Monthly Archives: November 2012

Philip Morant’s Colchester

One of Rev. John Clubbe’s books, the 1758 The history and antiquities of the ancient villa of Wheatfield, in the county of Suffolk, was a satirical response to Rev. Philip Morant’s, The History and Antiquities of the Most Ancient Town and Borough of Colchester, in the County of Essex, In Three Books, published ten years earlier. Morant’s worthy, if somewhat dull, antiquarian tome was published in 1748, the same year as Kirby’s Historical Account (this was also the year that Gainsborough painted a portrait of Kirby’s father, John, and probably the Hadleigh painting as well). Rev. Morant was a subscriber to the Historical Account, and three of the Kirbys were subscribers to Morant’s book. In fact, Kirby may have drawn part of one of the plates illustrating Morant’s collection of Roman coins.

Philip Morant was born in 1700 in Jersey and grew up bilingual in English and French. He went to Abingdon school in Oxfordshire and then on to Oxford, graduating from Pembroke College in 1721. He was ordained in 1722 and became a curate at Great Waltham in Essex where he assisted the Rector, Nicholas Tindal with his translation of Paul de Rapin’s Histoire d’Angleterre. Morant’s own first published work seems to have been The cruelties and persecutions of the Romish church display’d,wherein is shown how contrary the persecuting spirit of the church of Rome is to the temper of the Christian religion of 1728, and in 1729 he obtained an M.A. from Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge.

Morant’s next work was the magnificently-titled, The tapestry hangings of the House of Lords: representing the several engagments between the English and Spanish fleets in the ever memorable year MDLXXXVIII, With the Portraits of the Lord High – Admiral, and the other Noble Commanders, taken from the Life. To which are added, from a book entitled, Expeditionis Hispanorum in Angliam vera descriptio, A.D. 1588, done, as is supposed, for the said Tapestry to be work’d after. ten charts of the sea coasts of England, And a General One of England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Holland, &c. Shewing the Places of Action between the two Fleets; Ornamented with medals struck upon that Occasion, And other suitable Devices. Also an historical account of each day’s action, Collected from the most Authentic Manuscripts and Writers. By John Pine, Engraver. The book was dedicated to the King by John Pine (Morant wrote the text; Pine did the engravings) and boasted a glittering array of subscribers. It went through several editions.

In 1732, Queen Caroline nominated Morant to the English chaplaincy at Amsterdam, although he only stayed there for two years. He held several posts over the next few years before being appointed Rector of St Mary-at-the-Walls in Colchester in 1738. He married Anne Stebbing in his church the same year.

Morant’s major work was his monumental The History and Antiquities of the County of Essex, which occupied him for fifteen years and emerged in installments from 1763 to 1768. His wife died in 1767, and Morant died in 1770 and was buried next to her in Aldham, whose Rector he had been since 1745.

His DNB article has more biographical information.

We’ll close with one of his more pleasing asides from the History and Antiquities of Colchester, where he is ploughing steadily through the history of Roman Colchester.

To secure their conquest, the Romans took a most effectual method; that was, To draw the flower of the British youth out of this island ; which forming into twelve large bodies, or more, they sent to the most distant provinces, and continually recruited them from Britain. This was no less than draining the strength and vigor of this island ; and depriving the inhabitants of all disposition, at least of all power, of shaking off their yoke. A most infallible method to keep a mutinous and revolting Province in due subjection!

There is a portrait of Morant done by Charles Head (1850–1926), and he has a school in Colchester named after him.

Rev. John Clubbe (1703—1773)

The Rev. John Clubbe was one of Gainsborough’s drinking buddies in Suffolk and known as an author of humorous and satirical tracts. His is a gentle and leisurely humor, said with a twinkle of his eye, rather than a snarl of the lips.

Born in Suffolk around 1703, he went up to Cambridge, graduating B.A. from King’s College in 1725. He was ordained (as a deacon) in 1725 and became vicar of Debenham in Suffolk in 1730. In 1735, he succeeded his father, Rev. George Clubbe, as Rector of Whatfield, a post he retained for the rest of his life. Whatfield is about two miles from Hadleigh, and ten from Ipswich. In 1732, Clubbe married Susannah Beeston and they had twelve children, of whom eight survived him.

Clubbe’s first publication was a sermon from 1751, or, more fully, A sermon preached before the Incorporated Society for the Relief of the Widows and Orphans of Clergymen within the County of Suffolk; at their anniversary meeting in the parish-church of St. Mary at Tower, Ipswich, on Thursday the 18th of July 1751. Published at the Request of several of the Members then present. By John Clubb, Rector of Whatfield, and Vicar of Debenham, Suffolk. This was his only strictly serious work. He followed the sermon in 1758 with, The history and antiquities of the ancient villa of Wheatfield, in the county of Suffolk, a burlesque on Morant’s History and Antiquities of Colchester published ten years earlier. To give you a feel for his writing, I quote the opening of his preface:

It is a customary Respect generally paid to the Reader to give him, by way of Preface, some Account of the Book he has been at the Expence of purchasing, and purposes to be at the Trouble of Reading : I call it Respect, in concert with my Fellow-writers ; but I do not, in the least, desire him to entertain a more favorable Opinion, either of my Manners, or of my Regard for him from this Circumstance ; for I can assure him, we durst not hazard our Works into the World, absolutely upon their own Bottom, but are obliged previously to point out the Beauties, &c. lest they should not strike the Reader so forcibly as, perhaps, they have us, the Authors, or Editors.

As this is one Reason, and generally the principal one, for Prefaces, so there is another, a much more humble one, which indeed gave Birth to this ; and that is to acquaint the Publick with what Labor, Injury to Health, and Loss of Eyes I have finished the following History. Indeed, courteous Reader, I have spent the major Part of a long Life in this Study, and I have inverted, as it were, the very Form of my Body in your Service ; which was once plumpish, and inclining to fat upwards, but by my Sedentariness is now fallen downwards, to the no small Increase of my Legs…

The text rolls on in similar vein. Later we read,

Nothing since the Conquest of this Island by the Duke of Normandy, commonly called WILLIAM the Conqueror, has happened to this Village in particular

And after exploring all the different historical groups leading to the present, the rector describes his parish as the melting-pot of Suffolk:

The present State of this Parish differs nothing from the ancient in Point of Fruitfulness. The People by Intermarriages, and other ways, have passed through so many Combinations, that they are all set down under the common Denomination of English. They are Christians, as appears most evidently from the Parish Register ; and all of them, when they do not stay at Home, go to the same Place of Worship ; except one — —, who retaining some Tenets of his British Paganism, pays his Devotions under an Oak, or a Walnut-Tree, with a modern Druid, every Sabbath-Day.

It was around this time that Gainsborough painted Clubbe’s portrait.

In 1763, Clubbe published his next work another spoof called Physiognomy, or to give its full 18th –century title, Physiognomy; being a sketch only of a larger work upon the same plan: wherein the different tempers, passions, and manners of men, will be particularly considered. This book is dedicated to Hogarth, who, as he did for Kirby, provided a frontispiece.

The caption reads “A. absolute Gravity, B. Conatus against absolute Gravity, C. partial Gravity, D. comparative Gravity, E. horizontal, or good Sence, F. Wit, G. comparative Levity or Coxcombe, H. partial Levity or pert Fool, I. absolute Levity or Stark Fool”, these being the heads under which Clubbe weighs his subjects.

In 1765, Clubbe published what probably became his best-known work, A letter of free advice to a young clergyman, which does exactly what it says. It is a serious work, and touches on some of the same themes of the life of the clergy that he explored in his sermon of 1751, but the advice is given with his customary gentle grace. Here is the opening:

Dear Sir,

If Age and Experience were always productive of Wisdom, you certainly judged right in asking my Advice, who have a great Share of both; for, on this Sea of Life, the Man, who lives to make the most Voyages, stands the best Chance of discovering the Rocks and Sands that lie concealed in it. But the Misfortune is, some Men keep no Journals at all, others will not be so kind to let us peruse theirs, and others have not Humanity enough to drop a cautionary Buoy for the Benefit of the next Adventurers ; as if they had an Interest in the Wreck, or took Pleasure in seeing Men drown. Old-Age oftentimes looks no farther backward than to the Funeral of it’s past Pleasures, not forward beyond it’s Crutches ; and Experience itself is frequently unaccompanied with Observation and Reflexion.

He also counsels the young clergyman against the dangers of sudden preferment:

You tell me you are now in full Orders, and think you could manage a good Rectory with a little of my Assistance.—I believe you could without it, as well as any one of your Years ; but excuse me if I do not desire to see you possessed of one at present. When Preferment comes very early in Life, I have seen many a rising Genius ruined by it ; some Men taking into a Life of Pleasure, others into an easy Chair of Sleep and Indolence, and others into Sordidness and Illiberality of Mind : So that Books stand upon their Shelves like Mural Monuments is some of our Churches covered over with Dust, to record the Idleness and Sloth of their departed Readers, as the other the Forgetfulness and Disrespect of their surviving Friends.

All in all, he seems to have been a genial and likeable person, loved by his family, and admired in his time, but less known now. So here’s to Rev. John Clubbe clinking tankards with Gainsborough at The Tankard in Ipswich.

Nathaniel Acton (1725—1795)

Nathaniel Acton was a wealthy, and successful, Suffolk landowner. The Actons had been landowners since the late 1500s, having made their money in the Ipswich cloth trade. They had expanded their holdings in the 17th century, buying assorted farms, woods, and meadows, a practice continued by Nathaniel in the second half of the 18th century.  Nathaniel Acton was the only son of Nathaniel Acton of Bramford Hall and his third wife Elizabeth Fowle. Nathaniel’s father had been a third son, and only inherited in 1743 due to the deaths of his older brothers without issue. He died in 1745.

Nathaniel was thus in his early twenties when he subscribed to Kirby’s Historical Account, and in his early thirties when Gainsborough painted him in 1758. Gainsborough's portrait of Nathaniel Acton

In 1741, Nathaniel entered Bury school, where one John Wearg was a governor.  In 1753, Acton married Caroline Wearg, and Gainsborough painted her portrait, too. Gainsborough's portrait of Caroline Acton

Gainsborough also painted (possibly in the same year) Nathaniel’s sister, Elizabeth, who had married Richard Colvile.

Gainsborough's portrait of Elizabeth Colville

Nathaniel and Caroline had two children, Nathaniel and Harriet, before she died in 1761.  Nathaniel then married Dorothy Aspin of Bury St. Edmunds in the same year, and they had a daughter Caroline.  Dorothy lived until 1805. Her portrait was painted by Thomas Bardwell in 1762, but I do not have a picture to show you.  There is also a portrait of Nathaniel by Thomas Hudson, although I do not know the date. I must say he looks rather more dashing in the Hudson than the Gainsborough.

Hudson's portrait of Nathaniel Acton

The Botesdale Book Club

Book clubs played an important, but very poorly-understood, role in 18th-century readership. At a time when there were few, if any, public libraries, and books were expensive, private clubs formed to spread the cost.  Groups of a dozen or two members would gather monthly for a convivial dinner, often at a local pub, and their annual subscription fee would fund the purchase of a collection of books that circulated at the meeting.  Frequently, the clubs would sell off the collection at the end of each year to defray the costs of purchasing new books. Such organizations were private and ephemeral and have left very little public record.  One of the few surviving sources is the combined account and loan record book of the Botesdale Book Club of Botesdale, Suffolk, for the period from 1778 to 1789.  The circulation and attendance records fluctuate wildly.  At times as few as three members attended the dinner (“set for three o’clock with adjournment at seven”), and in 1788-89 Mr. Havers managed only two of the eleven meetings. In one year five members borrowed twenty books; in another every member was active and between them they borrowed 130 books. The Betts family were active in the club, a Mr. Betts appearing as a member for the whole of the 1778 to 1789 period of the membership record.  In The Betts of Wortham in Suffolk (1912) we find that the club had been formed in 1748 and “held monthly meetings on the Tuesday after the full moon at the Crown Inn” until 1815, when George Betts recorded in his diary for September 6th, “James and I dined at the Botesdale Book Club for the last time ; it had existed since 1748.” A Mrs. Avice Betts was a subscriber to Joshua Kirby’s Historical Account in 1748, and the Botesdale Book Club itself subscribed to the second edition of Kirby’s Method of Perspective in 1755. For a description of Botesdale in the 18th century, we can turn to John Kirby’s Suffolk Traveller (1735), where the place is described as a “long mean built, dirty through-fare Town, extending it self very near a Mile on the Road. … There is a mean Market weekly on Saturdays, and a Fair yearly on Holy Thursday”. On the bright side, he does close his description of the town with the comment, “Here are several Inns of good Entertainment”.

Hadleigh St. Mary’s

Hadleigh is a small town in Suffolk. In the mid-1700s it was recorded as having a population of 2260. The town has a fine 15th-century church and a rather distinctive Deanery tower next to it.

In 1744, Joshua Kirby and Josiah Harris, a joiner and cabinet-maker from Ipswich, were commissioned by the rector, the Rev. Dr. David Wilkins, to make a new altarpiece for the church at a cost of some £170. The `Grecian-style’ altarpiece was removed during renovations in the mid-19th century. Dr. Wilkins died (of gout) in 1745. A new rector was appointed, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Tanner, who happened to be the son-in-law of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Around 1747 or 1748, Rev. Tanner commissioned Thomas Gainsborough to paint a view of the church to be used as an overmantel in the rectory.

Critics are divided on whether, or how much, Kirby aided the young Gainsborough in the perspective rendering of the church and deanery in this unusual wide-angle view. Felicity Owen thinks that Kirby may have painted in the church; Michael Rosenthal suggests it was “probably painted in collaboration with Joshua Kirby” without specifying the exact nature of the collaboration, while John Hayes argues that only “one hand was involved, and that Gainsborough’s”.

Hayes also argues that the figures on around the rectangular tomb are `quoted’ from the third plate of Hogarth’s Industry and Idleness, of 1747.

Another view of the painting and some detailed views are here.

A recent view of the church by Carl Lamb, showing the effects of the 19th century renovations, is here.

A letter to his son

Joshua Kirby’s son William was born in 1743.  The Kirby’s lived in Ipswich, Suffolk, but moved to London around 1755.  While in Ipswich, William had attended Ipswich Grammar school and in London he went to Westminster.  In 1759, then aged 15 or 16, William was sent back to Ipswich to study under Kirby’s friend, Thomas Gainsborough.  The following letter was written by Joshua to his son in Suffolk and shows KIrby’s deep-felt religious concern for his family.

 Aug. 12, 1759.

Dear Son,

Your letter came to hand yesterday, when I went to London, and it pleases me very much, particularly that part of it which promises an industrious application to your studies, and the proof you have given of being in earnest, by beginning the next day after your arrival at Ipswich.

It is now a time of life with you, which is, if any, the most critical ; and therefore it should be watched with the utmost care and attention. For now is commencing a season when temptations of Vice and Folly will use every bewitching art to allure you from the practice of Religion and Virtue. It is therefore my indispensable duty to watch every step you take, to guide your growing understanding, and to point out the way to true and lasting happiness, and some of the most dangerous shoals and quicksands, which are placed in the way to it ; that you may be always upon your guard, acquire a constant rectitude of behaviour, and may obtain the most invaluable of all blessings, the favour of God, and the esteem of good and wise men. ·

Thus you see, my son, I have undertaken a very arduous task, for your own thoughts will suggest what an extensive field may be opened on this occasion ; and they will likewise, in some measure, anticipate the subject of my next letter; in which I shall endeavour to form in your mind true and just conceptions of the supreme Being; in hopes of striking such deep impressions of reverence, love, and fear towards Him, as may never be effaced.

I am your affectionate Father,


Quoted in  Some account of the Life and Writings of Mrs. Trimmer, 3e, 1825.