George Henry Guy: Part 8

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Stormy Cornwall

The Looking for George Henry Guy series is back! This month sees a continuation of ancestor research following the story of Lesley Carter and her journey to uncover more information about her great grandfather.

You can find part 7 here.

The reference to Thomas Guy in the Collectanea Cornubiensia was the only shred of potential evidence I had come across which might support the theory that George Henry and his descendants (including me) were related to Thomas Guy. The entry had said that George Henry’s great grandfather was a ‘near relative’ of Thomas. So far, we had been unable to establish the date and place of birth of even his grandfather, let alone anything before that.

So what do we know? We know who George Henry’s parents were. His father was George Guy, born 2 April 1815 in Sancreed. He was a miner and died 21 January 1873 in Boscaswell at the age of 58. He is buried in St John’s Church, Pendeen. His wife, George Henry’s mother was Jenifer Semmens or Simmons. (These variable spellings of names don’t help matters). She was born in Baripper, Camborne on 22 May 1819. Her parents were James and Jennifer Simmons. She married George Guy on the 18 February 1838 in Madron, age 19, (George being 24). She died on 25 April 1895 at the age of 76. She is also buried in St John’s Church, Pendeen.

The siblings of George Henry, buried along with him and their parents at St John’s, are Elizabeth who died 27 April 1886 (age 27), John who died 2 November 1871 (age 13), Thomas who died 2 May 1887 (age 27), Jenifer Hand who died 24 March 1892, and Mary Ann who died 10 May 1901 (age 46. So far, so straightforward. But when we come to George Henry’s grandparents, confusion sets in.

My cousins’ version – I shall call it Version 1 – says that George Henry’s grandfather was yet another George Guy, a St Just tin miner. We have no dates or information about him except that he married one Elizabeth Hand in St Buryan on 3 January 1807. Elizabeth Hand, we think, was baptized in Sancreed on 1 June 1788. This would have made her 19 years old on her marriage. Elizabeth was the daughter of John Hand and Jane Rodda who were married on 6 August 1770.

This would mean that Elizabeth was born 18 years after her parents’ marriage. We have no information about any siblings of Elizabeth but we might assume that she was the youngest or near youngest. A woman’s child-bearing could have spanned 20 years. The fact that George Henry had a sibling called Jenifer Hand supports that a forebear of his, in this case his grandmother, was a ‘Hand’. If George was a similar age to his wife Elizabeth Hand (ie 19 or 20), then he too would have been born around 1788.

My brother-in-law’s version – I shall call it Version 2 – says that George Henry’s grandfather was yet another George Guy born 30 October 1769 in St Just. He was a tin miner. He married one Elizabeth Nicholas on 26 May 1792 when he was aged 23. They had the following children: Elizabeth, born 21 August 1808 in Sancreed; Grace Guy, born 5 November 1809 in Sancreed, George Guy (George Henry’s father), born 2 April 1815 in Sancreed; Henry, born 10 August 1817 in Sancreed; William, born 28 July 1822 in Sancreed; Caroline, born 4 September 1825 in Sancreed.

So Elizabeth either had no children between her marriage and the first child listed above, ie a period of 16 years, or she had some and they died. Assuming she was roughly the same age as her husband, what she did have were 6 children between the age of 39 and 56. Is this likely? This version also has George Henry’s grandfather being another George Guy, who married Grace (Elizabeth) Tap on 6 July 1769 in St Just. This would have meant that Grace was 3-4 months pregnant with George at the time of her marriage. It appears that this George was one of a twin with Jane.

With regard to George Henry’s grandfather and great grandfather, ‘Collectanea Cornubiensia’ has yet another version – let’s call it Version 3. This, as we know makes the Thomas Guy of Guy’s hospital connection, has George Henry’s great grandfather ‘coming into Cornwall’ (from where it does not say) and buying property, has George Henry’s grandfather coming to St Just (from where, it does not say) in 1832 and another son of the great grandfather called Richard, living on an estate in Sancreed. A walk through the Sancreed graveyard had shown no Guys buried there and a trawl being done by D through the Sacreed Parish death register in the Cornwall Records Office, had been interrupted by our discovery of the Cardinham scandal.

I am completely confused now, as I imagine, is anyone else who is reading this. I get lost in the names (how many Georges have we got, how many Guys?) and the dates (which century am I am in again?) like they are the trees of a deep, dark equatorial rainforest. I can see no path through, I can see no sky above. Just thick, clawing, tangled branches and fronds and foliage and roots. I stumble and lurch about at random, thrashing my arms in all directions, panicking and hopeless. I am lost for ever. I will never get out of here. I have no compass to tell me where to go. I have no ball of string to tell me where I have been. I may have no compass or string, but what I do have is a D. He suggested that, if we had drawn a blank on the ‘Guy of Guy’s Hospital’ question by looking for evidence from the George Henry end of things, then why not try it from the other end i.e. from the Thomas Guy end.

‘I’m sure’, he said, ‘he left a will. I think it’s in the British Library. If George Henry’s antecedents were closely related to Thomas, he might have left them something in his will. The beneficiaries would be listed there. He must have been pretty wealthy, old Thomas, so if he did leave GH’s great grandfather something, that could have given him the wherewithal, if Collectanea is right, to buy an estate in Sancreed.’

‘If it’s right.’

Which is why I now find myself, on Thursday 4 March 2010, in the British Library. I have pre-booked a viewing of the ‘Last Will and Testament of Thomas Guy’ and a provisional pass number to become a temporary Reader. My number is 870408. I am told my ordered document will be found – after I have gone through the registration procedure – in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room. The Will, dated 1732, is in ‘The General Reference Collection 1487aaa.18’. Admittedly, I am not feeling well – a bad cold and cough – and not in the best of moods, but I am becoming irritated by what seems to me like inhospitable bureaucracy.

I have brought my gas bill by way of identity and duly show it to the receptionist. Then I have to go to a computer to fill in a questionnaire with all my personal details. Then I have to wait along with many others for my number to be called up. When it is, I have to go to another person who wants to see my gas bill again. I have my picture taken and get asked a lot of questions about what I’m researching, whether I will want to come back to the BL again, how many times, and when. Eventually I am awarded a three-month pass.

I am given a long list of instructions which I don’t fully understand and certainly won’t remember. I think I hear it said that I’m not allowed to take my handbag or my coat into the reading room and so must go downstairs where I’ve just come from, to give them in at the cloakroom. Because I don’t like this instruction, I check it out with another receptionist on the way out but she confirms that it is correct. I don’t want to give my coat up because I’m shivering and fear that my cold may turn into pneumonia. But I refrain from voicing my concerns because I also fear that any protestation of mitigating circumstances will fall on stony ground.

Down in the cloakroom, I hand over my treasured possessions like a convicted criminal about to start a life-sentence to a mute, burly attendant. I am given a see-through plastic bag in which I am allowed to put pencils and paper. I also slip in some tissues, not all of which are clean. All privacy and dignity is stripped away in the British Library. There is no hiding place. My screwed-up tissues are now in the public domain.

We then go up to the Rare Books and Music reading room, IDs are checked yet again by security guards. We go to the reception desk behind which half a dozen assistants are standing about doing nothing and eventually we are called over by another surly man.

‘Name? Seat number?’

It appears we have at last passed all the tests and are handed an A5ish sized copy of Thomas Guy’s Last Will and Testament 1732. I clutch it in my fingers, feel its history and potentiality through the hard matt cover. Will this little volume hold the key, will it unlock the secret of my ancestry, will it verify once and for all the family rumour and the Collectanea entry? We leaf through the pages. Entry after entry of names of beneficiaries, aunts, uncles, all sorts – Voughtons, Harts, Weetmans, Bloods, Osborns, Hudsons. On and on it went. And somewhere in amongst it, on page 19 to be precise, shining out like little beacons on a dark night were written the following words:

‘Item, I give and bequeath unto Margaret Guy, and Samuel Guy, the children of Samuel Guy, late of Egham in the county of Surrey, deceased, five hundred pounds apiece interest or share in the said stock erected in lieu of Debentures, as aforesaid.’

These are the only Guys mentioned in the Will – Margaret and Samuel who receive £500 each. I have never heard or read anything of these names in connection with our family nor of Egham or anywhere else in Surrey. Which is a shame because, if Malcolm Bull’s Calderdale Companion on the Value of Money (Ancestry.com) is to be believed, £500 in 1732 would be worth £750,000 today.

I have only ever been to Sheffield once and it was some time ago. But I seem to remember liking it. I went to a concert at The Crucible (a place associated in my mind with snooker rather than piano recitals), to the city art gallery which impressed me and to an old-fashioned department store where I bought some cushion covers very cheaply. Where I did not go was Fulwood Road. In Fulwood Road there is a block of modern flats called Ranmoor View. The flats occupy the site of a one-time Victorian building, erected in 1864 and demolished in 1965.

Prior to its demolition, between 1949 and 1965, the building was used as a men’s hall of residence belonging to Sheffield University. Prior to that, during the second world war, it housed an Air Raid Precautions Headquarters and for 23 years before that, between 1917 and 1940, it was a Royal Hospital nurses’ hostel. But its original purpose, when built in 1864, was as a college for the training of ministers for the Methodist New Connexion.

In Cornwall, the Methodist Chapels, like the tin mines are integral to the landscape and you can’t walk around the streets of any town or village without coming across one, even if it has been converted into a house or flats. I have no direct experience of Methodism but have a notion in my head, a stereotype I suppose, that devotees of that particular branch of Christianity are rather narrow-minded and straitlaced.

Growing up I remember the word ‘chapel’ being used as an adjective synonymous with narrow-minded and strait-laced. At the very least the Methodist personality seemed to be characterised by a stiff upper-lip and a surfeit of respectability. Though Charles Wesley first came to Cornwall in 1743, Methodism seemed to sit very well with the Victorian zeitgeist a century later and its influence lingered for some time after that.

The Methodist New Connexion was, apparently, a protestant non-conformist church formed in 1797 by secession from the Weslyan Methodists. The secession was led by Alexander Kilham (his followers known as Kilhamite Methodists) and resulted from a dispute regarding the position and rights of the laity. In 1791 Kilharm denounced the mainstream Methodists for giving too much power to the ministers of the church at the expense of the laity and he founded the New Connexion based around his church in Sheffield. Later, in 1907, the new movement merged with the Bible Christians and United Methodist Free Church to form the United Methodist Church.

According to an essay published by the Yorkshire Branch of the Wesley Historical Society, 1987,‘Preachers All’, Ranmoor College was the result of efforts by the New Connexion, who were intellectually oriented and interested in theological education, to establish a Theological College. The College was built by a wealthy benefactor from Sheffield who insisted it be built there. The architect was a Leeds man called William Hill (did he also own betting shops?) who was also a Connexionist. It accommodated 16 students, but at no time was it full and had on50 going financial problems. The Reverends Samuel Hulme and James Stacey were the first tutors.

Something of the life at Ranmoor is recorded by one student in the 1880’s. He writes:

‘We rose at 6.00 in Summer and 6.30 in Winter and had to report ourselves to the monitor. Breakfast at 8.00 after prayers; Dinner at 2.00; Tea at 5.30 and Supper after prayers about 8.45. Between dinner and tea was allowed for exercise and we rambled sometimes a good distance.’ Sometime in between eating, praying and rambling, students managed to do so some studying. Subjects included Latin, Greek, Theology, Moral Philosophy, Church History, Literature and Language, Logic and Homiletics (the art of preaching).

It was here at Ranmoor that in 1867, three years after its opening, George Henry, aged 22, became a student and spent two years training for the ministry. As well as the entry to this effect in Collectanea Cornubiensia, he is listed as an attender in the ‘Preachers All’ essay, one of a cohort of four students. In this respect at least, Collectanea looks to be true.

How he came to be there is a matter of speculation. We know that Methodism was strong in the mining communities of Cornwall. We know that he would almost certainly have come under the influence of the charismatic Rev Robert Aitken. We also know that around that time the Royal School of Mines and the Miners Association were running classes for miners in church halls. George Henry may have attended them and got bitten by the education bug.

The mining industry was in decline and only a few years before, in 1863, eight men and a boy had been killed in an accident at Botallack mine. If he had one iota of ambition or sense of self preservation, a young man could have been forgiven for looking for a way out. Then perhaps Aitken or some other influential character in the area one day takes him aside and says, ‘Look here, George. You’re a bright lad. You don’t want to spend the rest of your life down the mines do you? I don’t reckon there’s much future in it, anyway. But, I tell you what. You’d make a bloody good preacher.

Now, there’s this college, see. In Sheffield. No, not the one near Paul. It’s up country. They train preachers. Take yourself off up there for a bit. Get yourself an education. Who knows where it might lead.’ And with the train journey from Penzance to Paddington now taking a mere 11 hours and 50 minutes (not much further to Sheffield is it?), George Henry thinks, ‘What the hell! I think I’ll give it a go.’

According to his obituary, George Henry ‘was a member of the parish-council and a prominent and energetic member of the Wesleyan society at Newbridge.’ He might well have done some preaching on leaving Ranmoor and/or throughout his life but he was not to make it his full-time career.

Immediately on returning home, his attention may have been more on his marriage to Rebekah, the daughter of William Candy a miner and Rosetta a milliner from Portheras. Then, in 1871, two years after Ranmoor, the census records him as teaching in the Union Workhouse in the parish of St Clements, Truro. A year after that he is in Cardinham. It appears that it was teaching rather than preaching that was his calling and one which stayed with him right up until his death.

I sometimes wonder whether Ranmoor is at the root of ‘he went to Oxford you know’. He went away to undertake some form of education. He studied and attended classes and acquired various certificates throughout his life. He may even have attended classes run by the Oxford Extension Movement, which although not a major presence in Cornwall, did reach as far as Penzance in the late 1880’s. Perhaps ‘Oxford’ was the only place of further and higher education people had heard of and anything post elementary school was referred to as ‘Oxford’, like strait-laced folk were referred to as ‘chapel’.

Or perhaps he or someone in the family had delusions of grandeur. Or perhaps he went to Oxford once for a holiday. Anything’s possible, nothing certain, but for the time being at least, Ranmoor has taken the place of Oxford in my mind. I might have to be saying in future, with that grave and reverential turn of the head my mother used to do, ‘He went to Ranmoor, you know.’

End of part 8.

The memoir on George Henry Guy will continue in next month’s issue. You can view the first article in Looking for George Henry Guy here.

Lesley grew up in Penzance but now lives in Bath. A lover of literature, she enjoys stories on landscape or place and is thinking about writing some of her own stories or memoirs on this theme.