Barry Hughes

Barry Hughes

If you have a story to tell – it need not be about Sylvan Hall – and you would like to share it wth our readers, here is the place for you.

Forging links…

I have not long been a member of Clwyd FHS but I was very quickly acquainted with the ultra helpful and friendly ways of the community. When I asked questions about my Grandfather, W. F. Hughes of Beech Cottage Denbigh (Hughes the Vet) I got information from far and wide – from Clwyd, Canada and New Zealand as well as elsewhere.

I am old enough to remember my Grandfather and I have memories of travelling with him, sometimes in pony and trap, sometimes by Bull Nose Morris, on his rounds. He was a kindly if august figure, as might be expected from one born in 1870; a pillar of local society as was his brother Dr. Robert James Hughes of Rose Cottage, Vale Street.

My grandmother was to my eyes, a grand lady, very much in the pearl-roped, bow-fronted style of Queen Mary, George V’s widow. Grandma’s grandeur was heightened by the fact that she never appeared to perform any domestic chore, however minor. Perhaps, having borne eight children, she had long since decided that someone else should make the tea.

Grandfather had met Grandma whilst he was studying at The New Veterinary College, Edinburgh and from whence he graduated on 16 July 1897. I knew that my grandmother’s maiden name was Mitchell and that she came from a family of engravers – the walls of Beech Cottage were hung with many beautiful images. I also remember my father telling me that the Mitchell family had become involved in sponsoring the yacht Thistle, which challenged for the America’s Cup in 1887 and that, because the challenge failed, the family had lost much money. (I still have an engraving of Thistle, one of the many that didn’t sell and led the Mitchells to penury.)

In conducting research into my grandmother’s side of the family I came across a note, on a website dedicated to Edinburgh engravers, that caused me to dig deeper. It seems that in the 1880’s the Bank of Scotland led the world in the production of paper money but the development of photography gave rise to fears that the bank notes could be forged. The bank commissioned Alexander Crum Brown, Scotland’s leading chemist, to find a way to foil the forgers and in May 1885 the Bank of Scotland issued a series of notes that were widely reported as “impossible to forge”.

In November 1888 a forged pound note turned up followed by more, in various parts of Scotland. The bank put up a reward and in July 1889, acting on a tip-off, John Hamilton Gray Mitchell (my great-grandfather) was arrested. At his trial, John Mitchell explained that he had recently fallen on hard times and that the appearance of several articles in the newspapers, claiming that the new notes were impossible to forge, had challenged his “natural propensity to overcome anything difficult in my trade”. He was sentenced to seven years penal servitude and died, in prison, on 7 March 1892.

What a thing this genealogy is. The innocent imagery of youth swept away. My regal grandma the daughter of a jailbird. Oh dear.

Barry Hughes

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