In this essay, Peter Barnsley unearths some surprising connections between Cradley and the worlds of science, literature, and Victorian feminism.
On Saturday the 12th of November 1932, the Stourbridge County Express carried a report of the induction the previous week of the Reverend Alfred Heale, the newly-
Whoever he was, the reporter was not content with merely describing the induction ceremony; he sought out and interviewed the oldest member of the congregation -
Mr. Jones, who was looking forward to his 90th birthday in the following January, said that he had been connected with Park Lane Church since his christening there by the Reverend William Bowen, who had then been living in Park House (a 17th century building, which stood opposite Park Lane's junction with the Stourbridge -
Parkes was a solicitor practising in Birmingham; he was also a prominent member of the city's Liberal Party. In or about 1830, the Parkes family moved to London, where Joseph Parkes became a taxing master in the Court of Chancery, and a historian of the Chancery Bar. Well-
Mr. Jones also reminisced about Joseph Parkes' daughter -
Of those children, Hilaire Belloc (1870-
Hilaire Belloc's sister, who wrote as Marie Belloc Lowndes, is now remembered mainly as the author of The Lodger, though its protracted fame owes more to Alfred Hitchcock's film (1926) than to the original novel or to the play that was based on it.
In his conversation with the County reporter, Mr. Jones' final recollection was that during the time when Bessie Parkes was living at Park House, she regularly attended Park Lane Church.
Was Mr. Jones right? Could Cradley -
The truth is even more remarkable. Cradley has links not only with 19th Century radicalism and 20th Century Literature, but with 18th Century Science as well.
The Priestley Sisters
It is almost certain that Joseph Parkes never lived in Park House -
In any case, what is most interesting about the 1841 Census entry is not the address of the Reverend William Bowen, but the identity of his wife. Marianne Bowen was 35 years old in 1841, and had lived in Cradley since 1812. She left hardly a footprint in history, but a considerably greater impression was made by her paternal grandfather.
He was Joseph Priestley, discoverer of oxygen, who was famous in his day for political and theological controversy. Dr. Priestley was a Yorkshireman who came to Birmingham in 1780 as a Unitarian minister. In 1794, after his house, library and laboratory had been sacked by rioters, Dr. Priestley sought refuge in America, where he died in 1804.
Dr. Priestley's son, Joseph Priestley Junior, returned to England with his wife and three children in 1812, and settled in Cradley. One reason for this seemingly eccentric choice was almost certainly the presence in Cradley of a Unitarian Church. Marianne Priestley was six years old at the time. She eventually became Marianne Bowen, but it was the marriage of her elder sister, Elizabeth, that was to give Cradley a closer brush against the sleeve of history.
The marriage of Elizabeth Rayner Priestley to Joseph Parkes was celebrated in Edgbaston on 29th June, 1824. Where the couple met is not known (it was almost certainly either in Birmingham or in Cradley) but their meeting and courtship must have depended to a large extent on their common Unitarianism. It is as certain as anything can be that the newly-
The Bowens stayed in Cradley until 1850, by which time the Parkes' daughter, the future feminist, Bessie Rayner Parkes, was 21 years old. She might well have come from London to stay with her father or uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Bowen -
Bessie Parkes was from girlhood brought into contact with the literary and political worlds. She knew well both George Eliot and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. She corresponded with George Sand. She was a friend of Anthony Trollope. Thackeray often dined at the Parkes' house in Wimpole Street because he liked meeting Liberal politicians. When Mrs. Gaskell was working on her life of Charlotte Bronte, Bessie accompanied her to Yorkshire.
Between 1858 and 1864, Bessic edited The English Women's Journal, the first feminist periodical, but she would not have earned the unqualified approval of today's feminists. Although she believed that unmarried women deserved to get any jobs that were going, she wrote in 1862: "....... the fact remains clear to my mind that we are passing through a stage of civilisation that is to be regretted, and that her house and not the factory is a woman's happy and healthful sphere."
Long before she met Louis Belloc, Bessie Parkes became a Roman Catholic convert. She is buried in the Catholic Church of St. Richard, Slindon, West Sussex, where she died, aged 95, in March 1925.
Cradley's connection, through the Parkes and Priestley families, with the worlds of science, radicalism and literature, is indeed a tenuous one. But it adds a little colour to the history of the Parish -
Park House might not have provided a home for either the Bowens, the Parkes or the Priestleys, but in the mid-
As far as I know, Rumer Godden has never visited Cradley, or any other part of the Black Country, but she is aware of her connection with it, and (to judge from her own words in A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep) she is proud of the achievements of her great-
Margaret Rumer Godden, who now lives in Dumfries, published her first novel Chinese Puzzle in 1936. Now 90 years old, she published her latest novel Cromartie v. The God Shiva last November. She has -
N.B. Noah Hingley lived in both houses mentioned in this article; by 1865 he had moved from Park House to Chapel House.
The Life of Hilaire Belloc by Robert Speaight (Hollis & Carter: 1957).
The Diaries and Letters of Marie Belloc Lowndes (Chatto & Windus: 1971).
Hilaire Belloc by A. N. Wilson (Hamish Hamilton: 1984).
Victorian Feminism: 1850 -
A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep by Rumer Godden (Macmillan: 1987).
Victorian Women by Joan Perkin (John Murray: 1993).
Dictionary of National Biography.
I must acknowledge the help of Mr. V. H. Pitt (in tracing the links between the Parkes, Bowen and Priestley families) and -
This essay is © Copyright Peter Barnsley,
who has generously granted permission to
Cradley Links to reproduce it on this web site.