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The Ubiquitous J.T. Morland

When doing research for the Museum’s recent exhibition about Morland’s brewery and the Morland family, I got to know some members of the family better. One of the themes of the exhibition was how the Morland family was embedded in the life of the town, not just the business life, but the civic and social life as well. The Morlands always had their fingers in several pies, but it was only after the exhibition that I started to see one of the family in particular absolutely everywhere.

John Thornhill (J.T.) Morland was one of the sons of George Bowes Morland. (J.T.’s six sisters were the girls who played with the dolls’ house now on display at the Museum.) The Morland family was divided between those who ran the brewery, and those who practised as solicitors, although the solicitors would of course give support and advice to the brewing members of the family. Benjamin Morland, J.T.’s grandfather, was the first to establish a solicitor’s practice in Abingdon, which was then taken over by George Bowes Morland. In the third generation it was John Thornhill Morland who continued as solicitor. But being a solicitor was only one of many roles J.T. Morland filled, and I only gradually realised how many.

Group of Councillors including the Mayor on the left, after the ceremonial laying of the cornerstone for the Free Library. J.T. Morland is the gentleman looking sideways with his hand in his pocket.

First of all, he was on the Borough Council. In a way that was to be expected, as many prosperous businessmen and professionals in Abingdon were also Councillors. People like E.J. Trendell, a wealthy wine merchant, or John Creemer Clarke, proprietor of Clarke’s Clothing Factory. Other Morland family members also sat on the Council, and even became Mayors, but J.T. set a record by being chosen as Mayor no fewer than six times.

Then there was his membership of the Freemasons. He was a member of the local Abbey Lodge, and there is a photo of him in his mason’s regalia. Through this membership he would have forged many connections to other local people of a similar standing.

J.T. Morland the Freemason. This photograph appeared in the North Berkshire Herald.

And then J.T. Morland started to pop up wherever I looked, even when I wasn’t looking specifically for him.

I had occasion to look into some of the old Abingdon directories, and there he is listed several times as the holder of a number of offices. Apart from being a Borough Councillor and later an Alderman, he also held offices at the Berkshire County Council: Clerk of the Peace, Clerk of the County Council, Clerk to the Standing Joint Committee and Clerk to the Education Committee. This was something of a family tradition, as both his grandfather Benjamin Morland and his father George Bowes Morland had been Clerk to the County Magistrates.

In Abingdon, J.T. Morland was also a Justice of the Peace for the Borough. That was his political life. But what about his social life? The directories show that he was active in the social sphere as well. He was one of the Vice Presidents of the Young Men’s Social Club, the Abingdon Agricultural Society (later the North Berks Agricultural Society) and the Abingdon Horticultural Society.

But J.T. Morland also pops up in other places. Currently on show at the Museum is a good part of the Town’s Treasures, precious items given to the Council in the past as well as some cups and trophies from local associations. One of these is a handsome silver chalice named “The Mayor’s Cup” which was sponsored as the prize in a rifle shooting competition. Around the rim is engraved the name of the very first winner of this cup in 1864: J.T. Morland. Indeed, a look into the old directories confirmed that he was a member of the Abingdon Rifle Club. It must have been a long-standing association as he is named as Vice-President of the club 50 years after he won the cup. Perhaps we can infer from that that shooting was one of his hobbies?

The Mayor’s Cup, first awarded at a Rifle Prize Shooting in 1864. The inscription on the rim reads: “Won by J.T. Morland Octr. 29th, 1864.” The cup is also engraved with the names of more recent winners. Currently on display at the Museum.

Among a few documents donated to the museum was a leaflet about the switch of Abingdon’s telephone exchange from manual to automatic. In it I read that one of the first premises in Abingdon to get a telephone at all was Morland solicitors. This was in 1896, and J.T. Morland would have been the proprietor of the practice at the time, a practice which had been run by the Morland family for three generations. J.T. Morland was such an early adopter of the telephone in Abingdon that his phone number was “4”.

Another time I was looking into the history of the Abingdon Fire Brigade. I was looking at a couple of old photographs and marvelling at the firefighters’ splendid helmets (one is on display at the Museum), when I realised that one of the faces looked kind of familiar. Who is that civilian gent in the centre with his hand in his pocket? Why, it’s J.T. Morland! A bit of further research confirmed that he was Chief Officer of the Abingdon Volunteer Fire Brigade. Later he became Superintendent, with G.H. Morland as the Chief Officer.

It’s that man again! The Abingdon Volunteer Fire Brigade with their Superintendent J.T. Morland in the centre.

This brings me to a wider point I want to make with this blogpost. I have picked J.T. Morland as an example of someone who was so prominent in the town’s public life that he appears again and again in a variety of roles. But it wasn’t just J.T., it was other members of the Morland family as well. I have already mentioned G.H. Morland, who like J.T. was in the Volunteer Fire Brigade. Or take A.W. (Alec Walter) Morland, from the next generation of Morlands. He joined the Borough Council as a young man – perhaps it helped that the elder Morland was already established as a Councillor? A similar thing had happened with John Creemer Clarke, who was joined on the Council by his son Heber Clarke. I’m not suggesting straightforward nepotism here, or any subversion of the rules, but something more subtle: if one or several members of a family are already established in the public consciousness as in some way prominent or important, it is surely easier for younger members to step into a similar role. A.W. and several of the younger Morlands attended Abingdon School, entered one of the family’s businesses and took on roles in organisations, clubs and societies, just like their fathers had done. One could almost say that they were brought up to it. A.W. Morland in particular seems to have been emulating J.T. by becoming not only a Councillor but twice Mayor, a Trustee of the Ivey Lodge of the Oddfellows Societies, Treasurer of the North Berks Unionist Association and Cricket Captain in the Abingdon Cricket and Football Club.

A.W. Morland as Mayor of Abingdon, between 1913 and 1915.

But other family members were no slouches when it came to participating in public institutions. The aforementioned G.H. Morland, Chief Officer of the Fire Brigade, was also on the Berkshire County Council. B.H. Morland was a Vice-President of the Agricultural Society (like J.T.) and a County Magistrate. And if you look above at all the clerkships J.T. had at the County Council, you might not be surprised to hear that F..J. Morland was his deputy in all of these, plus Clerk to the Lieutenancy.

F.J. Morland, multiple deputy to J.T. From a framed photograph which used to hang in one of the offices at Morland’s Brewery. Now in the Museum collection, unfortunately with a crack in the glass.

So why do these Morlands (and J.T. in particular) pop up everywhere? I don’t think it is a  straightforward matter of wanting power and influence in the town. For one, they were probably of the opinion that to involve yourself in the affairs of your town in many ways was simply the done thing. And besides, I think they were genuinely invested in the town and the county they lived in, they took a lively interest in local affairs and had a desire to contribute to the life of the town. I’m sure they felt a certain pride in their town and were prepared to help it prosper in many ways. Surely that is to be commended.

Elin Bornemann, Collections Officer

Featured image: J.T. Morland surrounded by other Councillors. Detail of a group portrait of Abingdon Councillors taken at the opening of the Free Library, 15th April 1896.


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