Samuel Doidge Brent 1863-1937
Postmaster and my great grandfather
I have a tradition of naming snails after my great grandparents. My two pet Giant African Land Snails were Percy and Phoebe, after Percy and Phoebe Beale, my dad’s mum’s parents. Meanwhile, the furry toy snail that accompanies me to parkruns is called Samuel, not just for its alliterative value but after my dad’s dad’s dad, Samuel Doidge Brent.
Samuel was born on 5th October 1863 in the tiny village of St Dominick, Cornwall (with a population of around 800 people, both now and then). Unusually for those days, Samuel was raised as an only child. His one sister, Annie, died in infancy. He was the son of George Brent, a coal miner, and his wife, Betsy Ann Doidge. I have never been to St Dominick – it is one of those places that it takes an entire day to get to if you don’t have a car, the local bus comes once a day and there’s nowhere to buy a can of Coke Zero after 7pm. Well, I imagine, as I said, I haven’t been there. I hope I will one day, because apparently there’s a lot of Brents in the local graveyard and a lovely parkrun nearby that I think Samuel Snail would enjoy. St Dominick seems like a very sleepy place, dominated by farming. When I searched the local newspapers for mentions of my Brent ancestors, all I could find was entries about prize-winning cows at the Callington Agricultural Society. As a vegan I did not find this terribly impressive!
When Samuel (the human one) was still a child, his moved from St Dominick to the much larger town of Plymouth. By 1881, they were living in Bristol, but it seems George and Betsy returned to Plymouth after this. Samuel was a grown man by now, and decided to make a very different life for himself. He moved to Rotherhithe, in South London, where he set up a lithographic printing business and bought a shop on Rotherhithe New Road which he ran as a post office. The building still exists but is now a Chinese takeaway! I considered getting something to eat from there in commeration of my great grandfather, but it didn’t look terribly appetising. Interesting, there were a whole host of other Brents living in the area, working in the shipping industry, some of whom were quite well known – there is even a John Brent house (a block of flats) named after one of them. I feel like there ought to be a link between these Brents and Samuel (especially as my father, Samuel’s grandson, went on to work in shipping) but I can’t find one. Yet.
In 1889, he married Emily Whibley, the daughter of Richard Whibley, the gardener at the Bethlem Hospital, in a double ceremony with Emily’s sister which was reported in the South London Press as follows:
On Saturday a very pretty double wedding was solemnised at Christ Church, Westminster, the brides being the Misses Mary Ann and Emily Jane Whibley, the eldest daughters of Mr Richard Whibley, of King Edward’s Schools. A large crowd assembled outside the church some time before the appointed time and on the arrival of the brides flocked into the body of the building. The scene was very interesting, the brides being led to the altar by their father. Each was attired in a very tasteful robe of cream merino draped with lace, and carried beautiful bouquets of the choicest flowers. They were followed by six bridesmaids wearing dresses of fawn cashmere and carrying baskets of flowers. The brides were received at the altar by their respective bridegrooms, Mr William Ankins, of Bethlem Hospital, Lambeth, and Mr Samuel Doidge Brent, late of Bristol. Mr Ankins was supported on his right by his best man, Mr Edward J Whibley, brother of the brides, and Mr Brent by Mr William S Carter, of Portsmouth. The bridesmaids attending were the Misses Fanny, Ada and Florrie Whibley, sisters of the brides, Misses Mary Ann and Janet Dicker, and Miss Emily James. The officiating clergyman was the Rev H Grainger of Christ Church. The reception was given at King Edward’s Schools, and early in teh afternoon the happy pairs left for the Isle of Wight. Many handsome presents were received previous to the wedding, and still continue to arrive.
Samuel and Emily lived in the flat above the post office and had just the one child – Leonard – my grandfather. It seems like they lived a fairly ordinary and hardworking life, and unlike certain other branches of my family did not change their names, go AWOL, produce love children in Georgia, jump under trains or any other such nonsense, though Emily did rather die rather prematurely at the age of 55 from influenza and bronchitis (another thing that wouldn’t kill you now!) When Samuel retired, he returned to Plymouth (though with his parents long dead I have no idea if he even knew anyone there. Maybe he just wanted to be by the sea.) According to my aunt all three are buried in the same churchyard in Plymouth, but she had no success in finding the grave. If I am ever down that way I will look for myself, and be sure to introduce Samuel Snail to the man he was named after.
Photo of Samuel and of the Brent Family: from my Aunt, Stella Brent.
1871 Census for Plymouth, Devon, 1881 and 1891 Census for Bristol, Gloucestershire, 1891 Census for Camberwell, London, 1901 and 1911 Census for Rotherhithe. Online publication – Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005.Original data – Census Returns of England and Wales, 1891. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1891.
Death certificate for Emily Jane Brent: obtained from GRO.
England and Wales birth and death indexes for Samuel Doidge Brent and Annie Florence Brent. Online publication – Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.Original data – General Register Office. England and Wales Civil Registration Indexes. London, England: General Register Office. © Crown copyright.
South London Press, 21 September 1889. Retrieved via findmypast.co.uk