“That’s Shell … that was!”*

In the Head Governess report of June 1888, we find an entry for a pupil about to leave the School.

“Lilian has been a good girl and taken a good conduct prize; she is a prefect, has done fairly well in her education and passed all her College of Preceptors examinations.”

The surname was not easy to read but was eventually deciphered as Shrapnel. As a noun, this word relates to artillery and, it turns out, was named for its inventor, Henry Shrapnel. This discovery led to research into the Shrapnel name and Lilian’s place in it. The surname is found from the 13th century and probably arises from ‘charbonnel’, a diminutive form of an Old French word charbon meaning charcoal. Rather than it being an occupational name (charcoal burner) it may well have referred to complexion or hair colour.

The OND identifies Henry Shrapnel as the youngest of nine children of Zachariah Shrapnel of Bradford upon Avon and his wife Lydia (nee Needham). Henry was an army officer, born in 1761 and commissioned into the Royal Artillery in 1779. In 1785, he began to experiment with artillery development and created an explosive shell which could be used with the ordnance already available. He continued to work on this at his own expense, refining the device, a hollowed-out sphere containing round shot, with the idea being that it could be fired at an enemy whereupon it would explode and the shot would lethally spray out. His military career meant that he frequently had to stop his experiments and so it was not until 1799 that he felt able to submit his designs to the Board of Ordnance. It was finally approved in 1803. ‘Shrapnel became the first assistant inspector of artillery at Woolwich on 10 February 1804’ (OND) and as such was able to continue his artillery experimentations. The army used his exploding shell but, for security reasons, kept the information under wraps so Henry was not publicly acknowledged. The Duke of Wellington seemed to blow hot and cold over the efficacy of the shell although by 1812 he acknowledged that ‘the spherical case shot called Shrapnell’s [sic] shells’ had been ‘very destructive of the enemy’. (OND)

Henry Shrapnel

(Image above from http://www.freshford.com/shrapnell.htm)

Shrapnel had married Esther Squires in 1810 and they had two sons and two daughters. Although his work had finally been acknowledged within military circles, Shrapnel had received no money for it and, in 1813, complained to the Board of Ordnance that the shell’s development (and other artillery work) had cost him thousands of pounds of his own money. At first, the Board’s response was to say that it had no funds with which to recompense him but in 1814 it granted him a pension of £1200 pa for life but ‘a narrow, bureaucratic interpretation of the terms of the award ensured that, in reality, he enjoyed scant financial gain.’ (OND)

Shrapnel retired from military service in 1825 but continued to experiment and his contribution overall to artillery development was immense. In 1837 he became Lieutenant-General and William IV intimated that he planned to give him a baronetcy. Unfortunately, in the same year William died and the hoped-for ennoblement died with him. Shrapnel himself died in 1842 and was buried in the family vault in Bradford upon Avon.

Church 2
Holy Trinity Bradford on Avon

Photograph of Holy Trinity from http://www.hellfirecorner.co.uk/westlake/westlakebradfordavon.htm; Drawing of church from http://www.rareoldprints.com/county/Wiltshire

‘The generic term ‘shrapnel’, widely used to describe fragments of metal from explosives, has perpetuated Henry Shrapnel’s name and until the end of the First World War shells were still being manufactured according to his original principles.’ (OND entry compiled by John Sweetman) A letter written by an observer at the start of the Great War noted that German field guns carried the Shrapnel motto “Ratio Ultima Regis” (the last argument of kings). ((http://www.freshford.com/shrapnell.htm). The connection of the Shrapnel name with Bradford upon Avon goes back to 1625.

Shrapnel monument Holy Trinity church

(Image above from http://www.freshford.com/shrapnell.htm)

The family has a memorial at the west end of the south wall of Holy Trinity church and parish records show that they were involved in brewing but also in barrel-making and as clothiers. The line shown in the simplified tree is not a direct line from father to son as Zachariah II is a nephew of Zachariah I, but it suffices to show how Lilian fits in.

Simplified family tree

In Zachariah II’s marriage settlement is the first mention of a mansion that is probably Midway Manor, associated with the family. Wikipedia tells us

‘Midway Manor, a Grade II listed building in Bradford on Avon, was originally an Elizabethan Manor Farm flanked by two large stone barns. In about 1723, the Midway estate was the property of the Shrapnel family who were prosperous cloth merchants from Bradford on Avon, United Kingdom. Lieutenant-General Henry Shrapnel … , inventor of the Shrapnel shell, was born at Midway Manor which remained occupied by the Shrapnel family until 1871.’


1773 map and Midway Manor

Zachariah III, son of ZII, married Lydia Needham and Henry was the one who inherited Midway Manor. On a map of Wiltshire drawn up in 1773, Midway is shown ‘as a two-storey house, with central doorway and no pediment. To the left is a smaller one-storey range.’ (http://www.freshford.com/shrapnell.htm). In Zachariah III’s will, the estate then called Midway farm, comprising land, farmhouse and mansion house, was referred to: it was occupied by John Coles Bailey.

map manor today
Google maps Midway Manor

(The house in which the Shrapnels lived was demolished at the end of the ninteeth century but the name is preserved today.)

Henry Shrapnel spent much of his life overseas or in London, pursuing his military career but was at Midway between 1822 and 1828. He died in Bradford in 1842 although his death date is recorded on the family memorial incorrectly as 1849. As copies of letters from his widow, concerning her husband’s funeral, still exist, we can be certain of the death date. On the gateposts of the Manor are carved a list of the battles in which he fought including Waterloo and Busaco [sic] (actually the Battle of Buçaco or Bussaco, Peninsular War, 1810). Midway was occupied by tenants including one running a school. An advertisement in the Salisbury and Winchester Journal has:

“Mr Sartain respectfully announces to his friends and the public that his School (at Midway-House one mile from Bradford) reopens on Monday January 20th. Terms 25 guineas per annum; Entrance 1 Guinea : Washing 2 guineas; and no other extra charges except for stationery. Midway-House, January 9 1812”   (http://www.freshford.com/shrapnell.htm).

Henry Needham Scrope Shrapnel succeeded his father and also followed him into the army serving in Ireland, Bermuda, Halifax (Canada) and Montreal. He is probably the one who added a pediment to the house with a Shrapnel Shell carved therein.

coat of arms not
Shrapnel heraldry

(from http://www.shrapnell.org.uk/; it should be noted that this ‘coat of arms’ does not appear to be official as no Grant of Arms has been made by the College of Heralds)

Shrapnel Pere
Arthur N S Shrapnel

(image from http://www.shrapnell.org.uk/)

The 1871 census also shows the Shrapnel family at the house. Arthur Needham Scrope Shrapnel (son of Henry and Louisa Sarah nee Jousiffe) and his wife Clara Georgina, nee Onion, born Colombo, Ceylon [Sri Lanka] are recorded as Head of Household & wife. He had been born on December 2nd 1843 so would never have known his famous grandfather who had died the year before. Arthur & Clara are the parents of Lilian who became a pupil at the School which makes her the great granddaughter of the man whose name we know without necessarily knowing his story.

Lilian Mary Shrapnel herself was born in 1873 in Weston super Mare. In 1881 she is living at Oval Rd 4 Claremont Ter[race], Croydon and listed as Lilian Scrope-Shrapnel. Two of her older siblings were born at Wingfield: Arthur in 1869 and Ethel in 1871. Then the family began to move around as subsequent births show, probably in connection with Arthur’s role as a mining engineer. Percy, the next child after Lilian, was born in Melksham whereas Agnes’ birth in 1876 is given as Wales. As Arthur died in January 1876 at Cottage Trelleck, nr Chepstow, it may be assumed that Agnes was born there. Interestingly, but very oddly, the last of Lilian’s siblings is given as Gordon born in 1886. It does not take a mathematical genius to work out that this birth was some ten years after his apparent father had died! Victorian sensibilities often resulted in the illegitimate children of daughters in the family being listed in a census as siblings of same but none of the Shrapnel girls at this point were old enough to have a six year old child. Lilian was married by this time and pregnant, although her husband was elsewhere. Her daughter Lilian Evelyn was born in summer 1891. We are therefore left with the mystery of Gordon’s paternity, given clearly as a child of Clara: under occupation it says ‘living with mother’ as it does for Ethel and Agnes. His birthplace is given as Battersea which would cover the address at which the family are living in 1891: Clapham Road, Lambeth.

Lilian had married Thomas Coote on 25 November 1890 in Wimbledon. By 1901, she, her husband and four children had moved to Coventry. Thomas was given as a Pneumatic Tyre Maker. As the Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co was at that time in Coventry, it is likely that this was his employer. In 1911 they were still in Coventry but a further two children had been born. In fact, there had been seven children altogether by 1911 but one had died. As all of the children listed in 1901 were still at home, a child must have been born and died between 1901 and 1911.

Lilian’s mother, Clara Georgina, died in Coventry in 1908 so it may be presumed that she had been living with her daughter at the end of her life. Lilian herself died in the year WWII broke out – in early 1939. As Coventry suffered very badly in WWII she was at least spared that. It would have been an irony indeed had she, or her family, been adversely affected by artillery damage given her Shrapnel heritage.

Shell advert

*The title of this posting uses the Shell Advert slogan; image from http://www.nationalmotormuseum.org.uk

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