On this Day 6th March 1767

Davies Gilbert aka Davies Giddy

Davies Giddy is probably more well known as Davies Gilbert but if you try to find a birth date for young Mr Gilbert by searching parish registers you'll run into a problem. In short, he is not there! So, just who is this famous man of west Cornwall and why the enigma concerning his birth?

Tredea, St ErthDavies Giddy was born 6th March 1767 in St. Erth. His father was the curate and his mother, Catherine Davies, came from minor gentry but of an old family in west Cornwall. Catherine was left Tredrea, St. Erth but Davies was born before they moved into the house and they would have been in the village. Davies attended Penzance Grammar School for a time but was then educated at home. Then he attended a mathematical academy at Bristol. After this he went to Pembroke College, Oxford. Returning to St. Erth in 1790 he became consulting engineer to Trevithick and Hornblower. He promoted Humphry Davy. In 1791 he was elected to the Royal Society.

Picture of Davies GilbertHe was High Sheriff of Cornwall for 1792-3, ably assisted by his father and became MP for Helston in 1804-1806. He remained in Parliament until 1832, by which time he had been MP for Bodmin for 26 years.

In 1808 he married Mary Anne Gilbert of Eastbourne and the enigma is cleared up, he changed his name to Gilbert to inherit a fortune. Although much of his time was spent away from Cornwall his heart was still in the county and in 1814 he was elected first President of the Geological Society of Cornwall (see 11/2/1814), a position he held until his death. In 1827 he became President of the Royal Society and in common with other Presidents he had a mountain in Canada named after him, Mount Davies Gilbert in the Yukon (Beaufort Range).

Davies Gilbert had a wide variety of interests. He worked out the mathematics for Telford's Menai suspension Bridge. He succeeded in promoting Brunel as the engineer of the Clifton suspension bridge (after representations from Brunel himself). He composed or revived Christmas carols and wrote a parochial history of Cornwall. There was a suggestion that he should be speaker of the House of Commons but it might be that it was realised that he would not have been good at it. He died in Eastbourne in 1839.

For more on the birth of Davies Giddy (Gilbert) see:

Edward Giddy (1734-1814), Cedric Appleby in Eighteenth Century Life in West Cornwall, Penwith Local History Group, 2014.

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Penwith Local History Group
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Growing Up in West Cornwall. A Publication by the Penwith Local History Group

"Growing Up in West Cornwall"

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Sally Corbet

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