John Smith of Melmerby (1815-1884) and his family

There are a lot of John Smiths in the family – I know of seven and there may be more – so it is sometimes hard to keep them straight. This particular John Smith was born in 1815 in Hesket, which is about 6 miles (10 km) from Melmerby in Cumberland. He was the eldest son of William Smith and Mary Longrigg. William and Mary Smith were living in Hesket before William inherited the Melmerby farm from his father (another John Smith). I have already written a set of four posts about William Smith and his family and about his younger children. I put John Smith aside until now because he was the next in line to inherit the Smith farm and other freehold property in Melmerby.

John is part of the Smith family who stayed in the Eden Valley of Cumberland and continued to farm in Melmerby and Gamblesby, unlike my Smith line who migrated to Ireland in the early 1850s.

The Eden Valley is east of the Lake District and west of the Pennines. The Eden River flows north-west to Carlisle and the sea. The principal town in this agricultural area was, and still is, Penrith.

I have already written briefly about the Melmerby Smiths after 1821 in an earlier post.

John Smith was a first cousin of my great-grandfather Lancelot Smith of Corballis (1824-1899). So, John’s children were second cousins of my grandfather William Smith of Blackhall.

John Smith married Mary Hardy of Park Head in 1849. Park Head (or Parkhead) is near Kirkoswald – about halfway between Kirkoswald and Renwick – and only about 3 miles (5 km) north-west of Melmerby. Mary’s parents were Christopher and Eleanor Hardy. She was born at Huddlesceugh and baptized in the Parish Church of Kirkoswald in April 1822.

In their early married life, John and Mary lived in Gamblesby while his father William continued to farm at Melmerby. The places I have mentioned here are all very close together in the upper reaches of the Eden Valley.

In the 1851 census, John and his wife Mary with their young son William, aged 1, were living in Gamblesby where John was farming 60 acres. This farmland was freehold property belonging to John’s father William Smith.

John’s father William Smith died in June 1857 after which he (John) inherited the Melmerby freehold property then known as Churn, later called Churnside. On inheriting the freehold property in Melmerby, John Smith would then be described as a yeoman farmer. Owning freehold property conveyed both economic status as well as social status in a rural community.

Under William’s will, John shared the residue of his father’s estate with his younger brother William Smith of Gamblesby (I have already written about this William Smith in the post titled The Islington Families).

John and Mary had eight children, four sons and four daughters. The eldest son William was born in Park Head, the next four children were born in Gamblesby and the three youngest in Melmerby. The youngest daughter Eleanor died as an infant; seven children survived to adulthood.

The naming of the children is interesting because it did not follow the usual pattern. While the eldest son was named after his paternal grandfather William Smith, the second son was not named Christopher after his maternal grandfather Christopher Hardy of Park Head. Indeed, the name George is very unusual in this Smith family – I don’t know of any other. Mary Smith had a brother George Hardy who died in 1850 at the age of 21 and that may have been why the name was chosen. Giving the boy a middle name was also unusual at that time in Cumberland. Most children received only one baptismal name.

When it came to naming their daughters, John and Mary chose to call their eldest daughter Mary Ann although it would have been customary to name her after her maternal grandmother Eleanor Hardy. Again unusually, they gave her two baptismal names. Their second daughter should have been named after her paternal grandmother but that name – Mary – was already used and the second daughter was called Agnes. Only later were the names of the Hardy grandparents given to the two youngest children.

John Smith and his family lived in Melmerby from about 1858 until his death over 25 years later.

In 1861, John and Mary Smith were living in Melmerby with five children: William, George H., Agnes, Hannah and John. Their oldest daughter Mary Ann, aged 6, was living with her Hardy grandparents Christopher and Eleanor at Low Huddlesceugh, Park Head. Also in the Hardy household were three of Mary Ann’s uncles and her aunt Eleanor. In the 1861 census, John Smith is described as a yeoman and farmer of 100 acres employing one labourer. Christopher Hardy was also a yeoman farming 100 acres.

In 1871, John and Mary Smith were living in Melmerby with five children: George H, aged 18; Agnes, 14; Hannah, 12; John, 10; and Christopher, aged 5. Mary Ann Smith was still living with the Hardys in Park Head. The eldest son William was living in Penrith with his aunt Agnes Scott and her husband Francis. William was described as a draper’s assistant.

In the 1881 census, John and his wife Mary were living at Churn in Melmerby with four of their children: William, Agnes, John and Christopher. Mary Ann was still living with the Hardys in Park Head although by this date her grandparents had both died. She was living with three Hardy uncles and her aunt Eleanor.  In the same 1881 census, George Hardy Smith was living in Stainmore, Westmorland, farming there on 90 acres. He and his wife Mary had a one-year-old daughter Sarah A Smith living with them and Mary’s mother Sarah Jackson. John and Mary’s daughter Hannah  was living in Penrith in the house of her aunt Agnes Scott and looking after her niece Ellinor (actually Eleanor) Smith, George Hardy Smith’s older daughter, aged 2. (We can assume that George’s daughter Eleanor was simply visiting Penrith at the time of the census.)

John Smith died in April 1884, aged 68, and he left a will that provides some interesting information about his family. The will was signed in March 1883 and proved at Carlisle in July 1884.

He appointed as his executors his second son George Hardy Smith and his brother William Smith of Gamblesby. Why not his eldest son, you may wonder? His eldest son William died at the age of 35 in July 1884 – only a few months after his father died – so I believe it was already apparent in 1883 that William would not survive long.

The will provides for the usual bequest of household goods to his widow Mary Smith; whatever goods she did not want were then to be divided between his three daughters, Mary Ann, Agnes and Hannah. His son Christopher got special mention with a bequest of a fell allotment. His widow got, in addition to the household goods, an annuity of £30 “as long as she shall continue my widow”. Perhaps he thought she might re-marry; she was over 60 years old in 1884.

To his eldest son William, he left an annuity of £15 during his life, the amount to be paid half-yearly with the first payment to be made six months after John’s death. (I assume this sum was never paid because William died before October 1884.)

The will goes on to provide legacies to his two younger sons John and Christopher and to his daughter Hannah in the sum of £400 each. His two other daughters, Mary Ann and Agnes, were given the sum of £200 each. It was quite common at that time for sons to receive more money than daughters. But I wonder: why did Hannah get better treatment than her two sisters? A legacy of £400 in 1884 would be worth about £38,270 today in terms of standard of living.

John’s will specifies that the annuities and legacies were to be charged against the real estate he owned and that all the real property was bequeathed to his son George Hardy Smith, the heir to the Melmerby farm. This meant that George had to either sell some of his newly acquired property to pay the legacies and annuities or he had to borrow the money on the value of the property. I assume he did the latter and could re-pay the loans later from farm revenues.

The remainder of John’s personal estate and effects were to be divided between all his children equally. In 1884, John’s personal estate was valued at £781 and 14 shillings.

In today’s currency, £781 and 14 shillings would be equal to about £75,000 in terms of the standard of living. I think it is safe to say that John Smith of Melmerby was a wealthy man when he died in 1884. His principal wealth was in his real estate property (the freehold farm in Melmerby and other pieces of land that he owned or leased). The personal estate was a minor part of his wealth. And he was able to give significant legacies to most of his children. However, a general depression in agriculture in England was looming and had already had serious effects in south-eastern counties during the 1870s and early 1880s. Tougher times for Cumberland farmers were likely ahead for John’s successor, George Hardy Smith.

In another post, I will write about John Smith’s three daughters Mary Ann, Agnes and Hannah. They all lived in Penrith in their later years and all left wills, which is very helpful to family historians.

Another upcoming post will tell you what I know about John Smith’s two younger sons John and Christopher and their later lives farming in the Park Head area, where their Hardy grandfather and uncles had lived and worked.

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2 Responses to John Smith of Melmerby (1815-1884) and his family

  1. John Smith says:

    I don’t know where you find the time or get the information, the most interesting reads, you’re doing an amassing job. Keep it up.
    Best Regards
    John Smith.

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