2 Great Dunmow, Essex, and London (1832-1842)


Family history began for me in my early teens, when one day my father took down a large leather- bound family Bible from a shelf at the back of his wardrobe; he showed me the fly-sheet, with long lists of names written by hand in strange, brown-coloured ink. “Look, this one …” (James Challis was his name) “… had seventeen children. How did his wife manage it?” We looked closer and noticed that his wife didn’t manage it, at least not all of it; she stopped after giving birth to fourteen children in 24 years, and subsequently died. The first two children, boys born in 1783 and 1784, were both named John; the first could not have survived infancy.

The old boy married a second wife and had three more children with her, before himself expiring somewhere beyond his 70th birthday. I cheerfully joined in with my father’s enthusiasm for such prolific ancestry. Later he took the Bible off to his study, where he mostly spent his time drawing trees and plants for a living, and he copied out all these names and dates into a recognisable family tree: ‘James Challis = (1st) Sarah’, then lines leading down and across, and down again to each of her fourteen children; ‘= (2nd) Mary’ and then her three. ‘After the death of James Challis, Mary married William Garrard – no issue.’ It was all in his flowing, artistic but beautifully legible handwriting. James Challis’ ‘issue’ stretched half way across an A2 sheet of paper.

Once the family tree had been constructed my father carefully folded it and tucked it inside the Bible, together with a collection of letters and notes that various family members had added over the years – he particularly pointed out one piece of paper, slightly scribbly and written in pencil by his father, my grandfather, who had died whilst I was away at boarding school, when I was eight or nine; then it was all packed away again on the shelf at the back of the wardrobe.


Family History pages 1

The Family register inscribed on the flysheet of the Challis family Bible.

I don’t remember seeing the Bible again until after my father had died – when I was in my thirties and living in Glastonbury – and I inherited this genealogical treasure-trove. That’s when I discovered that there were in fact three Bibles: the one with all the family information; another – even larger – that, according to a beautifully hand-written and decorated inscription, had been given to my grandfather when he was christened; and a truly ancient Bible, with fascinating illustrations, that was still wrapped for safekeeping after plentiful generations in a voluminous comforting sheet of pure black silk.

Nobody in our family ever read the Bible. These three historic volumes were carefully tucked away out of sight. They were treasures, like my grandfather’s gold pocket watch, and a tribal hand-drum and two small ceremonial spears that he had brought home from Nigeria. They were to be kept safe in a cupboard, not actually used, nor even looked at very much, which gave them an air of magic.

From my grandfather I also inherited a traditionally carved hardwood chest (with broken hinges, due to the lack of decent ironmongery in pre-war West Africa), and from my father a set of three of his illustrations of trees, in clip frames, from a book published in the ’70s or early 1980s. These all went in the living room (once I had managed to settle in a house that had one) and became everyday items – worth pointing out to visitors, and even getting the pictures properly framed, but not magic. The chest was eventually filled with old toys that would keep grandchildren amused when they came to see me.

The Bible – getting back to the Bible, which was the real subject here – was to gradually reveal its secrets over the years. The first thing I did was to photocopy the family tree, reducing it to a more manageable A3 size, and I added (to the copy, so as not to mess up my father’s work) Samuel Garrard of Gissing, in Norfolk; his son William Garrard, the Reverend William, one of several reverends amongst my forebears; and his son, also William, ‘of Ticknall’ in Derbyshire. I thought at first that there was a third William, in between Samuel and the Reverend, but that was a misunderstanding.

The additional information came from a letter written with an unsteady hand and an ageing mind to my grandfather, and kept in one of the several clear-fronted cellophane packets inside the Bible’s cover. The letter wasn’t signed, so I assumed it was from my grandfather’s father Norman Garrard; and that he too was a reverend, since he wrote about the Reverend William’s gravestone in Leicester cemetery and his ‘spiritual experiences that I feel no doubt are quite genuine’.

As it turned out I was quite wrong on both counts, but more of that later.


James Challis’ grandfather, Daniel Challis, had been a farmer in Panfield, Essex. He married his wife Ann in about 1699, and between 1700 and 1719 they had ten children. Daniel made over the farm to his youngest son John at Michaelmas in 1756, when he would have been 78 years old. John Challis had married Elizabeth Browne in about 1736 and they had six children. Eventually the family property passed to his eldest son James Browne Challis, although in 1790 it was still held by ‘Widow Challis’ (James’ mother Elizabeth). James was married at the age of twenty to Sarah Bentall, and between 1783 and 1807 they had fourteen children, most of whom survived into adulthood. The date of Sarah’s death is not recorded, though some time between 1808 and 1828.

During the eighteenth century the Challises had prospered. Tithe payments were recorded in the Panfield Parson’s notebook, which was seen by my grandfather – also a clergyman – when he visited the parish in the 1930s. In 1794 James Challis had agreed to pay an annual tithe of £26, twice that agreed by his father in 1771. He bought or leased several farms, and he also owned an Iron Foundry, which I believe was in Braintree.

He purchased a grand family Bible, a large leatherbound volume, the Evangelical Family Bible prepared and annotated by the Reverend T. Priestley and published in 1791. This of course is the same Bible that I inherited from my father. Priestley was a well known independent minister who died in his eightieth year in 1814; so he was a contemporary of James, though older, and I felt they may have known each other. The Challis family were Baptists (though this does not seem to have contradicted their regular tithe payments to the Anglican parson).

Inside the cover of the Bible James himself had written out the ‘family register’ starting from 1700, noting down the sons and daughters of Daniel Challis, John Challis and himself, James Challis. My guess is that he copied the information from another family Bible, which would have remained with the Challis family at the family farm in Panfield.

James Challis married for a second time in 1828. His second wife was Mary Tiffen, born in 1808, the daughter of Benjamin Tiffen, a postman. Her family lived in Halstead, Essex, though she was living in London by the time she reached the age of twenty. James was 45 years her senior, and the difference in their ages must have raised some eyebrows. She would bear him three further sons, Nathan, David and Eliezer; the youngest was born in February 1833, only six weeks before James’ death.

The circumstances of Mary moving to London I do not know, though she probably went there seeking domestic work. The circumstances of her meeting James and deciding to marry him I also do not know, though Halstead is near to Panfield and it seems most likely that Mary and James had met whilst she was living there. They were both strong Baptists, and this was perhaps the basis of their connection.


James letter to Mary

The letter addressed to Mary Tiffen and postmarked April 14th 1828.

The oldest and most notable of the letters preserved in the cellophane packets was written by James to Mary on 14th April 1828, when he was arranging to visit her at her London home. At this time James was 65 and Mary was 20, which of itself makes their relationship somewhat unusual. He was to die less than five years later. The letter is a brief reply to one recently received from her, and on the face of it appears quite matter-of-fact, though there are hints that some urgent crisis had arisen:

‘Yours I received this day and in observing its contents I perceive that it is necessary to apply to Drs Commons which I think may be the most certain, it is what I had some thought that it might be the case.
‘I think if I can manage it I shall come up by one of the Norwich coaches on Wednesday evening if I can leave off from market in time, if not by the Braintree Thursday morning, so I hope all will be well.
‘Your sister continues better, the rest are well. As I hope to see you soon you’ll excuse my not writing more. Perhaps you had better not take the trouble to meet the coach as it’s uncertain which I shall be able to come by.
‘Till then I rest and after yours [?] since Sabbath evening, With affection, Jas Challis.’

The reference to Mary’s sister’s health makes clear that James knew Mary’s family well, and the fact that the letter was carefully preserved suggests that it was of greater significance than its simple message makes clear at first sight. The tone of it, however, does not give the impression of a passionate romance. The indications are that they were fond of each other, but later when I discovered James’ Will, which was written in 1831, to me it seemed to imply that the marriage was more like a business arrangement.

As a contract, however, this marriage was not entirely straightforward. The letter was in fact written three days before James Challis obtained a marriage licence for himself and Mary, and – on writing to her – he was on his way to discuss this matter by the earliest stagecoach that his business commitments would permit. It was sent to her at an address just off City Road, London, which at that time was actually in Middlesex. The licence was issued on 17th April for a marriage to take place at the parish church of St Luke, Middlesex.

The significance of all this I would not understand for some considerable time. The phrase ‘necesary to apply to Drs Commons’, for instance, did not at first convey to me anything at all. I must have looked at the letter a number of times, but there was no indication of what this application was for, nor what ‘Drs Commons’ might have meant. Possibly something medical?


Years later my mother moved house and asked if I would like some of her books – she needed to reduce her belongings to what would fit into a small bungalow. I took home a number of books, including her collection of Charles Dickens novels; books that I thought I ought to read some time though I was in no particular hurry. For several more years these books, unread, just sat on the shelf. Then one day – I was researching the history of the road system at the time – I picked up The Pickwick Papers and noticed that it included extensive and detailed descriptions of travel by stagecoach, on turnpike roads. So I read it, and besides learning some intersting things about stagecoach travel I discovered – with further help from Wikipedia – what ‘Drs Commons’ actually referred to.

The ‘Doctors’ Commons’ was an establishment in London; it was similar to the Inns of Court, but used by lawyers specialising in ecclesiastical law – who lived and worked there. It is mentioned in several of Dickens’ novels, where it is satirised as being old-fashioned and slightly ridiculous. It was eventually abolished by the 1857 Court of Probate Act. In The Pickwick Papers (1) it is characterised as a place where marriage licences could be obtained quickly and with no questions asked.

Suddenly this old letter made a great deal more sense, though there are many unanswered questions as to why the marriage took place by licence in this way. Mary was only recently turned twenty, so she was not of ‘full age’. The licence, however, states that she was twenty one. There may have been an issue of parental consent, though one of the witnesses to the marriage was Mary Ann Tiffen, presumably Mary’s mother. The wedding took place on 18th April, the day immediately following the issue of the licence and only two or three days after James’ arrival in London.

James and Mary’s commitment to the Baptist Church was later attested by the Reverend William Garrard, who even in the last few days of his life still referred to Mr Challis senior as someone whom ‘he highly esteemed as a man of God, and whose walk and conversation was in accordance with the Gospel he loved and professsed’. It therefore seems odd that the marriage should be arranged at a Church of England church and apparently in great haste; the reason behind this I do not know, although the application to the Doctors’ Commons explains why the practicalities of the wedding were arranged in this way.

On 7th May 1828, nearly a month after their marriage, the Births, Deaths and Marriages column of the Essex, Cambridge & Ely Intelligencer included the following: ‘Married. Lately Mr James Challis, farmer and ironfounder, of Panfield, Essex, on the verge of 70, to Miss Mary Tiffin, of Bocking, just escaped her 20th year.’

This entry is quite different from the normal marriage announcements in the press. There was no date or other details of the wedding, and James’ age had been exaggerated by nearly five years. Mary’s family name is not spelt in the usual way, and her former address in Essex is no more than an approximation. The impression is that this was gossip picked up by the newspaper editor at a party, and not an announcement put on public record by the Challis family.

Almost exactly a year after her wedding, Mary gave birth to her first son Nathan, born 27th April 1829.


In Panfield, three or four years after they were married, James and Mary would receive their new minister for the Baptist church at Great Dunmow, the Reverend William Garrard, who recorded his arrival as follows:

‘I soon had an invitation to be at Dunmow for the following Sunday, and was directed to call at a farm-house at Panfield, near Braintree, on my way. The gentleman’s name was Challis, a very sober, godly, Christian man, well informed in divine things and the truth of the Gospel of Christ, for which he had suffered some persecution from some yea and nay flimsy professors, who had crept into the Church, and who had introduced a minister of the same stamp, which this Mr. Challis, being a deacon, could not put up with. I went, therefore, to Panfield, and was very kindly received and entertained at the house of Mr. Challis; preached in his barn, and stayed several days with him very comfortably in Christian conversation.’

On the Sunday morning James drove William over to Great Dunmow: ‘On descending the hill, he pointed out to me the chapel on the downs and, as soon as I saw it, I recognised it as the one I saw some years ago in a dream, and on arriving at it, found it exactly as I had seen it in vision.’ On returning home, after hearing William preach ‘with some liberty and enlargement of heart’, James reportedly remarked to his wife, ‘Oh! child, we have been deceived in that man’ (for they had thought William rather reserved whilst at their own house). ‘Oh!’ said she, ‘we have been quite deceived; Hewlet (i.e, their former minister) cannot hold a candle to him.’

He was asked to stay a further Sunday or two, and then, ‘as they professed that the Lord had made me an instrument of blessing to them’, he was asked to remain. After a time, at the congregation’s request, he was to be publicly ordained over them as their pastor. This took place in front of a large assembly from many different places and presided over by a minister from Ipswich. Altogether William stayed for nearly four years, far longer than he had remained with any Baptist community up until then.

He would say that, ‘ The happiest years of my mortal existence on earth were spent at Great Dunmow. These I have always considered to be my halcyon days on earth.’ I feel sure that his meeting with Mary had been a factor in that – though this was not, of course, how he described it himself: ‘Many a time, when wandering in Lord Maynard’s Park, amidst the beauties of nature, have I been made to behold the loveliness, beauty, and glory of my dear Redeemer, and felt the exceeding riches of His glory in my soul.’ (2)

During this period William also began writing and publishing spiritual tracts; one that has survived is entitled ‘Duty-faith refuted’, described as ‘a short dialogue between Duty-faith and Sovereign Grace’. This was the same controversy as had surrounded him during his youth, and which had led him to choose the Baptist Church above any others. The pamphlet, ‘by W. Garrard, Minister of the Gospel, Great Dunmow, Essex’, was printed in Colchester in 1835. I note this mainly because it helps to determine the dates of William’s arrival in Great Dunmow and his leaving four years later.


During the latter part of William’s time in Dunmow things became difficult – this being largely to do with disagreements between himself and leading members of the congregation (who, of course, held the purse-strings). This was a recurring pattern in his life as a minister, going right back to his earliest engagements in Norfolk. It must have happened at Great Dunmow some time after the death of James Challis – the two men appear to have maintained the greatest respect for each other, and it seems most unlikely that James would have allowed what happened. It was perhaps to do with some ‘yea and nay flimsy professors’. William described the events as they unfolded:

‘After a time there was come one Mr. B. who attended, and seemed to profess great friendship for me; and I, poor goose that I was, did not see through the depth of the man. He said, ‘The people are not sufficient to manage the affairs for you. If you will allow a managing committee to see over the secular matters for you, I will see that your salary is paid’. And I, simpleton like, submitted, thinking the man’s motives to be good and upright.

‘Soon after he had formed the committee (he being one, of course), he added £50 more to the mortgage on the chapel, which £50 his father-in-law, Mr. Pigg, had given towards the erection of the chapel – adding it to the property his deceased father-in-law had left to be divided among the family, he, Mr. B., receiving a share himself; and soon after he had wrought this clever scheme, he laughed at us, and left the chapel, leaving us with £50 more added to the mortgage debt.’

This was enough to increase the financial burden that the congregation had to bear to a level where most of what they could collect went to pay the mortgage interest, and although as a result William’s salary was now negligible, all the same he received the blame from some, ‘as if I had done them wrong, and brought on all the trouble’. They, he later wrote, were now making ‘false and unfounded reports against me’, though the nature of these reports he did not reveal.

‘At last one man, a trustee, who was very fierce against me, locked the chapel door, taking the key away, declaring I should not enter it again … On the Sunday morning, before chapel time, a young man came running up to my house, whose name was Elisha Clayton, and he said, ‘Here, Mr. Garrard, I have brought you the keys to the chapel. George Mason sent me with them, and he said, ‘Carry these keys to Garrard, for I have had no sleep all night; the devil would not suffer me to sleep all night concerning these keys.’

The immediate crisis was thereby averted; but due to persistent opposition from senior members of the congregation, William’s position was becoming untenable. ‘After a time I found that I must leave Dunmow, though much against my will’.


James Challis Will front page

The front page of James Challis’ Will.

James Challis had died at Panfield on 16th March 1833, in his seventy first year. He was buried in the family vault at the Baptist Chapel Yard at Braintree, Essex. His wife at that time was still only twenty five years old. James died the day after he had added a codicil to his Will that gave his three sons by Mary, each in turn on their twenty first birthdays, the option of taking over the farm named Patterwick Bottom at Panfield. This farm, which James had leased, on his death became home to Mary and her three sons.

To Eliezer – still unnamed at the time the codicil was added to James’ Will – he bequeathed the family Bible, referred to as Timothy Priestley’s expositions of the Bible and Testament. To the elder brothers Nathan and David he left works by the celebrated eighteenth century Baptist theologian Dr John Gill (Expositions of the Bible and Testament and Body of Divinity).

The Will itself established a trust fund that would provide for ‘the maintenance education and bringing up of the Children which I now have by my present Wife’ (Mary, who is never actually named), together with ‘the maintenance of my Wife during her Widowhood’. The three boys would each receive the considerable sum of £250 on reaching the age of twenty one, and a share of the residual fund on the youngest reaching that age. The dwelling house at the farm would be available for them to live in until that time. Mary’s widowhood, however, would cease if she was to re-marry, for then James Challis’ responsibility for her would abruptly cease.

Mary and her three boys lived together at Patterwick Bottom for the next six years.

At least the outline of this quite generous arrangement would probably have been made known to Mary and her parents before her marriage, for otherwise why would she have consented to marry a man 45 years her senior, with ten or eleven adult children – all of them older than herself – still surviving from his first marriage? For his part, we must assume that James had already provided for those children in other ways, and that most of them had left the family home. This was Panfield Farm, and (unlike Patterwick Bottom, which was leasehold), it would have been a freehold property that could have been made over by James to one of his sons some years before his death, as it had been by his grandfather to his father.

James Challis’ first wife Sarah had of course died some years before. The Will granted James’ eldest daughter, also Sarah, a modest allowance, ‘for her own sole and separate use and benefit’. She was married, and this bequest quite specifically contradicted the laws of ‘couverture’ – according to which all property and income would normally have accrued to her husband. It was perhaps Sarah who had kept the household going whilst James had been left on his own following his first wife’s death; certainly he went out of his way to reward her for something. Otherwise none of James’ children by his first wife are mentioned at all in his Will, except his sons John and Daniel as trustees of the trust fund.

Ultimately James had sought out a new wife, of child bearing age and of the correct religion, and in 1833 she had predictably been left as a widow. Before very long William Garrard felt forced to leave Great Dunmow – and we are left to wonder whether the ‘false and unfounded reports’ against him included salacious comments concerning himself and Mary.


After William had left Great Dunmow he spent a few weeks in Brighton and then two years in Sandwich, Kent; however this cannot have been the whole story. He rarely provided dates in his narrative, but he must have arrived in Great Dunmow by 1832 at the latest, for James Challis died in March 1833. He was there for nearly four years, so he cannot have left any later than 1836, nor earlier than 1835 when his pamphlet Duty-faith Refuted was published – but he did not move to Leicester until 1842. Since he spent two years in Kent (immediately before his move), there are four or five years towards the end of the 1830s when he left no record at all of his progress.

I had been able to piece together a chronology of his life from various sources, and so realised that there is this gap, which I had not noticed at first and which the compiler of William’s Reminiscences does not seem to have noticed either. He almost certainly spent most of that time in London.

William had been to London some ten years before, whilst he had been engaged as a preacher at Wortwell in Norfolk. The Wortwell chapel was in debt so he had been asked to go out collecting for it; and he had taken the opportunity to travel to London, which he had never seen before. There he met up with John Bale, a boyhood friend from Gissing, who took him to the inn where he lodged and introduced William to the family who ran it. They were Baptists, and William had preached at their chapel one Sunday, and at another the following week, obtaining some assistance for the Wortwell chapel; then after a fortnight’s stay, feeling wearied by the bustle and confusion of the city, he had returned to Norfolk.

The period towards the end of the 1830s remains an enigma, though he does record one episode – undated, though certainly during this period – when he returned to Great Dunmow. He was perhaps hoping that he could re-establish himself there, continue as the Baptist community’s pastor, and possibly he had intended to take Mary Challis as his wife; however he could not resolve the issues that had arisen with several members of the congregation. He ‘mourned the state of things there’ and ‘found that I could not abide’. Instead, as it turned out, he went back to London – and Mary must have come with him, or followed very soon after.


Old England ...

It would be tempting to imagine that it was the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838 that had drawn William to London, for he did write enthusiastic poetry in praise of the young Queen. I knew – since a visit to the County Records Office near Leicester – that he had published a book of verse, Old England, our Queen and Her People. However, the extremely nationalistic tone of the title and much of the poetry had put me off taking it seriously. Nevertheless, when I realised that there was an important gap in William’s story I began looking out for a copy, in the hope that it might provide some clues about this part of William’s life.

So I took to checking websites that list second hand books for sale, and one day came up trumps: a good quality copy of what appeared to be his slim volume of poetry was available from a bookshop in Galway, on the far side of Ireland. The listing said that it had been published in Leicester – but in 1962. I contacted the bookshop for any confirmation they could provide that this was indeed William’s book, though pointing out that if so then it was more likely published in 1862.

I received a very helpful reply, including a note that there was no publication date at all in the book itself, and a message from the proprietor that ‘I am happy to hear we are able to assist with connecting you to your Great-great-great-Grandfather’. Attached were scanned images of the book’s cover and several pages. The introduction was signed ‘W. Garrard, 14 Newtown-street, Leicester’ – the address I recognised as William’s home during the thirty years that he was to live in Leicester.

The first poem was his Coronation Sonnet, which is not really a sonnet but two pages of rhyming couplets; and beneath the title a by-line with the clearly-stated information that it was ‘written at Great Dunmow in Essex, on the night previous to the ceremony’. So William was in Great Dunmow on 27th and 28th June 1838, and probably for longer. This must have been when he attempted to return, but found before long that he ‘could not abide’.

The frontispiece to the book shows a reproduction of an engraving of Prince Albert, the Queen’s consort, whose marriage to Victoria and subsequent early death are respectively celebrated and mourned in rhyming verse.

I paid for the book and it arrived a few days later. There are no other definite dates or details of William’s personal history, though the pieces following the Coronation Sonnet are interesting. Entitled A Pastoral Poem, followed by Rural Courtship, A Rustic Poem, these are part of a series that lead up to The Royal Marriage, treating with aspects of love – quite uncharacteristically, though dressed up coyly in language of gods and godesses, rustic nymphs and cupid with his bow.

The Pastoral Poem begins with the sad tale of Daphnis and Daphne, he losing his lover to a sudden illness: ‘While dews of death sat on her pallid face, She blessed her shepherd with a dying grace’, words that startlingly echo William’s description of his first wife Sarah as she lay on her death-bed, overtaken by a rapid consumption.

Rural Courtship begins ‘on a day when all were joyful seen, the day on which they crown’d our youthful Queen’, and tells the story of ‘rosy Dolly, like some village queen’ who ‘danced with young Roger on the village green’. Rather than the royal couple, it seems the inspiration for this is William’s own love for Mary: ‘I’ve felt it now long time, it won’t remove. Dolly! it must come out – ’tis you I love!

 Rosy Dolly, milkmaid, neat and clean,
 Was crowned with laurels, played the village queen.
 Twang! went the archer’s bow, how sweet the sound!
 But Roger, ah! young Roger, felt the wound.
 The bow was strung with Dolly’s eye-strings true,
 From Dolly’s sparkling eyes the arrow flew. (3)


William and Mary were married on 8th March 1839 in the parish church at Hackney, near to his temporary home in Clapton. After that William must have spent some time in London with Mary. The three Challis brothers, however, were not in London with them; in fact an extensive search of the 1841 census failed to come up with them anywhere. The boys must have been provided for by the Challis family, and probably sent away to boarding school. Did James Challis leave anything else to Eliezer, besides the Bible? Or provide for the boys’ education? Or for Mary herself? A cottage in Great Dunmow? Until or unless she re-married? I wrote to a friend asking for advice on how to look for his Will. It arrived in my in-box within the hour.

The document had been written by hand in a stylised script and I could only get the gist of it at first look. The language is actually quite straightforward (if very legalistic), nevertheless at first it was like trying to read something in a foreign language, one that I had studied years ago at school but had never used since. Eventually I was able to see it through ‘their’ eyes, and I set about making a transcript. With help over a few of the more technical terms used in nineteenth century Wills, this was completed quite quickly.

My thoughts and intuitions proved to be remarkably close to the mark, though there was so much more as well. Mary must have left the boys behind, since she was automatically cut out of the Will if her widowhood ceased. The boys, however, would still receive £250 each at the age of 21 after being supported in their education and with an apprenticeship. All this put together was enough to set them up in life quite comfortably, which looks very likely from what is known of their later lives – and from the contrast between their adult lifestyles and that of William and Mary.

I wondered how relations were between William and Mary on the one hand and the Challis family in Panfield on the other, but noted that the terms of the Will seemed quite reasonable (if complicated) for the time. I still hoped that at some point I could discover where the three brothers were in 1841.


William’s son William also moved to London at about that time; he does appear in the 1841 census, as a medical assistant, though he was in fact studying and training to become a veterinary surgeon. I am left to assume that his further education was paid for by his grandparents, the Normans. As his father later wrote, ‘It has pleased the Lord to keep me poor in this world all my days, for I think I should have been proud’, so it was not he who could afford to pay for his son’s professional training.

It was during this period that the Reverend William spent a few weeks in Brighton, where he was invited to preach at the Windsor Street chapel, and possibly he also acted as a ‘supply’ for Baptist congregations in London; but he had no regular or visible source of income.

So it would seem to have been a rash decision for Mary to take, leaving behind her sons and her relative security in Great Dunmow. The only conclusion must be that she was completely in love. On first meeting William and hearing him preach she had certainly been impressed, and his passionate nature must have been very attractive to her. Nevertheless she had faithfully done her duty, for five years as James’ wife and for six years as his widow, devoted to looking after his children. Now, William had returned, the boys were well provided for, and she took her opportunity whilst it was there. For the next few years life did not turn out easy for her, but she never looked back.

If William and her second marriage seemed heaven-sent, then they gave her the strength to live through the difficulties. I would imagine that what she found within her was not separate from her religion. Certainly her Baptist faith was not shaken; she went on to spend thirty years supporting William in his ministry – but first she was to spend a period without him.


With no preamble, William’s Reminiscences record that following his time at Dunmow he next spent nearly two years ministering to a mixed Baptist and Independent congregation ‘near to the seaside’ on the Kent coast. This must have been about 1840-1842. It was not a very happy time for him.

The chapel was privately owned: ‘It was the property of a gentleman, by the name of Thomas de Bock, and a singular man he was. He gave £30 a-year to the cause, and the use of the chapel free; the rest of the people making it up to £50 a-year … Although Mr. De Bock professed to give up the chapel entirely to me and the people to manage the affairs, only to come and go during divine service, nevertheless, if the slightest thing was done contrary to his mind, he soon let us know who was master there.’

Once again, William soon found himself at odds with such a man, and before long ‘their bickering and back-biting increased against me, and I found that there was no more peace or rest for me at Sandwich, so I prayed the Lord to send me away.’

‘One night I went to bed and dreamed that I was in my pulpit, and heard George Washington Wilks (the minister who baptised me at Diss, in Norfolk) talking with some people, and a clear stream of water running through the chapel: and, very soon, two of the most beautiful persons, in female attire, came up to me at the door of the pulpit; they appeared with such serene, happy and heavenly countenances, too beautiful to be human – I never saw such before. One of them reached out her right hand, and put it into my right hand, clasping it firmly and, looking at me with a most placid, heavenly smile, gently drew me quite out of the pulpit; the other standing by her side, looking the same heavenly, smiling countenace. I then awoke, and sensibly felt the soft and delicate hand clasped in mine …

‘The reader may think I am exaggerating, but in waking up, I not only felt the hand, but I cannot convince myself but that I saw the heavenly and placid countenances of these two benign beings … I have always thought since, and do still think, that they were heavenly messengers, sent to warn me of some evil going on secretly there and to pull me out, more especially from what I have heard since I left Sandwich.’ There is no clue as to what it was that he heard after he had left; but doubtless he was best removed from the situation, and best returned to London to be back with his wife.

William’s time in Kent is confirmed by the 1841 census, which records that he was living in lodgings with John and Susanna Dean, a couple in their sixties living in Sandwich.

Though his three step-sons have not been found in the 1841 census, the assumption remains – and it is still an assumption – that they had been sent away to boarding school by their elder brothers John and Daniel Challis (though nevertheless they still should have been recorded). I had the experience myself of my mother going away when I was eight years old, and of being sent off to boarding school, and not having the reasons for this cataclysm ever being properly explained to me. I know how devastating it can be, and some of the ghastly things that can happen at an English prep school.

I have also discovered, through doing some Family Constellations work, how patterns of emotional pain can be passed down the generations. I can especially empathise with David, cast adrift at the same age as I was. He actually went on to become a successful businessman – but this can be a way of suppressing difficult and long-buried feelings. What did he suffer before he had reached the age of ten years old, and which most likely could never be expressed?

At the time of Mary’s marriage to William, Nathan was nine years old, David eight and Eliezer six. After four years, William would be able to provide them with a home in Leicester – but at the time they did not know that; for all the boys knew, they could have lost their mother for ever.


What happened to Mary herself whilst William was in Kent is also something of a mystery. There was a Mary Garrard who is recorded in the census at a lodging house in Lowndes Street, a place apparently housing staff who worked at a large house in Lowndes Square, Chelsea; but her age is given as 45 (in 1841 Mary was actually 33), so either this is a different Mary Garrard or she was deliberately concealing her real age and making it the same as William’s. Being without her children, and for an extended period without William as well, this must have been a very difficult time for her whatever her circumstances – especially as she would not have known how long the situation was to last.

Lowndes Street and Lowndes Square are in the parish of St Luke, near to where she had been living in 1828. So it is possible that she had returned to her old employer, from before her marriage to James, as a way of supporting herself during this critical period.

I like to think that the two angels that William dreamed of before he left Sandwich were in fact his first wife Sarah and his second wife Mary, come not just to draw him away but to bring him back, to take full responsibility for his family. That, in any case, turned out to be the effect. He and Mary would move to Leicester in late 1842, and before long Mary’s three boys could come to join them.

The younger William graduated as a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in June 1845, and he took a veterinary practice in Ticknall (or Tickenhall), South Derbyshire, which is about ten miles from Derby and close enough to Leicester for him to remain regularly in touch with his father.


From time to time I would heave the old family Bible down off its shelf in my bedroom, to look at the ‘family register’ and to browse the notes and letters contained in the cellophane packets. Mary and her sons  – I knew from the family register – had lived from the boys’ teenage years onwards in Leicester, and two of them were buried there.

Mary, I had at first assumed, had gone to Leicester with them, with nothing to show for all her trouble but Eliezer’s Bible, and there she had met and married the Reverend William Garrard. This turned out to be pure supposition and the real circumstances of Mary’s meeting with William turned out to be far more interesting.

However, what had brought William to Leicester in the first place I still couldn’t work out. So I contactd the Leicestershire Record Offce in the hope that they would know about the Reverend William’s book, his Reminiscences. They did; they have a copy of it and also copies of other books he had written – it seemed like he must have been quite a writer.

I arranged to visit Wigston Magna, just south of Leicester, where the Record Office is situated. I hired a car for the day, to drive there and also to Ticknall, on a quest to find out more. I arrived in the rain on an early summer day in 2011, parked and ate my sandwiches in the soggy car park, and then I ventured out to the Record Office itself.


1. Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers (1836).

2. Lord Maynard was Henry, third Viscount Maynard of Easton Lodge in the County of Essex (1788-1865), who inherited the title in 1824. He was also Lord Lieutenant of the County.

3. From Rural Courtship, a Rustic Poem, included in the Reverend William Garrard, Old England, our Queen and Her People, published in Leicester, 1862. This quotation from p 19.