I can only apologise to anyone who has been waiting for a new post. I have an excuse or 2 though. I have several new and exciting projects on the go… a couple don’t even have anything to do with dead people!
One of the projects is de-cluttering the house and doing a bit of decorating.
Soooo last Sunday I packed the car full of old junk and headed over to the local tip. I had a lot of old boxes to put in the cardboard recycling skip, so I climbed up the horrible metal steps in my sensible shoes (I have been known to get a boot heel stuck in the grills of those steps before…) and threw them in to the almost full bin. Then I spotted a pile of books sitting near the edge of the container. Books! In the skip!!
One of the books looked quite old and I just couldn’t resist flicking the cover open to have a little nosy…
The inscription inside was almost illegible but the year was still clearly visible, written in ink it said 1878. I was pretty confident I could find something out about the Victorian owner of the book so I asked one of the staff if I could take the book home.
Printed in 1833, the book has the rather grand title ‘The Students Manual, An Etymological And Explanatory Vocabulary Of Words Derived From The Greek’ by R. Harrison Black, LL.D. According to its author it was originally compiled for the use of a young female relative and was then ‘published with the hope of it being generally useful more especially to young ladies – whose mode of education precludes them from an acquaintance with Greek.’ Thoughtful chap.
Now I won’t fib, this one has been a toughie. But I do not give up on dead people easily. Unless they specifically ask me to.
So I began by studying the inscription. I have it as ‘from M.Blackstone to Edith M K Price. 1878’. We can tell from the photo that the M.Blackstone has been written long before the rest of the dedication, it is in a steadier hand and the ink is of a slightly different colour. The book has been given to Edith by M long after M initially owned it.
I can only find one likely recipient, Edith Mary Karslake Price born in Scotland circa 1857, making her 21 when she was given the book.
Next job was to find Edith as close to 1878 as possible. In both 1871 and 1881 she was living in Rottingdean, on the outskirts of Brighton, with her mother and siblings including younger brother Salisbury who later in life would become a Vicar.
Now I had to try and locate an M Blackstone.
A mile away in Ovingdean, living a quiet life next door to the local Vicar was an elderly spinster, Miss Margaret Blackstone. Born in 1799 in Wymering, Hampshire, Margaret was the daughter of Margaret Bigg-Withers and the Rev. Charles Blackstone. The ‘Materials for a history of the Wither family’ located on archive.org has some great information on the Bigg-Wither family including some letters written by them.
The Bigg-Withers family owned Manydown Park, Hampshire and were neighbours of the famous Austens and one of them, Harris, proposed to Jane. She apparently accepted his proposal briefly, changing her mind the next day.
Charles Blackstone died in 1804 and his widow Margaret spent much of her time at her childhood home with her also widowed sister and their combined collection of small children.
Margaret the younger lived with her mother until Margaret Snr died in 1842. Then she gradually moved her way towards Brighton during the next few decades.
Could Margaret have been the mysterious M? We have no real way of telling. I think M was probably a woman, and had a love of learning. Both owners of the book came from families of wealth and property, were fortunate to be in a position where they could have a good education, and both had Clergymen in their immediate family.
Perhaps the women met socially as they only lived a few minutes walk apart, Margaret discovering their shared love of learning giving her book to Edith for her birthday. Could it have been a gesture to show the shared frustration felt by women who were limited in their studies by the age they lived in?
Maybe Margaret isn’t the correct M.Blackstone after all. We’ll never know.
Margaret and Edith lived on their private incomes during their lifetimes and remained unmarried. They died in 1885 and 1943 respectively.
Now I am sure I must have one project that doesn’t involve the dearly departed somewhere.