Benoit Joseph Desquesnes

Born 4/11/1891 Maroilles N. France. Socialist, Intellectual, Artist, Sculptor, Teacher

Died Blackpool 3rd June 1891

Buried at Layton Cemetery

The memory of Benoit Joseph Desquesnes, has been stirred up by the current regeneration of King Street. Having resided for nearly twenty eight years at No 25 in the latter part of the nineteenth century, he had been an artist, intellectual, popular teacher of French and art, and a man of Liberal ideas. A much respected man within the town and its environs, he is part of the rich history of Blackpool which, for Benoit until recently, has been locked underground since his death in 1891.

The lasting work of the Friends of Layton Cemetery has been responsible for resurrecting the memories of many of the people who spent their time in Blackpool in the various time periods of that rich history of the town. The civic, the memorable in notoriety or respect, or the very human stories of those who haven’t grabbed the headlines but who have nevertheless led their variously with courage and decency, triumph and tragedy, are all buried underground, from where their stories can re-emerge with respectful research.

From Layton, the search for the life story of Benoit has become truly international. A connection to a larger watershed of research was made by placing a photograph of his gravestone, kindly provided by Denys Barber (FOLC), on the Desquesnes’ Wikitree page. Here the host Claude Schwartz, a descendant of Benoit’s, had already made vital and comprehensive contributions to research. Further valuable and equally comprehensive research has been conducted by Beatrix Descamps, also a descendant of Benoit’s and Hervé Gournay of the Maroilles Historical Society in northern France and birthplace of Benoit.

The search is now on, from all these various European domiciles, for an image of Benoit, or for examples of his artwork in pencil sketching and oils, his descriptive perspective and his sculpting, as none are known directly to exist. It was originally his artwork and his passion for equality in society that created a political prisoner out of him and his associates in France, bankrupted him and resulted in him being exiled from his homeland of at the age of 32.

Monsieur Benoit Joseph Desquesnes had, after his exile by the tyrannical coup d’etat of Louis Napoleon in 1851, lived in London for eleven years, ultimately settling at No 25 King Street in Blackpool from about 1863 to his death in 1891. Here, it might said he had lived out the quieter part of his later life away from the heat of controversy, as the French might say, ’mettre de l’eau dans le vin’  to put water in the wine. The story in Blackpool extends its French flavour by including Alfred Mirande brought out of his homeland to London as a young boy by his mother, Benoit’s co-habitee Ursule Fernande, fleeing the results of the same coup d’etat. Arthur Lemee, also an artist and theatre manager and the name Mailliardconnected to the Desquesnes name in France and by marriage in Manchester and the Brownings of both London and Canada also surround the name of Benoit Desquesnes. While Arthur Lemee is not known to have been connected with the early history of Benoit, he was acquainted with him in Blackpool. No 32 King Street at which Arthur taught art and language was also the address of Harriet Browning, sister to Benoit’s wife Elisabeth. The younger, Alfred Mirande also eventually settled in Blackpool and which is also his last resting place. His own son would return to his father’s homeland, only to die in Belgium fighting for Britain, the country of his own birth, having been born in London.

The story of Benoit Desquesnes is perhaps the more remarkable and, in his present residency of Layton cemetery, where he has been since 1891, his story contributes to the rich and diverse history of Blackpool’s development. He taught languages, artwork and sculpture at various school venues in the Fylde and in 1881 was one of the first members of the SNPF, National Society of French Teachers in Great Britain, founded in that year under the sponsorship of Victor Hugo.

2nd April 1880 Blackpool Herald

He continued to advertise right up to 1890, the year before his death.

From 1891, the French connection was continued by Monsieur Arthur Francis Lemee via the Societé Francaise in the town. Like Benoit, He was also a teacher of language and drawing as his newspaper advert states. Mons Arthur Lemee had a business address at 32 King Street, giving the street quite a French flavour perhaps as Rue du Roi. He had a home address at No 2 Boothroyden Rd., and was the manager of the Empire theatre, and is also referred to as the manager of the Grand at one time and he was, unlike Benoit, a naturalised Englishman.

Blackpool Herald March 13 1891

While the story for the Friends of Layton cemetery begins in 1891 with research into the name on the gravestone, for Benoit Joseph Desquesnes it began in 1819, the date of his birth. After the coup d’Etat of Napoleon 3rd (December 1851) who, reflecting the potential of recent modern day US politics, didn’t want to relinquish a democratically elected position of power by going to the polls, took hold of it anyway. Since Napoleon, had dispensed with the election process and proclaimed himself Emperor, it resulted in Benoit, as potential political opposition, being arrested at home along with his ‘concubine,’ Mirande and probably a woman of equal intellect and aspirations. ‘Mirande’ at the time is not given a forename but she is, thanks to the work of Beatrix Descamps and Claude Schwartz, identified as Fernande Ursule Mirande-Jayez, and the mother of Alfred Mirande. At the time, Benoit and his partner Mme Mirande were running a tavern together and associated with a free press to the annoyance of the authorities and these premises had been staked out by the police and eventually raided. On his arrest, the list in his possession of 153 shareholders of his somewhat socialist orientated L’Economique publication was confiscated as well as any literature or artwork at the premises, and the politically undesirable L’Economique publication was shut down. Benoit was given a six months’ prison sentence for belonging to a secret society, as these innocent and politically unattached self-help organisations were perceived by the authorities, and the traceable names on the list received a visit from the arresting authorities.

It was a disruptive period in Europe. Three years previously, 1848 had seen revolution in nearly every country and also the growing emergence of the working classes, the producers of a wealth that was jealously held onto by a privileged few only. From an early age, Benoit had an intellectual dream of the fair distribution of wealth, and that the world could attain Utopian values. He was active in organising the artisans and workers into self-help groups, without political aspirations, but to reflect the hard work of his parent’s generation of artisans and farmers among who he had been brought up.

In this respect, Benoit Desquesnes was just one of thousands who at first innocently possessed views and actions considered politically subversive by their opposition to the autocratic aspirations of Louis Napoleon and they were subsequently arrested, imprisoned and afterwards exiled. Others, including Victor Hugo, were able to flee the country. Most went to Guernsey where they could be near enough to be a nuisance to the French authorities, but far enough away to feel safe. Benoit’s prison sentence left him financially ruined and he departed France for a statutory ten year exile in England where he settled in London, and first appears in the Westminster rates books for 1857 before eventually moving up to Blackpool where he taught art and sculpture and was involved in intellectual circles debating with a liberal mind relevant the important issues of the day.

Research shows that Benoit Joseph Desquesnes was born on 4/11/1819 in Maroilles, Northern France and lived and worked in Valenciennes also in northern France. Reading between the lines of his brief autobiography, it appears that he was a man of expressed integrity with an artistic propensity and an intellectual gift from Academia. He had been brought up among artisan workers and those who tilled the land, all of who had to work hard to make a living. For those who had fallen on hard times or who were incapable of working, there was nothing but the strong, but materially inadequate attentions of friendship from those who only had little material ability to offer in support. He had studied art and sculpture, first in Valenciennes, a larger town, a little north of Maroilles, then in Paris, but the money from the bursary he received due to his evident talent ran out, and he returned to work as an art restorer and painter and decorator, in Valenciennes. Here he was successful in his business, working on his own account and his financial success encouraged him to help others in forming self-help groups.

While in Paris, he had managed to achieve good enough qualifications due to the financial help of friends and by breaking off from his studies to continue to train and work as a painter and decorator in order to pay his way. This successful interaction of the self-help of like friendships pitted against the insensitivity of those in authority with money but impassive in their consideration of the productive skills of a large constituent part of society, perhaps dictated his mindset for the rest of his life.

While working in Valenciennes his natural, youthful energies led him to become involved in public life and his first brush with the authorities was experienced when a cartoon of his, satirising the window tax in the district, was confiscated. You would like think that Benoit, as a young man in his twenties at the time, would have expressed a rather cheeky and humorous satire rather than a vindictive one such is the impression of his character elicited from his memoirs. From that time he organised a consortium of compositors, having seen that the self-help of individual groups had worked in the past, and continuing from that idea, he became a founding manager, and democratic-socialist leader, of the Valencienne Economique co-operative. It reflected other socialist models in the area in the inclusion of the whole of the human content of society rather than wealth belonging to the materially privileged few only. This socialist model involved a certain amount of mutual collectivism and co-operative profit sharing, but it didn’t prosper as well as others in the district. Benoit Desquesnes was however, never one who was keen to rob the rich to give to the poor and was ultimately at least, perhaps in his older age, careful not to openly align himself with any political or religious idea as his open-minded epitaph in Layton Cemetery, Blackpool reveals.

These mutual societies of self-help were not however viewed by the authorities merely as self-help groups, but were seen as secret and subversive, and there was no doubt that little love was lost between the two and political non-alignment would prove difficult to sustain in these circumstances. Where the poor depended upon the insensitive, or slightly sensitively obliged patronisation of the rich, there was enough resentment among the intellectual thinkers to create a rift, not surprisingly emphasised by the satiric caricature of the figure of authority created by Benoit Desquesnes, which sadly isn’t available to view today.

In 1848, a year of insurrection in Europe, including Chartism in Britain, and the publication of the Communist Manifesto, the principles of Benoit’s evident democratic ideas were considered too advanced for the recently elected ‘Republic’ of the same year, born of violence itself from the Parisian barricades. Benoit had voted for the social democratic candidate who only received a paltry 5% of the votes as opposed to the 70% of Louis Napoleon. This minority continued to be held in suspicion especially as Napoleon III was becoming more nervous as he would have to be eventually re-elected. These co-operatives were then severely monitored by the authorities and by Napoleon’s coup d’etat of 1851 were declared illegal, disbanded and those involved rounded up and imprisoned. Benoit was arrested at his home with his ‘concubine’ Mirande, who we now know has the forename, Ursule Fernande. In all, 55 people from Benoit’s home district were put in the prison before trial at Valenciennes where they rubbed shoulders with all the petty criminals of the area. With meagre prison food and no change of clothes, those however with a little money could nevertheless pay for extras. For his part, Benoit had received two meals a day from an unknown person and a person to whom he was forever grateful but whose identity would never be known to him. Eventually committed to a six months’ prison sentence before a tribunal, in which he wasn’t allowed a defence so he conducted his own, he had his hair cut short and beard shaved, and was given a prison uniform. While his father, able to visit his son, for whom he had dreamed of far, far better things, especially with his sensitivity and artistic talent, left in floods of tears, Benoit’s spirit didn’t falter and he sketched the prison superintendent and his wife and also some of the other prisoners who he found as interesting subjects until his eventual release at the end of his six months’ sentence.

London was a collection point for many exiled Continent Europeans who took refuge in Britain, which was a safe place for many (including the deposed French monarchists but not the Irish nationalists for instance who themselves found France a safer place) and, while there was some significant scepticism from members of the English establishment about what was perceived to be a revolutionary rabble collecting in the sink hole of the capital, there was much mutual help and assistance to be found among the refugee exiles themselves. Several political anti-Napoleon organisations formed in London to continue the struggle against the regime in France and Benoit Desquesnes belonged to this general movement. These diehard anti Napoleons were known as the Quarante-huitards (the 48-ers’) referring to the legitimate electoral system by which Napoleon was elected in 1848. The International Association, which existed in London from 1855 to 1859 and which was founded by French, Polish and German refugees as well as English Chartists, was one of these, and it is quoted as the first international organization of a proletarian and socialist character. Victor Hugo, Guiseppe Garibladi, Karl Marx, Lajos Kossuth and refugees from the Polish uprising against Russian invasion and dominance of 1831, were names that were in England, significantly so at some time, celebrated or reviled as political thinkers and activists as Europe squirmed over their national identities and the status of internal government whether to be ruled by a privileged few or whether to be governed equally by whole the whole human content of society.

Thanks to Claude Schwartz and Beatrix Descamps for the above notifications.
The City Press July 20 1861

After the somewhat untimely death of his partner Ursule Fernande Mirande, not very long after the two had re-established their relationship in London, Benoit married Elisabeth Browning in 1854. From the research of Beatrix Descamps we find that the Brownings were a London family of piano makers. They had moved to Ontario, Canada for a few years, where Elisabeth was born and, while many children do not follow in their parent’s footsteps, Elisabeth did, and she was not only playing the piano by 15 years old, but she was also teaching it. The family returned to London when the much younger Elisabeth met and married Benoit Desquesnes. Harriett Browning moved to Blackpool, perhaps to be near her sister and, like Benoit, spent her last years in the town.

In London, Benoit, described as a ‘local démoc-soc leader from Valenciennes’, received commissions not only to paint individual portraits, but also to assist in the sculpting of the decorations for the Crystal Palace. Much commissioned work came from France and, since there were many French craftsmen and artisans in London, some of this work was naturally consigned to them, and perhaps sometimes unknown to the French authorities. Benoit was one of these sculptors and, in a consignment of busts (of the cephalic kind), of the long-suffering wife and French Empress Eugenie, seditious material was placed inside these creations before they were then exported to the homeland. It was one way of many in getting propaganda back across the channel and there would be many clandestine subversives keen to get their hands on them. Ironically perhaps, at a later date, both Louis Napoleon (who was the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte) and Empress Eugenie, were both obliged to find sanctuary in England until their deaths after fleeing from their own overthrow in 1870. Of holiday resorts, the Emperor and the considered dissident, Benoit had different ideas. While Napoleon and Eugenie favoured Biarritz, a town of sun and sand and retirement, Benoit favoured Blackpool, a town which provided a welcome, if brief, freedom of expression on it streets for the physical producers of wealth from the dark, industrial interiors of the land. And Blackpool has its sun and sand and retirement too though perhaps as different in demography as Benoit was different to Napoleon in political ideology.

Benoit also had an interest in Freemasonry, perhaps a continuation of his French Maçonnerie activities, and it hadn’t taken him long to become established but, as new Lodges developed they were subject to conflicting ideas. The Freemasonry of these European exiles and the new Lodges that they had created and in which Benoit (and many notable names including Garibaldi) was an influential part, were in direct conflict of principle with the established English Freemasonry, which Benoit believed, purely and naively or with intellectual conceit, to be less democratic that that of his own, simplified design, resulting in a deep and lasting conflict, a division which still appears to be in place today as he is described in the literature as being on unlimited leave, en conge illimité.

In 1852 he had travelled over to England on the ship, City of Rotterdam, when ships were obliged to declare their alien passengers or risk a £20 (£2,855.31 in 2021) fine, and the ship would only be allowed to leave port once this fine had been paid.  Arriving in London in July without being able to speak a word of English, he met up with his partner, Mme Mirande once more who, it seems, had followed him to London with her son Alfred, though she sadly died quite soon after. He eventually married Elisabeth Browning, born in Ontario, Canada, and no doubt comfortable with anything French, in 1854 and they had a son, Ernest born in London in 1857, after losing Elisabeth Helen, born in 1855 to an infant death at less than eighteen months old in 1856. Eventually their son Ernest would become Mayor of Salford, having honed his debating skills and liberal ideas in Blackpool.

On the 1861 census Benoit accommodates the now adult Alfred Mirande in London, working as an artist and painter. Alfred is also a visitor to Benoit and Elisabeth in King Street Blackpool in 1891, and Alfred eventually moved up to live in Blackpool with his family but died tragically in the town in 1906. It was a long lasting relationship between the two and Alfred could qualify as a step son of Benoit’s. Alfred’s sons continued as house painters and decorators in Blackpool and Ernest Alfred joined the WW1 war effort in the British army, was killed in the conflict, and remains in a grave in Belgium and commemorated there. Another grandson Horace, born in Blackpool, also served in the military but returned to continue his life as a house painter after the war.

While the commissions that Benoit received in London might not have satisfied a moderate household budget, his house painting skills sufficed and were presumably taught and passed on to his ward, Alfred, and was able to employ three men and a boy.

He continued as an active intellectual and an artist and house painter by profession and eventually settled in Blackpool, arriving in 1863 ultimately living at 25 King Street, where he taught drawing and French. According to his ‘esquisse autobiographique’ he had become fed up of London, its noise and its confinement. Also, and perhaps more relevantly, in 1859 Napoleon had issued a general amnesty for dissidents in an attempt to appease the growing opposition in the country and, as a consequence, many exiles had left London a short time after to return home. In particular his best friend and perhaps his most reliable colleague, John Pettie, a French speaker who had helped him in the beginning by giving him work when he had first arrived in the city, had left permanently for America. There was also the active conflict of interests within Masonry and perhaps Benoit just wanted to divorce himself from that conflict and pursue a quieter life in a landscape which was conducive in its surroundings to the quietude of his artistic temperament.

It seems that he initially connected to through the Collège Francaise in South Shore, a separate district to Blackpool, established by 1855 and run by Monsieur Sanceau, his wife and his son. Benoit sent off his prospectus and was accepted onto the staff, teaching French and art. He first made the move north on his own, with Elisabeth and Ernest joining him later on where it seems they were accommodated at the school before establishing themselves in King Street. French, along with German, was considered as a value to an educated mind and was taught variously in the schools, though Benoit might not have sat comfortably in discussion on occasion with the Sanceaux as they had openly toasted the health of Louis Napoleon during the celebrations of the peace treaty after the Crimean war in 1856. Though this was more to do with winning a war together rather than a difference in politics and it was some time ago by now.

In the 1880’s, the College House School, Queens Square, where he was resident art teacher, and nearer to his home in King Street, was promoted along with the salubriously healthy nature of the town as, ‘This establishment is on the west coast, near the sea and the extensive sands for which this coast is famous. Large cricket field. Boys prepared for business. Thorough instruction in French and German. Terms moderate.’ While the fresh air, the quality of the light and the open, littoral landscape may have appealed to him and his artistic temperament, well away from the hustle and bustle of London, he may have only been bemused, perhaps, by le grand champ de cricket. He also taught at Kirkham Grammar School and Kilgrimol School in St Annes. Here, at the latter, at the birthday party of its energetic headmaster, Mr J Allen, in 1881, Benoit and Elisabeth attended the event. There were photographs taken of several groups of attendees and it maybe that both are included in these photographs. At the time of writing these photographs are not known to exist.

The Manchester Courier September 2nd 1879

He continued to be active in political discussion of a socialist nature, accepting the complexities of the inclusion of the mass of the population into the political equation, rather than the relative simplicities of capitalism, while no doubt respecting the audacities of the financial risk involved, and which was a continuation of his political ideologies while in France and London. He would have come across as a friend of the working man (and woman) when he claimed that, in calculated demonstration, and mapping out all the pubs of Blackpool on a chart before the selected audience, that drunkenness, and consequent violence, increases when the distribution of public houses is less than more. That is to say, the more pubs the less drunkenness. He would have been around when the Veevers Arms over the road from his house was a built in 1873, and perhaps had a glass of wine or anise in there at one time, as well as ale, but he is not here today to witness its current and partial demise. He would also have been around at the time of the death of John Noblett, builder of the Veevers Arms and one of Blackpool’s oldest inhabitants at the time, and may have even attended the inquest on his accidental death. At another time he would have been fully aware of the inquest held at the hotel, when pubs made convenient venues for inquests, on the strange death of Joseph Townson whose evidently traumatised body was found behind the locked bedroom door of his house at No 9 Charles Street. With only a careful and rational surmise about his death, it was an incident that might have rustled the imagination of a modern TV crime writer and, no doubt inspired, a little quel dommage in the conversation of No 25 King Street. He and Elisabeth would also have had a deeper sympathy on learning of the death of his six year old next door neighbour’s son, Samuel Holdstock, in the October of 1883, understanding only too well the sad loss of an infant which they had experienced themselves. He would have witnessed the hustle and the bustle of a society marriage, which attracted crowds and showers of rice and when ’the bells rang out a merry peal’ around the corner at St John’s Church when Catherine Irish, resident at the Veevers, married John Hopley Dodd, carpet manufacturer from Derby.

Of course, drunkenness had only been one topic discussed in the Blackpool Literary and Debating Society which met periodically at No 6 Queens Square, home of Councillor Marsden, himself of liberal, radical, persuasion and standing as Independent candidate in the wards and who was also influential in bringing the free library to Blackpool when it was first opened in 1880, above what was to become Yate’s Wine Lodge. Free speech, free trade, the openness of politics and Parliamentary reform in objection to the limitations of ‘cloture’, that is the arbitrary decisions to officially close Parliamentary debate at a whim, when running scared of potentially losing the argument if the discussion were to be continued. Benoit could also be critical of the solution to the concept of Malthusian overpopulation that was not to get rid of the uselessly unemployed labourer and his family by encouraging emigration, as witnessed by the emigrant ‘coffin’ ships waiting in numbers to transport hundreds of thousands of hopefuls to a fresh life in North America or Australia and New Zealand, and relieve the nation of the expensive upkeep of superfluous human beings. The real reason was undoubtedly, that the current national economic policy was at fault and that only a radical change and ‘progressive legislation which will enable in time the labourer to become, under the state, his own master and servant.’ History has shown that from that time only when the human being is in need will it collect together to become the master of its own destiny and will generally leave things to the inherent and dynamic selfishness of the human individual or group which will always deny the dream of a universal collective ideal. Human groups naturally develop as hierarchies, and the balance between the two will always see-saw but in Benoit’s day the dream of collectivism was fresh and the hope of its realisation, a distinct reality.

His Frenchness, nor his affection for la belle France didn’t leave him as in 1891, shortly before his death, he was elected honorary president of the Societé Francaise du Fylde which held weekly meetings, on this occasion at ‘Rougement’, a ‘ladies’ school on Adelaide Street run by the Misses Lord. The Societé was continued by Monsieur Arthur Francis Lemee at 32 King Street, occupied by Harriet Browning.

Mrs Elisabeth Desquesnes meanwhile, like all women of the era, was prominent on the ground but not worthy of a mention except for putting on a good spread for the men, and then only included in the usual numerous toasts for Queen and Country etc after ale or wine had been consumed in reasonable quantities by the men. It is not known whether Benoit’s liberalism extended as far as the domestic kitchen, but it would be hoped to be so. In the gatherings at the Unitarian Church on Banks Street, the female seems to be as prominent, or almost as, the male. Elisabeth’s longstanding competence as a pianist was exercised at these Unitarian Free Church meetings which included other prominent folk of the town of an artistic or liberal sentiment as Cuthbert Grundy and Samuel Laycock. At an annual event at this Unitarian church, dubbed the ‘Liberal faith’, and so attractive to both Benoit and Elisabeth, in the school room next door to it on Banks Street, to which Benoit Desquesnes attended occasionally but didn’t subscribe entirely to its religious denomination, it was presided over by Mr and Mrs Laycock, (not just Mr Laycock, giving the female some equality of status perhaps) of Lancashire dialect poet renown and both are also occupants today of Layton Cemetery.

In 1882 there was a bazaar held at the Assembly Rooms on Talbot Road in aid of collecting funding for the erection of a new Unitarian church building as the current one on Banks Street was not big enough, especially for the convenience of visitors in the summer months. At this meeting, the eminent pianist was once again Mrs Elisabeth Desquesnes and donations of goods for the event were provided among many others by Mrs Tottie of Manchester and future mother-in-law of Ernest Desquesnes, and the Misses Tottie, future wife and sister-in-law, Sarah Jane and Beatrice respectively, of Ernest, who had also provided, along with their mother, ‘fancy wool work’, the kind and industrious labour of ‘nimble fingers’ and who, among others, had come from inland towns and were given a special thanks by Rev Haydn Williams. Even amongst this evident liberalism there were eyes raised on certain faces when it was learnt that there had been a Catholic contribution. While this might have been an honest attempt at ecumenism by the unnamed contributor, Benoit through his own Calvinist, Huguenot heritage might have been amused by the irony of the hatred and persecution of Protestants by Catholics in his homeland and the scepticism and conversely, the latent hatred and equally historical persecution of Catholicism by Protestantism in his adopted homeland. He could quietly observe a reversal of that hatred and let others engage in its conversation.

In 1886, at the same Unitarian Church, Elisabeth was back on the piano to entertain among others once more, Samuel Laycock himself, who recited a couple of his poems. It was a gathering arranged by the Ladies’ Sewing Society, to welcome back the minister of the church, Rev F Haydn Williams who had spent some time in the Isle of Man. While Elisabeth would have been sympathetic to the strong, social sentiment and messaging in Samuel’s poetry, which was reflected in Benoit’s sentiment too, she would probably have had difficulty in understanding the extremes of the dialect. As for Benoit, it is to be expected he may have smiled politely in appreciation, while not understanding a word of it. You learn English…. then you have to learn it all over again. Or maybe it wasn’t that difficult at all as such is the diversity and the richness of language and the variety of the pronunciation of the spoken word that, as a diversionary anecdote and during WW1, a Fylde farmer claimed that it had been easy to converse, albeit in a stunted way, with a Flemish speaking Belgian (evacuee) in Blackpool, thus adding substance to the light hearted claims that the Flemish speaking Belgian could understand the English in the Lancashire dialect better than the language of their French speaking neighbours at home in Belgium. So perhaps in that sense the dialect was not that inaccessible to the understanding of a foreign ear, though perhaps with a bit of body language and facial expression to assist.

At these gatherings of the Unitarian fraternity at one time there were six negro entertainers and, while they were given the more complimentary description, it is not known whether the Liberalism of the audience went beyond the patronising superiority of race at the time, though no evidence to suggest a strong negative.

The general amnesty issued by a compromising Napoleon was ignored in 1859 by Benoit, since he had reportedly declined the pardon because it wasn’t he, but Napoleon who had been the wrong doer, so it was consequently irrational to be pardoned. But the overthrow of Napoleon in 1870 and his exile to England, while leaving France open to war with Prussia gave Benoit the opportunity to visit his homeland with his family. He had visited Paris and his birthplace of Maroilles, where he saw his aged father and the local family Maillard to who his son would become related by marriage. It was the year that France would be at war with the invading Prussians, the first of several conflicts that would include the whole of Europe and the World itself in future years. In 1884 while firmly resident in Blackpool, Monsieur Desquesnes was granted a pension from the French Government as a former victim of the Napoleonic coup d’Etat of December 1851. It would seem that his name was not included in the original list of potential recipients and an anonymous letter in the French newspaper, (thanks to Beatrice Descamps and Claude Schwartz for the research) Le Courrier Du Nord of December 1881 published in Valenciennes and which could be analysed as written in the hand of Benoit himself, appeared to have ultimately influenced by such self-promotion, his right to the pension.

Blackpool Herald May 24th 1889

As well as being art master at the College House School in Queen’s Square and on hand to give out prizes for art at school awards and events along the Fylde coast from the Kilgrimol School in St Annes, and inland to Kirkham grammar school, he eventually began teaching private lessons from his home on King Street, charging half a guinea (about £65 today 2021) for ten lessons.

Blackpool Herald April 25 1884

He also wrote and published an instructive essay on art, focussing on outdoor sketching, published in 1892 after his death entitled, ‘A Short Essay on Perspective’, and dedicated it to the Blackpool Sketching Club, and  it was published by Messrs Maxwell and Co, of 68 Church Street in the town. He had finished it only a few days before his death and it was consequently published posthumously. In 1888 he wrote and published a brief autobiography in Blackpool, (Esquisse autobiographique d’une victime du coup d’état du 2 décembre 1851). A copy of this has been sourced by Hervé Gournay of the Maroilles Historical Society and kindly provided by Claude Schwartz and is available for inclusion in Blackpool’s Heritage, courtesy of course ultimately via Benoit himself. It was published by the Blackpool Printing Company at 42-44 Church Street. These publications were added to that of his guide to the symbolism of universal masonry (Maçonnerie Universelle) published in London in 1856 and which, perhaps inadvertently, helped to create the division between the established English Masons and the new kids on the block, the immigrant European masons in Britain.

In 1888 he took part in the Bataille de Fleurs, arranged by the mayor, James Fish, whose son-in-law was the British Consul in Cannes and from where the inspiration for the festival originated. Benoit and his family, which included his wife, son and daughter-in-law were in one of the highly decorated carriages of the long procession that made its way from Dean Street, South Shore, the home of the mayor, to Talbot Square. Bouquets of flowers were thrown into the crowds at the roadside at intervals and there would be a mad rush by the crowds to collect them and throw them back. Unfortunately when translated, bataille becomes battle and, in the mindset of too many in the crowds, it was literally that and, instead of bouquets of flowers being returned to the carriages through the air, they preferred to throw cabbages and other hard objects, resulting in some mild, but disturbing, injuries. It is perhaps difficult to imagine what Benoit thought of his adopted country, which could not reflect the sentiment of his own in the good nature of celebration. The poor behaviour in the crowd was blamed by the somewhat embarrassed authorities and apologetic newspapers, on the uncouth elements from the inland towns who disgorged from the trains into Blackpool in large numbers. But Benoit would perhaps have also understood that this poor behaviour shown by the unruly elements in the crowd was a natural expression of contempt, for their lives were not full of roses at all but, as the producers of wealth in industry, they would return home to cramped living conditions, dangerous working environments, the continuing hopelessness of poverty, and disenfranchisement. Blackpool was a town that had, and would in the future, play out its role as a place where the daily trials of life of the industrial hinterlands could be left behind for a brief moment and it would also act as a significant place of solace and safety in the destructive World Wars that were to follow and in which the names Desquesnes and Mirande would feature, one of the latter name paying the ultimate price.

Benoit died on the 3rd of June 1891 and his son Ernest is the administrator of his will and thus began his final, and permanent, residency at Layton Cemetery, Blackpool. The state pension that had been granted to him in 1884 (a yearly amount of 1000 francs) continued to be paid at half the rate to his widow Elizabeth until her own death sometime after she had chosen to move back down to London. It was soon after that Ernest auctioned off his father’s works, which included his paintings, sculptures, writing and equipment. To date there is little known of these works and the search is on to locate any of them. Equally, no portrait of him is known to date.

His good friend Mr Alex Doleman, a Scotsman and a teacher, on first learning of his death eulogises on Benoit and describes him as a man who considered his fellow creatures with compassion and, in considering the poor, was only interested in a fair distribution of wealth. He was not out to ‘plunder’ the rich to alleviate the poor where wealth was naturally acquired by just a few, but a proper distribution should be implemented. He would not align himself to any religion, or any political party, and Mr Doleman, innocently ignorant perhaps, of Benoits previous Masonic involvement, knows him not to have aligned himself with any of the Lodges of Masonry while in Blackpool. He was a popular and well liked man in the town and could often be seen at the Winter Gardens events, a venue around the corner from his home, and familiarly smoking a cigar. Mr Alex Doleman himself recently a teacher of longstanding in the town and possessing the same principles of non-alignment had, in the establishment of his High School in South Shore taught ‘religious knowledge’ as opposed to ‘sectarian religion.’

Professor Lemee, continued the Societé Francaise as president after 1891, drawing up strict rules and, while penalties were considered for speaking anything but French during the meetings, the Societé nevertheless attempted to promote ‘the usefulness and advantages of the French language in England.’ The meetings varied in venues and the inaugural one was held at 32 King Street, residence of Harriet Browning, unmarried sister of Elisabeth Desquesnes. Harriet remained in Blackpool until her death in 1895 aged 65. The meeting following that of the inaugural one in 1891 was held at No 3 Trafalgar Road where there lived an artist and painter, James Pickles, son of the householder, Benjamin. Arthur Lemee was a member of the Blackpool Sketching Club, and contributed painting in oils to the annual exhibition in the Winter Gardens. He was also the general manager of the Empire Theatre so it was convenient to have a premises directly opposite in King Street at No 32. The modified premises are still there but the theatre, evolving through the Hippodrome, the ABC and finally the Syndicate night club is now a car park awaiting development. As manager of the Empire in 1899 he was sued by Blackpool’s young and often tempestuous Anne Monks, when her stage name was Nancy Victoria before settling for that of Victoria Monks with which she was to achieve great popularity. She had sung a song during the matinee which contained a verse depicting the attack of an English gunboat on a French fishing vessel. When she was told she would not be allowed to reprise the verse in the evening, she openly complained to the audience that the verse had been taken out of the song and she hadn’t been allowed to sing it, and hence followed the invitation to the manager’s room and the sacking which then resulted in the litigation. It was not surprising since the manager, Alfred, as a Frenchman though naturalised Englishman, was probably also naturally abhorred by the naivety of her gunboat nationalism. Engaged at £5 (£657.05 in 2020) per week, she had sued for £12, (£1,576.91 in 2020) and subsequently lost her first, of several, cases in her career.

The son of Benoit Desquesnes, Ernest, born in London in 1857 and described as of Huguenot descent, qualified as a solicitor, worked in Manchester and, after his marriage, lived in Cheshire. He was actively involved in Liberal politics and intellectual circles, originally in Blackpool while he was living in King Street. After at first, unsuccessfully, standing as Liberal Council candidate in Salford he succeeded by 16 votes (out of over 1,000 cast) in the election of 1889 and eventually, from Councillor graduated to prominent alderman, and was elected mayor of Salford for 1913-14. He had graduated from both Victoria University, Manchester and Paris University and passed his law qualifications in London in 1881. He married Sarah Jane (Janie) Tottie in 1887 in Prestwich and had a son, Arnold, and a daughter, Jeanette Betty (Nanette). His politics were Liberal to which he was openly aligned unlike his more subtle father, and he delivered several speeches to the Blackpool Liberal Club on English land reform and the contentious Irish Land question and lectured at several venues in the town on differing political angles and occasionally critical of the personalities involved therein. At a meeting of the Blackpool Literary and Debating Society in November of 1881, the motion put forward was, ‘That Conservatism properly understood in theory and rightly developed in practice is the highest political wisdom.’ Ernest Desquesnes with his Liberal political bias and energy, and perhaps the cheeky satire of his father’s own youth, countered with, ‘That Conservatism as it really is, in theory and in practice, is the narrowest unwisdom.’ Socialism hadn’t developed into a political party at that time so there were only the two established ideologies of any size to fight it out, Whigs and Tories. In 1884, now working in Manchester as a solicitor, Ernest was presented with a marble timepiece for his association as President of the Blackpool Literary and Debating Society at an evening’s dinner at the Victoria Hotel in the town.

In 1906, in reference to the Unemployed Workmen Act of the previous year, he was Chairman of the Distress Committee. He was actively involved in War relief in Manchester during WW1 while Janie (as she popularly liked to sign herself) was also involved in social issues in the City and was president of the Salford Ladies War Committee, a position requested by the Queen, Mary.

Their son, Arnold a solicitor also, was injured during WW1 as Captain Desquesnes of the 8th Lancashire Fusiliers. As Lt A Desquesnes he is listed as either missing, injured or invalided in the Manchester Grammar School magazine for 1917, but survived and led a full life as solicitor and Registrar until his eventual death in 1977. Ernest’s daughter Nanette married into Italian nobility in 1915 and worked with the Red Cross in Sicily during WW1. The family of her husband, Aldo Jung, fighting on the Italian front, was a Palermo family.

In 1944 Arnold Desquesnes, grandson of Benoit and son of Ernest, Registrar of the Rochdale and Salford Courts was appointed Joint Registrar of the No 4 County Courts, which included the Lancaster, Preston, Blackburn, Chorley, Darwen and Blackpool courts, so the name Desquesnes once more became associated with Blackpool. Though as a registrar, he changed districts, leaving the northwest and his death is recorded in Warwickshire, the name Desquesnes can be followed in the records into the 21st century, and with name changes through marriage, to the present date and current Europe wide contributors of important and essential content to the story of Benoit and family.

The epitaph on his gravestone, “THE WORLD IS MY COUNTRY AND TO DO GOOD MY RELIGION”

The coup took place in December 1851 and, arrested in January, Benoit was imprisoned before being exiled so the date, to be precise, if somewhat pedantic to suggest, should be exiled in 1852 and this is the date given for his arrest. The gravestone picture is by kind permission of Denys Barber, FOLC; Friends of Layton Cemetery. Though socialistically minded in principle, Benoit didn’t like being labelled and if he ever at a young age aligned himself to politics or religion his gravestone reveals a reluctance in older age and experience to align himself to anything, but everything of a moral fibre.

As Claude Schwartz has pointed out, the epitaph is a reflection of Thomas Paine’s, Rights of Man’. (The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion). Thomas Paine fled to the British colonies in America and was intellectually involved in the Revolution and when a warrant was out for his arrest due to his activities in England, he fled to France where he couldn’t speak a word of French and where he was also sympathetic to the Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century. Ultimately he was imprisoned in France by his political enemies but released with American help. So Benoit would have felt he had much in common with someone who might have been a hero to him. While in Valenciennes Benoit had printed and published a translation of Benjamin Franklin’s memoirs (a man who had helped Thomas Paine to America in the first place).

The real and present difficulty with achieving those aims is that Nationalism segregates the World, mutual trust is spurious in the direct need of the individual to survive, and to do good is also the unquestioned loyalty of religion which can promote war and bloodshed as doing good can be interpreted as justification for war and bloodshed to consummate the Good, through religion or otherwise.

The Veevers Arms

King Street is now currently (Spring 2021) being redeveloped but memories can linger on or be reconstituted and the façade of the Veevers Arms is being retained. Benoit, Elisabeth and Ernest would have watched it being built and their own three storey Victorian property would also have been quite new at the time they moved into it.

The Veevers Arms at the junction of King Street and Cookson Street was built by Mr John Noblett in 1873 and, if Benoit arrived in London in 1852 and, according to his memoirs stayed there for about eleven years, he would have lived on King Street before the Veevers Arms had been built. It consisted of the ‘Family and Commercial Hotel’ and included fourteen bedrooms, assembly room and commercial room, four sitting rooms and other domestic accommodation, kitchens and pantry, a vault and extensive cellars and a bar. There was a yard and outbuildings including stables and coach house, and also the adjoining shop next door in King Street. It is situated in a busy part of the town at the junction of Cookson Street and King Street with their tall three storey houses and bay windows or the shop canopies protruding into the street and is emphatically advertised as being only a two minutes’ walk from North Station. Benoit Desquesnes and family would have been able to hear the clatter of the hooves of the cab horses along the cobbles as they made their way to the market or to the Pub across the road or to and from the railway station.

Benoit would have known the builder, John Noblett as his name was associated with the successful ‘gentlemen’ of the town who ran the town committees. In 1876 the license of the Veevers was transferred to Edward Garthside but he died in 1878 at age only 54 and Benoit would have sympathised with his wife Ann who, it appears, was unable to cope with running the pub and in August of 1880 she was declared bankrupt. The effects were sold off at auction and the license transferred back to John Noblett. Benoit might then have been acquainted with Charles Bleasdale who had moved from the Raikes Hall Hotel to run the Veevers but by 1884 the pub is up for sale due to the ill health of John Noblett and his wife who it seems had moved back in by then and Alice had died the previous year aged only 59 years. John died the following year and the Veevers was put up for sale. His death however was caused by an unfortunate accident rather than by his evident ill health as the wheel of the trap he was travelling in got caught on a lamp post and he was thrown out, injuring his shoulder and head. It was the 25th May and he had travelled to the Cherry Tree Gardens with another man reported as his grandson, John Bolton, and the accident had happened on the way home while passing through Great Marton. Though he seemed to recover, he suffered a relapse and died a few a few days later on the Tuesday. An inquest was held at the Veevers the following Friday and which would have made sympathetic conversation in the Desquesnes’ household. John Noblett reportedly originated from the Nobletts of Wrea Green, with connections of the Veevers patronymic in Preston. He first took on a livery stables in Church Street and ran a successful cab business, even challenging the railways on their overpriced routes, before moving to the No 3 Hotel where he was the first man to develop the hotel for the specific purpose of outdoor attractions rather than the smoky indoors, his hobby being market gardening. The grounds were planted and landscaped for the enjoyment of the patrons. Continuing successfully in business he had built the Veevers Arms in 1873, living at the No 3 Hotel and in Carleton beforeeventually he moved into the Veevers himself, where he remained until his untimely death.

So, as King Street is developed today, the pub that John Noblett created will change in function, but the dust of development has thrown up the memories of all the names, Noblett, Desquesnes, Mirande, and Lemee, all significant to Blackpool in the last half of the nineteenth century.

The international search is now on for evidence of Benoit Desquesnes’ works or a portrait or photograph of a man of goodwill and energy and well liked in his adopted home town of Blackpool.


Blackpool Herald 16th January 1891. Benoit Desquesnes was made honorary secretary of the Societé Francaise in the same year before his death.
Ernest Desquesnes Picture thanks to Claude Schwartz
Manchester Courier January 4 1914 ‘The Mayor and Mayoress of Salford held a conversazione at the Museum, Peel Park, last night, and our photo shows Alderman and Mrs Desquesnes with their bodyguard of firemen.’

The Manchester Courier, Wednesday June 24 1914 on the occasion of Alexandra Day, when a festival of roses was celebrated. Named after the Queen Mother, the profuse nationwide production of roses for the day was appropriatley used to give work to those who, through physical handicap were unable to present themselves to the job market. It would not have beeen known at the time but, four years later, poppies would be at the forefront of the mind rather than roses. One of these poppies would represent Ernest Mirande, grandson of Benoit’s co-habitee in Valenciennes and London, killed in Belgium during the conflict of WW1. ( His widow Hannah would return to Blackpool where she would leave her Rawcliffe Street address, first to live in a caravan on land off Lytham Road before remarrying Frederick Hoad at the Parish Church, South Shore.

The Manchester Courier December 30 1913. The Mayor and Mayoress Ernest and Sarah Jane Dequesnes (pre-marriage; Tottie) in the celebrated company of actor Herbert Tree (and Beatrice Terry).

‘Sir Herbert Tree paid a flying visit to the Gaiety Theatre Manchester yesterday. He was entertained to luncheon at the Town Hall, a notable company being assembled to meet him. The picture shows:- Bottom row (left to right): The Mayoress of Manchester, the Lord Mayor, the Hon. Lady Barlow, Sir Herbert Tree, the Mayoress and the Mayor of Salford. Second row (left to right) Mr Basil Dean, Alderman and Mrs Frankenburg, Mr Walter Butterworth, Miss Beatrice Terry, Mrs Grindon, Miss Horniman. Top row (includes) Bishop Weldon, Councillor Derwent Simpson, Mr Cuming Walters, Sir Charles Behrens.’

Sources and acknowledgements;-

The body of information comes from the British Library newspapers and documents via findmypast. Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive ( All other information sourced is mentioned below;

Census returns, birth, marriages, deaths, electoral rolls and rates books accessed via findmypast.

Wikitree; with thanks to Claude Schwartz for hosting a comprehensive and instructive genealogy.

Thanks to all; Claude Schwartz and Beatrix Descamps descendants of the Tottie family, and Hervé Gournay of the Maroilles Historical Society for further, generous and valuable and contributions of information, including the esquisse autobiographique.

For the position and picture of the gravestone; Denys Barber along with the Friends of Layton Cemetery.

Nick Moore for the ability to dive into his work to check out dates and corroborate facts:-

Lancashire biographies; Ernest Desquesnes;

Ernest Desquenses author, Blackpool Liberal Club;

The Internationl Association in London;

inflation calculator;

Nick Moore’s extensive history of Blackpool;

Mrs Desquenses; WW1 war work;

French exiles in London;

Biographical notes on Benoit Desquesnes (Masonic);

Ernest Mirande;

King Street


Benoit’s known work;

Ernest Mirande who moved to Leeds to work as a painter and decorator;

Nick Moore’s history of Blackpool;

Colin Reed, Blackpool, April 2021.

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