Saturday, 27 September 2008

Geoff's Genealogy Update 27 September 2008

Hello again.

When I signed off my last entry on this blog I mentioned the upcoming open day at Haberdashers' Hall, London. Well, I'm delighted to say that I made the trip to London last Saturday with Jan & Helen, and together we enjoyed a terrific day out in the capital. This open day was part of the annual Open House London event, whereby on 20-21 September a number of houses around London were open for the public to visit free of charge. Luckily the weather was lovely for this event, and we noticed that there were many people walking the streets of our capital, seemingly en route to the next house on their itinerary. According to the information on the Open House London website the day was a great success.

So, what of our first visit to the new Haberdashers' Hall?

I must say, we were very impressed. It is quite fashionable to knock modern architecture, but I thought that this was a superb building. The facade blends well with the surrounding buildings in West Smithfield, but when you cross the portals and make your way into the building you come face to face with a lovely courtyard . The courtyard is grassed, with a most attractive fountain at its centre.In the walkways around the courtyard were displayed a number of interesting items, including sculptures by Barbara Hepworth and Lynn Chadwick.


We entered the Orangery and were greatly impressed by a painting of a Panorama of the Modern City of London by Jeffrey Morgan. This was a very attractive work, but what struck us most were the figures painted into the foreground of the picture. These were four eminent members - Princess Margaret, Sir Robin Brook, Robert Aske of the Haberdashers' Company - Princess Margaret, Sir Robin Brook, Robert Aske and "our" John Bankes (c1652-1719)! The artist had copied Bankes as he appears in his portrait, which has hung at successive Haberdashers' Halls since his death in 1719.

We went up the stairs, to visit the suite of rooms on the first floor. These are very fine indeed, and they contain many treasures. We saw many fine paintings (including works by Reynolds, Gainsborough, Kneller and Romney) much beautiful furniture, and many interesting and impressive artefacts. However, the item that we really wanted to see was the portrait of John Bankes, which still hangs in the Company's Court Room, as laid down in Bankes's will.

A few years ago I contacted the National Portrait Gallery in the hope that they could tell me something about the Bankes portrait. Of course, I would have liked them to be able to tell me when it was painted, and who was the likely artist, but I knew that it was rather a long shot so was not too disappointed when I got their response. They said (quite fairly) that it was not possible to date the portrait, or begin the process of attribution, without having access to the original. They considered that "... like so many city portraits the hand is competent but not recognisable.."

We spent quite some time gazing at the Bankes portrait, and taking photographs. To me this is the most wonderful thing. To be able to see an image of our benefactor, nearly 300 years after he died!

Usually the artefacts in portraits dating from Bankes's time were included to tell the viewer what type of person the subject was - his trade, or religion, his values etc. With this in mind I have tried, many times, to make sense of the iconography of this picture. On the table by Bankes there is a hat, and some other items. As far as I can make out these seem to be a light coloured cloth, a pair of compasses and some needles of some kind (probably wooden). I realise that I've almost certainly mis-identified some of these items, but if anybody reading this feels able to put me right I'll be delighted for you to do so. Try as I might, I cannot understand what the items tell us about Bankes. On this visit we were able to have a close-up look at the picture with this in mind, but we still were no nearer to understanding it, I'm afraid.

One other point - do the clothes worn by Bankes tell us anything about him, apart from the general point that he was a prosperous man?

One thing that struck me about the picture this time is that Bankes looks quite a young man. Possibly in his middle age. I have always thought that the portrait was probably painted to mark him becoming being Master of the Company, but he was in his 60s then, and he looks much younger than that. This throws up a number of possibilities. For example, maybe Bankes was in his 60s , but the artist flattered him by making him look younger - distinctly possible - or maybe the portrait was painted somewhat earlier in Bankes's life. If anybody reading this has any ideas on these and any other points, I'll be very pleased to hear from them.

Our visit to Haberdashers' Hall was completed by a short meeting with David Bartle, the company Archivist. He very kindly spared us a few minutes for a chat, and a look at the Bankes Pedigree Books. Yes - you read that correctly. There are two pedigree books. One of them is exactly as it was when it was created at the start of the 20th century - by Mr Eagleton, I think. The other copy is updated with any additional information about the Bankes pedigree that the company receives. Jan and Helen had never seen the pedigree boook before, and were very pleased to be able to put that right.

We left Haberdashers' Hall having enjoyed our visit greatly, and with a very favourable impression of the building which, I think, effectively combines the modern with the traditional. The building is well lit throughout, and has a very spacious feel, compared to the previous hall in Staining Lane. The Company's collection of pictures and artefacts are able to be displayed to very great advantage.

Having completed our main mission for the day, we were left to decide what to do in the remaining couple of hours before leaving for home. After a brief discussion we opted for a visit to Bunhill Fields, the great non-conformist burial ground in the City of London. A number of Bankes descendants were buried in this burial ground, including Joseph Collyer the Younger (1748-1827) and members of his family, and my direct ancestors, Ann Hunt (c1770-1811) and her spouse John Stephens (c1770-1802).

A great many non-conformists were buried at Bunhill fields over several centuries up to the 1850s. It is now managed by the Corporation of London as a garden, and I must saw it is beautifully maintained. There are two main paths that criss-cross the burial ground, and a sizeable grassed area with seating, where one can sit and enjoy the calm atmosphere of this tree-shaded haven. There are a number of famous people buried there, and we saw the graves of Daniel Defoe (writer of Robinson Crusoe) Susannah Wesley (wife of John Wesley) and John Bunyan (writer of the Pilgrim's Progress). The footpaths have been laid out so that visitors can easily see these graves, but the rest of the graveyard is only viewable through railings - a necessary precaution, I would think, to guard against damage. Thus, it was not possible for us to attempt a visit to the graves of our forebears.

We very much enjoyed the short time we spent in Bunhill Fields. It is a very restful place, and with the sun shining through the many trees, it looked very attractive.

As we left Bunhill Fields we noted the great Methodist Chapel on the other side of the road. This was John Wesley's chapel , and next to it is his house, which is also open to the public. We just had time to go into the chapel - which is a quite magnificent building - and Wesley's house. The house is quite small and modestly furnished, and contains many items that were once Wesley's possessions. Among these are his christening robe, his spectacles, a lock of his hair, items of his clothing, and a number of items of furniture. The house was staffed by two guides who were simply bubbling with enthusiasm, and very knowledgable on their subject. We learned a lot in our short visit, and left the capital having had a really super day.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Geoffs Genealogy Update 3 September 2008

I'm a lucky chap. Since my last blog entry I have had a pretty good time.

Firstly, at the start of August I went off to Portugal for a week of sunshine, good food, and super company on the Algarve. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this holiday, and a brief escape from the rigours of an appalling English summer.

Secondly, over the August bank holiday weekend Jan and I went to North Wales. We stayed a couple of nights at Llandudno, in a really lovely bed & breakfast. It is many years since we last visited Llandudno, and I had quite forgotten what a fine traditional seaside resort it is. It truly is well worth a visit, if you have a mind to spend some time in North Wales. The reason for our brief sojourn in the town was our annual visit to Bryn Terfel's opera gala night at the Faenol festival. Although the weather over the weekend was pretty fair, on the evening in question it was quite poor, although the rain did hold off for the duration of the concert. However, the concert was quite as wonderful as it always is. Bryn was joined by Diana Damrau (soprano), Nadia Krasteva (mezzo) and Johan Botha (tenor) - all great stars of the Opera world, and they gave us a terrific show.

We have one more open air event to attend this year, and we are praying for a decent evening (seems unlikely though). On 13 September we go to Swansea to attend the BBC Proms in the Park concert - the Last Night of the Proms. Last year we enjoyed this event enormously, so we are going again.

A few weeks ago I was delighted to be contacted by Glenva, in Australia. She is a distant cousin of mine on the Holliday line, and we have exchanged information about our respective Holliday forebears. Our common ancestors were John Holliday (c1812-1874) and his wife, Louisa Matthews (b c1826). It will take me a while to enter up all the material Glenva has sent me, but I shall have the job completed before long.

The Hollidays are not Bankes descendants. They are the family of my late grandmother - Alice Louisa (Holliday) Smith(1891-1982), who married George William Smith (1886-1940). You can find them on the tree on my website. The Hollidays seeem to me to exemplify a recurring theme in family history research which I find endlessly fascinating - the way in which a family's economic and social fortunes can turn around completely. This usually seems to happen as a result of a single chance event, such as a fortunate or unfortunate marriage.
Those of you who have watched the BBC TV series Who do you think you are will have observed this many times. Recently it showed how the fortunes of Patsy Kensit's forebears had veered between pillar of the community respectability and criminality.

I think it fair to say that over the last couple of centuries the Hollidays have generally been pretty ordinary working folk. They do not seem to have been particularly prosperous, in fact in one particular case in 1901 family members were in a London workhouse. Around 1880 James Frederick Holliday (1853-1938), a cousin of my great grandfather, decided to go to Bolivia to visit his brother, an engineer working in that country. In the course of his trip he stopped off in Santos, Brazil. There he had an encounter with a British man, the upshot of which was that he got a job working in Brazil and settled there. See what I mean about a family's fortunes turning on a chance event? In 1882 James married Elizabeth Daly (c1856-1926) in Rio de Janeiro, and they founded a branch of Brazilian Hollidays. This branch of the family seems to have lived through a few turbulent times, but came through to achieve considerable prosperity - leaving their British relations standing, in fact. If you look at the Holliday Family in Brazil Blog
you will be able to read their story. George Holliday has set up this blog, which is effectively a Holliday family archive. Lots of wonderful stuff here - photos, transcriptions of letters and much more.

My cousin Pat has been beavering away of late, investigating John Bankes (c1652-1719). She had found that a certain Edward Banks, Haberdasher of London, was a Sheriff of the City of London in 1563-4, and wondered whether he could be a forebear of our John Bankes, Haberdasher. She carried out a very interesting piece of research, obtaining the wills of several members of Edward Banks's family. They came from Shelford in Cambridgeshire.

The upshot of all this effort is that there was not an obvious connection between our JB and the Shelford family, but - of course - that does not necessarily mean that no connection existed. The hunt goes on!

Another recent contact was Barbara, who is descended from Anne Deane, half sister to John Bankes, on the Fiveash line. Her grandmother was Alice Maud Fiveash (b 1883) and her husband, Richard Williams. Barbara has kindly sent me some information about her grandmother's family and the line down to her, all of which was "news to me". Another part of the Bankes Pedigree filled in.

The time of the open weekend at Haberdashers' Hall draws near, and I'm certainly hoping to take the opportunity of visiting the new Hall. If I make it I'll tell you about it in my next blog entry.