Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Hidden Treasures: The Wills of Mary and Charlotte Strange

With the Strange family I was spoiled for choice when it came to women’s wills. Throughout the years many of the women, as well as the men, in the Strange family put down on paper what they wished to have happen to their estate once they were no longer around. This was, in part, because they were well enough off to leave something which, no doubt, had something to do with their status as nonconformists, a group that tended to intermarry and which did better than the average when it came to retaining worldly wealth. 

 Yelvertoft Independent Chapel, Northamptonshire

Both women whose wills I have chosen to examine were spinsters. If you ever find the will of a spinster in your family search, latch onto it. They are the best. They name sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews, because that was the scope of family that they had to work with. Mary Strange’s will was proven in February of 1842 and Charlotte Strange’s in February of 1896.

Mary bequeathed household items to her sister, Elizabeth Norton and her brother, John Strange. She named other relatives as well, giving occupations and places of residence. These were good clues for putting the extended family together. The witnesses to the will also were family connections with the last name of Devonshire, a common name found in this nonconformist family. Many of the places named were in Northamptonshire but some were in Kent and London and Mary alluded to one nephew, Isaac Norton, who was out of the country. They really got around. I need to plumb the depths of this document and find out exactly what it can tell me. 

Charlotte Ann Strange was the great niece of Mary Strange whose will was proven in 1842. Charlotte also never married. But, unlike Mary, she had an occupation. She took over her father’s shop after he was no longer able to run it. Charlotte’s sister was the one who married and it was her two sons, Charlotte’s nephews, named in the 1896 will. 

The wills were a study in contrasts. Mary’s will was expansive, showing connections to various extended family members and different places in England and other places in the world. They were doing well with getting the word of the nonconformist faith out in the world. Charlotte’s will showed a family that was struggling. Charlotte’s sister had more than two boys but by the time of the 1896 will that was all that was left of her sister's family. As Charlotte said of her nephew Charles Pratt Chambers “that he bear in mind that it is out of no disrespect to him that I have thus willed my property but considering his position I felt it was better to dispose of it where is was most needed.” It was Charlotte’s will that allowed me to find her nephew, William Strange Chambers and family. They had last been living in Birmingham but the will showed that they were now in Bournemouth and that all was not going well. 

Gravestone in Yelvertoft Independent Chapel yard 


Friday, 12 January 2018

Hidden Treasures: Sarah Arment’s Petition

Like the final documents in Jane Tripp’s pension file, Sarah Arment’s petition is also from 1849. But her petition was filed all the way across the ocean in London. This made it easier to find background information on the family. Nominal censuses in England started in 1841. 

In 1841, Sarah Arment was living with her husband, Thomas, a 55-year-old carman, her son, Thomas, at 20-year-old light porter and her daughter, Sarah, a 15-year-old rug weaver. The ages in this census were rounded to the nearest age divisible by 5. Sarah’s age was given as 45. The snapshot that the 1841 census gave seems to have only lasted a little while.

Sarah’s petition was a plea for mercy for her husband and son who were convicted of “stealing or feloniously disposing of a quantity of Silk Damask and other Articles the property of Messrs Druce + CoȲ of Regent Street Upholsterers.” What could have driven them to such and act?

Reading between the lines it appears that age and ill health lost the elder Thomas his job eight years previous. Since that time, he had been carrying out his own small business as a greengrocer and coal seller. He suffered from Rheumatic Gout and was of the advanced age of upwards of 67. Sarah, herself, suffered from anxiety and asthma. Besides the frailty of the parents, there was also the fact that Thomas and son did not knowingly transport good owned by the upholsterers. They were the innocent dupes of others. Again, and again Sarah refers to their previous good characters.

The petition ends with a page of signatures of supporters most of whom lived in Goodmans Fields or Tenters Ground, not the most affluent area of London. Interestingly enough, there was one name with an address in Pall Mall. 

Was the petition that Sarah filed in February successful? Well, only the younger Thomas was eventually transported to Australia. What happened to the elder Thomas was, to my mind, more cruel. It was a practice at the time to house convicts in unseaworthy ships, or hulks in back waters. Thomas senior’s death was recorded on October 19, 1849 at 2:15 am on the convict ship Defence. The cause of death was given as bronchitis 13 days. Not surprising as he was kept aboard an unseaworthy ship in Portsmouth Harbour for the duration of his illness. It was a high price to pay for receiving stolen goods. 

By National Library of Ireland on The Commons - On the rooftops of London. Coo, what a sight!NLI Ref.: STP_0424Uploaded by oaktree_b, Public Domain,