By James Wisdom and Val Bott
Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal No 5 (1996)
A prominent Chiswick figure
Lieut-Colonel Robert William Shipway moved to Grove House, Chiswick in 1894. This 18th century mansion was part of the property of the Duke of Devonshire, then Chiswick’s largest landowner. The Duke had begun to develop part of its estate as a well laid out upper-middle class suburb between the Thames and the railway but most of the grounds remained.
Born in 1841, the son of a tailor, Shipway previously lived in Ealing with his second wife, Helen, and four children and was rising up the social scale. An active Conservative, he served as a Middlesex County Councillor and from 1905 was to be a JP on the Acton Bench, eventually becoming Deputy Chairman. He and his wife supported the League of Nations organisation whose fund-raising fetes at Grove House became an annual event; he even ensured that the 1928 fete went ahead when he was ill and, as it turned out, on his death bed.
Shipway was a military type, described as ‘a fine figure of a man’. A crack shot who won a number of silver cups, he was said to have a shooting box in Austria and he festooned Grove House with big game heads and bear skin. Shipway was also an enthusiastic amateur photographer and presented his own photos of local beauty spots for display in Chiswick Town Hall and Library. When he became involved, at his wife’s insistence, in the purchase, restoration and opening of Hogarth’s House as a museum his photographs were used to illustrate the 1904 guide book.
Over many years he was involved in the Queen’s Westminster Rifles, a volunteer regiment established in the 1860s and a Victorian equivalent of the Territorial Army. He rose to the rank of Lieut-Colonel and was given the Volunteer Decoration, a volunteer officers’ award given for long service and good conduct which was introduced in 1892. He was a director of Hammond & Co, the family breeches-making firm in Oxford Street, and left £93,000 when he died in 1928.
Researching his family’s history
Shipway believed his family to have some connection with the Gloucestershire area, especially Beverstone Castle. In November 1895 he commissioned Dr Herbert Davies to research his family history for a fee of six shillings a day and expenses, probably hoping to find a pedigree and possibly that his family had rights to a coat of arms.
Dr Davies therefore began his research in the Bristol area and was immediately successful. In January 1896 he found a seal with a Shipway crest which had been owned by an elderly resident of Mangotsfield and he bought it for his client. The next month Davies found a pocket watch, probably Shipway’s grandfather’s, with Dum Vivo, the family motto, inscribed upon it.
In March 1896 he unearthed six relevant entries in the Mangotsfield parish registers, including the following: ‘John Shipway, son of John Shipway, man of arms, was christened on 6 day July 1570’ and ‘John Shipway the elder was buried the 11 day 1625, sigillum leo telo manu‘. The latter, rather unusual entry for a register records a description of the crest incorporating a lion holding a dart in its paw and confirmed the link with that on the seal. This Shipway had done work on the parish church at Mangotsfield during his lifetime.
In June 1896 Dr Davies found in Gloucester Record Office the will of John Shipway of Beverstone Castle and Mangotsfield which recorded a grant of arms from Richard I in 1191 which also mentioned the crest. Davies went on to discover effigies of a John Shipway and his wife Margaret, who died in 1623 and 1628 respectively, and had them restored to their correct position in the church at Mangotsfield. He also found the lion device on a monument there, an inscription inside the hasp of the parish chest – ‘ye gifte of JS’- and in the belfry an inscribed beam recording the 1541 donation of a bell with the lion and dart.
By the end of his first year’s work he had found the graves of various Ship ways. He had been to Hereford Record Office where he found a Shipway family linked to Whitbourne, Hereford and Mangotsfield in a will of 1524. In February 1897 he came across a will of 1490 from John James Shipway identifying him as a man of arms, giving the motto and referring again to an ancestor from Beverstone.
By now Dr Davies had researched extensively and reported back his findings enthusiastically, often providing photos of his evidence. Shipway’s solicitor had checked the provenance of everything that was found and had authorised and approved all the references listed above, including the watch. The seal with the lion crest had been sworn and attested before a Bristol solicitor. The registers had been certified by the local clergy. The wills had come from Probate Offices in Gloucester, Worcester and Hereford. The Home Office had given permission for a search of a grave and a British Museum (Manuscripts Department) man had authenticated the documents.
Shipway now appeared to have proof of his family’s position in society. Any family historian would be pleased to have found such plentiful evidence at such an early date – and although the cost had been £683, Shipway was delighted with Davies’ results.
Phillimore doubts the evidence
William Phillimore Watts Phillimore lived in Chiswick and was a Chancery Lane solicitor and a historian. Some of his publications are in the Local Studies Library at Chiswick. (Many know the name Phillimore today because it is still that of a local history publisher). Shipway showed to Phillimore – presumably to share his delight in the discovery – a photographic copy of the 1547 will of John Shipway of Beverstone and Mangotsfield which Dr Davies had sent.
Phillimore had himself been preparing for publication a calendar of wills from the Gloucestershire area. He made notes on the Nelme family and in 1890 he had transcribed details of wills of the family of John Nelme from the village of Came. He became suspicious of this Shipway will which bore the number 75; he recognised the word ‘Came’ in the text and from his own transcripts found that will 75 was for John Nelme of Came. For Shipway this was the will which referred to the 1191 grant of arms – but Phillimore knew that in that year Richard I was in Palestine and couldn’t have made the grant of arms. He spoke of his doubts to Shipway who was disturbed but not yet convinced that it could be a forgery.
In February 1897 Phillimore went to Gloucester, Worcester, Beverstone and Stonehouse and came to the conclusion that Dr Davies had perpetrated a number of frauds. He visited the Oxford Street solicitors Shipway had used to check the findings and presented them with his evidence but they ridiculed him, having already ‘authenticated’ some of this evidence for themselves. The solicitors then hired (perhaps on Shipway’s instruction?) a British Museum man to test the evidence again and he asserted that it was credible material.
Davies is arrested
Phillimore had been outraged at the state of the local records in Gloucestershire and was using the scandal he had discovered to campaign for better care of historical material. He was completely convinced that he had found forgeries and unknown to Shipway approached the President of the Probate Division of the High Court. At this point the British Museum man changed his mind and the whole matter was put into the hands of Detective Inspector Brockwell of Scotland Yard. On 17 September, police arrested Dr Davies at his home in Castlenau, Barnes; the case was to go to a committal hearing before a magistrate.
The court case reveals all
Surviving newspaper reports of the court hearings provide us with the details of this extraordinary story. Davies was charged not only with various forgeries but also with obtaining money by deception. The police had traced numerous people who were called to testify, showing the lengths to which Dr Davies had gone. Some evidence was reported phonetically in dialect, the reporters mimicking the Gloucestershire men’s accent. A clerk to a Bristol solicitor testified that Davies had pretended to be the son of the John Bucknall of Mangotsfield from whom Davies had acquired the seal. In this guise he had attested that his ‘father’, who had given the seal to Davies, had received it from Shipway’s grandfather.
The Rev Alford and his son Percy, his curate, testified that in March 1896 Davies had been lent the parish registers in their care to have them photographed. While they were away six fraudulent entries at the top and bottom of pages and in between entries with larger spacing had been added to these volumes. Davies had persuaded the vicar to sign the back of photographic copies confirming that they were authentic copies.
However, unknown to Davies, a curate of the parish had made a complete copy of the register in 1720 in which these entries do not appear. A witness, Chaloner Smith, said the forged entries were not in good Latin; some of the letters, especially the numbers, were written in modern not Elizabethan or Stuart forms. Worse still, Davies had cut out a page with 27 marriages in order to make his sequence flow, his entries were in blacker ink than the rest and, having found a character in the registers called Shipley, he had simply changed this name to Shipway.
Davies had also gone to other parishes and made forgeries, which were rather touching in their incompetence. He managed to persuade the Vicar to leave the library while he was looking at parish registers for Stonehouse; by the time the Vicar returned there was a record of a baptism in 1578 of John Shipway, son of John Shipway of Beverstone Castle. Davies was now so confident he could get away with his frauds that he asked the Vicar to make a copy for him to authenticate the source! The register was left open on the desk from the afternoon when Davies visited to the lunchtime of the next day when the Vicar sat down to make the record. During that time sunlight acting on the drying ink had given it a reddish hue around the thickness of the pen strokes, completely different from the older script. Davies wasn’t to know that his insertion could be so readily identified.
Silbey, a Bristol engraver reported that Davies had brought him the hasp of the parish chest and asked him to write on it “ye giffte of JS”. When he had come back the next day Davies had said it wasn’t quite good enough and rubbed it with a mixture of ink, dirt and an emery cloth to make it look older. And a church worker who had repaired the chest a few years earlier could not remember this obvious engraving on the hasp.
John Freddy was 72, a blacksmith and the parish clerk who recorded that he had lent a hammer and chisel to Davies. After this, Davies had gone up into the belfry and locked the door and then made hammering sounds. For the previous 30 years, this witness had climbed regularly into the belfry to wind the church clock and had never seen the engraving on the beam recording the donation of the Shipway family.
Mr Coles, a miner and bell-ringer, and Mr Hewitt, who was also a bell-ringer, both gave evidence that they had never seen this inscription before Davies’ visit. Stoddard or Stiddard was the sexton who helped Davies dig up one of the graves – in fact he dug quite a lot in the attempt to find an unnamed lead coffin. The best he could find was the coffin of somebody called Hicks whose coffin plate had become separated. Stiddard, Davies and Webster, a local man, dug up the coffin and carried it into the church where they left Davies studying it for some time. When they returned they noticed a strong smell of acid. The photographer was there and photographed the name-plate on the coffin. (Later Davies was unhappy about the quality of the coffin-plate photo, had it enlarged, retouched and then reduced – a very effective fraud.) Then they reburied it under a stone that Davies was sure was a Shipway memorial stone.
Unfortunately while they were doing this the stone fell and crushed Webster’s foot; he died of shock two days later. At the inquest Davies said he had had Home Office permission to open the grave but Shipway was outraged to discover graves had been opened. He had no intention of allowing this sort of work to be done. He was extremely affected by Webster’s death and sent £10 to help his widow. But Mrs Webster only received £4 as Davies appears to have pocketed the difference.
Mr Pendock, the churchwarden arranged to move the organ for £20 and described the figure taken out from underneath as a man of arms in his ‘knight gear’. When asked ‘was he in his nightgown or his armour?’ he explained that he thought it was a dressing-gown but at first he thought it might have been a woman. A second figure was found under the chancel floor. These seem to have been the Blount family’s effigies, ‘rechristened’ by Dr Davies!
They were restored and replaced in their niche and Davies had Shipway pay for inscriptions on a screen nearby: ‘The enclosed two monuments were placed in this chantry to perpetuate the memory of John Shipway man of arms of Beverstone and Mangotsfield and Margaret his wife. During troublous times the figure of John Shipway was buried nearby and was recovered and replaced by his direct lineal descendant Lieut-Col Robert Wm Shipway of Grove House, Chiswick Middx Nov 1896’ and on another plate ‘Upon the original plaster of this wall can be seen traces of the family arms specified in the parochial registers and district probate registry, also portions of the original inscriptions. The name of Johannes Shipway can still be deciphered on the face of the corner stone. The vault is south of this church. The name and arms also appear with the date 1541 cut into the beam of the belfry’.
The shield had to have 8 coats of paint removed before the name John Shipway 1630 could finally be revealed on it. As it turns out they had to send the shield away to have the paint removed but it was, of course, quite visible when it returned. Again it was the Bristol engraver Silbey, who did the work.
At first it is hard to understand why Davies went to such lengths in his fraud. The fact was that the six parish register entries he had discovered were sent by the solicitors straight to the College of Arms – within a few months of the enquiries starting, Shipway thought he had enough evidence to claim the coat of arms. But the College wanted corroborative evidence and this only drove Davies to fabricate more. The most acceptable material was likely to be Shipway wills which might trace the family back to Beverstone Castle. Since he couldn’t find wills at Gloucester, Hereford or Worcester, he faked them in all three locations.
The key will is the one which records the 1191 grant of arms and Shipway was provided with a photograph of it. In the Record Office there was insufficient light for photography as one of the policemen’s experiments proved. The fact that it must have been taken away was confirmed by the fact that in the relevant bundle of wills there was evidence of one having been ripped out – it must have been doctored, photographed and then replaced. In addition the wills were all numbered and an existing list showed that ‘Grace Shipway’s” will was in fact Nicholas Walby’s.
Not only had Davies perpetrated serious forgeries, he had charged Shipway for this service. Everything was photographed by Hamilton who obeyed Davies’ instructions to enlarge, retouch and reduce. Even Hamilton’s bill to Shipway was ‘enlarged’ at Davies’ request so that they could split the difference. (Hamilton, however, didn’t get paid at all and had to sue Davies in the County Court.)
The case revealed that Davies stayed in temperance hotels, presumably because they were cheap and kept his actual expenses down. The ‘Boots’ of the Constance Temperance Hotel in Gloucester, George Cleverly, testified that Davies had asked him to store three swords referred to as Crusader swords, in the damp cellar there in order to make them rusty!
The press provided thumb-nail sketches of witnesses and of Shipway in court looking very weary. He had hired two people, Bickley from the British Museum and Chaloner Smith from the Probate Registry at Somerset House to go and sort it out, probably hoping to avoid the court case. He was to be humiliated in public by people’s amusement, a particular blow because the first thing Davies had presented him with was his grandfather’s watch, hallmarked 1782 but inscribed 1763. Most of those present grasped very quickly how easily he had been taken in. As the court case went on The Daily Graphic provided cartoon coats of arms, with a shield bearing a smoothing iron with pairs of scissors and a motto about trousers, as well as a mock Shipway book plate with a lion holding a tailor’s shears.
Davies had presented a reliable image but even that was a fraud. He was the son of a furniture dealer in Manchester, had left school at 11 and worked as an assistant schoolmaster until he was 25. He had tried to join the Royal Institution by forging a testimonial. He did not have a degree so had found it hard to hold down a post.
He had found a Davies at Lincoln College Oxford who had gone to Australia as a lawyer and adopted his qualifications. Nor was he a doctor of Heidelberg University – he had forged that too. The existence of his wife and child meant that Shipway didn’t want to pursue him in court but the Police took on the case because of the seriousness of the forgeries as these might have given people false rights over property. The case went to the Old Bailey where Davies pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 3 years’ penal servitude.
After the court case
With the help of Sharron Clarke we have attempted to trace Shipway’s Gloucestershire connection but at the time of writing we have not found it – it may not exist. It is possible that Shipway’s later zeal for public service and his purchase, devoted restoration and opening of Hogarth’s House to the public were part of a need to prove his worth after the humiliation of the court case. (He was later to present the House to the Middlesex County Council.)
Certainly he had a moment of triumph when he organised a dinner to celebrate the opening of Hogarth’s House in 1904 which made the national press. Hogarth experts, MPs, the Directors of the Victoria & Albert Museum and the National Gallery, the President of the RIBA and the Royal Academy, his solicitor (who arranged the bidding at auction for the House with only days’ notice) and his sons all joined Shipway in Hogarth’s Dining Room and drank toasts to Art and the Empire. Shipway ended with a sentimental toast of his own, to his wife Helen, who, he revealed, had told him ‘You must buy it’!
For more on Grove House and its residents see also:
Tracing Colonel Shipway’s Pedigree (Journal 7, 1998)
Grove House, Chiswick (Journal 3, 1982)
Your Honour’s Servant at Command: The Morice Letters (Grove House),(Journal 7, 1998)