A Leap of Faith

A father’s book dedication to his son, 1903.

Have you ever flicked through an old book in a second-hand bookshop or at a charity shop and found a dedication written inside, with names and a date, and wondered just who they were? If so, then this story is for you.

Back in October 2006, I visited Plymouth with my wife, Mrs Blog. We went to see her favourite band, Keane – as it was cheaper to get two tickets for the Plymouth gig, a hotel room and the pertol as it was to see them in Wolverhampton. Rant over. Anyhow, the day after, we spent the morning in Plymouth prior to driving back. Half-way through an oyster delight, we stumbled on a second-hand bookshop; the aptly named Rob’s Books

Here, I purchased a brand new biography of Emperor Augustus for a tenner and Mrs Blog, a scraggy book called ‘The Drummer’s Coat’, for £15 – which actually I seemed to end up paying for.

The Drummer's Coat, which cost me £15!

The Drummer’s Coat, which cost me £15!

Some months later I picked up the book and read it – mainly as I noticed the dedication inside.

The dedication to Guy Peirson in 'The Drummer's Coat'

The dedication to Guy Peirson in ‘The Drummer’s Coat’

I thought it would be nice to see if i could trace anything to do with the family in the dedication, initially simply to give myself some experience of the internet sites that were beginning to become credible research tools back in 2006.

I started to collate the evidence….

The book is children’s book, a local Devon tale set in Ashcombe. It is partly written in the Devonshire vernacular. It is possible that it was a holiday present, however the book was purchased in Plymouth and mentions Plymouth. The story is centred on witchcraft, superstition and the military jingoism of the period: indeed the author, John Fortescue, was a military historian and the ‘archivist’ at Windsor Castle. The book was written in 1899, reprinted in 1899 and 1900 and given as a gift in 1903.

The dedication gives a name, Guy Peirson, which is a somewhat unusual spelling. The fact that it is a children’s book and the dedication was made by his father would suggest that Guy was a child, but could read by this stage – hence a book as a gift!

I looked on Ancestry.Com and FreeBMD for a Guy Peirson, both on the census and for a birth certificate – frustratingly, nothing was returned.

I then checked for a Guy Pierson and…………. nothing was returned.

Here was my leap of faith – I ‘felt’ this family were from Devon – because of what I felt was the local nature of the book, so I checked for any Peirson that that was listed in the 1901 census for Devon

1901 – the only Peirson in Devon was this lady, Katharine, a 52 year retired governess from Framlingham in Suffolk. She was living as a boarder in Exeter to a Church of England deaconess from Brum!

1901 census for Katherine Peirson, from Framlingham, Suffolk, now in Exeter. (National Archives)

1901 census for Katherine Peirson, from Framlingham, Suffolk, now in Exeter.
(National Archives)

So I checked for a Pierson, and got this at Exford….

The 1901 return for the Rectory at Exford (National Archives)

The 1901 return for the Rectory at Exford
(National Archives)

Ernest G Pierson was the Rector and also from Framlingham – was this a coincidence, or has one of the names been spelt incorrectly? Further examination shows John, the eldest son, was born in Plymouth. There is no Guy, however,
Lewis G Pierson was born in Bodmin in the December quarter of 1897 – and his full name was Lewis Guy Peirson!

Whilst things were looking up, I was perturbed that the father was a clergyman, as the story of the book included ‘superstition’ and lampooned several clergymen within it. Also, was it a fit story and level for a boy of 5 years of age – the ‘victims’ die in the end?

Whilst the likelihood of ever proving Lewis Guy Peirson was ‘the’ Guy Peirson seemed small, I did look into a little of the family history, after all, the point was to teach myself computer skills. I started with the 1891, where Ernest was at the Parsonage at Washford Pyne…

The Parsonage at Washford Pyne, Devon (National Archives)

The Parsonage at Washford Pyne, Devon
(National Archives)

And then moved back. The marriage listings had an Ernest G Peirson and Bessey Connock Collins as being married in Bodmin, around the November of 1884.

Bodmin Church around 1900 (unknown)

Bodmin Church around 1900
(unknown)

The 1881 census shows that Bessey was in Bodmin and the daughter of a solicitor – quite a catch!

Bessey in Bodmin (National Archives)

Bessey in Bodmin
(National Archives)

Ernest was staying with his aunt in Finsbury, London – along with a couple of other nephews

Ernest in London (National Archives)

Ernest in London
(National Archives)

Why was Ernest in London? Before I tackled that question, I had a look at Ernest’s origins in Framlingham. The 1861 census showed he was the son of John Peirson, a farmer with a considerable land-holding who employed 7 labourers and 3 boys.

Ernest in Framlingham, 1861 (National Archives)

Ernest in Framlingham, 1861
(National Archives)

So, Why was he in London in 1881 – well, as a Church of England chap, I knew I should find him in the Crockford’s Ecclesiastical Directory. This showed he had attended Cambridge – the alumni of which appear on Ancestry.Com, so we can trace his movements. He was in London as he was at university, achieving his BA in 1882. He held various offices from then on.

Ernest Goodwyn Peirson: Adm. pens. at PETERHOUSE, Oct. 1, 1878. S. of John, Esq., of Framlingham, Suffolk. B. Feb. 4, 1859. School, City of London. Matric. Michs. 1878; Scholar, 1878; B.A. 1882; M.A. 1905. Ord. deacon (Ely) 1882; priest (Worcester) 1884; C. of Biggleswade, Beds., 1882-3. Assistant Master at Ipswich School, 1883-4. C. of Redmarley-D’Abitot, Worcs., 1884-5. R. of Washford-Pyne, Devon, 1886-91. Rural Dean of Tiverton W., 1889-91. R. of Exford, 1891-1904. R. of Stathern, Leics., 1904-14. Lived subsequently at Newquay, Cornwall, where he died Nov. 28, 1941. (T. A. Walker, 553; Crockford; The Times, Dec. 3, 1941.

He died in 1941, but was preceded by Bessey, as The National Probate Index lists: Bessey Connock Peirson of Borthwicks, 3 Borthwicks Rd, Newquay, Cornwall, died 13 August 1937, probate Bodmin 2 Dec 1937 to Ernest G Peirson, clerk. Effects £3970 2s 4d

The National Probate Index lists for Ernest: the Rev Ernest G Peirson of Borthwicks, 3 Borthwicks Rd, Newquay, Cornwall, clerk, died 28 November 1941, probate Bodmin 29 Jan 1942 to Lewis Guy Peirson, schoolmaster. Effects £3527 13s 2d

So, that was the life of the man I believed wrote the dedication, but what can we find out about Guy, the recipient? Well, funny you should ask….

Lewis was born in Exford in 1897 and was educated at Oundle and Cambridge. He became a schoolmaster at Marlborough College in 1919, teaching sciences. Lewis married Eveline Clifton in St Columb, Cornwall in 1923. They had one son, John, in 1925. He wrote several publications on birds and moths and chaired the Natural History Section of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society for many years. He retired in 1954, returning to Devon, taking 17 Embankment Rd, Kingsbridge (phone number: 2113!). He passed away in 1957.

The tablet to Guy and Eveline at Kingsbride Cemetery (big thanks to Gary Smith for this)

The tablet to Guy and Eveline at Kingsbride Cemetery
(big thanks to Gary Smith for this)

How do I know this? – Well, in 1959, ‘Wiltshire Birds’ was published by the WA&NHS, along with an obituary and a big thank you to the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre for sending me a copy.

Further, a big thank you to Marlborough College for sending me this….

Lewis Guy Peirson, naturalist and teacher.

Lewis Guy Peirson, naturalist and teacher.

So, can we prove that these were the people in the dedication? Well, yes, we can. Let’s have another look at the dedication.

The dedication to Guy Peirson in 'The Drummer's Coat'

The dedication to Guy Peirson in ‘The Drummer’s Coat’

Now, as a clergyman, Ernest Peirson would have filled in the parish registers, so we needed a copy of one of his registers – well, his last position was as Rector of Stathern in Leicestershire, so I nipped to the Leicestershire Record Office and got a sample of his handwriting from a 1909 Banns register.

1909 Banns register filled in by Ernest Peirson

1909 Banns register filled in by Ernest Peirson

Compare – what do you think? I am convinced we have them!

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Comments
  1. angvs72 says:

    All the concerns regarding your “online shadow” and “digital presence” , and here you show that you can trace an individuals life, lifestyle and achievements 100 years ago, merely from a fathers book dedication.

  2. Gary Smith says:

    Always a pleasure to read from a professional. SJ

  3. Clive says:

    I know what you mean about finding a book with a dedication in it. Years ago i was in a secondhand shop, and found a sunday school book, the vicar had wrote a lovely note to the young girl, who had won the book in some compition. The date of the book would be around 1910. It may have ended up in the shop through a house clearance. One day i will do the research on her.
    Keep up the good work.

  4. Richard Peirson says:

    Hello! I couldn’t sleep last night and so on a whim I put my great grandfather’s name (Ernest Guy Peirson) into Google and came across your blog! I was particularly interested in the subject of the book as I remember my father (John Peirson) telling me how his father (Lewis Guy) told him about his father telling him, when he was a rector in Exford, there were two women in the village who both practised magic – one practised white magic: she was known as “Old Faith” and had remarkable healing gifts; the other practised black magic; Ernest said the hardest thing he ever had to do was to be present at her deathbed: she totally believed she’d sold her soul to the devil and was doomed to everlasting torment. I now read Kipling’s “Just So Stories” to my son Christopher Guy Peirson from a copy given by Ernest to Lewis on November 18th 1902. Many thanks! Richard Guy Peirson

    • wyrleyblog says:

      Thank you, you dont know how much you have made my day

      • Richard Peirson says:

        A pleasure! It might not be practical but I’d love to see the book some day if possible; if you’re ever in London and you don’t mind bringing it with you I’d be fascinated to see it; no worries if not possible or you’d rather not or something!

  5. Linda says:

    Brilliant! 🙂

  6. Well done to you.So interesting to read.Just shows that we should all leave our mark in life as it could be interesting to future generations

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