Tuesday 12 September 2017

The mysterious Mr Baker

You know how it is – the photo album full of photos and no names. But how about this? A named photograph, of a Mr Baker (yes, great, it matches the family name) but which one? There seemed to be none who fit. Or perhaps there is...

According to a very useful website I learned about recently called photolondon.org.uk , this photo was taken in 1865, when the photographic company who printed it were in operation at the address cited on the back.

Assuming the photograph was taken around the same time as it was printed, it should be easy enough to identify him. But therein lies a problem. I find it extremely difficult with old photos to guess ages accurately.

Apparently, I'm not alone. From the response I've had asking other family historians, it seems we tend to see our ancestors in photographs as being much older than they really are, so, at my estimate of around 40 years, I could be way off the mark.

As soon as I realised that, I got quite excited as it may mean that, perhaps, I can match him to someone on the tree, after all.

Mystery document

You'll notice that the gentleman in question is holding some sort of book or major document in his hand.  Has the photograph has been taken to mark the occasion of the document's publication, perhaps? But what could it be?

I decided to enlist the help of my fellow family historians on Twitter and amongst the responses, I received two surprises.

Firstly, the general consensus was that Mr Baker was younger than my estimate and so could conceivably be the man I hoped. And the other was the comment that he looked like a "typical Victorian composer" and suggesting that the document was a music score.

That was music to my ears (ouch! sorry...) as my hope was that this was a photograph of Charles Gabriel Baker, the professor of music who travelled to Australia but sadly died of consumption, aged only 32 (read the article I wrote for Family Tree magazine about his story HERE).

Teacher training

It seemed as good a prompt as any to explore more about his journey to becoming a music professor. Where had he learned his profession? Having been born in Marylebone, could it have been at one of the prestigious music colleges in London?

I knew Charles had begun his teaching career as a pupil teacher, as he's listed as such on the 1851 census. By the time of his marriage to Susan Sawyer in 1856, he's a fully fledged school teacher and by 1861, he's calling himself a professor of music. So what about the years in between being a pupil teacher and working as a teacher when he got married?

I made enquiries of the Royal Academy of Music, in Marylebone and the library assistant kindly checked her records but found nothing. She did explain, however, that the terminology of "professor" could be used quite freely and may be just another interpretation of "teacher." She suggested that I contact the Royal College of Music to see if my man attended there.

A fantastic find

But I never got that far, because on a whim, I googled Charles Gabriel Baker and to my astonishment, I found his name in a book published by The National Society – what a find!

The National Society was established in 1811 to promote, "the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church in England and Wales" resulting in the setting up of the well known National Schools across the country.

St Mark's College, Chelsea

Naturally, this endeavour required school teachers and so the society purchased Stanley House on the King's Road in Chelsea and founded St Mark's College for teacher training in 1841, which would later merge with St John's college in 1923 and move to Plymouth in the 1970s (now known as Plymouth Marjon).

Charles was one of their trainee teachers and the book I'd stumbled across was their publication listing examination results of the year 1854, when Charles was in his second year. It doesn't look as though he was an A1 student, though, as his name appears under the list entitled, Third Class. 

Students joined the college between the ages of 15 to 17 and if they passed their three month probation, they began their teacher training apprenticeship. Training took three years and, as well as the religious side of  college life – the core of The National Society's ethos – a diverse range of topics were covered, in addition to general education, such as the industrial system, the business of male servants in the house, managing the farm produce, and gardening. So, no mention of music. Perhaps Charles's music talents were already established via some other influence or had yet to be discovered?


It was fascinating to add more to Charles's story, even though we know that fate was to deal him a cruel blow and that his teaching career, and indeed his life, would be cut short.

It would be lovely to think that the photograph really is of him. He looks like a friendly soul, don't you think? And that document – could it be a piece of music? He certainly looks very proud of it! Perhaps it will be one of those things we'll never find out.


Maybe you have ancestors who trained at St Mark's college, Chelsea. You can check in The National Society's Forty-Third Annual report, 1854

You can find out more about the National Society HERE