Thoughts on the will of Henry Horsell


March 7, 2015 by auntkatefirmin

Henry’s will was proved on 23 November 1762 and his heir Reuben was made the administrator. (In an interesting aside, John Wayt’s will  was proved 24 November 1761, also in Cricklade in front of the same officials). Henry made his will over ten years before his death – I believe this is unusual. I have a vague notion that in that era wills were often made within a year of a person’s death but I can’t recall the reference.

Henry the cordwainer/shoemaker, while an artisan, has a social status close to that of a yeoman, as he is a freeholder (and thus entitled to vote). He is clearly prosperous, and capable of running a business, although his signature indicates that he was not a fluent penman and I will assume that while he might have appreciated good speeches and conversation, he did not aspire to be accomplished in the field of literature or at least he set his interests to more practical matters.

Once I locate some period images I hope to post more about cordwainers – not to be confused with cobblers! I have not found a formal record of Henry as an apprentice or taking an apprentice so I have to presume he learned the craft from his father.

Henry’s youngest son, another Henry, was 12 at the time the will was written in 1751 and Henry’s five oldest daughters had already married. He had no expectation that he would have more children and for some reason felt the desire to put his affairs in order. He did have grandchildren by 1751 but did not mention them or any siblings, in-laws, or other individuals.

The terms of the will are very simple and very straightforward, the eldest son received the majority of Henry’s “goods & chattels” including a In dwelling (messuage) and the others got a substantial token of one guinea (for a total of eight guineas) – to see 18th examples of a guinea and other coins check out this post at English History Authors . We don’t have the total value of the estate as there is no associated inventory available and the value of the property itself, even if it was given, would not really translate in modern terms. Still, it is evident that Henry is a person of standing in the community – it would be interesting to know if deeds, maps or other evidence of the location of the dwelling survived. We do know that Henry inherited half of the real estate of his grandfather Bartholomew – that will & inventory is in the process of being transcribed for posting. As a business man, I suspect that Henry has his house and shop on the High Street in order to take advantage of the market-day traffic.

Andrews & Drury map.

Map showing Wootton Bassett fro 1772.

The population of the entire parish of Wootton Bassett was 1,255 in 1801. By 1671 1200 acres of land were in freehold status. In the 1772 poll of freeholders there were 66 names on the transcribed list  including four Horsells: two Bartholomews, one John and “Ruben.” I have not done the research to establish the identities, though I am pretty certain some are descendants of Henry’s brother Bartholomew. Even so, this gives a sense of the general size of the larger community and the economic level of the Horsell family in the generations just after Henry.

Henry had at least 12 children, and probably three wives. I have not been able to follow the lives of all the children, but I assume that some moved to nearby communities with their spouses. Not all the baptism records have been found in online indexes so a number of children are connected to Henry only by the evidence of the will. The following information about the family assumes that the children are named in the will in the order of their birth.

Reuben was Henry’s eldest son, baptized in Wootton Bassett in October of 1718. Henry was only 18 at the time, assuming that his baptism in March 1700 followed promptly after his birth. (This seems likely based on the other baptisms in the family.) Eighteen is somewhat younger than customary for marriages in this era and the story gets more interesting when the only marriage indexed for Henry is dated November 1718 to Susannah Chiverson in nearby Avebury. Is there a record somewhere that chastises Henry & Susannah for having a child before marriage?

At the time Henry wrote his will, his wife’s name was not Susanna but Sarah. There are marriage records for a Henry Horsell marrying Sarah Skull or Scull in Wootton Bassett in 1720 and Sarah Hayward in Avebury in 1739. Without more evidence I’ll assume that Susannah died prior to 1720 and Henry married the Sarah the first. I don’t know of another Henry of marriageable age in 1739 so I’ll assume that Sarah the first died shortly after the birth of Henry the younger, and Henry the elder married Sarah Hayward in 1739 and that she is the “widdow” mentioned in his will. Currently, I have no information about Sarah Hayward’s earlier life or her age when she married Henry and I have only guesses about Sarah Scull who I believe came from Tockenham.

Until I can locate more evidence I will presume that Reuben remained in Wootton Bassett, lived on the Horsell property, and carried on the business as a cordwainer; I do know he is the ancestor of some of the later generations of Horsells in the town.

Note the tomb of Reuben Horsell in the foreground.

The parish church of St Bartholomew and All Saints in Wootton Bassett. .
© Copyright Nick Smithl and licensed for reuse under CC2.0

If my interpretation is correct, Henry had the following children with his second wife, Sarah Scull – the baptismal records for this era don’t include the name of the child’s mother and I have not done enough research to confirm my presumption regarding the death dates of all the women.

About 1720 a daughter Anne who must have died prior to 1726.

About 1721 a daughter Mary who became the Mary Bailey mentioned in the will.

About 1722 a daughter Martha who first married James Dyer of Wootton Bassett in 1741, and second married William Stephens in Hullavington (roughly 15 miles to the west) in 1749.

About 1723 a daughter Edith who married Richard Packer in Purton in 1746 – a Richard Packer was still living in Purton and paying taxes in 1798.

About 1724 a daughter, Elizabeth, who married John Wayt in Wootton Bassett in 1744 and became the ancestor of Kate Maud Firmin.

In 1726 a daughter Anne who became the Anne Tidd of the will. Tidd does not seem to be a very common name so I wonder if there is an alternate form/spelling.

In 1728 a son Bartholomew. Bartholomew is a popular name in the Horsell family and I have not untangled them all – I suspect there were at least three Bartholomews alive in the 1760’s.

In 1731 a daughter Rebeckah who may have married John Hunt in 1752. There are a number of marriages for John Hunt shortly after 1752 so it’s possible that Rebeckah died and Henry’s will was never updated – or there may have been several men about the same age with the same name living in Wootton Bassett.

In 1734 an unnamed child who died as infant.

In 1736 a son John, possibly the John Horsell freeholder in the 1772 Wootton Bassett poll list.

In 1739 a son Henry. It seems likely he was the cordwainer listed in Bailey’s Directory in 1784.

Of the witnesses to the will, I can identify two so far. Moses Sarraude may have been a shopkeeper in Wootton Bassett. Andrew Sadler was raising a family in Wootton Bassett around 1750 but I have not discovered his profession. Robert Frith may have lived elsewhere. [Update: Robert Frith, yeoman of Wootton Bassett, had a will probated in 1778.]

There are just a few glimpses into Henry’s personality. Was he impulsive, marrying at 18 and possibly forcing his choice of spouse by having a child before marriage – or was Susannah the impulsive one? He was able to support a large family, pass on a freehold property and presumably maintain a position in the community. He wrote his will well in advance of his death and there’s not much else about the will that gives a sense of any particular religious beliefs or strong attachments; if I had to pick one word I think it would be “conventional.” Perhaps his peers would have chosen “respectable.”

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on the will of Henry Horsell

  1. Gerry Harris says:

    I am part of a group that has been researching our Horsell line. I would love to contact you as it seems you have done a great deal of research. I have a large pedigree chart that was compiled by a Mrs Howell several years ago that takes the WB Horsell line back to the 1500s

  2. Thanks to Gerry & other cousins we have corrected a research error. Henry did not marry Susannah Chiverson; the Henry in Avebury was a different individual and he and his wife continued to live in Avebury and have children after “Wootton Basset Henry” married Sarah Scull.

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