our keen volunteers, Jean Gitsham.  It is a tribute to the almost archaeological tenacity required to locate and uncover the burial sites of people who have an historic attachment with Teignmouth.  Like many such discoveries serendipity places a part.  In Jean’s own words:

I was looking at section SS grid given to me by Dave T, probably when I should have been sorting my own house and garden.  Anyway I started googling unusual names and amazingly all the Harry Welchman info appeared .. cemetery record of death date made it likely we had Harry.  So Geoff and I at next FOTC work session tried to work out where grave was likely to be.  It was in area where graves covered under dense ivy and brambles .. foliage so thick definitely no sign of either headstone or kerb.  However at following work session I told Selina about the possibility of us having famous music hall star; she was determined and we both set to clearing the grave with Selina doing majority of clearance work.  When I pulled back the brambles covering the horizontal inscription stone we had a bit of a giggle when the first words seen were he gave pleasure to many’.

Three in one grave

The story became even more fascinating though on reading the rest of the stone which revealed that the remains of three people were interred in the plot – Janet Sarah Coke, Henry Arthur Welchman and Sylvia Forde.  The immediate intriguing question was how three lives became intertwined so closely that their epitaph remains on a single grave in Teignmouth Old Cemetery.

 

Epitaph

This is what this tale attempts to unravel, in three parts starting with Janet Sarah Coke.

Thanks to Dave Tovey and Geoff Wood for their industrious research into official records which was of immense value in putting a time-line together.

 

 

Part 1 – Janet Sarah Coke

Janet Sarah Coke died in October 1945, aged 92.  She left £4438 in her will “all of which she bequeathed to Harry Welchman, the actor, desiring him to dispose of the same in accordance with any memorandum left by her”.

According to the Newcastle Evening Chronicle of 26 March 1946 Harry Welchman told a reporter that his real mother had died when he was quite young and Janet Coke had been his foster mother.  He said “I lived with her and her sister until I was 16 years old when I went on the stage ….. during the last year or so Miss Coke has lived with my wife and me”.

Little has been discovered about Janet Coke’s own life other than that it seems to have been shaped by the ups and downs of her father’s occupation as a photographer.  They travelled around the country and at some point must have become acquainted with the Welchman family for the fostering arrangement to have happened.  So the rest of this part of the story sets the scene and time-line of the Coke family movements.

Janet’s parents were Archibald Lewis Coke (also spelt as Cocke in various references) and Janet MacKay.  He was the youngest son of a surgeon, Arthur Coke, whilst she was the daughter of a Captain MacKay RM and they married at St James, Picadilly, in December 1852.  Janet, their youngest daughter, was born two years later in Hammersmith followed by sisters Edith in 1856 and Alice in 1858.

Archibald Coke (from Princeton University collection)

Photography was in its infancy in the mid-19th century and Archibald Coke was one of its pioneers.  Judging by the references to him, he was also one of the leading exponents in this exciting new artistic medium.  He was certainly one of the earliest British photographers to make a living from his art.  The photograph here is apparently what we would now call a selfie of Archibald Coke.

He opened his first photographic studio with his brother Arthur in 1847 at 44 Regent Street.  At that time it would have been known as a “daguerrotype” studio because of the original technology invented by Louis Daguerre that resulted in photographic images being produced on silvered copper plates.  Archibald soon adapted to a new medium though – the calotype, which involved the production of an image on paper coated with silver iodide.

It is in this medium that Archibald gained his reputation.  He submitted fifteen calotypes to the “Exhibition of Recent Specimens of Photography” which is regarded as the first exhibition in the world dedicated to photography and ran in the House of the Society of Arts in London from December 22 1852 to January 29 1853.  The University of Princeton has a collection of his works and writes:

Of many highlights in Princeton’s album of early photography compiled by Richard Willats (ca.1820-after 1881), the calotypes by Archibald Lewis Cocke (1824-1896) are among the most important.

He was also lauded in the 1854 Arts Journal:

“one of the oldest photographers whose landscape subjects on paper are unsurpassed for truth and beautiful detail,”

Devonshire (from Princeton University collection)

In 1850 his brother left the business but by 1854 Archibald had teamed up with another photographer, Thomas Nashum Kirkham, to form the Institute of Photography at 179 Regent Street.  His interests were also moving towards architecture and historic buildings, pictures of which he exhibited in the 1855 exhibition at the Photographic Institution in London.  He also took part in the 1861 Architectural Photographic Exhibition with a series on Exeter Cathedral.

All of the above sets the scene for Janet’s family early background – daughter of a successful commercial photographer who appeared to have been well regarded in London and by professionals in the arts world.  But 1861, or thereabouts, seems to have marked a turning point in the family’s fortunes.

The 1861 census records Archibald and his family (wife, three daughters and a servant Jane Merrifield) as living at East Wonford Cottage, Heavitree, Exeter.  Archibald’s parents came from the West Country, his father from Cornwall and his mother from Bradford in the district of Torridge, Devon.  His uncle through his mother’s side was Lewis Risdon Heysett so he himself was a descendant of the renowned Devon historian Tristram Risdon.  But what now caused Archibald to give up an apparently successful commercial enterprise in London and move down to Exeter is a mystery.  Maybe he had been commissioned to produce his series of photographs of Exeter Cathedral and had decided to stay.

Within a year though Archibald had filed for bankruptcy.  According to the Exeter Flying Post of 16 April 1862:

“Mr Commissioner Andrews granted an order of discharge to A L Cook, a photographer of Wonford.  The bankrupt owes his creditors £769 1s 9d, to meet which there are assets amounting to £115 12s 2d.”

Whatever the outcome of that bankruptcy it is clear that Archibald was still able to support his family.  The 1871 census shows the family as living at Endfield Cottage, Stokeinteignhead and they now had a fourth daughter, Amy Harriet, who was either born in 1864 in Heavitree, Exeter, or in 1865 in Newton Abbot depending on which census transcript you choose to believe.

Archibald was still in the photography business but had obviously left the London life behind and there appear to be no further references to his works in London exhibitions etc.  But in the North Devon Gazette of 24 August 1869 we read that:

“A large number of photographers have competed for the £5 prize offered for the best photographs of Westward Ho! and consequently a large number have been sent in for approval.  Those of Mr Archibald Coke, of Newton, however, stand out from all the rest as being superior in every respect.  We inspected the photographs yesterday , and quite agree with the judges in their decision; they, together with the scientific committee in connection with the British Association Excursion having unanimously awarded the prize to Mr Coke.  They are really splendid pictures, and compared with them many of the others are mere daubs.”

By 1881 the family had moved to 19 Goldney Road, Clifton, Bristol and were still in Clifton in 1891.  All four daughters were living there, none had married and by this time Janet Sarah Coke was 36.

Archibald continued to be mentioned in despatches.  The following advertisement of Heard and Sons comes from The Cornish Telegraph of 26 May 1880:

Triumphal Arch, Truro, 1880

“Royal Visit to Truro.  Preliminary Announcement.  Very successful negatives of the Triumphal Arches have been taken in two sizes by Mr Archibald Coke of Clifton, the well known landscape and architectural photographer under the special direction of Mr Trevail, the architect.  As soon as they can be properly printed proofs will be exhibited in our windows and orders taken.  Each arch has been photographed on both sides with flags and mottoes complete and the entire series will comprise ten views in each size.”

Archibald died on 26th February 1896 but curiously his address in the probate register was given as Barton Regis workhouse (St Thomas, Eastville, Stapleton, Gloucestershire).  The probate showed him as leaving an estate of £343 14s so why was he living in the workhouse?  Had something happened to break up the family between 1891 and 1896?

Certainly by the time of the 1901 census the family had split.  The mother, Janet, was now living in Congresbury, Somerset, with her two eldest daughters Janet Sarah and Edith.  Living with them now was Harry Welchman, age 15.  Meanwhile it appears that the youngest daughter, Amy, had married but by the time of the 1911 census she was a widow living in Horfield, Bristol, with her sister Alice.  At the same time, 1911, Janet Sarah and her sister Edith had moved back to Maida Vale, London, and Harry Welchman was still living with them, now aged 25.  On the census they were described as Harry’s aunts although there is no evidence of a family connection.

By 1939 all four sisters had returned to Devon and were living within several miles of each other.  Amy and Alice were living in Devon Square, Newton Abbot whilst Janet Sarah and Edith were in Barton Crescent in Dawlish.  Edith died in June 1941 and was buried in Teignmouth Old Cemetery.  It would appear that Janet Sarah subsequently returned to London.  The probate registry gives her address as 39 Marryat Road Wimbledon at the time of her own death in 1945.  We can only imagine that it was her wish to be buried close to her sister from whom she had not been separated throughout their family life, hence her appearance in Teignmouth Cemetery.

From this time-line and background to Janet Sarah Coke’s life we still do not have a definitive explanation for the link with Harry Welchman.  We do know though (as we’ll see later) that Harry Welchman was born in Barnstaple which is about 25 miles north of Bradford where Janet’s mother came from.  And we also know that Harry came to live with the family some time between 1896 and 1901.

The story continues in Part 2 with Sylvia Forde, Harry Welchman’s second wife.

Information Sources:

Princeton University ….

Exhibition of Recent Specimens of Photography – article

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York – approved biography

The History of Photography, Helmut Gernsheim, Thames & Hudson, London

The Athenaeum (Journal of Literature, Science and the Fine Arts), 1855 – advertisement

 

 

Bombing Casualties – Henry and Elizabeth Williams

The Wonder of the Web!

It would be nice to think that news of Teignmouth Cemetery has gone global.  We’re not quite there but we have had another international contact recently, this time from Tom Williams of Anaheim, California.

Kerb inscription 2015

Tom had visited the cemetery in 2015 and, amongst the overgrowth and brambles, had managed to find the grave of his great-grandparents – Henry John and Elizabeth Mary Williams.

Two of the FOTC volunteers, Jean Gitsham and Geoff Wood, went in search of their grave and described what they found:

“We were expecting the Williams grave to be covered in dense brambles however when we located the grave it was completely hidden under dense tangled ivy plus had a large anthill on it as well …

Cleared grave, ready for planting

Around 8 large tubs of ivy pulled off the grave with lots of stubborn roots removed with mattocks …around 10.30am Mal joined us helping with our mammoth ivy clearance task…lots of heavy work resulting in muddy conditions … “

According to the 1939 register Henry was a private gardener.  They both died on 2nd September 1942 in a bombing raid on Teignmouth in which their house, 11 Higher Brook Street, was hit. Henry was 82 and Elizabeth 79.  Two other residents there, Alice Jemima James and Rosa Victoria Turpin, were also killed along with neighbours nextdoor in number 10.

On Teignmouth Seafront 1935

This was just one incident in ten raids that Teignmouth suffered between 1941 and 1943.  More details of these and a full list of those who died in the bombings and are buried in the Cemetery are given on the Bombing Casualties page.

Tom sent us this wonderful picture of his great-grandparents promenading along Teignmouth seafront before the war.

Robert Arthington – Philanthropist – The Millionaire Miser

From Liberia to Teignmouth

The Cemetery continues to raise bizarre connections with the outside world.

In April 2012 Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, was found guilty by a Special Court in the Hague of eleven charges of atrocities including terror, murder and rape.  He was subsequently sentenced to 50 years in prison of which the Presiding Judge, Richard Lussick, said: “The accused has been found responsible for aiding and abetting as well as planning some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history.”

A gruesomely true story which has a strangely ironical connection with Teignmouth.

Charles Taylor was born in Arthington, Liberia, a small town situated on the St Paul river northwest of Monrovia, the capital city.  Arthington was first settled in 1869 and was named after Robert Arthington, a Victorian philanthropist whose life and beliefs are diametrically opposed to those of Charles Taylor.

Robert Arthington is buried in Teignmouth Old Cemetery and his story is extraordinary.  A millionaire, he lived like a pauper and gave his wealth to initiatives that spread the gospel across the world in Africa, Asia and South America.

As usual the story began with the discovery of his grave and its strange epitaph which reflects the Victorian aethos of his philanthropy.

“Robert Arthington, His life and wealth was devoted to the spread of the Gospel among the Heathen.”

 

A Brief History

Robert Arthington – From Leeds Photographic Archive collection

Robert Arthington was born in Leeds on 20 May 1823.  He was one of four children, and the only son, of Robert and Maria Arthington, a wealthy Quaker family.  Perhaps somewhat surprisingly for a Quaker, his father ran a successful brewery business but his conscience eventually caused him to give it up and devote himself to the cause of temperance.

Robert jr studied at Cambridge University where he apparently excelled as a student but chose not to take a degree. Following his mother and two of his sisters, he left the Society of Friends and joined the South Parade Baptist Church in 1848. When his parents died in 1864 (within a couple of months of each other) he found that he had inherited an enormous fortune of over £200,000.  Despite this capital he never started his own business but invested his money instead, mostly in British and American railways, which proved a very successful way of increasing his wealth.

We may never know whether this was fortuitous or whether he really had an astute business sense.  What is widely documented though is that he had a clear purpose and vision of what he wanted to do with his wealth.  He was determined to direct it to good causes, in particular the promotion of missionary work around the world in the unknown areas then being explored and opened up particularly in Africa and Asia.

It appears that a second major change in his life occurred in his late forties.  The story goes that around 1870 he fell in love and he had a large new house built in Headingley Lane for himself and his prospective bride – but he was jilted at the last minute.  Whether true or not, it seems that from this point he drifted further and further into a reclusive life in the house he had built.

Headingley House – From Leeds Photographic Archive collection

He occupied a single room, cooked his own meals, wore the same coat for seventeen years and made friends with students who were in need. He slept on a chair, wrapping himself with his coat. He did not allow anyone access to his room, except special visitors. He would not even light the room for visitors, as he believed that “it was possible to speak as well in the dark as you could in the light“. He limited his weekly expenditure to half-a-crown. This self-imposed austerity and eccentricity earned him a nickname – the “Headingley Miser”. No one saw him smile, and his greeting was always an enquiry after your soul.

The Thoresby Society (The Historical Society of Leeds and District) portray him thus:

“In the later years of the nineteenth century an odd, gloomy figure was to be seen from time to time in Headingley village, buying a few necessities of life, dressed in old clothes green with age and an ancient stovepipe hat passed down from his father. This was Robert Arthington, often called ‘the Headingley miser’, the subject of much talk and speculation in his lifetime and legendary after his death for his legacies of over a million pounds.”

Found amongst his belongings after his death was a letter from a missionary who wrote:

“Were I in England again, I would gladly live in one room, make the floor my bed, a box my chair, another my table, rather than the heathen should perish for the lack of knowledge of Jesus Christ.”

Maybe this influenced his style of life.

As for his links with Teignmouth I have found one reference, in “Olive Trees”, a monthly journal of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America:

His life in his Teignmouth retreat was cleaner, if humbler, for on arriving be inquired of an old boatman for lodgings.  The boatman, seeing an aged man of poverty-stricken appearance, offered him quarters in his own house. And there Robert Arthington ended his days among kindly people, who had no suspicion of his fabulous wealth.

Press reports at the time of his death suggest that his health had been failing and he moved to Teignmouth for that reason in 1896.  There was a small personal bequest in his Will to Mr & Mrs Bennett, with whom he lodged, and a suggestion that the bequest be given to their daughter.  Was Mr Bennett that boatman?

However he came to be in Teignmouth we know that Robert Arthington died on 9 October 1900. In his deathbed, he requested to have read to him the Sermon on the Mount and Psalm 72. After the reading, he said, “Yes, it is all there – all!

His works and beliefs

When informed once of the size of his fortune he replied “No man has a right to so much money”.  His subsequent generosity can perhaps be attributed to the teachings of his mother who believed “a man should do his duty to his fellow creature”.

Arthington was a “premillennialist” who believed that when the unevangelized had heard the gospel, Christ would return. Acting upon this belief, he devoted his time and fortune to those parts of the world where the gospel had not been heard.

In October 1886, Arthington wrote a letter to all the missionary societies of Europe and America, pleading with them to “lose no time” in dividing up the world for the preaching of the gospel. His letter begins:

“It may be assumed that all real Christians would rejoice in heart if every living person was a Christian indeed. But do we indeed expect that more than a few comparatively, in any one locality, will ever be real Christians? Look to the Scriptures and to secular history for the answer. Of course, as seen at the last, the saved are an innumerable multitude, coming out of every nation and tribe.” (Missionary Review, January 1887:18)

Arthington continued by suggesting that if the world were divided up, success would be sure – nothing would be lost by trying, which is what he did.

A selection of the works supported by Arthington’s philanthropy during his lifetime include:

  • In 1859 he informed the London Missionary Society:

.. to assist to [sic] the accomplishment of my anxiously cherished desire for the evangelization of the Deccan — that is the distinct publication of the Gospel throughout it – I have resolved to invest money in the extension lines of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway Comp. knowing that the railway is the great means of spreading news, and so this the best of all news the glad tidings of the Gospel. At the same time I have in view the developement [sic] of the resources of India as they concern especially the production of cotton, so as to counteract American Slavery. The Railway once extensively existing all over India, people will, I anticipate confidently, travel into the parts adjoining those to which it facilitates the entrance, and tracts Gospels etc. will be more widely and largely distributed and disseminated.

  • Boys at Arthington House 1880

    In 1868 he financed the voyage of fifteen families of freed American slaves from South Carolina and Georgia to Liberia where they settled in the new town he established, later named Arthington.  In agreeing to the finance he instructed the American Colonisation Society (ACS) to establish an inland settlement “consisting as much as possible of men of Missionary spirit and deeply and prayerfully interested in the moral redemption of all Africa”.  He insisted “We must have universal elementary education in Liberia” and reminded the ACS:

I am set for the redemption – the deliverance from the curse of slavery and the evangelisation of Africa”.

His passionate anti-slavery beliefs are also evidenced in his correspondence with William Lloyd Garrison, prominent American abolitionist, journalist, suffragist, and social reformer who was one of the founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and promoted “immediate emancipation” of slaves in the United States.

In 1869 Queen Victoria appointed Robert Arthington as the Consul at Leeds for the republic of Liberia.

  • Launch of the Congo Mission in 1877
  • Believed to be the same steamer Peace on the Congo river

    Purchase of the steamer Peace in 1880 to advance the mission up the Congo river.  Built by Thornycroft at Chiswick, it was constructed to draw only eighteen inches when carrying six tons of cargo, and to take to pieces at the cataracts.

    Some interesting features were described in the Press at the time:

    ”engines of sufficient power to steam 12½ knots so as to escape from any attack of hostile native canoes ….” (Poole & Dorset Herald)

    ”a wire awning is fitted to stop the arrows and missiles, which there is every reason to anticipate will be shot or hurled at the passengers in some regions of the Congo ….” (North Devon Journal).

Getting the steamer to her ultimate destination would not be a trivial task:

She will be taken to pieces and sent to the mouth of the Congo.  From thence it will be borne by 800 men a distance of 300 miles up to Stanley Pool, where the steamer will be reconstructed by missionaries”

  • In 1886, or thereabouts, he supported the missionary work of John Ross in Korea by paying for the publication of the Korean New Testament which Ross had translated.  Ross was known as the father of Protestant churches in Manchuria and Korea.
  • Establishment of the Arthington Aborigines Mission in 1889 for the evangelisation of tribal people (reputedly “fierce headhunters”!) in northeast India.  This included formal education of the Mizos and documentation of their language.  Arthington himself reached Mizoram on 11thJanuary 1894 which is now a public holiday known as “Missionary Day” in Mizoram.
  • Extension of mission funds in 1892 to reach the Upper Nile
  • Central America Expedition

    1894-1896 he financed the Arthington Exploration, led by H C Dillon, in Central America whose purpose was “to gather information on the Indian population toward the objective of reaching these people with the Gospel.”

  • He contributed to advance missionary work in China
  • He paid for the construction of a steamer built in America to be used in South America
  • Continued support to the Leeds Hospital for Women and Children throughout his lifetime (in recognition of his charity a new hospital he financed at Cookridge and which opened in 1905 was named the Robert Arthington Hospital).

Not surprisingly he had dealings with both Livingstone and Stanley during his funding of missionary works in Africa. However, he was very clear about supporting work that was directly relevant to his evangelism. So when Stanley wrote to him in 1887 to ask for the use of the SS Peace in his rescue expedition of Emin Pasha he got short shrift:

Leeds January 15th 1887
Dear Mr Stanley, I have much regard for you personally although I can not, dare not, sanction all your acts.  I am very sorry if I cannot give assent to your request, but I fully believe you will be no sufferer by the circumstance of not having the SS Peace.  Yesterday I was able to come to a decision.  Mr Baynes, of the Baptist Missionary Society, Holborn, will, he hopes, make you any communication he judges proper.  If you have any reverential regard for the “Man of Sorrows”, “the King of Peace”, may He mercifully preserve and save your party.  I have no doubt of the safety of Emin, till his work is done.  I believe he will be brought through his trial in perfect safety.  God seems to have given you a noble soul (covers for the moment, if on your sad sin and mistakes), and I should like you should “repent and believe the Gospel” with real sense and live hereafter in happiness, light and joy for ever.  Here delay in you is more dangerous than delay for Emin. Your faithful friend, Robert Arthington”

After his death

On 9 June 1900 he prepared his last will and testament in which he bequeathed a major portion of his estate to Christian missions, and only one-tenth of it to his first cousins, or if they were deceased, to their children.

To put his will into perspective, the Leeds Times of 22 December 1900 reported:

“The charitable bequests of Mr Robert Arthington will make the present year a record one in respect of the amounts given to charity.  A million and a half of money has already been bequeathed to charity this year and, with Mr Arthington’s bequest, the amount will be nearly two millions and a half.”

His will was poorly drafted though and it took five years for it to be approved by the High Court of Chancery in 1905. Because of outstanding claims from the family it was another five years before the actual distribution of the estate took place.  By then the monetary value had risen to £1,273,894.  After 21 cousins received their share and other miscellaneous charitable requests the balance of almost £1 million was divided (5:4) between the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS) and the London Missionary Society (LMS).

This became know as ‘Arthington’s million’ and helped to provide hospitals and schools as well as missions in remote areas in India and Africa, some of them still in existence today.  The bequest was to be used within twenty-five years.  Alfred Henry Baynes, the General Secretary of BMS, became the trustee until his death in 1914. He fervently pursued evangelisation of Africa, which had been the pre-dominant interest of Robert Arthington. The LMS on the other hand extended their mission to China and India, in addition to Africa.  The Trust disbanded in 1936.

In his Will he also left small bequests to other beneficiaries amongst which was £100 to Teignmouth hospital.

Summary

This has been a revealing journey and the above only scratches the surface of Robert Arthington’s life. There is probably enough material around to write a book on the impact that his work achieved.  He was certainly a remarkable man, possibly the most significant British philanthropist at the time of his death.  It was probably because of his strong religious faith and principles, starting from his Quaker roots and subsequent conversion to Baptism, that his philanthropy was focussed on evangelical activities.  I would venture though that it goes back further to his mother who believed a man should ‘Do his duty to his fellow creature‘.

Whilst his type of evangelism may seem quaint or strange (or out-of-place) to us these days I think that Robert Arthington undoubtedly believed that it was his path, his way to “do his duty” with the resources that had been made available to him.  He had the nous to realise though that evangelism wasn’t simply about sending out a missionary with a bible; it required the logistics behind it.  So if we look at his endowments we see that much of the money was spent on the infrastructure behind evangelism – boats, railways, missions, schools and education, hospitals, settlements.  When he died he made provision for that to continue for a further 25 years.  Maybe that’s what he meant when he said on his deathbed “Yes, it is all there – all!”

Sources

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of newspaper articles about Robert Arthington – before his death in relation to the various endowments he made and projects he supported; and after his death concerning his Will and the subsequent activities supported through the Arthington Trust.  They can not all be mentioned here.

The above story is a compilation from a number of other sources which are often repetitive; unless otherwise stated in the text, I haven’t referenced them individually in connection with separate facts or statements.  So this is simply a list of other sources I have looked at, all on-line.  All reference links are correct as at the time of posting.

The Angus Library and Archive …..

Arthington Development Organisation …..

The Baptist Bible Tribune 1 …..

The Baptist Bible Tribune 2 …..

Camino Global – 100 and Counting …..

Council for World Mission – London Missionary Society Archive …..

Digital Commonwealth Massachusetts Collections …..

The Free Library – The Legacy of John Ross …..

George Grenfell and the Congo …..

Grenfell Family History …..

Grey River Argus 1910 – An Eccentric Miser …..

Independent Baptist Argentina …..

International Bulletin of Missionary Research …..

Kuki International Forum …..

Leodis Photographic Archive of Leeds  …..

Mission Frontiers …..

Mundus Gateway to Missionary Collections …..

North Carolina Slave – The Journey of Nancy Askie …..

Olive Trees 1901 – Presbyterian Archives …..

The Price of Liberty – African Americans and the Making of Liberia, Claude A Cleg III …..

Quora – Seven sisters …..

The Thoresby Society …..

Trekkers n Trotters – Gracious Mizoram …..

United Methodist Conference 1912 …..

University of Edinburgh – Commerce and Christianity article …..

Wikipedia …..

 

 

 

Maurice Mortimore

As an interesting by-product of all this work we have been doing on the war graves we have come across a number of other graves of people who have died in service but who are not in official Commonwealth War Grave Commission sites.  There are also others, non-military, who died during particularly the Second World War as a result of enemy action.

We are clearing those graves as well and affording them the same respect of attention that has been given to the official graves.

One of those graves is that of Maurice Louis Charles Mortimore.

Maurice was a fireman during WW2 and was killed during a bombing raid on the town. Little is known about the exact circumstances of his death other than that the building he was in suffered a direct hit; he apparently made it out alive but died subsequently in hospital.

 

After this year’s remembrance service I had the privilege to meet with his daughter, Vivien Roworth, who was 9 months old when he died. Vivien had discovered his unmarked grave some years ago in the wilderness that was the cemetery and had erected a headstone in his memory.

I had received an earlier email from Vivien from which I would like to quote:

I can’t begin to tell you how pleased I am to know that the Teignmouth War Graves are now in such enthusiastic and caring hands.  A few years ago I contacted Teignbridge and the Teignmouth Post, as it was so distressing to see the unkempt graves of the war dead.  I had to search for them in thigh-height grass.  Since I retired, I have been visiting Teignmouth (from the Isle of Man) annually to see my father’s grave and place a poppy wreath for him, around the 11th of November.  I also visit other family graves at the same time.

My father was the only fireman to be killed, in Teignmouth, in WW2 and he has a headstone which I think he deserved for his efforts in the Plymouth and Exeter Blitzes in 1941 and 1942, and in memoriam, of course.  His name was Maurice Louis Charles Mortimore.  Also, I have an uncle who is on your list of war dead.  He was Edward Palmer and I always place flowers on his grave and that of my aunt and grandmother who are buried in the same grave with him.

Although Maurice was originally buried in an unmarked grave he has been commemorated elsewhere as well:

He is listed on the Roll of Honour Board of what is now Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service near Exeter

He is also listed on Devonheritage.org amongst the casualties of the bombings of Teignmouth:

RAID OF 13 AUGUST 1942 (Albion Place, Park St. and Barnpark) – Fourteen killed, ten severely injured and thirty two injured.

MAURICE LOUIS CHARLES MORTIMORE: Civilian Fireman, N.F.S. Husband of Marion Eleanor Mortimore, of Sunny Crest, Bitton Hill, Teignmouth. Injured 13 August 1942, at Market Place; died at Teignmouth Hospital 14 Aug 1942 aged 26”

 

Finally, he is remembered in a dedication at the Town Council offices in Bitton House, Teignmouth.  In the foyer is a large brass bell, a photograph of Maurice and the following dedication:

Bell from the last Pump Escape
owned by the Teignmouth Urban District Council
before the creation of the National Fire Service.


Presented by the Devon County Council in 1960

Dedicated to the memory of

Fireman Maurice Louis Charles Mortimore
who lost his life by enemy action
when the Town Hall and Fire Station were destroyed on 13
th August, 1942”

Maurice Louis Charles Mortimore

The Keats Connection

Keats by Joseph Severn

This year has seen the 200th anniversary of the period that Keats stayed in Teignmouth.  He was here for only two months, arriving on 6th March 1818 after an horrendous journey from London through torrential storms.  He had come to look after his brother Tom who had been staying in Teignmouth as part of the ‘treatment’ of his TB, from which he died later in the year.

Whilst he was here John Keats completed the fourth book of Endymion, wrote another epic poem ‘Isabella’, a number of smaller pieces which he described as doggerel or ‘bitcherel’ and, from an important historical point of view, he wrote letters back to his friends which revealed his thought, emotions, worries.

So what’s the connection between Keats and the Cemetery?

Cresswell’s incorrect view of Keats House

In 1901 a notable local historical author, Beatrix Cresswell, wrote a book about Teignmouth – “Teignmouth, its History and its Surroundings”.  In it she refers to Keats and makes the first written mention of where Keats stayed in Teignmouth:

A year or two ago, Dr Lake and Mr H Buxton Forman, C.B. (the latter then busy in searching for memorials of Keats), were at some pains to ascertain, if possible, the house in which he stayed.  By studying his letters they concluded that the young poet lodged in a house (now 35, Strand) at the corner of Queen Street, a turning toward the river.”

Nine years later this was disputed in a letter to a local paper:

“John Keats lived here and at Teignmouth finished his masterpiece ‘Endymion’ dating the introduction to the poem Teignmouth, October 1818.  The house he lived in is now 21 Northumberland Place (adjoining the King William Inn, facing Queen Street) and is not , as Miss Cresswell in her guide states, No. 35 Northumberland Place at the corner of Queen Street nearly opposite.  For this statement I have the authority of Dr Lake, Mr W R Hall Jordan and Mr Forman Buxton (sic) CB who although neither of them are patriarchal enough to have been the contemporary of Keats each remembers this house to have been pointed out to them by those of the former generation as the Teignmouth home of the poet”

The author of that letter was Frederick C Frost.

The debate on where Keats actually stayed rumbled on and even resurfaced in another newspaper article in 2005 (Herald Express, Viv Wilson MBE), even though an official plaque had been assigned in 1931:

“The connection between John Keats and Teignmouth has not diminished with time, and many people still seek out the place where he stayed in 1818.  The red granite plaque on Keats House in Northumberland Place satisfies the majority but there is another contender for the title.  A school of thought supports the idea that Old Place, just opposite, with the canon protecting its corner wall, was the place where he stayed.”

The decision on where to place the official plaque was ultimately based on the earlier work of three men:  Dr William C Lake, Frederick C Frost and William Risdon Hall Jordan.  The latter two are buried in Teignmouth Old Cemetery, whilst Dr Lake would have been had his family not already secured a family vault at St James’ Church.

Frederick C Frost (1855-1914)

Photo by Dave Tovey

He married in Newton Abbot in 1886 and was an antiquarian who ran the local family business of auctioneers, established by his father.  The family lived at 5 Regent Street and Fred would have known Dr Lake well since they were both members of the Freemasons Benevolent Lodge 303.  He was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and also a member of the Devonshire Association, making contributions to that organisation and to the “Antiquary” and “Notes & Queries, a Medium of Intercommunication, for Literary men, General Readers etc” on subjects as diverse as the Devon dialect, medieval religious orders and heraldry.  He used the initials FSI after his name which could mean he was a Fellow (full member) of the Surveyors Institution, awarded a royal charter in 1881 and the forerunner of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (although ‘FSA’ is actually inscribed on his headstone as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries’)..

His contribution to the Keats debate

Judging by the letter he wrote, as reported in the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette of 16 April 1910, he was vociferous in championing the cause of Teignmouth celebrating various historic figures associated with the town by putting up commemorative plaques throughout the town.  My guess is that he was raising awareness and doing some local campaigning because two years later in the Western Daily Mercury of 12 March 1912 the following appeared:

“Teignmouth boasts some interesting literary memories, but the associations of Keats with the town are the most notable.  Keats came to Teignmouth for his health’s sake in 1818, and there he finished his ‘Endymion’ and wrote its remarkable preface.  Hitherto the house on the Strand, where the poet lodged, has never borne any name or indication that Keats spent any time there.  Now the house has passed to another tenant, and he, acting on the suggestion of a Fellow of the Society of Antiquarians, resident in the locality, has decided to christen the residence “Keats’s House”.  There was a dispute as to the exact house where the poet stayed but the present tenant, before deciding on the title, sought the advice of several old Teignmouthians who well remember the ’bonnet shop’.”

Keats House 1912 – Francis Gribble

Shortly after this a popular author of the time, Francis Gribble, wrote a book “The Romance of the Men of Devon” in which he included a section on Keats together with a photograph of Keats’ House with its name newly inscribed on the front door.  The house was subsequently officially recorded as “Keats’s House” in the title deeds of 1925.

William Risdon Hall Jordan (1821-1911)

The Jordan family in Teignmouth goes back to at least the 17th century and the most complete description of William R H Jordan’s life that I have found is in his obituary published in the Reports and Transactions of the Devonshire Association (Vol 44 of 1912).  I have simply transcribed this below, with any notes of my own in italics:

Photo by Dave Tovey

William Risdon Hall Jordan was born at Teignmouth, his family having settled there as far back as 1650.  His grandfather (Robert Jordan), in the early part of the last century, founded, with the late Mr Langmead, the South Devon Bank, which was subsequently merged into that of Messrs. Watts, Whidborne and Co., and later in the Capital and Counties Banking Company. (Note that Robert Jordan was also a key driver behind the scheme to infill the old marshy areas of Teignmouth along the river Tame, which flowed into the Teign, creating the land that is the centre of Teignmouth as we know it today).

Mr Jordan was educated at Dr. Edwards’ School, at Teignmouth, and served his articles with his father.  He was admitted a Solicitor in 1844, and for some years acted successively as managing clerk to Messrs. Tozer and Whidborne, of Teignmouth.  In 1848 Mr. Jordan practised on his own account, and on the retirement of the late Mr. John Chapell Tozer from the clerkship to the Teignmouth Improvement Commissioners in 1852, he became Clerk to that body.

Mr. Jordan subsequently held the appointment of Clerk to the Teignmouth Local Board, under the Local Government Act of 1856, and the Public Health Act of 1875, and was the first Clerk to the Teignmouth Urban District Council.  This post he resigned in 1900 (when he was only 79!!), but he retained the position of Clerk to the Burial Board, which he had held since the inauguration of that body in 1853 (so he was also one of the founding members of the Board that ran Teignmouth Old Cemetery when it was opened).

Mr Jordan also took a great interest in educational work, and acted as Clerk to the Teignmouth School Board from its inception in 1875.  He in later years continued as correspondent to the school managers, from which post he retired in 1910, being succeeded by his son, Mr. W F C Jordan.  To the Bread and Coal Society and the Soup Kitchen in Teignmouth he acted as Hon. Secretary.

He became a member of the Association (I.e. the Devonshire Association) in 1871, serving on the Council for many years, and contributed the following papers to its Transactions: Notes on the Natural History of Teignmouth and its Vicinity (1874); Migration of Insects (1885); Teignmouth Gleanings (1904).  Mr. Jordan was also a member of the Teign Naturalists’ Field Club.

In his earlier days his recreations were shooting and rowing, and he had a great predilection for Natural History. He died at Teignmouth on 17 August, 1911, aged ninety years.

His contribution to the Keats debate

Fred C Frost had quoted William Risdon Hall Jordan in his letter to the local paper but the actual connection with the Keats story is via his father, William Rufus Jordan.  He is recorded as living in 1822 at No 11 Northumberland Place, in other words just up the road from where Keats would have stayed.

It appears that William Rufus Jordan had told his son that he had known Keats well and that he had stayed at No 20 Northumberland Place; his son, William Risdon Hall Jordan, had passed that information on probably shortly before he died.

Dr William Charles Lake (1825-1920)

Photo by John Silverman

Dr William Charles Lake is the third of the local men involved in this jigsaw.  He is actually interred in the family vault in the grounds of St James Church but I am including him here to complete the picture.

His role was international communications!  But first, something about his life and contribution in Teignmouth; again I shall take it direct from his obituary in the Transactions of the Devonshire Association (Vol 52, 1920), with my own notes in italics:

Dr Lake was born at Teignmouth on July 9th, 1825, being the eldest son of Anthony Proctor Lake, surgeon, R.N., and of Elizabeth Kirsopp, both of Northumberland. (Note: his father registered for naval service in 1806, arrived in Teignmouth in 1817 and is registered in 1822 as a surgeon living at 16 Northumberland Place, just up the road from Keats House and close to William Rufus Jordan).  He was educated at Exeter Grammar School under Dr. Mills, and could number amongst his schoolfellows Mr J. H. Tozer, Mr R. W. Templer, and Dr. Robert C. R. Jordan, uncle of Mr W. F. C. Jordan (and brother of William Risdon Hall Jordan).

Dr. Lake followed his father’s profession, and for a time was his father’s pupil, and subsequently of the late Dr. Cartwright, of Brimley House.  He completed his professional education at King’s College, London, and at the University of St. Andrews, where he took his degree of M.D.  He practised in Teignmouth as a physician and surgeon for forty-two years, being Medical Officer of Health for fourteen years.  He was one of the pioneers of the old Dispensary in Bitton Street and later joined the staff of the Teignmouth Infirmary and Dispensary.  On the death of Capt. A. G. Paul, Dr. Lake was appointed Chairman of the Hospital Management Committee, and at the time of his death was consulting physician to the Institution.

During the cholera epidemic of 1867 Dr. Lake undertook the work in connection with the outbreak, and in many cases he actually laid out the dead bodies.  He was presented with a clock and purse by the townspeople for his devoted and unselfish work.

Dr. Lake became a member of the Devonshire Association in 1871, and contributed, besides many papers on meteorology, a “Sketch of the History of Teignmouth”; on the “Frosts of 1855 and 1895 as observed at Teignmouth,” and “Notes on the Origin of Teignmouth Streets and their Nomenclature”.  He was also a member of the Royal Meteorological Society and supplied meteorological observations for close on fifty years.

He was for many years a sidesman at St. James’s Church, and had written articles on the Books of the Bible for the Parish Magazine.  He was chairman and one of the original trustees of the Risdon Charity which is distributed annually in the vestry of St. James’s Church.  In politics he was an enthusiastic Conservative and frequently presided at meetings of the party in the town. (He was also, as mentioned previously, together with Fred C Frost, a member of the Freemasons Benevolent Lodge 303).

In the sixties Dr. Lake was a member of the now defunct Local Board, and the newspapers of those times bear witness of his keen interest in sanitary matters.  He retired from practice in 1891 and was then the recipient of a public presentation.

Having been born in the middle of the reign of George IV – thus having lived under five sovereigns – his reminisces of the past were most interesting.  When at Exeter he often saw the mail coach pass over Cowley Bridge for London.  He had travelled in Brunel’s atmospheric railway, some of the towers of which yet remain.  He remembered when the Tame Brook, which runs through the town, was an open stream with bridges for crossing opposite the Royal Library and at the bottom of Orchard Gardens, and when the site of the railway station was an old farm, and when living in the house in which he was born in the Strand he had an uninterrupted view from his residence of the Den and the sea, and remembered the then Duchess of Clarence riding round the Den.  He was one of the oldest and most esteemed and respected residents of Teignmouth.  His affable and kind manner won a place in the hearts of rich and poor alike.  A sincere Christian he was in every sense much beloved, and his loss will be greatly felt.

His contribution to the Keats debate

Dr Lake photo of Keats House

Much of the historical memorabilia of Keats is now held in collections in American universities. One of the foremost collectors was an illustrator, art editor, and print dealer in Boston, Massachusetts, called Louis A Holman.  His collection now forms part of the Houghton Library at Harvard University.  In 1913 he contacted Dr Lake who responded with two letters which now form part of that collection.

In those letters Dr Lake confirmed that Keats had stayed at No 20 Northumberland Place and sent Louis Holman a couple of photographs of the house.  That information found its way into the literature in 1958 when Prof Hyder Edward Rollins, professor of English at Harvard University, published his definitive up-to-date collection of the “Letters of John Keats”.

The Keats commemorative plaque was eventually placed on the house at 20 Northumberland Place in 1931 based on a recommendation from the curator of the Keats museum in London.  That decision itself was largely based on the previous work done by those three men of Teignmouth:

– Frederick C Frost,
– William Risdon Hall Jordan,  and
– Dr William Charles Lake

all of whom shared an interest in history and contributing to life in Teignmouth.

The above is just a small part of the story of where Keats lived when he stayed in Teignmouth.  If you are interested in the full story there is a complete set of blog-posts on the “Teignmouth in Verse” web-site under the title ‘The Hunt for Keats House‘.  (Note: this link takes you to the first of the series of blog-posts; at the end of that post scroll down slightly and you can then navigate through to the next in the series, and so on)