The Isherwoods: Brewers of Windsor

The Nottingham born artist, Paul Sandby, painted and drew many scenes in and around Windsor and also informal portraits of some of the inhabitants. One of his drawings, held in the Royal Collection, caught our eye: the Miss Isherwoods, the Brewer’s daughters, c.1770-1780. Isherwood is an uncommon surname, and with the father’s occupation, surely it would be possible to track down the forenames of these two young women and complete the attribution?

Miss Isherwoods, the Brewer's daughters, Windsor, c.1770-1780, by Paul Sandby.
Miss Isherwoods, the Brewer’s daughters, Windsor, c.1770-1780, by Paul Sandby. © Royal Collection Trust

The father of these two young women was Henry Isherwood who owned an ale brewery which traded from premises on Datchet Lane/Lower Thames Street in Windsor (around where St George’s School now stands on Datchet Road). From the brewhouse yard, you had an excellent view of Windsor Castle.

View from Mr Isherwood's Brewhouse, Datchet Lane; view down a street, with wagons in a shed at the foot of it, and Windsor Castle beyond, by Paul Sandby.
View from Mr Isherwood’s Brewhouse, Datchet Lane; view down a street, with wagons in a shed at the foot of it, and Windsor Castle beyond, by Paul Sandby. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Henry Isherwood was reputed to be ‘a poor lad’ from Yorkshire who had made his way to Eton in Berkshire where he found work at the Christopher Inn. He married well, to Sarah Kendal (on 5 May 1737 at Hedgerley in Buckinghamshire) whose money helped her husband establish his brewery at Windsor (the town had a thriving brewing industry).

Part of Windsor from Datchet Lane c. 1780 by Paul Sandby. The viewpoint is taken from Datchet Lane to the east of Isherwood's Brewery.
Part of Windsor from Datchet Lane c. 1780 by Paul Sandby. The viewpoint is taken from Datchet Lane to the east of Isherwood’s Brewery. © Royal Collection Trust

The couple had three known children, a son, Henry (baptized 9 February 1739) and two daughters, the two young ladies in the drawing above, Sarah (born c.1743) and Christiana Maria (born c.1745). The family prospered and grew wealthy on their business’s profits.

Paul Sandby in 1761, painted by Francis Cotes. The Tate
Paul Sandby in 1761, painted by Francis Cotes. The Tate

Also in the Royal Collection is a drawing by Sandby which features another of the Isherwood family, although the name of the man depicted seems to have got muddled over time. When exhibited at the Royal Academy, the man stood on the far left was just denoted as ‘Isherwood the brewer’, a later mount now attached to the picture claims the man to be J. Isherwood and the notes on the RCT website mark the man out as Henry Isherwood senior. However, this drawing dates to 1760 and the man depicted looks to be very young; we believe that it is more likely the man shown is Henry Isherwood junior, who would have been around 21 years of age in 1760.

On Windsor Terrace, c.1760 by Paul Sandby; on the left is Isherwood, the brewer.
On Windsor Terrace, c.1760 by Paul Sandby; on the left is Isherwood, the brewer. © Royal Collection Trust.

The four men are standing on Windsor Terrace; in the middle is Davis, Windsor Castle’s smith and to the right a man identified as Captain Archibald Campbell (the RCT notes suggest that he is possibly the same man who married Amelia Ramsay, daughter of the painter Allan Ramsay, but as Amelia Ramsay’s future husband saw action in the Seven Years’ War, we’re not totally sure about this).

Windsor Castle from Mr Isherwood's Brewhouse in Datchet Lane, 1780 by Paul Sandby.
Windsor Castle from Mr Isherwood’s Brewhouse in Datchet Lane, 1780 by Paul Sandby. King George III’s personal coloured views collection – SPL Rare Books

Then tragedy struck the family. Henry Isherwood senior died suddenly in 1773… and it was hinted that he had been poisoned.

Henry Isherwood’s will left his family well provided for. His son took over the running of the brewery and also later – for just a short time – became New Windsor’s MP. Henry junior’s death, on 22 January 1797, cut short his parliamentary career. Sarah and Christiana Isherwood were both left financially secure by their father, each receiving 10,000l. They never married. Around 1790, the Isherwood family built a substantial mansion-house, situated in large grounds, at Bushey in Hertfordshire and named Laurel Lodge. There Sarah and Christiana lived in their old age, often visited by their brother’s children. (Laurel Lodge was remodelled in the late 1800s and has now been converted into flats known as Herne Mansions (formerly Sparrows Herne House); it stands in Bushey Heath down Fuller Close, a short distance from the junction of Little Bushey Lane and Elstree Road.) Sarah died in 1820 aged 77 and Christiana in 1827, aged 81. Both women are buried in the churchyard at New Windsor.

We’ve already mentioned Henry Isherwood senior’s melancholy end. We’ll relate the events leading up to his death and leave you to decide if he was indeed poisoned.

The north front of Windsor Castle from Isherwood's Brewery in Datchet Lane c. 1765, by Paul Sandby.
The north front of Windsor Castle from Isherwood’s Brewery in Datchet Lane c. 1765, by Paul Sandby. © Royal Collection Trust

Henry was a member of the Colnbrook Turnpike Commission and on 29 March 1773, he and the other members dined at an inn named The Castle, at Salt Hill outside Slough. The men present were the Hon Mr O’Brien, the Hon Captain Thomas Needham (aged 33 and the eldest son of ‘Jack’, 10th Viscount Kilmorey), Edward Mason Esq, Major Mayne, Mr Cheshire, Walpole Eyre Esq (aged 38 and whose godfather was Sir Robert Walpole, hence his name), Captain Salter, Henry Isherwood, Mr Joseph Benwell, a draper from Eton who was the Commission’s treasure, Mr Pote senior (on business) and Mr Burcombe, the Commission’s surveyor. Over the course of the next two weeks, all but one of the gentlemen were taken seriously ill. At first, the wine was suspected to be the cause; Captain Salter had preferred to drink punch instead, and Mr Cheshire had drunk very little. Both men were only mildly ill. It was initially believed that Mrs Partridge, the landlady, had added a little arsenic to the wine, to ‘refine’ it.

Bachelor's Hall, Robert Dighton.
Bachelor’s Hall, Robert Dighton. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

The dinner was turtle soup, followed by fish, jack, perch and eel, spatchcock fowls, bacon and greens, veal cutlets, a ragout of pigs ears, a chine of mutton and salad, a course of lamb and cucumbers, crayfish and, as if you needed more after that feast, pastry and jellies. All was described as:

…plain and innocent, nothing high-seasoned, or that could give cause of suspicion of any bad consequence; the wine, Madeira and Port, of the best sorts. In both articles of meat and drink, the company were moderate, and no excess appeared.

After their dinner, some people were brought in to be examined before the members of the commission, among them a poor man, in a ‘distressed, miserable condition’. He seems to have been in ill-health. Mr Pote, perhaps wisely it seems, had gone out to the gardens of the inn to stretch his legs; he was there on other business relating to the commission but had no need to be present during the examinations. Mr Pote was the only one of the company not to suffer any ill effects, all the others fell ill to varying degrees. Four of the men died: Captain Needham, Joseph Benwell, Walpole Eyre and Henry Isherwood.

The Honourable Thomas Needham (d.1773), in the Uniform of the 3rd Footguards at Ascott, Buckinghamshire, by Thomas Gainsborough
The Honourable Thomas Needham (d.1773), in the Uniform of the 3rd Footguards at Ascot, Buckinghamshire, by Thomas Gainsborough; National Trust, Ascot

Mrs Partridge was horrified and willingly allowed her kitchen and cellar to be fully inspected. Major Mayne’s doctor, Dr James, was of the opinion that his patient’s illness was due to an infection; if it had been poison, he assured the public, the men would have fallen ill within hours, not days. There were reports that a Clerk of the Justices, a Mr Mason who had dined on beefsteaks in a private room in the inn (confusingly, an Edward Mason Esq was said to be present at the commission’s dinner too), was also dangerously ill; the Justices had examined a poor man, brought before them in a ‘dying condition’ from Taplow to be passed to his own parish. This man later died, as did the farmer at whose house he lodged on his journey. Local gossip also claimed that several prisoners had travelled from Reading gaol on their way to London, to be transported for their crimes, and stopped at the inn. Gaol fever could have been the cause.

A view of the interior of a room at an inn in Salt Hill (prepared for the "Montem" dinner in 1793).
A view of the interior of a room at an inn in Salt Hill (prepared for the “Montem” dinner in 1793). © British Library

In short, it appears from the newspapers of the day that there was certainly an outbreak of a contagious fever in the area, but nevertheless, with all the talk of poison, trade at the Castle Inn dropped dramatically and Mrs Partridge struggled for a good twelve months afterwards. And, rumours abounded years later. Years later, Queen Charlotte’s Assistant Keeper of the Wardrobe, Charlotte Papendick, in her memoirs recounted the tale and claimed that Mrs Partridge, on her deathbed, confessed.

…she considered it right to disclose the secret of the poisoning now it could no longer hurt any individual, and was at the time purely accidental, she would confess that it arose from the turtle having been left in the stewpans cold, and then heated afresh for the dinner. The cook, renowned for the dressing of this favorite luxury, came down from London late the evening before, expressly for this purpose. He said that as the turtle was better for long stewing, he should do it through the night, during which time he would be preparing various other dainties. He didn’t keep to his word. He slept, let the fire out, and heated the turtle soup up again without removing it from the pan… From the acids used in dressing the turtle, the pan was covered with verdigris. When she showed it to the cook he said he wasn’t aware of harm…

In fairness, Mrs Papendick’s account contains many errors, so we’re not at all sure of her accuracy. Another account also blames the soup, however, again attributing the poisoning to an accidental cause. The soup had been allowed to stand in a copper vessel, and the gentlemen died of mineral poisoning. So, arsenic in the wine, mineral poisoning, a bad batch of turtle soup or an infectious pauper? Sadly, we’ll never know the true cause, but we’d love to hear your thoughts.

Sources not mentioned above:

The Bath Road: History, Fashion & Frivolity on an Old Highway by Charles G. Harper, 1899

Royal Academy: 1934 – Exhibition of British Art c.1000-1860, 6 January 1934 to 17 March 1934

Northampton Mercury, 26 April 1773

Reading Mercury, 26 April 1773

Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 5 February 1820

The Scots Magazine, vol 35, 1773

Collectanea topographica et genealogica, 1837

Court and Private Life in the Time of Queen Charlotte; Being the Journals of Mrs Papendick, Assistant Keeper of the Wardrobe and Reader to Her Majesty, 1887

The History of Parliament online

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4 thoughts on “The Isherwoods: Brewers of Windsor

  1. It may have been a bacterial infection affecting the turtle, especially if it had been left out in warm conditions and reheated insufficiently to kill the bacteria. One thinks of various strains: clostridium welchii, C perfringens, salmonella etc. These are unlikely to kill, however, whereas if the culprit had been the potentially deadly E. coli, which can be found in meat, death might have ensued. The symptoms are not described, which is not helpful.Of course,the arsenic flavoured wine and the copper from the pan verdigris is equally possible. However, both copper and arsenic are cumulative in the body and death may result over a period of days, or even weeks, as the history of poisoning tells us.All in all, I think a bacterial infection is more likely. Back then, of course, no-one knew anything about the subject. Today, the source of the turtle meat would be traced for evidence of infection. People back then always suspected deliberate poisoning simply because they could arrive at no other conclusion.

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    1. Joanne Major

      Thank you for the detailed comment; it certainly seems to have been a tragic circumstance with many possible causes but, like you, I lean most towards a bacterial infection.

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