Friday, 7 February 2014

Bright and Miss Follett: a Topsham courtship

Richard Bright (from Medical Portrait Gallery)
Browsing for history of the Goat Walk yesterday, I ran into a Topsham connection I never knew: the courtship of Richard Bright and Eliza Follett.

Richard Bright (1789 – 1858) was an eminent physician and an early pioneer in the research of kidney disease (Bright's disease - a historical classification of nephritis - is named after him). There's a chapter on him in the 1838 Medical portrait gallery. Biographical memoirs of the most celebrated physicians, surgeons, etc., etc., who have contributed to the advancement of medical science: see Richard Bright, M.D. F.R.S. Bright was married twice. His first wife Martha Lyndon Babington, died of childbirth complications in 1823. A few years later he courted a childhood friend, Eliza Follett, sister of the lawyer and politician William Webb Follett, and they married on 27th July 1826 (ODNB).

Follett Lodge, Ferry Road, Topsham
 The Folletts being a Topsham family, a deal of Eliza's courtship with Richard took place around Topsham, and their walks are recorded in the 1983 biography by Bright's great-great niece.
It is at Easter 1826 that we hear, in a letter written to his father, all about his visit to the Folletts at Topsham.

'Passage' (or Follett Lodge as it is known today) had been the family home since the first Folletts, natives of Normandy, had come to England in Henry II's time. Eliza's father, Benjamin Follett, was a retired captain of the 15th Foot Regiment and carried on the old family business as ships' chandler and timber merchant. He had married an Irish girl, Ann Webb of Kinsale, and they had a family of six sons and two girls.

'Goat's Walk' seems to have been Bright's and Eliza's favourite spot; it is often mentioned in Eliza's love letters. It was a narrow path along the water's edge. At high tide a vast expanse of water stretched before them, while at low tide the tortuous channel of the Exe was winged with sea birds plummeting down on to cushions of sea-pink. Here they would watch the bare-legged winkle gatherers, dressed in striped skirts looped to the waist. Their wind-ravaged faces arrested Bright's interested attention, and Eliza soon discovered it was the same when they met gypsies, or talked to her father's men in the timber yard. Exploring with him was a wonderful experience. He was always stopping to pick a flower, to identify the sound coming from a bush or to scoop up the clay where the river Clyst met the solid wall of the old Bridge Inn. Walking along the road where the Romans had marched, he would always find some evidence of their existence and of their battles.
- Dr. Richard Bright, (1789-1858), Pamela Bright, Bodley Head, 1983.
I guess you had to be there. Anyhow, this does show that the Goat Walk's existence as a path - and it seems its name - pre-dates the anecdote connected with its early 20th century upgrade to concreted form.

A later biography of Bright adds:
The wedding took place in the old church of St Marguerite [sic] at Topsham in July 1826. As with his marriage to Martha we have no surviving details of the ceremony nor the honeymoon.
- Richard Bright, 1789-1858: physician in an age of revolution and reform, Diana Berry, Campbell Mackenzie, Hugh L'Etang, Royal Society of Medicine Services, 1992 
- Ray

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