Jane Elizabeth Beckwith and John Mollett
Some history of the legal disputes over the game of Othello
SOAP BUBBLE STORIES
You can download Fanny Barry’s book of children’s stories here..
What can one say? How tragic that your first child - the doubtless desired boy, son and heir - dies - indeed probably never lived. He wasn’t conceived before marriage either, so a completely legitimate heir. Fortunately it was not a taste of things to come. Nothing more to say really. It happened a lot in those days.
My goodness what a life span - what changes this reportedly wonderful lady would have seen. From crinolines to flappers, from being a second-class citizen as a woman, to votes for women and liberation, from horses to cars, from gaslight to electricity and the radio. It is hard to imagine a more exciting period to be alive in some ways.
Jane never married, and spent most of her adult life with her mother, her younger sister Katherine, and all the other relatives who breezed in and out of the house. Did she never marry out of choice, was her heart broken? I guess we shall never know. Suffice to say that she seems to have been the favourite aunt - Her niece Lina, writing about her sister Minnie’s life mentions her in her memoir: “Here in Goldhill Minnie spent many happy days, and here was her home for years. She was the darling of her grandmother and of her aunts - of these Aunt Jane was her ideal to the end of her life.” Indeed with all those children constantly around, there was no real need for Jane to have children of her own - she probably lived the ‘all care and no responsibility’ life.
After her mother’s death - she was now in her mid fifties, she seems to have moved to Lyme Regis, in Dorset with her sister Katherine and her brother John William and three of his children. In 1891, 1901 and 1911 she was definitely here and indeed she probably died here - the death is registered as Axminster, which is the registration district that includes Lyme Regis. John’s family left, but John stayed with his sisters at least until 1901. Lyme Regis is a lovely spot and they seem to have had a house on the sea front at no. 3 Ozone Terrace (the house on the left) - the houses behind the yachts in the picture at right are on Ozone Terrace. They were living in the house when the lower photograph was taken. The 1911 census implies there were two different households at no. 3, so maybe they only occupied part of it. Whether they were the owners or the tenants I have no idea. They certainly must have been living on modest means by then, although maybe John William had money. Tracey Chevalier’s novel, Remarkable Creatures, paints a vivid portrait of life in Lyme Regis - even the life of two spinster sisters - though in a somewhat earlier time - the beginning of the nineteenth century, not the end. So a peaceful end to a busy life looking after everyone else’s children and her mother too. She was 87 when she died in 1920 - the sea air may have helped. The oldest child and the last to die!
John William 1834-1905
John William and his family deserve a story to themselves, and maybe I will get around to it - I made a start elsewhere once. So in brief - the oldest son, who worked for his father for most of his life I think. He certainly had business interests and travelled widely pursuing them - Asia is mentioned, and he also lived in Germany and Paris for some time. At one point he was working in partnership with Herbert Barry (his brother-in-law). His wife was German, the sister of a renowned botanist. He went to Brasenose College, Oxford, from where he graduated with a BA. He wrote several books on famous artists, some of them possibly written in part by his daughter Minnie. He also wrote An Illustrated Dictionary of Words Used in Art and Architecture - which is still in print today - I have seen it in bookshops. He worked as some sort of official at the Paris Exhibition for the British Pavilion and finally he is the inventor of the game Othello. Well, actually he invented a game called Reversi, which he claimed was stolen by Lewis Waterman and rebadged as Othello. There was a court case, but I don’t know what happened.
As to his life, his wife died relatively young, and the children seem to have been divided amongst the grandparents. I think John William continued with his father’s business with his uncle Robert, but he always referred to himself as an author in censuses. Eventually he retired, first living in Lee, Kent near his mother, and when she died, he went to live with his sisters in Lyme Regis, where he died in 1905 aged 71 which is a pretty good age for the times. Interesting man. I will write him up properly one day.
Mary Anne Fanny 1836- some time after 1881
Mary Anne married Herbert Barry, initially a broker who was in partnership with John William, and eventually a mining engineer. She was nineteen when she married him in 1856. I know of six children, the last being born in 1870. Herbert is not at home in 1871 and by 1881 is dead. When I looked into this a little more it seems that in the 1870s Herbert was in Russia, for he has written three books in 1870, 1872 and 1873. The first was a technical book on Russian metallurgical works, but the other two were books on life in Russia - one was translated into French. Is it possible that he left wife and family, to work in Russia, fell in love with Russia (or a Russian) and stayed there, only to die there shortly afterwards? His father-in-law, John had been involved in an initiative to buy a massive Russian ironworks in 1865 - could there be some connection? But this is beside the point really. Mary Anne stayed at home in England, moving to be near her mother in Lee, Kent - most of her children had been at Gold Hill in 1871. So I suppose the question to ask is whether her marriage had failed? I cannot find her after 1881, so do not know what happened to her. I hope she did not die before her mother. The only other thing to be said is that there is a ‘classic’ children’s book called Soap Bubble Stories by Fanny Barry, published in 1892. More likely to be her daughter than she, because of the date of publication, and not necessarily our family at all - it’s a not uncommon name and I know nothing else about the author. Still interesting all the same and the sort of thing this family would be involved with I think.
Harry Pittard 1837-1840
Another tragedy. He was just three when he died - I know not of what. The middle name is Jane’s mother’s maiden name. Another homage to her mother.
Lewis Charles 1838-1863
They say a child should never die before its parents, and here is another one. Even more tragic as he was in his prime when he died. One census refers to him as Louis (the family believed they were descended from Huguenots). He was sent away to school in Hoddesdon, but otherwise, it seems he never moved away from home. The last census he appears in - 1861 - he is still at home and a merchant’s clerk - no doubt working for his father. He died at Gold Hill in 1863. He was only 25. Why he died I do not know. It must have been a tragedy for his parents.
Katherine Lucy 1840-1915
Her earliest years cannot have been easy - her older brother Harry died just a few months after she was born. I wonder did it mean she was more, or less, loved because of it. And in the next year her mother is away with her father. So, my guess is that, probably like many of the children, she was basically brought up by older siblings and servants - and maybe her great-aunt Susannah. It was a role she was to take on herself, for she also never married and spent most of her life in company with her sister Jane, her brother John and, earlier, her mother. They played a crucial role in large families’ lives these spinster aunts. They probably ran the household as the parents aged, cared for the parents, cared for their younger siblings, and their tribe of nieces and nephews - maybe, even later, the great-nieces and great-nephews. Maybe they were better off than being married - no danger of dying in childbirth, no neglect by husbands tied up in their work. Today, of course, they would be free to pursue a career, but then, the privileged - as were Jane and Katherine (known as Kate I think), their lives were mapped out for them. She died in Lyme Regis in 1915 at the age of 75, leaving Jane all alone - well I have no doubt there were nieces and nephews to lend support.
Edward Alexander (Sasha) 1842-1900
I somehow have the impression that Sasha is the black sheep of the family. He was also sent away to school - this time down to Hove on the coast in Sussex, in company with a member of the Smith family of Stoke Newington who were to provide my great-grandfather with his bride. Then in 1861 at the age of 19 he is living (or visiting) his brother John William and working as the inevitable merchant’s clerk. In 1871 he cannot be found - maybe he is overseas - but in 1873 he marries Jane Barnes in Bishopsgate. They both give the same address so, maybe they are co-habiting, although they do not appear to have been forced into marriage by pregnancy, for although the marriage lasted their lifetimes, they do not appear to have had any children. I guess there could have been a disastrous first pregnancy, but so far I have not found a baptism or a death.
So, so far, he, unlike most of his siblings, seems to have left home early, though he has obviously kept in touch. Then in 1876 he is selling shares because he is in need of the money. The company name is his own, and the address is his father’s old business address, so no doubt a part of the old firm.
I wonder what his mother thought? Either out of shame or necessity of cheap living he decamps to Hastings, where he lives out his days with his wife Jane, working as a private tutor. A bit of a come-down - or maybe a tranquil life. He lived in the old part of Hastings - now super trendy and beautiful, but then, I suspect, somewhat disreputable. My maternal great-grandfather, James Henry Ellis, a hawker by trade, lived in the same area at the same time. Jane died in 1893, he died seven years later, still in Hastings. Thanks to Phillip Mollett we now have some letters that he wrote to his nephew - I will do something on this later on as they are revealing of all sorts of things. There is never any mention of anyone else in their household.
Jessie Gertrude 1844-1882
I now see that Jessie also died before her mother. All those deaths must have been increasingly hard for Jane to bear as she aged. Jessie married a wealthy stockbroker, Edmonds Massey in 1868 in Gold Hill, at the age of 24. She was a year older than her husband and her father was alive to see her married. They had nine children. As the last child, a girl, bearing the same name as her mother, was born less than a month before her mother’s death, I do wonder whether Jessie died in childbirth, or as a result of complications from childbirth. Nine children is a lot of children to have in a relatively short space of time, at least one child every two years, sometimes less. You would think that every birth would increase your risks of dying. She was only 38 when she died.
No doubt the marriage was a happy one - or it was at the very least a proper, approved marriage, the proof of which is that Edmonds’ sister Blanche married Jessie’s brother Frederick. Initially Jessie and Edmonds lived in Twickenham, but later moved to Hampstead where Jessie died. Edmonds might have been happy with his marriage, and his nine children, but this did not stop him marrying again two years later and having a further five children!
Arthur Robert 1844-1922
Arthur seems to have been born in the same year as Jessie, but this cannot be. Arthur’s birth I can find in the indexes, but not Jessie’s - bit of a mystery, but probably not worth pursuing. Arthur married his cousin Frances Caroline Beckwith, thus keeping it all in the family as it were. At first I thought that, for whatever reason, they had no children, but would seem to have hosted various nieces and nephews from time to time. But when I found their entry in the 1911 census I see that there was one child who died. So maybe they had one child very early on and this either traumatised them so much that they didn’t want any more, or it meant that Frances could no longer have children. Whatever the reason, they began married life living with mother Jane, and then moved to Clapham and eventually to Newport, Monmouthshire where he died. Career wise, Arthur was an unremarkable Company Secretary. One assumes he moved to Newport because of work. In 1911 he is living in Newport, Monmouth with his wife and a young servant girl. still working as a Company Secretary. He died in Newport in 1922 at the age of 78. His wife had died in 1911, so it would have been a sad and lonely last eleven years of life one assumes. A quiet life.
Frederick Herbert 1846-1911
Frederick Herbert grew up to be a Civil Engineer. It was, of course, the age of massive engineering works, and it must have been an exciting time in which to be involved with them. I found his obituary in the Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institute of Civil Engineers. Here it is:
“born on the 4th May, 1846, died at Surbiton on the 20th August, 1911. He served his pupilage to the late Mr. F. T. Turner, of Westminster, and was afterwards employed by the late Mr. W . H. Thomas, M. Inst. C.E., as Resident Engineer on the Cornwall Mineral Railway. From 1875 to 1898, with brief intervals, he assisted successively the late Sir William Shelford, on the Hull and Barnsley Railway and other work at home and abroad, and Messrs. Hawkshaw, Son and Hayter, as Resident Engineer on the Buenos Aires harbour works. From 1898 until his death he was in charge of the drawing office of Messrs. C. H. Walker and Company, Ltd. Mr. Mollett was elected an Associate of The Institution on the 7th May, 1872, was subsequently placed in the class of Associate Members, and was transferred to the class of Members on the 24th May, 1887.”
On the personal front, he married Blanche Massey, the sister of his brother-in-law, Edmonds Massey in 1872 in Twickenham. So true to Mollett form, he sort of kept it all in the family. I do wonder whether the Massey/Mollett connection was actually forged in an earlier generation when one Elizabeth Mollett married a William Massey (but that’s another story). He was 25 and she was 24. In the 1881 census they are living with Blanche’s mother, but in 1891 cannot be found - guessing from the obituary I think the family must have been overseas - maybe in Buenos Aires, which must have been a bit of an adventure. So far I have only found two children, but there most probably were more. They also lived in Cornwall for a time, near St. Austell, as their son was born there, no doubt whilst he was working on the Cornwall Mineral Railway. They finally settled in, Surrey though in Richmond and Surbiton, Richmond being where both Frederick and his wife are buried. The last record I have of him is the 1911 census - living with his unmarried daughter and a servant in Surbiton.
My great-grandfather, the baby of the family, who has his own story elsewhere. That’s him on the right - thank you Philip for the wonderful photo.
If you are descended from any of these interesting people, do get in touch - we would love to hear from you. Send us an email.
There are a lot of children, and some of them led quite interesting lives, so I hope there is room on the page!
A picture by Albert Moore, which I found heading a piece called Spinster - even though the portrait is of a mother. But I see why the writer chose it - it seems appropriate as a portrait of Jane somehow. though I think Jane would have looked happier.
Ozone Terrace from the Cobb. A modern view with an almost identical view taken in 1900
Chestnut Tree in snow by Pissarro - evocative of the sadness of these two deaths.
I don’t know who painted this - it’s a portrait of Victorian sisters.
A house in Hampstead on the Greenhill estate - possibly like the house that Jessie Gertrude lived in in the last years of her life.