Bishop Shayler, in his own words


City of Berlin ship

This week’s #52ancestors prompt is ‘At worship’ so I’ve opted for an update on the early life of Ernest Shayler, who became Bishop of Nebraska. I have already written about him at Ernest Vincent Shayler but after publishing that story I found an account of his early years written by Ernest himself and kindly shared with me by one of his direct descendants in the USA. It covers his life in England up to the point his family emigrated to the USA when he was 15 and I include it here in full:

Three quarters of a century ago (it is now 1943) I was born in a little village called North Moreton, about midway between Oxford and Windsor.  Was there baptized when three weeks old in All Saints, the parish church. North Moreton parish numbered about three hundred souls. Some well to do farmers, their labourers, a few retired persons, two businessmen, of whom my father was one, the vicar, and the school master.

The Rev. Albert Banffe, who officiated at the marriage of my parents, baptized me. He soon left and was followed by the Rev. William Henry Young, to whom I was a troublesome boy. He prepared me for my confirmation which took place at St. Leonard’s Church, Wallingford at the age of thirteen. From him and some of his curates, notably Rev, L.G. Mylne, afterwards Bishop of India, I received my church instruction, as well as to properly serve as acolyte at the Altar. My parents were good church folk, and I was planted in the choir at the age of eight. And sat sometimes to my discomfort immediately before my father, who too was a singer in the choir.

Of the Shayler ancestry, little is known, but they are said to have come to England from Scotland in the year 1603. At any rate, about the year 1800, three Shayler boys, William, Thomas and Henry were left orphans, the first named being my grandfather. He was sent to a Blue Coat school for boys at Reading, an institution founded by Archbishop Land, and at an early age sent as an apprentice, learning a useful trade. He married Louise Gregory and settled in North Moreton, where also lived my maternal grandparents, Thomas and Hannah Sherman, she being a Wing before her marriage. The Sherman offspring were two boys, Joseph and John, and three girls, Martha, Rachel and Charlotte, the latter being my mother. So Charles Shayler younger son of William, and Charlotte Sherman were married. Six children were the result of this marriage: Edith Kara Louisa, Ernest, Alice Agnes, Celia, Jane and Catherine Eliza. Jane died at the age of six. Edith and Alice at maturity, Celia, now Mrs L.S. Hitchcock, and Catherine Eliza, now Mrs Abner E Knight are still living.

When I had reached my twelfth year, John Barr the village schoolmaster accosted my father with ‘Charles, I have taught Ernest everything I know. You had better send him to the Boy’s Grammar School at Wallingford.’  So, off to Wallingford to learn French, Latin, history, geometry. The market town of Wallingford was four miles away, and for considerable length of time it was necessary for me to walk four miles to school and four miles back daily. Although in bad weather an old lady who kept a candy store allowed me to lodge there. The question of a career arose, and it was planned that I should be a school master.  So to Brightwell, halfway between Moreton and Wallingford, I was sent off as a pupil teacher. This consisted of being a monitor in the public school, one hour of study from seven to eight every morning with the headmaster, George F. Renly, one hours study during noon recess, and much home work. This school master training was sadly interrupted by a general business depression in England, so my mother having two brothers in America, it was decided to sell all out and to emigrate to the United States.

Upon July first, 18*   we embarked upon an Inman Line ship called the City of Berlin. And, in the steerage sailed, and reached New York ten days later. Besides the four children our parents carried other treasures: a feather bed, some souvenirs, and a handful of English sovereigns. We finally arrived in Columbus, and were welcomed by Uncle John Sherman and his family.

*The year is missing from Ernest’s account, but we know from passenger lists that it was 1880.

I find this account fascinating for the details about people and places he knew as a child, although I am not sure how accurate his comments about the Shayler ancestry are. My research suggests that Ernest’s grandfather was indeed William Shayler and he did marry Louisa Gregory. However I’m not sure the story about William and his brothers being orphaned is true. Parish records suggest that William’s father, Richard Shayler, died in 1836 and his mother Hannah in 1832 so William (born in 1801) would have been a fully grown adult by this time. It is likely that these stories were passed on to him by his parents and either he or they might not have remembered all the details correctly. We should also bear in mind that he is writing this in 1943, which was 65 years after the family arrived in the USA. 

Ernest suggests that his grandfather William Shayler attended the Blue Coat School in Reading, Berkshire. This school was founded in 1646 by Richard Aldworth, a merchant of The Skinners Company and Governor of Christ’s Hospital. The school ‘was established near St Mary’s Minster Church in Reading and was known by its original historic name of Aldworth’s Hospital, providing ‘Education and bringing upp of twenty poore male children’ and for a ‘Godly and learned man to be Schoolmaster’. The original uniform was a blue coat and cap, hence the name of the school.  The School still exists today but has now moved out of Reading and has become an independent day school for boys aged 11-18 and girls aged 16-18.  I have contacted the school and asked them if it might be possible to find out whether William Shayler attended the school but they have not yet responded. It would be amazing if their records went back so far but you never know… 


6 thoughts on “Bishop Shayler, in his own words

    1. I did hear back from the school but their records only go back to the 1830s and my ancestor would have been there earlier. However they did send me a very interesting booklet about the history of the school which gives some general context.


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