Sunday, July 17, 2016

Pioneers of Esperanto in Plymouth

Esperanto was first published in 1887 by an idealistic Polish man, Dr Zamenhof (1859-1917) and its first adepts lived in the then Russian Empire, but it began to gain adherents in Great Britain from about 1900 onwards. 1917 will see the 130th anniversary of the language and a century since the death of its founder.

The names and addresses of early speakers of Esperanto in Plymouth, with their registration numbers are as follows in the Adresaro de Esperantistoj (collection of addresses of Esperantists) of January 1902 to January 1903 (Series XXIII) to January 1908 to January 1909 (Series XXVII). All of the following are listed in Plymouth, Anglujo, i.e. England. Each individual is ascribed a unique number, which I do not reproduce here. Indeed, early users of the language frequently signed articles with that number alone, knowing that anyone wanting to contact them could easily find their address in the published Adresaro.

Here are the names of those Plymouth pioneers of over a century ago:

Hirste HAYWOOD, 57 Connaught Avenue
FraĆ­lino (=Miss) Marjorie Hirste HAYWOOD, 57 Connaught Avenue, Mannamead
(Serio XXIII (1902-01-14 to 1903-01-14)

Lilian HOLT, 13 Connaught Avenue, Mutley
Mrs Lilian HOLT 6. Barton Crescent, Mannamead
Miss A. L. HOLT 13, Connaught Avenue, Mutley - a curious double listing, perhaps
(Serio XXIV, 1903-01-14 to 1904-01-01)

Bennett M. BANKS, 4 Beaumont Road
F. J. UNDERHILL, 18 Seaton Ave.
J. N. HEARN, A. C. P., Lipson road, 53 Chaddlewood Ave.
Rev. W. E. WADDINGTON, Pennycross Vicarage
Master C. AKASTER, 31 Connaught Ave. Mutley
(Serio XXV 1904-01-01 to 1905-01-01)

F. JACOBS, 7 Endsleigh Place
EDGAR R. WILLIAMS,1 Citadel Terrace, The Hoe, Staffa House
W. F. FORD.9, Whimple St.  
L. DOUGLAS LEONARD, 4 Whiteford Road, Mannamead
R. W. LEONARD.  4, Whiteford Road, Mannamead
W. P. TERVET, Waverley, 106 South View Terrace, Beaumont Road
Joseph HAWKYARD, Near Plymouth, 16, Norman Ave., Stoke  
S-ino (=Mrs) A. E. TILBY, 6 Windsor Crescent Mannamead
S-ino (=Mrs) C. H. HEATH, 48 Whiteford Rd. Mannamead
L. ISAACSON, 1 Milbay House, Citadel Rd.
S-ino (=Mrs) A. B. SEARLE, 10 Hill Park Crescent
(Serio XXVI, 1905-01-01 to 1906-01-01)

Vernon T. PEDLAR, 24 Edgcumbe St, East Stonehouse
F-ino (=Miss) Alice GARD, 1 Townsend Villas, Mannamead  
F-ino  (=Miss) J. R. MacCARTHY, 13 Tothill Avenue
(Serio XXVII, 1906-01-01 to 1907-01-01)

Wm. E. STITSON, 9 Federation Rd, Laira
(Serio XXIX, 1908-01-01 to 1909-01-01)

After about 1908, there was no longer any need to ‘sign up’ to Esperanto, and text books about Esperanto in a variety of languages, including English, were becoming more common. An increasingly large number of magazines catered for users of the language seeking contacts in other countries.

Not much is known to me about many of those listed. A striking exception is Cedric H. Akaster (1893 – 1970) who advertised for Esperanto penfriends in the February 1905 magazine The British Esperantist. Cedric Akaster was a son of a solicitor and is bdescribed as a law student in 1911. He was also a musician who went on to compose military marches.

Joseph Hirste Haywood (born about 1858 in Calcutta, died in 1940) can claim the title as the first Esperantist in Plymouth. In the 1901 census he was serving as a Church of England clergyman. Marjorie his daughter (born about 1889) also took up the study of Dr Zamenhof’s planned language.

Bennett Maxwell Banks (1882-1954) was the son of a shipbuilder. In the 1901 census he is an assistant to a wholesale tea merchant, but ten years later he was a theological student, before becoming an Anglican clergyman.

Alice B. Searle was 38 years old in 1901 according to that year’s census. She is described as having her own means. Perhaps the D. Searle mentioned later is her son Donald.

Alice Gard (born 1875 in Witheridge, Devon) married an Albert Ernest Green in 1903, but I cannot be sure that this was the same Alice Gard who learned the language some time in 1906. William Ernest Stitson was born in Plymouth in 1874, and died in the city in 1949. He was a schoolteacher.

Vernon Trevail Pedlar was born in 1883 and died in Plymouth in 1948. He is described in the 1911 census as an “elementary school teacher”.

William Peirson Tervet (1879 – 1948), of Scottish origins, was the Gas Engineer for Devonport Borough Council in 1914. Devonport today is just a district within the City of Plymouth but until 1914 it was a town in itself.

Joseph Hawkyard was born in Yorkshire and at the time of the 1911 census was working as a ship fitter (mechanical) at the government dockyard.

Rev. William Edward Waddington M.A. was vicar of Weston Peverel in 1902, according to Kelly's directory of Devon, 1902.

Edgar R Williams was 14 at the time of the 1901 census.

Compared with the founders of the Keighley Esperanto Society in Yorkshire in 1902, the pioneers of Esperanto in Plymouth were much more middle class. They include three Anglican clergymen, schoolteachers and professional men as well as students. Men greatly outnumbered the women.

Clearly those interested in the language, although spread over the city, came together from time to time. According to the inside cover (p.ii) of The British Esperantist magazine for 1905an Esperanto Society in Plymouth had been founded in March 1903. Its Secretary is given as Mr Grindley of 22 Gifford Place, Plymouth, and the President is listed as J. Thill Esq.. The latter wrote a bilingual Esperanto – English text in the very first issue of The British Esperantist magazine and in some subsequent issues. J.A. Thill became a Fellow of the British Esperanto Association in August 1905.

The same magazine reported in March 1905 that a Plymouth Esperanto Group met every Monday at 6.30 pm at Mr Thill’s house and at 8.30 pm every Thursday at the Ruskin Institute, Regent Street. In the April magazine, we learn that the group consists of three separate classes and a number of isolated individuals. A meeting was planned for the 27th of April 1905 at the Borough Arms Coffee House, Bedford Street. According to the May magazine, the meeting was chaired by Dr T.G. Vawdrey, and it was decided thatr the Three Towns, Plymouth, Devonport and Stonehouse should form one group and affiliate to the national association. The December 1905 magazine lists people offering tuition in Plymouth free of charge as follows:  Mr J. Hawkyard, St George’s Hiuse, Devonport, Mr C. Lee, YMCA, Devonport, Mr D. Searle, 10 Hillpark Crescent, Miss L. Holt and Mr J. Thill.

The June 1905 magazine mentions a Mr Gordon Lee who had printed and bound the rules of the Society at his own expense. A Mr Llewelyn is also mentioned. The September-October edition mentions Mr Hawkyard in the chair. Mr Thill was one of the 688 individuals who attended the very first World Esperanto Congress in Boulogne in the summer of 1905. A Mr A.C. Body of 34 Greenbank Avenue, Plymouth advertised for penfriends overseas in an early magazine.

One wonders what happened to Esperanto in Plymouth the dates given here. I have been told that a group continued to meet there. Are there early minute books of its activities in existence? Did any of these enthusiasts pass on letters or postcards in the language to later generations?

Acknowledgement. I am grateful to my wife Patricia for her help in tracing some of the individuals involved.