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Update: Bradfield

I’ve finished transcribing the earliest register for Bradfield, Essex, from 1564 to 1695. I’ll be adding spreadsheets of baptisms, burials and marriages over the next few days, so stay tuned.

Please make sure you check the “Notes” on the Bradfield page, which explains gaps in the register in the mid- to late-1600s.

The Bridges family of Lawford and John Constable’s portrait

A family of eight stand around a piano. Through the window behind them, a church tower can just about be seen.

The Bridges Family 1804 John Constable 1776-1837 Presented by Mrs Walter Bogue Bridges 1952 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N06130. CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0. Photo © Tate

If you’re from north-east Essex, and perhaps if you’re from south-east Suffolk, you cannot avoid John Constable. My grandma had a print of The Haywain above her television, and we had Constable table mats. I grew up eating my Sunday roast while gazing down around the edge of the plate at what I could see of the horse outside Flatford mill, and the boat-builders along the river. If you go for a row at Dedham, you round a bend, and you’re suddenly in one of his paintings.

In 1804, John Constable painted a portrait of the Bridges family, who lived in Lawford. Pater familias George was a banker and a corn merchant, and Lawford Place was built by him in about 1790.1)If the house was built then, where did the family live when their eldest child was born in Lawford in 1788? Was the house perhaps built earlier than 1790? It’s a famous painting (although didn’t feature in our table mat set), and I became curious about it while transcribing Lawford’s parish register, covering 1764-1812. Were the sitters in the register?

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. If the house was built then, where did the family live when their eldest child was born in Lawford in 1788? Was the house perhaps built earlier than 1790?

Where was East Donyland’s old church?

Recently, someone asked me if it’s possible to still visit the site of Rowhedge’s (East Donyland) old church of St Lawrence – the one that was demolished once the new “pepper pot” had been built in Rowhedge in the 1830s.

I have to say, I’m not sure, and I wasn’t even sure where the old church used to be. I grew up in Wivenhoe, but alas, the river was in the way when it came to visiting Rowhedge. In my grandparents’ time there was a ferry, which made the journey simple. Now it only runs in the summer.

So I went to the National Library of Scotland website to look at their historic maps, and this map from 1881 (from a survey made in 1874) shows the site of the old church in the bottom middle, just north of East Donyland Hall.

The position of the old church isn’t a surprise – churches were often placed beside the house where the lord of the manor resided, purely for his family’s convenience. Even if it wasn’t very convenient for anyone else! You can see why they built a new church in Rowhedge as that settlement developed. Looking at the occupations in the baptism registers from 1813, it’s clear to see that most people in the parish were sailors: yachtsmen or fishermen (sometimes both), with the number of agricultural labourers dwindling. In other words, more people lived by the river, and the old church’s position just wasn’t much good anymore.

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Fifth wife! George Butler’s unlucky love-life

While transcribing the marriages for Kirby-le-Soken, I found a surprising note left in the margin by the vicar:

5th wife! Buried 20th March 1831.

This was the marriage of George Butler, a widower, to Mary Ann Norgate, a widow from Walton, on 23rd October 1828.

Needless to say, I found this intriguing, and decided to find out more.

Let me take you back to 1771, when Joseph and Sarah Butler baptised their son George in Thorpe-le-Soken. Aged 23, on 26 August 1794, George married Wife #1 in Little Clacton – a woman called Elizabeth Webb. Unfortunately there are no marital statuses in the register, but we do know that both of them were Little Clacton residents. On 31st May 1795, they baptised their child James. Elizabeth Butler was buried at Little Clacton on 11th January 1802, aged 25.

Almost eight years later, on 18th April 1802, George was strutting down the aisle of Little Clacton St James, to marry his second wife, a spinster called Elizabeth Lucas. At least, with both wives having the same first name, he couldn’t cause a drama if he accidentally called Wife #2 by Wife #1’s name. Evidently quite taken by the name Elizabeth, the couple’s daughter by that name was baptised on 6th April 1803. Susan, their second daughter, was baptised in 1822 just before her confirmation, but she had been born in 1805. Mary, a third daughter, was baptised on 11th June 1807.

Sadly for George, his second wife died at the age of 29, and was buried in Little Clacton on 16th July 1807. So, on 26th January 1809, less than seven years after his last wedding, George stood at the altar rails of St James once again, taking another spinster, Sarah Taylor, to be his lawfully wedded wife.

His third marriage was short-lived1)The burial in Thorpe-le-Soken for a Sarah Butler in October 1809 may well be that of George’s third wife. as he was married for the fourth time on 10th December 1810. Now a resident of Kirby-le-Soken, George married a widow called Frances Maldon. Their son Thomas was baptised on 19th January 1812. Frances was buried at Kirby-le-Soken on 12th October 1827, aged 57. At seventeen years, this was George’s longest marriage.

Then came his fifth marriage in 1828, to Mary Ann, when George was 57 – thirty-four years after his first. They don’t appear to have had any children, and on the 1841 census, it’s possibly “George Buttler” who appears as our serial groom in the Little Clacton household of a farmer called Maria Sanson, as  a male servant. Having lost his fifth wife in 1831, only three years after their marriage, George evidently didn’t chance his luck a sixth time. Mary Ann was 39 when she was buried in Kirby-le-Soken on 20th March 1831.

Twenty years after his fifth and final marriage, on 19th January 1848, George Butler, a man who clearly liked a wedding but sadly lost five wives, was buried at Little Clacton, where his matrimonial adventures had begun.

The five marriages

26 Aug 1794 Little Clacton
George Butler otp & Elizabeth Webb otp (marital statuses not given)

18 Apr 1802 Little Clacton
George Butler, widower, otp & Elizabeth Lucas, spinster, otp

26 Jan 1809 Little Clacton
George Butler, widower, otp & Sarah Taylor, sw, otp

10 Dec 1810 Kirby-le-Soken
George Butler, widower & Frances Maldon, widow

23 October 1828 Kirby-le-Soken
George Butler, widower, otp, & Mary Ann Norgate, widow, of Walton

 

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. The burial in Thorpe-le-Soken for a Sarah Butler in October 1809 may well be that of George’s third wife.