10 notable Gloucestershire births

Portrait of Richard Deane by Robert Walker, c.1653

Portrait of Richard Deane by Robert Walker, c.1653 - Credit: source – Art UK, collection – National Maritime Museum

When given the challenge of selecting just 10 notable characters from Gloucestershire’s rich and colourful history, we just couldn’t resist coming up with a few more... 


‘So-and-so was born ‘ere’. You often see this on a plaque and stop to read (well, I do). This set me pondering. Could I come up with 10 notable births in Gloucestershire? (excepting perhaps the most obvious).

1. Temple Guiting (1610)
Having written about the Cotswolds and the English Civil War (Cotswold Life, May 2019), this internecine dust-up seemed as good a place as any to begin. Richard Deane (1610-53) – was a Parliamentarian major-general, and a regicide (signed King Charles I’s death warrant), who was subsequently killed at the Battle of Solebay (or the Gabbard or the North Foreland), when fighting against the Dutch. Deane was born in Temple Guiting (or Guyting) and became an artilleryman, commanding the Roundhead guns at the decisive Battle of Naseby (June 1645). He later became a ‘General at Sea’ and met his end in the 1st Anglo-Dutch War (June 1653). He was buried in Westminster Abbey but was disinterred on the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 (a bit of posthumous revenge).

The Sherborne Arms in Northleach. Bradley was born in Sherborne, then attended the grammar school in nearby Northleach

The Sherborne Arms in Northleach. Bradley was born in Sherborne, then attended the grammar school in nearby Northleach - Credit: Jim Linwood / The Sherborne Arms

2. Sherborne (1693)
Stargazer James Bradley (1693-1762) was an astronomer who according to at least one (erroneous) source established the Greenwich Meridian. Born in Sherborne (Gloucestershire not Dorset), Bradley attended Northleach Grammar School before heading up to Oxford and Balliol. A pal of Halley (he of the comet) and Newton (of the apple), he became a Royal Society member (1718) and in 1742 succeeded the former as Regius Professor of Astronomy at Greenwich. He died at Chalford, Gloucestershire, but only after recording his 60,000 astronomical observations in a couple of hefty volumes. And the Greenwich Meridian? It was actually Sir George Airy, who had nought to do with the Cotswolds.

The Old Crypt School, in Gloucester

The Old Crypt School, in Gloucester. The school’s original 16th-century location was in Southgate Street where it formed part of St Mary de Crypt Church, and George Whitefield was a pupil here. The school moved location in 1889, and again in 1943 - Credit: Philafrenzy

3. Gloucester (1714)
Now, I’m going to tick off a couple of Gloucester-ites, firstly George Whitefield (1714-70), an evangelist and open-air preacher, who, along with the Wesleys, was one of the founders of Methodism. Born at the Bell Inn, Southgate Street, George went to school at the Old Crypt School, in Gloucester, when it was in its original Southgate Street location, so just a pebble’s lob from Whitefield’s birthplace. George, whose trademark hair resembled a pair of woolly headphones, preached his first sermon in the Crypt Church, with his debut open-air session at Kingswood Hill, near Bristol. He went on preaching tours, including a famous one to Scotland (1741) and also made seven evangelical visits to America. He died on his final American tour (September 1770).

READ MORE: Luke Jerram - meet the man who brought the Moon to Gloucester.

Scientific Identity, Portrait of Charles Wheatstone

Charles Wheatstone in his later years - Credit: Smithsonian Institution Libraries

4. Gloucester (1802)
Meanwhile, Sir Charles Wheatstone (1802-75) was a physicist, wireless telegraphy pioneer, encryptor and inventor, including of the concertina in 1829 (a full life then). Wheatstone said he was born at his grandparents’ house, Barnwood Manor House, where he spent his formative years and conducted his first experiments (Barnwood was once a separate village). A Fellow of the Royal Society (1836), he took out a patent for an electric telegraph (with W.F. Cooke) the following year, then invented a sound magnifier (or ‘microphone’ as he termed it). Wheatstone was knighted in 1868 and died in Paris in October 1875, aged 73.

Mural at Stapleton Road railway station, Easton, Bristol, showing W.G. Grace in typical pose

Mural at Stapleton Road railway station, Easton, Bristol, showing W.G. Grace in typical pose - Credit: Stephen Roberts

5. Downend (1848)
Now, we’re going to follow in the footsteps (or possibly hoof beats) of a couple of renowned sportsmen. W.G. Grace (1848-1915) was one of those characters, celebrated enough to be known by his initials. Born at Downend, near Bristol, he became perhaps cricket’s most famous ever player. He was playing for Gloucestershire by 1864 and picked up a medical degree in 1879 and a medical practice, which he didn’t permit to interfere with his sporting interests. He toured extensively (Canada, the US and Australia) and by 1895 had accumulated a century of centuries. He was nicknamed the ‘Big ‘Un’ among other things (apparently no horse could support his bulk) and was also not averse to a bit of gamesmanship. Surely that’s not cricket?

Caricature of Frederick J. Archer, 1881, ‘Men of the Day’, no. 245, ‘The Favourite Jockey’

Caricature of Frederick J. Archer, 1881, ‘Men of the Day’, no. 245, ‘The Favourite Jockey’ - Credit: ‘Spy’ or Leslie Ward; source: Vanity Fair, 1881

6. Cheltenham (1857)
If the ‘Big ‘Un’ was, well, big, then Frederick Archer (1857-86) needed to be small because he was a jockey and a champion jockey at that. Born at St. George’s Cottage, Cheltenham (January 11, 1857), Fred was the son of a jockey (Grand National winner William Archer, who became the publican of the King’s Arms, Prestbury). Fred, dubbed ‘The Tin Man’, was around 5ft 10, so was constantly dieting, rode his first flat race in 1870, then went on to win the Derby five times, the Oaks four, St. Leger six, and the 2,000 Guineas on five occasions. Known for his miserliness, yet also incongruously popular with the ladies, Archer tragically took his own life, aged just 29. 

READ MORE: 10 of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds

Beatrice and Sidney Webb working together, published in Beatrice Webb’s autobiography, 2nd volume, ‘Our Partnership’, 1948

Beatrice and Sidney Webb working together, published in Beatrice Webb’s autobiography, 2nd volume, ‘Our Partnership’, 1948 - Credit: LSE Library

7. Standish (1858)
(Martha) Beatrice Potter (1858-1943) was born at Standish House, in the village of Standish (January 22, 1858), the daughter of an industrial magnate, and in her mid-20s wed Sidney Webb (1892), the married couple becoming social reformers and historians, plus economists. As a rent collector she became interested in the era’s social problems and published ‘The Cooperative Movement in Great Britain’ the year before her marriage. As Mrs Webb she collaborated with her husband on a number of projects, including starting the New Statesman (1913) and helping to establish the L.S.E. (London School of Economics) (1895). In 1931, the Webbs visited Soviet Russia, accumulating material for several tomes on communism.

Ralph Vaughan Williams late in life, 1954, signing the visitors’ book at Yale University

Ralph Vaughan Williams late in life, 1954, signing the visitors’ book at Yale University - Credit: Creative Commons

8. Down Ampney (1872)
I’ve tried to avoid personalities I’ve previously written about for Cotswold Life, but have made Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) the one exception (Cotswold Life, January 2018). Born at Down Ampney (October 12, 1872), Vaughan Williams showed early promise which led to him becoming the first truly national composer since the 17th century (and Henry Purcell). A leader in the English folksong movement, ‘VW’ was able to compose in all forms (operas, symphonies, choral works, ballets, hymns, stage music and film scores, including that for the 1948 movie Scott of the Antarctic). Vaughan Williams served during WW1 and was awarded the O.M. (Order of Merit) in 1935.

READ MORE: 27 notable people buried in the Cotswolds

Edith How-Martyn, pictured left with Charlotte Despard and Emma Sproson, watched by a policeman, January 1911

Edith How-Martyn, pictured left with Charlotte Despard and Emma Sproson, walking boldly down a street watched by a policeman, January 1911 - Credit: LSE Library

9. Cheltenham (1875)
I’m returning to Cheltenham for the story of Edith How-Martyn (1875-1954), a suffragette member of the W.S.P.U. (Women’s Social and Political Union), who made a considerable splash in 1906 by becoming one of the first W.S.P.U. members to be sent to prison (for two months). She had attempted to give a speech in the lobby of the House of Commons: that was her ‘crime’, one of the first acts of suffragette militancy (if you can call it that). It’s worth saying that sources are thoroughly divided about Edith’s birthplace, only some of which cite it as Cheltenham, but I’m claiming her. We know that she was educated at ‘The Hall’, Cheltenham, which may be a further scrap of evidence. She stood unsuccessfully as an Independent candidate at the 1918 General Election and campaigned for birth control.

Frederick Sanger

Frederick Sanger - Credit: www.nlm.hih.gov

10. Rendcomb (1918)
We’re ending with a good one. Born in the year WW1 ended (August 13), Frederick Sanger (1918-2013) was a biochemist who won not one, but two Nobel Chemistry prizes, one of only two people to have won two prizes in the same category (and one of only four double Nobel Prize winners, the others including Marie Curie. Born in Rendcomb, the son of a GP, Sanger would win his first accolade (1958) for his work on proteins, particularly insulin, then picked up a second (1980) for research into nucleic acids. Elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1954, sanger won awards too numerous to mention (excepting his two Nobel Prizes), but he was also awarded the Order of Merit (O.M.) in 1986. Fred lived to the grand old age of 95, passing away on November 19, 2013. 

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Other notable births (18th century)
1735 – Robert Raikes – newspaper proprietor and philanthropist (Gloucester).
1749 – Edward Jenner – discoverer of vaccination (Berkeley).
1750 – John Stafford Smith – composer of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ (Gloucester).
1754 – Thomas Bowdler – a rather prudish translator of Shakespeare (Ashley).
1781 – Tom Cribb – champion prize-fighter back in bare-knuckle days (Bitton).
1792 – John Keble – religious poet who published 12 books of sermons (Fairford).

Other notable births (19th century)
1839 – John Maskelyne – stage magician (Cheltenham).
1849 – William Henley – amputee poet who possibly inspired ‘Long John Silver’ (Gloucester).
1861 – William Renshaw – champion tennis player (Cheltenham).
1866 – John Sankey, Viscount – Lord Chancellor, 1929-35 (Moreton-in-Marsh).
1871 – Hubert Booth – inventor of an industrial-size vacuum cleaner (Gloucester).
1872 – Edward Wilson – polar explorer who perished with Captain Scott (Cheltenham).
1874 – Gustav Holst – composer of the Planets Suite (Cheltenham).
1875 – Winifred Cullis – physiologist refused degree because of her gender (Gloucester).
1885 – Sir Frederick Handley Page – aircraft designer (Cheltenham).
1892 – Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris – chief of wartime Bomber Command (Cheltenham).

Other notable births (20th century)
1902 – Sir Ralph Richardson – actor (Cheltenham).
1914 – Laurie Lee – poet and author of Cider with Rosie (Slad).
1921 – Sir Jimmy Young – radio presenter and former pop singer (Cinderford).
1942 – Brian Jones – musician and founder of the Rolling Stones (Cheltenham).
1943 – Anna Ford – TV newscaster and journalist (Tewkesbury).
1965 – J.K. Rowling – children’s author and creator of Harry Potter (Yate).

READ MORE: Rachel Johnson: ‘If I hadn’t been born, Boris probably wouldn’t be PM’

References
The Book of British Birthplaces (A.J. & M. Mullay, 2002)
Chambers Biographical Dictionary (1974)