The ups and downs of the last Atcherleys of Stanwardine

As the fifth of six sons born to Thomas and Hannah Atcherley of Stanwardine in the Fields, Edward was not destined to inherit property and continue the family farm. Ultimately, however, Edward did farm at Stanwardine, and among his own children were the last members of the Atcherley family to live and die there. This story follows the family’s fortunes.

Baschurch All Saints

Edward Atcherley was baptised at Baschurch All Saints (picture above dated about 1803) on 21 October 1781. His father Thomas had married late in life (see Love and Marriage (Settlement)) and was 56 years old when Edward was born; he would go on to father another child at the age of 59. Thomas died at the age of 71 on 7 April 1796, when Edward was 14, having made various bequests in his last will and testament including £400 to be paid to Edward when he reached the age of 21.

Thomas had also taken steps to ensure that Edward could supplement his legacy with earnings from a trade. On 25 February 1796 an indenture was made binding Edward Atcherley to serve William Griffiths of Wem, a “Mercer &c.”, as an apprentice. This apprenticeship, which cost £63, lasted for seven years, which meant that by the time it ended in February 1803 Edward was 21 and entitled to receive his £400 legacy. I have found no evidence to show that he then became a mercer. He did however become a soldier, serving as an ensign with the 2nd Salop Regiment towards the end of 1803, but only very briefly.

What Edward really wanted to do was follow in his farming forebears’ footsteps – and that is exactly what he did. Precisely when he did so I cannot say, but when his marriage bond was drawn up on 24 May 1813, he was described as “Edward Atcherley of Weston in the Parish of Baschurch in the County of Salop Farmer”.

Edward wed Mary Morris of Birch Park, also in the parish of Baschurch, on 28 May 1813 at the church where both bride and groom had been baptised (in Mary’s case, on 27 May 1792). Mary was a daughter of Thomas Morris, a farmer, and Sarah. Thomas died in 1803, after making a will in which he bequeathed all his money and property first to his wife and then, after her decease, in equal proportions to his surviving children. There was also the discretion to give to any of his children who married when they came of age, “a reasonable sum of Money as part of their Portion”. This was conditional on the nuptials being approved by Thomas’s wife Sarah and his brother John (the executrix and executor of Thomas’s will).

Mary’s marriage to Edward took place 21 years and one day after her baptism. Did she have the blessing of her mother and her uncle, and was “a reasonable sum of Money” therefore paid as her marriage portion? Possibly so, despite – or maybe because of – the fact that there was little choice but to approve of the wedding. Mary was already pregnant with (or may even have given birth to) Edward’s first child!

Edward Atcherley junior was baptised at Baschurch on 26 June 1813, a little less than a month after his parents had tied the knot in the same church. We can only imagine the look on the face of John Harman, the curate who conducted both ceremonies. Whatever his private thoughts may have been, they did not make it into the baptism register. There, Edward senior was described as a Yeoman, and the family’s abode was recorded as Birch Park.

Another seven children were added to the Atcherley family over the next 18 years, and from their baptism records we can get an idea of the family’s movements over that time. The places where the first four of those seven children were baptised, the name of each child, the abodes recorded and the dates of the baptisms, were as follows: Oswestry – Sarah Atcherley, abode Woodhill (or Wood Hill, about two miles south-east of Oswestry) on 4 November 1814 (note that Edward Atcherley of Woodhill signed as a witness to a quitclaim document in March 1815); Baschurch – Mary Atcherley, abode Birch (probably Birch Park) on 6 October 1816; Ruyton XI Towns – Thomas and John Atcherley, abode Wigmarsh, on 14 June 1819 and 6 August 1821 respectively.

map-stanwardine-birch-park-wigmarshOrdnance Survey map showing Stanwardine, Birch Park and Wigmarsh.

The baptism of John Atcherley took place two months to the day after the burial, at Baschurch, of his maternal grandmother, 65-year-old Sarah Morris of Birch Park. Some time after this event, Edward Atcherley would have received his wife’s share of the money from the Morris estate. It was perhaps this inheritance that enabled Edward to relocate with his wife and children one last time: to Stanwardine in the Fields.

The last three children of Edward and Mary were all born at Stanwardine. Richard was baptised at Baschurch on 25 July 1824, Margaret on 16 April 1829, and Anne on 8 July 1831. The two youngest girls, along with their older sister Mary, were enumerated at Stanwardine in 1841 along with their parents. Edward Atcherley, by this time aged 59, was no longer a farmer but was “of independent means” – living on an income which was presumably derived from property or investments. It appears that the family was well off and that Edward and Mary’s children were set to lead comfortable lives. But was everything as it seemed?

“Mr. Edward Atcherley, of Stanwardine-in-the-Fields,” died on 27 July 1843 and was buried at Baschurch All Saints four days later. There is no gravestone at Baschurch for Edward however, no evidence that I can find that he made a will, and I have not found an entry for him the Index to Death Duty Registers. When the 1851 census was taken, the occupation of Edward’s widow Mary was recorded as “Cottage”. This might mean that Mary rented out a cottage as means of support. However I think it more likely that she was a cottager – a tenant of a small plot of land with a cottage on it, the land being used to grow vegetables and perhaps also to rear a pig or two or some other animals. Ten years later, in 1861, Mary was described as “Formerly Gamekeeper’s Wife”. Mary died in 1868, also without leaving a will. These facts do not suggest to me that Edward Atcherley ended his days as a wealthy man.

But what of Edward and Mary’s children? Their eldest, Edward Atcherley junior, became a tailor, and moved to Wolverhampton where he married in 1839 (the marriage register recording that his father was a farmer). Sarah Atcherley married John Skellorn, who worked variously as a publican, a shopkeeper, a porter, but mostly as a labourer. Both his and Sarah’s effects were valued at under £100 after their deaths in 1868 and 1865 respectively. Edward junior and Sarah were the only offspring of Edward and Mary Atcherley who married.

Of the remaining six children, three died during their mother’s lifetime. Daughter Mary passed away at Ellesmere aged 28 on 10 April 1845; she was interred at Baschurch on the 14th. Next to go was John, at Stanwardine, on 15 November 1854 (his burial following 5 days later). He was 33 years old and although described in the National Probate Calendar as a yeoman, the censuses of 1841 and ’51 showed him working first as a servant, and then as a labourer. Finally Margaret, after spending all her life in the family home (probably helping her mother), died at the age of 35, on 3 January 1865 at Stanwardine.

I have precise dates of death for Mary, John and Margaret Atcherley because one of their brothers, Richard, was granted letters of administration for the estates and effects of all three on 22 February 1869. As a result, entries for the trio appear in the National Probate Calendar. In each case the effects were valued at less than a hundred pounds.

Richard Atcherley declared that he was a yeoman when he applied for administration of his siblings’ estates, but he was more than likely a labourer. He worked at first as an ‘ag lab’ for his farming neighbours, John and Sarah Pembrey (1841 census), later as a general labourer in Shrewsbury (1851 census), but the censuses of 1861 and ’71 show that he returned to Stanwardine, and worked as a railway labourer. In 1861 he was living with his mother Mary and sister Margaret; ten years later he shared the Atcherley family home with his sister Anne. He died in 1878 and was buried on 19 February that year at Baschurch, his last abode given as nearby Milford in the parish of Little Ness.

On 11 October 1876, a little over a year before his death, Richard Atcherley had applied for letters of administration in respect of another of his deceased siblings: older brother Thomas. It appears that both Richard and Thomas had been living at Milford before Thomas’s death, and that Thomas had spent a while at Yockleton before that. In his application for administration, Richard stated that he was a farmer, but I doubt that he was. However his description of Thomas Atcherley as a farm bailiff was, amazingly, almost certainly true.

Thomas had, like Richard (and their brother John) started off as an ‘ag lab’ (he was working for the Pembreys in 1841, alongside the aforementioned brothers). But in 1856 he took over as bailiff at Broomfields Farm in the parish of Montford, which is where he was enumerated in the 1861 and ’71 censuses. Evidently the former bailiff was none too happy at being usurped. The following report appeared in the Shrewsbury Chronicle of 5 December 1856, and gives us a wonderful insight into how Thomas Atcherley spoke:

COUNTY POLICE.—SATURDAY.
Before Sir J. R. Kynaston, Bart., and James Freme, Esq. …
Assault.—Thomas Powell, of Broomfields, was charged with assaulting Thomas Atcherley, at Broomfields, on the 22nd November. It appeared there had been some jealous feelings between plaintiff and defendant, in consequence of the latter succeeding the former as bailiff at Mr. Jones’s farm, and on the day in question, according to plaintiff, defendant met him in the road leading down to Captain Kenyon’s house at Grafton, “and tho’ a’ didna knock me, a’ rommed his fist right smack i’ my faes, and soor a’ ood knock me tith down me throat; besides telling me a’ ood fleay me i’ pieces, an’ cut me up into shrids.” This statement was stoutly denied by defendant, but he admitted putting his fist into Atcherley’s face. Fined £1, including costs.

Thomas Atcherley died on 22 September 1876. Before he was laid to rest, at Baschurch, on 26 September, an inquisition (inquest) into his death took place. This was held “at the House of Mr Richard Atcherley in the Township of Little Ness” on 23 September, with Thomas’s body “on view” before the Coroner, a witness, and twelve jurors. The verdict was that “the said Thomas Atcherley did from natural causes, supposed to the Heart decease.” His effects, when administration was granted to his brother Richard, were valued at under £300.

Ellesmere, Shropshire about 1824Ellesmere

The last surviving child of Edward and Mary Atcherley was their youngest daughter, Anne. It appears that she spent most of her adult life working in various forms of domestic service. In 1851, aged 19, she was a household servant for Mary Fallow in Watergate Street, Ellesmere. In 1861 Mary Drury of Quarry Place in Shrewsbury was employing Anne as a housemaid. Anne may have been between jobs when the census of 1871 was taken, or perhaps she was an unofficial housekeeper for her brother Richard at Stanwardine. However in both 1881 and ’91, Anne was working as a housekeeper for Edwin Dawson, a draper, in Cross Street, Ellesmere.

Dawson died in 1892, unmarried. My guess is that Anne Atcherley worked for him right until the end. After that? The 1901 census recorded Anne as a retired housekeeper, who was a visitor in the household of Annie Owens at Stanwardine. A decade later, Anne was enumerated as a visitor once again, this time at 1 Charlotte Row in Ellesmere, home of Emma Jones. Anne’s occupation this time was “Retired Cook”. When Anne died later that year, at Stanwardine on 27 November 1911 at the grand old age of 80, she left a will – and an estate valued at a staggering £2022 3s 4d! I wonder if her former employer, Edwin Dawson (who left an estate valued at £8333 3s 10d) had made a very generous bequest to his faithful housekeeper?

Anne’s burial at Baschurch All Saints, on 1 December 1911, marked the end of an era. There had been Atcherleys at Stanwardine in the Fields almost continuously since the fourteenth century, but now there were none.

Picture credits and references to follow.

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