The story of George Webb Medley, a.k.a. Mr Sugar Face, (1828-1898) and his wife Maria (‘Molly’) Selous (1839-1919).
A principled, enterprising Victorian, George had the vision, ambition, wealth-creating skills, good sense and good luck, to earn a fortune, investing heavily in their home region near Okehampton in Devon. In following his story, we visit pre-abolition Jamaica, where George spent his childhood; England’s south coast and the Rhine, where he holidayed, keeping entertaining diaries; Simpson’s ‘Grand Cigar Divan’, where he played chess with the best players in the world; the Stock Exchange, during the railway mania, where he made his fortune; the Cobden Society for which he was a respected author on Free Trade.
We meet Molly, her famous artistic forebears and a future Royal Academician sponsored by her. We join the couple home-building and entertaining in Chislehurst, Kent; thence to Devon, with the arrival of the railway – no coincidence - bringing local prosperity and creating a fine Victorian garden at Winsford Tower, now ‘Winsford Walled Garden’ and ‘Anglers’ Paradise’. In George’s memory Molly commissioned the renowned architect Charles Voysey to design Winsford Cottage Hospital, now in restoration by The Landmark Trust, and endowed a George Webb Medley scholarship at Oxford University, benefitting Harold Wilson and many famous economists.
Published by Legini Press, ISBN 978 0 9553311 2 1
This beautifully illustrated book is of general interest to family historians. I particularly enjoyed the parts relating to slavery in Jamaica, to the London Chess Club and its famous players, to the development of the railways and to the London stock exchange.
In keeping with a book of this type, appendices show the family trees associated with George and Molly. There is a very good bibliography linking to related reading material and an index which took me directly to famous people connected to the family - people like Leigh Hunt, a well known poet and journalist of the early 19th century and Frederick Courteney Selous, a big game hunter whose memorial you find in the British Museum in South Kensington.
The book finishes with the legacy of the family, both the Winsford Cottage Hospital, built in memory of George to provide health services to their local community and to an extremely generous donation to the University of Oxford, which continues to fund scholarships and prizes to this day.
… the authors must be congratulated on compiling this comprehensive, beautifully illustrated memorial to an adopted son of Devon.
Bob Jones, Western Morning News, 16.2.19
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