Author Archives: Susan Morris

Dr Susan Morris is Director of Research at Debrett Ancestry Research Ltd.

Prince Harry, Baron Kilkeel

The town of Kilkeel, in County Down, Northern Ireland, is an ancient settlement famous for its granite, its fishing fleet, the natural beauty of its mountains of Mourne that ‘sweep down to the sea’, and as from the 19th May 2018, its royal connection, as Prince Harry became on his wedding day HRH The Duke of Sussex, Earl of Dumbarton and Baron Kilkeel.

Albert Bridge / Departure from Kilkeel harbour

A trawler leaves Kilkeel harbour

Perhaps less well known is Kilkeel’s Prawn Festival, which began in 1963 and featured its own royals: not King Prawn, as might be hoped for, but the King of Mourne, and King Neptune who arrived, trident in hand, on a trawler. British Pathe shows some wonderful footage of the event in 1963. The event has been replaced in modern times by the Kilkeel Seafood Festival.

For more information and archive photographs of Kilkeel’s Prawn Festival see tracingyourmourneroots.com.

Although the new Baron and his wife, HRH The Duchess of Sussex, have yet to make a trip there, royal visitors are no novelty for Kilkeel. The Queen has made a visit, and in 2011 Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall visited Kilkeel High School.

The parish of Kilkeel also boasts an estate designed for entertaining on a royal scale, although it is currently out of commission. Mourne Park, seat of the Earls of Kilmorey, is one of Northern Ireland’s grandest estates, built originally on 800 acres of land that was granted by Edward VI in 1552 to Sir Nicholas Bagnall, Marshall General of the Army in Ireland. It was rebuilt, in local granite, in 1806 by the 12th Viscount Kilmorey, Francis Jack Needham, who in reward for military service to the crown in America, and in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, was created Viscount Newry and Morne and Earl of Kilmorey in 1822.

On the death of the 1st Earl in 1832, his son, also named Francis Jack Needham, succeeded, and saw the estate through the famine years of the 1840s; the ‘famine wall’ on the estate was his means of providing extra employment. There is some evidence that the poor of the parish suffered less during those desperate times than elsewhere. A workhouse had been built in Newry Street, Kilkeel, in 1841, with a fever house added on soon afterwards, but the minutes of the Board of Guardians suggest that there was less starvation and fever than in other parts of Ireland.

Edward VII is said to have been a frequent visitor to Mourne Park, and other notable guests have included the Queen Mother and Errol Flynn. During the Second World War it was used as a planning base for the Normandy landings. However, the modern history of the house is one of sad decline. The subject of family dispute in the late 20th/ 21st centuries, the estate was put up for sale in 2008, at which point it had 17 bedrooms, 8 reception rooms, and a footprint of some 25,000 square feet, set in an estate of 140 acres. The house was still for sale when it suffered a catastrophic fire in 2013, which caused the main roof to collapse. It currently awaits a new future, which perhaps will dawn the more quickly now that Kilkeel has become such a focus of interest.

The new Earl of Dumbarton

In bestowing upon Prince Harry the subsidiary title of Earl of Dumbarton, the Crown has made an unusual choice. The earldom, which has been extinct for nearly 270 years, was held for two generations by a junior branch of the aristocratic Scottish family of Douglas between 1675 and 1749. Both the previous Earls of Dumbarton spent much of their lives in France or abroad, and were both tainted with Roman Catholicism and Jacobite sympathies.

The first Earl of Dumbarton was George Douglas; born in about 1636, he was a younger son of the first Marquess of Douglas. From about the age of seventeen he was a soldier in the service of King Louis XIV of France, serving in and then commanding the Scottish Regiment of France for nearly 25 years, and rising to be a Lieutenant-General in the French army. He was a great favourite of Louis XIV who opposed his return to England when King Charles II summoned him home to raise the 1st Royal Regiment of Foot (the Royal Scots). King Charles secretly sympathised with his Catholicism, even to the extent of paying off over £1,500 in fines imposed upon for his religious non-conformity. As a reward for his military service George Douglas was created Earl of Dumbarton in 1675, with the subsidiary title of Lord Ettrick.

Louis XIV of France

Louis XIV of France

The Earl of Dumbarton was entirely comfortable serving our last Catholic king, James II, who appointed him Commander in Chief of Forces in Scotland. He was a great favourite of King James II and chose to go into exile with him in 1688. Dumbarton lived with the royal Stuart household in France until he died at St Germain-en-Laye in 1692. No doubt Prince Harry would admire his military prowess and ability as a soldier, but possibly less so his devotion to the Pope and his admiration of Louis XIV of France.

The second Earl of Dumbarton was also called George Douglas. Born in about 1687, his first ambition was to become a monk, but he was dissuaded from this by James II’s widow, Mary of Modena, in 1704. He decided there was no future for the house of Stuart, and he returned to England having been pardoned for high treason as a Jacobite. He too had a distinguished military career, but in the British Army. In 1716 he went to Moscow as an envoy to the Czar of Muscovy. When he died at Douay in north France in January 1749, the title became extinct.

Prince Harry’s future career will undoubtedly take a very different path from his predecessors as Earls of Dumbarton. We can be entirely confident that he will never test his vocation to be a monk, nor will he rise to the most senior rank in the French army.

Spotting Fake Genealogy

In a world where fake news has become as significant as the real thing, it’s time to shine a light into another dark corner: fake genealogy.

The Victorian actress Miss Leigh in 'Pretty Peculiar'

The Victorian actress Miss Leigh in ‘Pretty Peculiar’

Why fake it?

From ancient times, genealogy has been a powerful tool in reinforcing identity, whether personal or political. From the ‘begat’ lists of the Bible, to the often tortuous descents of privilege documented in Burke’s and our own Debrett’s peerage, ancestors have been invoked to demonstrate status through membership of a particular tribe. This is not a universal motive nowadays; many ancestor-seekers are simply curious, and find that identifying their forbears helps them to understand history. For some, however, the desire to be connected to a famous, titled or wealthy family is a driving force.

Inevitably, this has led to false claims and to exploitation.  These fall into two categories:

The accidental ancestor

Tracing ancestry is not always easy, even with all the modern finding tools, and the pages of websites such as Ancestry are teeming with inaccurate family trees. Moreover, oral history tends to value dramatic effect over accuracy. We humans like to arrange things into patterns, and to fill in any gaps in the facts with borrowed ones. Granny (or indeed Grandad) might not have been consciously fibbing with that story of a fine lady who ran off with the gardener; but the chances are, she didn’t. (Interestingly, plod through the documentation and you might find a grain of truth in the story: there might have been a professional gardener in the family, or the family might have relocated for reasons that appear illogical to their descendants.)

The unscrupulous genealogist

Intent to deceive is much rarer, but there have been some notable examples. American genealogy – with the uncertainties of emigrant origins, a vast country, and a lack of early documentation – was particularly ripe for exploitation. The American ‘genealogist’ Gustav Anjou (1863–1952) delighted hundreds of clients by selling them (for very high fees) spurious pedigrees connecting them to glamorous or illustrious emigrant families. This went far beyond the sort of carelessness that we see now online: Anjou provided false or fabricated references to documentation, providing the illusion that scholarly research had been carried out.

To avoid fakes pushing their way into your own ancestry, there are some simple rules to follow. Don’t adopt anyone else’s family tree without checking each connection. Was it is based on guesswork, wishful thinking, idly clicking buttons on a wet afternoon, or on careful research using original records (which includes digitised images of original records)? Are there obvious howlers, such as people having children at an impossibly young age, or simultaneously being in three different parts of the country? Look at each generation carefully, and in full: siblings are important.  Occupations are important.  If there is a marriage or birth certificate to be had, get a copy.  And be wary of those innocent-looking little green leaves or links that the website waves at you. It is not thinking, it is only shuffling its data and showing you a few of its cards.

For further information on fake genealogy:

Gustav Anjou – Fraudulent Genealogist: lists the family names affected by Anjou’s misdemeanours, but contains broken internet links.

Fraudulent Genealogies: FamilySearch’s overview of the subject, with several useful links.

Baronage: sets out a number of errors, and the background thereof, in the 1970 edition of Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage.

Maidenhead spoons in old wills and inventories

One of the most fascinating genealogical tasks is reading old wills and inventories.  For a start, there is the humbling recognition that the goods and chattels of even a well-to-do householder, right up to the eighteenth centuryy, could be listed on a single page.  The will owill-fragmentr inventory of a Tudor or Stuart yeoman (or his widow) often takes us room by room around his house and outbuildings, enabling us to peer through the windows and see what kind of bed he slept on, what he wore, what he ate his food with, and even into the corners of the lumber rooms where miscellaneous and unnamed ‘thinges’ lurked.

Silver utensils, being of special value, were often described in some detail.  A wealthy Cornish yeoman of the parish of Saltash in 1581 left his wife, among other things, a dozen silver spoons ‘called by the name of the mayden head’; after her death, they were to be passed on to her daughters.

Maidenhead spoons 1580

Maidenhead spoons 1580

 

 

Maidenhead spoons – that is, spoons with a filial in the form of a female head –  feature in inventories from the fourteenth century.  The examples that survive – both in the documents and in reality – are usually silver, but no doubt there were wooden spoons that were similarly carved.  It has been suggested that they might have been wedding gifts.

 

The expression ‘born with a silver spoon in his mouth’ reflects the importance of the silver spoon as a mark of status and in particular of inherited wealth.

Precious as they were, it might have come as a surprise to the yeoman in question that a few centuries later, his maidenhead spoons would have fetched thousands of pounds.  A pair of Elizabeth maidenhead spoons, made ca 1580, was valued at between £5,000 and £7,000 in 2016.

The minute size of a spoon filial was a challenge to the craftsman.  Similar images, in wood and stone, are found in abundance in medieval church decoration, where the larger size allowed for a greater breadth of treatment.

Maidenhead spoon filial 1607

Maidenhead  filial 1607

Like other traditional forms of decoration, the maiden’s head had a symbolic meaning.  An inventory from Durham Priory (1446) makes it clear that two of its spoons (which were perhaps used liturgically for incense) had ‘the image of the Holy Mary at their ends’.  Over time, as with other emblems, generations of craftsmen adapted the image as they chose, so that some of the female heads on the ends of spoons were not obviously maidenly.

Small wonder that, come the revolution, a new fashion for Puritan spoons emerged, with plain lines and no decoration.

 

Sources & Further reading:

T Kent, West Country Silver Spoons and Their Makers, 1550-1750 (J H  Bourdon-Smith Limited, 1992).

C M Woolgar, The Culture of Food in England, 1200–1500 (Yale University Press, 2016).

Roberta Gilchrist, Medieval Life: Archaeology and the Life Course (Boydell Press, 2012)..

Online catalogue, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Woolley & Wallis, Salisbury: www.woolleyandwallis.co.uk.

J H Bourdon-Smith, London: www.bourdonsmith.co.uk.

 

 

Colwell Wood and Colwell Wood Cottage

Colwell Wood Cottage

Colwell Wood Cottage

In a clearing in the heart of Colwell Wood, in the parish of Offwell, near Honiton in Devon, stands a seemingly insignificant cottage known as Colwell Wood Cottage.  This property, and the land around it, was the subject of one of our first ventures into house history back in the 1980s.  It proved a remarkably rich subject for research, yielding links with some of the most powerful landed families in medieval England, a Napoleonic war hero and a King.

Colwell was never a manor as such, but as a small estate its history can be traced back to the Domesday Book.  As part of much larger estates it passed through the hands of the great aristocratic families of de Courtenay, Hungerford and Hastings.  During the Wars of the Roses, and the period of Yorkist rule between 1461 and 1485, it was held by the ill-fated Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who finally became King Richard III.

The aristocrats were succeeded as landowners in Colwell by the local gentry – Franklin, Collins, Southcott, Marwood and Mayne – some of whose names live on in memorials in Offwell church.  This history of this period was a complex one, since the estate was fragmented, with different pieces of the jigsaw changing hands fairly frequently.

Admiral Sir Thomas Graves, who was second in command to Lord Nelson at the Battle of Copenhagen (1801), bought Colwell Wood in 1798 for £1,210.  In 1805 he gave it to his daughter Mary, and shortly afterwards the Cottage was built.  The wood was a sound investment, for timber fetched high prices, but it had also acquired a new value.  Whereas natural woodland had traditionally been viewed with trepidation, full of danger and mystery, the Romantic age saw it with new eyes.  For those who had leisure, a ramble in the woods was now something to be relished, and the steep wooded dells of Offwell had already won the heart of the parish’s most famous son, Edward Copleston, Bishop of Llandaff, who in 1825 wrote to a friend:

Bluebells in Colwell Wood

Bluebells in Colwell Wood

Natural history is the food of my vacation hours, and I shall take your precious volume with me when I next go to saunter and ramble in my Offwell woods.  It would do my heart good to have you one day to join me in those rambles over the scenes of my infancy …

Thereafter, the dual functions of Colwell Wood can be traced more readily.  It firstly remained a valuable asset with its timber and cover for breeding game birds, and secondly it was a picturesque retreat.  In 1985 Colwell Wood was fortunate in being acquired by an owner who appreciates the natural beauty of the place over and above any commercial interests.  He has funded years of painstaking research, restored the Cottage, and striven to preserve its tranquility and natural habitat for the benefit of future generations.

The results of years of painstaking research are now available in our detailed, illustrated History of Colwell Wood and Cottage.  Pedigrees of the Graves, Mayne, Collins and Marwood-Elton families are included.  The volume will be of value to anyone with an interest in Devon history or in small English estates.  Above all, it demonstrates that no matter how small or apparently insignificant a piece of English property is, dig deep and a rich and varied history may emerge.

A History of Colwell Wood and Cottage is available via Amazon, and its companion volume A History of Offwell, generously sponsored by the same individual and sold in aid of Offwell parish church, can be purchased from Debrett Ancestry Research Ltd.

Surname origins online

In Britain, the surname lies at the heart of genealogy; most of us carry round with us a medieval name-tag which might have arisen from where an ancestor lived, what they looked like or their occupation.

In 1986 Debrett Ancestry Research acquired Frank Leeson’s Surname Archive and took on the legacy of Frank’s ‘Surname Report’ service by providing detailed studies of British surname origin and distribution, using a wide variety of printed sources.  We are now gradually updating and releasing a selection of studies from the Debrett Surname Archive in Kindle and paperback form.

Surname Study Paperback

The Surnames Baker and Baxter

The academic study of surname origin is a slow and painstaking business, and few counties have the good fortunate to have been covered by the English Surname Series, which provides an in-depth study of local surnames from earliest records onwards.

At the other end of the scale, ‘surname scrolls’, which typically provide a brief hotchpotch of notes from dictionaries and random examples from historical records, enjoyed a bit of a boom when the potential of modern mailing lists met the surge of interest in all things genealogical.

The latest development is, needless to say, online, and many websites now offer surname analysis and history.  We have been looking at some of the many sites out there, using two names (one rare and one common) to test the databases.

Ancestry

ancestry.com/learn/facts/

Dominating the field is the US giant Ancestry.com, which draws upon its huge genealogical databases to analyse surname distribution and provide some general statistics.  The starting point is simple; typing in your surname leads immediately to a choice of results. For rarer surnames results will be sparse, and older documents are often inexpertly transcribed and indexed.

If your surname is included in the Dictionary of American Family Names (OUP 2013) Ancestry will pull out the relevant entry; no further attempt is made to establish the origins of a name.

Further categories can be selected after an initial selection of ‘United States’, ‘England and Wales’ or ‘Scotland’ (sorry, Ireland).  For the ‘England and Wales’ section, a distribution map will appear (based on a single census), but this is followed by some entirely US-based data collections about immigration and civil war service (that’s the American Civil War, by the way), and an analysis of occupations and, rather startlingly, life expectancy.  No UK data is used in these sections.

So, despite all that big data, this service is of moderate interest for those in the US only.

 

The Internet Surname Database

surnamedb.com

This site claims modest coverage of just under 50,000 surnames and is based on a former mail order service which provided potted surname histories on scrolls.  The last company statement is dated 2007 but users can provide links to their own information. ‘Statistics’ are drawn entirely from US records. We found nothing of value for either of our surnames on this site, which seems to be largely an advertising platform.

 

Forebears

forebears.co.uk/surnames

Advertising also looms large on this portal.  The surname section boasts ‘Meanings and Distribution of 11 million surnames’. The home page shows a simple search box, a stream of user submissions and a general article on the history of surnames.

For an individual search, a selection of excerpts is provided from older surname dictionaries; presumably for copyright reasons, modern scholarly works do not feature here.  In view of this, as a footnote rightly says, ‘diligence is advised on accepting [the] validity’ of some of these excerpts.

The list of variants and ‘similar surnames’ is fairly meaningless, relying on computer-think rather than informed logic.

Mapping illustrates the prevalence of your surname worldwide, or for a selected area.  The English section is based solely on the 1881 census; the British analysis apparently takes in census returns from 1881 to 1901, and a table provides the figures, listed by county.  This is quite a helpful tool.

The site will also ‘transliterate’ your surname, should you wish it, into a variety of other forms including Arabic, Bengali and Tibetan.

 

Some minor sites

 Meaning-of-Names.com is largely a directory of other sites and navigating through the advertising is a lengthy process, leading in one case to a compulsory marketing survey.

www.myheritage.com offers a surname distribution search which is really a personal name search.

searchforancestors.com/surnames/origin/ offers a surname origin search of very limited value and a surname distribution search based solely on the US census.

locatemyname.com aims to show the distribution of surnames worldwide.  The homepage links to individual pages for each country. Results show:

  • top local cities/towns with numbers of occurrences
  • top global countries with occurrences of the name in the records
  • distribution maps
  • ranking of the surname in ‘popularity’
  • a simplified ‘meaning of the name’
  • a selection of famous people with the name

It’s not clear what records are used in this analysis.

Beyond this brief survey, there are many genealogical sites offering a simple ‘surname origin’ search which lead, at best, to a brief derivation from an unacknowledged source.

Conclusion

While the internet and the plethora of genealogical data online should offer rich pickings in terms of surname distribution, this is best carried out on an individual basis on a site such as Ancestry or Findmypast using specific sources.  None of the sites we looked at attempted any serious analysis of surname origin.  The bridge between painstaking and informed research, and search-box quick fixes, if such a thing is possible, has yet to be made.

 

 

 

Creating a Family Biography

We have recently relaunched a service that we first introduced in the 1980s (as our Family Heritage Programme).  We had a number of clients whose ancestry we had already traced, and who were now looking to obtain a lasting summary of their family history in a coherent single volume, to hand on to future generations.  From a series of research reports and a pile of family photographs we created a narrative: the story of the family, from the earliest known generation onwards, illustrated with photographs, maps and including a detailed pedigree chart or family tree.  We now call the final product a Family Biography.

In the 1980s, this involved a lot of travelling around, taking photographs, amassing local information and – quite literally – some physical cutting and pasting.   The process is now much more streamlined, but the finished product is still very much an individually crafted piece: a Family Biography.

A Family Biography will bring your ancestry to life, by setting the story in a wider context.  Just as each family is unique, we believe that each family history deserves individual and thoughtful treatment.   Using contemporary sources, the finished book will not just state (in full detail) what happened and where, but will seek to explain why a family moved to a particular location, or why their fortunes rose or fell.  We may not find all the answers, but setting a family in its historical and geographical context often makes sense of your family’s past.

Half-leather binding

Half-leather binding

Perfect binding

Perfect binding

Standard binding

Standard binding

The final product can be bound in a number of different formats. Craftsman leather binding is still the most popular, or for multiple copies, perfect binding provides a practical and economic finish.

Each biography includes a detailed family tree chart and we can also arrange to have this printed on acid-free paper, suitable for framing.

Prices are quoted individually.

For full details and sample pages see our new Family Biographies website.

 

The Brewer’s Drayman

McEwan draymen 1929This photograph, found in a junk shop many miles from where it was taken, apparently portrays the draymen of McEwan’s Fountain Brewery, which was founded in 1856 by the brewer-politician William McEwan,  donor of Edinburgh University’s magnificently grandiose McEwan Hall.

The photograph is dated 1929: depression was biting, and the following year McEwan’s would merge with its rival William Youngers in order to survive.

As a vital link between brewery and drinker, the drayman holds an honoured place in popular culture.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines him as ‘a man who drives a dray (in England, usually a brewer’s dray)’ and, if case you were wondering what a dray might be, cites a French-English dictionary from the reign of James I:

Haquet, a Dray; a low and open Cart, such as London Brewers use’

Literary allusions

At about the same date, the drayman found his way into Shakespeare, albeit in unflattering guise: Pandarus, in Troilus and Cressida (1609) describes Achilles dismissively as:

‘A dray-man, a porter, a very Cammell’

Charles Dickens sketched a more benign portrait of the London drayman in The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit (1843): the enamoured John Westlock helps Ruth Pinch over a rope which two ‘good-tempered burly draymen’ are using to lower beer barrels into a cellar:

‘… and when John helped her – almost lifted her – the lightest, easiest, neatest thing you ever saw – across the rope, they said he owed them a good turn for giving him the chance. Celestial draymen!’

The grotesque broadside ballad ‘Barclay and Perkins’ Drayman’, which crudely expresses even cruder racist sentiments, portrays the drayman as the thuggish but majestic object of a Thames-side widow’s love:

This drayman was more than six foot high,
a proper broad great back man
She thought him best the reason why
he was twice as big as the black man
His face was like the moon just rose
More like a priest than a lay man
The eyes they did sparkle and so did the nose
Of Barclay and Perkins Dray man

A heavyweight occupation

Physical strength was obviously a prerequisite for the job, and in 19th century popular culture the drayman became something of a champion.  He was not however known for his radical politics. Punch magazine noted that draymen were among the first to enrol as Special Constables in April 1848 to protect the City against a Chartist demonstration.

The draymen of Barclay and Perkins’ brewery, which was on Bankside, stepped into the limelight in 1850 when General Haynau of Austria, who had notoriously ordered the flogging of Mme Madersbach, a Hungarian aristocrat, visited the brewery. He was met by a hostile crowed of draymen and labourers and was forced to flee and take refuge in a dustbin, from which he was eventually rescued by police.

A few figures

That fount of Victorian wisdom, Haydn’s Dictionary of Dates, tells us that in 1858 there were 205 great brewers in England and 40,418 licensed brewers.  According to the Findmypast indexes, the census of England, Scotland and Wales of 1851 identified 604 men as draymen (or brewer’s draymen or brewer’s carters), of which 119 were in Scotland. (The total population at this date was around 20.9 million.)  In 1881, a handful of draymen’s wives were also described as draymen: in most cases, the description has been struck through by the enumerator but against one the word ‘milkseller’ has been added, an indication that some of the draymen were probably milkmen, not brewery carriers.

Heavy lifting

The heavy loads carried by the draymen took their toll.  The pioneering bone surgeon Sir William Arbuthnot Lane (1856–1943), whose father was an army surgeon, studied the skeletons of brewers’ draymen and other manual lifters and noted that:

‘In the case of the brewers’ drayman who carried a heavy barrel on his right shoulder, the spine had become adapted to meet its burden’.

The industry had yet to embrace the culture of health and safety, in which it is now classed (in the US) in the category of ‘Material Moving Workers, All Other’.  In the UK, while the horse has been replaced by the engine, the old word is still used, resonating down the centuries in honour of this essential British occupation.

 

Drayman

Sources

The Oxford English Dictionary (online)

Bodleian Library, Broadside Ballads Online

William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida (1609), Act 1 Scene 2, line 24

A. James Hammerton, Cruelty and Companionship: Conflict in 19th century Married Life (Routledge: London, 1992)

Charles Dickens, The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit liii. 609 (1843)

Haydn’s Dictionary of Dates (1858)

Who’s Who in Orthopaedics (London, 2005, page 184)

DNA and the descent of hereditary titles

Later this month the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council will make an important judgement as to whether DNA evidence can be used to decide how hereditary titles should descend. The case in point relates to the baronetcy that was granted to the Pringle family of Stichill in Scotland in 1683.

DNA evidence appears to show conclusively that since 1919 the wrong branch of the family has used the title. In this year the 8th Baronet, Sir Norman Robert Pringle, died, apparently leaving three sons. The eldest son, Norman Hamilton Pringle, inherited the title in the normal way after his mother made a Statutory Declaration that he was her eldest son by the 8th baronet. Then in 1961 Sir Norman Hamilton Pringle died and his eldest son, Steuart Robert Pringle, inherited the title. Sir Steuart, who was a distinguished General in the British Army, died recently, and his son, Simon Robert Pringle, expected to inherit the title.

In fact, the DNA tests showed that Sir Norman Hamilton Pringle’s father was not the 8th baronet, and technically he was illegitimate. Norman Hamilton was, so to speak, ‘the ‘cuckoo in the nest’. Further tests showed that the 8th baronet’s eldest son was actually Ronald Steuart Pringle, and Ronald’s son, Norman Murray Pringle, now claims that he is the true heir to the baronetcy.

Will the seven judges decide in favour of Simon Robert Pringle, or his cousin Norman Robert Pringle? The decision could go either way, but if the DNA evidence is recognised as good decisive evidence, it may open up a great many claims to titles and inheritances which can be disputed on the grounds of the results of DNA tests.

Roll of the Baronets 2011

Roll of the Baronets 2011

A few years ago at Debrett Ancestry Research we encountered a rather similar situation where genealogical research showed that the title in another family of baronets, Smith of Eardiston, had been used by the wrong branch of the family since 1893. In this case, it was a bigamous marriage which caused the problem. As a young man, Christopher Sydney Winwood Smith (died 1887), who was the eldest son and heir of the 3rd baronet, went to Australia, where he worked as a labourer.  Without telling his folks back home, he married a poor Irish girl, and had a son by her. The son and his descendants knew nothing of their titled Smith relations in England and were unaware that they were rightfully baronets.

Gervase Belfield, genealogist at Debrett Ancestry Research, fought a long and at times frustrating campaign to have the mistake corrected. Eventually, in 2008, the Attorney General agreed that a written ‘Caveat’ should be entered on the Official Roll of the Baronetage, revealing the true identities of the baronets of Smith of Eardiston since 1893.

If the Privy Council judges decide to allow DNA evidence in establishing the identities of the rightful inheritors of titles, then there may be many other claimants waiting in the wings. Debrett Ancestry Research has the necessary experience to take up the challenge of proving the true heirs to these disputed titles.

An eighteenth century choir loft

In 1729 eighteen singing men of the parish clubbed together to build a choir gallery in the parish church of St Lawrence, Gnosall, Staffordshire. The gallery or loft was situated next to the pulpit, rather than at the rear of the church.

Tucked away in the parish registers of Gnosall is the following Memorandum, dated 17 March 1729:

That the Loft in the Church of Gnosall by the Pulpit was by the Minister and church-wardens appointed for the use of certain Persons to sing Psalms there.

That it was fitted for that use at the expence of Thomas Fowke, John Stevenson, John Hicken, John Collier, William Collier, Thomas Ward, William Adderley, John Chilton, Humphrey Bayley, Thomas Sutton, Nathaniel Sutton, William Bromley, William Venables, John Parkes, John Lees, Adden Ashton, Richard Bernard, and William Reynolds, and that they are to enjoy the said Loft during their continuance to sing Psalms to demean themselves well.

That the expence in fitting the said Loft for that purpose did amount to the sum of one pound and sixteen shillings.

That four pence a year shall be allowed by every one of the above-named Persons for his sitting in the said Loft till the said sum of one pound and sixteen shillings shall be discharged.

That if any one of those Persons who are appointed to sit there shall leave his place, another Person, who can Sing Psalms shall be nominated by the Minister and Church-wardens of Gnosall to succeed him and that he who is nominated to succeed him shall pay to him, that resigns his place or Sitting, the eighteenth part of that which shall then be unpaid of the one pound and sixteen shillings.

This was approv’d by the Bishop and Mr Rider
Abrah. Peacock

Robert Reynolds and John Alderley were elected into the places of William Reynolds and John Lees by the minister and church-wardens.

Daniel Dean was elected into the place of [blank] Collier by the minister and church-wardens
June 23 1734

Elsewhere, galleries were provided by wealthier donors, such as John Ford at Offwell in Devon (who was patron of the living). The choirs in both parishes would have been singing metrical psalms, perhaps using Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady’s New Version of the Psalms of David (1696), which drew on Thomas Sternhold and John Hopkins’ Whole Book of Psalms in English Metre, published in 1562 and still in use over a century later.

Psalms of David

Tate & Brady’s New Version

Like most Georgian galleries, the one at Gnosall would have been destroyed by the Victorians. The gallery at Offwell, which was at the west end of the church, was built in 1754 and removed exactly a century later. The loft at Gnosall, if it survived until 1820, would then have been swept away in the major rebuilding of the church which took place in that year.

Further Reading

Debrett Ancestry Research, A History of Offwell Church and Parish (2008: available for £18.75 with all proceeds to the church from Debrett Ancestry Research)

‘West Gallery Music’, Wikipedia

Gnosall Parish Registers, Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service (published online by Findmypast)