William Capel Slaughter – family origins and early life

 Photograph of William Capel Slaughter [ca.1910]

Photograph of William Capel Slaughter
[ca.1910]

 My great-grandfather was a significant figure in the city of London as one of the founder members of the law firm, Slaughter and May. It still bears his name, though no family members have been associated with the running of it  since William died in 1917.

Born on May 11th 1857, William was the youngest of six children born to Mihill Slaughter and his wife, Ann Erskine Capel. Her father, James Durnford Capel [1773 -1844] was a Bank of England cashier  from 1793 until he died – a tremendously long working life of around 50 years. As well as a very long career, he must have held  a post of considerable responsibility  since he is listed in the London Gazette of 1818 as being one of only 26 cashiers authorised to sign Bank of England notes to the value of £5 upwards.Through him, Ann had many family links with London banking and legal circles, as well as the Stock Exchange.

William’s great-grandfather – another William – had been a cheesemonger in St. Martin’s Lane during the late 1780s and 90s. His wife was Mary Mihill. Their eldest son was given their mother’s maiden name , as was the tradition in many families, so he became Mihill Slaughter, the first of four generations to bear the name. I have been told that this is a common Northern Irish variant of the name Michael, so perhaps Mary came from Ireland or had Irish ancestors.

The first Mihill Slaughter  [b.1781] went into the family cheese business, but died at the early age of 36 in 1817. He left his wife, Esther, and five young children, the eldest of whom had been named after his father. Sadly, Esther herself died in 1825 when the young family of three boys and two girls were effectively orphaned. It begins to sound positively Dickensian, but happily for the children, their uncle [ confusingly,yet another William Slaughter] and his wife Elizabeth, took the children in and brought them up. Having no family of their own, they devoted themselves to the care of their nephews and nieces and provided handsomely for them in their wills.

The eldest son, Mihill,[b.1813]  went into business with Thomas Capel [son of  James Capel of the Bank of England]. From 1835 -44 they were partners as coal-marchants in Blackfriars, but Mihill obviously set his sights higher in terms of his career and prospects socially. Through his connections with the Capel family he must have met Ann [Thomas’ half-sister] whom he married in 1846. By that time, Mihill was an employee of the Stock Exchange, in it’s recently established Railways department.

The 1840s was the height of the railway building boom, and there was a great deal of investment in the business. Mihill  was the editor and main compiler of ‘The Railway Intelligence’ – a half-yearly publication which gave detailed information on British and foreign railway companies and statistics on the  different businesses, mileages, accidents etc , which became an invaluable handbook for any potential investor. As Mihill’s wealth and status increased he moved his family to what were then the comfortable leafy suburbs of south London. It was still mainly open country at that time, with wide tree-lined streets  and spacious  houses . The newly built railways and omnibus services meant they were in easy reach of the city. Mihill and Ann’s first child [another Mihill] was born in 1847, then came four daughters, and finally their second son, William, who was born in the family home in Kennington.

Categories: 19th Century, Men of God, and of Commerce, Miscellaneous | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Families – happy and unhappy

I disagree with Tolstoy.  (‘Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’ – Anna Karenina.) It seems to me that when we witness, in fact or fiction, some pain or difficulty in family life, we often see connections to our own.  I have just seen a searing play about two sisters (Little Light by Alice Birch at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond), which left my companion and me in a state of high emotion, as we each recognized in it something horribly ‘familiar’ (Oxford English Dictionary definition ‘on a family footing’ ) – and I don’t even have a sister.   On the same day, I listened to a friend describing the tensions that were building up around her younger daughter’s wedding, and was well able to empathise – and I don’t even have a daughter.  We can identify with stories of family just because we are all part of one , and we understand that huge dramas take place within it,  some of them most unpleasant.  I dislike the way that, after a disaster such as a ‘tsunami’ or an aeroplane crash,  the saccharine words ‘loved ones’ are used in the media, referring to the victims as if they had all lived on a kind of Valentine’s Day cloud.  I find myself wondering if some of their surviving kith and kin might be haunted by the fact they had just had a blazing row with one of the victims, or be thinking of ending a longstanding rift and now it’s too late, or be secretly rejoicing because they really did wish the victim was dead.

With these thoughts in mind, I wonder what is the likely reader response to those of us writing family history.  We often ask ourselves ‘Of what interest is this story to people outside the family?’   Perhaps we underestimate the fascination that lies in family life itself – the ups and downs of fortune, the squabbles and making-ups, the jealousies and envies, the way illness or death disrupt the flow and overturn expectations, the generation struggles.  ‘Family’,  in this context, means more than the nuclear family consisting of two parents who produce 2.4 children.  Each generation brings new blood into the mix, changing the dynamic.  Aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, grandparents all have their part to play.  And there may be other kinds of ‘families’ created at work or play, in church or politics, where other loyalties build up, adding to the complex pattern that makes up each person’s life and relationships.  That complexity may be of interest in itself.

Conventional history was about kings and queens, but for them too, family life played the greatest part. In Tudor: The Family Story (2013) (ISBN: 9780099555285),  Leanda de Lisle showed how the main pre-occupations in that dynasty were not about state affairs.  The decisions they made impinged on their ‘people’ of course, but were motivated by concerns about the family.   The story of each royal dynasty is compelling just because it’s a family story.  In my stage-struck teenage years, one of my favourite novels was Broome Stages by Clemence Dane (Heinemann, 1931), in which she transplanted the Plantagenet dynasty into the world of 18th century English theatre.  The succeeding generations of a medieval family created a palimpsest, on which a new story could be inscribed.

© Diana Devlin

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Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain – a review

IMG_0280 Vera BThe red flower for this Valentine’s Day piece is the scarlet poppy on the front of the Virago anniversary edition of Testament of Youth. First published in 1933 by Victor Gollancz, it became a great success both in the UK and the USA, and  familiar to a later generation when reissued in 1978 and a TV drama series based on it came out in 1979. Vera Brittain [1893 -1970] called it her ‘autobiographical study’, based as it was on extensive use of her own diaries and letters. Though other contemporary women authors had  written on similar themes [ eg Sylvia Pankhurst, and Beatrice Webb] Brittain wanted to emphasise the ‘unsung contribution of women to the war effort.’  Having studied the personal accounts of male authors’ wartime experiences, such as Sassoon, and Robert Graves [whose ‘Goodbye to All That’ had been published in 1929], Brittain felt that none of these acknowledged the value of womens’ war work. In her introduction, she describes how she felt the only course of action was to ‘tell my own fairly typical story as truthfully as I could against the larger background’ of contemporary historical events.’

After war was declared in August 1914, Brittain [then aged 20] decided to forgo her lang-awaited and hard-won place at Somerville College, Oxford, in order to train and work as a V.A.D.[ Voluntary Aid Detachment] nurse. The book tells of her experiences at a hospital in London, then on the Western Front. It also describes the tragic personal losses she had to endure, when first her fiance , then two close friends, and finally her much-loved brother were killed on active service. Brittain’s description of the impact these deaths had on her life, and on the lives of their families and friends , helps to explain the deep sorrow felt by a nation who had to endure the destruction of the ‘lost generation’ in the aftermath of war.

For anyone who is planning to write about the role of women as nurses, and domestic life in London during 1914-18, or who wishes to gain an appreciation of the horrors of mechanised warfare and its effects as seen in a field hospital in Northern France, it is a valuable and absorbing book which still has the power to disturb and move the reader, a century after the momentous events it records. Vera Brittain’s passionate plea for peace needs to be heard as much today as when it was first published.

Having recently seen the film, [directed by James Kent, and with Alicia Vikander in the title role] i would tend to agree with the Guardian reviewer, Peter Bradshaw, who describes it as ‘tastefully realised … but drifts meekly away from the necessary pain and anger, leaving a kind of heritage inertia.’Beautifully filmed and well-acted, the film does gain power after the young protagonists are drawn into the horror of the reality of war. It is almost impossible to do justice to such a long and profound book in a film of just over 2 hours, and much has had to be omitted.  However, it is hoped it will help to bring this remarkable and powerful autobiographical work to  the notice of an even wider audience  and to the next generation.

Categories: Books we've read, How we write, Miscellaneous, Strong Women, World War One | Leave a comment

Another family bible, another distraction

When I visit my uncle I usually bring back something intended to help me with my family history; sometimes an old document or a 1920s guide book to London but recently an old, very large, family bible. Whether this is our family bible is a moot point, certainly it’s someone’s family bible. It records births and a few deaths for the Lane family between 1808 and 1827. Although most events take place in London, in Shoreditch, the first christening is in Oxford.

The New and Grand Imperial Family Bible

The New and Grand Imperial Family Bible

Now I have come across the Lanes before when researching my mother’s maternal line. An Emma Wingfield ne Lane is registered as sharing a house with my great-grandmother in the 1871 and 1881 censuses. Most likely the same Emma Lane recorded in the bible as born on 26th June 1822 and christened on 23rd November 1823 at St Leonard’s Shoreditch, so this must be how the bible came through the ages to me. There is no direct family line between me and Emma so it seems sad that I am left with the problem of the bible’s future. It is a large book; 18”x11”x4”, in a sorry state through damp and decay but it must have been grand. Faint gold ornamentation remains on the spine, it is both annotated and illustrated and includes The Apocrypha, those mysterious books missing from my school bible; entitled “Moore’s Bible” it was published by A Whellier of 3 Paternoster Row. I think it must be “The New and Grand Imperial Family Bible” with commentary by Rev Henry Moore DD published in 1813. As it could not have been owned by the family at the time of the first few entries this may explain a discrepancy between the on-line christening records and the actual dates in the bible.

Page of entries for the Lane family

Page of entries for the Lane family

But what should I do with it; just take out the family pages and bin it, try to find a more direct line to pass it to or just rewrap it and put it in the attic to be another problem at another time? I know I’d like to find the remaining family but isn’t that just another distraction so I guess it’s into the attic as I just can’t bring myself to bin it.

 

 

Barbara Selby

 

Categories: 19th Century, How we write, Legacies, Men of God, and of Commerce | Tags: | 1 Comment

Different perspectives

My youngest sister, in her retirement, has set off on a round-the-world tour on which one of the stops is Singapore.  She has been asking me and our other sister for our memories of the place in the mid-1960s when our father was stationed there for three years with the RAF.  While my other sister and I only spent the school summer holidays there, my youngest sister and brother lived and went to school there.  However she will not find our old bungalow at RAF Seletar, the yacht club there or the places in Singapore City that we used to visit.  Nor will the evening village street market be the same if it exists at all.  That old transit hotel, the Pasir Ris, may be still there but much altered, in pretty grounds which are now a park.  Will my sister recognise it when she visits?

The yacht club, RAF Seletar

The yacht club, RAF Seletar

There are some websites with photos from others who were stationed there in the decades 1950-1970 and browsing them has stirred long forgotten recollections of post-war colonial leisure with an amah to clean, wash and iron, and nothing to do except swim, sail, play golf and socialise.  It was a tropical paradise to us.  It is a pity we have almost no family photographs of this time – apart from one on our custom-built little motor boat in which we used to explore a small section of the Straits of Malacca between Seletar and Malaya.  My father had to have a boat with an engine – sails were just unacceptable.  Singapore will be unrecognisable today due to phenomenal economic growth after independence in 1965.

A very skinny teenage me beside The Shark

A very skinny teenage me beside The Shark

It has been fascinating for us to compare notes on who remembers what about our three years there.  Certain basic facts are common to each of us but we have our own memories of what was important.  Where we differ most is in understanding our parents though whether our perspectives are complementary or contradictory is difficult to judge.  If I ever write a family history memoir of my own life four different accounts – mine and those of my two sisters and my brother – might come closer to a whole rounded picture of our family.

 

Margaret

 

Categories: 20th Century, After the 2nd World War, Miscellaneous | 3 Comments

The era before roll on – roll off

I have previously written a blog about my father’s love affair with cars and in particular the Jowett Javelin which I remember well.  One reader helpfully pointed out that it seemed to be left-hand drive and another added that buying it in Germany around 1952 had probably avoided the punitive purchase tax on new cars bought in Britain at that time.  It all adds up. I recently rediscovered a picture of it which, going by the notice on the gantry, was taken in a Dutch or Belgian port. We would have been travelling to or from Germany.

The Jowett Javelin in transit between Germany and Britain about 1953

The Jowett Javelin in transit between Germany and Britain about 1953

Was it still the practice to empty fuel tanks and disconnect batteries while the car was in the ship’s hold?  In any case getting cars on and off vessels in this way was expensive, time-consuming and risky.  I imagine my father standing around nervously as he took this picture.  And the operation was labour intensive from the number of men on the quayside.  The roof-rack is well loaded.  The number plate is a curiosity and different from the one on photos of the car taken in Germany.  However I have now learnt that the prefix Q indicated a foreign car imported temporarily and the Q series was apparently issued by the RAC.   Despite trying hard I cannot read the ship’s name from the life-buoy on its railings.

The Second World War had greatly accelerated the transport of cars, trains and other vehicles by driving on and off ships but the first commercial car ro-ro (roll on-roll-off) service across the English Channel only began from Dover in 1953.  Vehicle transport across the Channel quickly increased tenfold after that.

 

Margaret

Categories: Miscellaneous | 2 Comments

My Grandfathers’ Chests [part 2]

 Hugh Pike's leather trunk

Hugh Pike’s leather trunk

 The memo of 1912

The memo of 1912

It seems a long time since I wrote about William Slaughter’s small leather trunk in the December blog post, with Christmas and New Year falling in between. Now it’s 2015, and the anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign falls this year, reminding us that there were many other theatres of war than the Western Front, during the  years of  the Great War.

The second chest belonged to my paternal grandfather, Hugh Pike. It is larger than the other [63 x 37 x 38 cm] and not such a quality item, though sturdy. Made of wood, covered in hide and top-stitched, it has iron bands to reinforce the sides. There is an iron lock and fastener, but no key. It bears his name and initials – H. W Pike – on top, and two torn labels, now indecipherable, but possible part of an address. The trunk came to me on the death of my aunt in 2011.

The only item remaining inside it is a memorandum dated 15th October 1912, sent to my grandfather at his then address,

18 Rochester Terrace, Camden Road. The letter heading gives the address of ” The Buenos Ayres [sic] and Pacific Railway Co. Ltd” [address crossed out]. It is not signed but is initialled , possibly W.G., though it is hard to decipher.

It reads as follows –

Dear Hugh,

I have taken the liberty of sending along a few knives etc – key herewith, missed from parcel. – I believe there is a ten year guarantee or something with them, so if they should go wrong will you please advise me.

Yours aye,

WG 

Perhaps these knives were part of a wedding present. My grandparents, Gladys Kate [nee Drew] and Hugh Pike were married in the autumn of 1912 in  the district of Cheltenham. Why this one note should have survived for over 100 years, I have no idea. As to the knives, etc they have long since disappeared, along with the original contents of the trunk.

Hugh Pike was in the army during World War 1 and saw service in Mesopotamia [present day Iraq.] He survived, physically unhurt but was affected psychologically and  suffered from nightmares for many years afterwards. When I used to stay with them as a little girl in the 1950s, I remember him waking up the sleeping household shouting ‘He’s got me, he’s got me!’ and we would all rush into his room , where my grandmother assisted by the family dog [barking loudly] would attempt to wake him up then calm him down.

I wonder if  this trunk went on any of his campaigns? If the letter is contemporary with its manufacture , it pre-dates the war.It seems in too good a condition to have survived the climate and hardships of four years of fighting in the Middle East.During the campaign in the region, more than 31000 officers and men from the British and Indian armies died either in combat, or from disease, or as prisoners of war.Hugh was lucky to have survived. My grandfather never spoke to me about his experiences – he no doubt thought [correctly] that I was too young to understand. He simply referred to it as ‘Mess -pot”.

Susie Gutch

Categories: Legacies, World War One | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Ordinary lives – made interesting

‘Family history worth its salt asks big questions about economic forces, political decisions, local government, urban history, social policy, as well as the character of individuals and the fate of their families.’ So says Alison Light and her book certainly does that.  In fact it is easy to lose track of her ancestors as she covers five generations of them, including aunts and cousins, and become absorbed instead in the social history. The issues around poorly paid, unskilled insecure casual labour are depressingly familiar to us today – they have re-emerged after some atypical decades of job security and good wages. Society still has no answers and neither does this book.

On the details of her ancestors,  many of us face the same problems – family tales and only basic Birth, Marriage and Death and Census information. Occasionally she uncovers pockets of more detailed

Recently published

Recently published

information from Chapel records and asylum and workhouse entries for those unfortunates who became insane or destitute. She has used her findings to the full by exploring her ancestors’ housing and the towns and villages they lived in, as well as their occupations and working conditions. It is as much a history of the Victorian working class as a family memoir and a bleak picture of the suffering of itinerant working class people from orphans to unmarried mothers, deserted wives, insecure jobs and the poverty that ensues.

Her sense of injustice at the hardship and misery of it all is clear. She is indignant at indifference and callous treatment metered out by officialdom in all its guises and seems to take a Marxist view of the consolations of religious faith. Portsmouth and its districts suffered exceptional adversity due to it being a naval base and commercial port.  Her musings on her motives and responses to her findings might enlighten some of us about our own.

Margaret

Categories: Books we've read | 2 Comments

Will Christmas really be Christmas?

12DayscolouredI wonder what books and films and plays you most associate with Christmas. Not to mention Christmas songs and carols. I think many of us have traditions that go back years and are as important a part of the festivities as the crackers and mince pies.  And each generation establishes new ones. When I was four years old, during the Second World War, my aunt organized a Nativity tableau in the local church using all the village children.  I don’t have to take part in one of those any more.  But that same year she invented actions for The Twelve Days of Christmas, and just a couple of days ago I watched the six children in the family faithfully repeating them as we belted out the final frantic verse.  They never knew my aunt, but I’m sure they’ll be teaching their own children those same actions a few decades from now.

‘“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,”’grumbled Jo, lying on the hearthrug.’  As in  my early years, the March family in LIttle Women were ‘making do’, because it was wartime. One English tradition that had to wait until the end of the war was the annual production of Peter Pan, which was finally revived at the Scala Theatre in Tottenham Court Road.  This was a must, for my mother had played ‘Wendy’ six years running in the 1920s. The revival had hardly changed since those days; ‘Peter’ was still played by an actress: Margaret Lockwood, and a few years later her own daughter Julia ‘Toots’ Lockwood, Peggy Cummins, Barbara Kelly.  My great uncle Russell was still playing ‘Smee, the non-Conformist pirate.’  We all knew the music, we all knew how revive ‘Tinkabell’ . . . ‘She thinks she might get better,’ Peter Pan pleaded ‘ – if children believed in fairies. Oh, children, if you do believe, clap your hands!’  And we all shouted out ‘WE DO BELIEVE! WE DO BELIEVE!’ and clapped our hands like mad.  I imagine that in years to come, today’s children will feel equally fervent about Frozen. 

Then there’s A Christmas Carol, which my mother first read to me when I was six.  ‘What’s today?’ cries Scrooge, after his night with all the ghosts.  ‘Why, CHRISTMAS DAY,’ replies the small boy, and it all ends happily ever after.  This year, there was a wonderful version of it on BBC Radio 4, with music.

One year, long after I grew up, my father was ill in Taunton Hospital.  I spent the whole of Christmas week  tucked up in his cottage, driving in to visit him each day as he made a swift recovery, and spending the rest of the time gorging myself on old movies which were always the mainstay of the television schedules in those days: Gone With The Wind, White Christmas, The Sound of Music, It’s a Wonderful Life!.  One of the best holidays I remember!  Nowadays, when my goddaughter and her husband have put the children to bed and tidied away most of the gift paper, we all sit down and watch the DVD of Love Actually.  Bliss!

Diana Devlin

Categories: Festivals and Customs, Legacies | 1 Comment

Christmas trees and memories

Among the many boxes of other people’s memories stored in my attic are a few that hold my own. At Christmas, when we bring down the boxes of decorations, some of these take the spotlight for a few days.

Dad's Christmas Tree

Dad’s Christmas Tree

Every year one particular small, faded Christmas tree sits on my dining room mantelpiece; it belonged to my father. As a boy he was never allowed a real Christmas tree, “too much mess” his mother maintained so he had this artificial tree, German made, paper, wire and wood with plaster berries. Once he had his own home with my mother we always had a real tree but his boyhood tree still had a place as it now does in my own home.

The First Fairy

The First Fairy

It also has its own fairy, for a while she was on the big tree but when I was a child she was usurped by the new fairy.

The new fairy

The new fairy

 

 

 

One day Dad took me Christmas shopping and in Woolworths we found her; and proudly brought her home to take pride of place on the tree where she has reigned ever since. Of course her tinsel trim is faded and her wand went missing long ago but every year she reminds me of how much my Dad loved Christmas and how he passed his delight in it onto us as children.

My tree has some other decorations with a history, some bought on holidays and others made by my daughters; some given as presents and others from my first Christmas in my own home, each has its own set of particular memories.

The Christmas Cat Bell

The Christmas Cat Bell

There is the one cat bell, a strange decoration certainly, but I remember it from my great aunts tree, it had a companion but only this one has survived to make it to my tree.

 

 

 

 

By twelfth night they will all be back in the attic, carefully packed in bubble wrap and tissue paper waiting for their next show.

Barbara Selby

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