Bunhill Fields Discovery

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August 3, 2014 by auntkatefirmin

Bunhill Fields. Image copyright Nigel Cox via Geograph.org.uk creative commons 2.0 license.

Bunhill Fields. Image copyright Nigel Cox via Geograph.org.uk creative commons 2.0 license.

If you have ever read the old Perry Mason books you will recognize a the phrase “take a button and sew a vest on it.” Frequently Perry’s receptionist, Gertie, would take a small piece of information and fabricate an entire story to go with it. That’s what I’m about to undertake here (pun intended!)

I keep teasing away at the question – what motivated so many of the Blackford family to leave Swindon for London? Certainly the fact that Robert Blackford died when eight of his ten children were under age 21 (and four were under 12) was part of the equation. That would be the “push” – but even with a big push, I can’t rule out the possibility of a “pull” somewhere. I keep wondering if there was a connection to London that allowed what might have been a wish to become a reality – or at least made the decision of moving to London in particular less difficult. Did someone in an earlier generation pave the way? Was there a business connection to London somewhere in the family?

The generation of Rebecca (Wayt) Blackford is less visible online than her children and grandchild in the era of the census and civil registration. At a distance and online there was nothing really exciting turning up about Rebecca’s siblings, although there’s certainly potential for more discoveries on microfilm or in published works.

With only days left on my subscription to findmypast, I was trying variations on my searches in case I had overlooked a possibility. And there was something I hadn’t truly noticed before: the John Wayt in Wiltshire Memorial Inscriptions, born 1746, died 1826, age 80, with a memorial placed in the Church of the Holy Rood Swindon, 9 July 1826, was buried Bunhill Fields London. Could John be my London-Swindon link? It’s always possible that there is another John Wayt born in 1746 out there with a Swindon connection but as an exercise I’ll go out on a limb and pretend he’s the brother of Rebecca Wayt and the young man that inherited £20 from his father John Wayt the butcher in 1761 (until I can prove otherwise). I’m not worried that the memorial says he was born in 1746 instead of 1747 (when he was christened), by age 80 it’s easy to lose track of a year or two.

While Bunhill Fields is strongly associated with non-conformists, burial there is not conclusive evidence that an individual was a dissenter. If John Wayt is not just from Swindon but the brother of Rebecca (Wayt) Blackford then it’s reasonable to work from the assumption that by 1806 when her children began to appear in London, he lived in or near Shoreditch parish or possibly Marylebone where many Blackfords were married or baptized. From either location Bunhill Fields would be a possible location for burial.

So far nothing has turned up that suggests the Wayt family was especially religious one way or the other, but the only evidence is the 1761 will of John Wayt and I’m not familiar with the trends in that time or place in terms of expression of religious sentiments in a will other than a general notion that it was not a good time to be a non-conformist.

Tracking backwards, John would have turned 21 around 1768. After looking at the traces of individuals named John Wayt after 1768, my attention was captured by the John Wayte of Swindon who arranged for a license to marry Martha Dore of Swindon in 1771. I have discovered five children baptized by John and Martha at the Church of the Holy Rood in Swindon after their marriage: John (1774), Thomas (1776), Martha (1778), Mary Dore (1786) and Richard (1787). Mary was born eight years after Martha so it’s possible there are other children out there that were indexed oddly or baptized outside Swindon.

It’s very unusual for a child in the 18th century to have a middle name so it’s nice to have that extra clue that tends to confirm Martha’s maiden name, even if we aren’t yet sure if Mary was young Mary’s grandmother or a godmother with a different family relationship. I could be wrong but I’m going to use this as confirmation that John married only once (rather than having two wives named Martha, which would also account for the gap between 1778 and 1786).

The extra clue is also nice because other evidence is less straightforward. The John Wayt buried in Bunhill fields had a wife named Martha who was buried in Swindon on 1 December 1787 according to the database of Wiltshire Memorial Inscriptions, which gives her age at death as 55. I find it difficult to believe that a woman of 55 had a child in 1787. The child in question, Richard, was (presumably) born close to date of her death and baptized in Holy Rood the day after her burial. I find it much easier to believe that her marker was incorrect or a transcription somewhere along the way was in error – since the memorial may no longer be legible (or exist at all) this may not be possible to verify.

If the Martha Dore that married John in 1771 was truly 21 as stated on the transcribed license information, then she was born in 1750 and died at age 37, shortly after the birth of Richard. That seems much more likely.

Still none of this has moved us from Swindon to London, yet.

The link is the youngest son, Richard. All in all he’s a real treasure trove and we can track where he lived almost every year from 1802 to his death in 1868. While he’s rather peripheral in some ways to Aunt Kate’s story, being the first cousin of Kate’s great-grandmother Harriet (Blackford) Hall, I’m very glad I branched out as not only does he have an interesting life, he is currently the first descendant of John Wayt, butcher of Swindon, to be documented in London before the marriage of his cousin Robert Blackford in Shoreditch in 1806.

The key is a single document which reveals that Richard Wayt, son of John Wayt a butcher of Swindon, was apprenticed to Nathaniel Child, Citizen and Draper of London in 1802 – for no fee!

View of the Golden Lane Brewery in 1807. Richard Wayt paid land tax on a rental in Golden Lane in 1811. © Trustees of the British Museum

View of the Golden Lane Brewery in 1807. Richard Wayt paid land tax on a rental in Golden Lane in 1811. © Trustees of the British Museum

I’ll take a little more time with Richard to gather background as there’s enough material for several posts on his life alone, and just lay out some questions here (as usual!)

-What was the connection that allowed John Wayt to make this arrangement for no recorded cost?
-Why would a butcher’s son apprentice with a draper?
-What became of the older children: John, Thomas, Mary, and Martha?
-When did Richard’s father John move to London and where did he live?
-What was happening with the butchers in Swindon from about 1760 to 1820?


I was looking forward to writing about Bunhill Fields and exploring it from a distance – it looks like that will have to wait for another post as well. It just goes to show that history and genealogy are trees with infinite branches! While John & Martha probably did not approve of gambling, following up on this lead has been a good gamble. I have a coherent story with decent evidence that needs to be checked against the original documents/evidence (where possible) but should hold up.  I also have more of a sense of the connectedness of the family from Swindon.

In the meantime – here are some nice links related to Bunhill Fields

A charming synopsis with many photographs:

A paragraph with information on original records for the burial ground.

A history and notice of historic status granted to the burial ground and monuments:

*PS Thanks again to Liz in London for pointing out that John & Martha were on the same memorial.



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