Who Was Cecily Rylands?
When cataloguing a scrapbook kept by John Paul Rylands, I came across an invitation to the wedding of a Cecily Rylands to a John Samuel Richmond Robertson in 1906. In one respect this was nothing unusual; John Paul had kept all manner of family ephemera and carefully pasted them into various volumes. Amongst these items were many wedding invites from relatives close and distant.
The odd thing was that I had never heard of this Cecily Rylands before, despite having catalogued hundreds of items relating to the family. My interest was piqued further when I noticed that Cecily was the ward of a Mr and Mrs J. Bleckly of Altrincham. Now, Bleckly was a name I had come across. The Bleckly family had been involved in the running of the Rylands Brothers Wire Works for generations and had strong connections to the family.
The Bleckly family may have had connections to the Rylands, but still, it seemed odd that they should be raising one of their children, especially given that the families of the three Rylands brothers, John, Peter, and Thomas G, between them owned several houses across Warrington and three mansions in Thelwall.
The first thing to do with our little mystery was to find out how Cecily was related to the Rylands in our collection. She may have been a distant relative, or even not a relative at all given John Paul’s interest in anyone who shared that surname.
A look at the Parish Registers for Warrington showed that a Cecily Rylands was born in Thelwall in 1885, and that her father was John Rylands of Thelwall Grange. A further examination showed that the Cecily in the invitation was the daughter of John Rylands of Thelwall.
This seemed odd, there had been no mention of Cecily in the Rylands family papers and John would have been around his seventies when Cecily was born.
A look at the 1891 census showed a Cecily and Mable Rylands, aged 10 and 5, daughters to the now 76 year old John, living at the Grange with no mother present. John’s wife Harriet, mother to his 7 children, had died in 1877 after 35 years of marriage. So Cecily and Mable must be children of a second wife who gets little mention in the records of the other family members.
John was one of the three Rylands Brothers who gave their name to the company so well known in Warrington. There was John, with his interest in industry, Peter, with his interest in politics, and Thomas Glazebrook, with his interest in science. Thomas and Peter had both been Mayor of Warrington, both aimed to be respected in their fields, and were both very concerned with their family’s appearance in the public eye. This led me to think, could their complete lack of acknowledging of John’s second wife and her children be because they felt embarrassment at his re-marriage? We know that had been the case a generation earlier, when John Rylands senior had re-married in his 72nd year, a few months after his wife’s death. (see blog entry: Mary Rylands’ Funeral Card 1836)
The next step was to find out who Cecily’s mother was, as I mentioned earlier she wasn’t on the 1891 census with John and the children. The marriage was found easily enough at All Saints Parish Church, Thelwall, and showed John Rylands marrying a woman by the name of Annie Chaplin in 1879. Annie was 32 and John was 64, double her age. So this perhaps gives us some reason for the embarrassment.
This gave us a name and an age, but who was this Annie? Well, with these details we were able to look up Annie on the 1871 census, the last census in which she appeared under her maiden name. What turned up would only have added to the embarrassment of the Rylands family. A new wife half his age, was not unheard of in the family, and could be explained away as an old man needing a young wife to look after him in his dotage, but where Annie was found was another matter.
In 1871 Annie Chaplin is the Governess in Peter Rylands’ London household. For John to have married one of his brother’s servants would have been a scandal indeed, especially for Peter, trying to maintain his political career in the House of Commons.
This explains who Cecily was, the daughter of Annie Chaplin and the aging John Rylands, and why the family might have chosen to simply ignore this second marriage and carry on as if it had never happened, but not why Cecily has ended up as the ward of Mr. Bleckly.
For that, we have to follow the story forward somewhat. I will not bother you now with the “hows” of finding the information, but it turned out that Annie had died only 10 years after her marriage to John, John outliving her by 8 years (something I doubt she expected when she married him). By 1898 John had also died, leaving Mabel and Cecily with no parents, Cecily being only 13 at the time. Mabel I have not yet found after her father’s death, but Cecily is sent to live as a ward with Mr. John James Bleckly, Master of the Bewsey Ironworks, at Daresbury Lodge in Altrincham.
As you may remember, I stated at the beginning of this blog entry, that it seemed odd Cecily should be sent from the life she knew at Thelwall to live with a works manager in Altrincham. But given the slight embarrassment around her birth, moving her out of sight when finally the chance arose is perhaps not so surprising. Add to this the fact that upon investigation, John Bleckly’s wife is Emma Rylands, second daughter of John Rylands, it then seems slightly less harsh. Cecily is living with her step sister, even if that is the step sister who has married below her status in the eyes of the wider Rylands family (John’s children had a habit of embarrassing the family with their choice of partners – more to come in a future blog entry perhaps?).
In case any of you were worrying about Cecily, I can report that she married well. John Samuel Richmond Robinson, was an importer of exotic woods. His family had been known to Cecily’s mother before she became a governess, and Cecily travelled the world with him for a time, the pair going on to live a comfortable middle-class existence.
I hope this has not bored you too much, and that it has shown how a single item in a collection like this can lead to a whole story, covering generations of a family. In fact, when I first found out about Miss Chaplin the governess and Old John Rylands, my mind went straight to Vanity Fair by Thackeray and Old Sir Pitt Crawley proposing to his scheming governess Becky Sharp. A rich old man marrying a pretty young governess was obviously nothing new. When Thomas Glazebrook Rylands mentions in his diaries how he enjoys reading Thackeray of an evening, I shouldn’t think he knew how soon he would be living it. My thanks go out to Lynda and Patsy in the Archives Searchroom, who helped me to fill the blanks in Cecily’s life through much searching of census pages and Marriage records.
This article was originally posted on Wednesday, January 28th, 2015.