Tourism, Hospitality and Leisure

On the eve of launching The Raikes Journal, we get a call.... from Mrs Raikes

Written by: Andrew Merrell | Posted 12 September 2020 8:00

On the eve of launching The Raikes Journal, we get a call.... from Mrs Raikes

On the eve of us launching The Raikes Journal we received a surprising message about the name we had chosen to use, and because today there is a Robert Raikes tour through Gloucester we decided to share the tale. 

If you have read the words on our 'About Us' page you will know that Robert Raikes senior started the Gloucester Journal in 1722 and his son, Robert Raikes (the Younger) took over the paper that became The Citizen. 

As his father had helped establish the tenets of journalism, the free press and a reputation for philanthropy, as well as business, his son would continue – and top it by becoming the man who helped establish the revolutionary Sunday School Movement.  

"Sunday schools already existed, but he helped organise and establish them. First in Gloucester, then the county, the country then internationally - all within his lifetime," said Hugh Worsnip, of Gloucester Civic Society, who leads today’s Rbert Raikes tour through Gloucester (September 12). 

"Between 1770 and 1880 between seven and eight million children in Britain learned how to read and write at Sunday School. That enabled the industrial revolution."  

Statues by Sir Thomas Brock stand in Gloucester Park, in London and in Toronto, Canada, to commemorate the achievement by Mr Raikes the Younger.

But back to the message received about the decision of this business news website to use the Raikes name in its title. And an extraordinary story 

“I do not mind,” said the caller, about our decision to use the family name. “I am Robert Raikes (the Younger) great, great, great, great granddaughter. 

If that was not extraordinary enough it was what she said next which moved us, and made us realise Raikes is more than just a name from half-rememberedhistory 

“I have been aware of the family legacy ever since I can remember. It is something we grew up with and something my father was particularly proud of, especially as he got older,” said Deborah Raikes May, who works in Gloucester 

“We buried my father (Des Raikes May) yesterday. He died of coronavirus, aged 86. It is like a body blow. I ache and I am hurting.   

“It is really strange, but I am really, really pleased for my dad that you are using the name. My father would be so chuffed.”

Read more: A poem about Gloucester - by the great, great, great, great granddaughter of Robert Raikes

Read more: Take part in our survey: Where now for Gloucestershire?

The timing of her hearing our plans was, she knows better than anyone, entirely coincidental. But she said she enjoyed the comfort of wondering – if only just a little – if there was not more too it 

“If I was of that ilk (meaning superstitious), and I am not, I would think it was my dad pulling strings.”  

As with every ‘famous’ or historical figure there is always more than meets the eye, those ‘other bits’ edited from history – and then there are all the family members who also achieve extraordinary things, none of which are recorded for posterity 

“Robert Raikes’ own forebear was a court diarist and another the governor of the Bank of England,” said Ms Raikes May 

When Robert Raikes the Elder and his son strode through the streets of Gloucester, women were little written into history.  

“He had a sister, Serah who was a novelist who had to publish under a man’s name. There is plenty of evidence that she wrote a lot of his features for him for the newspaper,” she said.

Of course, times change. The one-time family home in Southgate Street – where Mr Raikes’ wife used to serve plum cake to the Sunday School children in the 18th century - is now a beautifully restored Sam Smith’s Brewery pub.   

The other family pile, the grand Ladybellegate House at 20 Longsmith Street – bland on the outside, but described as ‘magnificent’ on the inside – was rescued by the Gloucester Civic Trust in 1978 and is now a private residence 

And every generation since has pursued its own path. And perhaps that is one of the greatest characteristic of the family name?  

A strong belief in religion is one of the other traits which has permeated through to the present day within some in the family line, according to Ms Raikes May 

Her father, Des (Douglas Desmond Raikes May), was in the navy. He is survived by his wife, Margaret rose Raikes May, an active octogenarian and former nursing sister who helped run lunch clubs for the older generation until the pandemic – not to mention being a mother of three children, including Deborah 

There is a fascinating, amusing and tragic story, of an uncle Charlie whose adventures took him to the copper mines of Zambia and who died unexpectedly in a way we cannot repeat here.

Read more: A poem about Gloucester - by the great, great, great, great granddaughter of Robert Raikes

Read more: Take part in our survey: Where now for Gloucestershire?

Des Raikes May’s own father was the first Conservative shop steward of Great Western Railway, an alderman and district councillor and chairman of Age Concern.   

His wife was Beulah Giddings Raikes May, a name reflecting both the Irish and Jewish heritage now within the family line 

Mr Raikes May’s older brother, Roy, still farms within Gloucestershire – well into his eighties 

If, after reading about the sadly forgotten sister, Serah, you are wondering where the women are in the story it seems there has been an overwhelming male lineage. Deborah revealed she was one of the few female direct relations 

As our conversation with Robert Raikes the Younger’s great, great, great, great granddaughter draws to a close we realise we too are repeating history by not having asked enough about the female line.  

The mistake of not having done so is our loss. As the phone call ends she casually mentions she too writes, as her distant relatives did, and leaves us with the tantalising crumbs of a story about the time she spent in the post-war refugee camps of Bosnia working with Oxfam.