Mrs Cowen’s maiden name was Sarah Smith; she was born in Gamblesby in 1829, the sixth child and fourth daughter of Lancelot Smith and Elizabeth Westgarth. You can read more about her life in the “Lancelot Smith 1785-1871” page and the “Lancelot Smith’s Children Gamblesby” page in the “Family Stories” section.
This post is about Sarah after June 1871, when her father died in Tipperary and she was then appointed the sole executrix of her father’s will. I found her appointment interesting because she had three brothers and it was usual for men to be appointed as executors of wills. I thought it was also interesting that Sarah was not married and was living at Blackhall when her father died. Unfortunately, the will was lost in the Four Courts fire in Dublin in 1922 so all we have is the information from the index of wills and administrations:
15 September The Will of Launcelot Smith late of Rathcorvan County Tipperary Gentleman deceased who died 12 June 1871 at Grange in said County was proved at the Principal Registry by the oath of Sarah Smith of Blackhall County Meath Spinster the Daughter and sole Executrix. Effects under £100.
I have made some assumptions about the consequences of the will, based largely on where she lived after 1871 and on the contents of her own will.
I think Sarah inherited the freehold property in Gamblesby her father had owned.
Sarah was still living at Blackhall in 1875 when she married Joseph Cowen in the Parish Church of Ballymaglasson on 2 January. Witnesses at her marriage were her brother Lancelot Smith and Mary Jane Kingsbury, a Methodist friend probably living in Dublin. It is worth noting that the Married Women’s Property Act, passed in 1870 at Westminster, meant that she could keep ownership of her property after her marriage.
I was curious to know something about Joseph Cowen. He was born around 1833 in Hesket Newmarket, Cumberland and was the eldest son of James and Esther Cowen. James Cowen was a yeoman farmer originally from Dumfries in Scotland. James and Esther had at least ten children. In 1851, the Cowens were living in Caldbeck, Cumberland on a farm of 100 acres. By 1861, Esther Cowen was a widow managing a farm of 97 acres and Joseph and his brother John were working on the farm. In the 1871 census, Joseph and John were still living in Caldbeck; both were farm servants but had their own house. This suggests that the Cowen farm had to be sold. At the time of his marriage in 1875 to Sarah Smith, Joseph’s residence was given as Hesket Newmarket, I have no evidence that Joseph ever lived in Ireland.
I assume that Sarah visited Cumberland occasionally while she was living in Ireland, particularly after she inherited the property in Gamblesby. I do not know how or where she met Joseph Cowen but it was most likely in Cumberland.
By the time of the April 1881 English census, Joseph and Sarah Cowen were living in Gamblesby and listed as a farmer of 35 acres and farmer’s wife respectively. They probably went to live in Gamblesby soon after their marriage. I think the Cowens were living on the freehold property and the house formerly owned by Sarah’s father and inherited by Sarah.
Agnes Nicholson, in her narrative written in 1916, describes the house in Gamblesby that belonged to her grandfather Lancelot Smith:
My grandfather’s house was … facing up the street with an uninterrupted view of almost the whole village. It stood full south with a small orchard at the side & a bright little garden in front which sloped down to where the beck murmured & glinted in the sun, the pleasantest house in the village I always thought. It was a small freehold property, bought I think at the time of his marriage …
Agnes Nicholson also mentions the importance of the Methodist faith to the local people:
Perhaps once a month the minister came from Kirkoswald … even from Penrith, being entertained for dinner & tea by someone in the village. Of late years my aunt Mrs Cowen always welcomed them at the old house.
In the April 1891 census, the Cowens are still listed as living in Gamblesby.
In the 1901 census, Joseph Cowen is listed as a yeoman farmer and the name of the house as “Townfoot”. That name is interesting because it is the name by the gate-post of the house pictured above.
Joseph Cowen died in 1908.
In his will, Joseph left his furniture to the use of his wife Sarah in her lifetime; then it was to be sold at auction and the resulting money to be divided between three people: his brother John Cowen of Fell Side, Caldbeck, his sister Mary, wife of William Bell of the same place, and his sister Ann, wife of Dixon Hetherington of Eamont Bridge.
Sarah Cowen’s cousin Joseph Salkeld, an engineer from Wakefield, was one of the witnesses for the will.
I do not think Joseph had any real estate property to bequeath.
In the 1911 census, Sarah was still living in Gamblesby, now a widow, and happened to have her niece Elizabeth Smith (Betty) visiting from Ireland at the time.
Sarah died in March 1913, aged 83, and was buried at the Parish Church of Addingham at Glassonby.
In her will, Sarah gave some small bequests including £100 (to be invested) to the Gamblesby Wesleyan Methodist Chapel.
The principal part of her will was that all her “lands and hereditaments of copyhold or customary hold tenure” and her “real estate of every tenure” and the residue of her personal estate were to be sold and the resulting money divided between her nine Smith nephews and nieces and two Bell nieces (her sister-in-law Mary Bell’s children). Lancelot Smith of Beaverstown and Hubert Smith were each to get a double share compared to the equal shares the others received.
Lancelot Smith of Beaverstown and Joseph Westmoreland Benson, a yeoman from Unthank, Gamblesby, were Sarah’s executors. (The Bensons were long-time residents of the Gamblesby area and were distantly related to the Smiths through Sarah’s great-aunt Elinor Falder.)
From the English census information, Agnes Nicholson’s narrative and the wills for Joseph Cowen and Sarah Cowen, I have concluded that Sarah inherited her father’s freehold property in Gamblesby and lived in what had been his house – the house where she was born – for the last 38 years of her life.
Fascinated to see a connection to the Bensons. Somewhere, there is a photo of the two Benson brothers taken in the early 20th century. I was told by someone, perhaps Dad or cousin Win, that they were sons or relations of the Archbishop of Canterbury of that name. I think they stayed at Corballis.One became the novellist E.F.Benson who wrote the Lucia novels which I have always enjoyed. This may be a myth, of course. I have no firm evidence.
I have a few photographs of the Bensons and I will post those some time. In one photograph, two Benson men are posed in a Montreal studio and wearing amazing fur coats. I don’t know if they were pretending to be voyageurs or what.