Friday, 3 May 2013

Old photo investigation Part 2 -- The Hamiltons of Fintra

Above is the second of the two original photos I pulled out, almost at random, from the large box of old photos at the fleamarket in Brighton. At that point I hadn't even realised that it was connected to the first. If you haven't read the first instalment of what has become, for me, a very satisfying saga, catch up here.
This is the back of the photo and tells us that it was taken on June 2 1925 at Bitterne, Cleeve Hill, near Cheltenham. The people in the photo are Henry Fitzgerald Reynolds' elderly mother, Matilda, his sister Mabel and his wife Gladys (I confess I'm not 100% sure which of the other two women is which -- I think it's Mabel in front). I imagine Henry was behind the camera on a visit to his mother in what was perhaps her nursing home (she seems to be in a bath chair) or just a lovely quiet house that she had retired to. From the pebbledashed wall and the window panes that you can see, I think the house must have been this one or one like it, with a view over the valley below:
Or perhaps this is a photo of Henry's mother's house, among the pictures I found on my second trip to Brighton:
I love this funny, skewed photo, taken in September the previous year -- it looks about right in terms of the windows and walls, but I haven't been able to spot this house on my Google Street View visits to Cleeve Hill. There's no information on the back apart from the date.
     By finding the photo of Henry's mother I've been able to clear up uncertainty about the date of her death. Most of the people researching the Hamilton family (on Ancestry.co.uk and so on) have her death tentatively recorded as 1907 in her native Ireland, but in fact she died in 1930, aged 88, and her death was registered at Winchcombe, very close to Cleeve Hill.
Matilda Hamilton was born in 1842 at Fintra House near Killybegs, in Co. Donegal, Ireland. In the old postcard above, it's the white house on the far side of the bay, just above and to the left of the square tower of St Mary of the Visitation Catholic Church (the nearer church is St John's Church of Ireland Protestant Church). Fintra House was built in the late seventeenth century (I think) and for a long time it was used by passing ships as a landmark, so clearly did it stand out.
 The Hamiltons of Fintra House were a well-known branch of the Hamilton family who originally came over from Scotland during the 'Plantation of Ulster' to take over lands forcibly confiscated from the Irish families whose power base the English crown wanted to thoroughly undermine. I'm on very thin ice with my grasp of this history, so if you want to know more, try Wikipedia. Other researchers have done amazing work tracing the Hamiltons back to the time of James II of Scotland. In particular, I consulted a vast tome, published in 1933, called The House of Hamilton by Lieutenant-Colonel George Hamilton:
This is a bit of an aside, but the copy of the book that I was able to borrow from University of Birmingham Library had once been the personal copy of Thomas Erskine Swanzy and had his name and address inside in his own handwriting as well as his bookplate, based on his family coat of arms:
I know this is is T E Swanzy's own handwriting as I was able to compare it to his census form from the 1911 Census when he was Vicar of All Saints Church in Lincoln. Himself a descendant of a very old Irish family, Swanzy was a very keen genealogist who corresponded frequently with Henry Fitzgerald Reynolds on various obscure matters of Irish family history which they both then published in Irish history journals. In fact on the page about 'my' Hamiltons, Henry gets an acknowledgement in the footnotes:
Matilda Hamilton was the youngest of the ten children of James and Ann Hamilton. Ann's maiden name was Hutchinson and she came from Earby Hall near Newsham, which in turn is near Richmond, North Yorkshire, where I come from. I know it's only a tenuous link, but when I saw 'Richmond' popping up in my Ancestry.co.uk searches, I felt even more connected to this family.
     Ann, who was born in 1803, outlived her husband James by 32 years. He left the house to his wife, but after she died in 1881 under the terms of James's will the house and all the land the family owned was supposed to be shared out equally between the children. The will took a long time going through probate but in 1885 Matilda's sister Isabella and her husband Richard Gorringe bought everybody else out and moved into Fintra House. They had ambitious plans and tried to develop the house. They built the clock tower and coach house in 1896 but unfortunately ran into financial problems. In the photo below you can just see the clock tower and the other new buildings to the right of the original house:

The property passed into different hands eventually and, sadly, the house was burnt down in 1922 during the Troubles. Today only the Clock Tower remains and is run as a restaurant.
Nothing remains of the house itself.
     On 18 May 1864 Matilda Hamilton married Walter Reynolds of Melton near Hull at Fintra House, which was still occupied by her widowed mother at that date:
'My' Henry was their first-born and they had six children in all. They lived at various addresses in and around Hull. Matilda's husband died in 1893 when she was only 51 and she lived for a further 37 years. In 1901 she was living 'on her own means' in Eastgate House, Cottingham on the outskirts of Hull with her son Walter, a stockbroker (Henry's younger and only brother) and her three surviving daughters (her daughter Kathleen had sadly died in childhood):
Only Henry had flown the nest. He must have gone down to London to get his education in order to become an engineer and analytical chemist. Just before he got married in the summer of 1911 he was renting rooms in this house at 92 Denbigh St, Pimlico:
Then he and Gladys (nee Williams, from Southampton) got married and went to live in Merton Hall Road, Wimbledon. He was 45 when he married, Gladys quite a bit younger at 29.

It would be brilliant if they had lived at no 95 Merton Hall Road, above, with the dragon on the roof, but I have no way of knowing. It must have been a similar house to this one, though.

We'll leave Henry and Gladys for now. In future instalments I'll be looking into Matilda's brother who went to South Africa and America, her nephew who emigrated from South Africa to Australia, and her cousins who settled in the Texas Panhandle, plus my favourite Hamilton, Nancy.

6 comments:

Joanna said...

You have found out so much information about this family. Riveting stuff!

x

♥ w o o l f ♥ said...

i have just now discovered your blog via barbarabee and am intrigued by your way of looking at things gone by, and also remaining. i think i will be back. cheerio, n♥

Victoria Tobin said...

Did you find anything of Louisa Hamilton? Photos or mention, also of Fintra who was born 9 Feb 1832 who was born Fintragh House (note different spelling but same pronunciation) Donegal Ireland. She married Capt John Bertie Cator, and was the mother of the Texas Cators you wrote in your other blog (Arthur "Bob", James Hamilton, Clara, Marion "the meek", Charles, Leslie & Bertie O) Louisa died 1895 in Essex, England

June Freeman said...


Hi!
Just to let you know that I am a Gt. Gt.Grand-daughter of John Bertie Cator and Louisa Hamilton's thru their son Charles Frederick Cator and by his eldest daughter Audrey Emily Theodora Cator (my Grandy) When in my teens back in the 1960's used to keep in contact with Arthur Mills of Surf City in Florida.
I live in Perth Western Australia.

Unknown said...

I am now the owner of Fintra and I'm loving hearing about the Hamilton Family. Ian

Ian Creighton said...

I am now the owner of Fintra and I'm loving hearing about the Hamilton Family. Ian