Searching for the Wife of Josiah Bell of Mereworth, Kent, England

In my preparation for my recent trip to Kent I reviewed all my research, and assessed my ‘gaps’ and missing information for my ‘Bell’ ancestral line.

Last blog I wrote about my ancestor Josias Bell and the difficulty of trying to find his marriage to Mary Kennard about 1637.

When reviewing my research, I also found I have been unable to find the marriage, of the above mentioned Josias Bell’s grandson, Josiah Bell, who married Elizabeth (Unknown) about 1717. They had a large family, all of whom were baptised at St Lawrence, Mereworth.(Below)

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Over the years I have tried to resolve this problem from many resources including books, microfiche, CD’s, on-line and private databases, but I have not been able to find a marriage of Josiah Bell to an Elizabeth, or to anyone else about 1717.

Was it a case of lost or destroyed records, as I believe may be the case in a former generation?

To test this theory, I made a list of all the surrounding parishes, and carefully searched the parish registers to expose any gaps in their records. There are a few gaps where records appear to have been lost, but they do not occur in the early 18th Century time frame.

Another possible scenario is that the marriage did not take place. The usual reason is that one or both of the parties were already married, and without the privilege of divorce, then people lived as man and wife without the lawful marriage certificate. Some ‘separated’ couples took their chances of not being found out, and contracted ‘bigamous’ marriages in some far away parish. However, they would not be willing to risk it near their home parish, where the parties would be well known.

In the Bell Family Newsletter No 44 (July 2002) I wrote an article concerning the will of Edmund Crowhurst of Meopham in which he mentions’ his niece, Elizabeth, who was the wife of Josiah Bell, of Mereworth‘. This led me to investigate the marriages of ‘Elizabeth Crowhurst’s’ throughout Kent and near by counties, between 1710 and 1720. There were very few, but one that was of particular interest was ‘Elizabeth Crowhurst of Great Peckham (East Peckham) married at East Farleigh on 18 December 1716 to Thomas Sherbrooke of Offham.

On the 3 March 1716/7, Thomas and Elizabeth Sherbrooke had a son baptised at St Michael’s, East Peckham, whom they named Thomas.

There were no further entries for this family in East Peckham or any other likely parish near by.

On the 4 May 1718, Josiah and Elizabeth Bell had a daughter baptised at St Lawrence, Mereworth, whom they named Mary. They had a further eight children, all of whom were baptised at Mereworth, before Josiah Bell died and was buried there in 1757.

Josiah Bell, was the son of Nicholas and Susannah Bell (nee Hubble) and was born at Mereworth in 1692. Nicholas and Susannah Bell were formerly of East Peckham and still had family there.

Josiah Bell and Elizabeth, his wife would have been well known in the area, so they would not have tried to contract a bigamous marriage.

The Sherbrooke name was also known. Thomas is believed to have been the son of John and Margaret Sherbrooke baptised at East Peckham on 27 February 1696/97. He may have been employed at Offham, when he married Elizabeth Crowhurst at East Farleigh in 1716.

The family do not turn up in the parish Overseer’s Accounts, Vestry Minutes or Settlement records in the Medway area. I have not been able to find any further information on Thomas Sherbrooke,including his death, and believe he may have left the area.

If this is indeed what happened, it would explain why I cannot find a marriage for my ancestor, Josiah Bell to Elizabeth ‘Crowhurst’.

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A Family Mystery in Kent – Josias Bell and Mary Kennard

As part of the preparation for my trip to Britain I needed to invest time in planning what research I might do and where to visit.

I know from long experience that I cannot expect to successfully research every surname and every person I would like . It’s simple not practical to even consider when travelling. I needed to have realistic expectations and goals.

As we would be staying in Kent not far from the ancestral manor farm and village churches, I choose to attempt to resolve a family mystery on one of my Bell family lines.

I believe one of my ancestors, Josias Bell of East Peckham, Kent, married Mary Kennard in about 1637 and had a large family.

I searched over several days using books, microfiche, cd’s and on-line sources to try and locate the marriage in parish records in, Kent, Sussex, London and many other counties. I was not successful in finding this marriage record. However, there is a reference that this couple applied on the 13 July 1637, to the Bishop’s Office at Rochester for a Licence to marry.

From the early 16th Century people intending to marry were able to avoid the inconvenience of Banns by obtaining a Marriage Licence. Banns entailed the parish vicar calling on three Sundays to whether there were persons present who objected to the marriage. This ensured the inconvenience of delay, and publicity, and often ‘well-to-do’ people felt it undignified to invite outsiders to object to the marriage.

The Licence was normally obtained from the bishops office of the diocese in which one of the party lived, and in which the marriage was to be celebrated. To obtain a Licence, one of the party, usually the bridegroom, had to make a formal statement called an ‘allegation’, including an oath that there was no lawful impediment to the marriage. If either of the party were under age, the application had to be accompanied by consent of his or her parents. I have not found any ‘allegation’ for this marriage in the Kent Records.

The Licence was issued to the applicant for delivery to the clergyman who was to perform the ceremony. These licences have not survived, but sometimes a record of the issuing of such a licence has survived in the Bishop’s Office records. The register recording such Licences in the Rochester Diocese has not survived for the years we are interested in, but an index of the former register has, and a copy can be found in the Kent County Records Office.

It was in this index I found the above mentioned Marriage Licence entry. No parish of residency or of the proposed place of marriage is mentioned in the index. Only a date and names of the parties is given. To marry by Licence rather than Banns, suggests that the parties may not have been residents of the parish, or, were sufficiently affluent enough to be able to afford the licence fee.

. Although I have used much lateral thinking and searching, I have not been able to find this marriage.

I then turned my efforts to searching for evidence of Mary Kennard. I searched many baptism registers in the hope of finding some possible Mary Kennard baptisms, which could lead us further with the Kennard family research. I found only one record of the name ‘Mary Kennard’ which falls in the right time frame. This was a baptism on 10 March 1610, the daughter of Thomas Kennard in Brightling in Sussex. When looking at this record we have to assess the likely possibility that this is the Mary Kennard we are seeking.

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It is generally believed by many genealogists that families in the centuries before the Industrial Revolution did not generally travel far from where they were born and usually took marriage partners within an area of less than ten miles from their birth places.

I have searched all the adjoining and surrounding parishes of Hadlow and East Peckham, and many others for a possible family. There are no Kennards, but there are Kenwarde/Kenward families particularly at Yalding., I decided I would look at the possibility that the ‘Kenward’ family was in fact the one I was looking for.

Firstly I extracted all the references to the Kenward/Kenwarde/Kenard surname in the parish registers of Yalding, Nettlestead, East Peckham, West Peckham and all other near by parishes. I then made a list of all the Wills and Administrations of persons of that name in West Kent in the appropriate time span.

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The surname is recorded in Yalding from early times and a Robert Kenward was buried in the Yalding churchyard on 8 August 1584, followed by his wife Margery on 11 May 1585. They are believed to have had children including sons, Robert and John.

Robert married Sarah and had children including Sarah baptised 11 September 1625, Mary baptised 29 September 1627, Mathie baptised 21 July 1629. Robert Kenward died 17 February 1629. His wife Sarah was buried at Yalding on 7 June 1639.

John Kenward married Mary Kynge on 12 July 1613 and had a number of children. These included Mary baptised 3 July 1621, Robert 21 March 1624; Kateren baptised 27 March 1627; Richard baptised 7 Dec 1628; Margaret baptised 30 May 1630 and Richard 21 July 1633.

I believe the ‘Mary Kennard’ whose marriage license to Josias Bell was issued on 13 July 1637 is the above mentioned Mary, the daughter of ‘John Kenward’ of Yalding, baptised 3 July 1621. I believe that it may be a clerical or transcription error in that the ‘nw’ is taken as a double ‘nn’.

If so, is it likely she would have married by License instead of Banns? I think it most likely, as Richard Garthford and Julian Kenward of Yalding married by Licence on 15 October 1632 and Richard Kenward of Yalding married Mary Kenward on the 10 December 1633 by Licence. I believe the above mentioned Julian and Richard Kenward to be close relatives of Mary, perhaps even older siblings. Therefore, it is possible when Mary came to marry in 1637 it was also by License. As Yalding was in the Diocese of Rochester all Licences would have been granted by the Bishop of Rochester.

I now have studied the transcriptions of the parish registers for Yalding for1637 and have found only two entries for marriages, in March and October. As there were six marriages entries for 1636 and ten marriages for 1638 I feel sure that there were possibly more marriages for 1637, but for some reason they were not entered in the marriage register, or if so, the entries for that period have been lost.

The Marriage License for Josias Bell and Mary Kennard was granted in July 1637 and I believe that the marriage most likely took place in Yalding, the bride’s parish.

I then studied the description of the original register as well as all the baptisms, marriages and burials recorded in the register for a ten year period between 1635 and 1645, to try and get some clues to whether the marriage may have taken place at Yalding, but the record has not survived. I have a full copy of the transcriptions made by Sir Thomas Colyer-Fergusson in 1941 from the original register at Yalding parish church and the corrections made by Alan Rolfe in 1965.Sir Thomas in describing the original register from 1559-1667 notes it is bound in a modern white vellum, and has been restored by the Records Office. It is made up of a number of vellum leaves containing a section for baptisms then marriages and lastly burials.

After describing later volumes he then makes comment on a note book found with the parish vestry papers, which contained baptisms and burials from about 1790 to 1810 as well as notes on various charities and offertories and also loose sheets with entries on the ‘Master’, family.

He states;’ This book was evidently a rough book from which the register was copied’. Perhaps this was the usual custom in this village. That is, that the information be on loose sheets and then later entered in the register proper. In fact noted in the register itself by the Vicar, Richard Warde in 1798 is the following. ‘This is a true literal copy of the ‘foul’ register of christenings delivered to me by the widow of the deceased Vicar John Warde, witness by hand’. In his general comments, Sir Thomas, also comments on the excellent and clear hand writing of the entries between 1640 and 1644. I believe this may suggest someone copied up the register at one time at the end of 1644 from another source, perhaps loose sheets.

In his general comments he says’ there were some people of old standing and position for instance the family of Kenward who flourished there in the Elizabethan days, they became absorbed in the Shaw family when Sir John Shaw married Martha Kenward the heiress; their son Sir Gregory Shaw lived here and their large number of children to be found in the baptismal registers’.

Sir Thomas does not make comment in his general description, but when transcribing the register he notes that between 1638-1641 that there appears to be some mutilation of the register and perhaps some entries missing.

In an attempt to see if there may be entries missing I searched an index of all Wills and Administrations for Kent and extracted the names of all those of the Yalding parish between 1635 and 1645. I found that there were eighteen. However on searching the parish burial register I found only seven of those names in the parish register.

According to records held at the Rochester Diocese Office, Rev Thomas Tourney was appointed vicar at Yalding in 1628 and resigned in 1639. In the Yalding parish registers I found five of his children were baptised there; Robert, 1630; John 1633; Thomas, 1635; Ralphe, 1636 and Thomas in 1639. There is also a burial of Thomas, the son of Thomas Tourney, vicar, in 1635. There is also a record at Rochester that Francese Tayler was appointed in 1639, but I have not found any further references to this man in the actual parish registers. George Bowle the parish clerk was buried on 18 August 1637. Does this suggest there was no one to see to the entering up of the parish register at that time?

I also noted when studying the transcriptions that it was the custom up to 1639 that the names of the parish wardens were entered at the end of each year. Those in 1639 were John Kenward and Richard Hatch.

It is also interesting to note that during 1639 of the eighteen marriages noted more than half were widows or widowers. This was a higher percentage than all the years between 1635 and 1645. There were more than eighty burials between January 1637 and January 1639. Perhaps the vicar Thomas Tiurney became ill himself and that is why he resigned.

In the original notes of Sir Thomas, he notes an entry on the back cover of the register which was written by one of the early vicars, that between June and September 1590, 40 persons died of the plague. In 1609 there were numerous deaths of ‘the infection’. There is no mention of this in the register itself. I believe that ‘the infection’ may have again visited the area in 1637-8.

Having noted this I then decided to do a similar study on the parish register at East Peckham, home parish of Josias Bell to see if there was any likelihood of gaps in the parish register. Burials from January 1637 to January 1639 there were a total of 46 burials; 8 marriages and 81 baptisms were also noted in this time span.

I believe there are sufficient clues to say that maybe the Yalding parish registers between 1635 and 1640 are not complete, and as a consequence Josias Bell and Mary Kenward may have married there in 1637.

We should remember that the Civil War was within a few years and the church registers may have been defaced in that time too.

In his history of Kent, Edward Hastead wrote in the section on Yalding. “It was for several generations the residence of Kenward which in the reign of Henry VIII was possessed of good estayes in the parish and its neighbourhood – Robert Kenward resided here and died in 1720 and was buried with the rest of the family”.

Sir Roger Twysden, of East Peckham, wrote in his journal when a prisoner of the Parliament in 1645.

At the beginning of these times, one Richard Kenward, having in East Peckham a piece of land within mine, called Longshots, offered to sell it to me, it lying very convenient for me. I was unwilling to miss it; and contracted for it, paid him about 400 pounds down, and had a year to pay 200 pounds for which I gave him my bond. Before this came due, Richard Kenward died and his wife needed money when she asked me for it saying she had no other income. Before the money became due I was sequestered and she married Mr Besbeech.

As we would be in Kent I decided I would visit the Yalding parish church to get some idea of the place, even though I could not prove the marriage took place there.