Saturday, 17 November 2012

The Vicar and his wife

Today has been cold and it grew dark rather earlier than I expected.  Sitting at the writing desk I gazed at this little collection of conkers and acorns - a reminder of Autumn which is slowly departing to make way for Winter. . .
The leaves of the oak tree outside the window have already changed from green, to yellowish green, to orange, to a coppery brown.  Soon they will fall away and be no more.

This Photograph was taken by Kirk Dale

This set me to thinking about people and the things that are left behind when they have died.

Tangible things.

The many photographs that we take our ourselves and our family - what will become of them?  Will they survive the years after we have gone?

What will become of our earthly reminders?
* * * * *

A couple of years ago I was spending a pleasant Sunday afternoon, strolling through e-bay (as one does) when something caught my attention: A silhouette.

It looked like this:

This Photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.

A fairly standard, early-to-mid nineteenth century silhouette.  

The name of the sitter was on the back: Susannah Coulcher.

And there was a short biographic note which stated that her maiden name was Bohun, and that she died in 1842:

This Photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.

I liked the fact that this was not an anonymous piece and decided that I might like to put a bid on it.

Was she a descendant of the great de Bohun family?  If the answer was 'yes' then she would be related (extremely distantly) to me!

Having spent some time in idle contemplation of the piece and its possible history, I continued my stroll when my eye was arrested by another silhouette:

This Photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.

Another standard early-to-mid nineteenth century type except that this one was a little worse for wear with a cracked glass and a lot of brown staining of the previously white paper.

This silhouette also had a note on the back:

This Photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.

Rev. George Coulcher.

Interesting.

Taking a second look at Susannah's silhouette to make sure, I was able to confirm that not only did they have the same surname but they were being put up for auction by the same seller.

I suppose it makes business sense to sell these as separate items when one is wanting to make as much money as possible on the sale; but to me it seemed a travesty because a quick look at some suitable records showed me that George and Susannah were in fact husband and wife. 

That settled it.

I could not let them be sold, separated, to end up goodness-knows-where, when in life they had been together.
It would be in my opinion extremely bad form and so I did the gentlemanly thing and placed bids on both of them.
AGA is more sensible than I when it comes to bidding on ebay and so I asked him to be in charge as I often get cold feet and put unrealistically low bids that fail.

And so it came to pass that George and Susannah ended up with us, in our bijou apartment where they are living most comfortably.

And here is what I have found out about them:

Once upon a time there was a man named George Coulcher.
The son of the Rev. Martin Coulcher and his wife Elizabeth; he was born at Little Plumstead, Norfolk and baptised at the Parish Church of St Margaret, Lynn, on the 10th of November in 1805.

(Those of a literary bent might recognise the name Plumstead.  In the Barchester Chronicles, Anthony Trollope gave this name to the place where Dr. Grantley lives.) 

Anyway, George followed the usual path.  He finished school and was sent to University and from there became an ordained clergyman in the Church of England.

Just like his father.

Now that he was set up, with a living (or perhaps two) of his own, it was high time that he married.
It is possible that his was an arranged marriage as his father, and the bride's father, were neighbours.  It was the year 1838 and his bride was Susannah (sometimes known as Susan) Bohun, the daughter of a certain Squire Bohun.  I want to say that his first name was George too but I forget.

Susan and George resided in Cambridge and it was here that their son George Bohun Coulcher (1842-1912) was born.  He would eventually become Vicar of Maidstone which is interesting because a relative of mine was also a vicar of Maidstone, but at a later date.

However, after only a few years of marriage, in the early part of 1842, Susan died possibly of some illness associated with the birth of her son George Junior.

George Senior was now alone with at least one child and his pastoral duties to take care of.
He remarried: But not right away.  I like to think that he missed his wife and could not think of any one taking her place.  Perhaps this is why he retained those silhouettes, making sure that they were kept together.  Perhaps, after his death, his son inherited them and then?  Who knows . .

Anyway, eight years passed before he again walked down the aisle, his bride being Sarah Jane Hawtayne (1813-1902) because a responsible Clergyman needs a wife to help him with his duties.

George ended his clerical career as Rector of Wattisfield in Suffolk where he rebuilt the rectory as well as helping to fund a new Church school.   He died at Wattisfield in 1863.

This Photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.


George and Susan are long gone.   These silhouettes, like autumn leaves, are a faint reminder of what they had been.

I am so pleased that I have been able to keep them together when others would have parted them.

45 comments:

  1. Hello Kirk, What a beautiful and apt metaphor you have applied to these silhouettes and indeed to all of the personal mementos that we leave behind.

    You have very nicely pieced together their story, and the best tribute of all is the effort you have made to preserve these together and to keep alive the memory of this couple.
    --Road to Parnassus

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    1. Thank you Parnassus,
      As someone who loves studying social history, it is the lives of people that interests and inspires me.
      I collect a lot but am always guided by the possible stories that might accompany a piece. Who were they and what did this 'thing' mean to them.
      To be able to put a name to the people who sat for these silhouettes (rather as Reggie Darling was able to for the silhouette he purchased and which he spoke of on his blog) makes these 'things' more alive for me.
      Kirk

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  2. Dear Kirk - this little tale made for compelling reading, I was so pleased that you were able to unite them together again.
    It is good fun finding out about things that we purchase or inherit especially when it yields an interesting story. Long may they reside together, and hopefully you will be able to keep their story safe along with the silhouettes for future generations.

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    1. Dear Rosemary,
      It is indeed good fun - indeed it is the best part - to find out more about the things that pass through our hands. I shall be doing my utmost to ensure that they stay together.
      Kirk

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  3. Dear Kirk,
    What a beautiful post-- I am so glad that you were able to spot these two silhouettes and keep them together! I would have done exactly the same thing. I think these intimate objects, the physical evidence of a life left behind, are deeply poetic meaningful. I am reminded of a shock my husband, sons and I had upon returning from a long walk on a rainy day: a dumpster had been delivered to our recently deceased neighbor's drive and filled with the books from her library. She had been an educated, intellectual woman, and her carefully curated library was now awaiting delivery to the dump. Needless to say, the four of us climbed in and rescued every book we could before the rain destroyed the rest... Many of the books, some gifts from her grandparents and parents, have beautiful inscriptions, marginalia, etc, and as a collection, map out a life of inquiry and contemplation. We've kept them all together in a bookcase of their own in honor of her memory and of a life well spent.
    Best regards,
    Erika

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    1. Goodness me Erika, I would have jumped right in there with you!
      How people can just toss aside such precious things is beyond me. I have heard of similar stories and indeed something rather similar happened to a great uncle of mine while my grandparents were out of the country. Dying rather suddenly and leaving everything to her to sort out, his widowed daughter-in-law simply called around a dealer and got rid of the lot, pocketing the cash and strolling off in to the sunset. Needless to say the family were not at all happy.
      Still I expect this is an all to often experience otherwise half the things you see on places like ebay wouldn't be there.
      I'm glad that you were able to salvage as much as you could and keep them safe for future generations to enjoy.
      Bye for now
      Kirk

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    2. And I forgot to add that in the first photo of this post, you got a brief glimpse of our small writing desk which is where the pin cushion sometimes 'hangs out'. . .

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    3. Dear Kirk,
      I was so carried away in sending my earlier message that I forgot to mention to you how much I enjoyed that first photo of your beautiful writing desk! It looks so lovely and inviting. The collection of the season's acorns and conkers is beautifully presented in its crown, and your hedgehog looks to be a wonderful muse! I loved seeing this photo-- thank you very much.
      Warm regards,
      Erika

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    4. Dear Erika,
      Since reading your wonderful blog I fancy myself as a bit of a desk designer. I want to get one of those ornamental pen wipers if I can.
      The hedgehog moves around a fair bit. He is now siting on top of the desk. I have all sorts of ornaments and such that migrate around the apartment, stopping here and there, then moving on to find other places in which to sit. An owl is sitting in that place now!
      Bye for now
      Kirk

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  4. Hi, Kirk - Great research....well done, you! Have you thought about a career in antiques?

    Thanks for sharing the silhouettes of George and Susan with us. Gotta say, both have beautiful profiles. They must have been a striking couple. I'm delighted you kept this pair together. I do not like separating pairs....especially antiques.
    Cheers,
    Loi

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    1. Dear Loi,
      I'm glad you liked them. It's funny you should write of profiles because it was Susan's profile that first caught my eye. It had that Roman matron look about it.
      I think it is AGA who should be the antique dealer. He has the eye for it. I am sure that he would prove successful.
      Kirk

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  5. Hi Kirk,

    Such a lovely find and beautiful story! It makes the two silhouettes extra special. You know, wouldn't it be lovely if there were still people around who could make things like this. I would love to have a silhouette made of my family, but I doubt it if there is anyone in Holland who can. Such a shame crafts like this get out of fashion! The two silhouettes look beautiful against your wall.

    Have a lovely Sunday!

    Madelief

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    1. Hi Madelief,

      I am glad that you enjoyed my post.

      Yes it is a shame that people don't make proper silhouettes any more. I bet that if you hunted around, you would find someone who could make them. I think that they are very effective and make a nice display.

      I hope that you have a lovely Sunday too!

      Kirk

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  6. Dear Kirk,

    I think the seller of your silhouettes missed a bet (and some extra income) by not doing a little research and weaving as beautiful a story as you did! Who in their right mind would think of selling them separately?

    And what a story Erika has told! There, too, very ordinary looking books can be rare and valuable. But I think the point goes beyond books, as a reflection on the legacy of the deceased — disposable in a moment. When I walked through my current house before the sale, it was filled with trinkets from the last owner, an elderly lady who had died. I asked for one small piece, so that she would always have some token representation here.

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    1. Dear Mark,

      I agree with you. If I was a seller I couldn't separate such items. Actually I think I would make a very bad seller because I would never want to sell anything that passed through my hands!

      It certainly pays to do a little research into the things you want to sell but then I guess that such knowledge would have pushed the prices up so much that I could not have afforded to pay.

      Yes Erika's story was amazing. I think that such an act would register quite high on the 'philistine' register!

      I like your idea of a memory from the previous owner being kept in the house. When my sister and her husband were renovating their current house, they were visited by a previous owner who had happened to be driving past. They were interested in the restoration taking place and returned later with some photographs of what the house looked like when they lived there (and prior to a horrible 'make over in the 1980s) They gave these photographs to my sister who is going to have them framed as part of the history of the house.

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  7. Hello Kirk

    Your writing desk oozes with character and the hedgehog pin cushion amuses.
    I loved the story of the silhouettes and to think they are also your distant relatives. We disposed of many items when we sold our farmhouse. We still have quite a collection and are not minimalists in the least. One wonders if the young will appreciate our collections?

    Helen xx

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    1. Dear Helen,
      How right you are. AGA and I have talked about what we think might happen to our 'stuff' when we are no longer around. I think we will have to carefully groom a chosen niece of nephew to become our heir apparent.

      Yes I like that desk. It is a French writing desk from the early 1900s. What I would really like is one of those big old desks where one person sits on one side and one on the other and there is plenty of room for all their things!

      Bye for now

      Kirk

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    1. Dear Markus,
      Thank you for visiting. I hope you enjoy this blog!
      Kirk

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  9. Such a beautiful story and I am so glad they have found a safe haven with you.

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    1. Dear Mystica,
      Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a comment.
      I am glad you enjoyed this post. While writing it I felt that I was gaining a new appreciation not only for the lives of these two people, but for the works themselves. I wonder who the artist was . . .?
      Bye for now,
      Kirk

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  10. Kirk,
    That was beautiful. I like your passion for the research you did. And the story, how beautifully written. Have you ever considered writing a book?

    Robert

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    1. Thank you Robert, and welcome to my blog.
      I must admit that I do enjoy writing this blog so perhaps one day I might try my hand at writing a book. . . who knows!
      Bye for now,
      Kirk

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  11. Me encanta el Otoño!!!!

    He descubierto tu blog y me ha encantado su contenido, desde hoy lo sigo. Si lo deseas te invito a visitar mi blog By Nela y si es de tu agrado me gustaria tenerte como seguidora y asi seguir en contacto.
    Un saludo muy cariñoso.
    Manoli

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    1. ¡Gracias Manoli por visitar mi blog!
      I like autumn too: the colors, the slight chill in the air. It makes you think of drinking hot chocolate, lighting candles, of getting warmer blankets and of sitting in the warm while reading books.
      What a wonderful time it is.
      I am glad you liked my post and thank you for becoming a follower. I am going to visit your blog too!
      Kirk

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  12. Fifteen years ago, the last member of the generation above me died and I was the executor. Among the things I discovered was a cardboard box filled with hundreds of family photos, most undated and unannotated in any way. Fritz helped me sort them and also to figure out the "is this the same nose and eyebrows twenty or twenty-five years later" possibilities.

    As there were many duplicates, I was able to put up sets that were more or less the same for several of the relatives, while keeping the rarest and oldest ones in a binder for myself and my immediate heirs. But I am under no illusions about interest those younger than myself will have in ancestors they never knew, even with the seven-generation family tree I was able to put together. But Susannah and George live again because of you!

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    1. Dear Will,
      Thank you for posting a comment.
      When I was young(er) I was always ferreting about in old boxes and such, as well as nagging older relatives, for photographs and other memories of the family so now I have a nicely annotated photographic collection hopefully for posterity.
      Like you I wonder about all this after I am gone. I have told AGA that we will have to pick a suitable heir from among our nieces and nephews.
      We often joke that the minute we are gone the valuers will be called in!
      Yes the memory of Susannah and George does still live and I am happy about that!
      Kirk

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  13. I LOVE this story! How awesome that you kept them together. I just love that. It's very sweet. Nice job! Now off to explore your lovely blog some more.

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    1. Hello 1st Man,
      Welcome to my blog.
      I'm glad you like this post. I must admit that I was well pleased that I was able to keep these two together. I like to think that they are pleased as well!
      Kirk

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  14. Oh, so glad you rescued them... and discovered and continued their story.

    (I've always wondered what it would be like to live someplace that has a vicar.)

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    1. Dear Mitchell,
      Yes to live in a place with a Vicar - and an afternoon tea shop. That would be nice. Mind you living next door to a Bishop would be rather nice too.
      Kirk

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  15. Dear Kirk,
    you have a storytelling gift and a gift for making connections.
    I love how you've drawn together disparate observations and histories and made of them something meaningful.
    I admire that you've intended to keep the portraits together, bucking the inclination to convert them into mere decoration.
    Isn't it amazing to find hand-written notes on the back of old found objects?
    And isn't it nice for you to have some connection to these?
    A lovely piece suggesting the nature of Autumn, not just for what makes happen immediately, but for what it promises.
    Thankyou. Faisal.

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    1. Dear Faisal,

      I agree: it is amazing to find hand written notes on items such as these. They provide a link to the past. A tangible thread that means that these two people are not forgotten. Not nameless.

      Someone thought these objects and these people important enough to bear these little snippets of information for future generations. That is one of the glories of collecting things.

      Anyway my friend, thank you for your comments which are always welcome.

      Kirk

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  16. Replies
    1. Me too. Sometimes they sit there. At other times they might go for a wander across the desk. And at other times they might migrate to other parts of the apartment depending upon their mood!

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  17. The silhouettes are great!

    Greetings from Germany
    Sarah

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    1. Dear Sarah,
      Thank you. I think that they are great too!
      Kirk

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  18. You found my blog, and now I find yours! This is such a poignant story. I am so happy you saw the importance of keeping these pieces together. Your desk looks intriguing...I love the pincushion.

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  19. Dear Theresa,
    Thank you for stopping by and for posting a comment. The pincushion is nice. I had always wanted a hedgehog one and when I found this one I knew we would have to have it. Some of the pins are from the Victorian era but most are modern and yet new or old they all come in handy for different domestic jobs.

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    1. Thank you!
      And thank you for dropping by.

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    1. Thank you Saskia. I hope you keep warm and cozy too!
      Kirk

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  22. Dear Kirk, My blog visiting has been severly curtailed while moving house, hence the late comment on this post. I have a great affection for Little Plumstead, birthplace of the Rev George and the childhood home of a a friend. In the years I visited it was a charming village of winding country lanes shaded by large canopies of ancient trees. Originally the village provided fruit and vegetables from orchards to the nearby city of Norwich. On reading your post I looked up Little Plum only to find it has fallen beneath the wheels of the development juggernaut. The beautiful old hall, which I was lucky enough to visit in happier times, has fallen into ruin. The hall and it's grounds were once used as a hospital for severely developmentally challenged adults and children. Despite many horrific stories regarding these type of institions, the hospital seemed to be a nurturing place and the patients cared for with compassion and respect. Here is a post on the old hall. Yet another example of the disregard for beautiful works of another time. I am feeling very sad about the whole thing. http://talkurbex.com/2010/09/exploring-little-plumstead-hospital-care-institution-exploration

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  23. Dear Susan,
    I have been wondering how things were going for you. It is good to see you back!
    Isn't that interesting that you should know Little Plumstead. Next summer we are going up that way to visit my godmother and I intend to visit the graveyard there were George is buried.
    Thank you for giving me a little background into the place. It all goes to build up a picture of the place where these people lived their lives.
    It is terrible to think of all these little places falling sway to urbanisation. Mind you I guess the question to be asked is where will the people live instead? My Grandmother's family lived a ages in Stevenage , in what is now the Old Town. Having a huge New Town attached to it was in some ways a good thing but in other ways rather a bad thing. I guess that for us such urbanisation is coloured by our views on the place before it took place.

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