Bequests that raise a smile

Bequests that raise a smile

Bequests in family wills can often tell us a lot about the person, their status, their priorities, and their relationships. And where there’s a will, there’s an occasional smile.

Wills are a valuable resource for family history, as I covered in this post.

When they just say: “I leave the lot to my beloved wife,” it is a huge disappointment. But sometimes, the bequests give us an insight into the testator, and his or her relationships with other members of the family.

The following extracts from Cumbrian wills ‘jumped out’ at me as I read the documents in full. 

Intriguing exceptions

John Lawson, of Bowness-on-Solway, died in 1805

His bequests included leaving his ‘loving wife Isabella’: £7 a year from freehold estates, £3 a year from custom estates:

‘And all the household furniture, except the bread cupboard and great chest in the upper room in the kitchen.’

Who gets the bread cupboard and why she doesn’t, sadly isn’t made clear!

Local geography

Ann Lowthian, of Kirkoswald, 1764

She had a brother and a married sister in Dumfries  – which the will describes as being ‘in Northern Britain’.

Gee, thanks for that

Wills can give an idea of what possessions were valued ‘back in the day’. I mean, it’s not likely anyone in the UK today would bequeath clothing or bedding to a loved one, but it used to be common.

Will of Esther Pears, of Aspatria, 1837

… Also I give and bequeath unto my said Grand Daughter Mary Hewitson over and above what I have hereinbefore given and devised to her as aforesaid… my Copper Tea Kettle… my large Tea Tray an Iron Fender…  Five sheets, two pair of Blankets.. all the Quilts made by her my best Table Cloth and all my pillow slips marked M. P. and M. C. my washing Tub Dolly Stand and Dolly and my Dough Tin. Iron Pot two Iron Pans and small Iron Tea Kettle two Box smoothing irons and four Heaters.

So, Mary got back the quilts she’d no doubt spent many, many hours making.

At least they were then Esther’s to give back.

Thomas Glaister, of Allonby, 1823

Among other bequests, Thomas leaves his share of the sloop Ann, at Port Carlisle, to nephew William Glaister, which is fair enough. But nephew Daniel Glaister gets 

‘the clock that stands in his father’s house in Newtown’: 

which sound like being generous with someone else’s stuff!.

Erm, excuse me?

Edward Simpson, of Cardewlees, 1822

Edward name-checks his wife Elizabeth, his son Thomas and his daughter Jane. Then says he leaves the rest: ‘to my children by Thomas’. 

A curious turn of phrase! 

Joseph Pattinson, Port Carlisle. 1880

Joseph leaves his furniture, china, plate, glass, books, consumable stores and household effects to Mary Rome, “who is now living with me”.

Two things there. Firstly, why didn’t he say: “my step-daughter,” for that’s who she was?Secondly, there’s another ‘gee thanks’ that he left her the food.

John Thornthwaite of Arkleby, 1817

Men often specify that bequests to their widows are to be forfeited if she marries someone else. But this is the first time I have come across a father wanting his son to stay single.

For John senior left John all freehold land at Arkleby “if he keeps himself unmarried”. 

What are you trying to say?

John Sewell, of Broughton Lodge, Bridekirk 1846

“I give and bequeath unto my dear William Mina for her own use and benefit all the wines and other liquors and provisions that I shall be possessed of at the time of my decease. “And also my wearing apparel.”

She did also get the rest of the household goods and furniture. But why specify the alcohol? And why would she want his clothes?

Gee, thanks again

Anthony Robinson, Solway View (between Port Carlisle and Bowness-on-Solway). 1905

 …niece Sarah Ann Robinson gets the furniture from the west bedroom, including the night commode. She also gets furniture and effects from the west parlour. Among other bequests, niece Jane Elizabeth Robinson gets the east bedroom and east parlour stuff, including another night commode.

John Wharton, of Great Croglin, 1694

John left his daughter and son-in-law got one shilling each. That would appear to be worth about £10 each in today’s values.

Each of his grandchildren got a lamb.

Is this a compliment, or…?

John Stalker, of Langhorn Lane, in the parish of Dalston, 1753

John left his son John 5 shillings, son George 3 shillings, and niece Jane 1 shilling. With the rest going to his wife Mabel and daughter Jane. The will was signed with his mark – another bit of useful information for anyone researching him.

But the really interesting bit lies in what is usually basic preamble:

For John Stalker wants his burial to be:

 ‘decent without pomp or state, at the discretion of my dear and beloved wife, who I doubt not will manage it with all requisite prudence.’

Finding Cumbrian wills

You can search for Cumbrian wills on the Cumbria Archive Service Catalogue (CASCAT) online here.

Put the person’s name in Any Text box in quote marks: “Name Surname,” to see an entry shows up for them.

And if you cannot get to Carlisle to view the document in person, you can contact the archives for copies.