Anna Brodie 1779-1864


By Helena Wojtczak, author of Notable Sussex Women. If you can solve this mystery or add to the story, please contact me}


{See also press cuttings}

Some mystery surrounds Anna Brodie's involvement with The Times newspaper. Why did the famous William Cobbett repeatedly attribute her with writing editorials in The Times, and why did the Chartist leader Feargus O'Connor call her the 'proprieteress' [sic] of The Times, if she was only a 2/16ths shareholder?

Anna was the fourth daughter of the founder of The Times, John Walter, and she grew up at The Grove, Twickenham. In 1802, aged 23, she married Revd Dr Alexander Brodie DD, sometime chaplain to the Prince of Wales (who later became George IV). In 1809 Dr Brodie became incumbent of St Mary's, Eastbourne, and they moved into a nearby mansion, The Gore (or Gore House), north of St Mary's church, between Willingdon Road and Church Street. Anna had twelve children by 1823; her husband died in 1828.

Her father, who died in 1812, left his daughters Anna Brodie and Mary Carden each 2/16ths of the shares in The Times. In 1821 an affidavit was signed by both women and their husbands stating that the women owned the shares 'notwithstanding her coverture' - in other words, separately from their husbands.

William Cobbett

In the ten years from February 1823, William Cobbett subjected Anna Brodie to repeated attacks in at least 28 editions of his newspaper, Cobbett's Weekly Political Register. Although he saved his worst venom for Anna, he also insulted her sister Mary Carden (1764-1830) and, after her death, their other sister, Fanny Wright (d 1863). He referred to Anna and Mary as 'publishers and authoresses' of The Times. He called them 'she-bullies' and 'blackguards' because of insulting things about him published in The Times. Clearly, he believed the women had written them.

In one issue he reprinted the exact wording of the Stamp Office affidavit which stated that Anna Brodie's and Mary Carden's shares in The Times were owned by them separately from their husbands. Cobbett bitterly disapproved of this action, accusing the two couples as being 'destitute of all feelings of shame' and calling the women 'two brazen wives'. He later accused Anna of 'wearing the breeches'.

In Rural Rides, volume 2, Weston to Kensington, 1826 he wrote: 'I saw the royal arms at the top of the paper, took it for the Old Times, and, in a sort of lounging mood, said to George, " Give me hold of that paper, and let us see what that foolish devil Anna Brodie says".' Again, clearly, he believed that she wrote the editorials.

Here's my problem: if a woman had been editor of The Times in the 1820s and 30s, or had any day-to-day hands-on involvement with the paper, I would expect to find a wealth of material about her on the internet, especially within Wikipedia's history of The Times, or Spartacus and I would expect to see her name appear frequently in various c19th newspapers, most particularly of course in The Times itself. Yet she is barely mentioned anywhere (I can find her name mentioned in The Times on only three occasions, in none is she referred to as the publisher, owner or editor or even as a writer for the paper. At first I wondered if Cobbett had entered a state of paranoia or mental aberration. However, Hansard (which, incidentally, he founded ) and a couple of other sources give intriguing mentions of her name and tiny snippets of information that simply leave me begging for more. Here are some examples:

In January 1833, The Times copied a story from another newspaper, that claimed he was an uncertificated bankrupt. Cobbett sued for damages, the case was heard on 29 June 1833, and he won £100. The most interesting aspects of the case are these: the defendants were Joseph Lawson (who printed the paper) 'and others', and it turned out that these 'others' were Fanny Wright and Anna Brodie. Their own counsel, Sir James Scarlett, criticised Cobbett for 'bringing two ladies into court in an action for libel'. Sir James did not contradict Cobbett's description of the ladies as 'proprietors of The Times'. Later, other newspapers, such as The Age and the Liverpool Mercury, wrote about the libel case as though it was Cobbett v. Anna Brodie. When Cobbett commented on the case he headed the article 'Anna Brodie and Co.' see the cutting here.

Furthermore, in 1843 (eight years after Cobbett's death), in a letter in the Northern Star, Chartist leader Feargus O'Connor describes how he went to the Stamp Office to check the ownership of The Times and found to his astonishment 'one Anna Brodie' was the paper's registered proprietor. see the cutting here...

Another reference to Anna Brodie and The Times comes from Hansard, the official report of the prceedings in the House of Commons. On 26 July 1833, Mr. O'Connell, MP for Dublin, complained about a letter in The Times, signed by its the reporters, announcing their refusal to write any more reports from him unless he apologised for calling them liars. O'Connell concluded by moving that Anna Brodie, and the men who printed the paper, James Lawson, and John Joseph Lawson, should all be called to the bar of the House. In reply, Herbert Curteis MP asked him 'if he could be serious' in wanting to bring Mrs Brodie to the House. He continued: 'Mrs. Brodie was a most amiable and estimable lady, the widow of a clergyman, and deservedly beloved and respected by all who knew her. She at least could have nothing to do with' the matter. He felt that 'no one with feelings of justice - not to say of gallantry' would vote to have her brought to the bar of the House. Only the printers, the Lawsons, were called to the bar read the cutting.

If Anna Brodie was merely one of many Times shareholders (and she is stated as owning a mere 2/16ths), why did Cobbett direct nearly all of his venom towards The Times at her? Why did the Stamp Office have only her name as sole proprietor in 1843, when Feargus O'Connor went there to discover its ownership? Why did Anna Brodie's own barrister not disagree with Cobbett's assumption that she wrote editorials in The Times ? Why did O'Connell want only the Lawsons and Anna Brodie at the bar of the House, and no other proprietors/shareholders/publishers of The Times?

Anna's shares in The Times were mentioned again when her son went bankrupt.

When Anna Brodie died, aged 87, on 6 October 1864 at The Gore, she was described as 'the largest proprietor of The Times newspaper, and the youngest and last surviving child of the first John Walter, Esq., Middlesex, who was the sole founder and originator of The Times'. (a New Zealand newspaper, date/name unknown)

Anna Brodie's husband, Alexander Brodie 1773-1828

According to www.gic.co.uk/oldnews.htm: 'During his stay in Eastbourne he was blessed with 12 children.' In fact, the first four were born before the Brodies moved to Eastbourne. He died on 18 June 1828, following an accident at the foot of Ocklynge Road hill (from www.gic.co.uk/oldnews.htm; other sources say Malling hill). The horse drawing his carriage bolted and he was thrown onto the road. The Aberdeen Journal reported that 'his daughters, Mrs Garland and Mrs Gordon' were unhurt; however, the Brodie clan tree includes no daughters with those surnames.

In the south wall at the west end of the nave, is a tablet to the Revd Brodie. It reads: 'Sacred to the memory of the Revd ALEXANDER BRODIE, D.D., 18 years the beloved and esteemed Vicar of this parish. who died June 18th 1828. in the 54th year of his age. In him a widow and eleven children mourn the irreparable loss of an affectionate husband and kind parent, while the poor lament a beneficient and considerate friend, and the Christian world an active and zealous member.'

The East Sussex Record Office holds a typescript of Gilbert's biography of the Rev Alexander Brodie, with an account of his descendants and their role in the development of the town.

Anna Brodie's children from the Brodie clan tree (with thanks to A.T.D. Brodie Esq), censuses, registrars' records and newspapers:

Anna Brodie+ 1803-1874 m David J. Hall MD

Emma Brodie 1805-1846 m James Grace

Maria Brodie 1806-1892

Alexander Brodie 1808-1815

Alfred Brodie 1809-1857 m Mary Anne Fenning

Walter Brodie+ 1811-1884 m Maria Jane Burrow (lived awhile in NZ, returned 1844 and lived at The Gore)

Julia Brodie 1814-1872

Lydia Brodie 1815-1892

John Walter Brodie 1817-1839 (died of typhus)

William Brodie+ 1819-1908 m Jane Moore

Cecilia Brodie 1820-1846* m Richard Chambers MD (*A Cecilia Chambers died in Eastbourne in 1897 aged 76)

Frederick Brodie+ 1823-1896 m (1) Elizabeth Fusell m (2) Ada Blanche Carden, dau of Sir Frederick Walter Carden MP, Lord Mayor of London

Revd Dr Brodie's memorial tablet in St Mary's church says he leaves 'a widow and eleven children'. There were twelve but Alexander junior died young.

In 1837, at his bankruptcy hearing, Alfred Brodie said he was the 'twelfth child' and gave his age as 28, making his birth year 1809. But his parents did not marry until 1802, and Alfred was their fifth child.

'The Brodies played an important part as Eastbourne developed into a town. Flint Halls, one of the town's earliest schools, was endowed by Miss Lidia Brodie in 1853. William Brodie outlived all his brothers and sisters and died on February 10th 1908, aged 89. Much of the establishment of Edgmond Hall in Church Street is due to both him and his sister Emma Grace... two of the other Brodie sisters built schools for the working class children of the town in Meads and Seaside. The latter still remains prominent, housed in the grounds of Christ Church' (from http://www.gic.co.uk/oldnews.htm). There is a Brodie Place, Brodie Hall and a Brodie House in Eastbourne. Kelly's 1867 director lists Lydia Brodie's infants' school in the Old Town and Julia Brodie's infant school at Seaside.

The Brodie mansion, The Gore, Eastbourne

The Gore was a mansion off Ocklynge Road. It boasted eleven bedrooms, many receptions, stables, six acres of grounds and four cottages. In his 1910 book Eastbourne memories, George F Chambers wrote: 'When in 1874 it was proposed to add to the original cemetery of four acres several additional acres on the S. side, the Misses Brodie [Lydia and Maria], as the owners of The Gore, a large house half way down the hill, claimed their statutory rights to prevent land being used for burials within 200 yards of their house. Hence the semi-circular line which bounds the portion used on the southern limits of the cemetery property... After the death of the last of Mrs. Brodie's daughters who owned the house [Lydia, d 1892], The Gore and its seven acres was sold [it was advertised for sale in The Times on 23 April 1892] to an enterprising local financier who made a heap of money out of his speculation by pulling down the house and cutting up the site and gardens for building. Hence the names of Gore Park Avenue and Gore Park Road... Nothing of the original structure now remains except the billiard room, which was partly re-constructed in the "fifties" to accommodate a billiard table presented to Mrs. Brodie by Mr. Freeman Thomas then the new squire of Batton, who did not wish his sons to grow up billiard players. Apparently he thought that it was of no moment that Mrs. Brodie's sons and grandsons should be similarly demoralised.' [Additions in brackets by HW]

In 1891 the Pall Mall Gazette listed the owners of The Times. This extract shows the continuing involvement of the Brodie children. Among the Brodie names were those of Ada, William, Maria, Lydia [sic] and there were also some Cardens (presumably the family of Mary Carden nee Walter).

Miss W. L. Brodie-Hall

Anna Brodie's daughter Anna married David J. Hall MD; they lived in South Street, Eastbourne, and had two daughters. Their second, Wilhelmina Lydia Brodie-Hall, was born in 1845. By the age of 29, Wilhelmina had lost both her parents. The 1851 census sees her staying with her grandmother Anna Brodie at The Gore; in 1861 she was back in South Street, where she had a resident governess. Her residence is unknown from 1861 until 1891, when we find her living with her Aunt Lydia at The Gore. Lydia died the following year and by 1901 Wilhelmina was lodging with Susan Bell at 5 Devonshire Place, right next door to her Uncle William Brodie at no.3.

Wilhelmina was elected a Poor Law Guardian in Eastbourne at least six times beginning in 1892, and was the only female guardian on the board throughout her service. She was particularly concerned about paupers who had mental problems, elderly women, and children. She attended meetings with government officials, wrote many letters, read papers to various interested societies, gave evidence to the House of Commons, attended conferences, and gave public speeches about the care of the poor. In the 1890s she was secretary of the Association for the Advancement of Boarding Out (taking pauper children from workhouses and placing them with foster families). In April 1889 she addressed a large meeting at Hastings, attended by the famous Elizabeth Blackwell MD, the world's first female physician. Read her speech here . She was a founder member of Eastbourne's Natural History Society in 1867 and from that year submitted maintain meteorological data to the Royal Meteorological Society. She was also active in the constitutional women's suffrage movement and presided over a meeting in Eastbourne's Floral Hall in 1909 at which Mrs Fawcett herself was present. Wilhelmina spoke in favour of female physicians and was disappointed that her local hospital, the Princess Alice, declined to employ them. She was involved in the Girls' Friendly Society (GFS) and spoke of her wish to end prostitution and raise women up to a 'higher, nobler life'. During the First World War she was secretary of GFS the Central War Savings Committee. In 1917 she offered to drive a motor plough to release a man for military service. Her date of death is unknown.





Portrait of Anna Brodie: provenance unknown


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