The Forsyth tomb

Thomas Forsyth by Charles Turner, after Sir William Beechey. Mezzotint, early 19th century, NPG D37750 © National Portrait Gallery, London

In the History of Hertfordshire by John Edwin Cussans (published 1870-81) the inscriptions on the Forsyth tomb were recorded, but only partially. They are now almost impossible to read and so it is very fortunate that in 1913 a member of the East Hertfordshire Archaeological Society, Mr Ernest Squires of Hertford, took the trouble to record them in full and that his work is available in volume 5, part 2, of the Transactions of the society [available at the Hertfordshire County Archives, and elsewhere]. The full text is as follows-

On the south side: IN THE VAULT BENEATH ARE DEPOSITED THE REMAINS OF TWO AFFECTIONATE NIECES, DAUGHTERS AND COHEIRESSES OF FENN NEALE, ESQ., OF MARCH, IN THE ISLE OF ELY, DECD. ELIZABETH THE BELOVED WIFE OF THOMAS FORSYTH, ESQR. OF EMPINGHAM IN THE COUNTY OF RUTLAND: WHO DIED THE 24TH OF DECEMBER 1799: AGED 59 YEARS. TO PRESERVE HER MEMORY AND HIS AFFECTION THIS TOMB IS ERECTED.

In her whose Relicks mark this sacred Earth, Shone all domestick and all social Worth; Without one Thought but did from virtue flow Without one wish but such as Heav’n might know The mildest Temper ever blest with Ease, Of gentlest Manners, ever form’d to please: Fond to oblige, too gentle to offend Belov’d by all, to all the Good a Friend Unblam’d thro’ Life, lamented in the End These are thy Honours.

SUSANNAH, THE WIFE OF MR. THOMAS CLEMENT, CITIZEN OF LONDON: WHO DIED THE 11TH OF OCTOBER, 1772: AGED 29 YEARS.

Equal as Age advance’d, her Virtues grew And Heav’n her Aim still nearer shone in View. The Meek will he guide to Judgement, and them will he teach his way Learn from this Tomb that what thou valu’st most And Sett’st the Heart upon, may soon be lost! Boast not thyself of To-morrow, ‘Our Times are in thy Hand, O God.’

On the north side: THOMAS FORSYTH ESQ: OF UPPER WIMPOLE STREET, LONDON; DIED 7TH OCTOBER, 1810; AGED 66.

Of considerable capacity, of extreme prudence, and of inflexible integrity, He attained to affluence, which he distributed with liberality. Not in personal ostentation, but with extensive beneficence. To the poor he was charitable; to the afflicted humane; to the perplexed a safe guide; to unprotected youth a generous patron. Open and direct in his own nature, he was unsuspecting of others: Towards failings from which he was himself exempt, most liberal and indulgent. Of such benignity of disposition. & suavity of manners, As to command the affection of his friends, and conciliate the good will of all men. In every private as in every public duty of life most exemplary; As a husband most tender and affectionate: As a Christian unaffectedly pious: As a moralist irreproachable: as a friend inestimable: He lived without having encountered the assaults of envy or malice, And he died beloved and lamented by all to whom he was known. But most especially by his afflicted Widow

JANE FORSYTH

who impressed with unalterable affection and pious gratitude, has caused this marble thus to be inscribed. To the memory of the best of husbands.

HERE LIKEWISE ARE DEPOSITED THE REMAINS OF JANE, RELICT OF THE ABOVE THOMAS FORSYTH ESQUIRE, DIED NOV. 16TH 1835.

Fenn Neale

The first person mentioned in the inscription is Fenn Neale. He was baptised at March on 5 August 1709. His father Thomas Neale had married Elizabeth Fenn at Wisbech on 15 February 1708. Fenn married Elizabeth Gamble at Doddington on 7 July 1730 but she died (apparently childless) early in 1736 and was buried at March on 25 January.

Fenn (of March in the Isle of Ely) then married his second wife Susanna Watts (of Westwood in this parish) at St John the Baptist, Peterborough, on 20 December 1740. There is no evidential record but it seems as if Susanna was a widow when she married Fenn. On 9 September 1709 Susanna, daughter of Ralph and Elizabeth Morris of Carpenter Court, Holborn, was baptised at St Sepulchre’s, the church closest to the Old Bailey. The baptismal register gives her date of birth at 14 August. Susanna Morris married John Watts of Westwood at St Benet and St Peter, Paul’s Wharf, in the City of London, on 30 January 1729. This couple had two children who died in infancy and were buried at Peterborough. John Watts himself was buried there in 1735.

Records of their baptisms have not been found but, if the ages at death inscribed on the Forsyth tomb are correct, Fenn and Susanna’s first daughter, Susanna, was born in 1742 and their second, Elizabeth, in the following year. Susanna Watts was living at Westwood, in the parish of Longthorpe, at the time of her wedding and it is likely that the two daughters were born at Westwood.

Fenn made his will on 10 July 1743, shortly after the birth of his daughter Elizabeth (whom he described as an infant), and he was buried at Peterborough on 3 November 1747. The will was proved in the Consistory Court of Peterborough on 21 November 1747. It bequeathed to his wife a life interest in his estate, which consisted primarily of two properties at March: the first was a house and land called Elwyn Orchard and the second was five acres at a place called Mill Hill. There are several streets in modern March with names including the word Elwyn and there is also a Mill Hill Lane. (In the context of this story it is a remarkable coincidence that Elwyn is Welwyn without the initial W.) Subject to their mother’s life interest, the will did make his two daughters his coheiresses, as the inscription states.

Fenn’s widow Susanna married her last husband, widower Joseph Chatteris of Longthorpe, at Cotterstock on 27 September 1748 but the marriage was short-lived. Susanna was buried at Peterborough on 15 March 1750, leaving her two daughters as orphans aged under eight but with the benefit of equal shares in their father’s estate.

There is one other rather older grave in the old churchyard featuring the surname Neal. Although the spelling is different the possibility remains that there was some connection with the family of Fenn Neale. Those buried were William Neal, who died aged 77 on 15 July 1751, and his wife Mary, who died aged 63 on 18 November 1743. Presumably they were the couple William Neale and Mary Salmon who married in Ayot St Peter on 18 October 1704. They had eight children baptised at Ayot St Peter between 1706 and 1720. One of their sons, Robert, and his wife Hannah, had five children baptised here between 1750 and 1759.

The St John family

In his will Fenn Neale described himself as ‘of Westwood Neare Thorp Northamptonshire, farmer.’ The parish of Longthorpe (often abbreviated to Thorpe) is now incorporated into the city of Peterborough but in C18th was quite separate from it. The big house in the parish is grade I listed Thorpe Hall, which was built during the Commonwealth period by Oliver St John (Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas under Oliver Cromwell) on land taken from a monastery sacked during the Civil War. It still stands and is now a Sue Ryder Home. It is believed that Fenn Neale was farming land owned by the St John family of Thorpe Hall which came into his hands with his marriage to Susanna Watts of Longthorpe.

Another member of the St John family, Frances, lived at what is now called Danesbury but was at this time called St John Lodge, Welwyn; it was finished in 1778 by the daughter-in-law of the 10th Baron St John and inherited by Frances, a spinster, in 1786. In her will dated 6 April 1793 Frances appointed Thomas Forsyth of Upper Wimpole Street, London, as her sole executor and residuary legatee and directed that she was to be buried in the St John family vault at Thorpe, which is located at St Botolph’s church, Longthorpe. There is a tablet in the church with this inscription-

In a vault beneath this Church are deposited with those of her ancestors and relatives, the remains of Mrs Frances St John of St John Lodge in the county of Hertford, spinster, the last surviving daughter of Sir Francis St John, late of Thorpe, Baronet, who departed this life on May 19, 1794, aged 82 years. To perpetuate the remembrance of virtues which dignified human nature, this monument to her respected memory is dedicated by Thomas Forsyth, Esquire, her executor.

All that e’er graced a soul from heaven she drew, And took back with her as an angel’s due

Evidently, Thomas Forsyth knew Frances St John well and it is more than likely that she knew Rev Charles Chauncy, a local clergyman of illustrious lineage who lived in an equally big house nearby, namely Ayot Bury (which was the rectory of Ayot St Peter at this time). The interesting question is: how did Thomas know Frances? It seems as if the answer may really be that it was his wife, Elizabeth, and her Neale family who provided the link. It would unduly encumber this narrative to explore fully the relations between the Neales and St Johns but it seems more than likely that Frances St John would have acknowledged the Neale sisters as kinswomen, possibly rooted as far back as the C16th Bedfordshire marriage of Henry St John and Jane Neale, whose wills were proved on 28 June 1598 and 7 September 1618 respectively.

It seems as if it was these connections that led to Susanna Clement being buried at Ayot St Peter.

Nieces

Following their mother’s death the girls must have been raised by an aunt or uncle. According to his will, Fenn Neale had a brother John and a sister Elizabeth. John Neale’s baptism has not been found but Elizabeth’s was on 27 February 1718 at March. It is not known whether John Neale married but Elizabeth certainly did: her husband was Daniel Cooper of Holywell-cum-Needingworth and the wedding at March took place in March 1742. It is perfectly possible also that the two girls were raised by a brother or sister of their mother Susanna. She did not leave a will and therefore there is no direct evidence as to names or addresses. It can be accepted that the sisters were both ‘affectionate’ and ‘nieces’ but the identity of the uncle or aunt who raised them cannot now be established.

Nothing is known about the lives of Susanna and Elizabeth Neale until 1769, when they were to be found living in the fashionable parish of St George’s, Hanover Square, in the West End of London.

The younger of the sisters married first. On 3 October 1769 Elizabeth Neale married Thomas Forsyth at St George’s, Hanover Square. They were both ‘of this parish.’ It is a mystery precisely how it came about that Elizabeth was living in the West End and thus in a position to meet and marry Thomas Forsyth. Although her immediate background was apparently among farming folk in and around March and Peterborough, it does seem as if the Neale family had connections to powerful families such as the St Johns and the Cromwells and that these connections would have been used to secure the futures of the two orphaned sisters.

Just under two years later on 27 July 1771 the elder sister, Susanna Neale, married Thomas Clement at St George’s. She was ‘of this parish’ but her husband was of the parish of St Leonard, Foster Lane, in the City of London.

The first burial

Sadly, the marriage of Thomas and Susanna Clement was to last only briefly. Susanna died in October 1772, very possibly in child-birth and almost certainly at the matrimonial home at 15 Watling Street. The death was no doubt sudden and unexpected. Certainly there was no will, and presumably her half share of her father’s estate passed to her husband.

The Ayot St Peter burial register records that on 15 October 1772 ‘Susanna Clement from London’ was buried by Rev Charles Chauncy (1733-1804), who was rector of Ayot St. Peter from 1766 until his death and had previously served as curate there from 1758 until 1766. Clearly it was this burial which started the sequence and created the link for the three later burials.

After such a short marriage Thomas Clement probably had no strong feelings about where his wife should be buried, and it seems likely that the choice of Ayot St Peter was made by her sister and brother-in-law. If Thomas Forsyth knew Frances St John well enough to be appointed as her sole executor and residuary legatee, he and his wife had no doubt visited her at Welwyn, and probably through her had become acquainted with Charles Chauncy. Susanna’s old connections in March and Longthorpe had apparently ended some years previously and there was the future prospect of visits to St John Lodge, when the old churchyard could be visited at the same time. It must all have seemed very sensible to Thomas and Elizabeth Forsyth.

Thomas Clement

The inscription describes Thomas Clement as a citizen of London, indicating that he held the Freedom of the City. On 22 November 1763 it was ordered that this honour be granted to Thomas Clements ‘by redemption in the Company of Merchant Taylors.’ Despite the spelling of the surname it is believed that the grantee was Thomas Clement. If this is the relevant grant, it gives us the important information that Thomas Clement was the son of another Thomas Clement of Ingleby in the old North Riding of Yorkshire, who was a farmer. This would make Thomas one of the very long line of young men who have gone up from the country to London to seek their fortunes. He must have been born early in the 1740s.

Following the death of his first wife he married Mary Linthorne ‘of the parish of Richmond in the county of Surry spinster’ on 16 September 1775 in the church of St Vedast, Foster Lane.

There is a record of insurance taken out on 16 July 1790 by Thomas Clement of 15 Watling Street, dealer in crepe and tiffany. His address was on the south side of the old Roman road near to its western end at St Paul’s Churchyard. This part of Watling Street was destroyed in the Blitz and not rebuilt. Approximately where no. 15 stood there is a bust of Admiral Arthur Phillip RN, who commanded the First Fleet and was the first Governor of New South Wales. Thomas Clement’s trade in materials was consistent with membership of the Merchant Taylors.

When he made a will on 19 December 1794 he must have known that he was dying. His will expressed his desire to be buried in the church or burying ground of the parish where he died. He was duly buried on 30 December 1794 in the old vault at All Hallows, Bread Street, which stood on the corner of Watling Street and Bread Street until its demolition in 1878 and was the church closest to the deceased’s home. No age at death was recorded. The will was proved at the nearby Prerogative Court of Canterbury, Doctors’ Commons, on the following day on the oaths of John Pearkes of St Paul’s Churchyard, gauze weaver, Joseph Langhorn of Watling Street, warehouseman, and his widow Mary Clement.

In his will he described himself as a warehouseman of Watling Street in the City of London. He was the owner of the freehold of 15 Watling Street and he gave a life interest in it to his widow Mary. He mentioned only one child, his daughter Susanna Clement. She was not yet 21 in December 1794 and was therefore a daughter of the second wife named in memory of the first. He also mentioned a brother William and sisters Mary Cross (a widow) and Margaret Clement. There were three nieces called Jane, Susanna and Rebecca Clement, who were presumably William’s daughters. There was a nephew Thomas Cross. (He was the son of Mary Cross and her husband Jonathan, who were married in 1755; Thomas was born in 1757; his father Jonathan died in 1781.) There must have been a third sister who married a man called Wright because the will named three further nephews – Thomas, William and Nathaniel Wright.

The second burial

Elizabeth Forsyth died on 24 December 1799 at her husband’s seat at Empingham, Rutland. There was no will but presumably what remained of her half share of her father Fenn Neale’s estate passed to her husband. It will have been agreed between them that she should be buried alongside her sister at Ayot St Peter, and the burial register records that her husband was living and that her remains were brought from Empingham to the churchyard and buried there by Rev Charles Chauncy on 3 January 1800. Elizabeth had died without issue at the age of 55.

Thomas Forsyth then made arrangements for a vault to be constructed and a tomb made to accommodate the coffins of his wife and sister-in-law, with the intention that he should join them there upon his own death. At this time he will have settled upon the wording of the inscriptions on the south side of the tomb. The burial register records that the tomb was brought from London on 1 June 1800 and was ‘entirely finished setting up’ on 17 June. The tomb must have been brought from the stonemasons’ premises in prefabricated sections in a number of wagons, and the men who excavated and lined the vault and built the tomb over it in the course of 17 days must have stayed in the parish – perhaps at the Horse and Jockey inn on Ayot Green (now 5 Ayot Green).

Immediately to the north of the tomb are two fine headstones with footstones. One commemorates Joseph Nelson, a minor, who was buried on 5 December 1764 and Elizabeth Nelson, ‘a minor from London,’ who was buried on 21 March 1770. Next to it are the graves of Thomas Willet, ‘a servant,’ and his widow Margaret Willet. They were buried on 28 July 1766 and 23 March 1767. Given the cost and difficulty of installing stone memorials at this date, it seems more than likely that the necessary arrangements were made by Thomas Forsyth (with whom the four deceased must have had some so far untraced connection) and that Susanna Clement’s burial in 1772 was initially marked by a similar headstone and footstone beside these two (and therefore on the site of the tomb). In any event her coffin must have been disinterred for reburial in the vault alongside her sister’s.

The tomb (like the headstones and footstones) will have been very expensive to purchase, transport and assemble. It will have seemed quite exotic in the simple country churchyard of Ayot St Peter, and it still looks imposing nearly 220 years later. It was the first of the three fenced tombs in the old churchyard to have been installed.

Thomas Forsyth

Despite the fact that he was a man of very considerable means the lineage of Thomas Forsyth has proved elusive. He was 66 when he died in the summer of 1810 and therefore born in about 1744. There is a record of the baptism of a Thomas Forsyth, son of John and Mary Forsyth of Field Lane, Holborn, on 17 April 1747 which could be right, but it is not possible to be sure.

The name Forsyth is Scottish, and Thomas was among several wealthy London Scots called Forsyth who, by virtue of their donations, were ‘governors’ of the Scottish Hospital (an institution which was in Crane Court, off Fleet Street, from 1781 to 1843 and provided help to distressed London Scots). Their names and addresses were: David of New Bond Street; James of Mark Lane; Thomas of Wimpole Street; and William and William jnr. of Kensington. David Forsyth’s address is interesting; Thomas also had premises in New Bond Street. William Forsyth was a founder of the Royal Horticultural Society and is commemorated in the plant name ‘Forsythia.’ He was appointed ‘Gardener to the King at Kensington’ in 1784 and produced a plan for Kensington Gardens in 1787. He wrote A Treatise on the Culture and Management of Fruit Trees; In which a new method of pruning and training is fully described, which was published in 1802. There is extant a first and only large format edition of this book with the words ‘Thomas Forsyth, Esq. From the author.’ inscribed on a front blank, which suggests a strong connection between William and Thomas. William’s entry in the Dictionary of National Biography states that he was born at Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire, in 1737, went to London in 1763 and died in 1804.

If, as is clearly possible, he was a brother, half-brother or cousin of Thomas they probably travelled to London together when Thomas was about 19. If so, Thomas might have chuckled at Dr Johnson’s famous aphorism that ‘the noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees, is the high road that leads him to England!’

Nothing is known of his education. He does not appear to have attended either Oxford or Cambridge university, but he became a solicitor with an office at 100 New Bond Street. He must therefore have been a pupil at one of the Inns of Chancery attached to Lincoln’s Inn. In his time solicitors were those qualified to deal with matters falling within the jurisdiction of the Court of Chancery; this was known as equity and was distinct from the common law jurisdiction of the Courts of King’s Bench and Exchequer, where attorneys were the equivalent of solicitors. As a solicitor he was well equipped to be a steward of a landed estate and a trustee and executor and, as we shall see, this is how he earned his living. He joined a Freemasons lodge in London in 1763 and married his first wife on 3 October 1769.

In a short notice of his death in the Gentleman’s Magazine it is recorded that he was for ‘many years agent to the estate of Sir Gilbert Heathcote, Bart.’ In a Compendium of County History – Rutland he is listed as having his seat at Empingham; the same list shows Sir Gilbert Heathcote with seats at Normanton and Stretton. Thomas was High Sheriff of Rutland in 1794 and was toasted as ‘the tenant’s friend’ at a dinner organised by Sir Gilbert in October of that year in Lincolnshire, where there was another Heathcote estate. It is presumed that the agency and the Rutland connection lasted until Thomas’ death but it is not known for certain that this was the case. Empingham lies just to the west of the Great North Road and on his presumably fairly frequent travels between there and London Thomas will undoubtedly have used that road. In doing so he will have passed both the entrance to St John Lodge (where it would be surprising if he did not occasionally rest for the night) and the turning into Ayot St Peter at the top of Digswell Hill.

Thomas Forsyth was undoubtedly public-spirited: he was, for instance, a trustee of the North Luffenham Charity for the Poor; he supported the Scottish Hospital; and he took on a number of executorships, including (as we have seen) that for Frances St John. He was also one of the subscribers who funded the publication in 1789 of a book of letters of Lt. Thomas Auburey entitled Travels through the interior parts of America.

4 Upper Wimpole Street in 2017. Picture copyright Peter Shirley

In the collection of the National Portrait Gallery are two mezzotints (catalogue numbers D37743 and D37750) taken from an engraving by Charles Turner (1773-1857) after a portrait by Sir William Beechey (1753-1839). The sitter was recorded simply as Thomas Forsyth Esq. but in May 2017 the NPG accepted that he was the person buried in the vault beneath the Forsyth tomb at Ayot St Peter.

His will dated 20 June 1809 made no mention of any children, siblings, nephews, nieces, cousins or other relations. It does mention extensive freehold and copyhold property interests in a number of counties. He had his leasehold house at 4 Upper Wimpole Street (which today is very much as he would have known it) and he also had his office at 100 New Bond Street (which was rebuilt in the 1880s but at this time belonged to James Paul Smyth, a wealthy perfumer, of whose 1797 will Thomas was one of the three executors). During his first marriage he purchased land at Pierremont in the Isle of Thanet where he built a fine house in a landscaped park, which was finished in 1791-92, is grade II listed and currently used as council offices.

Pierremont Hall, Broadstairs. Built for Thomas Forsyth and now used as council offices. Picture cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Judith Bennett – geograph.org.uk/p/1201613

On 9 July 1801 at St Marylebone parish church Thomas Forsyth married his second wife, Jane Martin. He was 56 and she 45 and not previously married. It is almost certain that she had for many years been a friend of Thomas and his first wife Elizabeth. Unsurprisingly there were no children. The marriage lasted only until Thomas’ death at Earl’s Court on 7 August 1810. If William Forsyth jnr. was his nephew living at Kensington this place of death would be explained as occurring during a family visit. He left his entire fortune to his widow, who obtained a grant of probate at Doctors’ Commons on 25 August along with the other two executors, his friends James Abel (a City merchant) and Alexander Murray (a lawyer).

The third burial

Although his will was silent on the subject, Jane Forsyth will have known that her husband wished to be buried at Ayot St Peter and accordingly she arranged for her husband’s remains to be taken there, where the burial register records that they were interred ‘in his Vault’ on 14 August. By this time Rev Charles Chauncy had died but his son of the same name was the curate of the parish and conducted the burial service. Between 1808 and 1812 this unfortunate man had to bury no fewer than four of his own infant children.

At some point after the burial Jane Forsyth arranged for the laudatory epitaph to be incised in the circular marble panel affixed to the north side of the tomb. She will have chosen to describe her husband as ‘of Upper Wimpole Street, London’ and to omit mentions of Empingham and Pierremont; it may well be that Thomas had given the latter property to Jane as a marriage portion.

Jane Martin and her family

In contrast to her husband, Jane came from a large family with its roots in Southampton. They were well known in the town as proprietors of a sea-bathing establishment and assembly rooms which were patronised by fashionable society. Jane was born in 1756 and was one of the five daughters of George Martin and his wife Elizabeth (Betty) née Brackstone born between 1748 and 1762. There was also a son called John, born in 1758. The eldest sister, Charlotte, married George Tarbutt and had six children. The second, Elizabeth, married Thomas Baker and also had six children. John and his wife Mary née Guy had at least two daughters – Harriet (who married William Lawrence) and Georgina (who married William Davy). By the time she died in 1835 Jane had many great-nephews and -nieces. The wills of family members shed light on all the connections.

Jane’s mother Betty Martin (of Southampton, widow) made her will on 14 December 1803. It names all her children and is thus a primary source. Thomas Forsyth was Betty’s sole executor and residuary legatee, and in a short postscript to the will she expressed her ‘particular request that [her] dear and respected friend….Thomas Forsyth Esqr. will accept of Twenty Guineas for a Ring in remembrance of me.’ In the portrait Thomas is shown wearing a ring on the little finger of his left hand, which is surely Betty’s mourning ring. This strongly suggests that it was his wife Jane who commissioned Sir William Beechey to make the painting between 23 January 1806 (when Thomas obtained probate of Betty’s will) and his death in August 1810.

Charlotte Tarbutt died in 1791 and her husband George died 10 year later, just before Jane’s marriage to Thomas Forsyth. Thomas was one of the executors appointed in George Tarbutt’s will dated 5 February 1801; another was Thomas’ friend James Abel. The will mentioned that George’s daughter Elizabeth was the wife of Thomas Vardon. Another daughter, Caroline, would marry George Maule and a third, Charlotte, would marry John Dugdale. Thomas Vardon lived at Battersea and had a large shareholding in Crowley Millington & Co., an iron and steel manufacturing and trading concern based at Winlaton, Co. Durham, and Greenwich. He had three sons and two daughters and died in 1809. George Maule was a barrister and held the prestigious office of Treasury Solicitor. He and Caroline had no fewer than 12 children. John Dugdale was a clergyman and he and Charlotte had five children.

After her husband’s death Jane Forsyth continued to live in their home in Upper Wimpole Street, which she shared with her unmarried younger sister Kitty. She also spent much of her time at the seaside home which Thomas had built during his first marriage, Pierremont Hall. It is recorded that she was visited there in 1826 by the future Queen Victoria and her mother.

Jane died on 16 November 1835 at Pierremont Hall, having made her will on 3 March 1834 and an undated codicil in April or May 1834.

The fourth and final burial

Her will made no provision about burial but she must have thought that her wishes should be made clear to her executors, who were her sister Kitty and her friends George Maule and City merchant John Wood Nelson. The codicil is explicit: ‘I have now only to request that my funeral may be as plain as is consistent with my situation in life and that I may be laid with my dear friends at Ayott whose affection I experienced for so many years and if there is a space on the tomb stone for my name I would have it engraved there but no alteration to be made for that purpose.’

It was necessary for the executors to arrange for the coffin to be transported from Broadstairs to Ayot St Peter. The codicil anticipated this eventuality and made this special request: ‘As I have been in the habit of going to the Green Man Inn at Barnet for many years I request that my corpse rest there rather than in Town.’ It is not known whether a break in the journey of the coffin was made at the Green Man, which was a famous coaching inn located on the High Street in Barnet but is, sadly, no longer in business.

The burial was conducted by the new rector, Rev Charles Chester, on 27 November 1835. The register noted that the deceased had been brought from Broadstairs, that she was the relict of Thomas Forsyth Esq. and that her age at death was 80. Arrangements were made for these words to be added below her husband’s epitaph: ‘Here likewise are deposited the remains of Jane, relict of the above Thomas Forsyth Esquire, died Nov. 16th 1835.’

Conclusion

Jane Forsyth’s two male executors obtained probate of the will and codicil at Doctors’ Commons on 18 December 1835. The will provided that Kitty was to be permitted to continue to have the use of 4 Upper Wimpole Street for three months after Jane’s death. Subject to this, her freehold and leasehold interests were to be sold and then the entire estate was to be distributed among some 18 relatives. She made specific provision for her domestic servants and left money for the ‘industrious poor’ of the parishes of Empingham, Rutland, and St Peter’s, Thanet, for ‘the Bathing Infirmary at Margate’ and for ‘the Scottish Hospital in Crane Court, Fleet Street, London.’ The Margate infirmary was established in 1791; its buildings were open from 1796 until the hospital closed 200 years later in 1996. It was formally known as the Royal Sea Bathing Hospital and can claim to have been the first orthopaedic hospital in the world. As has been noted above, Thomas Forsyth was a ‘governor’ of the Scottish Hospital. Jane’s estate was sworn at under £40,000 in 1835, which is equivalent to perhaps £60 million in 2017.

Kitty moved to a house called the Greenway in the hamlet of Shurdington in the Gloucestershire parish of Badgeworth. In 1841 she was sharing the house with her niece Harriet Blackman (who was a daughter of her brother John and had been married first to William Lawrence and then, after his death, to Dr James Blackman but was by 1841 again a widow) and Ann and Mary Seward. The four ladies had eight domestic servants to look after them. Kitty died there in 1845 aged 84 and was buried at Badgeworth parish church on 15 March. At the Greenway she was living close to William and Georgina Davy, whose home was on top of the Cotswolds at Cowley House. Both the Greenway and Cowley are nowadays smart hotels.

The four people buried under the Forsyth tomb in the old churchyard at Ayot St Peter all died without issue. It must be doubted whether any member of the Neale, Forsyth or Martin family has ever been to visit the tomb since the last burial in November 1835. This seems a poor return on what must have been a huge investment by Thomas Forsyth in their memorialisation, but at least one can say that their chosen final resting place is beautiful and peaceful even 200 years later. Let us hope that it remains so.

Peter Shirley, Ayot St Peter, 21 February 2018

The Forsyth tomb in Ayot St Peter old churchyard. Picture copyright Julian Smith