Married women’s property in the Victorian age

Edward Harris, Archives Assistant, writes for us about a rare document which gives us an insight into Victorian married life…

One of the advantages of working in the Searchroom is that you often find interesting items from our collections passing through your hands. One document which caught our eye recently is this ‘Certificate of Acknowledgement of Deeds by Married Women’, something which we have only a few examples of (D/DC 27/680/A).

These are to Certify, that on the twenty fifth day of June in the Year One Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty Six before us John Mayhew and William Sparling Two of the perpetual Commissioners appointed for the County of Essex for taking the acknowledgements of Deeds by Married Women, pursuant to an Act passed in the Third and Fourth Years of the Reign of His Majesty King William the Fourth, intituled, “An Act for the Abolition of Fines and Recoveries, and for the Substitution of more simple modes of Assurance,” appeared personally Ann the wife of Henry Skingley and produced a certain Indenture marked B bearing date the twenty fourth day of June one thousand eight hundred and thirty six and made between the said Henry Skingley and Ann his wife of the one part and Thomas Batt on the other part and acknowledged the same to be her Act and Deed And We do hereby certify that the said Ann Skingley was at the time of her acknowledging the said Deed of full age and competent understanding, and that she was examined by us apart from her Husband touching her knowledge of the contents of the said Deed and that she freely and voluntarily consented to the same. (D/DC 27/680/A)

These certificates, the earliest dating to 1833, are sometimes found attached to the deed to which they refer. They were created in a half attempt to right the centuries old wrong whereby on marriage all the property belonging to the wife became the property of the husband, meaning she effectively lost all control over its disposition or sale. Despite a common law requirement that she be a party to the deed of sale, it was generally held that the husband’s will always prevailed and abuses of that position were thought to be common.

In 1833 a clause in the Fines and Recoveries Act required that a woman selling property jointly with her husband would have to be interviewed separately by a public official, known as a commissioner, to certify that she was ‘of full age and competent understanding’, to confirm that she was not being forced into agreeing to the sale. The example above relates to the mortgaging of a property by Mr Henry Skingley and his wife Ann to one Thomas Batt. It was also noted on the original deed (D/DC 27/680) that this examination had taken place.

A note on the original deed that Ann Skingley had agreed to the mortgaging of the land which had belonged to her before her marriage (D/DC 27/680)

The Married Women’s Property Act of 1882 finally granted equal rights in property ownership to married women and simultaneously brought to an end the production of the certificates of Acknowledgement.

We have a small number of original certificates amidst our vast collection of deeds and lists of the commissioners for Essexcan be found in Q/RDm 3.

Nominate your favourite record

As part of our 75th anniversary celebrations this year, we want to hear from you.

We always like to hear how searchers are using our collections, whether it’s in the Searchroom or online through Seax and Essex Ancestors, so we’ve decided to ask searchers to nominate their favourite record, and to tell us what it is about it that appeals to you.

Entries can be long or short, medieval or modern, whole volumes or single sheets, parchment or photographs or DVDs or cassettes. All you need to do is to download our nomination form here and either return it in to the Searchroom desk or e-mail it to hannahjane.salisbury[at]

Nominated documents may be featured on our blog or in displays at our open day on Saturday 14 September.

To get the ball rolling, here is one of the favourite documents of Hannah Salisbury, Audience Development Officer:


Bond to Indemnify the parish of Walden agt Ann White’s Child by Mr Rebecca, 1773 (D/B 2/PAR8/35)

Bastardy Bonds were used to protect parish ratepayers from ending up paying to support unmarried mothers and their children if the mother was unable to support herself.

There are hundreds of such bonds in our collection, mostly dating to the eighteenth century, but this one particularly stands out for me because of the story it tells.

Dated 24 April 1773, the bond tells us that Ann White, a servant at Audley End near Saffron Walden, had given birth to a male child, the son of Biagio Rebecca, an Italian painter employed at the house by its owner, Sir John Griffin Griffin.

Extract from D/B 2/PAR8/35

Extract from D/B 2/PAR8/35

Rebecca had acknowledged that the child was his, but clearly had no intention of marrying the hapless Ann. To indemnify the parish from ever having to support her and their child, Rebecca had agreed to deposit £100 with Sir John Griffin Griffin, to whom Ann would have to apply when in need of funds to support herself and the child. In paying this lump sum, Rebecca absolved himself of all responsibility to Ann and their child. You can view the document in full on Seax here.

The story continues in the baptism register of St Mary’s Saffron Walden where the child’s baptism is recorded:

*John Biagio, son of Biagio Rebecca & Ann White *(base-born)

N.B. Senior Biagio Rebecca was a most ingenious artist who was employed by Sir John Griffin, at Audley End, to paint the cieling [sic] & Panels of ye little south drawing Room, & several family portraits in the great Room over the eating Parlor!!! [sic]

Baptism of John Biagio, 24 December 1772. Extract from parish register of St Mary’s, Saffron Walden (D/P 192/1/5, image 40)

You can still see Biagio Rebecca’s paintings at Audley End, and read his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Essex Library card holders can access the ODNB for free with their library card number).

Fascinating Find: John Lewis’s Medieval roots in Chelmsford

A deed dating from 1263 was recently discovered by our archivists in the county archive which shows that Henry of Sandwich, the Bishop of London, granted land to John Lewis (recorded as ‘Johannes Lewis’ in the medieval Latin) of the Uxbridge Road in Middlesex to build ‘a big shop’ in Chelmsford town centre.

This story has particular relevance for 1 April, as in return for the land John Lewis was to pay Henry of Sandwich ‘one chilli pepper on the feast of All Fools’ each year.

The deed names several other men as witnesses, Peter Jones of Chelsea, Robert Sayle of Cambridge, Robert Bond recently of Chelmsford and then of Norwich, Arthur and Henry Trewin of Watford, John Caley of Windsor, John Heelas of Reading, Zebedee Jessop of Nottingham, and John and Thomas Cole of Sheffield.

750 year old deed discovered giving land in Chelmsford

750 year old deed discovered giving land in Chelmsford to ‘Johannes Lewis’ to build ‘a big shop’


Archie Ives, spokesman for Essex Record Office said today: “This is a very exciting find and shows the importance of new stores in the development of medieval Chelmsford, just as it is today. I am delighted that the Record Office has found evidence for the development of department stores at such an early date. It shows that Chelmsfordwas leading the way in retail 750 years ago.”

The deed ties in with a later map of Chelmsford dating to 1591, which helps us to identify the land in question. Lewis was granted ‘land in the field called in English Le Backsydes’, which is clearly shown on the later map to the east of the High Street. The map also shows us how little the shape of Chelmsford has changed since the medieval period.

Extract from Walker map of Chelmsford, 1591 (D/DM P1)

Extract from Walker map of Chelmsford, 1591 (D/DM P1)

In an interesting coincidence, the 750 year old document reflects the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the Essex Record Office.


Full English translation:

Let all men present and future know that I Henry [of Sandwich], by the grace of God, Bishop of London have given, conceded and by this present charter have confirmed to John Lewis of the Uxbridge road in the parish of St. Martin in the Fields in the county of Middlesex and his heirs and assigns for ever for homage and service, land in the field called in English Le Backsydes in the town of Chelmsford to build a big shop.  To have and to hold to him and his heirs and assigns from me and my heirs quietly freely and fully the said land paying annually to me and my heirs one chili pepper on the feast of All Fools for all secular service, exactions and demands and I and my heirs will warrant and defend the said land to the said John and his heirs and assigns against all people forever.  These being witnesses Peter Jones of Chelsea, Robert Sayle of Cambridge, Robert Bond recently of Chelmsford and now of Norwich, Arthur and Henry Trewin of Watford, John Caley of Windsor, John Heelas of Reading, Zebedee Jessop of Nottingham, John and Thomas Cole of Sheffield and many others.  Given at Chelmsford on Easter Day in the forty-seventh year of the reign of Henry III.

Original Latin transcription:

Sciant p[re]sentes et futuri q[uo]d ego Hen[ricus] d[e]i gr[ati]a Ep[iscopu]s Lond[on] dedi concessi et hac p[re]senti carta confirmavi Joh[ann]e Lewis de via ad Woxbrigg[e] in par[ochia] s[an]c[t]i Martin[i] in campo in com[itatu] Midd[lesex] et h[er]edibus et assignatis suis imp[er]petuum p[ro] homagio et s[er]vicio t[er]ram in campo vocet anglice le Backsydes in villa de Chelmeresford ad aedificand[am] magnum emporium.  Habendum et tenendum sibi et h[er]edibus et assignatis suis de me et h[er]edibus meis lib[er]e et quiete integre plen[ar]ie p[re]dicto t[er]ra Reddendo inde annuatim mihi et h[er]edibus meis pro unum purum piper in die fest[um] om[niu]m stultor[um] p[ro] om[n]i secul[ar]i s[er]vicio exactione et demand[a].  Et ego et h[er]edes mei p[re]dicto t[er]ra Joh[ann]e p[re]dicto et h[er]edibus et assignatis suis cont[ra] o[mn]es gentes warrantizabimus et defendemus imp[er]petuum.  Hiis testibus Pet[ro] Jones de Chelchith, Rob[erto] Sayle de Cantabrig[ia], Rob[erto] Bond nuper de Chelmeresford et m[oment]o de Noruicum, Art[ori]o et Hen[ric]o Trewin de Wadford, Joh[ann]e Caley de Windesor[a], Joh[ann]e Heelas de Redding[es], Zebed[ae] Jessop de Nottingam[ia], Joh[ann]e et Thom[e] Cole de Scafeld et multis aliis.  Dat’ apud Chelmeresford die Pasch[a] anno regni Hen[rici] tercii post conquest[um] quadraginta septem