In her lifetime, the enigmatic Mahlah Homer was variously described as a nail maker, singer of high repute, lady of the manor and patron of the living. This is what we know of her life.
This is an account of two families, the Scotts of Stourbridge and the Homers of Cradley, who came together in the marriage in 1863 of the educated and wealthy gentleman John Charles Addyes Scott (29 Dec. 1830 - 15 Jan. 1888), already Lord of the Manor of Ratlinghope in Shropshire, and the Colley Gate nail maker Mahlah Homer (19 Feb. 1834 - 4 June 1907). However, well before this event at least two members of the Scott family, both brothers of John's grandfather, John Scott, had already connected with the lives and times of Cradley people.
The Scotts of Stourbridge
The Scott family of Stourbridge was descended from the Scotts of Chaddesley Corbett, whose christenings are recorded in the Parish Register there from as early as 1 January 1542. In 1667 John Scott, a yeoman, moved from Chaddesley to Stourbridge where he engaged in the woollen cloth trade. His son and grandson, both named William Scott, followed in their respective father's footsteps.
The younger of these two William Scotts was an original trustee of the dissenting congregation in Stourbridge. Dissenters wished to see the Church of England reformed of "Popish" practices, such as kneeling to receive communion and the use of the ring at marriage. They objected to ministers wearing the surplice and square cap, which they associated with Catholics who had been responsible for burning Protestants at the stake not so long before. In 1662 their objections within the Church were outlawed by the Act of Uniformity, whereby the state required consent to all the practices prescribed in the 1559 Prayer Book. Many hundreds of clergymen were ejected from the Church and became dissenting ministers.
The younger William Scott and his wife Elizabeth had three children: William, Mary and John, all christened at St. Mary's Parish Church, Old Swinford between 1698 and 1705. The eldest child William (christened 1 Aug. 1698, buried 19 Mar. 1766) leased the Stourbridge Town Mill in 1734 and converted it into a fulling mill. He married Joanna Hunt, daughter of William Hunt of Birmingham, at Saint Phillips in Birmingham on 7 December 1720, and their four children were John, Joannah, Sarah and William. John married Elizabeth Kettle, the daughter of William Kettle of Evesham, and three of their four children, William, John and James, survived infancy (the first James Scott having died in 1766 aged 1 year and 8 months). All three sons became Presbyterian dissenters.
Early Scott Connections with Cradley
The eldest of these three sons, William Scott (1760 - 5 Dec. 1834) was one of the original Town Commissioners of Stourbridge, and in 1823 he took control and more or less ran the Commission until his death. However, he is perhaps better remembered for being the author of the book "Stourbridge and its Vicinity", published in 1832.
This book long ago acquired the status of a standard reference work, and it includes a valuable description of Cradley. The work is described by Scott himself as "containing Observations on the Midland, Mining, and Manufacturing District of England, comprising parts of the vicinities of Warwick, Stafford, Worcester and Salop ... and other parts of the vicinity of Stourbridge, not entirely within the limit of the mining tract." Its scope embraces topography, geology, mineralogy, botany, history, population, personal descriptions, places of worship, day and sunday schools, etc.
Chapter V on "Halesowen in the counties of Salop and Worcester" includes its survey of Cradley (see "Stourbridge and its Vicinity" on this site).
Here William Scott traces the descent of Cradley manor, a significant date being 1564 when together with Oldswinford, Hagley and Clent, Cradley manor was sold to Sir John Lyttleton of Frankley, whose family, long seated at Hagley Hall, became one of the principal land owning families in Worcestershire.
James Scott (1 Mar. 1768 - 19 Dec 1827), the youngest son of John and Elzabeth, represented the second and historically perhaps the most important connection of the Scott family with the township of Cradley. He studied at the Dissenter's Academy in Daventry before accepting an invitation in 1789 to serve as Presbyterian minister at Park Lane, Netherend, Cradley. Scott's work in Cradley is discussed more fully elsewhere in Cradley Links (see Park Lane Unitarian Chapel).
James Scott was also instrumental in holding the first meeting of a "Religious Discussion Society" in 1790 at the Lye Waste, a rapidly growing settlement of nail makers living in mud houses between Cradley and Stourbridge.
The first meeting was held in one of The Lye's fifty or so ale-houses, and James Scott went on to conduct many services in private houses on the Waste and established a Sunday School there. These meetings were subject to opposition and discouragement from the established Church, and services were frequently interrupted by disruption and violence.
James Scott was devoted to his Ministry and lecturing at Stourbridge, Lye and Cradley, and to his theological and historical writings, until his death in 1827. He lived and worked in radical circles, counting amongst his friends Dr. Joseph Priestley, a Dissenting minister, Republican, scientist and a member of the renowned Lunar Society, who famously first isolated oxygen. When leading Protestant Dissenters commemorated the anniversary of the French Revolution of two years before at a dinner held in Birmingham in 1791, Scott and other dissenters in Cradley feared that the orchestrated pro-Royalist riots in Birmingham might spread to Cradley. The home, laboratory and library of Dr. Priestley was attacked and burnt down in these riots, after which Priestley left England for America where he died 10 years later, never having returned (see Peter Barnsley's article, Cradley's Forgotten Connections). When the present Unitarian Chapel in Lye was built in 1861 (now unused), the clock and clock tower were dedicated to James Scott, who by that time was remembered locally as "The Apostle of Lye Waste".
An addendum to his own Memoir (published posthumously in 1829) describes James Scott's fatal illness between 16 and 19 December 1827, the removal of his remains to Stourbridge, and his burial at Stourbridge Presbyterian Chapel on 26 December. The Chapel, its burial ground and the surrounding streets were filled with mourners. In his book "Stourbridge and its Vicinity", William Scott records that his brother James bequeathed £200 to a school for girls which he established, £100 to the Presbyterian Sunday Schools, and £5 each to the Wesleyan and Baptist Sunday Schools.
The Scott Trust and Charity School
The uncle of these dissenting brothers, William Scott (1721 - 20 Dec. 1792), had married Ann Tonckes (1731 - 8 Jan 1813) the daughter of the Reverend John Tonckes of Birmingham, and they lived at Birmingham and Barr after 1786.
William and Ann had no children of their own. However, by this time the Scotts of Stourbridge also resided in Barr Hall, Great Barr (hence the name Scott Arms in that locality) and were amassing money from their wide-ranging business interests. William was a Benefactor who bequeathed in trust to his three nephews, and also to three other prominent religious dissenters, a share in the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal Navigation. The income from this Trust was to be applied to charitable purposes within the town of Stourbridge, particularly to boarding, clothing and educating poor children.
Upon his death in December 1792, William's trustees began to distribute alms within the terms of his Will. In 1794 they began to provide the means of instruction for a number of poor children who were to be taught to read and learn about the principles of the Christian religion. The same William Scott's widow, Ann, died at the age of 82 in 1813, and she left two more shares in the Canal Company to be applied in the same terms as her late husband's Will. In 1816 this additional income enabled the trustees to found a school for boys in 1816 in Wollaston Road. A small chapel on the site later became a girls school, and later still an infants department was added. This was Scott's Charity School, which flourished for about a century, and whose first master in 1816 was Michael Beasley, a prominent teacher for some time already and a member of the Stourbridge Unitarian congregation.
Another benefactor of the Scott School was Robert Wellbeloved (15 July 1803 - 21 Feb. 1856), son of the Reverend Charles Wellbeloved of York and a barrister-at-law in Stourbridge. In 1830 he married Sarah Scott (10 June 1800 - 21 Mar. 1874), the only daughter and heiress to the family estates of John Scott (1764 - 3 Jan. 1832), brother of William and James, who lived at Great Barr with his wife Sarah and daughter. This third brother became a Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant and High Sheriff of Worcestershire and on the death of his uncle William Scott he inherited considerable property in Stourbridge and Great Barr.
Wellbeloved assumed by Royal Licence the surname Scott on his marriage to Sarah, and when his father-in-law died two years later he became a very wealthy man. He sat as Liberal M.P. for Walsall from 1841 to 1847, and became Deputy Lieutenant and High Sheriff of Staffordshire, with residences at the Red House, Great Barr; Cambridge Gate, Regents Park, London; and High Street, Stourbridge.
In 1845 Robert Scott purchased the manor and estates of Ratlinghope (pronounced "Ratchup" in the local dialect), between the remote hills of the Long Mynd and the Stipperstones in Shropshire, with land at neighbouring Norbury and Wentnor. He and his wife had one son, John Charles Addyes Scott and three daughters. Robert Scott died in 1856 and his only son then became Lord of the Manor of Ratlinghope, at the age of 25. He also had a villa in Naples, Italy, where he often stayed.
Scott and Homer
John Charles Addyes Scott M.A., J.P., Fellow of University College, London, counted amongst his business interests being a merchant dealing in nails and chains. In the middle of the nineteeneth century, nail making was still the main industry in Cradley, carried on by 38% of male workers and 86% of women workers in 1851. Machine made nails were already taking their toll on the trade, with workers transferring their skills and hearths to chain making, but it survived longer in Cradley than elsewhere because of the local specialisation in horse nails, which required a better quality than that achieved by the new machines.
This business often brought Scott to Cradley and one day he was walking down Furlong Lane when he heard a young woman singing. He found that she was making nails in the family nail shop as she sang. The story has it that he fell in love with her beautiful voice, and soon after fell in love with her.
Mahlah Homer's nail making family had been in Cradley for at least a century, and other Homers, related or not, are known to have worked there in similar trades since as long ago as 1544.
We have traced Mahlah, also known sometimes as Amelia, back through her parents Jesse and Hannah who married in Halesowen on 30 June 1820; to Jesse's parents Jason and Nancy, and Hannah's parents Barnabas and Hannah; to William and Hannah Homer (the grandparents of both Jesse and Hannah, for they were cousins), who married in Kingswinford, a neighbouring parish to Cradley, in about 1755; and to William's parents Richard and Elizabeth, also of Kingswinford.
The Old Swinford Parish Register records the christening of Mahlah Homer, daughter of Jesse and Ann (Hannah), on 7 May 1837, although according to the inscription on her grave she was born on 19 February 1834. In the Census of 6 June 1841, Mahlah was listed in the household of her parents Jesse and Hannah Homer in Colley Gate, Cradley, with nine brothers and sisters. Jesse, Hannah and the eldest son Thomas were all nailors.
In the Census on 30 March 1851, the family were living in Edward's Row, High Town, Cradley. Jesse and Hannah now had another daughter, Elizabeth, 9 years old, while the eldest son Thomas lived two doors away in Cradley High Street, with his wife Eliza and three young children. Jesse and Thomas were both nail makers, as were all of Jesse's children except Mahlah and the young Elizabeth. On 1 July 1863 Mahlah Homer married John Charles Addyes Scott at King's Norton. Thus, she finally left behind nail making to become Mrs. Addyes Scott, Lady of the Manor of Ratlinghope.
Mahlah moved from one world to another, and quickly learned to adapt to her new social circle, yet never forgetting or breaking her family ties with Cradley. She made frequent visits back home, usually arriving by horse and carriage, and leaving money to buy sweets for the local children.
She often came to spend time with her nephew Harry, whose singing voice she believed held great promise. Harry was born in 1864, just six months after Mahlah's marriage to John Scott, and his parents Cornelius and Leah gave him the full name of Harry Scott Homer. He was the first of three generations of Homers to be so named. Harry Scott Homer was born in the same year as Mahlah and John Scott's only child, James Robert, and Mahlah proposed to adopt him, so that he would be a companion for her own son. The adoption did not happen but Harry did spend a lot of time with his cousin. Later in life Harry Scott Homer had a house built in Alma Street, Cradley, together with workshops from which in 1899 he began an engineering company that traded at home and abroad. It has been suggested that his aunt Mahlah may have set him up in this business. Later still, Harry and his wife Mary Elizabeth named their youngest son Harry Scott Ralphonse Homer, perhaps a reminder of the time that his aunt Mahlah took him to Naples as a young man.
Mahlah Homer must have been an exceptional woman to cope with the new role in life which her marriage required of her. She seems to have managed well. She was strong-minded and generous, and there are stories of her being eccentric, excitable and temperamental, she and her husband sharing a sometimes stormy life together. One story describes how she once fired a gun at her husband, inside the manor house, and says that there are bullet holes in a door that are testimony to the tale. Another such story is that she would have have the stairs of the house highly polished in order to hasten her husband's demise.
John Charles Addyes Scott died in Naples on 15 January 1888, at the age of 58, a sudden death from apoplexy. The Stourbridge County Express newspaper, on 28 January 1888 announced his death in the obituary column and carried a euology devoted to his literary and artistic achievements. Apparently, while resident in Stourbridge he conducted evening classes and lectured at the Union Hall on educational subjects. Moreover, he was a voluminous writer whose diverse contibutions to the County Express alone "would fill a portly volume". His articles on "Sketching from Nature", "University Extension" and "Greek Plays at Cambridge" were evidence of "his cultured taste and scholarly attainments". In the field of poetry: "He succeeded at the ten-syllable couplet, and even occasionally essayed hexameter verse - a form of metrical composition so difficult that Longfellow is perhaps the only English-writing poet that ever came out of the ordeal with lyrical honours." The County Express writer concluded by saying that the news of his death will be received with regret by a large circle of friends and acquaintances in Stourbridge and the district, but omitted to offer condolences to his widow.
The following week the County published a letter from one of Addyes Scott's lifelong friends, Alfred Freer, who commented on how his friend's prolonged absences from his native town had contributed to his great attainments and erudition being unknown beyond a limited circle. He added much in the way of personal description of Scott, saying that: "His genial manner and powers of conversation, his knowledge of books, his genuine love of poetry and of pictures, his cheerfulness, all made him a delightful companion." Freer went on to explain that a service was held in Scott's own drawing room in Naples on the day after he died, attended by the Vice-Consul and about a dozen gentlemen. His body was embalmed in the cemetery mortuary. Once again, there is no mention of his widow in these proceedings.
Scott was buried in the Protestant cemetery in Naples, according to the monumental inscription to him in the Presbyterian (Unitarian) Church in Lower High Street, Stourbridge. So many members of the Scott family are remembered by gravestones and wall-mounted tablets in and around this Church that it is known locally as "the Scott chapel". Yet again, Scott's widow is not referred to in the inscription, although his son is named.
Notwithstanding the apparent invisibility of Mahlah to her husband's family and friends, she spent a lot of time playing the role of lady of the manor - "patron of the living" as she is remembered in an engraved stone tablet on the outside of the west wall of the Ratlinghope parish church of St. Margaret's.
She continued the Scott family tradition of charitable works and donations. In 1870, Mahlah had built a new school house at Norbury, near Ratlinghope. She gained great pleasure from her visits to the school afterwards, and a photograph on Treat Day on 5 September 1899 shows her sitting outside the building in the midst of a hundred or more of her tenants and their children, clearly enjoying herself.
Today this school continues, as Norbury County Primary.
Sixty years after her late husband's father paid for the insertion of a double iron-framed window in the south-west corner of the nave of St. Margaret's, in 1904-05 Mahlah Addyes Scott undertook a major restoration of the church, in memory of her husband's family and also her own parents.
All the existing windows were replaced, and two additional ones were provided in the south wall, all in neo-Gothic style. The three-light east window is a memorial to her father-in-law Robert Scott, his wife Sarah, and their son, Mahlah's late husband. The window in the south wall of the chancel is in memory of the Scotts' two daughters, her husband's sisters, Mary Laetitia and Elizabeth Ann (Annie), and one in the south wall of the nave is dedicated to Mahlah's parents and her brothers and sisters, the inscription reading:
Sacred. In affectionate memory of Jesse Homer of Birfield Wors who died AD 1886 and Hannah his wife who died AD 1878 and of their children. This window is placed by their daughter Mahlah Addyes-Scott Oct AD 1905.
The reference to "Birfield Wors" is almost certainly to Burfield Cottages and/or Burfield Road, a little street running along the side of the Talbot Hotel, now renamed the Chain Maker, in Colley Gate, Cradley, Worcestershire, where the Homers may have lived for a time.
Mahlah's last days
After her husband's death in 1888, Mahlah spent much of her time at their London home in Cambridge Gate, Regents Park. This is the home address she gave when she booked into the Hotel Metropole in Bournemouth in April 1907.
On the afternoon of Sunday 2 June 1907, she ordered her coachman with the carriage at three o'clock to go for a drive with two lady friends down Bath Hill. The coachman had worked for her for four years, and had driven her out every day, suffering her eccentricities as he drove. Apparently Mahlah was in the habit of shouting orders about direction as they went along, and would have her own way. In any case, her deafness prevented her hearing any protests that the driver might have dared to make.
On this day, about sixty yards down the steep part of the hill, the off-side horse stumbled and fell, pulling the driver off the box. He fell on the back of the horse that was down, and the carriage passed over him, but he was not seriously hurt. However, Mahlah opened the carriage door, stood on the step, and deliberately jumped out, pushing aside one of her friends who attempted to prevent her from jumping. The carriage door caught her on the back of her head, according to two witnesses of the event, and she ended up a further sixty yards down the hill. The carriage carried on out of control and disappeared round the corner of the road, taking Mahlah's two companions with it. It was eventually stopped by passers by.
Meanwhile, Mahlah was taken into the Royal Bath Hotel near to where the accident happened, and her doctor was called. The doctor found her in an excited state, and bleeding from a wound on the left side of the head. She was able to walk with assistance to her bed, but she gradually went into a comatose condition that deepened, and she remained in that state until the time of her death, two days later. Her death was attributed to a fracture of the skull and the following day an inquest jury returned a verdict of "Accidental Death".
Mahlah is buried alone in a very modest grave in St. Margaret's churchyard, Ratlinghope, with no headstone but just a simple inscription around the perimeter of the low brick structure. Her son James Robert and his widow Kate are buried a few yards away in an altogether grander grave with a stone cross. It appears that Mahler was shunned by her family at the end of her life. Or perhaps it was her wish that she be buried in this way.
Not quite The End
But the story of Lady Scott does not end here. She and John Addyes Scott had one child, James Robert (31 Oct 1864 - 28 Mar. 1912), living at the time of her death in Cliftonville, Kent.
He assumed that as the only next of kin and in the apparent absence of a Will, he would be the sole beneficiary. On 12 July 1907 Letters of Administration were granted to him, the value of the estate being £9,169 16s 8d gross, and the net value of the personal estate being £8,808 12s 3d. However, Mahlah had left a Will, made on 17 December 1889, and the beneficiary was not her son but her sister Elizabeth, wife of Neri Wooldridge of Wribbenhall, Worcs. (plus a small legacy of £100 to her friend and the other executor of the Will, Thomas Clifford). The Letters of Administration were revoked by Order dated 20 July 1907, and the Will was duly proved and registered on 31 July 1907.
We presume that her son was not well pleased with this outcome. Nevetheless, when he died less than five years later he left an estate of some £65,000 to his widow Kate Castelli, who later committed suicide.
A final twist in the tale is that over twenty years later the Daily Mirror newspaper published a picture of the disinherited James Robert Scott, with a caption saying "Years ago this man died. But to-day, for the first time, the world hears of his honesty and nobility. For on this page his son writes the obituary he deserved!"
The photograph is accompanied by a letter from his son, Reginald Addyes Scott, which reads:
My father was an only child. In 1888 he married a ward in Chancery. In a few months she died, leaving a fortune of £24,000 to my father. Her relations were in straitened circumstances, so he handed over half to them.
In 1890 he married again, and on June 4, 1907 his mother, whilst staying at Bournemouth, was thrown out of her carriage and killed. She left a fortune of over £100,000. No will could be found, and my father succeeded to everything.
We had been about six months in my grandmother's house in Regent's Park. One evening he was sorting out some papers in one of those small portable writing desks.
In it was a large envelope marked 'Will'. He opened it and saw everything was left to another person!
He was alone - a fire was burning in the grate - it was so easy!
But no, he went next morning straight to his solicitors and handed the will over.
Such was my father!
This belated obituary to the son of Lady Mahlah Scott raises several interesting questions.
The first is why was it only published some 22 years after the death of James Robert Scott? Perhaps Reginald had only just heard of the story, but this seems unlikely.
A second question is why the discrepancy between the claimed fortune of over £100,000, when both the Will and the Letters of Administration agree that the gross value of the Estate was less than one-tenth of this sum?
And thirdly, why does Reginald seem to say that it was six months after his father succeeded to his mother's fortune that he found the envelope marked 'Will', when in fact the Will was proven and registered only nineteen days after the initial Letters of Administration were granted in his favour?
We may surmise that James Robert had made known some dislike or other of his mother, or that Mahlah disapproved of one or other of her son's marriages, or that some other family dispute intervened in the inheritance process. Perhaps Mahlah simply thought that her sister needed the money more than her son did.
We shall probably never know what happened between Mahlah and her son, any more than we shall discover the reason for the stony silence about her when her husband died, or why she was buried in what is little better than a pauper's grave. Unless, that is, there is someone out there who knows some answers to our questions.
Finally, we turn to singing. It was Mahlah's singing voice that first turned the head of John Charles Addyes Scott. It was the singing voice of her nephew Harry Scott Homer that Mahlah thought was worth cultivating so much so that she took him to Italy to improve it. There is a story that Mahlah went to London and trained as an opera singer, paid for by her husband. And there is another story that she once sang at La Scala in Milan. Her funeral report in the County Express tells us that she will be remembered well by the residents of Stourbridge as a local singer of high repute. However, we have not yet turned up any real evidence of her singing career. Where did she sing? What songs did she sing? How good was she? What became of her career?
The Homer surname
There are many and varied suggestions about the origin of the Homer surname. One is that it is an Old English name for the permanent resident on a small island; sometimes the island referred to might be only a piece of land partially surrounded by a stream or even be only a spot of dry land in a marsh.
A variant of the name originating in Hampshire is Holmer, and may mean something to do with coming from a marshy place.
Another suggestion is that the name Homer may have come from the Scottish Clan Home, or is a branch of Clan Home as is Homme, Hame etc. The International Genealogical Index records the birth of a female with the surname Omer in Kent in 1539.
However, there have been people named Homer as far away and as far apart as Switzerland, Denmark, Norway and Poland since at least the seventeenth century, and versions of the name appear in different forms in France, England, Holland and Germany, and possibly other places as well.
And there is the ancient Greek poet Homer, who is believed to have sung ten epic poems about the Trojan War, of which only two, the Iliad and the Odyssey, survived (although the Greeks seem to have known them).
Other than Greece, the most ancient form of the name may be "de Homere", a name that supposedly came from France to England with the Emperor Charlemagne.
It seems likely that Homers may have derived their surname from several diverse sources, both places and occupations. A family from Austria has an old family bible in German and the original name in the Bible is Homer which is registered in the birth section as Hammer. So the Hammers could have very well been Homers and changed name, or perhaps the names were interchangeable, merely two different spellings.
Finally, there is the suggestion that the name Homer comes from the Norman (old French) name Halmer and means helmet maker. Perhaps the connection is with the action of fashioning the metal by hammering. This origin seems most to accord most closely with the traditional "metal-bashing" iron industries of the Black Country area, and the skills of nail and chain making by hand. In fact, two of the districts of Cradley, Overend and Netherend - the upper end and lower end of the village - are on either side of Homer Hill. It is believed that the Hill was named after John and Thomas Halmer, who are known to have been blacksmiths in Cradley in 1544.
This article, written by Nigel Brown in March 2002, is dedicated to Eliza Jane Elvins (late Raybould, formerly Homer), great grand niece of Mahlah, and great aunt of the author.
Jenny died on 25 November 2002 after a short illness and a very long life. She lived all but the last few months of her life in Cradley within a few hundred yards of where she was was born in 1909.
The author wishes to thank the following members of the Homer family for information, stories and other help in bringing Mahlah to life: Eliza Jane Elvins (formerly Homer), Mary Mann, Harry Scott Homer, Claire Foxall (formerly Homer), Ralph Homer and Thelma Myatt. Also, thanks to Joyce Pinnock, author of "A Place in the Sun, An Historical Study of Norbury Village and Parish", and Lorna Roberts at the Shropshire Records and Research Service.
A letter in The Black Country Bugle by Wilfred Williams in No. 133, April 1983 and an article by Mr. D.G.V. Cartwright in No. 162, September 1985.
Articles in The Blackcountryman by Jack Haden in Vol. 23 No. 4; David Radmore Vol. 24 No. 4; and Denis Brooks in Vol. 28 No. 2.
Articles in the County Express of 15 January 1888; 22 January 1888; and 22 June 1907.
Inquest report in the Bournemouth Echo of 5 June 1907.
Article in The Daily Mirror of Thursday, August 10, 1939.