This is the story of three generations of the Sanford family who came to Wivenhoe in 1741 and whose family name had disappeared by 1900
Deborah’s first marriage to Robert Hopkins
In November 1741, John Sanford aged approx 26 married Deborah Hopkins aged 29. This is the first record I have so far found for John. We don’t know where he came from or how he met Deborah. They were married in St Mary’s Church in Wivenhoe,
Deborah was a widow. Her first husband, Robert who was an Oyster Merchant, had died in April 1740. Robert was only 42 when he died. Deborah and Robert had 3 children and when Robert died Deborah was pregnant with their fourth child who was born 2 months after Robert’s death. Only 1 of their children, also named Robert, survived into adulthood. Their other children, two girls and a boy died in childhood. The baby Thomas, born after his father’s death, died in infancy.
Deborah and John Sanford have six children
When Deborah married John, she would have been financially very secure as Robert had left her well provided for. However up until 1882, when a woman married, the husband and wife became one person under the law. So the property of the wife was surrendered to her husband, and she no longer had legal ownership of the property that she brought to the marriage.
It’s not clear if John was already an oyster merchant when he married Deborah, or if he took on that occupation along with the business that had been left to Deborah when Robert died. Certainly that’s the occupation that John pursued after the marriage, expanding the business and acquiring more land and property.
John and Deborah had 6 children, but for the purpose of this story I will only touch on 3 of those children, William, Benjamin and John. When John senior died he left all of his estate to Deborah but stipulating in his Will how his estate should be divided amongst his children when Deborah died. Each of them would inherit either a property or a piece of land. That is, all except John his eldest son, who didn’t for some unknown reason, inherit anything through the will. John left the tools of his trade to William and Benjamin who continued to work the oyster trade and expand the business.
William Sanford married Margaret Whitley on 28th Sep 1773. They had two children, William and Elizabeth. William, who lived in Trinity House on the Quay, also had various other businesses and properties, particularly on the Quay. He owned the coal yard, malting offices, a wharf and warehouses. He had oyster layings in Wivenhoe and Tollesbury. He also owned farmland in Wivenhoe and Fingringhoe.
During the period of working the oyster business, from 1802 to 1827, William kept a journal which was part diary and part account book. He recorded various events that occurred in Wivenhoe as well as events that were happening further afield.
In 1964 John Leather, a local writer, wrote an article for the Essex County Standard newspaper using the information contained in William Sanford’s journal. This article is a beautiful slice of local history.
Note: The full article can be read here and is worth reading for anyone interested in a peep at Wivenhoe during the period.
William retires in 1827
William retired in 1827. But before doing so he sold his shares in the business, boats and packing warehouse to his nephew Thomas Sanford. One of William’s last entries written in the journal was: ‘Is the last year of me Wm. Sanford, having anything more to do with the oyster trade.’ This entry was written twice on the same page. I wonder if the statement was written twice to emphasise his decision or maybe it was with a sigh of relief at reaching a point when life would be easier. Or perhaps some other reason completely. What John Leather observed from William’s accounts was that his wine bill increased substantially.
I hope that William was just happy to sit back and let someone else take on the responsibility for running the business.
William Sanford Memorial
Following William’s death in 1830, a memorial tablet was erected in St Mary’s Church in remembrance of the charity set up by him for the benefit of local residents. Income from this charity was used to buy bread for poor people of Wivenhoe.
THIS TABLET IS ERECTED TO COMMEMORATE THE GIFT OF
MR WILLIAM SANFORD
WHO BY WILL BEARING DATE THE 21ST JANUARY 1829
BEQUEATH 50s PER ANNUM
TEN RESIDENT POOR PERSONS REGULAR COMMUNICANTS AT THIS CHURCH
Less is known about Benjamin. He never married and had no children, but seemed to have a very close relationship with his nephew Thomas. Benjamin died at the age of 89. In his will he left instructions for the setting up of a Charity similar to his brother William. It was 50s yearly to buy coal for a number of the poorer residents and was administered by the Church. When he died, Benjamin was a very wealthy man and most of that wealth was inherited by Thomas with legacies being left to his other nieces and nephews, including Mary Ann Sanford, sister to Thomas Sanford. This was the start of Mary Ann’s accumulated wealth.
Thomas and Mary Ann’s father, John Sanford, didn’t follow the trade of his father, also somewhat confusingly called John. John married Ann Barker and they had seven children. Two of whom died in infancy. His occupation was as a Cordwainer, who made shoes from new leather. This differs from a Cobbler who by tradition was only allowed to mend shoes. A Cordwainer and a Cobbler belonged to different Guilds and I imagine the former would have been considered to be a craftsman and of higher status. The shoes that John made, were sold through a shoe shop in Wivenhoe which was probably owned by John. It has not been possible to know what kind of wealth John might have accumulated as I was unable to find a Will. John died at the age of 52. What is known is that John’s eldest son and namesake continued the trade with his mother after his father’s death.
This next generation of Sanfords were probably the ones who really left their mark on Wivenhoe in the most significant way. Thomas Sanford was now the main owner of the Oyster business which passed to him following the death of his uncles William and Benjamin. As with other family members, Thomas went on to expand the business and also increase his land and property ownership. Along with the inheritance he received from various family members, Thomas became a very wealthy man. This allowed him to do much good for the people of Wivenhoe.
Building of the Congregational Chapel in 1846
The main and most obvious of these acts was that he financed and employed an architect to build a new Congregational Chapel in West Street. The chapel that was in use at the time, also in West Street had become too small for the congregation. This was when Thomas decided to have a new chapel built at a cost of £2,400. The foundation stone was laid on 21st Apr 1846 and the chapel was completed on 28th Apr.1847. It was built to accommodate 600 people and on the day of the first meeting not one seat was empty. People came from all around Wivenhoe and preachers from outside the area came to preach at that first meeting.
After the meeting, lunch was provided at The Falcon Inn for over 150 people. Lunch was also served in the old chapel for an additional number of people who could not be accommodated at The Falcon.
John Sanford and the British School
Following the building of the chapel, Thomas’s brother John, who lived in East Street with his sister Mary Ann, decided to have the old chapel converted into a school.
There was a lot of changes happening with regard to education during this period. This was in part due to the Factory Acts of 1833, 1844 and 1867 which imposed restrictions on child labour, and education of children became a more favourable alternative. The school built by John Sanford also ensured that children of the chapel congregation would be taught under the umbrella of the Congregationalist belief system.
On 8th June 1847 the first stone of the new school was laid by John Sanford. At the end of 1847 the new school was opened. The chapel was converted to two floors which became two classrooms and provided education for 250 children. There was some envy shown by the the local parish rector who wrote in a letter to the Church of England National Society
‘……. We have many dissenters who are active in the diffusion of their views for which purpose they are likewise building a school and have also opened a lay meeting house…’
In a later letter:
‘The dissenters new school holds 250. I am thankful to add, since they opened, I have lost only two children and received four from them.’
The school opened with 190 pupils. At some point the school started to have financial difficulties. Fees did not cover teachers salaries and in December 1853 the school committee resolved that as the funds of the school were inadequate to meet its expenditure, notice should be given to the present teacher.The school closed in 1853 and reopened in the chapel vestry in 1856. It continued through to 1866 but there was no recording of it in 1870.
Death of Thomas and John Sanford
When Thomas and John died, a marble tablet was erected in the Congregational chapel in remembrance of what they had done for the community. It was inscribed:
SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF
MR JOHN SANFORD
WHO DIED MARCH 14TH 1850 AGED 76 YEARS
HIS EARNEST DESIRE FOR THE EDUCATION OF THE
RISING GENERATION HE EXEMPLIFIED BY ERECTING
AT HIS OWN EXPENSE THE BRITISH SCHOOL IN THIS PLACE
Beneath this was the inscription to Thomas:
MR THOMAS SANFORD BROTHER OF THE ABOVE
HAVING THE SAME DESIRE FOR THE SPIRITUAL WELFARE
OF HIS FELLOW CREATURES ERECTED THIS CHAPEL
HE DEPARTED THIS LIFE
THE 22ND OF MARCH 1858 AGED 75 YEARS
Mary Ann Sanford Almshouses
The third member of this generation who left a lasting legacy was Mary Ann Sanford. In 1873, the year in which she died, when she was aged 81, Mary Ann financed the building of six almshouses in Rebow Road. The houses were intended for single women and the widows of sailors.
There are a number of mementos relating to Mary Ann. The trowel that was given to her at the time of the laying of the memorial stone and inscribed :
Miss M A Sanford
By a few friends upon the occasion of her laying the
memorial stone of her almshouses in Wivenhoe.
July 18th 1873
Mary Ann died in the September of 1873.
It is not recorded if she was able to attend the opening ceremony of the almshouses. This ceremony was a big occasion with the attendance of over 500 people including clergy both local and from Kent and London. When she died a marble tablet was erected in the Congregational chapel, which read:
This tablet is erected in grateful remembrance of
Miss Mary Ann Sanford
For her munificent gift of £500 the interest of which is to defray
the necessary expenses of this chapel
She has also erected six almshouses in this parish
for the use of six aged females who will receive 6s per week for their maintenance
She died Sep 12th 1873. Aged 81 years.
Mary Ann not only provided a secure home for many women, but by ensuring they had a regular income she gave them financial security as well. The amount they received was more than the old age pension of 5s, which started 30 years later and the recipient had to be over 70 years of age.
I have often wondered what prompted Mary Ann to build the almshouses. Was it due to seeing the kind of hardship and poverty that women quite often will have lived under when they reached old age. Or did she perhaps make comparisons with her own life which was financially secure. Or perhaps she was simply a person with a conscience and because of her own good fortune wanted to give back something to the community in which she lived and which in a way had helped to provide her with a secure old age. It may well have been all of these reasons. But the clue comes in the type of person that she was if you read the inscription on her grave which says ‘ She having a strong desire to do some good for the aged widows in the parish during her life, erected six almshouse… ‘
I imagine her as a person of compassion, foresight and conscience who wanted to leave a lasting legacy which would benefit women into the future. Which is exactly what she did.
When Mary Ann died, the only member of that part of the family was Kezia who had married William Hines. Kezia continued the work of her sister by keeping contact with the almshouse residents and there is at least one newspaper report which shows that Kezia invited the residents to her home for afternoon tea along with the trustees of the almshouses. When Kezia died in 1885 she bequeath In her will the sum of £500 to be used by the trustees for the benefit of the almshouses and the residents.
There were also a number of charitable bequests to benefit the poor of the parish. As well as the many charitable legacies Kezia did not forget her long term servants, namely Esther Barrel to whom she left £50. After various bequests to a number of individuals Kezia left the residue of her estate to George Sach. Exactly what this amounted to is not clear but what is evident is that George is shown in the census of 1891/1901 as living at Tye Farm as a farmer, which previously he was living as farm bailiff in the employment of Kezia Hines. Living there also was Esther Barrell as housekeeper. A step up from house servant.
Sadly Kezia and William did not have any children and when Kezia died in 1886 that was the end of the family line. The family box tomb can still be seen in the old cemetery and is inscribed with the names of John Sanford 1775-1850. Thomas Sanford 1782-1858. Mary Ann Sanford 1792-1873. William Hines 1807-1866. Kezia Hines 1794-1886
But the family will not be forgotten as long as the almshouses continue to stand in Rebow Road and many women pass through their doors as residents to benefit from the legacy of Mary Ann Sanford, and the Chapel building still exists although now converted into apartments.