John and Amelia Woollett

Their Story, by Madeleine Widdowson

The Woollett family had been long been settled in Kent, they were strict Catholics and came from good merchant stock. John Mitchell Woollett, the son of Ralph Woollett, an upholsterer, was a prosperous coal merchant, with business in Ordinance Walk, Pedlards Acre, and lived in a respectable property in Woolwich Common, Greenwich.

The elder John Woollett, a strong roman catholic, in times when this religion was the scourge of the nation, married the daughter of Marlow Sidney, of Cowpen Hall, Northumberland. John Mitchell Woollett had been remarkable handsome in his youth, his good looks and roman catholic belief had rewarded him with his marriage to Anastasia Mannock Marlow Sidney in 1809. Anastasia Sidney had been an excellent woman, sensible and amiable, whose inherited property and funds on her parents' demise, enabled the family fortunes to thrive. The couple enjoyed moderate wealth and social position, and no doubt Anastasia continued with the charitable works in which she had joined with her mother in London until her mother died in 1838.

Since the Catholic Emancipation Act had been passed into law in 1829, the life of English Catholics had greatly improved. One hundred years had passed since the bishop Dr. Challoner disguised as a layman, administered the sacraments in attics under the threat of imprisonment for life. That threat had been removed in the Catholic Relief Act of 1778 several years after Marlow Sidney and his wife Polly entered the church.

John Woollett was the third son of John Mitchell Woollett, his two elder brothers, Marlow Sidney John, and Joseph Sidney had been brilliant students, and both gained first class honours degrees at university in medicine. John Woollett, the younger had studied law at university, and was called to the bar in 1840.

John married Amelia Vaughan, the only surviving daughter of James and Mary Anne Jones. James Jones belonged to the Admiralty office, and came from a good old Gloucestershire family. He was an amateur connoisseur and collector of curios, with an amber collection, which was ultimately acquired by the Trustees of the British Museum.

They had met in the autumn of 1843 and it had not been love at first sight. John would recall how he had first laid eyes on his wife to be in a loose, giggly group of girls, at a gathering of friends in London. She was a shy, awkward girl, not a very experienced or self-confident twenty-four; small chinned, an oval and delicate rose complexion. Her smile was slow and shy as if she was considering whether to submit it. Clear luminous grey eyes were given to shifting evasively when anyone, a young man for instance, a good looking dark handsome aggressive young man for instance like John Woollett stood too close, or spoke too pointedly. Well, she said later, I was afraid of you, I couldn't help it and John would laugh, a loud bark of a laugh, with Amelia blushing to the roots of her hair. A curious co-incidence of their identical birth date, both; being born on 11th August 1820 provided a link between them.  Daniel, Amelia's young brother jestingly compared them to twins, destined to be soul mates, and Amelia would laugh, blushing, and agree, they were meant to be together.

Amelia had been brought up as a strict Protestant, and considered Catholics to be strange, almost threatening in their papist ways. And this is how they became aware of each other - on the disparity of their beliefs in the true faith.  John was startled when Amelia argued a point on the faith, Amelia became breathless, her cheeks flushing as if she had rubbed spots of rouge on them quickly and carelessly, as she sought to convert him to her beliefs. She trembled with indignation, fingers and eyelids fluttering. Very gently, with his hand on her elbow, John had led her protesting out of the room, and walked her around the garden. They had walked, and grown earnest in conversation, for John Woollett at twenty four was in his deepest most secret heart a serious and deeply religious young man, perhaps not such a young man as he appeared, but already beyond youth, impatient for the next phase of his life to begin.

So it began: not love exactly - at least not straight away. He cringed at the thought of seeming, or actually being, weak and sentimental. He had to admit that this shy, prim, puritanical girl possessed an abundance of what you would call character of a kind he had not previously encountered in any female of his acquaintance; certainly not in his own pious-Catholic sisters. And character could be attractive in its own way - he would arouse opposition, resistance, certainly - nothing easy about Amelia, the puritanical daughter of James Jones. John considered that Amelia Jones was morally superior to him, as a woman could be morally superior to any man; and that this fact would be of benefit to him one day, as the wife of a man of law. 

John had completed his studies, and had found that with the distraction of these gone, he had found that he was now in a state of extreme sexual frustration, since his strong catholic morality did not allow him to jeopardise his soul with forbidden pleasures. So, aged twenty-four, in his final year at university, with not a thought in the world for any immediate future that included marriage, John Woollett fell in love. He contemplated his future, waking up beside her in the mornings, legitimately in the eyes of God, and seeing her demure, sweet face asleep beside him.

John applied to his beloved's father for the favour of her hand. It was a brief and disconcerting interview. He was met by Amelia's father in his study and was given an unexpected rebuff. James Jones was a strict Protestant and strongly objected to the union of his daughter with a Papist, and so incensed, lost his temper, and by way of a reply, hurled a footstool at the startled Woollett, which fortunately missed its mark. John had ducked using an agility that surprised him. He turned from watching the fallen footstool to confront Mr Jones, who had slumped into his chair, and was eyeing him with sharp suspicion. He grinned at him. 

"Sir! All that you would like to say to me, and a great deal more has been hurled at my head, and I fancy there is more to come. I am delighted to have made your acquaintance, and I trust that I shall have the pleasure of a relationship with you in the not too distant future when I have convinced you that Amelia would be happiest with me."

A brief bow, and he left the room. He had not gone far from the front door, when within five minutes Amelia swept through the doorway behind him, her cheeks flushed, and her countenance agitated. "John! What.....! This speech ended abruptly. Not only was she roughly jerked into John's arms, but her mouth was crushed under his., For a moment or two, she strained to break free, and then, quite suddenly, she seemed to melt into his embrace. She lay against his arm, her head flung back on his shoulder, she sighed. Father is fervently against our marriage, what are we to do?"

"I cannot exist without you, Amelia, he smiled and kissed her again. "I shall persist!"

John notwithstanding his disconcerting and unexpected rebuff from Amelia's father, persisted in his suit as became a gallant lover, and eventually, with the aid of Amelia's pleading, Mr Jones relented and consented to the match, presenting the happy couple on their nuptials a cheque for £1000 each. 

Amelia received a letter from her betrothed which she kept, and it exists today in the keeping of her great-grand-daughter.

1 Plowden Building
Middle Temple

Dear Amelia

It is so long since I have afforded myself the pleasure of writing to you that I resolved I would give myself a treat this morning. It always appears to me that I can express my sentiment toward you in the way of an epistle with more satisfaction to myself than I can in conversation. Then I am too happy to be able to express my happiness, but when I am away from you and not bewildered with your endearing smiles, tis then that I know my love for you is real, and not a pleasing phantom of a dream. It amuses me to call before my mind the hopes and fears with which I have been agitated for the last six months. At one moment I had thought that your Papa was trifling with our affections, and would never consent to our marriage; at another that he was acting from the best of motives though in my humble estimation very mistaken ones. My beloved girl, is not this happiness too great to expect - ought we not to be content with the frequent opportunity of seeing one another? This perhaps would satisfy many as devotedly attached as we are, but I am quite sure it would never satisfy me. I look forward to the period that shall unite us as the high dawn of a new existence. May that blessed period be August. It was the month that showed us the light of the sun. May it be the month that will make us the happiest of mortals.

I remain forever devotedly yours,

John Woollett

The morning when Mary Noble drew the curtains, flooded in upon Amelia on her wedding morning. There are very few mornings in August when the climate of Surrey yields such a day, a ravishing fragment of Mediterranean warmth and luminosity. The birds were singing, the air was crisp and bright. Amelia sat up, she tore of her cap, and asked Mary to throw open the windows and, supporting herself on her hands, stared at the sunlight that poured into the room. She felt the warm summer air caress its way through her nightdress, Mary was pouring hot water into the bath, and steam rose invitingly. In the cobbled street below, there was a cart clopping about its business. Amelia felt extremely well and joyous. This was the first day of her married life. Amelia stood before her mirror in her chemise and petticoats. For a few moments she gazed at herself; her girlish figure, creamy skin, and wondered what her descendants would think of her when they saw the portrait that had been started last week as a gift from her father to her husband to be. Hastily, she looked away, and reached for her wedding dress, a cream coloured Indian muslin made with a plain skirt, edged at the bottom with rows of narrow satin ribbon worked in silver thread. The bodice was made with a waistcoat of silver embroidery, and there was a line of silver on the cuffs. She placed the hat on her head, a fine leghorn straw bonnet with a bird of Paradise feather. Mary handed her a bouquet tied with blue and silver. 

"You look lovely, Miss Amelia" cried Mary, clasping her hands ecstatically.

Mary Nobel was some twenty years older than Amelia; she was an old family servant of the Jones family, and nursed both Amelia and her brother Daniel. Amelia could not imagine a world without her. 4 Cottage Green, Camberwell had been her home for as long as she remembered. James Jones, Amelia and Daniel were looked after by Mary Nobel, a manservant, a cook and two maids, a staff of modesty for a family of their connections and wealth. Amelia had always been happy in the house. James Jones, who had been attached to the Admiralty, was a collector of amber and other curios, and spent a great deal of his time travelling. He contributed one or two essays on his journeys to the fashionable magazines, which had occasionally been published. 

Amelia's bedroom had been furnished for her and to her taste, as opposed to the rest of the house, which was a museum of objects collected by her father, and funereal furniture that filled the rooms.

The marriage took place on august 8 1844 at St. George's Catholic Church in Camberwell, the Rev. Samuel Smith blessing the ceremony which united the Protestant bride with the Catholic groom. The wedding passed in a blur, and the wedding breakfast was a sea of faces to Amelia. She made the acquaintance that day of people who made a great impression on her. The first was John's older brother Joseph, who was a doctor in Leamington. He was a slightly built man, shorter than John, but with a strong zealous look in his eye. He made agreeable remarks about Amelia's appearance, and expressed his hope that Amelia might become a catholic.

"The Woolletts," he said, "have a strong faith, and I know you would be a true child of the Church".

"How is that, Joseph?"

"The Woolletts and Sidneys are a very old family, and their faith has brought them benefits that would not otherwise have been available".

"Daniel!" cried Amelia, on observing her brother walking past, "what do you say, should I convert to Catholicism?"

"I should think Father would have an apoplexy if you did, Lia, he has found it hard enough countenancing your marriage to the Papist John!" laughed Daniel.

"Well, we will talk again, Joseph, I am interested in to hear what you could say, that could possibly change my mind!"

"It will be God's will, Amelia, I envision that you will be filled with grace and blessed with many children".

"I truly pray so, Joseph," replied Amelia," I wish for children, and I know that John will make a good father".

"John has a warm heart, and he loves you, he will make a good husband. Life has not been too easy for him since our mother died."

The young couple set off by train to Brighton, where they stayed at "The Old Ship", the leading hotel in that city, and afterwards sailed to Germany where they crossed over and visited the dramatic mountains in Switzerland. The tour was a very costly affair, as foreign tours in 1844 were a much greater luxury than they were later, with English people the special prey of rapacious innkeepers. In 1844, the English milord, with his pockets full of gold, was the traditional figure in every continental resort. It was a period which was described as one:

"when the universal prosperity and progress of England, far beyond that of any other country of the world, made people believe that she had discovered the philosopher's stone, that all Englishmen were lords with long yellow whiskers and check trousers, whole liveried lackeys carried bags of sovereigns to throw about."

A courier preceded the youthful couple and they travelled post-chaise from one town to another. The hotel proprietors seemed to have convinced themselves that they were dealing with illustrious persons travelling incognito. Obvious special preparations for their reception were made, and the landlords and servants drawn up in ranks to welcome them received them. Such was the reputation to be acquired by a liberal purse and a good appearance in 1844.

One year later on August 11 1845, John Sidney Woollett made his appearance. Co-incidentally on the same birth date as John and Amelia, although twenty-five years later. The little family moved to 29 Sussex Place Kensington, where little Sidney was deposited on a brand new Brussels carpet resplendent with colour and cornucopias emptying bushels of variegated flowers. He crawled around on it with great delight and it remained his favourite rug for all the years they lived in that house. The house had been newly furnished and Sidney remembered it as a beautiful place in a very fashionable quarter.

Almost from the instant of marriage to John, Amelia changed from being a puritanical protestant to a true believer in the Roman Catholics. It seemed so simple. She had long discussions with Joseph Woollett, who was seriously contemplating taking his vows as a Jesuit priest. 

He visited John and Amelia Woollett often during their first few years of marriage. People were drawn to him, they would surround him, touch him if they could, as if to assure themselves he was present. Joseph would smile down at them; his beautiful smile, responding to their touches and their murmurings with gentle murmurs of his own. He would sit in the paisley armchair, turned to Amelia. His tone would be easy and droll, with an aura of peace surrounding him. Reality to Joseph was God speaking to him. He would become transported, ecstatic, his wonderful eyes full of wit and sadness. Amelia gained a complete untroubled, and joyful faith in the rituals and tenets of Roman Catholicism. Amelia was joined with John in marriage, and his God became her God - and that was her devotion. Amelia attended church with John, and she became a ray of sunshine in the dark rooms where the Catholics had to hide their ceremonies. Amelia would sing, lifting her eyes, which were so kind and so faithful, with the sweetest smile; in a high thin voice.

John and Amelia had been living in London since the death of her father in February 1846. Mr Jones had been playing with little Sidney in the garden, and had reached for a flower to give to the child, when he suddenly fell and died instantly. Daniel her beloved brother, who had been living with John and Amelia died the following year aged 25. Amelia's shock and sudden loss were assuaged by the removal of the constraints holding her back from joining her God with her husband's. Amelia was finally received into the Catholic Church in 1847, through the instrumentality of her brother in law, Joseph, at the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, Great Ormond Street, the baptismal ceremony being performed with the aid of a toilet basin. The same year, Joseph entered the Jesuit novitiate at Hodder.

John and Amelia's family had grown to include seven children, Sidney born 1845, Francis born 1846, Amelia born 1848, Anastasia born 1850, George born 1852, Katherine born 1854 and Matilda born 1856. There had been grave disappointments; Sylvia and Annette both died as infants in London. In spite of the fortunes being made by Capitalism and Industry, the poor were becoming poorer and their numbers were increasing by leaps and bounds. Charles Dickens, already famous when the Woolletts were married, was writing constantly about the deplorable conditions in the factories, the poor houses and prisons of London. It was a time when small craftsmen engaged in cottage industries could not compete with the new machines, and were compelled to take jobs in factories. Wages were so low that children worked along with their parents in the factories. Many jobs could be done just as well by children for even lower wages. Riots occurred. Craftsmen, called Lubbites who could no longer compete, burned the factories. The streets were swarming with horses ad carriages, peddlers, beggars, and thieves. The Woolletts were living in the midst of all this, even if they lived somewhat better due to their modest wealth and social position. Then in 1857, which became known as the year of the Big Stink, cholera broke out, and everyone stayed indoors to avoid breathing the very air of the city. Crowded conditions, the lack of clean water and n inadequate sewer system made living in London extremely unhealthy.

Fortunately for the Woolletts, it was in that same year 1857 that Amelia came into an inheritance. Haberdasher money came to her from her father, and her uncle Thomas Jones, along with considerable property, including an old manor house, on the Old Kent Road in Peckham. Peckham and Camberwell are in the London Borough of Southwark where there were many small farms that supplied London with fruit and vegetables, and a few grand manor houses. The Woolletts with their growing family could use the large old house, and the country air would be much better for the whole family. In 1857, the Woolletts moved to the old manor house with their children. It was a fusty old place on the outside, three stories with gables up top and numerous rooms. The slate tile of the kitchen floor flowed out into the polished oak of the hallway and extended into the living areas of the dining room and parlours.

The Old Manor House was a large roomy place, one of those mysterious houses around which authors love to weave the web of romance, one room in particular possessed a very large open fire place with a secret trap door a short way up the chimney. On pressing a certain part of this door with both hands it opened, disclosing a hole by which a person could drop down into a subterranean passage that connected the cellars of the house with the farm buildings some distance away. This passage had a secret room containing a box in which was found a very ancient piece of bread, was traditionally associated with the fearsome days when the penal laws against Catholics were strictly enforced. A well of excellent water in the back kitchen was also traditionally connected with the drowning of a horse that belonged to the notorious highwayman, Dick Turpin, some members of whose family were believed to be living there at the time. Amelia had changed the décor since coming into possession, with colourful rugs, and comfortable furniture. 

Sidney and Francis enjoyed playing hide and seek in the old house until they were sent to a horrid school called Cupolo House kept by three old maids on the new Kent Road, while the house was undergoing alterations. How happy they were to get whooping cough and have to leave the infernal place was Sidney's recollections.

Amelia let the stables belonging to the house to a livery-keeper who in return supplied her with a brougham whenever she wished to have one. John continued his life as a London Barrister and was now able to enjoy life as a country gentleman, often driving a carriage to his office in the Temple. There were good roads leading to the five bridges, which now spanned the Thames. A Doctor Leek who gave the family medical attendance instead of rent occupied a second house belonging to Amelia at Peckham. 

When Ralph was born in May 1865, Amelia had borne thirteen children, and her body was feeling all of its age of forty-five. Amelia would sit in her morning room with Ralph clambering over her, amongst the basket of socks that needed to be darned - whenever Ralph would removed his fingers from her hair. Ralph grabbed hold of her lower lip, and pulled it hard, to see how far it would stretch. "You horrible child, she murmured into his neck, and would tickle him into gales of laughter. "I should put you in the soup and ladle you out!"

Amelia would glance up, and see her two younger girls, Josephine and Teresa watching the two of them and laughing, and heart leapt with gladness and warmth, she adored her children - their small limbs, warm and chubby, their total helplessness, unbelievable soft skin, God's blessings to John and herself.

A mother never fully recovers from the loss of a child, and Amelia lost three that we know of, although Sidney recalled his mother bearing thirteen children. Amelia confronted with these deaths became more and more religious. As a devote Catholic she turned to her religion for solace in all her afflictions. Her children thought of her as a saint for she nurtured them taught them and provided them with whatever was needed, never thinking of herself.

Amelia's thoughts turned to Joseph, her brother in law, remembering his humour and forbearance. Last week, a protestant doctor who had worked with Joseph in the Crimea in 1856 visited them to bring greetings from Joseph to John. He had claimed that after close intimacy with Joseph in the Crimea, if anything would have made him a Catholic, it was what he had witnessed of the conduct of Father Woollett who, when everybody else had fled from the hospitals during the cholera epidemic, stuck staunchly to the bedsides of the stricken and dying through the whole of the trying period. He had taken the infection himself eventually, but recovered. Bless him Jesus, thought Amelia, and sent a quick prayer to the virgin Mary to watch over him in Jamaica, where he was a missionary and chaplain to the troops.

The boys were sent across the channel to Douai College in France when they turned 17, for a classical Catholic education. This was the type of higher education well to do Catholics were expected to provide for their children. The Woollett boys were to be Catholic Gentlemen like their father, well educated and involved in a respectable profession. The children loved the Manor House in Peckham, but the railroad was to take the old manor house in 1864, and the Woolletts moved to an old fashioned house in the Kennington Road in South London, which was described by cousin Bernard Durrant as "one of a ghostly looking row that stood well back from the road. It had a garden in the rear that inspired as much cheerfulness as a certain 'melancholy little plot of land' upon which that stern unbending usurer, Ralph Nickleby, looked from the window of his private office in Golden Square".

The Sons


Sidney had a photographic memory and excelled at recitation. He wanted to become an actor, but his father would not permit it. Being an actor was a demeaning profession for an English Gentleman. Sidney took special courses at King's College, London, and went to work in the Bank of Ireland, where he met Fred Ingelin brother of the poetess Jean Ingelin, through whom he met many literary people of the day. From the Bank of Ireland Sid went to Dorington & Coe, Parliamentary Agents, with the understanding that he would become a member of the fir, but circumstances arose that made him abandon the idea. He began to give public recitals from memory in London during the year 1867. Although a very young man he attracted attention immediately. In 1868 he was playing Shakespearean parts, and reciting poetry for charity, and was so successful that he gave a course at Queen's Concert Rooms in Hanover Square, London where he interpreted the very long and melodious poem "Hiawatha" by the American poet Henry Longfellow. The Standard, The Telegraph The Morning Chronicle, and the Times printed extended comments upon it. The Times spoke of Mr. Woollett as "the best dramatic reader of the day", and described his recital of "Hiawatha" as the finest intellectual treat of London". Everywhere in England he was received with applause. In 1869 The London Era said at the conclusion of a long article, "On seeing Mr. Woollett again we are inclined to advise him to turn his attention to the stage, for which he has rare capabilities. The platform can spare him, because he is above the run of the platform readers and reciters, while to the stage, and its wide and important field, Mr. Woollett would be a great acquisition". Sidney had continued to live with his family for several years, surrendering his pay cheques to his father as was the custom at the time, but he moved out in 1869 to live in Brompton. By 1870, Sidney made a bold decision. He decided to cross the Atlantic and seek his fortune in America. He was not sure what he would do in America, but he was sure of one thing. He had had enough of his father's tyranny, and in America at last he would be free to pursue a career of his own choosing.

Sidney was a man of medium build, probably no more than 5' 7" tall with dark curly brown hair, brown eyes, and an infectious smile, which immediately charmed his fellow passengers on the steamship plying the Atlantic. On board there was no paid entertainment. The First Class passengers gathered in the salon for cards and liquid refreshment and they amused themselves. Sidney did his part reciting Shakespeare and Tennyson from memory. His fellow passengers suggested that he could do well with his recitations in New York, where the people were asking for quality entertainment. There, the newly rich, now comfortable in their magnificent mansions, were eager to embrace the best of English literary productions, if it could be presented.

Sidney was kept very busy with his recitations and travelled the length and breadth of America in the intervening years, but he managed to find time for the most important event in his life, which took place on the 29 April 1879 at Tully, New York, his wedding to Miss Julia Dwinelle.

Sidney gained popularity, and his matinees produced exceptionally large audiences. He was lauded by all the journals and papers in America. In the spring of 1888 Sidney returned to England for a visit to his family. He created a sensation in the literary circles, Mr. Gladstone came several times to hear him at the Princes' Hall. Sidney returned to London again in 1889 where he gave two poetic recitals in Prince Hall. Sidney returned to London once more in 1890 this time accompanied by his elder son Ralph, called after his younger brother. In London this time, Sid and Ralph managed to visit his widowed father, his younger brother Ralph, and Anastasia Woollett Rayner and her large family. Young Ralph was amazed when his father, playing the part of the successful son from America, proceeded to bestow expensive gifts on his sisters and brother, and all their children. At home Master Ralph had seen little evidence of his father's generosity. Sidney did not believe in spoiling his own children. One day he took Ralph on a coach up to Islington. A picture shows them on the coach. He bought him a little walking stick with a silver handle and another photograph was taken. At Bournmouth they went for a walk along the cliff. Ralph lagged behind as his father made a mad dash down the walk and around a cliff. Then came a scream and Ralph, fearing the worse tried desperately to catch up, as he envisioned his father falling into the sea. Rounding the cliff he found his father laughing hysterically at his distress. Ralph was too shaken to be amused. He never forgot the horror of that practical joke. (Grandmamma's legacy)

Life was very peaceful at home with his mother whilst his father was travelling around the country. When Papa came home, all was excitement as he told wonderful tales of all the people he had met. When Sidney told his children that his good friend Buffalo Bill was coming to Newport and would parade through the town, Ralph didn't believe him, but he went to see the parade anyway, and was amazed to hear Bill Cody call out "Hello Sidney".


Frankie (Francis) had a job as a clerk in the bank along with Sidney, but he became increasingly depressed, eventually he was admitted to the Camberwell Lunatic Asylum. Frankie died on June 4th 1868, in the Camberwell Lunatic Asylum, of exhaustion from melancholia and acute pleuritis. Sidney was the only one of the family to attend his funeral, he mentions it in a letter to his sister Kate who became Abbess of the Poor Clares. Was it a suicide? What other reason would keep the family from attending his funeral?


The third son, George was born in 1853, like his brother Sidney, he inherited the gift of his father's eloquence. As a small boy, Father Sebastian had come upon him reciting a passage from Shakespeare with all his youthful enthusiasm. The priest realized at once that the voice he heard would be best occupied with preaching the truths of Christianity and Catholicism. At any event, before leaving the house that day he said to the boy's father, "he must belong to us," and "from that hour to the day of his death," said his father, "he never ceased to belong to the Passionists." George was educated at Highgate and upon graduation entered the novitiate in Worcestershire, and was then transferred to Mount Argus, Harold's Cross, Dublin, so he was apart from his family from an early age. He received the habit of the Passionist order on 22 December 22 1870 at the age of 17, and was ordained a year later at St. Paul's Retreat, Mount Argus, Dublin as Father Gerard. Along with his father's eloquence he had inherited his mother's gentleness and piety, and after his ordination he became one of the most distinguished preachers of his day. His voice was his greatest charm and knowing its power he cultivated it to its greatest extent. Goldsmith said of him, "Fools who came to scoff, remained to pray." He had a pale, wan and singularly expressive and agreeable face. When he smiled his whole soul appeared to be reflected in his face, which usually bore the traces of suffering and anxiety.

Oratory was the driving force of the religious revival of the Victorian age. Gerard had a sterner, more abstract view of Christianity coupled with the virtue of hope and co-operation, managed to pack in huge audiences. It was an age of spell-binders. Gerard preached throughout the length and breadth of England and exerted a power of attraction such as only a pop star could emulate in the following Century. It was the personality and performance of Gerard as a preacher that attracted his audience as well as his powers of eloquence and compulsion. Gerard was an intelligent preacher and adapted his themes to the intellect of his congregation and he was listened to attentively. Over the loaded Sunday dinner table the morning's sermon was a main topic of conversation. It supplied dramatic interest, narrative power, analysis of character, passion and humour in addition to the vindication of sound doctrine. 

Obituary (The Times 1894)


Founded on an article in "The Lamp," for the 24th February,1894

"Nothing in this life
Became him like the leaving it, he died
As one who had been studied in his death,
To throw away the dearest thing he owned
As 'twere a careless trifle.

The exclamation of the poet, who declared that "nothing died but something mourned," was, perhaps, never more strikingly brought home to us than in the sad event which recently shocked Catholic London. The sudden, almost tragic death of Father Gerard Woollett, the distinguished Passionist preacher, was indeed startling. It was common knowledge that he suffered from valvular disease of the heart, which he had been forewarned might terminate his life suddenly. When, however, the end foretold arrived, it was hard to realize that this young, earnest, zealous priest, this true friend to so many a penitent, and bright genial companion, would never more be seen or heard again in this life. Father Gerard was always conscious of the ill effects to his health which followed any severe exertion, mental or physical, but the apprehensions he felt on this account never for a moment caused him to relinquish his soul's desire to carry on by all the means in his power the glorious work in which he was engaged both as a priest and preacher. Whenever he rested it was only in obedience to his ecclesiastical superiors. He lived for others and neglected himself at the cost of a shortened life. No one appealed to him in vain for help, and he always left one the better for having come in contact with him. His store of sympathy and good spirits was inexhaustible.

After his return from Paris, where he was Rector, he was kept at Herne Bay, and there he remained until the present mission at Highgate in the midst of which he was so suddenly called away. Gerard Woollett came of an ancient lineage. His aged father was a member of the English Bar at which he practiced assiduously for many years. We can only say that his son's eloquence as a preacher was the best recommendation of his forensic abilities, if there is any truth in hereditary talents. Gerard Woollett's character also largely partook of his mother's gentleness and piety. Born in 1853, in the Manor House, Old Kent Road, he remained there with the rest of the family until they removed among other places to Hornsey Lane, which they did mainly on account of the child's health. His high spirits and mercurial temperament in early youth caused his father some temporary anxiety for the future steadiness of his character. These idiosyncrasies did not, however, seriously retard his education, and at an early age he was sent to a school at Highgate, which he subsequently left to study under the direction of private tutors.

In the service of his Order, Father Gerard preached in all parts of England and Ireland, and shortly before his death with Fathers Wilfred and Anthony. he gave a very successful Mission in the United States. When in 1888, Father Gerard became Rector of St. Joseph's, which was attached to the Passionist Monastery at Highgate, known as the Retreat, he began the building of the new Church, which was the great struggle of his life. The edifice, which is such a notable feature of Highgate Hill, was opened with impressive ceremonial on the 24th November, 1889. The same year Father Gerard left High Gate to become Rector of the Passionists' house in Paris, and there he remained for three years until the last Chapter, when owing to the state of his health, it was thought advisable to release him from further work. The attack of illness, which proved so fatal to Father Gerard was not the first one he had experienced. An attack of diphtheria in 1891 undermined his constitution, but he preached the anniversary sermon that year at Highgate when convalescent. Some three months previously again to his death, while -giving a Mission in Belfast, he evinced signs of cardiac weakness

His remains were interred in the Mausoleum attached to the Monastery with all the solemn ritual pertaining to such occasions, midst the grief of the assembled throngs of mourners who had loved him in life.


Ralph was born in one of the rented houses that the Woolletts lived in when they moved away from The Old Manor House, he was 20 years younger than his eldest brother Sid. His early education was in Hornsey, a school he attended with his nephews Francis and John Maskell. He appears to have kept a close relationship with his Maskell relatives, his brother in law John Blakeney Maskell and Francis his nephew were both witnesses to his will, which he made shortly after his marriage to Jennie. In 1891, at the age of 26, I found him living in lodgings in Staffordshire, as an apprentice brewer. He married Jane Josephine Lynch April 1894, giving his address as 13 William Street, Manchester. Their first daughter, Mary Amelia was born 12 months later, and they were then living in 4 Church Street, Harpurhey, Manchester. Ralph's first cousin Philip Conran, the son of Aloysia, John Woolletts elder sister, was a brewer, and this may have influenced Ralph to join the business. Ralph and his family moved to Wrexham about 1898, where he was brewer manager. 



While detailing the story of the Woolletts, it was mentioned that Amelia, daughter of John Woollett, the barrister, was married to John Blakeney Maskell in 1869 at the Church of the Sardinian Embassy in Lincoln's Inn Fields. (This was still at a time when Catholic churches were often those attached to a foreign embassy). The certificate shows that John Blakeney Maskell was 23 years and gives his father's names as Fiske Harrison, a gentleman. Amelia was still only 20 years of age. The residence given for marriage for both J.B. Maskell and Amelia Woollett is 15 Doughty Street, St. Pancras, but this was in fact the home of .......possibly a colleague of John Woollett, and given as expedient in order to marry in the parish. John William Maskell was born the next year, in September 30th 1870 at 22 Cambridge Terrace, London, however, it appears that Mr and Mrs Maskell were to move to Hill Cottage, Mount Pleasant, Northwood before moving to Great Crosby, near Liverpool, for some reason unknown at present. 

John Blakeney Maskell was born on 2nd September 1846 at 10 Upper Marine Terrace Margate, his mother was Emmeline Maskell and his father was Fiske Goodeve Fiske Harrison, gentleman. This information is from a certified copy from the General Register at Somerset House, London, obtained by me in 1965. Fiske Harrison acknowledge his sons born illegitimately and they were educated as young gentlement and John was sent as a senior pupil to St. Mary's Oscott, near Birmingham, a well-known and probably very expensive Catholic public school. After his schooling, John Blakeney was sent on a tour of Europe, at least of France and Italy, and he was in Rome when the French troops had a clash with the Italian patriots. Whether he had any hobbies or training or any duties around the estate, we do not know. As his mother was the daughter of a working farmer - though the farm was leased, it was of 69 acres, and the Maskells employed 2 labourers, according to the census, yet John Blakeney did not seem to have any interest in agriculture. 

Fiske Harrison made a will leaving his two sons Francis Gifford Banner Maskell and John Blakeney Maskell and inheritance of £2000 apiece. The Will is very long and repetitious and was signed on 20th May 1857. There is a codicil detailing the death of the elder boy on 1st April 1859 and declaring that the £2000 would not be raised, and it does seem that he leaves his whole estate, apart from family portraits to the surviving son John Blakeney Maskell. There is a codicil of April 1867 leaving an annuity of £50 to Emmeline Nisbett John Maskell's mother.

The Maskells lived in a number of rented houses first in Middlesex, then they moved to the Liverpool area, to Waterloo and Great Crosby. They had seven children, four boys fairly close in age, a girl, Amelia who became a Benedictine nun, and later Colette and Genevieve (Viva). Whether it was too much for the mother to organise and look after the four small boys, whether she got any help from her husband, or whether she just could not cope at all and took to drink to drown her feeling of helplessness, we do not know. But she did become an alcoholic and died at the age of 50 when the youngest child was aged 6.

When the boys were six or eight years old, they were shipped across the channel and on to the quay at Malinesa in Belgium, where they were to be boarders at the Pensionnat of St Vincent de Paul. Apparently no one came for them so that sat on their trunks and waited. William had no vivid recollections of this school in Belgium except that they kept silkworms in their desks and had gingerbread quite often to eat. In the end, the youngest boy Edward, died at the age of twelve in 1886, and the other three boys were sent home. Quite often, a period at school in Belgium as considered an economy measure as the British pound was on a very good exchange with the Belgian franc, and it was also considered a good method to educate children to become proficient in the French language.

In Lancashire the boys were sent to St. Edward's College in Everton through the influence of their uncle Father Gerard Woollett. As this school was really a seminary for the priesthood, and probably not particularly strong on chemistry, William and Frank must have achieved against the odds to get through their courses of medicine in Liverpool and Glasgow. 


Anastasia married William George Stockham Rayner, who worked as a stockbroker, and they lived all their married life at 11 Birchington Road, West Hampstead. 

Extract from diary of Julia Woollett wife of Sidney with her impressions of the Woollett family in England.



When we landed in Liverpool it rained so hard that we thought it better to give up going to Chester to see Sidney's sister (Josephine). Not knowing Amelia's address we could not look her up either (Amelia Woollett Mescall was having a hard time, and had become an alcoholic). The journey from Liverpool to London was very interesting to me. 

Sunday; not a fine morning, but we took a hansom cab, drove up to Highgate and saw George Woollett's (Father Gerrard) grave and heard high mass. After that we drove to Kilburn to see Annie (Anastasia Woollett Rayner). We had a poor trap, the horse acted up and the shaft broke. The driver saw it just in time and we got out and walked until we could find another. Before we had started up the steps Annie was out of the house and her boys after her, fairly screeching. "Sidney, Sidney". I never saw anything like her, or at least anyone who gives way to her feelings so. She is small, and one's first impression is that she is very young. She has a nice family, four boys and the girl I did not see. 

Saturday started with Annie and the boys, and a short visit with Mr. Rayner. He is very like his pictures. We saw where Warren Hastings was tried. Then Annie and the boys left us and we, Sid and myself, took the stage to Kensington and there we took a bus over London Bridge into London proper. Then we got out and visited Mr. Woollett's chambers in the Temple. He was not in, so we went over to the Church of the Crusaders and visited Oliver Cromwell's grave. It is such an old church and most interesting to me. It is a wonder to think of those crusaders being there all these years. Mrs. Woollett was received into the church here. After visiting the church we walked over to the outside of the Bank that Sidney was in for two years, and the Bank of London. We went into St. Pauls, saw theDuke of Wellington's grave (his nose stands out fine), and General Golden's tomb with a wreath lying on his heart. It was raining slightly and we took a hansom home. We took our dinner in a grill at the Grand. I think a cold is coming on.

Tuesday; in bed all day. Awful cold in lungs. Sidney went to see his father in the afternoon.

Wednesday; still in bed, sad to have to waste so much time. Mr. Woollett came to see me this morning, a nice old man. I had to see him in my room. After our visit was over he and Sidney went to the Indian Exhibition. Later we went to Westminster Abbey, but could not see it all as they were having services there. However, we visited the Poet's Corner and walked about until we were tired. I was sorry not to get a Kodak of Mr. Woollett. We were in one of the carriages where the light was not good. I saw Longfellow's monument and my heart was glad, also Coleridge, Tennyson and three busts looking rather new are on a level with each other and not far apart. After leaving the Abbey, we tried to get into the House of Parliament, but only succeeded in getting as far as the great hall. In the evening we dined at Richards and went to the Daly Theatre to see "The Geisha." It is all the rage, but we did not care much for it.


Abbess Mother Mary Rose of Jesus Crucified, of Poor Clares, Baddesley Clinton.


Sidney mentions the death of matilda in the same year that Ralph was born, he says she was age 5. However, I have been unable to find a death record for her, and she would not have been 5 in the year Ralph was born. Sid must have been mistaken.



These two little girls did not live very long, possibly dying in the first year of their birth.


Teresa was born at the Manor House. She married Percy George Ashworth aged 25. Percy Ashworth was a Roman Catholic from West Hampstead, and the families were known to each other for some years prior to their wedding. Teresa was a witness to Percy's sister wedding two years previously. Edie their daughter was born 11 months after their wedding. Percy Ashworth was an annuitant, and never worked, his family money came from the Gillows of Waring and Gillow. The young Ashworths rented a large house in East Teignmouth. Teresa was found dead in the baby's room 18 months after the birth. The cause of death was given as apoplexy produced by ruptured cerebral aneurism, however no post mortem was done. Percy remarried in 1888, a year later, and had six further children with his second wife. However, between Teresa's death, and his remarriage he had an affair with a servant girl, who had a son George by him. 

Percy maintained George, and George was sent to a private school, and subsequently emigrated to Australia. As far as we know he had no contact with any of his father's family, although he was aware of them. Edie was unhappy with her step family, she married twice unhappily, never had any children. Percy separated from his second wife, and when he died on the Isle of Man, he was living alone, his will which he had made some 20 years previously left all his estate to Edie, no mention was made of his second family.


Josephine was the nearest to Ralph in age. She married Daniel Patrick Wall when she was aged 25, the service performed by her brother Father Gerard at his church, St. Joseph's, Highgate. Daniel Wall was a captain in the merchant navy. I have been unable to trace this family subsequent to their marriage. They may have lived in Ireland, although according to Julia Woollett's diary she mentions a sister living in Chester, and that could only be Josephine. Josephine is mentioned in her father's will which he made the night before he died in 1898. Sidney wrote a letter to his sister Kate in England:

1 Park Place,
Jamaica Plain,
July 21, 1915

My Dear Katie

Your letter has found me at home, and I am very pleased to get it. A day or two after writing you from the Vanderbilt in New York, I wrote to Annie and hope she duly read it. I feel very sorry indeed in the loss she so nobly sustained. Her son George, my nephew, poor boy! I often have looked at his photo, taken I think when he was but nine years old. He seemed a clear faced fine looking boy. I most sincerely trust (in this awful war) she will not have to endure the pain of giving another son to the needs of her country. What you say of our dear mother is indeed true. I often stand before her portrait and feel then and at other times that she is almost next to me. I have had no such feeling for any other member of our family, or for any dear friend that has gone before me to the great unknown. It has never entered my mind to pray for my mother. I know in her humility she would like me to! But I pray to her as I would to any saint for succour, or guidance. When I think of her sweet life, her unbounded faith, the consolation it was to her, her gentleness of nature so uncomplaining and self-sacrificing, she seems so high up in the realm of saintliness that if she is not there, there is little hope for others ever to get there. All this I do not realize in any that I have known who have passed beyond our mortal ken It is sad to feel we know so little of her family! I must perhaps be careful of what I say! But the Woollett portion has never appealed to me. Our aunts, the Conrons, O'Donnells, Barneswells, and I saw but little of our uncle the Jesuit. Marlow Woollett's father I never saw. In regard to the question you asked, it is simply this; that I as the eldest of the family probably know less than any of you of our mother's relatives, and it never seemed of any importance to inform me, and perhaps it was to a degree my fault that I showed so little interest. I knew of a Reverend Mr Warner and his wife, who lived next to Rochester and I well remember an uncle Jones who lived with us at 29 Essex Place Kensington, and when a small boy sleeping in his room, in order to call up my mother should he be in need of anything during the night! And I remember him once waking me out of a sound sleep, and that I woke my mother up to get him a sandwich. Then I remember his death as also I have an indistinct memory of the death of my mother's brother, Uncle Daniel, and old Mary 
Noble telling me years later, that I went about the house with the mournful refrain "poor Uncle Dan gone". I never knew nor was I ever told from whom my dear mother inherited the old manor house. Every corner of that old house, is, however, forever imprinted in my mind, and the grounds that surrounded it, as also Cowpen Hall where I spent, I suppose, the happiest days of my early life, which place I first remember in 1851 going there with my mother in a steamer, from London to Newcastle upon Tyne! Although I had been there before when very young. Marlow Sidney and his wife were my godparents, and of course during my Aunt Christina's life after Marlow Sidney's death I visited the place quite often.

It was one of the sorrows of my life when the old manor house was sold. It happened shortly after I had left Douai College! Poor Frankie still remaining there long afterward seemed a tragedy, Frankie's death, and I and John Bullen, the only ones who went to his funeral! Then we lived at 13 Chester Place or Terrace and later on Doughty Street. Afterward I gradually left the family, living by myself in Brompton and later at Richmond, till I took ship for America in 1870

If I could get to England before my end I would like, I think, to go to Gloucester, and with some papers that my father gave me, endeavour to obtain some record of my sweet mother's relatives. I know nothing of the Vaughan branch of her family. In addition to the portraits I have of her and which I was glad to obtain possession of from my father, there is a smaller one of her mother, and a large one of her grandmother, also one of Captain Vaughan of Fort William, India. Of this gentleman I heard a story, that he sent in a ship from India with valuable treasure for my mother, that the ship was lost and the treasure with her. I never had any direct information given me of her relatives, but I have no doubt that old Mary Noble, when alive, could have given to us all the knowledge we might wish. And when I was quite young she would sometimes speak to me about them, but I fear it was when I was too young to have it make any deep impression.

I remember my mother telling me she had an aunt, very dear to her, and quite wealthy. I believe, who called or wrote to her that if every she became a papist never to darken her door again. And I can seem my mother's angelic face now as she told the story "of course I never did." She often made excuses for my misdeeds and would say to me, hugging me as she spoke, "Dear Sidney, it's my fault you think so, or do so, you were born of a poor Protestant mother." It seems, however, more than likely that Annie, or Amelia, or George or yourself or even Ralph may have heard more about her family than I heard, for when I was very young there seemed to be a halo of mystery, in which children were to ask no questions, and very little information was given. Certainly up to the time I left England when I was about 25, I doubt if any child really knew less of one's family history. I wish I could have known more. One thing always surprised me. I had somehow been informed that each of the children of Grandfather Woollett (by the way I remember him) was left about £8000 each. Of course my father used up his portion, and I presume my Aunt Conron and O'Donnells theirs, but it was often said to me that my aunt Barnewall's portion was used by her husband as an investment in the business that made his fortune, and it has often puzzled me what became of her money. Surely it ought to have gone to our family and not to the Barnwell branch. I did say that I wished I might have the portrait of my grandfather Woollett and his wife to make my collection complete, but I never heard anything after his or her death. In fact I am in ignorance of any particulars regarding the family. My mother's father lived in Camberwell when he died. I was born there. We moved from there when I was an infant to 29 Sussex Place, Kensington and there lived with us uncle Jones and Uncle Dan. They both died there and this I do know. My mother received a legacy from her father and from Uncle Jones and from her brother Dan. These were the windfalls my father was wont to speak of but from whom she inherited the old manor house I do not know. When it was under alterations I remember being taken there to see it, and I distinctly remember the first night we all spent in the house. Shortly after we lived in it Frankie and myself were hustled off to an horrid school kept by three old maids called Cupula House in the New Kent Road, and how glad we both were when we got the whooping cough and had to leave the infernal place.

Now having devoted all this apace in trying to explain and answer your questions I can speak of nothing else in this epistle. I have written at random all I know, or more properly speaking, don't know. I make no excuses, dear Kate, about your letters. You write a far better hand than I do, and your letter is good both in matter and in penmanship. I am so glad to feel sure you are happy in your vocation, the life you lead, with the happy sweet family of nuns and novices you have to be Mother Abbess to. I am pleased to see you leave off the unnecessary appendage of "unworthy". I know you are a very worthy abbess of your order of the Clares. I have good health for my years, but I wish I could add to it the appendage of wealth. "Holy Poverty" with its anxieties and care is terrible for me to endure. I do not love it, I hate it. So as to your young misses say "So there." Next to the grace of God, competency is a necessity, especially I think, when one has really worked as hard as I have all my life, and started early at that. I tell no more now. Hope your next letter may tell me some good news of our family,

With love, your loving brother, Sidney