Last Chance For Purple

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For this final week of ‘purple posts’ Jude at Travel Words asks for edible subjects. She didn’t specify whose food though, or at what stage they might be edible. A broad interpretation to follow then, including shots from the allotment yesterday: polytunnel chives, comfrey and field bean flowers.

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And from last year on the plot: inside a globe artichoke, potato flowers and a sweet pea, none of which are edible, but sound as if they might be.

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Life in Colour: Purple

Coming Home From The Allotment

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At last! Spring has arrived. Or perhaps I shouldn’t tempt fate by proclaiming it. Anyway, after freezing wind and deluges, here’s the proof of brightness, photo taken two evenings ago. You can see Windmill Hill in the distance. And as for Townsend Meadow and this fluffy looking crop – this year the over-wintered plants that I took for wheat, have recently transformed into barley, their feathery top-knots tall and shimmering in the sunshine. I am in love with the field – the way the light dances over it.

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Lens-Artists: blue and green

This week Tina asks us to find inspiration in blue and green. Please go and view her (as ever) stunning work.

“my mind and will is…” Joan Bennet 1665

Joan Bennett of Gotheridge spinster dau of Wm Bennett senior 1665 will cropped

Revelations, mysteries, contemporary beliefs, conventions, testator glimpses – how they might have lived their lives, relationships social and personal, their character and state of mind, small and touching details – there are clues to all of these and more in the last will and testament of 10th great grandaunt, Joan Bennett, spinster of Gotheridge in the parish of Eyam (Pronounced Eem). As you’ll see later, there are also connections with tragedies yet to come, because I, as transcriber, have the luxury of hindsight – 356 years’ worth – although I have to say it was only when I’d finished deciphering the document I then discovered the sad ironies of Joan’s many bequests.

But first a recap. Last time I said I had found the 17th century wills of father and daughter, William Bennett, farmer of Gotheridge (Gotherage), an isolated tenant farm on the Highlow estate of the Eyre family, who died in 1620, and his daughter Joan who died in 1665. As a spinster daughter, of marriageable age, William had made provision for her in a manner that was not unusual at the time when spinsters and widows held precarious status. That is to say she was to be housed and fed and clothed well by William’s family. But there is also a suggestion that she had refused to marry, and William then says he is leaving her £20 (around £3,000 in today’s terms) and a bed, and it is up to her if stays or leaves Gotheridge, but whatever she decides she is to have the £20.

I don’t have baptismal dates for William and his wife Ann, or for their six surviving adult sons and daughters, but it is likely at the time of the will, all the offspring are 21 years and older. They were thus probably born between 1580s and 1599, the latter half of the reign of Elizabeth I. Also, as there appears to be a convention of naming heirs according to seniority, it is possible that Joan is the eldest rather than the family member most on William’s mind. Anyway, we can say she was at least 65 when she wrote her own will (possibly much older), this being done on the fifth day of April 1665, the fourth year of the reign of Charles II.

It’s a long will too for the woman who chose to stay on at Gotheridge and live out her days on the small family farm. The term ‘my mind and will is’ is used repeatedly, and although it is a common idiom, as you read on, encountering some very particular instructions to her relatives, you are left with a sense of a woman who will not be crossed.

Joan Bennett of Gotheridge spinster dau of Wm Bennett senior 1665 will resized

It begins with the conventional preamble:

I Joan Bennet…being weak of body but of good and perfect mind and memory praise be to almighty god for the same do ordain constitute and make this my last will and testament.

The bequeathing of her soul to the creator is quite a lengthy passage suggesting a woman of strong Christian faith. She is fully confirmed in the belief of ‘everlasting joy and happiness’ when her soul is redeemed at the ‘general day of judgement.’

Her first bequest is 20 shillings to be shared by her executor and friends among the poor people of Eyam. The National Archives currency converter says this, in spending power, was worth well over £100. Her next bequests are to the surviving 2 sons and daughter of her deceased brother William. Nephews George and Francis Bennet, both of Grindlow, are to receive the equivalent of £250 each, but their sister, Ann, married to Ralph James of Grindlow is to have £300 with the stipulation that it is “for her use only.” These are the grandchildren mentioned in William’s will who, in 1620, were each to receive a lamb.

The remaining bequests relate mostly to another niece, Elizabeth wife of Francis Frith of Eyam, and to their many children who range from six- to twenty eight years old at the time. Throughout this part of the will it is very much Joan’s ‘mind and will’ that her largesse be distributed very specifically to numbered offspring. Eldest Frith son Francis and third son Thomas and fourth son Henry are each to receive 30 shillings within a year of her death. Whereas the youngest sons Richard and George must wait 2 years for their £2  10 shillings, and if one dies then the other will receive his share.

Mary Frith the oldest daughter will receive 10 shillings, but to the youngest girls, Anne and Elizabeth, she leaves one cow, which is to be delivered to their mother Elizabeth. She then says if Elizabeth sells the cow, then the full amount received must be put towards the upbringing of the girls. She then bequeaths to niece Elizabeth:

all my wearing apparel linen and woollen to be delivered to her by my executor

And finally we come to the heart of the will:

My mind and will is I do devise give and bequeath unto William Frith second son of Francis Firth all my possession and interest of this my messuage and tenement* of Gotheridge if he can accord with the right worshipful Mr. Robert Eyre Lord of the same for the rent thereof. Item: my mind and will is if any of the abovesaid be not content with his or her legacy that they should lose his or her part by virtue of this my last will and testament.

[* house, outbuildings and land]

And after that stiff admonition, she then leaves all other of her possessions, moveable and unmoveable, quick and dead “unto my well beloved friend William Frith, second son of Francis Frith abovesaid” and further ordains him “my whole and sole executor of my last will and testament hoping he will perform the same according to the trust I have reposed in him.”

view from west of Gotherage Plantation, Bretton Clough below geograph-1595040-by-Peter-Barr

View from Gotherage Plantation, south of the farm site (over the brow of the hill to the left of the telegraph pole just seen on far middle right).

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So: the daughter to whom William Bennett gave leave and means to do as ‘she pleaseth’, stayed on at Gotheridge all her life. It seems likely that at least one brother, bachelor Francis lived there too. There is reference to the administration of his will in 1642 (though frustratingly no actual will) which leaves all his possessions to Joan and, I think, the nephew mentioned in her will Richard Bennet, husbandman of Grindlow. (Grindlow is small farming-lead-mining community a couple of miles southwest of Gotherage barn, and seems to have been another Bennett family stronghold).

But is there some hint that Joan’s bequest of the Gotheridge tenancy and all her chattells and cattells to ‘my well beloved friend William Frith’ was expected to be unpopular? I have seen instructions in other wills for legatees not to fall out, but Joan’s threat seems designed to keep everyone toeing her line. William was probably around 22 years old in 1665. I have no other record of him other than a mention in another later will.

His siblings Henry (17), and the younger children Anne (13), Elizabeth (10) and George (7) were all victims of plague in   the summer of 1666 as were his parents Elizabeth and Francis. The infection had first arrived in September 1665. It is said it came with a parcel of clothing materials from London, ordered by the local tailor for repurposing. The assistant who opened the package swiftly died, followed, over then next 14 months by 259 of his 800 fellow villagers. The villagers’ decision to close their borders to stop the infection spreading elsewhere is something of a legend. (See earlier post about Eyam here.)

But back to Joan’s will. Given the ready transmission of infection via fleas and possibly also body lice in used clothing, Joan’s bequest of all her clothes to niece Elizabeth acquires certain sinister resonances, despite being very much ‘before the event’;  the plague outbreak came some six months after the will was written. Elizabeth certainly had little enough time to benefit from the gift of linen and woollen garments. They appear to have been of good quality too; the appraisers assessed the worth of Joan’s clothing, along with her purse, at £20 (multiply by 100 for current values).

Joan’s other goods and farm stock were appraised at over £100. This included her mare, 4 oxen, 3 cows, 2 heifers, 35 sheep, 2 swine, bees, corn in the ground. In the barn were ploughs, harrows, carts, the grain store and an ale brewing vat. There were turves for the hearth and a stock of manure.

In the house was a feather bed, two ‘chaff’ (straw waste) beds, blankets, sheets, coverlets and quilts wonderfully called ‘bed hillings’. There were the usual boards for trestle tables, a cupboard and dishboard etc. There were 6 arks (chests), brass pots and pans, some pewter ware, 6 cushions, a good supply of oats, and sacks for storing corn, salt for salting hams. It all sounds modest enough. On the other hand, it seems all needs were being met, which is surely a true measure of wealth and wellbeing.

Joan Bennett of Gotheridge spinster dau of Wm Bennett senior 1665 inventory resized

There is no knowing if William did come to an agreement with Robert Eyre to take over Gotheridge. If he did do so, it would have been for a short time only. (The Highlow rent books in Derbyshire record office would be the place to look). In any event by 1668 Joan’s great nephew, Samuel Bennet and his wife Joan, are already living at Gotheridge. In that year the Eyam parish register records the birth of George, who if not the first born, is the first of several children born at Gotheridge. After George come Isaac and Amie, probably twins, Joan, then Anne and Samuel who both died in infancy and finally Richard born in 1688, who I believe is my 7th great grandfather.

But  what of William Frith who clearly enjoyed Joan Bennet’s highest regard, the young man who lost so much that was dear to him? For now I’m still looking.

copyright 2021 Tish Farrell

related posts:

When 11th Great Grandfather was about to die

In search of lost time in Eyam and an outbreak of plague

More Ancestor Sleuthing In High Peak: The Hatter Of Smalldale . Robert Jackson . 1786-1857 – Tish Farrell

When 11th Great Grandfather was about to die…

Gotherage ruin possibly with view across to Oaks which is due north geograph-6001283-by-Neil-Theasby

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.

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William Bennett - 1620 Will Eyam top page 1 extract

The opening lines of William Bennett’s will 20th May 1620

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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.

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Sums owed to William Bennett

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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.

Gotherage likely ruins looking towards Highlow SK2179 nr Stoke Ford geograph-2901207-by-Neil-Theasby

Here’s another view of the barn ruins, this time looking north towards Highlow and Hathersage

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And more general views, the first taken by Jonathan Clitheroe higher up the hillside above Gotherage Plantation and well above the barn ruins:

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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):

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A challenging landscape, however you look at it.

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Gotherage Barn and fields 1898 OS CC-BY-NC-SA with banner

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.

Gotherage possibiity geograph-6000694-by-Neil-Theasby

copyright 2021 Tish Farrell

Sky-Rise

100_8787Telford

Telford is Much Wenlock’s closest town, just a few miles away across the River Severn. It’s a new town in fact, begun in the 1960s when its developers laid claim to the brownfield land between the traditional coalfield communities of Wellington, Madeley, Ironbridge, Dawley and Oakengates, places whose inhabitants had played their part in Britain’s industrial revolution from at least the 17th century.

One new-town aim was to provide fresh work opportunities and decent housing for families of the ever-expanding West Midlands (Birmingham-Wolverhampton) conurbations. Another was to revive the old Shropshire coalfield towns and villages, including Ironbridge, which by the 1960s, with their declining local industries, appeared to have lost the will to live. Back then I recall visiting Ironbridge on a school history trip. We peered at the decaying bottle kilns of the Coalport China Works through a jungle of waste-ground weeds and wondered why on earth Miss Price had brought us to such a dreary place.

From the start, then, Telford Development Corporation (TDC) panjandrums had a mission: their new town had heritage. They chose to name it after a man of vision: Thomas Telford 1757-1843, father of modern civil engineering and a man with strong local connections. At the start of his career, after leaving his Scottish homeland, he had been Surveyor and Engineer for Shropshire. He left us many striking landmarks too, including the breath-taking Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

The ‘new town with a past’ message was not simply a piece of window-dressing. TDC committed huge resources to saving the historic industrial fabric of the coalfield settlements, deploying teams of conservation architects and builders across the district, restoring everything from workers’ cottages and toll houses, to ironworks warehouses and riverside tile factories. It is probably fair to say that without all the new-town investment in conservation, the internationally famous Ironbridge Gorge Museums might never have made it off the starting blocks.

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This particular high-rise, Darby House, is also a nod to the past. HQ for the Telford and Wrekin Council, it rises above one of town centre’s notoriously numerous traffic islands, and salutes the ingenuity of the Darby ironmasters of Coalbrookdale. (Abraham Darby I invented the means to smelt iron using coke instead of charcoal, and  Abraham Darby III built the world’s first cast iron bridge over the River Severn).

One can’t help but wonder though what Thomas Telford and the Darbys would think of these tributes – the new-fangled new-town architecture, the dizzying, multiplying networks of roads, shops, business parks and housing. But then you could say these were men who started it all; played their part in the pioneering of cast-iron construction which gave rise to the high-rise and more besides.

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Anyway, here, by contrast, is a building that the Coalbrookdale ironmasters considered  ‘just the thing’ in its day. Designed in the Gothic style around 1840, it was the riverside warehouse for the despatch cast iron goods down the River Severn to Bristol. It is also one of the many buildings saved from decay by Telford Development Corporation and now part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum complex.

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And finally the Iron Bridge (1779) (restored and owned by English Heritage).

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For those of us who tend to think the modern more ugly than picturesque and prefer to take comfort in the ‘antique’, it is worth remembering that in its day, this bridge, the manner of its construction, was unthinkable for most people. There it was, replacing the stalwart, heavily buttressed stone bridges that everyone had used for hundreds of years. It literally was ‘the shock of the new’, a daring piece of pioneering technology designed to show off and sell a concept. In this respect then, you could say it has very much in common with the enterprise and entrepreneurial zeal that gave rise to Telford ‘new town’. Surprising or no, the connections are real ones.

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Buildings

Purple on the plot: bean flowers

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Aren’t they amazing! I was astonished this week when I saw the colour of this year’s field bean blossom. They’ve never turned out like this before.

The beans were sown back in October and the plants were around six inches (15cm) tall when winter struck. I was surprised how well they survived the recurring frosts.

Once they start flowering, they often put on a growth spur which means staking may soon be required. One year they grew nearly as tall as me. But in any event, by early summer each plant will produce a mass of small pods with miniature broad (fava) beans inside.

They are usually grown by farmers for animal feed. They also make good winter cover to protect the soil, dug in the following season as green manure. This is done before flowering. Which means NO BEANS. Which would be a shame. They are delicious (if you like broad beans) and make a very tasty version of humus. Also good for the Tex-Mex refried beans approach. But for now we can just admire the extraordinary flowers. I’m only sorry I can’t pass on their wonderful scent.

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Life in Colour: Purple

Six Word Saturday

“Apple of my eye”

IMG_3426Every gardener has their treasures season to season. The Evereste crab apple tree probably tops my favourites list because she covers all of them. Here she is, caught this week in the evening sun after a day of buffet and bluster, hail, wind and downpour. Already much of the blossom is ‘blown’, and whether any fruit has set, we’ll have to wait and see. The apples that come in the autumn are small and russet-blushed, an inch or two centimetres at most, but each one image perfect; doll’s house apples in other words. And after we have admired them for many weeks, the winter weather then softens them enough to make them a valuable food store for the blackbirds and pigeons. We watch them from the kitchen door.

A tree of many pleasures then. Here she is a couple of weeks ago, the blossom just opening:

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And this was last September (in the midst of an early autumn gale), the apples freshly formed:

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Evereste is also queen of that unruly quarter, the-garden-over-the-fence aka the guerrilla garden, caught here early one summer’s morning. Its content changes every year:

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And in winter there are many new scenes:

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And so yes, the apple of my eye:

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Lens-Artists: Gardens  Please visit Amy’s very lovely gardens. She is hosting this week’s theme.

There’s A Storm Coming…

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This week the icy currents have retreated. Instead we have storms. I was at the allotment yesterday when this one crept up on me. I was planting out some pea seedlings, the skies ahead sunshiny blue, and all well with the world, but when I turned round:

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Heavens! A swift retreat looked called for. Lately the rain has come in sudden deluges of tropical ferocity, the sort of downpours that leave you soaked no matter how water-proofed you think you are. I’ve been caught out before between allotment and home. For sure it’s only a five minute hike across Townsend Meadow, but it’s amazing how much wetter than wet you can get in that short space.

So home it was, the storm on my heels.

But it was only a tease. Almost home and scarcely a drop, I stopped to take the header photo and watched the storm slip over the Edge.

It came back later though: hail, thunder, downpour. During an early evening lull I went out into the garden. The birds were singing. It was almost warm; the sky looked amazing: so many shades of grey. And then it started to rain again.

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