In this series, Martin and I have been sharing the results of our investigations into this early 19th century picture by Thomas Leeming…
…which is one of three, similar-but-interestingly-different, versions that we’ve identified during the course of our research. You can see the other versions here.
As readers of the previous blogs in the series will know, the artist did posterity a great favour by recording the names of the people in the picture. They are, from left to right: John Allen Junior, Francis Lewis Bodenham, the artist (standing), Samuel Beavan, Edwin Goode Wright, Charles Biss, and Theophilus Lane. In the version Leeming painted for exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1818, he replaced Samuel Beavan with the red-jacketed James Buckton.
So, who were these eight people, what did they do with their lives, and what did they have in common apart from their enthusiasm for chess? In blogs 6 and 7 we looked at Thomas Leeming himself and his London friend James Buckton in some detail. But so far we’ve not had much to say about the remaining members of the cast, and in this and our next blog we turn our attention to these six young men.
Charles Biss: mystery man
Theophilus Lane: scion of a prominent Hereford family
In his inscription to the painting, Leeming described Theophilus Lane as a solicitor and it seems that shortly after it was painted he became Diocesan Registrar at Hereford Cathedral, a role which, then as now, would have required legal skills. In 1830 he was listed as a notary and a chapter clerk living in St Owen Street.
Samuel Beavan: solicitor who returned to his roots?
Records in the National Archives suggest that Samuel Beavan settled in Radnorshire, where he practised as a solicitor. He is possibly the Samuel Beavan of Glascombe who was appointed as deputy lieutenant of Radnor county in 1825. But at the time of the painting (1815), it seems he was working in the Bodenham law firm in Hereford.
Which brings us to Francis Lewis Bodenham, of whom we know rather more…
Francis Lewis Bodenham: oh no, not another solicitor.
Francis Lewis Bodenham was to become a successful lawyer, a respected figure in Hereford public life, and an all-round Good Egg. He had the unusual honour of serving twice as mayor of the city, first in 1840 and again in 1857. A 19th century history of Hereford records that he was “a thorough going reformer, a true lover of the city, a pattern of correct dealing, with a passion for public service and devotion. He respected and honoured conscientious scruples wherever he saw them, and was indeed the true friend of the people, and to the cause of social betterment.”
The family seems to have had an enduring interest in chess as another Bodenham was listed as a patron of the 1885 international tournament held at Hereford, but more on this in a future blog.
Edwin Goode Wright: not a solicitor.Edwin Goode Wright had already made his name at the time the picture was painted as editor and publisher of the Hereford Journal, a role he was to maintain for four decades.
When he died in 1859 he merited an obituary in the Illustrated London News, from which we learn that he held many appointments as a trustee of public charities. He was also a scientist of some repute: “He made many improvements in scientific apparatus. Several of these, adapted to the microscope, have been generally adopted”. His obituary also records that he was something of a ballistics whiz: in 1823 he “announced his discovery of the advantageous employment of fulminating mercury in the preparation of the percussion cap”. The obituarist goes on to explain that “few now living can remember the disadvantages which this invention remedied, such as the oxidation and injury to locks and barrels, the dirt generated, and the feebleness and uncertainty of the old percussion powder”. If you fancy blowing yourself up, you can find a recipe for fulminating mercury here, where Edwin Goode Wright's contribution is acknowledged.
No doubt this invention was prompted by his own military experience during the Napoleonic wars as a young officer in the Herefordshire Volunteers, alongside another of the sitters in the picture, John Allen Junior, whose life merits a blog all to itself on 28 May, where we will also reflect on the relationships between the Gents.
This blog is deeply indebted to Hereford historian David Whitehead who has been most generous with his knowledge of Hereford families.
Information on the individuals in the picture has also been gleaned from online sources including International Genealogical Index and National Archives.
Every Picture Tells a Story Index
Chess in Art Index