Rich Richard and the Trousered Chicken

It appears that my great great great grandfather has gone viral, nearly 200 years after his death.

The Museum of English Rural Life, in Reading, has acquired various bits of Beale memorabilia – mainly farming diaries and account books.  But one little book caught their eye more than others: the school maths book of 13 year old Richard Beale, known to us as Rich Richard.  It is not so much his quadratic equations and vulgar fractions that interested the museum, more his artistic abilities.  Richard’s mind evidently tended to wander in class, and he drew marvellous pictures of a black and white greyhound-like dog, chained at its kennel or chasing rabbits.  This was rather reminiscent of the drawings I drew on my own school maths book, in the 1980s rather than 1780s, of my little dog Kipsy.

Photo: MERL

More bizarrely, and totally without explanation, Richard doodled a picture of a chicken wearing a pair of trousers.  This was picked up by JK Rowling, who is currently contemplating writing a new book based on Richard Beale’s doodles.  Rich Richard and the Trousered Chicken has a rather good ring to it, I think.

Photo: MERL

Sadly, Richard did not see fit to include anything that might help me solve the genealogical Beale mysteries that have been plaguing me for years.  Wouldn’t it have been nice if his school assignments had included “Draw your family tree, including evidence which unequivocally determines whether your great grandmother’s surname was Henden or Newington”?  But what he did write (and draw) was far more personal and unexpected than that, and something that most people will never get from their ancestors.  It’s wonderful to see that my ancestor has captured the hearts of so many so long after his death.  The purpose of genealogy to me is to make sure that ordinary people are not forgotten, even when everyone who ever laid eyes on them is dead and gone.  For some ancestors, so little remains – a name on a parish record, an entry in a tax book – but others have left behind these delightful little clues to who they really were, and just for a minute it’s like Richard Beale and his black and white dog are in the room with me.

I’m considering having the dog made into a tattoo – what do you think?

You can read the whole thread on Twitter here and the BBC article re JK Rowling here.

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