In the year that Trollope published The Warden my father’s father’s father’s father was Master of the Corsham Almshouses. It was only recently that I discovered that a photograph of him exists. The very distant relative who owns it has just been to stay for a couple of nights and she gave me a proper copy of it which is reproduced above. I can’t make up my mind whether it carries the character of Trollope’s conscientious, gentle, musical Warden, or whether it carries the contemporary caricature of a pluralist disciplinarian fond of country sports. I wrote a short account of his life a little while ago and, whatever impression the photograph gives, the truth is a mixture of all those elements.
The Revd George Mullins was born at the end of the eighteenth century and appears in the first edition of Crockford’s Clerical Directory; the largest parish of which he was incumbent only had a population of little over a hundred. Like Trollope’s Warden, in 1855 as well as being responsible for the Almshouses where he lived in the substantial Master’s House he was the incumbent of a small parish not far away. He was also a schoolmaster, and, unusually, the Corsham Almshouses contain a substantial old schoolroom. We know nothing of his musical ability, although his grandfather’s will mentions ‘all my musical books and instruments’. We do know he dug up Roman remains in his garden, bred fish in his pond, travelled distances by horse, and dined with local clerical and literary acquaintances. And, sadly, he became a chronic invalid in his 50s: he retired because of ill health, and is reported to have had ‘giddiness of the head and fits’.
All this gives me the totally unjustified feeling of being rooted in a certain form of Anglicanism beginning just ahead of the reforms of the first half of the nineteenth century and living through them. I value quite disproportionately having his photograph.