Saturday, 13 June 2015


Or should that be, "Pafseport to the Past"
This Victorian passport, in the form of a red morocco leather notebook, stamped in gold with the owner, Mrs Harington's, name, was one of the treasures we found at the Wetherby Racecourse antiques fair this morning. No prizes are offered for guessing that I spent the afternoon glued to Google.
The passport is dated 1863, signed by Mary Harington herself and by the Prime Minister of the day, John, Earl Russell.
Mrs Mary Harington was travelling with her two daughters, a governess and a maid. First I looked at the 1861 census, hoping to find the right Mary. The fact that there were 735 of them did not stop my search - obviously a great number were too young, many were too old to have daughters who needed a governess - and many were simply too poor.
I found a widowed waistcoat-maker with a sister, but no children.
A Mary with two daughters - but her husband was a bricklayer and there were no servants.
Another had five daughters, all working as spinners in Kidderminster.
In the end there was just one possibility - Mary Harington, a widow aged 44 in 1861, with two young daughters, Beatrice Cecilia and Alice Margaret. They lived in Oxford in a household with servants. More googling revealed that Mary's husband had been the Reverend Dr Richard Harington, Principal of Brasenose College, Oxford until his death in 1853.
After the death of her husband, and her young son Robert two years later, Mary had not turned away from the world. One friend was Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll. In 1855 he wrote; " I made great friends with Mrs Harington's nice little children, Bob (who would die later that year) and Beatrice, 4 and 3 years old."
The friendship endured, he got to know the youngest girl Alice and yes, he took photographs...

Alice in 1859, aged 6.

Mary Harington died in 1886 and neither daughter married - but their names are remembered because of their devotion to the Settlement Movement. Oxford university men, with a strong religious belief in social change, began to work at providing housing and occupations for poor working men in the East End of London. Later there were settlements for women too. Beatrice and Alice left Oxford and devoted their lives to this cause at St. Margaret's House in Bethnal Green. 
St Margaret's survives to this day as a centre for community activities with a café and charity shop.
I still don't know where the Haringtons went with the small leather passport, but I have learned something about the road they travelled in life. Here is Beatrice's obituary from the Times in 1936. 


  1. What a wonderful tale you have gleaned from the treasure you found at Wetherby Racecourse - Google is such a great tool - I can imagine your pleasure at each discovery you made

  2. What a find! And what fantastic research you've done, how exciting it must have been to uncover this history. It would be fascinating to know which countries they traveled to on the very fine passport! Perhaps to the South of France for some winter sun?!

  3. What magical things you discover. I believe that Finedon in Northants is now the church where one will find Rev. Richard Coles, he of the Communards and, currently, Saturday Live on Raio 4.

  4. What an amazing post. I'm very impressed by your detective work, revealing tantalising glimpses of these people's lives; well done, you! And an excellent read, too!

  5. What an amazing post. I'm very impressed by your detective work, revealing tantalising glimpses of these people's lives; well done, you! And an excellent read, too!

  6. Blogging is the new poetry. I find it wonderful and amazing in many ways.

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