Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Beckenham Resurrectionists

Beckenham churchyard experienced a problem for several years in the 1800's and the euphemism Resurrectionists was applied to the practice of disinterring bodies after burial and removal to the medical schools of London for dissection.
The Beckenham Parish accounts and Vestry minute records cite several incidents and Robert Borrowman in "Beckenham Past and Present" published Beckenham 1910 records the memories of at least one body reinterred at Beckenham.
Beckenham has one of the oldest Lych Gate roofs in the country. Lych gates or Corpse gates originated around the 7th century and were the point at which clergy met the funeral congregation and began the last rites for the deceased. The larger gates had a shelf for the corpse to rest upon. Most surviving lych gates are from the 15th century. However the Saint George Beckenham gate roof dates from the 13th century. The sides and foundation were restored by a grieving father in 1924 to commemorate the loss of two sons in the First World War and a plaque commemorates the restoration. The roof however is over 700 years old.
The church was originally built in the twelfth century and remained as a medieval church until it was taken down and the current town church was built in 1885-1887 by local architect W, Gibbs Bartleet. The tower was added in 1902-3. It's predecessor had suffered fire damage on 23 December 1790 when the medieval shingle spire was struck by lightning and burnt down causing damage to the church also.

In 1818 the Beckenham Parish Accounts record an entry for 11 shillings "paid 2 men for watching the Church 2 nights". The Watchers used to hide in the beams of the old Lych gate.
On 24 November 1822 certain bodies were removed from the churchyard;the perpetrators were apparently identified but no record of punishment survives and Borrowman records several examples of grave watching of recent burials.
The Vestry Minutes record that in 1823 William Arnold Parish Clerk was suspected of being complicit in removal of bodies and that by unanimous resolution that there was no grounds  whatsoever for giving information about burials of being involved with the theft of bodies. Arnold was exonerated by the Vestry.
Borrowman includes the memories of Beckenham people who describe an incident around 1826 of the burial of a schoolmaster followed next morning of the churchyard discovery of burial clothes and the coffin being found empty. The son of the deceased travelled to London and searched all of the hospitals and is said to have identified the partially dismembered corpse which was returned to Beckenham for reinterment.

Friday, 17 October 2014

A population record of Beckenham 1821

In the course of background research about Beckenham Parish in the 1800's to accompany my transcript of Doctor Thomas Ilott's practice prescription ledger I located the account about 1821 of the population record of Reverend Andrew Brandram curate to the parish. Brandram went on to become Rector of Beckenham and produced the following statistics. I think he was probably compiling a requisite report in 1821 as parishes were asked to do so every ten years for early population statistics. Bromley has a surviving return in one volume of its registers.
The population of Beckenham Parish is recorded as 1180 people 558 Males and 622 Females. Of the over 60 population Brandram records that there were 27 males and 39 females aged 60-70;16 males and 16 females aged 70-80 and 4 males and 6 females aged 80-90 years of age.
There were 196 inhabited houses and 15 houses "building" 3 of which were inhabited. The population contained 214 plowmans families 77 persons employed in agriculture and 46 employed in trade manufacture and handicraft the remainder of 91 not in these two categories.
This valuable population information lies behind the population figure for 1821 in published sources and the total figure on the Kent Online Parish Clerks Beckenham Parish page.
Beckenham had been the home of  William Merrick Surgeon who was highly regarded not least by the poor of the parish who mourned at his funeral in 1818.
From 1809 Doctor Thomas Ilott provides medical care to many of the major households and tradespeople of the village as well as being paid by the parish to care for the poor see Parish account transcript As I continue to transcribe household accounts it is evident that Doctor Ilott delivers the children of labourers and gentry alike and was inoculating children.
 Beckenham had from 1811 had many people suffer from typhus and scarlet fever as the burial register reflect.
Unfortunately research of Beckenham Baptisms and Burials prior to 1813 involves a heavily fire and water damaged register which has lost large areas of pages and water damage has washed away ink losing substantial areas  of information. The Ilott ledger records date of delivery of children and it is therefore possible to retrieve some partial entries from the Baptismal information where the date of birth is still visible. In one such example an older child of the family is baptised on the same day.
The Ilott ledger is therefore a significant record for searchers of Beckenham families in the early years of the nineteenth century.

Monday, 6 October 2014

The Bromley Mister Pickwick

Charles Dickens published the 20 monthly instalments of his first novel between April 1836 and November 1837entitled The Pickwick Papers or the Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club,Containing a Faithful Record of the Perambulations,Perils,Travels,Adventures and Sporting Transactions of the Corresponding Members. Since then there has been a well documented tradition in Bromley that the original Mister Pickwick was based upon Robert Booth Rawes who with other mebers of his family lead a boarding school for boys.
The Pickwick Papers contains  within the Travels and Perambulations" an accurate description of coaching inns. Bromley had both stage coaching inns and several generations of the Weller family stage-coachmen. One wonders how familiar the 24 year old Charles Dickens may have been with Bromley and whether he had encountered the Wellers?
Rawes Academy was founded as a boarding school for boys as early as 1730 and was situated in Bromley High Street. There is no extant record of the founder however it is believed the Rawes family became involved in the 1780's. The Rates Books for  1787/8 assess messrs Booth and Rawes in the sum of £100 and various record sources identify Richard Rawes as churchwarden in 1789 so there is documentary evidence of his involvement in the school in the 1780's.
Other members of the family joined the school so that by the time of his retirement Richard had been succeeded by Robert Booth Rawes and William and Joseph Rawes and the Rawes Academy was a well established Bromley institution. Richard Rawes died aged 72 and his burial register entry in 1814 describes him as a Gentleman.
In the surviving 1801 Census of Bromley Kent Online Parish Clerks transcript  Richard Rawes Academy contained 124 males and 9 females and it is reasonable to conclude that over 100 boys were boarded. Bromley was a pleasant country town with good coach connections and had attracted reputable surgeons to the town and had attracted Jane Austen to describe the Bell Inn favourably in Pride and Prejudice.
Medical care for the Rawes Academy is documented in the dispensing and accounts ledger of Doctor Thomas Ilott whose surgery was in the High Street facing the Bell Inn.Doctor Ilott between 1809 and 1811 records treatment of many named pupils and occasionally staff members.The Rawes account is headed Messrs Rawes's Academy in the Folio C ledger deposited at Bromley Archive.
Whilst we may never know of Dickens familiarity with Bromley,the Wellers or Robert Booth Rawes there are many references in local history of the town to the tradition that the author drew upon Robert Booth Rawes in his first novel for Pickwick.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Black history of Bromley

I noted in my transcription of the parish registers of Bromley that there are clear references to Black servants in the 18th century.
The fashion for servants can be found from the reign of Elizabeth I who in 1596 complained about the number of "blackamoores".
In Bromley which had many large houses in need of servants the burial register for 1744 records the burial of Rose a servant girl in the household of Mister Henry Revel and in 1751 Thomas described as the son of  a Negro Woman is buried in the parish churchyard.
It will surprise some nowadays to find the size of the black population in Britain in the mid 18th century to be as many as 10,000. Although there are few records of households in the Bromley district prior to the 1801 census which survives there are recorded local births and burials to reflect the mid eighteenth century immigration through slavery. To learn more of this period see National Museums Liverpool site.