Anne Coperthwaite – a family brick wall

West Horsley Place
Photo by Colin Smith via Wikimedia Commons

When you hit a brick wall with one of your ancestors it can be helpful to write down their story as if you are telling it to an interested family member. By recording the facts you do have, together with the sources for them, you can be sure of what you know, and by making clear where the blanks are it will help you decide where to look for the answers.

Here then is my current mystery – my four times great grandmother Anne Coperthwaite[1] who married Henry Weston in 1747 when she was nineteen and he was almost seventy.

I have written before about Henry’s adventurous sister Judith Weston who travelled to India in search of a husband. Their father John Weston of Ockham in Surrey had fallen on hard times, having become hugely indebted as a collector of taxes under Queen Anne, and been compelled to sell off the family estates in 1710. [2] Henry gradually rebuilt the family fortunes and inherited valuable legacies from his friends Sir William Perkins of Chertsey (died 1741), from his brother Matthew Perkins (died 1749), and from William Nicholas (died 1750).

So, when Henry married Anne he was already wealthy and soon to be much more so. He was described as being ‘of Chertsey’ on the marriage licence, which also indicated that Anne was marrying ‘with the Consent of John Brown her Guardian appointed by the High Court of Chancery’.[3] The licence recorded that Henry was aged fifty and upwards, but in fact he was probably baptised on 21 November 1678,[4] making him about sixty-nine – fifty years older than Anne!

There may be two possible explanations for the marriage – either Henry was marrying in order to acquire further estates, or he was marrying to protect Anne and her property (perhaps at the request of her natural father) since she could reasonably have been expected to outlive Henry and she or her children would then inherit all his estates. Both could of course have been possible, as could genuine affection between Anne and Henry.

So what do we know about Anne?

I have not found a record of her baptism but when her mother Jane Coperthwaite made her Will soon after Anne’s birth, and shortly before her own death in 1727, she ensured that her property and the lands she owned in Kent were protected for her daughter.[5] On the basis of Jane’s Will and the date of Anne’s marriage licence, I calculate that Anne was probably born between 26 March and 16 May 1727.

Although her burial record refers to her as Mrs Jane Coperthwaite it also records her as a spinster, so ‘Mrs’ was a courtesy title indicating her social and economic, rather than her marital, status. [6]  At the time Jane was probably thirty-nine as there is a baptism at St Andrew’s Holborn on 19 December 1687. Her father was John Coperthwaite and her mother Jane Brodnax. The Kentish property that Anne inherited had come to Jane through the Brodnax family of Godmersham (who, incidentally, were later connected to the family of Jane Austen, but that’s another story).

So Anne’s mother was independently relatively wealthy, and might have been more so for it appears that her uncle Matthew Coperthwaite, Gentleman of the parish of St James, Westminster, probably cut her out of his Will (written in February 1727) on hearing of her pregnancy. He left her ‘one shilling and no more in full satisfaction and Bar of all demands’, but left £500 a year to her only sister Elizabeth.

Perhaps it is on the basis of the legacy of West Horsley to Henry Weston, that it has been assumed that William Nicholas must have been the father of Jane Coperthwaite’s daughter Anne. However, the Will was not a random legacy to a friend, for William and Henry were distantly related by marriage and importantly the transfer of West Horsley was effectively a sale that funded the many legacies left by William to relatives, servants and charity.

Having no male heirs himself, William left various properties to the heirs of his grandfather Sir Edward Nicholas (1593-1669). This explains the inclusion of Sir John Abdy (also an executor) whose grandmother was a granddaughter of Sir Edward Nicholas. The Will left property at Winterbourne Gunner and Bishop Cummings to Sir John Abdy, and William’s London house at Old Spring Gardens in St Martin in the Fields, London to his Compton nephews and niece (children of his sister Penelope Nicholas).

In total a large number of cash legacies came to over £4,600 and it appears that this was mainly funded by the transfer of the West Horsley estate and house to Henry Weston in return for a payment of £4,000, (which was equivalent to an income value of about £10.5 million at 2020 values) [7]. Henry also received a gold cup and cover, a valuable personal bequest.

William’s executors were Sir John Abdy and Richard Turner a London physician who received £1,000 of Million Bank Stock (effectively lottery tickets).[8] The two executors were also the residuary legatees.

Typical of the network of associations of their social class, Henry Weston was not simply a friend or business associate of William Nicholas. His aunt Katherine Weston was the first wife of Sir Richard Heath whose grandson (another Richard Heath, whose son Nicholas received £1,000) married Bridget Nicholas, daughter of William’s brother John Nicholas.

I have found nothing to indicate how Jane Coperthwaite might have met William Nicholas, but she was buried at Weybridge which is only about 12 miles from West Horsley, and implies she was probably living in the area and so could have known both John and William Nicholas. Chertsey where Anne Coperthwaite and Henry Weston were both living in 1747 is even closer to Weybridge. Jane’s mother and sister were later buried in the Brodnax family vault at Godmersham although Elizabeth was living in the parish of St George the Martyr, Holborn when she wrote her Will in 1738 just over a year after the death of her mother.[9] [10]

I have not been able to find a Will for Anne Coperthwaite’s grandmother Jane, nor her grandfather John Coperthwaite. Both were involved in various legal disputes relating to issues of property and inheritance and hence may be assumed to have been well to do. Indeed, a John Coperthwaite, almost certainly this one, stood recognisance for William Hussey of Highworth who was indicted for murder in 1688 and convicted as an accessory, having been present at the fatal brawl. He was later reprieved, but ‘John Copperthwaite of St. Andrew’s Holborn gentleman’ was one of several who put up £500 as security before the trial. [11]

So having found out something about the protagonists in this mystery, we are left with a crucial unanswered question. As William Nicholas was unmarried and had no heir, why would he not have married Jane Coperthwaite on learning of her pregnancy, if he was indeed the father of her child?

Was there some unresolved and implacable family opposition relating to the sides taken by the two families during the Civil War? It’s not impossible.

On the other hand, might the father of Anne Coperthwaite have been William’s married brother John Nicholas (1663-1742) from whom William inherited West Horsley?

William Nicholas in his Will seems to have been tying up a lot of loose ends, perhaps the arrangement with Henry Weston after his marriage to Anne was just another attempt to do the right thing by the family.

This is not a mystery that is ever likely to be solved, but if it was not someone else entirely, on balance I would put my money on John, not William, Nicholas as the father of Anne Coperthwaite.

Sometimes in family history research you just have to accept there may be no answer to your brick wall question, but it’s always worth looking.

Sadly Anne died in childbirth after the birth of her second child Henry Perkins Weston and, incidentally, if you think you recognise the Nicholas/Weston property of West Horsley Place it has featured in a number of TV and film productions, notably the BBC comedy Ghosts.

[1] There are a great many variants of the name Coperthwaite, including Copperthwaite, Copperthwayte, Copperwait, Copperwite and Cowperthwaite.  Generally, the family seem to have favoured Coperthwaite.


[3] Faculty Office Marriage Licences. England., 20 March 1746/47. WESTON, Henry and COPPERTHWAYTE, Anne. Society of Genealogists, London.

[4] Baptisms (PR) England, All Saints, Ockham. 21 November 1678. WESTON, Henry. Ancestry Collection: Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812. Image No:17. : accessed 31 October 2017.

[5] Testamentary records. England., 11 July 1727. COPERTHWAITE, Jane. Will. Prerogative Court of Canterbury: Will Registers. PROB 11/616/214. The National Archives, Kew, England. : accessed 30 December 2022.

[6] Burials (PR) England, Weybridge, St James. 01 July 1727. COPERTHWAITE, Mrs Jane. Surrey Burials. 2384/1/2. : accessed 17 December 2022.

[7] Testamentary records. England., 10 August 1749. NICHOLAS, William. Will. Prerogative Court of Canterbury: Will Registers. PROB 11/776/158. The National Archives, Kew, England. accessed 17 January 2023. and

[8] Possibly Richard Woodroofe Turner, son of Daniel and Isabella Turner, baptised 12 November 1693 at St Ann Soho. This would suggest a possible relationship to the Heath family as the second wife of Sir Richard Heath was Lettice Woodroffe.

[9] Burials (PR) England, Godmersham, St Lawrence, Kent. 04 January 1736/37. COPERTHWAITE, Mrs Jane. Canterbury Cathedral Archives U3/117/1/2. : accessed 02 January 2023.

[10] Burials (PR) England, Godmersham, Kent. 27 March 1739. COPERTHWAITE, Elizabeth. Find My Past [Transcription]. England Deaths & Burials 1538-1991. : accessed 10 January 2023.

[11] British History Online [accessed 3 January 2023].

The Mystery of Eugénie Clayworth

The Pantiles, Tunbridge Wells c. 1895
Detroit Publishing Co.
under license from Photoglob Zürich, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

I first encountered Eugénie Clayworth as the beneficiary of the 1912 Will of Matilda Wright who died at the considerable age of ninety-three in a small hotel in Tunbridge Wells. [1] Although Matilda left £2,000 to her second cousin George Wright, along with some family silver, a gold crest and family miniatures, the bulk of her not inconsiderable estate was left to Eugénie. It amounted to about £9,800 – equivalent to an income value of over £5.5 million today.

My first reaction was that this ‘friend and companion’, who was considerably younger than Matilda, had perhaps been a gold digger, but this was dismissed when I discovered that when Eugénie herself died nearly a quarter of a century later in 1946, the net value of her estate was £13,495 12s 2d. Although the actual value of this had depreciated over time, it looks as if she had hardly dipped into the capital over the years. Of course, this does assume that she had no money of her own which may be incorrect as in the 1911 census she was shown as being of private means.[2]

The lives of Matilda and Eugénie conjure up visions of a Miss Marple world of genteel single women living out their lives in seaside hotels and spa towns, perhaps taking tea with the vicar using the monogrammed silver cutlery mentioned in Matilda’s Will.

Matilda’s earlier life is easy to trace apart from a gap between 1878 and 1911. She was the daughter of Henry Wright for many years the vicar of Winkleigh in Devon, who was in turn the son of a Derby Silk Merchant called John Wright who had died young at the family’s warehouse premises of 20 Milk Street, off Cheapside, London in 1792. [3]

Matilda was baptised by her father, who was the curate there, in Hartpury, Gloucestershire on 01 February 1819, the third of six children. [4] Matilda’s brother Henry John and both her parents were buried at Winkleigh between 1838 and 1856. [5] [6] [7] Her brother Frederic trained as a solicitor but died at Livorno, Italy on 20 January 1864, described in his newspaper death notice as ‘late of the 20th regiment’. [8]

A sister called Julia probably died young, and the three surviving sisters Harriet, Matilda and Jessie were staying in Matlock Bath at the time of the 1861 census when all were recorded as ‘Holder of Dividends’. [9] In 1864 shortly before the death of Frederic, Harriet, Matilda and Jessie were all staying with him in Livorno. It is possible they had travelled there knowing he was dying as his Will which mentions their presence was written on the 14 January and he died six days later.[10]

All Saints, Winkleigh.
Photograph by Chris Downer (Wikimedia Commons)

By the time of the 1871 census Harriet and Matilda were living at 21 Queens Road, Tunbridge in Kent, in a newly built house they had named Winkleigh Villa, together with two servants. [11] In 1878 Harriet was listed at Winkleigh Villa as one of the shareholders affected by the collapse of the West of England Bank, and they had left the Queens Road house before the 1881 census was taken. [12]

In 1887 a single woman called Matilda Wright living in Hastings was mentioned in a newspaper report as the victim of the theft of a gold watch, gold chain, locket, cross, seal and a black fur cape. [13] As Matilda’s Will mentioned a gold seal, and the presumed thief was apprehended and charged, this may have been her. No marriage or death records have been found for Jessie or Harriet Wright who don’t appear to have been buried at Winkleigh, so the last sighting I have found for Jessie was 1864 and for Harriet in 1878.

It is plausible to suggest that, following the sale of Winkleigh Villa, forced by the loss of some of their investment income, Harriet and Matilda moved from one boarding house and small hotel to another perhaps also travelling abroad, until Matilda ended up at 7 Vale Royal in Tunbridge at the time of the 1911 census when she is finally visible once more. Perhaps the loss of her dividend income may account for why Harriet appears not to have left a Will, although, since I have no definite date of death for her, this remains uncertain.

In any case by 1911 Matilda, now aged ninety-two, was living at 57 London Road Tonbridge Wells in a boarding house run by Elizabeth Parks and Alice Heasman. One other single woman, and an architect, his wife and adopted daughter shared the house with two maid attendants, a general servant and Eugénie  Clayworth – ‘Lady Companion’ living on private means.

Matilda died on 23 May 1912 and her body was taken to Winkleigh for burial on the 29th. [14]

What intrigued me about Eugénie , apart from her ultimate inheritance from Matilda, was that she was born in St Petersburg, Russia. This caught my attention because the silk merchant Wright family had long-standing Russian connections. Matilda’s great uncle Thomas Wright spent many years in St Petersburg where he married Natalia Feodorovna Bertoojef in 1809 and nine of their ten children were born there. Her great uncle Job had extensive trading connections there, as did Thomas’s son Thomas Wendt Wright three of whose children were born there. The name Natalia occurs a number of times in the family throughout the nineteenth century.

St Petersburg at sunset 1850
by Alexey Bogolubov (Wikimedia Commons)

According to the 1939 Register, Eugénie was born on the 23 May 1862, and according to several census records this was in St Petersburg, Russia. Eugénie first appears in British records in the 1881 Scottish census when she was in Glasgow, recorded as nineteen year old visitor in the household of a manufacturing chemist called Matthew Brown, and listed as a British subject born in Russia. [15] Ten years later she was listed as a visitor in Edinburgh working as a teacher of languages, born in Russia but with no mention of her citizenship.

Then in 1899, while resident in Scarborough, Yorkshire, she applied for naturalisation as a British citizen. In her application she gave her age as thirty-seven, her place of birth at St Petersburg but ‘the names and nationalities of her parents are unknown to her’.[16]

It is possible that Eugénie really did not know who her parents were, but it is also possible that she did, but was illegitimate and preferred to conceal the fact. At around the time of her birth there was a Clayworth family in St Petersburg – Thomas Clayworth had several children born there including a son called Joseph, listed in the 1851 England census as an Apprentice Engineer at Greenwich who was a British Subject born in Russia. [17] He died in 1868 with probate on his estate not being granted until 1892. Could he have been Eugénie ’s father?

We will never know. Nor do I know how she acquired an education and sufficient money to travel to Scotland as a teenager and carve her own path in life as a teacher and genteel companion.

Eugenie’s elegant signature

Perhaps it was the Russian connection that led Matilda to employ her, or perhaps it was pure co-incidence. I have found no suggestion that she might have been a blood relation. Nevertheless, when Eugénie died, just after the Second World War at the age of eighty-three, she was still very well off. Her estate of £13,865 3s 0d would be equivalent to an income value of about £2.2 million today. [18]

We don’t know how long Eugénie had been with Matilda, but she had clearly developed a fondness for Matilda’s family home of Winkleigh. After payment of a number of small personal legacies to other occupants of the various hotels she had lived in, Eugénie left the bulk of her estate to be sold by the Public Trustee to create ‘The Wright Fund’ for the parish of Winkleigh to acquire, provide and equip Reading and Recreation Rooms and for repairs to Wright family graves. Money was also left for coal to be purchased and awarded on 10 January each year by the vicar of Winkleigh to deserving cases in memory of Matilda Wright.

Winkleigh Village Hall
Photograph by Chris Downer (Wikimedia Commons)

Perhaps someone with access to records in St Petersburg and its considerably British community will be able to find out more about Eugénie and her early life, meanwhile she must remain a mystery.

[1] Testamentary records. England, Principal Probate Registry. 01 July 1912. WRIGHT, Matilda. Will. Copy provided by the Probate Search Service.

[2] Census. 1911. England, RD: Tonbridge. 57 London Road Tunbridge Wells. Ref: RG14PN4050 RG78PN156 RD50 SD1 ED11 SN338. : accessed 13 November 2021.

[3] Burials (PR) England, St Lawrence Jewry, City of London. 15 May 1792. WRIGHT, John. Ancestry Collection:  London, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812. City of London. St Lawrence Jewry. 1716-1812. Image No: 152. : accessed 16 September 2021.

[4] Baptisms (PR) England, Hartpury, Gloucestershire. 01 February 1819. WRIGHT, Matilda. Ancestry Collection: Gloucestershire, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1913. Hartpury. 1813-1842. Image No: 15. : accessed 16 November 2021.

[5] Burials (PR) England, Winkleigh, Devon. 28 July 1838. WRIGHT, Henry John. Find My Past Collection: Devon Burials. South West Heritage Trust Ref: 2989A/PR/1/13. : accessed 13 November 2021.

[6] Burials (PR) England, Winkleigh, Devon. 10 April 1847. WRIGHT,Matilda. Find My Past Collection: Devon Burials. South West Heritage Trust Ref: 2989A/PR/1/13. : accessed 16 November 2021.

[7] Burials (PR) England, Winkleigh, Devon. 17 April 1856. WRIGHT, Henry. Find My Past Collection: Devon Burials. South West Heritage Trust Ref: 2989A/PR/1/13. : accessed 16 November 2021.

[8] Death Announcements, 1864.  Exeter Flying Post – Wednesday 27 January 1864. Wright, Frederic. : accessed 05 November 2021.

[9] Census. 1861. England, RD: Bakewell. Ref: RG09. PN: 2542. f.22. p.10. : accessed 16 November 2021.

[10] Testamentary records. England, Principal Probate Registry. 10 February 1864. WRIGHT, Frederic. Will. Copy provided by the Probate Search Service.

[11] Census. 1871. England, RD: Tonbridge. Ref: RG10. PN: 930. f. 144. p.10. : accessed 16 November 2021.

[12] Star of Gwent – Friday 15 February 1878. : accessed 16 November 2021.

[13] Hastings and St Leonards Observer – Saturday 21 April. p.7. Larceny. : accessed 16 November 2021.

[14] Burials (PR) England, Winkleigh, Devon. 29 May 1912. WRIGHT, Matilda. Find My Past Collection: Devon Burials. South West Heritage Trust Ref: 2989A/PR/1/14. : accessed 16 November 2021.

[15] Census. 1881. Scotland, RD: Dennistoun. 33 Roslea Drive. 644/3 39/ 15. : accessed 16 November 2021.

[16] The National Archives (Great Britain) 1899, Scarborough, Yorkshire. 30 November 1899. CLAYWORTH, Eugenia. Ancestry Collection: Duplicate Certificates of Naturalisation, Declarations of British Nationality, and Declarations of Alienage; Class: HO 334; Piece 029: Certificate Numbers A10901 – A11300. : accessed 05 November 2021.

[17] Census. 1851. England, RD: Greenwich. Ref: HO107. PN: 1586. f.258. p. 47. : accessed 16 November 2021.

[18] Testamentary records. England, Principal Probate Registry. 10 August 1946. CLAYWORTH, Eugenie. Will. Copy provided by the Probate Search Service.

A Christmas Tragedy

On Saturday the 28th of December 1907 several national newspapers carried a letter from George H. Gibson, Surveyor and Inspector to the Radstock Urban District Council in Somerset, telling of a Christmas tragedy at the hamlet of Foxcote (shown below from the six inch Ordnance Survey map for 1885 courtesy of the National Library of Scotland) .[1]

Taking five of his eleven children for a walk on Boxing Day, Gibson came across a thatched cottage where during the previous few days three children in one family had died of diphtheria. According to Gibson the family had only recently moved to Foxcote, and but for his intervention the children’s father would have had to bury his children unaided. Gibson clearly thought that the poor condition of the cottage, bad drains and a suspect water supply were responsible for the deaths and went into action with a public appeal for aid for the family.

I found this account because I had been asked to investigate a tombstone in Foxcote churchyard which had puzzled the viewers. Because of the current pandemic they were not able to return to photograph it, but they had given me enough information to uncover the sad story of the Short family, and to explain the puzzling references on the tombstone to its having been funded by donations from far afield.

Diphtheria is fortunately rare now, thanks to vaccination, although outbreaks do occur when vaccination is reduced, such as after the fall of the Soviet Union. It is a droplet borne bacterial disease and quite simply causes a horrible death by suffocation when a foul smelling pseudo-membrane closes the throat. No wonder it was often known as a ‘putrid sore throat’. Moreover the illness can release a toxin into the system of the sufferer. Readers of the Little House on the Prairie books may remember that Laura Ingalls Wilder and her husband both contracted diphtheria as adults and that he suffered life-long after effects, having gone back to work too soon. An anti-toxin was developed in the early 1890s, and in 1925, in an heroic mid-winter effort, the ‘Great Serum Run’ by dog sled to Nome, Alaska, saved many lives threatened by a diphtheria epidemic.

Following the publication of George Gibson’s letter a generous public came forward with donations for the family, headlined by the London Daily News as ‘Readers Save the Situation’. In total over £25 was raised, equivalent to average wages of about £9,630 now, and the charitable Mr Gibson telegraphed the newspaper to say that he intended to deliver blankets, bedclothes, nightdresses and ‘other necessaries’ and to obtain the services of a trained nurse for the remaining children to give their mother some relief.

One consequence of all this generosity  was the eventual erection of the tombstone to commemorate Gilbert George Short aged ten, and his sisters Lilian Maud aged seven and little Sarah May aged twenty-one months.

A further result was a considerable local row, expressed through the columns of local newspapers, as the authorities sought to deny any suggestion the family had been without help.

Part of the problem was that Frome Rural District Council did not have an isolation hospital, which would normally have been the destination for patients from Foxcote requiring quarantine and nursing. Moreover the cottage which had only two downstairs rooms and two interconnected bedrooms upstairs was unsuitable for billeting a nurse.

The ensuing furore involving the Local Board of Guardians (responsible for poor relief) and the Frome Rural District Council was described by The Somerset Standard. On 3rd January it reported that a ‘want of kindness’ towards the Short family had been firmly denied.[2] In fact the cottage, which was isolated and about 800 feet from the nearest other building, had been recently renovated. The farmer, John Edgell, had paid the children’s father George Short a week’s wages of fourteen shillings to help the family and had told him to ask for anything he needed. The Board of Guardians had supplied mutton and milk to the family before it was realised the children were suffering from diphtheria. The local vicar had sent beef tea and brandy, and Mr Edgell sent eggs and milk, while the Frome District Council Inspector had paid the children’s mother Lucy Short fourteen shillings to act as nurse. A local woman had offered to assist in nursing the children, but Lucy Short had declined her help, later agreeing to a qualified daily nurse who was billeted at Writhlington.

There was clearly a great deal of resentment that the Radstock Inspector, George Gibson, had suggested the authorities were delinquent in their duties. The critics expressed themselves astonished that a father of eleven children should have risked entering a house with diphtheria cases, and also heavily criticised his remarks about the drains and the water supply which had in fact been inspected and were in good order.

“There is too much writing to the papers by people who do not trouble to verify the facts”, said the Chairman of the Frome Rural District Council.

They agreed to send a stiff letter to Mr Gibson and the Chairman was recorded as saying, “I should like myself to have told Mr Gibson to mind his own business” ! The affair rumbled on into February and a further meeting of the Frome Rural District Council, by which time the other two Short children who had become ill had recovered.

And who were the Short family?

Lucy Jane Mogg, from Cossington in Somerset, had married George Short, from West Kington in Wiltshire, in 1891, when she was seventeen and apparently already pregnant with their first child. By 1907 she had had nine children, and until the diphtheria outbreak had lost only one, a girl called Clara May born in 1904 who died in 1905. The first three children – Beatrice Ellen (1891), Annie Dorothy (1894) and Hilda Hester (1895) – were born at Cossington; Gilbert George (1897) at Puriton; Alice Mabel (1898) at Woolavington; Lilian Maud (1900) at Yatton, and Francis Charles (1902) at Claverham. Clara May’s birth was registered at Clutton in 1904 while Sarah May was registered at Frome in 1906. In other words Lucy Jane had nine children between 1891 and 1906 by which time she was still only twenty-eight! Moreover the uncertainty of agricultural employment had seen them move house a number of times during this period.

You might have thought this was the end of the Short family story, but subsequently Olive Gertrude was born in 1910, Harold John (who may have been her twin) died before the census in 1911; Millicent Margorie (sic) was born in 1912; Lucy May was born and died in 1914; Lilian Alexandria was born in 1915 and Joyce Kathleen in 1919 when their mother was about forty-six. Lucy Jane had had fifteen children in twenty-eight years. Nine lived to grow up, marry and have children of their own.

The Short family settled for good in Foxcote where George Short was employed as a waggoner on the farm, and several were still there or nearby when the 1939 Register was compiled.

George Short died in 1950 aged eighty, and was buried at Foxcote. Lucy Jane joined him in 1966 at the great age of ninety.[3]

[1] A Christmas Tragedy. London Daily News. Saturday 28 December 1907. : accessed 01 April 2020.

[2] Distressing Occurrence at Foxcote. Somerset Standard. Friday 03 January 1908. 7a. : accessed 02 April 2020.

[3] I would normally send for birth and death certificates to confirm these dates, but during the current pandemic the General Register Office have asked that ordering is delayed for now.

Death on the railway

At a visit to St Michael’s church, Kirk Langley, in Derbyshire, I was intrigued by this sad memorial.

The Meynell family are well known in the area, having held land there since the reign of Henry I, and the church is full of their memorials. But what was the story behind the death of John Meynell?

According to the Leeds Intelligencer of the 24th May, John Meynell was travelling home with his wife on the London to Leeds train, which normally left London at 5pm.[1] The train was fifteen minutes late arriving at Derby, and it then stopped at Duffield, Belper, Ambergate and Wingfield. The stops at Duffield and Wingfield were unscheduled as technically the stations were already closed, and this caused a further delay. The train travelled through the Clay Cross tunnel at about 25 mph on an uphill stretch of line. Just after passing through Clay Cross station at the northern end of the tunnel the driver, John Sheldon, heard a noise and decided to stop the train (which took 200 yards to accomplish), telling the fireman, ‘Hold on! There’s something wrong here’.

Sheldon got down from the engine and diagnosed a broken pump rod, by which time the guard had walked from the rear of the train to find out what was wrong, and one or two passengers were looking out to find out why the train had stopped. The train crew all knew that there would be a goods train following the express, but it was not due at Chesterfield until fifty minutes after the passenger train. The express was due at Clay Cross at 9:41, and the ‘luggage train’ not until 10:31.

John Sheldon did not have any kind of watch or timepiece and usually calculated station arrival times according to experience and the speed they were doing, which usually averaged 30 mph.

The Clay Cross tunnel is 1,784-yard (1,631 m) long and there were signalmen at either end whose job it was to telegraph when a train had passed the signal box and to set the signals accordingly. There is a curve on the line after the tunnel at the northern end that meant the driver of the goods train had very little time to react to any signal as he emerged from the tunnel. Normal operating rules following an unscheduled stop would have led the guard of the passenger train to walk back down the line and set the nearest previous signal to danger, or to get the signalman to do so. However there was no-one on duty at night at Clay Cross station, nor enough time for the guard to walk back several hundred yards in the dark to set the signal himself before the driver called out that the problem was already fixed.

It had taken only a matter of four or five minutes for Sheldon to fix the problem, but as he was finishing and calling to the fireman to help pack up the tools and put them back in the tender, the fireman shouted ‘Jack, there is something coming into us’!

In the dark he could see the glow from the firebox of the approaching train. As Sheldon was hastily climbing back onto the engine and it was starting to move the following train crashed into the rear of the passenger express.

The heavy engine of the goods train smashed into the rear three carriages of the passenger train converting them instantly into matchwood. The first class carriage where the Meynells were sitting was at the rear of the train, and John Meynell, who had been looking out of the carriage window to see why the train had stopped, was thrown out onto his face and his legs were run over by the carriage wheels. He died instantly.

Several other passengers suffered severe injuries. A Mr Blake, a file manufacturer from Sheffield, died shortly afterwards while being taken to Chesterfield. John Todhunter of Dublin had fractures of both legs, and his brother Joshua was also injured; the Rev. Dawson Dane Hather had a severely injured ankle. An American called Tennant was travelling with his wife who suffered a badly fractured upper femur. Mr Fox, a wine and spirit merchant, had a lucky escape. He had been sitting between Mr Blake and John Todhunter, but although he was thrown out of the carriage he only suffered bruised knees and severe shock. Most of the other passengers sustained some form of injury.

Word was immediately sent to Chesterfield and doctors and other assistance arrived quite quickly. The news was also telegraphed to Derby and a special train was immediately sent to Clay Cross containing various officials of the Midland Railway company. Mr Rickman, one of the company directors, was sent to Langley Hall to alert John Meynell’s father, Godfrey, to the accident. Another special train then carried three of the company directors, Godfrey Meynell and Miss Meynell to the site of the accident.

John Meynell was buried at Kirk Langley on May 27th. [2] It is not clear whether his wife Sarah had recovered sufficiently to attend the funeral, since newspaper reports mentioned that she had also been injured. The couple had been married for less than nine years and already had six children, the eldest just seven and the youngest of whom, Francis William, had been baptised only two weeks before the accident.[3] He would grow up to become vicar of Stapenhill.

The now widowed Sarah Brooks Meynell was the daughter of Dr William Brooks Johnson of Coxbench Hall (c.1763-1830) who had been noted for carrying a message of support from Derby to Paris, along with Henry Redhead Yorke in the early days of the French Revolution. Her twin sister, and only sibling, Eleanor Franceys Johnson had died of consumption in 1842, and their mother a year later, leaving Sarah Brooks Meynell as heir to Coxbench Hall among other property.[4] [5] Ultimately she clearly made a good recovery from her injuries since she lived until 1890, dying on 18 December aged seventy-four.[6]

The only response of the railway company to the accident was to forbid train drivers from making unscheduled stops to set passengers down at closed stations.

[1] Leeds Intelligencer. (1851) Dreadful Accident on the Midland Railway. Leeds Intelligencer. 24 May 1851. p.8a. : accessed 26 June 2017.

[2] Burials (PR) England., Kirk Langley, Derbyshire. 27 May 1851. MEYNELL, John. Ancestry. Collection: Derbyshire, England, Church of England Burials, 1813-1991. : accessed 18 October 2017.

[3] Baptisms (PR) England, Brimington, Derbyshire. 04 May 1851. MEYNELL, Francis William. Ancestry. Collection: England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975. : accessed 18 October 2017.

[4] Deaths (CR) England., Holbrook, Derbyshire. RD: Belper. 1st Qtr 1842. JOHNSON, Eleanor Franceys. Vol. 19. p.350. No.477.

[5] Derbyshire Courier (1843), Derbyshire Courier. Saturday 04 February 1843. p.3f. : accessed 19 October 2017.

[6] Testamentary records. England. 16 February 1891. MEYNELL, Sarah Brooks. Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the grants of probate. p. 301. Collection: England & Wales, National Probate Calendar, 1858-1966. : accessed 19 October 2017.

In search of a Husband – Judith Weston’s Journal

Fort William, Calcutta in 1754 by Jan van Ryne

Sometimes we are lucky enough to find that kind of genealogical gold, which illuminates the lives of our ancestors and brings to life those lists of baptisms, marriages and burials.

Judith Weston’s Journal of her voyage to India rests now at the British Library for anyone to read, although at the time she wrote simply for friends and family. It appears that some of the manuscript is missing, nevertheless Judith’s intrepid character shines through – and yes she did find a husband.

In December 1727 Judith was twenty-six years old and the youngest daughter of John Weston of Ockham in Surrey. The Weston family had been in Sussex and Surrey since the days of William the Conqueror, but John Weston, who had been a Receiver of Taxes under Queen Anne, left the estate greatly impoverished and in 1710 he sold it, dying a few years later. Judith, who was one of nine surviving children, probably had very little by way of a marriage portion but made up for it by her spirit of adventure. Her brother William was already in India, a junior merchant of the East India Company.

Two other young women, Elizabeth and Mary Russell, travelled out with Judith, also in search of husbands, along with two unnamed women.

In the following extracts I have sometimes added punctuation to aid reading, but have left Judith’s spelling unchanged.

Judith was lucky that she was a very good sailor unlike some of her companions.

10th de[cembe]r.

In the Year 1727 I left the Downs in the Ship Stretham Capn. Westcot Commander for Fort William in Bengall. There was four women passengers besides my self we had not sailed twelve hours before a contrary wind & High Sea obliged us to turn Back when by the next night we reached Falmouth. It was hazey dark & as a rock lyes in that harbour we were forced to send a Lanthorn with a Boat & the Rock that we might steer clear …We stayed at Falmouth ten days where I saw nothing remarkable, the Wind coming favourable we with great Joy went aboard at Noon & made all the sail we could for the Bay of Biscay. Our ship was surrounded with a number of Porpoises wch in the Sea appear like Black hogs. Contrary & various Winds Continual Storm & of consequence Mountainous seas were our fate.

For three weeks in wch time extream sickness was suffered by all the women except myself wch was naturally following consequence of their sickness was extream fear wch was increased by the frequent Loss of small masts, which Bustle naturally shocking justly alarmed freshwater sailors. For one fortnight we never pulled off our cloths or Lay in a Bed. We could neither sit Lye or stand one Minute in a place.

The chief difficulty to me was to satisfy Hunger for as the sea air agreed perfectly with me I had a constant appetite & while my companions were groaning with Sickness & calling for proper Utensils I was striving to get to a Hamper in wch was a fine cold Buttock of Beef wch the Capn had placed there for our relief till the Weather would admit of a regular meal.

After many efforts & no other purpose than many a roll back again I at last attained the desired hamper wch was lashed to the Ground, the difficulty now was how to keep my hold & yet cut sufficient to satisfy my hunger. Here two pair of hands would have been of wonderfull service but I made my knees act their parts by pressing them as hard as I could into the matt while with all my might I held the Hamper with one Hand & cut with the other till I was weary. A delicious repast it was & was well washed down with some warm Flip wch as the weather was wet & cold was not disagreeable.

…At three weeks end it pleased God to favour us with a steady Gale wch calmed the sea restored my sinking companions & enabled us to clean our persons & comfortably to enjoy plentyful meals & tolerable Quiet nights. In the midst of our solacing a sail was observed astern wch as we were in a Pirate Sea alarmed the Capn who ordered our forad lights immediately to be put up that no light from us might guide the other …

Early in the morning we fortunately got into the open sea wch no sooner was accomplished but a violent Gale right in to the Cape Sprung up wch lasted a whole fortnight & we heard afterwards three Dutch Ships were lost there at that time. Our Capn often declared He would not have been then at the Cape for any consideration. Here a new Scene ensued for we were so used to peace and Plenty in the Trade Wind that the Bay of Biscay was in a manner forgot. The Cape Sea is remarkable in Bad weather for Higth & Violence. My companions suffered so much that twould appear ridiculous to endeavour to describe it the Eldest Miss Russel with extream reaching broke some vessel in the Her Stomach whc was the cause of Her death tho three year after.

Eventually the coast of India was in sight.

….The nearer you are to Land the more anxious you are to get Sight of it & every League seems ten wch made us Tease our Capn Every hour to know how long & would be before we were to be set at liberty, wch He bore with great civility and good Nature. By break of day we were told Land was near – all hands up in a Minute & to the Belconie we fled but was some hours before we could be sensible of anything but a dark cloud – wch [illegible] till we could perceive Trees.

…About one a clock we moored about two mile from the Factory when we all prepared for going ashore wch our Capn was against our doing till evening, but being a much better sailor than a proper Judge of Land customs he submitted to our request & ordered Boats & Cattamarans to attend us for by this time we had plenty of all sorts round the ship. The Boats are extraordinary in their kind being Built so high you can but just look over when you stand upright, sewed together with cokar bark of cokar trees & made thin enough to ply & twist with the waves or they would be overset in a high surfe.

Just before we were ready to go ashore Mr Stratten, my Brother’s attorney, came aboard to carry me ashore in the evening – but we were too eager to be gone to regard his advice as he only seemed to fear the heat of the weather. Here we wanted our Comodore who would have told us how much we should alarm the Town by going at so improper a time of day, as it is the General Custom in the East to go to bed as soon as dinner is over & not to appear till the cool of the Evening. No sooner were we in our Boats (for not above two could go together) but our Capn. complimented us with a salute of nine guns wch caused great confusion ashore – they soon guessed at our Captns mistake & all hurryed to see the new Ladys land.

Much to her surprise Judith was immediately commanded to visit the Governor

 …The nearer we came to the Govrs the more my heart fluttered – sometimes I was ready to cry & as often laugh. The sight of the Govrs Guard & larger attendance made me shake – but as we entered the Gate I plucked up my courage & was resolved He should not perceive the least fear.

The Governor was seated in a Large Hall & when He had saluted me He asked me (I thought in a Gruff manner) for the Letters I had brought Him. Letters said I – yes Letters He says I mean letters of recommendation that your friends no doubt in England have wrote to me of you – recommendation thinks I, what does he take me for a servant, what does He mean by that, but with a humble curtsie I assured Him I had none at wch He laught & turned my ignorant friends justly into ridicule, for were I to send out a young woman experience has taught me that she ought to have a letter from proper people to every Govr instead of which they generally are loaded with ridiculous ones to private persons who are very unfit to serve them I mean Bachelors. I will leave anyone to judge how these letters of recommendation are received by men Given up to business & pleasure without of visible woman belonging to them.

I took the Govrs treatment in High dugeon & was determined to be on my guard but as he had lost his Limbs with the Gout I could not conceive what it was I had to fear tho overwhelmed with it …

I thought I was got to an odd market but was determined I would make the best I could of it but could not well relish the merchandile way of disposing of goods. When I least expected it the Govr asked me if I knew How He came to ask me to be with him. I told Him I was at a loss to Guess.

It turned out the Governor had simply wanted to assist Judith in finding decent accommodation since there were none of the respectable inns she had expected to find.

An English reader may imagine me very conceited to feel any uneasyness at being distinguished in so extraordinary a manner – but as I was at an extraordinary distance in an extraordinary country remarkable for Levity & Seraglioes had had a thousand misrepresentations in England of the Scarcity of White women etc pray who can wonder at my jealousies & feeling I cannot tell how till I was fully informed of the reason of my being so honoured. I slept better than could be expected – was summoned to breakfast at seven – I found the Gvr agreeably situated in a Virando toward the Garden. He received me very civily & told me He had just heard the Miss Russels were obliged to Lye in a Punch House wch He was very sorry for & wondered that their cousin’s attorney had not taken more care of them that as their father had been Govr of Fort Wm had not wrote to Him He thought he had nothing to do with them but that if they were had provided by right He would endeavour to accommodate them. He said He had invited all the new Ladys of many of the Factory to dinner & that we were to have a Ball at night. All my difficultys were over & I was merry at heart.

The women found the Governor’s manners very uncouth, but Judith decided the only thing to do was to stand up to him.

The Govr who had more Wit than Manners attacked us strongly at dinner. I observed the eldest Miss Russel through sickness misfortunes & natural modesty was incapable of answering Him – that she was ready to sink – while he was putting us all to sale like a Hog merchant – the whole company was silently gratified for there is a vast deference paid to Govrs. I found the only way to stop His Honours mouth was to Joyne with him & as I was within a weeks Voyage of my Brother cared for no one.

The Govr had stated our case in a very melancholy Manner as that there was no men likely to marry worth having, that we were all bound for the Bay but that He feared we should be baulked there for that we were but coarser goods but he would do his utmost to get some of us off that Madrass. I looked very [illegible] & told Him that I was very sorry to hear so bad an account, that it was hard to come so far for nothing but desired to know what His Honour thought of putting us up at outcry next day. The Govr took it very merryly & from that time never attacked us.

After two weeks being entertained by the Governor, Judith set off again to join her brother, despite the Governor’s attempts to marry her off at once!

The Govr … found it was not in his power to settle me then to advantage therefore proposed sending me to Visacapatam to Mr Davies who was chief of a factory then dependent on Fort St George. Mr Davies had long given him commission to Consign a Lady to Him. The Govr proposed this strongly to me – I as strongly opposed it. On serious subject no man could reason better – but I could not relish being tossed about like a bale of goods & as I was so near my Brother was resolute not to dispose of myself till I had seen Him.

…. The Govr told me He feared I should repent but wished me well & after twelve days our whole cargoe packed off undisposed of – a sure Instance of the market being over stocked..

Judith Weston found herself a husband in Calcutta, and although it is not clear exactly when or how she met John Fullerton, they were married there on 16 August 1728. The Miss Russells also found husbands. Elizabeth married Samuel Greenhill on the 18th of  September 1728, and her sister Mary married Josiah Holmes on the 13th of November 1728.

Judith and John Fullerton remained in India for several years while he built up a small fortune. In the summer of 1732 they decided to travel back to England and as Judith was already pregnant she went on ahead. Their son John was born on board ship while she was still three weeks out from England, and John Fullerton himself was delayed in reaching home when the ship he was travelling on lost several masts, he eventually arrived back in England in August where the couple remained for the rest of their lives.

Judith’s Journal is with the Fullerton papers at the British Library.

Mss Eur B162. WESTON (Judith )
Account by Judith Weston, later Mrs John Fullerton, of a voyage to Madras in the East Indiaman `Stretham’ under Capt George Westcott, East India Company commander 1720-47, to join her brother William Weston.  14 folios 1727 – 1727.

Welcome to the Quandary Genealogy Blog

Welcome to the Quandary Genealogy blog. A place for occasional articles about genealogy and family history.

I am extremely lucky that my mother’s family were interested in their origins, and my grandmother’s aunts had recorded what they knew. This gave me a great start when deciding to research my family history.

When I did so I was also very glad that, as a teenager, I had asked my father about his family and the names of his more than fifty cousins. By the time I came to do my research he was no longer able to remember them.

It is by no means impossible to research your family without being given such a head start, but it does help!

The picture above shows my great aunt Phoebe in her mother’s pony cart, out demonstrating for women’s suffrage before the First World War, with the full approval of her mother.