Origins of the Chinese Porcelain at The Woods

Leigh Historical Society

The Origins of the Chinese Porcelain at The Woods

Last year I wrote articles on the Heath family, which are now on our website and have recently been updated, with photographs added.  There was one query, however, relating to the origins of the Chinese porcelain that the family owned and displayed at The Woods.  Following my articles on the website, I was contacted by Michael Wace, the grandson of Edith Hine (née Heath) and Roger and I went to see him in London.  Michael was able to correct some facts and tell us some further family history. He allowed us to photograph some of the paintings and pictures in his possession and, importantly, solved the mystery of the origins of the china.

As previously mentioned, Lawrence Biddle in “Leigh in Kent 1550-1900” had written that the china had been brought back from the Far East by Agnes Heath’s son in 1900. Obviously, Lawrence Biddle had heard stories about the china long after the final member of the Heath family (Edith Hine) had moved away and they had become distorted over time.  In my original article I had argued that this could not have been correct as Agnes Heath’s only son had died shortly after birth in 1862 and that it perhaps had been another relative.  I have now learnt that the china had been sent or brought back by Charles Lenox Richardson, Agnes’s younger brother, much earlier than 1900.  Charles had been born in 1833 and had been a merchant in the Far East, where he was killed in 1862.  Michael Wace inherited the letters of Charles Lenox Richardson and has given permission to Robert Fletcher of Warwick University to use them for his book “The Ghost of Namamugi: Charles Lenox Richardson and the Anglo-Satsuma War” published by Renaissance Books which tells the story of his time in the Far East.

Charles Lenox Richardson had gone to the Far East in 1854 and spent time as a merchant in Shanghai and the china would have come to England during that period, whether looted or not.   However, in 1862 Charles also went to Japan where he was killed (two companions with him were also injured) – in an incident which became known as the ‘Namamugi incident’, which led to the Anglo-Satsuma War in August 1863.  The British viewed the killing as an unprovoked attack, but there was strong anti-foreigner feeling among some people in Japan at that time.  Richardson and three other westerners were out riding near the western settlement outside Yokohama when they met the retinue of the Daimyo (prince) of Satsuma; his samurai guards attacked the riding party – it is not known whether they were ordered to do so.  Following the murder, Britain demanded reparations and the trial and execution of the perpetrators (which never took place). As Satsuma prevaricated, the British sent in a squadron to Kagoshima and bombarded it.  Eventually a sum of £100,000 was paid and a trading relationship agreed.

There is more information about the Namamugi incident on-line, for example on the website and, of course, now in Robert Fletcher’s compelling book.

The Richardson family eventually received financial compensation for the murder, which enabled the family to live comfortably.  Later, Agnes Mary Heath was able to rent The Woods where the family displayed their china and Edith Hine did an oil painting of the interior which shows some of it – this can be seen on the website.  Unfortunately, on leaving The Woods in 1946, the contents were put up for auction when some of the china and furnishings were sold.

Charles Lenox Richardson is buried at the Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery.  The grave is a handsome one and is well looked after by the cemetery staff.

Joyce Field (April 2019)