Private James Attwood, Bugler

Continuing our series of the invisible lives thrown into the spotlight by digging in the archives and providing grist to the author’s mill, I was going through some entries in the National Probate Calendar for 1861 and I came across this:

Attride Henry, 29 October. Letters of Administration of the Personal estate and effects of Henry Attride late of the Stock Exchange in the City of London and of 3 Nunhead Grove Peckham in the County of Surrey Stock Broker deceased who died 8 October 1861 at Nunhead Grove aforesaid were granted at the Principal Registry to Elizabeth Sarah Attride of 3 Nunhead Grove aforesaid Widow the Relict of the said Deceased she having first been sworn.  Effects under £3,000.

There’s a whole life there—Elizabeth Sarah Humphreys, as she was then, had married Henry Attride on 11th May 1818 at which point she was five days short of her twenty-first birthday and therefore a minor so that her father, Asher Humphreys (already mentioned in Invisible Lives), had to give permission for her marriage. I don’t know whether there was any resistance to the marriage on the part of the Attride family but I do know that the only witnesses (at St Stephen’s Parish Church in Coleman Street, London) were members of the bride’s family. Elizabeth bore Henry nine children, seven of whom were still living when Henry died, and external evidence suggests that the match was a successful one and as happy as these things can ever be. One thing the National Probate Calendar doesn’t tell us, but Henry’s Death Certificate does, is that Henry had been ill with diarrhoea for 25 hours before his death. We cannot envy him his mode of passing. (Oops).

Further down the page is this entry: Letters of Administration of the Personal estate and effects of the Reverend Peter Aubertin late of Chipstead in the County of Surrey Clerk deceased who died 9 November 1861 at Chipstead aforesaid were granted at the Principal Registry to Paul Elias Aubertin of 6 Great Winchester Street in the City of London Esquire Edmund Aubertin of 12 New Cavendish Street in the County of Middlesex Esquire and Edward Aubertin of 6 Great Winchester Street aforesaid Esquire three of the Children of the said Deceased They having been first sworn. Effects under £20,000.

There’s a story there by anyone’s reckoning—especially if you know the story of the Reverend Peter Aubertin and Chipstead Church. The south transept had been damaged by fire in the seventeenth century and the church does not seem to have had much respect locally. It was looked after, if that’s the expression we want, from Croydon and the story goes that bodies of the dead were dumped in the church to wait for burial until a vicar next looked in. When cricket matches were played on the Church Green, the church itself was used as a pavilion for serving refreshments. Aubertin was of Huguenot stock (a Huguenot background is treated with great respect in modern-day Britain, presumably because the British are never taught that the protestant Huguenot rebels responded to violence by their Catholic neighbours with even greater violence of their own). Be that as it may, Aubertin, with the financial help of Mr J G Cattley of the Shabden estate, rebuilt the church (eliminating historically significant features in the process) and made damn sure his flock paid closer attention to the teachings and needs of the Church.

However, it wasn’t the dead stockbroker leaving his widow to struggle on on £3,000 or the rector passing a handy £20,000 to his children that got my attention. In between the two entries quoted above is this:

Letters of Administration of the Personal estate and effects of James Attwood late of Allahabad in India a Private and Bugler in Her Majesty’s 90th Regiment of Foot a Bachelor deceased who died 21 July 1861 at Allahabad aforesaid were granted at the Principal Registry to Thomas Attwood of Stockbury in the County of Kent Labourer the Grandfather and only Next of Kin of the said Deceased he having been first sworn. Effects under £50.

The British Army had been in Allahabad since the Indian Mutiny in 1857, but things were quiet there in 1861. I have to get hold of James Attwood’s death certificate and find out how he died—it would be too great an irony if dysentery got him as it got so many British visitors to India, given that it also took London stockbroker Henry Attride. What really interests me, though, is James’s family. He wasn’t married; he had no father, no mother, no brothers and no sisters. The only person left to him in the world was his grandfather, a labourer who had to tell his story to lawyers in order to recover the paltry belongings Bugler Private Attwood had left behind. There’s a story here, and I intend to have it.

Read more Invisible Lives here.

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