Humbly complaining

This is the second part of the story of my great, great, great grandmother, Mary Ann Port. You can read the first part here.


Humbly complaining shew unto your Lordship your Oratrixes and Orator Elizabeth Port of Samuel Street Saint Georges in the East in the County of Middlesex Widow of Samuel Port late of Savage Gardens in the City of London Wine Merchant deceased Ann Port an Infant under the Age of Twenty one Years that is to say of the Age of Twenty Years of thereabouts Mary Ann Port an Infant under the Age of Twenty one Years that is to say of the Age of Eighteen Years or thereabouts and Thomas Port an Infant under the Age of Twenty one Years that is to say of the Age of Fifteen Years or thereabouts by James Lawson of Fleet Street London Gentleman their next Friend…

With these words in the Plaintiff’s opening Bill of Complaint (dated 5 June 1806) [1] the Chancery suit Port v. Hovil was started; a suit which was to last for the best part of eleven years.

The substance of the Plaintiff’s Bill of Complaint was that while the Defendants (Richard Hovil, Aaron Morgan and Bishop Hull, the executors and trustees named in the will of Samuel Port) had taken possession of Samuel’s personal estate (as the will allowed them to) and had paid his debts and funeral expenses and sold his dwelling house, they hadn’t done most of the other things that they were supposed to. Most importantly, they had failed to set up the various trusts and payments directed by Samuel in his will, particularly relating to the bequests to his children which were supposed to have been sorted out within six months of his decease – the Bill was issued in June 1806, more than 7 years after Samuel had died.

The Defendants hadn’t entirely neglected Samuel’s wife and children. They had evidently been making ad hoc payments towards their maintenance since June 1799 but it all seems to have been done in a thoroughly disorganised and piecemeal manner and, crucially, the children had not received their inheritance nor, apparently, had the necessary funds been set up.

The evidence for these ad hoc payments comes from a remarkable series of documents. Richard Hovil’s initial Answer to the Bill of Complaint, dated 16 September 1806[2], had failed to satisfactorily address many of the Plaintiffs’ points and Richard was ordered to make a further Answer which was to include an inventory of Samuel’s goods and an account of the payments that he (and his co-Defendants) had made towards the maintenance of Samuel’s wife, children and mother[3].

The inventory brings Samuel and his family to life in a way that no other document can begin to. For a start, we learn that Samuel’s house consisted of ten rooms: two garret rooms (the ‘Left hand Garrett’ and ‘Right hand Room’), a ‘Two pair Front Room’, the ‘Middle Room’, the ‘Right hand Bed Room’, a ‘Dining Room’, the ‘Best Bed Chamber’, the ‘Parlour’, the ‘Kitchen’ and a ‘Cellar’. The inventory lists, on a room-by-room basis, all of the moveable property found in each room at the time of Samuel’s death.

It all starts in the garret rooms at the top of the house. The following items were found in the ‘Left hand Garrett’:

• a child’s wicker chair
• a cradle
• a bug trap
• four baskets
• two bird cages
• sundry galley tiles
• twelve sash weights
• nine new tin valentia’s
• sundry bung cloths and cords
• a cloaths horse
• two flasketts
• cloaths lines and pins
• a turks head broom
• a hair broom
• bed pan and sundries

With a bit of imagination, a good dictionary and easy access to a decent search engine, it’s possible to work out what each of these items was and what it was used for, and it soon becomes obvious that the left hand garret was being used to store odds and ends. The cradle wouldn’t have been used since Thomas was a baby and it seems that he had also outgrown the child’s wicker chair. The bung cloths and the new tin valentias were tools of the wine merchant’s trade; a valentia (or valincher) was used in sampling wine from casks. The Oxford English Dictionary[4] references Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language, which in turn defines a ‘valinch’ as ‘a tube for drawing liquors from a cask by the bung-hole’.


Inventory attached to the further Answer of Richard Hovil (detail). Port v. Hovil. The National Archives reference: C 13/70/5 #3a

As we descend through the house, the rooms become more populated, the lists for the best bed chamber, the parlour and the kitchen, running to scores of individual items. And as each room gives up its secrets our picture of the house and its interior becomes more vivid. It also becomes clear that the Port family were comfortably well-off; here, for example, is the list of the ‘china and glass’ in the parlour:

• two coloured bowls and six burnt in and enamel’d plates
• two blue and white plates
• three basons
• mill pot
• tea pot
• five tea cups
• five saucers
• a set of blue and white mugs
• twelve flower’d china tea cups
• twelve saucers and a bason
• three Wedgewood tea pots
• three saucers
• seven coffee cups and a bason
• a pair of cut quart decanters and stands
• a pair of pint do. and do.
• three goblets
• a crewet
• one cyder and five wine glasses

Other highlights include a quantity of children’s toys in the ‘Middle Room’, a set of large red and white printed cotton curtains in the ‘Right hand Bed Room’, a needlework map in a carved and gilt frame, a Pembroke table with a drawer on castors and a neat patterned Wilton carpet in the dining room, and an olive green coat black velvet and Marseilla waistcoat and a striped Surtout coat in the best bed chamber.

Pembroke table

Antique Pembroke table in mahogany. An English, Georgian drop flap dining table dating to circa 1820, currently available for sale on

For students of middle-class life in late Georgian London it’s a treasure chest. For me, it provides a snapshot of Mary Ann’s life at the very end of the nineteenth century and it’s fair to say that I don’t have anything even remotely similar for any of my other great great great grandparents. And there’s more…

The Account drawn up by Richard Hovil goes into enormous detail, listing the various payments made to Samuel’s wife and children. On 24 June 1800, for example, the following payment was noted:

To Coach hire Pocket Money for all the Children going to Portsmouth to see and stay with Mrs Port at Mrs Lewin’s

There are a number of similar references to Mrs Port (i.e. Samuel’s widow, Elizabeth (née Truman)) staying in Portsmouth with Mrs Lewin and several payments were made to Mrs Lewin for ‘Mrs Port’s Board’.

The ‘children’ (i.e. Ann, Mary Ann and Thomas) are mentioned frequently collectively and when they’re separately identified, the common practice of referring to Ann, the oldest, as Miss Port and to Mary Ann and Thomas by their names, is usually observed.

The first explicit reference to Mary Ann (there are eleven in total) comes on 30 December 1800 when a payment of £5 5s was made ‘To Mary and Thomas 5 weeks board each’. The very next entry, made apparently on the same date, is of particular interest to us:

To Mrs Cox for Mary’s Schooling – Christmas £17 5s 6d

We also find payments being made to Mary for ‘Sundries Hats Shoes &c.’, another one in June (1802?) for Mary Ann’s schooling with Mrs Cox, and one in January (1803?) ‘To Cash Mrs Seeley new Dresses for Miss Mary Port’.

As the ‘Account’ progresses the descriptions noted against the various payments become less-and-less specific until they become so vague as to be almost meaningless.

Img_1153 (detail)

Schedule attached to the further Answer of Richard Hovil (detail). Port v. Hovil. The National Archives reference: C 13/70/5 #3b

A more cynical man than I would suspect that Richard Hovil was making it up as he went along…

It’s clear from this that Mary Ann was sent to school under the care of a woman called Mrs Cox and that she was with Mrs Cox from at least 1800 until 1802. Fortunately, one of the many ‘Decrees and Orders’ in the Chancery suit gives us some more information about this. On Friday 9 July 1813, the cause was brought before the Master of the Rolls and a number of matters were raised[5]. The aim of this particular session appears to have been to sort out exactly how much money had been expended on behalf of each of the children and the document tells us in some detail what had happened to Ann, Mary Ann and Thomas in the period since their father had died. This is what it has to say about Mary Ann:

…and that the said infant Mary Ann Port was placed out at School from the time of the death of the said Testator under the Care of Miss Cox at Vauxhall where she continued until about the Month of December 1804 and had since continued to reside at Buckingham in the county of Bucks with Mrs Hutton a friend of the said Plaintiff Elizabeth Port…

So we now know that Mary Ann was at school with Miss (or Mrs?) Cox from April 1799 (when she was 10) until December 1804 (when she was 16) and that the ‘school’ was in Vauxhall. I’ve put school in inverted commas here because the institution that Mary Ann attended would have borne little or no resemblance to what we would think of as a school. She would have been one of a small number of pupils under Miss Cox’s care and the ‘school’ would almost certainly have been a room in Miss Cox’s house. I have so far been unable to find out any more about Miss Cox and her establishment in Vauxhall.

Market Place, Buckingham

Market Place, Buckingham

The next part of the story concerns Mary Ann’s move to Buckingham to ‘reside’ with Mrs Hutton, a friend of her mother’s. The Huttons are a fascinating family and despite the fact that Elizabeth and Mrs Hutton were apparently friends, they were definitely from very different social classes. Mrs Hutton was born Henrietta Thomas in Chancery Lane in 1768, the daughter of Benjamin and Hannah Thomas[6]. She was therefore about 14 years Elizabeth’s junior.

I don’t know how Elizabeth and Henrietta came to know each other (I need to spend more time looking at the Thomas family) but I do know that on 13 October 1793, Henrietta had married the Reverend James Long Hutton of Buckingham[7] and that in 1804, their youngest daughter, Jane Lucy Hutton was born. And it seems likely that Mary Ann was sent to Buckingham to help Henrietta with the baby and with the other children that James and Henrietta already had – at least two of them.

With her inheritance still not secured, Mary Ann embarked on a new stage of her life, as a governess to a wealthy family in a prosperous market town. In the next and final part of the story, we’ll attempt to piece together the clues to see what we can learn about Mary Ann’s life in Buckingham.

© David Annal, Lifelines Research, 2 August 2020

[1] Bill of Complaint of Elizabeth Port and others. Port v. Hovil. The National Archives (TNA) reference: C 13/70/5 #1
[2] Answer of Richard Hovil. Port v. Hovil. TNA references: C 13/70/5 #2
[3] Further Answer of Richard Hovil with Inventory and two Schedules. Port v. Hovil. TNA references: C 13/70/5 #3
[4] Oxford English Dictionary – accessed 2 August 2020
[5] Decrees & Orders. Port v. Hovil. TNA reference: C 33/601 f.1004v
[6] Baptism of Henrietta Thomas, 1768, St Dunstan in the West, City of London – London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) reference: P69/DUN2/A/010
[7] Marriage of James Long Hutton & Henrietta Thomas, St Clement Dane, Westminster – City of Westminster Archives Centre reference: SJSS/PR/5/3 p.61

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3 Responses to Humbly complaining

  1. Pingback: My friend Miss Mary Ann Port | Lifelines Research

  2. What a fascinating story and I love the detailed inventory of the house…provides so much information on the day-to-day life of the middle classes of that period.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: All and every my child and children | Lifelines Research

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