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Soon after I began digging for information about my great great grandfather, William Charles Graygoose, I came across this notice in The Era newspaper of 28th July 1872:

‘ROYAL MASONIC INSTITUTE FOR BOYS, October Election 1872. The Votes and Interest of the Governors and Subscribers are earnestly solicited on behalf of CHARLES S GRAYGOOSE, aged 8 years, son of WILLIAM CHARLES GRAYGOOSE, late of 57 Great Queen-street, Lincolns Inn.’

The notice goes on to describe the unfortunate set of circumstances that had brought about the downfall of William Charles’ furniture business – an enterprise that had been established around the time of his marriage in 1848 when William Charles gave up his work as a pawnbroker and opened the furniture dealership at 57 Great Queen Street in central London. The move from pawnbroker to furniture dealer may have been encouraged by his father-in-law (my 3rd Great Grandfather), James Winter. James had run a prestigious furniture business in Soho since 1823 and was the founder of the Furniture Brokers’ Benevolent Association, a charity that established and administered a fund for ‘the relief of decayed and distressed Furniture Brokers …. and the widows and orphan children of members of the institution.’ William Charles would later take on the office of treasurer of the Association.

Close to his business in Great Queen Street stood the Freemasons’ Hall, and in 1857 William Charles was initiated into the Lodge of Prudent Brethren which held its meetings at the Freemasons’ Tavern adjacent to the Hall. Over the next ten years William Charles took an active part in the life of his Lodge. The Masonic Mirror reports his appointments as Junior Deacon in 1859, as Junior Warden the following year, then as Senior Warden in 1861. There are several mentions in the same publication of William Charles’ musical contributions during Lodge meetings. Thus we read in an account of one such meeting: ‘At the conclusion of the business, the brethren adjourned to an excellent banquet, and a pleasant evening was passed, assisted by the musical exertions of Bros. Hart, Exall, Graygooose …….’

In November 1861, the Masonic Mirror reported that William Charles had been elected unanimously as Worshipful Master and that the brethren anticipated ‘a year of unusual prosperity’ under his presidency; his installation took place the following February and two months later, the Masonic Mirror reported that the Lodge was indeed ‘rapidly rising in prosperity.’ At his final meeting as Worshipful Master, in November 1862, he was voted a ‘Past Master’s Jewel’ – a symbol of the Lodge’s appreciation of his dedication.

It was just four months later that Sarah Wigley, one of William Charles’ house servants, was convicted of the murder of her newborn baby – the child’s body having been discovered in a cistern in the family home.[1]

This incident was swiftly followed by the events that led to the demise of William Charles’ business. In December 1863 work began on the new Freemasons Hall that would adjoin his premises. Over the next fourteen months he saw his stock and his van damaged by lime and dust from demolition work, the ceiling of his showrooms was ruined by water, and access to his premises was hindered by ‘the large amounts of earth excavation apparatus’. In February 1865 William Charles wrote a long letter to ‘the Chairman & members of the Building Committee appointed by the Grand Lodge of the Ancient Order of Freemasons’. The final straw appears to have been the disruption caused by the demolition of a water closet: ‘So great was the hindrance to my business & my domestic comforts in the autumn through the alterations to the drains and the bad smells that I was compelled to send my wife and six children and servant from the house for their health sake still adding to my already great loss.’

The letter continues with a request for the Building Committee to compensate him for the financial loss suffered as a result of the works, a loss that he calculated to be three hundred and forty pounds before taking into account the repairs to his van and the roof of his showroom. William Charles ends his letter:

‘I have rendered every facility for the carrying out the works and used my best influence with my neighbours when they complained & by example to them bore those evils calmly against which no living creature could but complain.’

There is no record of whether the Freemasons agreed to pay all or part of the desired compensation, but William Charles’ financial position did not improve over the next three years and at the beginning of 1869 he came to an arrangement with his creditors agreeing to pay 1/- in the £1 to write off his debts. The following year he assigned his interest in the lease of 57 Great Queen Street to a William Biddlestone.

After abandoning his home and his business in Great Queen Street, William Charles took on the licence of the Red Lion public house on the corner of High Street and Market Street in Guildford. Originally a coaching inn, the Red Lion had counted among its guests King Charles II and Samuel Pepys. However, by the time William Charles arrived, it no longer offered accommodation for passing travellers and was trading simply as an alehouse. His tenancy lasted just eighteen months, and by the time William Charles placed the notice in The Era, seeking a place for his son at the Royal Masonic Institution, he was living at 31 Tonsley Hill, Wandsworth. He was now fifty years old; the demise of his business had led to his financial ruin and to his becoming ‘entangled in many lawsuits which he could not in any way avoid’; he was without occupation or income and was suffering from approaching blindness.

In order to find out if the appeal to the Governors and Subscribers of the Royal Masonic Institution for Boys had been successful, I went to the present Freemasons Hall in Great Queen Street where I was directed to the impressive library. Within a very short time I was presented with the Register of Boys Admitted to the Institute which revealed that Charles Sharwood Graygoose had indeed been elected in October 1872 and admitted in January 1873. The Register goes on to record that Charles Sharwood remained at the Institution until March 1878 when he was 14 years old; and that the total costs of his schooling had been £232 9s 10d.

In 1881, three years after he had left the Institution, Charles Sharwood was living with his parents, William Charles and Eliza, and two sisters, Mary and Clara, in Hayter Road, Lambeth. It was here that William Charles died later that year, the cause of death being recorded as ‘organic strictures of the aesophagus’. His personal estate was valued at £27 10s.

The next record we have of Charles Sharwood Graygoose is the registration of his marriage to Alice Sophia Swyer, the daughter of Dr Septimus Swyer, in April 1886. The marriage took place in Christ Church, Blacklands, Hastings; the addresses of both bride and groom are given as ‘Sunnyside’, Baldslow Road, Hastings; and Charles Sharwood’s occupation is listed as ‘Land Agent’. Interestingly, they were married by ‘Superintendent Registrar’s Certificate’ which suggests that neither was resident in the parish of Christ Church. We know that, at the time of her death in 1888, Charles Sharwood’s sister, Clara, was living at ‘Sunnyside’, so it is likely that the couple lived with her for the regulation two weeks prior to the marriage ceremony to fulfil the qualification required for the licence and thus for their marriage in Christ Church.

We can only speculate as to whether their wish to be married in Hastings had anything to do with the fact that a son, my grandfather William, was born to the couple in Hastings just four months later!

[1] See my earlier blog A Domestic Servant’s Sad Story

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