The Swan Circle

A story of Georgian networking

Manorial Records and Genealogy… do not be afraid

Family History, The Georgian Home, The Swan Circle, West Family 1700-1750 No Comments »

Since making my début as a Genealogist in 1985, I have occasionally been apprehensive about consulting certain types of records. The possibility that I might have to trace an equity pleading, or consult a manorial record has often plagued my nerves with anxiety. Some of my apprehensions stem from consulting a late medieval Manorial Court Book for a Norfolk manor, written in tiny abbreviated Latin.
Genealogists embarking on quests for eighteenth century ancestors, should not avoid manorial documents because of a fear of the unknown. The records may only appear useful to those who have ancestors who held property in copyhold, but it should not be forgotten that tenants are often mentioned too.
To illustrate the usefulness of manorial documents, I will use two examples in relation to the individuals featured in The Swan Circle, one from a Court Book and the other from a Rentals Survey.
   Any researcher who wishes to view a manorial document for a parish, will need to ascertain the name of the manor that contains the parish, and whether the documents exist for the era they are interested in. A search through the Manorial Documents Register database at the National Archives will indicate where, if any, the documents are held. If a Court Book for the pertinent dates does not emerge, do not despair, it is possible that a book either side of the required dates might be of assistance; entries were made retrospectively regarding the surrender of a property, so look forward as well as back.
Many Court Books have an index of individuals, but it is more useful to search the document thoroughly – ancestors not yet discovered may be lurking further down the property line! If a Rentals Survey exists, use it to provide a shortcut when tracing how many family hands a property has passed through.
The Rentals Survey and the Court Books consulted for The Swan Circle are held at The National Archives in class CRES 5, but most Manorial Documents are kept at County level. Some records are still in private hands and are occasionally surrendered to local archives, so the pertinent records may not be in the public domain.

Our first example is for a Court Leet or Court Baron held in 1746 in the manor of Richmond, Surrey. The individual concerned is Stephen West and his name appears in the left margin of the page with notice regarding his death. The document provides useful genealogical information: from it we discover the extent of the land and premises Stephen held at Kew, 'half an acre of ozier ground' and 'a House in the ayte' and have determined that he had an only brother called Henry, a fisherman and heir.




 The second example is from the Rentals Survey and again concerns Stephen West. The entry pertains to a piece of land on the island known as Mattingshaw in Brentford and shows the line of ownership after Stephen's death. The document lists his 'heirs', including his brother Henry, Henry's wife Elizabeth and their son Henry and shows that the property passed out of the family hands and into the trust of Thomas Samuel Maycock in 1793.

Manorial Documents Register
Medieval Genealogy
Examples of English Manorial Documents
Using Manorial Records

Leveller’s ‘Robin Hood’ Campaign of Terror 1670

17th Century Digressions, Society and Politics No Comments »


Jan 12. 1671
Thomas Twittey to Colonel Samuel Sandys, M.P. There being of late a sort of rude and dissolute people in the parishes of Severnstoke, Kempsey, and Pyrton, called Levellers, the principal of them being one Nicholas Fowler, who is called, and calls himself Robin Hood, having two brothers, Thomas and William, one of them called Little John, they associated with others of the neighbourhood, have become nightwalkers, and do many exploits of villainy and roguery in the country, viz. to steal geese, hens, and ducks, &c., to cut men's corn, before it is ripe, to unthatch men's houses, barns, &c., to cut and shear the manes and tails of men's horses, and cut in pieces their gears, ploughs, carts, burn their hurdles and sheep pens, set open and break down their gates and fences, exposing their grounds to the cattle of the commons, scatter hay ricks, carry muck and dung out of men's foldyards, break into men's houses, beat and wound divers people, steal away, break and spoil hives of bees, and particularly breaking into a smith's shop in the night time and taking thence four dozen of horseshoes, and cutting in pieces his bellows, and casting his anvil in the well, and putting the whole county in fear and terror; did several times in the night beset and assault the house of one Richard Addington with guns and fire-arms, and killed one Butler that was in the house in the assistance of Addington, by shooting him in the head with a brace of bullets.

This being the case, upon 23 December the justices of the peace, viz. Sir Francis Russell, Thomas Street, and Thomas Vernon, Esqs., met at Severnstoke, the headquarters of the Levellers, where I also attended, and whither the country people came in great numbers, with guns, bills, &c., and there we took many information upon oath of all their pranks (although I confess many of them were acted so occultly that the evidence against their persons was but circumstantial), and warrants were made for their aprehension…the grand inquest, being duly encouraged hereunto by the Court, have presented, and 'tis ordered that the apprehenders of Robin Hood shall have 10L, out of country stock, and the apprehenders of William and Thomas Fowler and one William Parker 5L. a-piece. The case and sufferings of Addington and one Mascall were taken into consideration by the Court, being but poor men who had done much in these disorders, and they had recompense towards the same given them by order of the Court, so that the country has received good satisfaction and encouragement, and the thoughts of these rewards has so influences the zeal of many, that 'tis hoped they will be suddenly apprehended, but it is believed the knot is broke, and they utterley dispersed, the death of Butler having much quailed and daunted their spirits. (SP. Dom., Car. II. 287, No. 62 [New Ref.: SP29])

Lonely Hearts letters and the Pre-Nup, 1740

18th Century Digressions, Love & Marriage, Society and Politics 1 Comment »


I know if I have a very fine, beautiful, accomplished young Lady, (and Such a one only will I have) my Money must buy her'

Whilst searching through a number of 18th century newspapers, I was fascinated to read a Lonely Hearts Ad (1740) by 'Solomon Single' regarding his quest for a bride. The letter elicited a number of responses from 'females', three of which were submissive invitations to proceed further, one was a letter of cautious encouragement, though to settle for a widow (like herself) and the last was an angry verbal assault on vanity.
   My first reaction to them was that I was reading fake and contrived responses from 'females', caricatures of women from various sections of society: a widow, a gentlewoman, an actress coquette, a gullible fated maid, a chambermaid and probably a scold; the names or pseudonyms of the letter writers seemingly derived from the pages of The Old Bachelor. However, was 'Solomon Single' equally the butt of the same observations or genuine?
  The recipient and publisher of these letters was 'Henry Stonecastle', a pseudonym for the naturalist Henry Baker, proprietor of the Universal Spectator. As well as devising a system to instruct the deaf and dumb, Baker was also the son-in-law of Daniel Defoe and a member of the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Society. 'Mr Stonecastle' ostensibly acted as agony aunt for the Universal Spectator, advising a Simon Wiseacre who was torn betwixt keeping a housekeeper and a wife because 'to keep a house-keeper is far more expensive than to keep a wife', to marry Mrs Mary… his house-keeper. 

The Letter from Solomon Single

As your Paper is calculated for the Fair Sex, and comes to the Hands consequently of a great Number of pretty young Ladies, I address this Letter to you, as the Contents of it regard their Interest as well as my own. You must know that I am an old Batchelor, worth forty thousand Pounds, in my Sixty-third Year, or thereabouts, somewhat infirm of Body, but perfectly Sound of Mind: I have always been averse to Marriage, but am now willing to enter into that holy State on such Conditions as will be hereafter specify'd. Having safely got over the Rigour of the late Severe Season, which has swept so many of my Age away, I am inclin'd to think from some sensible Juvenilities I perceive about me, that this Spring will make me twenty Years younger than I am, and that when Lent is over, then entering into the Bands of Wedlock would conduce much to my Health as well as Happiness. – Having such an Intention, and such a Fortune, you may wonder that I want a Match. Why, Sir, I know well enough that might not be long wanting would I But disclose my Mind to some Ladies; but, Sir, I am very bashful, and at this Time should not care to go through the least Formality of Courtship: I know if I have a very fine, beautiful, accomplished young Lady, (and Such a one only will I have) my Money must buy her; therefore I endeavour to get such a Purchase with as little Trouble as possible, and that is my Occasion of writing this Letter to you.

  'I have heard, that when Persons of my Wealth and Age marry such young Ladies as I have described, they are us'd very ill by them when they are in any Sickness; and that sometimes the Doctor or Apothecary, or Nurse, or something or other helps them forward to the other World, that the young Widow may the large Jointure settled on her: For which Reasons, Mr Stonecastle, that I may be under no Apprehension of having my Pillow pull'd from under my Head in a Fit of the Phthisick; and that I may have all due Care and Comfort administer'd to me by my Wife, I do propose to any young, beautiful, accomplish'd young Lady, who will take me for her wedded Husband, to give her three thousand Pounds down on the Day of Marriage and to settle on her six hundred Pounds per Annum, during my natural Life; but on the Day of my Decease the said six hundred Pounds per Ann. shall entirely cease, and go as I shall think proper to dispose of it by my last Will and Testament, she having no Claim or Title to any Part thereof.
You must see my Meaning by this Scheme; 'tis her Interest to have me live as long as possible: If any Lady, such as I have describ'd, will accept of this Proposal, let her send a Line to you, and on your advertising the Receipt, you shall hear from

  Yours, Solomon Single'.

Mr Stonecastle: 'If any Lady, after a very nice Calculation of the Value of such a Marriage, thinks proper to accept Mr Single's Proposal, on her writing to me I shall obey his Directions'.


Answers from several Ladies to Solomon Single's Proposals of Matrimony


'I have some Share of Beauty I heartily believe, not only from Self Flattery of our Sex, but because all the gay Londoners I have ever seen told me so'

'Worthy Sir,
our Intention to enter into the holy and comfortable State of Matrimony, truly bespeaks that Soundness of Mind which you declare yourself to have: Nor need you complain of your Infirmity of Body, when you have got over the Rigour of the late severe Season and even in this cold Spring can from sensible Juvenilities think yourself twenty Years younger than you are: But as you are bashful, and hate the least Formality of Courtship, I don't see how your Proposal can be made effectual but by one Method : A maiden, young, Lady could not in Modesty accept of it abruptly without a little Formality of Wooing; Such a Forwardness might shock your Batchelorlike Delicacy, and yet a young handsome Woman you would have.—What then can you do?—Take my Advice—Chuse a young handsome Widow—She has been courted, and won't stand on Punctilio's, and knows what's what.—As you have liv'd to these Years, and was never married, if you take a young puling Wench that never was married, Matrimony will be very awkard to you both, and neither of you will know how to behave to one another.
  'Now, good Sir, if you have a Mind to a brisk, young, handsome Widow, about twenty-one, who buried a very pretty young Fellow about Christmas last, I am  your Woman ; and it will be a proper Match I assure you: I dare swear I have Beauty enough for you, and you have Money enough for me, and I'll administer as much Care and Comfort to you as you desire-taking at the same time all due Regards to a Life, which will be without Flattery, dear Sir, so precious to me.
  'Your Speedy determinating, and an Interview, will oblige
Your Well Adviser Susanna Briskly, New Bond Street'


I Read your Proposal of Marriage this Morning, and considering every thing, I cannot think it disadvantageous to that Part of our Sex who have more Youth and Beauty than Wealth. I therefore, Sir, think it worthy of Acceptance, if the following Character of myself is worth your Esteem.
   'I am a Maiden Gentlewoman, brought up always in the Country under the Care of an Aunt, who, as I had no Fortune to be a polite Lady, taught me how to be a most notable Housewife and Oeconomist; and that I have some Share of Beauty I heartily believe, not only from Self Flattery of our Sex, but because all the gay Londoners I have ever seen told me so. Thus I think I am, according to your Description, sufficiently accomplish'd for your Spouse. As I may venture to say I may be agreeable, I positively assert I can be serviceable to you—I can make Jellies, and Soups, and Candles. -Things very comfortable and nourishing to a Person in his sixty-third Year.—I have read Culpeper's Dispensatory, and also Salmon's, and have some curious Books of Receipts admirable Nostrums by me, which I myself transcrib'd from my Aunt's Grandmother's Sister's Memorandums.——You will want no Doctors and Apothecaries, and if you like me, and find I take due Care of you, if you have a Mind to make me a Fee extraordinary, so be it. I am (as far as Modesty)

Dorothy Notable, Hertfordshire, March 24'



'Thou art an old Fool.-Grow wiser, and die a Batchelor'

I Look'd over your Letter several times with great Attention : I read that you worth forty thousand Pounds—forty times over, but do not altogether approve of your not continuing the six hundred Pounds as a Jointure after your own Decease. However, I take you to be a good Sort of a Gentleman, and have therefore so far trespass'd on my own Prudence, and risqu'd my Honour by writing to your Sex in my own Hand, and sign'd it with my own Arms.—I don't intend to make a Secret to you who I am, therefore I accept of your three thousand Pounds, on the Day of our Marriage, and six hundred a Year,-even during your Life only.-Nor when I tell who I am, think I have base mercenary Views alone—I have often been a Confident to a Crown'd Head-a Dutchess's Coronet has encircled my Brow at frequent Coronations; —yet I am but in my nineteenth Year.-In short, if you have a Mind for a fine heroic Lady, an Innocent rural Shepherdess, or a divine dancing Goddess, you may send a Billet-doux by your Slave, directed to Miss Flirt, behind the Scenes at • •  • • Theatre, according to which you shall have a proper Answer
from Lucy Flirt. • •  • • Theatre Green Room'


It was with the highest Delight that I read your Letter in the Spec; for, to be frank with you, I have long had an Ambition to marry some rich old Batchelor; and besides it is my Destiny, as I have been told by above a Hundred Fortunetellers.—It is surprizing to see how things fall out; I was shewn in the Coffee-Grounds just such an old Gentleman as you describe yourself, the Morning before I read your Letter, and on consulting Mrs. Foretell since, she says you are the Husband I have been so long waiting for. Don't think by my waiting long that I am an old Maid, for I am nor at my last Prayer to have any rather than fail, tho' my Stars have decreed me
Yours, Tabitha Hopewell'.

I am a Chambermaid to one of the finest Ladies in Town, am young, and by some Advances my Lord has made to me, have reason to say I have Beauty, and if I was your Spouse I wou'd shew the Town I had all the fashionable Accomplishments of it. With these Endowments, I am willing to accept of your Proposal, as your Rank of Life will give me an Opportunity to make an Eclat in the World, which wou'd more agreeable to my Humour than to bury myself in a dirty Country Village with Mr. Prim, our Chaplain, between whom and me a Treaty of Marriage is now on Foot.—A speedy Answer by the Spec, may if you please, determine me ever so subscribe myself.

Yours, Harriot Pinwell'.

'To an old Batchelor, who calls himself Single.
Friend Single,
I have read thy Letter, and thy vain Proposal to the young Maidens of this Land: I perceive by thy mentioning thy Juvenilities in thy Sixty-third Year, thou art an old Fool.-Grow wiser, and die a Batchelor.
Rachel Downright'

Solomon Single's Reply

'To all the Ladies of Great Britain, Maids or Widows.
My Friend Rachel Downright has judg'd right of me, for my sudden Fit of Juvenility has ended in a Fit of Rheumatism; therefore, without giving other Reasons, am determined to die a Batchelor.

Solomon Single'


I am interested in your feedback regarding these letters. Any thoughts? Are we viewing them through 21st century eyes? What are your thoughts on context and interpretation?

‘I earnestly desire she may not be sent to Bedlam’

18th Century Digressions, Health & Medicine No Comments »

  In 1703, Stephen West a member of the Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers married Alice Emerton at St Helens Bishopsgate. In 1722, Stephen's name appears with several others on a petition to the Court of Aldermen for relief against 'an act of Partiality', in that less senior members have been elected to the Court of Assistants of the Company before them.

As a man of some standing, who had accrued wealth and status, Stephen planned his Will seemingly concerned by his wife's declining state of mind. Nevertheless he named her Executor, but with a number of trustees hovering in the background ready to step in. He made provision should Alice not agree to the terms of his Will because of her illness:

'That if my said wife shall not accept what I have given her… but shall claim her share and part of my personal estate according to the Custom of the City of London… I do in such case revoke and declare all such legacies to be void… And I do assure my said dear wife that the reason of my making my Will in the manner aforesaid is on the account of her long indisposition which renders her unfit to manage her own affairs and dispose of her own effects…' 2 Aug 1737

Then on the same day he added a Codicil to his Will, clearly afraid for her fate following his death:

'My Will and meaning is that if after my decease my dear wife should in any manner be disordered in her understanding as to require Confinement that my within named Trustees do take care to have her placed in some private house where she may be duly and carefully looked after but I earnestly desire she may not be sent to Bedlam or any Publick Mad house”

Bedlam from The Rake's Progress

On 7 November 1737 Catherine Seely testified that she had been a servant to the West's and had observed Mrs West 'to be of very melancholic disposition and nature and to be so much affected thereby as to be intirely deprived of her senses reason and understanding insomuch that she was seldom left alone by herself for she should make away with or destroy herself which she often threatened to do'. Catherine believed that Alice was unfit to handle her own affairs and that after her husband's death her distemper had 'been more violent and stronger'.

The surgeon Francis Abercromby of St James Westminster, 'upwards of forty years' appeared next, having been acquainted with Alice for three or four years observing on several occasions 'that she was afflicted with a melancholy delirium but as some times much more violently than at other times which very much disordered her senses reason and understanding… And that this deponent believes the said Alice West to be of the age of seventy years upwards and as her distemper is so strong upon her this deponent is of opinion that she will scarce ever recover her senses again'.

On the 11 November Stephen's trustees stepped in and power was granted to them to administer his estate during the 'lunacy delirium or incapacity of Alice West'.

On 27 March the following year Stephen's Will was proved by Elizabeth Moor and Ann Bates his nieces, 'the said Will being ceased and expired by reason of the death of the said Alice West'.

Unfortunately, we do not know by what means Alice died, whether she 'destroyed herself' or died by natural causes, but she did not linger long after her husband's death and maybe she joined him in St Clement Danes churchyard, 'near… my son formerly buryed there'.

The building of the Swan Tavern

Family History, The Swan Circle, West Family 1650-1700 No Comments »


The 1771 Manorial Survey showing a plan of the Swan Tavern, its fish ponds and orchards




After the calamitous events of the Civil War, where it was said 'the most barbarous outrages were committed in the town, and the inhabitants cruelly plundered', a flood devastated Brentford in 1682. The weather had turned violent and a storm raged with bursts of thunder and lightning, followed by a swift release of flood waters cannoning through the town, carrying away its little houses and boats. A similar event would occur a century and a half later but more savage and deadly, killing some of the inhabitants, and laying to waste their habitations.       
   Such turmoil had been a feature of Brentford's existence, whilst across the river at Kew, the genteel pursuits of gardening and estate building were being followed and forged, with brand new villas designed and built, and gardens planned and laid.
Earlier in the century in 1631, Samuel Fortrey a Flemish merchant had taken a mansion at Kew and rebuilt it, placing his own initials with that of his wife's over the door, for many years the new villa would be known as the Dutch House.
Fortrey's neighbour, Sir Henry Capel had made an obsession of gardening and collecting unusual plants. John Evelyn, a frequent visitor to Kew observed that Capel's 'orangerie and myrtetum are most beautiful and perfectly well kept. He was contriving very high palisadoes of reedes to shade his oranges during the summer, and painting those reedes in oil'.
Back across the river at Ealing, the baptism register of 1698 records the birth of Stephen son of Stephen and Ann West. The eldest boy is followed by a stream of offspring, there's John and Mary, then Anne and Dorothy until finally Elizabeth and Sarah are baptised in 1713 and 1715 respectively. The 1753 Will of Ann West gives reference to two other children, Martha and Henry whose baptisms are not recorded by either Ealing or Brentford parish churches.
The family had made a considerable fortune for themselves from fishing rights, leaving behind the begrimed labour of butchery and the increasing quest for trade. Fishing was more localised with buyers on their doorsteps, but there is a confusion as to which Stephen West, elder or junior, started the climb towards respectability.
Stephen West junior married Mary Stevens at St Benet Paul's Wharf (a 'Stevens church') in 1724 and according to the historian John Cloake was granted a publican's licence the same year. A document exists at the London Metropolitan Archives for a 14 year Lease concerning the conversion of land into a kitchen garden, first to Lady Elizabeth Molyneux (great-niece of Sir Henry Capel) and second to Ann Lelly [sic] widow of Sir Peter Lely, with rights to Stephen West for landing passengers on the Kew side of the river in 1729.
The very same year West is specifically granted a licence for the Swan Tavern. The hostelry was situated on the Brentford Ait, and according to some sources was originally built by Stephen West. The extent of the plot can be seen on the 1771 Manorial Survey of Richmond shown in the image above; the actual acreage consisting of fishponds, orchards and buildings was in reality larger than that of the Dutch House on the opposite bank.
The success and eventual notoriety of the Swan, would culminate in a period of glory years for the aforementioned Henry West brother of Stephen, who would sit and pose for his portrait, painted by one of the greatest miniaturists of the day.

That story is yet to be told.

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