The end of a dynasty

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The Kirtlands were butchers in West Haddon for generations. When Edward Kirtland married Alice Walker and she duly presented him with two sons, there was no indecision over names – the first was Thomas, after his father and the second Edward, after himself. Sadly Alice then died and when Edward junior was seven his father married again.

The new house
The new house

His new wife was Elizabeth South, daughter of the Rector of Thornby and granddaughter of James South, a London merchant. Was it to impress his new in-laws that Edward built his bride a new house in the year after their wedding? He even put a datestone above the door – E E K 1689.

The old house
The old house

He settled the old house on Edward junior when he grew up and married Elizabeth Sandford of Long Buckby. (So now there were two couples in the village called Edward and Elizabeth Kirtland). The junior couple had four daughters. They all married locally. Hannah married John Underwood, the chief opponent of the Enclosure Bill, while Elizabeth married Robert Collis, an enthusiastic supporter of the Bill (that must have made for some jolly family parties.) Mary became Mrs John Watkins of Yelvertoft and Alice, who married late in life, ended up living at the old house with her husband Joseph Bryan from Daventry.

The family at the new house were rather more adventurous. Thomas and James stuck fairly close to the family business, Thomas as a butcher and James as a fellmonger, dealing in skins.

The Marshalsea
The Marshalsea

But George followed in his grandfather’s footsteps. He went off to Oxford and later became Vicar of Mears Ashby.  His brother Robert began as a grazier but then seems to have been inspired by his merchant great-grandfather to try his hand at commerce. He doesn’t seem to have been very good at it. In 1745 a notice appeared in the London Gazette to the effect that he had been ‘a fugitive for debt’ since 1742 and had surrendered himself to the Keeper of the Marshalsea, the infamous debtors’ prison in London.

How he got out is unclear, but by 1762 he was living at Boughton as a dealer and chapman. Living with him at that time was his sister Elizabeth, now Mrs Tarry, and her son Thomas. His sister Rachel may have kept house for her brother George at Mears Ashby vicarage until he died in 1751. She then seems to have moved to Boughton too, though when she died she was buried with George in Mears Ashby.

One way or another, by the time of the riot there were no more Kirtlands to carry the name forward in West Haddon.

Where there’s a will…

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…there’s a glimpse into a life. Wills offer clues about family, property and financial arrangements and can also include small details that conjure up the character or attitudes of the individual.

In West Haddon, over the twenty years surrounding the Enclosure year, there were 323 burials – about 16 a year on average. 140 of them were children and 183 adults. Of those, 24 left wills.

So rather more than 10% of the adult population made wills before they died. Most of them were men. The three women in this sample were all widows. A wife had nothing to leave as the law recognised all her property as belonging to her husband, and it was rare for an unmarried woman to leave a will (though Joan Elmes did, at the beginning of the century).

Five of the men described themselves as yeomen – a status rather than an occupation – it signified a property owner. Four were labourers, three were tailors and then there was a shepherd and a fellmonger (a dealer in sheepskins – fell wool was a lower quality than wool that had been sheared from a living sheep, but it still had a market and the skins could be tanned for leather or made into parchment.) Then there was a woolcomber and a weaver, a carpenter, a grazier, and Thomas Clarke, who mentioned no occupation in his will and no other village records have yet thrown any light on what he did for a living.

Nicholas Heygate we have already met as an apothecary, doctor and Turnpike trustee, but by the time he came to write his will he was retired. His sons were mostly set up in promising careers and he probably felt quite comfortable in describing himself as  ‘gentleman’.

The Crown Hotel as it is in 2015 on the left of the picture.
The Crown Hotel as it is in 2015 on the left of the picture.

John West called himself a shoemaker and his house, which we now know as the Crown, was still, at the time of his death, divided into two cottages with another shoemaker, John Lucas, in the other half. But when the parish clerk came to record his burial he put him down as ‘victualler’ or innkeeper, recognising his other occupation.

When William Page senior wrote his will in 1768 he left his farmhouse with the gardens and outbuildings etc to trustees ‘for the comfortable support and maintenance of my brother Edward for life, then to my brother Samuel for life then to my nephew William, eldest son of my brother Samuel, forever.’ Was his brother Edward disabled in some way? He also left bequests to his five sisters and directed his trustees to sell his newly enclosed farm to pay the bequests and also to repay his sister Elizabeth the money he owed her on a mortgage – thus distributing his share of the profits of Enclosure.

Mary Kirtland, on the other hand (whom we have already met, in her divided house) had no land to dispose of, but she left her niece £20, a blue silk quilted petticoat and a satin gown; and her nephew an oak bed with green curtains.bed with green curtains

blue silk quilt

“that she was old and childish…”

Of the three women who appeared on the ‘con’ list in the Pro and Con document, opposing the plan to enclose the common fields of West Haddon, two were considered incompetent to express an opinion.

East’s widow was not even acknowledged to have a name of her own and was dismissed as ‘not right in her senses’.

Emme Elmes, also a widow, ‘was old and childish and would consent’. Was this a clerical error? if she would consent she should have been listed with the others who supported enclosure, surely? Perhaps she confused the writer of the document in some way so that he was distracted as he wrote. In any event, we are left with the possibility of two female landowners perhaps suffering from some form of dementia.

And yet her will, made in December 1763 seems to be very clear and straightforward – did someone else draw it up on her behalf?

Medieval man writing

TP Guils Rd2_edited-1
The site of the old brickyard and the cottages of the Patch and Spokes families (Mary Spokes had married the boy next door). Emme Elmes described Thomas Patch sen. as her brother, but since her maiden name was Hollis, this raises questions that cannot be answered from the parish registers of this village alone.

The will gives a picture of her wider family – what they did for a living and where they set up homes for themselves. Her property consisted of a farmhouse with a couple of paddocks in the village and farmland out in the open fields, being farmed by a tenant – John Facer. This went to her nephew Thomas Spokes, with money bequests to other relatives, including Richard Elmes of Eynesbury, Huntingdon, a yeoman, Thomas Elmes of Lilbourne, a cooper, Mary the wife of Thomas Mason of West Haddon, a baker, Elizabeth, wife of Daniel Hollinshead of the City of London, whitesmith and Mary Patch, mother of Thomas who, as an adult, was to set up the brickyard in Guilsborough Road.

She had no children of her own to inherit her property. The parish registers show that Emme Hollis married John Elmes, a mercer and chandler, in 1722. They had four daughters, all of whom died young. John himself died a matter of months after the birth of their cropped to image, recto, unframedfourth child in 1728. So after a marriage of only six years Emme lived a widow for 36 years, never remarrying.

A deed of 1745 shows that whilst living with relatives in Warwickshire, she sold premises in West Haddon (presumably her late husband’s shop). This raises the possibility that, although she was buried in West Haddon, she may have lived for a significant part of her life in Warwickshire, leaving John Facer to run the farm, and therefore being yet another absentee landlord.




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At the beginning of the 1760s, when the Pro and Con document was being drawn up, Laurence Currin had claimed to be ‘near 80’. In the event, he almost saw the decade out – he was buried in March, 1769. But he wasn’t baptised in West Haddon, so we have no date from which to work out his eventual age. But if he was in his 80s, he wasn’t as unusual as we might expect, having become accustomed to the idea that people in the past had a shorter life expectancy than we do. Average life expectancy was shorter because so many children died in infancy and so many mothers succumbed to ‘childbed fever’ in their 20s and 30s.

The parish registers for West Haddon show that there were 26 baptisms in 1765 and 15 burials. Since some families were just ‘passing through’ and some young people left the village to find work or marry, we can’t track all those individuals. But some we can.

The font at All Saints' Church, West Haddon
The font at All Saints’ Church, West Haddon

Three of the babies were buried just days after being baptised – 7 days for William Smith, a butcher’s son, 9 days for James, the son of Maurice and Mary Ward and 11 days for John and Hannah Stafford’s son, David. (Yes, Stafford’s Lane was named after John – not sure why, but haven’t given up trying to find out.) Three other children died before they were 5 and another one aged 7.

But another, unmarried, Mary Ward, who was buried in August of 1765, just days after the riot, was – if she was the Mary Ward baptised in West Haddon in 1689 – 96 years old! But the name is fairly common locally so we can’t be sure.

Churchyard at All Saints', West Haddon
Churchyard at All Saints’, West Haddon

Of those babies of 1765 who survived into adulthood, we can trace some through their life-cycle. William Eyre, the son of a woolcomber who lived at what is now called Wesleyan Cottage in Guilsborough Rd, married Jane Wiggins when he was 25 (making her Jane Eyre!) and he lived on into the reign of Queen Victoria, dying at 82 in 1847.

cottage interior with housewifeMary Woodford married at 19 and became Mrs William Hancock. She produced 8 children between 1787 and 1806, and died at the age of 79 in 1844.