Oswald BARCLAY was initiated into the Golden Dawn in February 1897 as a member of its Amen-Ra temple in Edinburgh. He took the Latin motto “Nota bene”. His address at the time of his initiation was 11 Picardy Place Edinburgh.
It hasn’t been easy for me to identify the members of GD’s Amen-Ra group and follow their lives, because living in London I haven’t been able to get to historical records for Scotland that aren’t on the web, or for which you have to pay a lot. However, the name ‘Oswald Barclay’ is a rare one. There were only three people with that name in the UK on the 1891 census; and two of those were only six years old. I am suggesting that the GD’s Oswald Barclay is the third of the three 1891 Oswald Barclays, who was living at 23 Union Place Edinburgh on the day of the census. He told the census official that he had been born in 1872 in England, so using the usual family history sources, I searched for him there.
Oswald Barclay was born early in 1872. His parents were Thomas, a gun maker by profession who had been born in Limehouse, London; and Emma, born in Staffordshire. On the day of the 1881 census Thomas and Emma had five children living at home - William who was working in a bank; Clara who was doing an apprenticeship as a dressmaker; Ernest, Oswald and Beatrice who were all at school. The census official didn’t note anything for Emma in the box for ‘income’ and it’s likely she didn’t have any paid work. Instead she was at home running the household and doing the childcare - helped only by her daughters, I should imagine, as the family did not employ a live-in servant. Instead they had a lodger, James Paraham, who added to Emma’s work but provided an extra source of income.
19th century census officials weren’t interested in who anyone’s employer was, only what kind of work they did, so I don’t know where Thomas Barclay was working in 1881. He had been around in his time, though: William had been born in Québec; Clara and Ernest were born in Plymouth and Oswald in Portsea, a suburb of Portsmouth; then the family had crossed the Atlantic once again, in time for Beatrice to be born in Nova Scotia. Then they had returned to England and in 1881 were living in Stratford, then a new suburb on the north-east edge of London. Based on the information Thomas Barclay gave to the census official in 1901, he seems to have been working for the British Army, in its ordnance department; so naturally he and his family, went where he was sent; by 1891 he was a master armourer - skilled and experienced. He’d moved at least twice more and was in Daventry with daughter Beatrice; and he and Emma had had one more child, a daughter Maud, who’d been born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
If he was like most lower-class boys of his generation, Oswald left school aged 15 or so (around 1887) and got work. In the late 19th century, on the back of Empire and increased levels of bureaucracy, there was a huge increase in the number of jobs in offices, and Oswald told the 1891 census official he was a clerk. In 1909 he was working for the Inland Revenue at its offices in Gayfield Square Edinburgh; he’d probably been employed in the tax office all his working life and continued there until his retirement. His most senior appointment was as Assessor to the Commissioners of Income Tax for Edinburgh, which he achieved in 1920
I think Oswald may have arrived in Scotland only a short while before the 1891 census day, because his mother and sisters Clara and Maude had come with him and were all living together at the Union Place address. Once again, Emma Barclay had taken in a lodger to help her through a tricky time financially; Henry Perkins, a dental student, was living with the Barclays. Certainly by 1901 and probably later in 1891, though, Emma returned to Daventry where she and Thomas were still living (surely the longest they’d spent in one place in all their married life) with Maud (or Maud - census officials can’t agree on it) who was now 13.
Oswald Barclay of the GD was not on the 1901 census; he was probably taking a holiday. Having got the job in Scotland he doesn’t seem to have wanted to move away and he soon got involved in local life, through freemasonry. By 1896 he had been initiated into lodges 1, 83 and 97 (I believe they are all Scottish ones). In March 1896 he became a corresponding member of the English lodge Quatuor Coronati number 2076, giving 17 Picardy Place Edinburgh as his address. Quatuor Coronati had several GD members amongst its full members but as a corresponding member only, there was no requirement for Oswald Barclay to attend any lodge meetings and I couldn’t find that he had done so in the accounts that I looked at, in Quatuor Coronati’s Transactions volumes published around the time of his GD initiation. I don’t think that it was the English Quatuor Coronati members that were WHO HE KNEW IN THE GOLDEN DAWN - it’s more likely to be someone who was a fellow freemason in Scotland. Scotland is completely separate from England for the purposes of freemasonry and has its own archives, in Scotland; so I haven’t been able to find out many details of Oswald Barclay’s career as a freemason. However, an archive now at Cornell University includes a book on the history of the Royal Arch Chapter of Edinburgh from 1778 to 1911 in which he’s listed amongst its most senior officers.
Oswald Barclay’s life didn’t just revolve around freemasonry, however. In 1909 he was made a fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquarians Edinburgh. And he also became a Justice of the Peace (JP).
It was probably the heights he’d reached in the civil service that led to his appointment as a Deputy Lieutenant for the City and County of Edinburgh in 1926; by this time his address was 17 Carlton Terrace. Being made a Deputy Lieutenant gets you onto government and royal lists for attendance at official functions. As a result, Oswald Barclay began to get some coverage in the Times: in August 1928 he went to the funeral of Lord Haldane at Gleneagles; in 1934 he was chosen by the Duke of Atholl to serve on a committee distributing the money raised by the Duke of Atholl’s fund; in the 1920s and 1930s he attended garden parties and dinners given by a series of Lord High Commissioners, the King’s official representatives in Scotland; in 1940 he went to the memorial service for Lord Tweedsmuir.
He was made a CBE in the New Year’s Honours’ List of January 1933 and made a trip to London to collect it at the investiture held by George V on Thursday 23 February 1933.
Not once does any of the coverage I’ve found for Oswald Barclay mention his going to any event with a wife and family; so I think he remained a bachelor. I haven’t been able to discover the date of his death.
BASIC SOURCES I USED for all Golden Dawn members.
Membership of the Golden Dawn: The Golden Dawn Companion by R A Gilbert. Northampton: The Aquarian Press 1986. Between pages 125 and 175, Gilbert lists the names, initiation dates and addresses of all those people who became members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or its many daughter Orders between 1888 and 1914. The list is based on the Golden Dawn’s administrative records and its Members’ Roll - the large piece of parchment on which all new members signed their name at their initiation. All this information had been inherited by Gilbert but it’s now in the Freemasons’ Library at the United Grand Lodge of England building on Great Queen Street Covent Garden.
Family history: freebmd; ancestry.co.uk (census and probate); findmypast.co.uk; familysearch; Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage; Burke’s Landed Gentry; Armorial Families; thepeerage.com; and a wide variety of family trees on the web.
Famous-people sources: mostly about men, of course, but very useful even for the female members of GD. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Who Was Who. Times Digital Archive.
Catalogues: British Library; Freemasons’ Library.
Wikipedia; Google; Google Books - my three best resources. I also used other web pages, but with some caution, as - from the historian’s point of view - they vary in quality a great deal.
Sources specific to Oswald Barclay:
Proceedings of the Society, that is, the Royal Society of Antiquarians in Edinburgh. Oswald Barclay was elected a Fellow at a meeting held on 10 May 1909; giving as his address for correspondent, the Inland Revenue Office at 17 Gayfield Square Edinburgh.
Scottish Law Times volume 2 1920 p55 announcement that Oswald Barclay JP had been appointed assessor to the Commissioners of Income Tax for the Royalty Division of Edinburgh.
London Gazette 10 September 1926 p5912 announcement that Oswald Barclay JP of 17 Carlton Terrace Edinburgh had been appointed a Deputy Lieutenant; issued by the Lord Lieutenant of the City and County of Edinburgh.
London Gazette 2 January 1933 p8, the New Year’s Honours List: Oswald Barclay JP DL was made a CBE.
Times; Oswald Barclay didn’t appear in it before the 1920s.
Copyright SALLY DAVIS
Find the web pages of Roger Wright and Sally Davis, including my list of people initiated into the Order of the Golden Dawn between 1888 and 1901, at: