A Quiet By-Lane of the Huguenot Story A Refugee Family named Roussel and their descendants by J. Gilbert Wiblin Read before the Huguenot Society of London, January 14, 1931
It is with considerable diffidence that I invite the attention of this distinguished assembly of representatives of many of the more notable Huguenot families to the annals of a comparatively humble house; still the proverbially modest violet may help in the making of a garden as well as the lordly arum lily or standard rose, and the shaded by-lane may have its charms as well as the sun drenched main road.
Roussel appears to be a name by no means uncommon, and it figures in the records of Huguenot immigration at least from the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day (1572): but it was the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes which drove to this country the family with whose story we are concerned this evening.
Fragments of that story have already appeared in print, but I regret to say that no published reference to them which I have found so far is impeccable; I hasten to add, however, that I make no extravagant claims in that respect for the present essay: I have aimed at the verification of details as completely as I could, but am still open to correction as new light comes ever from old records.
In his “Lists of Foreign Protestants and Aliens resident in England…”, published by Camden Society in 1862, William Durrant Cooper gives particulars of this family, stated to be derived from Joseph Gwilt, Esq., F.S.A. They are however incorrect in certain details, notably in making Isaac Roussel the ancestor of the English descendants. Samuel Smiles, in “The Huguenots, their settlements, churches, and industries in England and Ireland” (1867), also mentions Isaac Roussel as the head of the family, though not explicitly as its progenitor. I have found no evidence that either of these writers obtained their information directly from any Roussel descendant. But about this time the family story began to be exploited from within.
One of its daughters, Esther Beuzeville, who married firstly the Rev. James Philip Hewlett and secondly William Copley, in “Historical Tales for Young Protestants”, published by the Religious Tract Society in 1857, narrated one incident in the flight of her ancestors, without, however, giving any of the names. From this work it was copied by the Rev. David Carnegie Agnew into the first edition of his “Protestant Exiles from France”, which was issued in 1866; an for four years later the same story reappeared in Miss Emily Sarah Holt’s “Sister Rose: or Saint Bartholomew’s Eve”. Here, however, the authoress took – – quite frankly – one liberty with the facts, making the heroine bring a younger sister and brother to England instead of two brothers; and having no reason to do otherwise – assuming that she culled the incident from one or both of these published sources – she dated it a century early, and thus gave it a much more suitable setting (for her purpose) than it actually had. As Miss Holt’s objective was propaganda rather than history, so much artistic license may well be allowed her.
Meanwhile, the Rev. James Philip Hewlett, Esther Hewlett’s eldest son, had compiled a genealogical table of the family, and printed it for private circulation. A copy in the Roussel dossier in Mr. Henry Wagner’s collection at the French Hospital bears the following MS. note signed by the author:- “The above was carefully compiled in 1866 from original documents and strictly verified in every particular. As it was intended for the use of my own children it does not extend to other living branches of the several families.” This first reduction to print of the family history was thus simultaneous with Agnew’s first vague record of its story, and during the next few years the two compilers evidently corresponded; for in a much enlarged and corrected second edition of his work which Agnew published in 1871, the story is given more fully, with the true names, and subsequent detail about the family, for all of which acknowledgment to the Rev. J.P. Hewlett is duly given. Even so, however, the account was far from complete.
Just what were the documents on which Mr. Hewlett based his table I have been unable to discover, apart from one which is now in the possession of one of his grandsons; but there was one important MS. extant in another branch of the family which Mr. Hewlett was clearly ignorant, though curiously enough a copy of it in his mother’s handwriting has recently come to light. (She had died 15 years before he compiled his genealogy.) This MS., which is now in the possession of a member of the senior branch of the family, who has kindly allowed me to make full use of it, is a small note-book of 48 leaves, 5 and a quarter by 3 and a half, bound in black shagreen – a type of binding which, an expert tells me, was much in vogue round about 1700. The first 39 pages contain entries in French, and pages 40 to 74 contain a translation in a much later hand. Pages 1-27 contain entries of births, marriages, and deaths during the seventeenth century, from 1599 to 1691, which seem to have been copied from some official or other register; on page 28 is a signed statement, of which the following is a translation:-
England On Wednesday 29th July new style 1699 I disembarked in England having embarked the Monday previous at midnight and the Friday at 5 o’clock in the evening I arrived at London, having left Rouen the Wednesday or Thursday before…..(signed) .Isaac Roussel.
The next page records his marriage with Elizabeth Seheult at the Church of the Savoy in 1701, and the births of their children follow.
All the main French entries are in the same hand as the signature on p.28, which after some search I was able to compare and identify with Isaac Roussel’s signature on the allegation for his marriage, for which he procured a licence from the Archbishop. It seems clear, then, that Isaac, who was the eldest son and the last to leave France, before quitting the old home copied into his note-book these records of the family to take with him into the land of exile.
Unfortunately for us, Isaac Roussel confined his subsequent recording to his own offspring; and except for one or two valuable annotations added in another hand, his note-book tells us nothing of the rest of the refugees beyond their births. It is, indeed, remarkable that, although his mother, sister, and three brothers had reached England some years before him, Isaac makes no mention of re-joining them in the above-quoted memorandum of his own arrival in this country.
A record of the births of the children of Francis Roussel, Isaac’s youngest brother, has come down to us on what was evidently a fly-leaf of a folio Bible; this was undoubtedly used by the Rev. J.P. Hewlett II for his genealogy, and from other early details which he gives – and omits – I conjecture that Francis had copied on to the adjacent leaf, now separated from its companion if not lost, the entries concerning his brothers and sister, parents and grand-parents, which appear in Isaac’s note-book. With these, but without the rest of Isaac’s record, the few omission and errors of Mr. Hewlett’s table are entirely explainable.
Apart from pure genealogy, the story of the family flight and settlement in England is largely traditional, and does not seem to have been committed to writing until a century or less ago. Some of it is contained in letters written about 1860 by my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Griffith Hewlett, which are now in my sister’s possession; my third cousin, Miss Emma Mary Byles, used other archives preserved in her branch for a brochure which she wrote for her nephews and nieces a few years ago, and on which she has kindly allowed me to draw for this paper. For the rest, personal research at Somerset House, and in the registers of several Oxford parishes and notably St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields, has supplied me with many important links; but there is still much to be elucidated, and I am not likely to exhaust this hobby of my scanty leisure for a long time yet.
The earliest record that we have of our Huguenot ancestors tells that in 1599, on the 3rd of October Laurens Roussel the son of Peter was born at 6 o’clock in the morning, baptised at Quillrbeuf by M. Claude Pincheron minister and had for godfather Mr. George Roussel, uncle of the said Peter and for godmother Marie Belleau his maternal grandmother. In the next 22 years the births of seven more children of Peter Roussel are recorded, most of whom were baptised at Pont-audemer, where they would all seem to have been born; the first four were christened by Mr. Pincheron, who is first described as `minister of Quillebeuf’ and afterwards (when officiating at Pont-audemer) a `minister of this church’. The two places are about 9 miles part, and there would seem at this period to have been a close connection between those of the reformed faith living at both of them. Apparently Quillebeuf had a Protestant church rather earlier than Pont-audemer; but we could find no trace of one, past or present, at either place when on holiday last summer.
Who or what Pierre Roussel was we do not know. The Rev. J.P. Hewlett II states at the head of his genealogy that “Gerard and Arnaud Roussel were intimate friends of Farel and Briconnet, the celebrated French Reformers. Early in the fifteenth [Sic: an obvious slip for sixteenth] century Farel and the two Roussels were spiritual instructors of Margaret of Valois, afterwards Queen of Navarre…..From one of the brothers Roussel (it is uncertain which) descended the head of this genealogy”: [Pierre’s name then follows]. This last statement must be regarded as inadmissible in view of the fact that Gerard Roussel as a young man took Roman Catholic orders, and although he embraced the reformed doctrines does not appear ever to have actually broken away from nominal adhesion to the old church, which he rather aimed at reforming from within. There is certainly no evidence that he followed Lutheran example to the extent of marrying. We may therefore, I think, eliminate him as a possible ancestor. As to his brother Arnaud, we know very little about him beyond the fact of his existence and association with Gerard in advocating reformed tenets – apparently as a layman; he may have been an ancestor of our family, but the name is a fairly common one, and in the absence of any positive evidence I feel that a sentimental desire to be linked with the great names must no usurp the function of a critical sense of historical accuracy.
In Mr. Hewlett’s table the name of Peter Roussel’s wife is given as “(Mary) Belleau”; this would seem to follow naturally from the statement that the young Lawrence’s godmother was “Marie Belleau his maternal grandmother”. But a study of the fuller record of Isaac Roussel’s notebook reveals the interesting fact that godmothers were almost invariably described under their maiden surnames, often with the addition of “wife of Mr. So-and-so [a different surname]”. Thus the godmother of Peter’s son Peter, born in 1604 is described as his maternal aunt, Marie Malefrein, wife of Mr. Abraham Duval; and the godmother of his brother Daniel, born 2 and a quarter years later, as his maternal aunt, Marie Malefrein, wife of Francis Petit – she had clearly been widowed and remarried in the interval. The godfather to a sister was her maternal uncle, James Malefrein. Finally, when the Lawrence of our first record presented his parents with a grandchild, he described her godmother as ” Madeline Malefrein my mother”. This then was the name of Peter Roussel’s wife, and the Mary Belleau of the first entry is the maiden name of a Madame Malefrein, Peter,s mother-in-law.
(Here I may remark, parenthetically, that while as a Baptist I deprecate the practice that calls for godparents, as an amateur genealogist I have to thank the inclusion in these records of their names and descriptions for much information which would otherwise have been unavailable.)
Lawrence Roussel, the eldest of Peter’s eight children, took to medicine, and is described as a surgeon when at the age of 28 he married Elizabeth Desormeaux, daughter of Francis Desormeaux, an apothecary. By her he had a family of eleven or twelve, the eldest son, born in 1628, being named Lawrence after his father, and following in his grandfather’s footsteps to become an apothecary. He married in 1665 Marguerite Langlois, the orphan daughter of a Rouen goldsmith, who bore him five children: Mary in 1666; Isaac, 1668; Lawrence,1670; Stephen, 1676, and Francis, 1680. By this time the fair weather the French Protestants had enjoyed under Henri IV was rapidly passing, and storm clouds were rolling up fast and threateningly. Just when the Roussels decided to flee before the coming storm is uncertain, but apparently Lawrence (the apothecary – his father, the surgeon, who died in 1677 was a sufficiently active protestant to attract the attention of the authorities, and even before the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes seems to have suffered imprisonment for his faith; and although he was released some time before his death, he was under observation of restraint to an extent which made it impracticable for him to fly the country. It was, however, decided that his wife and children should seek refuge in England; but as to the exact date and manner of their flight there is some uncertainty, as the traditions handed down in different branches of the family are not quite consistent as to detail, and there would appear to be no contemporary – or nearly contemporary – written account now extant.
One version says that the two elder boys were brought over in the beginning of the troubles by their cousin Montres, whom I have so far failed to trace apart from this one mention; but another tradition, that the mother and the daughter and three younger boys escaped together, leaving Isaac, the eldest son, to give what comfort he could to his father, is more consistent with Isaac’s own statement that he came over in 1699, though this was eight years after his father’s death. At all events, the Calais route seems to have been chosen, and Marguerite – possibly with Lawrence – made her way thither in advance, leaving Marie to follow with the two youngest boys. Disguise being essential to avoid molestation and possible capture, she dressed herself as a peasant -girl, and placed her brothers in two panniers, covered up with vegetables, and slung on the back of a donkey. The little ones were charged neither to speak nor to move, whatever might happen on the road. A servant, dressed as a farmer, rode on horseback, moving in advance as if unknown to the girl. They traveled by night; but as time was precious, the latter part of the journey had to be taken by daylight. Suddenly a party of dragoons came in sight; they rode up, fixed their eyes upon her and then on the panniers. “What is in those baskets?” they cried. Before she could give an answer, one of them drew his sword, and thrust it into the pannier where the younger boy was hid. No cry was heard, not a movement was made; the soldiers concluded that all was right, and galloped off. As soon as they were out of sight the sister knocked off the inanimate contents of the pannier, the little boy lifted up his arms towards her, and she saw he was covered in blood from a severe cut in one of them. He had understood that if he cried, his own life and the lives of his brothers and sister would be lost, and he bravely bore the pain and was silent. She bound up the wound and nursed him on the road with the fondest care, and had the joy of finding that his life was spared, though he carried a scar from the wound all his days. Arrived at Calais, with great difficulty Madame Roussel and a fellow refugee – a widow also with five children – engaged a boatman to take them in an open boat to Dover for a sum which is variously stated as 30 guineas and 50 pounds each. In any case the man was thinking rather of his risks than of sympathetic help to co-religionists; but an attempt at further extortion failed. When some distance from the land he declared that unless they doubled his fee he would take them back again – a threat at which her companion fainted; but Marguerite boldly retorted that if he did so she would denounce him for aiding heretics to escape – an offense scarcely less dangerous than being one. The tables thus were shrewdly turned, he carried out the original contract, and landed them on English soil, the whole possessions of the Roussels being one trunk containing some 500 pounds worth of money, plate and valuables.
As to the date of the flight, Esther Hewlett’s account gives the ages of Mary, Stephen and Francis as 16, 6 and 4 respectively. If the first two are correct, the date of the flight would be 1682 (three years before the Revocation) and Francis would then be only 2 years old; if he was 4 the other two were 18 and 8 respectively, and the date 1684. In Elizabeth Hewlett’s letters – written about a dozen years after Esther’s narrative – she speaks of the youngest boy being 8 years old at the time of the flight; but in this she may be confusing him with the next older brother. Even so, an eight year old boy would be getting rather big to be hidden in a pannier; on the other hand, a two year old seems very young for such an exhibition of understanding and fortitude as is attributed to the wounded Francis. However, in the absence of more definite evidence, we must leave the date an open question, within a range of at most half a dozen years – 1682 -1688, with the balance of probability inclining towards the earlier ones.
Just how the family fared on reaching England we do not know; apparently they settled right away in London, and presumably Marguerite found some means of livelihood, as the boys were still too young to be earning. Nor do we know for certain how they were equipped for meeting the language problem; but my sister has in her possession an English Bible (Authorised Version of 1653) which tradition says the refugees brought over with them from France. If so, they – or some of them- may have known some English: but I can only give this as unverified legend.
Their troubles were by no means over with their escape from persecution, for quite early in their London life a strange disaster befell them, even more dramatic than the episode of the pannier. Two traditions of this story exist, and perhaps I may be forgiven for choosing the rather more romantic version contained in my great-grandmother’s letters, merely correcting a slip on her part as to the identity of the age of the hero.
Lawrence, the second son, then a lad in his early teens, was on morning going down the street where they lived, behind a little girl with her school bag on her arm, when a parrot flew out of a gentleman’s window and settled on her neck, to her great alarm. Lawrence ran to her assistance and succeeded in beating off the bird, and then took the poor crying child home to his Mother, who comforted her and took her to her own home. The two families thus became acquainted, and the boy and girl were inseparable. But their happiness was rudely interrupted, for soon afterwards Lawrence got lost in the strange city, and it was several years before his stricken family had any knowledge of his fate. At length on of their neighbours, who had known of the boy’s disappearance, happened to go over to Maryland; and when visiting a plantation heard the name Lawrence Roussel called over at a muster of a planter’s slaves. He obtained an interview, and found that the slave in question was indeed the missing Huguenot boy, who had lost his way somewhere down by the Thames, and had been carried off onto a ship and taken to the colony and sold into slavery. He asked the gentleman to take back news of him to his Mother, and handed him a small silver earpick- one of his Father’s surgical instruments – which he had in his pocket, the sole souvenir of home, which he was sure would identify him to his Mother. The planter gave him a most excellent character, but refused to part with him, as owing to his ability to read and write he had become indispensable.
However, the neighbour’s report and the production of the earpick relieved the anxieties of his family, and gave hope of a reunion; which took place a few years later when the planter died, leaving Lawrence his freedom and a comfortable fortune. Not only did he lose no time in returning to London, but finding that the girl he had rescued from the parrot had not forgotten him through his 15 years of captivity and exile, he made her his bride; and afterwards practiced as a physician in London.
Lawrence would appear to have been the first of the children to marry, for although I have only found dates of the weddings of the eldest and youngest sons, references to them or their spouses as grandparents show that their sister, Marie, was married to Michael Remy before 1698, and Stephen before 1701, Isaac married Elizabeth Seheult on 2 March 1701, and Francis was married on 3 July 1697, at the early age of seventeen, to Esther Heusse, who was four years his senior. I have so far found no reference to any child of Marie Roussel and Michael Remy; Isaac had ten, but only two daughters reached maturity (they both married, and each left a daughter, in whom apparently the line became extinct).
Lawrence had one daughter, who married her cousin and had no issue; of Stephen’s family we know less than of any of the others, but if I am right in my identifications, I have found external references to the baptisms of a son and daughter of his. So far as we know, therefore, it is from the youngest son, Francis – the hero of the pannier incident – that all the present representatives are descended, and that from his two youngest daughters, so that in this family Roussel became extinct as a surname within two generations, though as a given name it is having a considerable vogue among the younger generation today.
Of Francis’s eight children, 3 daughters and 2 sons died unmarried, and the only married son had no issue; Elizabeth, the elder of the married daughters, married Peter Beuzeville, and had two sons, of whom only the elder, Peter, reached manhood; and as he married the daughter of his mother’s sister, the youngest daughter, Mary Anne, was actually the ancestress of all who can now boast Roussel blood.
With regard to her marriage I am up against what seems at present to be a dead end. Her husband was Thomas Griffith Meredith (not, as Cooper erroneously gives it, Sir Griffith), whom she met in the north whither she had gone as a governess in a good family; they seem to have have lived at Durham and Newcastle-on-Tyne after their marriage, but subsequently returned to London.
As to Thomas Meredith’s identity, I have been able to find no external confirmation of the tradition that he was a scion of a family living at or near Wrexham. According to this his father was Sir Thomas Meredith (here again the title seems to be due to accretion in process of time rather than accolade) and his mother Catherine Griffith, a local farmer’s daughter, who did not long survive her son’s birth. His father married again, and sent the boy away to school, where he remained till he was about 18, when remittances suddenly ceased. It then transpired that his father was dead, and the second wife’s son had succeeded to the estate. Tradition offers no explanation why the elder half-brother’s claim was not pressed; but he is next heard of in Northumberland staying with an ex-schoolfellow, and falling in love with a French governess.
The young couple appear to have eked out a somewhat precarious livelihood with teaching music and French, and the five of their eight children who survived to maturity were befriended by their childless uncles, in whose wills they figure conspicuously. The eldest daughter married- as stated above – her first cousin, Peter Beuzeville, and like so many others of her relations had numerous children, but grandchildren only by two of her daughters, Bridget and Esther. Her brother Isaac married and settled near Oxford, but here again only on daughter made him a grandparent. Of the other two daughters of Marianne Roussel, Margaret married Francis Jolit and had a large family; Elizabeth married one Morgan Davies and I have been able to discover nothing more about them. With the Jolits I need not deal, beyond remarking that in three successive generations they provided directors for the French Hospital, since their pedigree had been worked out by Henry Wagner, and printed in Miscellanea Genealogica et Heraldica, December 1908.
There remain the three grand-daughters of Marianne Roussel – Bridget and Esther Beuzeville and Elizabeth Griffith Meredith, each of whom became the ancestress of fertile branches of the family tree.
The Beuzevilles were also a refugee family, hailing from Bolbec in Normandy, and were largely connected with the silk weaving industry. At some time after his marriage with Mary Meredith, Peter moved from London to Henley-on-Thames, and here for the first time we find a new religious orientation. So far the refugees and their children had worshipped with the Church of England, and their children were baptized according to its rites; but after their removal to Henley the Beuzevilles appear to have attached themselves to the Nonconformist meeting house. Here, as well as in commerce, they met a certain John Byles, a member of an East-Anglican family, also reputed to be of Huguenot origin; and in due course a marriage took place between Bridget Beuzeville and John Curtis Byles.
To this couple ten children were born, though as was all too common in those days only half that number reached maturity. True to the family tradition, two of their boys were associated with the healing art- Samuel as a physician and James as a pharmaceutical chemist; both settled in London , and the doctor, who was connected with the French Hospital, acquired some reputation as a specialist in hernia. The second son, John Beuzeville Byles, was generally known by his second name; and as he as somewhat stern and uncompromising where principles were involved (though kindly enough at heart), the ancestral patronymic became easily corrupted into “Beelzebub Byles” by those who – perhaps not without reason -cordially disliked him. He established a brewery in Henley, in which his son Pierre Beuzeville followed him; but after the death of the latter at the early age of 49 the Henley branch became scattered.
Another son of Bridget Beuzeville Byles, William, turned his steps northward; after learning the printing trade at Oxford, and getting some journalistic experience in London and East Anglia, he moved in 1833 to Bradford, in response to an invitation, for which his Nonconformist connections were largely responsible, to assist in the starting of a newspaper – in the Liberal and Nonconformist interests – for the rapidly growing town of Bradford. Under his supervision the first number of the Bradford Observer was issued in February 1834; and for the next 57 years the history of William Byles was very much that of the paper with which his name was so long and honourable associated. Twice married, he had a large family, no less than three sons subsequently joining him on the staff of the paper; the eldest, William Pollard Byles represented Shipley and North Salford in Parliament, and was Knighted in 1911. The second son entered the Congregational ministry; and his eldest son, who curiously enough reverted to Roman Catholicism, was one of the victims of the Titanic disaster. Yet another son entered, what may be called, the family profession of medicine.
William Byles was throughout his life a strong pillar of local Nonconformity, and a vigorous partisan on most of the controversial problems of last century; though on some -for instance the educational question – he was not always in complete agreement with his co-religionists. Speaking at his funeral in June 1891, Dr. Fairbairn (then Principal of Mansfield College, Oxford) said of him: “In him were blended the traditions and the blood of the English Puritan and the French Huguenot, and he felt bound by traditions he inherited, by the blood that was his. Hence came the seriousness that gave dignity to his view of life, and also the gentle humour that never allowed life to become somber, but always touched with grace. Hence came, too, the beautiful conscientiousness that marked him; the sense of duty, scrupulous, even rigid, that allowed him not to turn to the right not to the left when the way of God was clear. And this dutifulness descended to the humblest as it rose to the highest things. Well do I remember how he loved to tell that whilst he still worked in his early manhood as a humble printer, a great scholar entrusted to him a work of learning and very difficult, and he so put his heart as well as his inmost mind into that work that the scholar felt as if he stood in the presence of no mere workman, but a living artist indeed.” Who among us could desire a finer tribute?
Two of the sons of John Beuzeville Byles responded to the call of the colonies, and in the next generation the great-grandchildren of Bridget Beuzeville found their way into almost every quarter of the globe. One of her great-great-granddaughters, Miss Marie Beuzeville Byles, has the honour of being the first woman solicitor in New South Wales.
Space forbids my dealing with more than these few of the more than 130 descendants of Bridget and John Curtis Byles; but enough has been said to show that the quality of the old Hugenot blood has not degenerated in their veins.
We have seen that Mary Meredith and her husband left London for Henley and Nonconformity; her brother Isaac also migrated to the same county, and settled in St. Clement’s parish, which was then on the outskirts of Oxford, though now well inside the city boundary. He and his wife, however, promptly attached themselves to the parish church, which he served loyally for some 40 years not only as church warden, but also as the trustee of an important charity connected with it. This charity was by then more than 250 years old and it is hardly surprising that some serious irregularities had crept into its administration – largely through ignorance of its original provisions; and his daughter has records that show how Isaac Meredith unearthed the musty, mildewed documents from an old chest, and having first mastered the unfamiliar Tudor alphabet by slow steps in his scanty leisure deciphered the deed creating the trust, and stamped its whole contents on a large plate of brass which to this day remains fixed to the wall of the church.
Isaac’s wife was Mary Rudd, a Westminister girl who had been apprenticed at a very early age to Mr. Cairn, the Embroiderer to George II; and when she was only nine years old her tiny but clever fingers were chosen as the only ones able to work the motto into the diminutive Garter for the young Prince George (afterwards George III), who was installed as a Knight of that most noble order at the early age of twelve. Her skill with the needle was shared by her daughter Bridget, for my sister has in her possession a sampler worker by her at the age of 6, to commemorate her remarkable escape from lightning, which struck their house and did much damage in 1780.
Of Isaac Meredith’s six children, only one daughter, Elizabeth, married; and the story of her courtship may perhaps be told in her own words, written many years afterwards to an intimate friend. “Now I am sure you will say our first meeting was a singular one for I had been confined in doors for three months with a fever, had lost all my hair, and my face was peeling so that I looked very oddly, my dear Mother had been up to dress me one cold morning in January she left me to look after the fire but did not return as I expected, however I felt it so cold that I determined on going down, to my great surprise when I opened the stairfoot door, I beheld a young Man sitting by the fire he was I found waiting for his skates, which my Father was finishing in the shop. [Isaac Meredith was a cutler.]…He seemed to be a wonderful young man for that day full of love for his parents and so particular to observe the Sabbath Day.” Whence it would appear that Elizabeth had charms that were more than skin deep; and also that the present day branding of modern youth as irreverent and un-filial is by no means new under the sun. Elizabeth was only 19 when this exemplary lover swam (or rather skated) into her ken, and three years of devoted courtship preceded their marriage in June 1903. William Hewlett also was the son of a loyal churchman, Thomas Hewlett, who served as church-warden in his parish of St. Mary Magdalen, Oxford; but the young couple soon seem to have found richer pasture for their souls at New Road Baptist chapel. Referring to this spiritual migration many years afterwards Elizabeth wrote:” I was much delighted with their singing altogether so different to our little Church In St. Clements, with poor Mr. Gutch for a preacher. Since then what wonderful changes have happened, My going to the Chapel with the dear children I heard the Gospel’s joyful sound under dear Mr. Copley, the dead preachers at St. Mary Magdalen Church no longer satisfied me, I went to St. Ebbes and heard dear Mr.Bulteel there also my dear Husband came, which was a wonder of wonders for he had never once been absent from his own church since he was quite a boy. By God’s goodness and mercy he had been seeking the Lord from his Youth, and died full of faith and love, rejoicing in that blessed gospel which he had been seeking all his life but hardly ever heard preached.”
The twelve children born to William and Elizabeth Hewlett did not, however, all remain with their parents in the Nonconformist fold. The eldest son, Alfred, after a brief career as a schoolmaster in Oxford, managed to pass through the University and take Holy Orders, and in 1832 became curate in charge of Astley in Lancashire. In 1837 he moved to Lockwood, but three years later returned to Astley as vicar, and remained there until his death in 1885. Twenty years before this he had marked a peak in his career by taking his doctrine in divinity at Oxford.
Alfred Hewlett thus affords a curious parallel to his cousin, William Byles, in seeking his fortune in the North of England; and except for being in different religious camps, they were men of very similar calibre. The Vicar of Astley was a staunch Evangelical, and took a prominent part in the agitation against the revival of the Catholic Hierarchy in England about the middle of the century; he was also a strong supporter of the Temperance movement. He was an indefatigable worker, generally spending a couple of hours in his study before breakfast; the living was a poor one, and he eked out his scanty salary by taking private pupils, who lived in the roomy vicarage, and at least one of these ultimately developed into a son-in-law. A forceful writer, Dr. Hewlett established a local magazine which had a successful career, and contributed many pamphlets to the religious controversies of his day. Family affection was strong with the Hewletts, and Alfred’s northern exile – as it must have seemed in those days of difficult travel – was mitigated by the monthly circulation of diary. Alfred seems to have been the most punctilious in this observance, and several volumes of his diary are still extant; certain of these, kindly lent to me by his grandson, the Dean of Manchester, have proved most instructive, and occasionally entertaining. Entries are made concerning every aspect of his life, from high questions of religion and politics to intimate domestic details; one may find an outline of his Sunday sermons immediately followed by a naive confession: “I cannot help noticing here, that today for the first time in life, I wore a pair of drawers, found them very warm, rather too warm”. (This was on the first Sunday of January, in his 40th year.) Altogether a very human document, often throwing vivid side-lights on the life of the nineteenth century and the industrial development of the north. Before taking orders, Alfred Hewlett had married Catherine Gibson, an Oxford girl of Irish extraction, who bore him 9 children; and unlike so many of the larger families of earlier generations, all lived to marry and contribute to the Doctor’s respectable total of 61 grandchildren. All three of his sons were connected with the coal-mining industry, each reaching the highest directorate in turn; the grand children have achieved success in various walks of life, and like the corresponding generation of the Byles family have carried the blood of the Roussels into the farther regions of the Empire.
Elizabeth’s second son, Edgar, my own grandfather, on the other hand, continued his connection with New Road Baptist Chapel, as did most of his children, so long as they remained in Oxford, which some of them did to the end of their lives. The subsequent generation followed suit; my eldest brother was organist there for 37 years, and was succeeded for a time by his daughter, who has graduated in music at the University. 1. She took her B.Mus. degree in the Divinity School at Oxford on 29 March 1924, and by a curious coincidence her second cousin (once removed), the Rev. Hewlett Johnson, a grandson of Dr. Alfred Hewlett of Astley, and subsequently Dean of Manchester, took his Doctorate in Divinity at the same degree ceremony. At that date, however, the cousins were neither acquainted with one another nor aware of their mutual relationship. In this branch of the family there are no outstanding figures to record, but several lives of quiet and fruitful service, and on or two of an unobtrusive saintliness in comparison with which most of the rest of us will stand condemned – myself certainly for one, I fear.
The third major branch of the Roussel-Meredith tree sprang from Esther Beuzeville, younger sister of Bridget Byles and cousin of Elizabeth Hewlett. The latter’s husband had a younger brother, James Philip, whose musical proclivities at an early age secured him a choristership at New College, Oxford. Subsequently he matriculated as a member of Pembroke College, when only 17; but he seems to have migrated to Magdalenbefore graduating. At 24 he was ordained curate of St. Algate’s, Oxford; and somewhere about this time made the acquaintance of his sister-in-law’s clever cousin, Esther Beuzeville. In spite of religious difference, or perhaps because of opposite polarity, the attraction was mutual, and the pair were married in 1809; but for the Huguenot bride wedlock with a church man by no means meant union with his Church, and it is on record that on Sundays they parted at the door of the sanctuary where he officiated, and she went on alone to the chapel of her choice. In days when religion was taken so much more seriously – and for the most part intolerantly – than it is today, it seems difficult to imagine how such an uncompromising couple could produce such a harmonious marriage; and possible that it lasted only 11 years was a blessing in disguise. Left at 34 a widow with 5 young children,
Esther Hewlett turned to her pen for a livelihood; and so varied and fertile were her literary powers that in the printed catalogue of the British Museum the entries under her name occupy a solid column. Eventually she married again, this time the pastor of the Baptist Chapel to which she belonged, and with him she later moved to Eythorne in Kent; but this union was childless, and though a co-religionist, in other respects her second husband proved much less than ideal.
Of Esther’s five children, the eldest, named James Philip, had a variegated career, following first his step-father into the Baptist ministry, and afterwards his own father into Anglican orders. For this I have heard his son-in-law – a Baptist deacon- refer to him as “James the Apostate”, but whether, this was a strictly private nickname or one openly recognized in the family I do not know. Of his own children two at least followed him into Orders, and a daughter went into the mission field. His eldest grandson entered the book trade, and became the managing director of Simpkin Marshall & Co., the well known publishing firm; and his son followed his great-great-grandfather, at an interval of rather more than a century, into the choristers’ stalls of New College Chapel. Esther’s youngest son also took orders, after migrating to New Zealand, where he founded another considerable branch of the family.
Esther’s two daughters, Emma and Esther, married two brothers, George and Ebenezer Sargent, and both had large families. The Sargents belonged to an old Sussex family which had been settled in that county since the fourteenth century if not earlier; their parents had reared a family of ten children, of whom these brothers were the middle two. Somewhere in his later twenties George came to Oxford to take up a business post, and had an introduction to the chapel which the Hewletts attended; the upshot was his marriage in 1837 to Emma Hewlett, who seems to have inherited a full share of her mother’s ability and attractiveness. For a time they continued to live in Oxford, but when Esther Hewlett (by now Copley) moved to Eythorne, her son-in-law moved thither also, giving up his business to devote himself to literature. A deeply religious man, of strong Calvinistic views, most of his writings contained a large element of propaganda, and were published by the Religious Tract Society, in which he subsequently held an editorial post. His family of nine increased more rapidly than his income in the early days of his married life; but in Emma Hewlett he had a resourceful and heroic wife, in whom the cares of domesticity did not submerge her intellectual and cultural interests. One son, like his father, was associated with the Religious Tract Society; another took Holy Orders; a third entered the banking profession and incidentally adhered to his grandmother’s Baptist principles; a fourth took up fruit farming in Tasmania.
Among the grandchildren, the family tendency to medicine again shows itself; the most notable of a group of nurses and medical men being Sir Percy Sargent a Harley Street surgeon, for details of whose distinguished career, I can only refer you to “Who’s Who.
Esther Hewlett, the younger sister, married the elder brother Ebenezer, and excellent but rather eccentric man, who seems to have specialized in bizarre names for his children. This family has also scattered considerably, and I have not yet collected much information about their careers; but so far as I can gather they seem to have adorned the humbler levels of life, without producing any outstanding peaks.
As I have already hinted, this survey of a family history is very far from being exhaustive; there are many gaps in my records – some of the older ones perhaps cannot now be bridged, while the latest generations are so widely scattered that to keep touch with all the ramifications is too a colossal a task, at any rate for me. A complete record, including personal characteristics, might bring to light much interesting inheritance of tendencies, of which they are hints even in the comparatively small amount of data I have collected. There is distinct evidence of tendencies towards art and music, as well as the quite definite one towards medicine, which crop up from time to time; but just when they entered into the ancestral chromosomes is not so apparent.
In genealogical research such as this, one always enjoys the Stevensonian happiness of travelling hopefully, and need never fear the pathos of arriving at a final end. I shall never complete the story of the Roussels and their descendents; but if what I am doing forms a trustworthy introduction to these – both here and in far distant colonies – who may wish to add further chapters of their own, I shall not have laboured in vain.
In conclusion, I have to thank those many members of collateral branches who have so generously helped me in the collection of facts, and taught me to endorse emphatically Mrs. Alec Tweedie’s dictum that “cousins are delightful things”. And I must also thank you all for following me so patiently through what I feel is, after all, a not particularly exciting by-lane of Huguenot story.