The Misses Smith of Penrith

In an earlier post, I wrote about John Smith of Melmerby (1815-1884) and his family. He and his wife Mary (nee Hardy) had three daughters who lived to adulthood and none of them ever married.  They were:

  • Mary Ann  1854-1923
  • Agnes  1856-1903
  • Hannah  1858-1921

I am interested in these three sisters because they all had wills in which they named their nephews, nieces and several other relatives.  This information has been helpful in giving me a clearer and more complete picture of the Smiths of Melmerby in the early 20th century.

The three sisters had two older brothers and two younger brothers. Their eldest brother William died unmarried at age 35 in 1884 a few months after his father John had died. The second oldest brother George Hardy Smith became the heir to the Melmerby freehold farm under the provisions of his father’s will. The two younger brothers John and Christopher had been working at the Melmerby farm until 1884 and they then went to farm in Park Head with their mother’s brothers, the Hardys. (More on them in another post.)

Although Mary Ann was the oldest of the sisters, and she should be first in this narrative, I will describe each of them in the order in which they died because that makes it easier to explain the contents of their wills.

Agnes Smith (1856-1903)
Agnes was the middle sister. My description of her life will be rather short because I know very little about her until the time and place of her death, which was rather unusual.

Agnes lived at home with her parents John and Mary Smith at the family farm in Melmerby from the year of her birth until her father died in 1884. At that time, she was 29 years old. Agnes received £400 in her father’s will as well as one-third of the residue of his household effects after her mother Mary had taken what she wanted. £400 in 1884 would be worth about £38,270 in terms of today’s cost of living.

Agnes continued to live at the family home after her brother George Hardy Smith took over the farm and household. In the 1901 census, however, Agnes was living with her sister Hannah at 94 Lowther Street in Penrith. She was living on “own means”. Penrith is about 9 miles (15 km) from Melmerby and is the nearest market town.

Agnes was only 46 when she died in 1903. I knew the date she had died from a gravestone in the Melmerby Church graveyard but was puzzled as to why I could not find the civil registration of her death. When looking for a probate record, I realized that she had died in Edinburgh although I had no idea why she was there. It turned out (when I got a copy of  the death record) that she had died after a surgical procedure to remedy a “mobile kidney” (also called a floating kidney). I assume she went to Edinburgh to a surgeon recommended to her although one might think there would have been someone competent enough in Carlisle, the nearest city to her home. The operation was, apparently, a success but the patient died several days later from heart failure. Her sister Hannah had accompanied her to Edinburgh and was present when Agnes died on the 20th of March 1903. Having to deal with the sudden death of her sister in a strange city must have been horrible for Hannah.

Agnes did have a will, signed only a few weeks before she died.

The probate record states that her estate had a value of £1,471 5s 8d (worth today about £145,000). She specified bequests of £100 each to: her sister Hannah; her niece Elinor (Eleanor), wife of James Beaty; and her niece Sarah Agnes Smith. Both these nieces were the daughters of George Hardy Smith. (£100 in 1903 would be worth about £10,000 today.) The rest of her personal estate and her real estate were bequeathed to her two sisters equally and she also appointed her sisters as executrices. Probate was approved in May 1903.

Hannah Smith (1858-1921)
Hannah was perhaps a bit more adventurous than Agnes because she was not living at home in Melmerby by the time she was 22. In the 1881 census, she was living in the Penrith house belonging to her aunt Agnes Scott; the house was called Ashley House and was on Union Street.

I was rather surprised to see Hannah listed as head of household at such a young age and also as an unmarried girl but I believe it was a temporary arrangement while her aunt (recently widowed) was visiting a sister in Reigate (that episode was described in the post titled The Two Milliners). Hannah had her niece Eleanor (aged 2) staying with her in the 1881 census; again, a temporary arrangement, I am sure.

Hannah was living in Penrith with her aunt Agnes Scott in 1891. I think Hannah was probably acting as a companion for her widowed aunt. Agnes Scott died in 1898 and her will appointed Hannah as her executor. I wonder if Agnes gave her real estate property (Ashley House) to Hannah and maybe some money also.

In 1901, Hannah and her sister Agnes were living in Penrith at 94 Lowther Street. When Agnes died in 1903, I assume that Hannah continued to live there at least for a time. By 1911, Hannah was sharing a house with her sister Mary Ann at 1 Brunswick Square. They continued living there until Hannah died in 1921 at the age of 62.

Below is an excerpt from a map published in 1900 showing the town of Penrith. The main street goes diagonally from upper left to lower right with a secondary street running almost parallel to it to the right. The long curved line on the left is the railway.

This is how the centre of Penrith looks today in an image from Google Earth. You can still see the main street running diagonally and going to St. Andrew’s Church. I have added in arrows to show where Lowther Street and Brunswick Square are.

Hannah died on the 26th of August 1921. Probate for her will was granted in October to the executrices, her nieces Eleanor Beaty and Sarah Agnes Dodd – the two daughters of George Hardy Smith. Personal effects were valued at £3,478 2s 6d (worth about £142,000 today).

Hannah’s will is a great deal more detailed than that of her sister Agnes. Without going into all the details – which you can see in the will itself – all of Hannah’s household property was bequeathed to her sister Mary Ann for her use and then, after her death, to be divided between Eleanor Beaty and Sarah Agnes Dodd. The income from Hannah’s personal estate was to be paid to her sister Mary Ann during her lifetime and, thereafter, the proceeds from her personal estate were to be distributed in the following way:

  • Legacies of £200 each to the executrices and £40 each to Lancelot Fowler and Alice Muriel Oswald. (Lancelot Fowler was the son of Hannah’s cousin Ada Mary Harrison; Alice Muriel Oswald was one of the daughters of Hannah’s cousin Mabel Gertrude Harrison.)
  • The rest of the estate was to be turned into money, placed in trust and shared equally between Hannah’s eight nephews and nieces:
    – Eleanor Beaty, Sarah Agnes Dodd and John Smith (children of George Hardy Smith);
    – Thomas Hardy Smith (son of John Smith); and
    – Christopher, Sarah Eleanor, Hannah and Clara Smith (children of Christopher Smith).

Careful provision was made for the disbursement of the residual estate in case any of the nephews and nieces should die before the funds could be given to them. In the case of Christopher’s children, the will had an extra provision to ensure that their share would remain in that family. When the will was signed in 1918, Christopher’s children were quite young so that may have been the reason for the extra care taken with the money intended for them. (They would not have received the money until after 1923 when Mary Ann Smith died.)

Mary Ann Smith (1854-1923)
Mary Ann was the eldest sister and lived the longest. For much of her life, Mary Ann lived with the Hardy family – her maternal grandparents, uncles and aunt.

Mary Ann can be found in several census records living with her maternal grandparents Christopher and Eleanor Hardy in the hamlet of Park Head, which is between Kirkoswald and Renwick.   Why she was living with them is not known but it was not an unusual arrangement in the nineteenth century for children to be sent to live with relatives.  What was perhaps unusual is that she continued to live with the Hardys for much of her life. In the 1861 census, Mary Ann was in the Hardys household listed simply as a granddaughter, aged 6.  As Mary Ann grew older in the Hardy household, she was listed in the 1871 census as a domestic servant, which again would not be unusual at that time. Mary Ann was still with the Hardys in 1881 but with no occupation listed. By this date, her grandparents Christopher and Eleanor Hardy had both died and the household consisted of three bachelor brothers: Christopher, Thomas and Donald; and one spinster sister Eleanor – as well as Mary Ann.

In 1891, the Hardy household had changed a bit. Christopher and Thomas Hardy were still there along with Eleanor and Mary Ann. Another Smith had joined the household as farm servant: Mary Ann’s younger brother John. In 1901, Mary Ann was living in Gamblesby with her aunt Eleanor. Both were shown as “living on own means” so they each had some money of their own. By this time, Mary Ann was 46 years old and her aunt was 69. Eleanor Hardy died in 1908 and it seems likely that Mary Ann then went to Penrith to live with her sister Hannah. The two sisters were living together at 1 Brunswick Square in Penrith in 1911 and Mary Ann continued to live there until her death in September 1923.

Probate on Mary Ann’s will was granted on the 8th of October 1923 to her two executrices, nieces Eleanor Beaty and Sarah Agnes Dodd. The value of the estate was £2,788 6s 6d (worth about £146,000 today). Like her two sisters, Mary Ann had a modest estate: sufficient for her to live comfortably in a small market town.

Mary Ann’s will was a good deal more complicated in terms of bequests than was Hannah’s. The same idea of disbursing the residual estate funds equally between the eight nephews and nieces still prevailed. But, before that could happen, there were a number of specific bequests of household objects to be dealt with. They ranged from giving her brother George Hardy Smith a long cased clock to giving her niece Mary Hannah Smith a Sheraton side table and dividing her silver plate, plated goods, old rose china tea set and linen equally between the three daughters of Christopher Smith. There were eight such detailed bequests. These bequests obviously meant a great deal to Mary Ann because she had them spelled out so clearly.

There were also some financial legacies. Her brother Christopher’s son Christopher Hardy Smith got £300, his three sisters got £50 each and Mary Ann’s great-niece Kathleen Beaty (Eleanor Beaty’s second daughter) got £30.

The rest of her estate was to be converted into money, put in trust and disbursed to her eight nephews and nieces equally. As with Hannah’s will, special provisions were made to safeguard the money intended for the children of Christopher Smith and to make available funds to support those children as needed.

I have described – at least in outline – the bequests in the wills of the three Smith sisters because they give an interesting glimpse into the relationships in the Smith family. It is very interesting to me that Hannah Smith gave small bequests to two of the grandchildren of her aunt Elizabeth who had married William Harrison. Lancelot Fowler and Alice Muriel Oswald were first cousins once removed to Hannah. Why were only those two chosen? She gave nothing to the children of other Smith cousins. Sometimes omissions are as interesting as inclusions.

In her turn, Mary Ann was very specific about which of her nephews and nieces were to benefit. Aside from sharing equally in the residual estate, they were not treated equally in receiving money legacies or in receiving one of her valued household items. The careful attention to providing financial support to the children of her brother Christopher is especially interesting – and laudable. (Christopher died in 1922 and – although Mary Ann could not know this – his wife Hannah died only a few years later  in 1926 so I imagine any financial help for the children would have been very welcome.)

None of the three Misses Smith had large fortunes but they were sufficient to support them in their lifetime and gave some benefit to their brothers’ descendants and a few other relatives after they had died. All three were buried in the graveyard of the Melmerby Parish Church.


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