Arthur Amyot Steward is remembered on the Church War memorial because members of his extended family lived in Saxlingham Nethergate. The family were not only major landowners but also played an important role in all aspects of village life.
In 1874 Edward Steward, Amyot’s father, inherited farms, cottages and houses in Saxlingham Nethergate from his father, who had lived in the village with his family for many years. At that time Edward was just finishing his degree at Oxford and had decided to enter the church. He had no desire to live in Saxlingham Nethergate. He let out the farms and continued his studies, becoming a priest, a chaplain and then lecturer at Training Colleges. He went on to have a successful career in the church and eventually became a Canon of Salisbury Cathedral.
The farms and cottages suffered from the agricultural depression in the latter part of the 19th Century and became rundown. They may have also suffered from having a land owner that did not live locally. His mother, brothers and sisters continued to live in Saxlingham Hall on Saxlingham Green.
Two of his brothers, Reginald and Russell became tea planters. They worked in Doolaberra in Assam. Russell died young but Reginald was very successful and at one time had an interest in ten plantations. After many years working abroad he returned to live in England. His health was said to have been affected by the climate and it is said he was a frequent sufferer of ague (a fever usually associated with malaria). When he eventually returned he initially lived in Saxlingham Hall, presumably with his mother. She died in 1900.
He purchased the estate from his brother Edward and revitalised it. He was described as a model landowner and a generous benefactor. He renovated the Old Hall, an Elizabethan house near the church, and moved into it. He created beautiful rose gardens there which still exist today.
In Kelly’s Directories of 1896, 1908 and 1912 he and other members of the Steward family were listed as the major landowners of Saxlingham Nethergate and Saxlingham Thorpe. He also was listed as being a tea dealer having premises at 30 Prince of Wales Road, Norwich.
He accidentaly shot himself in January 1913 and left an estate of over £92,000. He had withdrawn from public duties a few years before his death because of a nervous affliction.
His brother Campbell Steward, a solicitor, inherited the estate and moved to live in Saxlingham from Norwich. He unfortunately died four years later in November 1917. He had married in 1911 aged 47 years old and he had no children. The estate was left to Elise, his widow, as tenant-in-life, and on her death Edward Merivale Steward, the elder brother of Amyot, was to inherit it. Edward Merivale died about twenty five years before Elise and so the estate on her death in 1973 passed to his son Major John Steward and Edward’s grandson, Michael Steward. John inherited the houses and cottages and Michael the farms. These were subsequently sold and the estate broken up. Major John Steward died in 2003. He and his wife Maeve are buried in the church cemetery along with other members of the Steward family.
Elise Steward played an important part in village life and was on many committees. The tea estates continued to prosper and she was very wealthy. In the 1920s she travelled extensively. She visited Egypt and watched Carter bringing treasures out of Tutankhamen’s tomb.
She gave the village hall in memory of Reginald Steward. She was involved in the design and building of the village war memorial. She gave the wooden frame for the Roll of Honour in the church at the same time that she donated a Chancel screen in memory of her husband. She was influential in deciding which names were put on this Roll.
Her husband Campbell Steward was very fond of his nephews, Edward and Amyot, and called them by their nicknames Bunny and Foffy. He wrote in a letter on Amyot’s death “Foff was a darling as a child, frank and free as a boy, gay and debonair as he grew up, and I believe true to the backbone throughout. Had I a son I should have hoped that he would have no better sample than the blend of Foffy and Bunny.” He left his estate on Elise’s death to Edward (Bunny).
John Steward told me that his father, Edward, and Amyot spent a lot of time as children and young men in Saxlingham. Several of their extended family lived in the area and so no doubt they visited often.
It is understandable therefore that Elise Steward would include her nephew’s name on the Church Memorial along with that of his cousin Frederick Edward Long, son of Henrietta Long, Campbell’s sister. (See entry Frederick Edward Long for details of his life)
Arthur Amyot Steward was born on 14th July 1882. His mother, Margaret Knyvet Wilson, had married Edward Steward in Fritton Church, Norfolk, where her father was the rector, on 23rd June 1878. Fritton is a village only a few miles from Saxlingham Nethergate. They had four children, Margaret Joan born 1880, Edward Merivale, 1881, Arthur Amyot born 1882 and Muriel Knyvet born 1884. Arthur was named Amyot after his mother’s brother.
From 1892 to 1897 Amyot went to Magdalen College School, Oxford where he was a chorister from 1892 till 1896. Whilst at the school he was a member of the Officer Training Corps.
He attended Wellington College in Berkshire from 1897 till 1899. After leaving here, instead of going to university, he joined the 3rd Battalion, Norfolk Militia in March 1900. He was 18 years old and after only a few weeks training was made a Second Lieutenant. He was promoted to Lieutenant on 11 April 1901. He served in South Africa in the Boer war where he saw active service. He received medals which included bars for Cape Colony, Orange Free State and Transvaal. He returned to England on 24th March 1902 and was discharged in May 1902.
At this time he was unsure if he wanted to be a professional soldier or a priest.
He decided to go to Magdalen College, Oxford. In the summer term of 1902 he took Responsions which was an examination requiring the knowledge of Latin, Ancient Greek and Mathematics. In the absence of standardised examinations it assessed the person’s ability to study for a degree at the university. He passed and matriculated at Magdalen College in October 1902. He resigned his commission in the Norfolk Regiment in December 1902.
During his time at Magdalen College he rowed in the Magdalen Torpid, this is a bumping boat race, which is held over four days on the river Isis (For more information about the race see Wikipedia) and came fourth. At the same time he became friendly with the Anglo-Catholic priest Cosmo Gordon Lang who was to become eventually Archbishop of York in 1908 and Archbishop of Canterbury in 1928. After taking the First Public Examination in the summer term of 1903 he decided to leave the College.
He travelled to the Cape in South Africa on board the Gaika which left Southampton on 10th October 1903. In South Africa he worked for the South African Civil Service. In 1906 he was granted an exemption to take an Intermediate Examination by the University of the Cape of Good Hope. This university, founded in 1873, was modelled on the University of London and offered people the chance to take examinations but did not provide tuition. It acted as an examination agency for Oxford and Cambridge.
Amyot returned to England from South Africa on board the Armadale Castle, which arrived in Southampton in October 1906. He was listed as being of independent means.
In 1909 he returned to Magdalen College for two years to finish his degree.Whilst there he was a member of the Officer Training Corps and served as a gunner. He belonged to the debating and dining club called the Rupert Society.
He obtained a BA on July 8th 1911. It is not known what he did between October 1906 and October 1909 when he went back to university.
By this time he had decided to enter the ministry and studied at Wells Theological College for a year. On Monday, November 13th 1911 the following announcement appeared in the Times newspaper.
The engagement is announced between Arthur Amyot Steward, of Wells Theological College, second son of Reverend Canon Steward of the Close, Salisbury and Miriam Agnes, third daughter of the late S.H.Carver of Alexandria and Mrs. Carver of Laverstock Hall, Salisbury.
Miriam was the daughter of Sydney Henton Carver and his wife Lavinia (nee Squarey). Miriam came from a wealthy family; her mother’s family owned The Moot, Downton, and her father had lived and worked in Alexandria, Egypt. He had been in the cotton exporting business. He died suddenly from diphtheria in Liverpool in 1907 after returning from America.
Amyot and Miriam were married on 18th June 1912 in Laverstock Wiltshire. She was aged 20 years old and he was 29 years old. A few weeks previously, at the beginning, of June he had been ordained as a Deacon by his friend Lang who was by then the Archbishop of York. He took up a position as a curate in Sculcoates, Hull where he worked for a year as school chaplain at St. Paul’s school. He often visited Lang at Bishopthorpe, which is the Archbishop of York’s official residence. He was ordained by Lang as a priest on May 18th 1913. His daughter Lavinia was born on 3rd April 1913 in Salisbury.
He seems to have had a love of South Africa as on 4 July 1914 he left Southampton with his wife and daughter on The Kildonan Castle for Cape Town. In the ship’s register he described himself as a missionary, and he and his family travelled as second class passengers. He worked at St Mary’s Church, Johannesburg amongst the miners.
In 1914 Johannesburg was a large city of about 350,000 people. It had developed rapidly during the previous twenty years. St. Mary’s was the mother church of 18 others in the city and many more in the mining towns of the surrounding area. Whilst the church itself was waiting to be rebuilt the church operated out of a building which was destined in the future to be the parish hall. The church had large congregations on Sundays but also served the needs of the people in the area in many different ways. The clergy worked with prisoners and the church had an orphanage as well as numerous clubs and institutes to serve the needs of the young men who worked in the gold mines.
His second daughter, Joan was born in Johannesburg in 1915. In the same year, with the war raging in Europe, Amyot felt it was his duty to return to England and once more become a soldier. He arrived back in England in London on 17th September 1915 aboard the Kildonan Castle (the same ship he had sailed out on) with his wife and two daughters.
He became a Second Lieutenant in the Special Reserve of Officers of the Royal Field Artillery on 15th October 1915. He was one of the few combatant priests in the British Army. He was sent to France in April 1916 and became Second Lieutenant in ‘D’ Bty. of 168th Brigade, RFA on 17th September 1916. He was stationed near Bethune.
Between 11th and 20th October 1916 he was back in England because of a wound. His third daughter Aveluy Knyvet Steward was born 7th October 1916 at The Moot, Downton. She was named after a French village near where Amyot was fighting.
He was involved in fighting in the Beaumont Hamel area in the latter part of 1916. Between 1st and 21st February the brigade was resting near Amiens and he was allowed to take leave in England from 9th to 28th February 1917. This included ten days sick leave with laryngitis. After his return his brigade was involved in pursuing the Germans as they retreated eastwards, and in April 1917 was involved in the Battle of Savy.
Amyot transferred to Royal Flying Corps on 29th July 1917 as a Balloon Officer with 2nd Balloon Wing. This had been founded in Roehampton in March 1916 and was divided into different sections. He was in the 9th Balloon Section, 6th Balloon Company, 2nd Balloon Wing. Each Balloon company usually had between 5 and 6 officers and between 150 and 200 other ranks. Two officers would go up in the basket situated below the balloon, one as the balloon commander and the other as an observer. Each balloon needed 48 men to handle it. These men required a high level of training and coordination to manage the balloon as it could be dangerous if not kept under control. The balloon was attached by a cable to a winch on a 3 ton lorry. The petrol driven winch could let the balloon rise at about 600 metres a minute and haul it back down at the end of a mission.
The balloons operated at heights of 3,500 feet and had ropes and wires around them to deter aircraft coming near them. The expected life of a balloon was about 2 weeks but by the end of the war when they were repeatedly attacked by air craft, it was much shorter. The men who manned the balloons were called by the pilots of the planes ‘balloonatics’. The balloonists had parachutes so that they could exit the balloon if attacked. Although reluctant to do this because of the danger of snagging on the rigging or setting on fire by burning pieces from the balloon, it was not unknown for parachutes to have been used in a Wing twenty times in a week.
The job of the observer was to monitor troop concentrations and locate artillery and guns. They would communicate by radio telephone with the artillery so that they could accurately target their shells. The gunners often could not see the targets they were aiming at and did not know how successful they were being.
The Wing to which Amyot was attached was based near Nieppe until 28th September after which it moved into the Passchendaele area during the Third Battle of Ypres. Starting on 12th August 1917 Amyot along with an officer-trainer made nine dual ascents and followed this with six solo ascents starting on 22nd August 1917.His records show that by this date he had logged eight hours fifteen minutes in the air and was starting to act as an officer-trainer. In September having logged more hours in the air he was transferred to 11th Company. On 5th October he was awarded the title of ‘Balloon Officer’.
He was killed at one o’clock in the morning on 6th October 1917, the day before his daughter’s first birthday. He and three other officers were sleeping in a large dug-out when a shell went through the roof and exploded on the floor. He and Second Lieutenant George Harold Knight, who was sleeping next to him, were killed instantaneously. A third officer, Lieutenant Rosaire Henri Olivier, a Canadian, was seriously wounded and died on 11th October. A fourth officer was shaken but unharmed. Amyot is buried alongside George Knight in Duhallow ADS Cemetery Ypres. He was thirty five years old. He left an estate of £3,606 2 s and 2d.
His widow moved to live at The White Cottage, the Common, Epsom and then to Hampshire. See www.epsomandewellhistoryexplorer.org.uk for more information.
His granddaughter says that it is thought that he only saw his youngest daughter, Aveluy, once. His children never really knew their father but his wife, who was a widow for 60 years, remained in love with him until her death.
Arthur Amyot Steward is remembered on many war memorials, these include ones at Magdalen College School, Wellington School, Magdalen College, Wells Theological College (the memorial is now at Sarum Theological College), Downton, Epsom and Saxlingham Nethergate. Photographs of the war memorials are on separate page.
Many obituaries were written about him. These are included in a separate section.
His cousin Frederick Edward Long, son of Henrietta Steward and her husband Walter Long is also remembered on Saxlingham Church War memorial.
Census records 1861, 1871, 1881, 1901, 1911
UK Soldiers, who died in the Great War
British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards 1914-1920
Papers from Saxlingham Church Chest now deposited in Norfolk Record Office
UK, De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour, 1914-1924
Kelly’s Directory 1896, 1908 and 1912
Eastern Daily Press. 18th January 1913. Death of Mr Reginald Steward.
Eastern Daily Press. 21st January 1913. Funeral of Mr Reginald Steward.
Major John Steward 1999
Library Archivist Sarum College
www.westernfrontassociation.com Observation Balloons on the Western Front Dr. David Payne
Report of the University of Cape of Good Hope. 1906
Mexborough Times. February 28th 1914. Preferment of Vicar to St. Mary’s Church, Johannesburg
Ms Jill Shepherd, Archives Librarian, Wellington College
Kate Thaxton, Curator, Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum, Norwich
Dr. David Bebbington, Magdalen College School. (A book written by Dr. Bebbington will be published November 2014, ‘Mr Brownrigg’s Boys- Magdalen College School and the Great War’ in which Arthur Amyot Steward will be mentioned,) Information and photographs.
Clive Gilbert www.epsomandewellhistoryexplorer.org.uk
Dr Robin Darwall-Smith, Archivist, Magdalen College, Oxford for information and photographs.
Dr David Roberts and Professor Richard Sheppard, Magdalen College, Oxford. ‘The Slow Dusk’ which is research being done at Magdalen College, Oxford on 211 men from the college who were killed or died in the Great War.
I would like to thank Dr. Roberts and Professor Sheppard for their help and great generosity in sharing and allowing me to use the information they have found.
Ann Lunn, granddaughter of Arthur Amyot Steward, daughter of Lavinia. Many thanks for the information about her family, copies of letters, obituaries and photograph.
Jeff Fox. Photographs of war graves and cemetery.