Life story retold by Liz Tait
One of the most magnificent memorials in the Old Reading Cemetery is that of the two kneeling angels with a cross which is dedicated to George William Herbert Rhodes who died on 18 March 1898 aged 15 years. Surely with such an ostentatious monument there is a story to tell.
Yet it has been surprisingly difficult to find information about young George William Herbert Rhodes or his family. He was born in 1883 and therefore alive at the time of the 1891 census so one would have expected that with three first names that it would have been relatively easy to find census information and detail about his parents; sadly not so. The only information available was that pertaining to the death of and burial of George.
So the next step was to purchase the death certificate. This did furnish more information but also resulted is more questions being asked. At the time of George Rhodes death we learn that his father was already dead; no details were given about his mother. However we are told that his father was called Thomas Rhodes and that he was a man of independent means. Unfortunately a search of probates for the years 1883 to 1898 for various Thomas Rhodes did not reveal any information to aid our quest in finding out about the family of George Rhodes. Given the grandeur of the memorial we must assume that the cost would not have been insignificant and that George’s loss at such a young age was keenly felt.
The death certificate states the cause of death and where the young man died. George Rhodes died from acute tubercular phthisis which he had suffered from for three months and heart failure. Phthisis is an archaic name for tuberculosis. Tuberculosis is a severe wasting disease which was a common killer in the 19th century.
The place of his death is given as Rose Lawn, Pangbourne. There is a Rose Cottage in the village which along with its two neighbours Japonica and Myrtle Cottages are Grade II listed. A much larger building once known as Rose Wood Hall or Rose Lea was described as a substantial house with eleven bedrooms and set in an excess of an acre of land with coach houses and out buildings. This property is now the Pangbourne Working Men’s Club. I think that it is possible that it was in this house that young George died having been sent to the country as a treatment for his affliction; although this is merely supposition on the author’s part.
George’s death was not registered by a family member but by the Reverend E Baron von Orsbach who was present at the death. Census information was obtained for 1881, 1891 and 1911 and these were sources of interesting information. Firstly, the E stands for Engelbert. Secondly, the Baron had been born in Germany about 1837 and thirdly he was a priest in the Roman Catholic Church. From the census details it appears that over time he was also the principal of a number of schools for boys and young men.
In 1881 Orsbach’s address was Blenheim House, Leyland Road, Lewisham. Orsbach’s age was given as 43 years. At the same address boarded eight boys between the ages of 11 and 16 years and two tutors, a female cook / housekeeper and a housemaid.
In 1891 Orsbach’s address was Mottingham House, Mottingham, Kent. This census gives Orsbach as the head of the household, his housekeeper is a relative and there are four female servants between the ages of 17 and 42 years. There are four boarding pupils aged between 17 and 22 years and two tutors. Also living at the house are three other members of the von Orsbach family who are listed as visitors. In the adjacent Gardener’s Lodge lived the gardener and his young family as well as the coachman and groom.
It has not been possible to find any census information for 1901 but research revealed that Mottingham House in 1903 became a certified Catholic school for 75 boys from the ages of 3 to 8 years who were boarded out by Workhouse authorities. The school was then run by Sisters of Mercy.
In 1911 von Orsbach was living in at The Hermitage, Arundel. He died in September 1913 aged 77.
Given the details about the Reverend von Orsbach it is thought that perhaps George William Herbert Rhodes had been a boarding pupil at a school run by von Orsbach when he was taken ill. Rose Lawn in Pangbourne was a place of nursing care but sadly the boy did not recover. Reading Old Cemetery offered a place of burial for a young Roman Catholic boy.
Buried in Section 24, Row B, Number 24