westley-richards-memorial.jpgWILLIAM WESTLEY RICHARDS (1789 – 1865)

“To be the maker of as good a gun as can be made”



In 1849 the visit of Prince Albert to the Exhibition of Manufactures at Bingley House in Birmingham was covered extensively by the press; the exhibition preceded the famous Great Exhibition of 1851 in London and helped inspire it. Prince Albert, catching a train in London, reached Birmingham in only two hours then took a carriage to the exhibition.  He was escorted by Mr. William Westley Richards who was both chairman of the exhibition, and, since 1840, the possessor of a Royal Warrant as gunmaker to Prince Albert.  The press marvelled that Prince Albert showed so much knowledge of manufacturing, and it was noted that he spent a long time at the stall of the Westley Richards firm.

Richards had reached this position of eminence by building on the experience of his father Theophilus Richards, who was both a gun manufacturer and the owner of a toyshop on Birmingham High Street.   William Westley Richards (who seems mostly to have called himself Westley Richards) was the youngest son and opened his own business making guns.  He proved to be the epitome of a Victorian entrepreneur, transforming how guns worked and building up a world-famous firm which was further expanded by his son.   He lived long enough to have photographs taken of him, and to be sufficiently famous to inspire a positive obituary in the Times.  The obituary stated that he had a kindly nature and was caring towards his employees, some of whom worked for him for fifty years.

As the son of Theophilus Richards he followed his father’s public spirit, being a leading light for most of his life of the George Fentham charity for the support of Bluecoat School, taking on some of the pupils as apprentices. He was a Street Commissioner and High Bailiff in Birmingham, a Justice of the Peace, a Warden of the Birmingham Assay Office, a member of the Musical Festival Committee, and a Juror at the 1851 Hyde Park exhibition.  We also know that he played a part in encouraging the establishment of the Royal Society of Arts in Birmingham, at one point holding a special event in St. Philip’s to raise funds.  In a private capacity he supported shooting competitions and country sports, and was interested in horses.

His memorial, made by John Gow, a Birmingham funerary sculptor, is situated on the back wall of the Cathedral near the entrance door, which, below a skilfully sculpted urn, lists his family as his wife Harriet and three sons as Charles, George Seale and William, together with the son of Charles named Charles Westley. The monument to Theophilus and Mary Richards, the parents of William Westley Richards, is situated nearby on the other side of the door, and the difference between their modest style and William Westley Richards’ monument could be seen as a reflection of the difference in wealth, as well as a change in taste.

What the average visitor could not possibly know from this monument is that William Westley Richards was married twice and had six children by his first wife, Ann Barlow. The monument also does not state that, as he described himself on censuses, he was a gun manufacturer.  It is interesting to note that on the parish register at the baptism of his children he never declared himself as a gun manufacturer but as a jeweller or silversmith.  Being in no way qualified to comment upon guns*, in this article I wish mostly to explore the family of William Westley Richards, which turns out to have sad overtones, in contrast to the immense success of his business.


His business

It is necessary, however, to say a little about the business of Westley Richards & Co., which he founded, in order to explain his importance. The slogan quoted in the title illustrates his quest to constantly improve his product, rather than just sell as many guns as possible, and his guns became renowned for their quality in both military and sporting capacities.  The Mechanics Magazine in its obituary of 1865 said, “…the mark of his firm being a guarantee for high quality, trustworthiness, and excellence of workmanship“.

His business opened in 1812 at the address where both his father and grandfather had owned a toy shop, 82 High Street. (I tentatively suggest that this was part of where the Pavilions Centre how stands.)  His father was a silversmith, cutler and gun maker, and in an 1812 directory there are two businesses listed in the High Street under the names “Theophilus Richards and “Theophilus Richards & Co.”  By 1829, in a directory of that date, Theophilus Richards is listed as a gunmaker at 32 High Street, which presumably was the business of William Westley’s brother, Theophilus, who continued his father’s business after his retirement in 1825 and his death in 1828. In an 1835 directory Theophilus has moved from the High Street and became a very successful merchant.  Westley Richards seems, therefore, to have taken over or closed his father’s gun business.

William Westley Richards only seems to have dealt in guns himself, but, coming from a family of jewellers and goldsmiths, he was a co-director of his father’s, firm at the time of his father’s death in 1828 and was in charge of the Toy Shop for a short while (which may have moved from 82 High Street.) We know, however, that he retained his gold and silver smithing skills from the role he played in the Great Exhibition of 1851 as a juror for these skills, and from his self-description on church registers.  Both his grandfather and father had made guns, but from the time of his father’s death in 1828 he may have been the only member of the family who did so.  (The name Theophilus appears on guns until 1833, but I think it is possible that Richards continued for a time to manufacture the guns of his father’s business.)  His father retired in 1825 and in 1826 William Westley assumes responsibility for the Toyshop from his brother Theophilus for a short while, before Theophilus’ son Henry took it on, and it then disappears from view.  There is no mention of Theophilus Richards as a gun manufacturer at 33 High Street in Birmingham directories after 1830.  Theophilus had a very successful merchant company which appears at various addresses until settling at 36 Edmund Street.

In 1813 William Westley played a large part in establishing the Gun Barrel Proof House in Birmingham, still there today, which helped ensure the quality of guns and enabled Birmingham gunsmiths to deal with their products locally rather than having to go to London. In 1815 he opened a shop in New Bond Street, London, where his agent was the so-called “Bishop of Bond Street”, William Bishop, who was well-known by the aristocracy of the day and served the firm for sixty years.  His business seems to have been a success from the beginning, as in 1812 the Napoleonic wars were still in progress; many sales were made to the British Army throughout the nineteenth century, which was grateful for his innovations.  In 1821 he entered the first of nine patents, typifying his drive to improve. His firm gained a reputation for sporting and hunting guns at the time when trade dipped at the end of the war, and then began to sell both military and sporting guns abroad. During his lifetime the majority of his guns were produced in the High Street, mostly using an inhouse system of small workshops, rather than buying in from the many small workshops beginning to inhabit the Gun Quarter around St. Mary’s church.  A factory system, as we would know it today with an assembly line, had not yet been invented.

William Westley’s eldest son, Westley Richards, inherited his father’s desire for excellence to an even greater degree, and took out twenty patents to his father’s nine. He worked for his father as a co-partner until his father’s death in 1865, and became a senior partner when his half-brother Charles died in 1871. There are various reports that he actually took charge of the business in 1840 or 1855. He retired around 1873, and after this date he retained an interest in the firm whilst employing a managing director, and continued to submit patents for the improvement of guns.   After the son had retired, the firm continued to grow and moved to an Arts and Crafts building in Bournbrook, Edgbaston in 1894, demolished in 2009. (The university pub called The Gun Barrels, recently demolished, was named after the factory.)  By the time Westley died in 1897 the firm was the most highly respected gun makers in the world, and went on to play a large part in the supply of guns for the First World War.  Having been forced to expand to accommodate supply, after the First World War the firm declined somewhat, but tended to concentrate on sporting guns for which it was renowned.  It continues today under the same name but with different owners in premises near the Gun Quarter.

Samuel Galton Junior (1753-1852) was asked to leave the Quakers because he was an armament manufacturer, and went back to Quakerism when he retired in 1804 and became a banker. I have found no evidence that either the St. Philip’s congregation or the Anglican Church at this period had any moral doubts about the sale of guns, possibly because by this time Britain had abolished the slave trade in 1807 and slavery in 1833.  William Westley Richards bought a pew in the church (a normal practice of the time) and was a churchwarden for three years between 1822 and 1825.


His birth family

William Westley was the eighth child and fourth son of Theophilus Richards, (the subject of a previous article). By the time Richards was born, on 9th October 1789, his parents had already lost at least three children and went on to lose another son in 1800. Both his mother and father had been baptised and married at St. Philip’s, and all of their children were baptised here.  William Westley was to be their only child with a monument in St. Philip’s, and although he lived in Edgbaston for much of his adult life, having moved from High Street after the birth of his second child, he apparently continued to worship in this church and all his children were baptised here.  Whereas both his second wife and their three sons were all buried in St. Philip’s, his first wife and their adult children were buried elsewhere, with the three younger children of his first marriage who died being buried in St. Philip’s without memorials.

It is said that he had a good education, and might possibly have been to Sicily, (or he might have been confused with his brother Thomas Bingham Richards). As stated above he had silver and gold smithing abilities, which he must have learned from his father, together with the knowledge of gun making.  In January 1813 his sister Mary Ann married a clergyman, Francis Pelly; in the same year, on 21st September when he was almost 24, William married Ann Barlow at Acton Trussell in Staffordshire, and there are suggestions, which are hard to verify, that the marriage was not happy.  Ann Barlow came from a well off family who had bought the manor house at Acton Trussell, a village near Stafford, in 1778.  Her father having died, the ownership of the house passed to her brother John.  There is a memorial to a John Barlow still standing in the churchyard of Acton Trussell who may have been her brother and who sold the house in 1819; the manor house is now a hotel.

As was common at the time, it is quite possible that it was the marriage settlement from his first wife which enabled Richards to set up in business. His elder brother Thomas worked as his father’s agent but mostly had his own career in antiquities, and his second brother Theophilus worked in his father’s two businesses. William Westley may at first have been left to make his own way as the youngest living son, building on his experience of his father’s work so successfully that he would eventually become the most well-known of his family.  All three of the brothers would become both successful and rich.  The fact that William Westley named two of his daughters after his sisters might indicate a happy family life, as also does the fact that he worked with his brother Theophilus on the 1849 exhibition in Birmingham, and was married for the second time by the husband of his sister; his second wife was a friend of his sister Caroline and one of the executors of his will was the husband of his niece.


His first family

His six children with Ann were:

– Westley Richards, born 8th August 1814, baptised 6th January 1815

– Emma Richards, born 4th December 1815, baptised 5th June 1816, died 15th November 1819

– Caroline Richards, born 8th February 1817, baptised 1st May 1817

– Edward Harding Richards, born 14th June 1818, baptised 15th October 1818, died 23rd April 1819

– Ellen Richards, born 16th November 1819, baptised 5th January 1822

– Mary Ann Richards, born 16th July 1821, baptised 5th January 1822


I find this list very thought-provoking. It is repeatedly stated that William Westley Richards divorced Ann, a difficult thing to do at this period as it required an act of parliament.  This fact is usually aligned to his statement, “the inside of a barrel (i.e. of gunpowder) is like a woman or a violin” (meaning unstable).  Yet it clearly states in the church records that when he married his second wife he was a widower, so it seems unlikely he was divorced, and I have been unable to trace a divorce.   There is a notice in a magazine called The Weekly which states in the death notices of its edition for October 1821, “Anne, 29, wife of Mr. Westley Richards possibly after a long illness.”  I discovered that she was buried on 15th September, 1821 in Acton Trussell, and her address is given as Hagley Road, Edgbaston, which proves she had been living in the family home.

It seems possible that following the birth of her last child Anne died of complications. In 1819 her baby Edward Harding died in April, then her daughter Emma died on 15th November at the age of three, and the following day Ann gave birth to Ellen.  Ellen was not baptised in Ann’s lifetime, suggesting that Ann may have been ill, and was not yet two when Ann gave birth to Mary Ann and died three months later.  When Ann died she had only been married seven years and had given birth to six children.  The fact that she was buried in Acton Trussell may or may not be indicative of strain in the marriage.

By 1818 the family seems to have moved from the High Street to the corner of Chads Lane (now Chads Road) and Hagley Road in Edgbaston, a part of the select Calthorpe estate which was beginning to be developed; both his father and his brother Theophilus were living in Edgbaston at this time.  Hagley Road at this date was semi-rural, with several farmers being listed as house owners.  As Birmingham town centre became increasingly crowded and industrialised, it was normal for the wealthy, and merchants in particular, to move out to Edgbaston.  By 1853 he was living in Hall Hill Road, Edgbaston, (now Edgbaston Park Road), probably on the corner of Somerset Road.


His second family

After the death of Anne in 1821, Richards baptised his last two daughters in St. Philips in 1822, and then in 1823 he married Harriet Seale from London, who presumably came from a wealthy family as she brought £3,000 to the marriage; her father was a merchant who was dead at the time of the marriage, and had lived in Muscovy Court near the Tower of London. It is thought that Harriet was a friend of one of his sisters, which presumably is how he met her.  The wedding took place on 18th January at Old Church St. Pancras in London and was performed by Richards’ brother in law, Francis Perry.  The couple went on to have the children listed on the memorial:

– Charles, born 14th December 1823, baptised 2nd December 1824

– George Seale, born 6th July 1825, baptised 6th October 1827

– William, born 28th December 1827, baptised 26th January 1828

In the 1841 census the family are all living at home; by the 1851 census their son William had died aged sixteen in 1843 and Charles and George Seale are still living at home, together with their half-sister Mary Ann. By the 1861 census Charles was still at home together with Mary Ann, but George Seale had married and moved.  Harriett died at the very beginning of 1864, and William Westley died not long afterwards in September 1865, their deaths possibly expedited by having their son George Seale die in 1863.  Charles did not survive long after his parents, dying in 1871 aged 47, two months after the death of his only son who was aged fifteen months.  He had lived with his parents until their death.


The children of William Westley Richards

I appreciate that the children of Richards’ first marriage are not memorialised in St. Philip’s, but it is difficult to understand his life without including them.

Westley Richards (1814-1897) became very wealthy and had his daughter marry into the aristocracy, but had a sad life. His mother died when he was six, two siblings died in 1819 when he was four and his sister Caroline died when he was seventeen.  After such a childhood he then had to endure the death of his half-brother William when he was 28, and the death of his young wife so soon after marriage when he was 31; in short order his half-brother George then died when he was 49, his step-mother died when he was 50, his father died when he was 51 and his last half-brother Charles died when he was 57.  It is therefore not surprising that Westley comes over as a stern and hard-working character, a high Tory who was keen on hunting and country sports as well as being involved in the Conservative party in Birmingham, but who mostly threw himself into his work; he was the opposite of his father’s kindly character.  It was under his jurisdiction that the firm became most prominent.

In the 1841 census Westley is listed at the address of his maternal uncle, Edward Barlow, an attorney, together with his two surviving sisters, Ellen and Mary Ann, and their grandmother, Ann Barlow. His uncle lived in what might be described as a small stately home in Stone, Staffordshire.  His father’s second family, meanwhile, were living in Edgbaston.  One wonders if either there was some division in the family, or if he and his sisters were actually brought up by his mother’s relations after her death.  (On the other hand it is perfectly possible that they were simply visiting, which was not recorded.)  Certainly the legal records which concern Westley Richards contain the names of his mother’s and his wife’s family, rather than those of his father’s family.

In 1845 he married Emma Vere Fane, the daughter of an M.P. and banker who was the grandson of the 8th Earl of Westmoreland and who lived at Little Ponton Hall in Grantham. (It is sobering to realise that Vere Fane was compensated for his West Indian slaves on the abolition of slavery by the British government, and put his money into banking.)  They were married by her maternal uncle, indicative of the close ties he retained with her family all his life.  The newly married couple lived in Wood End, which is part of Erdington and was then a rural area; in the Post Office directory of 1845 Westley Richards is listed as a farmer in Erdington.  They probably lived in a Tudor house known as Wood End Hall, now demolished, which had been the manor house in the ancient parish of Pipe.  The marriage settlement between them, in which she brought £3,000 and he brought £5,000, was drawn up by his maternal uncle Edward Barlow among others.

His young wife had recently given birth to their daughter, Adela Augusta, when she died in a hunting accident in 1847, and was buried at the then newly-built church of St. Barnabas in Erdington High Street in December. I was told that she was probably interred in a vault underneath the area on the side of the church now covered by a new café.  Westley Richards moved from Wood End and never married again, throwing himself into his work.

By the 1851 census he is listed as being in a hotel in Rugby, and in 1871 he is living at the back of 82 High Street, Birmingham, where the firm is situated. The death of his half-brother Charles in 1871, and the marriage of his daughter in 1873, might have encouraged him to retire in 1873 (although one source states that he retired because he was ill), but he seems to have lived an equally vigorous life in Rutland.  In 1857 he had bought the estate village of Ashwell, probably for a hunting estate, which he was praised for improving.  Both his uncle Edward Barlow and his future son-in-law Henry Bromley had financial interests in the area. In 1879 he built Ashwell Hall, which is as large as a stately home, and the census of 1881 reveals that he lived in great style with a butler, housekeeper, secretary and a large number of servants.  He became a J.P. and High Sherriff of Rutland, and a strong supporter of country pursuits, as well as being a member of the Carlton Club. Throughout his life he played a very active part in country shows, shooting, breeding horses and exhibiting cattle, as well as frequently acting as a judge and donating prizes. In 1893 he wrote a book about cattle and was a judge of horses. By the time of the 1891 census his daughter has moved into the main house and he is living in Ashwell Lodge, where he died in 1897. He had a commemorative plate engraved in Ashwell church, “Sacred to the memory of the beloved wife of Westley Richards”, fifty years after her death, coupled with his name.  In his will he leaves £14,000, a reflection of how far his family had come since the death of his grandfather Theophilus.

Adela, his daughter, having lived with her future husband’s family at the family estate in Lincolnshire after the death of her mother, married her cousin Sir Henry Bromley, the son of her mother’s sister, who was a Captain in Nottinghamshire Yeomanry Cavalry.  She became Lady Bromley in 1895 when her husband succeeded to the title as the fifth Lord Bromley of East Stoke, and they moved from Ashwell to the family estate.  She died in 1926 aged 79, long after her husband’s death in 1905.    He left nearly £33,000 in his will, whereas Adela left only £1,200.

They had five children, all of them distinguished. Her daughter Esther married Charles Tryon, a banker who was the son of a British admiral, and settled in Vancouver; she died in 1956, forty years after her husband.  Adela’s son Herbert was a lieutenant in the 7th Canadian Infantry and was killed in action in 1915 aged 35, being memorialised on the monument in Ypres.  Robert became the 6th Lord after the death of his father but died aged 31 in 1906, having been an attaché to Washington, a J.P. and Assistant Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for the Colonies.  The next son, Maurice Bromley-Wilson then became the 7th Lord and was a major in the South Nottinghamshire Yeomanry, Deputy Lieutenant of Westmoreland, a J.P. and High Sheriff of Westmoreland.  His brother Rear Admiral Sir Arthur Bromley became the 8th Lord in 1957 on the death of his brother, and lived until 1961.  Having retired from the navy where he had fought in World War I, he became a Gentleman Usher to King George V, Edward VIII, George VI, and our present queen and was awarded at various times C.M.G., C.V.O., K.C.M.G. and K.C.V.O.


Caroline Richards (1817- 1831), died aged fourteen and was buried in St. Philip’s on 4th May 1831.  Her brother Edward had died on 23rd April 1819 and her sister Emma died aged not quite four on 15th November 1819.  From then on her life must have been very difficult as her sister Ellen was born 16th November 1819 and her sister Mary Anne in July 1821, after which her mother died.  She was almost six when her father remarried.  It is notable that Emma, Caroline and Edward are not memorialised in St. Philip’s. One can only presume that her death was devastating for the whole family, but perhaps particularly for Westley, to whom she was nearest in age.


Ellen Richards (1819-1912)  As stated above, Ellen was living with her maternal uncle in Staffordshire on the 1841 census.  On the 1851 census she is listed as a visitor to the Hobson family in Northfield, (where the wife is listed as “daughter of a factor”) and in 1857 she married Robert Hayling Woodhouse, who was ten years younger than her 38 years.  Robert Woodhouse had a brother who was a clergyman, by whom they were married, and may have had a brother who was a solicitor, which might explain the connection with her half-brother George. They married in Claines, Worcestershire where her half-brother George was a solicitor, but the couple lived in Leominster, where Robert Woodhouse’s family had lived for several generations.  In the 1861 census Robert is listed as “clerk to shop merchant”, but by the 1871 census he had become a hop merchant and went on to become a J.P.  Having married late, Ellen swiftly went on to have two children, Robert Westley Woodhouse born in 1858 and Marion Ellen Woodhouse, born in 1860.

By the 1891 census the family had moved to Great Malvern, and Marion was unmarried. Despite being ten years younger than his wife, Robert died in 1904, leaving very little money, but Ellen would live until she was 93, dying in 1912, and leaving over £3,000.  As William Westley Richards had left her £4,000 in his will, and specified any husband was to have no control over it, one assumes the money she left was inherited.  She outlived her daughter who died unmarried, also in 1904.

Her son Robert Westley does not give the impression of having thrived. In the 1891 census he is listed as a clerk assistant, and in the 1901 census he is simply living on his own means and not working; he died unmarried in 1906 in the Talbot Hotel in Leominster.  He left only £1,000, yet his parents in the 1901 census seem to live in some style, with a valet and several servants.  Ellen therefore outlived all of her family.

When faced with these bald facts it is hard to know if Ellen’s marriage to a man ten years younger and apparently not well off was an act of rebellion, but there is no hint of disapproval in her father’s will.


Mary Anne Richards (1821- after 1864) never married. She is with her Uncle Edward on the 1841 census, and then with her father’s family on the 1851 and 1861 census.  At the time of her father’s will of 1864 she is still unmarried. I tentatively suggest that she may be the Mary Anne Richards living in Leamington Priors, a fashionable place for rich Birmingham people, who died in 1868.  On the list of probate she is described as aged 45 and a spinster, leaving under £2,000.


Charles Richards (1823-1871) is said to have worked on the accounts side of his father’s business, and in censuses appears as a gun manufacturer. He lived with his father in Edgbaston until his father’s death and then in 1869 married Elizabeth Mary Howe, the daughter of the vicar of Knowle, the Reverend John Howe, in St. John’s, Knowle; she was aged 20 to his 46.  It is sad to read the 1871 census when their family was complete with a baby son, and then to realise that shortly after this date their first and only son Charles Westley died in May 1871, swiftly followed by his father in July.   According to his probate he is worth under £9,000 and at the time of his death was living in Carpenter Road, Edgbaston, situated very near his father’s old house.  The houses on this road might be described as opulent, being large and surrounded by trees.

Elizabeth Mary went on to marry again after the devastating death of her husband and son, and, as the daughter of a vicar, it is not surprising that when she married for the second time she married a priest. She must have stayed in the Birmingham area, as in 1874 she married Josiah Mander.  He was at first a teacher, but then took holy orders and became a curate at St. Philip’s in 1871.  In 1876 he became the vicar of Stonechurch in Oxfordshire, and then rector of Princes Risborough in Buckinghamshire around 1901, and seems to have been a very active priest and writer of holy music.  They had three daughters and a son; Elizabeth Mary died in 1905, followed by her husband in 1914.


George Seale Richards (1825-1863) was the only son not to work in his father’s business. He was a solicitor in Claines, near Worcester, and married Charlotte Martha Walker, who came from County Sligo, Ireland, at the church where his parents married, Old Church St. Pancras, in 1858.  When he died in August 1863 his probate states that he was worth under £3,000, which suggests that he had made his own money and had not inherited any of the family fortune.  He died aged 38 and was buried in St. Philip’s, and certainly by the time of the probate in 1864 his widow had moved to Calthorpe Street, Edgbaston, which is by Five Ways.

Charlotte Martha Richards in the 1871 census has moved to live with her sister on the Hagley Road near Woodbourne, and then, in a strange turn of events, she married John Howe in 1872 in Edgbaston. He was the widowed vicar of Knowle, who was the father of her sister in law Elizabeth Mary nee Howe, and they went to live in the vicarage in Knowle with his two young daughters.  She was widowed for a second time in 1889, and in the 1891 census is living in Leamington with her step daughters.  When she died in 1894 she was buried in Knowle.

George Seale Richards had a son, George Westley Richards (1859-1925) who does not appear on a census with his mother after 1861 (though he may simply have been at boarding school) and went into the Royal Berkshire regiment, where he was sent to India. He married Eunice Mary Dames, whose father had been in the Royal Artillery and was a Lord Lieutenant and in 1888 High Sheriff, at Enderry, Ireland.  Their son, Francis Howe Richards (1891-1937), was christened in Leamington where George Westley’s mother was living.    In 1903 they were living at Withington Manor, near Cheltenham, when Major George Westley Richards returned from the hunting field to find his wife dead at the age of 38.

He married again after this tragedy: Nora Ellen Mitchelson came from Pickering in Yorkshire, where they married in 1905, but they lived near Cheltenham; she was only 20 to his 46.  In Gloucestershire he became a J.P. and was a High Sherriff and Deputy Lord Lieutenant. When he died in 1911 he was buried in St. Peter’s churchyard in Cheltenham, where he is commemorated under a cross.

George Westley Richards had two sons, one by each of his wives.  His son by his first wife, Francis Howe Richards, followed his father into the army, and was a Major in the Royal Artillery, like his mother’s father, when he fought in the First World War.  He was wounded four times and received the D.S.O.; his medals were sent to his stepmother as he was still in hospital in 1921.  He worked in Ireland and India and, before the Second World War broke out, he died in 1937 in Rawalpindi, where he was commanding the 5th Field Brigade Royal Artillery and was killed by a falling boulder at the age of 46.

By his young second wife, George Westley Richards had a son, George Dick Kendall Richards, who was born in 1918 in Reading, and married in 1940. He went into the Royal Navy where he was killed in 1943, and is listed on the Chatham Naval Memorial.  At the time of his death he was a Commander dealing with enemy armed trawlers around Dunkirk, and during his career he was awarded D.S.O. and D.S.C.  There were many reports of his death, describing him as “a dashing gunboat commander” and noting that he set six enemy vessels ablaze.  He was not quite 25 when he died and had been married only three years.


William Richards (1827-1843)

All that is known of William Westley’s last child is that he died at the age of fifteen, almost sixteen.


The will of William Westley Richards

Written in January 1864, Richards’ will was executed in 1866, a year after his death, by his son Charles, who seems to have looked after legal as well as monetary matters in the firm, and his niece’s husband Charles Couchman, whom he describes as his friend. The latter was married to Annette, the daughter of Theophilus Richards, his brother.  Richards’ second wife, Harriet, had died on 1st January 1864, so I would assume that this will, dated January 28th, replaced a previous will as there is no mention of his wife. The probate listing of the will as “under £10,000”, puzzled me until I read the will, in which it emerged that his eldest son Westley had probably taken money from the business already.

There are several touchingly personal bequests; at the very beginning he leaves to his son and executor Charles “the picture of Our hounds painted by Mr. Woodward of Worcester”; he assures his eldest son Westley that although he has not left him any part of “Estate and Effects” it is not from “any want of affection but solely because he has been and is well provided for from the share he has had and continues to have in my said trade or business”; and he takes great care to leave his grandson George, son of George Seale Richards who died in 1863, the profits from an investment of £2,000 for his “education and maintenance” and to give him capital if necessary for his “advancement and preferment”. George Westley Richards went to Eton and Oxford before going into the army, and clearly made good use of the bequest.

It emerges from the will that Richards owned an estate in Battersea, and it is from the rent income from this that he leaves his two daughters £4,000 each “free from marital Control”. (His brother Thomas Bingham Richards had also owned property in Battersea, and I am not sure if these properties were in some way connected.)  He states that he was in co-partnership with his sons Westley and Charles, and bequeaths his share of the business including “Messuages, Workshops Warehouses and buildings” into a trust which was used for the trustees’ expenses and then went to Charles.


Westley Richards had a varied group of grandchildren: Adela Bromley became firmly connected with the aristocracy and her children went into public service and the armed services; Marion Woodhouse and Robert Woodhouse died young and unmarried; George Westley Richards flourished in the army and received high public office. Of his great-grandchildren, two died in war and another died in the army.  I cannot help but wonder what this man, so rich and successful but faced with so much death down the generations, would make of all this.


*For information on the many innovations brought to guns by the firm of Westley Richards, see

Written by Gill Partridge April 2017



Memorial to James Bayley 1755-1834

JAMES BAYLEY (1755 – 1834)


The monument to James Bayley is situated on the corner by the entrance door to the Cathedral and is executed in the same design as that of Theophilus Richards on the other side of the corner, thought to be by William Hollins, a well-known Birmingham funerary sculptor. I was unable to find a connection between these two families, but instead discovered the world of the Napoleonic wars through investigating the Captain Powney and his wife named on the monument

James Bayley’s monument states that he was “formerly a merchant of this town”, and a reference in the book “Luxury and Pleasure in the Eighteenth Century”, by Maxine Berg, states that he was in fact a merchant in steel toys. This is confirmed by an entry in a Birmingham directory of 1800 stating that he was a “steel toy maker” in Exeter Row.  (Exeter Row was the early name of Holloway Head.)   The possibility is that Theophilus Richards bought goods from James Bayley for his toyshop on the High Street, so they may have had a professional connection.  Between the 1770s and 1790s James Bayley supplied Josiah Wedgwood with bezels, the grooves and flanges for settings which would be used for cameos, seals, gilt frames and steel mountings for buttons in which Wedgwood inserted his own goods.  There is also extant a letter from Bayley to Matthew Boulton, so he may have also done business with the Soho works, which supplied the same goods to Wedgwood.   In 1789, together with his co-partner Sampson Freeth, Bayley was declared bankrupt, but shortly afterwards another meeting at the Shakespeare Tavern in New Street declared that creditors would be paid in full.

Sampson Freeth’s firm was well-known for the manufacture of tools, and in particular became well-known in France for the design of a corn grinder which enabled corn to be ground by hand. It would also appear that his son or relative of the same name went into the military, which is interesting in view of the various military connections of James Bayley.  As partners, Freeth and Bayley joined the Chamber of Commerce in Birmingham together at its very beginnings.

We know from his memorial and other sources that James Bayley lived in Summer Hill Road, which at this time was newly built on the edge of what would become the Jewellery Quarter, developed out of the New Hall estate which had belonged to the Colmore family. The houses were described as “detached villas” and would have been built after 1747 when New Hall was pulled down and the estate was developed. In his will James Bayley leaves to his “old and faithful servant”, Mary Sindo, a mahogany four poster bed, two armchairs and a wardrobe, plus a silver butter knife and other silver items, from which we might deduce that he lived in some style.  It is probably that this house was built by his father and became his after his mother died.

In a Birmingham directory of 1785 James Bayley appears as a toymaker and merchant.   In 1797 and 1815 he appears as a merchant and factor of Newhall Street and Summer Hill; the term “factor” was used for jewellery merchants who would arrange for the numerous small jewellery businesses to make different parts, get them assembled and sell them.  In view of where he lived and had his business, it is clear that he was part of the toy trade which had existed for about a century and for which Birmingham was renowned worldwide, and which directly preceded the jewellery trade in Birmingham.

By 1818 he may have retired as he simply appears in a directory of that date as “of Summer-hill”, but his name appears in 1831 as connected with Birmingham Canal Navigation, in which sponsors including Galton, Lloyd and Ryland are advocating for the Birmingham, Dudley and Wolverhampton Railways, together with the Birmingham and Basford Railways. As I will discuss below, Bayley’s father lived in Sandpits from which sand was shipped by canal very early on in the history of canals; 1831 is very early in the history of the railways, which suggests the Bayley family was mixing with the elite of businessmen who invested in these new forms of travel.  (The very first railway, Stockton to Darlington opened in 1825 and the Liverpool to Manchester Railway in 1829.)


James Bayley’s father, James Bayley senior (d.1772)

The will of James Bayley’s father, also called James Bayley, is available and at the time of his writing the will (1772) he states that he had three living children, William King Bayley, James Bayley and Elizabeth Bayley. From this one might deduce that James Bayley senior was the Bayley who married Elizabeth King at Upton on Severn in 1747.  The three children named in his will were all baptised at St. Philip’s: William King Bayley in 1754, James in 1757 and Elizabeth in 1765.  If the Sarah Bailey, christened in 1756 according to the St. Philip’s register, was also one of his children, she was clearly dead by 1772.   James Bayley senior wrote a will of seventeen pages in his efforts to set up trusts to ensure that his wife and children and any future issue would be well provided for, but in the event only his daughter would marry and have a daughter, the only grandchild.

The will reveals a wealthy man who owned sixteen acres in Sandpits, which he was developing with warehouses and properties, and who was keen to ensure that the brew house and stables of his own house, which were under construction in 1772, should be completed. In 1758 he subscribed to a book called “Thoughts Moral and Divine”, where his address is listed as New Hall Walk, and in 1774 his name appears in a directory where his occupation is given as “factor commerce” and his address as 3 New Hall Street – presumably he was listed after death.  His will shows a man concerned about the future of his wife and children, with money to ensure they were educated and asking the executors to get his sons apprenticeships. He left £3,300 to his wife (which was probably the money she brought to the marriage) as well as his goods, and instructions that she should be able to remain in the house until death, together with specifications about money to be provided for his wife if she remarried; £1,000 was left to each of his sons and £1,500 for his daughter.  His life as a merchant, factor and developer seems to have been followed by his son James, who may well have lived in his father’s house and possibly took over his business.

James Bayley’s brother, William King Bayley (1754-1813)

William King Bayley was buried at St. Philip’s in 1813 aged 59, the burial register stating that he was a bachelor. Like his father he was a merchant, but in hats, with businesses both on High Street, Birmingham and in London.  He went bankrupt several times, in all cases listed as a merchant, factor and chapman.  (A chapman was a dealer who arranged for goods to be assembled and sold, much the same as a factor.)  He left his property to his brother and money both to his niece and her husband, as well as money to Lieutenant Cockburn, and was generous towards his servants.

James Bayley’s sister, Elizabeth Bayley (1765-1826)

There is a reference in the Birmingham Journal dated 4th November 1826 stating that James Bayley’s only sister, Elizabeth Fortescue Cockburn died in 1826 “after a long and severe illness”, and  in his will he leaves John Fortescue Cockburne, “of Bootorstown near Dublin”, £1,000.  In 1809 John Fortescue Cockburne, a Lieutenant, married Elizabeth Carleton at St. Martin’s in the Bullring, by licence.  Elizabeth Bayley married Francis Carleton in 1782 at St. Clement Danes in London, where it was stated that her father James was dead and her mother was also called Elizabeth.

Her first marriage took place when she was only seventeen, and necessitated a bond sworn by oath of £200, followed by a licence which states that she lived in Islington, her father was dead and her mother gave permission for the marriage. The reason for such a bond and licence is probably due to the fact that she married on 15th June 1782 and her baby Elizabeth Carleton, was baptised on 6th July at Deal in Kent.  Perhaps the illness and death of her father in the same year had brought about such a rushed event.

As Francis Carleton must have died before 1809 I did not understand why it was so difficult to find a record of his death, until his name turned up on army lists, and it became evident that he was very likely to be the Captain Francis Carleton of the 16th Regiment of Light Dragoons who is reported in the Scots Magazine as having died on 18th June 1804 at Surinam in South America, which had been occupied by the British in 1799 after France incorporated the Netherlands, and was handed back to the Dutch in 1816 at the end of the Napoleonic wars.

In 1782 when he married he was a Lieutenant of the 2nd Regiment of Foot stationed in Dublin and shortly became a captain of an independent company of Foot which accompanied Sergeant John Stewart to survey hospitals in the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean.  This whole area was to become involved in the French wars, (the Caribbean islands were divided between French and British colonists), and prior to this date there had been sympathy in the Caribbean with the American War of Independence and troubles with Dutch trade, not to mention piracy.

Francis Carleton next appears in the records in 1803 as a cornet in the 22nd Light Dragoons, which served in Ireland and Egypt.  It is possible that he left the army before rejoining in 1803, and eventually moved to the 16th Regiment of Light Dragoons.  What we do know is that he married Elizabeth Bayley and had a daughter who, as Elizabeth Powney, appears in James Bayley’s will as his niece and the inheritor of all his freehold and leasehold estates.  His daughter, Elizabeth Carleton, married Captain Powney of the Royal Navy, and it is these two who appear on James Bayley’s memorial stone.

Before leaving the subject of Francis Carleton, there is a note in the Navy List concerning Captain Powney stating that Elizabeth Carleton, his wife, was the niece of the Chief Justice of Ireland, which suggests therefore that Francis Carleton was the brother of this chief Justice, Hugh Carleton of Cork, first Viscount Carleton. My research suggests that it was in fact Francis Carleton who was the nephew of this important man, who helped bring about the unification of Ireland with England.  The Carleton family were descended from merchants and were the leading family in Cork.  Elizabeth Bayley may have made a hasty marriage, but it was to a member of a family who were of the same wealth and class.  Her great uncle by marriage sat in the House of Lords and lived in Hanover Square.  Her husband’s brother Henry became a Major General.

Elizabeth Bayley’s second husband, John Fortescue Cockburne proved rather elusive. I found a brief mention of him on army lists as a Lieutenant on half pay in the Second Garrison Battalion, having been a lieutenant since 1811. Part of this battalion fought in Madeira, but as the garrison battalions consisted of wounded and old men, he may not have fought.  He and Elizabeth do not seem to have had any children, and after her death in 1826 he married again in 1827 in Dublin and had several children; one daughter settled in Australia.  Both her husbands, therefore, had links with Ireland and fought in the British Army.

Although Elizabeth seems to have died in England, she has strong links with Ireland and it is interesting to note that she may have met her second husband in Ireland, as Viscount Carleton at one time had a house in Booterstown, near Dublin where John Fortescue Cockburne settled.

James Bayley’s niece, Elizabeth Powney (1782-1837)

Elizabeth nee Carleton married John Powney at St. Martin’s in 1810, and it is noteworthy that the marriage followed so quickly upon the second marriage of her mother in 1809, also held in St. Martin’s. Unlike her mother, however, Elizabeth did not marry until she was 28.  She married a man from an old established family.     John Powney’s father, Pennyston Portlock Powney, was an M.P. for New Windsor and was involved both with royalty and in the politics of the day, and was a Ranger of Windsor Little Park and a Lieutenant Colonel of the Berkshire militia.  John Powney had an equally distinguished career, ending up a Captain and Commander, and awarded a K.H., a Hanoverian Order of Chivalry.  His career was extraordinary and too long to list, but included escorting the King off Weymouth, escorting the East India fleet to St. Helen’s and escorting a British minister to the United States; when he escorted a Mexican Charge d’Affaires to New Spain he was presented with a table service.  He was attached to the fleet in the Mediterranean, assisted at the capture of Flushing, served on the coast of North America and protected fisheries near Jersey.  He finished his career overseeing the coastguard in Aldeburgh.

Elizabeth seems to have had no children and in 1837 a notice in the Western Times states, “May 31 at Chudleigh, after a protracted illness and great suffering, Elizabeth the beloved wife of Capt. J. Powney, R.N., K. H., aged 56.”

After the death of her uncle, James Bayley, Elizabeth and her husband seem to have lived in his house in Summer Hill for a while, as Captain Powney is listed in a directory, but they apparently settled in Devon. Her husband married a much younger woman after Elizabeth’s death and had several children, dying in 1855.  Elizabeth had inherited most of the family fortune, but lived little longer than her uncle.


As well as remembering his old servant in his will, James Bayley left £50 each to the Bluecoat School, the General Hospital, the Dispensary and the Deaf and Dumb Institute, popular bequests for the congregation of St. Philip’s at the time. His freehold and leasehold estates were left to his niece, and his shares in Birmingham Canal Navigation were left to people in Staffordshire.  His executors were from Bridgenorth and Sutton Coldfield, and he also leaves bequests to people in Bristol.  These facts do not convey the unusual aspects of his will, which has two codicils which seem to have been hidden around the house, and give the impression that in his last days he was eager to remember practically everyone he had known with small gifts of money or silver objects.  Among the objects listed are a silver marrow spoon, a diagonal barometer, a silver lemon strainer and eight gold sovereigns.  He remembers his servants, mentioning one who had served his mother, leaves bequests to the children of people he had known, and remembers to leave money so that his servants can have funeral clothes.  He request that he should have a funeral “without parade” and no pall bearers, and be laid to rest in the family vault.  The fact that he left a bequest to a new servant suggests a kind man, and like his father he also subscribed to a book of sermons.

His will demonstrates that he was at the heart of the rapid expansion of Birmingham and the expansion of trade, based upon metal trades, and his relatives were deeply involved in the Napoleonic wars. He offers us a glimpse of how the events of the times he lived in affected the congregation of St. Philip’s during these turbulent times.

 Gill Partridge Jan 2017


Theophilus Richards 1747-1828

theoTheophilus Richards (1747-1828)


The unadorned monument to Theophilus Richards can be seen on the left of the south exit door of the Cathedral, which names himself and his wife, Mary Bingham. Both of them were people who were baptised, married and buried in St. Philip’s, and all of their children were baptised here. Theophilus, the son of Thomas Richards, was baptised on 23rd August 1748, and his wife Mary, daughter of Thomas Bingham, on 17th March 1757.  They married on 30th November 1779 and proceeded to have ten children, of whom three died soon after birth.  (Theophilus also had the date of birth of his children listed in the church register, which was unusual.)

Thomas Bingham, baptised 9th January 1781

Mary Ann, baptised 31st May 1782, buried 14th April 1783

Eliza, baptised 26th August 1783

Theophilus, baptised 30th November1784, buried 27th February 1785

Mary Ann, baptised 19th May 1786

Theophilus, baptised 2nd May 1787

James Henry, baptised 29th May 1788, buried 9th May 1789

William Westley, baptised 30th November 1789

Charles Smallwood, baptised 15th June 1791.  (Charles was buried at St. Philip’s on 9th June 1800.  A note in Jackson’s Oxford Journal states that he died of a paralytic complaint with which he had been afflicted for eighteen months.)

Caroline, baptised 30th November 1792

After four deaths the Richards were therefore left with six children, three male and three female.


Mary Bingham (1757–1841) was clearly of a wealthy family, as in his will Theophilus arranged to safeguard her marriage portion of £1,000. It is likely that she was the daughter of the Thomas Bingham who was a maker of buckles and nutcrackers (which can be still be found in auction catalogues) and who lived at 12 New Hall Street and 54 Steelhouse Lane.  As her family worshiped at St. Philip’s it is likely that she had known her future husband since childhood, and it is equally likely that Thomas Richards purchased her father’s goods.  A Thomas Bingham, who may be a member of her family, was one of several people responsible for getting the new church of St. Paul’s in the Jewellery Quarter built as a chapel of ease to St. Martin’s in the Bullring.

Thomas Richards (died 1779) was the father of Theophilus, and as the owner of both a manufactory of guns and a toy shop is probably the originator of the fortunes of the Richards family in Birmingham. He is listed as taking on an apprentice in 1752 as a toymaker and again in 1772 as a jeweller.  The earliest mention of his businesses is in a directory of 1777 where at 82 High Street his shop is listed as Richard’s toy shop, “late Moodys”, and at 53 High Street as a gunsmith.  In a directory of 1787 he is listed as a gun maker at 53 High Street, and a silversmith, together with his son Theophilus, at 82 High Street, even though he was actually dead.  As he subscribed to a book called “Currencies of the British Colonies” in 1765, it suggests that he was trading overseas and doing well.  Most gun makers of this period made money from the American War of Independence (1775-1783) and from the slave trade in Africa, providing governments at home and abroad with guns; some of the guns Thomas Richards made are still in existence and highly prized.  He is known to have been one of a delegation from Birmingham in 1759 who visited Wales to look into the quality of iron produced for their goods.  There is a Thomas Richards buried in St. Philip’s on 18th September 1779 who is generally supposed to be the father of Theophilus, and his son probably continued to trade in his name for a few years until changing the name of the firms.

Theophilus Richards

In 1802 Nelson made a famous visit to Birmingham. He was already a national hero, although his final victory over Napoleon was not complete, and was so popular in Birmingham that the hotel where he stayed, situated opposite the Nat West bank on the corner of the churchyard, was surrounded by crowds.  Nelson had come to Birmingham, like many visitors of the time, to visit Matthew Boulton’s Soho works, but during his visit he found the time to visit the shop of Theophilus Richards in the High Street. The Concise History of Birmingham in 1808 tells us, “The shop of Theophilus Richards, in the High Street, is the toyshop of Birmingham; for the elegance of its appearance and the multiplicity of its valuable articles it is scarcely rivalled.”*

What were toys? The most interesting description of them I have come across is in an account in the Times of 30th March 1826 concerning the theft by one of the “shopmen” who lived in what had been the house of Theophilus senior (who had moved to Edgbaston) on the High Street, of “silver boxes, knives and forks, seals, necklaces, chains and various articles of plate and jewellery”.  (This poor man, named Henry Child, was sentenced to death; the article is headed “Betrayal of Trust”.) Other likely items on sale would include candlesticks, snuffboxes, toothpicks, tea boxes, papier mache trays, seals, silver gun furniture, buttons and buckles, the multifarious wares of a city founded upon metal.  As a curious contrast, Theophilus and his wife were both also licensed to sell hair powder.

Theophilus took over his father’s two businesses, and in turn his own sons took on his – his will of 1828 informs us that he had been in copartnership with his son William Westley Richards and in partnership with his son also named Theophilus. His eldest son Thomas Bingham Richards apparently acted as his agent in London.  It would appear that in addition to teaching his sons about business, he also taught them gold and silversmithing skills, as there are references later to all of them using their craft. Theophilus senior began to manufacture guns in his own name by 1799 and held a Royal contract for the manufacture of arms for the British Army.  In church records he is variously described as a silversmith, a goldsmith or a cutler, never a gun maker. Unlike other gunsmith businesses, which had separate gun parts made in various different workshops, the Richards’ fathers and sons always seemed to have had their own gun making factories on High Street, the factory belonging to Theophilus being called “The Royal Patent Waterproof Gun Manufactory”, indicating the continuing interest the family was to have in taking out patents for the improvement of guns.

As a wealthy merchant Theophilus played his part in the expansion of the town; in 1803 he was High Bailiff of Birmingham and in 1808 he sat on a committee with Boulton, Watt and the politician Thomas Attwood, dealing with new waterworks for Birmingham. His will shows that he invested in canal shares, as did most of Birmingham’s wealthier citizens.  A version of the William Westley map of 1731, printed after that date, states that Theophilus was a nephew of William Westley and was in possession of the plates of the map some years after it was produced; he is therefore presumed to be responsible for ensuring that the plates he owned were published, for which generations have owed him a debt of gratitude.

I am in no way qualified to discuss the patents and improvements made by Theophilus in the manufacture of guns, but it is known he was responsible for the Brown Bess flintlocks used by the Royal Ordnance, of which it was said that Wellington refused to change them. His businesses seem to have flourished and his children mostly became gentry and gained connection with aristocracy, whilst the executors of his will include Thomas Westley Oldham, who was High Sheriff of Leicester.

The earliest date I have found describing Theophilus as living in Edgbaston is 1815, but although living in Edgbaston he still chose to be buried in St. Philip’s. Edgbaston is described in Bradshaw’s as a place of fine villas built for rich merchants and was where two of his sons would also live. In his will he states that he gave up his businesses to his son Theophilus in 1825 (presumably he was retiring at the age of 78!), and in 1826 there is an advertisement in the Times stating that William Westley Richards was taking on responsibility for the business from Theophilus junior.   When he died Theophilus senior was living at Edgbaston Cottage, which is where his son Theophilus is living on the 1841 census, presumably because his mother Mary had died in January 1841; in his will Theophilus senior stated that his wife was to have his house and estate (which was on leasehold from Lord Calthorpe) until her death, and an income of £400 p.a. from William Westley Richards, as well as an annuity on £1,000 which was their marriage settlement.  He states that he had made a settlement on his daughter Mary Anne at her marriage and left £1,000 marriage settlement on Caroline, but there is no mention of Eliza, which suggests she may have died.

What happened to his businesses? The gun business most probably was absorbed into that of his son William Westley Richards.  For a short while William Westley was responsible for the toy shop in partnership with his nephew Henry, the son of Theophilus junior, and Henry a little later took on full responsibility when they dissolved their partnership.  Theophilus junior apparently was not interested in the toy shop, but carried on mercantile firms called Theophilus Richards and Co. and Theophilus Richards and Son in different parts of Birmingham.


The children of Theophilus and Mary Richards

 Thomas Bingham Richards (1781-1857), the eldest son, did not go into his father’s various businesses in Birmingham, and it has been said he studied law, although I have found no certain corroboration. He led a fascinating life.  He was the author of a book called “Letters from Sicily” in 1798, from which we learn that he was acting as an agent for his father in London and abroad at the age of 17.  In 1798 he managed to escape on the last available ship from Naples with the King of Naples (who was a Bourbon) going to Sicily.   By November 1814 he got to meet Napoleon on Elba, after which he wrote “An unpublished conversation with Napoleon” which was published finally in 1911.  (Rather curiously, he mostly appears to have discussed with Napoleon the provision of iron.)  This article informs us that he waited to marry until his prospects were good in 1816 and bought a “good house near the Foundling Hospital in London” which I assume to be in Battersea, as there is a report of a thief being apprehended at the house.  We learn from his will that he also owned another estate in London in Rotherhithe.  In 1816 he married Anne Francis in London but they had no children, and he writes that he liked to spend money on family and friends.

As an agent he was responsible for buying artefacts for the British Museum on behalf of Henry Salt of Lichfield, the British Consul General in Egypt, whom he first met at drawing lessons in Birmingham as a boy and with whom he was to remain friends all his life.  The Henry Salt collection of Egyptian antiques began the collection for which the British Museum is famous worldwide, and Richards also sold on Salt’s behalf a sarcophagus of Seti I to Sir John Soane.   After Napoleon fled Elba, Thomas earned his living acting as an agent for people shipping antiquities to London and retired about 1836.  He ended his life as a country gentleman in Kent where from 1832 he had an estate called Broomlands near Sevenoaks in Kent, his wife dying before him in 1852.  Having no children he left money to his two sisters, and half of his money to the Royal Literary Fund.  We learn from his will that like many rich people of this date he owned shares in railway and canal companies.  His sister Caroline came to live near him when she was widowed and he appears to have cared for her and her family.


Eliza Richards (1783-?) is a mystery as she is not mentioned in her father’s will of 1828 and there is no burial or marriage date for her in the registers of St. Philip’s.  I came across a mention of one Elizabeth Richards, a spinster of independent means living in Ashted Row who died in 1827, buried in St. Mary’s, a chapel of ease to St. Martin’s.  In a codicil of his will Theophilus mentions a great deal of property around Deritend and Moor Street which he has taken on from one Elizabeth Richards, so there is a possibility that both of these Elizabeths may be his daughter, but no certainty.  If this Elizabeth was his daughter, his death the year after her death is suggestive of great grief.


Theophilus Richards junior (1787-1874)**  took on his father’s firm, and was also therefore a gun maker, but removed himself from family businesses about 1826, whereupon he took on a wide range of interests. (It is usually stated by gun sources that he stopped making guns about 1833, but it is possible that his brother William Westley continued manufacturing them in the name of Theophilus from 1826 to 1833).  By 1835 he is listed simply as a merchant in Great Charles Street; in 1837 he dissolves a partnership for glass manufacturing, and he is known as being the first to suggest in 1836 an “Exhibition of Industry, including Foreign Manufacturers” in Birmingham which was one of the factors leading to the famous 1851 Great Exhibition in which his brother William Westley Richards was involved.  He had a patent in improving the cutting of wood in 1841.  He had a role at the Bluecoat School, and in 1840 wrote for the Children’s Employment Commission.  In 1843 he was one of the first thousand members of the British and Foreign Institute.  He consulted with the government in setting up a Department of Practical Art, was one of the founders of the Birmingham Society of Arts, left a collection of photographs of European tourist attractions to the Midland Institute and gave a rare species of crocodile to the Natural History Museum in 1851.  He moved to Leamington Priors but actually died in a hotel in Folkestone.

In 1823 he married Eliza Mount of Canterbury at St. George’s Bloomsbury, the service being officiated by Francis Pelly, the husband of his sister Mary Anne.  They had seven children, but one child, Edward Bingham Richards, was buried in St. Philip’s in 1831, even though his first five children were baptised in Edgbaston.  His son William Francis Richards was baptised in 1833 at the British Chaplaincy in Napoli, then baptised again in 1834 in Edgbaston. The birth of their last child, Theophilus, born in 1837, led to the death of Eliza at Handsworth Hall, where they seemed to have moved around 1834.  After Eliza’s death he never married again and was a widower for more than forty years, becoming richer than his brother William Westley Richards according to his will.  His daughter Mary Louisa married John Savage, a soldier who served in the Crimea and died of cholera.  His son Henry served in various roles for the Richards family firms and was an executor of several family wills.


William Westley Richards (1789-1865) is the most well-known of the children of Theophilus and Mary, and is the subject of a separate article. As the third son, William probably did not go to work in his father’s businesses when he became an adult (although he did so later) but opened his own gun making firm on the High Street in 1812 and in London in 1815, a firm which continues under his name to this day.  He married twice and had eight children, of whom three died soon after birth and another at the age of 16, and, like his father, stayed in the Birmingham area all his life.  William was to live long enough for photographs to have been taken of him.  His eldest son, Westley, would continue and expand the gun business.


Mary Ann Richards (1786–before 1861) married the rector of Seston in Gloucestershire, the Reverend Francis Pelly (whose brother became a baronet), on 16th January 1813 at St. Philip’s. There are hints in the family of Francis Pelly which remind one of Jane Austen, as his family had naval men, clergymen and large houses in their midst, and also included a distinguished soldier.  Mary Ann was Francis Pelly’s second wife and had eleven children.  The father of Francis Pelly was a governor of the Bank of England, a governor of the Hudson Bay Company and High Sheriff of Essex in 1780.   One of Francis’s brothers fought with Nelson, and another was a Lieutenant Colonel in the army, fighting in Egypt and the Peninsula Wars and gaining the Order of the Bath.  Francis Pelly died in 1844 leaving £500, and Mary Ann moved into Hertfordshire.  There is a portrait of their son Justinian Pelly, a merchant, available online, who had a son named Lancelot.  Justinian also had a daughter named Violet who married the bishop of New Westminster, British Columbia.  Mary Ann’s eldest son, named Theophilus, was the rector of Church Brampton, Northamptonshire.


Caroline Richards (1792–1869) was married in Edgbaston in 1825 to Charles Barker, graduate of Oxford, who was the schoolmaster of Bishop Vesey School in Sutton Coldfield after having been an Assistant Master at Rugby.  He leaves the distinct impression that he was a disaster in Sutton Coldfield, at times reducing the previously successful school to only one pupil, apparently due to his insistence on teaching the classics.  He was a warden of Sutton Coldfield Corporation and a J.P. for Warwickshire and died more than twenty years before Caroline.  We are told that in 1843 “he fell dead from the back of a horse which returned home without him”.  Of their five children, their eldest son died aged 6, their third son Francis died soon after birth, and the second son Charles died aged 35 unmarried.  The two girls, Mary and Catherine, never married.  On the death of her husband in 1842 Caroline moved first to Hastings, where she appears on the census as a landed proprietor, and then to Speldhurst in Kent where she was near her brother Thomas and is mentioned in his will.  The two unmarried daughters seem to have continued living there after their mother died aged 76, a few years after the death of her son Charles.  One has the impression of a family which did not thrive.


An afterthought

By my count Theophilus had at least 25 grandchildren, so one assumes his later life was busy. He lived through a period of incredible expansion and change in Birmingham, and among the events of his lifetime were the American War of Independence, the Priestley Riots, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.  He was living and working at the time when Birmingham became the first industrial city and its population exploded, and lived to see canals introduced and the setting up of Boulton’s Soho works.  Simultaneously he lived through the reign of George II, the madness of George III, the regency of George IV and some of the latter’s reign.  Although a rich man living eventually in the best area of Birmingham, he encountered a great deal of death with the decease of his children and several grandchildren.  He must have known many of the prominent citizens of Birmingham through business and through his worship at St. Philip’s, with which several members of the Lunar Society are linked.  It is impossible to know what he was like as a person, but there is in existence a letter touching on business he writes to his son Thomas Bingham Richards which he signs, “your affectionate father”.  In addition he subscribes to a volume of poetry by a female writer, Anna Sawyer.


* For a picture of the shop of Theophilus Richards and further information on the business, see the website “Mapping Birmingham”

** It is persistently stated online that Theophilus junior died in 1833. In fact there were three Theophilus Richards’ living in Birmingham around these dates, and the one who died in 1833 was a nonconformist.

Gill Partridge 12/2016



Cathedral Square by Anne French

The feeling of being in Cathedral Square will stay with me for a long time. As a newcomer to Birmingham, volunteering for the In:Site Festival, I was excited by the vibe around the Cathedral, which was by turns intense, serene, and something in between the two. I will take away memories of lovely conversations with Craftspace staff and volunteers, flocks of pigeons flying overhead, afternoon sunshine in the trees, and unplanned philosophy session with some of the more reflective and passionate people who dropped by our tents for a chat and to join in with what we were doing. Cathedral Square is clearly a special place which means different things to different people and it is on this level that, in my view, the In:Site festival worked so well. All the makers in their various ways gave individuals the space to pause, look and leave their mark for a while in the heart of the city as part of collaboration with people they may never meet. The thread running through my experience of In:Site was one of making connections. And that is probably why I was there in the first place. My background is in events and programming for the National Trust and our work is all about helping people connect to special places. There are many ways of doing this, and my personal interest happens to be in the arts and crafts. Knowing that I was looking for some relevant volunteering, a colleague suggested Craftspace and I sent off my application to help at In:Site. It was great to meet new people and get my hands covered in ink but I have also learned a lot that will be helpful to me in my professional life, and I’m looking to sharing my experience with my team. I’d like to thank everyone at Craftspace for having me and I’d be terribly sad if I thought we wouldn’t all meet again someday.




My Experience as a Chorister at Birmingham Cathedral

My Experience as a Chorister in Birmingham Cathedral by Ben Thompson

I have been part of the Birmingham cathedral choir from April 2010 until July 2016. Below I will be telling you about my journey through the choir including my role as head chorister, the great trips I have been on with the choir and also what I have obtained from being a member of the community in the cathedral.

I started attending the choir in 2010 when the director of music Canon Marcus Huxley came to my primary school looking for children to audition. I auditioned for the role of boy chorister (or treble) which is the highest voice offered in the choir. Fortunately I passed the audition but it wasn’t that easy as I had to undergo a six month trial period as a probationer to see if I was up to the standard needed in order to be a part of the choir. Eventually on the 17th October 2010 I was officially admitted as a chorister which was the start of my career in the choir. A few years later after a lot of practise and a lot of hard work I was made one of the badge boys. Badge boys wear medals to signify experience in the choir and they are also the best in the choir. There are often three or four badge boys at a time. Soon after I was chosen to be the first Saddlers boy chorister which was a medal given by the Saddlers Company to recognise their appreciation for cathedral music. There is also a girl’s Saddlers chorister. This was given to me specifically due to experience and attendance. In January 2014 I became the head chorister in the cathedral which was a great achievement as I felt I had become an important part in the choir.

With head chorister comes great responsibility! It involves a number of things, the most important of which I believe is being a role model to the younger choristers. This meant I had to set an example and also be approachable if others needed help. It’s also important in inspiring younger choristers and over the two and a half years as head chorister I have been encouraged to hear that I have been a good role model to many of the younger children. I also had to do the register for the boys’ choir and wear a large red cloak which identified me to the congregation. It also meant I represented the choir when we went on tours to other cathedrals. Finally my favourite part about being head chorister was doing solos because I feel like I have developed in the choir and come a long way, training my voice and I enjoyed being able to share my talent with the congregation while also being a part of their worship.

Over the years I have partaken in many trips both nationally and internationally to places such as Thomaskirche in Leipzig, Germany; St. Pauls cathedral in London, England and also Notre Dame in Paris, France. There were also many more but these were in my opinion the best and most exciting ones to visit due to them being globally recognised as iconic cathedrals. While on tour we may look around the area for example in France we went on a boat trip around the river Seine. Notre Dame was my favourite trip and while there we made full use of its amazing acoustics, singing a piece by Bairstow called ‘Let all mortal flesh keep silence’ which goes from fortississimo (which is very, very loud in Italian) to silence, leaving a haunting echo in the cathedral.

Overall the cathedral has been a wonderful experience and I fully enjoyed my time in the boys’ choir. I have also learnt valuable skills like teamwork and perseverance especially when learning more challenging music. I am planning to join the men’s choir after the summer break singing tenor where I hope to get even more opportunities with the choir.


Ben is the chorister in red on the left. Photo by Sally Huxley



William Grice, The Gunmaker

William Grice the Gunmaker and his family


The monument to William Grice is situated in the north aisle of the Cathedral, left of the altar, and reads:

Sacred to the Memory of


who devoutly resign’d this life in humble hope of

partaking of a blessed Immortality Nov. 4th 1781

Aged 74 Years

In her conduct She was exemplary as a Christian

And fulfill’d the relative duties of life

In the most sincere and affectionate manner

Also in memory of WILLIAM her Husband

who died suddenly in London July 24th 1790

Aged 76 Years


Next to this stone is situated that of his daughter, Rebecca Morris; the memorial for his other daughter, Sobieski Brookshaw, whom I discuss in a separate posting, is situated on the west wall by the north aisle exit door. The three monuments were made by William Thomson, a local monument maker, and the design of the monuments for the two daughters is virtually identical.

One deduces from William Grice’s monument that the husband is younger than the wife, and I speculate that this might be because he married an heiress. We know that he married Rebecca Jefferies at Lichfield Cathedral on 5th December 1743, and that they had four children, all of whom were baptised in St. Philip’s:

William 28th September 1744

Rebecca 29th January 1747

Sobieski 15th May 1749

Joseph 31st January 1751

William Grice was a wealthy gunmaker who, according to his will, owned property in Bull Street and Sand Street in Birmingham, property in Wednesbury (where iron was smelted), and a mill in Coleshill, and also probably had an office or shop in London. Historical authorities usually claim that gunmaking only came to Birmingham in 1690; so if, as is likely, William was the William, son of one John Grice, gunsmith of Handsworth, who was baptised at St. Mary’s Handsworth on 24th March 1715, the youngest of four children, then he came from a family which dealt in gunmaking from the beginning.  John Grice’s will of 1744 (he was buried on 27th November 1745) leaves his eldest son, Joseph, a house, the gun barrel business and a farm, and his unmarried daughter a house in Lichfield, but to the next son he leaves £10 and to William only £6 15s.  It would therefore appear that William Grice  made his own way, and he is likely to be the “Will son of John Grice of Handsworth”, who was apprenticed to a locksmith, John Smith, in Birmingham in 1730, as we know that John Smith made gunlocks.

William Grice attended St. Philip’s church because he lived in Bull Street within the parish, and is listed in several directories of the time, the earliest extant being 1767. It may be that for a time his business was based where he lived, and then moved to Sand Street, an area which became part of the gun quarter and was situated near St.Chad’s and the Children’s Hospital (today it is taken over by Printing House Square.)   Sand Street was an area similar to the Jewellery Quarter, where ordinary houses were turned into factories and businesses, and was photographed shortly before it was demolished in the twentieth century.  Alternatively, it may be that the workshops were in Sand Street and the shop or headquarters in Bull Street, which was a fashionable shopping street at the time and near the modern housing of Old Square.

Grice’s firm is best known today for supplying the first British rifles for the British army against the American rebels, as he established the “pattern” for the rifles from a German model, then supplied two hundred of the eight hundred rifles supplied in Birmingham by four gunmakers in all. One of these four was Samuel Galton who was a member of the Lunar Society.  Samuel Galton features in the History of Birmingham exhibition at Birmingham Museum because he was asked to leave the Quakers for making guns, and yet supported the movement for the abolition of slavery.  It would appear that Anglicans did not share these moral doubts, as several other gunmakers are buried in the Cathedral churchyard.  Gunmaking in the eighteenth century was highly profitable, and William Grice would make his money by selling to the British Ordinance, to American Indians, supplying guns to slave traders and to both sides in the French Revolution.  It was not until the nineteenth century that slave trading and then slavery were abolished.  Today the early and beautifully engraved pistols by William Grice are highly prized at auction.

William Grice’s will demonstrates both his wealth and the extent of his interests. He appoints three executors, one of who is of Chapter House Square in London, one who is described as a landowner, and another is a Japanner of Birmingham, all three of whom must have had their work cut out to deal with the extent of his business and requests. We also know that Grice subscribed to several books, the most notable of which is an edition of the poem “The Grave” which had engravings by William Blake; and we know that like several well-known people of his age he was a Jacobite, hence the name of his daughter Sobieski.  William Grice lived through turbulent times, and the year after he died the dinner which started the Priestley Riots took place just around the corner from his house.

William Grice 1744 – 1805?

The original William left his oldest son William one fifth of his “Messuages, Buildings and Premises” and £100, to be inherited by his grandson William and administered by the trustees. Son William seems to have lived in London in the parish of Christ Church, and married Rebecca Dukes in 1771 at All Hallows, London Wall, with his mother signing the parish register; the parish register at the wedding of his son William Dukes Grice states that William was a “hardwareman” (as indeed was his son). Both the terms of the original William Grice’s will and the fact that the younger William signed a bond for £200 – with an elaborate flourish of a signature –  before his marriage, suggests that he was short of money.


There is a mention in the will of Joseph Grice, younger son of the original William Grice, which states “I bequeath to my nephew William Dukes Grice of London £100 and an annuity of ten pounds for his life to be paid to him by equal half yearly payments so long as he shall not assign mortgage or charge the same or become bankrupt or take the benefit of any act for the wish of insolvent debtors.” William Dukes Grice was baptised at St. Stephen Walbrook church in London in 1778 and married Margaret Theobald, a widow, at Christ Church, Spitalfields in 1831.  Rebecca Ann Morris also left £100 to her cousin William Dukes Grice, which was far less than she left to her other cousins, and there is a document dated 1805 in which William Dukes Grice acknowledges he has no further claim from the will of his grandfather, William Grice.  (This might suggest that his father was already dead.)  Despite being in his fifties when he married, William Dukes Grice had a daughter Margaret Rebecca who married in 1840 at Christ Church one Thomas Tombs who is an attorney’s clerk.  She must have been born before her father was married and, judging by the profession of her husband, her family were a great deal less financially well off than her Grice relations.

Rebecca Morris 1747 – 1817

Rebecca Grice married Henry Morris at St. Philip’s on 30th June 1774, a man who also was baptised at the same church, and clearly received from her father a substantial marriage bond as it is the opening concern in William Grice’s will. For some unknown reason she receives two fifths of the worth of his property and possessions and £500, all of it to be passed on to her heirs and not to her husband.  From the wills of the couple they appear to have lived in Spring Hill, Yardley and had four daughters:

Rebecca Ann who was baptised in 1775 at St. Philip’s and buried in the same place on 14th August 1822 – it is her memorial stone which faces across the aisle to her parents and shows she died unmarried.   Her uncle Joseph is an executor of her will, which has a long list of bequests, including gifts to Bluecoat School, S.P.C.K., the General Hospital and the Birmingham Dispensary.  Her two sisters and her cousin Caroline Brookshaw receive generous bequests.

Mary Sobieski, born in 1779, who died only three months after her birth and was also buried in St. Philip’s.

Jane (baptised 1781) and Fanny (baptised 1783) probably went to live with their uncle Joseph Grice after the death of their parents, never married, and can be found on the 1851 census living together in Leamington Priors near their cousin William Grice, son of their uncle Joseph Grice, described as “fundholders” and employing a butler.   Fanny died first in 1855 and Jane in 1856.

Joseph Grice, William’s son, had been in partnership with his father and after his father’s death was in partnership with Henry Morris. A rather strange book entitled “A Poetic Survey of Birmingham” displays a Grice and Morris illustrated advert.  After his father’s death it is clear that the widowed and then childless Joseph took on the role of head of the family, so the three daughters after the death of both of their parents, together with Sobieski Brookshaw and her daughter Caroline, all came under his wing at Handsworth Hall, near Matthew Boulton’s Soho Works.  In his will Joseph Grice remembered them all.

Henry Morris’s will on his death in 1810 makes his brother-in-law Joseph his executor and leaves clear directions to sell his shares, except those in the Warwick Birmingham and Warwick and Mapton canals, for his wife.  What is most fascinating about his will is a codicil he added in 1804 stating, “I leave to my wife Rebecca the option of carrying on the business which I am now engaged in as Contractor to the Board of Ordnance.”  As the business of Grice and Morris is listed at Sand Street until 1817, it is possible that Rebecca did retain an interest in the business.

Rebecca Morris died on 7th June 1817 and her will appears to be written hastily in March 1816, as she leaves everything to her three daughters, “share and share alike”.  Joseph, her brother, gives testimony that he recognised her handwriting.

Sobieski Brookshaw 1749 – 1811

Like her sister, Sobieski (who is covered in a separate post) was baptised, married and buried at St. Philip’s. She married George Brookshaw, a japanner and furniture maker, who was also baptised in St. Philip’s and carried on a furniture business in London.  The original William Grice left her £500 and one fifth of his estate as well as a marriage bond, which in his will he ensures can only be left to her heirs.   Art historians believe that Sobieski’s money enabled George Brookshaw to set up his business; when he took a mistress and separated from his wife he closed the business and landed up in debtors’ prison, eventually becoming an artist.  Sobieski took their only child Caroline Diana Grice Brookshaw (1786-1864) with her back to Birmingham.  Sobieski’s life was bound up with London, yet her daughter’s life seems entwined with that of her cousins the Morrises and the family of her uncle Joseph Grice, with whom Caroline was certainly living in 1823 when her father made his will.  Caroline never married and lived on the Hagley Road, having inherited a copy of her father’s most famous book “Pomona Britannica” and money from her mother and uncle.  On the 1861 census she is described as a “proprietor of houses” and when she died her will is described as “under £5,000”.

Joseph Grice 1751 -1834

Joseph Grice is possibly the most interesting of William Grice’s children who, because of his wealth was a force to be reckoned with in Birmingham and had dealings with people at the top of society. It is cheating a little to include him as a “child of St. Philip’s” as he lived in Handsworth, but his working links remained in Birmingham and he probably arranged the burials of his sisters and brother-in-law in St. Philip’s.

We learn from his father’s will that as well as one fifth of the property, Joseph inherited his father’s business:  “I give to my said son Joseph aforesaid all my Tools and Fixtures in my warehouse in Birmingham aforesaid also all my tools and fixtures in my Shops …also my Warehouse Shops and Buildings in Sand Street in Birmingham wherein I now carry on my Trade…also my Lease in Coleshill Mill and premises…and all the Tools in the said Mill…I give one half of the Capital in the said Trade”.

Joseph first married Lucy Reynolds of Meriden at the parish church in 1783, with the names of William Grice and Henry Morris in their handwriting written on the Parish register. Lucy Reynold’s date of death is as yet unknown and they do not appear to have had children.   He then married again as a widower in 1808 when he was 56.  Elizabeth Hill of Worcester was clearly wealthy, as in his will Joseph mentions the £1,000 she brought to the marriage; she was also nearly thirty years younger than her husband, and we know that her brother was a clergyman.  Their children, Joseph Hill Grice (1808 – 1867), William Grice (1813 – 1885) and Elizabeth Grice (1814 – 1888) were all baptised in St. Mary’s Handsworth.

Handsworth Hall, the home of Joseph Grice, was described as having “a beautiful avenue of lime trees” and pictures remain of the now demolished house, which had originally belonged to the Gough family. Joseph’s bust adorns a chantry in St. Mary’s Handsworth, which makes it likely that, as a wealthy man and propertied landowner, he would have known Matthew Boulton and James Watt who are buried in the same church.  We know from his will that he invested in canals, the new and profitable industry in the eighteenth century; a book of the time suggests that he was involved in button-making; he had a large investment of £4,000 as a silent partner in Aris’s Birmingham Gazette and was involved in selling guns in West Africa.  Yet as there is no mention of him in later gazetteers of Birmingham as a gunmaker, the impression is that he gave up gunmaking before his death, possibly by 1817 on the death of his sister Rebecca.  One of the executors of his will was Samuel Tertius Galton, the son of Samuel Galton who was a member of the Lunar Society, and who also gave up gunmaking and went into banking.  (Tertius Galton’s mother was the daughter of Erasmus Darwin, another member of the Lunar Society; Tertius Galton was a High Bailiff of Birmingham who went to live in Leamington, and it is possible that Joseph Grice’s son and Henry Morris’s daughters followed him there.)

Joseph’s sons both went to Eton and Oxford and then became curates; in his will Joseph makes a point of leaving them special Bibles, whilst his daughter gets a Life of Christ and the works of Samuel Johnson. Amidst the wealth (£3,500) and goods he left his wife is the information that he leaves her his carriage “now being built in London”, together with the horses.  In addition to subscriptions to many publications, mostly concerning geography, art and poetry, Joseph Grice was a considerable philanthropist, endowing several charities in Handsworth including the National School, and leaving bequests to the General Hospital, People’s Dispensary and Bluecoat School in Birmingham and to the poor of Handsworth.

Elizabeth, his daughter, married Thomas Attwood (1783-1856) as his second wife, in 1845 after the death of her father by whom she was left £5,000. She followed her mother’s example as, when she married him, Thomas Attwood was thirty years older than her, and had passed the heights of his political career as he was ill.  He lived in Handsworth and it is said he was a friend of the family.  He had founded the Birmingham Political Union and fought for currency and electoral reform, was High Bailiff of Birmingham at a young age and then became Birmingham’s first M.P, becoming a keen advocate of the 1832 Reform Act.  Elizabeth was his second wife, and he had five children living when he married again.  Thomas Attwood came from a family of bankers and he is described as such when he married Elizabeth in London. For a time they lived in Handsworth, then in the 1851 census the pair are living in Henley, Warwickshire, but he died in Malvern.   Elizabeth Attwood built a house in Malvern called The Boynes which still stands, and was associated with a new chapel of ease called the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, where the East window was dedicated to her memory.   She died in 1888 and was buried in the churchyard of Hanley Castle with her husband.   Her niece, Louisa Hutchinson, moved into The Boynes in the 1890’s, and during the First World War the house was used as a hospital by the Red Cross.

After the death of Joseph Grice the house in Handsworth was sold to the Barrow family, and Elizabeth Grice went to live with her son William in Leamington Priors; on the 1851 census he is described as “perpetual curate” and she as “accountant”.  William’s wife, Henrietta Broughton, was the daughter of a clergyman who was also a Baronet, and she had the patriotic middle name of “Waterloo”.  Although a clergyman, William eventually lived in great style with many servants in Sherbourne, Devon worked as a magistrate and died in 1885.  His daughter Louisa married Captain Hutchison, who was the conservative M.P. for Aston Manor 1891-1900.  Many of their family are commemorated in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd.

Joseph Hill Grice was a perpetual curate at Upton on Severn, interested in Free Masonry and The Templars (on which he wrote a book) and died before his mother in 1867. One has the impression that for the prime beneficiary of his father’s will, he chose to live fairly modestly and sold the family home.  He never married and left no heirs.  He appears to have known Gladstone, the future Prime Minister, and documents of the time show that he had to spend a lot of time looking after the family property, shares and inheritance.


The history of William Grice

It would be difficult to credit a novel which took in gunmaking, selling gunlocks to the slave trade, heiresses, a black sheep, an artist who landed up in debtors’ prison, clergy who were extremely rich, church building, philanthropy, canal investment, members of parliament and a pioneer of parliamentary reform. Eighteenth and early-nineteenth century Birmingham was a place where all of this and much more was going on, and the people commemorated on walls of Birmingham Cathedral were busy taking part in it all.  William Grice was certainly a son of toil, and Joseph Grice was a gentleman.  How one becomes a gentleman, however philanthropic a gentleman, seems to raise a great many moral questions.

Gill Partridge March 2016

Taylor Simmons Vault by Sandra Cooper


Having passed through the Cathedral Churchyard and eaten lunch there on many occasions I have often wondered about the people commemorated there. I chose this monument as it was unusual in commemorating 4 adults and no children and I was interested to explore the connection with Birmingham’s gun-making trade.



The Taylor Simmons monument is situated in the Cathedral churchyard adjacent to the path leading from the South East corner of the church to Temple Row. Its inscription reads as follows;


In memory of John Taylor, late of this town, Gun Barrel Maker, who departed this life on 11th December 1797, aged 50 years.

Also Martha his wife. She departed this life 20 April, 1806, aged 57 years.

Also in memory of Elizabeth, daughter of John and Martha Taylor and wife of Joseph Simmons, gunmaker of this town. She departed this life 20 June 1830 aged 47 years.

Also of the above named Joseph Simmons who died at Moor Green Moseley on 17 December 1841 in the 58 year of his life

The church register confirms that all four were buried in the churchyard within days of their death (John Taylor 18th December, Martha Taylor 23rd April, ‘Eliza’ Simmons 25th June and Joseph Simmons 24th December).

I have not found any record of John and Martha Taylor marrying in Birmingham but there were two marriages between John and Mary Taylor at St Phillips at the relevant time. On 10th July 1775 John Taylor married Mary Griffin and on 7th January 1779 John Taylor married Mary Doleman. Over the following years a number of baptisms of children of John and Mary (Martha) Taylor are recorded, the dates suggesting that there were indeed two couples of the same name in the parish. Elizabeth Taylor was baptised at St Phillips on 25th September 1783 (daughter of John and Martha Taylor) as was John Taylor (also son of John and Martha Taylor). On 4th March 1783 John, son of John and Mary Taylor was baptised at St Phillips.

Both John Taylor and Joseph Simmons were connected with the gun trade. Research by leading experts on English gunmakers[1], shows;

John Taylor Gun Barrel Maker at 69 Steelhouse Lane in 1776

Joseph Simmons Pistol Striker at 57 Weaman Street 1811-1815. They state that there could be some confusion with John Simmons Pistol Striker who is listed there between 1807– 1810.

Joseph Simmons (Simmonds) is also referred to as a Gun & Pistol Maker at 44 High Street (1807-1820) and 49* High Street (1821-31) *owned by Joseph at his death and rented by W Powell until Christmas 1843 (account)

Douglas Tate[2], when discussing William Powell & Son, suggests that the business was established with Joseph Simmons in High Street in 1802, with this Joseph Simmons having died in 1812.

William Powell website gives a short history of the company (not now in family hands) and states that early ledgers were lost in the 19th century during a move. We may never know if this is the same Joseph Simmons, his father or a third Joseph Simmons alive and working in Birmingham at the same time.

Joseph Simmons died after the 1841 census, he left a will[3] and there is a copy of an account of his estate at Library of Birmingham so it has been possible to discover a little more about him. The census shows that, in 1841, Joseph was living at Moor Green with his father (also Joseph) who was 85 years old and a female servant called Eliza Forty aged 25. The Tithe Apportionment for Kings Norton (1838) shows that the property was owned by William Congreve Russell and (in addition to the house, offices, yard and garden) consisted of a small wood, two meadows, three pastures, a field and a farmyard, over 11 acres in all[4]. Joseph Simmons senior died in 1842 and was buried on 13th May at St Marys Birmingham (he was described as 87 years old).

Joseph Simmons’ will makes no mention of any children and therefore it seems that there were no living children of his marriage with Elizabeth. There are no bequests to a member of the Taylor family so it gives no clues about Elizabeth’s relatives. His Executors were William Palmer (a near neighbour in Cannon Hill) and William Alldritt (long time librarian of Birmingham Library). After a number of bequests to friends and his own family (including his brother Reuben) he left a trust fund to support his father with the remainder to his ‘niece’ Emma Simmons Brown (granddaughter of his sister Lucy Brown) when she attained the age of twenty-three. Queens Hospital and the Dispensary in Birmingham were each bequeathed £50.

The account of the administration of his estate forms part of a bundle of documents in Library of Birmingham prepared when properties which formed part of his estate were sold after Emma Simmons Brown attained the age of 23 years and is very informative[5].

Executors received £6860 18s 6d in cash (some £642,000 in 2015 values)[6] and paid £2714 8s 4½ d in debts and expenses (some £254,000 in 2015 values). Included in the expenses £38 2s 0d was paid to Badham ‘for tomb’ and John Clive received £3 32 0d for hire of a bath chair*. Premises in High Street and Carrs Lane were sold in 1847 and realised £9,900 (some £926,000 in 2015 values). Property in Castle Street (running between High Street and Moor Street parallel to Carrs Lane) were not sold until 1857. The account shows rent collected on each property and repairs carried out including, the cost of repairing the pump, painting and paper hanging and £5 to J Hollingsworth as an ‘allowance for injury sustained by building up chimney opposite his workshops’.

On this evidence Joseph Simmons seems to have been a successful businessman who retired to Moor Green, Moseley taking income from the property he owned and interest on mortgages provided to a number of individuals.

Emma Brown married William Howlett and lived in Wellington, Shropshire. William was a surgeon and physician who also became the Registrar for the District. In 1861 the census shows that they were living with their 5 daughters and two servants. There is no mention of Emma Simmons Brown at the address.

*this was a light carriage with a fold back hood, drawn or pushed by hand and frequently used by invalids

[1] English Gunmakers De Witt Bailey & Douglas A Nie (1978)

[2] Birmingham Gun Makers (1997)

[3] National Archives PROB 11 1958

[4] Accessed through The Genealogist website February 2016

[5] Library of Birmingham MS94/15 Documents relating to property near New Mill and Castle Street Birmingham

[6] Bank of England Inflation Calculator