Some detective work looking for the rather elusive “architect’s assistant”.
I’ve been using some online archives to see if there is anything else out there about Lawrence G. Summers and after some digging I think I’ve come up with a few clues.
Starting with Ancestry.com (which is available to use for free in Nottinghamshire Libraries and is an invaluable starting point if you enjoy a bit of basic historical sleuthing), I found Summers in the census and tried to make a few dates add up. The problem with online research is that often transcription of handwriting (the speedy pen of the census taker, the scratchy hand of the baptismal registrar) is full of errors. I eventually tracked Summers down in the 1861 census – at age 6, living with his parents, brother and sister at 80 Duke Street, New Basford. (Later in his career Summers will be responsible for several building projects in Duke Street, more on these in the next blog.)
By 1871, the Summers family address has become 83 Duke Street, 16 year old Lawrence is already noted as an “architects clerk” and he has gained another younger brother. I’ve not had much luck with the 1881 census and finding L.G. in 1891 was a little harder as his name has been transcribed as “Laurence”, but he turns up living with his younger brother Frederick and his family, still on Duke Street. L.G. is 35 by now and is still noted as an architects clerk. His brother (and his father, who lives next door) are both listed as “Lace Warpers”. In a trade listing from 1899 Summers seems at last to have moved out and he is listed as “Architect’s Assistant” living at 8 Corporation Oaks (while brother Fred is now of “Summers and Son” and is still at Duke Street).
All this tallies with what Darren Turner has compiled in his book. But what of Summers the man? Who was his wife? And why does he show up as living alone as a single man aged 56 in the Gresham Hotel on Carrington Street in the 1911 census? (This one was a challenge as the whole page has been very poorly transcribed with New Basford transposed to “New Brentford” and architect read as “servant”, making it look like Summers worked in the hotel.)
To find out about a life, you often have to read about a person’s death, and so it is with Summers, the most that was ever written about him was after his funeral. When Summers died in September 1940, his death made the front pages of the local papers. The notices list the mourners (articles can be found on The British Newspaper Archive – also free to use inside Nottinghamshire Libraries) and from here I was able to narrow down the search. Summers’ wife is only ever refered to as “the widow” which seems to have been standard practice at the time. But luckily the familial relationships of the other people present were noted, so we can discover that Summers’ brother in law was a Mr Lewis Byng. More plugging away at Ancestry eventually stumps up the jackpot. Mrs Summers, nee Louise Martha Byng was married to Lawrence George Summers in 1927, when she was 56 and he was 73. This was a year after the death of her father, Joseph Tussaud Byng a banker with 12 children, and just a short time before the death of Watson Fothergill.
Lawrence and Louise appear again in the 1939 register now living together at 59 Edwards Lane. Lawrence died the following year, in November 1940 and Louise lived on until 1955, until the age of 84.
Looking at the Ancestry entries for the Byng family, one name stood out as it had also come up in searches of the Newspaper Archive with reference to the theatre… one of Louise Byng’s younger (half-) brothers was Douglas Coy Byng and as it turns out he was on the stage… in fact he was a celebrated Pantomime Dame, singer, cabaret star and female impersonator famed for his double entrendres! Here he is talking about the panto dame tradition in 1982:
And here is a performance of a comic song!
Summers’ Brother in Law Douglas Byng had a long and illustrious show biz career, both he and L.G. Summers were at J.T. Byng’s funeral so perhaps they met?
Next time… more about L.G. Summers’ buildings in Nottingham. If you think you might be related to the Summers family who lived in New Basford it would be great to hear from you! The family turn up in a few family trees on Ancestry, so some cousins a few times removed might be out there…