Reflections on the will of John Wayt butcher of Swindon

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August 2, 2014 by auntkatefirmin

First line of the will of John Wayt

First line of the will of John Wayt

After reading the will, few things strike me. Firstly, John was a man of 41 who was planning for his death within a few months, a plan that must necessarily extend for over 21 years until his unborn child came of age. While many individuals in the 18th century did not live so long, John had been in reasonable health as recently as February (since his son Thomas was born in October). While John may have been prepared by his beliefs to move on from this world, surely he would had liked to see his children become adults.

In addition, John was a man of substance, one of what I suspect was a small number of tradesman who, while they were not gentleman and did not rate “esquire” after their names, were likely to be prominent in the affairs of a place the size of Swindon. (In the 1697 census the population was 791; even by 1801 it had only hit 1,198.) While there is no mention of a residence or any real estate, John possessed, or believed he possessed, enough assets outside of his household goods to realize over 90 pounds on the sale of such “personal estate” with the expectation that there would be enough left over to let out at interest. The National Archives currency converter values the spending power of £90 from 1670 as equivalent to £7,500 in 2005. I find it hard to believe that his tools alone would fetch such a sum but I’m not familiar enough with the time and place to make a guess as to what constituted an 18th century butcher’s kit or what other items might make up his estate – although if his clothing was not saved for his son, it would have been relatively more valuable than in modern times.

I wish the inventory of the household goods had been preserved!

Undated watercolor of a butcher by Heneage Finch (1751-1812)  fourth Earl of Aylesford.   Paul Mellon Collection. Yale Center for British Art.

Undated watercolor of a butcher by Heneage Finch (1751-1812) fourth Earl of Aylesford.
Paul Mellon Collection. Yale Center for British Art.

A measure of John’s standing in his profession, and of the activity in the town, is that he was successful enough to take on an apprentice in 1749. I would think that implies that he himself served an apprenticeship rather than simply being licensed locally to do business, but I’m not certain on that point.

As will become more evident as we look at the parties mentioned in the will, John was well-to-do and well-connected.

John’s will is dated the 23rd of August, 1761. Apprentice indenture records available on ancestry show that Anthony Dansey, Attorney of Swindon, took an apprentice in 1753. It seems likely that the witness Thomas Dansey was a relative of Anthony and that Anthony was the attorney who rendered the will into the proper legal forms and wrote it out for John to sign.

As for the other witness, there is a native of Swindon, John Hobbs, who would have been 22 in 1761 whose father was also John Hobbs but I do not know their professions.

John’s executors appear to be very prominent and presumably influential individuals. Just a brief perusal of descriptions of documents related to the Goddard family (the lords of the Manor of Swindon) show some of their activities. I suspect I could get entangled in the Goddard files at the Swindon for a considerable time given the opportunity.

John’s first-named executor William Kemble was not only a baker but had enough capital in 1757 to obtain a lease from Thomas Goddard, Esquire, of land with water rights with the plan of building a mill. I haven’t fully researched Kemble and the mill, but there was a mill that stood by the local church for many years in the location mentioned in the lease. It also appears that the extended Kemble family included a tea merchant and a grocer in London – I don’t know whether the Kemble family continued to be connected to John Wayt’s family in later years when many of his Blackford grandchildren moved to London. William was roughly the same generation as John. If he was the Will Kemble of Stratton apprenticed to John Archer, Baker of Cricklade in April 1732, and was 14 at the time then he was born about 1718.

William Kemble, Thomas Smith, and John Hobbs are all listed in the 1772 poll book as freeholders in Swindon. In all there are only 51 entries for Swindon Parish and some of the freeholders resided in other locations nearby. (There are no Wayts, Blackfords or Seymours listed in Swindon in 1772.)

Thomas Smith the grocer was able, in 1771, to lease various properties including two messuages (dwellings) in the High Street, and the Bull Inn on the High Street north of the market square, “with appurtenances,” to a Seymour Wroughton, esquire, of Westcott. Later, a William Kemble (who I will assume for the moment is the same person) is named as the guardian of the infant Thomas Smith in legal documents of 1782 related to Smith’s estate, including the lease just mentioned.

I think that’s enough to provide a sketch of the circle that included John Wayt. Deeper digging will be necessary to shed light on the individuals of the Wayt family.

What other aspects of life in Swindon are apparent from the will? I’ll just highlight one before moving on.  Financial activity in Swindon in 1761 did not merit a bank in the parish. The will seems to imply that local in habitants did their own private money-lending to some degree. It was not until 1807 that a bank was formally opened. I don’t know where the nearest bank was located in 1761.

Early one pound bank note dated 1814 from Gloucestershire.

Early one pound bank note dated 1814 from Gloucestershire. Image: via Wikipedia.

As usual I have more questions than answers and some will be easier to answer than others! It would be interesting if we could locate all the members of the family and the executors around 1782 when Thomas, the youngest son, reached the age of 21. I’d like to know if Elizabeth Wayt remained single and retained the custody of the children – I’m beginning to suspect she is the woman who married John Holloway, age 21, in 1765 when she would have been 45. We know that Rebecca remained in Swindon and married a local butcher, but what became of the others? How involved were Smith & Kemble in ensuring the futures of the Wayt children? Was the connection of the executors to John Wayt based only on social standing and local bonds or was there a family connection somewhere? What, if anything, can we infer about the religious beliefs of John Wayt? Was his will typical of those in the period with regards to his treatment of Elizabeth?

It’s an interesting glimpse of a tradesman in a small market town and his web of relationships.

(Thanks again to Liz for providing the copy of the will that appears in at the top)


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