John Bland: founding a family

When John Bland of Long Buckby came courting Lettice Miller of West Haddon her parents, Richard and Elizabeth Miller, approved the match and settled a house and some land on the happy couple when they tied the knot in the summer of 1656.

The first baby arrived promptly the following January. She was a little girl and they called her Elizabeth, after her grandmother. Very soon after, Lettice found herself pregnant again, probably just before the fire. The little family was not among those who lost everything during that disaster.

But there was sorrow in store. The following February baby Elizabeth died. She was buried on 4 February and only days later Lettice gave birth to another daughter. The new baby was baptised on 15 February and she was also given the name Elizabeth. (It was quite common at that time to name a child after a dead sibling – in this case it honoured her dead sister and her living grandmother.)

A number of other children followed, including Nicholas, who decided as he grew up that country life wasn’t for him and took himself off to London to seek his fortune. He became a City of London waterman, operating a boat on the Thames, taking passengers up and down the river – often a quicker way to their destinations than negotiating the narrow and crowded streets of the capital.

Nicholas spent the rest of his life in London and in due course his son William followed in his footsteps. The Bland house in West Haddon had been rented out for many years, but in 1729 William put it up for sale and the house, with the close behind it, was sold for a little over £60. Thomas Patch bought it and it remained in the Patch family for over a century, eventually becoming what we know now as The Old Brickyard.

William Ringrose and the cottage that grew

William was a child at the time of the fire. He had an elder brother, Richard (named after his father) and a younger brother, John. His youngest brother, Thomas, born in 1655, had died before he was six months old. He also had two sisters: Susanna (named after her mother) and baby Mary, born just a year before the fire.

We don’t know much about his life, except that it was short. But we do know that in 1670 he bought a piece of land. He bought it from Thomas Kirtland. Thomas had bought it a few months before the fire, in April 1657, from a man called Richard Harris. It was an example of ‘market infill’, where an old market place gradually gets filled with buildings. West Haddon’s market had been in operation since before 1275, but competition – especially from Long Buckby, had led to a decline until by 1600 John Shuckburgh, who owned the market and derived an income from the tolls charged to traders, decided it wasn’t worth continuing and put the land up for sale. It passed through several hands, possibly being used at first as grazing, but we know that Richard Harris built a house on it. A year later he split off a quarter acre of his plot and sold it to Thomas Kirtland.

Thomas may well have used the quarter acre for the animals he was fattening, but for some reason he put it up for sale in 1670. And young William Ringrose bought it for £6! He built a cottage on it, but very soon after made a hurried will. Had he been injured in an accident? Or suddenly fallen ill? The will was made on 15 October 1672 and he was buried two days later.

He left money to his brothers and his sisters inherited the cottage. By the time they came to sell it, in 1682, Susanna was the wife of a yeoman at Cottesbrooke, while Mary, now about 26 and still single, was living in Westminster (doing what?We don’t know.) Unable to write, the sisters both signed the deed of sale with their marks.

Over the years the cottage was altered and added to and the quarter acre was gradually filled up with workshops and outbuildings. We know it now as the point of the Crown Lane triangle. Possibly the little cottage at the back, with the steeply pitched roof, may represent the original cottage that William built, or it may have disappeared under a later rebuilding of Manchester House.

Thomas Kirtland and sibling rivalry

In 1646, when Thomas Kirtland was a young man, he joined with his parents in the purchase of a house in West Haddon for £22. Father and son were both butchers and rented a close of pasture near the house from John Ward. With good grazing to hand they could feed stock to the peak of quality before slaughter. In 1651 John sold the pasture to his neighbour Sam Newman (another butcher) who continued to rent it to Thomas Kirtland for another year until Thomas bought it himself – at a nice profit for Sam.

We shall never know  what provoked Thomas and two other butchers – Henry Cosby and Edward Smith – to set upon Sam at Harlestone a few years later, but possibly that land sale or other business dealings had sown the seeds of animosity between them. (See post for August 2 – Samuel Newman: butcher and brawler?)

Perhaps Thomas had an argumentative temperament, which he may have passed on to at least one of his sons.

In 1678 he settled the house and some land on his elder son Edward and his new wife Alice. The house still stands in the village. (Not bad for £22!)

At his death in 1683 Thomas bequeathed other property to his younger son, Thomas junior. Some years later the brothers were fighting a case through the Court of Chancery as Edward accused his younger brother of taking property that should have been his. The Court noted that,

they never lived together in so kind and friendly a manner as brothers should have done, neither was there such friendship and kindness showed between them as ought to be maintained betwixt near relatives and good neighbours…

The breach was partly healed in the next generation when Thomas junior, who had no children of his own, left his property divided between his wife and the son of his elder brother Edward.

Edward Burnham: the ‘trusty friend’

Edward Burnham was a gentleman and landowner, as well as the ‘trusty friend’ of Joan Elmes. Like Joan, he died unmarried, leaving property and cash bequests to members of his extended family and also mentioning the Apprenticing Fund in his will.

Like Richard Wills, he had siblings who had made their homes in London: his brother George was a turner and his sister Margaret was married to a blacksmith in the capital.

He had bought his largest landholding from another gentleman, Samuel Hogson and his wife. Hogson is not a familiar name in West Haddon. Was there perhaps a marriage connection? We don’t know Mary Hogson’s maiden name, but perhaps she brought the land in West Haddon to her husband as a marriage settlement. Edward left that land, and the two houses or cottages with it, to his cousin Elizabeth, who was married to a local farmer called William Feacon, one of Edward’s tenants.

The land that he rented to John Bosworth he had bought from his brother Thomas and his nephew, Thomas junior, both of whom were dead by the time Edward came to write his will. There seems to have been some financial difficulty in that branch of the family which had perhaps prompted the land sale. Then Edward had helped out the widowed Ann Burnham, including paying the wages of her servant, Rowland Green. And he left money to her daughter, Mary. She was a fortunate young woman, having also received a legacy from her maternal grandfather, Thomas Kirtland who, in 1683 had left £20 ‘to my pretty grandchild, Mary Burnham.’

Joane Elmes: making connections

There was something about Joane…

Her father’s will left her £200 – twice as much as her sister Sarah, but the money was to be invested by her brother and the interest paid yearly for her maintenance as long as she remained single. If she married she was to have £150. But, if Joan shall die unmarried she may dispose of the £200 amongst her brothers and sister proportionably…

He didn’t expect her to marry. And she didn’t. But she didn’t leave the money to her siblings in her will either, because she outlived them all.

Her sister Sarah married Thomas Hammond of Silsworth the year after the fire, and died in 1671. Her brother John died in 1678 and William in 1680. Joane lived on to 1698.

Her father’s will, made in 1655, included another interesting piece of information. He left to Joane’s brother John farmland that he had purchased from Richard Wills and his mother. This suggests that by the time he was facing charges of illegal shooting and drinking etc in 1657, Richard had already sold the farm (and perhaps was running wild on the proceeds).

Joane’s mother Mary had chosen her unmarried daughter, rather than one of her sons, to execute her will in 1669. And when her brother John came to make his will in 1678 he made the same choice. At the foot of the will is a note from the Vicar, Gregory Palmer,

I did administer the oath to Joan Elmes, executrix of John Elmes, her brother, deceased, at her house in West Haddon, 18 September 1678.

So Joan was an independent woman with her own house – not living as a pitied spinster in the home of a relation.

Her own will shows just how independent she had become. She left land and property in both Crick and Long Buckby to her nephew John, the son of her dead brother William. Was this how she had used her £200? As well as other family bequests she left money to my trusty friend Edward Burnham and his wife to buy mourning rings and £10 to her servant, Francis Page. Francis had originally been her brother John’s servant, but John had only left him £5. She also left money to the poor of the village, and in addition, £5 to the apprenticing fund for West Haddon. This fund had been set up by Edward Burnham (her trusty friend), Jacob Lucas and Joan herself to provide money to pay the premiums to put poor children out as apprentices to give them a trade.

The fund continues to this day.

Mary Elmes: widow, mother and will-maker

Almost all that we know about Mary Elmes comes from her will. Her late husband, Thomas, had died in January, 1657, leaving her with four grown-up children: John, Joane, Sarah and William. He had also left a will, bequeathing various parcels of land and a couple of houses to his sons, large dowries to his daughters (£100 to Sarah and £200 to Joane – was Sarah the pretty one?) and household goods and  money to Mary.

Mary’s will is so detailed that reading it feels like taking a tour of her house as she shares things out among her family.

The desk and the chest in the further chamber to my son William.

The screen in the hall to my son John.

The box in the parlour to my daughter Sarah, with one carpet and three green cushions.

The other carpet and the other three green cushions to my daughter Joane.

The press in the chamber and the bed that I lie in and all the furniture [ie the bed hangings etc] belonging to it and the joined chair that stands at the bedside and my chest in the parlour and all the things in the chest…

A coverlet that is red and yellow and a pair of blankets, one new one and the other worn awhile and two pair of coarse hempen sheets and a bolster pillow…

Two cushions of a colour, one of them stands on the court cupboard in the parlour, the cupboard cloth and the wicker chair in the hall…

But life wasn’t to be all lolling about on cushions – there was work to be done too.

The salting trough and all the shelves in the buttery to my son John.

One linen wheel [for spinning] to my daughter Sarah.

The other, and the winding blades [for winding the yarn] to my daughter Joane.

In addition, each of the boys got a bible and ten shillings went to the poor.

Interestingly, she made her daughter Joane, rather than one of her sons, her executor.

Richard Wills: Hooray Henry?

Richard Wills appeared on a number of occasions before the Justices of the Peace during the winter of 1657/8. There was the assault on Thomas Cawcutt, the carpenter from Church Brampton, the late night drinking with Samuel Brabson and the pigeon shooting with an unlicensed gun and finally (perhaps in revenge for the Constable’s accusations), he appeared as prosecutor, accusing William Worcester of neglecting to apprehend rogues, vagabonds and sturdy beggars at large in West Haddon. If that was one winter’s exploits, what was the rest of his life like?

He was the eldest son of Edward Wills, a farmer who probably died quite young. Edward’s will in 1639 left bequests to his father and also to his children when they came of age, so they may have been quite small. But he was married long enough to have four sons and four daughters. He left three houses (one of which his father was living in) as well as the farm land, and his household goods, furniture and livestock which were valued at over £250. The goods included 4 spinning wheels, one for wool and three for linen, with woollen and linen yarn, suggesting that Edward’s wife was teaching the girls to spin. Richard got the farm, with the option of buying his brothers Edward and Thomas out of two of the houses.

He paid each of them £30 and they both went off to London to seek their fortunes. In 1655 Edward came back to the village with his wife Dorathie, for the baptism of their daughter Elizabeth. The parish register recorded him as Edward Wills of London, tailor. Five years later the same register recorded the burial of  Richard, son of Thomas Wills, Citizen of London.

Richard perhaps came into his inheritance too young. There is also the possibility that he rather envied the big city life that his brothers were enjoying. All his roistering may have been an outlet for his frustration with village life, and with the responsibilities involved in looking after his mother and sisters. (The girls had each been left a £10 dowry, so he may have felt the need to fend off unsuitable lovers.) His youngest brother John probably helped on the farm and perhaps inherited it when Richard died, still a batchelor, in 1667.

William Worcester: parish constable

There was no police force in the 17th century. In those days a constable was the senior local government officer at parish level – roughly equivalent to today’s Parish Council Chairman – but law and order was part of his remit and he was responsible for organising the ‘hue and cry’, a posse of able bodied villagers who were expected to pursue wrongdoers and bring them to justice.

The report of the Constable which was submitted to Quarter Sessions during the winter following the fire throws light on what was expected of a respectable village in Cromwellian England.

  1. There is not any guilty of cursing or swearing to my knowledge.
  2. None guilty of adultery or fornication.
  3. Our parishioners come orderly on the Lord’s day to the worship of God.
  4. We have no recusants [Roman Catholics] in our parish.
  5. We have none that live without a calling, but live orderly in their vocation [Zero unemployment]
  6. Our parishioners are ready and willing to pursue hue and cryes if need be.
  7. Our watch and ward is orderly performed. [Neighbourhood Watch in operation]
  8. Our butchers and victuallers kill and sell wholesome flesh and maultsters make wholesome mault. [Trading Standards are maintained]
  9. We have none that buy or sell by measures and waytes unsealed. [Trading Standards again]
  10. We have none that passed with counterfeit letters or passes. [Freedom of movement was limited by settlement laws]
  11. We have not any that goe about using subtle crafts or unlawfull games or plays. [No illegal gambling or fraud here]
  12. We have none that use unlawfull games. [As above]
  13. Our highways and bridges are in good repair. [The parish is responsible for repair and maintenance within its boundaries]
  14. We have none that make any riots or common fighters or quarrellers. [No breaches of the peace here]
  15. I present Samuel Newman, alehouse keeper, for suffering Richard Wills and Samuell Brabson drinking in his house at ten of the clock in the night. [The hours of darkness are intended for sleep, preparing for an industrious day’s work ahead]
  16. I present Richard Wills for shooting of pigeons with a gun. [A privilege of the lord of the manor – lesser mortals use a sling or a bow]

William Worcester, Constable




Do we believe him?

Mary Clarke: a woman who left no trace

All of the men who lost their homes in the fire have left some scrap of historical record behind them. The only woman named in the report left nothing at all – except for her appearance in that list. That is the only evidence we have that she ever lived.

She was probably a widow – very few single women at this period were householders. She may have been the widow of Abraham Clarke, a labourer who died in 1655, but burial records usually included the name of a spouse and in Abraham’s case there wasn’t one. William and Edward Clarke were both young farmers having babies baptised during the 1650s – maybe she was the mother of one (or both) of them. There are no burial entries for a Mary Clarke in the years following the fire, so maybe she went to live with a son or daughter in another village. The lady vanishes.

The earliest parish register that survives began in 1653. Any number of Mr Clarkes may have been buried in the years before that, but we can’t know who they were, what they did for a living, or whether they had a wife called Mary.

But the date of those first entries is significant. Following the Civil War, the Protectorate was set up in 1653 and Oliver Cromwell laid down arrangements for a more efficient recording of births, marriages and deaths.

Gregory Palmer had become Vicar of West Haddon in 1641, right at the start of the Civil War. He was a local lad – his family had been here since Queen Elizabeth’s day. And he remained Vicar here all through the Civil War, the Interregnum, the Restoration and the Glorious Revolution of 1688, finally dying in 1693. He had been Vicar for so long that when he died the parish clerk, in a state of shock, forgot to record his burial. (But the large chest tomb in the churchyard by the chancel has his name on it.)

Perhaps to survive so many changes in the policy of the church he had learnt, like the Vicar of Bray, to hedge his bets. Perhaps, to avoid accusations of Royalist sympathies, he had hidden, or even destroyed an earlier register which might have contained compromising comments.

So possibly it is Gregory Palmer we have to thank for our inability to pick up any clues about the life of Mary Clarke.


Mark and Thomas Bonner: a tailor and son

Mark Bonner was a tailor. What his son Thomas did for a living is unclear – he’s quite a shadowy figure.

In 1649 Mark had bought a house or cottage from his neighbour, John Warde, along with a little yard and one bay, or section, of John’s barn, with a right of way over the yard for the bringing in and carrying forth any manner of stuffe at all convenient times. All of this cost him the princely sum of £17.

Although his son Thomas was also listed as having lost his home in the fire, he vanishes from village records for a long time.

Two years after the fire we find Mark selling part of his property to an elderly widow, Isabella Ringrose – in effect, the barn, converted into a dwelling, along with a small yard and right of way through the jitty to the well to fetch water and also over John Warde’s yard. For the ‘barn conversion’ she paid him £9, with a standing charge of two old pennies per year towards the repair of the well bucket. In the Hearth Tax returns of 1662 and again in 1674 both Mark and Isabella are listed as having one hearth each, but certified as too poor to pay the tax. Had Mark converted the barn as a home for his son before the fire and did Thomas then move away, leaving his father to sell it, or what was left of it?

In 1698 there was a meeting of West Haddon Manor Court. Almost no manorial records survive for this village, but for some reason the Court Roll for 1698 did. And Thomas Bonner was on the list of those expected to attend. (His father had died in 1680.) He had married into a farming family called Bayly who were new to the village. His mother in law left some money in her will to her daughter Martha to her own use, exclusive of her husband and to dispose of as she shall think fit. Thereby must surely hang a tale…