Glazebrooks, Rylands, Politics and Medicine

Philip Jeffs resumes his Glazebrooks-Rylands family history blog…

I am back to writing the Glazebrook-Rylands blog after a bit of a gap, so look out for more interesting snippets about the family in the coming weeks.

In the blog so far I have talked to you about some of the oddities in the collection and how certain items can reveal entire stories. Hopefully you have gained an idea of some of the ways in which this collection could be used by researchers and how it sheds light on many aspects of the life of Warrington and one of its foremost families of the 19th Century.

We are now ready to start on part two of our little project. The collection is sorted and catalogued, its strengths in terms of the town’s history are clear. The next phase is to focus in on two aspects of the collection and to create an online gallery for them.

If you’ve been following the blog, you will know that the collections cover over 200 years and touch on every aspect of the family’s lives. You may also have noticed that I do get enthusiastic over most things in the collection, so choosing two themes to focus on was not an easy task.

Despite this, there were two subjects which came up time and time again throughout the collection, subjects which seemed to occupy every member of the family for most of their lifetimes. To do justice to the Glazebrooks and the Rylands, there could only really be two subjects to pick, Politics and Medicine.

Both of these subjects have been touched upon briefly in the blog already, you may remember the entry “Patten Forever, Huzza!” on politics, or “The Dangers of Smoking” on health. But, with an online presence I can look at these subjects in some detail, and share that detail with you.

Given the current maelstrom of politics surrounding the upcoming General Election, politics seemed the right choice to start with.

From the collection, we can get a fascinating picture of politics in Warrington throughout the 19th Century, but the true strength of the collection lies in electioneering material. Pushing pamphlets through letter boxes is no new thing it seems, and nor are the machinations of modern spin doctors. Through the eyes of this one family we get to see every political tactic going being used to ply voters in Warrington.

We even get to see the best (or at least most underhand) tactics of both sides in these campaigns. The Glazebrooks were, by and large, ardent Tories, whilst the Rylands were vociferous Liberals. The Glazebrooks were also largely High Church, Church of England, whilst the Rylands were devout nonconformists. It must have made for some interesting meals around the dinner table when various members of the family were supporting, or even standing for, opposite parties in the same election and attending separate church services that condemned each other’s very existence.

I am aware that in this blog entry I have been talking a lot about what the project will involve and not sharing an interesting item with you as I normally would, so below I have copied a letter from Thomas Kirkland Glazebrook to his sister Martha Rylands, which gives an idea of this occasionally strained situation.

Transcript of letter from Thomas to Martha:

Dear Martha,

I was yesterday informed by John you were instructing the children at Flag Lane – Hitherto I have interfered very little with your dissenting frenzy, but this is too much – It is a disgrace to your friends & particularly to the memory of our late dear father. – Whilst the clergy and other of our establishment are befriending your mama you are flying in the face of all them and educating enemies to the church – For such they are, let them be called by what softer name they may. I hope you will take this in its proper light – My conduct will be regulated by yours – A perseverance will alienate your brother.

TK Glazebrook.

Thomas’s letters to his sister are usually very loving, even a little bit saccharine, but perhaps once religion and politics get involved tempers start to fray.

The father of Thomas and Martha was the Reverend James Glazebrook of St. James Latchford and St. John the Baptist, Belton in Leicestershire. We see here a reference to the disputes between the two types of church and the two branches of the family.

One of the big political arguments of the 1830s and 1840s was around whether the Church of England should control education in the country. As you will see from the online gallery when it is completed, the Church of England and the state were seen by many as inseparable entities throughout the 19th century. Religion and politics became, in many cases, one and the same thing. A challenge to the Church was seen as a challenge to the government, a challenge to law and order.

It is easy to side with Martha wholeheartedly here, running a Sunday school for the children of the chapel is hardly a despicable sin, but we must also remember that people like Thomas had lived through the terrors of the French Revolution and the horror of the Napoleonic wars. The threat of a collapsing society was a very real one to many of them, and the horrors of what could happen held a very visceral fear.

This cartoon from Punch shows a fight between the Church of England, shown here as a country squire, and the non-conformists, shown here as a puritan. The men are fighting over who gets to educate the two cowering children (image courtesy of

This article was originally posted on Wednesday, April 8th, 2015.