THE HEAD FAMILY

Victorian Studio Photos
Victorian Studio Photos


Sometimes the main subject's antecedents are rather more interesting than the main subject and that is the case here, so I make no apology for telling you about them. This piece actually concerns the Head family, who owned Pit/Pitt Place in Church Street, Epsom from 1861 until 1866, although I think there must have been a contract to buy it a little before that. Certainly, if you go to our article on Pitt Place, it was rather a grand establishment, but there is evidence that Frank Somerville Head, the man we will get to eventually, could be somewhat grumpy and penny-pinching about such matters as repairs and decoration. We shall pick this up later!

Pitt Place
Pitt Place, Epsom. c1960s
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Dr Mendes/Mendez

No, you haven't strayed into the wrong article - stay with me. Fernando Mendes was a Portuguese Jewish physician who was asked by Catherine of Braganza to come to England after she married King Charles II in 1662. There is liberal evidence that she would have needed copious medical attention and support, as she started by being the pawn in a trade-off between Britain and Portugal. We got Tangier, Bombay, various trading rights and a very large lump sum … and Catherine, who was the Infanta of Portugal: they got our military assistance against Spain. As we know, Charles II was not the sort of man to be faithful to a wife, but he would not divorce her, even though she had three miscarriages and bore him no heir. However, it is said that she fainted when Charles insisted on appointing his mistress, Barbara Palmer, as her Lady of the Bedchamber. So we have a local connection already. Barbara Palmer, also known as Barbara Villiers, was the woman who dismantled Nonsuch Palace and sold it to reduce her considerable gambling debts. Ironic then that items from Nonsuch ended up at Pitt Place.

Dr Mendes, who died in 1724, lived at Eagle House, Mitcham, which still stands today and is now a special school.

Eagle House, Mitcham
Eagle House, Mitcham
Photograph by Noel Foster © and licensed for reuse (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Moses Mendes/Mendez

We need to route via Moses, since we require both him and his wife for the genealogical trail. However, he is worth a short stop in his own right, since he was regarded as a genius. He was the grandson of the aforementioned Fernando and sufficiently wealthy to take up a literary career.

Moses Mendez (Mendes)
Moses Mendez (Mendes) by William Bromley
Image Source NPG (D5249) and licensed for reuse (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

Moses was married to Anne Gabrielle (or Anna Gabriella) Head, who was a daughter of Sir Francis Head, 4th Baronet of The Hermitage, Higham, Kent and they had two sons, Francis and James Roper. Moses died in 1758 and Anne then married Captain the Hon. John Roper (a brother of her sister's husband).

James Roper Mendes

This aristocracy business is complicated, but in the interests of getting where we want to go sometime soon, I shall just tell you that in 1770 James Roper Mendes changed his surname to Head by Royal Licence. His son, Francis Bond Head, was born in 1793 and married a cousin, the Hon. Julia Valenza Somerville, in 1816. According to the website 'Historical Narratives of Early Canada', James was 'a mean, hot-tempered spendthrift who squandered the family fortune when Francis was in his teens and for financial reasons was forced to flee to the continent. He spent the latter years of his life drifting about Southern Europe and being a financial burden on Francis, who had the misfortune to be designated "the favourite son" of the arbitrary, irresponsible head of the Head household'.

Sir Francis Bond Head ('Galloping Head')

Sir Francis Bond Head
Sir Francis Bond Head
Image source: 'The Lieutenant-Governors of Upper Canada 1792-1899' via Project Gutenberg.

This Francis did not start out with a title: he began adult life as an officer in the Royal Engineers and was at Waterloo. He retired as a Major in 1825 and became a mining supervisor for a firm with interests in South America. He acquired the nickname of 'Galloping Head' because he rode on horseback between Buenos Aires and the Andes on two occasions. The reason for this is not entirely apparent, but he and his gaucho companions were driving a herd of horses - whether as replacement mounts or for commercial purposes is unclear. Francis did not really have a definite role in life and seemed to 'go with the flow' of whatever turned up. He seemed rather a maverick, which is probably why his son, Frank, wasn't. In 1831 he was knighted as the 1st Baronet Head of Rochester, apparently for demonstrating the military usefulness of the lasso, a little skill he had picked up in Argentina. However, even he was amazed when, in December 1835, he was appointed lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada. Apparently, the powers-that-be had been impressed by what he had said and done as a poor law commissioner for Kent, a position he had not held for long.

To cut a long story short, having mugged up on Canada by reading a book on the voyage out, he made a mess of the job. The website I mentioned earlier is quite keen to trash him (a rather more measured account appears in the Dictionary of Canadian National Biography), even quoting a family friend as saying that Francis, like all five of his siblings, had 'those frightful brown teeth', although his grandson, James Cameron-Head, has made the point that those same teeth, colour not mentioned, were still intact, without fillings, when Francis died at the age of 82. It seems that he was also vain about his hair (see picture above). Apparently, Lord Melbourne, when Prime Minister, said to him, 'But you see Head, you're such a damned odd fellow'. Odd fellow he was, but he just got on with his life, which mainly consisted of writing and riding: his writing was not well thought of by discerning readers. Somehow, he seemed to think his work in Canada had been unappreciated and, after lobbying for the appointment, in 1867 he was made a Privy Councillor in recognition of his 'contribution to the development of Canada'. Sir Francis died at his home, Duppas Hall, Croydon, on 20 July 1875 and probably went to his grave believing that he had been misunderstood and undervalued. His wife, Julia Valenza, survived until 23 March 1879.

Sir Francis Bond Head, 1873
Sir Francis Bond Head, 1873
Image source: www.trentu.ca via Wikimedia.

Frank Somerville Head

Frank Somerville Head
Frank Somerville Head
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Note: To 'colour in' the above photograph, James Cameron-Head described his father as being 'a handsome man with a remarkably fine set of teeth, brown wavy hair, a fresh complexion and blue eyes, and stood about 5ft. 10 ins., though his fine carriage made him look taller'.

It seems that this man was properly called Frank, but became Francis - we'll stick with Frank to avoid confusion with others. He was the son of Sir Francis Bond and Julia Valenza Head, born in Cambrai, France on 26 May 1817, presumably whilst his father was on an army posting. He had three younger siblings, who were Henry Bond Head (1819), Julia Maria Burges Head (c.1821) and the Rev. George Head (1822): all three were born in Edinburgh.

Frank was educated at Haileybury, but this was when it was the East India College, built by the East India Company to educate boys for its Civil Service, and India is exactly where Frank went, from 1835 to 1843. He spent much of his time in the Terai, which is a lowland region in northern India and southern Nepal, often living in a tent as he toured the area assessing taxes and dishing out justice. It seems that, although he was able, further promotion depended on serving more time until he was older, so he returned to England, where he married Mary Jane Garnett at St John, Paddington on 12 December 1843. Mary was born in 1815 in Manchester, the daughter of Robert Garnett and his wife Louisa Ann. Mr Garnett had made fortunes in cotton and the railways (Frank Somerville Head also became heavily involved in railways, including the interests of his father-in-law) and purchased Wyreside Hall, a massive country house quite near Lancaster. A 'handsome dowry' came with Mary Jane.

Mrs Mary Jane Head
Mrs Mary Jane Head
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

In the 1851 census Frank was described as a proprietor of railways and lived at The Hall, Dunchurch, Warwickshire with wife Mary and children Robert Garnett (born 18 March 1845 London), Francis Somerville Junior (30 June 1846 London), Mary Valenza (18 September 1847 Wyreside) and Richard Lyon (1849 Duston, Northamptonshire). The Hall seems to have been built originally as a hunting lodge for the Duke of Buccleuch. According to James Cameron-Head, the family had moved from London because their house at 8 Gloucester Square, London (currently home to the Embassy of the Dominican Republic) belonged to Mrs Head's father and was treated as a hotel by the Garnett family. Two further children followed - James (25 April 1851 Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire - this is the child who eventually became James Cameron-Head) and Frederick William (5 January 1854 Dunchurch).

Having become involved with Pitt Place, Frank almost immediately had a disagreement with his contractor about the repairs and refurbishment. It seems to me that some of the gentry in those days had a disproportionate sense of grievance about relatively minor matters and had no compunction about resorting to courts of law, but on this occasion the boot was on the other foot. James described his father as 'a frugal man' and in 1860 John Butcher, an Epsom painter, sued Frank for 21 (about 1800 in today's terms) which, he said, was an outstanding bill for painting, papering and glazing. A solicitor represented each party and a jury was empanelled. Frank had apparently instructed the clerk of works to re-use any materials already on the premises which were sound, so Butcher recycled some old conservatory windows, which Frank found unacceptable. There were witnesses who thought the job was adequately done and others who didn't, but the upshot was that Mr Butcher got his money in full. The next year Frank, by now a magistrate, recused himself from the bench while his cook was prosecuted for stealing kitchen supplies from him to the value of 10 shillings (50p), which resulted in a sentence of two months' hard labour for the woman. (In 1878 his London butler was caught stealing valuables and ended up with twelve months' hard labour.)

On 22 December 1864 the Heads lost their only daughter, Mary Valenza, aged just 17: she died of consumption at Christchurch, Dorset and was buried in Christchurch Cemetery. Her gravestone is highly unusual and consists of an open bible standing on end, with the spine uppermost; the inscription reads 'Beneath this image of that book she trusted lie the remains of Mary Valenza Head, only daughter of Francis Somerville Head Esquire, of Pit Place, Epsom, who, with a mind and form as rare in vigour as in beauty, fell a sudden victim to consumption at the age of 17. Born Sept.18 1847. Died Dec. 22 1864. So young, so kind, above all so TRUE.'

Gravestone of Mary Valenza Head in Christchurch Cemetery
Gravestone of Mary Valenza Head in Christchurch Cemetery
Photograph by J Sweetlove of Christchurch

The digitised book called 'Families of Head and Somerville', which is essentially a short family memoir privately published in 1917 and written by James Cameron-Head for his children, has been very useful for fleshing out bald facts (I do recommend this memoir, as it is succinct on the family history and peppered with little anecdotes). He wrote as follows.
'During 1864 my only sister, Mary Valenza, was suddenly attacked by a galloping consumption and died just before Christmas. She was a perfectly strong, healthy girl of seventeen, with beautiful chestnut brown hair and hazel eyes and fresh complexion - which gave promise of a very beautiful womanhood. Some slight eruption broke out on her and the ignorant doctor gave her medicine which drove the spots in and they went straight to her lungs, and she was dead in six months.

She was a great loss to me as we were tremendous pals, but the grief to my mother was so overwhelming that she never got over it. My father sold Pit Place in 1866, as my mother could not bear being in it after her daughter's death, and we moved to London.'

Mary Valenza Head
Mary Valenza Head
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

The next abode, 24 Manchester Square, Marylebone, was sold in 1875, in which year Frank's father died, Frank then becoming Sir Francis Somerville Head: this house was followed by 9 Seymour Street, which was fairly nearby. However, in 1884 Frank purchased Newberries at Radlett, Hertfordshire, which then consisted of a mansion and 230 acres of parkland. Frank died on 26 August 1887, aged 70, and, having previously refused to be buried at Aldenham, the nearest graveyard, was deposited for the time being in the grounds of Newberries. James said in his memoir that they couldn't find a parson to read the service over the grave so he did it himself. He and Francis Junior then negotiated to establish a cemetery opposite the Church of Christ Church and St John's, Radlett and built a wall around it. Mary Jane Head died very soon after her husband, on 15 November 1887, and the new cemetery was ready just in time. Frank/Francis was disinterred from his temporary resting place, which required permission from the Home Secretary, and both were buried together.

We shall now move on to the children.

Robert Garnett Head (born 1845)

Robert became the 3rd Baronet on the death of his father and married Florence Julia Pollock on 5 August 1880; in the 1881 census he was described as a tea dealer. Their son, Robert Pollock Somerville, was born in 1884 and later became the 4th Baronet. By the time of Robert Senior's death from an acute attack of pleurisy and pneumonia on 6 March 1907, the family was living at Buckingham Gate, London. Florence survived until 1931, having moved to Bexhill.

Francis Somerville Head, Junior (born 1846)

Francis married the widowed Charlotte Ann Hathorn, daughter of Sir John Dick-Lauder, at St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh on 16 April 1891. They initially settled in Kentchurch, Herefordshire. Charlotte died in 1936 and Francis on 2 April 1941: being quite advanced in age, they had moved to the Bushey Hall Hotel in Bushey, Hertfordshire, which was an impressive pile in its day but is long gone.

Richard Lyon Head (born 1849)

I found virtually nothing about Richard until he died at The Priory, Roehampton on 13 August 1922. Then, as now, it was a private psychiatric facility and today, of course, the subsequent Priory Group is often in the news in connection with the rehabilitation of addicted celebrities. Since Richard was so elusive (we had him once in adult years, staying in a hotel, in the 1891 census) I wondered if he had long-term mental health issues. The 1911 census for The Priory had someone called R.L.H. of the correct age, described as a 'lunatic at 44', although he was stated to be a Scotland resident, but that might well have been the case, since the Heads had many Scottish connections. I think that this was Richard, in which case it means that he was incarcerated somewhere in the early/mid 1890s. Armed with these clues, we can then find an R.L.H. in The Priory in 1901, correct age, birthplace unknown, described as a china manufacturer and, again, a lunatic.

James Head/Cameron-Head (born 1851)

In Scotland anyway, the marriage of James Head warranted a column headed 'Marriage of Miss Cameron of Inverailort'. It was a classy wedding, on 8 September 1888 in the private chapel of the Bishop of Moray and Ross at Eden Court, Inverness. Unfortunately, the bride was in deep mourning following the death of an uncle, so the proceedings were 'low-key'. There followed a list of presents in which the words diamond and silver featured many times. Even the coachman at Newberries had given a 'silver mounted hunting cross'. The bride was properly Christian Helen Jane Cameron, born 1859.

James acquired the Cameron family seat, Inverailort House, after his marriage, although it really belonged to Christian, who had already been running it for years; in due course he changed his surname to Cameron-Head by Royal Licence. Oddly, given that this article is in our Victorian Studio Photos series, Christian was a keen photographer, but mostly of landscapes. Few of her images survive but you can see some of them and read the biography on the Westies of Yesteryear website. Yes, I know it is a website dedicated to historical terriers, but Christian was a keen breeder thereof and there is a photo of her with some of them if you scroll down the linked page.

Inverailort House
Inverailort House
Image © Trevor Littlewood and licensed for reuse (CC BY-SA 2.0) via geograph.org.uk

In London the Cameron-Heads lived at 40 Lowndes Square, Chelsea, where James kept the skulls of two tigers shot by his father in India, although I imagine the family spent a large amount of time at Inverailort. James died on 10 December 1922 and Christian died in 1941, soon after her Scottish home had been requisitioned by the MOD and became a commando training base. The house, which was described in The Daily Telegraph of 28 May 2015 as a '50-room house, resembling a cross between Kensington Palace and Paddington Station', was returned to the family after the war and James and Christian's son, Francis Somerville Cameron-Head (born 1896) remained there until his death in 1957, after which his widow Lucretia (died 1994) took over. Francis was one of twins, his sister, Christian Mary, having died unmarried in 1956.

Frederick William Head (born 1854)

I'm sticking my neck out here to show you a photo of a lad I believe to be Frederick. He is definitely 'Master Head' and the picture would have been taken at the same time as the other Cuthbert Hopkins images in this article, so probably about 1863. James would have been around 12 by then and Frederick around 9, so I think it is more likely to be the latter (but, as always, if anyone knows differently, please contact the webmaster, who will move the photo to the appropriate section).

'Master Head', believed to be Frederick William but possibly James
'Master Head', believed to be Frederick William but possibly James
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Sadly, Frederick died at an early age, so there is little to be told about him. He was called to the bar in 1879 and on 14 November 1882 at Wells, Somerset he married Jessie McLean, daughter of the late John Donald McLean of Queensland. The words diamond and silver again featured liberally in the list of presents. The newlyweds then left for Davos, where they would spend the winter. Frederick died at Troodos, Cyprus on 29 June 1886, aged 32, and is buried there. Troodos was at that period a hill station/resort and it's known for skiing (like Davos), but not in June. It emerges from the probate record that Frederick was 'late of Mena, near Cairo' and, just as I was about to invite 'answers on a postcard' from readers as to what he might have been doing there, I accidentally dug up a nugget on Wikipedia about the Marriott Mena House Hotel, which wasn't a Marriott back in the 1880s but is, and always has been, very close to the Giza Pyramids. The article says this.

'The Mena House was initially a hunting lodge; it was a two-storey hut nicknamed the "Mud Hut". It was built in 1869 for the Egyptian Khedive Isma'il Pasha.

Due to political matters in 1883, Isma'il sold the lodge to couple Frederick and Jessie Head as a private residence. The couple came across the building while on their honeymoon and once it was purchased they expanded it. In 1885, it was then sold to an English couple, Ethel and Hugh F. Locke King. They immediately began construction on the hotel and opened it to the public in 1886 as The Mena House. The hotel is named after the founding father of the first Egyptian dynasty, Mena or King Menes.'
It seems, therefore, that the honeymoon which began in Davos in the winter of 1882 moved on to Egypt, so was likely more of a 'grand tour'.

Grave of Frederick William Head in the Military Cemetery at Troodos
Grave of Frederick William Head in the Military Cemetery at Troodos
Image courtesy of Gravestone Photographic Resource

Jessie never remarried and lived on to 1954 (aged 94), at which time she was residing in Dorset. There were no children.

Linda Jackson 2018