Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Diplocks, the Bramahs, a Rather Cross Historian, and the Scalping of a Library

This little bit's from "The Green of the Peak, Part II: Thomas Bramah Diplock 1830-1892" (Linford, Savage, O'Flaherty), which appeared in Ripperologist No. 64, February 2006 (Maidstone, Kent, UK). There's some background on the subject's mother, father, elder half-brother, and a funny story from the 1830s about a library they operated in Hastings, England. We owe much of what we know about Thomas Diplock's roots in Hastings to research by Roger Diplock and John Manwaring Baines in 1958, and contributions by Mr. Diplock to The Sussex Family Historian in the 1970s. Since both men are deceased and their work never addressed the life of Dr. Thomas Diplock outside of Hastings (and Diplock left that place while still a child), it has always been a regret of mine that we could never share our own research about him with them. We felt that they would have been interested in whatever became of this son of Hastings, so we dedicated our article about the good doctor and coroner to the memories of these two men. Also included was an appreciation of their work of half a century ago, which as I've mentioned, is the foundation for this little story that I will pass along to you. We also owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Mr. Roger Bristow of Hastings Library, who spent a great deal of time and effort in 2005 introducing me to their work (and adding to it), as well as teaching me about the much-respected Thomas Brandon Brett, whose legend still looms large in Hastings, as well it should!

Armed with a cushion of Bramah wealth, it appears that Esther Frances Bramah smoothed the road towards prosperity for her husband, the former wool-draper William Diplock, moving him up the social ladder with a new home and career as an auctioneer in Hastings.

There they produced four more children to add to the dozen William already had from his previous marriage. In 1823, Edward Bramer (likely Edward Bramah) was born (buried 16 September 1824, aged 13 months), followed by George Joseph in 1825 (buried 10 April 1827). After those sad deaths, the remaining two babies from the marriage survived to adulthood: Samuel Robey, born in 1828, and then, born on 14 May 1830, the future surgeon and coroner, Thomas Bramah. (22) In 1958, John Manwaring Baines of Hastings Museum noted that Thomas’ christening was performed 13 June at Croft Chapel (23) – a ‘somewhat forbidding, square building of wooden construction’, according to Roger Diplock. (24)

Esther Bramah Diplock also seems to have taken under her wing her husband’s motherless children from his previous marriage, or at least one of them – William Diplock Jr (1810–1886), the elder half-brother of Thomas and the great-grandfather of Roger Diplock. The Diplock Pedigree records that William Jr named his daughter Fanny Bramah, in what could only have been a salute to his stepmother.

Now, when he was not auctioneering or contributing to the making of babies, William Diplock Sr worked as a librarian at one of Hastings’ several subscription libraries, the Royal Marine Library, also known as Barry’s Library, located on the Marine Parade facing the sea. (25) His son and namesake, William Jr, joined him there. The son ultimately wound up managing the library and then later acquired it outright in 1838, eventually renaming it Diplock’s Library.

During the nineteenth century, subscription libraries were common institutions. People paid a subscription or short-term fee to access books and newspapers, or perhaps relax and play billiards. Sometimes, as a side venture, such libraries published local maps and guides. That was the case with Diplock’s Library, which published a local guide to Hastings (a continuation of a practice that Barry had observed when he operated the library). William Jr. also made a number of other improvements to his library by the sea, at least according to his own guide:

The Royal Marine Library. . . was established in the year 1791, by Mr Barry. The Library has received considerable improvements since it has been conducted by Mr Diplock, in the increased number of new books, with the addition of nine daily and six weekly papers, besides every new work deserving encouragement, which, with the periodical publications and other accommodations, together with its fine situation, render it a pleasant, convenient, and agreeable lounge. Over the Library is a very good Billiard Room, from which there is a fine view of the sea.

That ‘fine view of the sea’ would become a bone of contention in a long-standing feud that the Diplocks had with a prominent citizen of Hastings named Thomas Brandon Brett. Still highly regarded in Hastings today, Brandon Brett was something of a Renaissance man – blacksmith, postman, schoolmaster, amateur meteorologist, musician, composer, poet, newspaper editor, and local historian – students of Hastings lore are indebted to his thirty large scrapbooks of local history. (27)

Roger Diplock explains the nature of the conflict between his ancestors and Brandon Brett, from the Diplock perspective:

So far as the two Williams, father and son, were concerned, Brett showed a good measure of dislike . . . an indication of their steady climb up the social ladder from the somewhat lowly rung occupied by Joseph. Jane Austen would have described their progress with acid wit; the more so since in each case it basically involved marrying a woman not only above his station but most fortunately possessing some small fortune to enhance the marriage. (28)

Class does appear to have been a factor in the feud, illustrated when Brandon Brett publicly ridiculed the humbly rooted, elder William Diplock in verse:

Here Diplock too, his friends to woo,
His Auction Room was showing:
Then made them hear his accents clear
Of ‘going, going, going’.

Therefore, when William Diplock Jr bought Barry’s Library and called it Diplock’s Library, it could only have irritated the local historian. When the Diplocks published their Guide to Hastings without giving credit to one Miss M M Howard, whose work apparently appeared within its pages without acknowledgment--that too annoyed him. But perhaps the greatest sin that the Diplocks ever committed, at least in Brandon Brett’s eyes, was when William Diplock Jr rebuilt the library in 1839 and restricted it to a single floor. That renovation included the removal of a ‘magnificent balcony’ where Brandon Brett had been in the habit of playing music with his band while they enjoyed that ‘fine view of the sea’ over the Marine Parade. The destruction of such a grand balcony and cozy upper floor must have been exasperating enough for someone with the sensibilities of a Renaissance Man, but how it must have whipped Brandon Brett's bile when it was revealed that a wealthy female resident living behind the library had paid William Jr a ‘very substantial sum’ to remove the upper floor of Diplock’s Library, simply so that she herself might enjoy an uninterrupted view of the sea, that same view that Brandon Brett once relished. (30) Her arrogance suggests that she was a summer resident.

As he gazed upon the renovated, scalped library, its elegant balcony and billiard room replaced with the vision of the unnamed wealthy female resident obnoxiously taking in the sea air, and selfishly keeping that fine view all to herself, a sour Brandon Brett likely observed that aesthetics are wasted on the upwardly mobile.

Meanwhile, as he sat within the confines of his single storied library, now made comfortably cramped by the presence of his future wife, Elizabeth Langham, (31) her promise of their five unborn children, and the billiard table from the deceased upper floor, William Jr might have smiled to himself while thumbing through a thick wad of pound notes. Sitting before a window as he watched the homeless figures of the cross historian and his band recede down the Parade, perhaps Diplock made a little observation of his own, the softly recited verses that Brandon Brett had once derisively applied to his father:

‘Going, going, going.’


22 John Manwaring Baines, Diplock Pedigree, Hastings Museum. Furthermore, the date for Thomas Diplock’s birth was supplied via e-mail correspondence by Rachel Hart, St Andrews Library Archivist, to David O’Flaherty, 20 April 2005, citing R N Smart, Biographical Register of St Andrews University, 1747–1897 (St Andrews, 2004), 233.

23 John Manwaring Baines, Diplock Pedigree.

24 Roger Diplock, ‘Up the Social Ladder,’ Sussex Family Historian, Vol 3 (3), December 1977, 74.

25 E-mail correspondence, Roger Bristow (Hastings Library) to David O’Flaherty, 5 April 2005. Mr. Bristow cites the 1826 baptism record of George Joseph Diplock and the 1828 record of Samuel Robey Diplock, both of which give William Sr’s occupation as ‘librarian.’ Mr Bristow also cites the 5th edition of The Hastings Guide, printed circa 1825 for ‘W. Diplock, Royal Marine Library.’ Mr Bristow theorizes there might have been a family link between the founder of the library, James Barry, and Mary Barry, a possible grandmother of William Diplock Sr.

26 Roger Diplock, ‘Up the Social Ladder,’ Sussex Family Historian, Vol 3 (3), December 1977, 76.

27 E-mail correspondence, Roger Bristow to David O’Flaherty, 19 April 2005.

28 Roger Diplock, ‘Up the Social Ladder,’ Sussex Family Historian, Vol 3 (3), December 1977, 74.

29 Roger Diplock, ‘Up the Social Ladder,’ Sussex Family Historian, Vol 3 (3), December 1977, 75. Roger Diplock, well over a century removed from the lash of Brandon Brett’s verses, acknowledged that the local historian ‘brought Hastings alive’ and was ‘a splendid fellow for his recollections and up-to-the-minute gossip.’

30 Roger Diplock, ‘Up the Social Ladder,’ Sussex Family Historian, Vol 3 (3), December 1977, 76.

31 Elizabeth Langham’s father was J G Langham, a noted solicitor in Hastings, who shared the same birthplace – Holborn – as another solicitor of the period, Samuel F Langham (Holborn was home to the legal firm Langham Solicitors at 10 Bartlett's Buildings). In his turn, S.F. Langham was the father of Samuel Frederick Langham, the famous City of London coroner (tenure of the City office was 1884-1901 although Langham was active as a deputy coroner since 1849 and an officer of The Coroner's Society since at least 1851; he is the subject of Parts IV and V of our series). Coroner Langham was a contemporary of West Middlesex coroner Dr. Thomas Bramah Diplock (tenure of office 1868-1892). Since both coroners worked in London, there can be little doubt that they knew one another professionally, if not through this Diplock-Langham union in Hastings.


Andrew Parfitt said...

I am researching my family (Parfitt) history. In 1871 my great grandparents Thomas & Agnes Parfitt (and baby son Thomas, my GF) were living at The Lodge in Chelsea, which seems to have been the lodge for Ranelagh House where Thomas Bramah Diplock, wife Eleanor and family lived. My G-GF was the gardener and domestic servant - for the Diplocks, if the above assumption is correct. From your web entry I've picked up useful info (e.g. that TBD was the Middlesex coroner) but any other facts would be of interest, of course. Thanks. Andrew Parfitt (Maidstone, UK).

Fee said...

I am researching my family history and this morning came across your blog entry. I thought my Robey and Dickins ancestors had a link with the Bramahs, but haven't so far discovered what it was, except my 3 greats grandmother's sister Laetitia was staying with John Joseph Bramah for the 1841 census and my 3 greats grandfather's brother, Robert Archibald Dickins, was executor of Martha Bramah's will, and named his only son Bramah. You refer to family history research in the article for the family of William Diplock, and I wonder if you know how he or his wife was related to the Robeys?

MJS said...

The Friends of Hastings Cemetery are including William Diplock Junior in their people section, and would like to use some of your information, with due accreditation.

Thank you.