Richard BREATHWITT (1832–1874)
His wife Mrs Eliza BREATHWITT, née Smith (1830–1879)
St Paul section: Row 19, Grave E8 [St Paul ref D.23]

Richard Breathwitt

The quotation at the top of the gravestone, “There is but a step between me and death” (1 Samuel 20:3) is chillingly apposite.




… …


Breathwitt initials

R. B. / 1874

E. B. / 1879

Richard Breathwitt was born at Bedford Row, Southwark on 16 May 1832 and baptised at St Saviour’s Church there on 22 July. He was the son of the carpenter Richard Benjamin Breathwitt (known as Benjamin) and his wife Sarah. (There are many variant spellings of his surname, e.g. Braithwith, but the one normally used by both the family and the General Registration Office was Breathwitt.)

Eliza Smith was born in Sheerness in c.1829. She was the daughter of William Ward Smith, a relieving officer.

Richard and Eliza were both living at Bedford Row in Southwark when they were married at St Saviour's Church, Southwark on 3 August 1851. They had the following children:

  • Richard Benjamin Breathwitt (born in Lambeth in 1854 and baptised at St Mary’s Church there on 30 April)
  • Eliza Sarah Breathwitt (born in Lambeth in 1860)
  • Mary Ann Smith Breathwitt (born in Winchester near the end of 1865)
  • Sharon Breathwitt TWIN (born at 3 Cranham Street, Oxford in May 1869 and privately baptised by St Paul's Church on 15 June); died aged two months
  • Lizzie Breathwitt TWIN (BORN at 3 Cranham Street, Oxford in May 1869 and baptised by St Paul's Church on 4 July); died aged two months

At the time of the 1861 census Richard Breathwitt (28), described as a carpenter & joiner, was living at 8 Homer Street in Lambeth with his wife Eliza (31) and their first child Eliza junior (five months).

Richard moved to Oxford with his family when he was appointed Clerk of Works for the building of Keble College, whose foundation stone was laid in 1868. They were living at 3 Cranham Street in Jericho in 1869. Mrs Breathwitt gave birth to twins there, but both died at the age of two months and were buried on 12 July, probably in the St Paul's section of the cemetery reserved for infants.

The first phase of the building of Keble was complete in 1870, and it appears that the family then moved back to London, as the 1871 census shows Richard Breathwitt as a carpenter & joiner aged 38 living at 11 Tidbury Street, Battersea with his wife Eliza (41) and their three surviving children Richard (17), Eliza (10), and Mary (5), as well as his father Benjamin and his unmarried niece Elizabeth Harris (19), who was a dressmaker.

Keble College Chapel

The family returned to Oxford when Keble started its second phase of building and Breathwitt was appointed Clerk of Works at Keble College Chapel, whose foundation stone was laid on 3 May 1873. He and his family then lived at 96 Walton Street, which fell in the St Paul’s district chapelry. (This house was four doors down from the Victoria pub, and has since been demolished.)

Right: Keble College Chapel in c.1905

Breathwitt died in an accident at Keble College in 1874 after falling 70 feet when climbing out of a large wheelbarrow (intended only for transporting materials via a steam derrick to the top of the building works).

Richard Breathwitt died on 13 November 1874 at the age of 43. His funeral service at St Paul’s Church was taken by the Revd E. S. Taylor of Keble College on Thursday 19 November 1874, and he was buried the next day at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery (burial recorded in register of St Paul’s Church).

His surname was incorrectly recorded at the General Register Office as Breathwith.

William Butterfield, the architect of Keble College, and some of the workmen attended his funeral.

His effects came to under £200, and his wife was his executor.

KebleKeble College from inside the University Parks, c.1900

The inquest

An inquest into his death was held at the Radcliffe Infirmary on the afternoon of the day he died, and there was a full report on it in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 21 November 1874.

William White of 6 Clarendon Buildings, Jericho, one of the foremen of the works, identified the body of the deceased, and said that he had seen the machinery of the steam derrick since the accident, and everything was all right; indeed it had been used to lift materials since the accident occurred. He heard of the deceased’s fall, and on going out saw some of the men bearing him on their shoulders to the Infirmary but he was then dead. The derrick was erected to lift materials, and it was the option of the men if they went up by that means. They went up on all occasions in a wheelbarrow, which was slung from the main chain by three smaller chains – one on each handle and one on the wheel. He had cautioned the men on several occasions about going up by it. They had never had any accident, until this happened, of any consequence. The accident did not occur through anything breaking. The deceased was much respected by the whole of the workmen.

Henry Coppock, one of the labourers, said that he saw the deceased that morning at the works a little before a quarter to eight, and he was then standing by the barrow, waiting for the engine-man to draw him up. Witness had been up in the barrow before this that morning. Witness was on the landing-place watching the deceased come up in the barrow, in which there were also about 40 bricks, and was waiting to pull it over the platform. It came up safely to the top, and the deceased, before witness could pull it on to the platform, stepped off the barrow on to what was called a “principal piece,” but missing his hold of another beam he fell to the ground, a distance of 70 feet. He fell backwards all the way. Witness could not have saved him, although he did touch his hair as he went down, but if he had caught hold of him it was a certainty that he would have been pulled down too. It was the deceased’s own fault that he stepped off when he did, as the barrow had not stopped. As the deceased fell he heard him exclaim, “O, pray.”

There were other witnesses, including the House Surgeon of the Radcliffe Infirmary; and the jury returned a verdict of Accidental Death.

Mrs Eliza Breathwitt

Eliza did not remain in Oxford after her husband’s death in 1874, but took her two daughters back to London, where she died in 1879. Her body was brought back to Oxford for burial with her husband:

† Mrs Eliza Breathwitt died in London in December 1879 at the age of 50 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 6 January 1880 in the same grave as her husband (burial recorded in parish register of St Paul’s Church).

Her two daughters, now orphans, then had to support themselves in London: at the time of the 1881 census Eliza (20) and Mary (15) were both ironers, lodging in a house in Camberwell (with their surname incorrectly recorded by the householder as Brethwaith). Her son Richard remained in Oxford.

Children of Richard and Eliza Breathwitt
  • Richard Benjamin Breathwitt (born 1854): see separate grave of his wife and her parents for his subsequent history.
  • Eliza Sarah Breathwitt (born 1860) was a shirt and collar dresser in 1891, living in part of 13 Hargwyne Street, Stockwell with her sister Mary Ann. She married Thomas Gregory Price in the third quarter of 1899, but they had no children. In 1901 she was living at 7 Cedar Villas, Hampton Wick with her husband, who was a beer retailer; by 1911 he had retired and they were living at 2 Loubet Street, Tooting Junction. She may be the Eliza S. Price who died in Ealing at the age of 87 near the beginning of 1948.
  • Mary Ann Smith Breathwitt (born 1865) was a collar ironer in 1891, living with her sister. On 30 April 1893 at All Saints’ Church, Walworth she married the furrier Reuben Levy: they had no children. In 1901 Mary (35) was living in part of 18 Stanbury Road, Camberwell with her husband Reuben (31), who was now a laundry foreman. In 1911 they were living at 63 Hall Road, Peckham Rye, and Mary Ann was helping her husband in his laundry business. Mrs Mary Ann Levy died at 150 Leavesden Road, Watford at the age of 64 on 24 September 1929. Her effects came to £159 11s., and her executor was her husband, Reuben Levy, laundryman.



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