RICHARD PERCEVAL BAGNALL-OAKELEY (1908-1974)
Dick was an inspirational teacher to generations of schoolboys at Gresham’s. Before studying geography at Cambridge University he had been head boy at the public school in Holt. His first place of education was the Council School at Hemsby, the seaside village near Yarmouth. There among the local boys and girls he picked the authentic Norfolk dialect which he loved, and he could drop into ‘Broad Norfolk’ at any time. Apart from his wartime service he was a teacher at Gresham’s School all his working life. Beyond the school walls he did much to promote the study of local wildlife among the wider East Anglian public. He was a frequent contributor to BBC East television programmes; but none of the viewers knew what an interesting family the television personality had sprung from.
I have already in a previous post revealed his direct descent from the multi-faceted Richard Mackenzie Bacon, born on May Day in 1776. He was a pioneering paper manufacturer using the brand new machinery in 1809, and was throughout his life the editor of the Norwich Mercury, a weekly newspaper in Norfolk. R.M. Bacon’s eventful career led to his having an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, for producing the first music magazine in England. Nor was he the only one of Dick’s ancestors to have an entry in the ODNB; his great-grandmother Louise Barwell also being thus honoured for her writing of books on education.
Another of Dick’s direct ancestors was the dancing master Augustin Noverre who arrived in this country with his brother from Paris 1755. Their ballet company put on performances at Drury Lane under the auspices of David Garrick. The Noverre brothers had invented ballet as an art form, it having previously been a mere entertainment. Augustin Noverre retired to Norwich and his daughter was Dick’s great-great-grandmother
His Bagnall grandmother was an accomplished watercolour painter and perhaps the most prominent numismatist of her time. It was from her marriage that the double barrelled name Bagnall-Oakeley sprang, and one of her sons (i.e. Dick’s uncle) competed in the London Olympic Games of 1908. On both sides of his family therefore he had notable forebears. None of this history I learnt from the man himself, and have had to research it for myself. I am not aware of how much of his family background he knew; probably all that I record here, and more. He was far too modest a man to have talked about any of his eminent forebears; he was much more likely to regale you with tales of the simple marshmen, gamekeepers and poachers whose stories of rural Norfolk he relished.
His maternal grandfather, John Barwell, was a wine merchant in Norwich. He was a wealthy man, but it was a wealth that did not percolate down to Dick to any great extent; he was only a relatively poor country clergyman’s son. Dick became the wealthy owner of Brinton Hall only upon his marriage in 1950. His grandfather John Barwell had married a young lady called Sabine in 1861. She was the daughter of Thomas William Budd, a successful London solicitor, who had taken the lease on Shropham Hall in 1860. Shropham is only six miles from Attleborough station, and this would have given easy access both to London (for Thomas’s work) and to Norwich (where Sabine would have gone to meet John Barwell).
Dick’s great-uncle, Frederick Bacon Barwell, was one of the more illustrious members of this generation. He had married his first wife Fanny in 1868, and she too was one of the daughters of Thomas William Budd. Frederick Bacon Barwell was born in 1831 in Norwich and was married at his bride’s home village of Shropham. After qualifying at the Royal Academy he went on to enjoy a long and productive career as a painter. Frederick Bacon Barwell was a prolific artist who spent much of his career in London, producing portraits of the famous men of the time. His works are to be found in the Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. His most highly regarded paintings are however not his portraits but his atmospheric pictures of everyday life. A view of Norwich looking down Cattle Market Street towards Mousehold Heath on market day is particularly fine. It is in the collection of Norwich Castle Museum, although not currently on display. He was a friend of the artist John Millais and shared a studio with him for some years. He retired to Sheringham at the end of the 19th century, and he lived there until his death in 1922. Dick had by then moved on to Gresham’s School in Holt a few miles away, and had the opportunity to visit his great-uncle at his home, White Lodge near Beeston Bump. I wonder if he did? It was only a short bike ride away.
One of Frederick Bacon Barwell’s sons, Noel, became a Lt Col in the First World War, when he was awarded the Military Cross. Back in civilian life his profession was that of lawyer, and he became the last British barrister to practise in post-independance India. A book has been written in Bengali which contains many reminiscences of his career in India, and this book is also available in English translation (The Great Unknown, Penguin paperback, 2010). Another of Frederick Bacon Barwell’s sons followed his father into the art world and was a book illustrator, and another became a farmer in Canada; their occupations were as various as their dwellings were far-flung across the globe.
Another of Dick’s great uncles, Richard Barwell, became a consultant surgeon in London. He was involved in treating the great cholera epidemic of 1849, and in common with the vast majority of educated opinion he believed it was spread by a ‘miasma’ or bad smell. It was only later that it was realised that it a water-borne infection, spread by the poor quality of the water supply. Dr Richard Barwell spent his working life in Marylebone, London, where he was widowed in 1890. He died aged 90 in 1916. His son and grandsons continued in the medical profession.
Richard Barwell was retired and living in the block of Georgian houses in Surrey Street when Dick was born in 1908. Grandfather John Barwell had been living at the same house, 33 Surrey Street, before his marriage to Sabine Budd at the age of 35. (Sabine was nine years younger.) Just round the corner was St Catherine’s House, All Saints Green, where John Barwell was living in his latter years, and where Dick was born. This house became the home of a surgeon at the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital, Athelstan Jasper Blaxland, after John Barwell’s death. After the Second World War it became the BBC studios in Norwich. It was from these studios that Dick made his television broadcasts.
Dick’s aunt Ethel Barwell was involved in medicine, being the matron of the Belgrave Children’s Hospital in London. She lived to be over 90 and died only ten years before Dick himself. Uncle Charles Sedley Barwell qualified as a civil engineer after taking his degree at Oxford; he made his career in Canada and died in Vancouver in 1950. When he enlisted as a Lance Corporal in the Canadian army in the First World War he gave Dick’s uncle, John Barwell the wine merchant of Norwich, as his next of kin. There were three more Barwell uncles, Henry and Francis who were army officers, and Wilfred who was a solicitor in Sussex. The youngest of the previous generation of his family was his aunt Violet (1876-1942). She was a musician who devoted her life to teaching the violin.
These cousins, uncles and aunts were not of course direct ancestors of Dick, but I can trace his descent back to his four or five times great-grandfather, Philip Reinagle (1749-1833). He was a painter of dogs, sporting subjects and portraits who turned to painting landscapes in his later years. As a young artist he had been called upon to paint dozens of portraits of King George III and Queen Charlotte for distribution to his important subjects. Incidentally Philip Reinagle’s first exhibited landscape was a view from Bracondale in Norwich, although he lived in London. He made only brief excursions to the provinces in those pre-railway days, and was visiting Norwich to paint the portrait of the Mayor, John Patteson. Of course he had no idea that his descendants would become established as a prominent Norfolk family.
His work may be found in the Tate, V & A, National Gallery, the Fitzwilliam Museum and numerous other collections of national importance. [CLICK HERE to view a slide show of Philip Reinagle’s paintings.] Philip was the son of Joseph Reinagle (1720-1775), a Hungarian musician who was based in Edinburgh. With such a varied background, including Swiss and German ancestry, it is perhaps not surprising that Dick was such an interesting personality. Having a number of talented artists among his ancestors it is no wonder that Dick was himself a gifted painter, who qualified at the Norwich Art School (now the Norwich University of the Arts) after coming down from Cambridge.
Dick’s second name of Perceval was derived from his great-great-grandmother who was born Sarah Woodyear Perceval in 1779. Sarah was born in St Kitts, one of the Leeward Islands, where the Percevals owned a plantation. However her family returned to England and she was married in 1803 to Francis Bedwell (1776-1835), a lawyer in the Court of Chancery. The marriage took place in Kent. Her daughter Elizabeth married Thomas Budd whom we have already mentioned, and Sabine Budd married John Barwell in 1862. One of their offspring, Amy Perceval Barwell, was Dick’s mother.
I don’t expect you to follow all the ins and outs of these relationships, but they give you some idea of the various talents exhibited by the family. I am very lucky to have been taught by such a man as Dick Bagnall-Oakley.
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