What’s past is prologue – WDYTYA Live, 2015 / 2016

Today I am looking forward to this year’s “Who Do You Think You Are? Live” (which gets underway tomorrow) by looking back at my visit to the show in 2015. I shared some of my observations on last year’s event in my article Who Do You Think You Are? Live, 2015, but never did manage to post any further instalments. I shall now repair that omission, and make the past the prologue for the 3-day family history festival that is about to kick off at the National Exhibition Centre.

Celebrities and Companies

In my article last April, I covered the celebrities and some of the companies who attended WDYTYA? Live 2015. There were of course many more vendors in attendance than the few I described: DNA testing companies (including Family Tree DNA), UK family history magazines, software providers (Family Historian, for example), online databases (such as The Genealogist and Forces War Records), plus retailers of books, storage solutions and other genealogical goodies. I tried not to get too carried away with my spending, and was reasonably successful, the photo below showing what I described at the time as ‘The Birmingham Hoard’.

WDYTYA Live Birmingham Hoard

I will certainly be casting my eye over the cornucopia of commercial offerings at WDYTYA? Live 2016. I have a few things I would like to acquire (archival quality photo storage solutions for example), and who knows what else might take my fancy on the day? As for celebrities, well, what a disappointment the 2016 show is! There is only one genuine ‘Celebrity Theatre’ featuring a star from the TV programme. On the plus side that one star is Anita Rani so I will get my Strictly fix along with my WDYTYA? celebrity experience.

wdytya live day 3 familysearch 380 x 285Organisations, large and small

Organisations of all kinds and sizes attend WDYTYA? Live, from small societies to genealogy giants. I will categorise them as government bodies, societies, and, in a league of its own, the family history phenomenon that is FamilySearch (stand pictured right). We are all familiar with their websites, and in some cases with their publications and/or their sales catalogues. WDYTYA? Live provides an opportunity to talk to (and pick the brains of) the people who make the organisations tick, and to cast an eye over their offerings first hand.

wdytya live CWGC 650 x 335

Among the government bodies with a presence at the show last year were the UK National Archives (TNA), the Imperial War Museums (IWM) and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC, pictured above).wdytya live TNA 380 x 285 The military focus for the last two in that list is of course obligatory, but TNA (stand pictured left) had a similar focus with its First World War 100 displays and presentations.

One government department had a stand staffed by people who were there to pick our brains. The time is approaching when post-WW1 (including WW2) military personnel records held by the Ministry of Defence will no longer be retained by them. The logical custodian for these records is of course TNA, but this body has made it clear that it does not have the capacity to take on such a large volume of files. The obvious solution solution to this problem is digitisation, but that comes at a cost. How would that cost be met, and in the event of complete digitisation not being feasible, what records would users, such as family historians, prioritise for saving? (For an update on this, see Chris Patton’s blog post Proposals on access to post-WW1 military service personnel records.)

wdytya live WFA 380 x 285Government bodies were not the only organisations with stands focussing on military history and records. Among the many societies at WDYTYA? Live 2015 was the Western Front Association (stand pictured right), which has an archive of 6.5 million WW1 soldiers’ pension record cards.

Manual look-ups of these cards can be performed, for a fee, with scans sent to enquirers. In the longer term, the WFA hopes to digitise the entire collection and make them available online.

wdytya live SFHS 650 x 334

Family History Societies from the length and breadth of the UK (and beyond) populated much of the far end of the show’s exhibition hall last year. With many of these societies shrinking in size (a problem faced by many small voluntary organisations), the annual genealogical wdytya live GOONS 400 x 400jamboree that is WDYTYA? Live provides a valuable opportunity to sell their wares and, vitally, recruit new members. I was one of the new (actually, returning) members who joined the Shropshire Family History Society (stand pictured above) at the 2015 show.

One society which is bucking the trend of declining membership is the Guild of One-Name Studies (known affectionately by many as the GOONS). The Guild (stand pictured left) had a very successful show in 2015, and hopes to repeat (or better) that performance in 2016, with a new display which was first used at Roots Tech in Salt Lake City earlier this year. I’m looking forward to seeing that, along with all the other society stands.

Lectures, meet-ups and tweet-ups

One of the great things about WDYTYA? Live is the unrivalled opportunity it presents (in the UK at least) to see, listen to, and speak with so many fellow genealogists, many of whom have previously been known only online. Some speak at lectures provided as part of the show’s main programme (sadly, charges have been introduced for these lectures this year, no longer is it wdytya live dick eastman 380 x 285possible to get free tickets for them on the day – a black mark for the event organisers there). At WDYTYA? Live 2015, for example, genealogy godfather Dick Eastman (pictured right) presented a tech-orientated talk entitled Cloudy With a Chance of Genealogy. (Chatting to Dick towards the end of the show, I discovered that he and I are both members of a very exclusive club – vegan genealogists!) Other top-drawer genealogists talk at stands or in theatres operated by (or in association with) the companies and organisations. This year, I hope to attend some of the many free DNA presentations on offer at the DNA Workshop Theatre.

More rock stars of the genealogy world can be found staffing some of the stands for societies at the show, or providing free advice on behalf of the Society of Genealogists in their ‘Ask the wdytya live Jackie Depelle 380 x 285Experts’ area. No show is complete without seeing Jackie Depelle and ‘the hat’; the topper for 2015 can be seen in the picture to the left. And of course there are many ‘ordinary’ genies like myself who are also there as paying punters – I shall be tweeting my whereabouts from time to time (and watching the tweets of others) so that some of my fellow family historians can meet me (or indeed avoid me!) should they wish. A guaranteed forum for the fraternisation of family historians is the ‘tweet-up’ (a meet-up for those who tweet). Two tweet-ups have been planned this year, on Thursday (15:15 to 16:15) and Friday 15:30 to 16:30), in the courtyard outside (weather permitting).

I can’t leave this review of WDYTYA? Live 2015 and preview of the 2016 show without commenting on some of the things I reported on in my article of last April. At the Findmypast stand last year, lots of great things were promised as being ‘in the works’. Sadly, one year on, a number of them have still not happened. I am particularly disappointed that improved search facilities for the British Newspapers collection have not materialised. Additions to the countries of the world for which records are available are also conspicuous by their absence. On the plus side, I think all the record sets promised for 2015 did find their way onto the site – and many of them have been treasure troves of information.

Well, it is now WDYTYA? Live eve. I need to check train times, make sure my rucksack is packed appropriately, check that my tablet and phone are charged, scribble down what I want to do tomorrow, and take another look at Jane Roberts’ Family History Fair Tips for Beginners to make sure I haven’t missed anything!

> On to Who Do You Think You Are? Live: 2016 (Part 1)

Christiana Atcherley in her own words – Part 3

< Back to Part 2.

“Since the receipt of your letter yesterday, My dear Sir, I have been in a state not to be described, I was so completely shocked every way at its contents …”. So began a letter written by Christiana Atcherley, on 10 December 1811, to Charles Cox Esquire at Bartlet’s Building in Holborn, London. Christiana was shocked not by anything that Mr Cox had done, but by the failure of the plans that had been put in place for her to obtain a proportion of her husband’s salary.

Christiana Atcherley was, in 1811, still residing at Stonehouse, Plymouth, her home since her marriage to James Atcherley of the Royal Marines in 1802. She shared that home with her two children, Emma and William Atcherley – but not with their father. Captain James Atcherley was living in Southwark, Surrey, with another woman, Sarah Perkins, with whom he had fathered his third child.

James, it seems, was reluctant to provide financial support for Christiana and the children born of his marriage to her. Christiana however was determined that James should pay towards the maintenance of herself and their offspring. Her letter to Charles Cox of 20 November 1811, a full transcript of which follows, provides us with a fairly detailed picture of the scheme she had devised to make James pay what was due:

Atcherley, Christiana - letter 1811 header




My Dear Sir
You may easily conceive the satisfaction & pleasure your letter of yesterday afforded me & I am sure I can never half express, the obligations I am under to you, for undertaking to receive his Pay, otherwise I am well convinced I should never have a farthing; I am of opinion it would be advisable for you, never to advance any before hand, & I will take care on my part, never to draw, untill I think you have recieved it; it would certainly be better if I could leave it for even two or three months, on account of the expence of Stamps, which I am afraid it will not be in my power to do, particularly at present, as I shall be very glad of my proportion of the months Pay which will become due in a few days; the next, I can draw at the same time with my dividend to save the stamp, & after that, I trust I shall be able to wait a couple of months at least; after the reciept of your letter before the last, on finding that Capt A– would not agree to your kind proposal (which now however thank God has taken place) I knew not what to do, at last it occur’d to me, I would write to this Mr Bull; I began by supposing he was ignorant that Capt A– had a Wife & Family to support, or he could not wish to appropriate so lame a share of his Income, to liquidate a debt I was informed had been contracted, I then stated your proposal, & concluded by saying if it was not complied with, I should have my case stated to the Admiralty in order to have half the Pay stop’d, according to a written Agreement – altho I felt sensible this application would be of no use, still, as a last resource, I was determined to try what a little threatening would do, and it really had the desired effect, for I got a letter three days ago from Capt A– in answer, that Mr Bull would accede; he was very angry however at my writing to him, tho evidently alarmed at what I said I meant to do, for he added that the moment my memorial was presented, his Resignation would immediately follow, & so forth —
the debt due to this man, I conclude to be for Provisions during the time his Pay was stop’d, & I will flatter myself that perhaps after the ten months when this is liquidated, I may yet be able to get the half as was promised, & in the mean time, the present arrangement will keep me & my Children above want, & that is a great point gained —
with ten thousand thanks to you & Mr Charles for your kindness, & the trouble you have taken, which I hope God will reward you for, I will conclude, by begging my most affectionate Remembrance to dear Mrs. Cox & Mrs. Van: Atcherley, Christiana - letter 1811 footer





As we have seen, “satisfaction & pleasure” very soon changed to shock. Not doubting that Mr Cox had received the agreed proportion of James Atcherley’s pay, Christiana had drawn on Mr Cox’s account for the sum of £4 10s. But something had gone wrong and Charles Cox Esquire did not receive the money which was expected. Christiana could only speculate as to the reasons why.

Quote … in what manner to account for it, I am at a loss, or why he should give you the Power of Attorney at all, & then do this strange thing, after asking for so small a sum too – & perhaps he thought you would not go for his Pay, till the two months were up, as usual, & so thought he would get one in the mean time, or whether the person he had appointed his Agent, was determined to try once more before he was superseded; at any rate your Power of Attorney is the last, let me implore you to endeavour to make it useful next time, by sending as soon as the doors are open & by that means if possible remunerate yourself for the sum I have drawn for, if alas that is impracticable (by his having already revoked your Power), I must pay you by degrees which in the present miserable state of my finances, is all I can promise to do … Unquote

Christiana went on to discuss what might be done next. One possibility was that she could write to James, but was this a good idea? “I cannot tell whether I ought to write or not, for if I do, my feelings are so completely hurt, that I may make matters worse, by saying what may exasperate him, & make him cancel your Power, if he has not already done it …”. Another option was one which, I suspect, would have exasperated James even more:

Quote … very likely if I was to write to this Mr Bull again, it might be attended with a good effect, to inform him of what had recently transpired, & what Capt A– said about sending in his Resignation, & at the same time shew my indifference to that step, by pretending a Memorial was now ready to be presented; … Unquote

There is a reference in Christiana’s letter to receiving a third of James Atcherley’s pay, and this is mentioned again in the final, rather desperate passage of her communication to Charles Cox:

Quote … my health is so much impaired, I am not equal to fatigue, the oppression of my mind is more than I can bear, & reflecting on the hardships I must undergo this winter, almost presses me on the verge of the grave, unless you can manage to get this Third of the Pay for me, (I do not mean the next months, for that you must keep) but to have it go on regularly if possible – I know not what to cling to for comfort – my heart is too full to permit me to say more, than to beg my kindest love to dear Mrs Cox, & ten thousand thanks to you & Mr Charles – Unquote

I think it unlikely that Christiana received any proportion of James’s pay. That being so, her financial situation remained rather dire. From her letter of 1819 to Gilbert Innes of the Royal Bank of Scotland we know she left Plymouth about 1813 “as the place got so very expensive”. North Devon was recommended.

Devon - Barnstaple St PeterBarnstaple St Peter.

Quote … accordingly I came to Barnstaple, & found it much more reasonable, but I fear it is not a healthy place it lays so low, at least I have reason to say so having lost my amiable, & before healthy daughter & companion at the age of 15, after a long illness of 5 months, the deprivations I have undergone for her sake are not to be told, that she might have what was necessary, I had two medical men at last to attend her, for my all seemed at stake, but it has pleased God to add this heavy calamity (no doubt for wise reasons) to what I have already suffr’d … Unquote

Emma Eustatia Atcherley was buried, at Barnstaple St Peter, on 7 July 1819. The fact that poor Emma had gone to the grave unbaptised seems to have prompted Christiana to make sure the same would not happen to her son. William Langton Shairp Atcherley’s baptism took place at Barnstaple on 3 November 1819, the record of this event showing that he and Christiana had their home in the town’s High Street. No date of birth was recorded, but an age for William can be found in his mother’s letter, written three months before this ceremony:

Quote … I must endeavour to be resigned , & bear up as well as I can, for the sake of my dear son, now turned of 10 years old, who demands every care & attention; dear Lady Rothes has constantly been sending us little Presents, besides wine &c which has supported us thro the last sad scenes, but I have no right to expect it of her, for her Ladyship has a large and expensive family of her own, & a Fortune not adequate to her rank in life, but she is one of the best women in the world, & noted for doing good … Unquote

Lady Rothes, otherwise known as the Countess Dowager of Rothes or Lady Mary Langton, may well have sent her last gift to Christiana by the time the above words were written. Her gravestone, at Exeter, shows that she died there on 11 January 1820. However, Christiana still possessed her late aunt’s property near Edinburgh, Gardner’s Hall. She told Gilbert Innes:

Quote … Mr Bell informs me, that unless my Little Property is sold this summer, it will not bring in so much rent even as it has done, & the idea of this adds greatly to my distress; there has lately been a Canal cut, from Glasgow to Edinburgh, which runs close by the door of Gardners Hall, we are therefore in great hopes that this will make it sell to advantage, & what I have to beg of you my good sir is, as the greatest favor, that you would have the goodness to look at it, & mention it among your Friends; as a person of your Influence & consequence interesting yourself about it, might be of the greatest use; I so dread my little Income being decreased that it makes me quite ill, especially now my boy requires to be educated … Unquote

Christiana’s letter concluded: “I have ever retained the greatest affection for my dear native land, but Fate has thrown me far from it.”

Whether Christiana’s countryman Mr Innes helped her in any way I do not know, but it does not appear that any attempts to sell the property were made in 1819, or the following year. However The Royal Edinburgh Club noted that: “In 1821 Gardeners’ Hall was again on the market, and was acquired by William Gardner”. Hopefully Christiana received a reasonable sum from the sale. It may have been at this time that she and William left Barnstaple and went back to Stonehouse. It seems unlikely that she ever returned to her beloved Scotland.

Christiana’s contribution to the story of her life ended with the closing lines of her letter of 1819: I have found no further letters after that date. Other records tell the conclusion of her story. On “Sixth of October 1838 ½ after 11 pm” Christiana Atcherley died at East Stonehouse, from natural causes. Her age was recorded as 69, although a notice in The Gentleman’s Magazine stated simply that she died “at an advanced age”. She was buried at East Stonehouse four days after her death, and administration of her estate was granted to her son William on 15 June 1840 (Christiana had not left a will).

Atcherley, Christiana - Admiralty paymentIt is, I hope, not overly optimistic of me to believe that in her later years, Christiana’s life was rather easier that it was during the period when she was struggling to raise her children. Her son, William Shairp Langton Atcherley, followed his father into service with the Royal Marines, obtaining a Commission as Second Lieutenant on 29 October 1828. I am sure Christiana welcomed the proportion of his salary that I am absolutely certain William passed on to her.

It was also in her later years that Christiana finally received money from her husband, Captain James Atcherley. James died in 1834, and as a widow of a Royal Marine Officer Christiana was then paid by the Admiralty, for the last few years of her life, £50 per annum.


My grateful thanks to Barbara Lang for providing copies of Christiana Atcherley’s letters of 1811, and transcriptions of those letters.

Picture credits. Extracts from Christiana Atcherley’s letter of 30 Nov 1811: Images extracted from a copy of the letter supplied by Barbara Lang. Barnstaple St Peter: public domain image from page 170 of The North Devon Coast (published 1908) at Internet Archive. Extract from Accounts and Papers, 1837: Composite image made from public domain copy of the publication at Google Books.

References (See also the references for Parts 1 and 2 of this story)

[1] Letter from Christiana Atcherley to Charles Cox Esq., dated 10 Dec 1811. Copy supplied by Barbara Lang.
[2] Barnstaple St Peter, Devon, burial register covering 1819, entry dated 7 Jul for Emma Eustatia Atcherley. Abstract viewed at Findmypast – Devon Burials.
[3] Barnstaple St Peter, Devon, baptism register covering 1819, entry dated 3 Nov for William Shairp Langton Atcherley. Abstract viewed at Findmypast – Devon Baptisms.
[4] Lady Mary Langton. At: Find A Grave (website, accessed 6 Apr 2016).
[5] Death of Christiana Atcherley registered at E Stonehouse, December quarter 1838; volume 9, volume 215. Copy of entry in GRO register of deaths held.
[6] The Gentleman’s Magazine, November 1838, page 563. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[7] East Stonehouse, Devon, burial register covering 1838, entry dated 12 Oct for Christiana Atcherley. Abstract viewed at Findmypast – Devon Burials.
[8] The National Archives, Kew, item IR27/49 (Index to Death Duty Registers 1796-1903). Copy viewed at Findmypast – Index to Death Duty Registers.
[9] The National Archives, Kew, item PROB 6/216 (Administration act book, 1840), entry for Christiana Atcherley. Transcript supplied by Barbara Lang.
[10] The National Archives, Kew, item ADM 196/58/200 (Admiralty: Officers’ Service Records (Series III)), Atcherley, William Shairp Langton. Copy downloaded from TNA Discovery website.
[11] Anon (1837), Manner the sums voted in Navy estimates of 1836 and 1837, for widows of officers slain, &c., were applied. In: Accounts and Papers, volume XL. Estimates; Army; Navy; Ordnance, &c. Session 31 January—17 July 1837. Copy viewed at Google Books.

Christiana Atcherley in her own words – Part 2

< Back to Part 1.

The marriage of Christiana Shairp and James Atcherley took place at East Stonehouse in Devon on 8 November 1802. James, then a Lieutenant in the Royal Marines, was promoted to the rank of Captain within two years and, in 1805, he took part in one of Britain’s greatest sea battles (see An Atcherley at Trafalgar). He was, as Christiana later wrote, “apparently with good prospects”. Appearances were to prove deceptive however, and Christiana was to find that her match with James was most definitely not made in Heaven.

Quote … alas it turned out far different from what I expected, as we found too late, that he was very much in debt, but as he belonged to the Plymouth Division, & that being a cheap part of the country, I was in great hopes, that by good management we might get on as well as our neighbours, but to my sorrow I too late found, that it was impossible, his habits were so expensive, fond of cards, dogs, & horses, which never can answer upon an Officers Pay, especially as I had become the mother of two lovely children, a girl and a boy, which I trusted would have made him steady, but tho personally fond of them, it had not that effect, for he still went on in the same manner, until he was thrown into the Kings Bench, when he must have lost his Commission, had I not thro’ my interest procured him the Retirement on full Pay … Unquote

Devon - Stonehouse (map)1914 map of Stonehouse, Plymouth, showing location of Royal Marine Barracks.

There are two sides to every story, and we only have Christiana’s side of this one, written some years after the events described. Her account seems credible nonetheless. Christiana and James certainly had two children: Emma Eustatia Atcherley and William Shairp Langton Atcherley. Neither were baptised as infants (indeed, Emma was not baptised at all), but from Christiana’s letter (and other sources) it appears that Emma was born around 1804 and William in about 1809.

Was James rather too fond of “cards, dogs, & horses” as Christiana alleged?  I suspect he was, although – if I can talk about this in gambling terms – the odds of finding corroborating evidence are rather slim. Another ‘sporting’ activity James pursued, for which we do have evidence, was shooting. Colonel Francis Maceroni (of English birth but Italian blood) recalled in his memoirs that his first shooting expedition to Patria (in Tuscany), “was in company with Mr. Steuart and Captain Atcherly of the British Royal Marines.” It is difficult to pin down when this expedition took place, although given that James was a Captain at the time it was most likely after Trafalgar.

There is absolutely no doubt that James Atcherley got into debt and that he was, as Christiana put it, “thrown into the [King’s] Bench”. He was committed to that prison, in Southwark, on 8 September 1810, at the suit of three men: William Mitchell, James Dickie, and George Kempster Esqr (the last-named was a fellow Captain of the Royal Marines). These men had charged James Atcherley with debts of £12 “and upwards”, £22 9s 8d, and £289 10s respectively, a total exceeding £323 19s 8d.

James was discharged from the King’s Bench the some nine months after his committal, having provided an account of his assets for the settlement of his debts under the Act for the Relief of certain Insolvent Debtors in England. Notices relating to this were published in the London Gazette in July 1811, when James was described as being “formerly of Plymouth, in the County of Devon, but late of Chatham, in the County of Kent, Captain of Marines.” (Another Atcherley who ended up in a debtor’s prison was Thomas of Marton, who was a prisoner in His Majesty’s Gaol of the Northgate, Chester, in 1794 – see The life and crimes and Thomas Atcherley.)

King's Bench Prison, principal entrance, 1828King’s Bench Prison, principal entrance

Was James at risk of losing his Commission in the Royal Marines as a result of his debts? And was Christiana instrumental in sparing him from this fate, by “[procuring] him the Retirement on full Pay”? It is a fact that by 15 May 1811, while he was a prisoner for debt, James had been placed on the list of “Officers of the Royal Marines retired on Full Pay”, so Christiana’s claims seem to have substance.

In her letter to Gilbert Innes, Christiana also revealed that she had tried to help her husband escape his debt problems in another way:

Quote … I should have told you that just before this, my Aunt Mrs. McConichie died & left me a small house, & rather more than 3 acres of land in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, called Gardners hall, & £400 in money, Mr John Bell W.R.T. who was my Aunts man of business, continued to be mine; I thought it my duty to give Capt A. the £400 to pay his debts, but I was advised not to do it, till he signed a renunciation of the house & ground, which as he wanted ready money he did … Unquote

The odd thing about this part of Christiana’s letter is that her aunt, in her will of 24 August 1808, did not bequeath her the property known as Gardner’s Hall. Barbara McConochie (née Shairp) did in fact leave Gardner’s Hall to her brother, Christiana’s uncle, Major William Shairp of the Royal Marines, and after William’s death the property was to go to his son Alexander Mordaunt Shairp. Amongst the other bequests made by in Barbara’s will was one “to my niece Mrs Atcherly and her Daughter my grandniece”. The sum bequeathed was £800.

Despite the instructions set out in Barbara McConochie’s will, Christiana did become the owner of Gardner’s Hall after the death of her aunt (Barbara passed away on 23 April 1809). According to the Old Edinburgh Club:

On 26th July 1810 sasine was granted to Christiana Shairp, spouse to James Atcherly, Captain, Royal Marines, as heir to Barbara Shairp, her aunt, of two acres and two roods of the lands of Dalry ‘with the dwelling house thereon called Gardeners’ Hall.’ Mrs. Atcherley is mentioned as proprietrix in Kirkwood’s Map (1817).

I can only assume that when Barbara’s estate was administered, a deal was done which saw Christiana giving up £400 of the £800 left to her and her daughter, in return for which she received Gardner’s Hall. As a married woman in England, Christiana had no right to her own property. However the deal done with her husband meant that she was able to retain ownership of her aunt’s former home, and this would have provided a modest source of income. Which was just as well, as Christiana explained in 1819:

Quote … fortunate it was, these precautions were taken, as he has never since let us have a farthing, but has been spending his whole pay on himself, & for the worst of purposes for these last 9 years, while I have been forced to struggle thro the greatest difficulties & distress, to bring up & educate my two dearest Children, which you may easily imagine, when I tell you that my Income is under £80 per an: & that is to cover every expence … Unquote

The “worst of purposes”? To explain these words I must jump back and quote the following short passage from Christiana’s letter. It appeared between her accounts of procuring James Atcherley his retirement on full pay, and of the inheritance she received from her aunt:

Quote … after all this instead of coming home, he formed Connections near where he was, that rendered it impossible for me to receive him … Unquote

The ‘connections’ to which Christiana referred had, in fact, been formed by James before he was “thrown into the [King’s] Bench”, not afterwards. This much is apparent from a baptism which took place at Newington St Mary in Surrey on 2 January 1818. The register shows that Eleanora, daughter of James Atcherley (Captain of Royal Marines) and Sarah, was born on 6 June 1811. The next two entries in the register recorded the baptisms of two more children born to James and Sarah (James junior, born 26 October 1815, and John, born 26 October 1817). Another daughter (Ann, born 29 August 1813) had been baptised at St George the Martyr, Southwark, on 26 December 1813.

All of the above baptisms, along with two more at Newington St Mary on 1 January 1832 (for George, born 9 August 1819, and William Henry, born 23 April 1824) appear to show that James Atcherley and Sarah were married. There is no reference to their children being ‘illegitimate’ or ‘base born’, and no separate surname recorded for Sarah. James, however, was still married to Christiana, so none of his children with Sarah (Perkins) were born in wedlock. (For more on Sarah Perkins and the sons she had with James Atcherley, see The lives of Henry Atcherley, his wives, and their families – Part 1).

Stonehouse Bridge and Ferry House,Stonehouse Bridge and Ferry House.

Being estranged from husband, Christiana Atcherley was left to raise two children in very difficult circumstances. Fortunately, she was able to get by thanks to her limited independent income and (to misquote the Beatles) with a little from her friends. This is another insight into Christiana’s life provided by her letter of 1819:

Quote … I thank God I have met with very kind friends, (otherwise I should not have been able to get on at all), especially in the Countess Dowager of Rothes, who lived for 7 years next door to me at Plymouth, & knows all I have gone thro, her Daughter is Godmother to my little boy Unquote

The Countess Dowager of Rothes was evidently a very good friend to have, but which Countess Dowager of Rothes was she? In the 1770s there were apparently three different ladies of that title who had taken second husbands, which led to the saying “Married a Countess Dowager of Rothes! Why, every body marries a Countess Dowager of Rothes!” Christiana’s friend however was Mary, née Lloyd, widow of John, eighth Earl of Rothes. Her second husband was Bennet Langton, Esquire, of Langton in Lincolnshire, and a report on the death of this couple’s fifth daughter, Isabella, places the Dowager Countess in Stonehouse, Plymouth, in 1808. Bennet Langton, who was “the intimate friend of the celebrated Dr [Samuel] Johnson, Mr Boswell, Mr Burke, and other Literati” had passed away in December 1802.

Christiana was determined to improve her family’s situation, but as a married woman without the support of her husband she faced an uphill struggle:

Quote … I wish to God it was in my power to maintain myself & children, I would never trouble him for sixpence;  I have even applied to Mr Rose lately to see if I could not get appointed as matron of an Hospital, but he gives me not the smallest hopes, as none but Widows are entitled to it … Unquote

Christiana Atcherley had not exhausted all her options just yet however. The quote above is taken from one of two earlier missives which have survived for over two centuries, having been written by Christiana in 1811. In those letters, details of what Christiana did next are revealed.

> On to Part 3.

Picture credits. King’s bench Prison, principal entrance circa 1828, by Thomas Shepherd: public domain image from Wikimedia Commons. Stonehouse Bridge and Ferry House: Illustration from page 337 of The History of Plymouth, published 1890, taken from the British Library Flickr photostream, no known copyright restrictions. Map of Stonehouse showing location of Royal Marine Barracks: Adapted from map on page 11 of A pictorial and descriptive guide to Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport, published 1914, taken from Internet Archive Flickr photostream, no known copyright restrictions.

References (See also the references for Part 1 of this story)

[1] East Stonehouse, Devon, marriage register covering 1802, entry for James Atcherley and Christiana Shairp. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch M15070-1, Film 6036805.
[2] The Naval Chronicle. Volume VIII, July to December 1802. Page 439. “At Stonehouse chapel, Devon, Lieutenant Achorly, of the Royal Marines, to Miss Christiana Shairp.” Copy viewed at Google Books.
[3] The Lady’s Magazine or Entertaining Companion for The Fair Sex. November 1802. Page 616. “At Stonehouse-chapel, Devon, lieut. Achorly, of the royal marines, to miss Christiana Shairp.” Copy viewed at Google Books.
[4] An Atcherley at Trafalgar.
[5] Francis Maceroni (1838), Memoirs of the Life and Adventures of Colonel Maceroni. Page 174. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[6] The National Archives, Kew, item PRIS 7/30 (King’s Bench Prison and Queen’s Prison: Discharges; 1811). Copy viewed at Ancestry – London , England, King’s Bench and Fleet Prison Discharge Books and Prisoner Lists, 1734-1862.
[7] Records of the King’s Bench Prison and the Queen’s Prison. At: Discovery (part of The National Archives’ website, accessed 30 Mar 2016).
[8] Gentleman’s Magazine, May 1837, page 553. “Deaths. […]At Blackheath, aged 78, Capt. George Kempster, late R. Mar.” Copy viewed at Google Books.
[9] London Gazette, issue 16506, 20 Jul 1811, pages 1377, 1384 and 1385.
[10] London Gazette, issue 16507, 23 Jul 1811, page 1441.
[11] London Gazette, issue 16508, 27 Jul 1811, page 1481.
[12] War Office (1811), A List of all the Officers of the Army and Royal Marines on Full and Half Pay. Page 475. Copy viewed at Hathi Trust website. Note: Dates given are dates of Commission, not of retirement.
[13] National Records of Scotland, item ref SC70/1/1 (Edinburgh Sheriff Court Inventories): 1809 MaConochie, Barbara. Copy downloaded from Scotland’s People website.
[14] The National Archives, Kew. Item ref PROB 11/1601/413: Will of Barbara McConochie formerly Shairp, Widow of Edinburgh, Mid Lothian. Copy viewed at Ancestry – England & Wales, Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills, 1384-1858. Also available from The National Archives website.
[15] The Scots Magazine, May 1809, pages 398-9. Deaths. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[16] Old Edinburgh Club (1935), The Book of the Old Edinburgh Club. Vol. 20. Page 59. Snippets viewed at Google Books.
[17] Coverture. At: Wikipedia (website, accessed 4 Apr 2016).
[18] Newington St Mary, Surrey, baptism register covering 1818. Entries dated 2 Jan for Eleanora, James and John Atcherley. Copy viewed at Ancestry – London, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1906.
[19] St George the Martyr, Southwark, Surrey, baptism register covering 1813, entry dated 26 Dec for Ann Atcherley. Copy viewed at Ancestry – London, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1906.
Newington St Mary, Surrey, baptism register covering 1832. Entries dated 1 Jan for George and William Henry Atcherley. Copy viewed at Ancestry – London, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1906.
[21] James Boswell (with additions and notes by John Wilson Croker) (1832),The life of Samuel Johnson. Volume 1, page 273. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[22] Stamford Mercury, 13 May 1808, page 3. “Lately died at Stonehouse, Plymouth […] Isabella, fifth daughter of the late Bennet Langton, of Langton, Esq. and the Countess of Rothes.” Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[23] Gentleman’s Magazine, August 1819, page 189. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[24] Caledonian Mercury, 2 Jan 1802, page 3. “On Friday, the 18th ult. at Southampton, Bennet Langton, Esq. of Langton, near Spilsby, Lincolnshire, aged 65 years. …” Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[25] Letter from Christiana Atcherley to Charles Cox Esq., dated 30 Nov 1811. Copy supplied by Barbara Lang.

Christiana Atcherley in her own words – Part 1

Quote Sir, I am afraid you will scarcely pardon the liberty a stranger is about to take with you, but I am at present under the greatest affliction of mind, having a month ago lost my only daughter, and having been so many many years absent from my native country I am as it were worn out of acquaintances there; I am emboldened to address you, from the old friendship that subsisted between my Father & yours, the name of my Father was Shairp, he was Secretary to the Royal Bank … Unquote — Christiana Atcherley to Gilbert Innes, 3 Aug 1819.

Edinburgh - Castle and Old Town, 1769Edinburgh – The castle and the Old Town in 1769.

The purpose of Christiana Atcherley’s letter to Gilbert Innes, of the Royal Bank of Scotland, was a simple one. She wanted Gilbert to drum up interest in a property in Scotland which had been bequeathed to Christiana some years before, and which she wished to put on the market. Christiana was not one for writing short letters however. This was bad news for Gilbert Innes, who had to wade through a “long preamble” before Christiana finally got to the point. But it is good news for those of us who are interested in the life story of Christiana Atcherley – because her life story is exactly what her long preamble consisted of!

Christina’s correspondence provides a fascinating narrative, which we can augment with additional sources of information to make her story more complete. Let us start then, as Christiana did, at the beginning:

Quote … the name of my Father was Shairp, he was Secretary to the Royal Bank, & I perfectly remember you Sir at our house in Broughton when I was a happy child, I have since that period undergone many reverses of fortune, my troubles began by losing my poor Father, who you may have heard died insolved [= insolvent], partly I understand from having become bound with one of his brothers to pay half the mortgages on his Estate … Unquote

My research into Christiana’s family has not been easy, thanks to the absence of many vital records – including that of Christiana’s baptism. But other sources, such as wills and newspapers, and of course Christiana’s own words, have helped to fill in some of the gaps. Based on her age at death (which may not have been recorded accurately), it seems that Christiana Shairp was born around 1769, and we know that she was born in Scotland. Was Broughton, near Edinburgh, the scene of her happy childhood, also her birthplace? I suspect so, but cannot prove it.

Mystery surrounds not only the exact location of Christiana’s birth, but also the identity of her mother – I have found no record of her father’s marriage. And there is no mention, by Christiana or in any records I have found, of any brothers and sisters. One possibility is that Christiana was, like her cousin Marion Shairp, born out of wedlock. (Marion’s father – and Christiana’s uncle – John Shairp, left all of his estate and effects in England to his “natural daughter” Marion who, though born on 9 June 1757, was not baptised until 1810. By then, John had been dead 15 years, and Marion was 53! Her mother was named as Sarah Antrobus.) I think unlikely that Christiana was ‘illegitimate’ however. Perhaps Mrs Shairp died not long after the birth of her only daughter, leaving Christiana with no mother, and no siblings.

The father of Christiana was Thomas Shairp. He was not one of the men of that name who were of Houstoun, in county Linlithgow (a family documented in Burke’s Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry), but he was related to them. Indeed, it is a document within the papers of the Shairp family of Houston which confirms that Thomas Shairp, “one of the Secretaries of the Royal Bank of Scotland,” was the eldest son of Alexander Shairp, merchant of Edinburgh, by Alexander’s wife Marion Bell.

Remains of Old Broughton village, 1852Broughton – the remains of the old village as they appeared in 1852.

Thomas Shairp became one of two Joint Secretaries to the Royal Bank of Scotland in 1763. With this position came a salary which enabled Thomas and his daughter Christiana to live very comfortable lives. The sale of Thomas’s estate and effects, following the his death on 14 May 1785, meant that descriptions of the Shairp family home and its contents appeared in the local press. The following appeared in the Caledonian Mercury of 17 September 1785 (and later editions):

That VILLA in Broughton, near Edinburgh, which belonged to the late Thomas Shairp, Secretary of the Royal Bank, with the Garden and Shrubbery belonging thereto, and with coach-house, stable, and other offices. The House consists of five rooms, kitchen, and several conveniences. It is finished with uncommon taste and elegance and commands a most beautiful and extensive prospect. Also that piece of GROUND, consisting of about one acre Scots measure, adjoining the above, on the south-west, with a coach-road from [Broughton] Loan. …

In the same paper, the following April, this notice appeared:

A Rouping of Household Furniture.
THERE is to be SOLD, upon Tuesday the 25th of April current, in that house in Broughtonloan, possessed by the late Mr Thomas Shairp, Secretary to the Royal Bank,
The whole HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE, consisting of mounted beds, down and feather beds, sheets and blankets, bed and table linen, mahogany bureaux and drawers, mahogany tables, dining room and drawing room furniture, mirrors of different sizes; tea and table china, and silver plate; a variety of prints and paintings, with some bulls [=balls?], guns and small arms, a telescope, a fine chamber organ, a table clock, a water cistern, a jack, with a variety of kitchen furniture. …

If the approximate year of birth for Christiana derived from her age at death is correct, she was about 16 when her father passed away. For the next chapter of her life story, we return to her letter:

Quote … however another of his Brothers (Alexr) a Russian merchant kindly sent me to a Boarding school at Durham, & afterwards took me to live with him in London, where I enjoyed the greatest affluence for several years, when my poor Uncle died, & left a quarter of his Fortune (having no Children of his own) to be divided between a male Cousin of mine (whom he had likewise adopted) & myself, after the death of his wife; but as is often the case with mercantile property, it fell far short of expectation, & my share was only £1000 stock; my aunt then retired to live at Southampton & took me with her where (to be brief) I continued to reside most comfortably till she unfortunately died also … Unquote

So Christiana’s home following the death of her father was “a Boarding School at Durham”. I have found two potential candidates for this school. One was run by Mrs Eleanor Greenwell, who in June 1780 placed a notice in the Newcastle Chronicle begging leave “to acquaint her Friends and the Public, that she continues her Boarding-School for young Ladies, in Crossgate, Durham : And those who please to favour her with the Education of her Children, may depend upon her utmost care and Attention being exerted for their advantage …”. Another, also advertised in 1780, was Suggett’s Boarding School in Old Elvet, Durham.

Both of these boarding schools were still operating in 1795, when Christiana was sent to Durham by her uncle Alexander Shairp. In 1792 Mrs Suggett’s school was teaching music, French, dancing, writing and arithmetic, with “every attention” paid not only to “every branch of literature” but also to the girls’ morals. Mrs Greenwell meanwhile, continued to run her school until she died in 1796, when the establishment was taken over by a Miss Ann Hilton. Exactly how long Christiana remained in Durham – with Mrs Greenwell, Mrs Suggett, or another boarding school proprietress for whom I have found no record – I do not know.

Durham CathedralDurham Cathedral would have been a familiar sight to Christiana while at boarding school.

It was perhaps because of the responsibility he had taken for the care of his niece that Alexander Shairp made his will in December 1785. As Christiana later wrote, the will made provision for her and a “male Cousin” – Alexander’s nephew, also named Alexander Shairp. Their quarter part of Alexander the elder’s “fortune” was to be placed in 3 per cent Consolidated Funds, with the interest to be used for their education “and other purposes” until they reached the age of 21. Then, the will decreed, “this quarter part shall become their Property share and share alike”.

In the sort of will that genealogists love, Alexander Shairp also named and made bequests to a number of family members. His brother “John P Shairpe Esquire of Kirktown in the Parish of Bathgate” was to receive a quarter part of his estate. So too was his brother “William Shairp Esqr Major of Marines”, father of Alexander the younger. John and William were also to invest the quarter part bequeathed to Christiana and Alexander the younger, and the remaining quarter part for their sisters, Barbara (by then married) and Marion. The one name which Alexander did not give in his will was that of his “beloved wife”, who was to receive, “in consideration of her many virtues and goodness”, Alexander’s household furniture and, for the duration of her life, the income from his estate and effects.

As Christiana indicated in her letter, Alexander Shairp was a merchant who traded with Russia. It appears that he was apprenticed to his uncle Walter Shairp (who became Britain’s consul-general at St Petersburg in 1776), and was later a partner in Shairp and Maude, Russia merchants of Broad Street, London. His wife, it turns out, was Walter’s daughter Janet Shairp, to whom Alexander was married in 1783. Trade with Russia was good – no wonder Christiana “enjoyed the greatest affluence” while living with this couple!

Alexander Shairp died, in Broad Street Buildings, on 17 February 1789. The circumstances of death were rather shocking: a Coroner’s Inquisition found that he had put a gun to his head and shot himself. As the jurors concluded, “Alexander Shairp not being of sound mind memory and understanding but lunatic and distracted in manner and by the means aforesaid did kill himself”. No wonder his widow took herself and Christiana away from London.

Janet Shairp and her orphaned niece resided at Southampton until December 1795, which is when Janet passed away. Christiana was at that time about 26 years of age, and despite the fact that she had received £1000 in stock when she was 21, it appears that she was not ‘of independent means’. She was taken in by her only remaining uncle, William, and the stage was set for the next instalment of her life story.

Quote … my uncle Major Shairp of the Marines, who had a small house on Blackheath invited me to come to him, which I did, & remained there about four years, during which time I became acquainted with Capt Atcherley of the same Corps, & married him … Unquote

> On to Part 2.

Picture credits. Edinburgh – The castle and the Old Town in 1769: Adaptation of a public domain image taken from Wikimedia Commons. Broughton – the remains of the old village as they appeared in 1852: adaptation of an image from page 180 of Old and New Edinburgh, published circa 1882 and therefore in the public domain. Durham Cathedral: Photo by Jungpionier, taken from Wikimedia Commons and used under a Creative Commons licence.


[1] National Records of Scotland item GD113/5/474/26, dated 3 Aug 1819 (Correspondence of Gilbert Innes of Stow; letter from Christiana Atcherley). Abstract viewed at NRS website; digital copy of original provided by NRS.
[2] Death of Christiana Atcherley registered at E Stonehouse, December quarter 1838; volume 9, volume 215. Copy of entry in GRO death register held.
[3] TNA item ref PROB 11/1273/43: Will of John Shairp of Kirkton, Nottinghamshire [= North Britain (i.e., Scotland)]. Copy viewed at Ancestry – England & Wales, Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills, 1384-1858. Also available from The National Archives website.
[4] St Martin in the Fields, Midlesex, parish register covering 1810, entry dated 11 Oct for Marion Shairp. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Westminster Baptisms.
[5] Caledonian Mercury, 21 May 1795, page 3. “Died, on the 15th inst. John Shairp, Esq. of Kirktoun.” Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[6] John Burke, John Bernard Burke (1847), A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry. Volume II. Pages 1221-2. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[7] Appendix: The Shairp Family. At: UK Genealogy Archives (website, accessed 28 Mar 2016).
[8] National Records of Scotland item GD30/250, dated 17 Aug 1771. Abstract viewed at NRS website.
[9] The Scots Magazine, 5 Dec 1763, page 56. Preferments. Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[10] Gentleman’s Magazine, May 1785, page 406. Deaths. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[11] Caledonian Mercury, 17 September 1785, page 4. Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[12] Caledonian Mercury, 22 Apr 1786, page 3. Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[13] Newcastle Chronicle, 17 Jun 1780, page 2. Durham Boarding-School. Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[14] Newcastle Chronicle, 20 May 1780, page 2. Suggett’s Boarding-School. Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[15] Newcastle Courant, 1 Nov 1788, page 4. Mr Kinlock’s Ball, at Durham … Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[16] Newcastle Courant, 4 Jun 1796, page 4. Ladies’ Boarding-School. Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[17] Anthony Glenn Cross (1997), By the Banks of the Neva. Pages 61 et seq, and 406 (reference 77).
[18] Ian R. Christie (ed.) (1971), The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham. Volume 3, January 1781 to October 1788. Page 619. Snippet viewed at Google Books.
[19] TNA item ref PROB 11/1177/136: Will of Alexander Shairp, Merchant of Saint Botolph Bishopsgate, City of London. Copy viewed at Ancestry – England & Wales, Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills, 1384-1858. Also available from The National Archives website.
[20] St Botolph without Bishopsgate, Middlesex, marriage register covering 1783, entry dated 21 Jun for Alexander Shairp and Janet Shairp. Copy viewed at Ancestry – London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1921.
[21] The Universal Magazine, August 1783, page 110. Marriages. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[22] The Gentleman’s Magazine, volume 59, 1789, page 185. Obituary of considerable Persons. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[23] The Scots Magazine, volume 51, 1789, page 103. Deaths. Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[24] Hampshire Chronicle, 19 Dec 1795, page 4. Southampton. “A few days ago died, in an advanced age, Mrs. Shairp, of this town.” Copy viewed at Findmypast.

Charities, golf tees and Catherine Emma Grace Atcherley

Although born in Canada (at Brockville, Ontario, on 21 July 1869), Catherine Emma Grace Atcherley – usually known as Grace – grew up in Rhyl on the north coast of Wales. After losing her mother when she was just one year old, and her father at the age of five, it seems likely that Grace was brought up by her stepmother and her maternal aunts. I suspect it was her aunts in particular who fostered Grace’s support for charitable causes. The identity of the person or persons who inspired her interest in golf, on the other hand, is anybody’s guess!

Rhyl - from The Rhyl JournalRhyl, as depicted on the front page of The Rhyl Journal

The earliest mention of Grace that I have found in the press covering North Wales, dates back to Christmas day 1886. That day’s edition of the North Wales Chronicle included Grace Atcherley (her name, oddly, prefixed “Mr.”) in its list of visitors to the annual ball in aid of the Denbighshire Infirmary. This may have been seventeen-year-old Grace’s first attendance at such a social gathering, and indeed the first time that she participated in a fund-raising event in aid of a charity. It certainly would not be her last, on either score.

Tracking down all of Grace’s charitable contributions during her years at Rhyl is problematic. There are numerous newspaper reports and listings for that period which feature “Miss Atcherley” or the “Misses Atcherley”. “Miss Atcherley” might, on occasion, have been Grace, but was more likely to be the senior Atcherley sister (Grace’s eldest surviving aunt at the time in question) at Bryn Estyn in Russell Road. And while the “Misses Atcherley” might have included Grace, it was a term that could equally have referred solely to her aunts – there is no way of knowing for sure.

Fortunately there are several notices in the North Wales newspapers in which Grace Atcherley is clearly identified. From these we learn that in 1889 she gave £1 1s towards a presentation fund for the Rev T Richardson, vicar of Rhyl, on his departure for Northop. In 1892, Grace supported a sale of work in aid of the funds of the Church Missionary Society, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and the Zenana Missionary Society, which was held on 2 July at the Boys’ Schoolroom in Clwyd Street, Rhyl. According to the Rhyl Journal:

The room presented a very picturesque appearance, the various stalls being laden with a lavish display of plain and fancy wares, consisting for the most part of children’s frocks, antimaccassars, baby-linen, photos and frames, stationery, dolls, vases of flowers, cushions, dainty tea-cosies, beautiful embroidery, and a variety of other useful and ornamental articles too numerous to mention, the garments, &c., being the artistic handiwork of ladies interested in the missionary cause.

Miss G Atcherley was one of those thanked for their contributions to the Zenana Mission Stall at the above event. Also in 1892, Grace donated £2 to the Rhyl Branch of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. Living on the coast, she must have been all too aware of the dangers faced by those who put to sea, and by those whose mission it was to rescue mariners in distress.

The following year, Grace Atcherley was among the many local ladies who helped to stage a grand fancy dress bazaar at Rhyl in aid of the Church House, St John’s Church Organ, and the Church Workers’ Union. The Rhyl Journal subtitled its report on this event: “’Fairyland’ at the Town Hall”. Grace was one of around a dozen stallholders looking after The Valley of Violets, while other attractions were named Sunflower Shade, Daisy Dingle, Rose Bower, Forget-me-not Dell (St. John’s Sunday School Teachers’ Stalls), Fernery (Refreshment Stall), Fairy Glen and Heathery (advertisement stall).

Grace devoted some of her days at Rhyl not only to good causes, but also golf courses. Rhyl Golf Club was formed in 1890, at a meeting which took place at the town’s Westminster Hotel on 1 March. The Rhyl Record and Advertiser reported:

Col. Mainwaring opened the proceedings by particularising the advantages to be derived from the establishment of a Golf Club. He pointed out that gentlemen as a rule avoided going to a seaside resort owing to the dearth of suitable recreation, and that the game of Golf was eminently suited, both by way of exercise and recreation, to act as a powerful attraction to gentlemen of good means living in towns like Chester and Liverpool to come here and make prolonged visits with their families (hear, hear.)

Although the inaugural meeting of Rhyl Golf Club seems to have been attended solely by men, and despite the fact that the club was seen as a means of attracting gentlemen to the resort, women were not excluded from the club. When subscription rates were agreed, they included one for ladies, which was set at 10 shillings.

“The first contest for the ladies’ monthly subscription” took place in March 1891, Grace Atcherley (then aged 21) being one of the 13 women who competed. According to Golf, A Weekly Record of ‘ye Royal and Auncient’ Game, “Miss May Pennant was returned the winner with the excellent score of 115, less 8 =107, Mrs. Birley and Miss K. Lloyd-Williams being close up.” Grace was firmly in 13th place, with a nett score of 229.

Atcherley, Grace - Rhyl Golf ClubGrace did manage second place in the January 1893 ladies’ competition at Rhyl, but this was by virtue of there being only three players, one of whom made no return. Her handicap, which was 50 in 1891, had by this time increased to 60, where it remained. Grace played again in February, April, July and December 1893. She was placed sixth (out of seven players who made their returns), eighth (out of eight), eighth (out of 10) and sixth (out of eight) respectively. I have found no record of her playing golf again after 1893.

I think even Grace would agree that she was not a gifted golf player. So what was it that attracted her to the ‘Royal and ancient game’? It may in part have been, as Colonel Mainwaring had stated (albeit with gentlemen in mind), that golf was a suitable recreation “both by way of exercise and recreation”. But my guess is that golf provided Grace and other ‘ladies of leisure’ living in and around Rhyl with a novel opportunity for social interaction. Who, then, were the women in Grace’s social circle?

Some of the ladies appear to have been wives or daughters of the well-to-do gentlemen who founded the club. Mrs Birley, placed second in the first ladies’ contest at Rhyl, was most likely Elizabeth, wife of committee member Hugh Francis Birley. Both were lodging at 56 West Parade in Rhyl at the time of the 1891 census, and both were ‘living on their own means’. Similarly, Mrs Conwy (or Rowley-Conwy) who also played in that first ladies’ match was probably Marion, wife of the club’s first captain, Captain Conwy Grenville Hercules Rowley-Conwy, formerly of the 2nd Life Guards, who was a Deputy Lieutenant of Flintshire.

‘May’ Pennant, who won the first ladies’ contest at Rhyl, was in fact Mary Catherine Pennant. She and her two sisters, Georgiana Bankes Pennant and Adelaide Wynne Pennant, were regulars at the ladies’ matches. The father of these three was Philip Pennant Pennant (born Philip Pennant Pearson), a Deputy Lieutenant, magistrate and landowner, and their mother was Mary Frances, née Bankes. Through their mother, who was the daughter of the Rev Edward Bankes, the Pennant sisters were related by marriage to another of Rhyl’s lady golfers, Mrs Adelaide Sophia Scott Bankes, whose husband John Scott Banks was a magistrate and landowner.

The young Grace Atcherley was evidently mixing with the wives and daughters of some of the most prominent families of North Wales. One last example is Miss (Amicia Bertred Constance) Knollys, daughter of William Edward Knollys and his wife Amicia Mary, née Mainwaring.  Through her mother it appears she was related to fellow Rhyl golf player Miss Mainwaring, and to the founding president of the club Colonel Mainwaring. Through her father she was related to Sir Francis Knollys, Private Secretary to the Prince of Wales. Sir Francis helped to arrange the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales to Rhyl in 1894 – an event which was, as we shall see, of great interest to Grace Atcherley.

The Royal visit took place on Friday 13 July. The Wrexham Advertiser reported: “The chief thoroughfares were one mass of decorations. Fine weather prevailed, and some thousands of spectators thronged the streets of Rhyl to welcome the Royal visitors. … Everywhere in the town flags were to be seen, and the line of route was a mass of colour, loyal mottoes being displayed.” The paper went on to say:

The Royal party arrived at 12.45, when presentations of the High Sheriff of Flintshire with the Committee were made. Miss Ralli presented a bouquet to the Princess, Miss Perks to the Princess Victoria, and Miss Strachan to the Princess Maud. The Clerk to the Rhyl Commissioners handed the address to Mr Mostyn Williams, Chairman, who presented it to the Prince outside the station. The Prince, in reply, thanked them for their expressions of loyalty, and referred to the allusion to Rhuddlan Castle in the address. Since then many princes had been to Wales, but none had the welfare and prosperity of the kingdom at heart more than himself. All knew how interested the Princess was in all institutions for the alleviation of suffering, and she wished to say how pleased she was to be present.

Alexandra, Princess of WalesFrom the railway station, the Royal procession made its way through the streets of Rhyl, to the Royal Alexandra Hospital – named for the Princess of Wales (pictured left), who had been its patron since 1882. The Royal visit provided Alexandra with an opportunity to lay the foundation stone for a new hospital building, which was to cost more than £15,000. After the stone-laying, the Princess was presented with purses containing donations towards the hospital fund. A “list of the ladies who presented purses containing not less than £5 5s at the laying of the foundation stone of the Royal Alexandra Hospital” included Miss Grace Atcherley of Bryn Estyn, Rhyl.

Grace’s contribution to the Royal Alexandra Hospital was one of the last acts of charity she made during her years of residence in Rhyl. During the summer of 1895, the Atcherleys of Rhyl moved to Gresford, near Wrexham in Denbighshire. Advertisements for the sale, by auction, of Bryn Estyn appeared in the Rhyl Journal in September 1895.

In November 1895, the same newspaper carried a short report on the Rhyl Branch of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Among the names in the “List of Subscriptions” accompanying the report, was Miss Grace Atcherley. Grace had, while in Ryhl, been the Local Secretary of the Church of England Incorporated Society for providing Homes for Waifs and Strays. In Gresford, her work with children would continue, in a rather different way.

Picture credits. View of Rhyl: from front page of The Rhyl Journal, 24 Sep 1910, taken from Welsh Newspapers Online, copyright status unknown but likely to be public domain. Extract from Rhyl Journal, 16 Dec 1893: taken from Welsh Newspapers Online, copyright status unknown but likely to be public domain. Alexandra of Denmark (Princess of Wales): adapted from a public domain image taken from Wikimedia Commons.


[1] Rivière-Du-Loup Anglican Church, Québec, Canada, baptism register, entry dated 29 Aug 1869, shows “Catherine Emma Grace daughter of Francis Topping and Emma Arabella Atcherley, born of the 21st day of July 1869”.
[2] North Wales Chronicle, 25 Dec 1886, page 3. Annual Ball in aid of the Denbigh Infirmary. Copy viewed at Welsh Newspapers Online.
[3] Rhyl Record and Advertiser, 7 Dec 1889, page 2. The Richardson Farewell Presentation Fund. Copy viewed at Welsh Newspapers Online.
[4] Rhyl Journal, 9 Jul 1892, page 2. Missionary Bazaar. Copy viewed at Welsh Newspapers Online.
[5] Rhyl Journal, 25 Feb 1893, page 3. Royal National Life Boat Institution. Copy viewed at Welsh Newspapers Online.
[6] Rhyl Journal, 19 Aug 1893, 4. Copy viewed at Welsh Newspapers Online.
[7] Rhyl Record and Advertiser, 8 Mar 1890, page 3. Golf Club for Rhyl. Copy viewed at Welsh Newspapers Online.
[8] Golf, A Weekly Record of “ye Royal and Auncient” Game. March 13 1891, page 413. Snippets viewed at Google Books.
[9] Rhyl Journal, 14 Mar 1891, page 3. Copy viewed at Welsh Newspapers Online.
[10] Rhyl Journal, 11 Feb 1893, page 2. Rhyl Golf Club. Copy viewed at Welsh Newspapers Online.
[11] Rhyl Journal, 8 Apr 1893, page 2. Golf. Copy viewed at Welsh Newspapers Online.
[12] Rhyl Journal, 5 Aug 1893, page 2. Copy viewed at Welsh Newspapers Online.
[13] Rhyl Journal, 16 Dec 1893, page 3. Copy viewed at Welsh Newspapers Online.
[14] 1891 census of England Wales. Piece 4627, folio 54, page 34. 56 West Parade, Rhyl, Rhuddlan, Flintshire.
[15] The North Wales Times, 27 Jan 1900, page 6. Copy viewed at Welsh Newspapers Online.
[16] London Gazette, issue 24307, 21 Mar 1876, page 2017. (Conwy Grenville Hercules Rowley Conwy, Esq., to be Deputy Lieutenant. Dated 9th March, 1876.)
[17] 1881 census of England Wales. Piece 5527, folio 23, page 13. Dymeirchion, Flintshire. (Pennant family)
[18] 1891 census of England Wales. Piece 74, folio 167, page 9. St George Hanover Square, Middlesex. (Pennant family)
[19] Flintshire Observer, 7 Oct 1910, page 5. Death of Mr. Pennant. Copy viewed at Welsh Newspapers Online.
[20] Rhyl Journal, 22 Sep 1894, page 2. Death of Alderman John Scott Bankes. Copy viewed at Welsh Newspapers Online.
[21] Reverend Edward Bankes. At: The Peerage (website, accessed 26 Mar 2016).
[22] 1891 census of England and Wales. Piece 4607, folio 28, page 14. Soughton Hall, Northop, Flintshire. (John S Bankes and Adelaide S Bankes.)
[23] Rhyl Journal, 9 Sep 1893, page 3. Rhyl Golf Club. Copy viewed at Welsh Newspapers Online.
[24] Denbighshire Free Press, 14 Nov 1903, page 5. Marriage of Miss Bertred Knollys and Mr. Hugh Carroll. Copy viewed at Welsh Newspapers Online.
[25] Marriage of William Edward Knollys and Amicia Mary Mainwaring registered at St Georges Hanover Square, March quarter 1872; volume 1a, page 430.
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[33] “A seaside nursery for the little ones of our land.” At: Rhyl History Club (website, accessed 26 Mar 2016).
[34] Rhyl Journal, 1 Sep 1895, page 3. Sales by Auction. Copy viewed at Welsh Newspapers Online.
[35] Rhyl Journal, 16 Nov 1895, page 3. National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Copy viewed at Welsh Newspapers Online.
[36] Rhyl Journal, 20 Oct 1894, page 4. Copy viewed at Welsh Newspapers Online.

Ethel Mary Atcherley’s World War One

“The KING has been graciously pleased to give orders for the following promotions in, and appointments to, the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for services in connection with the War, to be dated 1st January, 1920:— […] To be Members of the Civil Division of the said Most Excellent Order:— […] Miss Ethel Mary Atcherley. Queen’s Hospital, Birmingham.”  — London Gazette, 30 March 1920.

Ethel Mary Atcherley, born on 12 February 1884 at Moortown in the parish of Ercall Magna, Shropshire, was the second daughter of William Henry Atcherley and his wife Charlotte Emma (née Shakeshaft). There had been Atcherleys at Moortown since the mid-1700s (see The mothers of the Moortown Atcherleys), but the family’s residence there came to an end when Ethel was still a child. The 1891 census enumerated Ethel, with her parents and siblings, at Waters Upton.

If her family had not left the farm – and its farming way of life – at Moortown, Ethel would probably have remained with her parents until, perhaps, she was married to a young man from one of the other local farming families. But circumstances were now very different, and the 1901 census recorded 17-year-old Ethel as a ‘help’, living with farmer John Matthews (and his wife, children and servants) at Hints in Staffordshire.

Eventually Ethel was reunited with her parents and siblings. She is shown with them, on the 1911 census, at Moseley (on the outskirts of Birmingham, but then still part of Worcestershire). By this time, Ethel was working in a very different field: according to the census she was a “School Teacher (Private)”. I do not know when Ethel’s career as a teacher began, but I do know that it did not continue for very much longer after 1911. In 1916, “Miss E. M. Atcherley, cert. Queen’s Hospital, Birmingham” was elected as a new member, number 3915, of the Society for State Registration of Nurses.

Birmingham, former Queen's Hospital

The Queen’s Hospital, on Bath Row in Birmingham (the original building, pictured as it is today, can be seen above), opened in 1841 as a teaching hospital of the University of Birmingham Medical School. The hospital expanded its capacity over the ensuing years, from an initial total of 70 beds to 178 in 1908 (when a new block was opened). Its facilities were called upon for the treatment of wounded servicemen following Britain’s engagement in the war in Europe in 1914. Perhaps it was the war which had prompted Ethel to train at Queen’s Hospital and enter the nursing profession, so that she could ‘do her bit’ just as her brothers did (see Brothers in Arms: Four Atcherley siblings in World War One – Part 1).

The main facility in Birmingham for treating the wounded during the Great War was the 1st Southern General Hospital. Plans for the creation of this hospital, from buildings belonging to the University of Birmingham, were made in 1909 and put into effect in August 1914. The first casualties arrived on 1 September that year, and as the war progressed the hospital expanded into additional buildings and increased the number of beds available. By mid-1916, the 1st Southern General Hospital had 1,560 beds. Other Birmingham hospitals also made a contribution, including, of course, Queen’s.

In July 1915 the Birmingham Daily Gazette reported that many war casualties had been given attention at the Queen’s Hospital, including about 50 Belgian soldiers. At that time one ward, of 26 beds, contained wounded. For Christmas that year, the soldiers’ ward “received special treatment in the decorative scheme, and everything was done to give the men an enjoyable time.” Gifts, pipes, tobacco and cigarettes were distributed and carols were sung. “Dinner was a jolly meal, and in the evening the soldiers’ ward was the scene of a merry dramatic entertainment”. I think it is very likely that Ethel Atcherley was among the staff who ensured the wounded soldiers at Queen’s had the happiest Christmas possible.

Nurses with soldier, WW1

Soldiers from ‘down under’ were among those treated at the Queen’s Hospital. A letter from a ‘Lonely Australian’ to the Birmingham Daily Post in 1916, complaining about his time in a Birmingham hospital, prompted this response from some ‘Grateful Australians’ at Queen’s:

The treatment we Australians and others have received whilst we have been here (six weeks) is everything that we could desire. The staff, from the highest downwards, have always treated us with every kindness and consideration, which we will never forget or be able to thank them enough for. It will always be a pleasant memory.

As the war progressed, it was necessary to provide more beds for its casualties. The Birmingham Daily Gazette reported in October 1916:

The Queen’s Hospital, Birmingham, has, at the request of the military authorities, given over the whole of the new block for the treatment of wounded soldiers (100 to 150), and the secretary will be pleased to receive contributions towards the “Soldier’s Fund.” Gifts of eggs, vegetables, fruit, etc., will be gladly received by the matron.

With an entire block dedicated to casualties of war, Queen’s Hospital was able to admit 715 “sick and wounded soldiers” in 1917, and over the course of the war 1,600 casualties were treated. This was a small part of the total of around 130,000 soldiers treated in Birmingham hospitals up to the Spring of 1919 – but those who were looked after at Queen’s, by Ethel Atcherley and her colleagues, were I am sure very grateful.

News of the Great War’s end must have been a huge relief for both nursing staff and their soldier patients. On 12 November 1918 the Birmingham Daily Post reported:

In all the hospitals in Birmingham the news was received by the wounded with hearty cheering. At the Queen’s Hospital, the message was immediately carried to the lower ward. For a fraction of a minute there was a dead silence, and then the ward resounded with the cheers of the wounded men. Service was held in the chapel at noon, and was attended by all the patients who could get there, together with the doctors, nurses, and hospital staff. An address was given by the Rev. G. H. Moore, chaplain of the hospital.

The Society for State Registration of Nurses which, as we have seen, Ethel joined in 1916, was established on 1902. As its name suggests, the society campaigned for the registration of nurses, specifically those who were appropriately skilled and qualified. Having obtained a nursing certificate at Queen’s Hospital, Ethel Atcherley was a supporter of this campaign, which sought to protect the status of qualified nurses and also protect the public  from incompetent (and indeed immoral) members of the profession.

Before the First World War, a number of Bills put before Parliament with the aim of making the state registration of nurses a reality, had all failed. The campaign continued during the war however, and in the year following the conflict’s end it finally met with success. The Government itself introduced a Bill which was passed and became law – as the Nurses Act – on 23 December 1919.

MBEThe following year, Ethel Mary Atcherley was one of many nurses decorated for their war services. Ethel received her medal (an example of an MBE, from 1918, is pictured right) at an investiture held at Warwick on Tuesday 29 March 1921. The Leamington Spa Courier provided the following summary of the ceremony:

There was a picturesque ceremony at the County Hall, Warwick, on Tuesday morning, when the Lord-Lieutenant of the County (the Earl of Craven) presented medals of the Order of the British Empire to 21 recipients. A platoon of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment was drawn up outside the Hall, and patriotic tunes played by the regimental band attracted a large number of the public. Inside the building the 1st Warwick Girl Guides stood smartly to attention as the Lord-Lieutenant arrived. […]

After the presentation of the medals, the Mayor of Warwick congratulated the recipients on their well-deserved honours. These were awarded for services given, and work well done. The Mayor also expressed the pleasure that he felt at the presence of the Lord-Lieutenant at the investiture.

The Earl of Craven: It is part of my duty, but it does not take away any of the pleasure it gives me to be able to give these medals.

Ethel Mary Atcherley, MBE, continued her nursing career after World War One. She appeared on electoral registers as a resident of Queen’s Hospital, Bath Row, Birmingham from 1920 until 1927 (and possibly later). She became a Chartered Masseuse and was listed by on the Register Of Bio-Physical Assistants from 1930 to 1933. The Register of 1930 gave Ethel’s address as Birmingham, but from 1931 Ethel was listed at the Royal Mineral Water Hospital, Bath.

By 1939, when the National Identity Register was compiled at the beginning of World War Two, Ethel Atcherley had moved again, to Long Eaton in Derbyshire. A State Registered Nurse, Chartered Masseuse, Ethel’s address was 20 Derby Road. Kelly’s Directory of Derbyshire for 1941 shows that Miss E M Atcherley was matron of the Long Eaton Sick Nursing Association & Clinic at this address. Ethel did not forget the city of Bath during its time of need however, and sent a donation to the Mayor of Bath’s Air Raid Relief Fund in 1942.

At the end of the Second World War, or possibly before, Ethel returned ‘home’ to Birmingham to live with – and perhaps care for – her mother. A 1945 electoral register for the city shows that Ethel M and Charlotte E Atcherley were then residing at 130 Wood End Road, Erdington. Charlotte died the following year, aged 93. Ethel, who unlike her sisters (see Ada, Charlotte and Hilda Atcherley) had not married, remained in Birmingham following her mother’s death. She was of 5 Kingston Court, Lichfield Road, Sutton Coldfield when she herself passed away, at the age of 87, on 12 February 1971.

Picture credits. The former Birmingham Accident Hospital (originally the Queen’s Hospital): Photo by Oosoom, taken from Wikimedia Commons and adapted, used and made available for re-use under a Creative Commons licence. Nurses with Quarter-Master-Sergeant Williams: Picture from The British Journal of Nursing, 3 Oct 1914, page 267, taken from copy at Internet Archive which gives copyright status as Not In Copyright. MBE: Photo by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, taken from Wikimedia Commons and adapted, used and made available for re-use under a Creative Commons licence.


[1] London Gazette, issue 31840, 30 Mar 1920, 3rd supplement, pages 3757 to 3813.
[2] Birth of Ethel Mary Atchesley registered at Wellington, Shropshire, March quarter 1884; volume 6a, page 750.
[3] 1891 census of England and Wales. Piece 2130, folio 59, page 7.
[4] 1901 census of England and Wales. Piece 2653, folio 134, page 9.
[5] 1911 census of England and Wales. Piece 18692, Schedule 256.
[6] The British Journal of Nursing, volume 56 (25 Mar 1916), page 275. Copy viewed at the Royal College of Nursing archive (historical nursing journals).
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[27] The National Archives, Kew. RG101 (National Identity Register). Piece 5916A, Item 003, Line 10. (See Census etc: 1930s.)
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[30] Register of Electors, 1945, Parliamentary Borough of Birmingham, Erdington Division. Gravelly Hill Ward, page 7. Copy viewed at Ancestry – Midlands, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1955.
[31] Death of Charlotte E Atcherley registered at Meriden, June quarter 1946; volume 6d, page 620; age given as 93.
[32] Death of Ethel Mary Atcherley registered at Sutton Coldfield, January 1971; volume 9c, page 3023; d.o.b. given as 12 Feb 1884.
[33] National Probate Calendar (1971). Copy viewed at Find a will.