Herbert JACKSON, “The British Workman” (1851–1921)
St Giles section: Row 36, Grave L56½

British Workman grave

H. S. E. [Hic sepultus est]

Here is buried
the British Workman
an unattached [non-collegiate] student,
A man
of unbending integrity,
he was equally robust in mind and body
(but both alas were for a long time equally tormented).

For almost forty years he painstakingly
trained students in Classics.
At length, his eyesight dimmed, he quietly yielded to Fate
and calmly descended into this tomb.
He died at Oxford on 3 February 1921

Herbert Jackson was born in Bere Ferrers parish in Bere Alston village, Devon in March 1851, the son of Richard Smart Jackson (born in Bere Ferrers in 1808/9) and his wife Ann Tapson Channon (born in Devonport in 1817/18). His parents were married in the Stoke Damerel district in the third quarter of 1842 and had the following children:

  • George Jackson (born in Bere Ferrers in 1843, reg. third quarter)
  • Ann Jackson (born in Bere Ferrers in 1844, reg. third quarter)
  • Barnard [sic] Jackson (born in Bere Ferrers in 1847/8, reg. first quarter of 1848)
  • Herbert Jackson (born in Bere Ferrers in March 1851).

Herbert’s father was a surgeon, who claimed to be related to Stonewall Jackson. At the time of the 1851 census he was living at Fore Street, Bere Ferrers with his wife and four children, and the situation was the same in 1861, except that Herbert’s brother Barnard (13) was away boarding at Tavistock Grammar School.

Herbert’s brother Barnard Jackson died at the age of 20 near the beginning of 1868 (reg. Marylebone first quarter) and his mother Mrs Ann Tapson Jackson at the age of 51 near the end of 1868 (registered Plymouth fourth quarter).

Herbert Jackson was matriculated at the University of Oxford as a non-collegiate student at the age of 19 on 22 October 1869. An Act of 1868 had just allowed students who were not connected to any college to matriculate as members of the University, keeping their required terms of residence in houses or licensed lodging in Oxford.

It appears that Herbert's father moved up to Oxford to live with him, as at the time of the 1871 census Richard Smart Jackson (62), a retired surgeon, was living in north Oxford at Park Crescent with his daughter Ann (26) and Herbert (20), who is described as an undergraduate. Herbert’s older brother George was a married surgeon, living in Plymouth (see below).

Herbert was awarded a third class in Moderations in 1871. His father died in Oxford at the age of 65 in 1873 (death registered second quarter), and his body was probably taken to Devon to be buried with his wife. The following year, on 6 June 1874 Herbert (who did not take the examination for Honours) was awarded a Pass degree in Literae Humaniores. He refused to take his Master’s degree because, in the words of a friend, “it possessed no intrinsic value in his eyes”.

Herbert Jackson spent a short time as a schoolmaster, but soon returned to Oxford, where he spent the rest of his life, working as a “crammer”. (The business of crammers was said to be “not to teach, nor to test teaching; but to enable students to pass the tests”.) For almost forty years he gave private additional coaching in his home to wealthy undergraduates reading for pass degrees, and never spent a night out of Oxford.

At the time of the 1881 census he was living in a lodging house at 16 Museum Terrace (now 31 Museum Road), and in 1891 he had his own rooms at 19 St John Street in the home of Thomas Leach, a clerk in the Bodleian Library.

Everyone in Oxford appears to have known Jackson because of his eccentric appearance. Sir Charles Oman, Fellow of Balliol College, wrote of him:

The other notable private coach — a non-collegiate graduate — worked on less promising material…, being the last refuge of the much-ploughed man who was on the eve of dismissal from his College. His aspect was most strange — and led to his acquiring the soubriquet of “the British Workman”. He wore an old grey jacket, a very baggy pair of flannel trousers, and a woollen scarf or comforter twisted round his neck instead of a collar. His headgear varied between a straw hat and a shapeless felt. But he was a Master of Arts undoubtedly, also a member of the Union Society for countless years. He was nearly always to be seen in its lounge on afternoons in term swilling tea. I never heard him speak to any one, nor was he ever guilty of indiscretions. But he was a most incongruous figure among the undergraduates, though he was perfectly inoffensive.

(In fact, Oman is wrong: Jackson had refused to take the degree of Master of Arts.)

An undergraduate contemporary wrote:

His clothes preached his doctrine of self sufficiency…. He undertook to keep them in repair without benefit of tailors. Whatever shape or colour his coat had been at first no one could say; as he grew older he became of Falstaffian proportions and it had been the endeavour of his coat to keep pace. In some places it had not succeeded, notably in the sleeves, and it had long ago lost the power of meeting in front.

His trousers were an “arch of triumph for man’s resourcefulness, unique among the ‘bags’ of Oxford.” As they wore thin “at those places where trousers will wear out,” a new tier of material was simply added to the top at the waistband, while the legs tended to grow shorter until eventually they began at a point near the knees.

Jackson enjoyed walking, and used to get as far as Stanton Harcourt or Long Wittenham.

His nickname, the British Workman, was derived for a caricature of him displayed in the window of an art dealer’s shop.

At the time of the 1911 census Herbert Jackson (60) had rooms at 32 St John Street in the house of James Palmer, a baker. He described himself as a private tutor, working on his own account at home. He evidently became more eccentric as he grew older, (tormented in mind and body, as the Latin on his gravestone reveals), and soon after this census he retired, with his eyesight fading. He died ten years later in 1921:

† Herbert Jackson died at 32 St John Street at the age of 70 on 3 February 1921 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on Monday 7 February (burial recorded in the parish register of St Giles’s Church).

The north end of St Giles’s Street where Herbert Jackson lived is in St Giles’s parish, so his name is recorded in the correct burial register; but he is buried in the St Mary Magdalen section of the cemetery.

The following pictures appeared in the Oxford Journal Illustrated of 9 February 1921:

British Workman

The American Oxonian (a magazine for Rhodes Scholars), published this obituary from a London newspaper of “a famous Oxford character whom all Rhodes Scholars will remember”:

The death was announced yesterday of Mr. Herbert Jackson, a well-known Oxford “coach” and one of the oldest non-collegiate students. He was a remarkable personality, and his utter indifference as to dress, shown in the cravat, short coat, and voluminous trousers which he habitually wore, made him a distinctive figure in the streets of Oxford and at University ceremonies.

Born in March, 1851, he was the son of a Devon gentleman, and matriculated in March, 1869, as an unattached student, the Censor at that time being the Rev. G. W. Kitchin, afterwards Dean of Durham, of whom he was a great admirer. Mr. Jackson graduated B.A. in 1874, but never took his M.A. degree, as he considered it of little value. He was a pass “coach” for more than thirty years, and many distinguished pupils came under his instruction. He was familiarly known to members of the University and the public generally as “the British Workman,” in consequence of a cartoon which appeared in the window of a prominent bookseller in Oxford many years ago. In later years he suffered a great privation, his sight becoming too bad for reading. He was of an essentially frank and generous disposition, and it was his custom during his busiest time to keep his rooms open for entertainment on Fridays and Sundays. In his younger days Mr. Jackson was a good sportsman, being especially fond of boxing and hunting; but for the last twenty years or more he will be best remembered as a sedentary character in the rooms of the Union Society.

The effects of Jackson, who was described at probate as a retired tutor, came to £2,801 16s. 9d.

Description of The British Workmen

From H. E. Counsell, 37 The Broad. The Memoirs of an Oxford Doctor (London: Robert Hale Ltd, 1943), pp. 42–3:

For stupendous oddity, no one had ever beaten the figure known to generations of undergraduates as The British Workman or The Britter for short.

A little above medium height, about twenty stone in weight, he had a huge head with a very scanty red beard. He usually wore an old grey flannel suit, a flannel shirt with collar attached, left wide open at the throat so that the upper part of his hairy chest was exposed to view. His trousers only reached two-thirds down his legs, but even more oddly their fork came somewhere between his knees. This Led to the legend that he had a tail and his trousers had been made in this way to allow it to be coiled up behind. He wore white socks which always fell in rolls round his voluminous shoes. In summertime this striking costume was surmounted by a ridiculously small straw boater hat. He was a graduate and was said in his early days in the late ’seventies to have been a not unsuccessful coach for the Pass Schools. When I first knew him he was often to be found at the Union where he would arrive as soon as it opened, collect all the morning newspapers, place them on one of the big arm-chairs in the upper smoking-room and sit on them. If you were one of his friends and should chance to enter the room, he would rise, make a profound bow, and say, “Pardon me, Sir, but are you by any chance looking for this morning’s edition of the Times?” If you said, “Yes,” he would extricate it from the bundle and hand it to you with another low bow. While you read it he watched you closely, and when you rose to go grabbed the paper and once more sat down on it. Here in the afternoon he would be found asleep with one huge leg thrown over the arm of the chair, but to see him at his best you had to call upon him at his rooms in John Street on a Friday evening.

On my first call there I was guilty of the grave mistake of ringing the bell. I heard a pair of feet shuffling along the passage, the door was thrown open and there he stood holding a lighted candle on a level with his head. “Sir, you honour me by your visit,” he said, “but should you please to do so again on a future occasion, may I crave this favour of you that you do not ring the bell. No, I pray you, don’t apologise but walk and you will see how your ring has disturbed the flow of conversation.” You walked into a room lit by a few candles. In the centre stood a plain deal table covered with a newspaper on which were spread out half-a-pound of loose shag tobacco, some long churchwardens, an ordinary bedroom ewer full of water and about a dozen tall drinking glasses. You were handed one of these and told to add whisky to your liking, but as it was nearly brimful of water there was only room for half a wine-glass. Then you sat down and were introduced to the subject of the conversation which your arrival had interrupted. His was the lion’s share, his model being Dr Johnson, and the party had obviously assembled to listen to him. He would pour out long quotations from bygone political speeches or the summing-up of judges without stopping to draw breath. A newcomer had little difficulty in persuading him to deliver his famous curse upon certain members of his family for whom he had a totally unwarranted and undeserved hatred.*

* More on Herbert Jackson’s two siblings below. The fact that George’s children avoided going to the University Oxford, and that Annie named her first son Herbert, suggests that the animosity may have been directed towards the former.

George Jackson, Herbert’s brother

George Jackson (born in Bere Ferrers in 1843) was married in the Bury district in the third quarter of 1869 to Agnes Jane Mugliston, a druggist’s daughter born in Buxton in 1846. They had two sons:

  • George Crichton Jackson (born in Plymouth in 1870)
  • Donald Williams Jackson (born in Plymouth in 1872).

At the time of the 1871 census George Jackson (27) was a surgeon, living at Clifton Villas, Plymouth with his wife Agnes (24) and their baby son George.

By 1881 they were living at 1 St George’s Terrace, Plymouth. They then had two servants (a domestic servant and a coachman), and George’s cousin William Williams (77), a retired General Practitioner and widower born in Devonport and doubtless the source of Donald’s middle name), was living with them. Probably significantly, neither of the sons went up to Oxford, where their uncle was already a well-known figure: after going to school at Plymouth College George was matriculated at the University of Cambridge by St John’s College in 1888, and read Medicine, while Donald read Theology elsewhere.

In 1891 the family was living at 10 Portland Villas, Kirkby Place, Plymouth, and George (20) and Donald (18) were at home for the vacation.

They were still at this house in 1901, but Agnes was paying a visit to her unmarried son Donald (28), now a clergyman living at the Rectory, South Molton; and George (30), now a Doctor of Medicine, was living at Lauderdale Mansions, Paddington with his wife and daughter.

By 1911 George Jackson (65) was a widower, living with his widowed sister Annie and two of her sons at Whitchurch, Devon. He died at 10 Portland Villas, Plymouth at the age of 88 on 12 May 1931. His effects at probate came to £5,647 12s. 7d.

Ann Jackson (Mrs Symms), Herbert’s sister

Ann Jackson (born in Bere Ferrers in 1844, and known as Annie) was living with her father and her brother Herbert in Park Town in 1871, when she was 26. By the end of the 1870s she was Mrs Symms, and after a short period in Snaresbrook, Essex the family evidently moved to Radnorshire. She and her husband had six children:

  • [Illegible] Symms (born in Snaresbrook, Essex in c.1879)
  • Mary Symms (born in Presteigne, Radnorshire in 1880/1)
  • Herbert Symms (born in Presteigne, Radnorshire in 1881/2)
  • Annie Symms (born in Presteigne, Radnorshire in 1882/3)
  • Llewellyn Symms (born in Presteigne, Radnorshire in 1884/5)
  • Archibald Symms (born in Presteigne, Radnorshire in 1885/6)

The registration of (1) her marriage, (2) the births of her children, and (3) the death of her husband are hard to find, as is their entry in the 1881 census.

By the time of the 1891 census Mrs Annie Symms (49) was a widow, living on her own means at 13 Spenser Road, Bedford with her five youngest children.

She was still in Bedford in 1901, now at 66 Gladstone Street, with two of her children: Mary (20), who was a university student, and Llewellyn (16), who was an engineering apprentice.

By 1911 she had moved back down to Devon and was living at Whitchurch with her three youngest children: Anne (28), who was now simply described as independent; Llewellyn (26), now a student of engineering; and Archibald (25), a tutor of mathematics. Her brother George Symms (65), a widower, now also lived with her: he was a surgeon.



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