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Commentary on the 1764 Agreement

by Professor Steve Baskerville

This kind of document is more generally associated with the affairs of the upper classes, aristocrats and landed gentry, and has as its purpose the future disposition of the family’s assets. By the middle of the 18th century, for the well to do, this frequently involved a process known as ‘strict settlement’ by which some or all of the family’s landed assets were ‘entailed’ to future generations, with a strictly defined (hence the title) order of succession and the use of trustees to look out for the interests of ‘contingent remainders’ or generations as yet unborn. There are a few examples of strict settlement being used by yeoman farming families as well, and some suggestion that simpler forms of settlement such as the one between David and Ann were in fact commonplace. Few families below the ranks of the gentry have preserved their archives, however, and the survival of such documents is consequently quite rare.

This agreement shares some similarities with the ‘strict settlement’ form, especially the use of the trustees, Edward Bloor and James Eachus, who were probably neighbours, relations and/or family friends. We learn from the narrative that David’s father, Daniel, enjoyed the status of ‘yeoman’ by virtue of two pieces of property in Blackden which he held on ‘leases for lives’. These were a common form of land tenure in Cheshire at the time and those who held estates by them were referred to locally as ‘charterers’ – a reference to the deed or indenture (‘charter’) used to create the tenancy. The prospective tenant paid an ‘entry fine’ to the landowner in return for which he received a lease that named him and (usually) two other persons who would be entitled to enter the property upon his death. The annual rent was nominal, usually just a few shillings a year, but the entry fines were often quite substantial, certainly several pounds. An additional fine would be payable when ‘life number two’ succeeded to the estate; and additional fines would also be incurred if the second or third tenant in the sequence wanted to negotiate the addition of further ‘lives’. A life interest in property was treated as a freehold at common law, even though the estate in fee simple remained with the landlord. Leaseholders for lives could consequently vote in county elections (provided the annual value of their property was at least 40 shillings) and were liable to serve in the county militia. They would also pay the land tax, tithes, poor rate, and a variety of other national and local assessments.

Daniel took the first property, a three-acre field called Broomy Croft, on a lease from John Kinsey, gent., in November 1752, naming his son David and daughter Lydia as the second and third lives. He took the second property, a messuage (or dwelling house) in Blackden, on a lease from John Baskervyle of Old Withington, Esq., who later changed his name to Glegg in order to inherit property from his wife’s family in Gayton, Cheshire. Later members of this family used the double-barrelled name Baskervyle-Glegg. William Fallowes and John Kinsey are probably named here as trustees for the Old Withington estate, which may have been strictly settled as described above. This second lease named David and Abraham Baskervyle (more of whom below) as the second and third lives. We do not know the size or name of the property: it may have been a cottage and croft (enclosed yard of an acre or so) or it may have been a small farm. The amount of land tax paid should settle this if I can find an assessment for the appropriate dates.

Daniel died in January 1764, 11 months prior to this marriage settlement, and in the mean time David had entered both properties as the second named ‘life’. What he is doing in this document is as follows: (1) he is agreeing to transfer the properties to trustees ‘by good and sufficient Conveyances’, for certain specified ‘uses’, within three months of his intended marriage; (2) he is providing living space (‘the Parlour and the Buttery adjoining’) and an annuity of £4 a year for his mother, Hester (elsewhere ‘Esther’); (3) he is getting guarantees that he and Ann will be permitted to go on living in the premises and to enjoy the profits of their farming activities and that, if David pre-deceases her, Ann will be allowed to do the same for the remainder of her natural life; (4) he is providing for Ann’s children, Edward and John Washington, the former with £12 to arrange for an apprenticeship plus suitable clothing, and both to receive £10 (each?) when they come of age; (5) he is attempting

to secure succession to the Blackden properties for any child or children subsequently born to him and Ann, with equal share being the default position if he does not specify otherwise in a deed or will; and (6) he is agreeing that Ann will continue to control personally her share in a garden property at Newton near Middlewich, and enjoy the revenues therefrom, presumably an asset which she is bringing to the marriage.

What this agreement does not spell out is that certain aspects of what it proposes are problematic. In the first place, David only enjoys a life interest in his Blackden estate. As things stand, at his death Broomy Croft will pass to his sister Lydia and the messuage and lands will go to Abraham Baskervyle. This is where the ‘good and sufficient Conveyances’ become important. After his marriage, David will need to convey these properties to his trustees with the consent of his landlords, who will need to agree to the addition of new lives or else to leasing the tenements on some different basis, say for a long term of years. He will also need the consent of Lydia and Abraham to effectively extinguishing their respective interests, probably in return for some monetary or other material consideration. There is also the added complication of a mortgage outstanding on one or both of the properties. Indeed, it is strange that the mortgagee, Bartholomew Hulme, yeoman, has not insisted on being substituted as a ‘life’ in these leases, since this would have been the normal mechanism used to protect his £40 plus interest if the mortgagor defaults. Be this as it may, the proposed conveyance(s) will need to secure his interests. It would be great to see the indentures that were eventually drawn up in order to achieve the purposes of this agreement. Regrettably, the chances of their survival are virtually nil.

A few loose ends are worth addressing in conclusion.

Firstly, who was Abraham Baskervyle? The agreement describes David as Daniel’s ‘only Son and Heir’ and Abraham as ‘otherwise Son of Hester Baskervyle’. If Abraham was not Daniel’s son, then either he was the result of an adulterous relationship during their marriage, or more likely he was Hester’s child by a relationship prior to her marriage, taking the name of his step-father thereafter. This latter suggestion is rendered more likely by the fact that whereas none of the numerous Baskerville lines in Cheshire had ever adopted Abraham as a family Christian name, there are a number of Abraham Houghs.

Secondly, who was the Ann Basketfield who married Henry Pidgeon at Stockport in August 1792? She was apparently born around 1766 (69 at her death in 1835) and so was just 26 at the time of her marriage to Henry, and already a widow. Ian Pidgeon’s surmise that she had been the wife of one of David and Ann’s sons is inviting but unproven, and in some ways implausible. Their first-born son David died within a year, and our [Steve's family] ancestor Ann came next in 1767. Elizabeth was born in 1769; the twins, Daniel and David, in 1770 and Joseph in 1772. No marriage (or burial) record has yet been found for any of these three boys, who in any case would have been aged only 21, 21 and 19 in 1791 (presuming that their widow would have waited at least a year before remarrying), and four or six years younger than their bride! An intriguing alternative is that Ann Pidgeon was, in fact, the Ann Baskerville born to David and Ann in 1767, not a widow, but the mother of an illegitimate son Thomas (b.1786) – a fact she may have wished to disguise. Unfortunately, the marriage-register entry tells us neither where she came from, nor who witnessed the event. Her father, David of Blackden, died in 1782 and his wife we know not when. It is possible that Elizabeth and the three boys were all dead by this date, in which case Ann as the sole survivor would have inherited her father’s property, if any, and personal effects, including important papers such as David and Ann’s marriage agreement.

There may, however, have been nothing to inherit. As a result of this agreement, David’s small estate was charged with unspecified legal expenses, entry fines due to his landlords, an annuity owing to his widow, the £22 or £32 needed for John Washington’s children, not to mention a pre-existing mortgage for £40 plus interest. It is a pity that he left no will.

Updated:  29 Nov 2017
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