To mark our 40th Wedding Anniversary, my wife and I arranged a six-day road trip, stopping off at various places connected with our families. Liz, my wife, is an enthusiastic family historian herself so she was very much a partner in planning the week on the road.
We were particularly keen to visit the places that our ancestors had lived and worked in, to walk for a moment in their footsteps and to try, as far as this sort of thing is actually possible, to picture what life must have been like for them. But we were also keen to find their last resting places and with that in mind we visited no fewer than 13 burial places in our six days away. (Who says family historians don’t know how to have fun!)
We set off last Monday, and, now home and recovering from the whistle-stop nature of the trip, my plan is, over the next six days, to post a blog a day, each one focussing on one of the more interesting gravestones that we found.
Most of my ancestors were labourers who worked on the land: from the Orcadian farmer/fishermen to the hinds of the Scottish lowlands; from the Manx hill farmers to the poorest of them all – the victims of the Irish potato famine, the majority of my ancestors would have frequently worried about where the next meal was coming from and many would have lived with the ever-present threat of the workhouse looming over them. Some of them, it’s true, were relatively well-off, owning small pieces of land and even occassionally, leaving a will, suggesting at least a degree of comfort, but there’s one branch of my family which sits significantly higher on the social scale.
My grandmother was the result of a relationship between her mother and her mother’s employer: a man from, it’s fair to say, a somewhat different social class. So it’s perhaps not too surprising that it’s amongst his ancestors that I find most of the wills, property records, some fascinating Chancery cases and … some remarkable gravestones.
My 4x great grandfather, Samuel Port, was born in Shirburn, Oxfordshire in 1754. I get the impression that his father, Thomas, had ‘come down in the world’: his 17th century ancestors had been amongst the wealthiest inhabitants of the Oxfordshire town of Dorchester, running the biggest inn in the village and sending their children to the prestigious Dorchester Grammar School. Thomas had moved the short distance to Shirburn where he worked on the Earl of Macclesfield’s estate and it was there that he married Jane Franklin and that their four children were born.
The oldest son died young, and the other two married and stayed in the area, but Samuel was to have a very different future. On 25 October 1769, aged 15, he was apprenticed to a man called Jonathan Granger, Citizen and Draper of London.
A Londoner by birth, Jonathan Granger was a wealthy and influential man. He was made a Freeman of the City of London in 1719, and in 1755, he was one of 12 ‘Common Councilmen’ who, along with the Alderman, were responsible for the government of London’s Tower Ward.
Despite being a member of the Drapers’ Company, Jonathan was a wine cooper by trade and it was this trade that Samuel Port was to learn from him. The apprenticeship indenture indicates that no fee was paid to Jonathan by Samuel’s parents which seems unusual until, that is, we discover that Jonathan was married to Samuel’s great aunt, Mary.
Samuel’s apprenticeship was supposed to last the customary period of seven years, however, on 10 January 1774, just four years and two months into his term, his master died and Samuel was ‘turned over’ to William King, one of the executors named in Jonathan Granger’s will. The will stretches to eight pages and is so full of additions and amendments (not to mention ramblings!) that it’s quite difficult to make full sense of it, but Samuel is clearly named as a beneficiary, along with several other Port relations, including his father, Thomas.
In one of the (slightly) more coherent sections of his will, Jonathan leaves instructions regarding his burial:
… my Body to be decently interred according to this my Will herein after named … and also my Funeral Expences which I desire may be small with decency not to exceed three Coaches with the Hearse To carry my Body to Dorchester in Oxfordshire there to be interred by my beloved Wife Mary and Daughter Rebecca Granger which is to be found in the Entrance of the said Church with the Inscription on a Stone to whom they belong and desire the further Inscription may be added on my Account after my Intermnent if room at the bottom of same Stone if not on one other Stone to be laid over my Body …Will of Jonathan Granger of Saint Dunstan in the East, London. Proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 7 February 1774. The National Archives ref: PROB 11/995
Jonathan’s beloved wife, Mary (née Port) had died over 22 years earlier and his daughter Rebecca some seven years after that, and we can assume that it was Jonathan who had arranged for the remarkably detailed and ornate stone to be laid over them. The stone survives today in almost perfect condition – perhaps slightly scuffed in places – but given that it’s now 264 years since ‘Rebeckah’s’ name was added, it’s remarkable how legible the text is. Much of it looks like it must have looked the day it was carved.
The inscription in full reads:
Beneath this Stone Lyeth Interr’d
the Body of Mrs MARY GRANGER
Late Wife of IONATHAN GRANGER
of London Daughter of THOMAS
and REBECKAH PORT of this Ancient
She was Good, Virtuous, Loving, Tender and Humane
Obijt the 11th Iune 1751 Ætatis 60
As also, their Eldest Daughter
Obijt February the 20th 1758 Ætatis 36
She was Dutiful to her Parents, Loving and Respectful
to her Friends, Chearful and Innocent in her Deportment
Without Pride or Dissimulation, of a Truly Virtuous Mind
Two Daughters and one Son, Buried in
London. MARY, ELIZABETH and IONATHAN
Who Died Infants.
The stone lies today in the south aisle of the church (now known as the People’s Chapel). Technically, it’s a ledger stone, and it, along with scores of other stones (some of which appear to have formerly stood outside in the churchyard), forms the floor of much of the church today.
Immediately to its left lies another stone, almost exactly the same size and colour, which, in much the same lettering, records the death and burial of Jonathan. The room at the bottom of the original stone was evidently not felt to be sufficient to record Jonathan’s details:
Here lieth the Body
of Mr JONATHAN GRANGER
Citizen and Draper, of LONDON,
who died the 10th of Jany. 1774
Aged 77 Years.
I had known of the existence of these stones but this was the first time that I’d seen them in the flesh (as it were) and I have to admit that I found the experience quite moving. It’s so far removed from the sorts of graves that I usually find for my ancestors – Mary’s has even got heraldry!
But there’s one problem with the stone. And it’s quite a big problem…
Mary is described – very clearly – as the daughter of Thomas and Rebecca (‘Rebeckah’) Port. But she wasn’t: she was the daughter of John and Rebecca Port.
John Port had married Rebecca (surname unknown) sometime around 1675. They went on to have three children – John (baptised 1678 at Great Hasely – died young), Thomas (baptised 1680 in Dorchester – Samuel’s grandfather), John (baptised 1683 in Dorchester) – before John senior died sometime in early 1685/86.
On 10 March 1685/86, letters of administration were granted to John’s widow and relict, Rebecca Port, and an inventory was compiled, listing John’s “goods and stock credits & chattles” which came to a total of £314 1s 4d – a not-inconsiderable sum for the time.
Four months later, Rebecca gave birth to a daughter, called Mary. The Dorchester parish register records the baptism of:
Maria filia Reb: Port Vid. de Dorches: bapt: Jul: 27: 86
So, Mary was evidently born after her father died. I don’t know when Rebecca died (there’s a gap in the Dorchester burial register between 1678 and 1719) but if she died shortly after John, it’s conceivable that the children never knew their parents and we can begin to understand how their father’s name might quickly have been forgotten.* And then, when Mary died, nearly 65 years later (she was older than the 60 years stated on the stone) the wrong name was recorded on her memorial.
It’s perhaps a lesson to us that memorial stones – even the most detailed and informative – aren’t always as accurate as we would like them to be. I tend to treat them as mini-biographies, rather than primary sources.
* On checking my notes more carefully, I realise that the widowed Rebecca married a man called Timothy Smyth on 15 August 1687 and that she seems to have died a few years later. The gap in the parish register is partially filled by some Bishops Transcripts but these are also a bit patchy. There are two burials of women called Rebecka Smith, one on 1 July 1689/90 and another (undated) in 1691/92. The BTs give no further details but one of them is probably our Rebecca.
© David Annal, Lifelines Research, 2 May 2022