A Victorian Spinster – Amy Esther Coultate (1852 – 1930)

How does it come about that an English spinster lady, of no note whatsoever as was typical of most of her class at the time, donate a painting to Glasgow? The answer lies not with her father William Miller Coultate who was born in England but with her maternal great uncle James  whose life, friendships and achievements were typical of the men who made the Industrial Revolution.

Figure 1 Letter to James Paton © CSG GIC Glasgow Museums Collection.

On the 13th November 1912 Miss Amy Esther Coultate of Colwyn Bay wrote to James Paton the Superintendent of Glasgow Corporation Art Galleries offering to Glasgow a portrait of the Scottish poet Thomas Campbell by the artist James Lonsdale.[1] In a second letter to James Paton Miss Coultate stated that she had always understood the portrait had been painted at the request of her maternal great uncle James Thomson who paid the artist 500 guineas, and had been done at Primrose House, Clitheroe, the home of her great uncle, where the poet sometime stayed.[2]

Figure 2 Thomas Campbell (1777-1844), Poet by Jamesonsdale (1777-1839). © CSG GIC Glasgow Museums Collection. (www.artuk.org)

Miss Coultate was the middle child of three and was born in 1852 to William Miller Coultate and Eliza Jane Thomson, James Thomson’s niece, and was baptized at Holy Trinity Church in Habergham Eaves, a suburb of Burnley in Lancashire.[3] Her elder sister Marion Elizabeth and younger brother Arthur William were born in 1850[4] and 1856 respectively.[5]

Her father, born in Clitheroe, Lancashire in 1813, was a surgeon and a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in England. He had been in practice in Burnley since 1836 after completing his studies in Dublin. He was also vice president of the British Medical Association in Lancashire and Cheshire and had at one time been surgeon of the Fifth Royal Lancashire Militia.[6]

His wife Eliza Jane Thomson was born in 1821[7], the daughter of William Thomson, the brother of James, both of whom were calico printers. They married in 1849[8] and lived at 1 to 3 Yorke Street in Burnley for most of their married life and where William also had his practice.[9]

Amy’s mother died at a relatively young age in 1871.[10] As was typical for wives of the time perhaps she left very little, her ‘effects’ being valued at less than £20.

The family continued to live in Yorke Street and in the 1881 census, no occupation for any of the children is given despite them being well into their twenties.[11] In subsequent censuses the sisters are recorded as living on private means, Arthur is described as a gentleman when he married in 1883.[12]

Amy’s father died in 1882 from an apoplectic seizure. He left an estate valued at £4583 11s 11d, probate being granted to a fellow surgeon, Joseph Anningson, and Amy’s sister Marion Elizabeth.[13]

The two sisters, who never married, by 1901 were living together at Cae Gwyn,[14] Colwyn Bay. Marion died in 1902, leaving an estate valued at £3757 17s 2d, probate being granted to Amy.[15]

Both sisters clearly led very uneventful, unremarkable lives essentially living on their inheritances from their father. Amy’s one departure from the ordinary appears to have been a trip she made on the SS Hildebrand in 1920. Its departure port was Manaos, Brazil. Her port of embarkation was Lisbon, arriving in Liverpool on 25th March. At this time she was living in Southport.[16] She died on 29th October 1930 at the Barna Private Hotel, Hindhead, Surrey, leaving  an estate valued at £4155 0s 6d.[17]

If Amy’s life was that of a typical Victorian spinster, her great uncle James’s life was that of an educated, entrepreneurial, enlightened male of the Industrial Revolution. He was born in 1779 in Blackburn to John Thomson, (a “Scotch” gentleman), and his wife Elizabeth. His father was an iron-liquor merchant, a fixing chemical used in the calico dyeing industry.

In 1793 he attended Glasgow University befriending Gregory Watt, the son of James Watt and the poet Thomas Campbell. At the age of sixteen he joined the calico printing company of Joseph Peel & Co in London remaining there for six years developing his knowledge and understanding of the chemical technology involved in the industry through study and friendships with scientists including Sir Humphrey Davy and William Hyde Wollaston.

Joseph Peel was an uncle of Sir Robert Peel, 1st Baronet, and there is a suggestion, not proven, that James Thomson’s mother Elizabeth was a sister of Sir Robert. If true, that plus the fact of his father’s involvement in the calico industry would certainly have aided his employment with Joseph Peel.

He subsequently managed the company’s works near Accrington until 1810 at which time he set up his own calico printing company in partnership with John Chippendale of Blackburn, the new company eventually being established at Primrose near Clitheroe. He travelled extensively in Europe to further his business, his fundamental drive being to identify and implement scientific improvement to his printing processes. In 1821 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. He supported schools of design and the extension of copyright periods for dress patterns as he believed this would establish and enhance standards for the industry as a whole. His skill as a chemist and his process improvements in design and printing led to him being referred to as the ‘Duke of Wellington’ of calico printing.[18]

He married Cecilia Starkie in 1806[19] and had four sons and three daughters[20], which raises the question of how the painting came into Miss Coultate’s possession. With so many children the expectation would have been that one of his offspring would inherit. Unfortunately, this research has not established how it came to her; via her mother seeming the most likely route.

Figure 3 James Thomson, FRS (1779-1850) by JamesLonsdale © Salford Museum and Art Gallery; (http://www.artuk.org)

James was mayor of Clitheroe in 1836-1837 and became a JP in 1840. He died at home on 17 September 1850 whilst preparing for the Great Exhibition of 1851. He is buried in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church, Clitheroe.[21]

The artist James Lonsdale was a friend of Thomson’s and was a frequent visitor to his home. He was a popular portrait painter of the day and painted many eminent individuals including British and foreign royalty. His portrait of Thomson is in the Salford Museum and Art Gallery.[22]

[1] Object Files at Glasgow Museum Resource Centre (GMRC), Nitshill.

[2] Ibid

[3] Baptisms (PR) England. Habergham Eaves, Burnley, Lancashire. 25 May 1852. COULTATE, Amy Esther. Register; Baptisms 1837-1863, Page 139, Entry 1108. LDS Film 1526142. Lancashire Online Parish Clerk Project. http://www.lan-opc.org.uk/Search/indexp.html

[4] Baptisms (PR) England. Habergham Eaves, Burnley, Lancashire. 29 March 1850. COULTATE, Marion Elizabeth. Register; Baptisms 1837-1863, Page 114, Entry 911. LDS Film 1526142. Lancashire Online Parish Clerk Project. http://www.lan-opc.org.uk/Search/indexp.html

[5] Baptisms (PR) England. Habergham Eaves, Burnley, Lancashire. 27 September 1856. COULTATE, Arthur William. Register; Baptisms 1837-1863, Page 202, Entry 1613. LDS Film 1526142. Lancashire Online Parish Clerk Project. http://www.lan-opc.org.uk/Search/indexp.html

[6] 1882 ‘The British Medical Journal’. Obituaries. 18 March 1882, p. 407. https://www.jstor.org/stable/25259247?read-now=1&refreqid=excelsior%3Acd2374b490787473193888b83225b8d4&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

[7] Baptisms (PR) England. Clitheroe, Lancashire. 8 August 1821. THOMSON, Eliza Jane. Register; Baptisms 1813-1829, Page 93, Entry 741. LDS Film 1278857. Lancashire Online Parish Clerk Project. http://www.lan-opc.org.uk/Search/indexp.html

[8] Marriages (PR) England. Habergham Eaves, Burnley, Lancashire. 20 February 1849. COULTATE, William Miller and THOMSON, Eliza Jane. Collection: Lancashire, England Marriages and Banns 1754-1936. Reference Pr 3098/1/13. http://ancestry.co.uk:

[9] Census. 1861. England. Burnley, Lancashire. RG9, Piece: 3065; Folio: 12; Page: 18; GSU roll: 543073. http://ancestry.co.uk

[10] Testamentary records. England. 8 February 1872. COULTATE, Eliza Jane. Principal Probate Registry, Calendar of the Grants of Probate. p. 293. Collection: England and Wales National Probate Calendar 1858-1966. http://ancestry.co.uk

[11] Census. 1881. England. Burnley, Lancashire. RG11; Piece: 4146; Page: 11; GSU roll: 1341993.http://ancestry.co.uk

[12] Marriages (PR) England. Burnley, Lancashire. 6 January 1883. COULTATE, Arthur William and BRIDGES, Mary Jane. Lancashire, England Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1936 http://ancestry.co.uk

[13] Testamentary records. England. 20 May 1882. COULTATE, William Miller. Principal Probate Registry, Calendar of the Grants of Probate. p. 338. Collection: England and Wales National Probate Calendar 1858-1966. http://ancestry.co.uk

[14] Census. 1901. Wales. Llandrillo yn Rhos, Colwyn Bay, Caernarvonshire. RG13, Piece:5290; Folio:10; Page:11. http://ancestry.co.uk:

[15] Testamentary records. England. 19 December 1902. COULTATE, Marian, Elizabeth. Principal Probate Registry, Calendar of the Grants of Probate. p. 169. Collection: England and Wales National Probate Calendar 1858-1966. http://ancestry.co.uk:

[16] Passenger List for S.S. Hildebrand arriving Liverpool. COULTATE, Amy Esther. 25 March 1920. Collection: UK Incoming Passenger Lists, 1870-1960. http://ancestry.co.uk

[17] Testamentary records. England. 3 January 1931. COULTATE, Amy Esther. Principal Probate Registry, Calendar of the Grants of Probate. p.791. Collection: England and Wales National Probate Calendar 1858-1966. http://ancestry.co.uk:

[18] Aspin, Christopher. (2004) Thomson, James (1779-1850). In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. http://www.oxforddnb.com

[19] Marriages (PR) England. Blackburn, Lancashire. 18 March 1806. THOMSON, James and STARKIE, Cecilia. Register; Marriages 1801-1809, Page 357, Entry 1419. LDS Film 1278807. Lancashire Online Parish Clerk Project. http://www.lan-opc.org.uk/Search/indexp.html

[20] Thomson baptisms Lancashire 1808 to 1820, parishes of Church Bridge and Clitheroe. Lancashire Online Parish Clerk Project. http://www.lan-opc.org.uk/Search/indexp.html

[21] Aspin, Christopher. (2004) Thomson, James (1779-1850). In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. http://www.oxforddnb.com

[22] Cust, L.H. (2008) Lonsdale, James (1778-1839) In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. http://www.oxforddnb.com

 

 

 

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