Montagu Lomax was born in 1860 as Montagu Smith. He came from a family of Derbyshire tanners stretching back to his great grandfather Paul Hogg who owned a tannery in Clifton, close to Ashbourne. Tanners of the late 18th and 19th centuries were commonly wealthy members of the community supplying leather to the shoe trade and the saddlers and harness makers. Paul Hogg was no exception and at his death in 1793, he would have been a millionaire by today’s standards. His will showed him to be a smart business man, owning several parcels of land which he left in trust to his friend, with the proviso that rents and profits went to his wife and his two sons but making it very clear that he didn’t want his estate to be lost or broken up. He left his tannery to his sons, John and Robert and a considerable amount of money to his two daughters Frances and Mary. Tanning families tended to marry into other tanning families, possibly because it was a particularly foul smelling trade, with dog dirt and human urine being key ingredients in the tanning process. In 1812, Paul’s daughter, Mary Hogg married a certain John Smith (the first) in her home town of Ashbourne. Mary and John Smith moved down to Bermondsey where John Smith worked as a tanner at the centre of the London leather industry. Mary and John Smith were Montagu’s paternal grandparents. They had a son Thomas (the third).
Meanwhile, Robert Hogg, (Paul’s son and Mary’s brother), remained in Clifton, and carried on with his father’s tanning trade. He married Sarah Hartshorne in 1814, who came from a family of Ashbourne malsters. Here again there was a business connection with the malting works very closely situated next to the tannery. Both industries needed large amounts of water and were built at the edge of Clifton brook, but with the added advantage that stale beer and other waste products of the malting industry could also be used in the tanning process. Before the arrival of the railways, and cheap beer from Burton, local breweries were making very respectable profits, and the union of the Hogg and Hartshorne families would have ensured a comfortable way of life for the young couple. Robert Hogg and Sarah Hartshorne were Montagu’s maternal grandparents. They had a daughter, Harriet.
The 1841 census shows that Harriet Hogg, age 19 was visiting her aunt Mary Smith, in Bermondsey. She must have fallen in love with her cousin Thomas (the third) during these visits, because they married in Ashbourne in 1844. Harriet moved to Bermondsey where Thomas was working as a currier (a skilled leather finisher).
Now here is the interesting part of the story – by the 1851 census, Thomas was no longer a currier but had moved to Cambridge and was described as a ‘landed proprietor’. The records of the Cambridge University Alumni show that he was admitted to Caius College in April 1850, and obtained a B.A in 1854, and an M.A. in 1857. He was ordained a deacon in 1854, and priest in 1855. So he completely reinvented himself going from a skilled manual worker to become a student of Divinity by the age of 33. He was able to do this because he had inherited a considerable amount of money – see ‘The Story of the Reverend Smith’s wealth’.
Thomas Smith went on to be curate of St Barnabus Cathedral, Liverpool, and then Vicar of St John’s in Harbourne, Staffordshire between 1858 and 1869. He retired to Weston-super-Mare where he died in 1893 aged 76. Thomas Smith’s obituary in Crockfords directory mentions that he had married his cousin Harriet, but makes no reference to his previous profession in the leather industry. His will is 17 pages long and outlines extensive investment in land and property such that his net worth would have made him a multimillionaire by today’s standards. Harriet outlived him by 26 years, dying in their home at Weston-super-Mare in 1919 at the grand and unusual age of 97, looked after by an army of servants and her unmarried daughters, Emma and Agnes.
Thomas and Harriet Smith had ten surviving children. Percival, the eldest, followed his father into the Anglican priesthood. The middle sons Horace and Herbert both trained as doctors and both spent time traveling as ships surgeons. Horace was a surgeon to the metropolitan police and several friendly societies in London, but eventually retired to Gloucester in his late forties. Herbert married a New Zealander and settled down as a GP on Jersey. Montagu was the fourth son with a 13 year gap between himself and Percival. He followed Horace and Herbert into the medical profession.
Dr Montagu Lomax started life as Montagu Smith and came from a background of manual workers and tradesmen who had seized the opportunities afforded by the industrial revolution to make fortunes and propel their sons into the professions and the growing middle classes of Victorian society. It is interesting to speculate on how Montagu felt about his roots, since presumably he knew that his father had formerly worked with his hands. Did he have a chip on his shoulder that his family were tanners or was he proud of his father’s undoubted respected position in society as a member of the clergy and a wealthy businessman?.