Nesbit Josiah Willoughby.

A name prevalent in the Bazalgette family is Willoughby. In fact it is one of my middle names. I received it in honour of my uncle, Ian Willoughby Bazalgette, RAF VC DFC. The first Bazalgette to bear the name was my great-great uncle, Willoughby Bazalgette (1857-1900) who was one of the sons of my great-great-grandfather Sir Joseph William Bazalgette (1819-1891) the civil engineer.

I have two quite separate theories on how the name entered the family. The first, and to my mind the most likely, is this: Sir Joseph’s father, also Joseph William, served in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars. The colourful Sir Nesbit Josiah Willoughby, the ‘Hero of Mauritius’ also did so, with distinction (coupled with controversy). Naval records show that they never simultaneously served on the same ships, although they were both granted pensions on the same day – 2 December 1815 – and both at times served under Sir Josias Rowley. However, as the war progressed there were increasingly larger numbers of officers who fervently embraced Christianity, probably as a result of their war experiences. Their evangelism was sneered at by many and they were given the slightly derogatory name of ‘Blue Lights’. Prominent amongst them was Admiral James ‘Dismal Jimmy’ Gambier. Joseph William was an admirer of Gambier and they were members of the same benevolent societies. These were (amongst others) the Naval and Military Bible Society, of which Joseph was appointed an honorary secretary, the Sailors’ Home Society, the British and Foreign Sailors’ Society (of which Elizabeth Fry was a founder member), the London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews, the Seaman’s Floating Church, the Royal Naval Female School and the Association for the Suppression of Duelling. Newspaper reports show that Admiral Willoughby and Joseph both attended a same meeting of this last society. So Joseph knew and esteemed, and was apparently esteemed by, many of the most senior naval officers of the time. Willoughby had also embraced evangelism and produced at his own expense a religious tract (Extracts from Holy Writ, and various authors, intended as helps to meditation and prayer: by Sir N.J. Willoughby).

So here we have Joseph and Willoughby sharing common beliefs and moving in the same circles. What is significant is that Joseph believed in honouring those he admired by naming his children after them. Joseph named his next son, born on the 7th April 1829, Henry Gambier Bazalgette, after Admiral Gambier. The child was christened at Marylebone Church on the 18th July. The boy died before he was two, and was buried in Paddington Church Cemetery on January 25th, 1830. Joseph had no further surviving sons but it is quite likely that he wanted to honour Willoughby in the same way. Perhaps it was his dying wish that his son Joseph would name one of his sons after the great man. That is one theory.

The other is a possible family connection between my family and the Willoughbys. I remember my grandmother saying that is was an Irish name – it is not, since they are a Nottinghamshire family, but the supposed relationship comes from the line of my great-great-grandmother Maria Kough, wife of Sir Joseph Bazalgette, who was herself Irish. Her line can be traced back to Goff and Whalley, two of the ‘regicides’ responsible for the signing of Charles I’s death warrant, who were cousins of Oliver Cromwell. Henry Whalley is supposed to have married in c.1439 Dorothy, the daughter of Sir Hugh Willoughby and his second wife Margaret Freville. Another source, which looks more reliable, says that Dorothy married Thomas Thurland.  The Visitations of the County of Nottingham do however show a family connection between the Lords of Willoughby and the Whalley family.

Whether my great great grandmother Maria was aware of possible Willoughby ancestors is not clear but it seems a little tenuous to suppose that she named one of her sons Willoughby on that basis. Of course it may have been on a whim – who knows?

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I can’t remember where I got this story, but families are like that.  There can be a thread of consciousness or myth which gets handed down, almost floating through the ether I suppose.  One of these stories is that my gggggfr Louis Bazalgette travelled to America  with Lafayette, fought at the battle of Brandywine, established a string of fur-trading posts, married the daughter of a fur merchant in New York and then moved to London.  Oh yes, and he found the time to be a privateer as well.   I have made it very clear in my book that this is impossible, but there are still members of my family who believe this story.

Another story – and this is the one I am focusing on here – was that ‘someone’ was viewing the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle and came across a sword which had been presented to the king by a Mr. Bazalgette ‘to a great traveller from a great traveller’.  I have been pursuing this story for over twenty years, though not full-time I hasten to add.  I asked the Royal Archives some years ago but they said they could find nothing about it.

The British Newspaper Archive has been turning up some little gems recently in response to my searches.  Imagine my surprise to find this snippet in the Nottingham Evening Post for Wednesday 11 July 1900:
Her Majesty has at Windsor a small collection of curios, reminiscent of former Chinese wars. There a suit of Chinese armour, comprising cuirass of lacquered steel, a half-mask with gilt teeth, and metal coverings for the arms with gilt ornaments. There is also ancient knife, the ivory handle of which is carved into the figure of a Chinaman, and a one-edged dagger, with an engraved wooden scabbard. Greater immediate interest attaches to a similar dagger of damascened steel, with the horn handle weighted with lead. This was  wrested from a Chinaman in a murderous struggle by Mr. Bazalgette, who presented it to George III in 1807. There is a group comprising javelin, a matchsocket, a specimen of a matchlock with tripod gun, a campanular wall piece, archaic iron cannon, and a brass rocket-tube, all of which were taken from the Chinese at Szkee in 1842.
The obvious family member who qualifies is Louis’ grandson George, who was a Royal Marine and commanded the British garrison during the Pig War.  The problem with George is that he wasn’t born until 1829 and didn’t serve in the Chinese wars until 1857.

Could the ‘murderous’ Chinaman have been in England and the struggler have been Louis the tailor?  He is the only member of the family who would have been sufficiently adult at the time.  And unless George III was somehow involved why would the dagger have been presented to him?  Why do we have no more information about this murderous struggle?

This looks like a job for Lucy Worsley!

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Louis Bazalgette’s Coffin Plate


Louis was buried in the crypt of Marylebone Church.  In the 1980’s the crypt was cleared to make way for a healing centre and all of the remains were removed and re-interred in a mass grave at Brookwood Cemetery.  The coffin plate shown above (I must find out how to merge the two pictures into one) was collected and put into the keeping of the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication at Reading University.  The hand engraving of these plates was of superb quality and was therefore of considerable interest to them.  

On 5 December 1996, we went to Reading University and met with Bryony Newhouse, who had written a dissertation on the plates, and her Head of Department, Michael Twyman.  They presented us with the Bazalgette coffin plates.  There were ten plates altogether: four brass plates from the coffins of Louis, his wife Frances and two of their children, Augustus and Caroline, two medium-sized lead breast plates (for Frances and Caroline) and four small blacked lead foot-plates, which had been attached to the outer coffins. 

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My great-grandfather and his dog

My great-grandfather, Charles Norman Bazalgette, Q.C., had, it appears, a Chinese terrier and it tended to get loose.  The following rather amusing story was published in the Wandsworth And Battersea District Times, on October 30, 1886.   Note the typical barrister’s trick that Norman tried in order to throw a spanner (or should that be a spaniel?) in the works.

Mr. Norman Bazalgette, barrister, residing at Sunnyside, Wimbledon, was summoned for allowing a dog to be at large not under control.   The defendant said he wished to hear the evidence of the police.   Police-constable 235 V deposed that on the 30th ult. he saw a Chinese terrier in the Ridgeway-road.    He was unable to seize the dog, but he followed it to the defendant’s house.   He saw the defendant, who said it was a troublesome dog to keep in.   The dog which was about 100 yards from the house was not muzzled nor led.   In answer to questions the constable said he was especially employed to look after dogs.   He was sure it was the defendant’s dog.  There were other Chinese terriers in the same road.   The defendant said he had three dogs in the court, and he wished the constable to pick out the one belonging to  him (the defendant).   At the request of the magistrate the three dogs were brought into the court.   Mr. Bazalgette had in the meantime withdrawn to prevent his own dog recognising him.   All the dogs were muzzled and held together.   The constable picked out the centre dog, and the other two were then removed from the court.    Mr. Bazalgette returned and said the constable had picked out the right dog.   He then stated that the three dogs were so like one another that he thought it might be a case of suspicion.    When the order was made it was dead letter in Wimbledon, as the police did not enforce it for six weeks.   Suddenly an order came to enforce it, and the police very fairly gave a caution.   He procured a muzzle, and gave instructions to his servants to use it.   He referred to the third section of the Act which stated that any person in contravention of the order was liable.   It could not be said that he had contravened the order when he had done everything to carry it out.   Mr. Bennett said the dog was out, and there was a contravention of the order.   There were many cases in which the owners were blameless and a small fine was only imposed. — Fined 2s. with 2s. costs.


Charles Norman

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Prinny’s Tailor

Many thanks to Kelly McDonald for this blog in Two Teens in the Time of Austen

Two Teens in the Time of Austen

Charlotte Frost (you will find fascinating items via her Twitter feed!) mentioned to me a wonderful WordPress blog on Louis Bazalgette (1750-1830), tailor to George The Prince of Wales.

additional items to peruse on the same subject:

Author Charles Bazalgette has been researching his ancestor for over fifteen years – turning up (among other items) original bank records — alas: with Coutts, rather than Goslings & Sharpe.


as a P.S., you can read Charles Bazalgette’s review of Charlotte Frost’s biography of Sir William Knighton — who was uncle to Smith&Gosling in-laws Richard Seymour (husband to Fanny Smith) and Frances Seymour (wife to Spencer Smith).

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Just about done with importing my blog from Posterous and fiddling with the setup in the rather unfamiliar environment of WordPress.  More tweaking to follow no doubt.

So if you have found your way here – Welcome.  Please add a comment of any sort to show you have visited.  And thanks for dropping by!

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La Pomme Pourrié or the Rogue Researcher

By this time two years ago my biography of Louis Bazalgette was almost complete, but I decided to take the step of employing a researcher in the south of France to see if any more details of his early life could be discovered.  What I was particularly interested in was the location of the Bazalgette house in Ispagnac and whether it was still in existence, and I thought that there was a good chance of that.  The other information I thought would be useful was Louis’ apprenticeship records.

I asked a genealogist friend in Lozère to recommend someone suitable and I was given the name of a Madame R., whose name I will not reveal here for reasons which will become obvious shortly.   When I contacted this lady she accepted my commission ‘avec beaucoup de plaisir’  and added ‘Voilà je pense que je suis assez qualifié pour mener à bien cette étude que vous me confiez.’  She asked for €200 up front, and having employed a French researcher before I knew they were not cheap.

Madame R. appeared keen, chatty and energetic.  By the end of June she had returned from holiday and was ready to start work.  By the end of September 2011 I had received various excuses but no information.  In October she said that her father had had an operation but that she had ‘découvert beaucoup de choses’ but still had much work to do.  I settled down to wait again, fuelled by anticipation.  The next response was that she herself had been ill, so I was sympathetic.  I did however request a progress report which was not forthcoming.  This should have started alarm bells ringing, and it did, but faintly.  I also asked French friends to intervene in case she really was very sick and they agreed to talk to her.  All they got from her was an anecdote and the observation that the family history so far collected was inaccurate.  The story she told my friends was that there were two Claude Bazalgettes who were cousins and who lived in adjacent houses.  One was a tailor and one a bootmaker (cordonnier).  One of them died and the other married his widow and knocked the two houses into one.  She never shared this information with me directly.  However, this told me that she had identified the Bazalgette house and done a lot of genealogical research, which I hadn’t asked for.

I made repeated requests for the results of her research so far and she said she had sent it, but I received nothing, and my emails asking for it to be sent again were ignored.  I continued to wait and to send periodic requests until finally I emailed the president of the local genealogical society who told me that she was no longer a member, since she had mounted a damaging campaign against the members for doing ‘professional’ work, and that they had parted on very bad terms.  This told me that something was badly wrong, and that her ignoring my emails was more than absent-mindedness.

The last email I sent her said simply that I was utterly disgusted with her lack of professionalism, and that she would accept €200 in good faith and give me nothing in return.  Needless to say this email was also ignored.

The most frustrating thing about this awful two-year-long saga is that I know she has done the research but will never share it with me.   It isn’t worth trying to set the law on her because this would be prohibitively expensive and produce no results.  This betrayal of trust has hurt me a lot, reduced my wish to blog and generally soured the project for me.

So, my friends, beware of the rotten apple.  I should say that I have employed researchers in several countries and found them exemplary in their dealings.  It was my misfortune to employ a piece of work like Mme. R.  I frequently lie awake in the middle of the night, venting my spleen at this woman, and hoping that some miracle will occur, and that she will suddenly supply me with fulsome information, but I know now that this will never happen.  I am sorry to have to inflict this on my reader, but it made me feel a little better to write it.  Perhaps now I can put this behind me….

A bientôt, mes amis!

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