Friday, 12 August 2011

140 years on

We have been tripping gaily down memory lane this week but that has come to an end, even if the end is only temporary. Anybody who has been reading my outpourings for any time (and there are a few) will know that I have an interest in family history. Not family history in general, but mine in particular. They might also recall that, earlier this year, I was thrilled to discover information about Mrs BP's great grandfather. But before I go any further, perhaps I should briefly explain the background.

The good lady's great great grandfather (yes, there are two "great"s) was born in Exeter and, in 1814, was baptised William. For the sake of clarification, I shall from now on refer to him as William I. He married in 1839 and his marriage certificate states his occupation as "druggist". The first child of the marriage was a boy, William II, who was born in August 1840, also in Exeter. By 1851, when a census was taken, the family had moved to the small Devon town of Modbury where William I ran his own business as a chemist and druggist. Some time before the next census in 1861, William I had moved both the family and the business to Brighton. The shop was on Kings Road - the sea front - and William I employed two assistants and a boy, one of the assistants being his son, William II.

It is really William II about whom I am writing as my discovery earlier this year was that he was also a photographer and was one of the country's leading experimenters in stereoscopic photography. Several of his photographs ended up in the collection of one James Gray, who amassed a large collection of photographs of Brighton in bygone times. On Mr Gray's death the collection passed to the Regency Society. The original photographs are now held by Brighton Museum but they have been digitized and can be viewed on the Society's web site. I know that those photographs must have been taken during the 1860s as William II emigrated to Australia before 1871 and married in Melbourne in 1872.

One of the pairs of photographs in the Gray collection is of St Nicholas church, Brighton, and I went there this week in the hope of taking a picture of the church from the same spot that William II had taken his picture some 140 years ago. I succeeded in lining things up pretty well, I think.

It is interesting to see the changes that have taken place. A tree now blocks the view of much of the tower and the buildings behind the church in Dyke Road. Most of the headstones have been removed (they are now placed against the churchyard walls), as have the railings around the grave in the old photo, although the grave can still be seen. There is what seems to be a sort of market cross erected near that grave now and, although it appears to have been there for centuries, it was not there in the old photo. I noticed that the tower appears shorter now than it was then, but then I saw that the roof of the nave has been raised and a row of clerestory windows inserted. (According to Wikipedia, this was done in 1892.) Otherwise, the building appears unchanged.

Just to continue with the story of Mrs BP's ancestors. William II emigrated, as I said, and married an Irish girl in 1872. Their first child (Mrs BP's grandfather) was also a boy, born in Melbourne in 1873 and christened William. After William II's wife died in 1884, William III and his siblings were sent back to Brighton to live with their grandparents. William III also married an Irish girl - well, she was born in Liverpool to Irish parents - and their son, Mrs BP's father, became William IV.

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