Challis Family Tree

The link to your past

They say you ‘can’t pick your family’ and in Hilary Challis’ case, we’re not sure she’d want to change a thing.

Looking into your family history is a really exciting way to understand your heritage and what makes you who you are. Dig a little deeper into your family tree and who knows what you’ll find. Programmes such as ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ and online services like ‘Ancestry’ have facilitated in these searches. But who would have thought the rare book ‘An Iceland Fisherman’ written in 1886 by French author Pierre Loti, would have a local link to an entire family history that spans publishing dynasties, brewers and cinematographers?

View the full family tree here.

That’s just what happened when World of Rare Books customer, Hilary Challis purchased a book back in 2014.

Hilary Challis, moved as a teenager with her family to Worthing, in West Sussex, a stone’s throw from World of Rare Books HQ. (A town not known for its celebrity status or the glitz and glamour of Hollywood).

From the late 18th Century and throughout the 19th Century, Worthing thrived as a bustling seaside resort with the development of two hotels, and various inns in the town, and one where the need for entertainment grew. However, by the 1970s, with the advent of cheap air travel, the vibrancy of Britain’s seaside towns had dwindled.

Her father Alan Challis, was a Londoner yet loved the sea and had a life-long passion to make his living from it. He became a highly skilled sailor and knowledgeable fisherman of the coastal waters off Worthing.

Not knowing there was a family connection here, for a decade Hilary researched her father’s lineage. She struggled to progress beyond his Grandmother because any other Challis vital records seemed unconnected and randomly scattered across the south of England between London, Bath and Brighton.

Slowly overtime, the pieces of the puzzle agonisingly at times, fell together and a lineage was traced up to her Great-great-great Grandfather Robert Challis. Robert’s brother – Thomas Holt Challis, a 19th-Century Brighton publican, is the link to a dynasty filled not only with talented pioneers of the British Film industry but also to the UK’s publishing world and brewery trade.

Cornelius Sanderson, a grandson of Thomas Holt Challis, worked for a London book publishers founded in 1904 by Thomas Werner Laurie. ‘T. Werner Laurie’ was known for publishing works of Yeats, Wilde and George Moore and notably ‘The Jungle’ (1906) by Upton Sinclair, when that had been rejected for publication in England by other publishers.

Thomas and Cornelius had earlier married sisters Jessie and Elsie Neame related to the Kent Neame family, founders of Britain’s oldest brewery company, the 500 years-old Shepherd Neame company.

Thomas Werner Laurie later remarried and his daughter from that second marriage, Joan ‘Jonny’ Werner Laurie, was the founder (Editor) of popular ‘She’ magazine with her partner Nancy Spain (chief contributor). They were an openly lesbian couple, who tragically died when a light aircraft they were travelling in crashed near Aintree during its flight to the 1964 Grand National.

Cornelius and Elsie Neame had a son called Challis Sanderson. A silent-film maker, he worked alongside director Maurice Elvey on Elvey’s biopic “The Life Story of David Lloyd George” (1918).

This film was suppressed by the British Government before it was ever publicly screened. Solicitors, presumably acting for the government or for Lloyd George’s Liberal party, visited the film company, paid £20,000 in cash (a very large sum at the time) in £1,000-pound notes, and took away the negative and the only print. The film was presumed to be destroyed and lost.

A widowed Cornelius subsequently married Kathleen Baines, the widow of W. P. Baines who had translated the novel An Iceland Fisherman for ‘T. Werner Laurie’.

Looking for a book that links you to your past? Here at World of Rare Books, we might be able to help! Get in touch with us, and we’ll do our best to help you in your search.