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  • Writer's pictureSarah von Allmen

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 32.

Week 32 – Library.

William Samuel Gregory was born in Wolverhampton on 26 January 1873, the fifth of nine children (and only son) born to my 2x great-grandparents Samuel Gregory and Mary Ann Goodwin. By the time he was in his mid teens he was working at Edwin Lewis & Sons Ltd, a company which made gas tubes, and he spent 40 years there, leaving only when the Monmore Green works closed.

William never married and lived with his parents until their deaths in 1916 and 1918 respectively. He continued to live in the same house on Granville Street and devoted himself to his hobby of collecting books – a slightly unexpected pastime for a man of limited means.

We know little about his library, except that the books were apparently not stored in ideal conditions (bibliophiles and archivists should look away at this point), and after William’s death it was discovered that a leak in the roof had damaged most of the collection beyond repair.

I don’t know how many books were salvaged or what happened to them, apart from a “Christian and Heavenly Treatise containing Physicke for the Soule” published in 1622, which was passed down to my maternal grandmother and later to my mother.

The book’s cover was obviously water-damaged, and whether Gran knew the reason for this or not, a myth grew up in the family that it had survived some kind of disaster at sea, and it was invariably referred to as “the shipwreck book”. (In retrospect it should have been obvious that this wasn’t the case, as although some of the pages are tatty round the edges, there is no major water damage to the interior.)

The author, John Abernethy (c.1570-1939), was born near Edinburgh and was one of the original students at Edinburgh University. He was appointed Bishop of Caithness in 1616, but after opposing the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer in 1637 he was stripped of his episcopal title by the general assembly of 1638. He wrote one other book, “The Duty and Dignity of a Christian”, published in 1620.

I haven’t been able to identify with confidence the prior owner of the book, Elinor Barrow, although I have a couple of leads to follow. She has no obvious connection to my family, but it would be nice to know who she was.

And just to reassure the book-lovers, librarians and others, the book is now safely stored away from all potential water hazards!

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