Sunday, November 18, 2012

Wick Farm mystery solved

Regular readers will know of my continuing interest in Wick Farm, once owned by the St John family and situated close to the Hay Lane entrance to Lydiard Park.  The Clark family who lived there for more than fifty years have proved an interesting bunch and the Victorian mystery of 1880-1 has occupied many hours of research.

Jonas Clark senior arrived at the farm in the 1830s with his common law wife Alice and their growing family. Unable to wed due to the presence of a former wife, Jonas and Alice lived together for more than thirty five years. Their second son, also named Jonas, took over the tenancy of the farm following his father's death in 1862.

Like his father, Jonas junior ended up with an unwanted and inconvenient wife.  His marriage to Elizabeth Bathe Humphries, more than ten years his senior, had not been a success and by the late 1870s they had separated.

The 1881 census recorded Jonas junior living at Wick Farm with his cousin Kate and their three children.  Further research revealed the absence of a father's name on the children's birth certificates.

This arrangement might appear unusual for our perceived ideas of Victorian social etiquette, but actually it wasn't that outrageous.  With divorce unavailable to the average couple, cohabitation was usually the only option when a marriage broke down and a new relationship was forged.  Jonas senior had done the same thing, marrying Alice Pinnell after the death of his first wife.

The only problem with this 1881 arrangement was that I had already found the death of Jonas Clark junior, which took place at Wick Farm the previous year - or had it?  This week writer and local historian Mark Child, author of Swindon Old Town Through Time eventually got to the bottom of the mystery.

Kate Trinity Clark, the daughter of Benjamin Clark, was born in Hullavington in 1830 and was indeed the cousin of Jonas Clark junior. Her father's elder brother was also called Jonas, a popular family name. Born in 1823 and 1826 respectively there was only a few years difference in the age of Uncle Jonas and Jonas junior, which lies at the heart of the confusion and a brilliant piece of detective work by Mark.

Kate and Jonas junior's relationship began in the late 1870s with Kate's uncle Jonas and his son William joining the family at Wick Farm around the same time. Mark's research reveals that it was Uncle Jonas who had died in 1880, his death certified by Dr William Baines Dawson and not Jonas junior as I had previously deduced. I had searched for Kate and the children following Jonas junior's supposed death - problem was I didn't widen my net far enough!

So what happened to our elusive Jonas Clark junior?

The following ten years proved eventful for Kate and Jonas junior.  The couple left Wick Farm in 1882 and moved to Darby Green Farm at Yately, Southampton where in November of that year Jonas junior was declared bankrupt.  Six months later the family moved to Bleddington and at the time of the 1891 census Jonas, then aged 65 was living in Pebworth, Gloucestershire with Kate and their six children.  But the family was still far from settled and within a few years moved yet again to Haselor Hill in Warwickshire. It was here on their small holding that Jonas junior died in 1898 aged 73. They had never been able to marry and Jonas's wife Elizabeth outlived him, dying in 1903 at the age of 92.

Kate continued to farm the property at Haselor Hill with the help of her elder sons and in 1911 she was still there with Clarence, her youngest son and the only one still living at home.  Kate died in 1924 aged 66.

Mark's persistent research has proved a cautionary tale in the danger of jumping to genealogical conclusions.

Former farm labourers cottages on Wick Farm

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