The World of Disney

My new biography of Dr John Disney, founder of the John Disney Chair of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge and benefactor of the Disney Marbles now displayed at the Fitzwilliam Museum, has been published by Archaeopress.

The family’s origins lay at Norton Disney in Lincolnshire where they had settled after the Norman conquest. Disney’s father, the Reverend John Disney, inherited The Hyde near Ingatestone in Essex from Thomas Brand-Hollis. The house contained the Grand Tour collection formed by Brand-Hollis and Thomas Hollis. The Reverend John Disney had met Brand-Hollis through the Unitarian Essex Street Chapel in London where he had ministered after leaving the Church of England.

John Disney inherited The Hyde from his father and presented much of the collection to the University of Cambridge. The objects were described in his Museum Disneianum. Some of the items can be traced back to his wife, Sophia, or uncle (and father-in-law), Lewis Disney-Ffytche, during their time in Naples after they had been forced to flee Paris during the Revolution. Disney-Ffytche had been the owner of Le Désert de Retz, the pleasure gardens near Paris.

Disney himself helped to establish a new museum in Chelmsford through the Chelmsford Philosophical Society. He was a key member of the Essex Archaeological Society.

Contents

1. The Disney family of Lincolnshire

2. The Break with the Church of England

3. Collectors of the Grand Tour: Thomas Hollis and Thomas Brand

4. The Disney family and Essex

5. The Hyde and its collection

6. Disney and Learned Societies

7. The Museum Disneianum and Cambridge

8. Going for Gold

9. The Disney legacy

The World of Disney: From Antiquarianism to Archaeology (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2020). ISBN 9781789698275.

Disney, Danbury and the RNLI

IMG_5729
Danbury church © David Gill

Danbury Place in Essex was the home of the Ffytche family. Frances Elizabeth was the daughter of Lewis Disney (1738–1822) and his wife Elizabeth Ffytche (1749–87); they took the family name of Disney-Ffytche on marriage in 1775. Elizabeth was born in Madras.

Frances Elizabeth was born in 1776, and her (surviving) sister Sophia in 1777. After Elizabeth’s death in 1787, the Disney-Ffytche family moved to Paris in 1791, and then fled to Italy in 1793 where they met (Sir) William Hillary (in 1795). Frances Elizabeth married Hillary on February 1800, and they then lived at Danbury. They were granted a divorce in 1812, yet the memorial inscription describes Frances as the wife of Sir William Hillary (and he had remarried in August 1813). Hillary went on to found what became the RNLI. Frances died at Jericho House, Blackmore, her daughter’s home, in August 1828.

Frances’ sister Sophia was married to Dr John Disney, benefactor of the chair of archaeology at Cambridge.

Dr John Disney and Essex

Disney_2826
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.

IMG_2408
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

Dr John Disney and Essex

The Morant Lecture 2015
The Morant Lecture 2015

Dr John Disney is best known for the creation of the eponymous chair of archaeology at the University of Cambridge, and the donation of the ‘Disney Marbles’ displayed in the Fitzwilliam Museum. Professor David Gill gave the 2015 Morant Lecture on the theme of ‘Dr John Disney and Essex’ in Ingatestone parish church. The church contains the grave of Thomas Brand-Hollis who bequeathed The Hyde, near Inagatestone, along with its collection of classical sculptures, to Disney’s father, the Reverend John Disney. The Reverend Disney had been co-minister of the Unitarian Essex Chapel in London alongside his brother-in-law the Reverend Theophilus Lindsey. Brand-Hollis was one of the main supporters of the chapel.

The Reverend Disney’s brother, Lewis Disney-Ffytche, lived at Danbury Place near Maldon. His daughter Sophia married (Dr) John Disney, and her sister Frances married (Sir) William Hillary (best known for founding the RNLI).

Dr Disney was recorder of Bridport in Dorset, and on moving back to Essex after his father’s death, stood as MP for both Ipswich and Harwich. He served on the committee to bring the railway to Chelmsford and Colchester. As a member of the Chelmsford Philosophical Society he helped to establish the Chelmsford Museum. He was also a key figure in the establishment of the Colchester and Essex Archaeological Society.

In later years he was a member of the board of Le Nouveau Monde Mining Company that was involved with the California gold rush.

Slides for the lecture can be found here.

See also:

The Wonderful World of Disney

Image

Dr John Disney established the Disney chair of archaeology. The lecture will explore the background to his benefaction. First, how did the Disney family acquire the collection of classical sculpture from Thomas Brand Hollis of the Hyde, near Ingatestone in Essex? Second, how did Disney gain an interest in archaeology?

Some of the sculptural material was derived by Brand Hollis and his friend Thomas Hollis on the Grand Tour during the 1750s. Other pieces, some of modern creation, were acquired by Disney during his visit to Rome in the 1820s. Essex was also linked to early excavations at Colchester on the site of the new county hospital. He was president of the Chelmsford Philosophical Society that had an interest in archaeology. The Society established a museum in the town. After the foundation of the Disney chair of archaeology, Disney helped to form the Essex Archaeological Society along with the first Disney Professor, the Reverend John H. Marsden.

The Wonderful World of Disney

This lecture — part of the UCS Academy Series — explores the background to Dr John Disney who established the Disney Chair of Archaeology at Cambridge University. It starts with eighteenth century disputes in the Church of England, republican values, and the formation of philosophical and archaeological societies in East Anglia. 

Image