Extraordinary Georgian Characters

I came across a couple of really interesting characters who were said to have been very well known in their local area, at the time.  The first was a Martha Staninought, who today, would possibly have been identified as having mental health issues, but at the time was simply regarded as eccentric.

Martha was generally known as ‘The Queen’. In her younger days she lived as a servant in some of the families in Great Yarmouth, during which time she demonstrated some symptoms of eccentricity, but for many years past she was reported to have been ‘in a state of insanity’ and was supported by an allowance from the parish and by private money, which was loaned to her, to be paid back when due.

Martha believed that her brother John was entitled to the Crown and that she ought to be considered and treated as The Queen. Under this illusion Martha carried in her hand, as symbols of her right, a seal, a triangular piece of French chalk, a dollar or a French half-crown, and the title page of some Acts of Parliament.

She was said to have taken great offence if not addressed by the term ‘Your Majesty’, and when she was at church, which she attended regularly, she always made a formal protest against praying for the King and Queen, when the prayer was read; and if the word Society occurred in the service, always called out ‘No Society’.

Ladbrooke, Robert; A View of Norwich Castle and Cathedral, Norfolk; Norfolk Museums Service

Her mind was frequently distressed by her apprehensions, sometimes that the state, sometimes that the Catholic faith, were in danger; but, excepting her insanity upon the subject of royalty, her conduct was perfectly correct and inoffensive. She was very neat in her appearance and very civil in her behaviour, just as long as she was treated with respect.

She always refused to take alms, though she would accept a loan in advance of her revenue, and frequently repaid it when she received her allowance, which accumulated during her absence upon the road, as she spent a great part of her time in travelling, visiting frequently ‘her cathedral’ at Norwich, and ‘her courts’ at Westminster.

In her progress to town, she was taken ill at Leiston, in Suffolk and was sent to Yarmouth, where she was taken into the workhouse, and treated with the utmost attention, her imagination remaining to the last impressed with her ruling idea. In her health she bestowed dignities upon her favourites, and in her last illness, she promised handsome regards to her faithful attendants.

Martha died in the workhouse at the age of 70 and was buried on 22 October 1804 at the parish church of St Nicholas with St Peter, St John, St Andrew, St James, St Paul and St Luke, Great Yarmouth.

The second character was Edmund Noakes, who died at Hornchurch, in Essex in 1802. He was by a tinker by trade,  which he followed zealously until about six weeks before his death.

His rooms portrayed symptoms of the most abject poverty and yet, despite this, he was found to possess property to the amount of between five and six thousand pounds (about ¼ million in today’s money).

He had a wife and several children, which he brought up in the most frugal manner, often feeding them on grain and offal, which he had purchased at reduced prices.

A tinker; with boy and dog, calling out along street by William Henry Pyne. British Museum
A tinker; with boy and dog, calling out along street by William Henry Pyne. British Museum

He was no less remarkable in person and dress. In order to save the expense of shaving, he would encourage the dirt to gather on his face, to hide the fact. He never allowed for his shirt to be washed in water, but after wearing it until it became intolerably black, he used to wash it in urine to save the expense of soap.

His coat which time had transformed into a jacket, would have puzzled the wisest philosopher to make out its original colour, so covered was it with shreds and patches of different colours, and those so diversified, as to resemble the different trophies of the several nations of Europe and seemed to compete with Joseph’s ‘coat of many colours’.

The interest on the money, together with all he could heap up from his penurious mode of living, he used to deposit in a bag, which was covered up with a tin pot, and then conveyed to a brick kitchen, one of the bricks was taken out and a hole made just large enough to hold the pot. The brick was then carefully marked, and a tally kept behind the door of the sum deposited.

One day his wife discovered this hoard and resolving to profit from her discovery, took fifteen guineas from the pot. Edmund soon discovered what she had done and from that day forward he never spoke to her without calling her a thief.

In his younger days, to save money, when any of his children died, rather than having a coffin supplied for their body, he had a deal wood box made up (which would be much cheaper) and rather than undergoing a regular funeral, he would take them to a place dug for them.

A short time before his death, which he evidently hastened by the use of almost a quart of spirits, he gave strict instructions that his coffin should not have a nail in it, and that the hinges be made of cord. No plate on the coffin just his initials cut out of the lid. His shroud was made from a pound of wool and his coffin carried by six men, to whom he had left half-a-crown and at this specific request, no-one who followed him to the grave should wear mourning clothing, on the contrary, their whole dress should be striking. Even the undertaker wore a blue coat and scarlet waistcoat.

He died without a will and his fortune was equally divided between his wife and family.  There was a burial on 17 October 1802 for an Edward Nokes, which it is fairly safe to assume was him, so he was buried officially, despite not having done so for his children.


Staffordshire Advertiser, 1 December 1804

Sussex Advertiser, 6 December 1802

Featured Image

View of Yarmouth Yale Center for British Art

Monsieur Garnerin and his maiden balloon flight in England

I came across a story to share with you from the Star, 29 June 1802 which described Monsieur Garnerin’s first flight in England ,although I had read that his first flight didn’t take place until 21 September 1802, but perhaps it was, that on that occasion he made the first parachute jump.


A group of people/party-goers known as the Pic Nics made the news on a regular basis around this time. The group included the likes of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Duchesses of Manchester and Gordon, Leeds amongst many others, all carefully named by the newspaper, in order of their social status.

Weather-wise, June would usually be regarded as an ideal time to meet up and enjoy an outdoor party and so at about two o’clock in the afternoon, the Regatta began with about forty of them began their party along the Thames from Whitehall stairs in large pleasure barges sailing to Ranelagh pleasure gardens. Accompanying the party goers was another boat with a very large band of wind instruments and other pleasure barges filled with ‘people of distinction’.

The Pic-Nic Orchestra Gillray MetMuseum

The Pic-Nic Orchestra Gillray. MetMuseum

Sadly, the weather was not quite as good as it could have been, but poor weather wasn’t going to spoil their fun. They reached Ranelagh stairs about an hour later, after encountering a very strong ebb tide and a very strong breeze from the South West and  were saluted on landing, with a volley from the soldiers on duty in the gardens.

The Interior of the Rotunda, Ranelagh, London; Canaletto
The Interior of the Rotunda, Ranelagh, London; Canaletto; Compton Verney

The breakfast, as it was described, consisted of all the delicacies of the season. The wines were not only abundant but of the best quality. Those who came with guinea tickets were admitted to the gallery of the rotunda below, at tables equally well supplied. But the principal attraction was the ascension of Monsieur Jacques Garnerin in his small balloon. This was to be his first flight in this country, and he later went on to make several more during his visit.

About four o’clock the company left the breakfast tables and retired to the garden to watch the event. The Pic Nics contracted Garnerin to take to the air by paying him 500 guineas. Captain Snowden, a member of the group, agreed to accompany him and it was said that he had a wager with someone of 200 guineas to take part in this. Sadly, the article omits to tell us who the other party was.

André Jacques Garnerin descending from a balloon by parachute in a field near St Pancras Church British Museum

A later image of André Jacques Garnerin descending from a balloon by parachute in a field near St Pancras Church British Museum

This proved to be quite a spectacle. The figure and proportions of the balloon was described as:

grand and beautiful, it’s colours were alternate sections of dark green and yellow, The vessel that contained the materials from which the gas was generated the tubes by which it was conveyed to the balloon, the most minute part of the instruments, and the process were examined with the most particular attention that wonder and curiosity could excite.  

Whilst the audience were waiting in the garden for the ascent, they were entertained with several excellent pieces of music by the band who had attended on the river. The balloon had been filling since about nine in the morning, and a few minutes before five it was deemed sufficiently filled and ready to ascend. Monsieur Garnerin stepped into the car under the balloon. A lady of the party tried to persuade Captain Snowden not to go, but her please fell on deaf ears. After a brief period making final adjustments, the balloon was ready. Initially, it wouldn’t lift as Garnerin had hope, so he threw out some of the extra ballast, which immediately solved the problem.

Three signal guns were fired for his ascent and just as the balloon was rising Captain Snowden sat down, but Garnerin insisted he stood otherwise it could prove fatal. The balloon ascended in the most majestic manner, amidst the onlookers numbering by now about a thousand who were assembled in the garden. The car was richly decorated with flags of different nations in honour of the Peace of Amiens.

Immense crowds were assembled in Battersea fields, the upper part of Millbank, Tothill Fields, Chelsea and Pimlico; every window, every house top, every tree was filled. Chelsea gardens were crowded, the river was covered with boats, while on the banks on both side, an every avenue from town towards Ranelagh were thronged. The great road from Buckingham gate was absolutely impassable, or at least the carriages which formed an unbroken chain from the Turnpike to Ranelagh door, could only advance so slowly that many preferred to get out and struggle through the amassed crowd.

The newspaper assured its readers that:

No balloon that ever before went up, took a course so directly over London from West to East. It passed over the Five Fields, part of the Park, Pall-Mall, Charing Cross, the Strand, Fleet Street, Ludgate Hill, St Paul’s churchyard and could be distinctly seen above every street.

Every shop was totally deserted as everyone had taken to the streets to watch. Monsieur Garnerin could be distinctly seen waving the flags, and at one time he came down very low and threw out yet more ballast, rapidly ascended and disappeared behind a cloud. Soon after this it began to rain, but this did not deter Garnerin and his fellow passenger and thy travelled on to Colchester, Essex, 51 miles from London, in just a few hours, where they landed without any accident.

Those left at Ranelagh were refreshed with tea, coffee and an excellent cold meal, most leaving Ranelagh sometime around seven in the evening. A large party of the light horse and foot guards were stationed in all directions leading to Ranelagh to keep the peace and watch out for pickpockets.

Lady Elizabeth Mills by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Art Detectives: The Mysterious Sir Thomas Mills and Lady Elizabeth

Sir Thomas Mills by Joshua Reynolds.
Sir Thomas Mills by Joshua Reynolds. McCord Museum

As you will probably be aware by now, we have been busy researching Dido Elizabeth Belle and as part of this, we have looked at those within the inner circle of her extended family. This has led us to look at Sir Thomas Mills, who was reputed to be the ‘nephew’ of Lord Mansfield. We have tried to find confirmation as to Mills actual connection to Lord Mansfield, but without any success so far. Some accounts record him as Lord Mansfield’s ‘nephew’, others as a ‘consanguineal relative’ and others that he was really Lord Mansfield’s ‘illegitimate son’. Neither appear to be true.

He seems to have appeared from nowhere and the only clue as to his identity is that he had a sister, Elizabeth, who died in Edinburgh according to the newspapers on May 9th 1775, however, there’s no obvious burial for her.

The Scots Magazine 01 May 1775
The Scots Magazine 01 May 1775

It appears that Mills was born in Scotland around 1736-1738 to a mother who never left her native country.  To date, we’re unable to place Lord Mansfield in Scotland, but who knows, maybe he nipped back across the border for a brief liaison and Mills was the result, but it does seem highly unlikely.

Whatever the relationship, Lord Mansfield was extremely fond of him. He regularly dined at Caenwood House. Sylvester Douglas (Lord Glenbervie), a prominent lawyer and diplomat wrote of Mills, that he was illiterate but frank, friendly and dashing and had served with ‘distinguished bravery’. Mills was given the post of Governor of Quebec after his military service, it appears that Lord Mansfield had a hand in arranging this position.

It is rare for us to take such an immediate dislike to someone we write about, but this character is one with very few redeeming qualities. He was a spendthrift and it appears a liar too; spent money like water, getting himself and his family into debt. Everything we’ve read about him seems to be negative, so it seems strange that Lord Mansfield had such a soft spot for him, unless there’s something we’re missing!

Lady Elizabeth Mills by Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Lady Elizabeth Mills by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Courtesy of Philip Mould Ltd

We then came across this beautiful miniature by Sir Joshua Reynolds, which is of a Lady Elizabeth Mills, née Moffatt, who was baptised 29th January 1756 at St Mary Woolnoth, London, the daughter of Andrew and Katherine (née Creighton) Moffatt. Her father, Andrew was a merchant and both he and his brothers were heavily involved with the East India Company.

Andrew Moffatt by Lemuel Francis Abbott Courtesy of Nick Cox at Period Portraits
Andrew Moffatt by Lemuel Francis Abbott Courtesy of Nick Cox at Period Portraits

The family lived at Cranbrook House in the extremely affluent area of Ilford, Essex, opposite Valentines and next to Highlands, an area where all the well-to-do families who were connected with the East India Company lived.

Valentine's, the seat of Charles Raymond Esq
Courtesy of Valentine Mansion.com

In November 1774, Elizabeth married Sir Thomas Mills, when she was just 18, a marriage which would prove to be an interesting one.

Caledonian Mercury 12 November 1774
Caledonian Mercury 12 November 1774

A marriage settlement was made by Elizabeth’s father of some £10,000 (just under one million today) but despite this large sum of money, Mills continued to spend more than he earned and even had to be bailed out by his father-in-law on more than one occasion, to the extent that Andrew Moffatt made provision in his will of 1780, for his siblings, daughters and grandchildren, but specifically mentioned that his son-in-law was indebted to him to the tune of £5,000, a debt which he wanted to be reimbursed to the estate as soon as possible, he was clearly not impressed by his son-in-law! It was slightly strange, as he also left Sir Thomas £100. Which seems to make little sense in light of his debt. Andrew also left 20 guineas to his good friend Lord Mansfield for him to buy a ring in memory of him and money for Elizabeth’s sole use, exclusive of her husband.

Despite our view of Sir Thomas, Elizabeth must have felt something for him, as the couple produced three children – Andrew Moffatt Mills born just over 9 months after they wed; Elizabeth Finch Mills (1776) and finally Catherine Crichton Mills (1779).

According to the Oxford Journal of July 1772

When Sir Thomas was returning home in a chair, he was surrounded by four street robbers in Windmill Street, Haymarket, who stopped the chair, and one of them presented a pistol and demanded his money. Sir Thomas told them that he would not be robbed and endeavoured to seize the pistol, at this point one of the assailants fired, he missed Sir Thomas who burst open the chair door and attacked the robbers who then fled. There were no watchmen nearby and the chairmen didn’t even try to assist to apprehend the robbers.

Was this a ‘set-up’? It seems highly likely, in our opinion.

Sir Thomas Mills died 23 February 1793 and left no will and it appears with no money either to leave, but despite what the newspapers said, he was not named as a beneficiary of Lord Mansfield’s will, who died 20th March 1793.

Kentish Gazette 22 March 1793
Kentish Gazette 22 March 1793

His wife Elizabeth died in June 1816.

History tells us that the Moffatt family were plantation and slave owners in Jamaica, as the family went on to make claims in 1832 for monies owed for freed slaves.


Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens

Legacies of British Slave Ownerships

The Diary and Letters of His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson

The Westminster Magazine, Or, The Pantheon of Taste, Volume 8

Essex Parish Registers 1537-1997, Familysearch

An Exact Perspective View of Dunmow, late the priory in the County of Essex, with a Prepresentation fo the Ceremony, & Procession in that mannor, on Thursday the 20 of June 1751

Conjugal bliss and a flitch of bacon

An old custom, practised in Dunmow in Essex, entailed the award of a flitch (or side) of bacon (essentially half a pig, cut sideways) to any couple who had been married for at least a year and a day and who could prove that they had never had a cross word nor repented of their marriage.

The origins of this custom are murky. It may date to as early as 1104 and the foundation of Little Dunmow Priory by Lady Juga Baynard and as a practice to encourage church weddings as opposed to less formal marriage contracts like handfasting. Other sources say that Reginald Fitzwalter, the Lord of the Manor, and his wife appeared at the gates of the Priory a year and a day after their marriage, dressed as peasants and begging the Prior’s blessing. The Prior did not recognise the petitioners and – impressed by their devotion – he made a gift to them of a flitch of bacon. Fitzwalter, in return, bestowed land on the Priory with one very explicit condition: a similar flitch must be awarded to any couple who presented themselves at the Priory and could claim, after a year and a day’s marriage, to be as devoted as he was to his own wife.

Whatever its origins, the Dunmow flitch was well known enough by 1387 to be mentioned by Geoffrey Chaucer in Canterbury Tales. The wife of Bath said:

The bacon was not set for him, I trow,

That som men have in Essex at Dunmow.

Little Dunmow Priory fell victim to the dissolution of the monasteries in the sixeenth-century and the custom lapsed into abeyance until 1701.

The Dunmow Flitch; Robert Alexander Hillingford
The Dunmow Flitch; Robert Alexander Hillingford; Museums Sheffield

That year, at Dunmow, the flitch of bacon was awarded twice, once to John Reynolds of Hatfield Regis and his wife Ann, wed for ten years, and secondly to a butcher from Much Easton named William Parsley and his wife Jane who had been married – quietly, peaceably, tenderly and lovingly – for around three years. (The Parsley’s marriage is probably the one which took place at Hatfield Broad Oak in 1698, between Will. Parsley and Jean Judd.)

Bringing witnesses with them to prove their marriage and their fidelity to each other, and to their conjugal bliss in their marriage, the couples were brought before a ‘judge and jury’ where they were questioned.  The jury who sat to decide if the Parsleys qualified for the flitch of bacon were five spinsters, Elizabeth, Henrietta, Annabella and Jane Beaumont, and Mary Wheeler. Upon passing this ‘trial’ the man and wife knelt on two pointed stones placed near the door of the church and an oath was administered (the Lady Chapel of the old Priory remains in use as the parish church).

Remains of Dunmow Priory, Essex

You do swear by custom of confession

That you ne’er made nuptual transgression

Nor since you were married man and wife

By household brawls or contentious strife

Or otherwise in bed or at board

Offended each other in deed or in word

Or in a twelve months time and a day

Repented not in any way

Or since the church clerk said Amen

Wish’t yourselves unmarried again

But continue true and in desire

As when you joined hands in holy quire.

After the oath came the sentence. Then, the pair were borne aloft in a wooden chair and carried around the village to the general acclaim of the gathered crowd, and merry-making commenced.

Since these conditions without any fear

Of your own accords you do freely swear

A whole Flitch of Bacon you do receive

And bear it away with love and good leave

For this is the Custom of Dunmow well known

Tho’ the pleasure be ours, the Bacon’s your own.

The chair in which the couples obtaining the bacon were carried.

Next to receive a flitch of bacon in Dunmow were Thomas Shakeshaft and his wife, Anne, née Amis, who had married in the village of Wethersfield in Essex in 1744. Thomas, an eminent weaver (or woolcomber) was, in one report, said to be 80 years of age and Anne was his second wife. After they had been married for seven years, on the 20th June 1751 they journeyed to Dunmow together with witnesses to make their oath.

It had been fifty years since the last claimants, and the Shakeshafts were treated as minor celebrities. Supposedly a crowd of 5,000 people from all over the country came to see the ceremony and when Anne was examined by a jury she admitted that she had only repented once since her marriage; she wished that she had married sooner.

Taking the oath for the gammon of bacon, Thomas Shakeshaft, and Ann, his wife, on June 20th, 1751.

The canny couple cashed in on their windfall. They sold slices of their ham to several of the ladies and gentlemen who had come to Dunmow to join in the celebrations, most of whom were ‘whimsically merry on the occasion’. On returning to their cottage in Wethersfield, the Shakeshafts were £50 richer than when they had set off.

An Exact Perspective View of Dunmow, late the priory in the County of Essex, with a Prepresentation fo the Ceremony, & Procession in that mannor, on Thursday the 20 of June 1751
An Exact Perspective View of Dunmow, late the priory in the County of Essex, with a Prepresentation fo the Ceremony, & Procession in that mannor, on Thursday the 20 of June 1751. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

If the newspaper who reported Thomas’ age as 80 was anywhere close, then his second wife must have been quite a few decades younger: it was claimed that, on the 18th July 1753, Anne and Thomas became the proud parents of twin sons, named George and Edward. Supposedly baptised at Wethersfield (we have been unable to verify this), their godfathers were the Hon Charles Grey, Esq and Hugh Brampton, Esq and Lady Abdy was godmother (the Abdy’s estate was Felix Hall in Essex). (NB. there is a burial at Wethersfield in 1773 for a Thomas Shakeshaft; unless he reached his centenary and then some, it is likely he was, in fact, a fair bit younger than 80 when he journeyed to Dunmow with his wife.)

Although there are reports of other couples claiming the flitch of bacon at Dunmow during the Georgian era, they appear to be fictional. In 1767 it was said that an Irish nobleman and his wife had headed to the village to undertake the trial, the first instance of anyone of rank to do so.

Claiming the Flitch of Bacon, 1796. A justice tricks a married couple who claim never to have quarrelled in seven years out of their claim to the flitch of bacon.
Claiming the Flitch of Bacon, 1796. A justice tricks a married couple who claim never to have quarrelled in seven years out of their claim to the flitch of bacon. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Five years later, the lord of the manor refused admittance to John and Susan Gilder of Tarling in Essex when they made a very public entry into Dunmow at the head of a great concourse of spectators and supporters, demanding to be allowed to take the oath and receive the bacon. They found the gates of the old priory nailed shut and returned home empty handed.

Montagu Burgoyne by George Ramsay, c.1782
Montagu Burgoyne by George Ramsay, c.1782, via Wikimedia

The last noted report concerned Montagu Burgoyne, Esq, named as a commissioner with the Victualling Board and who was later a politician. He had actually demanded – and, it is claimed, received – the flitch, after going through all the requisite ceremonies and oaths. The Burgoynes’ marriage was described as a ‘pattern of conjugal affection’ and so perhaps that gave rise to the notion that the couple had journeyed to Dunmow.

Elizabeth Burgoyne née Harvey by George Romney, c.1785
Elizabeth Burgoyne née Harvey by George Romney, c.1785, via Wikimedia.

Even King George III and Queen Charlotte were not immune to the tradition. A paragraph had appeared in a newspaper suggesting that ‘two Great Personages’ who intended to tour England during the summer of 1770 would make a stop at Dunmow to claim the flitch of bacon.

The Great Personage on reading it shewed it to his consort, who smiled and said, on its being explained to her, that his Majesty should not have it all, for she would have half of it. The person who was in waiting at the time, said, he supposed it was some nonsense of Mr Such-a-one’s. Nonsense, replied the Great Personage, you may call it what you please, but whoever the author of it is, he has paid me a greater compliment than I have ever received since I was King of England.

Unfinished portrait depicting the marriage of George III to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz on 8 September 1761 by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Unfinished portrait depicting the marriage of George III to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz on 8 September 1761 by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Royal Collection Trust

The eighteenth-century gossip, Horace Walpole, noted that in Wychnor, Staffordshire where the tradition was also reputedly followed, a flitch was awarded c.1730. However, after 1760 Wychnor didn’t even bother to keep a flitch ready at the manor for any claimants but instead merely displayed a carved wooden replacement over the fireplace in the main hall to pay lip service to the old custom.

Claiming the Wychnor Flitch; John Massey Wright, 1817
Claiming the Wychnor Flitch; John Massey Wright, 1817; Brampton Museum

In the Victorian period, the tradition was revived at Dunmow and continues to this day with the ‘trials’ now carried out every four years (in mid-July during a leap year).


History of the Dunmow Flitch of Bacon, William Andrews, 1878

Popular Antiquities, vol 2, J Brand, 1841

Derby Mercury 7th June 1751, 3rd August 1753 and 6th July 1764

Ipswich Journal 29th June 1751

Caledonian Mercury, 13th June 1767

Kentish Gazette 18th September 1770

Hereford Journal 12th October 1786

[Anon.] (2004-09-23). Burgoyne, Montagu (1750–1836), politician. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Robert Dingley, founder of The Magdalen Hospital

Having already written about The Magdalen Hospital we thought it would make an interesting article to provide a little more information about one of its founders – Robert Dingley. Robert was later referred to by Mary Ann Radcliffe in ‘The Female Advocate‘ as ‘the first humane proposer of the charity‘.

Robert Dingley was born around 1710 , the eldest surviving son of Susanna and Robert Dingley, a prosperous jeweller and goldsmith of Bishopsgate Street, London and a descendant of Sir John Dingley of Wolverton Manor, Isle of Wight.

Robert Dingley by John Dixon, after William Hoare, 1762 (National Portrait Gallery)
Robert Dingley by John Dixon, after William Hoare, 1762 (National Portrait Gallery)

Robert was an extremely busy man, with fingers in many pies it appears. He took a keen interest in the arts and was an active member of  The Society of Antiquaries from 1734 and ‘dabbled in architecture’ ; became a Fellow of the Royal Society in November 1748; was also founder member of the Society of Dilettanti, along with Sir Francis Dashwood about whom we have previously written in connection with The Dunston Pillar; held a lifelong career with the Russia Company and was also Director with the Bank of England and according to The Whitehall Evening Post of March 30th, 1749 he was appointed Governor of the Foundling Hospital.

On December 30th, 1744 Robert married into another affluent family, his first wife being Elizabeth Thomson, daughter of Henry Thomson Esq, of Kirby Hall, Yorkshire.

Stamford Mercury 03 January 1745

The couple had three children Susanna (born November 22nd, 1745) and Robert Henry Dingley in 1746. A later child Elizabeth who was born 19th June 1748 did not survive infancy.

In 1759 his first wife Elizabeth died leaving Robert to raise two teenage children.

There is an obelisk and bust of Elizabeth at St Luke’s church, Charlton, Kent.

With this in mind, Robert wasted no time and married his second wife, Esther Spencer, sister and heir of Thomas Spencer, the following year, on 21st March 1760.

For someone who led such a public life the newspaper report of his death was succinct to say the least –

St. James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post, August 9, 1781 – August 11, 1781

Died yesterday at Lamb-Abbey. Near Eltham, aged 72, Robert Dingley Esq.

However, there is a memorial for both Robert and Esther in the same church. Esther died 1784.

An interesting piece appeared some years after his death in Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser, Saturday, September 9, 1786, just after the death of Jonas Hanway.

So what became of Robert’s children, well his daughter, Susanna Cecilia (1743–1795) of Lamb Abbey, near Eltham, Kent, married Richard Hoare (d.1778) of Boreham House, Essex, a partner in Hoare’s bank, in 1762.

Richard Hoares’ marriage to Susanna in 1762 in the presence of her father Robert. The marriage was carried out by none other than Rev. William Dodd.
Mrs Susanna Hoare and Child by Joshua Reynolds
Reynolds, Joshua; Mrs Susanna Hoare and Child; The Wallace Collection

Susanna and Richard had five children, and the present picture probably depicts their eldest child, called Susanna Cecilia after her mother, who died young in 1768. In 1765 Mrs. Hoare paid 70 guineas for the picture, which was probably painted 1763–1764.

His son, Robert Henry took holy orders and became the rector of Beaumont cum Mose and south Shobury, Essex until his death in March 1793.

Robert Henry followed in his father’s footsteps and became a governor of Magdalen Hospital, as did Robert’s second wife, Esther.


Featured Image

Courtesy of the British Museum

Portrait, three-quarter length seated wearing velvet suit and long white wig, directed to right holding a book open on right knee to show the title-page of ‘An Account of the Rise, Progress and Present State of the Magdalen Charity’ faced by a picture of a woman, his left arm on arm of his chair beside a table on which are papers bound with ribbons; after Hoare.


Sources Used


The Ipswich Journal 19 November 1748

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent, Volume 2 By Edward Hasted

An Account of the Rise, Progress and Present State of the Magdalen Hospital By William Dodd


A Trusty Maid; Geroge H Hay; Hospitalfield Arts

A tale of deceit in late 18th and early 19th century Essex

Today’s blog concerns a tale of deceit in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Essex.

Henry Cranmer of Quendon Hall in Essex educated and raised Captain Joseph Cranmer Gordon Esq as his own son, and perhaps he really was so. Gordon continued to receive financial support even as an adult, with frequent remittances of money. Suddenly, however, they ceased.

Upon investigation, Joseph Cranmer Gordon discovered that his benefactor was ‘in a lunatic state’ and controlled entirely by a man named James Winton and a Mrs Margaret Greygoose who had cut off Mr Gordon’s allowance. A commission of lunacy was taken out and Mr Gordon was appointed in control of Henry Cranmer’s estate, much to the annoyance of James Winton.

Quendon Hall via British History Online.
Quendon Hall via British History Online.

James Winton appeared before the commissioners in a menacing fashion, in full regimental uniform with ‘an immense and massy iron truncheon by his side, and a brace of double-barrelled pistols thrust under his girdle’. He was there to prove the sanity of old Henry Cranmer, but instead James Winton’s own sanity was doubted. A verdict of lunacy against Henry Cranmer was proved, as was the threatening behaviour of James Winton – he was shortly afterwards sent to Chelmsford gaol for antagonising one of Cranmer’s tenants.

Both James Winton and Joseph Cranmer Gordon had served in the Essex Militia; Winton wrote an ‘insolent letter’ to Gordon, mentioning that the pair had met once at a mess dinner and pointedly saying that ‘he had served the King for ten years, had been in battles where he had seen the brave nobly die’ and that he wished to meet Gordon upon his return into Essex. Winton was seen to strut around wearing a brace of pistols, with the intention of provoking his rival into a duel.

Estate Staff in a Servants' Hall by Nicholas Condy (1793–1857) (c) Mount Edgcumbe House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Estate Staff in a Servants’ Hall by Nicholas Condy (1793–1857)
(c) Mount Edgcumbe House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Mrs Greygoose had been born Margaret Lacey, the granddaughter of Henry Cranmer’s nurse. Her mother was also named Margaret Lacey and she lived at Quendon Hall, as Cranmer’s housekeeper and his mistress. Brought up almost as one of the family by the gullible Henry Cranmer, in 1787 she married the footman, one James Greygoose – it would appear that Henry Cranmer was oblivious to the fact that his footman had married Margaret Lacey for, in a deed written in 1789 in which he gave her five properties, he described her as ‘Margaret Lacey, spinster, now resident at Quendon Hall’ (her mother had married a man named Gregg and moved out, so it could not be that lady who was referred to).  The deed gave the properties to Margaret Lacey in case she survived Cranmer, with a power of revocation during his lifetime. Before long, around 1792 or 1793, Margaret abandoned her husband. Eloping from Quendon Hall to live with James Winton as his wife.[i] A Mr Street was intimate with the household at Quendon Hall at this time and questioned Henry Cranmer about Margaret; Cranmer was anxious for her to return.

Mr Street asked him [Henry Cranmer], as she was a pretty woman, whether he was induced to do this as a reward for kind services: to which he replied, No, – he had never but once attempted to kiss her, and then she had boxed his ears, but he would have married her if she had conducted herself properly.

© The Trustees of the British Museum
© The Trustees of the British Museum

James Greygoose was buried at Quendon on the 3rd November 1805 (he continued as a servant to Henry Cranmer) and on the 9th June 1806, at St James’ in Clerkenwell, Margaret Greygoose married James Winton. It was this union and, it appears, James Winton’s influence which led to them treating Henry Cranmer as something of a ‘golden goose’. The Commission into his lunacy took place towards the end of July, just weeks after their wedding.

© The Trustees of the British Museum
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Margaret was, however, well-matched to James Winton. After the Commission had decided Henry Cranmer was a lunatic she took him [Cranmer] out for a ride and contrived to lure him into a waiting chaise and spirit him away, retaining her hold over him. The Lord Chancellor was applied to, and Henry Cranmer and Mrs Winton were eventually traced to a house in Camden. After some resistance, he was eventually taken back to Quendon Hall and Captain Gordon.

Henry Cranmer died in 1810 and, without access to Cranmer’s wealth, by November 1812 James Winton ‘formerly of Somer’s-town, in the county of Middlesex, and late of Quendon, in the county of Essex, gentleman’ found himself a debtor in the King’s Bench Prison.

NB: Joseph Cranmer Gordon is referred to as John Cranmer Gordon in some of the newspaper reports.


Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal, 3rd August 1798

Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal, 20th September 1803

Morning Advertiser, 1st August 1806

Morning Post, 1st August 1806

Bury and Norwich Post, 6th August 1806

Morning Chronicle, 6th August 1806

Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 15th November 1806

Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 13th August 1811

Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal, 16th August 1811

Hertfordshire Genealogy

Historic England


[i] Margaret Lacey and James Greygoose married at St Leonard’s in Shoreditch on the 26th July 1787.

Header image:

A Trust Maid by George H. Hay, Hospitalfield Arts

Penelope Carwardine (1729 – 1804)

Penelope Carwardine

Following our blog about Anne Mee which you seemed to have enjoyed we thought we would take a look at another female artist who specialized in painting miniatures.

According to quite a few sources, Penelope was born around 1730, so just to confirm we will start this post with details of her baptism. She was baptized on 29th April 1729 at Withington, Hereford, her parents being John and Ann, nee Bullock, of Preston Wynne, Herefordshire.

Her siblings included Anne (Frier), Mary (Wilson), Priscilla (Warricker and Crichton, who died in 1776), Rebecca (Probert) and Henrietta (Pugh). She also had a brother Thomas, a clergyman, but who was also a miniature portrait painter and who married a Miss Anne Holgate in Essex.

Descendant chart - John Carwadine
© Joanne Major

Until her marriage, somewhat later in life than was the norm at that time, Penelope pursued the genteel pastime of miniature painting which was viewed as a suitable way for women to earn a respectable living, a necessity given that her father had managed to be reckless with the family money, she was a pupil of the artist Ozias Humphry.

The diarist, James Boswell, noted in March 1763 that Alexander 10th Earl of Eglinton was sitting for his miniature to ‘Mrs Carwardine’, who he described as ‘a very good-looking, agreeable woman, unmarried but I imagine virtuous’.  Given the date of her marriage, this must have taken place just prior to it.  Penelope was described as being a close friend of Joshua Reynolds and his sister Frances.  

Lady Anne Sophia Egerton by Penelope Carwardine, Ashridge House.
Lady Anne Sophia Egerton by Penelope Carwardine, c.1765-1770. Ashridge House.

It is reputed that Penelope exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1761, 1762, 1771, and 1772, however, on checking The Society of Artists of Great Britain, 1760-1791; the Free Society of Artists, 1761-1783; a complete dictionary of contributors and their work from the foundation of the societies to 1791, the earlier entries refer to Mrs Thomas (Ann) Carwardine, this seems more likely to actually relate to Penelope’s mother Ann despite the reference to Thomas.

Penelope married James Butler, a church organist at Ranelagh and St Margaret’s and St Anne’s Westminster. The couple were married at St James, Piccadilly, St James the Less, Thorndike Street, 26th May 1763. Until now there have always been two possible dates for her marriage, many sources saying that she married around 1772, gave up her work at that time and that no miniatures by her after this date are known. The majority of her works are said to have been produced between 1750 and 1765.

6 May 1763 marriage

Her husband James also taught organ and harpsichord at Mr Dubdat’s on Berwick Street, Soho until his death in 1774. Fortunately for us, James left a will in which he named not only Penelope but also his 4 children from his previous marriage – Elizabeth (1751), Harriott (1755), Thomas Hamley (1756)  and Anthony (1757). He also made provision for Charles Mellish of Blyth, a relative of  Mrs Gooch who we have written about previously.

Descendant chart - James Butler
© Joanne Major

Anne Holgate, wife of Thomas Carwardine, Romney

Anne Holgate, wife of Thomas Carwardine, RomneySources also give the date of Penelope’s demise as being 14th October 1805 at Preston Wynne, Herefordshire (the place of her mother’s birth). However, when checking her last will and testament this cannot be correct as her will was written on the 15th January 1804 and then proven on the 30th October 1804. Penelope was, at the time of writing her will living in the village of East Colne, Essex.

However, her death did take place in Herefordshire according to the Monthly Magazine and British Register, Volume 18, Issue 2 and the Bath Chronicle reported her death on the 18th Oct 1804. With the kind help of the Hereford Archives we have managed to establish there was a burial on the 16th October 1804 for a Priscilla Butler, rather than a Penelope, but that her gravestone does record her correctly, so possibly a simple mistake on the part of the vicar who got the sisters mixed up, presumably, let’s hope he named her correctly during the funeral service!

At Hereford, suddenly, Mrs Butler, widow of the late ___ Butler, esq. and daughter of Mr Carwardine, formerly of Preston Wynne. She had passed the evening cheerfully with some friends, when she fell back in her chair, and instantly expired.

(Monthly Magazine & British Register, vol. 18, issue 2)

To be certain that we had found the correct persons will we have noted some of the beneficiaries:-

Her sister Mary Wilson was left a long India shawl, agate snuff box and £10 for mourning. Her cousin Martha Allan – £10 for mourning and £10 annual annuity between Martha and Mary, also her clothes to be divided between them.

Her sister Henrietta Pugh – received £100 with Rebecca Probert getting £10 for mourning. Lucy Crichton received the portrait of her father the late William Crichton Esq. Her sister-in-law, wife of her brother Thomas Carwardine, a gold repeating watch in trust for her daughter Ann Carwardine and £200 in the 4 percents, hoop diamond ring, ring connected with her brother and the long shawl given to her by Claude Benset Esq. To her niece Ann Carwardine she bequeathed diamond earrings. To the poor of the village of Preston Wynne in Withington, Hereford, £5 and her brother Thomas Carwardine received the residue of her estate.

Maria Gunning c.1757 by Penelope Carwardine, Wallace Collection.
Maria Gunning (later Countess of Coventry) c.1757 by Penelope Carwardine, Wallace Collection.



Anne Gilchrist, her life and writings. edited by Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist, with a prefatory notice by William Michael Rossetti





The Wallace Collection

Monthly Magazine and British Register, Volume 18, Issue 2