Leigh Smith

BENJAMIN SMITH [1793-1860]
The son of William Smith and Frances Coape. Benjamin Smith was educated at Knox’s school Tunbridge, and then Hackney.

He met Anne Longden who was a 25 year old milliner from Alfreton.  She became pregnant and he took her to a rented lodge at Whatlington, in Sussex. There she lived as Mrs Leigh, the surname of his relations on the Isle of Wight.

They went to America in 1828, for two years.  On their return to England they lived in Sussex at Brown`s Farm.  By 1833 Anne had become ill and Ben took her to Pelham Place in Hastings, for the fresh sea air. Later that year he took her to Ryde on the Isle of Wight, she died on 30 August 1834.  The record of her burial, in the name of Anne Smith states only that she died at Ryde, no home address.  She was buried at St. Edmunds Church Wooton.  He never married Ann, they had 5 children.

He was elected MP for Norwich and while at the House of Commons, he asked his wifes Aunt Dolly Longden or Aunt Julia Smith to look after his children.

During the 1840`s he bought more land to the south and west of Robertsbridge, including Scalands Farm, Mountfield Park Farm and Glottenham Manor, Crowham Manor and Brown`s Farm.  When each of his children reached 21, he gave each of them investments which bought an annual income of £300.  He also gave Barbara the deeds of the Westminster school.

In 1804 his Fathers’ Uncle Benjamin died leaving him £60,000. He entered into partnership with Messrs Cooke and Tate, who ran a whisky distillery and brewery at Millbank. In 1806 a fire destroyed much of the distillery, which William discovered was under insured. His eldest son Ben took charge of the business, with brother Octavius. Another son Adams was not so successful in business. William had set up yet another firm with Adams and his Kemble cousins in charge, in Philpot Lane.  Between them they had brought the firm to the point of bankruptcy by 1819. Ben rescued the firm, with money from the distillery business, but it was liquidated in 1823. Williams eldest son, Benjamin, had a better financial head than his father.

His Father had to sell his library, then his painting collection, and both of his houses. Benjamin leased a town house, 5 Blandford Square, St Marylebone, and moved his parents into it. He took over financial responsibility for his unmarried Patty and Julia, also Adams

His property was divided up before he died between his children Barbara, 5 Blandford Square, Benjamin the Glottenham Estates which included the ruins of a 14th century fortified house surrounded by a moat, William Crowham Manor, Anne property in Bath Street, and Isabella had £5,000 in lieu of property on her marriage, as her husband had his own property.

Benjamin also had 3 other children named Bentley Smith, in Fulham. It appears that he had taken a mistress two years after Anne’s death. All three children were educated at schools in Hampshire and Kent.

She was born in 1802 to a family of agricultural labourer’s in Froxfield, close to Joanna Bonham Carter’s house, Ditcham Grove in Hampshire. The 1881 census shows Jane Bentley Smith living in Hammersmith married to John Cross, a Ditcham surveyor of taxes, with nine children and one general servant. Living with them was her younger brother Henry a mariner.

The words on his memorial stone read:

‘He was an ardent advocate of civil and religious liberty and of every
measure which could promote the well-being of mankind.  He supported
for 29 years the first Infant School in England. He gave hearty and
generous assistance to migration.  He loved the arts and sciences and
was an active friend to their diffusion among the people’

Children of Benjamin Smith and Ann Longden:  Anne [1831-], Barbara [1827-1891], Isabella [1830-1873], William [1833-] Benjamin [Leigh Smith]

ANNE LEIGH SMITH [1831-]
The daughter of Benjamin Leigh Smith and Anne Longden.

BARBARA LEIGH SMITH [1827-1891]
Born in 1827, she was the illegitimate daughter of Benjamin Leigh Smith, and Anne Longden. She was the eldest of five, in a family where girls and boys received an equal and liberal education, and enjoyed a close relationship withtook a personal interest in their welfare. She received private tuition from James Buchanan, a teacher from Robert Owen’s Lanark school. Private study included some nature rambles and painting trips, her father piling all the children into their own horse-drawn bus.

In 1848 her father gave her an annual income of £300 and the title deeds of Westminster school in Vincent Square. This endowment was to provide the basis for her first educational venture, Portman Hall. Based on Owenite principles the school was secularist and coeducational and ran successfully for 10 years. At its height it attracted 113 pupils.

Among the early female friendships which were to play a crucial part in her life were those with Bessie Rayner Parkes, Anna Mary Howitt and George Eliot. From her friendship with Bessie Parkes she derived her first experiences of journalism. Their writing for the Hastings and St. Leonard’s News was to lead later to The Waverley and the establishment of The Englishwoman’s Journal. They first met in 1847 and shared holidays together, ranging from sojourns in Hastings to an un-chaperoned exploration of Europe during 1850, still an unsettled period of European history.

Yet by far the most important of these early friendships was that with George Eliot. This alliance was to last some 30 years and was based on mutual respect and a sense of fellow-travelling. They were both women who flew in the face of social convention and Eliot was deeply moved when she recognised the authorship of Adam Bede: me in a book that came

It is hardly surprising that she was politically active at an early stage. She was to criticise John Stuart Mill’s Political Economy for not adequately addressing the question of marital law, and herself discussed the advantages of marriage contracts in A brief summary of the most important laws of England concerning women. This work formed the basis of the petition in support of the Married Women’s Property Bill, which was drawn up by the Blandford Square group in 1855. The petition boasted 26,000 signatories including such notable women as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Harriet Martineau, Jane Carlyle and George Eliot.

She wrote her Women and Work, published in 1857 but probably completed while she was in Algiers over the preceding winter. This was published in The Waverley. The essay argues for the economic independence of women and the efficacious nature of work for healthy minds and healthy bodies.

Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon was excited by Algiers in terms of its visual attraction to her painterly eye and its exoticism,which appealed to her adventurous spirit; and indeed it was here that she met Eugene Bodichon, anthropologist and physician. They were engaged in April 1857 and married in the July. One may gauge something of her strength of feeling by observing the caution or even downright opposition of friends and family. Eugene was pronounced “eccentric” and”indifferent to the opinions of others”; George Eliot declared herself “not quite satisfied”; but Bessie Parkes observed that to have tried to hold Barbara back from the marriage would have been akin to stopping the Niagara Falls. It would seem that Barbara expected to set up home in England, and indeed, they were married here. However, the pattern of their life was to be that they would live six months of the year together in Algiers and six months apart, with Barbara in England.

Barbara kept her maiden name as a prefix to her married one – Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon – “for I have earned a right to Barbara Smith”. Such a statement tends to reveal how the question of legitimacy was always with her, but it also suggests the way in which she wished to define the basis for that legitimacy in her own terms, both highly moral and highly unconventional.

The Englishwoman’s Journal never achieved her radical ambitions for it, but it was a successful public platform in launching several initiatives and in establishing networks which were to prove influential. For example, it gave rise to the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women and the establishment of Langham Place as a centre for feminist activity. In 1862,Emily Davies took over the editorship from Bessie Parkes, and in the same year, Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon joined at Davies’ committee, which that time was campaigning for women to be admitted to university local examinations and a would go on to champion woman’s right to sit examinations at university level, having achieved its first object in 1869. This was the heyday of the Kensington Society, a female debating society, and with these vital platforms for discussion and organisation, the support for women’s suffrage blossomed over the next five years. The Langham Place group campaigned for John Stuart Mill’s election to parliament in 1865, and in his election address Mill argued that women should indeed have the vote. Later that year she submitted a paper on the subject to the Kensington Society, but the response from Emily Davies is indicative of the differences between the two women; Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon enthusiastic and radical, Davies cautious and conventional. She presented another version of her view to the Social Science Association conference in October 1867 entitled Reasons for the enfranchisement of women. However, fundamental cracks in the committee were to cause its final split in 1867 over the issue of whether men could be admitted as members. It was generally felt that at the present time, the issue of education was the best way to further the women’s cause. Although she threw herself into this new direction she kept in touch with the chief protagonists of the suffrage movement. Davies, on the other hand, adopted the stance of Caesar’s wife and had nothing more to do with issue until the end of the century when her central ambition had been achieved.

Indeed, it was this project, the establishment of Girton College, which was to consume her energies until the end of her life. She did not consider herself orthodox enough to share Davies’ belief in the superiority of a Cambridge education; nevertheless, she predicted that Davies was going to achieve something exceptional, and education had always been an abiding interest, particularly as a means for any disadvantaged group to improve its lot. Therefore, when Davies visited Barbara Leigh Smith at Scalands in 1867, Barbara agreed to give £1000 towards the foundation of the College, by far the largest individual contribution.

She was heavily involved in propaganda for the College during the run-up to its opening at Hitchin; her brief was to target the higher echelons of society. Yet Davies did not ask her to serve on the first committee because she was too well known for her involvement in controversial causes and Davies was ever anxious that no such taint should prejudice her campaign. Barbara wanted the College established in Cambridge itself and neither appreciated nor sympathised with Davies’ insistence propriety of keeping her young ladies away from the men.

With good grace, however, she conceded to the wisdom of Davies’ strategy. Candidates for the College were examined at Blandford Square, she was involved in the appointment of the Mistress, served on both the executive and building committees in 1869, and was herself Acting Mistress in the Spring of 1872: Clear and firm, and, at the same time winning and bright … her influence is about the most useful we can have Davies pronounced in 1873

She was a frequent visitor to the College, particularly concerned with questions of health, and personally supportive of the students. Although sometimes called in on matters of discipline she was not always appreciative that any misdemeanour had been committed. Indeed it is fair to say that she and Davies complimented each other most successfully, the one providing the strengths that the other lacked.

In 1877, whilst on a painting holiday in Cornwall, Barbara suffered a stroke from which she only partly recovered. Yet the final period of her life was filled with activity: the renewal of old acquaintances, like Jessie White Mario, and the ‘bringing-on’ of the next generation. The first five Girton students were guests at Scalands, and she personally encouraged many women, in particular Hertha Marks [Ayrton] whose later invaluable research would not have been possible without the assistance of a legacy from Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon. She continued to campaign actively for the support of Girton College, notably [and at Davies’ request] for the memorial of 1880 which advocated the official admission of women to Tripos. It was only in 1885 that she relinquished her membership of the executive committee.

When Davies visited Scalands in 1878 Barbara told her the details of her will. Her legacy was to go to her family, but a large proportion of her savings was to go to Girton. It should be noted that these savings were derived from the sale of her paintings and are therefore a measure of her success as an artist. When she died at Scalands in 1891 she left £10,000 to the College thereby ensuring once and for all its stability for the years ahead. She was buried in Brightling churchyard in Sussex [where Bella married General Ludlow] next to Aunt Dolly.

The diversity of her talents, her fierce energy and her propensity to dare the impossible were brought together in the founding of Girton College. She once said that she wished she possessed three immortal lives, one dedicated to art, one to  Eugene and one to society. In an age when women’s life choices, if they existed at all, were mutually exclusive this was a rich and remarkable life.

ISABELLA LEIGH SMITH [1830-1873]
The daughter of Benjamin Leigh Smith and Anne Longden. She married John Ludlow [1801-1882]

Children of Isabella Leigh Smith and John Ludlow: Amabel [1860-], Harry [1862-1885], Edmund [1863-], Milicent [1868-]

WILLIAM LEIGH SMITH [1833-]
The son of Benjamin Smith and Anne Longden. He married Georgina Mary Haliday in August 1858.

Children of William Leigh Smith and Georgina Mary Haliday: Amy, Bella [1879-], Dolly [1881-]

BENJAMIN LEIGH SMITH [1828-]
The son of Benjamin Smith and Anne Longden.  He married Charlotte Sellers [1862-].

After inheriting the Glottenham estate from his father, Ben was able to live off the rent. This gave him time to indulge in sailing and exploring. He took the Board of Trade `ticket` to command his own ships, he also invented an instrument for computing time at sea. Between 1871 and 1882 he made five voyages in Arctic waters. He had a 300 ton vessel built to his own specifications called the `Eira`. On June 14th 1881, he set sail on the Eira from Peterhead, with a crew of twenty-five. As they travelled further North the ice became more packed, and on August 21st the Eira was crushed between pack ice and land, off Cape Flora, and sank. The crew managed to escape to land, and with the leadership of Ben they would hunt for food, with a steady supply of meat they neither starved or suffered from scurvy. When the Eira did not return home Ben’s family and friends became concerned. It was decided a relief vessel should be sent out to find them, it was funded by Valentine Smith [Octavius`s son] £10,000, the Royal Geographical £1,000 and Parliament £5,000. They were rescued at the end of August 1882 from Novya Zemlya by Sir Allen Young in the `Hope`. On his return Ben received the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society, and was made honorary fellow of Jesus College.

Children of Benjamin Leigh Smith and Charlotte Sellers: Benjamin Valentine [1889-]

Children of Benjamin Smith and Ann Buss:  Jane [1837-], Alexander [1838-]and Henry [1839-][Bentley Smith]

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