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Saturday, 25 January 2014


GENEALOGY ALERT! My use of the word "cousin" in this article is not geneologically accurate, and intended more to reflect general kinship. Richard Angus's father remains unidentified, unfortunately; but the events and people described here are all real. Enjoy the story. For a really thorough Angus genealogy, you can do no better than look here.

My 3x great uncle Joseph Angus came from a noble line, the Earls of Angus who lived in Tantallon Castle near Edinburgh. One ancestor, a contemporary of his 7x great grandfather, was Archibald Doulgas, the 8th Earl (1555-1588).

Tantallon Castle, East Lothian, built c1350 by William Douglas, 1st Earl of Douglas and father of the 1st Earl of Angus

These were turbulent times in Scotland in the late sixteenth century. The Scottish Reformation of 1560 saw the previously Catholic Church of Scotland break with the papacy of Rome. Instead, it adopted the Protestant ideas proposed by John Knox and based on the principles of John Calvin; but the king, James VI, had different ideas and under pressure from some of his nobles his “Black Acts” of 1584 reintroduced the Bishops which Calvinism rejected.

James VI of Scotland aged 20, in 1586; he was crowned king at the age of 13 months, and in his minority his regents included the Earls of Mar, Lennox and Morton

Archibald Angus was profoundly Protestant in his religious thinking, something which brought him into frequent conflict with his king. He even tried to arrange an English invasion of Scotland to rescue his uncle the Earl of Morton. Morton had been imprisoned for his part in the murder of James VI’s father, Mary Queen of Scots’ unpopular second husband Lord Darnley. Morton was beheaded and Angus felt it wise to live in exile in London for a year.

Somehow Archibald survived the association with his disgraced uncle and was allowed to return to Tantallon. But when in 1584 he joined a new rebellion against King James led by the Earls of Mar and Gowrie, which was defeated by the Earl of Arran, he had to leave the country once again.

Archibald fled to Northumberland, along with his cousin Richard (Joseph Angus’s 7x great grandfather) and Richard’s wife Alice. When Archibald continued south to London, Richard and Alice remained in the northeast of England. Perhaps Richard did not share his cousin Archibald’s Protestant position; rather surprisingly he and Alice settled in Dilston in County Durham, which was the stronghold of a staunchly Catholic family, the Radcliffes.

Dilston Castle, built c1417, home since c1480 of the Radcliffes of Derwentwater

Archibald Angus managed to patch things up with James VI, and he, Mar and Gowrie returned to Scotland in 1586 at the head of an army which helped rid James of the Earl of Arran, who had by now fallen from favour. Angus served out his days as lieutenant-general of the lawless country of the Scotland-England border, and died in 1588, allegedly as a result of withcraft.

Archibald was succeeded as Earl by another cousin, William Douglas. Perhaps things were just too hot for comfort in Scotland for less lofty members of the rebellious Angus family: Richard and Alice, who had fled with Archibald, remained in Dilston for the rest of their lives, as tenant farmers of Sir Francis Radcliffe.

They seem to have survived by keeping their heads down. Although removed from Scottish intrigue they found themselves at the heart of another Protestant-Catholic clash when Sir Francis Radcliffe (described, at the time, as ‘an obstinate, dangerous and not unlearned recusant’) was imprisoned for his Catholic faith during the last years of the reign of Elizabeth I. His lands were confiscated.

Chapel of St Mary Magdalene, Dilston, built by Sir Francis Radcliffe in 1616, reputedly with funds originally raised to support the Gunpowder Plot (in which Sir Francis was accused of complicity)

Richard and Alice outlived both Archibald and his successor, and saw Sir Francis released in 1603 (his estates were restored to him a few years later), under a general pardon when James VI of Scotland became James I of England.

After Richard died in 1604, his widow Alice was awarded a license to brew ale and run a lodging house in Dilston - what today would be called a pub with rooms. It was a far cry from Tantallon Castle (where Richard had been born in 1523), but from Richard’s farm and Alice’s inn the family rebuilt its fortunes and became by the mid-nineteenth century pillars of the Northumbrian community. Sadly there’s no trace of the Dilston inn today.

Saturday, 18 January 2014


Do you ever feel as if you always back the loser in any sporting fixture? Never pick the winner in the office sweepstake? Spare a thought for my unlucky Pilkington forebears. 

King Harold II (c1022-1066) died at the Battle of Hastings

With a bit of a push and a shove my 3x great uncle William Windle Pilkington (1839-1914) could trace his ancestors back to his (approximately) 15x great grandfather Leonard de Pilkington. Leonard, according to family tradition, fought on the side of King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. Unlike Harold, he survived not only the fighting but the arrival of the new Norman ruling class. Remarkably he retained the lordship of the manor of Pilkington in Lancashire, midway between Bolton and Manchester, despite being on the wrong side at Hastings.

But over the next few centuries, a pattern emerged of poor choices in battle. In 1322, for example, Leonard’s great great grandson Sir Roger de Pilkington (d. 1347) joined the Earl of Lancaster who was leading rebellious opposition to the weak king Edward II. But rebel support evaporated as the two sides headed for confrontation at Boroughbridge, north of York; and in a one-sided battle there on the 16th March 4000 royal troops easily defeated 700 of the rebels.

King Edward II (1284-1327) won the battle of Boroughbridge

Sir Roger was captured at the battle; but he was later pardoned , thereby avoiding the fate of his rebel leader Lancaster, who was beheaded outside Pontefract Castle less than a week after his defeat.

150 yers later, Sir Roger’s great great grandsons were friends of Richard, Duke of Gloucester. One of them, Sir John Pilkington (1425-1478) entrusted the execution of his will to Richard. It was the time of the Wars of the Roses between rival claimants from the houses of York and Lancaster for the English throne; and perhaps the Pilkingtons thought they had learned the lesson of history by siding this time not with Lancaster but with Richard, a Yorkist. 

King Richard III (1452-1485) died at the Battle of Bosworth Field

When Richard assumed the throne of England in 1483 as Richard III, Sir John’s brother Sir Charles Pilkington (c1430-c1485) was given the great honour of being the new king’s swordbearer. But only two years later Richard’s reign came to a violent end. At the Battle of Bosworth Field, he was conclusively defeated by his challenger, Henry Tudor.

Richard was killed on the battlefield, and over the next two years his supporters were stripped of power and property. John and Charles Pilkington’s cousin Sir Thomas, who had fought for Richard at Bosworth Field, had to surrender his Lancashire estates, including that of Pilkington. Sir Thomas died in 1487 at the Battle of Stoke Field, a last unsuccessful attempt to unseat the new Tudor dynasty of Henry, now Henry VII.

King Henry VII (1457-1509) won the Battles of Bosworth Field and Stoke Field

Sir Thomas’s death was symbolic of the political upheaval of the time. On the larger political stage the Plantagenet dynasty, which had reigned in England since 1133, disappeared. The loss of the Pilkington estate which gave the family its name must have been a morale-sapping blow. The family regrouped around a minor branch which had retained lordship of the little manor of Rivington a few miles to the north.

For the next 150 years the family kept its head down; and at the start of the seventeenth century the Rivington estate was broken up – some say, through defaulting on a debt. But at the outbreak of the Civil War the Pilkingtons took sides once more, when Richard Pilkington (1634-1711) backed King Charles I against his opponent Oliver Cromwell.

King Charles I (1600-1649) was beheaded after the English Civil War

Another poor choice, another wrong king. Cromwell established the Commonwealth he was fighting for. Charles was beheaded. And Richard Pilkington (only 15 at the time) persisted for some years in his support of the monarchy and was therefore stripped of his remaining estates. He fled to Ireland to start afresh, and no further stances for or against a king by a Pilkington are recorded.

Saturday, 11 January 2014


For Bristol Beer Week in October 2013, the Ashley Down microbrewery rustled up a special brew, Stokes Croft IPA (that’s India Pale Ale for the uninitiated). The brewery is in the St Andrews district of Bristol, and Stokes Croft is the road that leads to it from the city centre.

Stokes Park IPA, specially brewed by Ashley Down microbrewery for Bristol Beer Week 2013

The road was also the site until the second world war of the Stokes Croft Brewery, which stood at the corner of Stokes Croft and City Road. In the 1830s it was run, under the name of Castle & Rees, by two brothers in law: my Carmarthen-born 3x great uncle Thomas Rees and my Bristol-born great great grandfather William Henry Castle. Thomas had married Susannah Capel Jennings and William her younger sister Caroline Collins Jennings.

(A third sister, Henrietta Collins Jennings was the wife of the engineer Thomas Richard Guppy of whom I have written here; and a fourth, Margaret Collins Jennings married William Lambert and inherited a house belonging to her uncle Thomas Collins, about which I wrote last year.)

The last remaining buildings of the Stokes Croft Brewery survive as Bristol’s Lakota Nightclub

William and Thomas also ran, under the name Rees & Castle, the Nursery Brewery on Kent Street in Liverpool, where Thomas had by 1837 made his home. I don’t know when they entered into partnership together. William was already a brewer when he married Caroline in Liverpool in 1837; and perhaps they met through her sister, the wife of his business partner. Thomas Rees was among the witnesses at William and Caroline's wedding.

There was a second brewery on Kent Street, the Mersey Brewery, in which William and Thomas were joined by a third Jennings brother in law, Thomas Richard Guppy. They brewed Mersey porter ale, and had traded as Guppy, Rees and Co since at least 1838 (when Guppy brought a court case against a carpenter for late completion of work on the brewery). But Guppy withdrew on 2nd March 1840 to concentrate on his engineering career. Castle too dropped out of that operation exactly two years later, leaving Rees in sole charge there.

The brothers in law formally dissolved their Stokes Park and Nursery partnership on 10th August 1842, but I don’t think there was any crisis. Two small breweries in two cities 180 miles apart probably had little to gain from shared ownership when one partner lived in each city. Thomas concentrated on the Liverpool sites and William took on sole ownership of Stokes Croft.

Stokes Croft at the junction with City Road, c1918 (brewery just out of sight on the right)

The families on the other hand remained very close. William and Caroline Castle’s daughter Emily was visiting her uncle Thomas and aunt Susannah Rees at the time of the 1861 census, and a year later there was a Rees-Castle partnership of a different kind when Emily married their son Lambert Thomas Rees, her first cousin.

By then both men had moved out of brewing and into grain processing. Thomas was a corn merchant and William a rice dresser – cleaning up imported rice to prepare it for sale. The Stokes Croft Brewery went through a series of owners. Foll & Abbott had it in the 1860s when they sold F&A pale bitter ale for a shilling a gallon. In the early 1880s it was owned by Hereford company Harvey & Co, who sold it on to Arnold, Perrett & Co in 1889. R.W. Miller & Co took it on only four years later, and Georges & Co bought it in 1911. Having survived Bristol’s blitz in the second world war it finally closed down in 1948.

Avonmead, postwar shops and flats on the site of the Stokes Croft Brewery

At 6.1% Stokes Croft IPA is not a beer merely to quench your thirst with, and no doubt much stronger than the ale produced by its eponymous predecessor. But it has strength too in the history carried in its name.

Saturday, 4 January 2014


I’ve drawn extensively in this blog on the correspondence of Captain Charles Castle, my 3x great uncle, which I inherited from my Uncle John some years ago. Charles’ letters illuminate my Bristol roots, and in reading and writing about them I feel as if I know him and Bristol quite well. But until last month I had never been to the city.

It was a strange moment, entering Bristol for the first time but feeling comfortable and familiar with it. As I circled around the Clifton Triangle trying to park near the city museum I saw a building I knew purely through having blogged about it a couple of years ago – the Victoria Rooms, where Charles’ sister Deborah Castle once considered going to hear Jenny Lind sing.

Grove House and Lewin’s Mead Chapel, Bristol

Elsewhere in Clifton I found Grove House, a two-winged mansion which was the Castle family home on Hensman’s Hill. And later in the week I visited Lewin’s Mead Unitarian Chapel where Charles, Deborah and their siblings were christened and which did so much to shape the non-conformist conscience of the family.

Most exciting was my visit to Frome Lodge in Stapleton, which was Charles Castle’s home throughout his married life. Many of the letters now in my possession were written from or received at Frome Lodge in the 1860s and 1870s. Carrying them with me last week as I walked up to the front door, it felt as if I was bringing them home.

The entrance to Frome Lodge

It was good to sit where Charles Castle once sat. One of the present tenants made me a cup of tea and shared all that he knew about the place, before showing me round the once grand gardens – a series of high wide terraces from the house down the steep slope to the River Frome. 

The terraces of Frome Lodge from the southeast, c1905

The formal borders are now completely overgrown with brambles and mature trees, but it is still possible to imagine them in their heyday thanks to an old postcard showing them in around 1905. In the terrace immediately below the house a series of gardeners’ stores were built into the retaining wall, one still holding a vast lead-lined tank for gathering rainwater.

Garden storage in the terrace walls of Frome Lodge

A conservatory attached to the house is clearly visible in the 1905 view along the southwest facade. Was it there in Charles’ day? It is specified in the building's Grade II listed status drawn up in 1958 but it’s long gone now, and the house itself looks very dilapidated and sorry for itself, in need of much TLC by the present landlord. It’s an architectural oddity, with at least three ill-matched phases of building – there are five different roof areas, only two of which are matched.

The many roof areas of Frome Lodge from the air

I didn’t explore the interior in detail because it is now divided into six different private flats. The central northeastern section is graced by a tremendously deep late Georgian bow window on all floors giving the house, in its raised position above the river, magnificent views up and down the valley of the Frome. (The only remains of the graceful balcony on the top floor of the bow, visible in the 1905 view, are the sawn off stumps of its joists.) To the northwest a more modest, perhaps older block with smaller rooms may have housed servants’ quarters.

Bays and bows of Frome Lodge from the south

The southwestern section is taller than the rest, containing a staircase and with small bay windows on all floors, again making the most of the views. This is now the entrance to the building, but at least two blocked openings to the northwest suggest that there was once a more formal main door. Maybe that was removed when the modern road, which passes right alongside Frome Lodge on that side, was widened.

Mixed windows and blocked doorways of Frome Lodge from the northwest

Charles, a magistrate and wine importer, did not build Frome Lodge or the massive earthworks of its terracing. English Heritage describe the building as eighteenth century. So when was it constructed, and for whom? Perhaps, as the name suggests, there lies somewhere under one of its many irregular roofs the remains of an old hunting lodge – perhaps connected to the vast estate of nearby Stoke Park, the home from at least 1553 of the powerful Berkeley family. By the end of the sixteenth century the estate stretched from Rendcomb (far to the north near Cirencester) to the parish of Stapleton which formed its southern border. Stapleton remained in Berkeley ownership until 1917, more than thirty years after Charles Castle’s death.

Now Stoke Park is bisected by the M32 and much eaten into by urban expansion; but  the grand gated entrance to the park survives, only half a mile from Frome Lodge. Another possibility is another large 16th century estate in the area, Eastville Park, owned historically by the wealthy Smyth family of Bristol. Indeed some of Charles' letters are addressed to Frome Lodge, Eastville. In 1857 and without legitimate Smyth heirs, Eastville was the subject of an ambitious claim to the estate by one Thomas Provis, horse thief and conman, which resulted in his transportation to the colonies. Perhaps the estate was broken up then; Charles moved in some time after his marriage in 1861, and his widow continued to live there after his death - in 1911 her niece my grandmother was a visitor. 

There must be ancient estate maps which could prove the hunting lodge theory, and clues within the building itself to the age of its oldest parts. But it does seem possible that my very nineteenth century 3x great uncle Charles lived, at least in part, in a very sixteenth century lodge above the Frome.

Stained glass in the stairway of Frome Lodge

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