Nick Hewer has always been his own man, a successful PR executive who first moved to London from his native Wiltshire while in his twenties. But where did Nick’s business acumen come from? Could it be in his genes? Certainly, his research reveals forebears who took great risks to build their fortunes…
Nick begins by finding out more about his maternal grandfather, Oswald Jamison, who rose to be Belfast’s High Sheriff. This is especially noteworthy because Oswald was a Catholic. The 1901 census describes Oswald, then 25 years old, as a “master painter” living with his widowed mother.
In 1912, he married Jeannie Smith. This was a “most unusual marriage” because Jeannie was a Presbyterian at a time when relationships that crossed the sectarian divide were frowned upon. There’s an echo here of Nick’s life: his father was Anglican, his mother Catholic, and he attended a Jesuit boarding school.
Clearly ambitious, Oswald was a councillor who represented The Falls. In the years before the division of Ireland in 1920, Oswald supported Home Rule, but opposed republican nationalism and delivered “excoriating” speeches against Sinn Féin. This was a dangerous course of action. In 1922, as Belfast descended into violence, his business premises were burnt out.
Yet despite representing a staunchly nationalist area, Oswald continued to be re-elected. Even as he increasingly mixed with Belfast’s business elite, it seems, he kept the respect of his constituents by demanding better housing, for example. He was also a pragmatist. In 1935, despite his previous rhetoric, he opened a factory in southern Ireland, accepting a grant from the republican government to help get the enterprise going.
Having started out with a vague impression of his grandfather as dapper and genial, Nick now sees him as “a man of extraordinary courage” who made the most of his opportunities.
Next, Nick researches his English father’s side of the family. Using previously compiled family trees, he’s able to go back 12 generations to a dispute between two families, the Notts and the Sewsters. While the exact story is indistinct, documents suggest Nick’s 10x great grandfather, Roger Nott, may have used sharp practice to gain control of Wiltshire land that belonged to another 10x great grandfather, Edward Sewster, at a knockdown price.
A generation closer to our own time, Roger’s son, Edward, lived an eventful life. Despite having a “slight whiff of trade” about him, Edward was a staunch supporter of Charles I during the English Civil War in the 17th century, a lieutenant colonel who raised a troop of horsemen and fought with great distinction at key battles.
When Cromwell’s forces prevailed, Edward’s wealth was confiscated and he was forced to ‘compound’ – swear loyalty to the Commonwealth and pay a fine – to get his estates back. However, there’s a twist in the tale. When Charles II was restored to the throne, Edward was richly rewarded for his loyalty.
Reflecting on his forebears’ experiences, Nick sees parallels between Edward and Oswald. They were “both winners, but my word did they have to endure some risky times.”