Horatio Lewis ORTON (1801-1851)

This is a collaboration between Box People & Places & the ROCuP Project. Research by Martin Stower and Jean Coburn. The following extracts are taken from a full article which appears on the website of Box People & Places

Horatio Lewis Orton (21 March 1801-1851) was born at Walworth, South London, the son of James and Ann Orton. He was baptised a few weeks later at St Mary Woolnoth Church in the City of London. Horatio’s early life in London was as turbulent as his work in Box. This was a time when politics were febrile with the Peterloo Massacre of innocent civilians in 1819, the Cato Street Conspiracy of 1820, which attempted to murder the whole cabinet, and the unseemly public response to the coronation of George IV, when many people supported the estranged queen Caroline of Brunswick. It was a time that historians have claimed to be close to revolution (Box People & Places). In 1821 Horatio threw his lot in with the King and was appointed secretary of the Bridge Street Society, a group bringing legal cases against publishers who scandalised the monarchy with satirical cartoons.

Horatio was one of the early excavators of the Box Tunnel, contracted by Isambard Kingdom Brunel to sink exploratory shafts on Box Hill, investigating the nature of the underground stone beds. The Orton family had previously worked with Brunel when Isambard and his father Marc were excavating the Thames Tunnel and in which Horatio’s brother Henry lost his life in 1828 (David Pollard, Digging Bath Stone, 2021, Lightmoor Press, p.15).

There were several Orton family connections with Box. In 1841 Gustavus B Orton (1826-) was mentioned as living in Box village as a 15-year-old with an engineer Gustavus Augustus Beckers, Brunel’s assistant on excavating the Box Tunnel. It subsequently turned out that Horatio’s niece, Julia Augustus French Orton (1821-) was Gustavus Beckers step-daughter and she married Humphries Brewer, another of the Tunnel contract excavators at Gloucester in 1847.

Despite working away so much, Horatio established a family after his marriage to Maria Curson at Deptford, Kent, in 1826. They sometimes moved around to be close to Horatio’s work but by 1844 Maria and he had moved to 101 Castle Street, Reading, where Horatio was described as a contractor in the 1851 census. He was still involved in the railways at times calling his place of employment as 101 Castle Street and Great Western Railway Station (Slater’s Directory for Berkshire, 1852). He rose in social status and joined the Freemasons, the Reading Lodge of Union in November 1843 and was given the freedom of the City of London by the Butchers’ Company in 1845.

A few months before he died in August 1851, Horatio had a brick grave built next to his own epitaph plot and six women were buried there: Mary Fry (1786-1847), Martha Blake (1796-1854), Sarah Frankum (1800-1857), Emma Frances George (1854-1860), Frances Frankum (1810-1871) and Sarah Gardiner (1823-1882). Most of these appear to be local needy people: Mary Fry lived at Castle Street; Sarah Frankum was an inmate at the St Lawrence Workhouse, Reading and she and her sister Frances had run a confectioners in Castle Street; Emma George a child in Castle Street; and Sarah Gardiner was the widow of a Reading railway labourer.

Freemasonry symbols on the Orton monument

We can speculate that Horatio provided for these people as part of his new-found commitment to charity with the wealth he had managed to make by his own labours. As regards his own estate, Horatio left all his assets, tools and equipment to his eldest son Horace Rowe Orton in his will, subject to an annual payment of £30 to each of his other children, Ellen Maria and Harry Percy, during their minority plus some additional interest to Ellen Maria. He wanted certain of his domestic furnishings of china, glass and furniture to be sold and that Horace should pay his wife Maria £52 a year. His will was very much of a middle-class, affluent man at peace with his situation in life, contrary to his younger self. After his death Maria was recorded as a boarder in Kensington in 1861″.

Buried in Section 55, Row E, next to the base of the Episcopal chapel