Initially, I was surprised both by the size of the Prescott family and the fact that they had two servants. Ten people in one house? However, in the previous Census, in 1871, Grasmere Cottage housed a family of seven, plus one servant. Perhaps life was just cosier back then.
Now, this is where my "Google luck" really came into play - in fact, I struck "Google gold". Thanks to his slightly unusual first name, I find that Edgar had a VERY unusual middle name: "Grote". With that, the pages of history started to unfurl, for Edgar had a distinctive (and privileged) family background – on both his father's and his mother's side.
Edgar's father's family - Prescott, Grote & Co.
Edgar Prescott was a stockbroker. He had attended St. Paul's school and then Oxford University. Various references mention Edgar Grote Prescott "of the Stock Exchange" or (in the Dulwich College register, in relation to his sons) as being with "Prescott, Grote & Co.".
Prescott, Grote & Co was a bank founded, in 1776, by Edgar's ancestor George Prescott (c. 1711 – 1790), a Whig MP, with Andreas Grote, a merchant originally from Hamburg. Over the years, the bank name would change, there would be various mergers, and finally, the references to "Prescott" and "Grote" would disappear altogether. In fact, the bank would become part of an entity with which we are all familiar: Royal Bank of Scotland or RBS.
Edgar's mother's family - back to the C16th and C17th
Family connections on Edgar's mother's side proved even more surprising. This is where Cromwell comes in: Edgar Grote Prescott was also a direct descendant of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), from Oliver Crowell's fifth son, Henry.
Again, this was a discovery, largely, by chance – although perhaps the recurring references to "Oliveria" in the family name and the fact that his grandmother was called "Cromwell" should have been clues!
Elizabeth Oliveria Cromwell's father (Edgar's great-grandfather), also called Oliver Cromwell, tried to arrange for the family name to be able to pass to his daughter's husband, so that the family name would not die out. Ultimately, this was vetoed by the King. No surprise, perhaps.
Edgar Prescott in Dulwich
Having seen Edgar's family background, Grasmere Cottage is somewhat smaller than one would have anticipated – albeit, with two servants. Of course, we have seen that Dulwich at the time was a beautiful hamlet. The cottage itself was also in an exquisite location. So it may be that, in 1881 there was money aplenty. Alternatively, the "family business" may not have been as lucrative over the years – or the fact that there were so many children may have diluted the wealth. Who knows?
Whatever the case, the following year, in 1882, things were to take a turn for the worse for Edgar. In March 1882, he was declared bankrupt. A series of notices in the Law Gazette, from 1882 to 1887, deal with creditors meetings, the amount which he could pay to creditors, and, finally, a discharge from bankruptcy. By then, Edgar may not have been living in Grasmere Cottage. 1882 notices simply refer to "Edgar Grote Prescott of Warnford Court" (where the Stock Exchange was based). Later notices, refer, additionally, to a home address of "Hawthornden, Grove Hill" in Dulwich.
Fortunately, by 1891, his financial situation seems stable and Edgar is still living in Grove Hill with his wife and with three servants, including a cook – including Jane Mason, who had been with them in 1881. By now, though, Edgar is an Organist, not a stockbroker. He is still listed as an Organist in the 1901 Census, though, by then, living in Victoria Road.
Some final thoughts
So there you have it. The surprising history (such that I have discovered, so far) of two houses in Dulwich and the families who lived there in 1881 at the time of the Census.
And what of it? What does this small "window on the past" show?
At the risk of hyperbole, I think the most intriguing thing is this: "all life was here". In that one moment in 1881, the full spectrum of life was represented in two families and their forbears: politics; history; religion; art; invention; education; finance; trade; "cabbages and kings" ("cavaliers and kings", even). Here, side-by-side, in Rydal Cottage and Grasmere Cottage.
From today's perspective, perhaps the histories are a little skewed. The families were somewhat privileged and/or moving in privileged circles (for that is why I was able to retrieve so much information so easily). There was also little information readily available on either Frances Goodall or Jane Prescott, representative of the times. Yet, I am struck by how much of what I read can be related, directly, to today's climate of "boom and bust", stock market crashes and recoveries and to current political and economic struggles.