Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Delving in Devon: or where a Victorian Vocalist can lead you.


Those of you who know, or follow, me, know about my involvement with Victorian Vocalists. Yes, my big red book has been out for four years now, and it has just been issued as a bargain-basement paperback, but that doesn't mean I've closed down the factory completely.  And there's a decade's worth of knowledge and names secreted somewhere in the undamaged portion of my brain. Let's just say that, at the moment, I'm pursuing slightly different subjects. But ... curious things happen to turn a man from his wayfaring. 

One of my relaxing hobbies, between chunks of research on and writing of the new book(s), one which takes me out of my theatre and music worlds for a few hours, is tracking down the stories behind old photographs. So this morning, deciding on a 'day off', I picked out a likely-looking lady and, guess what. She and her daughter led me straight back into the Victorian Vocalist world ... and a part of that world I'd always rather regarded with scorn ...  so I thought I ought to further investigate this rather fine-looking woman from ... where? ... it was written on the photo: 'Mrs Beachy. South Molton'.

I don't think she was still of South Molton (but who knows?) by the time this photo was taken, but, yes, that's where she was born. 

Miss Mary Nott. Mrs John Beachey (with an 'e'). Born Barnstaple Street, 1832, christened 30 May 1832. Daughter of Thomas Nott and Susan née Harding. This seemed as if it was going to be easy. Well, it wasn'y.  I got deeply enmired in some fascinating Devonshire history on the way, and after a six hour wander, I've finally got only most of what I was after. 

So who and what was the Nott Family? Don't ask. They go back for eons in the Southmolton area and have all sorts of genealogical twists and turns (and the usual repetitons of the same forenames). And they also have sufficient of a connection with the Hardings for the Notts and the Hardingses to throw up hyphenated relatives, or ones using each other's name as a middle name. Frederick Richard Harding-Nott of Tordown House, Swimbridge ... etc. So, in the end I didn't go back into the eighteenth century. Because I found ... 

The Hardings 'of Combe Martin' or Combmartin were a consequent family. Lawyers' landowners etc. Richard Harding of Buzzacott (d 1844) and his wife Agness née Nott 'of Swimbridge'. His brother John Nott Harding. His sons James Nott Harding and Richard Harding jr. There they are, in 1820, brokering a house lease for Miss Nott of Swymbridge. So, in 1831 when 'Miss Susan Harding of Combmartin' weds 'Mr Thomas Nott of Southmolton', you wonder why the participants didn't have 'son of' and 'daughter of' attached in the press notice. Suspicious. There is 'my sister Susannah' in Richard's will, but no 'daughter Susannah'. A notty problem. Because there are Notts of Swinbridge proliferating from the 16th century at least ... I wonder if Susan was from one of the consequent Harding families of Combmartin. Or nott. Dead end. 

No Hardings or Notts as witnesses. A lawyer and a tenant.

Thomas was a 'gentleman'. 'Of East Street'. I can't find his marriage or birth records, but I have found both his grave and his will. You see, when our Mary married Mr Beachey, she told us that her father was 'deceased'. And when I dove further, I found that he only fathered two children: Mary in 1832, and John on 1 July ('a son and heir') 1833. I guessed he might have died in 1833 or 4. And he did. Widow Susan erected a stone in the George Nympton church, in South Molton, 'to perpetuate his memory'. I see a 17th-century church warden there was Amos Nott ..

And here is his will. Seven pages of it, laboriously transcribed by a clericus Cantabriensis. It was written 21 March 1833, before his son's birth, so wife Susan and daughter Mary are the beneficiaries. Yes, our Mary. Aged one. The script is a demon to read, but ..

Well, I had a go at reading it. No one else will!! But why did he make a vast will at 32 years of age, anyway?  OK. 100 pounds and all the furniture, plate, linen, china, books, wines and spirits in the house to Susan. Ah! Names! William Paramore printer and stationer ('of Broad Street', he is 'gent' and landowner and sometime mayor by the time he dies 22 May 1849) and James Cork, builder to be trustees over his properties ... the house in Broad Street occupied by William Chorley ('spirit merchant' the marriage witness who died in 1837!) until baby Mary is twenty-five (!) ... 300 pounds for Mary at age 25 .. leasehold estates and tenements .. government stocks .. freehold estates, lands and tenements ...  

But, again, no 'my brother', 'my sister' ... just wife and daughter and unborn son. Odd. Well, I forged on. Susan, seemingly reasonably provided for ('independent'), turns up in the 1841 census in Barnstaple with her children, but by 1851 she is no more. Susan Mott died in 1847 aged 35. And the children? Well, in 1851, they can be seen back in Southmolton. In East Street. John is apprentice to a surgeon, by name Richard Ley, and Mary 'proprietors of houses and lands' is 'visiting'. Mrs Ley, aged 30, is née Elizabeth Nott. Daughter of Richard Nott ... oyyy!

I leave the yangle of Notts in Southmolton, for Mary would soon be on the move. Into marriage (1 September 1853). And, of course, into another consequent family. John Beachey (b Highweek 1827) was a lawyer, of D'Arcy and Beachley, eldest son of a landed proprietor 'of Beech Park' and a member of a well-known local family. It would get to be even better known when his twice-jilted sister Elizabeth won a huge 750L in a breach of promise case. 

A daughter Isabel Mary was born to John and Mary the following year (Newton Bushel, 4 August 1854), but once more disaster struck the family, After father and mother Nott, gone in their thirties, on 23 January 1861, John Beachey died, at the age of 33. He left some 5000L.

Some two months later, the 1861 census finds the 28 year-old widow Beachey in Limehouse, with brother John (now 'chemist') and his wife Louisa (Way née Follett). Little Isabel is being cared for by the servants in Highweek Village. Alas, by the next census Louisa too would be also a widow ...  And Mary? Well, in 1881 she and Isabel are living in London's 8 Tavistock Square. And they have a 'visitor'. A 32 year-old male from Hemel Hempstead named Charles James Bishenden who avows that he is a 'singer and author'. Isabel married him the following year (17 June 1882).

Charles Bishenden! I thought I'd got him out of my hair forever.  Of all the wretched would-be-vocalists that I encountered in my years among the Victorian Vocalists, Bishenden was one of the most strivingly and insistently ridiculous. He advertised himself as 'the author of The Voice and How to Use It'  (published 1869). He got himself into the nonsensensical newspaper squabble over 'pitch' and got laughed at. He patronised Doughty's voice lozenge. He launched 'the Bishenden Hat', 'The Bishenden Boot','The Bishenden Umbrella' as worn by ..' He advertised himself as 'the celebrated basso' (always with that mockable epithet) to give concerts at Norwood and Camden Park. He announced that he would stage English Opera at St George's Hall. He didn't. And, each time he opened his mouth, he got the mickey taken out of him by an unforgiving press. Escept in his native Hemel Hempstead. In 1874, I see him supporting 'Miss Pelham' of Ixion fame in an amateur concert in Kennington. And in 1891, in three rooms in Charlotte Street, he is still doggedly avowing that he is a vocalist and teacher of singing. Those three rooms also contain wife, mother-in-law and another Southmolton girl ..  

It seems that Mary died shortly after this census. There is no will. All those houses and land, all her husband's money ... where had it gone?  I see the Beachey Estates were still the subject of lawsuits into the 20th century ...

The Bishendens moved to Portsmouth after Mary's death, where they can be seen sharing a home in 1901 with John's widow, Louisa. Charles is still listed as a singer and author .. yes, there he is promoting a concert at the Teignmouth Pier Pavilion. The 'celebrated basso' is now billed as 'of the Royal Albert Hall and the principal London and Provincial Concerts'. Later as 'soloist of the Albert Hall'. Hmmm. And he is still giving his 'Lecture on the Voice' at the Working Men's Club. And publishing 'How to Sing' (H White & Son, 1/-), 'Hygenic Living', 'Profitable Health', 'Forty years recollection of the Handel Festival Choir' (he was in the chorus)  ... I notice him suing the Exmouth Pier Pavilion for 'expenses': I suspect he was not a paid performer. But he was a doggedly persistent one. For some forty years. And Isabel sang too ('Angels ever bright and fair') and accompanied her husband.

They returned at some stage to London, where Charles died in 1918 (30 November), in High Hoborn, at the age of 70, writing 'celebrated' letters to the press up till weeks before his demise. He claimed to have penned over a thousand of them. Isabel lived until 1941 (5 January), and died at 18 Granville Rd, Bournemouth. She was still 'of private means', but neither of them seems to have left a will ...

Louisa did. When she died in Peckham 25 June 1909 she left her 343L to be administered by her sister-in-law. Her only child, Mary Louisa, had died aged 27 ...  so there is the end of the line of Thomas and Susan Nott.

The photographers were in action from 1863 at 20 Market Place, so presuming this is Mary, she was already as widow ...

I wonder to whom, then, this photo was given. And why it was taken in Leicester. And why it is inscribed 'Beachy' without the 'e' ...  and why someone is bidding on it ...

Postscript: Bessie the twice-jilted ultimately married the widowed Reverend John Lowder Kay (30 July 1867) and mothered a son, Charles Beachey Kay. Charles apparently captained the English Olympic Cricket Team (1900) to a gold medal, became a theatre performer, called himself 'Beachcroft' or 'Kay', fathered a whole lot of children, played in Austrian films (opposite Leatrice Joy!) and ended up in Australia... all of which earned him a 2015 biography One of Life's Great Charmers (Michael Fairley) ...

So the Beachey side of the family doubtless still exists in some shape or form. 

After the Rev Kay's death, Bessie made up for lost time by marrying another Rev gentleman, Mr Henry Heaton, but by 1901 she is esconced at West Cliff, Dawlish, Devon, with a couple of Charles's children, and a Beachey niece  .. in 1911, she has moved to Heavitree where she died in 1914.

PPS: Ive looked into the Nott family of Swymbridge, minutely detailed in Burke's Landed Gentry. They are the only Notts in the area who seem to have been 'Esquires'. But I'll be blowed if I can see where our Thomas fits in.

And now I had better get out of 'Devon, glorious Devon' and back to the theatre ...

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