GEORGE BROWN (1802-1876)


George Brown as a young man, painted by his sister Helen
George Brown as a young man, painted by his sister Helen.
Image © and courtesy of Olivia Lybbe-Simms.

When Christ Church Epsom Common was Consecrated in 1876, almost all of its windows were of slightly tinted "cathedral glass" in geometric leading. The extensive stained glass seen today was mainly installed over the following 30 years.

Only two sets of stained glass were in place at the time of the Consecration. One was six small windows in the Baptistry in memory of three children of William and Mary Elizabeth Trotter who had died in infancy. The other was the set of three windows at the east end of the north aisle in memory of George Brown, the subject of this article - who was William Trotter's brother.

William Trotter had been born a Brown but with his wife, Mary Elizabeth, and their 10 surviving children changed the surname to Trotter as a condition of Mary Elizabeth's inheriting Horton Manor in 1868 from her aunt, Miss Elizabeth Trotter, to whom she was the closest living blood relation. (The name change was not great news for the couple's sixth child whose third Christian name had recognized Mary Elizabeth's Trotter ancestry: after the change of surname, his full name - as used on various legal documents - became Arthur Edward Trotter Trotter!)

After their move to Horton Manor in 1869, William was then instrumental in delivering the new Christ Church, for which Miss Elizabeth Trotter - known as "the founder of the parish" - had left provision in her Will. He was thus well placed to secure early memorials in Christ Church for his family

George Brown's memorial windows.
George Brown's memorial windows.
Photograph © Nishi Sharma of Light & Shade Photography, 2015

George's windows - shown above - were manufactured by Heaton, Butler and Bayne. They show from left to right:
  • the agony at Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42);
  • Jesus after the flagellation (Matthew 27:27-29); and
  • the way of the Cross (John 19:17).
The brass plaque under the central window reads:
TO THE GLORY OF GOD / THESE WINDOWS ARE ERECTED IN LOVING MEMORY OF / GEORGE BROWN BY HIS WIDOW / Obt 11 APRIL 1876 AETAT 74 / HE THAT BELIEVETH IN ME THOUGH HE WERE DEAD YET SHALL HE LIVE / JOHN XI 25
George (and William) came from a very large family. Their parents (father, another George and a "Merchant" of Russell Square, London and mother Margaret, née Balfour) had a total of 20 children. However, four were stillborn and another six died in infancy. William was the oldest surviving son, with George, who was born on 5 March 1802, second.

George followed in his father's - and, indeed, family's - footsteps by becoming a merchant. It is no great surprise that the mid-century records find him in Calcutta, the largest commercial centre in British India, where he was working in the firm of Jardine, Skinner & Co. The firm initially dealt in textiles but, by the mid-19th Century, had branched out into other commodities. These included opium for export to the Chinese market, the trade in which George was particularly engaged. At the time, of course, such trade was seen as quite legitimate: indeed, Thomas Coutts Trotter - from another limb of the Trotter family and a contemporary of George - was listed in the staff of the Bengal Civil Service as "the Opium Agent for Behar".

On 2 October 1858, in Calcutta's St Paul's Cathedral, the bachelor George (then aged 56) married the 30 year-old spinster Hannah Thomas. She had been born in mid-Wales, the daughter of Gentleman Farmer John Thomas, who later moved to Bletsoe in Bedfordshire. It is not known how Hannah came to be in Calcutta, but her brother (John Phillips Thomas) was a witness at the wedding so it is a reasonable assumption that he also worked in Calcutta and was somehow instrumental in his sister meeting George.

George and Hannah had no children (or, at least, none that survived) and it seems that they stayed in Calcutta until George retired. He returned to England a very wealthy man. The 1871 Census records the couple - with George living on "income from interest" - at the smart address of 32 Gloucester Square, London (just north of Hyde Park) and with a domestic staff of nine. They were still at that address when George died in April 1876.

George's Will indicates that he also leased "The Grange, Leatherhead" as his country residence. There was a "Grange" in the centre of Leatherhead, but this was both too urban and far too small to be a rich man's country residence. It seems certain that the house was the Victorian part of what is now the Grange Centre for People with Disabilities in Rectory Lane, Great Bookham. George Brown is listed as a resident on the Bookham page of the 1874 Post Office Directory list. As Bookham was relatively undeveloped at the time and Leatherhead (less than three miles away) was the nearest railway station, it's not surprising that the larger town was given as the address.

George and Hannah doubtless visited his older brother, William, and family at Horton - not least on the way to or from their country residence. Indeed, they might well have worshipped with the Trotters in the smaller first Christ Church (a "chapel of ease" to St Martin's), and were doubtless kept up to speed on plans for the present building - the construction of which alongside the earlier (and subsequently demolished) church was well under way when George died in April 1876.

William Trotter was the first-named executor of George's substantial estate - of some £ 80,000 then or about £ 8 million at 2017 prices. It is clear that George had been helping William financially: the Will explicitly cancelled William's debts with him. Moreover, having made generous provision for his "dear wife Hannah" for the rest of her life and certain other cash legacies to his wider family, George left William a half-share of the residuary estate - giving the equivalent of at least a £ 2-3 million boost to his bank account.

William was a generous donor to the new Christ Church, among other things, funding the organ and substantial stained glass. At a couple of removes, Christ Church was the unwitting beneficiary of George's opium trading!

Roger Morgan © April, 2017