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Saturday, 27 November 2010


It’s a year exactly since I started writing this blog, so I thought I’d celebrate with a celebration.

My great great uncle William Pilkington was a son of one of the founders of the Pilkington Brothers’ Glassworks in St Helens, Lancashire. It was William’s technical skill and innovation which laid the foundations for the firm’s later international supremacy. His hands-on grasp of the business of glass-making earned him the respect of his 14,000 workers, who used to say, “Mr Windle can do owt.”

William Windle Pilkington (1839-1914)

His wife was from an altogether more modest background. Louisa Salter was the daughter of a Baptist minister in Leamington. The stained-glass windows of Rev WA Salter’s chapel had been donated by William’s aunt Matilda Pilkington, who worshipped at the chapel, in memory of her sister Ann, who died during the building of the chapel. It may well be that this is how William and Louisa met.

They married on 9th June 1867, in her father’s church, in a ceremony conducted by her father and her uncle Joseph Angus, on a fine summer’s day with the sunlight streaming through those memorial windows. We know all this from the report the following week in the local newspaper, the Leamington Spa Courier, which also highlights the very different approaches of the two families being united by the wedding.

On Wednesday afternoon the children attending the Clarendon Street British School were regaled at tea, on the occasion of the marriage of Miss Louisa Salter, second daughter of the Rev T.T. [sic] Salter to Mr W.W. Pilkington, of Windle Hall, St Helens, Lancashire. By the courtesy of the editor of the St Helens Standard we are informed that the rejoicings in that industrial town, with which the bridegroom is connected, were of the most enthusiastic character. Bells peeled forth, cannon boomed, and the rattle of small arms – not to mention the feasting of 1000 of Messrs Pilkingtons’ work people in the Volunteer Hall. We understand that Miss Pilkington, of Rivington Villa, is Aunt to the bridegroom. The marriage, which took place at Clarendon Chapel, was distinguished by an unostentatious plainness and propriety.

Children’s tea party and workers’ feast! Propriety and cannon fire! What a rich celebration of the start of their long and happy marriage.

Saturday, 20 November 2010


John Tough was my great grandfather. Until recently, when I found some thorough work posted by someone else on the internet which pushed them back another three generations to the end of the eighteenth century, he was as far back as we went in the Tough line. (Tough, by the way, used to be pronounced “Tooch” rather than “Tuff.” It still is, by some surviving older members of the family.)

John Tough (c1879-1944)

Even at that short ancestral distance, we didn’t have much to go on. We knew little about him except his address, in Falkirk in Central Scotland, and his place of work. He was employed at the nearby Carron Iron Works, a company founded in 1759 which was a pioneer at the forefront of Britain’s Industrial Revolution.

The factory took advantage of locally abundant iron ore and coal and the plentiful water of the River Carron. By adopting the more efficient techniques newly developed at Coalbrookdale in England it became a powerful force in the market, winning lucrative contracts to supply armaments to British and foreign armed forces – both sides fought with Carron weapons in the Anglo-American War of 1812.

A carronade,
displayed in the Maritime Museum Daenholm, Germany

Its big seller was a short-barrelled, close-range cannonade devised by one of its partners and which came to be known as the Carronade. That weapon remained in production for almost eighty years until the 1850s, its sales undoubtedly boosted by the Duke of Wellington’s insistence, also in 1812, that only carronades be supplied to his army fighting the Peninsular War. Carron also manufactured armaments in both the world wars of the twentieth century.

One of the factory’s earliest products had been a cast iron stove so popular that it became common to refer to any such stove as a Carron – Janet Schaw, the ‘Lady of Quality’ who in 1776 met my ancestor John Halliday (see earlier post), wrote that on her arrival in North Carolina her host “received us into a hall which tho’ not very orderly had a cheerful look to which a large Carron stove filled with Scotch coals not a little contributed.”

Edinburgh New Town railings

The company’s non-military products included cast iron bath tubs and metal railings. The astonishing uniformity of Edinburgh’s New Town development (from 1765-1850) was supported in no small measure by the use throughout many of its buildings of Carron railings.

Its work remains highly visible in many parts of Britain because it was one of several foundries producing the ubiquitous red pillar boxes and telephone boxes, so much a part of British street furniture for most of the twentieth century. (Despite their Scottish origins, several of those sited in Scotland were blown up in the 1950s by Scottish protesters when they were cast with the insignia of Queen Elizabeth the Second – Elizabeth is only the first monarch of that name to rule Scotland!)

Iron two, made in Scotland – from girders
(It’s a Scottish joke …)

By the time of John Tough’s death the company had been successful for 185 years. It would survive another 38, but it struggled in the post-war years to compete with  foreign production costs and closed in 1982. It had been, in 1814, the largest iron works in Europe. For 223 years it was the dominant employer in the area and as I now know, my great grandfather was at least the fourth generation of Toughs to work there.

Saturday, 13 November 2010


Since writing this article I have discovered the perfectly sensible reason for Tudor being a family name - a great aunt's maiden name was Tudor; and I'm rather embarassed about the facetious and ignorant first paragraph of the following piece. But there you go, we live and learn.

Let’s face it, the first thing you notice about my great uncle Tudor Castle is his name. I grew up genuinely believing he had brothers called Norman and Windsor, after my father made a joke about it once. Tudor shared his name with a cousin of his father’s, and you’d think the joke would have worn pretty thin by the time he was born. But his father was a keen genealogist with a sense of history, so Tudy (as he was known at home) got to carry the name forward.

Tudor Castle in 1913
On the back he jokes “Man goeth forth to his labour”

Tudor was always going to be a writer. I have a bundle of correspondence between him and his big sister May, when both were still children.  His letters are chatty, loving, delighting in shared jokes and experiences. In 1908 at the age of 25 he published “The Gentle Shepherd – A Pastoral Play.” It is a four-hander in the aesthetic tradition, and rather hard to read in modern times: the opening exchange between the shepherd and his boy run thus:

GLION [the boy]: What do you give your friends?
ORCAS [the shepherd]:                                  I give them flowers,
The pale frail harebell and anemones …
GLION: That die so soon!
… the other characters were A SATYR and A LADY FROM THE CITY ...

He leavened his earnest sensitivity with a healthy dose of self-deprecating humour, the legacy of those childhood letters, as he confesses in the epilogue of his one published collection:

Dear Ethel, all faults I admit,
So it’s needless again to rehearse
How I spoil by crude flashes of wit
My otherwise excellent verse.

This alone I would urge on my part:
When I speak – and it’s seldom I speak –
My mouth is so full with my heart
That I must keep my tongue in my cheek.

He found it hard to settle to a career, and instead dabbled in various activities at home and abroad before, at the outbreak of the Great War volunteering for the Universities and Public Schools Battalion. As a 2nd Lieutenant with the Royal West Surrey Regiment he went to France in July 1916. Sadly my reason for writing about him here on this Remembrance weekend is that he died aged 33 barely a month later, killed by a gas shell on the 31st August at Delville Wood, one of the early engagements in the Battle of the Somme and one of the bloodiest.

Fighting at Delville Wood lasted from July to September 1916

It was of course a dreadful waste of a life full of potential: one reviewer thought he might “develop into a Rabelaisian Wordsworth.” Just before the war he had found work he loved as a land agent. Before that he had worked at Toynbee Hall, an institution which still thrives today dedicated to narrowing the gap in understanding between rich and poor. I think he had a lot to give.

This was published in the Toynbee Record in September 1910:

I envy every City clerk
Who knows his mind and does his work.
I envy every sooty sweep
Who does his work and gets his sleep.

I envy every flower that wields
Force to draw us to the field.
I envy every bird that makes
A nest so tight no winter breaks –

Envy the stars, that one by one
Ride stealthy circuit round the sun;
For each of these within his sphere
Can; does; and has a reason here.

Everything I ever saw
Works in tune with Nature’s law
Save I, who start each sideway track
And think it road till I look back.

And every night, as sure’s can be,
These two will battle over me;
Hope, with thoughts that still aspire;
Self-knowledge, that proclaims her liar.

Tudor Castle's memorial, Church of St Lawrence, Seale, Surrey

Saturday, 6 November 2010


Charles Verral was a brother of the 3x great grandfather of my great aunt Helen Verrall. What does that make him in relation to me? Remote, at least. He dropped the second L of his surname, unlike most of his relatives, including his father, but that was the least of his eccentricities.

He was born the seventh son of Richard Verrall (with two Ls), landlord of the White Hart Inn in Lewes, Sussex. Since an older brother William inherited he running of that establishment (see my earlier post about his ground-breaking cookbook), Charles was initially given a job as master of the George Inn in nearby Arundel, benefiting no doubt from his father’s connections with the local landowner the Duke of Newcastle.
Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle
was serving as Prime Minister of Great Britain
at the time of Charles Verral’s letter to him
and may not have given it his full attention

Charles Verral (one L) may not have had his brother’s or his father’s gift for hostelry: in 1760 he had to write to the Duke to beg for a position for his son in the Duke’s household. Charles went to great lengths to talk up the high level of education his son had received, and laid on with a trowel his gratitude for the Duke’s many kindnesses to him and his family. Unfortunately I haven’t yet been able to find out whether his high prose had the desired effect for the fifteen-year-old boy.

From here on I can do no better than quote from “The Verrall Family of Lewes,” a 1916 article from Vol 58 of the Sussex Archaeological Collections, which in turn quotes from an October 1790 article published in a monthly magazine called The Topographer, snappily titled “Journal of a Short Excursion Up the River Arun, with an Account of Batworth Park, Warningcamp and Burpham.”

In around 1770, at the age of 50 Charles seems to have obtained a lease of the site of the old chapel at Warningcamp, which he enclosed. He pulled down the remains of the chapel and built a “singular habitation” on its floor, which he called New Jerusalem. Here he lived a “sort of hermit’s life … suffering scarcely any body to come near him, not even to make his bed, or provide the common necessaries of existence.”

A Hermit’s Cell
from William Wright’s “Grotesque Architecture,”
published in London in 1790

And that, unfortunately, is all we know. Perhaps it’s enough. Of his four children, a daughter Lucy married a vicar, that son (also called Charles) may have prospered in the service of the Duke of Newcastle, another daughter Mary we only know from her baptism record; and Henry his delightful youngest son became an eccentric cricketing doctor and writer of facetious letters to the local paper The Lewes Journal, including the splendid 1811 article “A Short Essay on Firing a Lame Horse.” Of Charles the Hermit, nothing more is recorded.
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