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18 Sep 17

Archive digging

My trips to the Lancashire Archives and the Liverpool Records Office were a success! The most important thing I discovered was in the Lancashire Archives, when I came across Robert Preston’s (Margaret’s father) will. It has transformed the way we look at Wray Castle and the Dawsons: with anything that Robert bequeathed to Margaret, he made it crystal clear that she was to be in total control of the money. James – or any future husband – wasn't allowed to touch the fortune, meaning Margaret was legally to be seen as a “femme sole”. This is really exciting, because we had always assumed that James simply used Margaret’s inheritance to build the castle, but now, is it possible that Margaret was the driving force behind Wray? What does it tell us about her father and therefore the way she was brought up?

Album cover with 'Mrs Dawson' in gold lettering

28 Aug 17

Mystery photo album

I’m planning a trip to the Liverpool Records Office and the Lancashire Archives, to see what they can reveal about the Prestons and the Dawsons. Perhaps even more exciting though is this mystery photo album, which had been hidden away in the store room for some years. It is an album full of ‘carte de visite’ photographs – small photos which people would post to friends and family, or leave after a visit. Frustratingly, all of the photos except two are unnamed and undated. We know it is linked to Wray Castle, however, since there is a photo of Wray Church, various photos with James Dawson’s crest pasted underneath them, and a note referring to James and Margaret’s Golden Wedding Anniversary. All of the photos were either taken in Ambleside or Liverpool, which could mean they are photos of friends and family… the plot thickens!

Photograph album at Wray Castle showing photos of people taken in Ambleside and Liverpool.

14 Aug 17

What we can see from a coat of arms

The past two weeks have mainly revolved around the Castle itself and what it can tell us about the Dawsons. I’ve looked in more detail into the coats of arms, which are dotted around the outside of the building. They might be able to help me figure out where James came from. James Dawson had the same coat of arms as a landed family in Lancashire; the question is whether there is a direct blood line between James Dawson and this family, or whether James simply claimed the coat of arms for his own without permission from this original family (which apparently was common practice). Either way, this coat of arms will be able to tell us more about James and his background, which is exciting.

Stone coat of arms on the external walls of Wray Castle