Martha’s Will

I’ve not been great with my blogging this year. I think I’ve only done one or two 52 Ancestors this year, and my Holborows in … series have kind of ground to a halt. Although slow and sporadic, my research continues onwards. Lately I’ve been focussing on one branch of the Holborows from the Wiltshire parish of Luckington (which – of course – is not one branch at all). This was all prompted by reviewing my transcriptions of Holborows in the 1841 census to see if I have them all – can I identify them and their family groups? Are they in my tree? And I came across a Daniel – it is always a damn Daniel – whose parental line I couldn’t place. He is worthy of a post all his own, so maybe we’ll have a little … double dip.

From there I moved onto a resource that I have overlooked – past tense – the most in my research: Wills. A good will is an amazing thing to find, especially in those years before General Registration and you’re reliant on Parish Registers to hypothesise relationships. Of course, that’s assuming you get a “good” will – and by that I mean one that names people and relationships. Of course, sometimes you just get a list of names, sometimes you get a cat’s home. But sometimes you get one that enables you – with a little bit of digging – to make some fantastic connections, even if you have to compare and connect other wills from the same area.

Parish of Luckington, from Andrews’ and Dury’s Map of Wiltshire, 1773.

Luckington, as a parish, includes two villages – Luckington itself and Alderton (alternatively Aldrington, as can be seen on the map above). It is right on the border between Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, and its western edge backs onto (and, indeed, overlaps) the Duke of Beaufort’s Badminton Park (and, yes, the sport is named after the house – it was once known as Badminton Battledore). Of other interest is that the church is dedicated to two saints – St Mary and St Ethelbert (the same dedication as Hereford Cathedral, and it was the Earl of Hereford who historically held the manor of Luckington – and we all know I love an Ethelbert.

In 1841, Daniel is living in Town’s End, Luckington, aged 60, an Ag Lab, with his 70 year old wife, Anne. With them are two younger folk, a William aged 1 and Mary aged 30. William’s baptism in March 1841 gives only a mother’s name: Mary. Mary’s age in 1841 would give a date of birth around 1811, but its the 1841 census so there’s a bit of wiggle room here. Consequently, the baptism of a Mary in Luckington October 1808 was a nice find, parents: Daniel and Mary. Wonderful. Only … Daniel appears to be married to Anne so maybe a previous wife? Mmm.

Daniel married Anne Bye on 2 June 1808 in Luckington. No other children baptised to Daniel and Mary, but two other sons to Daniel and Ann – William in 1810 (died 1815) and John in 1813 (died 1881). It seems unlikely in the extreme for Daniel to have married Anne in June yet have a child with another woman baptised a few months later. Not impossible, but unlikely. More likely is that the curate made a mistake when recording the entry. However, Daniel was a widower when he married Anne. He had first married Prudence Gardiner in March 1803. A daughter, Cordelia, followed in 1805, but sadly Prudence died two months after the birth, with Cordelia dying the following year.

Daniel died in 1844; Anne in 1845.

That seems quite a lot to go through. John went on to marry Elizabeth – although I have not yet been able to track down a marriage to find out her surname – but they don’t seem to have had children. Mary and William also disappear after 1841.

Daniel was baptised in Luckington in 1777, the son of Daniel and Martha, nee Thompson, who had married earlier that same year. They would go on to have two further sons: Milburn, in 1780 and Joseph in 1783. Milburn does the family disappearing trick, and Joseph marries Emma (aka Emily) Comley in 1807. Emma dies in 1841 before the census was taken, and Joseph in 1860. They had no children.

Daniel’s mother was buried on 13 October 1810, some 19 months after Daniel senior. Still searching for what happened to Milburn, I turned my focus on looking for a Will for either Daniel or Martha. Sadly neither of them left one. I did, however, search for all Holborows who left a Will recording them being resident in Luckington. This was when I found a very intriguing Will for another Martha Holborow, whose Will was proved in 1747. I initially thought that this would have been Daniel Senior’s mother, as he was baptised the son of John and Martha (in fact, he was one of 11 baptisms, sadly 7 of these died as children), but closer examinations showed that Martha “wife of John” was buried in 1750.

Children of John and Martha Holborow, all baptised and buried in Luckington

The Will of this Martha opens by stating she is a widow. Not “widow of X”, just “widow”. It mentions no fewer than fifteen people, and only one is given a familial relationship, and that is the rather loose term of “cousin”. So both a good and not-good will. Lots of potential connections to look up!

First she makes mention of Nathaniel and Isaac, the sons of Jeremiah and Frances who get one shilling each. Then comes Anne Sharp, the wife of Thomas Sharp of Corston (a small village about 9 miles from Luckington) who also gets one shilling. Diannah [sic], the wife of James Ridley, receives the sum of 20 shillings, as does Katherine, the wife of Richard Harper. Mary the wife of George Snell also receives the sum of 20 shillings. (There used to be 20 shillings in a pound, making the monetary value of Martha’s bequests 62 shillings or £3 2s which equates to roughly £70,360 in today’s money.)

Various gifts of wearing apparel and linens are made, and several silver spoons are handed out to Joseph Godwin, son of Mary Godwin and John Godwin, and to his (unnamed) four siblings). John is also made executor, and receives the “residue of [her] goods, chattels and personal estate” as well as Martha’s “lott [sic] in Silk Wood”. Silk Wood today forms part of the Westonbirt Arboretum in neighbouring Gloucestershire, as it was purchased by its founder in 1840 – the last time the arboretum was expanded until 2019!

My initial thought was that all of these ladies (other than Mary who is labelled cousin) were the children of Martha and her mysterious unnamed deceased husband. However, I was soon disabused of that notion.

  • Thomas Sharp married Anne Butler in Malmesbury in November 1739. Anne’s parentage has not been confirmed.
  • James Ridley married Diana Holborow in Luckington in April 1724. A corresponding baptism implies her parents to be Israel and Hannah Holborow.
  • Richard Harper married Katherine Holborow in Luckington in November 1724. Her parents were Daniel (side note: of course – more on him later!) and Elizabeth Holborow.
  • George Snell married Mary Holborow in Luckington in August 1698. Mary being the daughter of Lawrence and Catherine Holborow. Mary was also the sister of Israel, the father of Diana.
  • John Godwin married Mary Painter in Malmesbury in February 1728. Mary’s parentage has not been confirmed. However, John was the brother of Nathaniel and Isaac, and their father was Jeremiah Godwin who married Frances Holborow, the daughter of Francis and Anne Holborow.

So a rough picture was forming in my mind that Martha was leaving bequests to certain female members of her late husband’s family. Perhaps women she was close to, or who had helped nurse her husband? In order to find any likely husbands for Martha, I looked at male Holborows who had been buried in Luckington 5-10 years before Martha wrote her will. My first possibility was a Joseph Holborow who was buried in 1742. Thankfully, he had also left a will! He leaves the entirety of his estate to his wife, Martha, including a specific item:

I give and bequeath unto my well beloved wife Martha one lott of underwood in a wood called Silkwood in the parish of Great Sherston to her and her heirs and assigns forever.

Is the ‘lott’ of land mentioned in both wills a coincidence? I think not. There are no marriages for a Joseph Holborow and Martha in Luckington or Great Sherston (or Sherston Magna as it is known today). However, taking into account that Luckington covers two different villages, we find a marriage in May 1703 between Joseph and Martha Skerine in Alderton. A Luckington baptism in 1671 for Joseph seems to fit. His parents were Francis and Anne – making the Godwin boys Martha’s nephews, and Mary Painter her ‘niece-in-law’ (unless there is another familial connection, of course).

Church of St Giles, Alderton

It also comes to pass that Francis was the son of John and had a brother called Lawrence, the father of Mary and Israel (the father of Diana), amongst other siblings.

Which just leaves Katherine, the wife of Richard Harper and daughter of Daniel and Elizabeth. Now she is a little trickier to place. I think that I may have found her puzzle piece, but the edges don’t quite fit. Or perhaps they do. Again, the connection comes from a will. This time of a Daniel Holborow of Luckington, who died in 1700. His will names no wife, only his children: Catherine, Joanna, Daniel and Samuel. The witnesses are Francis and John Holborow. There is the burial of Elizabeth “wife of Daniel” a few years before in 1697. Katherine’s baptism in 1686 would make her almost 40 at the time of her marriage to Richard Harper, but there seems to be only one child baptised to them the year after their marriage, a daughter called Elizabeth. Katherine Harper dies in Kington St Michael (her husband’s parish of residence at the time of their marriage) in 1747 which does not make a birth year of around 1685 unreasonable.

Now, Francis and Lawrence did indeed have a brother John. Would it be insane to think that Daniel was another brother, thus making Katherine another cousin to Martha’s husband? I’d be a lot happier if I had a baptism of Daniel, son of John, but … I don’t. Nor do I have any wills of siblings or of a parent mentioning that group of children.

So from a couple of wills, we have confirmation of relationships that are – at my suggestion – displayed below:

People mentioned in the Will of Martha Holborow, widow, of Luckington, proved 1747 (in red)

Now onto all the other wills …!


    1. Ah, thank you! I have found American wills to be very hit and miss when it comes to their availability online! I am also very lucky that I live in a county that had a will transcribing and digitisation project some years ago that was then purchased by/donated to Ancestry. Sadly no saints, apart from in the murky depths of my American/German Mennonite ancestry that claims some right royal blood …!


  1. A serendipitous search for “Silk Wood Luckington” landed here. I was trying to locate a property in John Godwin of Rodbourne’s 1752. The result was that I now know the surname of his mother was Holborow. The marriage at Malmesbury has Jeremiah’s name but not his wife’s. I have quite a bit of info on the Rodbourne Godwins and some info on John Godwin’s wife Mary Punter’s family if you would like to get in touch. You may already have sorted all that out.
    Thanks for your post!
    Megan Thompson

    Liked by 1 person

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