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Thursday, 19 May 2011

Michael Mansfield QC; Who Do You Think You Are?

Most people have heard of Michael Mansfield, QC. He has been involved in some very high profile cases in recent years, including the Stephen Lawrence trial, but when he came to Lyme’s Marine Theatre for a speaking engagement in November 2006 he had a most pleasant surprise. Not only did he discover that his roots lay deep in the town – he also found much in the way of family memorabilia on display in the Lyme Regis Museum.

He writes of the occasion in his autobiography, “Memoirs of a Radical Lawyer”. “When I was invited to speak at a fund raiser for the Marine Theatre in Lyme Regis, the event had surprising and unforeseen consequences, for at the end of the evening I was presented with a file that revealed that my ancestors had actually hailed from Lyme. It transpires that not only are many Mansfields to be found in the cemetery – including my great-great-great-grandparents Mary and Joseph – but in the Lyme Museum hangs a picture of one of the last ships to be built in the town, at The Cobb, by one William Mansfield, a wealthy shipwright. The author John Fowles, in his capacity as Curator of the Museum, wrote a short biography of William.”

The ship in the painting to which he refers is the “Lyme Regis”, launched in a blaze of publicity in 1849. Built by the Mansfield Brothers, its launching was the social highlight of the year, with crowds coming from miles around to see it “christened” in the traditional way. Documents filed at the Museum by our former Curatorial Consultant Jo Draper reveal that a grand supper was held in the long room at the shipyard that evening. “Too much cannot be said in praise of that bountiful supper,” said the Dorset Chronicle, “and the excellent quality of the wines that were profusely provided by the worthy owners and master builders, to which the whole party did ample justice.” Sounds like quite a night…….

Writing to the Marine Theatre trustees after his talk, he said of the file and its contents (all culled from this Museum) that it was absolutely fascinating, “and has definitely inspired me to look further into my genealogy. I am immensely grateful.”

The story of the visit and its “unforeseen consequences” was told in Museum Piece, newsletter of the Museum Friends, and concluded: “So: will this grand inquisitor be burrowing deep into records all over the West Country? An intriguing prospect, to be sure, for who knows what he might uncover as he sifts through the “evidence”. We await his findings with interest!

(Text by Margaret Rose, Chairman of the Friends of Lyme Regis Philpot Museum.
To learn more about the Friends, click here)

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