On New Year's Day 1852, Arthur Hansbrow went out for a walk, accompanied by an unnamed friend. Arthur's journey took him several miles away from his home in Lancaster and saw him pass through Bolton-le Sands, Carnforth and Silverdale. It was a fine, mild day, if a little hazy, and the invigorating expedition on which Arthur and his companion had embarked saw them visit several picturesque spots around the Kent Channel, culminating, by mid-afternoon, in their arrival at the ruins of Arnside Tower. With typical antiquarian diligence, Arthur sketched a floor plan of this late mediaeval building and made copious notes about its surviving features. After doing so, he produced "a paper of sandwiches and flask to match"; something of a conciliatory gesture given that he had greatly irritated his friend earlier by refusing to let them stop for lunch at a nearby hostelry, because Arthur had considered it a "dreary looking" place "dignified with the title of 'Hotel.'"
The amicable picnic which then took place under the lowering aspect of Arnside Tower marked the end of an outward journey which had taken them several hours. Soon, once the sandwiches had been eaten and the flask emptied, it was time to set off home. With the light failing and the tide coming in, the two friends found themselves forced to negotiate some notoriously treacherous quicksand in and around Hest Bank and the Keer Channel. As they carefully picked their way through this perilous landscape, "minutes began to look very long and the sands very dreary in the dusk of evening." However --thanks in no small part to their admirable fortitude-- the pair eventually returned home safely, with Arthur later claiming, somewhat uncharitably, that it was his friend who had "thought the danger greater than it really was."
At the time that he made this trip, Arthur Hansbrow was the twenty-nine-year-old deputy governor of Lancaster Gaol, serving in that position under his father, James. We know about this particular excursion thanks to an entry in Arthur's commonplace book, one of several examples which form part of the Sir Harry Page Collection held by Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). Page, a former treasurer to Manchester City Council, amassed a significant number of these Victorian and Edwardian volumes over a number of years up until his death in 1985, the collection subsequently being acquired by MMU in 1987. Whilst many items in the Page collection consist of albums full of illustrations, printed passages and photographs culled from a variety of published sources, Arthur Hansbrow's volume is an altogether more personalised miscellany of notes and observations on his various interests, places visited and people encountered. For that reason, this artefact is best described as a commonplace book in the tradition of those largely hand-written repositories of factual and literary memoranda which, as a type of private journal, flourished from the early modern period into the nineteenth century. As literary relics go, commonplace books can often provide a revealing insight into their compiler's cultural affinities, social station and reading habits. In Arthur Hansbrow's case, all these elements are present in what is, cumulatively, an absorbing account of the private proclivities and interests of a fairly well-heeled Lancaster citizen. The whole volume is given an extra dimension of touchingly personal significance thanks to a constant leitmotif which runs through so many of the entries: namely, Arthur's resolute devotion to his beloved Eliza. Indeed, his many references to this lady seem to have led to some misunderstanding about the book's provenance in the MMU finding aid. There it is described as "A rather sad and unusual commonplace book written by a man who had recently lost his wife." As intriguing and poignant as this description is, closer inspection and supporting evidence reveal that it would never, in fact, be Arthur's lot to play the grieving widower.
Fittingly for a volume so charged with romantic sentiment, Arthur begins the work with a 'Dedication' to Eliza. As soon becomes clear, the object of his affections is far from his side at the time of writing, but despite being only an imagined presence, he knows that she will "pass by with a gentle smile [the book's] defects and errors" given that the "lonely hours" in which Arthur has yearned for "something more substantial than [their] mere imaginary intercourse of thought" have "given existence to the pages which follow". Drawing on consoling reserves of memory, he continues by affirming that, having known "days that were not solitary, their memory is too present in brilliancy […] to permit [...] loneliness to gloom over him." Although the circumstances which brought about his separation from Eliza are never explained, her absence clearly affected Arthur deeply, so that he longed for "the music of her voice still filling my ear and the feeling of hope to charm my so called solitude." Given such bittersweet sentiments, it is, perhaps, understandable that when Sir Harry Page bought the volume from a Manchester bookshop in 1951, he assumed that what he had was a type of widower's threnody, an assumption which directly informed the MMU finding aid. In fact, evidence shows that for all his distress at their temporary estrangement, they must have been eventually reunited, given that on the 6th of January 1863, they were married in the parish church of Davenham in Cheshire. Despite Eliza Caroline Hansbrow (née Tothill) at age 51 being ten years older than her husband, she would go on to outlive him by over two decades: Arthur died in 1867, followed by his widow in 1889. Thus, rather than being an exercise in some sort of imagined posthumous communion, the Hansbrow commonplace book seems to have provided a means for Arthur to maintain a vicarious relationship with his beloved during their temporary separation, whilst also offering a source of diversionary consolation in her absence.
Having set out the dedicatory terms in which he plans to undertake his task, Arthur proceeds to fill the volume with a disparate collection of material that generally focuses on themes such as antiquarianism and folklore, augury, cultural traditions surrounding marriage, and his own proficiency in certain field sports. With no attempt at a structured division of content, these themes often jostle against each other on successive pages, or are sometimes woven into the same entry, thus conveying a sense that the whole project was assembled in intermittent bursts, as each topic occurred to its author --or even, given the various different shades of paper and ink used on successive pages, bound together from different sources. The function and layout of each entry can also vary significantly, depending on whether the aim is to reproduce extracts from notable texts, supply descriptions of places visited, make observations on historical minutiae, or recollect personal experiences. However, even though Arthur puts his commonplace book to a variety of uses, overall a recognisably coherent authorial persona emerges, one which, with all its idiosyncratic traits, offers an encounter with an all-but-anonymous individual from mid-nineteenth century England whose consistently engaging voice might otherwise have been forgotten.
For all that Arthur's book had been ostensibly compiled for the eyes of Eliza and himself alone, he regularly adopts a didactic tone as if composing a newspaper article or conversational homily addressed to a general audience.A typical example of this, and one which introduces at the outset his interest in all things uncannily providential, follows on from his opening dedication to Eliza. "The day is Thursday," he announces, "[…] why should not my first theme be that of all the good fortune attached to all that falls on this day of the week." Arthur has, it seems, always had "an inward feeling of favour" for Thursdays when "undertaking any new matter." This is especially the case given that it was on a Thursday -- the 27th of February, to be exact -- when he met with "the greatest good that ever befell me." Given the early 1850s date range of other entries and the fact that in 1851, the 27th of February fell on a Thursday, this could possibly be a reference to an important date in his relationship with Eliza, a supposition to which an item in the commonplace book, discussed below, lends further credence. In contrast, however, to the good fortune which has visited Arthur on Thursdays, he considers Fridays "ill-omened" and "unlucky." Justifying this belief with reference to traditional maritime superstitions about the folly of beginning a voyage on a Friday, he cites several historical examples of ships which ran afoul of this proscription, also offering his own experiences as an accomplished rower whose outings on this most unpropitious of days "were not frequent but rarely fortunate," including one occasion when he ran aground, breaking "an excellent oar" in the process.
This readiness to look for hidden forces, for a glimpse of laws which, as he puts it, "our finite understandings do not comprehend," also informs Arthur's notes on a range of other issues, such as the divinatory merits of consulting the thirty-first chapter of the Book of Proverbs and the sayings of Robert Nixon, a legendary Cheshire prophet. On the same theme, towards the end of the book Arthur turns to his own experiences in an intriguing essay entitled "Strange Coincidences." Here he records a number of incidents which struck him as peculiar and full of latent significance. The first of these is a rather convoluted account of an episode which happened whilst he was staying in London. Arthur had one morning prepared a number of letters for the post, and his landlady happened to ask him whether one of the addressees, a 'Mr Moore,' was the nephew of Lord Mount Cashell. When later he went out to post the letters, the only one that he was unable to send (because it had torn in his pocket) was the very same one to Mr Moore about which his landlady had enquired. "What," Arthur asks pointedly, "does my Eliza say of this?" Whether Eliza had anything at all to say of this, or was anywhere near as perplexed by this seemingly negligible twist of fate as Arthur seems to have been, we will never know. However, it indicates the alacrity, or credulity, with which he was wont to seek out such phenomena. Other examples of Arthur's "strange coincidences" are somewhat more readily appreciable. His sister, Mary, found a money spider one morning, leading her sibling Fanny to predict that she would discover a purse full of gold. Later that day, as the two of them waited in the Ladies' Room at Preston Railway station, "Mary went to stir the fire and put her foot upon something on the rug." Looking down she saw a purse "containing both gold and silver to the amount of £5 or £6." Although this has somewhat more substance than the torn letter story, it is as nothing compared to the anecdote that Arthur then goes on to recount regarding his brother George on the occasion of his voyage to India as an army surgeon. As there was no parson on board, it was customary for the doctor to take the prayers. George agreed to do this, and "as he was uttering the words 'And he made great whales to live in the sea' up came close alongside the ship a great whale! who spouted, rolled over and was not seen again." Arthur's explanation for this spectacle is that the whale "had performed his errand, he had given his evidence of the truth of the words spoken, and he had proved the existence of a great unseen Power," a statement which ultimately places Arthur's belief in augury and coincidence firmly under the aegis of a Christian God.
Whatever is remarkable, singular and noteworthy is, then, of interest to Arthur, so that, at times, his commonplace book becomes a gazetteer of such curiosities.Folklore, historical anecdotes and English customs are all grist to the mill.The award of a flitch of bacon at Dunmow Priory in Essex to the couple who can swear nuptial harmony for a year and a day is documented, along with a transcription of the oath that they have to take. Then there is the tale of a "gentleman named Orr" from Arbroath, who was said to have left £900 to the local Parish Church of St Cyrus, directing that it be distributed each Christmas Day between "the Tallest, the Shortest, the Eldest and the youngest Brides married there during the preceding year." Meanwhile, in Fenchurch Street, London, on "a certain Saturday afternoon in March 1852," the King's Head received "two guests" - the inference being that Arthur was one of them -- who came to see "the great curiosity of the house," namely the dish from which a young Princess Elizabeth had eaten pork and peas after being released from the Tower of London by Mary Tudor.
Several of these forays into the lore of the land are informed by maps produced by the seventeenth-century cartographer John Speed. Arthur's admiration for this scholar ("I reverence thee old Speed and none the less that thou wert a Cheshire Man") is such that he faithfully, and skilfully, reproduces several of his maps throughout the book. An indication of the fascination with which Arthur studied these artefacts can be seen in his attentiveness to a number of small curiosities and anomalies that he identifies in them. Interestingly, two examples of these, the significance of a gun propped against 'Hodgkin's Tree' in a county map of Warwickshire and what appears to be the presence of forgotten vaults located beneath Richmond Castle in Yorkshire, also feature in submissions made to Notes and Queries for October 1853 by a certain 'O.L.R.G.,' this conceivably being the pseudonym that Arthur used to pursue his enquiries in that journal. If this is also a clue as to the sort of reading matter that Arthur had to hand whilst he was compiling his commonplace book, other texts that he consulted also occasionally surface here and there in passages which either paraphrase or reproduce the original. These are often of a historical nature, Agnes Strickland's multi-volume The Lives of the Queens of England from the 1840s (a particular favourite) or Thomas Fuller's 1662 The History of the Worthies of England being two examples. However, as well as history, Arthur is fond of quoting verse, whether Walter Scott's Marmion or Robert Herrick's The Kiss, although the American versifier Nathaniel Parker Willis's Love in a Cottage, which debunks the ideal of rustic romance as, in reality, a meagre, fly-infested affair, earns a two-page rebuke from Eliza's paramour who stoutly maintains that in his opinion such love is "not quite the absurdity which people of the world generally describe it to be."
Not that Arthur only ever studied the works of others. We also have some interesting evidence of his own published output. One of the few pasted inserts found in his commonplace book is a small advertisement for The Roman Roads of England, with the Ancient and Modern Names attached to each Station upon or near the Route, beneath which he has written "My first publication 31st of March 1852." Whether this was a self-funded project is not clear, but it was, as the advertisement demonstrates, "a limited edition" which was "Of a size to bind with a royal or post 8vo volume for reference." In addition, it would also appear from the hand-written evidence further down the page that Arthur then went on to contribute "a lithographic drawing of antiquities for Simpson's History of Lancashire, 4th May 1852." Plans were also afoot to produce further titles which, listed under the heading "Then are to follow," include "A Collection of Inscriptions by the Romans Discovered and Preserved in England,""Some Leaves of Tobacco for Smokers" and "A Pocket Book for Amateur Riflemen," none of which, if they were ever written, seem to have left a trace.
However, so far as the last of these topics goes, even if Arthur never ended up publishing his amateur riflemen's pocketbook, shooting itself seems to have been a much-loved pastime, and he provides an outline for the contents of his book on the subject. Amongst other items, there would be a collection of shooting anecdotes collected from various published sources, descriptions of the different sorts of rifles and modes of using them, and advice given by old soldiers regarding the foundation of rifle clubs for national defence. Warming to his theme, elsewhere he relates the "History of my 'Pet' rifle," a protracted account of buying his first "own gun," which he made "much of." Indeed, so proficient did he become with this firearm that he soon "astonished the weak minds of shot-gunners by marvellous hits of marks far beyond their reach." It was through such displays that he persuaded his friends to form a rifle club. Besides listing all the prizes that he subsequently won in this club, Arthur goes on to detail some of the feats of accuracy that he performed when shooting birds. These included "picking off a tom-tit at 30 yards," "a crow at 80," "a seagull at 90" and, on one occasion, "7 rooks from one tree at 50 yards."His love of shooting and desire to pass on the pleasure it gave him is even captured in a small drawing that he made in his commonplace book of three well-dressed figures, a man and two women, standing in a quarry. Under the supervision of the man, one of the women is aiming a rifle into the distance, with Arthur's caption "Delightful task. To teach the young idea how to shoot." Shooting was one of his passions, along with rowing and archery, and he approved of the last as a "field sport that ladies may with advantage join in."
The impression so far formed of Arthur as someone who threw himself wholeheartedly into various pursuits takes a more poignant turn when it comes to his more sedate, but no less eager, interest in heraldry. By displaying an enthusiasm for this subject, Arthur, in his own modest way, can be seen as partaking of that revival of interest in all things mediaeval, with its attendant simulacral nostalgia for a chivalric past, which characterised the Victorian cultural landscape. His 'Heraldic Evenings,' as he calls them, as well as opportunities to display another area of specialist knowledge, had also, it seems, particularly evocative connotations: he recalls sharing so many of them with Eliza. The very first time he mentions one of his 'Heraldic Evenings' her presence is invoked:
"How long it is since we have had [a Heraldic Evening]! A cosy little party on the sofa at the corner of the hearth with the fat red book open for reference on the thousand subjects that our rambling thoughts suggested. Come! I see you again in my mind's eye in your old place, and I have a subject that will give me plenty of occupation for one evening at least."
The subject of this particular evening was how a "great number of the gentry of Cheshire bear in their coats of arms - garbs - that is in the vulgar tongue - wheat sheaves." Going on to explain how these garbs were awarded to twenty-five Cheshire families "in token of their proverbial hospitality," Arthur then illustrates several examples, including coats of arms for the Rutters, Wicksteds and Fittons. In later 'Heraldic Evening' entries, Arthur covers such topics as "a search by the Lancaster Herald at Arms for the armorial bearings of the family of Perkins," those "very worthy people" who, nevertheless, bear arms to which they have no right; the travesty of the honoured crest of the 'Unsworth Dragon' being mistakenly bestowed by the Herald's College on the Ainsworth family; and the shortest motto he knows of, that of a family formerly resident at Borwick Hall near Lancaster, which "consists of only one word - 'Per.'" Evidently Arthur closely identified with the authoritative structures of civic community which the observance of Heraldry and its codes reinforced. As such, his view of it, whilst tinged with a romanticism common to most nineteenth-century attitudes to the subject, also seemed to be a means of associating traditions of historic rights with social prestige. Unsurprisingly, given the high-profile positions held by himself and his father in Lancaster at the time, the idea that there was an established, time-honoured network of families who had somehow forged and vindicated the present socio-economic circles in which he moved was important to him.
Although, as we have seen, Arthur never makes mention of his deputy governorship role in his commonplace book, the status it gave him and the social circles to which it admitted him can be gleaned from various entries. For example, at sporadic intervals throughout the book Arthur affixes a number of autographs to the page which, rather than being solicited from national celebrities, reference a collection of those acquaintances whom he personally held in respectful or friendly esteem. These begin with Professor Richard Owen, the biologist and palaeontologist who was instrumental in founding the Natural History Museum and whose signature was obtained "on an occasion when his influence was asked and most handsomely promised." There is the Reverend Robert Simpson ("the dear old dean") for whose History of Lancashire Arthur had provided a lithograph. Then there is 'Joey' Hulme whom Arthur identifies simply as "the financial M.P.," Alderman Wood of London who, it is noted, is "a principal actor in the abolition of the punishment of death," and Charles Whalley, "my genuine, sincere friend." The very last autograph pasted in the book, that of W. B. Bolden, a Lancaster magistrate, is given a page all to itself, with an excoriating if cryptic note beneath stating that this man was "The honourable exception to the disgrace attaching to the associates of the committee." No further explanation is given.
A Lancaster magistrate, a local churchman and a death penalty abolitionist are, perhaps, a diverse but not ultimately unlikely cross-section of correspondents for a prison official, although, with regard to his acquaintance with Alderman Wood, it would be fascinating to know Arthur's position on the death penalty, since, in 1865, he was the last Governor to oversee a public hanging at Lancaster Prison. However, aside from clues about those he encountered during the course of his professional and civic duties, we can also glean something of Arthur's social life in and around Lancaster from certain items of ephemera preserved in his book. Pasted onto one page halfway through the volume is an announcement of two public dinners to take place on "WEDNESDAY, the 28th of April, 1852." The dinners, to be held "In Honour of the Nuptials of the Right Hon. Earl Grosvenor, M.P., and of Sir Watkins Williams Wynn, Bart., M.P.," rather than, as the wording might suggest, celebrating a civil partnership avant la lettre between two male members of Parliament, were to mark both men's respective marriages. Rather inconveniently for the invited citizenry of Chester, it would have been necessary to choose whether to attend the wedding held at the Feathers' Hotel or the other at the Royal Hotel, the latter presided over by "P. S. HUMBERSTON, ESQ. MAYOR OF CHESTER," a name which Arthur has underlined in red ink. Luckily for those who missed out on either or both of the above events, a further notice is posted announcing that on "Thursday Evening, April 29th, there will be a BALL, in commemoration of the same happy occurrence, at the ALBION ASSEMBLY ROOM, Chester," again "UNDER THE PATRONAGE OF THE MAYOR," whose title is once more underlined in red along with, under a list of lady patronesses of this event, "Mrs. Mayoress." Whether Arthur attended these occasions (along with local luminaries mentioned such as Colonel H. Ford, Major French, The Honourable Mrs W. O. Stanley and the three Mrs Potts) is not known, although, given how noteworthy he found the attendance of the Mayor and his wife and the fact that he preserved the announcement, it seems likely that he was there.
However, there is more certainty surrounding his attendance at another event in the local social calendar, of which Arthur kept a record. At the Assembly Rooms on the evening of the 23rd of January 1851, a Bachelors' Ball was held. In his commonplace book Arthur has preserved a card announcing the event, which also doubles as a formal invitation requesting "the honor (sic) of Miss Tothill's company." Given that Eliza's maiden name was Tothill, it would appear that this card is a keepsake of their relationship's early stages.Above it Arthur has written "The identical card of invitation stolen from the secretary on purpose to be enshrined here," prefacing this statement with a two-page rhapsody on the virtues of the Bachelor's Ball. These events are, in Arthur's estimation, akin to a chivalric love ritual in which "the bachelors fairly challenge and the ladies fairly accept," so that, with hearts battered by the romantic assault, "the wonder is that any of the challengers come unscathed from the encounter." As for his part in this event, it was that of:
"the faint-hearted bachelor [who] arranged beforehand a sign by which his unconditional surrender might be known if he were incapable of saying 'O save your prisoner, I render myself, rescue or no rescue.'"
Fortunately for him, "how kind was the victor" who "did save the suppliant all undeserving as he was," thus making him "happier in his bonds than he ever was before with his so called freedom." It would seem, then, that on this memorable occasion Eliza, in some sort of predetermined manner, responded accordingly to Arthur's gallant advances. As he thinks back on it and warms to his theme of romantic subjugation, Arthur's flights of fancy take on a somewhat curious trajectory, as his language briefly places him in the position of those whose confinement he normally oversaw. We hear how Eliza lets him "wander on parole without fear of breach of faith" because "his only law is her will," whilst "he seeks only that he be more closely bound if that be possible." Although it appears that, from mention of the "sign arranged beforehand," the Bachelors' Ball of January 1851 was not the first time that Arthur and Eliza had encountered each other, it was undoubtedly a turning point in their relationship. Furthermore, it suggests that Arthur's talk of lucky Thursdays and the one which fell on the 27th of February 1851 as marking "the greatest good that ever befell me" means that, just a few weeks after the ball, their relationship was placed on an even more substantial footing.
Although Arthur's feelings for Eliza reach their lyrical crescendo with his description of the Bachelors' Ball, she is no less present in a number of other entries in which his thoughts turn to matrimony, its protocols and desirability. Musing on the results of the national census, Arthur is troubled to learn that the country has 150, 000 single men, a state of affairs which leads him to recommend that they be compelled to marry within six months or else conscripted into the army. Should such an individual subsequently be posted to the Colonies to, for instance, "clear the way for a settlement," a wife would be sent out to him "and you would soon see how gladly he would receive his partner." Having solved that problem, Arthur goes on to fill three closely-written pages with an essay on "The Solemnisation of Marriage," going into considerable detail about many aspects of the ceremony and its surrounding conventions. We learn about how and when the banns must be read, how long the couple should have been resident in the parish, that the ceremony should take place between eight and twelve in the morning, and the details of each canonical impediment that could arise, including intricate consanguinity prohibitions. Then all that is left is for the couple to understand their duties to one another. The man must love his wife, as this will "cause him to delight in the performance of all his other duties towards her" as well as "comfort her in the infirmities and sorrows to which the tenderness of her sex often makes her liable," whereas the woman shall in all things obey her husband as "nothing but egregious pride or folly" could lead her to refuse this requirement, particularly since obedience "is her chief advantage if she have but skill to understand and manage it aright."Not that Arthur is always so intransigent when it comes to ideas of connubial bliss. As we have seen, he took umbrage with the poet Nathaniel Parker Willis's idyll-deflating verse on the subject of "Love in a Cottage," in an entry which describes his own ideal nuptial cottage, including the layout of the rooms and the furnishings --a visualisation that he would later illustrate by drawing a diagram in plan of this haven, with an accompanying note pointing out that it represented "a cottage small enough and yet large enough." With his customary diligence over those things which delighted him, Arthur thus, to his own satisfaction, settled how matrimony should be socially enforced, its solemnisation protocols, and even the surroundings conducive to a happily married life.
Gradually, then, through the medium of his commonplace book, the figure who set out for that New Year's Day walk on a mild morning in 1852 comes into focus. Arthur Hansbrow, prison official, believer in strange coincidences, antiquarian, author, sportsman, heraldry enthusiast and misidentified widower left behind a thoroughly engrossing record. Not meant for public consumption, and all the more absorbing for that, his modestly-sized volume of notes, reminiscences and memoranda would perhaps not have survived had Sir Harry Page not discovered it whilst rooting through the contents of a Manchester bookshop in the 1950s. Even then, had it not subsequently ended up in the MMU Special Collections, general access to this singular artefact might never have been possible, and consequently we would have lost the opportunity to gain some understanding of the emotions, humours and predilections of someone who would otherwise exist as little more than another name on the roster of Lancaster Prison Governors. Not that the present account completely mines the commonplace book of all Arthur's various interests and exploits. As well as his New Year's Day trip to Arnside Tower, there are others to the Liverpool Zoological Gardens, Borwick Hall, Beeston Castle, and, in London, a performance of Dion Boucicault's contemporary hit play, The Corsican Brothers.Equally, in addition to the interests and pastimes detailed above, there are other pages devoted to maritime signals, Chinese porcelain, the ingredients needed for invisible writing, ornithology, and a recurrent curiosity about the symbolism and history of rings. Giving momentum to the entire project is Arthur's unwavering desire to communicate with Eliza. Hers is the absence which haunts his endeavours. When finally married, the two of them would enjoy just four years together as man and wife before Arthur died in 1867, having, according to a notice in the Preston Chronicle and Advertiser, suffered impaired health ever since his return from Ceylon. One wonders what comfort Eliza took from reading his commonplace book after his death, and whether she, as her late husband had done, found in it a means of communication with her missing loved one. --Mark Jones