28 March 2012

March mystery


“You would pluck out the heart of my mystery.” – Hamlet
There is a memorial plaque on the vestibule wall of St. Peter’s Church, Barford that always catches my eye. It commemorates two young lives cut tragically short:
Francis Bruckfield Byerley Died August 5, 1818, on his passage from the West Indies Aged 19                                                                       Octavia Charlotte Byerley Died September 26, 1818 Aged 17
Seeing their names week after week piqued my curiosity: who were these two, and what brought about their untimely ends? A mystery. And, what could be more English than a good mystery? Furthermore, what could be more pleasurable than finding one staring you in the face. Not a mystery of the “murder-in-the-drawing-room-with-a-candlestick” variety, perhaps, but still a riddle worthy of a bit of sleuthing.
My initial inquiries into the identity of pair led to a surprising revelation – a Barford connection to the famous Wedgwood firm and family. The two young Byerleys were children of Thomas Byerley (1747-1810), who was nephew of Josiah Wedgwood, and made a partner of the firm in 1790. The firm then traded as: “Josiah Wedgwood, Sons and Byerley”. Finding no further details about the tragic siblings, I allowed myself to imagine, rather romantically, that Francis was spirited away, having answered the clarion call of the sea, dying heroically in a valiant battle against pirates in the Caribbean; and poor, poor, Charlotte, languishing here on dry land, her demise precipitated by the loss of her dearly beloved brother, with a grief as deep as the sea.
The trail, as they say in detective novels, had run cold. Then, an email from the Wedgwood Museum archivist informing me that the Byerley association had further connections to reveal – and quite significant ones, indeed. Francis and Charlotte’s sisters: Katherine, Frances and Jane established The Byerley School in Barford in 1817. It was located at what is now Barford House, a private residence. The Byerley teachers and their pupils regularly attended St Peter’s Church, where the school held designated pews.
The Byerley sisters’ school was renowned for its curriculum and the literary talents of its teachers – each a published authoress. Their most successful by-product was Elizabeth Stevenson, who later became the great Victorian author and critic, Mrs. Gaskell. Although Knutsford in Cheshire prides itself on being the inspiration for Gaskell’s much-loved Cranford, Barford, in fact, holds a prior claim. Living in Barford during her most formative years, Gaskell studied the classics whilst enjoying rural life in this idyllic Warwickshire setting. This village no doubt set the seeds that would later blossom in Gaskell’s literary career. Gaskell was undoubtedly fond of Barford, it appears in [ITALICS START] My Lady Ludlow (1858), and is remembered affectionately in her novella, [ITALICS START] Lois the Witch (1859). That story’s tragic heroine, the orphaned Lois Barclay, is a happy Barfordian before her reluctant emigration to Salem, Massachusetts:
“In the dim sea mist which she gazed upon with aching eyes - there rose the little village church of Barford…the little, old, grey church…What would they think of it at home – real, dear home at Barford, in England? There they had loved her; there she had gone about, singing and rejoicing all the day long in the pleasant meadows by the Avonside.”
Like Mrs. Gaskell, and Lois Barclay, I, too, share an achingly sentimental love of Barford and its ‘little, old, grey church’. And, perhaps like me, the young Elizabeth Stevenson may have routinely spied a memorial plaque on the church’s vestibule wall that set her mind and curiosity adrift. To be sure, the greatest reward of every good mystery is the joy of unexpected discovery.

4 comments:

Vivikaivy said...

I love your blog.. I'm in love with a guy in England... met him online. We've been talking for 3 years. I've been there to visit him for 3 weeks. I want to move there but have no idea how to without being married and don't want to rush things for the sake of legality but don't know another way.. how are you doing it?

Malte Zeeck said...

Hello there!
My name is Malte Zeeck, and I am with InterNations.org. I really enjoyed reading your fantastic blog! I think expats in Great Britain and around the world could really gain some great insights [and have a few good laughs] on this page. The quality of the blog in general is very convincing, which is why I would love to feature you and your writing on the Recommended Blog on Great Britian section on InterNations.org
Not only do we feature and link to your blog prominently; we also would like to hear from you directly in our questionnaire! We have also designed a link badge for your blog.

If you are interested, please feel free to contact me via email: maltezeeck@internations.org
Best,
Malte Zeeck

Vivikaivy said...

A reply would be nice :( I follow your blog..

An American Girl in the UK said...

Thanks for your comments! How can I reach you? Tried link from your name - didn't work.