These last few months I’ve been tracking down great grandparents and have gathered rather more than are manageable. But one family line, the (Derbyshire) Bennetts of Eyam, Grindlow and Bradwell has yielded treasure. I’ve recently found two seventeenth century wills, of father and daughter, written 45 years apart. First was the discovery (on a well-known genealogy website) of the will of 11th great grandfather William Bennett, farmer of Gotherage (also Gotheridge and Godriche), a remote tenant farm between Eyam and Abney. It was written in 1620 – four hundred and one years ago – and on the 20th May, as in yesterday when I began writing this post.
William says he is ‘sick in body but of good and perfect remembrance’; it is time, then, to share out his worldly goods. As in all wills of this era, the most pressing provision concerns the afterlife and so he begins by bequeathing his soul to ‘Almighty God my maker and redeemer,’ and requesting that his mortal remains be buried in Eyam parish churchyard. There is nothing here to indicate his age, but the bequests show that one son and two daughters are married and have children of their own. Other sons, George and Francis, are apparently still at Gotherage, as is their sister Joan. All of William’s offspring appear to be adults since there are no coming-of-age conditions attached to bequests. And so, given that the usual marrying age was 21 (often older for men), it is likely that William was between 50 and 60 years old.
The opening lines of William Bennett’s will 20th May 1620
Having settled spiritual matters, William’s next thought is of his daughter Joan. There is every suggestion that she has refused to be married, and he seems anxious to ensure her well being. I could of course be reading this wrongly, but it strikes me as enlightened: for the next few centuries spinsters tended to be considered family burdens and therefore status-less. Here, it seems, is a father bequeathing freedom to a daughter to do as she likes.
And so he writes:
I give and bequeath unto Jone Bennet my daughter £20 * and a bed, to be maintained with sufficient meat drink lodging and apparel so long as she pleaseth to stay at Goderiche and if it please her to depart and go away from there then she shall have her portion paid her by my executors to do with it as pleaseth her going been against marriage before.
[* around £3,000 in modern monetary values]
The rest of the will comprises bequests to sons and sons-in-law, and a lamb to each of his grandchildren. Eldest son William receives 20 shillings (a month’s wages), son-in-law Thomas Furness 10 shillings. George however is to have £33 in lieu of the fact that his brother Francis has been managing the farm for his own use.
Finally, all William’s goods, catells and chattels are to be shared equally between his wife Ann (we hear nothing else about her) and sons Francis and George.
The will then concludes with monies owed to him by local householders in Eyam, Grindlow and Abney. It amounts to over £63, which is a tidy sum in 1620. In fact the National Archives currency converter says this was equivalent to more than £8,000, or a skilled tradesman’s wages for 1260 days.
Sums owed to William Bennett
There is no clue as to what services William was rendering. It seems unlikely that these were all unpaid bills for farm produce since most of the people here were likely to be fellow farmers, at least in some capacity. And while the probate inventory sets William’s worth in goods and livestock at £133 19 shillings (£17,500), the contents suggest a fairly modest farming enterprise. My one notion is that he had a side-line in transporting lead ore to local smelting points in the area, one likely spot being due east of his farm, at Bole Hill, a name that historically signifies lead smelting.
High Peak farmers, of necessity, had many strings to their livelihood bow. Many combined farming and lead prospecting. The latter was a dangerous enterprise, but the lead miner’s freedoms associated with the King’s Field of lead deposits were well worth having. They included free timber from landowners’ woodland, free access to and over other people’s land while extracting ore, and the right to freely graze their animals on common land. In return, they paid ‘lot’ to the monarch, a 13th portion of their gains, and a tenth part tithe to the church, all overseen by the Barmaster and jurors of the Barmote Courts who were themselves lead miners.
Here’s another view of the barn ruins, this time looking north towards Highlow and Hathersage
And more general views, the first taken by Jonathan Clitheroe higher up the hillside above Gotherage Plantation and well above the barn ruins:
And this next Neil Theasby view which is taken beside Gotherage Plantation and looking across Bretton Clough to Abney Barn. On the horizon, left of centre, you can just make out the scarred ‘face’ of Mam Tor below which were extensive lead mining operations in the 17th and 18th centuries (Odin Mine):
A challenging landscape, however you look at it.
I have found the location of Gotherage Barn on an 1879 Ordnance Survey map. You can see farm fields much as they would have been delineated on the original estate tithe and rent book maps. The blue ribbon marks the barn remains, but there is no sign of the house where the Bennetts lived, though the presence of a natural spring below the barn might suggest it would not have been far away. You can see Bole Hill due east of the barn. A trip to Derbyshire Record Office and a sight of the Highlow estate rent books would doubtless reveal more, but that will have to wait. I’m also relying here on landscape photos taken by the lovely people who post their work on www.geograph.org.uk and allow reuse under Creative Commons licencing. They also add map references and all manner of locational assistance. What stars.
The header photo by Neil Theasby, I’m pretty sure, shows a corner of Gotherage Barn, a building that is probably c1800s in date, and beyond it, across Bretton Clough, the Oaks Farm where there are other ancestral links, having been occupied by members of three separate family lines: Foxes in 1660, Bennets in the early 1700s, and 4th great grandfather, Robert Jackson the hatter in the 1850s. Oaks is another of the many Highlow farms, originally owned by the Eyre family, but now part of Duke of Devonshire’s estate.
I’ve been trying to reconstruct some image of life at Gotherage in William’s time. The probate inventory is very sketchy compared with others I’ve recently transcribed. For instance it doesn’t record items by room, and similar items are lumped together: ‘pewter and brass’ £6 13 shillings 4 pence , ‘bedding and nappery ware’ (cloth items) £10. And then there are bits I can’t decipher.
But basically the domestic furniture comprised bed frames and many kinds of boards: cupboards, dishboards, bread boards and boards that would have rested on trestles to make tables. There were also stools and chairs and arks (storage chests).
We do know that William’s purse and apparel were valued at £10 (£1,300). He had two mares and one saddle, so was well equipped on the very essential personal transport front. He had four oxen for working the fields, with ploughs, harrows and yokes in the barn. There was corn growing in the field, ten pounds worth in sheep and lambs, 2 swine, 4 steers, 4 cows, 3 calves one of which was being weaned. There were hams hanging in the roof space and stores of meal, malt, butter and cheese. I also think there were bees.
There are more clues about the house from Joan’s probate inventory of 1665. Besides the barn with its’ ploughs, harrows and carts’ there were three main rooms, ‘the house’ which seems to be the living-cooking quarters, ‘the parlour’ where the beds were, and ‘the chamber’ which appears to have been used to store things. The house might have been wholly stone built, but I’m also imagining a part-stone, part timber-framed house, one main large living space, perhaps with an upper storey attic ‘the chamber’ (?) above. It’s the sort of place that would leave little trace of itself once left to decay, and doubtless any stonework would have been re-purposed. Most of the Derbyshire farmhouses we see now are stone-built, but many were late 18th century re-builds, doubtless replacing aged and dilapidated predecessors.
But, I hear you asking, never mind about the house. What about Joan? What became of the young woman whose father appears to give credit where credit is due and is prepared to enable some (surprising) degree of free choice?
It will have to wait for the next instalment of the ‘Bennetts of Gotherage’. For now here’s another striking Neal Theasby photo of the barn ruins.
copyright 2021 Tish Farrell
28 thoughts on “When 11th Great Grandfather was about to die…”
Excellent, Tish. I’ve been working on my own heritage for some time and it is quite fascinating reading through old documents. I of ten wonder, if an ancestor had decided to go to the U.S or even another city than they did, where would I be today? It’s amazing to think the actions of someone from 200 years ago and much more can have such an impact on our lives today.
Hi Trev. So happy you liked this. It is amazingly fascinating following the paths of predecessors, isn’t it. And yes, wondering on the consequences of different choices made by them. I also like that I can put names to ancestors, and in more recent times, know which street they lived on and what they did. And not only that, looking what their neighbours did too!
My sister and I have cleaned out so much of my parents home I’m not sure there will be a trace left in the future. What to keep and what to ditch…That is the question.
That is a question concerning me about my own house at present, Beverly. Too much stuff!
You must be having so much fun doing this, Tish, and I greatly enjoy reading what you find. Nice to know that he was taking care of his daughter as well as the rest of the family. The title of you post sounds like that of a book, perhaps one about a Chinese family. 🙂
Ah, yes, I totally get your drift with the Chinese family connection 🙂 Also happy this piques your interest in things historical.
Fascinating. How wonderful to have found this information and have a snapshot of life at that period. If only all history lessons were as interesting.
This bit of sleuthing has really been giving my spirits a lift. It’s the mental travelling over the landscape for one thing, as well as tracking back through time. The rest of story gets a bit dark with the Eyam plague of 1666-67 on the horizon.
Mmm… yes. I imagine that had an affect on tracing your ancestors.
Agreed , Jude
It’s a beautiful, if challenging, landscape, Tish. Amazing to have something written in 1620 in your family history. The writing’s almost as bad as mine 🙂 🙂
The writing is indeed a challenge, Jo, and this is one of the more legible wills, but yes, amazing to have such a ‘long reach’ back in time.
Can’t wait for more. So interesting.
hello, Kate. I’ve been thinking about you!
wow how wonderful to be able to find so much, what a fascinating heritage.
I had a real stroke of luck in an email exchange on a local history site. Another Bennett researcher was able to fill in some big gaps, which was all very exciting. Eyam is also brilliant for its parish register going back to 1630 and I have a very useful transcription on a CD.
Simply marvellous – love it when the research all comes together and that you make new connections
V. exciting all round.
So interesting, Tish. I can see how it would lift you to be able to track back with such detail.
No Civil War disruptions here? Or is that to come?
The decision to allow Joan not to marry is very interesting, as you note. I cannot think of too many ways in which this can have come about but one way is that something about her way of being from very early childhood (and in the cultures of Ethiopia, personal divination at the time of birth or of first teething, for instance) set her apart so that it became obvious to her elders that her destiny was different from the norm?
I cannot wait to hear what became of her. And of others you are pursuing.
It give you pause, all of this; and reason to be thankful for the discipline, tenacity and luck of our forbears!
Thank you for those thoughts, Sarah. It struck me too, that William Bennett saw and accepted that his daughter had her own path. It must’ve been a fairly rare conclusion to come to back then, or for several more centuries come to that. And as you say too, I am finding myself enthralled by all I can glean of ancestral toil and endeavour.
How fascinating to have unearthed a will from an ancestor so long ago! And all the little details it reveals about life back then. I can’t wait to hear more about Joan!
I’m captivated by the little details too. Joan will be coming up fairly soon 🙂
What a treasure to still be living on the land ones ancestors lived on. Past great grandparents, neither Garry nor I know who they were. There are no records. We have one family tracker, but she is tracking my father’s side of the family.
It’s being a very satisfying diversion, and so many paths to follow too. But yes, we are lucky to have so many records to discover.
This is fascinating research. I love what family history can tell us in a very personal way about past lives. My daughter has been very focused on this during her maternity leave and found the great grandfathers. When in the U.K. am on the edge of the High Peaks and lived in Sheffield so life was tough farming so farmers as ever had to look for more income. No holiday cottages then but a real respect or fear of the Almighty. The past is indeed a foreign country. The will is a real insight into their lives.