marian parsons – hobby historian

by | Jun 30, 2021 | Antiques, Favorite Finds, sketches | 27 comments

“Great thoughts go best with common duties. Whatever therefore may be your office regard it as a fragment in an immeasurable ministry of love.”
― Brooke Foss Westcott

I received a new parcel from Julia of Ponder & Purchase.  We initially connected through the antique sketchbooks of G. Herbert Kitchin and, since then, she’s been on the lookout for antique art supplies and other goodies for me.  It’s sort of turned into a Ponder & Purchase Monthly Subscription Box!  It works out great for both of us since she is frequently out shopping to supply her Etsy shop (and selling things directly to me saves her the time of listing the items) and most of the antique and vintage art supplies seem to have congregated in the UK.  Maybe Americans just pitched theirs?  Maybe hobby art wasn’t as big in the late 1800s – early 1900s here?  Either way, she has a knack for finding little antique treasures to outfit my studio – brass drafting tools, palettes, brushes, cartirdge & oil papers, vintage drawing books…  Every box has been like Christmas.

In the most recent box, I received a stack of letters from the Kitchin estate to pair with the sketchbooks.  I’ll circle back to the Kitchins in a minute…

antique kitchin family letters | miss mustard seed

What she also sent was a brass protractor, a few vintage (empty) sketchbooks and oil paper pads, some vintage and used art books, and an 1847 sketchbook that is about 1/3 full.  She thought the paper was lovely and that I would enjoy filling the empty pages.  I agreed and we added it to my box.

1827 sketchbook of Brooke Foss Westcott | miss mustard seed

And, this sketchbook is so beautiful.  It has green leather binding with a gold detail.  There is a button on the back with the remnants of a black ribbon, to mark the pages, I’m assuming.  It also had a leather sleeve for a pencil.

1847 sketchbook of Brooke Foss Westcott | miss mustard seed

The paper is special, too.  Some pages are cream and some are a pale blue or green.  I have never seen a sketchbook like that before, but I have seen pictures of antique sketches in some of my art books on blue and green paper, probably from a contemporary sketchbook.

Julia’s assessment of the sketches were, “They are nice, but not on the level of Our Man.”  Our Man is George Herbert Kitchin, in case you missed that.  We’ve both sort of adopted him as a little project.   The sketches are quite lovely, though.  Very delicate and soft, but the overall drafting is good.

1847 sketchbook of Brooke Foss Westcott | miss mustard seed

Most of the drawings are of buildings, but the renderer wrote so tiny and light that it’s hard to identify the buildings.  I’ll have to do some research to see if I can make out the writing and find matches.

1847 sketchbook of Brooke Foss Westcott | miss mustard seed

In addition to architecture, there are also sketches of nature…  (See the green paper on the opposing page?)

1847 sketchbook of Brooke Foss Westcott | miss mustard seed

Before I started adding my own artwork to the blank pages, I thought I would try to find the original artist.  I asked on my Instagram Stories if anyone could decifer the name.  It’s plain to me now that I know it, but I couldn’t make it out initially.  Several people suggested Brooke and I could immediately see they were right.  Yes!  Brooke.  F was most likely the middled initial and I thought the last name was Westcroft.  It was enough to start a search.  It was handy that I knew this inidividual was at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1847, so I prepared for some late night searching through the Campbridge class rolls.

1847 sketchbook of Brooke Foss Westcott | miss mustard seed

Well, with one Google search of “Brooke F. Westcroft Cambridge”, I came across Brooke Foss Westcott.  As I started reading the biography on the Cambridge website, I realized this wasn’t just an alumni bio.  He was the Bishop of Durham, a canon of Westminster, he co-edited The New Testament in Original Greek, and wrote numerous books on theology.  He is buried in Auckland Castle chapel.

A building at Cambridge still bears his name – This is Westcott House at Cambridge, named after Brooke Foss Westcott, Our Other Man now.

I have to admit I was, to use a British term, gobsmacked.  I actually looked back at the signature repeatedly to check and double-check.  I mean, this guy has a Wikipedia page.  No. 1 – I didn’t expect the research to be so easy and No. 2 – I didn’t expect this to be the sketchbook of another prominent person.  But, the dates lined up and even the signature was a perfect match.  This is the sketchbook of 22-year-old Brooke Foss Westcott.

So, my plan to add my own artwork to the book has now changed.  This book needs to also be scanned and researched further.  A couple of letters from Brooke Westcott are listed on eBay for $125-325, so I think this sketchbook, that Julia found at the equivelent of a flea market for 30£, is probably quite valuable.  I don’t have plans to sell it, but I do see it as a responsibility and a priveledge to research it, preserve it, and share it.  I would be more likely to donate it to England’s National Archives or to Cambridge than to sell it, but we’ll see!

I was able to buy a 1903 copy of The Life & Letters of Brooke Foss Westcott , so I’m looking forward to reading that.  I also started a Westcott family tree, so I could learn a bit more about his children and grandchildren.  The interesting thing is Brooke was likely to have known Rev. George William Kitchin, Herbert’s father.  He was the Dean of Durham from 1894 – 1912 and Brooke Foss Westcott was Bishop of Durham from 1890 – 1901.  How crazy is that??  In addition, George Kitchin had a son named Brook and Brooke Westcott had a son named George Herbert.  I am excited to do more research to see how these two families intersect.

So, onto the Kitchins.  Julia, who is a magnet for things that came out of the Kitchin estate, has sent me all sorts of paperwork, family letters, and albums to include with the sketchbooks.  We both feel like all of these things belong together so a complete story can be told.  I have a few projects in the works for the sketchbooks, but the big project I have planned is a book of Herbert’s sketches as well as family letters, photos, and albums.  Since I am not a historian, the book will be purely from my perspective, as someone who has been touched and changed by these sketchbooks.  I am hoping to plan a trip to the UK in the next couple of years, so I can photograph, sketch, and do more research.  At this point, this is all purely a pet project and who knows where it will lead.

George Herbert Kitchin Family letters and albums | miss mustard seed

George Herbert Kitchin Family letters and albums | miss mustard seed

One of the albums is filled with gorgeous sepia-toned postcards and I’ve already been able to match up some of the places Herbert sketched with the postcards.

George Herbert Kitchin Family letters and albums | miss mustard seed

Here is Herbert’s sketch of St John’s Hospital gate in Canterbury, photographed in the postcard above…

George Herbert Kitchin | Sketch of St John's Hospital Gate, Canterbury | miss mustard seed

Julia also sent an album filled with home listings…

George Herbert Kitchin Family letters and albums | miss mustard seed

George Herbert Kitchin Family letters and albums | miss mustard seed

I think it will be fun to sketch some of these, but I’ve also just enjoyed reading the listings.  I wish I could beam back to the time of some of those listings and snap up an old English house.

One of the most special finds is a family photo album…

George Herbert Kitchin Family letters and albums | miss mustard seed

Many of the photos have fallen out, there are some of the family home, presumably renovated by George Herbert, who was an architect.

George Herbert Kitchin Family letters and albums | miss mustard seed

But there are some sweet family photos as well.  I’ve been working on a Kitchin family tree in Ancestry.com, so I can try to identify people in the photos and those mentioned in the letters.  I’ve been able to find some of them, but not all.  It’s possible they are neighbors, friends, maybe cousins.  In Ancestry.com, it’s easier to work up a tree and I’m trying to work laterally and down, which seems to be trickier.  I also hit deadends when I get into people who are still alive and their profiles are private.

George Herbert Kitchin Family letters and albums | miss mustard seed

And, there are the bundles of letters.  They are wrapped up just like the little gifts that they are.  I haven’t had time to read them all, but I randomly pulled one out to read a couple of days ago.

It’s a letter from Hugh Kitchin (Herbert’s brother) to a woman named Daisy (I haven’t been able to find her in the family tree.)  It was written in November 1944 and a note said it was written 2 months before Hugh died, but based on the records I found, that’s a few months off.  The letter itself, though is beautiful.

I was particularly interested in an excerpt that mentions the sketchbooks.  “Last year too Herbert sent me the illustrated diaries – 4 or 5 of them, which he made each year when we made holiday on the Broads.  They are full of lovely little pictures and details of our days, and brought back to mind most-vividly the happy carefree time we three brothers spent together.  As one grows older one’s thoughts go more & more to the past and it becomes more & more difficult to view with a tolerant eye the extreme restlessness of the modern generation which can’t bear to sit quietly at home.  It craves constant excitement.”  When I first read that, unexplainable tears welled up in my eyes.

And this letter was written in 1944, during WWII.  It makes me wonder what Hugh would think of Gen X or Millenials.

George Herbert Kitchin Family letters and albums | miss mustard seed

As I shared at the beginning of this post, Brooke Foss Westcott said, “Great thoughts go best with common duties. Whatever therefore may be your office regard it as a fragment in an immeasurable ministry of love.”

One of my offices, quite accidentally, is now a hobby historian.  Perhaps a keeper of old things, obscure stories, and misplaced art is a better title.  Whatever the title of the office, I view it as an honor and a labor of love.  Or, as Our Other Man put it more eloquently, “as a fragment in an immeasurable ministry of love.”

27 Comments

  1. Monica in Littlestown

    What a treasure trove! The next time I’m at an antique mall, I’m going to look for old postcards of buildings to practice drawing!

    Reply
    • Alice

      I’ve been following you from the beginning, Marion, and I know where your wonderings always lead…to success.
      It wouldn’t surprise me that one day you tell us you’ve written an historical novel set in England and it will be a treat for all.

      Reply
  2. Teddee Grace

    This is turning out to be nothing short of amazing! Good luck with the book. I think these people are reaching out from the past to you.

    Reply
    • Rebecca

      I LOVE Julia and her shop, Ponder & Purchase. I recently lost my husband and who was born and raised in England. She helped me find all sorts of things that remind me of him and the trips we took to Britain. She’s a jewel and you’re right, she has the most amazing knack for finding treasures!! 💕

      Reply
      • Louise

        Very interesting

        Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      Both Julia and I sort of feel that way…like she was meant to find these things and they were meant to go to me. I do take it seriously and want to tell their stories as best as I can.

      Reply
    • Rita

      As one grows older one’s thoughts go more & more to the past . . . Wow how true that is. I think as we grow older we do conjure up memories of yesterday and appreciate history a little more. What a fabulous discovery you and Julia have made. When I was in high school and college, I loved to draw. All of these recent stories make me want to dust off the old pencils and see what I can do after all these years. Thank you for sharing these wonderful posts.

      Reply
  3. Diane

    I love everything about this, but I especially love the letter from Hugh to Daisy. Letter writing is a lost art. Looking forward to seeing where you go with all of this!

    Reply
  4. phyllis

    How nice it is to have a personal shopper friend who is so attuned to your interests. I love all of your new treasures and can relate to the handwriting style as it is very similar to some save letters and cards from our relatives in England. I find the ink penned style of the letters and cards to be artistic gems themselves. Those illustrations and photos are my favorites in your new stash. Thank you for sharing them.

    Reply
  5. jeannie dugan

    So very interesting! My maiden name is Westcott and we have a genealogy book that goes back to the late 1500’s and to the first Westcott in America. Stukely Westcott, who arrived in the early 1600’s and who helped to settle Rhode Island with Roger Williams. Maybe we are related!

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      Well, let me know if you find a connection! That would be pretty cool!

      Reply
  6. Ellen Shook

    I am so loving these posts! One of my fields of study is British History, and I am a dedicated Anglophile. My ancestry is English, and I fell in love with England itself the first time I visited. I hope to be able to go back and stay awhile. These posts are just so interesting and intriguing. I will look forward to them.

    Reply
  7. Roberta Cordell

    Such a treasure…I look forward to reading more and seeing some of your drawings of these beautiful old homes. Thanks for sharing with us!

    Reply
  8. Lola

    This post has been THE best! I have so enjoyed reading every word! I am such a history buff and loved the pictures and letters. The connection between the families is just amazing! Somehow you were meant to stumble upon them in your lifetime.

    Reply
  9. Maureen

    Daisy can often be a nick name for Margaret or Marguerite which is French for Daisy! Hope that helps!

    Reply
  10. Susan Phelps

    You are just the right person to be entrusted with this archive. You have a soul that connects to the past. You have the curiosity to put the pieces of the puzzle back together! You will breathe life back into their stories. History is, after all, the story of people not so different from us.
    I know you will enjoy the process and we will enjoy being taken along on the journey of discovery!

    Reply
    • Terry

      Susan I could not have said it better or more thoroughly. Agree 100%

      Reply
    • Kristine

      Susan – you put my my thoughts and feelings into words. I had chills (and a few tears) reading this about this amazing journey.

      Reply
  11. Jenn Anderson

    This is so fascinating! Thanks for sharing it with us! It does seem like the perfect kind of project for you!

    Reply
  12. Mary Reynolds

    Greetings from Salem, VA!

    Of all your many undertakings, this has to be my favorite of favorites! It has it all: art, letterwriting, history, architecture, biography, and genealogy! You will do justice to every aspect of this fascinating project and develop it into something fabulous! Is it possible that your talents and skills were honed by everything else for this “labor of love” that you have found? Very excited for you — and for the rest us who find pleasure in your work!

    Please keep us posted. Thanks!

    Reply
  13. Sue M

    Oh my…what an incredible find! I love the history and think you will treasure everything and use it to enhance your creativity even more!

    Reply
  14. Debbie

    This story gets better and better. The connections you’ve made amaze me. And the adventure continues.

    Reply
  15. monique odman

    How sharp is the old portrait of Wescott, as well as his eyes. I find his head rather large on top of such narrow shoulders, small hands and body.
    I wonder how you find the time to do your detective work? I guess it is so exciting that you get wrapped up in the search. I have that curiosity myself, I tried to puzzle together stories of the family that occupied our house in France. They left several carboard boxes in the attic, with old letters, postcards, drawings, school books and religious images. Lots of people do not understand why I bother. I LOVE it!
    In this GREAT post of yours, you show some envelops, I noticed ‘ Lettre de Catherine née ( born) de Clermont-Tonnerre! A very known ancient French noble family dating back to the Middle-Ages, it has many branches, several chateaux. How did she know Kitchin?
    And the envelop that covers it dates from 1937, written to Kitchin too? What does it say?
    On it: Souvenir de la Cathédrale du Sacré-Coeur de Bruges-Belgique! What mystery this is for me, will you tell us more about this correspondence please, please?

    Merci.

    Merci.

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      Wow, I haven’t read that letter, yet, but I will check it out and keep everyone posted!

      Reply
  16. Robin Taylor

    I am loving this new “office” of yours! Looking forward to future posts and purchasing whatever book that comes from this trove! Happy researching!

    Reply
  17. Judy

    Dear precious Marion, I cannot imagine how you are able to do all of the things you do!! I’m amazed, and you are a phenomenal lady!!! You have invited all of us to join you in your adventures in learning new skills and sliding through the rabbit holes of new discoveries. Your life is a wonderful and great adventure. Your boys are indeed fortunate to be living in a home of such diverse interests and talents. Thank you sooo much for letting me hang on to your coat tail as you discover such lovely new paths on which to wander.

    Reply
  18. Kim

    SO interesting and wonderful! I’ll be looking forward to hearing more as you figure this out.

    Reply

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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…

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