The Children of Henry Horsell, Martha Stephens

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March 8, 2016 by auntkatefirmin

One of the questions that intrigues me is: how far from home was “very far” for an 18th century tradesman? Robert Blackford, the Swindon butcher, traveled to Marlborough to sell meat and to London to participate in backsword events. Some of his travels were closer to the turn of the century, and the London-Bath road that Robert would have travelled was comparatively well-maintained. What about Henry Horsell in the early to mid 18th century; what were the boundaries of his family’s travels?

The evidence suggests that Henry’s daughter, Mary Bayley, lived in Lydiard Millicent. Unless the paths or roads very extremely poorly kept, that seems quite close by  – something like a three to four mile walk depending on the rights of way.

"The footpath can be made out leading away from the viewpoint in between the buttercups."

The footpath from Lydiard Millicent to Lydiard Tregoze. © Copyright Brian Robert Marshall, Creative Commons Licence

If I have interpreted the evidence correctly, Henry’s daughter Martha Stephens (as she was known in 1761) lived farther afield than I might have expected, in Hullavington, and there is still much about her life that is puzzling to me. Again, I am very grateful for the survival of Henry’s will as I might not have persisted in locating Martha (or have been able to connect her to the correct family) otherwise. The path to finding Martha Stephens was indirect and while I worked it out by going back in time, I’ll tell the story from the beginning of Martha’s life.

Based on the order of names in Henry’s will, I first assumed that Martha was the third child and born after Ann (1721) and Mary (perhaps 1722); I am beginning to question this assumption as it could make her as young as 17 or 18 when she married, in an era when marriage after age 21 was more typical. There is no indication on the parish register or the Sarum Bonds transcription that she was a minor when she married in April 1741; on the other hand, if her mother was Sarah Skull, her parents didn’t marry until January 1721/22 and their first child was baptised in February 1721/22 so in that case she couldn’t have been born much before early 1722. Either Martha was under 21 in 1741, or her mother was Henry’s first wife, Ann, who died in December 1719. Either way, her baptism was not recorded; if she had been a twin of her sister Ann and born in 1721, the baptismal record would have had both names. Regardless, I am beginning to suspect she was older than Mary, who didn’t marry until 1747.

"The porch is graced not only with some fine gargoyles but also a diamond-shaped sundial above the door."

Church of St Mary, Lydiard Tregoze. © Copyright Graham Burnett, Creative Commons Licence.

Martha’s first marriage was close to home; she married James Dyer (also of Wootton Bassett) in Lydiard Tregoze, which is the parish to the east of Lydiard Millicent. The bondsmen for the marriage license were John Heale and Edward Jones of Wootton Bassett. Martha and James had at least two children, Mary (1742) and James (1745); both the children were baptized in Hullavington which is roughly fifteen miles west of Wootton Bassett. I’ve been attempting to find a reason that would draw the family to Hullavington, a family tie, a client relationship to the gentry living on the manor, or a special local something, and nothing has turned up so far. Other than James & Martha, I have not found individuals named Dyer in the village in this period.

Hullavington was not a market town; partly in the district of Malmesbury, and nearly as close to Chippenham, there was not much social or economic activity of note. I’m assuming the Dyer’s residence was actually in Hullavington rather than a related hamlet in the parish, in part because a tradesman would need a customer base. While Chippenham had enough activity that it appears in trade directories as early as 1783, those wanting special commodities like insurance needed to travel to Calne. I haven’t found Malmesbury in directories until the 19th century and Hullavington does not appear to be a town that people traveled to for commerce as it does not appear in early directories.

Not knowing the birthplace, parents, or profession of James Dyer, I don’t know what the family did to support themselves. It’s possible James Dyer was a farmer, but it seems more likely that he was a tradesman of some sort. My best lead is a Thomas Dyer of Purton, roughly the same generation as James, who apprenticed as a grocer in London. If they are related, perhaps there were enough well-to-do farmers and yeoman in Hullavington that wanted to enjoy the finer things in life like tea, that the Dyer family was able to supply them with the new consumer goods that were becoming fashionable.

St Mary the Virgin or St Mary Magdalene?

The church of St Mary in Hullavington. © Copyright Nick Smith, Creative Commons Licence.

James died in 1746; an administration bond survives but I have not examined it. My guess is that he died unexpectedly and had not made a will. If he was Martha’s age he was only in his twenties. Unfortunately, the bond is unlikely to provide much evidence about the scope of his property holdings, though I do suspect that he had some wealth to pass on to his children. While all my conclusions are somewhat speculative and based primarily on names alone, I think they are reasonably correct as small confirmations continue to appear.

In 1749 the widow Martha Dyer married William Stephens, a bachelor of Hullavington age 22, by license. The bondsman for the license was Harry Winckworth of Chippenham. Martha and William had at least two surviving children, Elizabeth (1756) and John (1759). If Martha was born as early as 1719, she would have been about 40 in 1759.

According to an index of Wiltshire wills, William Stephens was a chandler (candle-maker) and soap-boiler and died in 1780. There was a William Stephens who apprenticed as a tallow-chandler in Devizes in 1736, about twenty miles from Hullavington, though that William was from Devizes, most likely about four years older, and he probably remained in Devizes.

It seems reasonable that a daughter of Henry Horsell, a freeholder and cordwainer, would be the wife of a tradesman such as a chandler. There is also the common tie of working with animal-derived products: as a cordwainer Martha’s father Henry Horsell worked with leather, her husband William Stephens with tallow for making both candles and soap, and her brother-in-law John Wayt was a butcher. My picture of a business community with related interests has been reinforced by these details. For example, while all these individuals are merchants selling their products and masters of a craft, as yet none of them in this extended grouping are in unrelated professions such as carpentry or metal-working. The Horsells appear to have been cordwainers, and occasionally farmers, for many generations.

I have trouble imagining how a chandler might earn a living in a place as small as Hullavington around 1750, as I don’t have a good estimate for either the population, the number of very well-to-do families in the area that might be interested in the best quality goods, how many candles a prosperous household might use in a year, or how far householders might travel to obtain basic candles. I have to assume that unlike in frontier areas of the Americas, householders did not make their own candles and soap. In 1801, the population of Hullavington was 395; by 1870 there were 152 houses and 734 inhabitants so I think Hullavington was never a large community. Presumably William also worked as a soap-boiler as selling candles alone would not support the family.

1818 illustration of a tallow chandler producing candles from The Book of English Trades via Google Books.

1818 illustration of a tallow chandler producing candles from The Book of English Trades via Google Books.

I have not finished the attempt to trace Martha’s children; I have not yet found marriages for either of the Dyer children although it appears her son James was alive in 1780. Since I haven’t found a marriage for her daughter Elizabeth Stephens in Hullavington I may not be able to trace her without more clues since the name is so common. The good news is that the records show that Martha’s youngest child, John Stephens, married Eleanor Greenway by license in 1780 and the bondsman was his brother James Dyer. Unfortunately for his family, John was only 26 when he died, leaving two young children.

According to the Victoria County History, in 1989 about nine houses built in the 17th century on The Street in Hullavington still survived – I think there is a good chance that one of the houses is the one that was occupied by William and Martha. A house from that era would have been built from local ragstone and had a high gabled roof covered in slate. Based on tax records from 1841, Martha’s grandson John Stephens occupied a house on the east side of The Street, south of the modern Royal Field Court. When John died in 1851, he called himself a yeoman; the 1851 census was a little more prosaic and labeled him as a retired farmer.

Plot of John Stephen's property adjoining The Street in Hullavington.

In 1841 John Stephens owned and occupied #108 called “Stephen’s Close” and #109 named as “Homestead” in the tax records, as well as four other pastures and nine plots of arable land.

If I have correctly identified the location, there is a sturdy three-story gabled building with a slate roof in roughly the same position as the building in plot 109 on the map above. That it was Martha’s home, of course, depends on a number of assumptions relating to the ownership and inheritance of the property; on the other hand it gives a sense of what Martha’s home was like.The current building, which seems quite large to me with nine windows showing on the street side and eight windows on the southern face, may have had additions since Martha’s day. I’d like to think that the candle and soap making occurred in an outbuilding; even though the fire danger was lower in a stone building, the boiling tallow smell would have permeated the house. At this point, I’m not certain if James Dyer acquired the property and young William Stephens moved into the home his wife was holding for the Dyer heirs or if William had or later inherited his own home.

Around 1764 nearly every family in Hullavington lived on the main road, The Street, and worked their fields which lay outside the main built-up area; most of the tenure was copyhold, thus the family does not show up in the 1772 list of freeholders. The cluster of homes within a larger group of fields is not an unusual land-use pattern and grew out of the early practices in which landowners held a number of small parcels scattered over different types of land (including shared commons), lived close to their neighbors, and were thus able to own both pasture and crop-lands or perhaps graze a few animals even if they weren’t primarily farmers.

I think Martha grew up as and remained a member of the “middling classes,” and at least her grandson John Stephen also prospered. I don’t know how long she (or many of her sisters) lived so I don’t know how long she was able to enjoy her family or grandchildren.

It seems I’m back where I started – did Martha consider that she lived “very far” from her family? Did her parents see their grandchildren very often? Did she ever travel to visit her sisters Mary Bayley in Lydiard Millicent, Elizabeth Wayt in Swindon, Edith Packer in Purton, Ann Tidd in Wootton Bassett, or her brothers John, Bartholomew or Henry in Wootton Bassett?

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