"Mrs Ann Gilbert to her son in Dublin, 1837"

Eunice Shanahan

This letter is a family one, and I have approached it somewhat differently. The story behind this is that although we have had the letter for decades, there was so much information that I never got around to it. But in June 2010 we received an e-mail from someone who had seen our donated copy in the Nottinghamshire archives. He is a direct descendant of this family, and was kind enough to give me a huge amount of information about them. So I decided to integrate his information into my transcription of the letter, and to put his comments in italic and in red and identified by 2 asterisks, so that it would be very obvious that they were comments and not part of the letter. This is going to make it a longer article than usual, but it has so much interest that it is worth it.

So to begin with the basic information. It is a closely written three page letter, on unwatermarked paper, written by Mrs Ann Gilbert to her son J Gilbert Esqr. 20 Westmorland Street, Dublin.The postmarks show that it was handed in in Nottingham on the 9th November,1837 and arrived in Dublin 3 days later on the 12th November, 1837. The postage charge (which Josiah would have had to pay to get the letter) was 14 pence total, or one shilling and two pence, and this covered the cost of the land distance in England, Nottingham to Liverpool, and then the 8d packet rate on the ship to Ireland.

Robin Gilbert who is the great–great– grandson of the writer of this letter writer sent me a document with biographical information about Ann Gilbert and Josiah. Robin has a great deal of information about his family and a websearch will bring up many links to other letters written by this lady, and other documents about the Gilberts and Taylors. If you would like any further information, Robin would be pleased to hear from you and can be contacted by e-mail robintaylorgilbert@btinternet.com

When this letter was written, Josiah (b.1814, died 1892) was only 23, and his mother was obviously keen to keep him in touch with family news, and to make sure he kept up the family standards. Robin told us that he had no previous knowledge of Josiah being in Dublin, so that was a useful addition to the family records.

A very closely written letter but perfectly legible.

My dear child,
We had indeed been wondering at your long silence and should have felt uneasy, if bye winds, via Reading (**1) and Brewhouse Yard,(**2) had not brought intelligence of your being in good health and safety – all who write to their friends in England say also, that they are much pleased with you – and we must not question that “a good name is better than riches”(**3) – certainly, if we had to choose either alone, we should be very unwise to prefer the latter. We had interpreted your delay as unfavourable towards your success, and made up our minds to expect little – Papa is sure of being right when other things are wrong, because his forte is to predict evil – so you do not disappoint him . We do not understand whether Mr Ferrier is a “pay patient” or otherwise.(**6) For myself, I intend still to calculate upon the openings through Dr Urwick (**4) and Mr Ferrier,(**5) and shall not give up till compelled to it.

(**Brewhouse Yard – a Google search reveals it is in Nottingham, a neighbourhood of about 20 houses.)

1. The home at this time of the Revd George Laurie and his wife Anna Maitland (nee Forbes), one of Ann Gilbert's dearest friends. One of the Lauries' daughters, Euphemia, married Alexander Ferrier (see further Note 5 below) and another, Eliza Forbes, later became the first wife of Ann & Joseph Gilbert's son Henry.

2 It is not clear whether this is the Brewhouse Yard in Clerkenwell or in Nottingham or, in either case, who – presumably a relative or close friend of Ann Gilbert's, was living there at this time.

3 Proverbs 22.1

4 Dr James Urwick DD (1791–1868), a distinguished Congregational Minister, Pastor of the Congregation at York Street, Dublin (1826–1865) and Secretary of the Congregational Union of Ireland (1835-1859). See further ODNB.

5 Alexander Ferrier lived at Knockmaroon House, Castleknock, Dublin, a substantial property more recently owned by the Guinness family.

6 ie, presumably, whether Josiah is being paid to paint his portrait or is doing it for nothing

The letter then continues with more family information and advice to her son.

We are greatly oblig’d to all your friends, particularly to Dr Urwick to whom present warmly Papa’s respects and thanks. We shall hope to hear shortly now whether anything turns up. We decidedly object to your going into Wales. At present we are quite sure Mr Ashwell(**7) has no money to sport with. And it is so questionable whether he even wishes you to fulfil your engagement, that I should not go at all, unless further applied to, or taken by other engagements into the neighbourhood, for even were he ever so anxious to see you, a single portrait would not be worth so long a journey, and the connexions there can be little or nothing.
Thus far we advise without hesitation – we also advise further that as soon as you can see about what time you shall wish to return, you write to Mrs Rawson (**8)yourself, naming the engagement kindly made with me when she was last in Nottingham for you to paint her, either in going to or returning from Ireland. Inquire whether it will suit her now – but do not bind yourself to a day, as I particularly request you will not cross in stormy weather. You know she told me that she had refused having her portrait taken at the same time with Mr Rawson, because she always had reserved herself for you. Her address is Mr Rawson Esqrs. Higher Ardwicke, Manchester. (**9)
Have you heard from Anne or Jane? They are still in Lincolnshire – now, in the neighbourhood of Louth – Grimoldy,(**11) Donnington,(**12) etc but are unfortunately prevented from visiting Covingham(**13) by the small pox, from which Susan(*14) is only now recovering.
It will be perhaps a fortnight longer before they return – I should think not more, so that any letter for them had better be directed here, unless sent immediately, when to the care of Mr Sheppard Louth,(**15) would reach them – I shall not like to forward a letter ignorant of its contents, yet I should not open without leave.

7 There seems to be no one of that name recorded in Wales in the 1841 census returns.

8 This is probably Elizabeth Rawson (née Bacon), the wife of William Ford Rawson (c.1774–1840). Their son, William Bacon Rawson (c.1804–1829) had been a founder member of Joseph Gilbert’s Friar Lane Congregation in Nottingham, and William Ford Rawson was an executor of the will of Joseph Gilbert's wealthy patron, Frances Greaves.

9 It is unclear why the Rawsons should be living in Manchester at this time. They were originally a Nottingham family and only a little later than the date of this letter William Ford Rawson was described, in a legal document of 1839, as “of Wincobank Hall, Wincobank, Ecclesfield”, a substantial property near Sheffield, previously owned by Joseph Read (1765–1837), a prominent Sheffield business man and Congregationalist, who will undoubtedly have known Joseph Gilbert, when he was Pastor of the Nether Chapel in Sheffield, and whose daughter Mary Anne married William Ford Rawson’s son, William Bacon Rawson (see Note 8 above).

10 Anne Taylor Gilbert (1816–1887) and Jane Jefferys Gilbert (1820–1907), two of Josiah's sisters.

11 At the time of the 1841 census, Grimoldby (misleadingly indexed on Ancestry as Great Grimsby, Saltfleet) was the home of John Gilbert (born c.1791 in Wrangle), farmer, his wife Mary and their family. It seems likely that this was Joseph Gilbert's half-brother, in fact born in 1788.

12 Donington on Bain, as it now is, lies to the south west of Louth. Presumably, relatives of the Gilberts lived there too, but it has not yet been established who they were. 13 Covenham St Bartholomew was the home, at the time of the 1841 census, of John Hay, a farmer, and his wife Martha (nee Gilbert), one of Joseph Gilbert’s sisters.

14 It is fairly clear from the context that this was Susanna Hay (born c.1813), a daughter of John & Martha, rather than Susan Green, Josiah's fiancee.

15 There appears to be no one of the name of Sheppard indexed as living in Louth at the time of the 1841 census.

The next paragraphs are full of more information
Sarah Hine(**16) returned from Staffordshire some days since. She told me that “My daughter Susan” was very well and said we had been very sly. I made no pretence at concealment. Mrs and Mrs Green(**17) she said were going to London in about a week (from the present time Nov. 9) and would then come to pay them a visit in Mount Street.(**19, 20) Most happy should I be to miss the pleasure of their company. Mr. Davidson has received back as we understand, all that he advanced and it is safe in the hands of Mr Hine. He (Mr Green) has been to Hanley.(**21,22)
I wrote a long domestic letter to uncle Lane(?) last week and among other things told him that I knew you had written to mention to him your engagement in Staffordshire – which I briefly described – you may now if you please write to him and I think you ought to do so, as he enquired respecting the introduction he had given you in Ireland.(**18)
Mrs Rawson has removed within the last fortnight to Torquay, but there are no improved accounts of poor Sam. The weather has been particularly unfavourable ever since. Miss Midland had continued so unwell as to be left behind at Bristol and we have had no later accounts of her – Mr Tozer is still living, but that is all.
It is possible that at Manchester Mrs Rawson’s portrait may lead to more, tho‘ the present state of things is everywhere a disadvantage. Should you have a week or two disengaged between this and Christmas, I have no doubt that a hint to Anne might secure several among your cousins in Lincolnshire – but as you know, on low terms – yet something is so much better than nothing, that having been so long from Town, and House rent running on all the time, I should think it worth while to do it, if to be done.
Dr. Lightfoot is we hope slightly improving – he has been very bad since I wrote last – while Herbert is also far from well – we do not feel easy about him. He has returned after three weeks at Leamington, only slightly improved, and is so soon exhausted that we do not like it.
(Note: Leamington was a health spa with healing waters, but apparently not very successful for Herbert!)
We do not see any use in concealing that you are doing but little – it is not your regular business but an experiment in very unfavourable times, and it will be far best not to hamper yourself with the pretences. There is so much communication in different ways, that we could not keep it long and I should not attempt to do so. It is business I am awkward at, and I wish you to be also – I am very glad you have fallen in with such families as Dr Urwick and Mr Ferriers. Do not yield your Sundays to any other than of a similar class – I would not furnish you with so low a motive as the recollection that nobody there can essentially injure you, even tho‘ offended by a refusal to a Sunday dinner but look straight through to your principles and upper interests, and settle the question before hand, that you are to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
16 Sarah Hornbuckle Hine (1816–1900), the youngest daughter of Jonathan Hine (1780–1862), hosier of Nottingham, and his wife Melicent (née Chambers) (1779–1845). Sarah subsequently married Benjamin Beddome (1815–1896) of Manchester and emigrated with him to Canada. The Jonathan Hines (part of a very extensive family originating in Beaminster, Dorset) were friends of the Gilberts and relatives by marriage of the Greens.

17 On 4 January 1838, Anna Green, elder sister of Josiah's fiancee Susan, married John Latham at Stone in Staffordshire, only a few miles south of Hanley (see Note 24 below). It seems a reasonable inference from that fact and from this paragraph that the Green family was living in or near Stone at this time. Anna's and Susan's father, John Green of Castlegate, Nottingham, was almost certainly the John Green buried at the Castlegate Chapel in 1832 and their mother Susannah (nee Hine), a sister of Jonathan Hine, had died in 1811. In August 1841, Anna's and Susan's elder brother Thomas Green – see Note 19 below – was living in Frome, Somerset, his wife's home town, when Josiah & Susan visited; he lived there for the rest of his life, but may not have moved there as early as 1837.

18 It is clear from this that Susan Green (1809–1871) was at this time already engaged to Josiah Gilbert, but that the engagement had not yet been publicly announced. There is evidence in Susan's diaries (entries for 1 November 1845 and 1846) that the relationship first blossomed at Thrumpton near Nottingham on 1 November 1834.

19 ie, presumably, Thomas Green (1801–1882) and his wife Jane (nee Sinkins) (1808–1864). No record of their marriage has yet been found, but, in view of their ages and of the absence of any obvious trace in the Index to post'1837 Marriage Registers, it seems probable that it was before the date of this letter. The Sinkinses were also related to the Hines by marriage.

20 Mount Street, Nottingham, was the home of Jonathan & Melicent Hine – see Note 16 above

21 This unexpected and uncharacteristic note of severity is presumably to be explained by the implication in the following sentence of some financial impropriety

22 This is, presumably, James Davidson (1799–1877) – an engineer and son of Thomas Telford's partner, Matthew Davidson, who had married Thomas Green's sister Eliza on 22 March 1836 and whose brother, John Mitchell Davidson (1797–1843), was both a friend of the Gilberts and their doctor. It sounds as if Thomas Green may have borrowed money from James Davidson.

Here is a painting of Mrs Ann Gilbert painted by Thomas Barber in 1829, Robin Gilbert sent this to me and gave permission for it to be included in this article.

The final paragraph of this long and affectionate letter has a really surprising comment about the new Queen Victoria. This was Victoria's first official engagement, after acceding to the throne. It was a dinner – well, a sumptuous banquet, actually – with the Lord Mayor of London. I was just so surprised that Ann Gilbert in Nottingham (124 miles away from London) should have known about the weather down there. The Court Circular in the Times newspaper would have given advance notice of the event, so the news had obviously spread to other parts of the kingdom in that way.

I have been waiting for your letters in order to write to Anne and Jane, who will have expected to hear for some days – I have now that to do, and should like to send by this night’s post if I can, so excuse me if my sheet is not full.(**23)
I am watching the weather in hopes that her Majesty may not need an umbrella this evening – how many it will disappoint and many kill, should it be wet, and with a wind just got into full south it is a nice question. I am glad you are not in London.
Afternoon Thursday –
This is now so thick a sky that I fear it will be a thorough London fog for the entertainment of her Majesty, such as, not having lived much in the City she may not have seen before. I question whether from the distance of the window it will be practicable to see her.
You see love, I have no more to say. Write again soon. Present our respects to Dr Churchill and believe me dear child, your affectionate mother, Ann Gilbert
Papa desires kind love to you. Mary wishes to live near her family and is leaving in about a fortnight – I have engaged another.

23 This was, of course, before the days of the Penny Post, when a single sheet usually served as both paper and envelope and letter–writers often made the most of every square inch available.

This portrait of Josiah in his later life was also sent to me by Robin, and shows what a good artist he was. This was Robin's comment

Here is what I suspect is a self-portrait of Josiah that I inherited from my father and he from his. It is signed by Josiah, has a strong resemblance to a surviving photograph of him and is certainly not of either of his brothers who survived into old age.

Ann Gilbert was a prolific letter writer and there are many that have survived, held in various places. Our example is another which refutes the generally held belief that women were either uneducated or illiterate.

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