Sunday, 13 March 2011

Heartfelt letters (written March 2000)

For many years there was a large metal box in the basement of the Society. As my shins will testify the box was very easy to fall over when one went into the store room. One day I said I'll look inside. And when I did the contents proved to be a treasure trove of items, mainly relating to the PESCOD family. So far I've got as far as cataloguing a fascinating series of letters relating to the Taylor family of Wiltshire, Jamaica, Portugal and Canada. Some of the most interesting correspondence is from Phillpotts Wright TAYLOR to his spinster sister, Anna, that covers a thirty-five year period between 1829 and 1864.
The correspondence begins promisingly with passions of the heart. Taylor writes to Anna on 25 April 1829: 'You are aware that I was partial to Miss Selena HALE, for the last sixth months we have regularly corresponded and nothing was known of it though we used to see one another almost every week. About a month ago her Mamma caught her writing to me and nothing more was done by her parents than threatening to punish her. Last Monday week at 7 in the evening I heard that she had been sent out of the house, bag and baggage. No one knew where but those that [did] would not tell me... The other day in going into Bath I saw a girl's school in my path and low and behold Selena... Mr WILLIAMS the master took me up to his lodgings. He said that it was not on my account she was sent out of the house, but he refused to tell me where she was living... I wish I could get your clothes that I put on at Easter then I would go as a Miss somebody... [PS] I love her better than myself.'
The affair seems to have been mere teenage infatuation and was soon forgotten. Subsequent letters a few weeks later make no mention of Miss Hale. He writes however on 21 May 'I am a most awkward creature in company, always blushing and making mistakes...' An experience we must have felt when in our teens.
Wright choose the Army as a career, buying a commission in the 96th Regiment of Foot. He subsequently served in Ireland, Bristol, Nova Scotia and eventually spent many years in Canada. Eventually Taylor rose to become Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Canadian Rifles, retiring on half pay in 1854. The choice of these unfashionable regiments may well have been dictated by relative poverty.
Taylor was incurably romantic for he eloped with a young lady called Charlotte. This caused a massive family row. As a result in January 1836 he was ejected from his uncle's house (after whom he was named) at Clapton 'near London'. 'I should have never believed it possible' he wrote to Anna, 'had I not learnt it by experience.' A note by Uncle Philpotts on a subsequent letter says 'The answer to a strong remonstrance against Wright's marrying to a girl without a penny when he was an ensign in a foot regiment and with little more than his pay to keep him - I only begged him to wait until he became Captain and then promised to receive his wife as a sister.' A few days later Taylor protested to his sister 'I will not allow myself to think that anything but your affection for me had dictated to you the course that you are pursuing to wound me and one who is still dearer to me than myself. Till you can cease to write in that very virulent style may I beg that you not address me again...'
Fortunately subsequent letters suggest that the family made up. Indeed he writes excitedly to Anna on 31 May 1841 about the birth of his second son 'On my arrival in Chatham this afternoon I found my family increased a little boy lying by the side of my darling Lotty', but his concerned that his eldest son 'Georgy' who has whopping cough might infect the baby.
At about this time Taylor is posted to Canada. His family follow him there. By July 1843 is stationed at Chippawa where is 'ensconced with wife and chicks, but where you must not go out of doors at certain hours if you do not wished the serenity of your mind disturbed for at the hour of 11AM the Yankee steamer of 30 tons and 2.5 horsepower disgorges her cargo of buffalo's beauty and fashion at a wharf 6 feet by 8.' A couple of years later, in February 1845, the family (by now there are three sons George, Arthur and Colin) are based at Amherstburg. He declines to attend a wedding: 'The groom was a jolly ensign of our regiment who took his bride home to barracks within an hour of the ceremony... he is however a Canadian and knows no feeling of delicacy.' Indeed he does not seem overly impressed by the natives, in another letter of 1848 he complains that 'the youth of Canada are indeed brought up badly.'
Phillpotts Wright Taylor comes across in his letters as a devoted family man, but also somebody who was rather naive. This innocence was to lead him into trouble after he left the Army, as a stiff letter from Anna to his wife, Charlotte, in January 1864 suggests. This is incidentally the only letter from Anna to survive. Evidently Taylor was at this time in some financial difficulties. Some o16,000 left to him by the will of an uncle had been squandered, possibly by unwisely investing in Canadian companies. Anna, not mincing her words, wrote 'I hope this crisis will rouse him from the indolent selfish life he has been leading for ten years at least - if he has a spark of masculine self-respect he will exert himself and support his wife...' Wright and Charlotte had expectations of receiving sums from his sisters Anna and Georgina MAYNE, but Anna made it clear that it was not coming from her. 'Both you and Wright have exaggerated ideas of my income - It is carefully portioned out and I live up to it. I do not hoard. Certainly at my age I have a right to a house and two maids...' She urges that Charlotte lets her house 'to PAYING, not to only fashionable tenants... have the rent paid quarterly.' and suggests that George and Colin resign their commissions in the Army where they were officers (no mention is made of Arthur, perhaps he died as a child) 'two healthy young men with no money MUST earn their bread, and ought, if need be to support their mother.' Whether Wright and Charlotte heeded this sisterly advice is not known, but some how I doubt it.
The letters offer an fascinating glimpse into a mid-Victorian family and their concerns and worries. At times there are hints of the novels of Thackery and Dickens. It would of course be interesting to know more about the family. Perhaps there are other papers in the metal box which will shed light on them; and of course there should be records at the PRO about Wright and his two sons' military careers. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi

    I came across your blog posting via a Google search and I'm happy to say that I am a descendant of Philpotts Wright Taylor, via his son Colin McKenzie Taylor who ended up here in New Zealand and was a member of the Armed Constabulary in the 1880s. He married my Great Grandmother and they had a daughter before Colin McKenzie Taylor died in 1902. There are photos of Colin in some NZ publications. Please email me at as I would love to know more about the tin of letters. Thanks