A Worcestershire farmhouse that had belonged to a local landowner yielded some surprising finds, among them the largest collection of personal and estate papers I have ever seen. Following the death of the estate owner and his son and heir, his estate passed to his two surviving daughters who evidently decided to address themselves to the serious business of taking charge of their inheritance with vigour and extraordinary attention to detail.
One of the daughters had been engaged to the love of her life who unfortunately turned out to be an unsavoury fellow ‘of dubious character’. In a plot that Jane Austen could have written, Ann’s sister, father and other family members took charge and relieved the poor girl of her fiance. Visits were made, letters, rings and locks of hair were returned and disposed of, and a continental tour arranged to sooth her broken heart. Mindful of the large fortune the ex-fiance saw receding rapidly into the distance, he brought a breach of promise action against the girl’s family, but this was unsuccessful and he disappeared from their lives.
Once recovered from this ordeal, Ann and her sister devoted their ensuing spinsterhoods to managing their estate. Although they employed a land agent he spent a large part of his time writing letters, reports and accounts to them, receiving shoals of their enquiries and instructions by return of post. Nothing escaped their scrutiny. Their records include tens of boxes containing hundreds of letters each encased in a tiny envelope, and thousands of bills and accounts including receipts for, among other items, several hundredweight of Peruvian guano.
Another unusual discovery was a no-holds barred introduction to the inhabitants of a village for its new vicar, written by the wife of the outgoing incumbent. This was a house-by-house guide to who lived there, naming names, and describing their circumstances. Mrs Vicar was particularly interested in whether or not a family was ‘respectable’ and/or ‘industrious’, with dissenters and time-wasters getting short shrift of her pen. There’s more on this story in our blog.
What is it about young inheritors of estates that they are able to lose their newly acquired wealth so quickly? We have discovered several instances of a property being lovingly nurtured and developed by successive generations of a family over many decades and even centuries, only for it to be blown away in a few months by one of the sons of the last careful owner.
The sequence of events was usually: mortgage, remortgage, re-remortgage, until the list of potential lenders expired or there was insufficient value left in the estate to provide viable collateral. Foreclosure and bankruptcy swiftly followed, and the sorry tale usually ended in acrimony and shame. Whether such debts were incurred through misguided investments, speculation or poker is unknown, but the sums involved ran into millions in today’s money.
We’ve added some of press coverage to our website. The story of our research into the farmhouse home of one of our Shropshire clients will be featured in the February edition of Shropshire Life magazine.
A snowy story to finish, this one from 20 January 1776 recorded in the Salopian Journal:
‘On Tuesday as some persons were travelling across Cannock Heath they discovered a woman standing in the snow up to her chin, without being able to extricate herself from so perilous a situation. Perceiving her distress, they immediately hastened to her assistance, and found her so exceedingly benumbed with cold that it is supposed she could not have survived many hours had they not thus opportunely come to her relief. She was carried to a house at a little distance and, proper means being taken, she quickly recovered.’
We’ve been discussing a range of topics on our blog recently:
Things people have lost and the rewards they have offered in 19th century Shropshire, discovering the work involved in archive conservation, the importance of raising an heir to the family estate, and a village guide to respectability.