Alfred William Alabaster, 1840 - 1937
by Brian Stevenson
last updated November, 2016
Alfred Alabaster took up microscopy as a hobby quite late in life, apparently an activity to occupy his retirement years. He was 77 years old when he joined the Quekett Microscopical Club in 1917. He remained a member for about ten years. The microscope slide shown in Figure 1 is dated May 6, 1921, and Bracegirdle’s Microscopical Mounts and Mounters reports others with dates of 1915-1920. The only known records of Alabaster’s involvement in microcopy are his membership in the QMC, and his rarely-seen slides.
Figure 1. An Alabaster mount of a red velvet mite, (Trombidium holosericeum). It is dated 6 May, 1921.
Figure 2. The specimen from Figure 1, viewed through a 3.4x objective lens, with crossed polarizing filters.
Alfred William Alabaster was born in Finsbury, London, during early April, 1840. He was christened on April 29 of that year, at St Leonard’s Shoreditch. He was a twin, but his brother, Walter John, lived for only 8 months. Alfred’s christening record lists his father’s occupation as “wine merchant”. The father, James, died around 1849. He left the family with sufficient wealth to send young Alfred and another brother, Frederick, to boarding school.
In 1861, Alabaster was working as a “warehouseman” in Plymouth. It was there that he married Isabella Catherine Rogers in 1865. The couple had at least 11 children. Isabella died in 1898 at the age of 55.
Probably around the time of his marriage, Alfred took up work as a traveling salesman in the drapery trade (sale of fabrics for making clothes). Home was listed in the 1871 and 1881 censuses as the Lyncombe and Widcombe district of Bath, Somerset. The 1891 and 1901 censuses record a move to 8 Hillsborough Street, Plymouth, Devon. Alfred retired between 1901 and 1911, the 1911 census recoding him at 6 Glenhurst Road, Plymouth, living with two unmarried daughters. Alabaster earned a decent living, evidenced by all censuses listing the presence of a least one domestic servant in the household.
Alfred moved again, to 5 Holland Road, Plymouth, where he was living when he joined the Quekett Microscopical Club in 1917. He was still at that address when he died on January 7, 1937, at the age of 96.
The Alabaster Society (accessed November, 2016) http://www.alabaster.org.uk/
Bracegirdle, Brian (1998) Microscopical Mounts and Mounters, Quekett Microscopical Club, London, page 2
Christening record of Alfred William Alabaster (1840) Parish records of St Leonard Shoreditch, accessed through ancestry.com
England census and other vital records, accessed through ancestry.com
French, M. (2010) On the road: travelling salesmen and experiences of mobility in Britain before 1939, Journal of Transport History, Vol. 31, pages. 133-150
Journal of the Quekett Microscopical Club (1922) Member list, Series 2, Vol. 15
Journal of the Quekett Microscopical Club (1927) Member list, Series 2, Vol. 15
Probate record of Alfred William Alabaster (1937) “Alabaster Alfred William of 5 Holland-road Plymouth died 7 January 1937 Probate London 11 March to Alfred William Alabaster retired commercial traveller, Effects £1440 17s 7d”, accessed through ancestry.com (note: the executor was our microscopist’s son).