Saturday, 22 June 2019

Griffith Higgs DD - Chaplain to Elizabeth Queen of Bohemia and King Charles I of England.

Griffith Higgs is a second cousin, 11 generations removed. I have written a detailed biography for him on WikiTree which you can access through the link on the family tree.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Do you know the Sugar Baker?

In today's research I came across an occupation that was new to me. Just what is a sugar baker? As it turns out, a sugar baker was really an importer/trader of sugar; more along the lines of a merchant. They would import sugar from the Caribbean, refine it and then sell it on to their customers in England.

I don't actually know very much about George Leech. In February 1624 he married my 10 x great-aunt Margaret Bridges in the parish church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney in London. After their marriage they settled in the parish of St Helen Bishopsgate. Here they had at least two children. Katherine and George. Katherine was baptised at St Helen Bishopsgate on 23 August 1629 two days after her brother George was buried. According to the parish register young George was drowned in a sink in his father's house. Maybe poor Margaret, still recovering from the birth of her daughter, had been unable to supervise her young family as she would like.

Certainly George the Sugar Baker was dead by 1639 because at this point Margaret remarried a gentleman named Bevill Prideaux . She died in 1663 leaving her daughter Katherine, who had married a gent called Henry Gould of Pinner, executrix of her will. I am guessing that as Margaret's will states her place of abode as Harrow on the Hill that she might have been living with her daughter and son in law as Pinner and Harrow on the Hill are very close.

The church of St Helen's, Bishopsgate, London with "The Gherkin".
 By Roger Vander Steen [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

A couple of other unrelated but interesting facts I picked up are that St Helens Bishopsgate was the parish church of William Shakespeare in the 1590s, so about 40 years before the Leech family were worshipping there. Also, it is one of the only City of London churches to have survived both the Great Fire and the the Blitz.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Jane Austen - No NOT that one!

It is always amusing to discover an ancestor that shares a famous name. This one is even sweeter as she has been very elusive for a long time. Jane Austen is my 9 x great grandmother and it was only through a series of fortuitous wills and the appearance of the name Austen as a first name that I have been able to definitely identify her. 

Jane was born in Tadmarton in Oxfordshire in about 1605 to John Austen and Susannah. I have her as the eldest of six children. In about 1625 she married a chap called John Goodwin who had been born in the nearby village of either Epwell or Alkerton. I have not yet found a marriage record but it is quite clear from the wills of her father, mother and brother that this is indeed what happened. 

Jane and her husband John had their first two children, Susannah and William, while they were still living in Oxfordshire. They were baptised at Tadmarton in 1628 and 1629 respectively. Some time in the early 1630s the young family moved to Combe, a hamlet close to the market town of Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire, where John was eventually employed as a steward on the estates of Sir Baptist Noel, 3rd Viscount Campden. Between 1633 and 1642 the Chipping Campden parish registers show baptisms for another seven of John and Jane's children - Elizabeth, Mary, Hopestil, Constance, Nathaniel, Martha and James. I have also identified another three children from wills, burials and marriages - Hannah, John and Thomas - but have not yet discovered baptism records for them. Our ancestor is Martha, who married Thomas Bridges in 1664.

The Goodwin family were peripherally involved in an intriguing incident in English history, an enigma which has remained unsolved for nearly 350 years. Known as "The Campden Wonder", it is considered one of the most baffling "murder" cases of all time.

The steward of the Noel estates, William Harrison, disappeared and was feared murdered for the rent money he was collecting. His servant confessed to having robbed and killed his master and also implicated his own mother and brother in the crime. Despite the fact that no body was found, the three were tried, convicted and hanged and John Goodwin was employed to manage the Noel estates. Two years later the supposed victim returned home, safe and well. He claimed he was kidnapped by three unknown horsemen and, aged 70, sold into slavery in Turkey, where he eventually escaped and made his way home. For a more thorough account of The Campden Wonder and the people and places involved I can recommend some time spent browsing here.

There is a much smaller mystery of when did Jane Austen die. Clearly it was on or after about 1642 and the last recorded baptism of her children. John Goodwin, her husband, died in April 1669 and was buried at Chipping Campden. 

High Street, Chipping Campden 2017. Elizabeth Viney.

Friday, 7 October 2016

#16 Mary Temperance Sheaf & Elizabeth Sheaf - The nature of nurture.

I have been trying to round out the family of my 3 x great grandparents William Harbidge Sheaf and Mary Tomes Holland but have for a long time been unable to track down one of their younger daughters, Elizabeth. I have already written about her brothers Charles Holland Sheaf  and Jamaica George and of course the youngest family member Great Aunt Lou. I find this family particularly interesting as I am descended from two of the siblings, Jamaica George and Thomas Holland Sheaf. In the last week I have discovered the whereabouts of Elizabeth and found that her story is inextricably entwined with that of her slightly older sister Mary Temperance Sheaf.

Mary Temperance was born in 1819 and christened at Bidford on Avon. Elizabeth was born about 1825 but I have not been able to find any baptism records for her. At the time of the 1841 census both girls were still living at home, on the family farm at Bickmarsh, no doubt helping out in the house and looking after their younger siblings. By this stage their father had tragically drowned so their mother was managing quite a substantial farming enterprise.

In October 1841 Mary married a young fellow called James Price who hailed from Bushley about 20 miles away. For the first few years of their married life they were in the Welford on Avon district where they had 4 children; William Henry, Emily Martha, Timothy and Mary Jane. Some time between 1846 and 1851 they moved to Birmingham where James worked as a Corn Factor - a trader in grains. In about October 1852 another daughter was born, Fanny Elizabeth however Mary died shortly afterwards. Fanny's birth was registered in 1852 but she wasn't christened until 1854.

During this time, Elizabeth seems to have been working away from home in Cold Overton, Leicestershire as a matron in a girls orphanage. Certainly this is the most likely entry in the 1851 census.

What happened in the next couple of years is unsure, but in 1858 Elizabeth and James Price registered their marriage in Newport, Monmouthshire, Wales. Elizabeth's next younger sibling Samuel was also in Wales working as a banker, so he may have been the reason they ended up there. I can only assume that at some stage Elizabeth had been called upon to help James with his young family of five following the death of their mother.

In 1861 the family are still in Wales, at Llanfoist also in Monmouthshire. James is a farm agent and has a farm of about 148 acres. Young Timothy and Fanny Elizabeth are still living with them. Sometime during the next 10 years James dies as he does not appear to be in the 1871 census and Elizabeth has moved back to her home territory and is living in Moreton in Marsh, Gloucestershire. Emily and Fanny are living with her and they are running a small Governess School with at least 5 children boarding with them. Elizabeth describes herself as widowed.

Elizabeth and Fanny are still living there in 1881 but Elizabeth appears to have retired and calls herself a "superannuated governess." The entry for Fanny is not so easy to read but it appears to be "invalided governess" so presumably her health was not good. They are the only househoulders - there are no boarding children and no other staff.

I am sure that Elizabeth died sometime between the 1881 and 1891 census although I have not yet confirmed this through the records other than by her absence in the census. By 1891 Fanny has moved back to Wales and was living in Blaenevon with her older sister Mary Jane and her husband Edward Saunders.

Goodness knows whether Elizabeth found happiness in her marriage to James but I like to believe she found happiness and satisfaction in raising her sister's children. In every census during the time they are together she is described as their mother, not their step-mother and their relationships continued long into their adult lives. From a very young age she had responsibility for nurturing children who were not her own - her younger siblings, the orphanage girls, her sister's children and finally her young pupils. She accepted these challenges and ended up molding an independent life for herself.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

#15 George Holland Sheaf - Jamaica George revisited.

A while ago I wrote about my 2x great grandfather George Holland Sheaf and the mystery that surrounds much of his life (and death) in Jamaica. You can read that post here to refresh your memory. It seems however, that sometimes one only needs to wait before new information comes to light. As more and more records from around the world get digitized, more information is available to family researchers.

Just on the off chance I did another search for George Holland Sheaf and I have to say I was very, very surprised to see new results. The first new bit of information about him was that he did NOT die in about 1865, but lived until 1 Feb 1893, aged about 75. His death is recorded as having occurred at Bruce Hill in Kings District, Westmoreland, Jamaica. From the little I have been able to find out about Bruce Hill it appears that distant family connections probably through the Moores and the Tates owned this property. He is recorded as being a widower (which we knew) and a pauper (which we did not know).

The second somewhat startling discovery was that at least two of his children, other than Louisa our great grandmother, survived into adulthood. His eldest child Mary Moore Sheaf born in 1849 lived until 1909. She is recorded as dying a spinster at a place possibly called Barnes, Kings District, Westmoreland and her occupation is given as seamstress. Her younger brother George Kemble Holland Sheaf, born in about 1857, also survived childhood and lived until the age of 66, dying of fever in 1922. His death is recorded as having taken place at Friendship, Westmoreland. He also never married and is recorded as having been a carpenter.

Now all this just raises more questions! What happened to the other children? Who looked after them? Why was Granny Sheaf, Louisa, raised by Episcopalian Missionaries (so the story goes) and who were they? Did Granny Sheaf even know that she still had siblings alive after she left Jamaica? Was her father George Holland Sheaf somehow disowned by his wife's family the Briggs? Was he a wastrel? (Possibly, I would suspect!) Aaaaaaargh!!! So many little mysteries to solve!

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

#14 Culpepper Goddard - To the Manor Born

This week I have been trying to tidy up the Goddard ancestors on my Sheaf line and it has been proving quite tricky, even with the newly discovered help of Parish Register transcriptions from the Wiltshire Family History Society. The Goddard family was numerous and influential in this part of England but sadly they had very fixed ideas about the naming of children, which makes it a little tricky sorting out where everyone fits in! There are even instances of families with two Thomases or two Johns (usually designated the elder and the younger) but my word, where is the occasional Tibbot or Aubrey when you want one!

This led me to think about the person who connects the Goddard name to our family tree and she in fact has a beautiful and unusual name. Culpepper Goddard, my 8 x great grandmother was baptised in Miserden, Gloucestershire on the 10th August 1641. Her parents were Richard Goddard Esq of Swindon, Wiltshire and Culpepper Sandys. The name Culpepper was the maiden name of her grandmother Margaret, who had passed it on to her own daughter and thence to her granddaughter. Culpepper was the second daughter of Richard and Culpepper; the first being Sandys Goddard who had also been born at Miserden the year before. I wondered for a while why these first two children were baptised at Miserden when Richard was 'of Swindon' and all the later children were baptised at Swindon, however it became clearer when I realized that the Sandys family were based at Miserden. Culpepper Sandys' father William died several months before Culpepper Goddard was born so no doubt that would be reason enough for the baptisms at Miserden.

Richard and Culpepper went on to have three more daughters - Ann, Joan and Bridget - before Culpepper (the mother) died some time after Bridget was born. Richard remarried in 1648 and he and his new wife Ann Bowerman had a long awaited for son, Thomas, who went on to great prominence as High Sheriff of Wiltshire in 1675. Richard died soon after young Thomas was born, so his new bride Ann was left to raise her own son and five step-daughters.

Richard was obviously quite a canny man and made sure he had made adequate provision for his daughters, so as to ensure good marriages for them. In Feb 1647/48 he entered into a sale of land along with his kinsmen Thomas Sandys of Miserden, George Fettiplace of Lincoln's Inn and William Lawrence of Broome in order to settle money, in trust, on his daughters Sandys, Culpepper, Ann and Bridget. I presume from this that Joan had died as a youngster.

In 1657, Culpepper received an inheritance from her bachelor Uncle Thomas Sandys, consisting of a gold ring with four diamonds in the form of a cross. I like to imagine that she may have worn this at her wedding which must have taken place fairly soon after. The exact details of when and where she was married are not yet discovered but certainly by 1661 she was wed to John Colles of Guiting Power in Gloucestershire and was a mother to a daughter called Culpepper!

Manor House near Guiting Power
© Copyright Roger Davies and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

It seems that the daughter gene continued on very strongly in this part of the family as John Colles and Culpepper only had three children, all daughters; Culpepper born in 1661, Eleanor (our ancestor) born in 1662 and Ann.

At some stage in their married life, Culpepper's bachelor uncle Edmond Goddard came to stay or live with them. When he died in October 1676 he was buried at Guiting Power and his will records bequests to his nieces Culpepper, Bridget and Ann as well as to his nephew by marriage John Colles.

The next mention of Culpepper comes in some legal documents of 1678 where she is named as the wife of John Colles. Also mentioned are two of her sisters, Ann and Bridget, described as spinsters and of Catislade, which was the name of the Colles manor where Culpepper and John were living. It appears that Culpepper as the elder and married sister was looking after the younger girls. I wonder how John coped with his wife, two sisters in law and three daughters? I imagine he went out a lot!

Culpepper was widowed in Jan 1694/95 and her husband John was buried in the church at Guiting Power. Not having any sons to take charge of the Manor, John's will is somewhat complicated. In essence he leaves the property to his good friends Nathaniel Lye (his brother in law, husband of his wife's sister Bridget Goddard) and George Townsend (his nephew, son of his sister Ann), with the income to be divided between his wife Culpepper, his brother William and his unmarried daughters Eleanor and Ann. Quite how the manor ended up back in the ownership of Eleanor and her eventual husband David Hughes I am not sure. Cetainly the incomes from his messuages, tenements, cottages and etc should have provided nicely for his wife and children. I just hope Mr Lye and Mr Townsend played fair!

The next evidence I have for Culpepper is her burial record in Guiting Power on 15th March 1707/08. She was 67 years old. What is interesting though, is that she obviously wasn't living in the manor at the time of her death. I have found an inventory taken after her death which indicates she was living in lodging rooms in Painswick, Gloucestershire. In her will, she divides most of her goods and chattels between her three daughters and I was very excited to find that her special diamond ring, received from her Uncle Thomas Sandys, was mentioned specifically and was bequeathed to her eldest daughter Culpepper.

I suppose the message I take most from Culpepper's story is how financially dependent women of these times were on their fathers, husbands, uncles, brothers in law and nephews. I am reminded of Mrs Bennet in Pride and Predjudice, who in spite of her annoying manners, really does understand the need for her daughters to be financially secure before the estate is entailed away, leaving her children potentially homeless and without prospects.  At all stages of her life Culpepper was forced to rely on men for her security and I hope that the fact she ended up in lodgings in Painswick isn't a result of the system failing to provide for her.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

#13 Mary Gifford - Three times a Lady.

Sometimes in the course of my research, an ancestor seems to emerge from the past and draw attention to themself, almost as if to say "Don't forget about me!" Mary Gifford has been spotted waving at me from the 16th century several times in the last couple of months, so I am acquiescing to her demands to be noticed.

Mary Gifford was born in about 1550, a daughter of John Gifford and Elizabeth Throckmorton, making her my first cousin 13x removed. I'm always happy to include first cousins in my family lines, as growing up I was lucky enough to be surrounded by a plethora of cousins who added so much to my life that it would seems surly and ungrateful not to recognize cousins just because they happened to be born 13 generations earlier!

At this stage, I have 6 siblings for Mary, some of whom have amazing stories of their own, but they will keep for another day.

In about 1572, Mary married Richard Baker of Sissinghurst in Kent. When I discovered the marriage, I already had Richard Baker in the family tree. His father Sir John Baker was peripherally associated with the Courthoppes and Sheafs in Cranbrook, Kent. I even suspect that Sir John's grandmother was Benet Sheaf, but I have no concrete evidence of that....yet! Richard and Mary had 4 children John, Thomas, Chyrosgena (sometimes recorded as Grisgone) and Cicely. Chrysogena was named after one of Mary's sisters. Richard was responsible for enlarging Sissinghurst into a fine Tudor residence. In fact so fine was it, that in 1573, Queen Elizabeth spent three days there on her summer progress. One can only imagine the anxiety (and the cost!) to Richard and Mary at hosting the Queen and her court, even though it did result in a knighthood for Richard.

Sissinghurst castle
Sissingurst, now famous for its Vita Sackville-West gardens, with the remains of the Tudor buildings in the background. Photo by Klaus D Peter, Germany.

Sir Richard Baker died in 1594, but Mary did not long remain a widow, for later in that same year she married Richard Fletcher, newly made Bishop of London. Fletcher was also a man with connections to the Sheaf family and Cranbrook. His brother Giles had married Joan Sheaf and his father Richard, who had been Vicar of Cranbrook, officiated at the 'hatching, matching and dispatching' of many other Sheaf family members.

Unfortunately for Mary, her somewhat precipitous second marriage was not universally approved of. Both she and her ecclesiastical husband were in conspicuous disfavour with Queen Elizabeth for marrying without her express consent. The Queen objected to the marriage of all bishops, and thought it especially indecorous in one only two years a widower. Fletcher was forbidden the court and suspended from performing all episcopal functions.

Mary was described as a handsome woman, a 'fine lady' but her reputation was tarnished and she was ridiculed by satirists of the day as a whore and "my Lady Lecher", which conveniently rhymed with Fletcher! Poor Richard died soon after on the 15th June 1596; still largely in disfavour, debt ridden and surrounded by a fug of tobacco smoke. It is most likely that at this point Mary returned to Sissinghurst to be near the children of her first marriage, especially to her two daughters Chrysogena and Cicely who were then in their twenties and who were said to be especially devoted to her.

In about 1597, Mary Gifford married for the third and last time. Her new husband was Sir Stephen Thornehurst of Forde in the Isle of Thanet, Kent. They were together about thirteen years, until Mary died in 1609. Her husband buried her in the St Michael Chapel of Canterbury Cathedral under a splendid monument. Lady Mary reclines somewhat jauntily at the feet of Sir Stephen, not looking in the slightest bit pious or repentant, dressed in her Tudor finest; for all the world as if to say "Well yes, here I am! What took you so long?"