IN SEARCH OF SOBIESKI BROOKSHAW (1749 – 1811)
In the north-west corner of St. Philip’s, to the right of the door, is a monument to Sobieski Brookshaw, which reads as follows:
Sacred to the memory of
Daughter of William and Rebecca Grice
who died April the XXVIth MDCCCXI aged LXVII years
Weaned from every enjoyment this life affords
by a protracted illness of ten years which she bore
with fortitude and resignation cheerfully looking
forward to that bliss which can alone result from the
rectitude of a well spent life and humbly hoping
through the merits and intercessions of her blessed
Saviour to be made partaker in that happiness reserved
for those who fear and walk humbly with their God.
This monument is erected by her only daughter
CAROLINE BROOKSHAW as a tribute of duty and affection
to the best of mothers.
I had often noted in passing the fact that “Sobieski” appeared to be a Polish name; it was the appointment of Jane McArdle, the Cathedral’s Heritage Officer, which spurred me on to researching why a Polish name should be appearing on an 18th century monument.
“Sobieski” and the Jacobites
A cursory search of the internet revealed that there was a King John II Sobieski of Poland, which made it more baffling that a woman should be called by a man’s name. I then came across and article by Brian Asbury, “What’s in a Name?” in Burntwood Family History Group Journal 2008 Vol.16 No.2, which stated that the author had traced 311 “Sobieskis” between 1719 and 1848 and had then realised the significance.
In 1719 the Old Pretender, the son of the deposed king James II, married Maria Clementine Sobienski or Sobienska, the daughter of King John Sobienski of Poland and from this date, until the last of the Hanoverians, Jacobites sometimes named their daughters after her, signifying that they wished for a queen of this name. Bonnie Prince Charlie, the “Young Pretender” who was the grandson of James II, was thus half-Polish, and there remain links between the communities to this day.
Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Staffordshire were at the centre of Jacobite riots, and after Bonnie Prince Charlie landed in Scotland in 1745 the Jacobite army had reached as far as Derby. The battle of Culloden in 1746, in which the prince had to flee from Scotland, might seem to have dealt the Jacobites a final blow, but there was a riot in Walsall in 1750. Sobieski Grice’s birth in 1749 was thus at a time of heightened political tension. Some Jacobites were Roman Catholic but, because the Hanoverian kings would only favour Whigs in government, there were discontented Anglican Tories who also supported the Jacobites, including Samuel Pepys, Dr. Johnson, Alexander Pope and other leading citizens including, it would appear, Sobieski’s parents, William and Rebecca Grice.
On various memorial stones throughout St. Philip’s there are suggestions of loyalty to the crown, such as the inscription above the entrance on the finishing of the tower in 1725, and it is intriguing to realize that leading citizens of the time would disagree politically in much the same way as we do today.
William Grice, gunmaker (1715 – 1790)
The monument to the parents of Sobieski, William and Rebecca Grice, is situated on the inside north wall of St. Philip’s, by the altar, and apparently both this monument and those of Sobieski and her sister were made by the same sculptor, William Thompson. We are told that Rebecca died in 1781 aged 74 and William in 1790 aged 75. William Grice was a prosperous gunmaker who left a great deal of property and money to his five children. (See posting on William Grice for further details.)
Sobieski was the third of four children, and whilst her older sister Rebecca married another gunsmith, Sobieski married an artist, George Brookshaw, who was also a member of the congregation of St. Philip’s. (Rebecca had a daughter, baptised on 1st February 1779 named Mary Sobieski, as well as three other children, all baptised at St. Philip’s.) She had two brothers, William, and Joseph, and as we shall see she probably lived with Joseph for a time.
In his will William Grice mentions all of his children, and at the very beginning is concerned with the debt of the marriage portion of both of his daughters. Sobieski is left £500, as well as the income from one-fifth of his properties, to be administered by trustees with special concern that the money goes to his grandchildren both born and unborn, and not to his son-in-law. The extent of his wealth shows that Sobieski both before and after marriage led a life offered to few in the eighteenth century. Their house at 5 Bull Street was at the centre of the fashionable new quarter of Birmingham near the Cathedral, and the extent of his business, including dealing in London, suggests that the family would have had contact with all the well-known Birmingham people of the day.
Because Sobieski’s mother died only three years after she married, one wonders if William Grice, who died in London, would combine business and pleasure and visit his daughter’s household in fashionable Westminster. His son William also lived in London, but does not seem to have flourished as a “hardwareman”. One can only hope William Grice senior met and enjoyed his granddaughter Caroline who bore his surname as well as that of her father.
George Brookshaw (1751 – 1823)
It is noticeable that Sobieski’s monument contains no reference to her husband, and it was the tale that unfolded from this that caused me the most surprise. The church register shows that she married George Brookshaw in St. Philip’s on 20th January 1778, and that George himself was baptised in St. Philip’s (on 10th July 1751), as was his older brother Richard and his sister Elisabeth. (Sobieski was baptised on 15th May 1749 and was thus a little older than her husband.) His parents were George and Mary, and sources online state that we do not know his father’s profession. However, in a Birmingham document entitled “Duties paid for Apprentices” dated 30th August 1753, and another dated 1750, there is a George Brookshaw listed as an engraver. The reason this George is highly likely to have been the younger George Brookshaw’s father is that it is known that George the elder’s son Richard was also an engraver. As both Brookshaws and Grices attended St. Philip’s, it is reasonable to suppose that Sobieski and George knew each other as they grew up.
George’s brother Richard’s work is valued today but apparently he struggled to make a living in England, where he produced engravings of paintings, mostly portraiture. It is said he made 25 shillings a week and went to France to better his living. He then, in the 1770’s, produced engraved portraits of the French royal family which became popular, and is thought to have travelled abroad on the continent before retuning engrave some plates for his brother’s book Pomona Britannica. (There are several engravings by him on the National Portrait Gallery’s website.)
George Brookshaw became renowned first as a cabinetmaker in London, producing occasional tables, cabinets, mantel pieces and commodes in the eighteenth century style with painted decoration; he then became known as painter of natural life, and produced a book called “Pomona Britannica” which is considered the very best of this type of eighteenth century botanical illustration. It was Lucy Wood, in two articles in Apollo magazine, May 1991 and June 1991, who traced the connection between George Brookshaw and one George Brown, who published a book on painting in 1799 for young ladies. As a later edition of the book used engravings under the name George Brookshaw identical to those in the earlier edition with the name George Brown, Lucy Wood demonstrated that they were the same person. The title of her first article, “The case of the vanishing cabinet-maker”, indicates George Brookshaw’s story.
It was proven by Yvonne Jones of Wolverhampton Museum that he was apprenticed to a japanner and painter named Samuel Troughton (d.1783), whom Bailey’s Northern Directory of 1781 shows had his business at 13 Edmund Street. (Japanning was a process of lacquering on wood and papier mache, producing paintings of a very smooth nature. Baskerville, renowned for his typeface and a member of St. Philip’s congregation, was also a japanner). Brookshaw is said to have run away from his apprenticeship in 1767 and we do not know what happened to him. (Did he, one wonders, go to France with his brother?) By 1777 his cabinet-making business became established in Curzon Street, London; as he married the following year, Lucy Wood speculated that his wife’s dowry enabled him to establish the business. His furniture became very fashionable with the aristocracy – the Prince of Wales (later George IV) commissioned a commode. Today there are many pictures available online of Brookshaw’s furniture; his work is so valued it appears in the catalogues of the best auctioneers and in museums. The paintings on furniture he produced are inspired by the work of Angelica Kauffman, whose work was favoured by Matthew Boulton for so-called “mechanical paintings”, a technique Boulton tried out but later abandoned.
There are land tax records for Brookshaw at Hanover Square (presumably he was living there whilst working at Curzon Street) between 1777 and 1782, and in 1782 the business moved to 48 Great Marlborough Street. His trade card described him as “Peintre Ebeniste (cabinet maker) par Extraordinaire”. By 1794 the business no longer appeared in trade directories, and the marriage had broken down. Lucy Wood assumes that when this happened the dowry was withdrawn and thus the business failed. On the Ancestry records in Birmingham libraries I found a record of 31st May 1800 for the Fleet Prison (a debtor’s prison) Entry Book for Discharges in which he is described as “George Brookshaw alias Brown”. One wonders if the shame of marriage breakdown had anything to do with the ten year’s illness from which Sobieski died, as her illness would have begun around this time.
I found first a hint of why the marriage broke down on the internet in a small footnote which explains he began to live with Elizabeth Stanton under the assumed name of George Brown between 1794 and 1804. During this time he apparently earned his living as a teacher of flower painting and after a short time he began to publish books with illustrations of the natural world, which are highly prized today. I then found his will online, which gives the sad fact: “Elizabeth Stanton who passed as my wife” to whom he leaves a mere five pounds in 1823.
The dates given for his books can vary, but as far as I can ascertain he published the following:
1797 published anonymously “A New Treatise on Flower Painting or Every Lady Her Own Drawing Master”
1799 The third edition of the same book published under the name G. Brown
1804 The first part of “Pomona Britannica” published, to be published in parts up to 1812 when it is published as a whole under the name George Brookshaw.
1817 “A Supplement to the Treatise on Flower Painting” – this edition contains several plates attributed to Brookshaw formerly attributed to G. Brown.
1817 “Six birds, accurately drawn and coloured after nature, with full instructions for the young artist: intended as a companion to the treatise on flower painting” – Brookshaw
1817 “Groups of Flowers: Drawn and Accurately Coloured after Nature, with Full Direction for the Young Artist” – Brookshaw
1817 “Groups of Fruit: Accurately Coloured After Nature, with Full Direction for the Young Artist” – Brookshaw
1821 Part I of “The Horticultural Repository”, published in its entirety in 1823 – Brookshaw
Brookshaw appears to have kept his aristocratic contacts, as “Pomona Britannica” was dedicated to his former patron, the Prince Regent, and the exotic fruits such as pineapples and peaches were drawn from the fruit in the gardens of the aristocracy. Both this book and his last book had a serious purpose as different varieties of fruits and their cultivation were beginning to be studied closely in the eighteenth century to improve methods of cultivation. Several similar books were produced at this time, but Brookshaw’s work is the most highly prized; yet he clearly did not flourish, as he died with less than £200 to his name, and was buried on February 16th 1823 at St. Mary the Virgin, a church in Twickenham, aged 74.
In his will of 1823 Brookshaw states that his daughter is living with “Joseph Grice of Handsworth Hall” and leaves her a folio copy of Pomona Britannica and two pictures of fruit, as well as his money after his debts have been paid.
Caroline Diana Grice Brookshaw 1786 – 1864
Caroline Brookshaw was baptised at St. James Westminster on 7th September 1786, where her birth is listed as 3rd August 1786, and died in Birmingham where she was buried on 21st May 1864 aged 77 at St. Bartholomew’s, Edgbaston. She never married, and is listed in three Birmingham censuses:
In 1841 she lives in St. Thomas Parish, Birmingham at 96 Islington with a servant and is described as aged 47 (she was about 55!)), of independent means and born outside the county. At this date she appears to be living in rented accommodation.
In Pigot’s Directory of 1841 and in a rate book of 1843 she is living in Frederick Street, Edgbaston, also in rented accommodation.
From the 1851 census she is aged 65 and living at 20 Hagley Road in St. George’s parish, as she is in the 1861 census (where she is described as age 73) .. She is described as a Landed proprietor and is from Middlesex.
From these bare facts we can deduce that Caroline was around eight when her parents’ marriage appears to have broken down, possibly moved to Birmingham in the mid 1790’s and from 1801 at the age of fifteen watched her mother suffering from a long illness. She was 25 when her mother died, 37 when her father died and 48 when Joseph Grice, her uncle, died in 1834, after which she may have established her own household. Whilst her Morris and Grice cousins moved away from Birmingham, Caroline remained in the place of her mother’s birth.
George Brookshaw died worth less than £200 yet Caroline’s will is for under £5,000, clearly a considerable sum in 1864. Her cousin, Revd. William Hill Grice, with whom she had lived at Handsworth Hall, was the executor of her will. Not only did she presumably inherit her mother’s wealth, but from the will of Joseph Grice, who was Sobieski’s brother, and a wealthy man, both she and the daughters of Rebecca Morris inherited £350 each. (Fanny Morris and Jane Morris were orphans in 1834 at the time of Joseph Grice’s will and had probably gone to live with him after the death of their parents.) The father of Fanny and Jane, Henry Morris, died in 1810 and left “to my particular friend Joseph Grice of Handsworth” a portion of his personal estate and navigation shares as well as making him his executor. The two families were clearly close as for a period Joseph Grice and Henry Morris had run the gun business together. Rebecca Ann Morris, the cousin of Caroline, left her £1,000 in her will of 1821.
There is a possibility that when Sobieski separated from her husband she went to live with her brother, who was a widower, as in a book called “Poems on Various Subjects” by Anna Sawyer dated 1801 in the list of subscribers there is mentioned both “Joseph Grice esq., Handsworth” and “Mrs. Brookshaw, Handsworth”. Joseph remarried a much younger woman in 1808 and went on to have a daughter and two sons, who both became clergymen via Eton and Oxford, whilst his daughter Elizabeth became the second wife of Thomas Attwood, of the Birmingham Political Union.
Joseph Grice lived in great style near Matthew Boulton’s house on Soho Hill and the church of St. Mary, and when he died in 1834 a monument was erected in the church near those of Boulton and Watt. In the directories of the time he is listed under “gentry”, and is mentioned in a book called “Birmingham a poem”, dated 1853, by Henry Howells Horton, which informs us he was a somewhat eccentric character who made a fortune from the manufacture of a “hard, white and yellow metal button”, and that “he retired at an advanced age to Handsworth Hall where he married a young woman by whom he had two daughters”.(The latter information is, of course, incorrect and may be referring to his Morris nieces.) Although he inherited his father’s gun business (the elder brother William lived in London and seems to have been a bit of a black sheep), he seems to have become a manufacturer of screws and buttons, invested in canals and was a benefactor of the General Hospital and General Dispensary in Birmingham, of the Bluecoat School and of a school and charity in Handsworth. He was also a Justice of the Peace. The house was sold soon after Joseph’s death, as his two sons went away to work in their parishes.
If Caroline lived with her mother at Handsworth Hall they would clearly have attained a place in society and a comfortable life at a time when enormous change was going on all around them in Birmingham and the whole country. There is a strong possibility that the people of Handsworth Hall would have known many of the industrialists and artists of the age, living as they did so near to Matthew Boulton.
I have called this article “In search of Sobieski Brookshaw” and am aware that at the end she remains a haunting presence, but an unknown one. We can say she lived through turbulent political times, including the French Revolution, and had a troubled private life but a devoted daughter. One hopes that, as she moved back to Birmingham, she found help and support from her siblings. There is just one small fact about her I find quite touching; before she married, when she would have been 21 and the pampered daughter of a wealthy man, before all her troubles came upon her, she subscribed to the Poems by Miss Priscilla Pointon of Lichfield, her mother’s home city.
Gill Partridge 2015