Cordite and Milk Stout – the Abel sisters

The story starts with two brothers, Frederick Augustus Abel, the elder of the two, and John Sangster Abel.

Frederick was born on 17 July 1827 in Woolwich, then in Kent.   At seventeen, he started to study  chemistry at the Royal Polytechnic Institution and in 1845 became one of the original twenty-six students of A.W. von Hofmann at the newly-founded Royal College of Chemistry. In 1852 he was appointed lecturer in chemistry at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, succeeding Michael Faraday, who had held that post since 1829. From 1854 until 1888 Abel served as ordnance chemist at the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, establishing himself as the leading British authority on explosives.

Together with Sir James Dewar, he invented cordite, later adopted as the standard explosive of the British army. Abel also made studies of dust explosions in coal mines, invented a device for testing the flash point of petroleum and found a way to prevent guncotton from exploding spontaneously.

He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1860, knighted in 1883, and created a baronet in 1893.

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Frederick Augustus Abel as a young man

His first wife was Sarah Selina Blanch who had been born in Bath in 1826, the daughter of James and Elizabeth Blanch of Bristol. They married on 16 December 1854. There were no children of the marriage, and Sarah did not live to see her husband’s most important invention. She developed cancer and on 29 May 1888, on returning from a trip to the Continent for her health, died in Hythe.

The grave of Sarah Selina Abel nee Blanch, which she shares with her adopted daughter. 

John Sangster Abel was one of Frederick’s younger brothers. He emigrated to Chile, to Copiapo Province, which is in a rich copper and silver mining district. Perhaps he was seeking his fortune there. He married a Chilean woman, Jenoveva Recabarren. their daughter Luisa Isabella Aspasia Abel was born there on 22 June 1866 and baptised at Rosario on 9 July that year. The next year, on 17 August 1867, another daughter, Carlota Jenoveva Abel was born. A brother for the girls, Juan Carlos Abel, followed in 1869.

Before 1875, the children’s parents were both dead, and they were sent to England to live with their Abel relations, being adopted by the childless Frederick and Sarah.

According to her obituary, Luisa, who did not marry, first visited Hythe in 1890, and was so impressed with the town she decided to make it her home.  She played a full part in the life of the parish church, St Leonard’s, being a member of the choir and the Parochial Church Council, and taking responsibility for decorating the altars with flowers each week. She was also involved with the local British Legion.  She died in 1932, and was given a splendid funeral attended by the great and good of the town. The next year, a stained glass window dedicated to St Dunstan was erected in the church in her memory, paid for by her sister.

 

The window (on the right) in the south transept of St Leonard’s Church in memory of Luisa Abel

Carlota Abel married George Laurie Mackeson, of the Hythe brewing family on 29 April 1893 at Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Street, Chelsea. The couple also lived in Hythe, at The Dene in Hillside Street. Their were no children of the marriage.

Carlota enrolled in the Women’s Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) in May 1912,  and worked as a nurse at the Bevan Military Hospital in nearby Seabrook right though the First World War, starting her service there on 8 October 1914. She finished the war as a Staff Nurse.  In the 1930s, she and George travelled twice to South America, perhaps to visit her birth family.

George Laurie Mackeson was born in Hythe on 19 November 1865, the second son of Henry Bean Mackeson, owner of the Hythe brewery, and Annie Adair Mackeson. He was educated at Uppingham School before joining the family business.  He was associated with it until it was taken over by Whitbread in 1929, and was working there when it introduced its Milk Stout in 1907.

He was a great supporter of both Kent County Cricket Club and of Hythe Cricket Club in particular  and became President of both. He owned the land on which the Hythe club played and left it to his nephews, asking them to ensure that the game would continue to be played on the site. His obituary described him as ‘an old English gentleman who seemed to have survived from the Victorian age.’

George died in 1950, and Carlota in 1960, aged 93.

The grave of George Laurie Mackeson and his wife Carlota