Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Timothy Smithson's Will

I have now received a copy of the Will of Timothy Smithson, and it turns out to provide an interesting encounter with one aspect of Grimsby history.

So, first, the historical context.

In the eighteenth century, Grimsby, although it had Borough status and returned two Members of Parliament, was no bigger than a modern village and no bigger than the other tiny market towns of north-east Lindsey such as Barton and Caistor.  What soon became known as the 'Old Town' clustered around the church and the Riverhead.

At the very end of the century, two major developmental initiatives were taken to kick-start something bigger, but, in the end, neither managed to do so.

First, a dock was built along the mainly silted up Haven – today this is the portion of Alexandra Dock between the Riverhead and the A180.  The enabling Act was passed in 1796 and the first use was in 1801.  But those who financed the development, which included all the major landowners in the Wolds, did not have sufficient supplies of goods to export and proved to be naive about what the quantity of trade by others would be.

Secondly, from 1800, the common land immediately east of the new dock was parcelled up and initially leased and then sold for building development –  this ‘New Town’ occupied the land which today is between Alexandra Dock and the railway line.  The population of Grimsby doubled (to over 4000 people by 1831) but actually far fewer of the plots were developed than had been expected and many ended up being used as market gardens.

It would be more than a generation later, in the 1840s, that the development of Grimsby took off with the completion of agricultural enclosure and improvement and with the coming of the railway, but that is quite another story.

Back to Timothy Smithson’s Will, made in 1816, three years before his death.  Although he describes himself as a Farmer of Great Coates, almost all of the document deals with an extensive portfolio of property  - including ‘all my nine freehold messuages or tenements with gardens and appurtenances situate in Great Grimsby in a certain street or place called Flower Square’ (some of which were let to tenants). 

Flour Square (the contemporary spelling is twentieth century) is at what would then have been the northern end of the New Town, on the marshy coastal strip of Fitties rather than on the Common proper, and is today just north off the Lock Hill roundabout. 

Smithson allocates the nine properties in turn to his eight oldest surviving children; the daughter married to a joiner (Charles Hudson) gets a property with a joiner’s shop.  His youngest children, by his second wife Mary, were still under age, and he makes provision for Mary and these children to have income from property trusts.  His ‘dear wife’ also gets ‘my two best beds, half of my best chairs [and] also my mahogany dining and tea tables’.

Of additional interest for me are the names of the two much younger farmers (aged in 1816 39 and 44, as against Smithson’s 66) to be the trustees.  They are ‘my two good friends’  Richard Taylor of Great Coates (whose memorial and grave have featured in this Blog before) and Charles Nevill of Little Coates (about more of whom in a moment).  

There is obviously something of a community among these more substantial tenant farmers, each managing the largest businesses in the two villages; they formed part of the sort of class prosperous enough to take advantage of new investment opportunities in neighbouring Grimsby.

The earliest surviving gravestone in Little Coates churchyard is that of Charles’ grandparents(from 1781) .  His parents’ gravestone also survives nearby, and a picture from it has appeared in this Blog before.  

Charles’ sister Ann married a Joshua Chapman, and they were to be the great-grandparents of the Joseph Chapman whose fortune was made when  Grimsby’s growth and trade eventually really did take took off and whose legacy paid for the building of most of the present St Michael’s, Little Coates almost exactly a century after Smithson drew up his Will.

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