A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
by Philippa Hunter
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Mary Canning was born on 27 March 1754 at Foxcoat or Foxcote, as it later became, on the borders of Warwickshire and Gloucestershire. Her father was Francis Canning and her mother Mary Petre. The Cannings had lived at Foxcote for many generations and there are some very informative memorials in the nearby Illmington parish church. Francis was a descendant of the Pakingtons of Harvington Hall in Worcestershire, and his wife was a member of the Petre family from Ingatestone Hall in Essex. The Petres still live there, but the last of the Foxcote Cannings, Edward, died in 1857 and he is buried at St James’ Catholic Church in Reading. He was the son of Mary’s younger brother, Thomas.
It is believed that Mary Canning was the third child and she married Joseph Blount, the second son of Michael Blount and Mary Eugenia Strickland of Mapledurham, on 19 February 1776, in the chapel of the Immaculate Conception attached to Foxcote House. Joseph Blount was also the brother of Mary Canning’s sister-in-law, Mary Eugenia Blount, the wife of her younger brother, Thomas Canning.
Mary Canning’s elder brother, also called Francis, married Catherine Gifford of Chillington. More will be said about these two brothers later.
Mary and Thomas Canning’s sister, Anne, was a nun, and later superioress, of the Convent “Dames Anglaises” in Rue des Fosses, St Victor, Paris, or, as some books say, Fosse’ St Victor. The order later became known as English Augustine, but now they are referred to as the Canonesses Regular of St Augustine. It was the only ‘English’ convent in Paris to survive the French Revolution as all the other communities were sent back to England.
We do not know (at the moment) where Joseph and Mary Blount first lived, but it is possible that it was at Mapledurham or Chalgrove (both in Oxfordshire). Their first child, Mary, was born in late 1776, but she was to die in Paris in 1791. She was a pupil at the convent in the Fosse St Victor. This Convent school for girls was as well known amongst English Catholics as Douai was for boys. The second child, Elizabeth, was born at How Hatch, Essex, on 30 April 1778. She later married Ralph Riddell of Felton Park, Northumberland, on 23 April 1801 at Richmond, Surrey.
The family then moved to Britwell House, near Watlington. This house had been rebuilt by Sir Edward Simeon of Stone, Staffordshire and he “came to settle at the same on 23 October 1729.” Towards the end of his life he began to build the exterior chapel and the old register says-
“The new oval chapel was begun on the 30th March 1767. The whole plan both within and without was contrived by Sir E. Simeon himself, and would have been completely finished this year, 1767, had it pleased God to have prolonged his life. What he lived to see finished of the same falls little short of the whole cost not less than a thousand pounds sterling.” (£50,000 in today’s money)
Sir Edward died on 23 December 1768 and left the estate to his nephew, Thomas Weld, who added Simeon to his name. He, in turn, left the estate to his nephew, Thomas Simeon Weld, who lived in the house with his family until 1775, when he succeeded to the Lulworth estate. At this time Joseph Blount took on the tenancy and the next three children were born there and christened in the chapel. Joseph was born on 18 June 1779, Frances on 20 June 1780 and Michael Joseph on 30 March 1783. The twins, Anne and Martha, were born 2 March 1785 but they died within the month. It is possible the family was still residing at Britwell.
The Blounts then moved to France so that the children, especially the boys, could have a Catholic education. Mary’s husband, Joseph Blount, died at St Cyr near Lyons on New Year’s Day 1793 and he is buried at the foot of the altar in the church. After his death the two boys, Michael and Joseph, were entrusted to a reliable tutor and Mary Canning Blount took up residence in the Convent of the Dames Anglaises where she placed her two daughters. This was where her sister Anne Marie Canning was a member of the community. During the progress of the Revolution, this convent was seized, and turned into a prison and terrible cruelties took place there; Mrs Blount and her daughters found themselves prisoners. The Duchesses de Biron, her special friend, was cruelly torn from her arms and massacred without mercy in the precincts of the prison. A great friend of the Papal Envoy, named Blamchet, was also imprisoned there and she was able to give him, after her release, three hundred francs which she had earned by washing the linen of the lady prisoners. She was, he writes,
“very skillful, and preferred to work rather than to be supported by the nobles as the patriots ordered. But she owned to me that she was not at all satisfied with most of these ladies. So she charged them very highly, and, as she could wash and iron extremely well, the ladies, who kept their coquetry even in prison, would have no one else for their laundress.”
As soon as the English lady and her four children regained their liberty, they returned home, accompanied by some Benedictine nuns. This journey home could well have been on board ‘The Providence’ which docked in London on 6 July 1794. This is the ship that was carrying the nuns who had travelled from Brussels, via Antwerp and Rotterdam, to England. ‘France had given them shelter when persecution raged in England; it was England’s duty now to return the compliment, when the devil was let loose in France.’
This community, the English speaking sisters of the Convent of the Glorious Assumption, settled in Winchester at Fleshmonger Street, now St Peter’s Street, in a house fitted out by Dr Milner (later to become Vicar Apostolic of the Midland District) and now the site of the Royal Hotel and these nuns were to play an important role later for one of Mary’s grandchildren.
Elizabeth Blount was the first of the children to marry, in 1801, and, after becoming a widow in 1833, she moved to Clifton. She was a major benefactress of Bishop Ullathorne’s cathedral. Elizabeth died in Leamington Spa in 1849 and she was buried at Kemerton in Gloucestershire.
Joseph Blount married Jane Satterthwaite, from Westmorland, in 1807 but she died six months later. He later married Anne Martin (in 1816), the only child of Richard Martin of Hurstbourne Tarrant in Hampshire. They had a daughter, Frances Mary (in 1819), who was left motherless (in 1820); her mother being only twenty-four-years-old when she died. Frances was placed with the Benedictine nuns in Winchester, the same ones that had accompanied her grandmother and father on their return from France. Joseph, like his brother and sisters, had been educated in Paris, and he saw some of the horrors of the French Revolution and the excesses of the revolutionaries. However, this did not close his eyes to the root causes of the Revolution and, when he returned to England a confirmed radical, he became known as the poor man’s friend. Unemployed labourers, tramps, tailors and bakers, artisans and Irishmen seeking work, could all be seen outside his hospitable house at Hurstbourne Tarrant, eating potatoes and pickled pork from a row of pewter plates that were arranged on a low wide wall. This became known as the “Wayfarer’s Table”. When he died, in 1863, he requested to be buried in the middle of the road, so that all the carriages and carts could drive over him, but this was not allowed, so he was buried with his wife Anne and his father-in-law, and a large flat top stone was placed so that all the children could play marbles on top of him! It is still there.
Little Frances Blount, Joseph’s daughter, was next taken to Cheltenham under the wing of her grandmother, Mary Blount, and maiden aunt, Frances. Mary Blount did not stay long in Cheltenham. Her experiences of the reign of terror did not destroy her love for Paris and she could not resist its fascination, so, when the storm ceased, she returned to France. However, with the outbreak of riots in 1830 she quickly returned to England again. Her family and friends objected to her running any more risks so she settled back at Cheltenham at No 3 Somerset Place; No 1 being the home of the Catholic priest. Both of these houses were later demolished when the present St Gregory’s church and priory were built. No 3 Somerset Place remained her home and she lived there, with her daughter and grandchild, until her death on 29th December 1843.
Mary’s grand daughter, Frances, who had been brought up in Cheltenham, married John Morrogh on 18 March 1841 at the Catholic Chapel in Cheltenham,- “an English Catholic lady and an Irish landlord came together..“
John Morrogh’s grandmother, Mrs John Bernard, lived at 4 Clarence Parade, Cheltenham, and he spent some of the school holidays with her, the rest was spent back at Glanmire, Ireland. He was educated at Prior Park, Bath. Soon after his marriage he inherited the Bernard estate so added Bernard to his name .Their first child, Agnes Mary, was born in Cheltenham and baptised at St. Gregory’s Church:
“Agnes Mary Morrogh, daughter of John Morrogh and Frances Morrogh, formally Blount, lawfully married, born 24th February 1842,was baptised at the said church by W.A. O’Meara, Ex Prov. O.S.F, the 2nd day of March,1842. Charles Riddell and Mary Morrogh being godparents” 3.
The family had moved to Ireland by the time that Agnes was four and the famine of “Black ’47” overshadowed her early years and influenced her decision to become an Irish Sister of Charity in 1863. She was a teacher in Dublin but was moved to Foxford Co Mayo, in 1891. Here she started the Providence Woollen Mills so as to help relieve the high unemployment in the area. She died in Foxford on the 21st April 1932.
There is a biography of Mother Margaret Arsenius (Agnes Morrogh Bernard), of 1936, which contains the following family details:
‘In 1851 Agnes accompanied her mother on a visit to their relatives in England. The journey was made from Cork to Bristol on a cargo boat (The Sabrina) filled with cattle and pigs. The novelty of the trip did not succeed in overcoming the nausea of sea-sickness, accentuated as it was by the foulness of the odours from beneath the hatches. Her painful experiences were temporarily forgotten in the rush and bustle of London, Mother and daughter were welcomed by their kinsman Michael Blount, who lived with his family at 1. Montague Place, Montague Square. The old church known as Spanish Place was within easy distance, and nearer still was the French chapel where they usually assisted at Mass. It was a quaint old building hidden away in mews, where, now and then, you might have difficulty in avoiding unwelcome contact with horses, as they were groomed in the early morning.
It belonged originally to the French Embassy. Your neighbour in a pew would probably be a member of the old Noblesse or an emigre, who was glad to escape from his native country alive. Agnes had her attention called to a quiet old lady constantly to be seen there, the famous Madame Toussaud, originator of the Wax works. The new St. James’s church did not leave a trace of the historic French chapel.
During their visit to London they were presented to the Catholic Archbishop. It was a red-letter day in their lives. At a Consistory held on the 30th September in the year previous to their visit to London, Nicholas Wiseman was named a Cardinal Priest…
…After a month spent in Hurstbourne Tarrant with the grand old philanthropist, Joseph Blount (her grandfather), the friend of tramps and of waifs, Agnes returned home.’
Michael Joseph Blount, Mary’s second son, married Catherine Wright on 26 February 1816. The Wrights were bankers but their bank collapsed during the 1830’s. Their second son was Gilbert Robert Blount, an architect. He was educated at Downside with his brother Alfred He began his professional life as a civil engineer with Isambard Kingdom Brunel but after a few years changed to architecture. While serving his apprenticeship with Anthony Salvin he worked on buildings at Woodchester and Hartpury, both in Gloucestershire. He designed cottages and house alterations for many of the Catholic gentry, as well as some of the Cambridge colleges. His major work in Gloucestershire was St Peter’s Church in Gloucester which was started in 1858 and finished 1868. When his grandmother, Mary Blount, died in 1845, she was the first person to be buried at St Benet’s, Kemerton, Gilbert designed her tombstone. Mary’s daughters Elizabeth (d 1849) and Frances (d 1861) were also buried at Kemerton. The tombstones are still there, but sadly only the headstones are in the original places.
Returning to Mary (1754-1845), her eldest brother, Francis Canning spent much of his time in France but died at Foxcote in 1806, aged 63 years, and he is buried at Ilmington with wife who died eight years earlier. They had three sons. The eldest, also Francis (born in 1772), married Jane Huddleston from Sawston Hall in Cambridgeshire, inherited Foxcote in 1806, but died without issue in 1831.
Foxcote then passed to his brother Robert (1773-1843), who had married Catherine Berkeley in 1801, and whose family owned the Hartpury estate near Gloucester. Catherine died in 1823 childless and so Robert married again,- his second wife being Maria Cherton of Longford House, Gloucester. They had two daughters Maria and Frances. It was these two ladies who asked Mary’s grandson Gilbert Blount, to design St Peter’s, Church in Gloucester. Gilbert often stayed at Hartpury especially during the shooting season. Part of the Hartpury estate is still owned by Robert’s descendants.
From the Diary of a Cotswold Parson: March 29th, 1832
‘Mr. Canning of Hartpury, near Gloucester, is High Sheriff, a Roman Catholic gentleman and the first of his persuasion, who has held the office in this county. He is a popular man among the Whigs, a bon-vivant and an old sportsman; but served the office sadly against his will, and in a shabby manner with a mean looking carriage and horses and homely liveries, etc. He was bigotted enough to decline accompanying the judges into the cathedral this morning; but left them at the gate, returning to take them up and convey them in his carriage to the court.’
Mary’s younger brother, Thomas Canning (1755-1825), a lawyer, married Mary Eugenia Blount. He was her second husband as her first husband, Charles Stonor (1737-1781), had died. They had six children and, after spending nine years at Stonor, moved to Bath. They were there when the Catholic Chapel was burnt down during the Gordon Riots of 1780. Their youngest son, Henry, who was six at the time, wrote in later life-
“I can remember how in the dead of night I was obliged to get up hastily and was led by my father to York House, where we all passed the remainder of the night, and early the next morning we set off for Stonor, leaving the Catholic Chapel in flames.”
Not only were the archives of the Western District destroyed, but also the books and manuscripts of the Vicar Apostolic, the Benedictine, Bishop Walmesley.. Charles Stonor died during the following year in Gravelines, Normandy, and so Mary Eugenia married Thomas Canning two years later. There was very little legal work open to Catholics and Thomas was soon heavily in debt in spite of his wife being able to claim all the furniture and pictures from Stonor and selling them! She has been described as ‘a hard and selfish woman’ and Charles Stonor had left no will. The Cannings moved from house to house, the favourite place being Bath. They had two sons Thomas and Edward Canning. In 1832 this Edward Joseph Canning (1788-1857) married Louisa Georgiana Catherine Spencer (1792-1834), the grand daughter of John, 3rd Duke of Marlborough, at the British Embassy Chapel in Paris. Edward, being the last of the male Cannings of Foxcote, was buried at St James’ Catholic church at Reading almost beside his cousins, Michael Joseph Blount and Gilbert, the architect.
Mary’s portrait depicts a rather formidable and determined character, we now know why.
Oxfordshire Post-Reformation Catholic Missions from 1603-1905 by Mrs Bryan Stapleton (1906)
Mother M. Arsenius of Foxford by Rev Denis Gildea, B.D.(1936)
 Mother M. Arsenius of Foxford by Rev Denis Gildea, B.D. (1936)
Stonor by Robert Stonor O.S.B. (1948)
Clara Jane Isabella Bettina Crawshay Bailey (-1940) the wife of William James Gordon-Canning (1857-1929) who was a son of Maria Gordon-Canning and therefore a grandson of Robert Canning of Hartpury.