MARVELS OF THE MINSTER: Local historian DAVID MORGAN has discovered some real treasure at the National Archives: three wills from one Croydon family
Finding a last will and testament that was written by someone who was living 200 years ago is exciting.
Tracking down a second will from a previous generation of the same family is superb.
Uncovering a third is just amazing.
These wills were drawn up by a father and his two daughters. The family gravestone is one of those missing from the churchyard at Croydon Minster. One of the daughters was Sarah Innes, who died on December 16, 1852, aged 76.
Records of Sarah Innes’s baptism and her burial are to be found in the church records. She was a Croydon girl through and through. She began her life on a significant mathematical date: the seventh day of the seventh month in the year 1777.
Plenty happened during her lifetime, which spanned the reigns of four monarchs – George III, George IV, William IV and Victoria. Fifteen Prime Ministers were in power over those 76 years, some of them twice, like Pitt the Younger. Wilberforce’s struggles in the early years of the 18th Century for the abolition of slavery were finally successful.
Sarah Innes lived at the time of the only assassination of a British Prime Minster, Spencer Perceval, in the lobby of the House of Commons in May 1812.
Momentous battles were won, Trafalgar in 1805 and Waterloo in 1815. Local history reports state that fireworks and celebrations were held in the fields behind the Parish Church after the victory over Napoleon.
There were transport innovations in her lifetime, too. The London to Brighton railway was completed and the first passengers were accepted on to the trains in 1841.
Before the arrival of steam locomotion, advertisements state that there could be 20 or 25 horse-drawn coaches travelling daily between Croydon and the City of London. Did Sarah Innes ever travel on either a train or a coach? She would presumably have taken a coach into London to attend her sister’s wedding in St George’s Church, Hanover Square, just off Regent Street, on December 4, 1819.
Patience Ann Innes had already been married once before in 1809, to John Winstanley in her home town parish church at Croydon. She was soon widowed. Her second marriage was to George Hudson, a tailor who worked in New Bond Street. Tragically, Patience was widowed a second time. She died in 1846, aged 59, at her home, Sefton Villa in St John’s Wood. In her will she left “the whole of my property of every description” to her sister, Sarah. It is a great shame that no further detail was given. There were no other bequests in the will. Patricia Anne was buried in Camden.
In contrast, when Sarah died six years later, her will revealed the property she owned, the belongings she had accumulated in her long life and the names of family and friends who were to benefit.
She left a cottage in Swan Row, near to the Swan and Sugar Loaf Pub, to her unmarried cousin Mary Ann Whittle. Sarah’s niece, also named Sarah Innes, was left two cottages in Swan Row, along with all her “wearing apparel, household furniture, linen, china and plate”.
Sarah’s nephew, John Innes, was also left two freehold cottages in Swan Row just like his sister. These cottages are identified in the will by the family name of the person or persons renting.
In the 1851 directory of Croydon, there is a John Innes listed as living at No6 Swan Row, off Selsdon Road.
There were also many bequests of named items. Cousin Mary Ann was left several pieces made from silver: a sugar basin, tongs, gravy spoon and a milk jug, together with a pearl headband.
Another cousin, Mrs Kimbra Whittle, was left Sarah’s gold chain and reading glass, a dark enamel and pearl brooch, her workbox and the four books of Mr Hay’s Exercises. The fact that she owned these books is very interesting. I believe they were written by Rev William Hay, a dissenter minister who helped to establish The Surrey Chapel near Blackfriars Bridge in 1783. This was a joint Methodist and Congregational Church. Rev Hay was a regular preacher there and a prolific writer of Christian books.
Sarah Innes also left a bequest for Jane Row, “whom I much esteem”, which was a silver teapot and stand and “best tea things”. Married friends in Liverpool were each left a ring.
Another bequest was to her dear friend Miss Chandler: she was to receive her Indian Cabinet, three china jars, her scripture print in a Maplewood frame and six volumes of Scott and Henry’s Bible commentary. These books were published throughout the Victorian era and later volumes can still be found in antique book shops. In their day they were purchased by affluent and literate readers, keen to explore the Bible’s deeper meaning and historical context. These volumes, coupled with the Jay texts, suggest a Christian earnestness in Sarah’s life.
The first named item left to Miss Chandler is also intriguing. As Sarah Innes has identified her most precious possessions in the will, this item of furniture must also be treasured. Where might she have got it from?
One possible explanation comes from her father’s will which is also to be found in the National Archives. His name was James Innes, from Croydon, too, and he described himself in the document as a cabinet maker. Was this one of his creations? Or did he acquire it as part of his business?
James has his own entry included in the Dictionary of British and Irish Furniture Makers where he is listed, in 1793, as a cabinet maker, a broker and an upholder. James was a freemason, being initiated into one of the Croydon Lodges in 1784.
He was certainly responsible for giving his children a good start in life and they were well provided for after his death, too. In his will of 1821, Sarah’s sister Patience was left a cottage on Croydon Common which her father had bought for her and her first husband from Mr James Sturt. Sarah, named after her mother, was left five freehold cottages “below the turnpike in Croydon”.
A son named Robert was bequeathed £500, which “he has already had”.
A second son, Joseph, was left two cottages that had been bought from Mr Burgess, along with the shares in the local Croydon Prison. Joseph, the younger son, died in 1821 aged 38. He was buried in the Croydon churchyard with his parents.
A genealogical study interestingly shows another son, John Innes, born in 1779. This states that he was married in India in 1820 and was a drummer in the 42nd Regiment of Native Infantry. Might he have sent a cabinet home to his sister?
Croydon had links with India through the East India Company which opened the Addiscombe East India Company seminary in 1809 to train cadets for the company’s private army. Was this his route to India? Was he subsequently shunned by the family? He is not mentioned in either of the three family wills.
The Croydon Innes’ family were certainly comfortably off. They owned a lot of property. Sarah Innes was educated and owned books. Patricia Ann, although being widowed twice, ended her days living in a very respectable London suburb. James, his wife Sarah and two of their children were all buried here. Where Robert ended his days remains elusive.
Discovering three wills from a family uncovers so much information, but I have a feeling there is still more to be revealed in this case. There’s plenty of questions raised which readers might be able to help with. Are there modern Innes family members who lay claim to these ancestors? Is James Innes the cabinet maker the reason for naming the current Innes Yard (an unprepossessing little dead-end street under the Flyover in the town centre)?
- To read previous David Morgan articles on the history of Croydon Minster and the people connected with it, click here
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