Friday, 5 July 2013

Cousins from Sandsend: John Buchannan & George Pyman

In March 1808, a young married woman called Sarah Buchannan of East Row, Sandsend, was admitted as a member of the Silver Street Congregational Chapel in Whitby.

The Silver Street Chapel was built in 1770 for the Revd James Brownfield.  It was a thriving Calvinistic Congregational chapel with a prosperous middle-class congregation.  The chapel records (held at the North Yorkshire County Record Office) include well-known Whitby surnames such as Holt, English, Langborne and Scoresby and show that members came from far afield – from Northallerton, Newcastle, Huddersfield, London and Rotherham – and that there was a sister church in Guisborough. The minister between 1804 and 1819 was the Revd John Arundel (1778-1848.)

In the church book for the period can be found Sarah Buchannan’s account of her conversion experience, on the basis of which she sought admission as a member. The “Experiences” recorded in the book dwell particularly on sin, righteousness and the fear of hell.  They also show that some members had come to the chapel from the Methodists, and that most had listened to a variety of preachers before coming to Silver Street to hear the minister, Mr Arundel speak.
The Experience of Mrs Sarah Buchannan, admitted March 1808 
For 24 years I lived in a state of sin and wickedness although often reproved yet I did not see the misery of it until going with some friends to hear Mr Arundell preach he observed that he saw such a beauty in religion that he would not change if he was shown there was no hereafter       this somewhat alarmed me as I always thought it the gloomiest thing in life.  I pondered this in my mind for some time and one Sunday evening after leaving my companions and sitting alone I began to think in what an unprofitable manner we had spent the day in regard to [our] Poor Soul[s]        no sooner had the thought ceased in my mind than it pleased God to open my eyes to see myself in such a dreadful state my sins all rushing in upon me so that I began to despair of ever finding mercy for I was terrified day and night that I had committed the unpardonable sin and when I prayed I thought I only provoked God      in short I was so tormented in my mind that I thought hell itself could not be worse and was often tempted to take away my own life         but it pleased God he spared me a little longer and continuing in prayer to God to keep me from this evil it often came to my mind my grace is sufficient for others 2 Cor.12.9     And being in great distress of mind one day sat down to read and open'd in the 7th chapter of Matthew and reading the 7th he saith ask and it shall be given you, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you for every one that asketh receiveth.   This was a comfortable passage to me as I was brought so low, so that I thought that if the Lord would spare me to recover that I would never sin again           but I had no sooner recovered than I fell away again as bad as ever and it is a mercy that I was ever called again          but the Lord opened my eyes again to see that I could do nothing of myself so that I may say that it is grace alone that made me seek so for God and not of myself so that I have ever enabled to rest my salvation in the merits of Christ and no further trust in any works of my own and it has been my supreme wish for to become a member of your church and to be united with the people of God I have ventured to ask admission.
Sarah Buchannan
Sarah’s younger sister Jane was also admitted a member, explaining in her ‘Experience’ that
for 19 years I run the race of the wicked but was insensible of although daily warned of it by a tender parent until being led by curiosity to hear Mr Arandale [Arundel] ordained

Henry Lord Mulgrave
Sarah and Jane were the daughters of Alexander Ayre (also spelt Aar and Arr).  He is said to have been a tenant of the Earl of Mulgrave, and to have come to the Whitby area from Renfrew.  He had himself been a member of the chapel from 1804 until his death in June 1806.

The sisters were to be the mothers of two remarkable Whitby men.  Against Sarah’s Experience is written in a later hand "mother of the late John Buchannan", and against Jane’s name "afterwards Mrs Pyman and the mother of the late George Pyman of Raithwaite".  John Buchannan (1810-91) was a prominent Whitby solicitor, his cousin George Pyman (1822-1900) was a shipping magnate and Mayor of West Hartlepool.

Quite a journey from their beginnings in the industrial hamlet of Sandsend, amongst the burning heaps of alum shale.

Sarah, who was born in 1784, was the wife of John Buchannan.  Some sources say that they married  on 5 February 1805.  John was a master mariner, born in Lythe.

Two children were born to Sarah and John Buchannan:  John, who was born at East Row, Sandsend, on 11 July 1810 and his sister Jane Elizabeth, who was baptised on 10 September 1812 at the Silver Street Independent Chapel in Whitby.  Young John hardly knew his parents – before his sixth birthday, his father was gone and his mother and his sister had both died. 

One family story tells that John Buchannan was lost at sea, drowned on the Haisbro Sands.  Another version holds that his ship was called the Pearl.  Years afterwards, however, his son John stated that that his father "left England and died abroad", a turn of phrase that suggests that perhaps he deserted his family.

While her husband was at sea, Sarah kept a shop in the house that she owned in East Row, Sandsend.  She had a sad life, and her Experience indicates that she was always of a sensitive and perhaps melancholic turn of mind.  A stanza of her son’s poem My Mother's Grave speaks of her grief following the loss of husband and baby daughter:
My Mother! whilst imprison'd here,
Thine was a life of melancholy;
When all which thou hadst deem'd most dear,-
The treasur'd feelings pure and holy,
The lov'd one who had cherish'd thee,
In sunny hours or days of gloom,-
The little bud whose infant glee
Was buried in the silent tomb,-
Were snatch'd away, and only I
Was left to soothe thy misery!
Sarah made her Will on 10 May 1816.  Her health was failing fast and her signature is shaky; she died on 20 June, aged 32.  She entrusted her little son to the Silver Street Chapel.  Mr Arundel, the minister, witnessed the Will, and Sarah named chapel members as her executors.  She left her "money, household Furniture and effects of every nature particularly my dwelling house … at Sandsend … together with the Gardens and everything thereto belonging" to her executors Edward Nettleship, baker of Whitby, Francis Norman, famer of Ruswarp, and Christopher Colthurst, dyer of East Row, Sandsend, in trust for her "dear son" John.

Sarah’s plan was that her young unmarried sister Jane should move into her house and shop and carry on with the business in order to provide a home and an education for John.  The house and the furniture were not to be sold until John reached the age of 21, unless Jane and the executors were agreed that it was necessary "for the improvement of my effects and the maintenance of my Son."

Sarah died in June 1816 and her Will was proved by Mr Nettleship and Mr Colthurst on 19 September 1816.  Her effects were sworn at "under £100" (under the system of banding that was in operation at the time); it did not include the value of the house.  The Death Duty Register shows that the value of the personalty bequeathed to John was £36.

In My Mother’s Grave, John, then aged 17, remembered his mother’s death:
Day after day I saw thee pine,
Till neither health nor strength was thine;
The hue of death was on thy cheek,
But now and then a hectic streak
Would tinge it with a deeper dye,
As if in solemn mockery.
I stood beside thy dying bed,
And strove to raise thy feeble head;
I gazed upon thy sunken eye,
And wept, but yet I knew not why, –
I dreamt not what it was to die.
His own health gave his guardians serious cause for alarm – his obituary writer recorded,
"When I was young," we once heard him say, "it seemed likely that I should die of consumption.  I went into the dales to stay a while with a good old Wesleyan called Willie Sinclair."
We don’t know how long John stayed in the dales with Willie Sinclair, whether he grew up with his aunt, or where he was educated (Whitby was proud of its schools), but two years after her sister Sarah’s death, on Boxing Day 1818, Jane Arr married James Pyman at Lythe and began a family of her own. 

James had been a crew member on a man o' war  and came from a family of seamen.  In the 1841 Census he was described as a mariner but in 1851 he is recorded as working in the local alum works.  This must have been temporary work, as by the time of his death in 1861 he had returned to the sea. 

Jane and James Pyman had four children: Sarah Ann Pyman, George Pyman, Thomas Arr Pyman and Alexander Pyman.  They, like their cousin John, grew up in the congregation of the Silver Street chapel.

While Jane Pyman’s boys went to sea young, John Buchannan stayed at school until he was 14 or 15, when he was sent to work as a clerk in a solicitor’s office.  He was a poet and deeply involved in the literary life of Whitby, where he became a prominent solicitor.

George Pyman (1822-1900)
George Pyman, on the other hand, excelled at business, and became a hugely successful Victorian entrepreneur.

He first went to sea at the age of ten, when he took the place of an ailing uncle in the crew of a fishing smack.  At twelve, he went to work in a shop in Lythe, but soon was back at sea, and his Master’s Certificate of 1850 describes him as “Apprentice, Mate and Master 15 years in the coasting and foreign trade”.

He left the sea in 1850 or 1851 and went to the new port of West Hartlepool.

Viscount (Walter) Runciman, in his book Collier Brigs and their Sailors (1926) wrote:
"The generation ahead of me, and of some even ahead of them, graduated from leaky old collier brigs to that of shipowners at the north-east coal ports.  
The late George Pyman, father of many sons, went to sea in an old collier brig belonging to Whitby, became a captain and owner, and traded successfully from Hartlepool to London for a number of years; unlike many of his contemporaries, he instinctively saw that this class of vessel was nearing its end, and at once threw all his resources of mind and capital into the new order of transit by contracting for a steamer.  He rapidly went from one success to another, until he became the largest steamship owner on the north-east coast, and continued as long as he lived a most influential and popular man of affairs, with advanced ideas that contributed to the making of the Hartlepools into a great centre of shipping enterprise."
John Buchannan (1810-91)
George Pyman married fellow chapel member Elizabeth English of Raithwaite (1821-93) in 1843; they had nine children. 

Both George and John had an acute sense of public duty and a strong religious belief.  One of the most interesting divergences between their careers can be found in their religious allegiance.

John Buchannan seems to have been a seeker all his life, perhaps marked by the bereavements he suffered.

He lost his parents and sister while he was still a child, his first wife died in childbirth, his second wife died aged 32.  By the age of 40, he was a widower with five children under the age of 12.  His son Hugh died eight years later, aged eleven.  John did not remarry.

As a young man John had been a very active member of the Silver Street Congregational chapel in which he had grown up.  He sometimes conducted services there and was warmly received as a religious speaker.  On the death of his first wife, Sarah Margaret Holt, in 1837 a “neat marble tablet” was erected to her memory in the Primitive Methodist Chapel in Church Street, either by John or by Sarah’s parents.  He was made a Deacon of the Silver Street Chapel in January 1838, but in 1859 he formally withdrew from membership.  It seems likely that for a while he attended Anglican services, and there seems to have been considerable surprise in Whitby when it was realised that he had converted to Roman Catholicism on his deathbed in 1891, aged 81. 

His cousin George Pyman, meanwhile, remained a prominent member of Silver Street Chapel, continuing to worship there whenever he was at Raithwaite.  He was a founder member of the church in West Hartlepool and was an influential Nonconformist all his life.

George Pyman was an open-minded man.  When Ralph Ward-Jackson stood as a Conservative candidate for Parliament in the first elections held for the Hartlepools, George actively supported him out of gratitude for Ward-Jackson’s achievements in establishing West Hartlepool, although he himself was a Liberal – and while he was Mayor of West Hartlepool (1888-9) he visited every Sunday school in town, without reference to denomination.

He died at his home, Raithwaite Hall, on 23 November 1900, aged 78.  Sadly, he had not lived to see the completion of his recent gift to Sandsend – the Pyman Institute, which was built on the site of the cottage where he was born.

Skinner Street, Whitby © Copyright Colin Grice
West Cliff Congregational Church (formerly Silver Street Chapel), from (and licensed for reuse under their Creative Commons Licence).  The chapel originally known by John Buchannan and George Pyman was rebuilt; these buildings date from 1867.

The Pyman Institute © Copyright wfmillar
Early morning suns lights the Pyman Institute (from and licensed for reuse under their Creative Commons Licence)


For more on George Pyman, his business and his family, see The Pyman Story by Peter Hogg & Harold Appleyard (pub. 2000)

Henry Lord Mulgrave's portrait is from the engraving by H. Meyer from the original by J. Jackson

There is a link between the Pyman family and Hutton Rudby – George's son Thomas English Pyman lived for some years at Linden Grove.

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