As far as we know, the first member of the Wright family to live in Ayot St Peter was John Wright, who was born in Shillington, Bedfordshire in 1759. He was the third child and only son of John Wright and Mary (née Honour). During John’s childhood the family moved from Shillington to Pirton in Hertfordshire.
John Wright married three times and had a total of ten children. His first marriage was to Fanny Furrian in Pirton on 24 December 1788. They had seven children born in Pirton – Fanny Furrian born in 1790, Mary in 1791, John in 1793, Thomas in 1795, William in 1797, James in 1800 and Eliza in 1801. Sadly, Fanny died on 10 December 1801 aged 29 years, presumably in childbirth, and when her last child Eliza was baptised on 12 December 1801 it was also the day of Fanny’s funeral. Fanny was buried in the churchyard at Pirton.
John’s second wife was Ann Kempson of Shillington. They married there in 1802, when John was described as a farmer from Pirton. Ann died just two years later on 23 May 1804, aged 41 years, and is buried in Shillington. The inscription on her gravestone describes her as the second wife of John Wright and the daughter of John and Sarah Kempson.
John’s third wife was called Elizabeth but her surname is still unknown. They must have married around 1808 and they had four children together – George and Wilhelmina baptised together in Pirton on 21 December 1809, Samuel born in 1812 and Elizabeth born in 1821.
This last child Elizabeth was the first to be baptised in Ayot St Peter, on 5 December 1821. Her father John is described as a farmer, and the address is given as “Ayott Farm”, presumably Ayot Place Farm, as it was then known, although this could have been a farm in Ayot St Lawrence.
John Wright made several wills between 1823 and 1826, and these confirm the names of his children and some of their spouses. In each of these wills he is described as “of Ayot St Peter”.
An undated note with one will explains that his eldest son John had died. John had been a private soldier in the Honourable East India Company Service since 1822, but in 1826 his father wrote a new will making Thomas, the second eldest son, the heir to their mother’s houses and land at Pirton. These earlier wills are in the papers of Hawkins solicitors, available at Hertford Archives. John’s last will dated 23 October 1841 described him as “of Preston” (another Hertfordshire village, near Hitchin). He died on 11 December 1841 aged 84 and was buried at Pirton with his first wife Fanny. Elizabeth’s date of death and burial place are not known.
John and Elizabeth Wright probably remained in the parish until at least 30 July 1831, when their daughter Wilhelmina married Thomas Munt at Ayot St Peter church. The bride was described as “of this parish”.
Most of John Wright’s large family lived around the north Hertfordshire area, especially the villages of Pirton, Preston, and Shillington in Bedfordshire. However, three of the children spent some time in the Ayot St Peter area.
John and Fanny’s youngest child Eliza, born in 1801, married Barnard Acres in London in 1822 and they lived in Ayot St Lawrence until Eliza’s death in 1849.
John and Elizabeth’s daughter Wilhelmina and her husband Thomas Munt lived in Lemsford where he worked as a miller. Their first daughter Anne was baptised in Ayot St Peter on 3 February 1833, but the second, Elizabeth, was baptised in Wheathampstead. After Thomas died, Wilhelmina married Michael Lake, a farmer, and they lived at Whitehill Farm in 1851 and Frythe Farm in 1861. At that time Whitehill Farm was in Welwyn parish and when Michael died in 1859 he was buried in Welwyn churchyard. Wilhelmina died in 1871. Her death was registered in London but her burial place is unknown.
The third Wright sibling to remain in Ayot was John and Fanny’s fifth child and third son William, born in 1797. William married Ann Hassard on 23 April 1822, in her home village of Sandridge. In the marriage entry, William is described as “of Ayott St Peter”. Ann was a widow when she married William. Her maiden name was Parsons, and she had previously married John Hassard, a farmer, on 28 May 1812. Ann had three children with John Hassard – Ann born in 1813, Mary born in 1815, and Jonathan born in 1818. The children sometimes used the additional family name “Hawksworth” as a middle name, or even an alternative surname. John Hassard died in 1821, aged 30, and was buried at Sandridge. The burial entry gives his abode as Water End, a hamlet near Sandridge.
Ann and William Wright had five children together – George born in 1822, Fanny born in 1824, Eliza born in 1827, Alfred born in 1831 and William born in 1834. Their children were born at Water End, and baptised at Sandridge but, by the time of the 1841 census, the family resided at Place Farm, Ayot St Peter and this was their residence for the rest of their lives. Ann died in 1860 and William in 1877, and they are buried together in the old churchyard.
George, the eldest son of William and Ann, married Emma Lake of Ippollitts at Ayot St Peter church on 18 June 1845. Emma was the younger sister of Wilhelmina Wright’s second husband, Michael Lake. George was a farmer and he and Emma lived at Water End for the first few years of their marriage. However, sometime around 1853 they moved to Cromer Hyde Farm, which was their final home. George and Emma had ten children – Elizabeth born in 1846, Rosa born in 1848, Edwin George born in 1850, William born in 1852, Arthur Alfred born in 1855, Albert Edward born in 1857, Emma Mary born in 1859, Anna Maria born in 1862, Frederick Herbert born in 1864 and Harry born in 1866.
Emma died on 28 November 1867 aged 42, following the birth of her youngest child. George Wright died on 24 September 1887, aged 64, and they are buried together in Lemsford churchyard.
William and Ann Wright’s second son Alfred died on 1 July 1859 aged 27. Their other son, William, and two daughters Fanny and Eliza did not marry.
William and Ann Wright’s youngest child, William was recorded as living at Chalkdell Farm, Water End in the 1871 census with his sister Fanny. In the 1881 census he was recorded as living both with his sister Fanny at Water End and also with his sister Eliza at a place called Messer’s Stables, which was the old name for the house now known as Melbourne Stud (previously Soray’s or Hillside Farm). Presumably William ran both establishments and both sisters recorded him as living with them.
Fanny died on 14 July 1889, William died on 9 July 1895 and finally Eliza died on 6 February 1910. Eliza’s will included legacies to all her nieces and nephews – the children of George and Emma Wright – and also one to James Hawksworth Hassard, the son of Eliza’s half brother Jonathan (Hawksworth) Hassard.
The bulk of Eliza’s estate was left to her niece Elizabeth Pointon and her husband John Pointon. Elizabeth was the eldest child of Eliza’s brother George Wright and his wife Emma (née Lake). One year later, in the 1911 census, John and Elizabeth Pointon were living at “Place Farm” (Ayot Place) where John was described as a farmer. Elizabeth died in 1922 and John in 1924. Their gravestone in the old churchyard records the fact that John had been the churchwarden for the parish since 1892 (over 30 years).
Of the other nine children of George and Emma Wright, the second daughter Rosa died in 1860 at the age of 11 and is buried in the old churchyard with her uncle Alfred who had died in 1859.
Of the rest, only William and Emma Mary seem to have stayed in Hertfordshire. Edwin George moved to Warwickshire and Arthur Alfred moved to Suffolk.
The youngest daughter Anna Maria moved to the United States.
George and Emma’s three youngest sons, Albert Edward, Frederick Herbert (“Fred”) and Harry, emigrated to Australia together on the steamship R.M.S. Taroba, leaving Gravesend on 20 November 1888 and arriving at Townsville, Queensland, on 7 January 1889. They travelled “steerage” and were listed as Albert Wright, aged 31 years (a farmer), Fred Wright, aged 24 years and Harry Wright, aged 21 years, all single men.
Fred and Harry settled in the town of Geraldton which later changed its name to Innisfail. They initially worked as labourers, but around 1895 both were the successful tenderers for clearing an improved track for the tramway leading from Geraldton to Combo Creek battery on the Russell River goldfields. By 1900 Harry had become a fireman and driver on the newly erected Geraldton tramway. He married Bridget O’Connell in 1893 and they had a family together. Harry died in 1946 and is buried in Innisfail Cemetery.
Fred took on a variety of jobs, working on the tramway for some years. He also worked as a ferryman on one of the local rivers for many years and spent some time as a storekeeper. He died in 1949 and is buried in Innisfail Cemetery.
Their brother Albert was more interested in mining and worked at the Russell River goldfield before moving on to Jordan Creek goldfield and then mining in the Herberton area, North Queensland. He died on 30 July 1939 at the Eventide Home, Charters Towers, aged 81 years. Neither Albert nor Fred married.
My grateful thanks to the Wright family of Queensland for their considerable assistance with this page.