Wills – Find the clues

Piece of a will
Piece of a will

I have a growing number of wills connected to my family tree, some for people directly related to me and some from uncles, aunts and other family members. All can sometimes be an absolute goldmine of information and helpful when trying to prove that an ancestor is who you think they are.

For instance recently I have been researching the Woolven family of West Grinstead, who I have discovered connected to my Lander/Launder line.  I found online a copy of a will written by Richard Woolven and proved in 1710 where he named every one of his children (helpful), the names of his daughters’ husbands and one of his witnesses had the surname which had been his mother’s maiden name, (could be a relative).  All this information went along way to proving I had the correct death for this Richard.

A will I was sent for Richard Pilbeam of Ticehurst, Weaver, proved in 1653 mentions “I doe give unto my father my weaving and tooles”  helpful because we now know what his occupation was.

The will of Richard Ledger who died in Orpington in 1821, and uncle to Mary Ledger who married Job Roffey in 1760, Horne in Surrey was very explicit about how he should be buried,

“It is my wish and desire to be buried in the Church Yard at Orpington in the County of Kent and to lay as near the Grave of my Father as can conveniently be I desire that my funeral may be as plain as possible and I wish to have a deep Oak Coffin pitched inside but not to be covered quite plain I desire to have a mattrass not less than three inches thick laid under me and the pillow under my head to come up high on both sides my head And it is my particular desire not to be screwed down until the eighth day after my death I also desire my Grave may be Bankt up a foot high and a flat black Stone to be laid on my Grave and on no account whatsoever to be moved for the burial of any other Corpse I also desire that the Grave Stone be not put down till one year after my death but it must be put down before any legacies are paid I also request my Nephew Mr Henry Wallis may stop to see my Grave filled up and also to be present at the putting down the Grave Stone”

Allsorts of thoughts went through my head when I read that one!  Wills like this may not give us any particularly useful information but are brilliant for helping us to build a picture of what Richard was like when he was alive and just make fantastic reading!

All going to prove that wills are a useful addition to the documents to be searched as part of family history and should be searched carefully for the clues they can give about our ancestors and their lives.



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George Pilbeam, Ticehurst farmer

(1784 – 1857, Burwash to Ticehurst)

Father – Thomas Pilbeam (1756 – 1822)
Mother – Hannah Eastwood (1757 – 1789)

Thomas (1781 – 1862)
Hannah (born 1782)
Sarah (born 1786)
James (1789 – 1850)

Anne Weston (1783 – 1840)
Phoebe Skinner (1795 – 1858)

Hannah (born 1808)
George (1810 – 1881)
James (1811 – 1870)
John (1814 – 1820)
William (1815 – 1896)
Ann (1818 – 1836)
Harriet (1820 – 1887)
Thomas (1823 – 1891)
Robert (1826 – 1860)

Sussex Cattle
Sussex cattle, photographer Janina Holubecki

George Pilbeam was born in 1784 to Thomas and Hannah and baptised in Burwash Church on 10 November 1784. His father was said to have been a shoemaker and his four siblings were also baptised in Burwash.

George married his first wife, Anne on 21 November 1807 at Burwash Church.  Anne had given birth to a daughter, Celia the previous year, father unknown but future census returns show that she lived with George, the 1851 has her as daughter.

George and Anne had 9 children, all born and baptised in Burwash Church over the next 19 years but by the time of the first census in 1841 two had already died.  Anne herself also died in 1840 leaving George a widower for a short while.  At the time of the 1841 census George, age 55 was  living at Woodsell, Dallington with Celia 30, Harriet 20, Thomas 15, Robert 15 and Ann 6 and by this time George was a farmer.

On 18 October 1843 George married a widower Phoebe Skinner in Peasmarsh, Sussex.  Phoebe was from Rye and had been married to a John Skinner since 1827. By the time of the 1851 census George, age 67 was living at Battenhurst Farm, near Ticehurst where he was described as a farmer of 120 acres employing 4 labourers.  Living with him were Phoebe 56, Celia Weston 44, Thomas 29, Robert 25, Ann, granddaughter 16 and Ann Simmons, granddaughter 8.


Battenhurst Farm
Battenhurst Farm, near Ticehurst

George died on 6 January 1857 at Battenhurst, Ticehurst from 36 hours Apoplexy, he was 74 years old. His informant was Thomas Pilbeam who was present at his death, presumably his son.  He was buried along with Anne and 3 of their children, John, Ann and Robert in Burwash Churchyard.

After his death an auction was held of farm equipment on 26 September 1857 and furniture and household goods on 28 September 1857 by order of the executors. (see table below) Some of the goods were obviously bought by his own family and the amount of money raised was £377 6 11 1/2.

Sold Bought by Price
Pick and Half mattock Weston 2s
Cross mattock and Graft Weston 2s
Spade and shovel Barden 1s
Seed Lift Barnett 3s 6d
Hop Sieves Barnett 1s
2 Turnip Pullers Barrow 1s
Potato Brake Barrow 16s
Winnowers Jarvis 2s 6d
Vemin Hutch Pilbeam 1s
Set of 2 horse harrows Rivett 6s 6d
Round Plough Jenner £1 1s
Drag Harrow G Pilbeam 6s
Strike Plough Standen 3s
6 In Wheel Waggon with double G Pilbeam £9 19s 6d
Saddle and bridle Onley 1s 6d
2 Pails and yoke Simes 4s 6d
9 Ox Bows Mepham 2s
1 Cart Whip Simes 5s
Sussex Cow (Lovely) 8 yr Barden £15
Sussex Barren (Chequer) 6 yr none £14 15s
Sussex Cow (Polly) 5 yr none £13 10s
Alderney Cow 3 yr none £12 5s
Barren Heifer 3 yr Barnett £13
Yearling Steer Barden £6 6s
Black Mare (Darling) G Pilbeam £11 10s
Black Mare (Star) G Pilbeam £11 11s
Brown Cob Barden £12
4 Hens Pilbeam 6s 6d
Rooster Vidler 1 s 6d
Medlins 7.5 Bushels G Pilbeam 15s
Cheese Press W Pilbeam 1s 6d
6 Black Irons W Pilbeam 4s
Sally Iron and Shoe Brushes Pilbeam 2s
2 Water Pails Dann 2s 9d
Copper Kitchen Boiler none 3s 6d
Washing Trough Eastwood 7s 6d
Beer Barrels W Pilbeam 2s
Pottage Pot Balcomb 2s 6d
4 Milk Pans Pilbeam 2s
Tea Caddy Dann 1s 6d
Looking glass Simmons 1s 3d
Window Curtains and valence Simmons 4s 6d
Pair Bellows Simmons 3s 6d
Fire Irons Pilbeam 2s 9d
Pair Fire Dogs G Pilbeam 3s
3 Meat Dishes King 1s 3d
Corner Cupboard Thomas Pilbeam 10s
Bureau James Pilbeam 1s 4d
Chaff Mattress Balcombe 1s 6d

(c) Kerry Baldwin

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William Pilbeam, Chicken crammer!

William John Pilbeam was born on 4 April 1849 in Warbleton, Sussex and baptised on 6 May 1849 at Dallington Church to James and Sarah.  James was an agricultural labourer.

When William was 2 he was living with his parents and Ann, aged 9, Harriet, aged 8 and Emily, aged 3 at Rushlake Green at the time of the 1851 census. James was an Agricultural Labourer and Dairyman.  William had five siblings, all born and baptised either in Warbleton or Dallington.

During the 1861 census William was still living at home, aged 12 with his parents. Also at home were Harriet, aged 18, Emily, aged 10 and Lucy Hannah, aged 9. William was working as an Agricultural Labourer on the farm. James was now a Bailiff and Agricultural Labourer on a farm at Tye House, Herstmonceux, (probably down Lower Road near Golden Cross, Herstmonceux).

Little Rigford FarmBy 1871 the family had moved to Little Rigford, Earl’s Down, Warbleton. James, William’s father had died the previous year and Sarah was now a farmer of 20 acres. Harriet, 28 was married to James Martin who was helping on the farm. Emily, aged 23 still lived at home. William, 22 was a gardener.

The marriage of William John Pilbeam and Phillis Funnell took place on 4 April 1877 at the Parish Church, Warbleton, Sussex. William was described on the certificate as a 28 year old bachelor and Farmer from Warbleton and Phillis was described as a 28 year old spinster from Warbleton. Both fathers, James Pilbeam and John Funnell were Farmers and both deceased. The witnesses were Lucy Hannah Pilbeam, sister of the Groom and James White, Phillis’s stepfather.

By 1881 William had taken over the farm at Little Rigford and was living with his wife Phillis and their first sons, William, aged 3 and Thomas, aged 2.  Sarah, William’s mother, by this time, 67 years of age had moved to a cottage, Golan Cottage, Warbleton with Emily and her daughter Edith, aged 4. There is no mention of a husband for Emily.

At the time of the 1891 census Little Rigford Farm had become Rushford Farm, (still in the Pilbeam family to this day). William was a Farmer and Chicken Fattener. With them were children; William, aged 13, helping on the farm, Thomas, aged 12, Caroline, aged 8, George, aged 6 and Lucy, aged 3.

Chicken Fattening or ‘cramming’ was carried out on several farms in the Warbleton area and for a short time proved to be very profitable. Poultry farming was especially suited to small farms because of the skill and supervision required. The farmers organised themselves into two groups, rearing and fattening. Fatteners were often called ‘higglers’ and after collecting lean chickens from the rearers they would keep them for a month or so and sell them deadweight to the central markets in London, sent by train from Heathfield. In 1893 at a time when William was a chicken fattener more than one million chickens were sent to London.

The chickens were fed with oats and separated milk that was produced on the farm and the manure used on the farm. Thus a farmer could run a farm and cram chickens to help his family survive at a time when agriculture was generally on the wane in the Weald. To dispense with labour, the chickens, previously fed by hand were now crammed by a machine worked by a treadle. Apparently chicken cramming was a lucrative business and earned a lot of money for the young farmers who took part in this dubious activity!

The machine could be worked by one man, who could work the treadle with his foot and hold the bird with his two hands. The cram, mixed to a paste was poured into a hopper and one press of the foot would plunge a measured quantity of the cram directly into the crop of the bird, along 8 inches of rubber tubing which had been forced down its throat. Chicks could quadruple their weight in several weeks.

After killing, the chickens would be plucked, usually the stubbing (pinching out the new feathers and any remaining stubs carried out by women) and then turned quickly over a flame to singe remaining feathers. Then they were powdered with flour, placed in a press, breast down to give the appearance of a plumper breast and packed and sent to market.

By the time of the 1901 census William was still living at Rushford Farm. He was aged 51 and a farmer, however there is no mention of chicken cramming still be carried out on the farm. Living with him and Phillis were Caroline, aged 18, George, (my great grandfather) aged 16 who was working on the farm and Lucy, aged 13.

William died on 26 May 1919 at home on the farm at the age of 70 years old.  He died from Apoplexy 1 hour and the informant was his son, George Pilbeam, who by that time was living at Blackdown, Punnetts Town.  He was buried at the Independent Chapel, Cade Street, Punnetts Town and left a will with the sole beneficiary being his wife, Phillis.

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