4 The Wests of Wrangle

It is not known what part, if any, the West family took in the Civil Wars. The Lincolnshire men were under the command of Lord Willoughby of Parham, but the disciplined troops of Cromwell and Manchester thought very little of their lax ways, including their custom of having bands of young women as camp followers. The Royalist gentry had rallied round the Earl of Lindsey, but it cannot be said that Lincolnshire men on either side played a decisive role.

John III

It was, however, during these troubled days that John III and his wife Margaret moved from Sibsey to Wrangle with a considerably increased holding of land, but whether the improvement in the family fortunes resulted from the disturbances in the Fens, the sequestration of Royalist property or merely good management has not been examined assuming that the evidence exists. Luke West, John's younger brother, continued to reside at Sibsey as handicraftman, and though he married twice, he left no issue. By his will of 1679 he left his whole estate to his wife, Joan, subject to bequests of sixpence each to his nephew John IV and sister, and a further sixpence to two nieces. His will is important in the family history, for these bequests from his modest fortune help to establish relationships which would otherwise rest on strong presumption only, as there were no entries in the parish registers between 1642 and 1653.


John West III died at the early age of 48, leaving his wife, Margaret not only to manage the farm but to bring up three young children. Dr. Joan Thirsk, in her pamphlet "Fenland farming in the 16th C", gives a survey of the holdings of 74 Wrangle farmers in 1609. Of the 74, 14 farmed one acre or less, and only 16 held over 20 acres. Two were in a very large way, one farming over 100 acres and the other over 200 acres. Of course, all had grazing rights on the commons. Conditions did not change materially during the next fifty years and it is clear that John III was among the wealthier holders. He was Churchwarden of Wrangle from 1669 until his death in 1672. he appears to have had about £100 in cash in his house or at call, for in addition to minor bequests (including five shillings to his brother Luke, the handicraftman of Sibsey) he left £40 to his son John IV and £20 each to his daughters Mary and Margaret. John, now about 16, was to have his money right away, or at any rate, within a year, but the two girls had to wait until they were 20 to receive their portions. Meanwhile, their mother could use the interest for their upkeep and education. In addition to his farm property, John III had recently purchased a cottage and five roods of pasture in Wainfleet. This was left to Margaret during her lifetime and after her decease it was to go to his son John West "and to his heirs for ever".

John IV

Margaret managed the farm for the next 22 years, by which time, her son, John IV had married twice and had four children surviving, two by his first wife, Ann, and two by his second wife Mary Day, including John V, who was two years old at the death of his grandmother. There is no doubt but that John IV occupied himself fully in the work of the farm, but the property remained in his mother's possession until her death. It is clear that the farm had prospered under her management as she was able to make bequests on the same scale as her husband 22 years earlier. It is clear that Margaret had died in the meantime, but her daughter Mary had married Gilbert Lunn of Croft and had six children. Each of these children was to receive five pounds. Each of John IV's children was to receive ten pounds. Other bequests, including twenty shillings to the poor of Wrangle, amounted to about another twenty pounds. It was customary at that time for Wills to have a preamble with an expression of Christian belief, but both John III and Margaret have wills in which this expression is no mere formula. Margaret gives the impression of being a great lady, who had the satisfaction of seeing both her husband and son Churchwardens of Wrangle, for John IV had occupied that position in 1678 and 1679, while he was still in his early twenties.


Photograph of the Wrangle Bedehouse Accounts, showing the end of the accounts for 1677 - 78, and the beginning of the accounts for 1678 -79.

Among those who signed the accounts was John West (c. 1656 - 1718), Churchwarden of Wrangle 1677 - 79.

John IV was twice married, first to Ann, whose family has not yet been determined, and secondly to Mary Day, of whose family it should be possible to make further study. Two of the children by the first marriage, including yet another John, died in childhood, but two daughters lived long enough to marry - Elizabeth to William Hewitt and Ann to Francis Tinsley. Ann, however, pre-deceased her father, who himself lived only into his early sixties. By Mary Day, John had six children, including John V, from whom the present family is descended. Of the others, Sarah married Richard Brown, Mary, then aged 19, was still at home at the death of her father, a son Thomas married a Sarah, but died at the age of 39, leaving his widow to live on for a further 46 years, to be finally buried as a pauper, and of twin boys, one, Solomon, died within a month and the other, Richard, who became a miller, died at the age of 17. Though plague had died out by this time, mortality was high. On looking at the family tree or in the parish registers, one is impressed, not only with the fertility of the families of these days, but also with the precariousness of life. In several of the generations there was a single male to carry on the line.

It is quite clear that John IV was a prosperous yeoman, fully maintaining the standards set by his father and mother. He also left a matter of £100 to be distributed to his dependants and relations. He also left to his son John V the cottage at Wainfleet which his father had bought with its five roods of pasture nearly fifty years earlier from Robert Molshon. John IV tells us a bit more about this cottage. It was in Wainfleet St Gary's "abutting upon ye High Way North & East upon ye lands late Sr.Edward Barkhams South and West." With this information it should be no difficult matter to locate this cottage, which John IV also left to his son and his heirs for ever. John was literate and had signed the parish register while churchwarden. He evidently tried to sign his will, but failed, and his attempt is noted "his mark". He was buried three days later.

In the Archives Office at Lincoln are some 68,000 Inventories of the property of deceased persons, from the 16th to the early 19th centuries, and these have now been catalogued and indexed. They are likely to prove an invaluable source of information about the domestic life of the earlier generations of the West family. The inventory of John IV shows his house to have contained a living room, a parlour, a dairy, a scullery and three upstairs bedrooms, over the parlour, hall and kitchen respectively. Furniture was limited to the severely necessary. In the kitchen were three tables, two forms, nine chairs, a cupboard, a pewter case, a chest of drawers, bacon hooks and fire irons. The parlour contained one bed, two tables, nine chairs and one chest of drawers. In the bedroom above the parlour, John had three beds, a linen chest and three chairs. In the bedroom above the hall he had a bed, a quantity of corn, some cheese, two wheels, two leather bags "and other things". He also kept his fish nets there, for we must remember that Wrangle lies within easy distance of the deeps of East Fen and that fowling and fishing were a normal part of life. In the bedroom above the kitchen were no beds at all. It was evidently the junk store, containing a rope, old iron and "other necessaries". The valuers placed a price on its contents equivalent to the price of a poorer class ewe - ten shillings and sixpence. The rest is soon told. The dairy and scullery between them contained milk vessels and shelves, a brewing vessel, pewter and brass. (here is no mention of crockery or wooden platters, but the pewter and brass were equivalent in value to six swine. John's total estate, which did not include his cottage and land at Wainfleet or any land which he may have owned in Wrangle, was valued at £353. His farming followed the pattern outlined by Dr. Joan Thirsk in her book on peasant farming. He farmed 75 acres, the greater part of which was pasture. He had 179 sheep, 3 rams and 4 lambs (the inventory was taken in November), and wool instore worth £45. The rest of the stock consisted of his own riding horse, two cart horses, four mares, two fillies, five milch cows, one heifer, eleven beasts, two pigs and hens, not numbered, but judging by the price placed upon them, not more than a dozen or so. He had a plough, a harrow, a waggon and gear, a cart and spare wheels. His main crop was undoubtedly barley, closely followed by beans. His barley in the barn was valued at £4.10.0, while his beans with its belfrey were valued at £5.3.4. his small store of wheat was kept, not in the barn, but with the cheese in the hall bedroom. It is clear that his holdings were scattered about. The places named are the marsh, the tofts, Leverton and Leake. He had three haystacks, between them valued at £32. It is significant that the stacks were fenced, as they were scattered and perhaps on unenclosed land. For comparison's sake, it is perhaps worth mentioning that sheep were valued at between 10/- and 15/-, pigs at £1 each, cart horses £3.10, mares £3 but the riding horse with saddle and bridle £8. John had coal and other fuel worth £2.5 in his yard when he died. By Fen standards, John IV was farming on a large scale.

John V

After the wealth of information provided by the Will of John IV and the inventory of his property, it is disappointing to find that there is no similar information for John V, who was born in 1692 and died in 1751. From the Wrangle parish registers we know that he married twice, first to an Elizabeth by whom he had three daughters all of whom died as babies. John soon married again after the death of his first wife, for the first child of his second wife followed just within two years of the birth of the third child of his first wife. This wife, Frances, bore him a second daughter three years later, and then after an interval of seven years, a son who was John VI, the only male representative of his generation. The records describe John V as 'Householder', but a householder of those days (cf. the use of the word in the Authorised Version) was evidently a man of substance.


Photograph of the Wrangle Bedehouse Accounts, showing the complete accounts for the year 1727 - 28. Among those who signed the accounts was John West (1692 - 1751) Churchwarden of Wrangle 1725 - 28.

Contemporary with John V in wrangle was the prosperous yeoman, grazier and churchwarden, Nathaniel West, who may well have been a kinsman, though the relationship has not been established Nathaniel married four times and had fourteen children, ten of them daughters, and of the sons, two died in childhood, and although one of the sons lived long enough to marry, he was only eleven years old when Nathaniel died in 1735. His fourth wife survived him, and, in fact, married Richard Lancaster five years later. Nathaniel left considerable property but no will, and it fell to the widow Isabel to administer the estate. There is in the Lincoln Archives, a Bond in £500 of Isabel West, widow of Wrangle, John West of the same and John Doe of the City of Lincoln, yeomen, that Isabel, administratrix of the goads of Nathaniel West will well and truly administer them. This bond does not establish a relationship, but it does signify that John was a yeoman of sufficient substance and standing to enter voluntarily into this undertaking. The only other fact known for certain of John V is that he lived and farmed in the Low Grounds, which are on the East Fen side of Wrangle Bank. The parish register records him as 'John West in ye low grounds'.

John VI

With John VI (1733 - 1814) we come to the first of the family of whom there is a surviving item of information. In 1966 Albert West of Louth, at the age of 81, recalled that his father, Frederick, who died in 1926 at the age of 89, had informed him that John VI, (Frederick's grandfather) had a boat on the open fen and shot wild fowl at Wrangle. There is no reason to doubt the information, as John presumably succeeded his father in the Low Grounds and the drainage of the East Fen was taking place only within the last ten years of John's long life. John married Johanna (or Joanna) Jessop when he was 25, and she bore him ten children before she died in 1793. John seems to have been determined to have a son John, as his second, eighth, and ninth children mere all Johns, the first two dying in infancy. This ninth child was the John West VII from whom the family of Wests known to the writer are all descended, described variously as surveyor and schoolmaster, but most certainly the victualler at the white Horse' Inn at Wrangle for very many years. This John was not, however, the heir to John VI. His elder brother William lived until 1813 only, farming in a small may, but dying a year before his father. There was, however, an elder brother still, Christopher, of whom all that is known is that he was born in 1769. If he outlived his father, he was the heir. There is more research necessary to find out what happened in 1814. It may well be that John VI fell on evil days, or that the enclosure acts relating to the East Fen area, beginning in 1861 (41 Geo. 11 cap 35) resulted in the squeezing out of John VI. There is evidence, however, that he neither owned nor leased land in the parish of Wrangle from 1794 onwards. In the parish chest at Wrangle is The Wrangle High Way Book, 1794 - 1827. During this period, John VI does not appear as paying anything to the rate, though his son William is recorded as paying 3/- to 3/6 a year on a rental of £7 to £7.5.0 a year until 1800, and to have contributed his share of the statutory labour on the roads, which was one day's labour of 2 or 3 men, for whom the standard rate of pay was 1/6 a day. From 1800 to 1813 (when John VII began to pay on some 3 acres), there was no West in Wrangle contributing to the rate, or, in other words, owning or leasing land. There is room for enquiry, not only into what happened to Christopher (if he survived), but also into what John VI was doing at this time. He was certainly buried in Wrangle on 10th February, 1814, having lived to the age of 79, but there is no evidence as to where he lived after the birth of his youngest son, Joseph, in 1783. It seems unlikely that the family fortunes declined during the Napoleonic Wars which were boom years for farmers.

John VII

The present writer is indebted to the Rev. Isaac Elsom who began to write his "jottings" in 1922, for much information relating to John VII. He was born 13th June, 1780 and christened in Wrangle Church on September 24th. For his time he was well educated. He became Parish Surveyor, and when required, measured the land for farmers and labourers in Wrangle and the adjacent parishes. At the age of 33 he became landlord of the White Horse Inn, where he remained until he was 70. He then retired to a cottage in the parish of Leake, where he lived until he was 89. He is buried in the churchyard of Wrangle.


The White Horse, Wrangle, for many years the home of Mr. John West (1780 - 1869).

In his later days he was a well-known man, a very important member of the community, much respected and greatly trusted. The Rev. Isaac Elsom rightly says that he married twice, adding "and rumour says he led to the altar two of the prettiest women that ever entered Wrangle Church". Rumour may have been right as to the beauty of John's brides, but it is the Register of Old Leake which records the marriage of John West, bachelor, and Jane Baker, spinster on 17th February, 1806. The ceremony took place none too soon, as the Family Bible records that a son, John VIII was born to them on 18th March, 1806. Jane was probably tubercular. She bore John four more children, Mary (1807), Joanna (1809) George (1812) and Thomas (1813) before she died, presumably in 1814. Three of her children died young; Mary as an infant not quite 2, Joanna a month short of her 12th birthday, and Thomas a few days after his 5th birthday. George lived to be nearly 80 having spent most of his life at Skegness as a shoemaker and raised a considerable family, one of whom was later landlord of the Peacock Inn at Spalding. The most interesting of Jane's children was certainly John VIII, the eldest. After a few years at the village school, he was apprenticed to a wheelwright at Sutterton. The Rev. Isaac Elsom reports of him, (p.4, Jottings)

"During his apprenticeship he climbed up the outside of the steeple of the parish church and played "God save the King" on his flute. After serving his apprenticeship, he enlisted for a soldier and served his country in India in a regiment of 'Sappers and Miners'; but the climate not being favourable to his health, he returned home and died November 9, 1837".

So much for John's first family. When Jane died, he was left with four young children, the oldest of whom was only 8. It was clear that he could be expected to marry again. His second wife was Elizabeth Hall, daughter of Joseph and Mary Hall, and it seems likely that she had kept house for John after the death of Jane. The marriage was solemnised at Wrangle on 21st March, 1816; and Joseph, the first of Elizabeth's fourteen children, was born two months later. A year before she died, nearly sixty years afterwards, Elizabeth presented to James, her eleventh child (and grandfather of the present writer) a family Bible, in which she recorded the dates of birth of herself and her husband, and the dates of birth, not only of her own 14 children, but of Jane's 5 also. The Rev. Isaac Elsom says of her, "so well did the second wife discharge the duty of mother to the first wife's children that some of these children did not know that she was not their real mother". Incidentally, it was her gift of this Family Bible which inspired the present study of the family.

The fourteen children of the marriage were Joseph (1816), William (1817), Mary (l8l8), Sarah (1820), Henry (l821), Elizabeth (l823), Eliza (1824), Edward (1826), Joanna (1828), Thomas (1829), James (1831), Charles (1833), David (1834) and Frederick (1837).

Of the nine sons of John VII and Elizabeth, two, Charles and David, died in infancy; of the remainder, all except Henry, who "lived for years in a cottage adjoining that of his parents and was never more than a field or two away from them", sought their fortunes away from the Wrangle home. Joseph became a plumber and gasfitter at Grimsby; William a florist and fruiterer at Spalding; Edward, after a spell as foreman on his brother-in-law's farm at Spalding, held a coal agency at Mumby; Thomas became a foreman platelayer at Ludboro and Little Steeping; James a farm bailiff at Covenham; and Frederick a ropemaker at Louth. Of the five daughters, Joanna, a lady's maid, died unmarried at the age of 45; Mary married a 'good but poor man', Joseph Johnson, a farm labourer; Sarah married John White, a hairdresser of Louth; Elizabeth married William Mowson Underwood, a working tailor of Boston; and Eliza married Isaac Elsom, ropemaker of Spalding and became mother of the Rev. Isaac Elsom whose "Jottings" have very much assisted the present writer.

It is significant that only Henry and James continued to work on the land and that only one of the girls married a man who did. The long connection between the West family and the East Fen area was coming to an end. John VII was probably the last of the family even to rent land there, though Arthur Edward West (b.1877) continued to work there as a labourer, well into the 20th century. He was a grandson of the Edward West named above.

It is not clear how John earned his living before he took over the White Horse. It may well be that this was the time when he practised as a 'schoolmaster. Certainly he was a good schoolmaster to his youngest son, to whom he taught surveying. However that may be, he held his three acres all the time he was at the White Horse, paying his £3.5.0 each half year (raised to £4 in 1841) until his last payment was made in 1850. Incidentally, the rent for this Bede Land was paid at the White Horse, as the Leake and Wrangle Bede Accounts show on each rent day some slight variant of the entry for 12th October, 1835, "J. West for ale etc. at Rent Day - 5/-".

John was certainly both a talented and an active man. Speaking more particularly of his son, Frederick, the Rev. Isaac writes,

"In addition to the usual school course, he was taught land surveying by his father, whom he accompanied on many of his land measuring expeditions .... On Horncastle Fair Day, June 21st, 1849, when he was 12 years old and his father 69, they walked from Wrangle to West Ashby, near Horncastle, a distance of over 20 miles, to visit his father's brother, who kept a toll bar there."

From letters written by this Frederick to his son, Albert in 1917 and 1925, we glean items of information concerning John VII and his times. All farmers held Harvest Suppers for their men, usually at their farms, but at least one of them, a Mr. Render, held his at the White Morse. The local musician, John Sherriff, a reputedly simple creature, was welcome at all the suppers, carrying the large sections of his German flute in his pocket and screwing them together on the spot. In reply to questions, he always admitted that he could not read a note of music, but always played by ear. This reply never failed to amuse, as the whole village knew that John was as deaf as a post. They were good trenchermen in those days, and there are stories of men attending two suppers on the same night and doing ample justice to both. In one letter we learn that when John left the White Horse he went to live in a cottage about, a quarter of a mile from Fold Hill Methodist Chapel in the parish of Old Leake.

The only point concerning John VII which has come by the oral tradition of his father and grandfather to the present writer relates to his abstemious habits. He solved the problem of never declining a customer's invitation to drink and not overindulging by always having a "gin" -which he drew from a bottle containing pump water. This was not for the sake of the gain of a few coppers, but in pursuance of John's conviction that a publican must be abstemious to survive. The tradition gains some support from our knowledge that John survived to the ripe old age of 89.

The Rev. Isaac Elsom was a grandson of John VII, but his "Jottings" are soberly written. He does not say that he knew his grandfather personally, but he was 17 when his grandfather died and the internal evidence suggests that he did. Writing of him more than 50 years later, he says of him, (Jottings, p4)

"John West was a good man; a consistent member of the Church of England; but broad-minded and by no means averse to Methodism. He was a lad in his eleventh year when the good and great John Wesley died in 1791; and by that time there were many Methodist societies in the towns and villages of Lincolnshire; and Mr. West - as many another good Churchman - found it both convenient and profitable to attend a Methodist service once a Sunday. This was certainly his practice toward the end of his life, as long as his strength permitted."

As we have seen, in his retirement, John lived only a quarter of a mile from Fold Hill Methodist Chapel. Certainly Isaac knew very many of his uncles and aunts and has given outlines of their careers which conforms closely to other evidence available. Quite naturally, and possibly quite correctly, he speaks of his mother, Eliza, as "taking all in all, the pick of the family", but he had a high opinion of the family as a whole of whom he speaks in these terms, (Jottings, p.8)

"Speaking of the Wests generally: They have been a credit to their parents, their training and their native village. As far as I know, there has not been a profane or intemperate, or dishonest or lazy person among them. In addition to home influences they have had the advantages of a good elementary Church of England school, under a good master and mistress, by whom the boys were grounded in reading, writing and arithmetic; and the girls, in addition, were taught plain sewing. The Bible was one of their chief lesson books. All had a considerable religious element in them, and most of them were decisively Christian."

This is a high tribute to John and Elizabeth West.

The roads and highways of England have a history of their own and can be mentioned only casually in a family history. The condition of the North Dyke Way has been noticed in connection with the Will of John West of 1557, and the High Way Rate and statutory labour on the roads in connection with William West, the brother of John VII, during the Napoleonic Wars. It is sufficient for our purpose to note that between those times, very little had been done to maintain, still less to improve, the highways of England. Now, however, the demands of trade mere leading to improved transport. As Trevelyan points out in his "English Social History", (p.382):

"Between 1700 and 1750 as many as four hundred Road Acts were passed; between 1751 and 1730, sixteen hundred!"

This legislative activity led to improvements so that by 1840 there were 22,000 miles of good turnpike roads in England, with nearly 8,000 toll gates and side bars. How were these toll gates manned? It seems unlikely that townsmen would take kindly to work of this nature unless it were just on the town boundary, or they themselves were disabled in some way. It seems more probable that they were manned by the landless younger sons of farmers or the more educated farm labourers - honest, reliable and able to perform the simpler forms of book-keeping. Such a man was Joseph West (1783 - 1864), the youngest brother of John VII, who is known to have been keeping the toll gate at West Ashby in 1849 and kept the Halmer Gate at Spalding from 1850 to 1858. It seems likely that this was his last post, as he was then 75. It is probable that he returned to the village of his birth to end his days as he was buried at Wrangle on 22nd May, 1864. We know little about him, but his brother thought it worth while to walk over 20 miles to see him when he was 69 years old.

5 The Dispersion

Comments