Thursday, 23 April 2020

A Yeoman’s Will

This post is inspired by the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks topic “Land”*.  I thought I’d write about one of my many yeoman ancestors.  English yeoman were farmers who owned the land they worked.  They were not quite landed gentry but were still prominent members of their local community and relatively wealthy.

Timothy Briggs was born about 1649 in Thurnham, in the parish of Cockerham, Lancashire, England.  The Briggs family had lived in the Thurnham area for at least two generations before Timothy.  He was the youngest child, as far as I know, of Edmund Briggs and Margaret Wilkins.  His older siblings were Anna, Elizabeth, Rebecca, John (who died in infancy), Mary (who died in infancy) and Joshua.

Margaret Briggs nee Wilkins died in 1667 and Edmund Briggs died in 1671.  Brother Joshua only survived his father by a year, dying in 1672.

On 9 October 1672, Timothy married Agnes Deane at St Mary’s church in Lancaster.  While the Briggs family were baptised and buried in Cockerham, they seemed to prefer nearby Lancaster for weddings.  Maybe this was because it is a more impressive church for a big wedding?  Timothy and Agnes had at least three children: Edmund (my ancestor), Abigail and Hannah.

On 7th December 1697, Timothy wrote his will (which I have a copy of).  He claimed to be in sound and perfect health.  However, within weeks he was dead aged only 49.  I am not sure of the exact date of death as the Cockerham burial registers for that period are water damaged and haven’t been scanned.  The inventory of his goods and chattels was taken on 18 January 1698 (it says 1697 because at that time the year started on 25 March). Probate was granted on 20 July 1698.

Timothy left most of his estate to his son Edmund, however he also left bequests to his wife and daughters.  Wife Agnes got £20 plus £4 a year.  His will is not long but does have a few points of interest.  Both his sons-in-law are mentioned: Abigail was the wife of Henry Langton, and they had a son, Timothy.  Hannah was married to Thomas Hodgkinson, to recently to have children.

What makes interesting reading is the inventory that accompanies the will.  The inventory list all of Timothy’s possessions at the time of his death.  His most valuable possessions were 3 cows valued at £11 and Oats and Barley, also valued at £11.  As well as the cows, livestock included 2 oxen, possibly for ploughing his fields, 4 young steers (castrated males), 1 young heifer (female who hasn’t had a calf), 3 calves and 2 horses.  The horses were valued at £10.

The inventory also gives an indication of the size of house that Timothy and his family lived in.  A buttery, kitchen, parlour, a house chamber, east chamber and a bed room are mentioned, so it sounds like a reasonably sizable residence for the time.  The kitchen furniture, including a table and chairs, was valued at £5.
As he had cows and a buttery, I guess he may have partly been a dairy farmer but it seems that he might also have farmed oats and barley.  Thurham is near the sea (Morecombe bay) and some of the area nearby is tidal estuary with dangerous quick sands, so may not have been good arable land.  There are also now canals through Thurnham, so it was likely very damp back in Timothy’s time.

Timothy had books valued at £2. I am not sure if that means he had a lot of books or if books were very valuable. 

I particularly like that bacon gets a mention in the inventory.  He had beef and bacon valued at £1 10s.  I would guess that this was a lot of meat as some of the live animals were not worth much more.

Finally, Timothy had £7 in money and apparel.

His total goods and chattles were valued at £116 7s. In addition to this, he had title to the land he farmed. It doesn’t seem like much at all, but he would have been wealthy compared to many of his contemporaries.

It is nice to be able to get an idea of how one of my ancestors lived off the land that he owned.

*I am not managing to write about 52 ancestors in 52 weeks.

Notes on Lineage: Me > Mum > Daphne Smith > Esther Lees > Fanny Sarah Eliza Briggs > Frederick Henderson Briggs > Henry Sparrow Briggs > Jehu Briggs > Timothy Briggs > Edmund Briggs > Timothy Briggs

1 comment:

  1. You are so fortunate to have those precious family documents. Love your story.