So continuing on from my initial introduction of Charlotte Kew and the location of her baptism, what else did the records have in store for me? And what of the mentions of her in the various local court records? What could that tell me of Charlotte?
First of all, it might be helpful to examine Charlotte’s immediate family. As we saw, she was the daughter of Robert and Elizabeth Kew. She sees to have had one brother, Robert, and one sister, Mary. Her parents had married in her mother’s home parish of Easton Royal in the Spring of 1772.
The family then moved back to Robert’s parish of Pewsey (approximately 3.5 miles away – and it is believed that the village of Easton was named for being to the east of Pewsey), but the marriage wasn’t to last long. Elizabeth died in 1783, when Charlotte was just 8 years old. Robert followed four years later in 1787, leaving Charlotte and her siblings orphaned.
How the trio supported themselves isn’t known, perhaps being taken in by family, although only one of Robert’s siblings and possibly an unmarried sister of Elizabeth were still alive and living in Pewsey at this time. The effect that this must have had on Charlotte can only be imagined, and perhaps is exemplified by the first entry that I found.
Charlotte was held at Marlborough in readiness to be put on trial at the Easter Quarter Sessions held in Salisbury on April 17, 1798, aged 23. Her crime is described thus:
Committed February 27, 1798 charged on oath by Richard Chandler of Pewsey, grocer, with feloniously stealing six pieces of copper called halfpence, and two pieces of copper called farthings, the property of William Winter of Pewsey aforesaid.
The recorded verdict was that of “No bill“. This meant that it was decided that there was no case to be answered by the accused. This ruling often meant that there was not enough evidence rather than the accused was innocent. (In an interesting aside, the Royal Mint stopped striking farthings the same year that Charlotte was baptised, and wouldn’t produce any more until 1821.)
The next occurrence of Charlotte’s name comes in October 1809 at the Marlborough Sessions:
Committed by F.D. Astley Esq. and G. Wells LLD. for the space of one whole year, she having lately been delivered of three bastard children, one whereof is living and chargeable to the parish of Pewsey. Warrant dated March 27, 1809.
She was held at the old bridewell in Devizes (for a time the only jail in the county of Wiltshire), and appears there in the Calendar of Prisoners in 1810 (noted as having “several bastard children“). At this point, after burying her first two children, her youngest was around one year of age. Whether little Clarissa stayed with extended family, or if the parish provided a nurse I don’t know. It was also a surprise that she was jailed for a year for the crime of bastardy. However, this law had been on our books since the Bastardy Act of 1609-10, and after 1733 unwed mothers were “obliged” to name the father. The assumption here is that Charlotte did not (or would not) name the father, and that this is why she was jailed.
Five years later, Charlotte married John Brine in Pewsey, and the pair go on to have one daughter, Priscilla, and move to Collingbourne Kingston.
I can’t help but look back at Charlotte and think about the life she lived. Born into a rural family of no wealth, orphaned at a young age, resorted to (alleged) theft, abandoned (perhaps) by the fathers of her children, the first two she mourned alone, and then jailed for not naming the father of her third child. Hers was, as so many were, a no doubt difficult life, her community bound to the shifting of the seasons. I hope that John brought her happiness – but I cannot silence the little thought that perhaps he was her last chance at becoming a ‘decent married woman’ at 40 – before she died in 1841 aged only 66.
I salute you, Charlotte.
(Cover image: Marlborough bridewell building, showing original iron cell windows, now part of Marlborough College)