The rebel and the conman (part 1)

The story of George Nottage

Cumbrian Characters is featuring two ‘guests’ over two posts – a father and son who have no connection to the north west, but whose stories jumped out from research.

Non-conformist records

The Nottage family hailed from Essex/Hertfordshire. They were mostly non-conformists – which always poses a problem for family historians. For one, non-conformist records can be harder to track down then Church of England parish registers. And for two, there were fewer chapels than churches, so people often had to travel many miles to a place of worship.

In Cumbria, some of my ancestors farmed at Caldbeck. They weren’t baptised at St Kentigern’s, so where to look? It turned out to be at Wigton Methodist Church, about ten miles away. But Wigton wasn’t an obvious place to look.

George Nottage (the rebel)

The Nottage family were ‘solid’ folk – farmers, auctioneers, shopkeepers. George Thomas Nottage, born in 1789, was an auctioneer, land agent, and valuer.

In 1814, he married Emma Hawkes. She was the daughter of Thomas and Lydia Hawkes of Berden Hall, Essex – an Elizabethan country house. The Hawkes family were both wealthy and had a ‘good name’. 

In 1811, the members of Henham Chapel voted that a Mr Harrison be invited to take back the role of pastor. He had resigned a few months before, saying:

the reason of his resignation to be that Mr George Nottage a Member of the Church opposed him in such a manner & had so slandered his character that he could no longer remain Pastor now as the Church have not either excluded or Publicly censured Mr G. Nottage,

George Nottage and others opposed his reinstatment, referring to:

the many sad instances of loose Immoral conversation and Indecent Behaviour on the Part Of Mr Harrison utterly unbecoming The Character not only of a Gospel Minister but of a man of common Decency.

Clearly George Nottage wasn’t ‘backwards in coming forwards’. Which sets the scene for incidents in the 1830s. Tho’ it should be noted between that he went bankrupt in 1828 (at Kingsland, Middlesex).

He relocated and set up business (initially in partnership, then solo) in Ipswich.

The libel case

In August 1838, the Suffolk Chronicle printed a long letter, signed openly by George Nottage, taking to task the Ipswich Union survey and valuation. He said it was far from completion, and was costing a fortune.

Eight months later, Horatio Thomas Ellis sued John King, the editor of the Suffolk Chronicle, for libel.

Ellis had won the tender from the Board of Guardians at Ipswich for a survey and valuation of the 14 parishes comprising the Union. He’d taken on others to assist him in the work, including George Nottage.

The court was told that George Nottage had been dismissed, having given ‘anything but satisfaction’. Almost immediately a letter appeared in the Chronicle signed ‘Inquisitor’, followed a week later by one signed ‘GN’. The letters accused Ellis of not paying workers’ wages, and taking way too long to complete the survey, ‘at ruinous expense’.

As a good editor, John King refused to reveal his sources (the identities of Inquisitor and GN). And the trial judge threw the whole thing out of court, saying there was nothing libellous in the letters.

George Nottage responded with a strongly-worded letter, denying he had been ‘dismissed’ – he’d left because he wasn’t being paid. And how dare Mr Ellis libel HIM?!

A stubborn stand  

By early 1839, a new stock market had been opened in Ipswich – and no one was allowed to sell stock on the Cornhill any more. 

In March, George Nottage was taken to court for selling horses on the Cornhill, ‘contrary to the Ipswich Paving and Lighting Act’.

George admitted selling cattle and horses on the Cornhill, but said such sales were not banned under the Act. And if he’d been a member of the town council, he’d never have been charged.

He was fined 20 shillings and costs – and immediately carried on selling horses on the Cornhill (where his business premises were).

When told, in court, that the Paving Act DID say cattle and horses could only be exhibited for sale in the new market, George said this clause bad been smuggled into the Act for the benefit of the proprietors of the New Market, and he would appeal. He referred to charters that permitted sales on the Corn Hill, and pointed out he paid rates and the clerk to the market had taken tolls from him on the sales.

And he carried on as before:

April 16, 1839.


On May 14, the story took a new turn:

IMPRISONMENT of Mr. Nottage, the Auctioneer. 

Mr. Nottage, who has several times been convicted before the Magistrates for selling cattle on the Corn-hill, by auction, contrary to the Paving and Lighting Act, was committed, on Thursday last, to the House of Correction for twenty days, for non-payment of the fine and costs of the first information. 

The particulars of the circumstances are conspicuously written, and exhibited in the office window of Mr Nottage.

Free the Cornhill One

George Nottage may have been the only person defying the Pavement Act – but he wasn’t the only person who opposed it. There were letters in the Essex Mercury, and an editorial which called his imprisonment heavy-handed:

under any circumstances, we must pronounce the imprisonment of a man of unimpeached character as a felon in the house of Correction, is a thing that ought, if pos-sible, to be avoided, and resorted to only when every other remedy has been tried in vain.

With eight other fines outstanding, they pointed out George could be held in jail for five months!

It didn’t happen – because the townsfolk paid the fines. A public committee was set up, with a John Nunn and Elisha Creasy as treasurers, and subscriptions invited ‘to enable him to overcome such arbitrary and vindictive persecution.’

The stories stop there, so it would seem either George gave up selling livestock on the Cornhill – or the authorities gave up prosecuting him for doing so!

The conman

George Thomas and Emma Hawkes had five children (for sure). The eldest, Frederick Hawkes Nottage, merits a post in his own right.

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