The History of Ilmington - Chapter 6
Wills and inventories of the 17th and 18th centuries
Fourteen inventories of the 17th century among wills and inventories at Worcester Record Office have been examined in detail. It is admitted that some of these are very difficult to read, and some inventories have no wills attached, but even where wills are also present they add little to the inventories. The information given in both wills and inventories is so varied that they are difficult to compare. But the comparison, when made, shows such astonishing gaps and differences that it seems worth quoting:-
The yeoman with an estate of £675 was John Etheridge of Foxcote, and in his will, proved in 1675, he mentions a son Richard Etheridge. In 1698 (1) the Earl of Essex sold part of the manor to Richard Etheridge, who was described as the late bailiff of the manor; perhaps this is the same son.
When mention of farm implements was examined in the same way as the animals the same lack seemed apparent; carts were mentioned in only six cases, ploughs in four, harrows in three. Harness was mentioned three times and ox harness once in a will for 1602. A flail, a fan, a winnow sheet were all mentioned once. Phrases such as 'four pitch forks and other small things', 'implements for husbandry' and lumber unspecified which occurs frequently, may cover a number of these gaps.
The same situation is found in kitchen equipment, and phrases such as 'iron stuff in the kitchen' and 'earthern pots and pans' occur. Perhaps wooden equipment was too cheap to mention, though trenchers occur three times. Spoons were mentioned only twice, once of pewter and once of silver, the latter belonging to a yeoman of 1694 whose total estate was £25. He had eight silver spoons valued at £1.14. There was no mention of forks, but neither was there of knives. There was actual mention of spits and their support four times, hooks were more frequent. Of cooking ware, kettles, dripping pans, frying pans and unspecified pots and pans were the most common. There was one cullender, two mentions of basons, possetts and porringers. 'Barrells' were common, flaggons occurred three times, tankards once and a mug once. Some may perhaps have been included in 'small items of pewter'. There was one mention of leather bottles. Pewter plates were mentioned only once, but there were numerous cases of pewter dishes, large and small. Candlesticks were of iron, pewter and a few of brass. Occurring only once were a grill iron, chafing dish, 'salts', a clock and a looking glass. Two households possessed chamber pots. Furnaces, usually old, were mentioned four times and a churn only once, though the yeoman of 1602 had 'implements pertaining to the dairy'. A bill which has been found for the repair of a furnace at a later date suggests that these furnaces were brewing coppers.
Coffers, cupboards and tables were found in most houses, with chests and presses less often. Stools, benches and cushions were found with a fairly large number of chairs. There was only one settle and one desk mentioned. Of the bedsteads, there were eight four-posters, two truckle, and twenty-two others. Beds were of feather, flock, wool and in four cases classed as mattresses. Bolsters were more common than pillows, sheets were of flax or hemp and varied from 26 pairs to one pair. Table cloths occurred in nine households and napkins in five. Curtains, usually old, were found in four households, warming pans in four and books in five. Towels were seldom mentioned.
The inventory of the yeoman with estate of £25, including his silver spoons, seems such a human document so redolent of better days, that it is quoted in full.
As is clear from this quotation, these inventories give information about the numbers of rooms and their use, and this is used in the chapter on houses.
As a postscript to these wills and inventories of the 17th century is added a much earlier will of one of the Ilmington parsons. It is transcribed from J.H. Bloom's manuscript notes at Shakespeare's Birthplace Trust, Vol. 27.
Thomas Griffiths appears in the list of incumbents to have held the living from 1515-1528, and was therefore speaking of the parish church before the depredations of the reformation. 'Sir' in this context is a title given to a fully ordained priest.
Twenty eight wills and inventories of the 18th century have been examined but there are many more to be seen. Their dates lie between 1700 and 1773. The earlier ones are the more informative. They are so varied that detailed comparison seems almost impossible, but the light they throw on a number of topics makes them of interest.
Two were those of laborers, 1747 and 1773. Both appear to have owned their cottages and the later one mentions also his garden and orchard. The estate of the earlier one was valued at £4.15s and his goods included a spade and stocking axe 3/-, 4 pewter dishes 4/-, a dozen of trenchers and earthenware 1/-, 6 chairs and a grate 4/-, 2 tables and a grain tub 4/-. This laborer had four sons and two daughters all of whom received 1/-. One daughter however received in addition the cottage and the remainder of all money and goods.
Provision for the womenfolk often occurred, even if only in part of the house, as in the case of a yeoman who left his daughter £5 a year and two rooms in his house.
Other examples of the sharing of a house are found as in the will of 1728 - 'that part of my house now in possession of Richard Newland'.
In one instance a yeoman of 1706 left to his brother the profits and rents of a house and two yard lands, the land in tenure of John Dunn. He left to his nephew the house where he was living.
Some of the inventories give the prices of animals. No doubt this varied with the age and quality of the animal. In 1724, 68 sheep were valued at £47.12 and 14 cows at £38. In 1729 4 horses and 2 colts were valued at £33 and 5 cows at £20, and 75 sheep and 35 lambs at £37.
A crop of corn on two yard lands in the common fields was valued in the same inventory at £60.
In another case in which husband and wife had died within a month of each other, the husband being a husbandman, there was 'an old mare 15/- an old cow 25/-'.
Occasionally the proportion of the land under a particular crop is given as for the yeoman with one and a half yard lands (about 60 strips) who had 26 under wheat. This man's land was well stocked as he had 60 sheep, 4 mares, 2 colts, 4 cows, 3 heifers and 2 calves.
The belongings of an unmarried woman in 1706 were as follows:- 'a bed and belongings, 3 pairs of sheets and pillow cases, 3 coffers, 1 trunk, 1 box, 1 warming pan, 2 pewter dishes, a little table, a form, a wheel and wool, a barrel'.
A widow in 1756 left to her widowed niece her messuage and tenement with outhouse, backside and orchard, and all the furniture and equipment. However, this was provided that the niece did not marry again, kept all in good repair, and did not cut down trees or apples 'except the sap of ash' for use on the premises. Further conditions make it clear that the niece was really holding the premises in trust for her son.
The tangle of village relationships emerges from these wills, also the names of some of the craft and tradesmen of the time. Richard Hixon, a tailor, died in 1728. Thomas Bradford, wheelwright in 1735, Thomas Newman was a butcher in 1756, William Newman was a joiner who died in 1772 and left money to his nephew, another Thomas Newman who was a cabinet maker in Oxford. Thomas Beavington was mentioned as a weaver at the same date.
An instance of husband and wife dying within a month of each other has already been given. In another case four wills of one family were proved on the same day. Though this does not mean that they died on the same day, it is clear from the appointment of executors that they died within a very short time of each other. This was in 1768, which was not a year in which smallpox was mentioned but was a year with a low number of burials. The following year had a higher number.
The inventory of a William Howe (gent) of Foxcote who died intestate in 1707 was found. This may be the William Howe who replaced Arthur Rowney as High Constable of the Kington Hundred in 1685. The inventory included quantities of parchment, stamped and unstamped, perhaps connected with his duties. His total estate was valued at £60.14.7.
A second William Howe (gent) of Foxcote died in 1724, presumably his son. He left bequests to his friends Francis Canning of Foxcote and Baptist Hicks of Stretton. His inventory included one pair of gold bracelets valued at £3 and this is the only mention of such luxuries to have been found. His total estate was valued at £364.13.6.
1. Shakespeare Birthplace Trust ER 10/2.