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.