Duxford Red Lion Inn 343

Richard Relhan Revealed: a guest post by Alexandra Saunders, John Pickles and Alison Taylor

Richard Relhan’s topographical drawings, with a date range of 1797-1838, are an expressive record of buildings and the countryside in a period immediately preceding immense change. They are generally accurate in detail and atmosphere and are therefore invaluable for the modern historian, and they also have an appealing charm. The drawings can be seen in Cambridge Digital Library, alongside photographs of the locations taken (largely) in 2020. This blog post provides additional background information on Richard Relhan and the recent history of his drawings plus acknowledgements and an extensive bibliography. A huge debt of gratitude must be paid to the Cambridgeshire Antiquarian Society for providing the funds for the digitization of the drawings and to Alison Taylor and her colleagues for their work in describing the sites and taking the modern photographs, a monumental undertaking. The original views are bound into three large volumes and are kept in the Map Department of Cambridge University Library at classmark Views.Relhan.1-3

Richard Relhan, Cambridge Apothecary and Artist

Alexandra Saunders

Richard Anthony Relhan (1782-1844) was a Cambridge apothecary and gifted amateur artist of Cambridgeshire houses, churches, antiquities, village landscapes and local heraldry, but there are few known details of his life, and his father and grandfather are much better documented. Of his artistic endeavours we have only the internal evidence from this Collection.

Relhan was baptised 15 May 1782 at Holy Sepulchre church Cambridge, second child and first son of Revd Richard and Maria Relhan. The Revd Richard Relhan (1754-1823) was born in Dublin, the only son of Anthony Relhan MD (1715-1776) and Sarah Breholt. Anthony moved to England and had a profitable practice in Brighton and London, and his only son Richard was a Scholar at Westminster School and Pensioner of Trinity College Cambridge, who graduated 1776, the year his father died leaving him £200, books, clothes and linen. He was curate in New Romney, Kent before returning to Cambridge to marry Maria Day, daughter of leading Cambridge attorney James Day, who held various town offices including coroner and Clerk of the Peace for Cambridgeshire. Ordained priest 1779, he was Chaplain of King’s College 1781-1796, supplementing his income by teaching. He became a noted botanist and published Flora Cantabrigiensis in 1785. Supplements and two revised editions followed, the last in 1820. From 1791 he was Rector of St Margaret’s, Hemingby, Lincs, a King’s College living, but was living in Downing Terrace Cambridge around 1822. His first child, Maria,1781, died young and was followed by at least ten more children, six of whom survived into adulthood: Richard the artist, John Henry (c.1789-1838), Mary Elizabeth (c.1790-1869, who married Revd William Pulling of Sidney Sussex College), Sarah Breholt (1792-1861), Charlotte (1794-1852) and Charles (1796-1857). Sarah and Charlotte remained single and lived their long lives in Cambridge. Charles was baptised at St Mary’s, Horncastle, Lincs, when the family were at the Rectory at Hemingby. Another son (Anthony or William) went to sea as a youth, but died in a tragedy at Pilau (Baltiysk) in Prussia. We do not know if the children went to school in Cambridge or further afield, or were taught at home. None went to university or had scholarly careers, but had skills in music and drawing, and Richard the artist’s Latin seems good. The family suffered poverty at times and Revd Relhan had financial difficulties (possibly he invested too much in publishing a 3rd edition of the Flora), receiving multiple payments from the Literary Fund and the Spencer chest of Corpus Christi College. The problems culminated in the sale ‘under an execution’ of the contents of the house in Downing Terrace in 1822, obviously a comfortable home, for goods sold included ‘modern furniture, books, harpsichord and effects’. He died 1823 and was buried at Trumpington. Maria lived until 1834, and was buried with him. Richard Relhan the artist was probably apprenticed to a Cambridge apothecary. In the medical hierarchy these were not highly regarded, but were the first resort in medical need for most people.

The first record of Relhan’s business is in Pigot’s Directory of Cambridgeshire 1830-31, and was in St Sepulchre’s Passage, Cambridge, one of three apothecaries who served a population of just over 14,000. By 1839 he had moved to St John’s Street and was among 12 chemists and druggists in the town. Clearly, he spent much time in summers drawing in Cambridgeshire villages.

The 1841 census shows Richard, his brother Charles and his wife Elizabeth all living in St John’s Street, probably above the shop. Charles was a violin teacher and Richard as an apothecary near large colleges could attract a numerous clientele. Other trades linked to the University flourished in this area, eg the successful topographical draughtsmen and printmakers Harraden and Son of 6 Kings Parade. In 1841-2 Relhan had building alterations carried out, either at St John’s or King Street, where he was living by 1843. He had difficulty paying his bill for this work and was summoned to appear at the Cambridge Borough Court of Pleas in February 1842, when James Thomas Parker claimed he was owed £19. This was eventually settled out of court, for £8. 9s. 4d. By 1843 Relhan was living in King Street, where he died 10 January 1844 from ‘debility’, aged 62, and was buried at Holy Trinity church on 17 January. His obituary in the Cambridge Chronicle and Journal was particularly fulsome: ‘to the very deep and lasting regret of his relatives and friends, to whom he was most justly dear for his amiability of heart, and professional skill.’ The notice made much of his being the son of the late Rector of Hemingby and author of the Flora. Nowhere has a single mention been found of his being a talented amateur artist.

The approach to Bartlow Hills, showing 3 Roman tumuli (Views.Relhan.22). This drawing shows a cart with 2 people on board, one a man in a blue coat who appears in several other drawings. This is likely to be Relhan’s father, Richard Relhan FRS, who was a botanist, author of Flora Cantabrigiensis 1785, and it seems they often travelled to villages together. This would usually be on foot but Bartlow, a significant botanical site, was about 14 miles from Cambridge and it looks as if they were able to travel here in a carrier cart

The Recent History of the Relhan Collection

John Pickles

Richard Relhan died in King Street Cambridge in 1844 and his drawings came into the possession of the Revd John James Smith (died 1883), antiquary and Fellow of Caius College, who gave them to Cambridge Antiquarian Society (CAS) of which he had been a founder member in 1839. In 1883 the Society gave all its collections, including books and artefacts, to the University of Cambridge to found a new ‘Museum of General and Local Archaeology’ in Little St Mary’s Lane (now the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Downing Street). In 1909 Gerald Montagu Benton, a Cambridge undergraduate, re-discovered the drawings and, much impressed by them, wrote a short note in The East Anglian magazine in an attempt to raise interest (below). By 1915 he had compiled, identified and catalogued the items in the manner we now have. He gave a lecture to CAS and exhibited the Collection in 1920 but it was not until 1934 that typed copies were made, with copies presented to Cambridge University Library and Cambridge Public Library.

The following year JH Bullock of Trinity College, a long-serving member of CAS Council, reported that TA Hawkins, member of CAS 1934-1940, had presented a small collection of coloured drawings to be added to those already in the Society’s Library. Hawkins’ brother, George Plume Hawkins, was a well-known Cambridge mayor, businessman and dignitary, who ‘next loves the collection of Cambridge prints (sic) of which he possesses a collection that, apart from those owned by colleges, is believed to be the finest in existence’ (Cambridge Independent Press 3/4/1931). It was presumably part of this collection that, following his brother’s death in 1934, TA Hawkins gave to CAS. Its items, now described as ‘inserted after 1935’ include some published drawings of antiquarian interest and a set of drawings that mostly appear to be by Richard Relhan but in a more relaxed style, perhaps reflecting his increasing age or changing fashion in the art world.

Following advice from CAS Librarian, JD Pickles, and its President, AP Baggs, it was decided in 1977 to transfer parts of the Society’s collections on deposit to other institutions where they could be kept in more appropriate conditions. The Relhan albums were transferred originally to the Fitzwilliam Museum but it was later felt that that they would be more accessible in Cambridge University Library. With permission of the University Librarian they were moved to the Map Room in the Library in 1988, and have remained there, where they have occasionally been consulted by architects and archaeologists and a few images have been published. In 2017 CAS received a generous bequest from our past President, Professor Mary Hesse, who died in 2016, and the Council of the Society agreed that that it would be appropriate to use the funds to digitise the Relhan drawings so that they could appear free to view on the website of Cambridge University Library. A meeting with the Digital Content Unit was arranged in the Map Room in February 2018 and fieldwork by Beth (EM) Davis and Alison Taylor began. Covid meant that travel and access were very restricted but, thanks to helpful owners, churchwardens and clergy Alison was able to safely visit churches and houses during the summer months and, with help from knowledgeable colleagues and the internet continued writing the texts and prepared it for online publication.

Montagu Benton wrote a short piece for The East Anglian (1909) to promote interest in the drawings ending ‘the attention of the Secretary of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society has been called to these drawings, and it is hoped an index of them will be printed in PCAS, thus making it available to the student. The Editor of The East Anglian followed Benton’s piece with ‘We are very glad to have our attention drawn to this valuable collection of drawings, so long out of sight and mind. Those who have of late years taken it upon themselves to describe those of the antiquities of the county as they existed well nigh a century ago, included in the three volumes (Churches, Monuments, Houses etc , etc) have omitted much that is of extreme interest through not having consulted this treasury of local art and archaeology. Haslingfield, Horseheath and several other parishes are particularly well illustrated.’

Alison Taylor adds: When I came to work in Cambridge as County Archaeologist in 1974 John Pickles showed me the treasures of the CAS Room, including drawers that contained the Relhan Collection. I was so impressed I was sure they should be published. Thanks to Mary Hesse’s bequest and the online capabilities of Cambridge University Library this has been achieved. We hope it is worth the wait.  

Barton. View of village from Comberton Hill (Views.Relhan.29) This view from the open fields to N of the village is a remarkable record of this quiet scene before the Enclosure Award of 1840

Acknowledgements

Alison Taylor

Grateful thanks are due to all those who gave information and guidance, and corrected mistakes, and I have tried to include them as personal comments (pers comm) in the texts, although there must be more I have missed. Deep thanks also go to collaborators, who contributed way beyond the pieces that appear under their name. These include Beth Davis (who was unable to continue travelling from Easton in Covid times but whose expertise in historic buildings was invaluable); John Pickles (who answered queries about obscure students and arcane aspects of CAS, as well as tracking the history of the Collection); Alexandra Saunders (who uncovered the family history of our unassuming artist and contributed many ideas about the drawings along the way); and Philip Saunders (for heraldic information, much local knowledge, spotting some terrible errors and, with John Pickles, for sorting out the Bibliography). The staff of Cambridgeshire Historic Environment Record were also very helpful.

Grateful thanks too go to kind and helpful churchwardens and clergy who opened their churches by appointment when that was permitted, and to owners of houses who welcomed me at a suitable distance outside their homes throughout the summer of 2020. I was able to visit and photograph many sites that way, and it was an added pleasure and very informative to meet and discuss the buildings with those who knew them best. Victoria County History, Royal Commission on Historical Monuments of England, many journals (including Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society), Venn, very old books, and other resources which are digitised and freely available online enabled me to do so much from home.

This project would not have been possible without the bequest from Professor Mary Hesse and the kind offices of Cambridge University Library (especially Huw Jones, Anne Taylor and Maciej Pawlikowski), who have made the whole collection available for all.

However, many visits to libraries and churches to check or re-photograph sites and answer questions that arose were not possible under current restrictions, so there will be more omissions I have not noticed. If you spot these please notify your observations in the Comments box, as Cambridge University Library has kindly agreed that we can make changes.

Gratitude also goes to those who gave me photographs, often taking them on my behalf. These are:

9 Abington Hall. TWI Ltd, Granta Park

13 Barnwell Abbey, carving of Archangel Michael. Jenny Oxley, Saffron Walden Museum

44 Bourn village; 54, 56 Bourn Hall ; 252 Longstowe Hall. Stephen Owen

55 Bourn staircase. Nicola Graver

90 Cambridge hearse cover. ©The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Reproduced with the kind permission of the University of Cambridge

146 Fen Ditton Manor. Michael Middleton

200 Haslingfield Hall. Lee Hughes

280 Rampton Manor House. Alison Dickens

336 Wisbech brass. Wisbech St Peter and St Paul church, thanks to Bridget Holmes

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  • It is worth remembering that all VCH (Victoria County History) and RCHME (Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England) volumes, ODNB (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography), Venn, Proceedings of Cambridge Antiquarian Society, and many other publications, especially the oldest books, are available online
  • William Cole’s manuscript history is held in the British Library and as microfiche in the Cambridgeshire Archives. A good selection from it has been published in Palmer WM 1932.
  • Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society is normally referred to as PCAS
  • ‘Lysons 1808’ throughout refers to the work of brothers Daniel and Samuel Lysons. Daniel, as a curate at Mortlake, was befriended by Horace Walpole of Strawberry Hill and thereafter spent most of his time on antiquarian interests. Samuel was called to the bar but was befriended by Joseph Banks and went down the same route. In 1800 the brothers made plans to visit, record and publish antiquities of every county in England and, with private wealth and excellent connections, made a good start. Working alphabetically, Cambridgeshire was published in Vol 2, but after Devonshire in 1822 Samuel, responsible for most of the drawing, died and Daniel gave up. Relhan knew their work well and was drawing at the same time, so it is possible that he was preparing original drawings to be finalised  by Samuel or the engraver. However, this is mentioned nowhere, even though specific credits are given on each engraving published. Of the small brasses drawn by Relhan but not published by Lysons, Barton (31) looks accurate, ready for engraving, and two at Girton (160, 161) are unfinished. None have the finesse of the engravings.
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Bartlow.-View-showing-the-3-tumuli-with-the-base-of-a-4th-tumulus-23.png
Bartlow. View showing the 3 tumuli with the base of a 4th tumulus (Views.Relhan.23) The man in the blue coat who appears in several other drawings is likely to be Relhan’s father, Richard Relhan FRS, who was a botanist and author of Flora Cantabrigiensis, 1785. It seems they often travelled to villages together

STOP PRESS!

See also the Drawing Cambridgeshire story written by Cambridge University Library Communications Office.

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