Wednesday, 31 May 2017

In Eltham with the Reverend John Kenward Shaw Brooke and some revealing records

John Kenward Shaw Brooke from an engraving in the church
am sitting looking at a picture of the Reverend John Kenward Shaw Brooke and have been reflecting on what started as a simple piece of research about the man led me off in all sorts of directions.


John Kenward Shaw Brooke was vicar of St John’s in Eltham from the age of 24 in 1783 till his death in 1840.

Such was his reputation in the parish that on the jubilee of his tenure in office the newly built row of cottages owned by John Fry became known as Jubilee Cottages, a name they retained till their demolition in 1957.

He was in the words of the local historian R.R.C. Gregory “a man greatly revered of strong character, and holding the office of Vicar for the long period of fifty-seven years, he has left a mark upon parochial history more indelible, perhaps, than that of any preceding Vicar.”*

So much so that over 70 years after his death in the summer of 1909 there were engravings of the man “in many of the homes of Eltham ...and so impressive were the demonstrations that took place [to commemorate his fifty years on office in 1833] that the children and grandchildren of those who witnessed them find to this day, a congenial theme for conversational purposes.”

Cover of the by Rev Myers, 1841 
Nor was this all for just a year after his death his life and contribution were recorded in a 22 page booklet focusing particularly on his establishment of the National Infant and Sunday Schools, the endowment he left to the school and his other charity work.**

And as I dug deeper I got side tracked and despite serious efforts to return to our man I was led off on different tracks.

All of which began with the poll books which are not only a record of who could vote in Parliamentary elections but also how they voted.

John Kenward Shaw Brooke appears in a number of them from the late 18th century into the 19th and encompassing the great election after the 1832 Reform Act.

The first comes from 1790 and the last in 1838, and what they show is that the Reverend Shaw Brooke consistently voted Tory.

One of thast enteries by the Reverend Shaw Brook in December 1839
Nor is this all for like so many men of the period he voted in more than one place.

So along with Eltham he was registered in the parish of St Dunstan in the West in the City of London and Wickhambreaux which is just five miles from Canterbury.

And like so many clergymen of the period he also managed more than one church.

In his case the second living was at the Rectory of Hurst-Pierpoint, in Sussex, “where respect and esteem ever awaited him; and where, although his residence was limited to a few weeks annually, he lost no opportunity of promoting the well being of his parishioners, by his sanction and liberal support of every means of advancing their temporal and spiritual interests.”***

But it was in Eltham where he was most busy and trawling the parish records there frequently is his name and of course his handwriting which for any historian is an exciting link with both the man and the period.


Here too purely by chance I came across the burial record of Lucy Jeffery who died in her first year in the June of 1841.

Only weeks before I had uncovered her baptismal records along with her siblings and in the course of charting the family through from the 1840s noted she had fallen off the official records.  At the time I assumed she had changed her name on marriage, and thought that I would follow it up in the future.

Not so, she was buried on June 19th in the parish church yard, which led me to ponder on the ages of the others laid to rest during the period. In time I think it will turn into a major piece of research but for now of the 48 buried during 1840, 19 were under the age of 5 of which many were never to see their first birthday.

Burial record for John Kenward Shaw Brook
It is unscientific, lacks at present any details of the causes of death and is confined to that one year but most of us will I suspect reflect on the lost lives and unfilled futures which they represent.

John Kenward Shaw Brooke had died the year before aged 81 and was buried on December 23rd 1840.

Pictures; John Kenward Shaw Brookes from The story of Royal Eltham, R.R.C. Gregory, 1909 and published on The story of Royal Eltham, by Roy Ayers, http://www.gregory.elthamhistory.org.uk/bookpages/i001.htm,

*The story of Royal Eltham, R.R.C. Gregory, 1909

**Rev W.T.Myers, 1841

***ibid R.R.C. Gregory

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