Registered wills – filling in the gaps

Wills can tell us all sorts of things about the lives of people in the past, and are a brilliant resource for genealogists and social and economic historians alike.

As we have mentioned before, our collections include some 70,000 original wills made by people in Essex between 1400 and 1858. These wills have all been catalogued and digitised, and can be searched for by name and viewed on our online subscription service Essex Ancestors.

We have now begun work on an additional set of records which can help to fill in any gaps in our series of original wills, which will ultimately result in about 10,000 more wills being added to Essex Ancestors.

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A decorative initial ‘I’ from a book of registered wills dating from 1500-1515 (D/ACR 1)

Before 1858 when somebody died leaving a will, their executor would take the original will to the relevant court so that probate could be granted. The original wills would be kept by the court and filed; it is these wills proved in the ecclesiastical courts in Essex which have been digitised and are available via Essex Ancestors.

Clerks at the courts would also usually write out a copy of the will into large volumes called will registers (references beginning D/ABR, D/ACR, D/AER and D/AMR). There are approximately thirty 16th and 17th century registers for the courts in Essex where there are no original wills surviving.

Registered wills 1500-1515

The will registers are books into which clerks copied wills being proved at the ecclesiastical courts. Sometimes a will might survive in the book when the original copy of it has been lost, providing a useful second chance for researchers.

The wills in the registers are listed in the three volumes of Wills at Chelmsford, but do not currently appear on Seax. To make these records easier to find, we have started a project to add the details of individual wills in the registers to Seax, so they will be searchable by name. To begin with, only a written catalogue description will be available, but in the long term we plan to add digital images too. In the meantime, registered wills are viewable on microfiche in the Searchroom, or copies can be ordered through our reprographics service.

The first register for which details have been added to Seax is that for the archdeaconry of Colchester (D/ACR 1) which covers the north of the county for the years 1500-1515. 

Some of the wills in the volume are in Latin and as it dates from before the Reformation, the testators would all have been Roman Catholic, evidenced by the use of Catholic phraseology such as ‘I bequeath my soule to almyghte god and to our blessed lady saynt mary and to the holy all hallowes’, which appears in the will of Roger Burgon of Colchester below. Following the English Reformation and the invention of the Church of England references to Mary and the saints all but disappeared.

Roger Burgon’s will is dated 16 December 1507 (D/ACR 1/127/1).  After bequeathing his soul to God he went on to request that his body be buried in the Church of St. Francis within the Convent of the Friars Minor [Greyfriars] in Colchester.

Roger Burgon will

The beginning of the will of Roger Burgon, 1507 (D/ACR 1/127/1)

The majority of the wills are for men, but a number of women do appear, such as this one for Agnes Tomson of the parish of St Leonard in Colchester, dated 8th December 1502 (D/ACR 1/50/5).

Agnes Tomson will

The beginning of the will of Agnes Tomson, 1502 (D/ACR 1/50/5). The heading to the will reads ‘Testm Agness Tomson de High’ – Testament of Agnes Tomson of the High, then a new area of Colchester

Agnes’s bequests included a ‘blake gowne’ (black dress), a ‘petycote’, a ‘greene gowne’, a ‘russet gowne’ a ‘floke bed’ (flock bed), pots, plates and a kettle, a ‘blankett’, a ‘bolster’, and a ‘long knyff’ (knife), all of which helps us build up a picture of Agnes’s life.

Agnes Tomson will

The section of Agnes’s will leaving a ‘blake gowne’ (black dress)

Examples of English HandwritingIf you would like any further advice on using wills in your research, please ask a member of staff in the Searchroom or contact us on ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk. If you would like any help with reading old handwriting, our publication Examples of English Handwriting 1150-1750 by Hilda Grieve is a very useful guide. It can be purchased for £6 (+P&P) from the Searchroom or by phoning 033301 32500.

If you get really stuck, our Search Service can transcribe wills for you – please contact ero.searchroom@essex.gov.uk for details.

New Accession: Will of Benjamin Chipperton, 1795

The Friends of Historic Essex (FHE), the charity that supports the work of the ERO, has recently purchased for the ERO the will of Benjamin Chipperton of Little Bromley (to the north east of Colchester). While it is a modest will of a carpenter we are very pleased to receive it because we do not have a copy of his will in among the 70,000 or so wills that we look after. Thanks to their generosity it is now available for all to look at in the Searchroom. Since it arrived Archive Assistant Gail Sanders has been finding out more about Benjamin Chipperton…

After the  purchase of Benjamin Chipperton’s will (Acc. A14021 Box 1) written on the 28th August 1795, I have been able to draw up a family tree and look into a small part of village and family life in the late 18th and early 19th century. As mentioned below this document could be one of a number of documents that have been split up and I have been unable to pinpoint the exactly location of the messuages and cottages owned and mentioned in the will.

Gail - A14021 box 1 watermarked

Since there are so many Benjamin Chippertons involved in the tale below we shall refer to them as follows:

  • Benjamin senior – our main Benjamin’s father
  • Benjamin junior – the Benjamin who wrote the will at hand
  • Benjamin III – Benjamin junior’s son
  • Benjamin IV – Benjamin III’s son

Benjamin Chipperton junior was baptised on the 4th March 1738, the son of Benjamin Chipperton senior and his wife Elizabeth. Benjamin junior’s first wife was Susan Winter; together they had two sons, another Benjamin, and then James. Susan died a year after James’s birth. Benjamin junior remarried on 17 November 1774 to Hannah Cook of Little Bentley.

Benjamin junior’s will highlights his career as a carpenter, as the main items mentioned are his workshop and tools. It also makes clear his hope or expectation that his son Benjamin III would take over the business; he was left the family home, household goods, workshop and tools.

The will mentions only modest amounts of money: Benjamin junior left £1 to his wife for every year she lived but remained unmarried, and £5 to his second son James on the year of his death and the year after. The old money converter from the National Archives suggests that in the 1790s £1 was 6 days of a craftsman wages, and £5 was 33 days.

However, all was not to work out just as Benjamin junior might have planned. From the Little Bromley parish registers (viewable on Essex Ancestors) we learn that three generations of Chipperton men all died within five years: Benjamin Senior was buried on 23 September 1795, Benjamin junior died in 1798, and his son Benjamin III was buried on 15 June 1800.

Benjamin III was, however, survived by his son Benjamin IV (born 1799), with whom the family’s fortunes did revive a little. He survived to adulthood and married Maria Cook (her second husband) and went on to have a family of 7 children. He did, however, die in 1843 aged just 44. (Maria went on to marry her third husband, Robert Porter, and can be found on the 1851 census.)

If you have managed to keep up with all the Benjamins through to the end of this post then well done – and just as a bonus one of the witnesses to the will was also a Benjamin, although at least with a different last name (Carrington).

It appears that Benjamin junior’s will might be part of a bundle of documents that have been split up for sale, including a mortgage for a cottage and land in Little Bromley, 1795, and a lease for a carpenter’s workshop (now divided into two properties) and land in Great Bromley, 1827. Does anyone know of the whereabouts of these to help us add to the story of the Chipperton family? We’d love to hear from you! We can be contacted on ero.enquiry[@]essex.gov.uk

To support the work of the FHE, or if you would like to make a donation to their document purchase fund, please see: http://www.essexinfo.net/friends-of-historic-essex/

PS Remember that digital copies of more than half of our wills are now available to view on Essex Ancestors

Where there’s a will: Richard Leget of Hornchuch

We have just uploaded digital images of a further 22,500 wills to our Essex Ancestors online subscription service (more on this here), and to mark the occasion here we take a look at one of our earliest wills…

Most medieval Essex wills relate to the nobility and major landowners.  These were proved at the courts of the Bishop of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury and are not deposited in the Essex Record Office.

However, during the 15th century, making a will became more common and a small number of 15th century wills survive among the records of the archdeaconry of Essex (D/AEW).

Among these is the will of Richard Leget of Hornchurch, dated 10 September 1484 (D/AEW 1/212).  The will itself is in Latin and Leget begins by leaving his soul to God, the Blessed [Virgin] Mary and all the saints and his body to buried in the parish church of St. Andrew.  He made a bequest of 8d. to the ‘Lord Abbot’ there [at Hornchurch] (there had been a priory in the parish until it was dissolved and granted to New College, Oxford in 1391).  He left to John Hubbart a mattress, two blankets, two linen sheets and a coverlet, requested that all his debts be paid and left everything else to his wife Alice.

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The first page of the will of Richard Leget, 1484 (D/AEW 1/212)

On the reverse of the will is a list of his debts, giving names and amounts.  There are two further lists in English stitched to the will.  The first of these is a list of money spent on the burial by Thomas Herde, one of the executors.  A total of 12s. 9d. was spent and amounts included 16d. for a ‘wyndyng cloth’, 14d. to the priest and clerk for the ‘deyrge’ [dirge] and mass, 4d. for ‘lyth’ [light], 8d. for the knell and priest, 8d. for bread and 12d. for ale, 21d. for ‘month mynde’ paid to the priest and clerk and 12d. to the sexton for the grave.

D-AEW 1-212-4 watermarked

Part of the inventory of Richard Legets possessions which is included with his will of 1484 (D/AEW 1/212)

There is also an inventory of his goods, beginning with his clothes – a gown of murray worth 5s. 4d., a blue gown worth 3s., a doublet worth 8d., a pair of hose worth 12d., an ‘olde cloke of blak’ valued at 8d..  It continues with household goods including a kettle valued at 2s. 4d., a brass pot, 2s., a ‘fryyng panne’ 8d., and also includes a brass posset (8d.), 31lbs. of pewter (5s. 2d.), three candlesticks (6d.), a ‘lanterne’ (3d.), a mattock (8d.) and a cart (2s. 8d.).

The recent upload of 22,500 wills to Essex Ancestors means that images of all our wills before c.1720 are now available online. You can access Essex Ancestors from home as a subscriber, or for free in the Searchroom at the ERO in Chelmsford or at our Archive Access Points in Saffron Walden and Harlow.  It will shortly be provided at Waltham Forest Archives.  Opening hours vary, so please check before you visit.

Before you subscribe please check that the documents you need exist and have been digitised at http://seax.essexcc.gov.uk/

You can view a handy video guide to using Essex Ancestors here.

Greetings from Bangkok

In this guest blog post, Denwood Holmes writes for us from Bangkok about his research in the Essex archives…

Greetings from Bangkok, where I hope I have the distinction of being among the ERO’s more far-flung correspondents.

As an Ottoman art historian-turned-PR consultant, genealogy has been a means to maintain my interest in archival research while languishing in the private sector. Tracing my American patrilineal ancestry started out easy: most colonial New England descents are fairly well documented, and armed with the name of a great-great grandfather, two articles on the descendants of John Holmes, gentleman, Messenger of the Plymouth Colony Court by distinguished genealogist (and cousin) Eugene Stratton quickly took me back twelve generations. The original Mr. Holmes was by all accounts something of a rogue, frequently cited for drunkenness, and the executioner of Thomas Granger, the first person hanged in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, for unlawful congress with animals.

After that the going got tougher. American genealogists have historically been content to end their research with arrival in the New World (why ever would we go further?), but to do with my teenage years spent in the UK, and inspired partly by David Hackett Fischer’s book Albion’s Seed, I became determined to the trace the Great Leap across the pond.

It wasn’t entirely tabula rasa: George Mackenzie, in his Colonial Families (1925) cites a Thomas Holmes of Colchester as John’s father, but without further reference. Thomas’ will, dated 1637, is preserved in ERO (D/ACW 12/225): gentleman alias maltster alias gaoler of Colchester Castle, he leaves “five pounds, my corslet, my pike, and all my armour” to his son John.

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Will of Thomas Holmes of Colchester, 1637 (D/ACW 12/225)

 

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Thomas left corslet, pike and armour to his son John (D/ACW 12/225)

The will also mentions a daughter, Susan Mor(e)ton, the widow of Tobias Moreton, gent., of Little Moreton Hall, a half-timbered manor house which still stands in Cheshire. Susan’s will, unearthed by chance in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, confirms Mackenzie’s assertion: she mentions her nephews (John’s sons) Thomas (who remained in Colchester), John, and Nathaniel, my great x8 grandfather.

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Extract from Thomas Holmes’s will mentioning his daughter, Susan Morton (D/ACW 12/225)

Along with a number of noted Colchester Puritans, the will is witnessed by George Gilberd, esquire, brother of William Gilberd/t, physician to Elizabeth I.

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Signatures of witnesses to Thomas Holmes’s will (D/ACW 12/225)

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Thomas Holmes’s signature at the end of his will (D/ACW 12/225)

The Holmes family – clearly middling Puritan parish gentry – were not native to Colchester: according to the Red Parchment Book of Colchester, Thomas’ grandfather Thomas, draper, was sworn a burgess in 1543, and is described as being of Ramsden Bellhouse. There the trail dwindles. The ERO will of Thomas Holme of Ramsden Bellhouse of 1514 mentions a brother, John, a tailor, but little more. Finally, in the Feet of Fines for Essex, we find the last signpost to date:

“Hilary and Easter, 14 Henry VII (1499); William Holme, Humphrey Tyrell, esquire, Thomas Intilsham, “gentilman”, William Howard, clerk, William Bekshyll and William Rede, plaintiffs. John Choppyn and Joan his wife, daughter and one of the heirs of John Dawe, deceased, defendants. A third part of a moiety of 1 messuage, 60 acres of land, 10 acres of meadow, 30 acres of pasture and 10 acres of wood in Ramesdon Belhous, Dounham, Wykford, Ronwell, and Suthhanyfeld. Defendant quitclaimed to plaintiffs and the heirs of William Holme. Consideration 40 marks.”

Certain prosopographical observations can be made here. Humphrey Tyrell of Warley was a younger son of the Tyrells of Heron, probably a nephew of the Sir James executed for the murder of the Princes in the Tower. Howard was his clerk. Hintlesham was an MP for Maldon, and Rede was probably the nephew and heir of Sir Bartholomew Rede, Mayor of London. All were in the circle of John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford. The identity of William Holme remains a mystery; there are two or three of the name active in London at around the same time, all probably in the cloth trade. Here the trail ends, for the time being: any thoughts or suggestions on the part of the ERO community as to how to proceed are much appreciated; I can be reached at Denwood_Holmes@yahoo.com.

I conclude with a special thanks to Allyson Lewis, Katharine Schofield, and all of the staff at ERO for their help and support which regularly goes above and beyond the call of duty, extending unto providing me with pencil-rubbings of seals by mail here in Bangkok; having worked in archives from London to Damascus I say unequivocally that ERO is lucky to have you.

Great British Railway Journeys: Ipswich to Chelmsford

As episode 17 of series 5 of Great British Railway Journeys airs on BBC2 and Michael Portillo takes in some of the sights of our great county, we thought we would share some items from our collection to accompany his experience of oyster dredging on Mersea Island, and his visits to a model farm at Tiptree and to the world’s first purpose-built radio factory, Marconi’s in Chelmsford.

 

Oyster dredging on Mersea Island

Mersea Island lies 9 miles south-east of Colchester, in the estuary of the Blackwater and Colne rivers. It is joined to the mainland by a causeway, and there is evidence of human habitation stretching back to pre-Roman times. Oysters have been gathered and consumed on Mersea for centuries, with oyster shells being found next to the remains of Celtic salt workings. The gathering of uncultured oysters gradually gave way to cultivation, and Mersea oysters were exported by the barrel load to Billingsgate Fish Market in London, and further afield to the continent.

Competition amongst oyster gatherers in Essex has sometimes led to outbreaks of violence; during the reign of Edward III for example, a disagreement between men from Brightlingsea, Alresford, Wivenhoe, Fingringhoe, Mease, Salcott and Tollesbury over fishing rights resulted in the drowning of three men.

Mersea’s history of oyster fishing is evident in records held in our collection. Our will collection shows how prevalent the oyster trade was amongst Mersea inhabitants, such as this one of Frances Brand, an oyster dredger of West Mersea, dated 1763 (D/ABW 101/1/38). The will includes arrangements for Brand’s two oyster smacks: ‘I give and bequeath all those my two smacks or dredging vessles with the boats dredges and other the appurtances to them and every of them belonging unto my son William Brand upon condition that he my said son … shall therewith carry on the dredging business for the support and maintenance of himself, my wife and my other three children untill he my said son William shall attain … one and twenty years hereby earnestly requiring him so to do.’

Will of Francis Brand, oyster dredger of West Mersea, 1763 (D/ABW 101/1/38)

Will of Francis Brand, oyster dredger of West Mersea, 1763 (D/ABW 101/1/38)

West Mersea postcard 18

Postcard showing marshland and boats on West Mersea

Mersea Museum’s website has several great historic photographs of the Mersea oyster trade, such as this one, of members of the Tollesbury and Mersea Oyster Company men outside the Packing Shed circa 1908.

 

Model farm at Tiptree

Before broadcast, we are making an educated guess that the ‘model farming establishment in Tiptree’ is the farm set up by John Joseph Mechi (1802-1880) in the 1840s. Mechi, having made a fortune as a razor-strop manufacturer, decided to turn his attention to farming and apply his talents to the improvement of agriculture.

In 1841 he bought 130 acres of poor, wet heathland in Tiptree, in one of the least productive districts in Essex, and proceeded to improve it by such means as deep drainage, removing hedges and trees, redesigning buildings and the use of steam-powered machinery. He persevered until his model farm turned a handsome profit. Mechi was exceptional amongst agricultural improvers for publishing details of his experiments in books, pamphlets and newspaper articles. He even published annual statements of his farm’s income and expenditure, explaining his failures as well as justifying his successes. His well-known publication How to Farm Profitably (1857) had, in various forms, a circulation of thousands of copies. Sadly, his career ended in disappointment, as the failure of his banking interests deprived him of the funds needed for his style of farming, and this, together with the effects of several bad seasons at Tiptree Hall Farm, led to the liquidation of his affairs shortly before his death.

John Joseph Mechi (I/Pb 13/3/1)

John Joseph Mechi (I/Pb 13/3/1)

 

Tiptree Hall Farm one year after Mechi designed it. The main buildings are on the north and east sides, giving shelter from the coldest winds. The barn contained a horse-powered threshing machine. When not driving the threshing machine, the horse gear could be used to drive a chaff-cutter or corn mill. Within a year Mechi had decided to exchange horse power for steam power.

Tiptree Hall Farm one year after Mechi designed it. The main buildings are on the north and east sides, giving shelter from the coldest winds. The barn contained a horse-powered threshing machine. When not driving the threshing machine, the horse gear could be used to drive a chaff-cutter or corn mill. Within a year Mechi had decided to exchange horse power for steam power.

 

Marconi’s – the world’s first purpose-built radio factory

Guglielmo Marconi established the world’s first wireless factory in a former silk mill in Hall Street in Chelmsford in 1898, when he was aged just 23. Chelmsford was chosen because Marconi needed electrical power, and in the 1890s Chelmsford was the place to be for electricity, thanks to the pioneering work of R.E.B. Crompton and Frank Christy.

In June 1912, a replacement 70,000 square foot purpose-built factory was opened in New Street. The factory was completed in an astonishing 17 weeks by a workforce of over 500 people. The factory provided employment for thousands of men and women; although the machine shop remained the preserve of men, women were employed for the more delicate aspects of the production of wireless transmitters.

Women at work in Marconi's New Street factory in Chelmsford

Women at work in Marconi’s New Street factory in Chelmsford

Marconi wireless equipment was used by ships and coastal stations to communicate with one another in Morse code. During the First World War, operators at New Street intercepted German radio transmissions for the British government, and Marconi engineers also developed the technology for ground-to-air communication with aeroplanes. During the Second World War, Marconi’s played a crucial role in the development of radar.

After the First World War, engineers at New Street began to experiment with wireless voice transmissions. The first publicised entertainment broadcast in Britain took place at the factory in June 1920, when Dame Nellie Melba performed. Her singing could have been picked up anywhere across Europe by someone with receiving equipment. By 1931 there was one wireless licence for every three homes in the country.

Shortly after the New Street factory opened, local photographer Fred Spalding took a series of photographs of the new facility. Click here to view more of the photographs from a previous blog post.

 

Check back here tomorrow for more to accompany Michael’s visit to Tilbury.

The return of Sargant Wilson: deeds in family history

Archives Assistant Edd Harris blogs for us about just a few of the things family historians can learn from property deeds…

Do you remember our friend Sargant Wilson? At the beginning of October we discovered his marriage licence which told us that in 1834 at the age of 60 he married Karenhappuch Morgan, ten years his junior. We have come across the couple again although unfortunately in less happy times.

Extract from admission of Karanhappuch Morgan (D/DCf M73)

This document is an admission onto copy hold land (D/DCf M73). This is a type of land holding used when land is part of a Manor. The people who hold land from the Manor are recorded in the Manor Court Roll along with any payments or rents that they are due to pay as well as a description of the land and its previous owners. The new landholders are then provided with a copy of that entry in the Court Roll, hence the name ‘copy hold’.

Extract from admission of Karanhappuch Morgan (D/DCf M73)

In the recitals of this particular example from Southminster in 1844 (ten years after his marriage) we are told that Sargant Wilson has died. The land that he held has been passed back (surrendered) to the Manor. The admission then goes on to say that Sargant Wilson left the land to his wife by his will which is quoted at length, describing the property and revealing that it was bequeathed to him by his former wife Dorothy and that he had a son who predeceased him.  It goes on to admit his second wife Karenhappuch onto the land in his place and collects a fine or payment for doing this.

Extract from admission of Karanhappuch Morgan (D/DCf M73)

This just goes to show that family history can move far beyond the usual records of births, marriages and deaths. We now know that Sargant Wilson had a previous marriage to a Dorothy with whom he had a son, he had written a will, held land in the Manor of Southminster and we have a rough date for his death, all from one document.

You can search for deeds on Seax by the name of a person or property. Not all deeds are catalogued to this level of detail however, in which case manorial court rolls may be helpful. These records can be challenging, but as we have seen in the case of Sargant Wilson they can also be extremely rewarding, not only for family history but for house history and local history too. If you would like any further advice, then talk to ERO staff in the Searchroom, e-mail us on ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk, or telephone 01234 244644.