Saturday, May 14, 2011

Every Picture Tells A Story: The Cast of Players, Part 1

Number 11 in a continuing series. This one by Richard Tillett with a couple of suggestions and comments from Martin Smith.

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.

In the case of three of them, there’s a good reason for our silence – we haven’t yet been able to discover a great deal about them, and what we have uncovered isn’t especially interesting. So let’s despatch the trio without further ado, starting with Charles Biss.

Charles Biss: mystery man

Of Charles Biss there is little trace, and we do not even know his occupation. It is probable that he was related to the Charles Bisse who was a mayor of Hereford in 1752, and possible also that he had a family connection to Philip Bisse, an early 18th century bishop of Hereford. Our man is likely to be the Charles Bysse who was baptised in Hereford in 1790, who may (or may not) be the same as the Charles Biss who married Elizabeth Wiltshire at Bridstow near Ross-on-Wye in 1820… Yes, those variant spellings are confusing. There are records in the National Archives relating to a Charles Biss who owned land at Berkeley in Gloucestershire in the 1830s, and he too may be the man in the picture. But that’s all we know (or think we know) about him.

Theophilus Lane: scion of a prominent Hereford family

There are also some known unknowns (not to say unknown unknowns) around the identity of Theophilus Lane. We are confident that he came from a prominent family of attorneys and clerics in the Hereford area – another Theophilus Lane was mayor of the city in 1729. We initially assumed that the man in the picture was the son of yet another Theophilus Lane who was a prebendary of Hereford Cathedral. That Theophilus Lane (the prebendary) married a niece of the painter Thomas Gainsborough and the couple had some talented children who went on to make names for themselves, one as a lithographer and engraver, and another as an expert on the Arab world. However, in the absence of any supporting evidence we now think it more likely that our man is from another branch of the Lane family. He may be the Theophilus Lane born to James and Anna Lane and baptised at Ross-on-Wye in 1791.

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?

Samuel Beavan is another shadowy figure, who we think came from a Welsh borders family where the surname is fairly common. He may have been the son of Major Beavan of the Radnorshire Militia, who was living in Hereford at the time of his death in 1799 (his widow was still living in one of the best addresses in the city, Castle Street, in 1830).

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.

The Bodenhams were a wealthy Catholic family of bankers and solicitors with a country house and estate, Rotherwas, on the outskirts of Hereford. As we’ve already noted in an earlier blog, Rotherwas may well have been the setting for the picture but as the house was subsequently demolished we will probably never know for certain.

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

No comments: