Lost Houses: Interesting Links to Southwood Hall, Highgate

Henry Virtue Tebbs Jnr.(1833-1899) was the eldest son of Henry Virtue Tebbs and his second wife Emma. In true 19th century fashion he had been given his father’s name and followed his father’s profession as a Proctor and lawyer.  Not surprisingly, this has led to much confusion. However, the son’s artistic interests set him apart from his father about whom we have learned already.

Born in Chelsea in 1833, baby Henry Virtue was baptised in St Luke’s Church, Chelsea, in which parish his parents lived and his grandparents before them. Tebbs Snr. prospered as a lawyer and in 1845 he moved his wife and four children to Southwood Hall, a pseudo-gothic mansion with land on the edge of Highgate. In the 1851 Census, young Tebbs, aged 17, is shown living there, listed as an ‘articled clerk’. Ten years later he is still in residence, by now a Proctor and Solicitor, looking after his sister Julia and brother Stephen while his parents travel abroad. Three servants, including a page, looked after them. Henry Virtue Jnr. married Emily Seddon in 1865, about the time his parents sold Southwood Hall. He and Emily had four children. For the next three decades they lived at 1, St John’s Gardens, Notting Hill in considerable comfort with four servants.

Henry Virtue Jnr. had his creative side like his father and as a man of means he could afford to indulge his interest in art. He joined the Burlington Fine Arts Club, a gentleman’s club and exhibiting society, first based in Piccadilly and then in Savile Row. A fellow member was Dante Gabriel Rossetti, one of the seven artists known as the Pre-Raphael Brotherhood, founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt. Tebbs corresponded with Hunt between 1862 and 1874 and their letters are kept in Cambridge University Library. He corresponded with the artist James McNeill Whistler also. Tebbs Jnr. wrote the Club catalogue for the Rossetti exhibition in 1883 following the artist’s death and he lent a number of fine bindings to the Club’s bookbinding exhibition.

After Henry Virtue Tebbs’ death in 1899 (he predeceased his mother who died in 1903), his library was sold by auction at Sotherby’s. In addition to fine bindings and prints it contained a number of Kelmscott Press books. Tebb’s collection of 76 mounted photographs of Pre-Raphaelite drawings and paintings are in Princeton University Library Department of Rare Books.

Investigation into Henry Virtue Tebbs Senior’s resting place in Henbury, Gloucestershire, has revealed that a freed slave, Scipio Africanus, was buried there also. Initially, Scipio belonged to Charles William Howard, 7th Earl of Suffolk, who lived with his wife in the ‘Great House’ in Henbury. Historians believe that Scipio may have been born into the household, the son of an enslaved West African woman. He was named after Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, the famous Roman general who defeated the Carthaginian military leader Hannibal. The inscription on one of his two headstones marking his grave refers to him as a servant which possibly indicates that he was freed in later life. He was buried in St Mary’s Churchyard Henbury after he died on 20th December 1720, aged 18.

In June 2020 one of his two brightly painted Grade II* listed headstones was smashed in two. A local councillor believed that it was a “retaliation attack” for the recent toppling of slave trader Edward Colston’s statue in nearby Bristol. The message scrawled in chalk on flagstones near the grave read, “Now look at what you made me do. Put Colston’s statue back or things will really heat up.” Within days, thousands of pounds had been donated to repair the damage.

Janet Owen