Wednesday, 26 January 2011


Until 1935 Hartwell was a separate parish when it was then united with the larger Stone parish. The main dwelling in Hartwell is Hartwell House, well hidden behind the rough, quarried stone of the wall surrounding the extensive property. It is now an expensive hotel but in the 19th century it belonged to an influential man, Doctor John Lee.

(I traced this picture of John Lee following a tip off from a lady who'd worked in the Royal Bucks Hospital where it once hung - it's now in Stoke Mandeville Hospital.)
He was interested in science, astronomy, Egyptology, geology and many other disciplines which Victorian gentry were drawn to. And there were others in Hartwell and Stone who shared his interests.

On the 3rd April 1850 ten gentlemen, gathered in Hartwell House's library where they resolved to form a society to study the climate and meteorological phenomena. It was named The British Meteorological Society.

The group included four local men - John Lee, Rev. Joseph Bancroft Reade, the vicar of Stone, Rev. Charles Lowndes of Hartwell Rectory and a Swiss man named Vincent Fasel. There was also another man with an interest in Stone, Samuel Whitbread.
The photo above of Rev. Bancroft Reade is copyrighted to Science and Society Picture Library.

Rev. Reade was presented to the benefice by the Royal Astronomical Society. He was an inventor in the field of photography and it was thought for some time that he had produced the first photograph but this has now been disproved. An observatory had been built in the grounds of Stone vicarage for his personal use but both the house and the observatory have now been demolished. An Anglo-Saxon saucer brooch, found in the vicarage grounds, was sold by the vicar to the British Museum for £3. He also offered glebe land for the site of the County Lunatic Asylum and became its first chaplain.
(Copyright photo, British Museum, though drawings available in books.)

Charles Lowndes was in direct descent from William Lowndes of Winslow and is also connected with The Bury and Lowndes Park in Chesham.

Vincent Fasel is shown in the Census for 1851 as aged 32, a classical/math tutor living in the household of Rev. Reade. There are 5 pupils boarding in the vicarage, one of whom is William Whitbread. He is connected to the Samuel Whitbread who was chosen as Chairman but I can't for the life of me find the letter from the then Whitbread Brewery archivist giving the exact relationship. (Another of the pupils is a youth named Oliver Grace who took Holy Orders and christened my Gran in High Wycombe Union House in 1871...)

Samuel Whitbread is descended from the Whitbread family who began the brewery business.

John Lee was very much involved in the life of the parish - he held a huge fete in Hartwell House grounds every summer for the local people under the name of 'The Hartwell Peace and Temperance Festival', admission 3d for adults and 1d for children. He began to build schools but they were never finished and the building is now a house.

The British Meteorological Society? It became The Royal Meteorological Society in 1850, having had its origin in Hartwell. It's now over 150 years old.

Among the members on the list for 1850 is the Countess of Lovelace, who was Byron's daughter and Charles Babbage's assistant for many years - and is probably better known nowadays as a purple clematis!!!

The British Meteorological Society? It became the Royal Meteorological Society in 1850 and is now over 150 years old. It had its origin here, folks!!

As Michael Caine would say, 'Not many people know that.'


Kath said...

All very interesting stuff. I didnt know about the Royal Meteorological Society having had its origin in Hartwell, you certainly do learn something every day.

Bernard said...

Certainly didn't.
I was just thinking - I bet they got the weather forecasting more correct in those days, than this bunch today. :D
My Gran really did have seaweed and fir cones hanging up outside. Interpreting what they did was the problem! I don't think she knew, but I bet Grandad probably did.

Sylve said...

The gentry who started the RMS were acting from interest, not reward, Bernard. John Lee had an observatory built onto one corner of Hartwell House, now long disappeared - the observatory, that is! All the same social class of course,with time and money and similar interests.
Kath, brace yourself for more history lessons...