Don’t diss Frinton’s church!

A painting of Frinton's old parish church. It is tiny.

I’m transcribing records for Frinton at the moment. It once had a tiny population and an equally tiny church. In trying to find out more about life in a tiny village, I found an argument raging in the pages of the Cambridge Chronicle and Journal. It allows us to peek inside the church and visit it back in 1857.

It started off with a letter from Philo Eccles, published on 19 September 1857:

SIR – In the English Churchman of Thursday, the 10th inst., under the head of “Miscellaneous – Ecclesiastical,” I read a description of the parish church of Frinton, in Essex, which loudly claims the attention of the Ordinary. It appears that this church is only opened once on a Sunday, when there is a service in the evening – that the clerk places his hat and pocket handkerchief on the Communion Table, at which he sits in a chair, resting his elbows upon it as he would do in his own cottage – that the cover of the Table is coarse, dirty, and shabby, and the whole interior of the church is in fact in such a condition as to be disgraceful. It appears that the whole parish consists of two farm houses and a cottage;[1]Looking at Frinton on the 1851 census, there’s Frinton Hall and Frinton Wick, which are presumably the two farm houses – Frinton Hall was Richard Stone’s home at the time, and Wick … Continue reading but as the value is £162 per annum, surely something better as to the service of the church furniture ought to be insisted upon.

Perhaps a hint from the Cambridge Chronicle might secure this object.

I am, Sir,

Your very obedient Servant,


At this time, as cities and towns grew, there were parishes catering to much larger populations where the livings were little more than that of Frinton. Over the years, there had been many rectors who enjoyed the income of the living, but rarely set foot in the parish, leaving the cure of souls to their poorly-paid curates.

But it was Frinton’s curate who responded. Over to you, Thomas James Bewsher.

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1 Looking at Frinton on the 1851 census, there’s Frinton Hall and Frinton Wick, which are presumably the two farm houses – Frinton Hall was Richard Stone’s home at the time, and Wick was where Charles Theedam and his family lived. There’s a cottage on Kirby Road where the Snares lived – William Snare, aged 78, was Frinton’s oldest inhabitant on the 1851 census, and might be the person referred to later. Samuel Harvey, a farm labourer, lived at Parsonage House with his wife and family, and a property called Battery House is mentioned on the schedule but was uninhabited. That makes more properties than Philo Eccles counted. In all 30 people were in Frinton on the night of the 1851 census. In 1841 there had been 44, and apparently more properties as well although none are named.

The Griffin family

Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

I decided on a whim to make use of the Buckinghamshire records on Findmypast and research my Griffin ancestors who come from that county. I wasn’t sure I’d find all that much, and I’ve ended up very surprised! One of them sailed with Captain Cook, another founded a Colchester department store, and still another was a linen draper with an apprentice called Arthur Lasenby Liberty – yes, the man who founded another even more well-known shop!

There’s a whole slew of drapers, there’s Baptists and Independents, and there are some extraordinary stories to be told. I have started writing up my research so please do have a read.

Pinching out sweet peas

No, this has nothing whatsoever to do with family history, other than the fact that my grandparents grew sweet peas and I wanted to grow some too.

My reason for putting this on here is because I don’t have a gardening blog or a personal blog, and I wanted to share my photos for anyone else learning how to grow sweet peas so you can get your head around pinching out – what to do and why. I tried looking for photos like this online for myself, showing what to look for and what the end result is, and couldn’t find them. So I’m hoping someone who was in my shoes will find them useful!

Pinching out is recommended to make the plant bushier and it’ll grow more flowers. Exactly when you do it is up for debate. The packet of seeds I got from Thompson & Morgan – Heirloom Mixed – said to pinch out after two pairs of leaves have opened, and the Sweet Pea Society website (yes, there is one!) says the same. I watched some videos about how to pinch out and that advice was different – after three pairs or even four pairs have opened, but I decided in the end to go with the advice on the seed packet and I’ve been pinching out once the plants have got two opened pairs of leaves.

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Tracing Suffolk wills for Suffolk folk

I’ve recorded a Facebook Live about finding wills for people who lived in Suffolk.

Finding will for Suffolk folk

In my previous live, I talked a lot about finding wills in Essex, but what about Suffolk? In this live, I'll share my tips for finding wills for people who lived – and died – in Suffolk.

Posted by Essex & Suffolk Surnames on Wednesday, 13 May 2020

There’s several handy links I mention, so here goes…

Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills (PCC)

Search on The National Archive’s catalogue, Discovery. It’s £3.50 to download wills unless at a UK university, or public library.

PCC wills are available to view on Ancestry via certain subscriptions. My tip is to search on Discovery first, then look for it on Ancestry if you have the sub that includes PCC. This is because (and I hate to say it, but it’s true…) that some of the personal names and placenames have not been transcribed terribly well on Ancestry (eg. I found someone’s residence of “Gray’s Inn” transcribed as “Crap’s Inn”. Hilarious, but wrong).

The style of handwriting used for PCC wills is very difficult – to start with. When I first encountered one I took one look at it and nearly gave up. But I persevered and learnt how to read the script, and now I find it really easy. You will too if you give it a try, I promise!

Suffolk Record Office – The Hold

All original wills held by SRO’s different sites (Bury St Edmund’s and Ipswich) can be searched for on The Hold. I’m not sure if registered copies appear on there or not. Many have been digitised so you can download those on demand online for £6 each. If the will hasn’t been digitised, you can request a copy and pay online, and the archivists will send you a copy. Note that registered copies of wills are often held on microfilm and are written in the same difficult handwriting as PCC wills!

Some of SRO wills are indexed in Findmypast’s set of printed wills indexes: England & Wales Published Wills & Probate Indexes, 1300-1858. This covers Ipswich wills 1370-1550 and Archdeaconry of Sudbury 1354-1700 and 1800-1858. Contact SRO to ask if they have a will for someone if the time period you’re looking for isn’t included in those books. There might be a charge for a search.

At some point, someone began putting together lists including extracts of wills by parish. So for instance if you search The Hold for “Washbrook wills” you get a record listing the names of people in Washbrook c1384-1600 who left wills, the date and the place the will is held. It also includes wills by people not in Washbrook but who left significant bequests to the parish, so they apparently had a link to the parish. The record is a list of names only, without links to the wills as some will be PCC wills or other and not necessarily held by SRO. These records also pop up if you do a search by name, and that name happens to be one of the ones listed.

Norfolk Record Office

Because Suffolk came under the ecclesiastical auspices of Norwich, some wills for Suffolk folk are in fact held in Norwich. NROCAT (NRO archive’s catalogue) does, I think, include registered copies of wills as well as originals.

Findmypast’s Published Wills & Probate Indexes includes Norwich Consistory Court Wills from 1370-1550.

London Metropolitan Archives

One last place to check: just as Suffolk came under the auspices of Norwich, Essex came under the ecclesiastical auspices of London, hence some wills for people from Essex are held at the London Metropolitan Archives. You may find that someone from Suffolk might have died in Essex (if for instance they were living with friends or family in Essex at the time of their death) and their will might not be at ERO but at the LMA. The wills are available to view as part of one of Ancestry’s subscriptions which includes many London parish registers, school registers, Poor Law records etc.

You can search the LMA’s catalogue at their website as well as order copies of documents. Some documents have been digitised and can viewed on their site, but I’m not sure if this includes wills. Have a plunge and find out!

Unfortunate ways to die in Elmstead

Elmstead’s earliest burials register contains the cause of death for a few of the residents, and they give an insight into how life was lived – and death was… deathed four hundred years ago.

Lydia, wife of Henry Sumerson, died on 6th June 1651, and was buried the next day. She had been killed “ex ustione domus sua” – which appears to translate as being burned in their home. And in January 1643/4, William Kettle was “killed wth the fall of a tree.” In July 1643, Thomas Beure of Wivenhoe “died suddenly in the parish limits of Elmstead.”

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Updates to “Goings on in Dedham”

The tower of Dedham's church. It's grey (probably the flint) with beige stone detail.
The tower of Dedham’s church

Back in July last year, I was transcribing Dedham’s second oldest surviving parish register and found some interesting goings on among the baptisms. You can read about these in Goings in Dedham’s baptisms. Now that I’ve transcribed Dedham’s baptisms and burials up to 1812, and marriages up to 1753 (marriages 1754-1812 is in progress) it seemed like time to update those “goings on”.

First of all, we had Daniel, the illegitimate son of Daniel Fairs from Suffolk and Lingwood Ponder, a woman living in Dedham at the time. He was baptised on 12 January 1725/6. A burial for “Daniel Fairs” took place in Dedham a month later on 16 February 1725/6. There’s nothing other than a name, so I don’t know if it’s the child or the father. It might be more likely to be the father than the child as illegitimate children generally took their mother’s name (unless she married the father later, or perhaps another man and the child took their stepfather’s name). However, given that infant mortality wasn’t unusual at the time, it might be the case that the baby died aged about a month old.

Other people called Daniel Fairs appear in other parishes – in 1743, Daniel Fairs of Beaumont-cum-Moze married Mary Dunstill in Brightlingsea, and the Essex Record Office have the marriage licence bond and allegation (the bride’s name is transcribed as Dunshill). So anyone researching Daniel would be wise to get hold of a copy as it might offer a clue that would held you to work out if it was the Daniel born in Dedham who got married – or was he even the illegitimate child’s father? Another Daniel Fairs, a single man, married in Ramsey 1747. Was he the one born in Dedham? This must for now remain a mystery. And as for Lingwood Ponder – she only appears in that one baptism entry.

The entry drew my attention as it said that Lingwood, Daniel’s mother, was “living with” George Cock at the time. In modern parlance, we might assume they were a couple but it probably didn’t mean that then. George had married Susan Bibby in 1718. They had three children before Susan died in 1724, a month before her daughter. Then in 1730, it looks as if he married Elizabeth Podd in Dedham – so at the time when Lingwood was “living with” George, he was a widower. It seems that George died in Dedham in 1748 – the register says he was a “barber, middle-aged.” Only a couple of months later, Rebecca, George’s posthumous child by Elizabeth was baptised.

Michael Crow, an illegitimate child “born in incest” because his mother was the widow of his father’s brother, doesn’t appear in the registers around Dedham following his baptism, so I don’t know what happened next (yet, at least!). It’s entirely possible that his parents decided to move away from Dedham, so that they could marry where their relationship was unknown. His parents’ relationship would not be considered incestuous these days, but because the Bible states that a married couple become of “one flesh”, historically a marriage between a brother-in-law and a sister-in-law fell in the prohibited degrees, as much as if they were close blood relatives. The law changed in the early 20th century.

As for Patience Prescott – she and her family don’t seem to make further appearances in the parish registers so far transcribed around Dedham, nor in the Essex Record Office’s index, the National Archives’ index or on Findmypast. Where did they go? Will we ever know?

“An Aethiopian of Ginny”

Jean Jeggo, transcribing Gosfield’s baptism register for FreeREG, found the following entry:

Thomas an Aethiopian of Ginny in Africa beeing about twelve years of age made confession of his fayth in Jesus christ & was baptized July 13 1671.

Sadly there isn’t any further known information on Thomas besides this entry in the register. That he came from “Ginny” suggests he came from Guinea in West Africa, and implies that he might have been a slave. It might seem odd that he was described as an “Aethiopian” when Guinea and Ethiopia are on opposite sides of the African continent (about 3,500 miles apart) but at the time, the term referred to someone who was black.

There was legal disagreement for many years as to the status of someone who was bought as a slave outside Britain, then brought into the country. Thomas may have worked as a household servant, but whether he was paid a salary isn’t clear. He might have worked at Gosfield Hall – built by Sir John Wentworth in 1545, according to Philip Morant it was owned by the Grey family between 1653 and 1691 after a Wentworth daughter married a Grey. So if Thomas worked at Gosfield Hall, he would have been in the employ of the Greys. Did he later take their surname as his own, or choose something else?

It’s obviously sad to think of a child of twelve being so far from home, possibly a slave and forced into work. However, in the register he survives as Thomas – although perhaps not the name he was given by his parents, he’s not defined by his status, only by his place of origin and by the faith he professed to. Although we can’t know how willingly he accepted it, of course.

Suffolk parish register transcriptions at Findmypast

Detail from "The Comforts of Matrimony". Copyright Trustees of the British Museum
Detail from “The Comforts of Matrimony”. Copyright Trustees of the British Museum

You may or may not be aware that there’s a lot of Suffolk parish register transcriptions available at commercial genealogy site Findmypast.

They have a great deal of them which are from FamilySearch, but the set called “Suffolk Baptism Index 1538-1911” has been transcribed by volunteers of the Suffolk Family History Society.

It can sometimes be difficult finding accurate coverage information for online transcriptions – so you might find a set of records for a county you’re interested in, but how do you know if the year you need for a particular county has been transcribed, or even if the parish is included at all?

So you can find that information for the Suffolk Baptism Index 1538-1911 on Findmypast here. If you’re looking for marriages, coverage can be found on Findmypast here.

And if you’re wondering what years are available for a parish in Suffolk, regardless of whether it’s been transcribed or not, check the Suffolk Record Office’s list – while many parish registers survive with records from the 1500s, there are many for which the earliest register hasn’t survived and so records only begin in the 1600s or in some cases even the 1700s (for instance, Great Ashfield – unfortunately the earliest surviving marriages are from 1754, and baptism and burials only survive from 1765).

To search the records on Findmypast, go to A to Z of records and type in Suffolk. You’ll see several other record sets for Suffolk there as well. Of course, you can search across all sets easily, but I sometimes find I can search in a more targeted way by going straight to one record set.

Findmypast does have Suffolk burials, but they are in the National Burial Index For England and Wales (which, should you be wondering, is quite good for Essex burials) and in FamilySearch records, rather than a separate Suffolk burial index comparable to the baptism and marriage sets. The largest collection of Suffolk burial transcriptions available is the excellent Suffolk Burial Index available to buy on CD from SFHS.

Goings on in Dedham’s baptisms

Tristram Shandy’s baptism, by Hogarth

Most of the children who appear in Dedham‘s baptism register in the early/mid-eighteenth century are born to married parents, with only a few illegitimate children. The vicar gives us extra information for some of the illegitimate children, which show us some rather interesting family arrangements and in one case how marriage law has since changed.

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