I met a friend for a socially distanced walk, along our beach near home and we looked across the little River Axe at the promontory sticking out into the Bristol Channel,, Brean Down. Its’s the last bit of the Mendip chain of hills which is actually attached to the land, there are a couple of islands which may be the small tail of this range of hills. Here’s something I wrote about an old book about the area:
Quite by chance I came across an old book originally published in 1909, or thereabouts, by Francis Arnold Knight about the Mendips, the range of southwestern hills which dive into the sea by our little village of Uphill. It was a mixture of history, geography, geology, natural history and folklore. It was charming and very interesting and I gave it to my husband for Christmas (so I could read it as well!)
Heart of Mendip, by Francis A. Knight (J. M.Dent and Sons, 8s. 6d. net), is a well-compiled history of a dozen parishes in the neighbourhood of Cheddar, in Somerset. The district with which Mr. Knight deals is not only among the most beautiful in the country, but contains several objects of especial interest, notably the Cheddar Gorge with its stalactite caves, and the ancient mining station at Charterhouse-on- Mendip. We are always glad to come upon such a volume as this, which cannot fail to stimulate the interest of the inhabitants of the countryside in their own local history, archaeology, and natural history.
I have just bought another book by Mr Knight:
The Sea-Board Of Mendip – an account of the history, archaeology and natural history of the parishes of Weston-Super-Mare, Kewstoke, Wick St. Lawrence, Puxton Worle, Uphill, Brean, Bleadon, Hutton Locking, Banwell, and of The Steep and Flat Holms.
As usual I did a little research, and discovered that Mr Knight was not only an old boy and teacher at Sidcot School where my son was a student, but had written many other books about the area, including one which featured Uphill. I have just purchased this (a reprinted modern edition) and look forward to reading it.
I can’t however, find out very much about Francis Knight; he was a Quaker, attended Sidcot School between 1862-1866, taught there 1866-1873, and is described as a topographical author. I believe he was born in Gloucestershire in 1852, and died in Somerset in 1915.
He appears in the 1871 census, at Sidcot School, and is a pupil-teacher – I’m not sure if this means he was a pupil and teacher or if he was like a student teacher. Ten years later in 1881, he is still at Sidcot, as a school master now; he is married to thirty-one year old Jane from Stockport in Cheshire, and they have a little girl, Louisa Mary who is three. Also living with them is Jane’s sister, Harriet Redfern who is twenty-seven and also a teacher at Sidcot, and like most families of their status, they have a servant Matilda Parker, from Gloucestershire, aged thirty.
In 1891 things have changed! The Knights no longer live near Sidcot School, they live in Weston-super-Mare; They appear to have a small private boarding school with Mrs Sophia Hobbs, a fifty-three year old widow who is school matron, nineteen year old James F. Keel from Finsbury in London who is an assistant school master, fifteen young boys aged from ten to seventeen from homes across the country, Plymouth in the south and Carlisle in the north, and three domestic servants. Francis is now described as a school master and journalist.
What happened between 1891 and 1901? Francis is no longer a teacher and no longer has a boarding school. He has moved back from Weston-super-Mare to Winscombe, near to Sidcot School again. His elderly mother, eighty-eight year old Sarah is living with them and they have two boarders, Mr and Mrs Grubb, John a retired brass founder, and his wife Madeline. Whether there are any servants who come in from the village isn’t known of course, but the census tells us that there is a live-in servant, young Mary Blumsden aged nineteen.
It’s rather sad, looking at the 1911 census, knowing that within a few years Francis will have died. Here he is, aged fifty-nine, no longer a journalist or author but a retired schoolmaster. On the night of the census his daughter Louisa is visiting with her husband, John Rowe Dutton a chauffeur. A cousin is also visiting, and there is one servant to help the family. Francis’s mother, Sarah Matthews Knight died in 1908 at the remarkable age of ninety-five!
Francis died in 1915, his wife Jane in 1928. His works live on, though, and i shall enjoy reading what he has to say about Uphill!