Sometimes a chance encounter with an interesting personality is sufficient to justify genealogical research. Thus it was with John Davenport (1908-1966), described by Paul Johnson in his ‘Brief Lives’ as ‘a leading figure in that last generation of bohemian writers’. Raised mainly at Barons Court by his grandmother, Davenport went to St Paul’s, was then up at Cambridge with William Empson (Davenport at Corpus Christi College, Empson at Magdalene), and subsequently went on to work for MGM as a screenwriter, alongside Scott Fitzgerald. He then worked for the BBC as Head of the Belgian Section (he spoke excellent French, having spent some time in France) at Bush House, and was a close friend of Dylan Thomas, with whom he wrote the satirical detective story ‘The Death of the King’s Canary’.
Davenport was a critic (for The Observer and The Spectator amongst others), schoolmaster at Stowe in the 1940s, spoke with an ‘ultra upper-class accent’ and used ‘antique slang’ (Johnson), but had also made a living as an all-in wrestler and as a boxer at a fairground, having made a name for himself in this capacity whilst up at Cambridge. His physical strength was a prevailing characteristic; when he detected what he considered ‘impertinence’ in an interlocutor, he would be by no means backwards in coming forwards with his fists. One anecdote (in Johnson’s version the victim is Lord Maugham, the Lord Chancellor and brother of W. Somerset Maugham, in Nora Sayre’s a loquacious bishop) tells of Davenport, whilst at the Savile (in the other verson, the Savage) club, hoisting a man that had vexed him to six feet in the air before depositing him on a mantelpiece, descent from which proving apparently rather difficult. Davenport was, perhaps not unreasonably, expelled from the club. Often Davenport’s more extravagant antics were alcohol-fuelled; amongst these legendary happenings was his loss of the only copy of Empson’s ‘The Face of the Buddha’. Empson gave this to Davenport in 1947, and it was not until 1952 that the latter told Empson that he had left it in a taxi. In fact- fortunately- it had been handed to the Tamil poet Tambimuttu, and eventually made its way to publication. Davenport was a mentor to, and cultivator of, the film critic and essayist Nora Sayre during her time in London, having known her family whilst he was in America as a screenwriter; she recounts in a 1977 memorial that he would turn up at her Chelsea basement flat ‘bringing bacon and frozen string beans and books and imperatives: “Why don’t you eat this, read this, write about that”‘; she considered that ‘he served as an igniter: He gave one momentum.’
In 1934 Davenport married an American, Clemency Hale (known as ‘Clement’; she was a painter and set designer), and lived at the Malting House, Marshfield, Gloucestershire, on the borders of Wiltshire and Somerset. Clement went on to marry Sir William Glock, head of music at the BBC. Davenport then married, in 1944, Marjorie Pickering (nee Morrison). He had four children altogether.
After considerable success in his field, by the sixties Davenport came to be in a bad state, overwhelmed by drinking, and went to the country to live with his rich mother, dying not much later.
A man of contradictory parts, then; the fiery pugilist juxtaposed with what Paul Ferris, Dylan Thomas’s biographer, considered ‘one of the best known non-academic critics of literature writing in English, a man of immensely wide culture, multilingual, a pianist of distinction, a connoisseur of painting and a wit’. It was in consideration of these interesting characteristics that I was moved to take a look into the genealogical background of such a man.
John Lancelot Agard Bramhall Davenport 1908-1966 writer, critic, book reviewer m. Clemency (‘Clement’), dau. (b. 1913, twin of Rosemary) of Swinburne Hale, of New York City, N.Y., U.S.A., a lawyer and poet, by his wife Beatrice Forbes-Robertson, niece of the actor Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson and grand-daughter of the drama critic Joseph Knight; Clement Hale m. 2nd (div.), Sir William Frederick Glock, head of music at the B.B.C.
- Natalie Swinburne Agard Bramhall Davenport 1937-
- Clare Forbes Agard Bramhall Davenport 1941- Rev. Dr, m. 1964, David M. Le Vay
- a dau.
m. 2nd, 1944, Marjorie, dau. of – Morrison (formerly wife of John Pickering)
- Hugo Riddell Agard Bramhall Davenport 1945- m. 1965, Sally E. Harper
- a son (C. N. Agard Bramhall Davenport)
- m. 2nd, 1969, Patricia A. Hayes
- a son (W. H. Agard Bramhall Davenport)
- a dau. (K. H. Agard Bramhall Davenport)
- m. 3rd, 1977, Susan A. Hawkins
- Roger H. Agard Bramhall Davenport 1946- author, formerly actor, advertising executive m. Joanna B., actress, dau. of John Neil McCallum A.O., C.B.E., actor, and Georgette Lisette (‘Googie’) Withers, actress
- a son (H. S. Davenport)
- a dau. (A. S. Davenport)
John Davenport’s father was actor and soi-disant ‘dramatic author’ (who wrote and illustrated stories for children, as well as produced lyrics for popular songs) Robert William Davenport, known generally as either ‘Robin’ or ‘Arthur’; Robert married Muriel Winifred, actress daughter of Robert George and his wife Isabel, both singing teachers. Muriel petitioned for divorce in 1920; Robert died in 1934.
Robert William Davenport 1875-1934 of Hampstead, Middx., writer and illustrator, lyricist, actor m. (div. 1920) Muriel Winifred (1884-1965; m. 2nd, 1921, Edward Ernest Butcher, theatre and film actor), theatre and film actress and singer, dau. of Robert George and Annie Isabel M. (née Robinson), singing teachers
- John Lancelot Agard Bramhall Davenport (as above)
Robert’s father, Francis William Davenport, was a musician, who married Clarina Thalia, daughter of Sir George Alexander MacFarren by his wife Clarina Thalia (née Andrae; better known as ‘Lady Natalie/ Natalia MacFarren’.
Francis William Davenport 1848-1925 of Hampstead, Middx., educ. Univ. Coll. Oxon., barrister of the Inner Temple, musician, composer, writer on music, professor of harmony and counterpoint (inc. at Guildhall School of Music), examiner for (and professor at) the Royal Academy of Music, m. 1873, Clarina Thalia (1848-1934), dau. of Sir George Alexander MacFarren (from whom Davenport had studied music) by his wife Clarina Thalia (née Andrae; known as Lady Natalie MacFarren)
- Robert William Davenport (as above)
- Lawrence Michael Foley Davenport 1880-1958, of Ealing, Middx
- Mabel Natalia Davenport 1874-
- Winifred M(uriel?). Davenport 1877-
- [perhaps another child, as indicated by next daughter being ‘Octavia’- i.e. eighth] possibly Muriel Davenport 1878-1970?
- Gertrude Mary Davenport (‘Cedar Paul’) 1879-1972 singer, author, translator and journalist, m. (Maurice) Eden Paul, socialist physician, writer and translator (thanks to John McCoy, who has produced a ‘scrapbook’ pertaining to the Davenports descending from Rev. Thomas Davenport, vicar of Radcliffe-on-Trent- see comments below- for alerting me to this and other information!)
- (Agnes) Sylvia Davenport 1883- m. 1911, Henry Joseph Comyns, C.B.E., Assistant Solicitor to the Ministry of Health
- William F. Comyns 1912-(1945?) LL.B. (London), solicitor (Maj., R.A.?)
- Sylvia N. Comyns 1915- m. 1939, Rowland Phillips Morgan, dentist
- a son
- a dau.
- Octavia Clarina Katherine Davenport [also Catherine Octavia Clarina] 1890-
The Davenport family from this point backward shows the origins of the names ‘Lancelot’, ‘Agard’ and ‘Bramhall’ which were to be so prominent later, as shown above. The following outline comes from Winifred Antonia Davenport Auch, of Fort Washington, PA, descended from Joseph Lancelot Davenport (1808-).
Thomas Davenport, of Sitherington, Cheshire, gentleman
- Thomas Davenport (see below)
Rev. Thomas Davenport 1722-1795 of Leek, Staffs., later of Nottingham, Notts., educ. Worcester Coll. Oxon., vicar of Radcliffe-on-Trent, Notts., m. 1749/50, Margaret, dau. of Samuel Lancelot, of Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs.
- Charles Davenport
- Thomas Davenport
- Samuel Davenport (see below)
- John Davenport 1753- Rev. m. Mary Waters
- Thomas Reginald Davenport 1780-
- John Waters Davenport 1781-
- Frederick Davenport 1782-
- Samuel Davenport 1786-
- Hugo Davenport 1791-1797
- Margaret Davenport 1784-1814 m. William Furley
- Alicia Ann Davenport 1790-1797
- Catherine Davenport 1794-1797
- Richard Lancelot Davenport 1771-
- Henrietta Davenport m. John Gould
- Catherine Davenport 1754-
- Margaret Davenport 1755-
- Agatha Frances Davenport 1757-
- Lucy Davenport 1762-
- Mary Davenport 1765-
Rev. Samuel Davenport 1751-1800 of Horsley, Derbys., minister of Horsley, author of a guide to shorthand writing m. 1775, Elizabeth, dau. of Francis Agard, of Park Hall, Horsley
- Francis Agard Davenport 1776-
- Thomas Davenport 1777-1854 m. Grace, dau. of –
- Georgina Davenport
- Samuel Davenport 1778- m. Maria, dau. of –
- Robert Marsden Davenport 1818-1851
- Emanuel Charles Davenport 1820-1891
- Joseph Davenport (see below)
- Lancelot Davenport 1781-
- Ebenezer Davenport 1782-
- Zebediah (/Jedediah) Septimus Davenport 1784-1801
- Immanuel Davenport 1785-
- Theodore Davenport 1788-1789
- Margaret Davenport 1787-1789
Joseph Davenport 1779- of Derby, Derbys. m. 1802, Sarah Walker
- William Walker Davenport 1805-
- Samuel Davenport 1806-
- Joseph Lancelot Davenport (see below)
- Arthur Davenport 1811-
- Ebenezer Davenport 1814-
- Charlotte Josephine Davenport 1817- m. 1844, Francis J. Vickery
Joseph Lancelot Davenport 1808- of Clapham, Surrey m. 1844, Matilda Octavia (1823-1909), dau. of Allen Mason
- Joseph Lancelot Davenport 1844-
- Francis William Davenport (treated above)
- Frederic Allen Davenport 1849-
- Charles Agard Davenport 1850-1850
- Harold Devereux Davenport 1853-
- Louis Arthur Davenport 1854-
- Charles Agard Septimus Davenport 1856-1926 of Exeter, Devons. m. Frances Gosling
- Charles Harold Davenport 1888-1939 of Exeter, sometime of Koln, Germany m.-
- Winifred Antonia Davenport 1924- m. 1944, Walter Louis Auch
- Francis Joseph Davenport 1899-
- Winifred Davenport 1895-
- Charles Harold Davenport 1888-1939 of Exeter, sometime of Koln, Germany m.-
- Ernest Octavius Davenport 1861-
- Matilda Davenport 1846-
- Charlotte Josephine Davenport 1851- m. Arthur Wilson
- Rose Ellen Davenport 1858-
- Beatrice Frances Sarah Davenport 1859-
- Constance Cecilia Davenport 1861-
- Fanny Theresa Bateman Davenport 1864-
Although the connection remains unclear, the use of the name ‘Bramhall’ is doubtlessly intended to indicate relationship with the Davenport family of Bramall Hall, at Bramhall, now Greater Manchester, but historically Cheshire. They appear in records back to the Norman Conquest, and held the manor of Bramhall for five hundred years. Given the first Thomas Davenport, above, being from Cheshire, a familial link is not unlikely, but needs identifying. The most recent residents at Bramall Hall are the Davenport-Handleys, also of Clipsham Hall, Rutland.