Wednesday 3 March 2021

A Haven for Huguenots

Although Steyning Museum itself has been closed during the Coronavirus lockdown, our family research team have been working at home, answering the increased volume of email and phone enquiries. One such query was from a family who knew the names and dates of some of their forebears, but wanted us to help them fill in the gaps. Most of all, they were puzzled by the surname of these ancestors – MICHAUX.  Where did it come from? Does it have a meaning?

After some preliminary research in our archives, we discovered that Walter Michaux arrived in Steyning around 1760, but at first we could not find any clues to where he was born or where he had lived before Steyning. Indeed, we could find no record of him anywhere in England. Perhaps he had arrived from across the sea.

The name Michaux suggests French origins, so we asked ourselves what was going on in France at this time?  Could our Walter Michaux have something to do with the persecuted French Protestants - the Huguenots?  In 1685, a change in the law had generated deep religious intolerance and hatred for the protestant Huguenots, many of whom were forced to live in pallisaded villages (the precursor of ghettos), deprived of their work, frequently starved and tortured to try to force them to become Roman Catholics.  Over the next century, many of those who tried to escape were hunted down and killed, but a few brave souls did manage to find secret ways to flee, often splitting up families in the process.  

Two of these escapees were Abraham Michaux and his fiancée Suzanne, who lived in Sedan, close to the Belgian border. When she was younger, Suzanne and two other members of her family had attempted to flee by hiding in a goods wagon.  But soldiers stopped them and her sister’s baby cried, giving them away.  They were sent back to the cruelties being heaped on their village.  Now Suzanne and her fiancée concocted a new plan.  

In 1692, Abraham Michaux hired a ‘guide’ to help them plan their escape.  The guide insisted they had to leave separately, so he arranged for Suzanne to travel in a barrel in the cold and rat-infested hold of a ship, bound for protestant Holland, whilst the guide would lead Abraham on foot at night, hiking through the rough terrain of the forests and hills across northern France and Belgium to the Dutch border.  Both journeys were perilous.  Suzanne’s account of her escape is hair-raising, describing her two days and nights in a dark, musty barrel, with only the spigot open to let in a little air, no food or comforts and the increasing stench.  At one point the barrel was turned over and butted repeatedly by the rifles of soldiers searching for escaping Huguenots.  She stifled her screams and remained undiscovered. Meanwhile, Abraham hid in various hollows and crevices on his hazardous route, finally reaching safety in Holland where they were reunited.  

In 1692 Abraham and Suzanne were married in a protestant church and settled in Amsterdam.  They had several children and grandchildren, some of whom stayed on in Holland, whilst others moved on to England or America.

Walter Michaux was one of Abraham and Suzanne’s grandchildren.  As a young man, he took ship with a contingent of Dutch-born Huguenots from Holland to the south coast of England, from there Walter and some of his friends found their way to Steyning. Despite many English people’s historic fear of foreigners, Walter Michaux and the others in his group seem to have been warmly welcomed into our community and given work. In 1761, Walter met and married a young Steyning girl, Diana Hull, and they had a family of at least eight children. Walter must have worked hard and done well for himself, as the land tax records show he rented a good house in Steyning for his family and also  ‘The Mill’ where he set up his own business.

Meanwhile, Abraham and Suzanne emigrated to Virginia in America, where Abraham was killed by a native Indian’s arrow and the small town of Michaux remains to commemorate him.

Jacquie Buttriss, Family Historian

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Dr Taylor of Steyning

An enquiry from Australia concerned an elderly man’s mother. It seems he knew little about her background, but he did remember her telling him that she went to boarding school from a very young age. Instead of sleeping in the school, she stayed in the house of a mysterious Dr Taylor, who may have been the Head of the school. The enquirer wondered whether Dr Taylor might possibly have been his mother’s birth father. My immediate thought was that it could be difficult to discover any evidence regarding this conjecture. So I began with the school side of things. Just before she died, this man’s mother asked him to promise that he would take her ashes back to England and place them on the grave of Dr Taylor in Steyning churchyard. This promise he fulfilled many years ago.

After some considerable research in the Museum’s archives, combined with some local hearsay, later substantiated, I was able to piece together quite a story. The little girl's name was Dorothy. Only two schools in around 1915-25 fitted the description. They were the Tryon School, of which quite a bit is known, and I found just one mention of a school in Jarvis Lane called ‘Mrs. Taylor’s School’. This latter school seems the more likely, in view of the Taylor name, but sadly no records of it remain.

Next, I delved into various of our archives and began to assemble a picture of the life of this Dr Taylor. Dr Henry Herbert Taylor had been medically trained and was a pathologist in Brighton for most of his working life, giving evidence at the trial of the infamous Dr Crippen, who was hanged in 1910. I found various documents that showed Dr Taylor living at Jarvis House (now simply ‘Jarvis’) in Jarvis Lane, Steyning from the 1890s to 1934. The current owner of Jarvis was very helpful in assisting me to fill in some of the details of Dr Taylor’s life. He was a wealthy man whose first wife had been disabled. He had one of the world’s first domestic mechanical lifts installed for her in Jarvis. After her death he remarried to a much younger wife. He gave generously to various charities and to our own parochial funds on a regular basis. He owned several properties in the area and endowed several local causes.

It seems Dr Taylor also had a particular charitable cause of his own. He endowed a number of local houses and a couple of railway carriages at Steyning Station. One of these houses was Jarvis Lodge, opposite Jarvis, which he specifically established for the housing of ‘impoverished widows’ - in other words, unmarried young girls who had ‘got into trouble’. Local hearsay appears to confirm this, as do a variety of Australian records. It seems very likely that Dorothy’s mother was one of these girls, many of whom were given free passage to Australia with their illegitimate offspring, presumably organised by Dr Taylor.

As to Dorothy’s paternity, it is possible that Dr Taylor could have been her father but, in view of his advanced years by this time, it is more likely that her father was the un-named reason why Dorothy’s unmarried mother had come to Dr Taylor’s in the first place. We shall never know with any certainty.

When I related all this information to Dorothy’s Australian son, he was delighted to find that his initial enquiry had inspired such an interesting story of social history. Thank goodness we have moved on since those difficult days just 100 years ago! His partner  produced the wonderful painting above showing the churchyard where his mother's ashes were placed. We are fortunate to be able to reproduce it.

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