Dr John Disney and Essex

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Dr John Disney (The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) © David Gill

Thomas Brand-Hollis bequeathed his house, The Hyde, near Ingatestone, Essex, to his friend the Reverend John Disney, the minister of the Unitarian Essex Street Chapel in London, in 1804. Disney prepared a private catalogue of the collections in the house (1807; rev. 1809), in part formed by Brand-Hollis and his friend Thomas Hollis on their Grand Tour of Italy. He also prepared a memoir of Brand-Hollis (1808). Disney’s father-in-law Archdeacon Francis Blackburne had earlier published the memoir of Thomas Hollis (1780).

Disney’s older brother, Lewis (Disney-ffytche), lived at Danbury Park, Essex. His daughter, Sophia Disney-ffytche, married Disney’s son John, a barrister, in 1802.

The Reverend Disney died in December 1816, and The Hyde was inherited by his son John. Lewis Disney-ffytche died in September 1822, and his bequest to Sophia allowed the Disney’s to take up residency in Essex. John stood, unsuccessfully, as MP for Ipswich (1830), and Harwich (1832, 1835).

The Chelmsford Philosophical Society was founded in 1828. Disney served on its committee and was elected its president. He was instrumental in the creation of the Chelmsford Museum that opened in July 1843.

Disney was a member of the Chelmsford committee of the Eastern Counties Railway (1835). The line reached Chelmsford in December 1842.

Disney revised his father’s earlier catalogue of The Hyde and published it as the Museum Disneianum (1846) with an expanded version (1849). In April 1850 he formerly offered his collection of classical sculptures to the University of Cambridge (for display in the Fitzwilliam Museum). In 1851 he provided money for the creation of the Disney Chair of Archaeology. In December 1852 the first Disney professor, John Marsden, gave the inaugural lecture of the Essex Archaeological Society (where Disney was president).

Disney received the honorary degree of DCL from Oxford in 1854, and was incorporated with a LLD from Cambridge later in the same year. He presented a bust of himself to the Fitzwilliam Museum to mark the occasion.

Disney died in May 1857 and was buried at Fryerning.

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Grave of Dr John Disney, Fryerning © David Gill

Research seminar:

Dr John Disney and Essex:
displaying and interpreting the past in public and private spheres

Department of History, University of Essex (Room 6.348)
Wednesday 20 April, 4.00 pm

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