Aldbourne – by Francis Cunningham Batson (1858 – 1931)

Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society Collection (Wiltshire Museum, Devizes)

This watercolour by Frank Batson (1896) was purchased by the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society with the aid of the MGC and V&A Purchase Grant Fund.

In 1989 the Society acquired an 1890s painting of the church, ‘Evensong: Aldbourne’ by Frank Batson of Ramsbury, to record the work of R.G. Hurn who had recently retired as Treasurer, a print of which fronted the 1990 Christmas card.

Andrew Sewell – “Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, St Michael’s Church, Aldbourne (1994)

Parliament Piece … on one of his visits to Ramsbury Cromwell was said to have held a Parliament in the grounds adjacent to the house. It was from that that the owner in the 1920s … renamed it Parliament Piece as he could not stand its earlier name of the ‘Rookery’. Before he bought it, the house and Hilldrop had been owned for over two hundred years by the Batson family who took a prominent part in village life. Their wealth had been created in the slave trade and sugar plantations of Barbados in the 17th century.

Barbara Croucher “The Village in the Valley – A History of Ramsbury” (1986)

In the early 18th century, a Batson heiress and her husband, William Davies bought the property. Their eldest son, Thomas, died in 1759 without marrying, but had changed his surname to Batson. His brother, Edmond, changed his whole name to Thomas Batson. Edmond married Elizabeth, ‘one of the ancient family of Lascelles, of the County of York’. Edmond/Thomas and Elizabeth didn’t have children, so the property was passed through a succession of nephews (including the Meyrick family) until vested in Alfred Batson – who returned from Italy following the death of his father (also Alfred) – in 1856.

I wouldn’t have been able to navigate the Batson family without the assistance of Barbara Croucher’s fascinating writing, and the discovery of the fabulous new book (with amazing photos and illustrations) by Rowan Whimster, published in 2020 by the Friends of Holy Cross Church, Ramsbury.

There are memorials to the family in Holy Cross Church and churchyard. As and when I make it there for a look around, I’ll add photos to this account. Information from a register produced by Jane Handford is on the Ramsbury web page of findagrave.com. This is searchable by name or surname.

In the 1851 census Alfred and Mary Elizabeth Batson and their five children were listed as resident in ‘Babbicombe’, Devon. By 1861 and living in Ramsbury, the rapidly increasing family included ‘Francis C’, aged 2, born in the village.

The Batson family certainly played a huge role in Ramsbury life soon after arriving in the village.

Education of the village’s children became an urgent priority for Ramsbury’s Victorian movers and shakers. Those same influential figures were also determined to help illiterate adults escape the bonds of rural poverty. In the 1860s Alfred Batson of Parliament Piece and the Burdett family from Ramsbury Manor joined forces to provide a village meeting room as an alternative to the temptations of the village’s pubs and drinking houses. As well as accommodating a soup kitchen for destitute agricultural labourers and their families, the Burdett Reading Room [now the village library] was the venue for night classes run by the Batson family.

Rowan Whimster – “Ramsbury: A Place and Its People” (2020)

By 1881, Francis C was 22 and his occupation was given as ‘Captain Royal Lancashire Militia’. In the 1891 Francis C Batson was the head of the household in Ramsbury, occupation ‘Artist’.

One of the earliest references to Frank Batson’s work that I’ve found is a report on the Bazaar at Ramsbury Manor in July 1891. This was a fundraiser towards the restoration of the ancient parish church at Ramsbury. The goodies listed on ‘Mrs Batson’s stall’ include a fine display of embroidery and a large number of pictures in watercolours and oils. Sketches ‘from the brushes of Mr Frank Batson and Mr Stephen Batson’ found a ready sale. (Newbury Weekly News 23 July 1891).

Andrew Sewell observed in his notes dated 1989 that there are four labels on the back of the Batson painting in the Wiltshire Museum.

The Newbury Weekly News ( on 16 May 1901) mentioned that “Mr Frank Batson [Ramsbury], after the lapse of several years, has his fourth picture at the Royal Academy this year, Playing out time in an awkward light“. Quite the supersized canvas, 6ft by 4ft and now at Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club – Art UK https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/playing-out-time-in-a-difficult-light-46262

In the spring of 1904, The Cornishman newspaper reported that the same painting was exhibited by Frank Batson at the Newlyn Art Gallery. In March 1905, the Western Morning News described Frank Batson’s contributions to the collection at the Passmore Edwards art gallery, destined for the Royal Academy and other London exhibitions – “three Venetian subjects, which were small but dainty”. Easier to transport than the 6’x4′ cricket painting!

Frank Batson was listed on the 1911 Census as a theology student, boarding in Castle Gate, Nottingham. The Nottingham Evening Post 29 September 1919 noted that he and his brother, the Rev V.L. Batson, presented three watercolours by their father, Alfred, to the Nottingham Castle Museum. Frank may have moved from Nottingham between 1911 and his death in 1931, but at the time of his death his residence was given as Fern Lodge, Chilwell, Nottinghamshire. Probate granted to Elizabeth Annie Batson, widow. The Nottinghamshire Society of Artists included some of Frank’s works in a memorial exhibition during the autumn 1931 (Nottingham Evening Post 12 November 1931).

Frank Batson had eleven siblings, some of them have their own stories reported in history books and the national press. There are reports featuring the self-styled ‘King of Lundy’ (Arthur Wellesley Batson) which I’ll save for another article on another day. A sister-in-law, Henrietta Batson, collected folk songs and Mummers Plays; including versions from Chilton Foliat and Baydon. The Baydon version was the foundation for the return of the tradition to Aldbourne in 2018 https://aldbournearchive.wordpress.com/2019/01/05/aldbourne-tradition-revived-the-mummers-are-back/.

With thanks to Warwick Hood, Jenny Greaves and of course the Wiltshire Museum, Devizes. I’m so glad that I’ve finally got round to writing up our chats about the painting and started a journey into the Batson family history. More to come!

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