A NEWSLETTER FOR EVERYBODY WITH AN INTEREST IN THE EMPSON FAMILY NAME

ISSUE No. 7                                                                                                       MAY 2004

Empsonian Logic*

 

Love Across the Seas

 

Brad Leonard & Dick Empson

 

Brad and Sue Leonard from Colorado, USA came to visit the Empsonian Logic* editorial suite during a soggy Birmingham late summer in 2002. They wanted to track down what traces might still be found of Brad’s great-great-grandparents Empson, his great-great-grandfather Charles Regester and his family who had moved to the city about 1871 from Sheffield in Yorkshire.  Charles was a silver chaser, and Birmingham, then as now, was a great centre of that trade in England.  Charles’ son Ernest, who was Brad’s great grandfather, had been born in Sheffield in 1861, the eldest of (eventually) 11 siblings, and had learned the silver chasing trade in Birmingham.

 

Ernest had passed down his mathematics book to Brad.  That book listed his address at age 12 as Bull Street in Harborne.  We went over to Harborne, and there indeed was the house, with four rooms into which Charles’ growing family had squeezed.  But that marked our only success in finding the places of abode of Brad’s forebears in Birmingham.

 

 

This photograph was taken some months after Brad’s visit. Do not be fooled by the apparently generous size of the house, the ‘front’ door you see actually gives onto a passage from which two homes, left and right of the door open off. Consider the make up of the family detailed in the census return below and speculate how they all fitted into the two rooms you see and the two rooms behind.  Nevertheless, the photograph probably underlines the better than average economic status of the Regesters in a town where most working people were desperately poor. Harborne was opening up as a suburb aided by the Harborne Railway, which conveniently afforded direct access to the Jewellery Quarter.

For readers of this newsletter, however, the real story starts with one Sarah Empson three years younger than Ernest who worked in her father William’s printing business in Icknield Street near Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.  The actual site of their home and business probably now lies beneath a dual carriageway (the nearest modern business to it being gloriously named The Birmingham Stopper Company).  Standing here, I was touched to realize that only a hundred yards away and certainly directly within sight of the erstwhile print shop is the gravesite of another large Birmingham family – Donald Empson’s predecessors.  While this family also had a business in the Jewellery Quarter – Empson & Co. – I do not believe there was any connection between them.

 

Sarah & Ernest – The Story Begins

 

At some point in the 1870’s, Sarah Lillia Empson (see photograph below), met Ernest William Regester, probably while she was working in the print shop and he was an apprentice in the Jewellery Quarter.  One can only speculate on the first meeting and eventual courtship.  But in 1881, Charles Regester and his family including Ernest moved back to Sheffield; and in late August of that year, Charles caught a steamship to New York arriving September 9, 1881.  On September 14, 1881, he began work as a silver chaser for Gorham Manufacturing Company in Providence, Rhode Island, at that time a centre of America’s jewellery manufacture.  One suspects that Gorham recruited him away from England with the assistance of relatives.  Some of his distant Regester cousins had already arrived in America by 1881 and were also working in jewellery manufacture. (It's 'jewelry' in America).

 

Young Ernest soon followed to America.  He started working for Gorham on May 8, 1882, for $12 a week.  Sarah remained in Birmingham, and we assume the two continued a courtship by correspondence, although no letters have survived.  Sarah’s father died in December 1881, leaving a wife, Mary, and four children:  Sarah, Emma, Nellie, and Edith.  Sarah was no stranger to death in the family.  Her mother, Sarah Shaw Empson, had died in 1871, and her father had subsequently married Sarah Shaw’s cousin, Mary Shaw.  Sarah’s younger brother William also died in 1881.  So by 1882, Sarah was an orphan living with her stepmother and three sisters, probably in very modest economic circumstances.

Young Ernest managed to set aside savings from his princely salary, which had risen to $16 a week by 1885, and later that year sent for Sarah, who joined him in Providence, Rhode Island, where they were married December 29, 1885.

 

Ernest and Sarah had four children:  Lillia, born August 31, 1886; Edith Ann, born November 14, 1889; Lawrence, born January 31, 1893; and Marion, born November 13, 1896.  Tragedy again struck the family when Sarah died November 19, 1898.  Ernest never remarried, but daughters Lillia and Edith both remained in his home even after they married.  Marion went to live with one of Ernest’s sisters and her husband in California, where she married one of Hollywood’s music industry pioneers, Morse Preeman.

 

Brad remembers that Edith continued to correspond with relatives back in Birmingham, presumably her aunts Emma, Nellie, and Edith Empson, until her death in 1954.  Unfortunately, none of the correspondence was saved, and so contact with the Empson side of the family was lost.

 

The Regesters thrived in America.  Ernest became one of Gorham’s leading silver chasers.  The silver chasing room at Gorham was largely made up of Englishmen, including several of Charles’ sons, and was called, in the best traditions of British humor, the ‘House of Lords’.  In 2001, a collection of their work was assembled and exhibited and now resides in Las Vegas, Nevada.

 

Charles retired in 1908 and thereafter divided his time among daughters and their families in Rhode Island and California until his death in 1922.  Ernest retired from Gorham in 1928 and died in 1930.  As with many English, they had hobbies.  Charles had a small greenhouse and won prizes in Providence flower shows.  Ernest was a painter and left many paintings that are still in the family.

 

Brad would like to learn more of his Empson ancestors.  My efforts to help Brad found that Sarah Lillia Empson’s father was William Thomas Empson, born about 1834, and that William Thomas’ father’s name was also William.  William Thomas Empson married the widowed Sarah Shaw Cook September 22, 1861 in St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church, Aston, Warwick.  But so far, I’ve not been able to connect William Thomas and William back to any other known Empson roots.

 

The Empson Family in Birmingham 

 

The family from which Sarah came is one of about four groups living in Birmingham from the 1800s, it is likely that all of these moved to the city at a time when Birmingham’s population was rapidly increasing with people drawn to live and work in the ‘City of a Thousand Trades’. Follow-up work in Birmingham Central Library and other sources has enabled the bare bones of this branch to be established.

 

 

This is a picture of a copper piece chased by Ernest, which comes from Brad’s collection. Sadly he does not possess any of the silver items, only those in copper and bronze, but particularly likes this one because he feels that it reflects the sense of humour Ernest undoubtedly possessed. Brad suggests the subject was either modelled on the Regester side of the family or on a contemporary resident of Birmingham!

The known story begins with William Empson who married Ann Willson on 14th December 1800 at St Pancras in London. Two sons have been identified; James 1801 – 1876 who was born and died in Birmingham and married Sarah J. This couple had four daughters; Fanny, Clara (who married a Mr. Smith), Emma Elizabeth baptized in St Phillips, Birmingham on 16th March 1841 (who married a Mr. Lewis) and Maria Jane baptized in St Phillips, Birmingham 2nd September 1844 (who married a Mr. Reynolds). The second son was William Thomas Snr. who was born in Somers Town, London, (baptized 2nd May in St Pancras), he married Sophia - born in 1809 and at his death (14th March 1860), he was living at back-of 64 Graham Street in Birmingham. While he is described as a Shoemaker, the address he occupied, which probably consisted of two small rooms sharing a communal washhouse and privies with many other families, suggests that he was not particularly well off. 

 

 

This is approximately the view that would have been had from the print shop - probably located where the greenery marks the central reservation of Icknield Street, now a busy dual carriageway. Ahead is Warstone Lane Cemetery (where Don’s forebears are buried). To the right is Birmingham’s famous Mint and Hingeston Street, another address associated with the Empson family, is behind the photographer’s right shoulder.

 

This couple had five children of which William Thomas Jnr. (Sarah’s father) was probably the eldest. He was described as a Lithographic Printer born 1836 who died 3rd November 1881, an event which probably precipitated Sarah’s emigration. Given his father’s apparently modest circumstances it is intriguing to know how William was able to accumulate the resources to establish his printing business.  His sister, Ann Sophia was born in 1838 and died on 18th August 1901. It her will and that of her younger brother, John that has enabled the family story to be assembled.

 

Alfred was born in December 1840, he married Sarah Rigby on 16th October 1859 and the couple subsequently adopted Alfred Turner. When Alfred died Sarah married Alfred Jordan. John Frederick (1844 – 20th April 1896) was next, he married Mary Ann Adams (1840 – 12th March 1929) and also left a comprehensive will. This couple adopted two daughters, Alice and Lizzie Humphries about whom nothing is presently known. Finally Ann was born but thus far no further details have been traced. William Thomas Junior and his first wife Sarah Shaw had six children. Ann Sophia baptized 30th December 1867, in Aston ‘juxta’ Birmingham. She died in March 1877. Sarah Lillia came next followed by Emma in 1867 and then Ellen who was born 1st January 1868 in Hingeston Street, close to where the print shop was located in Icknield Street. Edith Mary arrived on 6th July 1874 born at 23 Tenby Street in Birmingham. She married Arthur Thomas Dugmore on 2nd June 1902 at Christ Church, Summerfield in Birmingham then a rapidly expanding middle-class suburb of the city. Finally William Alfred born 1st June 1878 at 2 Prescott Street, Birmingham who died less than four years later on 11th March 1882 at 196 Icknield Street, shortly before Sarah went to marry Ernest.

 

 

 

It was not appreciated during our visit, but in the other of Birmingham’s large Victorian cemeteries situated 200 yards or so further on along Icknield Street, was the crowded burial place of John Empson, his wife Mary Ann, and Ann Sophia Empson, respectively brother and sister of Ernest’s eventual father-in-law. They are in good company however; ‘Key Hill’ Cemetery is the last resting place of a dynastic Birmingham politician - Joseph Chamberlain and his family.

This couple had five children of which William Thomas Jnr. (Sarah’s father) was probably the eldest. He was described as a Lithographic Printer born 1836 who died 3rd November 1881, an event which probably precipitated Sarah’s emigration. Given his father’s apparently modest circumstances it is intriguing to know how William was able to accumulate the resources to establish his printing business.  His sister, Ann Sophia was born in 1838 and died on 18th August 1901. It her will and that of her younger brother, John that has enabled the family story to be assembled.

 

The Two Families in 1881

 

On Sunday 3rd April 1881, conveniently just before the Regesters set out for America, a census was taken in the United Kingdom. This provides us with a useful snapshot of our two principal families at that time.

 

The Regester Family

                                               

181 Alexandra Road, Heely, Sheffield, Yorks.

 

Charles*

Head

Silver Chaser

40

Harriet*

Wife

 

38

Ernest W.*

Son

Silver Chaser

20

Joseph H.*

Son

Clerk in Electro Plating Works

18

Arthur

Son

Saw Smith

16

Christiana

Dau

 

14

Clara

Dau

Scholar

12

Charles

Son

Scholar

10

Mona

Dau

Scholar

7

Lilly

Dau

Scholar

5

Horace

Son

 

3

Douglas

Son

 

1

 

* All shown as born in Heely.

 

The Empson Family

 

197 Icknield Street, B’ham, Warwicks.

 

William*

Head

Litho Printer

45

Mary (a)

Wife

 

35

Sarah*

Dau

Printer

17

Emma*

Dau

Warehouse Girl

14

Nellie*

Dau

Scholar

12

Edith*

Dau

Scholar

6

William*

Son

 

2

Mary (Shaw) (b)

Niece

Press Girl

18

 

* All shown as born in Birmingham

(a)  Born Alford, Lincolnshire

(b)  Born Brinker, Brecknock, Wales

Mary Shaw was destined to become William’s second wife.

 

Brad Leonard can be contacted at <brad.leonard@att.net>

            Both he and I would be very pleased to hear from anybody who can contribute to this story                                   

About Empsonian Logic*

 

Few families can be said to have coined a word. Ours is to be found in the Shorter English Dictionary – “Adjective: Resembling of characteristic of the logic of Sir William Empson (1906 – 84) English poet & critic”. It quotes from the Times Literary Supplement – “Sonnets marked by a somewhat Empsonian logic”. So a title for this newsletter has suggested itself.

 

Dick Empson, 24 Robin Hood Lane, Hall Green, Birmingham, B28 0LN

 

Web site: <www.empson.info>

Email: <dick@empson.info>

Telephone: (0121)-745-5397

May 2004