The Twickenham Museum
People : Musicians

George Buckingham
Organ builder

An entry in the marriage registers for St Mary's Church Twickenham has invited some research.

On 17 August 1843 George Buckingham, described as an Organ Builder married Sarah Hannah Wurr, Spinster, at St Mary's Church in Twickenham. Sarah was stated to be the daughter of Stephen Wurr, a market gardener, and their joint place of residence was given as Pope's Villa.

George, baptised at the Old Church St Pancras on 20 July 1806 (though possibly born in 1797/8), was the son of Alexander Buckingham, the noted 'itinerant' organ builder, active during the second quarter of the 19th century. He followed in his father's profession, probably working with him, perhaps also somewhat itinerant.

The gardener's cottage across the road from Pope's Villa

It is an intriguing record because the new Pope's Villa, as it was called, had only just been built and occupied by Thomas Young, a tea merchant, to the designs of Henry Kendall Junior. It was on land previously owned by Baroness Howe (1762-1835) who had bought Pope's original Villa, demolished it in 1807/8, and built herself an extensive replacement just upstream. This was usually described as Lady Howe's Villa. In the Enclosure Award of 1818 the property was registered in the name of her second husband, Sir Wathen Waller (1769-1853) and he sold it shortly after her death. He also sold all the lands and property which the Howes had acquired as well as the Villa estate. These amounted to 187 acres, stretching to the west of Twickenham as far as Stanley Road.

Part of Lady Howe's villa was then demolished, leaving a section which, at about this time, was divided into two dwellings. They came to be known as River Deep and Ryan House. Pope's Grotto, open to the skies, sat between these properties and Thomas Young's new house.

Stephen Wurr (c1781-1858) was born in Flordon, Norfolk of a family which has been traced back to a Stephen Woorre or Whurre born in nearby Fritton in 1520/30. He had moved to Islington with his wife Elizabeth by 1808, where six children were baptised between that year and 1832. His occupation then was given as Clerk.

It seems unlikely that Stephen was actually living in Thomas Young's villa, but he might have been in the gardener's cottage across the road, built at this time also to the design of Henry Kendall Junior. This would have entitled him to give his address as Pope's Villa, but why George Buckingham made a similar claim is a small puzzle.

Radnor Lodge today

What is certain is that, by 1845, Wurr had become the tenant (to the new owner Mr Travers) of the property today known as Radnor Lodge. This property was described in the rating list that year as “House & Premises, kitchen garden, orchard field” and it was the only property in “Narrow Lane”, now Radnor Road. This small estate had been bought by Sir William Stanhope in 1761 as an extension of Pope's garden, to which it was connected by a tunnel grotto beneath the lane, known as Stanhope's Cave - a sort of umbilical cord. In 1843 it might still have been classed as a part of the Pope's Villa estate, and already occupied by Stephen Wurr. He was still there at the Census of 1851, with his wife, both aged 70 and a daughter Lydia whose age, given as 17, suggests that she might have been adopted: it would have been a very late birth for Sarah.

Alexander Buckingham

George's father, Alexander, had addresses in London but spent an itinerant life travelling the country building and repairing organs. A record of his work is contained in his Notebook, mentioned below and apparently compiled between 1823 and 1844. It describes about 180 organs in houses and churches around the country. Written inside the front cover of the Notebook are two addresses: 39 Frederick Place, Hampstead Road, London, and 65 White Lyon Street, Pentonville, London, which were presumably his home and/or business premises. In 1821 he gave his business address as 18 Tottenham Place, Tottenham Court Road. By this time he had worked as foreman, first to John Avery for 14 years and then to Mr Elliott for 12 years. He may have been born in Crediton, Devonshire although there is a description of him as “a Geordy”, suggesting Newcastle. He had probably died by 1856 when his business at White Lion Street was transferred to George.

It seems likely that, following their marriage, George and Sarah settled at the family home in north London. They had probably met here, and were certainly known to each other by 1836 because they were joint witnesses to the marriage of Stephen Wurr's son Stephen at St Pancras Church that year. By the 1871 Census they were living at 22a Freeling Street north of Kings Cross, between York Way and the Caledonian Road. George gave his occupation as piano tuner and living with them were their children, Elizabeth aged 26 and Alexander aged 19, both born in Clerkenwell.

further reading:

L S Barnard, Alexander Buckingham's Notebook, Articles in The Organ, 205-213 (1972-1975)
BIOS REPORTER, British Institute of Organ Studies, Vol.XXVII No.2, April 2004, p6

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