The Industrial Revolution, James Lowe and Henrietta Vansittart
When you think of the Industrial Revolution what images do you conjure up? For me its the hardship and bleakness of smoke infested towns, enormous brick buildings pumping, whirring, grinding and shunting - coal, tin, wool, cotton, iron and steam. But it’s not only the bleakness of the places, it's also the bleakness of the people - lined, weary faces of those trying to many a penny to survive, fresh faced excitement of those arriving from the countryside, and aristocratic men, in crisp, starched shirts and waistcoats inventing and creating new and even more fabulous inventions. Henrietta Vansittart was revolutionary in that she was one of the only great female engineers of the Industrial Revolution.
James Lowe was one such inventor. Lowe had worked as a mechanist and smoke jack maker and invented a screw propeller for ships. On 23 March 1838, he took out a patent for a new screw propeller which ensured his place in history. New inventions were taken to the Royal Navy weekly, and at this time there was very little money to be made from such things. But Lowe would not give up and he spent all his wife's money on his experiments and a succession of patents reducing the family to complete poverty by the early 1850's. Therefore, it might seem strange, that his daughter, Henrietta Vansittart (nee Lowe) excelled herself to become a respected engineer and inventor in her own right, at a time when Victorian women should have been doing anything but science.
Henrietta Vansittart Nee Lowe
Henrietta was born in 1833, to James and Marie Lowe (nee Barnes) - she did not have the most fortunate of circumstances, she was the third daughter of six sisters and two brothers, and her father had almost bankrupted the family by 1852 through his desire to invent. However, Henrietta it seems was a social climber and had dreams of grandeur, and by 1855 she had married a lieutenant in the 14th Dragoons, Frederick Vansittart who had been based in Paris. Soon after they bought a house in Clarges Street, London and it seems he sold his commission to they could set up home. But, this was not good enough for Henrietta and in 1859 she started an affair, which lasted 12 years with the novelist and politician, Edward Bulwer Lytton. Lytton was a man of high social status and Henrietta clearly had an effect on him, although perhaps not to Disrealis liking and is said to have blamed Lyttons absences from the House of Commons on his association with Henrietta. Lytton became ill and in 1873 died, leaving Henrietta £1200 in his will and very oddly her husband, £300. She returned to her husband and lived in Twickenham. Henrietta was clearly a highly charismatic and feisty young lady who knew what she wanted and did not allow things to stand in her way. (Image 1 - see source
During this time, Henrietta took a keen interest in her father’s work and accompanied him on the HMS Bullfinch in 1857 to test out the new screw propeller. She had her own ideas for how it could be developed, and after her father was tragically killed by a cart crossing the road in London in 1866, she took on her father’s work without any formal scientific or engineering training. Within 2 years she had patented another propeller to allow ships to move faster and smoother and use less fuel. In 1868, the Vansittart Propeller was patented and was used on HMS Druid - she won numerous awards for this, had articles written on her in the Times Newspaper and attended exhibitions all over the world. She was clearly a remarkable woman. It is believed that she was the only lady who ever wrote, read and illustrated with her own drawings and diagrams a scientific paper before members of the Scientific Institution.
Henrietta and Twickenham
Of course, no street or person would be complete without some intrigue, mystery and scandal and Henrietta certainly had some interesting moments. It is one of my favourite things about researching a house history – the stories of the people who lived there. The little scraps that give us a glimpse into the past – of squabbles and stand offs, intrigue and intellect, parties and politicians. Montpelier Row has certainly had its fair show of arguments,
Henrietta seems to have lived a colourful life in all areas. It is perhaps strange that she left her husband to have her affair with Lytton in this age, and that Lytton then left both Henrietta and Frederick money in his will, £1200 to her and £300 to him, no small sum in 1873. Stranger still perhaps that she then went back to her husband. Happily or not, who knows.
They appear to have become property owners, owning a number of houses in Montpelier Row Twickenham as well as on Maids of Honor by Richmond Green. These were, and still are desirable addresses. The 1871 census lists them at 4 Maids of Honor Row although records suggest she was there in 1869 without her husband. Perhaps she had bought it with funds from her patent or from Lytton.
Henry George Bohn in a letter to the Richmond Twickenham Times in 1879 states that she arrived in Twickenham around 1874. In a later letter by Bohn he talks about 4 houses that she had purchased and which had then been converted into two, these appear to have been Number 4 and 5 which later became Seymour House and 1 and 2, which were known as Bell House and St Maur’s Priory. It seems by 1880 she had No 1, St Maur’s Priory (Which had been named by her) and 2, Bell House left in her possession as she had sold the others off. The 1881 census, shows that Frederick and Henrietta were living at No 1 Montpelier Row whose main frontage was on the Richmond Road.
In 1878, Bell House, Number 2 was offered for lease for the sum of £100 and Seymour House, Number 3 was also offered for sale for £73,10s. Both properties were owned by Henrietta at this time and were offered for sale by Mr Fowler on 25 June 1878. It appears that a neighbour, Henry George Bohn, the infamous fine art dealer, publisher and book collector, with whom there seems to have been some rivalry and dispute purchased Seymour House from Henrietta in 1879, paying £1100.00 – a vast increase on the alleged two hundred pounds she had spent only a few years earlier.
Henry George Bohn was the Vansittarts neighbour, living at North End House, just the other side of the Richmond Road. There appears to have been a great deal of rivalry amongst the two households, not least perhaps because of Henrietta’s desire to own and lease property – the same property that Bohn also wanted to own and lease. There was some argument with the local council in 1879, as the row had been changed to Montpelier Row to which Bohn took great displeasure and wrote to the Richmond Twickenham Times.(5) He had erected a sign on the from of the wrought iron railings of No 1, Henrietta’s house which stated Montpelier Row, He claims this had been agreed with Henrietta and that they had been on speaking on terms about it. However, to his annoyance, early one morning he had spied from his house, Mr Vansittart at the top of a ladder, painting the sign out! I can quite imagine the surprise and intrigue of curtains twitching as the early morning sun rose in Twickenham, to reveal an ageing Mr Vanisttart balanced among the top of a ladder, with an incensed wife in her long skirts, swishing in the dust at the bottom issuing her instructions.
Bohn took to paper soon after, seemingly to air his grievances about Henrietta in public – entitle ‘The Montpelier Row Difficult’, he writes that:
‘It is with great regret that I find myself brought once more into a verbal conflict with Mrs Vansittart, but she is inexorable, and by way of publicly introducing, what appear to me to be mere figment of the brain, contrives to make me the scapegoat. I have no choice, therefore, but to reply to her, and bring out what may well be called the facts of a Tweedledum affair’ (6)
It seems that Henrietta had claimed that she had thousands of pounds on improving the row, both the buildings she had purchased but also the area of land opposite, which Bohn claims that he had in fact sectioned off and made good to stop costermongers and other nuisances taking over. She stresses that she has done so much more for the neighbourhood than Bohn has ever done – keeping up with the Jones of the Victorian age.
He also airs in public his annoyance at her private affairs about the purchase and sale of her properties, and mortgages she had taken out. Indeed, what obviously had been private discussions seems to have reached a head in 1879/1880 as both wrote backwards and forwards to the paper airing their grievances of one another’s behaviour over several years. A very public affair!
Sadly Henrietta met a very unhappy end. In the autumn if 1883, it seems she was attending the North East Coat Exhibition of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineer at Tynemouth. She was, found wandering the streets in a very confused state of mind and was consequently committed o the Tyne City Lunatic Asylum, where she died early in 1883 on anthrax and mania. A sad end to an eventful life. One wonders why she was not moved back down South, had she fallen out with her husband again? Had she of lived one wonders what she would have gone on to achieve as a great woman engineer.
1.Epsom and Ewell History Explorer, James Lowe and his daughter Mrs Henrietta Vansittart, http://www.epsomandewellhistoryexplorer.org.uk/Lowe.html, first accessed 15/2/2017
2.Howes, A, Capitalism's Cradle - An Economic History Blog, http://antonhowes.tumblr.com/post/115859870959/female-inventors-of-the-industrial-revolution-part
3.Intriguing History, Henrietta Vansittart Enginner, http://www.intriguing-history.com/henrietta-vansittart-engineer/, first accessed 10/2/2017
4.Wikipedia, James Lowe, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Lowe_(inventor), first accessed 10/2/2017
5. Richmond Local Studies Library, Richmond Twickenham Times, extract from a letter written to the paper from Henry George Bohn, dated 1 July 1879.
6. Richmond local Studies Library, Richmond Twickenham Times, extract from a letter written to the paper from Henry George Bohn, entitled The Montpelier Row Difficulty.
7. Photographs taken from my own personal archive, copyright Emma Louise Tinniswood 2017.
Looking back, the census returns were probably my main starting point for my own family research, after searching through the mountain of Birth, Marriage and Death certificates that my mum had kept for our family. Suddenly a whole new world opened up for me... so many people. It felt like a little portal into the world of the Victorian age had suddenly revealed itself to me - so many names, occupations I'd never heard of, places, unusual names and wonderful italic handwriting. Some of it totally illegible but you can't have everything. The census returns became an important part of my family research for some time and now they've become incredibly useful for my house history research as well.
The first census took place on 10 March 1801, details of individual names were not recorded but it gave details of numbers of inhabitants so the government could get an idea of the population and the number of dwellings in the country. The main census as we know it today, started in 1841 and was taken on a Sunday night in Spring, when it was thought people were most likely to be at home and not off trying to find work. They showed an increase in the population by 52% in the space of 50 years!
1841 - 6 June
1851 - 30 March
1861 - 7 April
1871 - 2 April
1881 - 3 April
1891 - 5 April
1901 - 31 March
1911 - 2 April
You can expect to find the following information on census returns:
First name, surname, age, address, occupation, relationship to head of the house, place of birth.
As the years went on the returns became more detailed and required more information. 1911 was the most detailed census of all, often referred to as the 'fertility census' as it required more detailed information on the children as well as the houses themselves. So later returns you will also find:
Number of years married, number of children living and deceased, number of rooms, nationality, infirmity, more detailed information about occupation and industry, postal address
The house could be listed as inhabited, empty or building as well as the number of rooms and the type of property. Those present in the house are recorded, including the number of years married, and the number of children living and deceased. The returns are fairly detailed and provide a good amount of information for your house history research, although there are gaps as many women boycotted the census and refused to give the information, in a stand about being given the vote. A summary book was also issued by the enumerators, and these can also be found on Find My Past.
The census returns can help the House Historian in a number of ways - not only can they tell you who was living in your house at the time, but they might also reveal information about your neighbours, past names of the property or reveal number changes, tell you how many rooms it had and reveal changes that might have been made to the size of the house, it might also provide information on other properties which no longer exist and which help to shape the history of your street.
Obviously there are pitfalls to the returns and as they were only taken every 10 years you will mostly likely have gaps, unless people remained in their house for some time! So your findings will need to be complimented with other records.
Also, one must remember the likelihood of human error. The schedules for the census were left with each householder and were collected by the enumerator on the day following the census. They then entered all the information into the summary book. It is reasonable to assume that mistakes will have been made both in the copying of the householders information made by the enumerator into the summary book, and also possibly further down the line as information has been transcribed and recorded onto Ancestry and Find My Past. Much of the handwriting is very difficult to read, and as spelling was not necessarily standardised and since people often had their own variations this can lead to frustrating brick walls and dead ends. Many people were illiterate and for those returns as well as those that the enumerator could not read, he would have then written in the details himself as told to him by the resident.
The early census returns also rounded up peoples ages to the nearest 5 years, therefore not recording accurate ages. Similarly, not everyone always knew when they were born and following the 1891 census it was reported that both men and women often lied about their ages.
However, they can provide a starting point and we all need one of those, wherever that point might be! And the information can be a great start to helping you delve into other records such as enclosure and tithe maps and records, poor rates and records, church records, manorial records, land records and lease agreements.
The census has helped me no end with both my family research and the house histories I have bene doing. So here are a few top tips that I’ve made – Things I’ve learnt!
Have a rough idea of when you house was built - you can use Land registry records, or maybe local history books will give you an idea. For more recent homes, I've found local residents to be a hive of information too!
See if you can find out the relevant county or registration district - be aware, that sometimes these changed. You may need to consult your local reference or local studies library to let you know if there were any changes.
Be prepared to try variations on the name of your road, and always tick boxes that allow for variants. Spellings were not standardised, and those completing the returns often had their own variations on names therefore it is important to be aware of the variations that came happen, in road names, house names and occupant names as well.
Similarly variations can happen on the spelling of peoples names - use nicknames, use the wildcards, miss out middle names and spell names wrongly!
Some addresses were not written in full and you may find that house numbers are missed out altogether. Therefore you may need to cross reference with another census.
On Find My Past, for 1911 you can search by people or address and for the other years you can search by street address. Be aware, that sometimes you do need to play around with your spellings in order to find the place! Use the wildcards, using a * to replace a letter.
Sometimes it is better to think ‘less is more’ and leave out all the information you think you know and search with a limited number of ideas.
I might also add a new little discovery of mine which is the 1939 register, available on Find My Past which brings us just a little bit closer to the present while we wait for the 1921 census to appear. Again you need to pay for this, but this is a nice little addition - although again you might find gaps. No-one under 100 years old can be viewed or anyone who has died since 1991, but again this might be a starting point.
Both Ancestry and Find My Past have census returns online for viewing, although as both are subscription services if you want to download and view images and transcriptions you will need to pay for these. But UK Census online provides a free service for searching the returns https://www.ukcensusonline.com/ - however you can only search for names rather than addresses.
Find My Past www.findmypast.co.uk
Ancestry, 1801 Census returns, www.1911census.org.uk/1801.htm
National Archives, Census Records, http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/census-records/ - this gives a handy fact sheet about using the census returns with links to archived pages from the National Archives Historical House Project.
A Vision of Britain Through Time, http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/census/index.jsp - this details reports made from the census finds up to 1971.
A Vision of Britain Through Time, A Guide to Census Reports,
Family Search familysearch.org/search/collection/list#page=1&recordType=Census