Monday 5 February 2024

Will the real R.G. Gammage please stand up

When John Saville wrote his introduction to the reissue of Robert Gammage’s History of the Chartist Movement back in 1968, he struggled to pin down the author’s date of birth.

R.G. Gammage, from a photograph
in the second, posthumously,
published edition of his history
of Chartism dated 1894.
Rightly rejecting the 1815 date given in the Dictionary of National Biography’s ‘short and generally inaccurate’ entry, published soon after the earlier historian’s death, and other similarly unreliable sources, Saville eventually narrowed it down to 1822 or 1823. With such an uncommon name and so many parish records being easily searchable online these days, Gammage really should now be much easier to find.

An Ancestry search rapidly reveals that no-one named Robert George Gammage was baptised in or around Northampton within five years either way of 1822.

There was, however, a George Robert Gammage baptised at All Saints Northampton on 13 February 1821. His father George was a ‘horse-keeper’, his mother’s name was Charlotte, and the family lived in Gregory Street. Case closed.

Except nearly three years later, a George Robert Gammage was baptised at the same church on 28 December 1824, apparently to the same parents (George, a horse-keeper, and Charlotte) – although their address was now given as Gold Street.

And eighteen months after that a Robert Gammage was baptised at All Saints on 23 May 1826; his parents were George, a horse-keeper, and Charlotte, and the family lived at Smiths Row.

Was Gammage really baptised three times at the same church? It is, of course, possible that the first George Robert Gammage died, and a second child was given the same name. But a third? And at a date which makes it highly unlikely that he would have been old enough to be nominated as a committee member of the Northampton Working Men’s Association when it was formed in 1837?

In census records throughout his life, Gammage gave an age consistent with having been born in 1821. And when he died in 1888, his age was given as 67 in both official records and obituaries, which would strongly suggest that the first entry, for 1821, is correct.

That is assuming, of course, that one or other (or maybe both) George Robert Gammages flipped their first and middle names and were better known in later life as Robert George Gammage. Fortunately, that at least can be established: the National Probate Calendar entry when Gammage’s will was proved includes both names as alternatives.

National Probate Calendar entry.

I should of course add that all this excludes the possibility that the Robert Gammage baptised at All Saints Northampton on 15 June 1817 and whose parents were John and Sarah Gammage of King’s Head Lane might be our man. Or the George Gammage baptised at Kingsthorpe, Northampton on 3 March 1822 whose parents were John and Hannah Gammage. Perhaps it wasn’t that uncommon a name after all.

At this point, I should try to trace Gammage’s siblings in the hope of narrowing the search. But for now, I give up!

Short biography of R.G. Gammage and the index of names in his history.

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