Review Number 27 – October 2002

“A Family of High Respectability” The Victorian Martineaus


Oval shaped drawing with the narrowest part upright and within this shape is drawn a sitting dove facing left. This drawing is textured in the background leaving the dove mostly undrawn so is silhouetted by the texture.On l5th July, 1853, “the desirable and compact Mansion House known as the ‘Lawn’, in the Parish of Walsham-le-Willows” was to be sold by auction according to a London advertisement of the time. The house was deemed suitable for “a Family of high respectability”, and the purchaser was Mr Richard Martineau, then aged 49, a partner in Whitbread’s Brewery. He and his wife and three of his four children were tired of London and wanted to settle in the country, at least for the summer months. Richard had many business and charitable interests in the capital, and he used to commute from Elmswell Station, presumably in more comfort than he would today.

This Richard was the first of the Walsham Martineaus, but the family had been settled in England since 1686. In that year many French Protestants or Huguenots fled from Louis XIV’s oppressive rule. Gaston Martineau was at 26 a qualified surgeon, and in 1694 he with his young French wife and baby daughter moved from London to Norwich. This was a city of opportunity for talented immigrants. One Frenchman, from whom Diney Martineau is descended, became Mayor of Norwich in 1719. When Gaston died in 1726 he had founded a dynasty of successful surgeons. One of them, his great grandson, had a house in the city suburbs which gave its name to Martineau Lane, now the scene of heavy traffic and the Norfolk County Council Offices.

The family grew, moving to different areas as the Industrial Revolution gave scope for people with energy and capital. Ironically for a family of stern Nonconformist traditions, three Martineau brothers made their fortune in London at brewing, their premises on the South Bank being where the London Eye now revolves. This firm merged with Whitbread’s, which brings us back to the Richard Martineau who first moved to Walsham.

Richard was a Unitarian, like many Martineaus at that time. Deeply versed in the Bible, they could not accept the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. They were therefore debarred from Oxbridge and the higher posts of the Establishment. Richard, a wealthy man, helped finance the work of an eccentric Unitarian cousin, Harriet (1802–1876). She was deaf and usually carried an ear-trumpet. She travelled fearlessly in Egypt, visiting and criticizing the Pasha’s harem. She made lengthy visits to America, and at home, impervious to cotton mill interests, she advocated the abolition of slavery during the American Civil War. Long before the Suffragettes, she argued for the rights of women. In her many books and her regular leaders for the ‘Daily News’ she urged that the poor should be educated as a necessary step in improving their conditions.

Her younger brother James (1805–1900), a respected theologian, became Principal of the Unitarian Manchester College. With the rise of Nonconformism, he was a highly influential national figure.

Harriet and James were Richard’ s most celebrated first cousins, and two of his many second cousins became famous in their day. Robert Braithwaite Martineau (1826–1869) worked in the studio of William Holman Hunt, the important Pre-Raphaelite painter. Robert’s most famous work, “The Last Day in the Old Home”, was painted in 1861. It shows a feckless gambler introducing his son to the demon drink while his long-suffering wife supervises the selling of the family property. The painting is now in the Tate Britain section of the Tate Gallery.

Robert’s brother, Edward Henry Martineau (1825–1901), an architect based in London, is of direct relevance to Walsham. Richard, on buying the Lawn, acquired many acres of farmland together with the workers’ run-down cottages. He employed Edward Henry to design improved dwellings and the first double cottage was built on the Causeway opposite the church.

The cottage was finished in 1866, a year after Richard’s death. He did not attend St Mary’s, and is buried in the Unitarian graveyard at Palgrave. Richard’ s only son, John, inherited the estate aged 32. As a boy, he was deemed too delicate for the rigours of the typical public school and in 1849, aged 15 he was sent to be privately educated. His parents’ choice of tutor was unexpected for a boy from a prominent Unitarian family. John was sent to Eversley Rectory in Hampshire, the home of the Revd. Charles Kingsley, a staunch Anglican, then aged 30. He was engaged in publishing his first novel “Yeast”, a description of harsh rural conditions.

Kingsley and his wife had a great influence on John and he became a member of the Church of England, to his father’s disapproval. The conversion meant that, at 20, John was able to leave his uncongenial job in Whitbread’s counting house and go to Cambridge. While there he met the Revd. Frederick Denison Maurice (1805–72), an older friend of Kingsley’s, active in furthering what was known as Christian Socialism. In 1854 Maurice set up a Working Man’s College in Holborn, the first adult educational centre in the country. John Martineau joined the staff on a voluntary basis and helped when he could. He was also reading law in chambers nearby. By this time his father Richard had bought the Lawn, but John seldom visited Walsham.

In 1864 John married Mabel Adeane, a cousin of Frederic Leighton, the famous painter. Four years later Mabel asked her cousin to paint John’s portrait. Leighton, not short of commissions, told Mabel that he did not normally paint portraits, but he would make an exception as John was “a friend of Mr Kingsley’s”. Painted in London, the portrait is now at the Lawn. The family did not like the sombre canvas, but it reflects John’s known melancholy temperament. Leighton, later famous for his classic nudes, became Sir Frederic in 1886 and Lord Leighton in 1896, the year of his death.

Although John inherited the estate in 1865, it remained the residence of his mother Lucy, and he tended to avoid Walsham. He and Mabel travelled to Australia for John’s health, and on returning in June 1865 they lived mostly in London. Their first child, Violet, was born in September. In June 1870 they moved to Heckfield, Hampshire, only four miles from Charles Kingsley at Eversley. Once again Mabel moved in June and gave birth in September, this time a son, Maurice. John’s mentors, the Revds.Kingsley and Maurice, were the godparents. Presumably, had there been a second son, he would have been called Kingsley. By this time the author of ‘The Water Babies’ was a noted academic and important churchman, so that he was often away from Eversley. He wore himself out, dying in 1875 aged 56.

Back in Walsham, John became the ‘Patron of the Living’ with the right to appoint the vicar, and in 1878 he worked with a committee for the restoration of St Mary’s. Edward Henry Martineau, still based in London, was employed to improve the chancel, design the benches, and to open up the tower arch. A great deal of the present character of St Mary’s is a direct result of Edward Henry’s work. In 1883 John commissioned the nationally famous terracotta artist George Tinworth to make the present reredos of the Last Supper. In 1892 he installed the heating system, and in 1901 he gave two new bells and restored the bell-chamber.


Small line drawing showing a thickly bearded face of a maybe 50 year old man.In the village, John carried out an extensive building programme between 1879 and 1904 (see the Quarterly Review Number 24, January 2003) . The first group, at the bottom of the Causeway, has the simple non-Biblical inscription: ‘East, west, home is best’, but it had been such a disastrous year that John had considered: ’Afghan war, Zulu campaign, /Summer floods and autumn rain, / These of thee shall be the sign, /Eighteen hundred seventy nine’. The ‘New Vanity’ Cottages higher up the Causeway, built in 1899 have John’s features, still somewhat melancholy, carved over the central gable. At Eversley he built an almost identical group of cottages decorated with Kingsley’s likeness.

John’s mother died aged 85 in 1887, and is buried with her husband at Palgrave. Even after her death, John was still reluctant to visit Walsham, and Mabel much preferred to stay at Eversley. She died of pneumonia in the winter of 1894 aged 53, and John never recovered from his loss.

At Walsham John decided to build a room for parish meetings (see again the Quarterly Review Number 24 January 2003). Since that article’s publication, an inscription on the verandah at the back has been deciphered and restored. It comes from 1 John ch. 3 v.18: ‘Little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and truth’. The building was designed by dependable Edward Henry Martineau, but it was his last work. He died at 77, and the Priory Room was completed after his death, in 1902. There is an inscription in his memory on the south wall.

Even after Edward Henry’s death John found another project, this time extending the l5th century Priory itself. The soaring timbered gable, looking so medieval, is pastiche. The architect is unknown, but carved on the lower oakwork is: ’19 JM 04’. John had presented the building to the diocese, and it was intended as a vicarage. Carved alongside John’s initials is ‘Via Crucis, Via Lucis’ (The way of the cross is the way of light) . This is surprising for a man who, having imbibed Kingsley’s prejudice against Rome, railed against the ‘mass of superstition’ which he believed ruled the medieval church. He was perhaps becoming more tolerant. He died a few days after his 76th birthday in 1910, and is buried with Mabel at Eversley, adjacent to Kingsley’s grave.

Most of the Walsham Martineau cottages have the initials ‘ JM’. They also bear a carving of a bird. This is a martin from the old family crest. In the middle ages it was thought that the martin could not land and therefore had no feet, only tufts of feathers. The Martineaus, on the contrary, have their feet firmly on the ground in Walsham. The line has followed from the first Richard who settled here in 1853, through John, Maurice, John (Jack) and so again to Richard. John had a surprisingly modern approach to conservation. In 1888 he wrote ‘Think what East Anglia would be like if every stick of hedgerow timber were cut down, and the keen March winds swept westward over plains as bare and more flat and featureless than those of Northern France’. To his fellow landowners he said ‘ let the rent come down, not the trees’. With his enlightened attitude to modern conservation, together with his many charitable works, Richard is following in his great-grandfather’s footsteps.

Brian Turner
Works consulted
  1. Barber, R. Something to Party
  2. About Walsham, 2003
  3. Frost, S.& McLaughlin, A.The Martineau Cottages Walsham, 2003
  4. Martineau, R. The Martineaus of Walsham (unpublished) 2003
  5. Turner, J. The New Priory Room Walsham, 2003

Walsham Census for 1891

Fred Brooks of Redgrave has kindly typed up, indexed and analysed the Walsham Census for 1891 enabling us to easily find the following information:

Total population 1034 (502 males and 532 females)

Persons under 16 total 400 (198 males and 202 females)

Persons over 60 total 122 (60 males and 62 females)

The most common male name was William (54) and George was next common (47)

The most common female name was Mary (40) and Sarah was the next common (37)

The oldest male was 84 and the oldest female 91

One family had a total of 9 children, one family had 8 children and 7 families each had 7 children.

It would be interesting to compare the above information with similar for 2003. Any offers?

Occupations of the people probably provide the best insight into village life in 1891.

22 men described themselves as farmers and 146 as agricultural labourers. Other agricultural occupations were farm steward, farm bailiff and gamekeeper (William Pollard) and dairymaid (his wife Eliza). There was still a shepherd and a sherman (sheep shearer).

Many were employed looking after horses including groom, stable boy, coachman, harness maker and saddler (a female, Rachel Thurmott). There were 3 wheelwrights and 5 blacksmiths (occupations not premises) but there were signs that dependency on horses was coming to an end with a steam thresher, an engineer and a traction engine driver.

There were 2 millers, 2 corn merchants, a maltster, a corn chandler, a corn and meal dealer and a flour seller. William Clamp was the grocer and draper, Thomas Colson a woollen draper/tailor plus 5 other tailors and a tailoress. Several women described themselves as dressmakers and one as a seamstress. George Bull was the fishmonger, Alfred Cawston the butcher and John Kenny the baker. There was a watchmaker and a pharmacist/chemist. Alcohol was readily available with a publican, a licensed victualler, an innkeeper and a wine merchant but there was also a tea agent.

Boot and shoe making occupied 2 people. Frederick McNaughton was at The Beeches as a physician/surgeon. Charles Gordon was the vicar.

The building trade was well represented with 8 carpenters, bricklayers, thatchers (one of whom was also the rat catcher). There were painters, plumbers, glaziers and decorators. Harry Nunn described himself as a builder/house painter/blacksmith.

George Hayward was the parish clerk and James Firman the carrier with his son Eldred as his assistant. There were apprentices in many trades. There were 2 solicitors, an auctioneer/valuer and surveyor (Isaac Clarke), a police constable, gardeners, a dealer, a hostler and a hawker. Just a few people were said to be ‘on the parish’ (paupers).

The occupations for women included servant, housekeeper, charwoman, cook, housemaid, barmaid, companion, teacher and governess. There were 2 nurses and a matron of a cottage home for children.

The most intriguing entry of all was that of a razor grinder from Norwich living with his wife and 4 children in tents in Fishpond Lane.

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