The urbanised and industrial environment into which this generation of
Fretwell children were born and in which the majority of them grew up was
a very different place to that which their forebears had moved some years
before. Leeds was a rapidly developing, progressive city and its position
as a leading industrial centre was now well acknowledged. To complement
the more obvious fruits of this ebullience, such as the public buildings,
the community leaders now felt able to turn their attention to less
material needs. Societies for encouraging the broadening of the mind now
came into their own. Among those flourishing in Leeds in the mid-1800s was
the Philosophical Hall and Museum, which boasted a handsome theatre for
lectures, in which men of eminence were invited to lecture on the chief
subjects of science and literature. The Leeds Mechanics’ Institute had
been formed, the principal object of which was to -
…raise the intellectual character of the labouring classes, or to
establish amongst them those habits of thought and intelligence which
have since that time so greatly advanced the social and political
position of the mechanics and working classes of this and other large
towns of the kingdom.
To this period of time can be ascribed the birth of the welfare state — a
concerted, and conscious policy of State intervention to redress some of
the ‘abuses’ of the industrial system — with the introduction of a series
of Factory Acts, most significantly that of 1833, which established an
inspectorate with powers to enter workplaces, and to require evidence of
compliance with the restrictions on the employment of women and children.
This Act only applied to textile factories, but the later Acts of 1844,
1847 and 1863 extended coverage to other manufacturers.
The other side of the economic expansion equation was the inevitable
unemployment for those people whose skills had been made redundant by the
new technology. The general wave of philanthropy and evangelicalism that
typified much of the Leed’s middle class was translated into ‘good works’.
While contemporaries never used the word ‘guilt’, the clothing clubs, soup
kitchens, and charity schools were the product of a sense of duty of care
towards the labouring poor.
Free Trade principles were established by the repeal of the Corn Laws in
1846, and all remaining protectionist regulations by 1860, and by the
Navigation Acts of 1849. The impetus for removing the protection
previously enjoyed was the heavy dependence of Victorian Britain on
international trade and finance. The rationale was that the country which
diverted such a large share of its national income to overseas investment
equally depended heavily on export markets.
The crowning glory of this period was the Great Exhibition of all the
Nations which was held in the Crystal Palace. Over half of the 14,000
exhibitors represented Great Britain and her colonies, and Britain stood
out as ‘the workshop of the world’. Prince Albert, who had much to do with
the success of the Exhibition, wrote -
The products of all quarters of the globe are placed at our disposal
and we have only to choose that which is best and cheapest for our
purposes, and the powers of production are entrusted to the stimulus of
competition and capital.
It was in this dynamic environment influenced and shaped the lives of the
Fretwells of the Seventh Generation.
This section covers only the direct Fretwell line - the children of
William Fretwell. For other seventh generation offshoots of the family
refer to Fretwell Offshoots.
William Fretwell had in total twelve children - four by Elizabeth (née
Smith) and eight by Anne (née Jackson). Of these children only eight
survived beyond infancy of whom six married.
||Edith Marion Fretwell
||Fanny Emmeline Fretwell
John Fretwell, great-uncle to the eight surviving children of his nephew
William Fretwell, made provision for them in his will, dated 2 December
1848, as follows.
To my great nephew John Fretwell the younger, son of my nephew William
Fretwell late of Leeds Grocer but now a commercial Traveller, my watch
and seal and two silver table spoons when he attains 22 years of age and
in case he should die before attaining that age then I give the same to
his brother Vause Fretwell.
To my great nephew John Fretwell the younger son of my said nephew
William Fretwell my freehold messuage situate in Somers Street Leeds and
numbered 30 but in case he should die before attaining 21 then to his
brother Vause Fretwell.
From the sale of the Talbot Estate -
To Elizabeth Fretwell daughter of my nephew William Fretwell £60.
To all the children of my nephew William Fretwell a fourth part of the
principal moneys to arise from the sale of the Talbot Estate.
From monies arising from the Foundry Estate -
To Mary Fretwell 50 shares in the Leeds & Yorkshire Ass. Co until John
Fretwell the younger attains 14 years then my Trustees shall apply the
Interest of 30 shares for the clothing and education of the said John
Fretwell and when he attains 22 to transfer such shares unto him and
also to utilize the remaining 20 shares for the benefit of Vause
Fretwell and to transfer them unto him on his attaining 22 years of age
and in the case the said John and Vause Fretwell shall happen to die
then I give 6 of the said shares to Elizabeth Fretwell daughter of my
said nephew William Fretwell.
From the Residue of Personal Estate -
The residue of my personal Estate and the proceeds of my real Estate I
give to my great nephews and great niece John Fretwell the younger,
Vause Fretwell, and Elizabeth Fretwell, and the  children of my niece
We will deal first with the children born to William and Elizabeth who
died in infancy and then follow the life of their second child, Elizabeth.
The information I have for Rhoda, the first born, is as brief as her
life-span. She was born on 17 January 1828, at Leeds and died fifteen
weeks later on 29 April. There is no record in the family papers as to her
baptism, but she was buried, in the Mill Hill Chapel Yard, Leeds.
William Henry Fretwell
William Henry Fretwell was the third child, and only son, of William and
Elizabeth. He was born on 12 November 1830 and baptised, by Joseph Hutton
at the Mill Hill Chapel, on 31 January 1831 Just five years after his
baptism, and two months before his father’s remarriage, William died and
was buried on 3 February 1836. The burial service was conducted by the
Rev. Charles Wicksteed, at the Mill Hill Chapel.
Nothing is known about this baby daughter, the fourth and last child of
William and Elizabeth Fretwell, who was born on 13 June 1832 and died
within a few hours of her birth.
Elizabeth, second child of William and Elizabeth, although herself also
delicate, managed to overcome the traumas of childhood ailments and
survived to adulthood. She was born on 4 April 1829 and baptised later
that year on 20 September. Although she perhaps would not remember much of
her brother William, as she would only have been four years old when he
died, or her sister, born in 1832 and who only lived a few hours,
Elizabeth’s early life would not have been a happy time. She may not even
have remembered her mother who died so prematurely in 1834. There is no
account of how Elizabeth reacted to her father’s remarriage, or of her
relationship with her step-mother, Anne Jackson. For the 1841 census she
is listed with them as a 13 year old, together with her baby step-sister
Mary, living at Knostrop. Her step-brother, John, eight years her junior,
does make some references to Elizabeth in his Recollections. He describes
her as having inherited consumptive tendencies and a somewhat unhappy
disposition, but adds that he recalled her kind treatment to him in his
younger years. A further remark might also serve to confirm Elizabeth’s
possibly prickly nature, when John relates how in 1857, at which time he
was sharing accommodation at Peckham Rye with his step-sister, he spent
his Sundays -
divided between my sister at Kentish Town and my step-sister at
Peckham Rye, for although the two were both on good terms with me, they
did not like each other.
The reason for Elizabeth having moved to London was to make arrangements
for her journey to India where she was to marry Washington Teasdale who
was employed there as a civil engineer. We hear from John that the
relationship was one of long-standing.
It was a pretty old affair, for he had to make his way in India, and
even in 1857 when he could make a home for my sister, he could not leave
his duties to fetch her. So she was preparing to go out to marry him in
Washington Teasdale had been born at Brunswick Place, Leeds, on 8 August
1830, the first of five children born to John Teasdale and his wife Mary
(née Heaps) who had married on 29 October 1829. Washington was baptised at
the Mill Hill Chapel, Leeds, on 19 January 1831, where his four siblings
were also baptised. The Leeds Mercury of 11 February 1837 reported
that John Teasdale, aged 38 and a commission traveller of Brunswick Place,
had died on 5 February. He did not live to celebrate the birth of his last
child, John Christopher Teasdale, who was born a few months later on 19
June 1837. Two daughters - Mary Elizabeth and Mary Emily - had predeceased
their father. And so, with the death of her husband, Mary was left to
raise the three remaining children, Washington, Jane, and the baby John,
under the guardianship of their maternal grandfather, Christopher Heaps, a
prominent and highly respected citizen of Leeds. Washington was educated
at Mr. Richard Hiley's Academy, and subsequently qualified as a civil
engineer. When did Washington actually go to India? We know that
Washington was still in England in 1851, as he was listed as living at
Rosehurst, Grosvenor Road, Headingley with his grandfather (then aged 75),
and his mother Mary. Two years later, in April 1853, his grandfather died.
A notice in the London Gazette, dated 19 November 1855, stated that
the partnership between Thomas Atkinson Heaps and Washington Teasdale,
General Ironmongers, was to be dissolved due to the withdrawal of
Washington Teasdale. He was definitely in India by April 1856, as reported
in the Huddersfield and Holmfirth Examiner of 10 May 1856.
There are very many persons in this neighbourhood who will be glad to
hear that Mr. Washington Teasdale who was recently living amongst us is
now successfully pursuing a profession, for which the ability and
enterprise of this gentleman eminently fit him. By the Poonah Observer
(April 1) we notice that Mr. Teasdale is in India, on an official
engineering staff, and we may safely predict that his services are
likely to be both valuable to his country and creditable to himself. The
assistance he rendered to the cause of education throughout Yorkshire by
his personal sacrifices, will be gratefully remembered, and hearty
wishes for his welfare will be uttered by all who read this notice of
his removal from amongst us.
There were a number of ways in which the lives of the Fretwell and
Teasdale families intersected and which afforded the opportunities for
Washington and Elizabeth to become well acquainted. The most important of
these was their shared the Unitarian faith. The boys, John Fretwell and
John Teasdale were the same age, having been born just a few days apart.
Jane Teasdale, Washington's sister, was listed as a Grocer and Tea Dealer
in the 1847 Leeds Directory.
By the mid 1850s it was nothing unusual for women to be travelling to
India. However, events in India the year before Elizabeth’s planned
departure must have given her, and her family, some cause for disquiet. At
the very time she was making her preparations, reports of the Indian
Mutiny, sparked off on 10 May 1857, were reaching England, and were widely
(and somewhat luridly) reported in the national and provincial newspapers.
But maybe Elizabeth did not dwell on the potential dangers, and
concentrated more on the challenges facing her as the future wife of a Raj
Sahib, as cited by Margaret MacMillan in her study Women of the Raj.
The end and object is not merely personal comfort but the formation
of a home - that unit of civilization where father and children, master
and servant, employer and employed, can learn their several duties. When
all is said and done also herein lies the natural outlet for most of the
talent peculiar to women. And, in her miniature empire, the woman of the
Raj had many of the same problems as the men on their larger stage.
But if Elizabeth found this somewhat daunting, there was help at hand. By
the middle of the nineteenth century there were books of advice for the
novice memsahibs. The authors, usually women themselves, thoughtfully gave
lists, of enormous length, of items which should be brought out from Home.
Most of the lists - and much of the baggage - were taken up with clothes.
The sheer number and variety seems staggering today. The anonymous author
of Real Life in India (1847) recommended, among other things, 36
calico nightgowns and 36 nightcaps. Finally ready for her new life in
India, Elizabeth set out on her journey early in 1858. She was accompanied
on the journey by her future brother-in-law, John Teasdale (who himself
was later married in India to bride Elinor Pollock who, like Elizabeth,
travelled to India for the event) while her step-sister and step-mother
accompanied her as Marseilles with them. At this time most passengers for
India travelled the whole distance from Britain by boat but, to shorten
the journey, some, like Elizabeth and John went by train across France or
down through Italy to catch a steamer to Egypt. The Bombay Times and
Journal of Commerce noted, in its 9 June 1858 issue, that Miss
Fretwell had arrived from Marseilles.
John Fretwell alluded to the long engagement period. Commentators on
Indian Raj history agree that extended engagements and separations were
not necessarily the wisest course of action. As noted by Margaret
MacMillan, this was even more critical when the bride-to-be was venturing
to a country about which she probably knew very little, taken away from
her close family, and definitely out of her ‘comfort zone’.
Girls took a risk if they got engaged at Home before they had seen
India. They shrugged off the warnings about the heat, the insects, the
diseases the boredom of life on small stations. At a distance India was
glamorous: the rajahs in jewelled turbans, the elephants in harness
trimmed with gold and silver, the spacious bungalows, all those
servants. Sometimes engagements took place years before the wedding. The
men returned to India to establish themselves in their careers while
their brides-to-be waited - and waited. Not surprisingly, there were
couples who did not recognize each other when they finally met again. Or
perhaps they found that the reality was not quite so attractive as the
It is to be hoped that this unhappy experience was not shared by Elizabeth
and Washington and they married very soon after Elizabeth's arrival - on
Monday 14 June 1858 at the Cathedral, Bombay. Was it a quiet wedding or a
more lavish occasion? It was held on a Monday, perhaps suggesting a low
key affair. However we do have some account of the general way the wedding
celebrations were conducted, depending on one’s means and preferences.
Most couples got married in a church as a matter of course.
Everything was done to make the wedding as much like one at Home as
possible. Family and friends rallied around to help with the church and
the wedding breakfast…For more elaborate weddings, invitations, in
silver or perhaps white with a silver border, were sent out months
before. The champagne was ordered from France, oysters from Bombay,
tinned pâté de foie gras from a branch of the Army and Navy Stores. The
bride wore clouds of white tulle, and a veil with a circlet of myrtle or
orange blossom. If her family could afford it, the dress came from Home
or from one of the big shops in Calcutta or Bombay; otherwise the
invaluable durzi [tailor] came up with something. There would be
a white cake on a stand and a display of the presents - photograph
albums, vases, clocks, cruets, silver salvers - with which the young
couple were going to start their housekeeping.
Elizabeth Fretwell (c 1857)
Washington Teasdale (undated)
Elizabeth did not have the opportunity to practise her memsahib skills for
very long, if indeed she had ever been physically and mentally capable of
doing so. For her confinement occurred almost nine months to the day after
her wedding. We know that she did not enjoy a robust constitution, and the
fact that she had been carrying twins must of itself have sapped her
strength, even before any account is taken of the prevailing conditions,
and the climate. Childbirth itself was bound to be a frightening
experience for these women, not least because it was difficult to obtain
proper medical care. Women in the bigger cities had access to doctors,
nurses and hospitals, but those on the smaller stations had to take
whatever was available, and that usually meant military doctors…even after
the use of chloroform was accepted in Europe, doctors in India continued
to think it an unnecessary luxury.
On 22 March 1859, in the Fortress of Asseeghur, Elizabeth gave birth to
twins, a daughter Mary Eliza and a still born boy. Within two weeks after
her confinement, on 7 April 1859, three days after her 30th birthday,
Elizabeth herself succumbed from exhaustion. The deaths column of the 28
May issue of the Leeds Times carried the following notice,
signalling Elizabeth's sad end.
On the 7th ult., in the fortress of Aseerghur, India, ELIZABETH, wife
of WASHINGTON TEASDALE, Esq., C.E., and eldest daughter of Mr. Wm.
Fretwell, of this town.
Mary Eliza was taken back to England by her Uncle John Teasdale and was
there cared for by her Teasdale grandmother. She did not survive long past
her first birthday. Her death was recorded in the Leeds Times of
Saturday 28 July 1860.
On Sunday, at Rosehurst, Headingley, in her second year, Mary Eliza,
daughter of Washington Teasdale, Esq., Esq., Asseerghur, East Indies.
We do not know how much longer Washington stayed in India. But he was back
in England for the 1871 census, living with his mother, at Rosehurst, 5
Grosvenor Terrace, Headingley, and listed as a retired civil engineer. He
was still there for the 1881 census, by which time his widowed mother had
died, and the only other people with him in the household were two
servants, Hannah Ward and Martha Williamson. By 1891 Washington had moved
out of the family home and was, for the census of that year, living at Fir
Dene, 4 Bainbrigge Road, Headingley. He was being looked after by Mary
Turner, housekeeper. Ten years later, and Washington had again moved, to
255 Hyde Park Road, Leeds. He was then 70 years old. He had also had a
change of housekeepers, and this position was now occupied by one Caroline
Shaw. Having seen in the new millennium, Washington died in 1903 at the
Scarisbrick Hotel, Southport. He was buried at the Woodhouse Cemetery,
Leeds. He left an estate valued at £11,069 14s 9d, to be administered by
his executors – John Christopher Teasdale, accountant (brother), James
George Chadwick, cloth-merchant (brother-in-law), and Frank Kidson, artist
The Royal Astronomical Society journal (Vol 64, p.293) published a lengthy
obituary, covering Washington's early years and then his life from the
time he qualified as a civil engineer to his death.
When the railway system of India was being constructed, he went out
to that country to take part in its development. Here he remained for
several years, acquiring such a complete mastery over the native
language that it is said he preserved the habit of thinking in
Hindustani till the very close of his life. On his return to England he
settled in Leeds and possessing he means, and having ample leisure, he
devoted himself to the cultivation of his scientific tastes. These were
many and varied, and there was hardly any local scientific society with
which he was not connected. In particular he actively interested himself
in the Leeds Astronomical Society, the Leeds Naturalist Club, the
Institute of Science, Art and Literature, throwing himself into whatever
subject he took up with most delightful enthusiasm. Photography was an
art in which he took especial interest; indeed he was amongst the
earliest workers in his field, and in conjunction with a few friends, he
founded a photographic society before he went to India … Astronomy had,
however, the chief fascination for him. He was elected a Fellow of this
Society in 1886; he was an original member of the British Astronomical
Association; and in his native town he had a large share in the
resuscitation and the development of the Leeds Astronomical Society, of
which he was President from 1893 to 1897 … His love of science amounted
to a passion. It had for him an absorbing interest, and for the greater
part of his life was his sole occupation, and a hobby which gave a joy
to existence. His house in Hyde Park Road, Leeds, was quite a treasury
of scientific apparatus, works of art, and interesting curios, and other
subjects which denoted the wide range of his studies and sympathies…
His death took place during the meeting of the British Association at
Southport. He had gone thither to attend the meetings, and was visiting
a friend, when he was seized with illness, and remained in a state of
coma for some time. Hopes were, however, entertained of his recovery,
but a second attack followed the next day, and he died on Saturday, the
19th of September 1903, at the age of 72.
Washington Teasdale in Later
Washington Teasdale was a typical Victorian gentleman amateur scientist
whose. These were men of means who had the time and the money to invest
into their hobbies. The materials and instruments needed were expensive
and it would require extensive free time to set up and perform
experiments. The sciences they dabbled in included astronomy, geology,
geometry, microscopy, mechanics, meteorology, and photography.
How free would Washington have been to indulge in his passion as a
gentleman amateur scientist if he had family responsibilities? The
obituary makes a fleeting reference to his wife –
Mr. Teasdale married and had one child, but he survived both his wife
and child by many years.
A particular interest of Washington’s, and one for which he had gained
some eminence, was the development and use of microscopes. He was a Fellow
of the Royal Microscopical Society, and it was this expertise that was
called upon by Messrs Field and Co, Manufacturing Opticians of Birmingham,
Sole Makers of the Society and Arts’ Prize Students’ Microscopes, when
they asked Washington to write a small treatise, endorsing one of their
products. This paper, published in 1876, served two purposes. Not only did
it give Washington the opportunity to introduce the readers to the
instrument that he had designed, but it also provided some good publicity
for the stockist. This little pamphlet was entitled :
USE AND EDUCATIONAL VALUE
in general and the
Field Naturalist’s Microscope
Not missing the opportunity to talk about a subject dear to his heart,
albeit in the rather didactic and unimaginative style of the day,
Washington declared himself delighted to be:
…complying with the request of Messrs. Field & Co. that I would write
for publication some description, and directions for the intelligent use
of the cheap educational Microscope they have at my request made for
sale, and now offer to the public.
William Fretwell’s grief from the loss of three children in such a short
time span was to some degree mitigated by the more robust family that his
second wife was able to bear. Of the nine children born to this couple,
seven survived to adulthood. It is an interesting statistic that according
to social historian J.F.C. Harrison, the infant mortality rate was such in
the late 1840s that to ensure two surviving children a married couple
could expect to have five or six births.
We are fortunate that John left an account, albeit somewhat ‘one-eyed’, of
his life, much of which deals with his religious beliefs, and the
troublesome Herr Ronge. Rather grandly titled
Fact and Fiction
Life and Thought
John Fretwell, of Leeds in Yorks
The Lad and the Ladye
it does provide some valuable insights into his own, and his relatives’
lives and attitudes. The story of John will, therefore draw heavily upon
his own account which I have named "Recollections". This account was
written in his later life when he was living in America. Thus sums of
money are given in US dollars rather than English pounds.
John was the first child, and one of two sons, of William and Anne. He was
born on 11 June 1837 at Upperhead Row, Leeds, very shortly after his
parents’ first wedding anniversary. It was three months later that he was
baptised, given the family name John, at the Mill Hill Chapel, the Rev.
Charles Wicksteed officiating. John’s early life was spent in Yorkshire.
In a very neatly set out letter, to his paternal Grandmother Mary Vause,
written at Selby and dated 12 December 1849, John, aged 9, reported on his
and his brother’s and sisters’ educational progress.
My dearest Grandmother,
As I and my Brother,
Have a holiday granted to day
I cannot do better
Than to write you a letter
To please you is better than play
I am sure you will hear
With pleasure sincere
That I and Vause are improving at school,
In accounts I’m as far
(Though some hard tasks there are)
As Decimal Fractions, first rule
I am now learning Latin,
But of myself to keep chatting,
Will make you fancy me full of conceit,
So now let me tell
That Mary spells well
And Alice the Alphabet tries to repeat
As Christmas is near,
Now Grandmother dear
Your company we hope you will give us
And dear Uncle will come,
To meet him we’d run,
He was always so very kind to us
In the hope you will come
Believe we all join,
And at the Train my Mother will meet
You with a coach,
Of one Selby can boast,
So pray don’t refuse us the treat
I hope you are well,
And that Uncle will tell
When he writes, (which I trust will be shortly)
That Rheumatic pangs
Have not seized your hands,
Which would indeed grieve us most heartily
Unto Uncle and you
I must now say adieu,
As my lessons I still have to get well,
Believe me to be
In truth and sincerity
Your affectionate Grandson,
The 1851 census records John as a boarding pupil at the Yeomans’ School,
Lord Mayor’s Walk, in the St Giles area of York. Why the choice of school
away from his home town? The Yeomans' School specifically catered for the
sons of families from what may be described as the lower-middle class.
John was enrolled there at a time when his parents were facing financial
difficulties, and moving houses, and he may have either lived or stayed
with at his maternal grandmother’s house at Selby and also with his
step-sister during the holidays as he makes reference to the latter's
kindness to him during his schooldays.
As the eldest son it seems that John was destined for the grocery trade.
In September 1852, just after his fifteenth birthday, young John was taken
by his father to London to begin his apprenticeship with Wall, Smith and
Co, of 103 Saint John Street, West Smithfield. It was not a career, in any
other circumstances, that he would have chosen for himself. As was to be
confirmed later, he was temperamentally and intellectually unsuited for
the commercial world, being far more drawn to matters religious. The move
to London was :
… in direct opposition to my personal inclinations, for while my
Father was a Unitarian, I was strongly attached to the Anglican Church,
in which my mother was born and bred; and could I have followed my own
desires, I should have prepared myself for the ministry of that church …
But my Father, I now think, made a better choice for me than at that
early age I should have made for myself. It was certainly the best he
could make, with due regard to his own conscience and means; and I doubt
if any parents in their position could have done better for their son
than mine did.
Thus the dutiful, if reluctant, son left home to prepare himself for his
future career, and he certainly applied himself to the task over the next
John gives an enlightening account of life as an apprentice. For the first
two years he lived in his employer’s house, giving his services for his
board and lodging, and, he says, though he hated the business, he became
very much attached to his employer and gained his confidence. Initiation
was evidently a prescribed rite of passage for new apprentices for John
recounts a very early experience of his life in London.
On my first Sunday there my fellow apprentices had taken me on a long
walk to Jack Straw’s Castle on the Heath, where certain mystic rites,
common among the ‘prentice lads of those days, were indulged in at my
The working day of an apprentice was protracted, beginning at 7.00am and
ending at 6.00pm. Apart from the long hours, John reports that his
business indeed had another very serious objection. In order to succeed in
it, it was necessary to acquire a reputation as a good judge of the
quality and value of teas and coffees. This could only be done by tasting
their infusions, and in a large business, many hundreds of samples were
tasted daily. The unfortunate effects of which were that :
This makes the tasters extremely irritable, and many of them indulge
in quantities of tobacco, alcohol, or other narcotics, to counteract the
excessive nervous irritability induced by the abnormal consumption of
tea and coffee. This I did not do, and so became very excitable, and was
often warned that I ought to leave the business or devote myself to a
less lucrative part of it.
For the first two years of his time in London John did not see his
parents, for the rule of the business house to which he was indentured was
that holidays were only given once in two years. But not all contact was
lost with his family, and John seems to have been relatively contented and
free to follow his extra-mural interests.
But I was in receipt of regular letters from home. My superiors in
the office, though very fond of pleasure, were very thoughtful and
gentlemanly, and never interfered with my free employment of my leisure
and I led on the whole a happy life.
As with many young men of the time, John’s formal education had finished
on reaching his 15th birthday. Unlike the more frivolous
superiors referred to above, John’s time after work was spent in study. No
doubt he was motivated by a need to get on in life, and this was coupled
with a life-long enthusiasm for learning. He spent his evenings at Crosby
Hall, an Anglican establishment, where various clergymen gave their time
to teaching young men who, when their day’s work was over, went there for
self-improvement. Indeed, John still harboured hopes of being accepted
into a theological course and then entering the Anglican ministry and to
assist him his mother offered him money she had saved from her household
allowance. On the other hand he was given no encouragement from his father
who was staunchly Unitarian. Besides, as John fully realised, his father
was now 60, had lost all his money, had no life insurance, and if John was
to enter the ministry, who was to provide for the younger Fretwell
daughters in case of his father's death?
What John describes as the first important change in this life occurred in
1854 when his employer decided to get married, and needed the run of the
whole house that he and John and shared. John was therefore obliged to
find his own board and lodgings. To assist with this, his employer now
paid John $300 a year, which he found, with care, amply sufficient for all
his necessities. John was fortunate to find lodgings, about 35 minutes
walk from his work, with the family of Mr. and Mrs. Dalby, who were from
Yorkshire, and who were distantly related to his step-sister Elizabeth.
The Dalbys were to have considerable influence over John, and maintained
an abiding interest in his progress and family. From them John
… learned how much high thinking was compatible with very plain
John formed a particular bond with Mrs. Dalby.
Especially valuable to me was the intercourse with Mrs. Dalby. Since
leaving my mother’s house I had no female intercourse at all, and while
my male associates were of the best, the influence of a well bred and
experienced woman is of inestimable value to a young man.
John’s interests broadened during his time with the Dalbys. He continued
with his evening studies at Crosby Hall, but now also music and the drama
began to take some place in his recreations. Through reading aloud with
the family he learned to appreciate the works of Sir Walter Scott and
Shakespeare. But, most significantly, it was through accompanying the
Dalbys to their chapels and meetings that John gained a better
understanding and empathy with Unitarianism. A reading of the
Recollections will provide a clearer and fuller exposition of John’s
religious affiliations, and I do not want to dwell too much on them here.
However, it is important for understanding John’s character, and the path
he took in later life, to have some comprehension as to his religious
‘quandary’. Though he finally wholeheartedly adopted the Unitarian faith,
it was not a decision made without much soul searching and almost with
some sense of regret.
My teachers at York Diocesan School … and other Anglican Ministers
who taught at Crosby Hall ... and other Anglican lay and clergymen under
whose temporary influence I came at the Working Men’s College in Great
Ormond St. were all, so far as I could see, true incarnations of the
spirit of Christianity, and to their church many of my best friends
belonged. They have done me much good, and no conscious wrong. Both my
interests and affections held me firmly to them.
And if that other influence of my Father’s, beginning so quietly yet
effectively in holiday time, strengthened by my desultory reading in his
library, and made thoroughly clear to me by those historical studies
with Dalby, or the guidance of Ierson’s preaching, had finally led me to
believe that the ethical and intellectual balance was in favour of the
Unitarian argument, it was in no spirit of revolt, but with infinite
sorrow that I renounced the notions of my early life.
It was during his stay with the Dalbys that John first began to teach in
the Unitarian Sunday School, and work voluntarily with the associated
Domestic Mission, which sought to spread religious and moral influences
among the very poorest people of London. The branch of the mission to
which he was attached was located in Spitalfields, a wretchedly poor part
of the East End of London, originally settled by Huguenot silk weavers. He
describes them with some admiration.
They were miserably poor, seldom earning more than $4 a week, but
they were far more temperate and economical in their habits than the
people of English and Irish descent among whom they dwelt. Their garret
homes were clean and neat, and often adorned with flowers … On Sundays
they would often wander far into the Epping Forest and the Woodlands
beyond the Lea, botanising and collecting insects, and I learned in
converse with them to appreciate the meaning of John Milton’s ‘Spare
fast, that with the Gods doth diet’.
In his nineteenth year John was pleased to report that the previous two
years of his life had been rewarding and that he was generally happy with
I was busy all day as the confidential clerk of Wall, Smith and Co,
who after 5 years experience, trusted me thoroughly…I was working hard
in business from 9 till 6. By early rising in the summer I secured time
before breakfast for my studies. In the evening I was either among
fellow students at Crosby Hall, or teaching in the domestic mission. My
Sundays were divided between the chapel and the school, and at the
morning and vespermeal enjoyed the society of Mr. and Mrs. Dalby, who
treated their lodger as though he were a younger brother. My noonday
meal consisted generally of bread and cheese and a few raisins and a
glass of water.
As well pursuing his studies, John was also called upon as a lecturer at
Crosby Hall, and had the honour to deliver the inaugural lecture in the
newly formed class in Political and Social Economy, as reported in the
London City Press of 14 November 1857.
The lecturer, after defining the nature and objects of the science,
and urging the importance of a more extended acquaintance with the
principles which regulate the phenomena of industrial and social life,
stated, that the object of his lecture was to give such an outline of
the science as might form a plan for the future studies of the class.
This summing up gives no indication of the watershed that the year 1857
was in John’s life for in that year his future became embroiled with Herr
Ronge, a German exile who established the first kindergarten in Britain at
Hampstead, London, in 1851. This meeting heralded years of difficult
situations for John and his family, but, on a happier note, it was through
Ronge that he met for the first time the young girl who would eventually
become his wife. Their first encounter was at Ronge’s house, Grove House,
Upper Kentish Town, and was a source of embarrassment to them both.
Ronge took John into a room in which two ladies were practising their
singing. The first did not impress John at all, but the second, younger
singer did catch his attention.
The second voice, a full and rich mezzo-soprano, much more reserved
in expression was sung by a slight girl about 18 years old. I am no
critic in music, having since leaving York only sung for the purpose of
keeping my voice in order for public speaking; but the impression made
upon me by this girl was more like that of watching a lark, the sound
seemed so unforced and yet so tuneful, and so full in proportion to that
little body whence it issued, that I could hardly understand how so
small a person could manage so well to harmonize with the shrill first
John reports that, when the song had ended Ronge clapped his hands and
laughed, evidently enjoying more the discomfiture of the ladies at having
sung unwittingly before a stranger, than appreciating their performance.
In turn, the ladies were evidently not pleased that a stranger had entered
unheralded. Notwithstanding his untutored musical appreciation, John had
no portent, at this time, of any romantic attachment to the younger
Who was this slip of a girl with the delightful voice? Bertha Traun was of
German stock and with her marriage to John began a German/English
inter-relationship that carried through for the next three generations of
Fretwells. The Meyer family with which the Traun and Fretwell families
were to become linked was well established in the commercial world of
Hamburg, with connections also in America. Chief architect of the Meyer
fortunes was Bertha’s grandfather Heinrich Christian Meyer (1797-1848). He
and his wife Agathe Margarethe (nee Buesch, 1794-1833) had eleven
children, of whom Bertha Traun’s mother, also called Bertha, was the
second born child.
Agathe Margarethe Buesch
Bertha Meyer, John’s future mother-in-law, was considered quite a beauty
as the photograph of her as a young woman will confirm. Bertha Meyer
married, Christian Justus Friedrich Traun (1804-1881), another well-heeled
Hamburg businessman, known by the family as Friedrich, on 31 July 1835.
They had four sons and two daughters, the younger of whom they named
Bertha, after her mother. She was born on 27 December 1839, and baptised
at St Catharinen, in Hamburg.
At some stage in the marriage Bertha senior had become attracted first to
the religious teachings of Johannes Ronge, and then to the teacher
himself, with the resultant estrangement from and, amid great scandal,
subsequent divorce from her husband. Around 1848 Johannes Ronge and Bertha
Traun left Germany for London where, when the divorce was finalised, they
were married on 5 August 1851. The April 1851 census shows that they had
already set up house, as man and wife, living at 11 Pratt Terrace, St
Pancras. Johannes' occupation is given as author. Bertha’s two daughters,
Agathe and Bertha Traun, came with her, leaving the sons with their
father. (Agathe, who died aged 17 before John knew the family, was buried
on 10 April 1854 in Highgate Cemetery, her grave marked by a simple white
marble obelisk, with the plain inscription ‘Agatha Traun, von ihren
Freunden'). There followed a constant custody battle between
the parents Friedrich and Bertha for their children, even with some fears
(not unfounded) of attempts to abduct the younger Bertha and take her back
to her father. Subsequently, according to John Fretwell, Herr and Frau
Ronge had a child of their own whom they named Marie.
But back to the prospective groom and bride. Towards the end of his life
John described Bertha as she was when he first met her.
She was as quiet and reserved in her intercourse with me as with all
strangers. The circumstances of her early youth had made Miss Traun
serious and reserved to such a degree that English people who knew the
German tongue made this the occasion of a pun upon her name (Miss Traun
– Misstrauen, or distrust).
If Bertha was not encouraging, John did not see himself as being
Nor was a person like myself likely to attract the favourable
attention of a girl of 18 years.
I had always worked to the very limit of my powers, and therefore in my
hours of rest, had not the high spirits common to my age. I was
economical to the extreme in matters of dress and toilet, in order to
save money for my literary tastes and for my sister and accustomed only
to seek the good will and esteem of men who were occupied with the most
serious problems of actual life; I never devoted the slightest thought
to making myself agreeable to any young women but those of my own flesh
and blood, and not over much to them. If I continued the singing lessons
commenced when I was a schoolboy at York, it was only for the sake of
strengthening my naturally weak voice for the purpose of public
speaking. I never sang a song. Though I had learned to dance at York, I
had imbibed Lord Chesterfield’s idea, that dancing was a thing for
actors and not for gentlemen. My thoughts too were far too much absorbed
in serious questions as to securing my own future and that of my
sisters’ to permit any question of love. In short I was a prig.
A fuller account of their courtship is given in the Recollections, and is
here only set out in brief. Owing to the death of a son, Mrs. Ronge
(formerly Mrs. Traun) and Bertha returned to Germany, and were away from
England for some time. During that absence John and both Berthas kept in
touch by letter or by messages delivered by mutual friends and
acquaintances. During this period John actually moved in with Johannes
Ronge, at Bertha senior’s request, to keep an eye on the older man.
Meanwhile John was able to put all family matters into the background of
None of these events or persons interfered with the steady course of
my work and study. My principals again increased my salary and I again
took a prize in the Society of Arts examinations, this time in political
economy, while I pretty well read through the German books in Johannes
The year 1858 was one of change and challenge for John. Mrs Ronge, in
appreciation of John’s ‘guardianship’ of her husband, invited John to
spend a week in Hamburg at her expense, and made arrangements for him to
stay with one of her relatives, Ernst Conrad Meyer, in the Bankstrasse. In
the midst of planning for this trip John, having decided that it was time
to look for another position which would give him more opportunity to
sharpen his commercial cut and thrust, had handed in his notice to his
employers and had secured another position, which he would take up on his
return from Hamburg.
Judging from John’s self-deprecatory remarks on his appearance on setting
out for Hamburg, it can be surmised that the relationship between Bertha
and himself had warmed, perhaps through the encouragement of Bertha’s
mother. In John’s own words:
I certainly was nothing like a man that would a wooing go when I
started out on that journey…The very clothes I wore had been made to fit
my younger brother … He was something of a dude, and I must have looked
more ridiculous in his clothes than in my ordinary economical and
careless apparel. Having no trunk but an old sea chest, the legacy of my
sailor uncle Fred, I had borrowed a lighter, but dilapidated trunk of
Johannes Ronge. My sister Mary proposed to accompany me to the Tower
Wharf, whence I had to take a wherry [a light rowing boat used for
carrying passengers and goods on rivers] for the Hamburg steamer. It was
early in the morning and the omnibus had not yet begun to run. To save
cab hire I proposed to walk the 3 miles. So I took the trunk on my
shoulder. When Mary saw me -
‘Oh John’ she said ‘you surely are not going to walk through London in
‘I surely am,’ I replied.
‘Well, then,’ said she, ‘you may go alone for I will not be seen in
London streets with such a figure as you are.’
Having suffered the rigours of steerage class (a self-imposed financial
stringency) the miseries of sea sickness and the humiliation of having
been duped by a confidence trickster, John arrived in Hamburg. This was
John’s first visit to a foreign country so, once ensconced in his
lodgings, he set out to see the sights. Also on the agenda was a reunion
with Bertha Traun and, more daunting, a first meeting with her father.
From the former he received a cordial unaffected greeting, and was
relieved and surprised with Herr Traun’s initial welcome (though alluding
to less happier future meetings).
His smile gave a singularly pleasant expression to his countenance,
and he was too polite to meet strangers with the frown that I had often
enough to brave in later days.
However, it became immediately apparent to Herr Traun that young Fretwell
had an eye for his daughter, and the relationship turned instantly frosty.
John afterwards learnt that Herr Traun had, on that very day of their
first meeting, given instructions to prevent the chance of a tête-a-tête
between his daughter and the young Englishman with an inkspot on his
collar. Such obstacles notwithstanding, on the last day of his stay in
Germany John was able to spend time alone with Bertha and, almost
surprising himself, proposed marriage.
The gold circlet, which like German husbands I still wear, bears the
date 10th September, 1858.
But some time was to elapse, and numerous hurdles to overcome, before the
pair could get married. Immediately on his return to England John took up
his new position with Hill, Son and Meadows, shipping agents of Milk
Street, Cheapside. He certainly found there a more aggressive business
ethos, but not one that sat comfortably with his personal code of ethics.
The firm had made a composition with its creditors of 25 cents on the
dollar; in itself surprising enough to a Unitarian, who regards anything
under 20 shillings in the pound as damnable heresy. In what is here
called smartness, they could have given points to the smartest Yankees I
ever knew, and won the game. I began to think that now I understood why
my former principal did not make money. He would have resented the
insinuation that he should adopt the practices of this house as a mortal
affront. Not that I would call them dishonourable. Perhaps he was behind
the times; certainly they were all but ahead.
John also wrote formally to his future father-in-law requesting his
daughter’s hand in marriage, and requesting permission to correspond with
her (she was still in Hamburg) until such time as he could provide a home
for her and thus embark upon married life. Whether to ensure that his
son-in-law would be able to provide adequately for his daughter, whether
to encourage John to move to Germany to work and thus enable the father to
see more of his daughter, or whether, as John suspected, to ensnare him
into being financially dependent upon his father-in-law, Herr Traun sought
ways of establishing John in business in Germany. This offer came at a
propitious time, because within a few weeks, John had decided that he
could never be happy working for his new employers. He gave notice, and
left in November 1858 to pursue options in Germany, armed with what he
called the wealth of commercial experience he had acquired in the previous
six weeks. Before leaving he was able to fit in a quick visit to Leeds to
his parents and to announce the good news of his betrothal.
The business opportunities offered by Herr Traun were either to manage a
chemical company or to work for an insurance agency. John was both bemused
and alarmed, as he felt that his qualifications and experience left him
ill equipped to undertake either of these ventures. Tactically he was at a
disadvantage, money being just one factor. He had expected to, but never
did, receive unpaid wages from Hill, Son and Meadows, and he did not wish
to antagonise, any more than could be helped, the man whose daughter he
wanted to marry.
No business agreement was reached between John and Herr Traun, and in the
interim John devoted his time to those studies which might help him in
German business and in mastering the details of commercial work. By early
1859, with no resolution to the situation, and no doubt with tensions
rising between the two men, particularly as it appeared that Herr Traun
was intent on thwarting the marriage, John decided to return to England
with the avowed intention never to settle in Germany. He had, in any case,
another reason to return as he was about to come into his inheritance left
to him by his late great-uncle John Fretwell on his 22nd
birthday which fell in that year.
John was fortunate that his first employers were prepared to take him
back, and to pay him a sufficient salary. Maybe the tea and coffee
business was more to his liking than before, in view of his recent
experiences. But overall, 1859 was not a happy year for John.
First, Bertha called off their engagement (although, strangely, she does
not appear to have advised her father of this, as he continued to canvass
business opportunities for John). Second, possibly as a consequence of a
depletion of his physical reserves, John fell victim to the small pox
epidemic of autumn 1859. He was seriously ill, requiring him to take five
months off work to recover. The attack of small pox apparently left him
badly disfigured, of which he was very sensitive. He was most fortunate
that his employers continued to pay him in full during the recovery and
convalescence. However, his convalescence would have been speeded up by
Bertha’s decision to resume their engagement.
John himself refers to the strain of overwork and anxiety, and ascribes
the period from December 1858 to March 1861 as contributing to the onset
of his ‘head trouble’, a cure for which he did not find until he went to
America later in life. There is some confusion as who actually called off
the engagement as John also claims that as an honest man he could not, in
conscience, undertake to marry Bertha until he had determined whether the
affliction was temporary or permanent. Therefore he had written to her
suggesting a postponement of the marriage. However he regained his health
sufficient to assure himself that the marriage should proceed. (If the
‘head trouble’ was migraine, it is interesting to note that this
affliction has continued down through the male line to the current
Once more Herr Traun had a proposition for John, and now that the
relationship with Bertha had resumed, it seems that John was ready for
some serious negotiating. The business ‘on offer’ was in Lippstadt, and
from the first inspection, John had strong reservations about its
potential and its location.
A more unattractive place to commence life in, or a less attractive
business for a man of my tastes could hardly be conceived. [The
customers were mostly Jews or Papists, a large part of the business was
in what are called religious articles for Roman Catholics]. The
customers of the business were the petty nobility and gentry of the
neighbourhood, an altogether contemptible set of people, or Jewish and
Roman tradesmen. There was a ropery connected with it, where twine and
cordage were made by hand. About $15,000 were necessary as capital and I
had only about $3,000. The country belonged to the kingdom of Prussia,
but the sympathies of the Roman Catholic population were mostly with
Austria, which then had a terribly bad influence on the German people.
Haggling over the financial arrangements of the deal between the vendor,
Herr Traun and John continued without any satisfactory resolution. It was
time for decisive action, and John, in a move quite alien to his
character, confronted Herr Traun with an ultimatum, the setting for the
drama being the Leipzig Fair of 1860. Having first received Herr Traun’s
assurance that he had no objections to John as a son-in-law, John launched
on what was probably a well rehearsed speech.
He must have seen, I continued, that his daughter’s preference for me
was no mere girlish fancy, since it had withstood the temptations of all
the luxury with which he had surrounded her and even the repulsive
ugliness of my pock-marked face. She had just written me that she would
follow me to China if I called her there. If he thought she was likely
to give me up, well and good. I would abide by the result. But so long
as she preferred my poverty to his luxury, I proposed to fight for her
to the bitter end. I could, I said, earn more by my own exertions in
England than all his help would bring me in Germany, and I preferred to
do so. I would not undertake a single obligation that my own small
capital would not cover. It was his affair not mine, if he insisted on
my undertaking a business requiring more.
And John then delivered the coup de gras.
I would not, I said, undertake any business at all in Germany, unless
he published notification in the Hamburg papers that F. Traun of Hamburg
had the honour to announce the betrothal of his daughter Bertha with
John Fretwell the younger of Leeds; and that as to money matters, he
might do what he liked, and I should do what I thought prudent.
John set a deadline of that same afternoon for a response. It would seem
that his boldness had paid off.
He promised me that if I would undertake the business in Lippstadt he
would consent to the immediate publication of our betrothal and to our
marriage a year later, and he would put into my hands $10,000, no part
of which was to be repaid within 14 years even if we did not marry, and
if we did, it was to be his daughter’s dowry, and that at the end of the
Fair he would bring his daughter to see the place before I decided on
But, as John ruefully noted later, Herr Traun’s response was not given in
writing. While John kept his side of the bargain by determining to make
the best of the Lippstadt business, and to prepare for Bertha to join him
there, Herr Traun found a number of excuses for delaying the announcement.
Finally, however, it was made official with the following notice in the
Leeds : Hamburg
A great party was held at Rothenburgsort, the Traun summer residence and
there, in the presence of all the family, John and Bertha exchanged
betrothal rings. As John comments:
There might be many a slip twixt cup and lip, but I had gained one
decisive battle on the enemy’s ground, and now I went back to Lippstadt
to prepare for the next.
There were still a number of formalities to be completed, including
obtaining permission from John’s parents for him to wed. This is
surprising since John was now in his 23rd year, past the age of
majority in England which at that time was 21. However, in Germany the age
of majority was 24, and this may be the reason for obtaining parental
consent. The declaration, in duplicate, signed by William and Anne
Fretwell and witnessed by John’s sister Mary, and Ishmael Lythgoe,
Manchester Town Clerk reads :
We the undersigned William Fretwell and Anne Fretwell of 4 York
Terrace Whalley Range Manchester, in the County of Lancaster England do
hereby declare that we consent to the marriage of our Son John Fretwell
jnr now residing in Lippstadt Prussia, with Miss Bertha Traun of
April 2nd 1861
On the basis of this declaration:
In Faith and Testimony whereof
I, the said Mayor, have caused the Seal of Mayoralty of the said City,
to be hereunder put and affixed, and the Certificate of Consent
mentioned and referred to in the said Declaration to be hereunto
Dated at Manchester, the second day of April in the twenty fourth year
of the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, and in the year of our Lord
Proof of John’s baptism was also required. With two copies of the original
baptism entry, the following letter was furnished. The signatory was James
Kitson, then Mayor of Leeds, and the great-grandson of Mary Fretwell, who
had married Richard Kay (and thereby second cousin once removed to the
groom to be):
Borough of Leeds in the Country of York
To all whom these Presents shall come, I, James Kitson, Esquire, Mayor
of the Borough of Leeds, in the County of York, in that part of the
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland called England, In pursuance
of the Laws in that behalf, do hereby certify that on the day of the
date hereof, personally came and appeared before me Thomas Hincks
[Minister of the Mill Hill Chapel], being a person well known and worthy
of good credit, and who did before me solemnly and sincerely declare the
two several documents hereunto annexed marked respectively with the
letters “A” and “B” to be respectively two copies from the Register of
the Book of Births and Baptisms kept by the Minister of Mill Hill
Chapel, in the parish of Leeds aforesaid.
In Faith and Testimony whereof, I, the said Mayor, have caused the
Corporate Common Seal of the said Borough, to be hereunto put and
affixed, and the said Documents to be hereunto annexed. Dated at Leeds
aforesaid, the Twenty Sixth day of March, in the year of our Lord, one
thousand eight hundred and sixty one.
The year following their engagement, some four years after they had first
met, John and Bertha were married. The ceremony was conducted at the Traun
summer residence and a notice placed in the newspapers in July 1861,
announced the event to the world.
On the 9th inst. at Hamburg, by the Rev. Dr. Alt,
Mr JOHN FRETWELL, of Lippstadt, Westphalia, eldest son of
Mr William Fretwell of Whalley Range, Manchester, to
BERTHA, only daughter of FRIEDRICH TRAUN, Esq. of Hamburg
Traun Residence, 1861
In John’s words:
At last I was enabled to take Miss Traun from his [Ronge’s] House to
that of her Father and there, on the 9th
July 1861 we were, after so many conflicts, happily married by the
senior pastor of the Hamburg Lutheran Church, Senior Alt, in the
presence of the Father and Mother of my wife, her brother, her uncles
Heinrich and Adolf Meyer, and their wives.
John, never one to wax lyrical, gave, for him, an effusive account of
their honeymoon. The tone indicates that, for the present, he and Bertha
were a very happy couple.
But to return…to our own little heaven. We drove off along the Elbe,
and past the factory of my Father-in-law, where the Union Jack floated
alongside of the 3 towers of Hamburg, then across the Ferry, and through
the Farms of Wilhemsburg, again were ferried across the Southern Elbe,
and then by rail through the Lundburger Heide till we halted where my
mother-in-law had spent the first year of her unhappy marriage at
Hanover. But soon we left that behind us and were in the land of
romance—the German Harz; in the old imperial palace of Goslar; down in
the silver mines of Klausthal, where the miners working in their old
fashioned way reminded one of the gnomes with which folklore peoples the
whole district, then on the Brocken, where Goethe’s Faust saw witches
dance with Mephistopheles, or amid the elfin dwellers of Rübeland. And
so we drove through this wonderful land of legend, taking our carriage
when we were tired, at other times losing ourselves in the woods, or
walking over the hilltops sending the coachman round to meet us at some
distant spot, living in the recollections of hoary antiquity, and an
ever-present heaven of our own. After a fortnight of this travel we sent
our German coachman back to Harzburg, and took the rail for our future
home at Lippstadt.
And Lippstadt, Westphalia, seemed to take on a difference perspective now
that John had his wife by his side.
Lippstadt, a place of 6,000 inhabitants, had more educated people in
it than an American town of the same size would have. The officials at
the law courts, the teachers at the high school and the medical men of
the place, were all university men of wide literary culture. And my
sweet wife won all hearts, though, after all, we were enough for each
By all accounts the first months of their married life, and the business
in Lippstadt went smoothly But this peace was not to last. First, at the
behest of his wife, John returned to England to sort out the financial
mess left behind by Johannes Ronge, when he returned to Germany in 1861,
under the amnesty for religious dissidents. On his return John brought his
fourth sister Fanny to stay, and she remained with the family until he and
Bertha eventually returned to England. The effects of this interruption on
John’s business were heartfelt, and the following, recounted later to his
own son, indicates clearly the fragility of his relationship with his
Hardly had I returned to my work in Lippstadt, when your mother
demanded of me that I should leave my business, go to London, and clear
up the Augean Stable that Ronge had left there. Willing to render any
sacrifice to help your Grandmother [Anne Fretwell], I went, and did so,
but for every dollar that I saved your Grandmother I lost more than a
dollar for myself; you can well understand what it means for a man to be
absent fourteen days from a business such as mine was in Lippstadt, what
thousands of dollars worth of stuff can be stolen without the slightest
possibility of detection, unless one can rely implicitly on the clerks,
and how could I, a stranger in Prussia, do this?
However, despite his fears, after this visit to England John reports that
he had six months of quiet domestic life, and was kept very busy with his
business affairs. But Bertha’s family soon intruded again, and, in what
was to be a continuing pattern, Bertha left John for an extended period to
care for her mother, returning to Lippstadt in 1862, only to be recalled
once more to her mother’s sickbed. Apparently, Frau Ronge suffered bouts
of what was diagnosed as "Hysterische Frauenzimmer". This time she did not
return until after her mother’s death in April 1863. For the first three
years of their married life Bertha was ‘absent’ staying with her own
family - in 1861 at Alte Teschenstrasse, Breslau; in 1862 at 27, Oederweg,
Frankfurt on Main; and in 1863 at 8 Obermainstrasse, Frankfurt on Main.
This is an appropriate point to take a look at the children born to John
and Bertha. But we cannot rely on any detailed account of these events
from the father for, while John wrote in considerable detail about his
religious beliefs, and his business affairs, and the troublesome Ronges,
there is only one reference in the Recollections and the Supplementary
notes to the birth of any children - the first born, Freddie. There is no
reference to the early deaths of this first son, nor to baby John, and
nothing said about the still-born son. It is not until much later that
John makes any reference to his only daughter Emmy. Bertha’s family
duties, and the frequent periods of separation, probably accounts for the
fact that it was not until after her mother’s death that their first child
was conceived. Thereafter over a period of seven years, four more children
were born, of whom only two, Emmy and Ralph, survived to adulthood.
21 May 1864, Frederick Dalby Fretwell, Lippstadt, Westphalia
29 Sep 1866, John Fretwell, London
17 Apr 1868, Emmy Hilda Bertha Fretwell, Hackney
8 May 1870, Ralph Traun Fretwell, Hackney
16 Jul 1871, unnamed son, Hackney
The years immediately following the birth of son Frederick were a time of
upheaval - in every sense - as once more Bertha left John to go and stay
with her father, leaving John to carry on, and then liquidate, the
business. It was during this time that he was admitted into the local
Westphalia Masonic Lodge, and may have been the first of the Fretwells to
join the freemasons.
And clearly things were awry. John alludes to this period in his notes to
Ralph, and in so doing makes reference to his faith, which, more and more,
was to become the focus of his life.
Even before the birth of your Brother my married happiness was
sacrificed by her [Ralph’s mother]…I sought and found in my Unitarian
faith some substitute for that which I had hoped in vain to find in my
life with your Mother.
Notwithstanding, John was able to extricate his wife from her family, and
by 1865 they were living at 8 Upper Homerton Road, London NE. Frederick
was baptised on 3 December 1865 at the Unitarian Church by the Rev. Robert
Brook Apsland. It was at Upper Homerton Road that son John was born, and
died two hours later, on 29 September 1866, the death being due to his
premature birth as reported to the registrar by father John.
For the 1871 census the Fretwells were recorded as living at Downs Lodge,
Downs Road, Hackney. John was listed as a 33 year old Merchant. Bertha and
son Frederick Dalby had become naturalised British subjects. A nurse,
Elizabeth Overley, was employed to assist Bertha, who would have been
again pregnant. The rest of the household comprised children Emmy aged 2
and Ralph Traun aged 10 months, Hannah Saunderson, housekeeper, Jane
Greaves, domestic servant, and Rebecca Barrett, cook. The family stayed in
London until about 1873, moving once more in that time to 37 Evering
Villas, Amherst Road, Hackney. Ralph also records that his own mother was
severely ill in 1870 and in November of that year went to convalesce at
Dallon House, Broadwalk, Buxton. In between the births of their children
and Bertha’s bouts of ill-health, the family occasionally went to Brighton
for holidays, where they stayed at Casa Ruge, at 7 Park Crescent, which
was the home of one of John’s closest friends Arnold Ruge. Ruge, a German
philosopher and political writer, had arrived in England in 1849 and to
Brighton in 1850 where he lived as a teacher and writer. In what was a
very sensible arrangement, while the Fretwells were in Brighton, the Ruge
family stayed in the Fretwell house in Hackney.
What business John was engaged in over this period is unclear but it must
have been connected with his wife’s family's business concerns. Even in
England, the machinations of the German relatives could not be avoided and
John had by 1871 resolved to sever all business connections with Herr
Heinrich Meyer. The latter stalled him with an offer of an agency in
America at some time in the near future, and in 1872 John, having arranged
for his sister Fanny to take care of his children, undertook his first
journey to America. It was apparently a successful visit and Meyer paid
John £1000 over an above the agreed sum. John was then sent to represent
Herr Meyer at the Vienna Exhibition of 1873. For John this was in many
respects the most interesting journey of his life, and it was at
Whitsuntide that year that he first visited the Unitarians of
Transylvania. In memory of his visit to Transylvania John published,
privately in 1902 (and apparently cheaply as the page cutting is very
crude) a small treatise, entitled ‘The Christian in Hungarian Romance’
dedicated to Dr. Maurus Jokai, a literary man whom John met while in
On the home front, the estrangement between husband and wife had reached
the point where in 1873 Bertha finally left John and returned to Germany
with the children. John’s sister Edith arranged for the packing up of all
the household effects. In all seventeen cases were made ready for
transmission to Bertha on the ship Virgo. The manifest document was signed
by Edith on 16 June 1874.
Household Effects Shipped to Hamburg
I Edith Fretwell of Ilkley in the County of York Spinster do solemnly
and sincerely declare as follows.
That I did on the tenth day of June last instant by the direction of my
brother John Fretwell (who is at present travelling in the United States
of America) cause to be transmitted by the Ship Virgo 17 cases ...
directed to Bertha Fretwell care of H C Meyer Hamburg - The following is
a list of the contents of the said seventeen cases.
Case BF1. 1 Bookcase, 7 Pillows, Spring Mattress, Carpet, 1 pair
BF2. 1 Walnut Table, 4 Chairs, 2 Blankets, 2 wool mats, 2 small
candlesticks, 1 ink stand, 3 albums, Letter Rack, Tool Box, Curtains and
Fringe, Bed and Table Linen, Showing Glass, Feather Bed, Counterpane,
Box of Photos, Books music etc, Childrens toys, Curtain, blankets, Music
Stool, Horsehair mattress, Bed covers, pillows.
BF3. Walnut Table, part of Whatnot, Marble Clock, Mattress, Foot stools.
BF4. Dining Room couch, 1 Chair, Marble slab, picture, part of whatnot,
Sliding table, 1 Leaf of dining Room Table, 1 Sheet.
BF5. Wash Stand.
BF6. 2 Easy Chairs, part of dressing table, 5 small chairs, painting,
part of sideboard, 1 sheet.
BF7. 1 Chest of Drawers filled with linen, ornaments and various
knicknacks, Crimson drugget.
BF8. Dressing table, Fancy cups and saucers, plate, two salt cellars.
BF9. Wash Stand, pictures, pole brackets and ends, Tea urn, knives and
forks, sugar basin, butter cooler, jug, Dolls tea set, Curtain holders
BF10. Writing table and work Table, pictures, mattresses, sheets.
BF11. Dining Table and leaves, 2 Easy Chairs, 4 small chairs, 5 curtain
poles, Spring mattress.
BF12. Side board, Table mats, Bracket, Glass Dishes, Globe of the World,
pictures, Dolls cradle, Toys, Butter dish, Candle cups.
BF13. Sofa, 2 arm chairs, picture, 1 small chair, marble slab or
washstand, Large photograph.
BF14. 2 Marble topped bedroom cupboards, ground glass lamp, globe,
BF1412. Books and pictures.
BF4180. Books etc.
That the whole of the goods therein contained consists of household
goods and effects the property of and used by my said brother in his
residence in England and sent by me at his request for the use of his
wife and family in Germany.
And I further say that I did on the twelfth instant cause to be sent
another case marked BF18 through Messieurs Elkam and Company addressed
as above consisting entirely of articles of silver used by my said
brother and sent for the use of his said wife as aforesaid. And lastly I
say that none of the said articles are of the nature of merchandise or
intended for sale but are solely articles used by my said brother or his
family. And I make this solemn declaration conscientiously believing the
same to be true and by virtue of the provisions of an act made and
passed in the Sixth year of the reign of his late Majesty King William
the Fourth entitled “An Act to repeal an Act of the present session of
parliament” entitled “an Act for the more effectual abolition of oaths
and affirmations taken and made in various departments of the state and
to substitute Declarations in lieu thereof and for the more entire
suppression of voluntary or extra judicial oaths and affidavits and to
make other provisions for the abolition of unnecessary oaths.
at the Marion House in the City of London this
sixteenth day of June 1874
Lord Mayor of London
Bertha’s life in Germany post 1873 is barely documented. A tragedy befell
the family within a few years of her self-imposed estrangement from her
husband, with the death of their son Frederick Dalby Fretwell on 4 April
1879, just short of his fifteenth birthday, at Eisenach. Father John has
not recorded this event in his Recollections, but the death of this young
boy has been commemorated in a short poem, written by G. Bewlay Dalby, and
included in his 'Verse and Prose’ a privately published collection of
works for personal friends published in 1902. Frederick was given the
middle name Dalby in recognition of John Fretwell's long-standing regard
for the Dalby family.
Sweet mother Nature! Take back thy sweet son,
Enfold him lovingly in thy soft arms,
Safe from the world, its sorrows, sins, alarms,
And all the flaws that mar lives long out-spun;
Unsoiled, undimmed, the final peace he’s won
Whilst yet nought but the school-boy’s joyous strife
In games or study, chequered his young life
Of reverent wonder, mirth, and frolic fun.
How many who toil on through years of care
Would wish, dear boy, their fate had been as thine
To see bright morning’s glory break and shine,
Nor feel the noon-tide heat, nor eve’s chill air:
Taught by the griefs that come with lengthening years
We may not dim thy memory with tears.
Bertha Fretwell died on 19 January 1908, in Hamburg in her 69th year, at
her house Jungfrauenthal 53, from heart failure. Her death was marked both
in Germany, with the notice prepared by her children, and by a terse
notice in the press in America. Hopefully she, at least, was able to find
some peace and happiness.
Am 19. Januar, um 12 ¾ Uhr verm., entschlief
sanft im 69. Lebensjahr unsere liebe Mutter, Schwieger-
Mutter und Grosmutter
Frau Bertha Fretwell, geb. Traun
Herzlich betrauert von
Emmy von Tiedemann, geb. Fretwell,
Ralph T Fretwell,
Rüdiger von Tiedemann,
Major un Bataillonskommandeur
im 5. Grenadier-Regiment König Friedrich 1.,
Emmy Fretwell, geb. Fester,
FRETWELL–On January 19, at Hamburg,
Bertha, wife of John Fretwell, of Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.A.
Bertha Fretwell and child
Bertha Fretwell in old age
Bertha Fretwell's Room - Hamburg
The last word lies with her estranged husband:
I do not think I should have been alive today, if I had lived with
your mother. I trust that she enjoyed the 25 years separation. She has
only herself to thank for it.
From 1873 John spent his life, for the most part in America, where he
became a naturalised citizen, making only the occasional brief trip back
to Europe. He had finally accepted the offer to work as agent for the
Meyer family company. However, a number of incidents finally persuaded
John to sever once and for all this connection.
After freeing myself from my connection ... I traveled for a while,
hoping to regain my health, and made arrangements to represent some
business houses at the Philadelphia Exhibition of 1876, where I arrived
just before the May opening. I was really quite unfit for any business
work having, under the mental strain of the last 15 years become
singularly restless and excitable, and it was only by the most
determined self command that I could control myself sufficiently to
attend to my duties …That I was able to do so was, I believe, due to my
Unitarian training and habits of thought. The most cheering feature of
my Philadelphia life was a gift of $1,000 for my religious work in
Philadelphia, and $400 to myself.
After the Exhibition John made a winter business journey through Canada
but was not a well man.
… finding myself still troubled with nervous excitement so that at
times I hardly trusted myself, I consulted a physician who told me that
I must return to the less stimulating atmosphere of Europe.
Following this advice, John made another brief visit to London to evaluate
business prospects, but lacking capital, he returned to America. In April
1891 he was again in England, this time to attend his mother’s funeral,
and was still in Leeds in June, where he was staying at the Trevelyan
Hotel. His daughter Emmy too was in Leeds at that time and John took the
opportunity to meet, albeit fleetingly, with her. On 16 June he wrote to
his son Ralph from Leeds to say that 'Father and daughter have met. Alice,
one of John’s sisters, also was able to see him ‘for a few minutes’ before
he boarded the Etruria and he was back in America by December 1891.
His final years were devoted almost entirely to the Unitarian cause, for
which he embarked on a series of lecture tours. From correspondence to his
son Ralph, we find that John also interested himself in American politics.
We are now in the midst of the unpleasant political strife which
precedes every Presidential election, and I am taking a more active part
in it than usual.
I shall be able to return East in about a fortnight but the doctor
forbids me to do any public speaking before the elections. She says I
must leave all this lung work to younger men and confine myself to the
thinking and writing … I hear that Carl Schurz who is a few years older
is going to make some speeches for the Democratic party - but I am not
on that side.
John seems to have spent time in a series of sanitaria in America,
including Delaware Water Gap, where he received treatment for his failing
health, and for his continuing head problems. A further letter was sent to
Ralph from the Battle Creek Sanitarium, which, according to its
letterhead, was ‘A Well Equipped and Scientific Medical Establishment.’
While he was there his recovery was set back by an accident in the
bathroom when he fell on the slippery stone floor and which resulted in a
severe contusion and much bleeding on the back of his head. Fortunately
for John, the surgeon was within call and as he was not a heavy man the
consequences were not so bad as first thought. As an aside, John, no doubt
an expert in such matters, described Battle Creek, and its Superintendent,
one J.M. Kellogg, MD, as:
… the finest Sanitarium in the whole world. Wherever I went in Europe
I heard Dr. Kellogg, its Superintendent, spoken of with the highest
respect … It is carried on by a religious society, the Seventh Day
Baptists, who in the last 30 years have sent a thousand medical
missionaries to heal the sick and to preach their views of the Gospel …
It is a part of their religion to abstain from tobacco, wine, tea,
coffee, and all animal food except milk, eggs and butter, and Dr.
Kellogg has devoted years to making cereal foods which are as nutritious
and digestible as any animal food. His reputation has made the fortune
of this thriving little city of 30,000 inhabitants.
Furthermore, John recommended that his son Ralph make enquiries about some
of the branches of the Sanitarium in Europe in case he or his wife should
find it necessary to avail themselves of their services. And even if a
visit was not required, John informed Ralph that his wife should be able
to purchase some of the Battle Creek foods in Hamburg and would find them
a useful addition to her breakfast table.
This October 1904 letter to Ralph finds John so much recovered that,
following a further month at Battle Creek, he intended to return to
Providence in November in time for the presidential election. As a
Republican, John would have been pleased with the outcome, and almost
lived long enough to see out Theodore Roosevelt’s second term as
John survived his estranged wife by just over eighteen months. He
appointed son Ralph as the executor of Bertha’s will.
Know all Men by these Presents
That I, John Fretwell, of the city and county of Providence, State of
Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
have made, constituted and appointed by these presents do make,
constitute and appoint Ralph Traun Fretwell, my son, of Hamburg, Germany
my true and lawful attorney for me and in my name, place and stead, in
all matters relating to the last will and testament of my deceased wife
Bertha Fretwell, daughter of the late C. J. Traun of Hamburg, Germany.
It was a sensible move. Ralph was at hand, and better able to manage
Bertha’s estate than John, now clearly not well himself, and
understandably disinclined to handle the matter.
John died on 1 July 1909 he at Attleborough, Massachusetts of ‘Heart
Failure and Cancer of the Stomach.’ The Certificate of Death notes that
his Occupation was Lecturer, but for names and places of birth of father
and mother the notation is ‘unknown’. The required documentation having
been prepared, John’s body was cremated on 10 July 1909.
The news was conveyed to England by notice in the press. In one short
sentence is marked the passing of a man who one senses was stultified by
the weight of responsibility he both assumed and had imposed upon him. His
own writings give the impression of an embittered man, disappointed by
those closest to him, and compensated only by his abiding faith in the
Unitarian values, his writings and his books.
FRETWELL–On July 10th at Attleboro', U.S.A.,
aged 72, John Fretwell, formerly of London, England.
The few photographs we have of John Fretwell were all taken when he was in
his later years. They confirm John’s own description of his physique, and
show a rather small, slight man.
John Fretwell at Port aux Basques, Newfoundland
John Fretwell (undated)
at Seattle, 1890
Apart from the posed portrait taken in 1890 at Seattle, the photographs we
have are taken from a distance. This may be due to the photographic style
and techniques of the day. But they somehow seem to reflect the nature of
the man - quiet, introverted and withdrawn - and a very different
character than his younger brother whose story follows.
Emmy Hilda Bertha Fretwell
+ Rudiger von Tiedemann
(work in progress)
Ralph Traun Fretwell
+ Emmy Elizabeth Fester
(work in progress)
In a letter dated 2 November 1928, found among the family papers, Ralph
Traun Fretwell living then in Basel, Switzerland, wrote as follows to his
Aunt Mary Fretwell enquiring about some family details.
As you know, and as I wrote in my last of 18th Oct., I am interested
in our family records, it is pleasant to know something about one’s
ancestors and gives one a better understanding of one’s own character
and the characters of one’s children … Of your brother Vause, I know
Did he not enlist as a soldier and go out to India?
Then he stayed there, married three or four times and died in Bombay in
Ralph's son, William Eric Fretwell, managed to make a little more headway
and, from further subsequent research, it has to be said that Vause was
definitely one of the more ‘interesting’ of the Fretwell ancestors.
From his mother’s records we know that Vause, second son of William and
Anne Fretwell, was born at Knostrop at 7.45am on Monday 10 December 1838.
His parents waited just over two years to have him baptised at the Mill
Hill Chapel, on 6 January 1841, with Charles Wicksteed officiating. It was
in fact a double ceremony, as his sister Mary was also baptised on that
day. His academic progress to the age of six has been reported by elder
brother John in the 1849 poem to their paternal grandmother Mary Fretwell
(née Vause), and after whom Vause was named. Vause was at home at Selby
with his mother and sisters for the 1851 census, listed as a 12 year old
scholar. As to his further education and academic attainments we know
nothing. It is more than likely, however, that he would have been trained
for a business or clerical career. As to his early character - in his
brother’s eyes at least - Vause must have cut a dash, for John has
described him as a “dude”. We also know that Vause could act quickly in an
emergency, without regard to his own safety, as his brother later
recounted to Vause’s son William, on the eve of the latter’s departure for
Australia and New Zealand.
My dear nephew,
Looking over some old letters written to me on my first visit to
America, I find one from your grandmother Fretwell dated 18 November
1872, which contains so interesting a memorial to your Father that I
would have sent you the letter itself, but for the possibility that it
may not reach you before the ‘Benmore’ sails away.
Your father was very brave even before he went to India. I rember [sic]
one Sunday afternoon in 1857. I was just 20 and he under nineteen. I had
arranged to meet him at the house where my wife then lived, tho’ I never
thought of her becoming my wife in those days; and he was very late. A
child had fallen into the Thames from the steamer in which they were
travelling; and he sprang into the water and saved it. A few days later
he received a gold watch from the parents of the child, with an
inscription recording their gratitude. I never knew what became of it,
it ought to have been kept for you.
With this account we find Vause in London in 1857, but have found nothing
to explain what he was doing there. However, a major overseas event may
have decided him on the direction his life was to take. It was in May 1857
at Meerut that sepoys of the East India Company's army rebelled and thus
began what is generally known as the Indian Mutiny and ended with the fall
of Gwalior on 20 June 1858. The 1857 mutinies and rebellion which
accompanied them presented a serious challenge to the British Empire.
Indeed during tht time the the British lost control over a vast area
of northern India, from the Punjab down the Ganges to Patna.
Recruitment for both the Queen’s Army (regular troops) and the Company
(men of the Honorable East India Company (the HEIC) had been conducted at
regular intervals for many decades before 1857, but the Mutiny of that
year added an imperative to the drive for men to go to India to defend
Queen and Country, and the Company’s interests. The outrage in England,
fired by colourful reports in the press of the ravages to British women
and children, was no doubt a prime motive for those who answered the
recruiting sergeant’s call. But, for many, a secondary motive might also
have informed their decision - the appeal of India, regarded as an exotic
country offering young men of all social classes the promise of adventure
and perhaps also acquiring considerable personal riches.
Vause, along with hundreds of other men from all parts of the country,
answered the Company’s call. What his motives were are not recorded. What
we do know, from his brother’s comments, is that this decision was deeply
regretted by Vause’s parents. But seen from Vause’s standpoint, this may
have been a wonderful opportunity for him. He was young, unattached, and
the second son of a family which had fallen on bad times, and who was
himself broke – he had given the suit of clothes that he wore on enlisting
to his brother John in lieu of a debt he was unable to repay. Weighing up
his dubious prospects in England against the possibility of improving his
situation in India, would leave little question as to the better option,
and one confirmed by his brother in later life, again in the letter to
In those days before the Honorable East India Company’s army became a
part of the Queen's Army there were far better chances of distinction
than now, when everything goes by favoritism.
Indeed clerks, if this was Vause’s profession, were among the occupations
most likely to prosper from enlisting in the Company’s service. Since most
situations of responsibility required literacy and numeracy, and often
command of a native language, literate and intelligent men were welcomed
by the Company’s recruiting parties. If Vause tossed up between enlisting
with the Company or the Queen’s Army, he may have plumped for the Company
on the following grounds cited by Peter Stanley in his work White
Mutiny, British Military Culture in India 1825-1875.
The Queen’s army regarded such men [clerks] as a risk rather than an
asset, and accepted them reluctantly … one Queen’s army officer
considering them to be objectionable, including footmen, shopmen,
profligate young gentlemen and ‘out of place clerks’… distinguished from
most recruits by their wan complexions, doughy skin, clean teeth and
fullness of belly, they were suspected of having been corrupted by
proximity to the soldier’s usual social superiors. Literacy itself seems
to have caused unease … Such men allegedly became, in contemporary
terms, ‘lawyers’, liable to contest commands and lead combinations
So, recruited into the Honorable East India Company (HEIC) army, Vause
left for India in 1857. His mother came down to London to see him off at
the Chatham Barracks. She, Vause and John had a farewell lunch at the
Rochester Inn, immortalised by Charles Dickens in his Pickwick Papers. It
was not a happy occasion for Anne Fretwell, and within six months she was
to say a final farewell to Vause’s step-sister Elizabeth. We do not know
if Anne regretted this departure as much of that of her son, and we do not
know if Elizabeth caught up with Vause when she was in India. But, as we
shall see, at a later time her widower, Washington did at least have news
In India the influx of reinforcements was greeted with relief and elation.
Charlotte Canning, wife of the then Governor, reported to friends and
family back in England.
The Fort church on Sunday morning, Charlotte noted, was full of the
tidiest of men, in little brown holland short blouses, with red cuffs
and collars, and white cap-covers, showing they were sent out well
provided for the climate.
We do not know where Vause was stationed. The glow of the initial welcome
would have been very quickly extinguished by the realities of military
life. By 1858, not counting the Punjabi and Indian troops, the commanders
had at their disposal 46,400 British troops. Overall losses from enemy
action were relatively small. Of far greater impact during the campaigns
on the wellbeing of the forces were heat and disease. Over 8,000 British
soldiers died from sunstroke and diseases, and a further 3,000 had to be
discharged and sent home as invalids. Intense heat, fatigue, boils,
smallpox, dysentery and recurrent outbreaks of cholera wiped out more men
than rebels. On disembarkation, soldiers had to reach their posts on foot.
The recruits, fresh from the English climate, and outfitted in completely
unsuitable serge uniforms, were frequently forced to march long distances,
rising before dawn to avoid the midday sun and afternoon heat, but still
enduring the furnace-like winds of the Indian plains.
Vause’s military career did not last long. By the 1858 India Act, the
European regiments of the East India Company became part of Her Majesty’s
Indian Forces, an amalgamation which may have pleased the powers that be,
but which was not well received by troops of either arm of the military.
Broadly speaking the Company men were concerned that if they were absorbed
into the Queen’s army they would lose status, and the entitlements, by
right or by custom, owing to them from their Company service. The Queen’s
Army was horrified at having to take into their ranks men whom they
considered to be a very inferior lot. One option widely canvassed, long
and hotly debated, and finally, by General Order 883 of 1860, agreed to,
was to offer those Company soldiers, who did not wish to be transferred to
the Queen’s army, a discharge with a small bounty or a free passage home.
Vause was not one of the 10,000 or so men who took up the offer of a free
passage home. He was now in his 22nd year, but unlike his elder brother
John as the same age, did not fare so well from his great-uncle John’s
will. Apart from a division of the residue of the personal goods and
chattels and proceeds of real estate, which he shared with his living
siblings and with his May cousins, the only other benefits that Vause may
have acquired from the will were dependent upon his elder brother having
died before reaching majority and we know that 'unfortunate' event did not
occur and, as we shall see, John in fact outlived Vause by just over
twenty years. Prudently, then, Vause seems to have opted for the small
bounty. Marriage may well have been on his mind. In fact, it seems to have
been on his mind quite a bit over the next three decades.
WEF and RTF have noted that Vause married three and perhaps four times.
His brother John Fretwell was more definite. Writing in the mid 1880s he
Of him I can only say that after 28 years residence in India, he has
just married his 4th wife in Bombay.
There is some documentation, supported by family hearsay and my own
research, to probably support three marriages. This has been used to try
and construct Vause’s family life in India. It is pretty certain that wife
number one was Annie (or Anne Marie/a) Hartley. According to family notes
the wedding took place at Sharanpur (now Shahapur, a suburb of Nashik)
Mission Church, on 1 September 1861, the ceremony being conducted by one
Reverend Isengerg. Charles Isenberg was an appointee of the Church
Missionary Society (CMS). No official record has yet been located for the
marriage. An India mailing list correspondent, the late Donald Jacques,
did a search for me and could not find a marriage for A. M. Hartley
anywhere in India. He suggested that a Mission marriage might not have
been 'captured' by the reporting/recording process. To muddy the waters,
we have a report from brother-in-law Washington Teasdale to his mother and
sister Jane. Washington wrote that Ward Royce’s (spelling not clear) wife
had left her husband to live with Vause as the latter’s wife. This
suggests a number of alternatives: Annie Hartley was divorced from Ward
Royce – divorce was not easily obtained in those days; Annie Hartley was a
bigamist – doubtful, and it would have been difficult to get away with it;
Ward Royce died after his wife had left him, freeing her for marriage to
Vause; they never married, belying the family notes. If Washington’s
gossip had no foundation, why mention such a delicate matter to his mother
As an aside, in the same letter home, Washington mentioned that when he
was working close by to Vause in 1860, the latter was seriously ill - but
did not say from what. If Vause had a predisposition to ill health, his
army experiences may, and India certainly would, further test his
constitution. For so many in India, the debilitating heat, rudimentary
sanitary conditions, disease and epidemics were a constant threat to them
and their families. It was no easy matter bearing and raising children in
India. In the years before modern medicine had started to deal with the
diseases that were endemic there, mothers faced an unending struggle to
keep their children alive. Of course, any assessment of the effects of the
conditions prevailing in the British Raj must be counter-balanced by
remembering that epidemics were also a constant threat in England, and
those who succumbed in India, may have equally fallen victim to any one of
a number of diseases that periodically raged through their ‘home’ country.
One child, a daughter named Alice Anne, is listed in the family papers as
being born to Vause and Annie. She was, in fact, born on 7 August 1862 and
baptised at Sharanpur, on 14 August 1862. Her arrival heralded in the 10
September 1862 Allens Indian Mail. This was followed one week later
with the sad news of her death. Donald Jacques, who located the baptism
and burial records, confirmed the details of Alice's short life.
BIRTH – At Nassick, on the 7th instant, the wife of Vause Fretwell,
Esquire, of a daughter.
DEATH - At Nassick, on the 14th August, aged 7 days, (of convulsions)
Alice Anne Fretwell, the infant daughter of Vause Fretwell, Esq., of
BAPTISM - N/3/36/f.188 - Alice Anne Fretwell, d of Vause and Anne
Maria, Chalisgaum, Commission Agent b. 7.8.62; bp.14.8.
BURIAL - N/3/36/f.233 - Alice Anne Fretwell, d.14.8.62; bd.15.8,
She must have been a sickly baby as she was baptised on the day she died.
As Alice Anne was born at Nasik, presumably Annie went to this larger
settlement, where the medical facilities would have been better, to have
the baby. At the time of Alice’s birth Vause was living at Chalisgaum (now
Chalisgaon) and was employed as a Commission Agent. What fate befell Anna
Maria is a mystery. At this stage no record of her death and burial have
been found. We now move forward some ten years forward to 1872.
Nearly ten years after the death of his daughter Alice Anne, we find Vause
embarking on married life once again. At age 34, he took for his wife a
young girl of 18, named Mary Jane Elms. The wedding took place at Christ
Church, Byculla, in the Diocese and Archdeaconry of Bombay on 2nd April
1872, by licence. Rev F. L. Sharpin performed the ceremony. Witnesses were
Caroline Bouvarius and R [Robert] Elms, brother of the bride. The extract
from the Register Book of Marriages records Vause's occupation as
'farmer', and Mary Jane’s and Vause’s ‘Condition’ respectively as Spinster
and Bachelor. This again raises the query as to the relationship status
between Vause and Annie Hartley. The baptismal record for Alice clearly
has Annie as the wife of Vause. Was she so described to keep things
‘respectable’? Did Vause mean ‘Widower’ rather than ‘Bachelor’? Was the
notation on the marriage certificate incorrect? The certificate states,
under the column ‘Residence at Time of Marriage’ that both bride and
bridegroom were residing at Bombay, just over 100 miles south of Nassik .
At what stage prior to the wedding Vause moved to Bombay is not known. In
Mary Jane’s case it is likely that she had not been a long-term resident
Mary Jane Elms had been born in Teignmouth, Devon, to Robert Elms and his
wife Agness (née Coker) and was baptised on 26 October 1853, at the Parish
Church of East Teignmouth. whose marriage in August 1849 had also been
celebrated at the East Teignmouth parish church. registered at Newton
Abbot, Devon. Robert Elms had been listed as a gardener for his
marriage and for the 1851 England census. However, by the time of the 1861
census he was listed as a 38 year old farmer of 33 acres employing one
labourer and one boy. The household also included Agness, a 34 year old
farmer's wife, and five children - William [Henry Chamberlain] aged 9,
Mary [Jane] aged 7, Robert aged 5, George [Thomas] aged 3, and 7 month old
Emily [Charlotte]. 'Missing' from the 1871 census for the Elms family were
William, Mary and Robert Elms and it is likely that all three had made the
journey to India sometime between the 1861 and 1871 census returns.
We do know however, that within a very short time after their marriage
Vause and his wife had relocated to Khandeish (now Nasirabad), just north
of Chalisgaum, where Vause was the Manager of a model farm, which tallies
with his occupation as recorded on the marriage certificate - Farmer.
We have Vause's brother John Fretwell to thank for the following
information, an extract from the same letter referred to earlier to his
My dear nephew,
Looking over some old letters … I find one from your grandmother
Fretwell dated 18 November 1872, which contains so interesting a
memorial to your Father. My mother wrote
I have received a government newspaper in which it says ‘His
Excellency the Governor in Council has read with very much regret this
account of the outbreak of Cholera at the model farm, and desires to
record his sense of the great courage and devotion displayed by Mr.
Fretwell on so lamentable an occasion. His wife, her brothers, the
doctor and 14 labourers on the estate all died of Cholera. He had it
too, but was indefatigable [sic] in his exertions to save the rest.’
Here we have yet again testament to Vause’s bravery. We also have evidence
of yet another tragic event in his life. Given that there would be a delay
in news reaching England, and then allowing for a further short delay in
conveying the news to America, I calculated that Vause and his wife were
only married for a very short time before she fell victim to cholera. The
records confirm this. The Times of India of 22 and 25 July carried
two death notices, with a further one appearing in the 2 August edition.
July 19th at the Model Farm Khandeish Mary the beloved wife of Vause
Jul 20th at the Khandeish Model Farm of cholera Mr Robert Elms aged 17
Jul 20 at the Government Model Farm Khandeish of cholera, Robert Elms of
Brimley Devonshire aged 17 years
The memorial cited above refers to 'brothers' but death records have only
been found for one brother - Robert. If, as suggested above, William Elms
did accompany Mary Jane and Robert, his passing went unnoticed. As far as
is known, Vause, a product of metropolitan Leeds, and subsequently a
soldier, did not have any agricultural qualifications, suggesting that his
role as manager of the model farm was principally administrative. However
the Elms brothers referred to were definitely of agricultural stock, and
would have been very useful in the model farm venture.
The Khandeish Government Farm was started in early 1869 by the then
Collector, Mr. Ashburner with a government grant of £2,000. Dhulia (Dhule)
was initially the preferred site but, as the land was too expensive, a
site two miles north of Bhadgaon was selected. In April 1869 the farm was
handed over to Vause Fretwell, who had been appointed superintendent.
Experiments were carried out on various crops, including tobacco, but the
main focus of the farm was cotton-growing.
One of the most significant outcomes of England's Industrial Revolution
was the manufacture of cotton. Critical to the industry was a ready,
reliable and abundant supply of the raw material which, was principally
sourced from America. In 1857, concerned about the dependence on one main
source, a group of cotton industrialists formed the Cotton Supply
Association, the primary objective of which was to obtain as full and
reliable information as possible respecting the extent and capabilities of
cotton cultivation in every country where it could be grown. India, where
cotton was already cultivated, was identified as having great promise,
subject to an effective regime of improved cultivation methods. One of the
measures recommended by the Association was the establishment of
experimental farms, which would become, in effect, schools of agriculture.
In the words of Vause Fretwell, in a letter dated 11 October 1871 to The
Times of India -
The only purpose it has as yet served has been to show the native
cultivators, that with a little more attention to cleanliness and
tillage they may, even with their own system of rotation and with their
own implements, obtain heavier crops and of better quality than they are
in the habit of getting.
From the commencement of operations the viability of the farm was in
question and it was lucky to escape the swathe of expenditure cuts imposed
by the government in 1872. Funding was not the only problem. Labour
shortages, exacerbated by the native resistance to cultivating cotton, and
a generally held view that model farms, being in effect small holdings,
could never turn a profit, added to the operational difficulties. Apart
from its attack on Vause Fretwell, a scathing letter published in the 4
June 1872 issue of The Times of India represents the views of many
It was with pleasure that I at first saw in your paper, the other day,
the long-winded epistle on Model Farms, signed "Vause Fretwell". Here, I
at once thought to myself, is something to the point, something worth
reading, something that will clear up the disasters that have hitherto
befallen model farming, something, in fact, that will make us forget the
past, and look forward with hope to the future. But as I waded my way
through the weary and sometimes incoherent sentences, how grieved I was
to find that it was not to be, that Vause Fretwell, although a model
gardener, was a good deal like other men of his class, impatient of
criticism, and more inclined to bandy words than answer in any way an
impatient public's curiosity. This is a great pity, for it is plain, I
think, that he might have done much better if he had liked. Yes, Mr.
Vause Fretwell is evidently a man of no ordinary stamp. He hates
"coddling" and he don't "peg", and he defies the sun, as another hero of
old did the lighting. He is, moreover a man of no mean literary ability,
and is, I should say, quite fit either to edit a newspaper, or to act as
Secretary to the new agricultural department. But all this only makes
"confusion more confounded", and makes it more difficult to solve the
problem of how these model farms are to be made to pay their expenses.
With a man of such varied talents, of such wide experience, and of such
undoubted pluck as Mr. Vause Fretwell at the head of the Khandeish model
farm, and with a debt of nearly half a lakh all incurred within the
space of two or three years - what are we to think, where is there any
hope for the poor modest "model" men in Berar, who perhaps cannot stand
the sun, and who may be inclined to "coddle"? Where is there hope for
any one where such a giant has come to grief? But Mr. Vause Fretwell
don't admit failure, nor indeed the debt of
mentioned by Mr. Ashburner in London. He claims to have a "capital
account" just like any railway, and I dare say not many will quarrel
with him on this point so long as he can show value for the money and
pays a decent interest. But can he do either the one thing or the other?
He certainly never done the latter, and as to the former, what have we?
He tells us of "650 acres of land reclaimed," but as they don't belong
to him, he can hardly place them in the list of his assets; and I fancy
it don't [mean?] much, seeing they have never made any return for all
that has been spent on them. Then he has "houses built of timber carted
200 miles," and "agricultural implements, &c." It would have helped us
greatly in coming to a conclusion, had Mr. Vause given us even a rough
estimate of their value; but he leaves us entirely in the dark, and we
can only form an opinion by comparing them with "buildings," &c., on the
model farm in Berar. And what are they? They are certainly not built of
"timber carted 200 miles," but they are good substantial buildings, and
fitted exactly for a "model" farm, whose remunerative qualities are
doubtful. They are built, in fact, of the resources of the district,
namely, mud, timber, and grass, and are worth collectively on each farm
about two thousand rupees. No doubt those on the Khandeish farm are
superior, seeing the timber was carted so far; but suppose we allow
double the amount for buildings and double that again for "implements",
&c., where is the balance of the enormous sum of Rs 40,000? Perhaps when
Mr. Vause favors us again, he will let us know more about it. No doubt,
there are many things he forgot to mention in his list of assets,
perhaps for instance, "Cedars from Lebanon all the way on camels." We
can easily believe the Khandeish "model" man, when he tells us of the
many trials and troubles he has got to fight against; but he can hardly
expect the public to weep with him over the "Roonda grass". It is an
enemy that every poor ryot has got to contend with, and he contends
successfully. Then the "account department" which troubles the model man
so terribly, why, Mr. Vause surely reckoned here without his host! Does
he really expect sympathy on such a point from the public, whose money
he has spent to the galloping tune of R40,000? All I
can say is, that I hope the "account department" will trouble him still
more until he can show a better balance sheet than he can at present
Mr. Vause Fretwell concludes his lengthy epistle with the statement that
the "Government is conferring a "great boon in establishing these model
farms". I will finish with the same remark. It is undoubtedly conferring
an inestimable boon upon all those either at "home or abroad" with model
farming proclivities. It is showing them in, in a most unmistakable way,
that model farming in India by Europeans is utter "bosh" and that he who
attempts it will certainly only reap disaster and ruin.
Berar, June 2
The Editor, in Vause's defence, appended the following comment to the
There is just a shade too much of banter in this letter. Mr.
Fretwell's steady perseverance and comparatively great success under
adverse circumstances are deserving of much praise. We regret not to
have available the full account of the Farm showing what the outlay in
capital has been. It is a farce to charge that against revenue.
Regardless of Vause's efforts he was removed from his position in 1874
when administration of the farm was restructured. Under the management of
the new superintendent, Mr. Alexander Stormont, the farm was to be fully
self-supporting. The changed arrangements were reported in the 21 July
1874 Times of India.
As the Khandesh Model Farm does not appear to have made any progress
in teaching the natives improved and advanced modes of agriculture, &c.,
and as there has been an annual loss in the undertaking since its
formation in 1868-69, aggregating a total loss of over
the Government have decided to make a change in the management and
supervision, more especially as there are a number of cotton gardeners
(who came out under covenant) now in the Bombay Presidency who are doing
little or nothing. The change is as follows: Mr. Fretwell's0 services to
be dispensed with at once, and as he appears to be entitled to six
months' notice, six months' pay to be given him, and his place filled my
Mr. Stormont from Surat. Mr. Milne, from Khandesh, succeeds Mr. Stormont
at Surat. One cannot but congratulate Government on the wise and
sensible measure they have adopted, though at the eleventh hour. I never
could see the reason of paying a special Superintendent R400
a month, while a number of cotton gardeners were available. Latterly,
one of these gentlemen (Mr. Milne) was acting as a subordinate under Mr.
Fretwell and drawing R500 a month, while his superior,
the Superintendent of the Khandesh farm, drew only Rs 400. Total Rs 900
to manage a Farm which showed an annual deficit!
Mary Jane Fretwell had only been married a few months before she died of
cholera and so there were no children from that marriage. However records
have come to light of children born to Vause in 1874, 1875, 1877 and 1879.
The first of these was daughter Ruth Lilian Fretwell, born on 14 December
1874 to Vause Fretwell and Mary Isabella, and baptised at Colaba, Bombay
on 20 December 1874. As shown in the following record she survived only 7
N/3/48/f296 - Ruth Lilian Fretwell, father late Superintendent
Government Model Farm Kandeish. s.20.12.74, bd 21.12, Sewree Cemetery. 7
Among the family records is a baptism certificate for William Fretwell,
dated 23 January 1877, Bombay. The certificate states that this boy, son
of Vause Fretwell, was born on 19 December 1875. A further record for
William, found by Donald Jacques, confirms his birth date and the date of
his christening, and also furnishes the name of William’s mother.
N/3/51/f13 - William Fretwell s of Vause and Mary Isabella, Bombay,
Secretary. b.19.12.75. bp.23.1.77, Byculla.
Then followed two daughters. Ann Elizabeth Fretwell was born to Vause
Fretwell and Mary Isabella on 10 July 1877. It was not until 8 January
1879 that she was baptised at Bombay, one day before she died aged 17
months and was buried at the Sewree cemetery. May Francis Daisy, the
last recorded child of Vause and Mary Isabella, arrived on 12 May 1879 and
was baptised at Bombay the following month, on 24 June 1879. But she was
another child who died in infancy.
N/3/54/f62 - May Francis Daisy Fretwell, father public accountant.
d.6.7.80; bd.9.7. 14 months. Dysentery.
To summarise -
Ruth Lillian Fretwell
14 Dec 1874
20 Dec 1874, Colaba, Bombay
20 Dec 1874, Bombay
19 Dec 1875
23 Jan 1877, Byculla, Bombay
27 Sep 1937, Shanghai
Ann Elizabeth Fretwell
10 Jul 1877
8 Jan 1879, Bombay
9 Jan 1879, Bombay
May Francis Daisy Fretwell
12 May 1879
24 Jun 1879, Bombay
6 Jul 1880, Bombay
William Fretwell was the only child to survive infancy.
So, with Mary Isabella we have another woman in Vause’s life. But who was
she? There is no marriage certificate in the Fretwell family papers and
Donald Jacques was not able to find any record of the marriage from his
sources. It is through Vause Fretwell himself that we find out about Mary
Isabella - and under very unfortunate circumstances - the coronial inquiry
into her death, which was reported in The Times of India of 23 June
Suicide of a European Female
Dr. Thomas Blaney, coroner, held an inquest at the General Hospital
yesterday on the body of Mary Isabella Hunter.
The following evidence was taken-
Mr. Vause Fretwell, a rubberstamp maker, living in Marine Street, Fort,
said:- I have looked at the body before the inquest and identify it as
that of Mary Isabella Hunter, my house-keeper. She was about 35 years of
age. She became my housekeeper three months ago. I have known her since
the year 1868. She lived with me as my wife from 1872 to 1880, when I
found that she had been previously married and that her husband was
living when she married me. She had five children by me, one only is
alive and is in England. I separated from her about six years ago, and I
allowed her a small monthly subsistence during the last two years. She
frequently complained that it was not sufficient to support her, and
that she was without other resources, and often asked me to take her to
my house in the capacity of a housekeeper, and in March last I took her,
and she gave me entire satisfaction. When she first took up the duties
of housekeeper she seemed satisfied with her place, but about three
weeks ago she endeavoured to persuade me to take her back in her former
position, and was so persistent in her endeavours that I was compelled
to lock my own apartment except in business hours. About a week ago,
after complaining for several days of severe headaches she refused her
food, and was at time morose and at times hysterical. On the 16th
instant, about 11 p.m. I was awoke by the deceased knocking at my door.
I went out to her, she was crying and hysterical and begged me to
forgive her and restore her to her former position. I quietened her, and
got her away to her own apartment. Between then and two o'clock in the
morning the ayah came and called me several times to see the deceased. I
found her in her night clothes, walking about the room in an excited
hysterical state. Just after 2 o'clock the ayah again called me, and
said her mistress had fallen off the bed in a fit. I went to her room
and found her lying on the floor. She was unconscious and shrieking
hysterically. I told her if she did not become quiet I could not take
care of her, and she must go to the hospital. She then became quiet, and
I left her with the ayah. I had hardly got back to my room before the
ayah came and recalled me and told me that her mistress had taken some
medicine and was dying. I followed the ayah and found the deceased in my
dining-room, in which is one of my work benches. She was lying on the
floor. The ayah showed the bottle now before the jury, and said the
deceased had swallowed some of the contents. The bottle belongs to me,
and was used by me in my business. It stood upon the work bench. It
contained nitric acid, and I saw that about two ounces of it had gone.
It is now a greenish blue colour by having been used for cleaning brass,
and returned to the bottle. I asked the deceased what she had done - she
did not answer my question, but asked me to forgive her and said she was
on fire. I sent the ayah for the police at once, and placed the deceased
in an easy chair. The police immediately took the deceased away to the
General Hospital, and left her there. I went with her. On my return from
the hospital I found a large patch on the boarded flooring of my dining
room charred by acid. The clothes which the deceased had on at the time,
and which were changed before she went to hospital, were also charred
with nitric acid. I have since seen the deceased frequently at the
hospital, and as she was forbidden to speak I have her a slate to state
whatever she wished to say. On the evening the the 18th or 19th instant,
when I was visiting her, I asked her if she was aware of the possible
serious consequences of what she had done. She wrote on the slate to the
effect that she did not intend to take her life, but merely to burn her
lip to excite my compassion. I heard of her death when I reached the
hospital at 3-10 this morning.
The jury also heard corroborating evidence from the ayah and a deposition
by Dr. Baker, assistant surgeon of the European General Hospital. The jury
returned a verdict that 'the deceased had committed suicide while in a
state of temporary insanity'.
No doubt Vause was shaken by this distressing event. From his evidence the
status of his relationship with Mary Isabella remains ambiguous and,
interestingly, he refers to five children but records have only been
identified for four offspring.
Just over a year after Mary Isabella's death the marriage between widower
Vause Fretwell and 42 year old widow Annie Maria Johnstone-Lysle took
place by banns in the Church of Scotland in Bombay on 3 August 1886. There
were four witnesses - W. B. Fellowes, James Pearse, Annie Bapty, and Alice
B. Greig, who must have been related to the officiating minister, Thomas
H. Greig, Senior Chaplain. Both groom and bride were residents of Girgaum,
Bombay, and Vause is described as an accountant. This was the third
marriage for the bride. She had been born in Whitkirk, Yorkshire, in 1844
to Benjamin Hemingway and his wife Rebecca (née Neale), who had themselves
married on 7 March 1842 at St Peter's Parish Church, Leeds. At that time
both parties were living in Hunslet and Benjamin was a labourer. When
Benjamin and Rebecca had their daughter baptised (recorded with the name
Ann Maria) on 26 May 1844 the family was living at Halton, Whitkirk - a
parish about five miles east of Leeds. The 1851 England census finds the
Hemingways residing at 9 Bolton Street Liverpool. As well as Annie and her
parents, the household included an older brother, William, and a younger
brother, Joseph. Had they relocated to Liverpool in anticipation of their
journey to India which they would have made sometime between March 1851
and 1858 by which time Benjamin was a contractor with the Great Indian
Peninsular Railway and when their daughter married (aged just 15) for the
first time in June of that year, as reported in the Bombay Times of
At St. Mary's Church, Poona, on the 28th June by the Revd G. L.
Fenton BA, Mr. Walter Wardrop of the Mechanical School of Industry, to
Ann Maria, daughter of Mr. Benjamin Hemmingway of the Railway
At the young age of 30 Walter Wardrop died on 17 April 1867 at Vepery,
Madras, and was buried there the following day, leaving behind 23 year old
widow Annie. No children have been found for this marriage. Five years
later, on 11 July 1872, at Bombay, Annie Maria married again, this time to
32 year old bachelor Thomas Johnstone-Lysle. They were married for twelve
years before, once again, Annie Marie was widowed, when Thomas died on 17
October 1884 and was buried at the Allahabad Civil Lines Muir Road
cemetery. The unfortunate Annie was yet again a widow shortly after
marrying Vause. Their partnership lasted less than four months, and this
time it was the wife who outlived the husband. On 11 December 1886 Vause,
aged only 48, died of dysentery, and was buried that same day in the
Scottish portion of the Sewree Cemetery, Thomas Greig, who had officiated
at the wedding in August, conducting the burial. The news was conveyed to
those 'at home' through the pages of the York Herald of 15 January
FRETWELL - December 11th, at Bombay, aged 48 years, Vause, second son
of the late William Fretwell.
In the three decades that Vause he had lived in India he had changed
occupations from soldier, to clerk, to farm manager, to secretary, to
public accountant and manager of the Anglo Rubber Stamp Company.
Apart from his business interests he was took an active part in the Bombay
Volunteer Rifle Corps, which, in 1878, agreed to form a Rifle Association
to promote the efficiency of the Corps through holding an annual
competition, like that held at Wimbledon. A Committee of Management was
established to conduct the Association's business and to draw up a set of
competition rules, etc. Color Sergeant Fretwell represented 'E' Company on
this committee. In addition to honing his rifle skills, Vause undertook
training, both theoretical and practical in other aspects of military life
such as parade drills, guard-mounting, courts martial etc. The Times of
India of 13 April 1878 reported on a recent course for which the
Commanding Officer expressed himself highly pleased with the creditable
way in which the officers and non-commissioned officers had all acquitted
Vause also occasionally featured in the local press in connection with his
business interests. The following classified advertisement appeared in the
17 January 1881 Times of India.
FRETWELL, DAVY & Co.,
(Late VAUSE FRETWELL & Co,)
Trades' Rooms, 7, Marine Street, Bombay,
Public Accountants, Auditors, Arbitrators,
UNDERTAKE the COLLECTION of DEBTS and OUTSTANDINGS,
Adjustment of Partnership and other Accounts, Employment of Legal
and all other branches of business connected with Law Agency and
The same newspaper, on 14 July 1881, published an item under the heading
'Charge of Defamation'. Mr Henry Davy, an accountant carrying on business
under the name of Fretwell, Davy and Company brought a charge of
defamation against one Jehangeer Byramjee, clerk to a rival company. Mr.
Davy claimed that the defendant had written an anonymous letter to one
Mrs. Jacob Hunt, milliner, warning her against having any dealings with
Fretwell, Davy and Company. The author claimed that Fretwell was 'sent in
jail on Saturday last' and is preparing his petition for
bankruptcy', and and that Davy would reap the same consequences for his
debt. Through his lawyers, Davy stated that Mr. Fretwell was not and never
had been a member of the his firm, and he himself was not in debt in any
way. However, Vause Fretwell was indeed in financial strife. He had
petitioned for bankruptcy on 1 July 1881, as confirmed by the 21 October
1881 issue of The London Gazette.
Vause Fretwell - Lately a Manager of the Anglo-India American
Rubber Stamp Company, and now unemployed - European - Lately at
Marine-street, without the Fort (at present in the Bombay Goal).
It was not until February 1882 that Vause was declared a discharged
Meanwhile, Vause Fretwell had brought an action against Henry Davy and
Frank Benjamin Stewart for theft and cheating. As reported in The Times
of India of 5 August 1881, he deposed (somewhat long-windedly):
I am employed on behalf of the Anglo-American Rubber Stamp Company to
carry on the manufacture and sale of rubber stamps in India. On the 14th
January last I left Bombay for Ceylon, leaving the more valuable part of
the appliances and stock in trade of the said business locked up in
cupboards, and the remainder thereof in the room in which the
manufacture was carried on. The only person who possessed any power or
authority to deal with the said stock in trade and appliances during my
absence was Mr. James Pearse, who holds the power of attorney of the
proprietor of the said business. One Henry Davy carried on business in
the same premises under the name and firm of Fretwell, Davy and Company
as a public accountant and auditor, and resided on the said premises
with full liberty of access to the said workroom. On my return to Bombay
I found the whole stock in trade, appliances and furniture had been
removed to another room, that the apparatus and appliances had been
utilised in the manufacture of rubber stamps, and that a large portion
of the property of the said business had been abstracted. On being
questioned on the subject by me the said Henry Davy denied that any such
use had been made of the stock and appliances as aforesaid, or that
stamps had been made or money received on account thereof during my
absence. I have obtained evidence of the fact that such stamps have been
made and dealt in by Mr. Davy in conjunction with the said Henry Davy at
No. 3 Bell Lane, Fort, Bombay. I have received information and verily
believe that the stock in trade and appliances of the Anglo-American
Rubber Stamp Company which were abstracted during my absence from Bombay
have been and are being used by the said Henry Davy and Frank Benjamin
Stewart in their Rubber Stamp Factory, No. 3 Bell Lane. I have also been
informed and verily believe that the said Henry Davy and Frank Benjamin
Stewart have manufactured stamps and received the proceeds thereof in
the name of the Anglo-American Rubber Stamp Company, falsely
representing themselves as the representatives thereof, and that they
have not accounted to the constituted attorney of the proprietor of the
said company or to me for the proceeds thereof. The said Henry Davy and
Frank Benjamin Stewart have further falsely represented to the Port
Storekeeper for State Railways to make a cheque originally drawn in
favour of the Anglo-American Rubber Stamp Company payable to the British
Indian Rubber Stamp Company. I, therefore, charge the said Henry Davy
and Frank Benjamin Stewart with theft in respect of the property of the
Anglo-American Rubber Stamp Company of the aggregate value of
and also with dishonest misappropriation of the said property and with
cheating by personation, and thereby inducing delivery of property or
the altering or destroying of a valuable security.
A search warrant had been issued by the magistrate on the application of
the complainant, but none of the property mentioned in the information
The case was adjourned but, unfortunately, I have not found a report of
the final outcome. But two weeks later, The Times of India of 18
August reported that Vause was again in court, this time prosecuting a
case of 'Criminal Breach of Trust by a Clerk'. It was as the acting
secretary and manager of Messrs. Pearse and Company Limited that he gave
A few days since Mr. Vause Fretwell, the acting secretary and manager
of the company, returned to business after a short illness; and examined
the cash-book kept by the accused, in which all the money which was
received by the latter from the collecting peons was entered. He noted
down on his cash book from the one entrusted to the accused, Rs.7-4-9
credited to Mr. C. E. Wallace, Rs.25-7 credited to Mr. H. Bedford, and
Rs.1-18-9 credited to Mrs. Peile. On the following day he discovered
that the item of Rs.7-4-9 had been altered to Rs.67-4-9 in both books.
He asked for an explanation from the accused, who, after some
prevarications, admitted having made the alterations, but denied having
appropriated the money to his own use. Subsequently he offered to
restore the Rs.60 he had taken; and begged that the matter might not be
brought before the notice of the directors. Mr. Fretwell told him that
he must do so, but that the restitution of the money would very much
improve his position.
Later it was discovered that the other items had been altered, and the
money appropriated by the accused to his own use. He, however, restored
Rs.72 in all, and promised to made good the remainder, begging at the
same time that he should not be criminally prosecuted. The matter had
been in the meantime reported to the police, and he was taken into
Again the case was adjourned, and the outcome not known.
It is difficult to gauge how comfortably off, or otherwise, Vause was when
he died. Without doubt, he was in a better financial position than when he
left England nearly thirty years earlier. On 13 January 1887, just over a
month after he died, the following notice was placed in The Times of
On Saturday, the 22nd inst., sale commencing at 1 p.m., Messrs.
Crawford & Co. are instructed to sell by Public Auction at Grant Road,
nearly opposite the Methodists's Church, in the bungalow lately in the
occupation of the late Mr. V. Fretwell, the valuable and handsome
French-polished blackwood and teakwood household furniture, plateware,
crockery and glassware, table and hanging lamps, pictures, &c., also the
materials of the Anglo-American Rubber Stamp Company, consisting of
types, moulds, chases, rubber stamps, initial letters, rubber, presses,
vulcanising stove, thermometer, quoins, furniture &c.
Full particulars will be given hereafter and the property will be on
view 3 days before sale.
As to his widow, we do not know what befell her, apart from what his
grandson, Victor Vause Fretwell had to say to WEF.
I have a hazy recollection from my mother, told her by our great
aunts, that she did a bunk with what monies he had after his death.
Was there any truth in this family gossip? We will probably never know,
but we do know that Anna Maria Fretwell died at the age of 66 on 13
January 1910 in Roorkee, Bengal, and was buried the following day.
The majority of Vause’s time in India was spent in Maharashtra. His
earlier years were spent ‘up country’ but never too far from Bombay where
he spent his final years. He died young, after a full and eventful life.
He was never it seems long without a partner in life, but this comfort was
tinged with much sadness. If Vause was prone to self-analysis, he may have
questioned the wisdom of his decision to leave England to make his fortune
in India. He may in also in later life have done the ‘what if’ exercise
when considering his decision not to join the Queen’s army when the HEIC
was disbanded. His brother seemed to allude to this when he commented to
his nephew William:
I think if your father had remained in the Indian army he would have
had a better chance of health and wealth. But it is no use to cry over
spilt milk. We who are still alive must do what we can to give honor to
our name and family.
From all accounts, Vause was not your typical Fretwell, and if John is
typical, his observations about Vause being of a very different
temperament to himself and their sister Mary, bears this out. And it is
now to the genteel world of this Mary that we turn.
+ Flora Watson
(work in progress)
Mary the third child, and first daughter, of William and Anne was born on
20 April 1840 at 5 o’clock in the morning and baptised on 6 January1841 by
Charles Wicksteed at the Mill Hill Chapel in a joint christening with her
elder brother Vause. The birth certificate shows Mary as having been born
at Knostrop, and that at the time her father was still running the family
She made her census debut in June 1841 where she is found as a 1 year old
baby, with her parents and her step-sister Elizabeth, living at Knostrop.
Mary’s arrival coincided with the bad times that had befallen the Fretwell
family. By the time of the March 1851 census, the Fretwells had moved to
Selby where Mary, her mother, sisters and brother Vause were living. Her
father, by this time, was ‘on the road’ as a travelling salesman.
We catch up with Mary some years later when, in 1857, her elder brother
John wrote to his parents suggesting that if they should send Mary to him
in London he would take care of his 17 year old sister. In case her
parents might be concerned about the welfare of a young woman in London,
John was able to reassure them, as he stated in his Recollections :
I could not bring her to London without being sure that she had all
womanly guidance that a young girl needed. Mrs. Ronge’s success with the
Kindergarten system of children’s education led me to believe that it
would be well for my sister, who was an ambitious, talented girl, to
learn this system and after some negotiations I made a contract with the
Ronges for her board, lodging and training.
How long Mary may have stayed with the Ronges is not known, but her
training would have stood her in good stead. According to John, her
qualifications landed her first, with a job with a Mrs. Rendall of
Bridport, in Dorset as pupil-teacher, to manage a private Kindergarten at
Bridport, and subsequently a position at a school in London. By 1861 she
was back with her mother at Beech Grove, Leeds, assisting with the running
of a kindergarten, and moved with her to Manchester, where mother Anne,
Mary and her sisters were running a school from 4 York Terrace, Whalley
By 1881 Mary had given up her teaching career for a new role, as can be
gleaned from the census return of that year. She was, by then, living at
Stonegate Road, West Lea, Chapel Allerton. The full household is as
Buckton, born Hunslet, Leeds
Engineer, employing 150 men and 50 boys
Buckton, born Leeds
Buckton, born Chapel Allerton, Leeds
Fretwell, born Leeds
Appleyard, born Kirk Heaton, Yorkshire
Professional Nurse (Sub Med)
Gage, born Hampton, Gloucester
Rowley, born South Milford, Yorkshire
Claton, born Rushden, Northampton
The Buckton family was well heeled, but the presence in the house of a
nurse suggests that one of them did not enjoy good health. This may have
been Mrs. Buckton, who would have appreciated any assistance that Mary was
able to provide. How long Mary stayed with the Bucktons is not known, but
by the 5 April1891 census she was living with, and caring for her now
elderly mother, at Glebe Terrace, Headingley. In fact, her mother died one
week later, on 12 April.
The 1891 census recorded Mary as a retired governess. Mary and her
surviving sisters certainly spent some time in their later lives either
living with or on extended visits to their maternal Aunt, Mary Robinson,
who lived Grantham, Lincolnshire. It was at 5 North Terrace, Grantham,
that Mary, now aged 60, was staying for the 1901 census, and from where
she wrote to her nephew Ralph on 26 October 1904 to report that she and
her sister Fanny had returned safely to England after a comfortable
journey. They had been the two Fretwell family representatives at Ralph’s
wedding to Emmy Fester which had been held at Hamburg on 15 October.
Kellys Directory for 1908 lists Miss Mary Fretwell as living at 16
Woodland Park Road, Headingley, Leeds, and this is where she was when the
1911 census was taken. Her household included a ladies maid, Eva Hercock,
and a Maria Longdon, a 17 year old general servant.
Mary, who remained a spinster, lived to a ripe old age. She died in her 89th
year at the Limefield Nursing Home, Torquay, Devon. She was cremated at
the Golders Green Crematorium, where her ashes were scattered and where a
memorial tablet was placed in the cloisters. Her passing was noted in the
28 January Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer.
FRETWELL- January 20, at Limefield Nursing Home, Torquay, aged 88,
Mary, eldest daughter of the late William and Anne Fretwell, of
Manchester, Leeds and Ilkley.
The reference to Ilkley is intriguing as we have nothing to indicate how
long, or when, Mary was there. Perhaps she had another post, either as
governess or Lady’s Companion. Or she may have visited or lived with her
younger sister Edith Marion who, when signing the legal documentation for
the consignment of her brother’s household effects to be shipped to
Hamburg, gave her 1874 address as Ilkely. It was also at Ilkely that their
sister Florence was married. Immortalised in the song On Ilkla Moor
B’aht ‘at’, Ilkley had gained popularity as a spa resort. The first
spas were opened in the mid 1700s and by 1842 Ilkley was booming, boasting
large hydropathic establishments catering to all classes. With the
extension of the railway system Ilkley was even more accessible to
tourists, and became part of the ‘commuter belt’ for some of the more
prosperous Leeds’ business and professional men, who maintained houses at
Probate on Mary's estate was granted on 5 April to her sister Fanny
Emmeline Winser and nephew Eric Franklin Winser. An item in the Exeter
and Plymouth Gazette of 11 April 1929 refers to some bequests she
made, which reflect her charitable nature and her lifetime interests.
TORQUAY LADY'S WILL
Miss M. Fretwell, of Limefield Nursing Home, Torquay, left
£6,516. She bequeathed £250 to be distributed among the various
Societies in which she interested herself. These included such as St
Dunstan's Home for the Blind, the Recuperative Hostels, Miss
Weston's Home for Seamen, Save the Children Fund, Leeds Unmarried
Women's Benevolent Association, the Schools for Defective Children
promoted by Miss Denby, the League of Nations, the British and
Foreign Unitarian Association, and the Postal Mission.
As one of the longer-lived Fretwells, Mary would have had much to say
about the family particularly, as her nephew Ralph Traun Fretwell noted,
she kept all her mental faculties to the last. No doubt Ralph was relying
on this when he wrote to her late in 1928 seeking information on the
family. But this would only have been a couple of months before she died,
and she may have never had a chance to reply. If she did, no record
Following the birth of two sons, William and Anne Fretwell produced a bevy
of daughters, of whom Alice was the second. She was born at Barlby Bank,
just north of Selby, on Sunday 13 November 1842, at about 1 o’clock
morning and was baptised at Brayton Church. Brayton is situated about two
miles south west of Selby. At this stage in the Fretwells' life they may
have already moved to Selby, or were living temporarily with Anne’s
parents at Selby.
It was as an 8 year old scholar that Alice was recorded for the 1851
census, at home with her mother Anne (described as 'wife of a Commercial
Traveller in the Seed business), elder brother Vause, and sisters Mary,
Edith and Fanny. As he had for his sister Mary, John, the older brother,
felt a sense of responsibility for Alice’s welfare, and for her future.
But Alice was, to John’s regret, not so easy to deal with as his ‘soul
Having given one sister, Mary, a fair start in the world, I was now
ready for [the] second. So my mother sent up my sister Alice, then about
17, to live with me. I was not so fortunate with her as with Mary,
because I had not the advantage of Mrs. Ronge’s aid, and because, like
my brother Vause, she was totally opposed in temperament to Mary and
myself. With Mary I never had the slightest misunderstanding. She was as
ambitious as I and always went the same way. Alice, like my brother
Vause, always went the opposite way, and I soon had to confess to my
inability to manage her. She returned home and came in 1859 under Mrs.
Ronge’s care at Manchester, but here too the results were
unsatisfactory. She has, however, done well in her own way, and I only
regret that I did not understand her better when she was with me.
Whether or not the other members of her family were better able to get on
with her, Alice, aged 18, was at home with her mother and sisters Mary,
Florence and Fanny at the Villas, York Terrace, Moss Side, for the 1861
census. Alice, like her sister Mary, was listed as a teacher. Whereas her
other sisters were at home for the next census assisting their mother in
the school they ran, Alice was found elsewhere – as one of about 100 other
visitors at the Palace Hotel in the coastal resort of Birkdale,
Merseyside. Like her other sisters at this time, Alice was still
unmarried, but unlike like them, she was now earning her living as a
governess. Although it is not clear from the order of the names on the
census form, it is likely that Alice was employed by Sarah Sharpe, a widow
who, together with her four children ranging in age from five to twelve,
was staying at the hotel on Sunday 2 April 1871. So, whatever Alice’s
shortcomings, in John’s eyes at least, she must have gained something from
her time with Mrs. Ronge and also, no doubt, under the tutelage of her own
mother and older sister Mary.
This hotel had an interesting history. Developed by the Southport Hotel
Company (funded mainly by Manchester merchants) it was built on a twenty
acre site at the end of Weld Road, fronting the Birkdale shore. The 200ft
long luxurious hotel opened in 1866 at a cost of £60,000 and was a very
grandiose building, having magnificent reception rooms and 75 bedrooms. A
long standing rumour was that the hotel had been built the wrong way
round, so instead of the hotel front facing out to sea, it in fact faced
inland. It was also said that the architect, William Mangnall then
committed suicide by jumping off the roof of the building. There have been
stories of how the architect's ghost was heard to travel up and down in
the lifts and was heard walking along the second floor stone floors whilst
the building was being demolished. Unfortunately for lovers of ghost
stories, recent research has revealed that there is no evidence that the
hotel was built the wrong way round and William Mangnall actually died of
consumption at Lord Street, Southport, two years after the hotel was
opened. In 1881 the hotel was completely refurbished and the grounds were
reduced to five acres, as the hotel had previously gone into liquidation,
due to the fact that it was not accessible by road or tram. A variety of
baths were installed, a pipe built to draw in salt water from the sea and
an elevator installed to all floors. It re-opened with over 60 staff, as a
Hydropathic establishment to rival the very successful Smedley Hydro.
Later, electric lighting was installed, produced by a steam driven
generator. By 1910 the hotel was for sale due to financial difficulties.
Alice was still earning her living as a governess in 1881, but this time
working for a different employer, as part of the large household of the
Schunck family in leafy Gledhow Lane, Chapel Allerton, Leeds. The head of
the family was Edward Schunck, a naturalised British subject, who had been
born in Leipzig and who had done very well for himself in Leeds as head of
the firm Messrs Schunck and Co, stuff, woollen and yarn manufacturers. In
March 1867 he had married into the Lupton family, one of the pre-eminent
Leeds Unitarian families, his wife being Kate Lupton. Alice may well have
gained her position on her own merits. It is interesting, however, to
speculate whether the Schunks were influenced in their decision to appoint
Alice through her brother John’s German connections, or on the
recommendation of her Kitson relatives, or the shared Unitarian
connection. Florence Schunck, one of Alice’s charges in 1881, would go on
to marry Albert Ernest Kitson (Alice's 2nd cousin 2x removed) in 1890.
Among those wedding guests for whom seats were reserved - all the Kitsons,
Luptons, and other Leeds 'nobility', including Mr. and Mrs. Joshua
Buckton, Mary Fretwell's erstwhile employers - was Miss Alice Fretwell.
By 1891 Alice had possibly retired from teaching, or was ‘in between
engagements’. For the census of that year she was staying with her widowed
aunt, Mary Robinson, at 5 North Terrace, Manthorpe with Gt Grimsby,
Grantham. Ten years later she was living at Cromer Hall, a lodging house
at 2-4 Cromer Terrace, West Leeds. Judging by the status of the other
residents, this was no common boarding house. It was in fact the Leeds
Residential Chambers Co Ltd, a private hotel managed by one Lydia A
Beatty. Alice was by this time a retired lady, living on her own means.
When the 1911 census was conducted Alice was spending time at the
Smedley's Hydropathic Establishment at Matlock. She was then 68 years of
age, and a retired governess.
Whether by choice, or by circumstance, Alice was another Fretwell daughter
who did not marry. RTF reports that she was an invalid for some years
before she died. She was clearly not up to attending his wedding, as we
have in the family papers a telegramme sent from Grantham by Aunt Alice
and Great Aunt Mary to Ralph on the occasion of his marriage in Hamburg on
15 October 1904. When the 1911 census was conducted Alice was spending
time at the Smedley's Hydropathic Establishment at Matlock. She was then
68 years of age, and a retired governess.
WEF has Alice spending her last years in a nursing home at Southport, but
RTF records her death, shortly before her 76th birthday, as
occurring at Smedley’s Hydro, Matlock, in Derbyshire. It would seem that,
perhaps from her experience in 1871, whichever is correct, Alice had taken
a liking to spa resorts. The end of her long life was marked by the
following 1916 newspaper notice, which incidentally bears out WEF’s
account. After her cremation her ashes were scattered.
FRETWELL - August 22, at a Nursing Home, Southport, Alice, second
daughter of the late William and Anne Fretwell of Leeds.
By the mid 1850s the imbalance of the sexes was a matter of serious social
disquiet - the daughters of England were too numerous. This was cited as
the reason that, while the Victorians regarded marriage as the only proper
sphere for a woman, there were many who did not achieve this noble status,
which created a social problem of how to deal with this surplus of young
women. Education was mooted as the long-term answer, but it would be some
decades before women would gain social acceptance as professionally
qualified workers. As Joanna Trollope observes in her work Britannia’s
For the majority of those thousands of unfortunate women for whom
marriage and its consequent dependence was not to be, life cannot have
looked a very tempting business…There was only one profession not
overshadowed by the frown of public disapproval, only one way to earn
bread and keep society’s stringent rules, and that was to teach in the
schoolrooms of middle and upper class households, an outcast from life
both below and above stairs…
The very best, the most highly qualified among the 25,000 employed in
the 1850s, might hope for £100 a year; the great majority received only
£30 or £40, and this at a time when an adult daughter living at home was
estimated to cost her father at least £100 each year and the minimum
income required to support a woman in any kind of genteel style was
estimated at £150 to £200. At best it was a life of ‘genteel obscurity’.
The above commentary was targeted at the governess system in the 1850s. By
the time the Fretwell daughters were taking up their positions as
governesses, and also teachers in their mother’s school, a more
enlightened view of the status and value of a well trained governess was
being put forward by the likes of John Ruskin who, in a public appeal in
Manchester in 1864, challenged his audience to ponder:
What teachers do you give your girls? And what reverence do you
choose to show the teachers you have chosen? Is a girl likely to think
her own account or her own intellect of much importance when you trust
the entire formation of her character…to a person whom you let your
servants treat with less respect than they do your housekeeper?
Given the educational pioneering background of their maternal grandmother,
and her encouragement to their mother to establish and operate a school,
the Fretwell girls were almost duty bound to themselves become teachers
and governesses, at least until the time that they found themselves
suitable husbands. As noted above, only two – Mary and Alice – remained
spinsters, and hopefully their lives as the ‘caretakers’ of their pupils’
education proved to be fulfilling and sufficiently financially rewarding.
Edith Marion Fretwell
Our information about Edith is scant and even brother John had nothing to
say about her in his Recollections, although it was to her that he turned
when the London household effects were shipped to Hamburg when he and
Bertha separated for the final time. There is no suggestion of him wanting
to further the interests of another sister, perhaps due to his unfortunate
experience with Alice. And, of course, by the time Edith would have needed
such nurturing, John was much absorbed with his own personal affairs.
The third daughter of William and Anne, Edith Marion was born at Barlby
Bank, near Selby, on Sunday 12 October 1845, at the reasonable hour of 8
o’clock in the morning. She was baptised by Mr. Walton at Selby Abbey. At
home for the 1851 census a decision had been made at some time in the next
few years to send Edith away to further her education. The 1861 census
finds her enrolled, along with a dozen or so girls ranging in age from 12
to 18, at the Ladies College, Prestwich Park, Lancashire, under the
watchful eye of the headmistress, Harriet Dickenson. We do not know if her
other sisters had attended a similar boarding establishment, but like
them, Edith had acquired the necessary qualifications to enable her to
assist their mother as teachers, as evidenced by the 1871 census which
finds Edith with them at Moss Side.
While we know Edith was in Ilkley in 1874, the reason for this has not
been established as yet. Her next census appearance is in April 1881. Now
in her mid-30s and still unmarried, Edith Marion is the only child living
at home, with her recently widowed mother, at 7 Glebe Terrace
Headingley cum Burley. The enumerator misspelt Edith’s name, and also
transposed the birthplaces of mother and daughter.
Fretwell, born Selby, Yorkshire
Fretwell, born Ackworth, Yorkshire
Winser, born Tenterden, Kent
Hayes, born Sherburn, Yorkshire
But who was this visitor, and what was he doing in the Fretwell household?
Had they known him for a while before he came to stay, and how long had he
been widowed, for that is how his marital status is shown in the census?
Franklin, like Edith, came from quite a large family. His father was James
Winser (known as James the Younger, to distinguish him from his father
James the Elder) who was born in 1797 in Biddenden, Kent, and died in his
early 50s at the neighbouring village of Tenterden, in 1849. As had his
forebears, James farmed at Ratsbury, Tenterden, which he bought from his
father in 1838. On 3 June 1824, James married Maria Santer at Benenden.
His wife, born in 1803, was six years his junior, and she outlived her
husband by nearly forty years. Over a seventeen year period 1823-1840
seven children were born to James and Maria, two daughters - Emma and
Maria, and five sons - Edwin, Edgar, Albert, Franklin and Julian.
Franklin was born in 1838, at Little Heronden, Tenterden. Only two of his
brothers, Edgar, who never married, and possibly Albert, maintained the
family tradition of working the land and, in Albert’s case, also a grocery
business. Franklin and the other two sons, Edwin and Julian, became
manufacturing businessmen. Franklin, as a young scholar of 12 was at home
at Ratsbury with his mother and siblings for the 1851 census. Ten years
later he was a draper, living (and presumably working) in the household of
older brother Albert, who had set up as a grocer and draper in Hadlow,
employing 3 boys. One of the other boys in the household was another
brother, Julian. (Coincidentally, later Fretwells lived at Hadlow from
1952 to 1989).
By 1871 Franklin had acquired the qualifications to practise as a
manufacturing chemist and had moved away from Kent to Altrincham,
Cheshire. This information is obtained from the 1871 census transcript
which records Franklin as residing in the Beard family home, Woolam House,
Stamford Road. John Relly Beard, the head of the household, is listed as
Franklin’s father-in-law, and interestingly, as it may provide the answer
as to how Franklin came within the Fretwell ambit, is that John Beard was
a Unitarian Minister at Sale, Cheshire, and a Professor of Theology at the
Unitarian College, Manchester. But no wife for Franklin is included with
the family as Franklin’s status is given as widower.
A check of the FreeBMD Marriage Index shows that Franklin Winser married
Mary Beard, daughter of John Relly Beard and his wife Mary (née Barnes),
in the summer of 1866 at Altrincham. From the 1851 census we find that she
had been born to John and Mary Beard in 1839. Married for only just one
year, Mary Winser died at Altrincham, aged just 28. The death certificate
confirms that Mary, wife of Franklin Winser, Manufacturing Chemist, died
on 13 September 1867, at Manley Terrace, Sale, of dysentery (3 days) and
tetanus (36 hours). The person present at her death, and the person who
was listed as Informant, was her brother John Russell Beard of The
Meadows, Altrincham. Franklin and Mary had no children. While this gives
some background on Franklin, we still do not know really know the
circumstances under which he and Edith met, and how long they had known
each other. They may have had Unitarian connections in common and/or their
paths may have crossed when the Fretwells were living in the Manchester
area as Altrincham lies just eight miles to the south-west of Manchester
in north Cheshire.
Back to the 1881 census which has Franklin as a chemicals manufacturer. In
fact, according to the family papers, his portfolio of interests included
the establishment of some gypsum mines which subsequently became The
British Gypsum Company. Whatever the answer is to the question as to how
Franklin and Edith became acquainted, we do know that fourteen months
after the 1881 Census, they were married on 5 June 1882. Franklin was 43
and his bride just approaching her 37th birthday. The newspaper
announcement suggests that it was a very low-key affair.
WINSER FRETWELL June 5th, at Mill Hill Chapel, Leeds, by the Rev.
Charles Hargrove, M.A., Franklin Winser, of Kegworth, Leicestershire, to
Edith Marion, third surviving daughter of the late William Fretwell of
Leeds. (No cards)
The couple set up house at The Hermitage, Kegworth, and just over two
years later a son, named Eric Franklin, was born on 13 July 1884. It was
not until nearly four years later that young Eric could look forward to a
brother or a sister. And that prospect was cut short. A baby, born on 28
February 1888, a little girl who was named Winifred, died soon after
birth. At the age of 42, on 13 March 1888, Edith died from complications
following childbirth. Readers of the 16 March Leeds Mercury were
WINSER-March 13th, Edith Marion, wife of Franklin Winser, of
Kegworth, and daughter of the late Wm. Fretwell.
Administration of Edith's personal estate was granted to her husband on 15
September 1890. Its value was £415 1s 6d, which equated to her share of
the sale of the Talbot Estate, as provided for by her late great- uncle
John Fretwell's will.
Franklin, now almost 50, was again a widower, this time charged with sole
parental responsibility for a young son. Within days of his wife's death
the following advertisement appeared in the Stamford Mercury.
NURSEMAID, good and experienced, wanted at once - Apply Mrs. Rothera,
Manor House, Kegworth, Derby.
The 1891 census shows that Franklin was still working, as a plaster
manufacturer. He was assisted in the task of looking after his son by a
niece, Henriette Dendy who was a trained nurse. Also in the household were
Ellen Higgins, cook, and Catherine Askew another nurse.
The composition of Franklin’s household had changed considerably by the
1901 census. He had moved to 7 Arboretum Street, Nottingham and another
niece, listed as Marion K Winser, a single 35 year old was in the house
with him. Visiting on the night of Sunday 31 March was Arthur L Smith who
was a Unitarian Minister. The census does not record whether Marion was
with Franklin as a housekeeper, but in any case the household also
included a cook and a housemaid. Son Eric son was not with them as he was
a 16 year old pupil at Bedales School, Petersfield, Hampshire. Marion Kate
Winser was still with Franklin for the 1911 census at Arboretum Street,
Franklin now being referred to as a retired chemical manufacturer. A
general servant/cook and a domestic servant completed the household.
Franklin died a very wealthy man at home on 15 April 1913 at the age of
74. The causes of death were kidney disease and cerebral embolism. The
informant was his son Eric F. Winser. Probate on Franklin's estate, valued
at £30196 3s 2d, was granted jointly to son Eric and niece Marion. The
Leicester Chronicle of 26 April published an account of his funeral.
The funeral of Mr. Franklin Winser, J.P., who for some years was
President of the Loughborough Division Liberal Association, and who died
at Nottingham on Tuesday week, at the age of 74 years, took place on
Saturday afternoon last at Kegworth, in the parish churchyard of St.
Andrew. In the morning a private service was held at the deceased's
residence in Arboretum-street, Nottingham, at which the members of the
family were present. The service was conducted by the Rev. J.M. Lloyd
Thomas, formerly pastor of the High Pavement Unitarian Church and now of
Birmingham. Afterward the body encased in a polished oak coffin, with
brass fittings, was removed by road to Kegworth and laid to rest in the
Churchyard in the vault wherein are the bodies of his wife and children.
The funeral was attended by a large and representative group of
mourners, and was witnessed by a large concourse of people. Blinds were
drawn, and other tokens of respect shown testifying to the esteem and
regard in which Mr. Winser was held.
The chief mourners were Mr. Eric Winser (the only son), Miss Winser
(niece), Mr. Sidney Winser (nephew), the deceased's nurse and Mr. F.W.
The same newspaper, on 19 April, published an obituary under the heading
'Death of Mr. Franklin Winser, J.P. A Loss to Loughborough Liberals'.
With deep regret we have to announce the death of Mr. Franklin
Winser, J.P. which occurred on Tuesday at his residence
Arboretum-street, Nottingham. For some two years past the deceased
gentleman had been in failing health, and more than once his illness
became serious, but a vigorous constitution and careful attention
enabled him to pull round again. He had lately appeared somewhat better,
and it had even seemed possible that he might attend the meeting next
week of the Loughborough Division Liberal Association, but the
improvement was not maintained, and a turn for the worse set in which
gave no hope of recovery.
Mr. Winser was 74 years of age, and was of a Kentish family. He was
formerly in the plaster-making industry at Manchester and Kegworth, and
for many years he had charge of the works of the latter place, from
which he retired a few years ago.
The news of his death will be received with keen regret by the Liberal
party in the Loughborough division, among whom he was highly esteemed as
the president of the divisional association. He had held this position
for 19 years, having been elected on the retirement of the Hon. F.
Strutt, in 1894, and before then he had for some years been chairman of
the executive. It is indicative of his zeal for the cause that from the
time of his appointment to the presidency he never missed a single
attendance at the annual meetings of the association until that of two
years ago, when his long illness had just begun. His service to the
party was fully appreciated, and no incident of it more that the tact
and discrimination with which he led it through the anxious period just
Mr. Winser was always deeply and actively interested in social
questions, and in none more that that of education, and it was a tribute
to his impartiality and ability that he was for several years chairman
of the managers of the Church of England Schools at Kegworth. He
belonged to the Unitarian denomination, and held several offices
connected with the North Midland organisation of that body. He was a
justice of the peace for Leicestershire, and until his illness was a
regular attendant at the Petty Sessional Courts in Loughborough.
The deceased gentleman was twice married, and leaves one son.
Winser Grave, Kegworth
Eric Franklin Winser
Eric, the elder and only surviving child of Franklin and Edith Marion
Winser (née Fretwell) was born on 13 July 1883 at Kegworth,
Leicestershire. For his first census he was at home with his widowed
father at The Hermitage, Kegworth, a grand house on the banks of the River
He attended Bedales School at Petersfield from 1897-1903. The school was
started in 1893, and from 1898 admitted both boys and girls. Unlike most
public schools of the time Bedales was non-denominational, and in fact has
never had a chapel. This, together with its progressive curriculum, in
which arts, crafts and drama were offered as well as the 'standard'
educational fare, made it particularly attractive to the non-conformists
such as Unitarians. From there Eric went up to Cambridge to study
engineering from 1903 to 1906, and in 1911 was admitted as an Associate
Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, having being proposed by his
uncle Sidney B. Winser. The 1911 census shows him away from his home
address of 7 Arboretum Street, Nottingham, boarding at Faversham, Kent,
employed on public work contracting. He served during WWI with the
Sherwood Foresters (Capt) and the South Staffordshire Regiment (Major),
was mentioned in dispatches and was awarded the Military Cross.
For great gallantry and devotion to duty near Ramicourt on 3rd
October, 1918. While acting as liaison officer he showed the utmost
resourcefulness in finding out the situation. Four times he passed
through heavy artillery fire, fearlessly exposing himself to direct
machine-gun fire, in order to make certain of the situation. The
information he brought back was invaluable, and enabled steps to be
taken to secure the line at a very critical moment.
By the end of the war his home address was The Manor House, Kegworth,
where Eric lived until his death.
On 13 July 1915 he had married Dorothy Pole Allsebrook and they had three
children - John Franklin, born 24 April 1918; Margaret Joyce, born 19 July
1920; Michael Pole Winser, born 18 September 1925.
The photograph above was taken in 1931 when, at the age of 47, Eric Winser
gained his Royal Aero Club Aviator's Certificate at the Nottingham Flying
Club. According to a report in the Nottingham Evening Post of 21
September 1931 his object for qualifying as a pilot was to equip himself
for the time when leaders of industry, with appointments to keep, would
think no more of hiring an aeroplane than they do of taking a taxi!
In December 1938 the Government announced that, in the event of war, a
National Register of all civilians would be compiled to assist with
coordinating the war effort at home. When war was inevitable, the National
Registration Act came into effect on 5 September, and Registration Day was
set for 29 September. The Register recorded the Winser household as
comprising 5 adults living at the Manor House, Kegworth - Eric, Dorothy,
and Margaret Winser, and Annie Collins, the domestic servant. The other
person was Mrs Sylvia Fretwell (née Breymann). Sylvia, who had been born
in Germany, was the wife of Eric's second cousin William Eric Fretwell.
The couple had been married in Hamburg in September 1938. She spent the
war years at Kegworth.
Sadly, in 1942 Eric and Dorothy lost their only daughter, who died at the
age of 20. Both sons saw active service in army during WW2. Following the
death of his first wife on in March 1967 Eric married long time family
friend Evelyn Marian Price Devereux in 1968. For the 1939 National
Register Evelyn was listed as the daughter of Edward and Rosina Devereux,
living at The Rectory, Kegworth, where Edward was the incumbent.
Only five years after the marriage, on 22 June 1973, Eric Franklin Winser
died at the age of 89. A notice in The Times of 26 June notified
WINSER - On 22nd June, peacefully during a short illness, Eric
Franklin Winser, C.B.E., M.C., D.L., M.A., Alderman of Leicestershire,
aged 88 [sic] years, beloved husband of the late Dorothy and of Evelyn
and dear father of John and Michael. Funeral at St. Andrew's Parish
Church, Kegworth, on Friday 29th June at 2.30p.m. followed by private
cremation. Cut flower only to E. J. Wilders, funeral director, 59 High
Apart from his business interests and directorships, Eric was heavily
involved in local government and was appointed Deputy Lieutenant for
The death of Evelyn Winser, at the age of 90, was registered at Cambridge
in June 2000.
Fanny Emmeline Fretwell
Ten years after the birth of their first child John, William and Anne
became parents to another daughter, Fanny Emmeline. As Anne meticulously
noted, she was born at ¼ past 5 o’clock in the morning of Friday 10
September 1847. Like her older sister Alice, she was baptised at Brayton
Church. Together with her mother, brother Vause and sisters Mary, Alice
and Edith Marion, Fanny Emmeline was living at home at Selby for the 1851
census. Aged 13, Fanny was still living at home ten years later, at Moss
Side, Manchester, but she was shortly to leave the family home.
Of the Fretwell girls, she was the only one who we know was able to
seriously further her education abroad, for when her brother John returned
to England around 1862 to sort out the kindergarten debacle, he took Fanny
back with him to Lippstadt. No doubt this was a great relief to his
parents who, apart from William’s financial problems, were also trying to
make the best of the kindergarten run by Anne Fretwell and her daughters.
In fact it seems to have been a very satisfactory arrangement all round.
Fanny was able to keep John company during the many absences of his wife,
and Fanny was well received in her new German home, as John was pleased to
Fanny soon became a favourite in the family of the Baroness von
Schorlemmer, wife of the lord of the manor at Lippstadt; then was two
years at school in Eisenach and thus learned more of German life than
any of my other sisters, for she shared our lot in Germany, and stayed
there till I settled in London again.
Fanny would have accompanied John to Germany around her 15th
birthday. It was to celebrate this birthday that her father wrote a poem
in her honour.
In the rosy day of childhood
when unsullied pleasure springs
In the buoyant age of girlhood
when the heart hath feathered wings
In the graver years of womanhood
thy father's prayer shall be
That the blessing of the highest
may for ever fall on thee.
To Fanny Fretwell, September 1862
From her affectionate Father
When the Fretwells returned to England, Fanny would have been around 20
and, in the words of the poem, poised to embark upon the ‘graver years of
womanhood’. At the time the 1871 census was taken, on 2 April, Fanny was
back with her mother, as a 23 year old unmarried woman, working as a
teacher at her mother’s school at Moss Side. At age 33 she was still
unmarried, and for the April 1881 census was recorded as being with her
brother-in-law Wilson Hartnell. Fanny’s assistance would have been welcome
in the household where the wife (Fanny’s younger sister Florence) and
mother had, in April 1880, so recently died.
But Wilson lost Fanny’s services within two years, because on 29 November
1882, 5 months after her sister Edith’s wedding, the services of the Rev.
Charles Hargrove of the Mill Hill Chapel were called upon once more, as
notified through the 2 December 1882 Manchester Times.
WINSER-FRETWELL - On the 29th inst, at Mill-Hill Chapel, Leeds, by
the Rev. C. Hargrove, M.A., Julian Winser, of Warrington, to Fanny
Emmeline, youngest surviving daughter of the late Wm. Fretwell, of
Leeds. (No cards)
Elder sister Edith’s marriage to a Winser had established a family bond
between the Fretwells and the Winsers; the marriage of her younger sister,
Fanny Emmeline, to another Winser brother cemented and strengthened a
relationship which continues to this day.
Julian, the younger brother of Franklin, was born at Little Heronden in
1840 and was the youngest and last child of James and Maria Winser. Julian
was described in the 1851 census as a farmer’s son (his father farmed 140
acres and employed 6 labourers). He was at home with his mother and some
of his siblings at the family property of Ratsbury, Tenterden. For the
census taken ten years later, Julian (together with brother Franklin) was
part of the household of their older brother Alfred, employed as a
draper’s assistant in Alfred’s business in Hadlow, Kent. Julian followed
Franklin, both in his chosen profession, and for the 1871 census in the
area in which they were then living. Julian, now a mineral manufacturer,
was residing in Lancashire with his married sister Maria and her husband
William Talbot (later Sir William Talbot) an assistant town clerk at 47
Camp Street, Broughton, Salford. Apart from two sons of William and Maria,
the household on 25 April 1871 also included William’s elderly widowed
mother, two Talbot nephews, a cook and a housekeeper. The 1881 census
finds Julian at 2 Woodland Terrace, Broughton, Salford, Lancashire, where
he is visiting his oldest brother Edwin. Sarah was Edwin’s second wife,
and step-mother to his children, who were born to his first wife Hephsebah
Winser, born Hailsham, Sussex
and Manufacturer (employing 60 Hands)
Whitfield Winser, born Manchester, Lancashire
Winser, born Hadlow Kent
Winser, born Hadlow, Kent
Winser, born Hadlow Kent
Winser, born Tenterden, Kent
Gerrard, born Chiddock, Dorset
Bufton, born Des-Coyds, Hereford
The Winser brothers, Percy, Franklin and Julian were all highly qualified
professional men, well established and economically secure. It is of note
that young Percy James, listed above, was an analytical chemist.
I had heard that the Winsers were somehow connected with Lever Brothers of
Sunlight Soap fame, and an Internet search for further information on this
led to an expert on the Port Sunlight model village, who provided the
In the mid 1800s, Julian Winser & Co operated a chemical works on
rented land alongside the River Mersey in Warrington. By the 1860s they
had converted part of it into a soapworks. In August 1885, it was
acquired by William Lever and his brother James Darcy Lever, and became
the first home of Sunlight Soap. The brothers secured the services of
Percy J Winser as their first works manager. He moved with them to their
new works at Port Sunlight in 1888. Lever valued Winser highly, even
naming a street in Port Sunlight after him. He was made one of the first
directors (along with William Lever, his brother and their father James)
in 1894, when the company went public. He became vice-chairman in 1897
and retired in 1901.
Lever Brothers founder, William Hesketh Lever, believed that all men could
improve their lot, given opportunity, and decent conditions. This
philosophy was translated into Port Sunlight, a model village, paid for
and maintained by profits from the company, to provide low cost housing
and all amenities for the workers.
Julian and Fanny did not have any children, and we do not yet have a clear
picture of their lives after they were married. For instance, in 1885,
just before their third wedding anniversary, did Julian transfer all his
company’s chemical interests to William Lever, or just the soapworks? If
only part of the lease, what chemicals operation did Julian carry out on
the rest of the holding? If he sold out completely, where and how did he
earn his living? Did he retain a financial interest in the soapworks,
where young Percy Winser continued to work under the Levers? Or did he
join with his brother Franklin in the gypsum mining operations?
We know that Julian was still practising as a manufacturing chemist in
1891, but by this time he had moved to Grappenhall, a very attractive and
picturesque village complete with cobblestones, village stocks, ancient
Norman Church, situated midway between Manchester and Liverpool, with the
nearest large town being Warrington. He and Fanny were living in Bellhouse
Lane. With no children of their own, the company of the two nieces – 18
year old Rose Winser and 11 year old Edith Hartnell - who were with them
on the night of Sunday 21 April - must have been a welcome addition to the
Sometime between the 1891 and 1901 censuses Julian retired. It was a much
quieter household in which we find him and Fanny in 1901. Julian, now 60,
is now listed as a retired chemical manufacturer. Fanny is now 53. The
only other members of the household at 23 Daleham Garden, Hampstead, are
two unmarried sisters, Ellen and Agnes Gerrard who were, respectively,
cook and housemaid. We also know that in September 1904 Julian and Fanny
were still living at 23 Daleham Gardens, for it is from this address that
Fanny wrote to her nephew’s future in-laws.
Mr and Mrs Julian Winser thank Herr and Frau Fester for their kind
invitation to their daughter Emmy’s wedding on October 16th
which Mrs Julian Winser accepts with great pleasure but regrets to say
that her husband will be unable to be present.
And as we know, Fanny accompanied her elder sister Mary to the wedding of
Ralph Traun Fretwell and Emmy Fester, and on their return Mary assured
herself that all was well with Julian in London, before she headed back
north. Four years later Julian died, leaving Fanny, who survived him by 22
years, apparently well provided for. Julian died at home on 28 November
1908 at the age of 68. The death certificate records him as being a
retired chemical manufacturer, and the cause of death as chronic Brights
disease and cardiac failure. Julian predeceased his brother Franklin (who
also suffered from kidney disease) who was present at Julian’s death. No
doubt Fanny would have appreciated the support of her brother-in-law at
this time. Probate on Julian Winser's estate, valued at £21791 14s 3d, was
granted on 23 January to his widow and to Sidney Beaufoy Winser (nephew of
The 1911 census finds Fanny still living at Daleham Gardens. She is
recorded as a widow of private means and living with her at the time was
one of Julian's nieces - Lilian Mary Winser - aged 50, unmarried, and also
of independent means. Their domestic needs were taken care of by a
housemaid and a cook.
Speaking of his aunts in May 1929, Ralph Fretwell remarked that Fanny was
the only one left -
... and lives lives in London, Bournemouth and Torquay, according to
her fancy; she is suffering from very bad eyesight.
Eighteen months later, aged 82, Fanny died on 18 August 1930, at 11
o’clock at night at Oak Lea, 27 Gloucester Road, Kingston-upon-Thames, the
house of Mrs. Mary Emily Winser, her niece, the widow of Julian's brother
Harold Albert Winser, sometime Town Clerk at Kingston upon Thames.
Julian's nephews Sidney Beaufoy Winser, civil engineer, and Eric Franklin
Winser, manufacturer, were jointly granted probate on her £10674 4s 3d.
William was born at Selby on Friday 6 November 1850 at 8 o’clock in the
morning, but must have been a sickly child, for he died seven weeks later,
the day after Christmas, on Thursday 26 December at about 1 o’clock and
was buried 2 days later at Brayton Church.
Ten months later Anne Fretwell was again ‘due’, but this time to even less
avail. After what she describes as a dangerous labour, at 3.30pm on 28
October 1851 she was delivered, in her words, 'of a dead baby - a fine
William and Anne must have been relieved when, nearly two years later, a
more robust baby was born. Florence made her appearance at 3.00pm on
Monday 15 August 1853. Her birthplace was Leeds, as her parents had by now
moved back there from Selby. No baptism record has been located, but it is
most likely that Florence was another child baptised at the Mill Hill
Chapel. With the arrival of this daughter and their last child, William
and Anne must have decided ‘enough was enough’.
Florence, born one year after her brother John had started his
apprenticeship in London, is another sister who does not feature in his
Recollections. So we cannot rely on that source for any snippets of
information about his youngest sister. She was at home for only two
censuses, and for both at Moss Side, Manchester – in 1861 as a young
scholar of 7, and in 1871 as a 17 year old teacher, assisting her mother.
As previously noted, her older sisters Mary and Edith must have spent some
time at Ilkley and Florence may have visited or joined them there at some
stage, because it was at Ilkley that Florence was married in 1878, two
weeks after her 25th birthday. The following notice, announcing
the marriage, appeared in the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer,
and also the London Evening Standard.
HARTNELL-FRETWELL - August 28th, at Ilkley Parish Church, by the Rev.
Bedford Hartnell, M.A., brother of the bridegroom, assisted by the Rev.
W. Danks, Wilson Hartnell, fourth son of the late Rev. M.A. Hartnell,
M.A. of Tresco, to Florence, youngest daughter of the late William
Fretwell, Esq., of Whalley Range, Manchester.
Wilson’s family hailed from the West Country. His birth, at Rodborough,
Gloucestershire, had been registered at Stroud for the Jul-Sep quarter of
1839, and he had been baptised on 17 September at Durbridge House, the
vicarage where his father, Reverend Mark Anthony Wilson, was the
incumbent. Some of his boyhood years were spent in the Scilly Islands,
where his father was for some time curate-in-charge, and from whom he
gained his scientific knowledge. For the 1851 census Wilson was at home at
Durbridge with his parents and his older brother Bedford. The household
included two other boys - pupils under the tutelage of his father. He
served his apprenticeship with Messrs. Ferraby of Stroud, and thereafter
he went to Messrs. Bryan Donkin of Bermondsey where, for the 1861 census
he was employed as a steam engine and machine fitter. He also spent time
in Edinburgh, and with Messrs Kitson and Co of Leeds. The 1871 census
records him as living at Chorlton on Medlock, now a qualified engineer and
the manager of an engine works, and it was around this time that he set up
in business for himself at the Volt Works, Leeds.
Coincidentally, Chorlton on Medlock is bounded on one side by Moss Side
and so Wilson, in 1871, would have been living in close proximity to
Florence's family. It is interesting to speculate that, if they met and
got to know each other around this time whether they were able to enjoy
the amenities of Alexander Park, which bordered the small suburb of
Whalley Range where the Fretwells had their residence/kindergarten. This
Park was an example of improved amenities in Whalley Range, one of the
more prosperous areas Moss Side. Opened in 1876, it had an ornamental and
boating lake, pavilion, a bandstand for Sunday afternoon concerts and an
unbroken 2 mile walk. It was frequented by elegant ladies and horse-drawn
carriages accompanied by light music from the bandstand.
Their marriage certificate confirms that, following the calling of the
banns, Wilson and Florence, both of full age, were married on 28 August
1878, he being a bachelor and she a spinster. Wilson’s profession is given
as Mechanical Engineer but there is no entry under this column for
Florence. I had hoped that the certificate would have been more specific
as to their addresses prior to their marriage, but they are respectively
recorded as residing in Leeds and Ilkley immediately prior to the
ceremony. The fathers of the couple were given as Mark Anthony Hartnell,
Clerk in Holy Orders, (who had died at Tresco, Scilly Isles, in 1852) and
William Fretwell, Agent (probably a more acceptable term than Travelling
Salesman). The ceremony was witnessed by Washington Teasdale
(step-brother-in-law), Edith M Fretwell and Fanny Emmeline Fretwell
(sisters of the bride), and William Snowden.
It might have been expected that Florence, like her sisters before her,
would have been married at the Mill Hill Chapel, but the Established
Church held sway in this instance, in deference perhaps to the fact that
Wilson’s brother was a clergyman, and more pragmatically perhaps because
the Fretwells were then living in Ilkley.
Following the wedding, the couple lived at 30 Hyde Park Terrace,
Headingley, Leeds. Just after their first wedding anniversary, on 18
September 1979, Florence presented Wilson with a daughter, Edith, named
presumably after her aunt Edith Marion. Edith was christened at St Chad’s
Church and very soon thereafter Florence was ‘expecting’ again, but this
pregnancy did not go to full term.
Ilkley Parish Church
St Chad's Church, Headingley
To the grief of Wilson, and to Florence’s family, not only was she
delivered on 13 April 1880 of still-born twins - a son and a daughter -
but two weeks later Florence herself died at home on 24 April. The cause
of death, no doubt exacerbated by complications of the delivery of twins,
was given as diabetes, abscess in breast (7 days), and debility. She was
only 26 years old. Wilson Hartnell, present at the death, was the
informant. News of her premature death was conveyed in the Yorkshire
Post and Leeds Intelligencer on 26 April.
HARTNELL – April 24, aged 26, Florence, the wife of Wilson Hartnell,
daughter of the late William Fretwell. Friends will please accept this
Wilson and his one year old daughter Edith were still living at 30 Hyde
Park Terrace for the 1881 census. Also with them, as housekeeper, was his
sister-in-law, Fanny Emmeline Fretwell. Wilson remained a widower for less
than five years. On 6 October 1886, in Leeds, he married Elizabeth
Margaret Turnbull Giles at All Souls Church, Leeds. Elizabeth, born in
Staleybridge, Cheshire, in 1857, was the daughter of Samuel Giles, a
commission merchant/cotton broker, and his second wife Margaret (née
Fletcher). Just prior to her marriage to Wilson, Elizabeth was living at
Headingley cum Burley by 1881, employed as a governess to the three young
children of the Illingworth family of Burley Hill Flower Bank.
The 1891 census has Wilson and his second wife living at 8 Blenheim
Terrace in central Leeds. Wilson has now progressed to the position of
consulting engineer. And with them are their two children – Cuthbert, aged
3, and Constance aged 2. Making up the balance of the household were a
housemaid, a nurse and a cook. Wilson’s first child Edith is not with them
because, as noted above, she was staying with her uncle and aunt, Julian
and Fanny Winser at Grappenhall. By 1901 the Hartnells had relocated to
Roundhay. The census records the household, then comprised of Wilson
Hartnell, his wife Elizabeth, and daughter Edith. Children Cuthbert and
Constance were away at boarding schools at the time. The 1911 census shows
that the family was living at “Aysgarth”, Roundhay, and that Wilson, now
aged 71, was the managing director of the electrical engineering firm
Wilson Hartnell & Co. Son Cuthbert, aged 23, was also working for the
company, and wife and mother, Elizabeth Hartnell, also at home, was now
aged 53. Daughter Constance was employed as an assistant mistress at the
Lincoln High School, and Edith Hartnell, now a certificated masseuse, was
a visitor in the household of Rev Robert Farmer at the Shardlow Rectory,
I have found a few references that indicate that Wilson Hartnell was an
engineer of some note. He was able to assist Mr. Louis Le Prince, an
inventor and scientist who, at the time, was working on developing a
photographic camera which would expose successively a number of images of
the same object or objects in motion. Wilson Hartnell, M.I.Mech.E.,
Consulting Engineer, of Basinghall Street, Leeds, also worked on the
installation for the supply of electricity to an arc lamp in Le Prince's
workshop at 160 Woodhouse Lane, Leeds. Sometime later Messrs Hartnell and
Co was contracted to work on the extensive upgrade of the Hunslet Union
Workhouse. The company was responsible for installing electrical lifts
which were located at the centre of each of the two infirmary pavilions,
the lift cages being arranged to take a hand ambulance and two attendants.
The usual operating rope used for starting and stopping the lift was
dispensed with, the cage being controlled entirely by a simple switch, the
lever of which was merely pulled in one direction or the other. I expect
Wilson would have received an invitation from the Chairman and Board of
Guardians to the celebratory dinner on 1 October 1903 to mark the opening
of the new Workhouse and Infirmary.
Wilson lived to a good age. His death certificate shows that he died at
the age of 81 on 10 November 1920 at Aysgarth, Roundhay, a retired
Electrical Engineer, and that his daughter Constance, also of the same
address was present at the time of death, the dual causes of which were
(1)aortic aneurism (of some years) and (2) cerebral haemorrhage (7 days).
The November 13 edition of the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
published an account of his funeral which took place on 12 November at St.
John’s Church, Roundhay. The service was conducted by the Rev T.
Liddlesdale Palmer and the Rev R.M. Withington of Upleatham
(brother-in-law of the deceased). The chief mourners were Mrs. Hartnell
(widow) and Miss C.M. Hartnell (daughter). Miss Edith Hartnell (daughter)
did not attend being ‘at present in British Columbia’. A simple memorial
was erected in the churchyard - a wooden Latin cross on a three tier
plinth with the words
In loving memory of Wilson HARTNELL of Aysgarth, Roundhay who entered
into rest November 10th 1920 aged 81 years. “I am the
resurrection and the life”
Probate on Wilson’s estate was granted on 11 January 1921 to his widow and
solicitor, William Simpson Hannan. He left an estate valued at £10,777 5s
The following obituary was carried in the 11 November 1920 Yorkshire
Post and Leeds Intelligencer.
Mr. Hartnell, who was a member of the institution of Mechanical
Engineers, was one of the oldest members of his procession in the West
Riding, and was especially well known in Leeds, where he was head of the
firm of Wilson Hartnell and Co (Limited), manufacturers of electric
light and power plant. In all the relations of life he was highly
esteemed, and on the occasion of his 80th birthday he had the signal
tribute paid to him of a presentation, in the form of a silver rose
bowl, by a large number of his friends and neighbours, including some of
most prominent citizens of Leeds. Notwithstanding his great age, he
maintained an active interest in business matters with that assiduity
which was characteristic of him throughout his connection with Leeds. He
took no prominent part in public affairs, though he was for a long time
a member of the Leeds and Country Conservative Club, and also a devoted
Churchman. At Roundhay, where he resided for a great many years, he was
a zealous member of the congregation of St. John's Church, served as
warden, and held office as secretary to the Church Council, and
represented the parish on the Ruridecanal Council. His wife fully shared
his benevolent activities, and will be especially remembered by her work
for the invalid Children's Aid Society. During the early stages of the
war Mr. and Mrs. Hartnell suffered a great bereavement in the loss of
their only son, Lieut. Cuthbert Hartnell, who was killed in action in
Mr Hartnell is survived by his widow and two daughters.
Wilson’s widow outlived him by nearly 20 years. At some stage after his
death, and before the 1939 Register, she had moved to King Edwards
Road, Malvern, Worcestershire which is where she died. Poignantly, the
name of her home was again “Aysgarth”. Friends and acquaintances in Leeds
were notified of her death through the Leeds Mercury 8 November
HARTNELL–November 4, 1939, at Aysgarth, Malvern Wells, aged 82 years,
ELIZABETH MARGARET TURNBULL HARTNELL, wife of the late Wilson Hartnell,
M.I.E.E. of Leeds.
Elizabeth left an estate valued at £1186 8s 4d with probate granted to her
unmarried daughter Constance Margaret Hartnell.
The only surviving child of the marriage between Wilson Hartnell and
Florence Fretwell, Edith was born on 18 September 1879. She would have had
no recollection of her mother who died on 24 April 1880. When the 1881
census was taken Edith was at home at Hyde Park Terrace with her father
who had arranged for his sister-in-law, and Edith's aunt, Fanny Fretwell
to manage the household. It was with Fanny and her husband, Julian Winser,
that Edith was staying for the 1891 census, at their home in Grappenhall,
It is possible that Edith did not ‘fit in’ with her father’s changed
circumstances. In the family papers I have found a cryptic reference to
Edith - a note by RTF on a slip of paper - which records that in a letter
dated 27th October 1897 his father informs Ralph that Edith
Hartnell is to be sent to Munich. Why was 18 year old Edith going to
Munich? Who would she be staying with? Did she go of her own volition?
Perhaps it was her aunt Fanny who suggested that she go, given than Fanny
herself had spent time in Germany as a young girl. What ever the reason,
Edith was back in England by 1901, in time to be included in the census
return of that year, aged 21 and with no occupation recorded. Ten years
later she was a visitor in the household of the Rev Robert Lethbridge
Farmer, at The Rectory, Shardlow, near Derby, and listed as a certificated
A review of the newspaper advertisements indicate that the skills of a
masseuse were much in demand. As well as trained nurses - medical,
surgical, monthly - The Leeds Trained Nurses Institution, and other such
specialised employment agencies, regularly advertised that they was able
to supply masseuses to clients. Alternatively, a masseuse might find
employment at one of the fashionable spa baths. Frequently, being an
experienced masseuse was one of the prerequisites for employment as a
However, it was as a 'Domestic', that Miss E. Hartnell boarded the White
Star Dominion ship Teutonia which left from Liverpool on 17 June
1911 bound for Montreal. The next record found for Edith is the 1921
Census of Canada. Aged 41, she was a lodging with Elizabeth Donaldson, a
farmer aged 72, and her daughter Mabel Donaldson, also a farmer, aged 35.
These three women were living Okanagan Landing, a settlement and steamboat
port on Okanagan Lake in the southern interior of British Columbia.
Edith's occupation is also given as 'farmer', but perhaps she was employed
as a housekeeper? Usefully, Edith was recorded as being able to speak both
English and French.
Nothing more has been found to account for the forty years between the
census and Edith's death on 27 November 1961 at the Vernon Jubilee
Hospital. The death registration shows that she died a spinster and that
at some stage she had taken out Canadian citizenship, and at age 82 was
now retired. She had suffered from arteriosclerosis for ten years, and had
shortly before her death been diagnosed with an abscess of the left lung.
She was buried on 2 December at the Vernon Cemetery.
Cuthbert was born on 26 August 1887 and was listed as a young boy of 3, at
home with his parents and sister Constance, at 8 Blenheim Terrace in
central Leeds for his first census. For the second, in 1901, he was a 13
year old pupil at Bedford Grammar School. Having gained practical
experience with various engineering companies, including Messrs. Kitson
and Company and Messrs Hathorn, Davey and Company, he had, by 1911, joined
his father's firm Messrs. Wilson Hartnell and Company, electrical
engineers of Leeds. He was elected as an Associate Member of the
Institution of Civil Engineers on 3 February 1914. At the outbreak of war
he obtained a commission in the 1/8th Battalion, The Prince of Wales's Own
(West Yorkshire Regiment) (Leeds Rifles).
The Battalion was initially stationed at Leeds as part of the 1st West
Riding Brigade of the West riding Division and then moved to Selby and
then Strensall and back to York. In March 1915 it moved to Gainsborough
and on 15 April 1915 was mobilised for war and landed at Boulogne.
Some 2,050 members of the Leeds Rifles died on active service in France
and Flanders, 1915-1918. After just three months' active service Cuthbert
Hartnell was one of them. He was killed on 16 July 1915 and is
commemorated at the New-Irish Farm Cemetery, Ypres Belgium.
New Irish Cemetery, Ypres, Belgium
His death was recorded in the Regimental War Diary entry for 16 July 1915.
In trenches. Front line trenches heavily shelled by GERMANS who had
evidently located our machine gun emplacements. One of these shells
killed Lt. C. Hartnell. This is our first casualty amongst the officers
of the Battn.
An obituary appeared in the 20 July Yorkshire Post and Leeds
LIEUT. CUTHBERT HARTNELL, 1-8th West Yorkshire Regiment (Leeds
Rifles), who has been killed in action, was the only son of Mr. and Mrs.
Wilson Hartnell, of Aysgarth, Roundhay, Leeds. He was 27. Educated at
Bedford Grammar School, he was early notable as a sportsman. He had a
place in his school eight and was also in the football team. In later
life he was a prominent member of the Leeds Polo Club, and had acted as
secretary. He was trained as an engineer, studying for a time at the
Leeds University, the Officers Training Corps attached to which
institution was the medium through which he received a commission in
1911 ... The late Lieut. Hartnell was a member of St. Aidan's Church
choir, and at that church on Sunday morning Handel's Dead March was
played to his memory.
Cuthbert Hartnell is one of many young men whose death in action during
the First World War is commemorated in the monumental/memorial
inscriptions of St. John’s Church, Roundhay.
Probate on the estate of Cuthbert Hartnell, valued at £597 6s, was granted
to his parents. Immediately above this entry in the National Probate
Calendar is one for Bedford Hartnell, brother of Wilson, who had died on
12 March 1915. So within the space of four months Wilson Hartnell was
grieved for both his brother and his son.
Constance Margaret Hartnell
Constance was born on 11 Sep 1888 at Leeds. She was at home with her
parents and brother, at Blenheim Terrace Leeds, for the 1891 census and
away at a girls' boarding school at Stratford on Avon for the 1901 census.
Teaching was her chosen career. Having read for the Oxford School of
English Language and Literature, she went on to acquire a Teaching Diploma
from the University of London. Her first appointment was in 1910 as
English Mistress at Lincoln Girls High School, and it was there that she
was recorded for the 1911 census. In 1917 she was appointed House Mistress
and English Mistress at the Godolphin School, Salisbury, where she stayed
until 1924 when she was appointed Head Mistress at St Katherine's,
Heatherton Park, near Taunton, a position she held until 1950.
The Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser of 21 July 1926
reported on the Speech Day held two years after Constance had taken up her
position. It was reported that the pupil numbers had increased from 43 in
1925 to 54 in 1926, with an expected further increase to over 60 in 1927,
and that 'Miss Hartnell was largely responsible for that splendid result'.
It is telling to note that educators of the time were grappling with the
vexed question, so familiar today, as to how to ensure that schools kept
'in touch' with the 'dreadful complexity of modern life' and that
their teaching was relevant to the youth of the day. In addressing the
assembly, Constance set out her philosophy.
The increased scope and complexity of grown-up life could only be met
by deepening the foundations on which character was built. She could
hope that the simplicity of life there (at St. Katherine's) might be
doing that; that the two principles of their Christian life, brought
before the school day in, day out - their unworthiness through
themselves alone to approach God, their absolute duty to serve otheres,
together with the sense of give and take provided by community life, and
the cheerful acceptance of responsibility, might give them a
'strengthened stake', a right estimate of their own character and of
their duty towards others, which might ever give them balance to face
and make a success of the wider life beyond school walls. (Applause).
Constance never married. She did, however, make at least one journey to
Canada in 1936. She departed from Liverpool on board the Canadian Pacific
Line Duchess of Atholl on 8 June bound for Montreal and returned by
the same shipping line on board the Duchess of Richmond, arriving
at Southampton on 2 September. The records give no indication of the
purpose of the trip, but she probably went to visit her step-sister Edith
The death of Constance Margaret Hartnell, at the age of 84, was registered
at Trowbridge in September 1972.
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15 April, 2016