The Reverend Richard Atcherley (or Acherley, as his family’s surname was typically written), was the eldest son of Thomas Atcherley, ironmonger of Wrexham. A report on a legal case in Chancery stated that “Thomas Acherley died in June 1741; leaving Richard Acherley Clerk, a lunatic, his eldest son and heir at law”. The antiquarian Samuel Garbet, in his History of Wem, referred to Richard’s mental health condition in a different way, describing him thus: “Richard, for some time curate of Wellington, till he grew disordered in his mind”.
Richard’s mother, Mary, was also an Atcherley before her marriage to Thomas. She was from Stanwardine, in the Shropshire parish of Baschurch, and it was there – almost certainly in the home of his maternal Atcherley ancestors – that Richard was born in 1701. He was baptised in his mother’s home parish too. (See Atcherleys Reunited). He was educated in his father’s adopted town of Wrexham, under a Mr Appleton, then on 16 June 1719 aged “near 17” he was admitted to St John’s College at Cambridge University.
Venn’s Alumni Cantabrigiensis shows that Richard obtained his BA in 1722-23 and his MA in 1727. The latter honour was conferred after Richard had been ordained as a priest and appointed to the curacy of Wellington in Shropshire, in 1725. As curate, Richard would have served the parish on behalf of the incumbent, Robert Eyton, who was vicar of Wellington from 1713 until his death in 1751. Eyton was also rector of Wem during this time. In addition, he filled the office of Prebendary for Hereford Cathedral’s prebend of Hampton from 1728 to 1732, and the prebend of Morton and Whaddon from 1732. From 1742 until he died he served as Archdeacon of Ely. Hence his need for curates to attend to his parishioners’ spiritual needs.
It appears that Richard Atcherley remained as curate of Wellington until 1736, when Humphrey Perrott was appointed to the position. Was this when Richard ‘grew disordered in his mind’? Or did he simply move on to pastures new at this point, to tend another flock? I originally thought he may have succeeded Richard Deane (or Dean) as vicar of the Shropshire parish of Ellesmere, as both were named as defendants in a Chancery case (Colchester v Deane) and Deane was vicar of that parish from 1707. However, the online Clergy of the Church of England Database provides no evidence to support this notion.
As we have seen, the death of Richard’s father Thomas Atcherley in 1741 left Richard as the eldest son and heir. Amongst the lands and buildings he inherited was his father’s property at Wrexham, the value of which made him a freeholder of that town. He duly appeared in the list of freeholders for Wrexham parish who were entitled to vote in the 1741 election, and that list showed his place of abode was Wem, in Shropshire. But we have also seen that Richard was regarded as a lunatic at that time.
Concerns that Richard might not be “sufficient for the Government of himself” or of his property eventually led to an inquiry or ‘Inquisition of Lunacy’ being conducted. The two documents relating to this Inquisition, dating from 1748, are held by The National Archives at Kew, and were among the items I viewed during my first visit to TNA in December 2014. I have since completed full transcripts of the documents from the photographs I took during my visit.
The first document appointed the men who were to head the Inquisition, and set out its terms of reference:
George the Second by the Grace of God of Great Britain ffrance and Ireland King defender of the ffaith and so forth To his beloved John fford and John Edwards Esquires John Windsor William fford and Abraham Jones Gentlemen Greeting Knowne that We have Assigned three or more of ye (whereof the aforesaid John fford or John Edwards We require to be one) to Inquire by the Oath of Good and lawful Men of Our County of Salop as well within Liberties as without by whom the Truth of the Matter may be better known Whether Richard Acherley of the Parish of Ellesmere in the County of Salop is a Lunatic or Enjoys lucid Intervals so that he is not sufficient for the Government of himself his Mannors Messuages Lands Tenements Goods and Chattels And if so from what time after what manner and how And if the said Richard Acherley being in the same Condition hath Alienated any Lands or Tenements or not And if so what Lands and what Tenements to what Person or Persons where when and after what manner and how and what Lands and Tenements Goods and Chattles as yet remain to him And of what Person or Persons as well the Lands and Tenements so Alienated as the Lands and Tenements to him retained are held And by what Service and after what manner and how And how much they are worth by the year in all Issues And who is his nearer Heir and of what Age And therefore We Command ye three or more of ye whereof the said John fford or John Edwards to be one) That at certain Days and places which ye shall for this Purpose ye diligently make Inquisition in the Premisses And the same distinctly and plainly made to Us into Our Chancery under your Seals of three or more of ye (whereof the said John fford or John Edwards to be one) And the Seals of those Persons by whom it shall be made without delay ye send And these Our Letters Patent ffor We Command by the Tenour of these Presents Our Sheriff of Our County of Salop aforesaid that at certain Days and places which ye shall make known to him Because to come before ye three or more of ye (whereof the said John fford or John Edwards to be one [interlined beneath the last four words but with no indication as to where they should be inserted: in the Premisses]) so many and such good and lawful Men of his Bailiwick as well within Liberties as without by whom the truth of the matter may better be known an Inquired into In Testimony whereof We have Caused these Our Letters to be made Patent Witnesses Thomas Archbishop of Canterbury and other Guardians and Jutices of the Kingdom at Westminster the Twenty third day of July in the Twenty Second year of Our Reign.
So, by 1748 Richard Atcherley was residing in the parish of Ellesmere, and the Inquisition of Lunacy was to determine whether he was a lunatic and if so, what property he owned, what the value of that property was, and who his next of kin were. The second document (noted “10th Novr 1748 ffyled by Mr Chamber of the Inner Temple”) sets out the findings of the Inquisition, and provides a fabulously detailed account of the lands and ‘messuages or tenements’ which Richard then owned or leased. I have broken the text into paragraphs for ease of reading, but otherwise the words that follow are a verbatim transcription:
Shropshire (to wit) An Inquisition taken at the House of Hester Hayes Widow situate on Porthay in the Township of Tetchill in the County aforesaid The Fourteenth Day of October in the Twenty Second Year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord George the Second King of Great Britain and so forth Before John Edwards Esquire and William Ford and Abraham Jones Gentlemen his said Majesty’s Commissioners by vertue of his Commission under the Great Seal of Great Britain directed to the said Commissioners and others in the same Commission named to enquire (among other Things) of the Lunacy of Richard Acherley of the Parish of Ellesmere in the said County by the Oaths of Edward Kynaston Thomas Kynaston Francis Lloyd & Roger Jennings Esquiries William Salusbury Richard Chambre Edward Edwards John Edwards Richard Griffiths John Pritchard Edward Edwards the Younger Edward Davies Stephen Denston Robert Jackson Thomas Whilton and Samuel Simcocks Gentlemen Honest and lawfull men of the County of Salop aforesaid who being sworn and charged do say that the said Richard Acherley at the Time of taking this Inquisition is a Lunatick and of unsound mind and doth enjoy lucid Intervals so that he is incapable of the Government of himself his Messuages Lands Tenements Goods and Chattells
And the same Jurors do farther say upon their Oaths that the said Richard Acherley hath been a Lunatick for Space of seven Years last past or thereabouts but how or by what manner the said Richard Acherley became a Lunatick the Jurors aforesaid know not unless by the Visitation of God
And the same Jurors do farther say upon their said Oaths that the said Richard Acherley at the Time of taking this Inquisition is seized in fee Tail of and in All that Messuage or tenement with the lands and Appurtenances thereto belonging situate in Wolverley in the County of Salop now in the holding of David Wilson at the Yearly Rent of Fifty Eight pounds clear of all Taxes except Land Tax of and in severall Peices or Parcels of Land with the Appurtenances lying in Loppington in the said County of Salop now in the holding of Thomas Mainwareing at the Yearly Rent of Ten Pounds and Ten Shillings clear of all Taxes except Land Tax of and in All that Messuage or Tenement with the Lands and appurtenances thereunto belonging situate in New Town in the said County now in the Holding of Benjamin Blakemoor at the Yearly Rent of Twenty two Pounds subject to all Taxes of and in One other Close of Land lying in Newtown aforesaid now untennanted of the Yearly Value of One Pound Seven Shillings or thereabouts of and in a Messuage or Dwelling House situate in Whitchurch in the said County now in the holding of Dennis Eason at the Yearly Rent of Three Pounds clear of all Taxes
And the same Jurors do further say upon their Oath that the said Richard Acherley at the Time of taking this Inquisition is seized in Fee of and in a Messuage or Dwelling House and Garden in Wrexham in the County of Denbigh now in the holding of Peter Challiner at the Yearly Rent of Thirteen pounds clear of all Taxes except Land Tax of and in one Shop in Wrexham afd. now in the holding of Mary Vaughan at the Yearly Rent of Three Pounds Fifteen Shillings subject to Taxes of and in One Messuage or Dwelling house in Wrexham afd. now in the holding of Ruth Beal at the Yearly Rent of Forty Shillings clear of all Taxes except Land Tax of an in a Messuage or Dwelling House in Wrexham afd. now in the holding of Peter Phillips at the Yearly Rent of Four Pounds clear of all Taxes except Land Tax of and in All that messuage or Dwelling House in Wrexham afsd. in the holding of Anne Jones at the Yearly Rent of Two Pounds ffive Shillings subject to all Taxes of and in All that Messuage or Dwelling House situate in Wrexham aforesd. in the holding of Mary Foulkes at the Yearly Rent of Eleven Pounds clear of all Taxes except Land Tax of and in All that Room and Shop situate in Wrexham afsd. in the holding of Mary Owen at the Yearly Rent of One Pound Five Shillings clear of all Taxes of and All that other Room and Shop situate in Wrexham afd. in the holding of Margaret Benson otherwise Roberts at the Yearly Rent of One pound Five Shillings clear of all Taxes all which said last mentioned premises and said to be lying in Wrexham afsd. are subject to a King’s Rent of Twelve or Thirteen Shillings Yearly
And the same Jurors do further say upon their Oath that the said Richard Acherley at the Time of taking this Inquisition is possessed of and interested in by Virtue of a Lease under the Earl of Bradford of and in severall Peices or Parcels of Land lying in Northwood and Whixall or One of them at the Yearly Rent of Four Pounds subject to a reseived Rent of Three pounds
And the same Jurors do farther say upon their said Oath that the said Richard Acherley at the Time of this Inquisition is not seized of or entitled unto any other Messuages Lands Tenements or Hereditaments nor of any Goods or Chattells Debts or Creditts to the knowledge of the Jurors aforesd.
And the Jurors afd. do lastly say upon their said Oath that they beleive Roger Acherley of the Cross in the Parish of Ellesmere in the County of Salop afsd. is the Brother and next Heir to the said Richard Acherley And that Mary the Wife of Roger Kynaston of Lee in the said County Gentleman is Sister and next of Kin to the said Richard Acherley (except the said Roger Acherley) and that at the Time of taking the Inquisition the said Roger Acherley is of the age of Thirty years and upwards And the said Mary Kynaston of the age of Thirty Five Years and upwards In Testimony whereof as well the Commissioners aforesaid have to this Inquisition sett their hands and Seals the Day and Year first above written
The above document, bearing the signatures and seal of the sixteen jurors named within it, tells us a great deal about Richard Atcherley’s property, which lay in Wolverley, Loppington, Newtown, Whitchurch, Wrexham, Northwood and Whixall, and which had been acquired and handed down by his Atcherley ancestors. It tells us very little about the nature of Richard’s mental illness however. He had been “a Lunatick” for around seven years – roughly since the time of his father’s death – and the jurors could only surmise that his condition had been caused by “the Visitation of God”.
As for the circumstances in which Richard lived during the years after he “grew disordered in his mind”, we can only speculate. I hope that his family’s wealth meant that he was cared for humanely, in comfortable conditions, and that he was treated with kindness. Richard lived for another four and half years after the Inquisition into his Lunacy, dying at the beginning of 1753, aged 51. He was buried on 1 February at Ellesmere St Mary, the parish register recording the interment of “The Revd Mr Richd Atcherly of Lee”. The disordered mind of Richard Atcherley was finally at rest.
Picture credits. Extract from Admissions to the College of St John the Evangelist: taken from the Internet Archive website, original publication dated 1903 and so out of copyright. Inquisition of Lunacy documents at The National Archives, Kew: photo by the author.
 Francis Vesey (1827), Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the High Court of Chancery, from the year 1789 to 1817. Volume V. Second edition. Page 566. Copy viewed at Google Books.
 Samuel Garbet (1818), The history of Wem. Pages 328-9. Copy viewed at Google Books.
 Baschurch, Shropshire, parish register covering 1701; entry for baptism of Richard Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast. Transcript viewed at Shropshire Archives. Indexed by FamilySearch, Batch C03390-1, Film 510651.
 Robert Forsyth Scott (ed.) (1903), Admissions to the College of St John the Evangelist in the University of Cambridge. Part III. Page 19. Copy viewed at Internet Archive.
 John Venn, J A Venn (1922), Alumni Cantabrigiensis. Part I, Volume I. Page 3. Copy viewed at Internet Archive.
 Lichfield Record Office item B/A/4/29 (subscription book). Abstracted details viewed at the Clergy of the Church of England Database (website, accessed 31 Jan 2015). Note surname recorded as Ackerley.
 Wellington. At: Clergy of the Church of England Database (website, accessed 31 Jan 2015).
 The National Archives, item reference C 11/1899/9. Item described in TNA Discovery catalogue.
 Ellesmere. At: Clergy of the Church of England Database (website, accessed 1 Feb 2015).
 Stewart Blackwell (1989), Was your ancestor a Freeholder or a Freeholder/Juror? In: Hel Achau, Issue 27, Spring 1989. Copy viewed at Clwyd Family History Society website.
 The National Archives, item reference C 211/1/A32. Item described in TNA Discovery catalogue.
 Ellesmere, Shropshire parish register covering 1753; entry for burial of Richard Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast.