Richard Mackenzie Bacon

Richard Mackenzie Bacon

I had  not realised that two of the Norfolk characters who have featured in this blog were directly related. Richard Mackenzie Bacon was first mentioned as the Captain of the Norwich Rifle Corps (a militia unit formed under his command in 1803) and subsequently for his invention of the rotary printing press. (He has never had the credit he deserves for his invention, mainly I suspect because the technology available was not advanced enough and the machine was not a success; nonetheless a book was produced on it.) Other achievements of this extraordinary man were the introduction of machine-made paper making to Norfolk and (the one that gained him his entry in the Dictionary of National Biography) the production of the first national music magazine in the country during the 1820s. Added to all this he was the editor of the Norwich Mercury for over 40 years. Despite these various employments he put down his occupation in the 1841 census simply as ‘printer’.

Louisa Barwell

Louisa Barwell

He was born in Norwich in 1776 and died at Costessey, where he had lived for the last twenty years of his life, in 1844. He had five children, four of whom lived beyond infancy. The eldest (also called Richard, 1799-1884)) was his successor as editor of the Norwich Mercury. The other son George (b.  1806) became the editor and owner of the local newspaper in Lewes, Sussex. Of his two surviving daughters Mary Ann (b. 1805) was a spinster but her elder sister Louisa (1800-1885) married John Barwell (1798-1876), the Norwich wine merchant. In 1830 Bacon was partner in this business. Louisa Barwell herself was an accomplished musician and writer, contributing to her father’s magazine The Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review.  She alsowrote over a dozen books on music and children’s education. Among her close friends were Lady Byron (the poet’s estranged wife and widow) and the Swedish Nightingale, the opera singer Jenny Lind. John Barwell junior was the eldest son of John and Louisa Barwell and he continued the wine merchant’s business. (This was still a name in the city during the 1960s although by then the shop no longer belonged to the family.)

Among his children was Amy (1871-1951) and she married the Rev. K. Bagnall-Oakley who later became the incumbent of Hemsby on Sea. They had two sons of whom the younger was Richard Perceval Bagnall-Oakeley (1908-1973). He was born in St Catherines Close, the fine house in All Saints Green, Norwich, which was the home of the Barwells. (This later became the home of the surgeon A. J. Blaxland who moved there from 29 Surrey Street.)  Richard Mackenzie Bacon was Dick’s great great grandfather.



We have now moved almost into living memory. After beginning his education at Hemsby Council School Dick was sent to Gresham’s Junior School. After making his way through the Senior School he left as Head Boy. He got a scholarship to Clare College, Cambridge in 1928, from which he emerged with a First in Geography. His career as a schoolmaster was interrupted by service in the Second World War. After the war he returned to Gresham’s where he taught until retiring in the early 1973.  Richard Perceval Bagnell-Oakeley, know to his young pupils as “Baggles” or just Dick lived in Brinton Hall near Melton Constable after his marriage to an heiress.

He was my geography teacher from my arrival at the school in 1959, but his claim to fame does not rest with his teaching duties good though he was. He became, with Ted Ellis, a pioneering figure of the television age among Norfolk naturalists. He had a regular slot on local BBC programmes, which by a co-incidence had its studios in St Catherines Close.  He also co-wrote the Norfolk guide book with Doreen Wallace, one of the Country Book series published by Robert Hale.

We can trace Dick Bagnall-Oakley’s family even further back; Richard Mackenzie Bacon’s father was Richard Bacon (1745-1812). He had bought the Norwich Mercury.  He married Catherine, the daughter of the vicar of Trowse the Revd John Kirby.  He was born in Great Yarmouth where an ancestor, John Bacon, was MP or the town in 1572. Richard Mackenzie Bacon’s father in law was Augustin Noverre (1729-1805), the Swiss dancing master who was born in Paris and settled in London and then Norwich before the French Revolution. The other side of Dick’s family was also of considerable ability; the double barrelled name arose through the marriage between  the Rev William Oakeley, an Oxford don, and MaryEllen Bagnall in 1853. She the leading expert on numismatics of her day. An uncle, also named Richard, competed in the 1908 Olympic Games as an archer. This side the family had not the same East Anglian roots however; it belonged to the Welsh Marches.




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