Yesterday I shared a newspaper article about the fortunate discovery made by my 3x great-grandfather Henry Wright of Alton, Hampshire. The article suggested that his wife had hidden away some money (totalling £260) which was only discovered after her death in 1889.
I suspect there is probably more to the story than meets the eye. There is a possibility that Henry in his younger days (back in 1838) served twelve months in prison for larceny, so I can’t help wonder if this money could be the result of some nefarious deed. However any secrets probably went to the grave with Henry.
That thought got me thinking. Henry died six years after his wife and I have a copy of his will and the grant of probate and I wondered just how much of this “windfall” had survived until Henry’s death.
The entry for Henry in the National Probate Calendar (on Ancestry.co.uk) reads:
WRIGHT Henry of Model villa West-street Alton Hants died 1 August 1895 Probate Winchester 4 November to William Wright builder and contractor Effects £127 9s.
So it looks like in those six years Henry had managed to get rid of half of the money that he had “discovered”, assuming that he didn’t have much to start with, because he was having to sell some furniture in the first place.
I wonder what he did with that money in those six years? The 1891 census shows him (aged 80) living with his son William (the executor named above) and his family and quite appropriately he is described as “Living on his own means”.
You never know what you are going to find when you start delving into newspapers. The article below, from the Hampshire Advertiser of Saturday 23rd March 1889, has to one of the most bizarre that I have come across in my searches.
ALTON, MARCH 23.
A PROVIDENT WIFE.-A man named Henry Wright, formerly a chimney sweeper at Alton, has made a fortunate discovery. His wife died a few days ago, and preparatory to selling his furniture to a local dealer he inspected an old chest of drawers, when, to his surprise, he discovered, concealed behind a piece of board let into one of the drawers, two purses, one of which contained £200, and the other £60 in gold. At one time Wright kept a lodging-house, and it is supposed that his wife accumulated the money then.
Henry Wright and his “provident” wife were my 3x great-grandparents, all the facts fit with what I know. He was at one time a lodging-house keeper and later on a chimney sweep and his wife Sarah died in Alton in 1889.
Quite why Sarah should have felt the need to hide £260 from Henry is a mystery, unless she was frightened he would drink or gamble it all away. Perhaps the rainy day that she was waiting for never arrived?
I can see that it might have been hidden for safe-keeping (perhaps a distrust of banks), but could you really forget that you had put away that sort of money? Based the retail price index £260 in 1889 would be worth £22,400 today, not the sort of money that would be easy to forget.
A few months ago I ordered a copy of the will of Henry WRIGHT (as he was known when he died), it wasn’t particularly detailed and didn’t contain any major revelations or death-bed confessions, just the usual stuff you would expect to find.
From a genealogical point of view the helpful feature of the will was a list of all his children, which gave the married names of his daughters. This is a great help if you are trying to piece together a family tree and don’t have copies of marriage certificates or access to the relevant parish registers.
Most interesting to me was Henry’s eldest daughter Mary Ann because she (like my 2x great-grandmother Harriet) was born before the family moved to Alton, Hampshire. Knowing that Mary Ann had married Henry William TRIMMER has led to a couple of interesting discoveries:
1. When she married her name was recorded as Mary Ann LAY – LAY was Mary Ann’s mother’s maiden name, suggesting that Mary Ann was born before Henry SHORNDEN and Sarah LAY were married, and thus raising the question of whether she was actually Henry’s daughter. I need to get the full marriage certificate to see who she named as her father.
2. Mary Ann claimed to have been born in Canterbury, Kent – Knowing Mary Ann’s married name has enabled me to trace her in the census and the information about her place of birth is pretty consistent. Whether Canterbury actually means the city itself or whether it means somewhere nearby remains to be discovered.
Although at first glance the Henry’s will didn’t look particularly helpful (or to be honest particularly interesting) it has provided a lead to some potentially useful information, which I may not have found easily because I wouldn’t have looked for a marriage of Mary Ann LAY.
I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that this is the only historic postcard I have of Alton, Hampshire. I shall probably remedy this in the future, but for now you will have to make do with just this one.
This is the church in Alton, Hampshire where Henry SHORNDEN/WRIGHT and his wife Sarah had most of their children baptised and where both Henry and Sarah were buried. The postcard has not been used, but probably dates from between 1905 and 1910. The blank space in the top right-hand corner being used to write your message in if your were going to send the card abroad, when all of the back was needed for the address.
The back of the card also bears the name of the publisher/photographer, W.P. Varney of West End Studio, Alton. A bit of time spent in the trade directories for Hampshire would probably enable me to find out when W.P. Varney was trading.
I hope to get back to Alton this year and spend a bit more time exploring the area. I did pay the town a very brief visit last year when I took the photo below of St. Lawrence Parish Church as it looks now.
Following the discovery of a likely baptism record for my 3x great-grandmother Sarah LAY (the wife of Henry SHORNDEN/WRIGHT) I have been poking around looking for more details on her parents Joseph and Hannah LAY.
Things have not been quite as straightforward as I had hoped. I have found a likely couple in the 1841 census, in fact I think they are the only couple of that name in the 1841. The problem is that they are living in Reigate, Surrey with no obvious connection to Deptford, Kent (where Sarah was baptised).
This is not as neat as I would have liked, it doesn’t rule them out, but makes my life a lot harder trying to prove they are the correct parents. This hypothesis ignores the fact that one or both of the parents may have died before 1841. However Deptford and Reigate are only about 20 miles apart, so it is not that long a journey and not completely inconceivable.
The other fly in the ointment is that Joseph and Hannah were married in Reigate in 1824, two years after Sarah’s baptism. Again this doesn’t rule them out and may actually explain why Sarah wasn’t baptised in Reigate. The Vicar at Reigate would presumably known that her parent’s weren’t married.
Joseph and Hannah had several other children in Reigate after they were married. Hannah appears to have died between 1841 and 1851, and Joseph remarried between 1851 and 1861. Joseph’s second marriage could be useful because it was after the start of civil registration, so his marriage certificate should have his father’s name on it, where the parish register recording the first marriage probably won’t.
What I really need to find now is a record that links the Reigate LAYs to Sarah. That might be a witness on a marriage certificate or an informant on a death certificate. It seems unlikely that Joseph or either of his wives would have left a will, but it is worth checking that as well. I certainly need to check the 1841 census for Reigate very carefully just in case Henry and Sarah SHORNDEN/WRIGHT is hiding in there.