Monday, 30 April 2012

The mystery of “The Lady Brooke”

An intriguing enquiry this week came from someone whose forebear, Alfred Priest, committed suicide in 1905. His descendant tracked him through the censuses, to find him married to Annie and living with their children up to the 1891 census. In 1901, however, Annie Priest is alone with their children and still listed as ‘married’, while Alfred is living with another woman whom he lists as his ‘wife’!

The 1905 death certificate issued by Steyning Registry Office records that Alfred Priest committed suicide at “The Lady Brooke at Beeding”. I realised straight away that this must be Upper Beeding, as Lower Beeding lies well outside the Steyning Registration district.

Our enquirer asked whether “The Lady Brooke” might be an institution. In trying to find any clues online, I discovered that that there were a number of individuals known as ‘The Lady Brooke’, who had lived in other parts of the country at different times, but the wording on the death certificate doesn’t seem to suggest a person. So I looked further, Googling several varieties of wording, with no luck.

Next, I asked our knowledgeable curator at Steyning Museum, whether he knew of an Upper Beeding institution or house in around 1905, called ‘The Lady Brooke’. He didn’t, which strongly suggests that no such institution existed. However, he looked pensive.

“Do you have any other ideas?” I asked.

“I think the locals used to call the streams around Upper Beeding ‘the brooks’. Maybe it’s something to do with that.’

This was a revelation to me, being a Steyning resident of only nine years. So I called Pat Nightingale, Upper Beeding historian, and asked her. She immediately knew the answer.

“Yes, there’s an area of streams or brooks, north of Upper Beeding, that are sometimes still referred to as the Brooks. Some have names. One of them used to be a bend in the river, cut off now. It encloses a small field and together they were known as the ‘Lady Brook’.

Well that was it, of course. Not an institution, nor even a person, but a place, away from any habitation, rural and alone, where a man from outside this immediate area went to choose a place to end his life. At first I assumed he drowned himself, but on further enquiry I discovered that “Alfred slit his throat with a razor during a period of temporary insanity.”

Was he a bigamist perhaps? At the very least he seems to have deliberately deceived the census enumerator who recorded the details Alfred told him. Presumably he also deceived his wife, who clearly believed herself still to be married to him. If Alfred could live one lie, what else might he have hidden? What really caused him to commit suicide in that violent way and in that lonely place?

Alfred’s descendant is now going to try and find a record of his inquest. Perhaps that will shed more light on why he did it ... or maybe we’ll never really know.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Aunt Lizzie’s Story, Nov 14th 1889

The following character studies of the Penfold and Marshall families, connected by marriage, are told by “Aunt Lizzie” Marshall, nee Penfold and written by her second cousin Louise Gorringe. (NB Annington is about a mile from Steyning.)

We have a copy of these notes at Steyning Museum, with the right-hand edge of some pages missing, so I have had to leave xxx gaps where the words cannot be surmised. Perhaps you can work out what they are?

The extracts below are as originally written.

“The first thing I recollect is Rooke my (Penfold) Grandfather’s man, coming to Annington for my Mother Sister Ann and Myself in a two-wheeled carriage. My Grandfather would be about 67 at that time, a tall fine active man, ruddy face and grey hair, very thick not bald in the least. He always wore Corduroy Breeches High top Boots Blue coat & brass buttons with a very large white handkerchief round and round his throat fastened with a pin & frilled shirt. He was not at all blind then, that came on later. He was always riding. I don’t recollect that I ever saw him walking. He always wore a long drab Great Coat nearly down to the ground and a large Cape for Colder weather. On Sundays he wore Velvet or Velveteen black. My Grandmother at that time was a tall very pale woman, grey with very fine features and wore all day a large black bonnet, on Sundays black satin, always a black Dress. The Black Satin xxx too large to go into a box lined with white satin xxx be placed on a stand in the spare room. She was xxx austere woman with a very solemn manner th(at) always inspired us with awe, at the same time she was xxx She had very bad health and suffered very much w(ith) Indigestion when she went out, She was very fond of (the garden. She wore a long black silk Cloak with a xxx great feather .... 

My Grandfather Penfold who lived at the Old H(ouse) at Annington used also to ride up to London a(nd if) he had any money to invest, he had a coat m(ade) with concealed pockets in which he placed xxx Banknotes as it was considered a hazardous xxx to ride about with so much money but I nev(er) xxx that he was molested. ... 

My Great Grandmother Penfold was a Hartley. My Grandmother’s maiden name was Williams she married my Grandfather John Penfold brother of my Grandmother Gorringe. This John Penfold was the younger Son of Hugh Penfold of Wickam near Steyning, the older Brother Hugh being the ancestor of the Wyatt’s formerly Penfolds of Cissbury and Penfolds of Rustington. My Grandmother Gorringe nee Penfold was a daughter of Hugh Penfold of Wickam, she had two sisters one Ann married Hugh Ingram of Steyning the other Elizabeth married Hugh Fuller of Storrington or Sullington. ...

The pres(ent) Penfold-Wyatt of Cissbury nee Penfold grandson xxx Penfold of Wickam took the name of Wyatt on xxx into any estate bequeathed him by his Uncle Rxxx Wyatt at Applesham buried in Coomber Churc(h) Applesham was sold by him to Lord Egremon(t) Edward Greenfield Penfold another son of Hugh of Wickam bought Rustington about 1820 He w(as a) Captain in the Militia ...he was a very good dancer and so was his wife Sarah Marshall daughter & co heiress of Charles Marshall of Steyning solicitor & agent to the Duke of Norfolk. He was a connection of the Marshalls of Bolney but a distant one he came from Kent and began life with only sixpence in his pocket but a more courteous old Gentleman never lived.

His very appearance was remarkable as I recollect him always in black with black silk stockings buckled shoes large cravet and frilled shirt. Mrs Marshall always wore a Turban & false hair little curls round her face white in the daytime and coloured for dress. Mrs Marshall was known for her gay dressing she was a very handsome woman noted for her kindness hospitality & many charities. Mrs Marshall was a Miss Williams daughter of the Vicar of Shermanbury and sister of Mrs John Penfold of Annington.”

These extracts are from a collection of memoirs and reminiscences held at the West Sussex Record Office in Chichester (ref: MP 2025) and are reproduced here by their kind permission.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Isted Family Mystery

A recent query concerned the Isted family. The parents of Alfred Isted, born 1863, were Mary Ann Isted and John Henry Rengaw on his birth certificate. Then our correspondent discovered that there was another birth certificate for the same Alfred Isted, with the same birth date and the same mother and father, but this time his name was Alfred Rengaw. Both certificates have the same reference number. Not surprisingly, this intrigued his great-granddaughter who is doing the research.

She did some more digging and found Mary Ann in the 1861 census, working as a nurse, aged 15, in a house in Battle. The head of the household was a magistrate, born 1821, named John Henry Wagner. That name 'rung a bell', so she fished out Alfred's indentures dated 1877 when he was aged 14, and there was that name again - Wagner. One of the three signatures on the indentures is "Mrs Anne Wagner, widow, resident at St Leonards on Sea and is the responsible person to be named in Isted's indentures." This suggests that it was Mrs Anne Wagner who paid for the four years of Alfred's apprenticeship.

Further research showed that Mrs Anne Wagner (nee Penfold) was the mother of John Henry Wagner. As she was pursuing further interesting information, our correspondent continued mulling all this over. Finally, she looked again at Alfred's birth certificate and the penny dropped as she realised that young Mary Ann was the informant and must have wanted to leave a clue - Rengaw is Wagner backwards!

There is more to tell on the Penfold research, but that can be the subject of our next blog!

Jacquie Buttriss

Monday, 17 January 2011

The English Vandyke Families

Were any of the English Vandyke families related to Sir Anthony Vandyke, the Dutch artist at the court of Charles I? (Vandyke's Self Portrait with a Sunflower is shown below.)

We have recently been contacted to do some research on the Vandyke family of Steyning by an Australian visitor to our website. He provided the information he already had and posed some questions about the members of this family. The most intriguing of these was whether there could be any truth in the old family story that they are descended from Sir Anthony Vandyke (or van Dyck), the artist.

We found from our archives that they came from Lewes to live in Steyning, where they and their children and grandchildren stayed from 1730 to 1810. We plotted their family tree. We even found out the exact spot where they lived, sadly now covered over with a late eighteenth century building. We passed on all the information that we had found. Unfortunately, we could not go far enough back, in the Steyning records, to provide any clues to whether these Vandykes were descendants of the artist. Indeed, it seems to have been quite a common name in London and the south-east, even when Sir Anthony was alive, since many Dutch immigrants had settled here by then.

It seems that Sir Anthony, who spent much of his adult life in England, had left a mistress in the Netherlands and took a wife in England. Each of them had just one daughter, as far as we know. It would seem unlikely, therefore, that Sir Anthony had any direct descendants with the Vandyke name.

BUT, there is a memorial plaque on the north wall of the tower at St Mary’s church, Horsham which records the death of a Mary Slade, formerly Vandyke: “a descendant of Sir Anthony Vandyke”. That certainly seems to suggest that there might be truth in the family folklore, if this Mary was related to the Steyning Vandykes. That got us thinking. We realised then that the use of the word “descendant” might have changed over the years, as so many words have done. We wonder whether perhaps, in those days, the word “descendant” simply meant that they were related. If that was the case, then there could be some truth in it.

What do you think? Can you help us? Do you have any Vandyke forebears or friends who might hold the key?

Jacquie Buttriss

Monday, 27 September 2010

"A very creepy Gothic-style mansion"

This is the intriguing description of a house in Steyning during the 1960s, taken from a recently published book ‘Car Trouble’ by Wensley Clarkson.  A correspondent who has read this ‘highly entertaining’ account of Wensley’s childhood memories, has written to us wondering where this house might be. The book describes the owner of the house as ‘Captain Conrad’, also known as Conrad Phillips, who apparently fought in the Spanish Civil War and later settled in Steyning, in this spooky house, where “he had a horrible fold-out wooden bed in the hall ... he was completely potty”.

We have done a search to find out who this man might be.  So far, we have come up with an ‘obscure’ crime fiction writer who published a number of novels in the 1940s and 50s and was also an eccentric freelance journalist.

It seems unlikely, but possible, that he was the actor Conrad Phillips who played William Tell; he would have been too young to fight in the Spanish Civil War himself, but his older brother did fight in the Spanish Civil War, so this may have been the link.
I did find a death registered for Conrad Arnaud Phillips in Worthing (our current registration district) in 1975. This Conrad Phillips was born in October 1898. If this is our man, he lived a long life and remained in this area until his death.

Do you know who the eccentric Steyning resident, Conrad Phillips, was?

As to the house itself, we have no idea which house it could be, or whether it is still standing but would love to know.  Can you help us with either of these mysteries?

Jacquie Buttriss

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Transported for life!

This story has come to my attention this week as part of a query about the Hoad family of Steyning.

William Hoad, a Steyning blacksmith, in Church Street, was caught poaching on the Downs. There are at least three different stories about what he was poaching for, but all versions of the story agree that William was captured ‘red-handed’ on the Wiston Estate in the early 1800s, holding either a hare, a pheasant or a chicken.

He was apparently taken immediately to be tried and sentenced in the dining room of Wiston House by the then furious owner of the estate, said to have been the Rev John Goring JP, but more likely perhaps to have been his father, Charles, also a local magistrate.

It does seem more credible that William would have been reprimanded in the dining room, but subsequently tried and convicted officially at the local assizes – either Lewes or Brighton (Brighthelmston as it often was on the criminal records of that time). 

Either way, William was sentenced to be transported to Australia for life and never seen again by his wife and young children. There is some evidence that he may have married again in Australia, making him a bigamist, with a new family. This was something that often happened in those days, when prisoners released on ‘ticket of leave’ had no way of funding their return to England.

Back in Steyning, with little idea of what had happened to her husband, where he was and whether she would ever see him again, his wife carried on the smithy, doing the whole job of a blacksmith herself, with the help of ‘a boy’, while singlehandedly bringing up her children. Unsurprisingly, this earned her much admiration locally.  As one ‘old-timer’ put it 100 years ago, “the old lady was highly respected.”

The picture shows the Old Forge in Church Street (a photograph of an oil painting by James E. Webb, dated 1888). The Old Forge has survived and is now a private house.

Jacquie Buttriss

Queen Anne’s “Royale Compassion”

A Canadian member of the Johnson family of Steyning has sent us copies of a fascinating pair of documents. The first lists one John Johnson, Master Tanner, on a March 1702 record of Treasury Warrants as petitioning:

“for relief from the fine of £415 imposed on him last Easter term (by the sole evidence of Christopher Turner) for transporting wool to France”. 

The second is a copy of the original letter, handwritten “by her Majesty’s Command” and signed Godolphin. There is what appears at the top of this letter to be the signature of “Anne R”. It is a lengthy letter which records that John Johnson had been convicted of:

loading and laying on board several packs of wool for transportation”

It goes on to state:

“Whereas the said J’no Johnson hath by his humble peticon set forth that he was convicted upon the single evidence of one C’pher Turner, a man of mean creditt and repute (as appears by a certificate of sev’ll inhabitantes of the said county to us also produced) that he hath a wife and five small children and is in very low circumstances and that the paym’t of the said penalty will be the utter ruine of himself and family and hath therefore prayed that we would be graciously pleased to extend our Our Royale Compassion to him in such manner as we should think fit. We having taken the premisses into Our Royale Consideration. Our Will and Pleasure is and Wee do hereby Direct Authorize and Comand that upon the said John Johnson giving reasonable satsfaicon to the Officer who prosecuted him for the said offence thro’ly acknowledge satisfaicon upon the record of the said judgm’t and all such other acts matters and things as you shall think necessary for the effectually discharging the said J’no Johnson his executors ... from the said judgm’t and execucon and of and from all damage or any part thereof and for so doing this shall be your Warr’t Given at Our Court at St James’s 8th July 1702 in the first year of Our Reigne.”

The enormous fine imposed and the manner of Queen Anne’s apparently personal response to his petition for leniency makes this a highly unusual situation and one that we are very glad to record within our archives.

Jacquie Buttriss