Wednesday, February 04, 2015

LAST week, in the course of my ramblings as I negotiated the Great Heath 10k, I made reference to the to solving this matter. Taylor and Skinner maps of 1783; in particular, their reference to Ratheen Common, where I felt the Great Heath should be. After a brief look, I’m not sure if I am any closer

I have come across a reference whereby Ratheen Common and the Great Heath seem to be regarded as one and the same. But in the course of that discovery, I also came across an additional reference in William Wilson’s Post-Chaise Companion, to Ratheen Castle, adjacent to Ratheen Common, and close to the seat of Mr Burdit Esq.

This may be connected to a George Burdett of Heath House, about whom Jackie Hyland had some interesting information relating to local landowners’ measures, circa 1775, to counter Whiteboy activities against their properties. Further investigations are required, I think.

This week, I am more concerned about the aforementioned William Wilson’s Post-Chaise Companion.

You may have come across a relatively recent television series, presented by Michael Portillo, based on Great Train Journeys in England, Ireland and continental Europe, as described in the series of guide books produced by George Bradshaw. Or, more recently still, you may have seen some of the programmes presented by Penelope Keith on Hidden Villages of England, based on a series of guide books produced and illustrated by Sir Brian Cook Batsford.

Well, Sir Brian Cook Batsford’s series of guide books dates from the relatively recent 1930s, very definitely in living memory. George Bradshaw, on the other hand, produced his first railway timetable in 1839, though even after his death in 1853, his very successful series of guide books continued to be to be produced under his name into the 1960s.

So popular was Michael Portillo’s documentary series that a reprint of one of Bradshaw’s Guide Books, reproduced in every detail, made the Amazon best seller list. And I’m sure Penelope Keith’s series will raise awareness of the works of Sir Brian Cook Batsford.

But I am plugging this week for William Wilson. His guide, whose title I will abridge to The Post-Chaise Companion or Traveller’s Directory through Ireland was written in 1786, pre-dating George Bradshaw by half a century.

In fact, Bradshaw was indirectly connected to the demise of William Wilson’s work, in that the arrival of the railway saw the interest in road travel take a nose dive, signalling the death knell of the mail coach or post-chaise, both as a means of travel and of delivering post.

This week I am only scratching the surface of this wonderful guide. Produced a few years after the updated version of the Taylor and Skinner maps, the guide relied heavily on the information in Taylor and Skinner’s work. But in order to appeal to a wider audience, Wilson included many routes not covered by their work and, in many cases, amplified the information relating to country seats, industries and curiosities along the routes.

For the author, this work was a business proposition. As such, it would have been important for him to have the best backing possible, in order to guarantee the success of the venture. Wilson chose the Duke of Rutland, or perhaps the Duke of Rutland chose him.

Charles Manners, 4th Duke of Rutland, was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and viceroy at the time of the publication of Wilson’s Post-Chaise Companion. I’m not sure if it was the Viceroy’s endorsement that, Portillo-like, catapulted this travel guide to fame, but the pre-publication subscription list reads like a who’s-who of the time.

Top of the list of subscribers is the bold Duke of Rutland himself. Thereafter, the list is liberally sprinkled with Earls, Lords, Hon Gentlemen and ranking military officers.

A list such as this, which runs to hundreds of names, is an absolute treasure, and something which I could happily lose myself in for some considerable time. Even after a cursory glance through the pages of subscribers, I know I will be following up on some of the names that appear on the list.

I couldn’t ignore a James Wyatt Esq London, nor could I be reasonably expected to ignore James Gandon, Esq MRIA. Of course, I will be duty bound to follow up on Richard Cox Esq, though I can promise you, I am not confident of finding him in my family tree. And a further name, which might serve to unlock some more Heath connections, is Rev MervArchdall, AM MRIA.

You might notice that MRIA has turned up in two of the names that have, thus far, piqued my interest. I can tell you that it turns up in at least a score more names of those initial subscribers – not surprising, given that the Royal Irish Academy was formed less than a year earlier. We will, perhaps, take a further look at some of these academicians in the weeks to come.

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By Tom Cox
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