Sunday, 7 September 2014

Uppingham agony

There is a poem by David Scott (which I have used on some Good Fridays in particular) responding to the ‘quiet agony’ of the deaths from scarlet fever in one month in 1856 of five daughters of the Dean of Carlisle .  It  concludes

...  at their prayers each day
in a borrowed house, they tested
the Bible texts against a silent nursery

and ‘testing the Bible texts against a silent nursery’ remains a definitive phrase for me.

It came to mind yesterday when I re-visited after a number of years the single grave at Uppingham of four of my grandfather’s siblings, although they did not die within the space of a month; I had to work hard at clearing the surface before I could read the rapidly disappearing inscription.

Henry Mullins was a clergyman and a Housemaster at Uppingham School.  He and his wife Jessie lost their first and third children (a Jessie and Reginald) as babies in turn in 1867 and in 1870, and their fourth child (Cecil) aged four and a half in 1875. 

I have a small notebook in which Jessie recorded the details of all ten of their children including this entry for Cecil.  The typhoid epidemic came close to ruining the School and therefore I know of Henry’s quiet agony almost directly from the published diaries of the Headmaster of the time:

Mullins had already told me there was no hope for his little boy... I found him quite perplexed... overdone in body and mind, expecting his little boy to die every minute.

Here is the family at the centre of a house photograph nearly nine years later.  Henry is on the right in the back row and their very tall sixteen year old second child Herbert is next to him. 

Jessie is at the centre of the second row.  She has sons Walter (aged seven) and Joe (aged nine – he was a new born baby in the house when typhoid took his brother Cecil) on either side of her and Jack (aged four) holding her hand.  My grandfather Lance (aged six) is in front of Walter and his sister Agnes (aged eleven) is in front of Jack.

A tenth and youngest child Charles was two at the time of the photograph and does not appear in it.

It is Walter who is the fourth occupant of the grave, re-opened for him twenty-six years after it was first dug for his oldest sister; he died of pneumonia  aged sixteen while at the school in 1893.

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