The marital mystery of Sarah Atcherley

In All Saints churchyard in Baschurch, Shropshire there lies a memorial stone dedicated to Robert Atcherley Edwards [] and his wife Sarah, eldest daughter of John Atcherley, gentleman of Stanwardine. I found baptism records for these two without any problems: both were Christened at Baschurch, Sarah Atcherley [] on 21 March 1798 [1]. Tracing a record of their marriage on the other hand was rather less straightforward.

Sarah was the first child of John Atcherley and Anne Parton, who were married at Baschurch on 11 May 1797 [2, 3]. While her father had been the eldest of six siblings who were all sons, Sarah was the first of no less than nine daughters! Four of those daughters died in infancy or early childhood; John’s only son also died within weeks of his birth. This left Sarah with four sisters. [4]

Robert Atcherley Edwards meanwhile was the youngest of six sons born to John Edwards, a gentleman of Newtown in the parish of Baschurch, and his wife Mary, daughter of Richard Atcherley of Ebnal in the parish of Whittington [5]. This made Robert Sarah’s second cousin once removed: his great grandfather Thomas Atcherley was also Sarah’s great great grandfather. Having been baptised at Baschurch on 4 December 1791 [1] Robert was around seven or eight years older than Sarah.

While Baschurch baptisms up to 1868 have been indexed by the LDS church and can be found on FamilySearch, the same is not true for the marriages of that parish. One option for the family historian seeking details of Baschurch weddings is to search the Shropshire Marriage Index, compiled by the Shropshire Family History Society [3]. This can be purchased in CD format from the Society; it can also be accessed for free at the Shropshire Archives in Shrewsbury, where copies of the original parish registers (or a handwritten transcript of them) can also be viewed. None of these sources include a marriage for a Sarah Atcherley and a Robert Atcherley Edwards (or even just a plain Robert Edwards). Both however contain records of a Sarah Atcherley marrying a Charles Reynolds [] at Baschurch on 6 July 1820, and I had transcribed those records during a visit to the Archives.

According to my transcript, the Baschurch parish register showed the marriage of “Charles Reynolds of the Parish of Pontesbury in the County of Salop Batchelor and Sarah Atcherley of this Parish Spinster” by licence [6]. One of the witnesses signing the register was Anne Atcherley, who was most likely Sarah’s mother. I also found, through a Google Books search, a notice published in The Monthly Magazine in 1820 which named the happy couple as “Mr. C. Reynolds, of Plealey” and “Miss Atcherley, of Stanwardine.” [7]

Was this the same Sarah who married Robert Atcherley Edwards? If she was, she had evidently been widowed at some point and then remarried. A search of The National Archives’ Documents Online facility soon provided evidence of the demise of Sarah’s first husband: the “Will of Charles Reynolds, Farmer of Pontesbury, Shropshire” which had been proved on 21 March 1822 [8]. The document reads as follows:

This is the Last Will and Testament of me Charles Reynolds of Plealey in Parish of Pontesbury in the County of Salop ffarmer I leave and bequeath to my Wife Sarah Reynolds the sum of one thousand pounds to be paid at my decease and the interest of the residue of my personalty during her natural life after the decease of my said Wife Sarah Reynolds I leave and bequeath the whole of the residue of my said personalty to be divided equally share and share alike between my mother Eleanor Reynolds and my brother Thomas Reynolds forever I do hereby appoint my uncle Robert Hesketh Clerk Rector of Acton Burnell in the County of Salop Executor to this my Will…

Charles added that his debts and funeral expenses, and the expense of proving his will were to be paid before his legacies, and the will was witnessed by Thomas Du Gard, a doctor from Shrewsbury, along with Richard France, Thomas Wilkinson and Samuel Glover.

Another visit to the Shropshire Archives finally elicited details of Sarah’s second marriage. The Baschurch register [6] showed the wedding, on 28 May 1832, of “Robert Atcherley Edwards of this Parish Bachelor and Sarah Reynolds of this Parish Widow.” The witnesses who signed the register once again included an Anne Atcherley; this may have been Sarah’s sister (John and Anne’s second daughter), but I suspect that it was Sarah’s mother who had once again fulfilled this role.

Thanks to her first husband’s will, Sarah had been a wealthy widow: £1,000 in the 1820s would today be worth about £42,000 [9]. Her second husband was also well off, having been the beneficiary of two wills. The first was that of his father [10], who died in 1806 when Robert was about 15. From this Robert received £200 on his father’s death. In addition, the sum of £1,800 had been left on trust to Robert’s maternal uncle John Atcherley. The interest from this sum was to be paid to Robert’s mother Mary to cover the costs of Robert’s maintenance and education. He was then to receive the principal sum of £1,800 once he reached the age of 21. Robert would have turned 21 in about 1812, but it appears that he did not receive his inheritance at that time. The will of his uncle John Atcherley, dated 8 January 1816, makes mention of the sum of “one thousand eight hundred pounds which I am indebted to [my Nephew Robert Atcherley Edwards]” [11]. Although John Atcherley died later that year (being buried on 7 October 1816 at Baschurch), his will was not proved until 8 December 1830, which suggests that Robert had to wait rather a long time for his money!

John Atcherley, who died unmarried, did not just make arrangements for the payment the £1,800 owed to Robert Atcherley Edwards. He also left property in Newtown, Baschurch, the rents, issues and profits from which were to be received by Robert and, after Robert’s death, by his lawfully begotten children. This property consisted of a “Messuage Tenement or Dwellinghouse with the Malt House outbuildings Garden lands and Heridaments thereunto belonging situate in Newtown Baschurch” plus five pieces of land totalling around 24 acres near the Black Ditches in Newtown. In the event that Robert did not have any lawful heirs, the rents, issues and profits of the property described above were to go to his brother Rowland Edwards. Ultimately, this is what must have happened: to my knowledge Robert and Sarah had no children.

The 1841 census [12] shows Robert and Sarah Edwards, their ages rounded down to 50 and 40 respectively, living at Newtown in Baschurch. Robert was then working as an auctioneer, and Sarah’s niece Fanny Jebb was staying with them. Ten years later in 1851, the couple were living at Holywell Terrace in Shrewsbury [13]. Robert Atcherley Edwards described himself as a gentleman when the census was taken, and gave his age as 55 (whereas he was actually at least 59). Sarah was rather closer to the mark with her age, which was recorded as 52. This was the last census on which Robert and Sarah appeared, as both of them departed this life during the 1850s. Sarah was buried at Baschurch on 13 October 1853, while Robert was buried there on 29 January 1855 [6]. Which brings us back to memorial stone in All Saints churchyard.

Sarah Edwards (nee Atcherley), monumental inscription
Click on the image to view a larger version at Flickr.

The inscriptions on both sides of the stone are a little difficult to read now, having been subjected to over 150 years of weather and the growth of mosses and lichens. However combining a partial transcript available at Shropshire Archives (and inside All Saints church) with my own photographs, I believe the inscriptions read as follows. One one side:

Sacred to the memory of SARAH the beloved
eldest Daughter of JOHN ATCHERLEY Gentleman of
Stanwardine in the Fields in this Parish who died
October 9th 1853 Aged 55 Years

And on the other side:

In Memory of
late of Newtown
who died Jany 24th 1855
Aged 63 Years


[1] FamilySearch
[2] Hand-written transcript of Baschurch parish registers viewed at Shropshire Archives.
[3] Shropshire Family History Society: Shropshire Marriage Index (CD-ROM).
[4] Thomas of Shropshire and his descendants; 5th generation, family 1.
[5] Thomas of Shropshire and his descendants; 3rd generation, family 3.
[6] Copy of register viewed at Shropshire Archives.
[7] The Monthly Magazine, Vol. L, Part II for 1820, page 92.
[8] The National Archives website, Documents Online: Will of Charles Reynolds, Farmer of Pontesbury, Shropshire. Catalogue reference PROB 11/1655.
[9] The National Archives website: Currency converter.
[10] The National Archives website, Documents Online: Will of John Edwards, Gentleman of Baschurch, Shropshire. Catalogue reference PROB 11/1459.
[11] The National Archives website, Documents Online: Will of John Atcherley, Gentleman of Newtown Baschurch, Shropshire. Catalogue reference PROB 11/1778.
[12] The National Archives, 1841 Census of England and Wales. Class HO107, piece 918, book 1, folio 7, page 6.
[13] The National Archives, 1851 Census of England and Wales. Class HO107, piece 1992, folio 14, page 21.