The Greg Family Album
In November 2012, we were informed by a researcher, who was looking into Quarry Bank and slavery, that there was a remarkable book being sold by James Cummins Bookseller, New York. The book in question was actually not a book at all, but the “Family Album (Mrs S. Greg’s) 1800-1815, Quarry Bank and Ireland”.
Ally immediately searched for it and found it to be on sale for $4,000. The description didn’t give too much away about the contents of the album, merely that it contained watercolours and poems by the Greg family. As we didn’t have the funds to acquire the album, we had to put it to the back of our minds.
Then, in 2013, Andrew Greg, the great-grandson of William Rathbone Greg, Samuel and Hannah’s youngest child, came across the album and contacted us about it, to see if we were planning to acquire it. He got in touch with James Cummins and thanks to his lineage was able to negotiate the price down to $3,200. He very kindly offered to allow us to have first refusal of the album, as he felt that it belonged in our archive, in its original home at Quarry Bank.
This is when Ally sprang back into action. She got in touch with our Regional Curator, Caroline, who contacted the Registrar (Collection & Grants), explaining the potential importance and the significance of the album to Quarry Bank, asking for their help to acquire the album. In January it began its transatlantic journey home to Quarry Bank, for us to determine whether or not we thought it was worth dishing out $3,200. Within seconds of opening its gilded pages we knew we had to have it.
Thanks to two generous National Trust bequests, along with a contribution from us here at Quarry Bank, which was funded from Gift Aid donations from visitors, we were finally able to purchase the album, which is now part of our treasured collection.
The album, as you may have guessed, is not a photo album. Rather, it was a kind of visitor book, kept by Hannah Greg at Quarry Bank House. Whenever family members or friends came to stay, they would enter a poem, a watercolour, a sketch, a piece of music and or even pressed flowers. There are entries from several of Hannah’s children, including her second eldest son Thomas Tylston Greg, Samuel Greg Junior, her eldest daughter Elizabeth Greg (later Elizabeth Rathbone), Agnes Greg, and her youngest son William Rathbone Greg. There are also entries from different branches of the Greg and Lightbody family , including the Needhams, the Parres, the Lyles and the Batts.
The poem shown above was written by Thomas Tylston Greg and highlights the importance of friendship; “The noblest gift that heavenly grace, to heal affliction’s wounds can send ; to be the partner of our race, is a sincere and faithful friend”. Thomas has many entries throughout the album and seems to have been a regular visitor from London, to his parent’s home.
His younger brother, Robert Hyde Greg, as we have previously explored, also possessed poetic flair, and at the age of 17 wrote a poem about the beauty of Quarry Bank House and the surrounding valley; “O fairest and sweetest of Albion’s vales, perfumed by the flowers and refreshed by the gales…To thee I will fly for retirement and rest, When pleasure has sated, or troubles oprest”.
Mary Lyle, a niece of Hannah and Sam, left a piece of music as her contribution and we have been searching all over the property for someone musical to hum it for us! We’d love to hear from you if you’ve tried out the tune. Her contribution was also written in Ireland, suggesting, along with the title of the album, that it travelled between Quarry Bank and the Greg home in Belfast, where Samuel was from.
What becomes clear from the album, much more than the incredible artistic talents of the family , is the closeness of the family; with so many visits from not just Samuel and Hannah’s children but from their siblings, their nieces and nephews and in-laws, as well as their friends, demonstrates the family based community that emanated from Quarry Bank House.It’s such a wonderful concept, and I can imagine each contributor leafing through the pages excited to see the latest addition since their last visit.
The album will prove invaluable to us whilst working on the Quarry Bank Project, and how we choose to interpret Quarry Bank House. It is rapidly becoming clear that Hannah saw her home as an intellectual retreat for her family and friends to explore their creative pursuits. The hope is that when we open the House in the next couple of years that the album can be displayed in the drawing-room, an area Hannah specifically used as an intellectual space, where her children held debates, gave speeches and recited poetry, and perhaps even the original home of the album.