In 1818, John Thorp, a silk manufacturer from Coventry, bought the old corn mill in Badsey and converted it into a silk mill. It remained in the Thorp family ownership for nearly half a century.
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John Thorp (1773-1834)
John Thorp was born in Manchester in 1773, the son of John Thorp, a well-known Quaker Minister of the period, and his first wife, Martha (née Goodier). He was baptised on 2nd April 1773 at the Hardshaw West Quaker Meeting House, Manchester. This was five weeks after his parents had buried their first-born son, Samuel. John’s mother died when he was a baby and his father married again in 1775 to Martha Cash. Three half-brothers were born: Thomas (1780-1848), William (1781-1828) and Samuel (1791-1860).
Nothing is known of John Thorp’s early career. He may still have been living in Manchester in 1817 which was the year that his father died. The following notice appeared in the local paper – “On the 30th ult at the house of his son, in Manchester, aged 75, Mr John Thorp, 45 years a very eminent and faithful Minister amongst the Society of Friends” – but whether this was John or one of his half-brothers is not known.
Other than his baptismal record, we first hear of John Thorp on 2nd May 1818, when, at the age of 45, described as a silk manufacturer from Coventry, he bought the corn mill at Badsey, its machinery, plus parcels of land adjacent for £1200:
All that Water Corn Mill being formerly called two Water Corn Mills with the Appurtenances together with the Messuage Tenement or Dwelling House thereto adjoining and belonging and then used as a Grist Mill and commonly called or known by the Name of Badsey Mills and all the Gears Stones Tools and Implements belonging to the same Mills …
By this time, John’s half-brothers had also become involved in the silk industry, either in London, Macclesfield or Coventry. It appears that whilst living in Coventry, John Thorp was in partnership with one Joseph Brown, ribbon manufacturer, as a notice in various Gazettes in January 1827 recorded that the partnership was dissolved on 4th January 1827.
Having acquired the mill in Badsey, John Thorp set to work straight away in converting it into a silk mill, but found that he required extra money in order to complete the project. A deed of 12th January 1819, in which he took out a mortgage of £1500 with Robert Lunn stated that he:
… had at a very great expense converted the said Mill into a Silk Mill and had erected a very large and substantial Brick building to be used as a Silk Mill nearly adjoining to the said Old Mill on part of the land called the Naite and had requested the said Robert Lunn to lend and advance him the sum of £1500 to enable him to complete the said Silk Mills erections and buildings …
One month later, John became the father of a daughter, Elizabeth Thorp, born at Coventry on 14th February 1819. According to the late Kate Pearce (née Thorp), who has done extensive research on the Thorp family, he was very fond of his “natural daughter”.
By January 1819, John Thorp was in partnership with James Atkins of Evesham, who was to become his brother-in-law. Three years later, on 31st December 1822 at Evesham, John, aged 49, married Frances Atkins. Both her father and brother were wine and spirit merchants who owned property in the Evesham area, including The White Hart Inn at Evesham. When the banns of his wedding were read in the Church of St John the Baptist, Coventry, John Thorp was described as a widower.
After their wedding, John and Frances moved to London where the Thorp family had mills. A daughter, Frances Maria, was born on 5th January 1824 and baptised the following month at St Peter, Cheapside.
Two years later, John’s wife, Frances, ill with consumption, returned to her native Evesham to stay with her brother, but sadly she did not recover and died on 28th April 1826. A report in The Worcester Journal of 27th April 1826 said: “On Friday, aged 28, of consumption, at the house of her brother, Mr James Atkins of Evesham, where she was for the benefit of her native air, Mrs Frances Thorp, wife of Mr John Thorp of Cheapside. The amiable sweetness of her disposition had rendered her so dear to her husband and friends as to make her loss almost insupportable to them.”
Three years later, the partnership between John Thorp and James Atkins was dissolved, according to the following notice which appeared in several Gazettes of the time: “On 16th June 1829, the partnership between James Atkins and John Thorp, Evesham and Badsey, silk throwsters, was dissolved.” John Thorp then entered into partnership with Wingfield Gee, a silk throwster of Overbury and Murcott. Whilst that partnership was dissolved in 1831, Wingfield Gee stayed on as Master of the mill and he and his sons remained associated with the mill until the late 1840s.
By 1828 (when his name started appearing in the local press as a member of the Vale of Evesham Horticultural Society), John Thorp had left London and settled at Greenhill Cottage, Evesham, where he brought up the two little girls with the help of a housekeeper, Elizabeth Hopkins. Despite being called “cottage”, it was in fact a substantial residence, as a letting notice placed in the newspaper in 1834 after John’s death gave the following details: a breakfast parlour, dining room, drawing room, seven bedrooms, store room, dressing room, excellent cellars, kitchen, Brewhouse, pantry, other offices, coach house, stable and well-stocked garden.
In 1831 John Thorp was one of the leading proponents in Evesham in favour of parliamentary reform and spoke at a public meeting on 12th March in support of the Whigs’ introduction of a Reform Bill. Reform was long overdue – constituencies were unequal, very few were enfranchised and there was much bribery and corruption. This was defeated in parliament, the Prime Minister resigned and a General Election followed but the Whigs returned again with a larger majority. A newspaper report of 4th June 1831 tells of the Reformers’ jubilation: “Thursday the friends of Reform in Evesham and its neighbourhood (including several of the most active in the late County Committee of that district for returning Reformers) dined together at the White Hart Inn in that borough to celebrate the return of two Reform Members for this county, John Thorp, Esq in the chair. The elegance and profusion of the banquet, with the choice quality of the wines, were in Smith’s usual style; and after a variety of toasts, speeches, etc all bearing upon the great subject of Reform, the company separated about 11 o’clock, with a sobriety worthy of Reformers.”
A second Reform Bill was introduced, but this was again defeated in October. Public meetings were held throughout the county and John Thorp was one of the speakers at the Evesham meeting. “Such meeting – for number, respectability and fervour – was never witnessed in that borough,” observed The Worcester Herald. A third Reform Bill, the Great Reform Act, was eventually passed in 1832.
John Thorp died at Greenhill Cottage, Evesham, on 26th May 1834 and was buried at Chipping Campden four days later alongside his wife. The report of his death in The Worcester Journal of 5th June 1834 stated: “At his residence, Green Hill Cottage, Evesham, on the 26th ult in the 62nd year of his age, John Thorp, Esq, formerly of London. Though located among the inhabitants of Evesham during only his later years, that brief period has more than sufficed to embalm his memory in the recollection of a wide circle of friends; by whom, his warm and generous nature, his sentiments of genuine patriotism and pure philanthropy, will long, with melancholy pleasure, be recalled.”
By his will of 29th June 1833, John appointed his half-brother, Thomas Thorp, as executor and trustee and asked him to pay off the mortgage to Robert Lunn in the first instance. By a codicil of 21st May 1834, John appointed his other surviving half-brother, Samuel Thorp, also to be executor and co-trustee. The mortgage was repaid in part in December 1834 after John Thorp’s death by his half-brother, Thomas. John Thorp’s “natural daughter”, Elizabeth Thorp, was to inherit the mill when she came of age, and thereafter any children that she might have.
Elizabeth Thorp (1819-1853), a young heiress
Elizabeth Thorp, born at Coventry on 14th February 1819, was aged 15 when her father died. In John Thorp’s will, he said of Elizabeth that she “… has been carefully educated and brought up by me with all the love and affection that it is the duty of a parent to give to his dutiful child which she is and always has been to me …”. According to descendant Kate Pearce, John had envisaged the housekeeper and the two girls remaining at Greenhill Cottage, but her uncle, Thomas Thorp, moved them out, sold the house and its contents and took them all to live with him at his house in Overbury, where they were very unhappy.
Four years after her father’s death, Elizabeth, aged 19, married her cousin, Henry Thorp (1815-1847), son of her Uncle Thomas of Overbury. Henry was then managing one of the Thorp silk mills at Pickford Street, Macclesfield. They married on 30th July 1838 at Gawsworth in Cheshire. Elizabeth and Henry had four children: Eliza (1839-1916), Arthur (1840-1842), Frank (1842) and Fanny (1847-1853). At the time of the 1841 census they were living at Pickford Street, Prestbury, Macclesfield, Cheshire, with their two children. Arthur died in the second quarter of 1842 in Macclesfield. They were living in King Street, Cheapside, London, by the time of Frank’s birth in September 1842.
Henry Thorp died in March 1847, leaving Elizabeth a widow at the age of 28 and with three young children. Henry was buried in the Quaker burial ground at the Friends’ Meeting House, Cowl Street, Evesham.
Henry’s father, Thomas Thorp, died in sad circumstances the following year. The Worcester Journal of 3rd February 1848 reported as follows:
On Monday last Mr Best held another inquest at Sedgeberrow on Mr Thomas Thorp, late of Overbury, silk throwster, who, about six o’clock in the evening of Friday last, was found lying on his back on the turnpike road leading from Evesham to Cheltenham, in a state of insensibility; he was immediately removed to the New Inn, near where he was found, and every attention paid him. A surgeon was soon in attendance, but he had been dead some time. At the inquest, Mr Stallard, a friend of deceased, stated that in the morning he had gone with him from Overbury to Badsey to look at some machinery; that he left him at the latter place about 12 o’clock, when he appeared as well as usual and did not make any complaint; that deceased was a great walker, and a very temperate man. Mr Hailey, surgeon, of Evesham, examined the body, and having expressed an opinion that deceased died from the rupture of one of the vessels near the heart, the Jury returned their verdict accordingly.
Thomas Thorp was presumably feeling under a lot of pressure. His son, Henry, whom he had brought back from London to oversee the mills at Overbury and Badsey had died the previous year. A letter of September 1847 in the Badsey Society archive indicates that he was worried by competition from other silk mills.
There is a large tombstone in the churchyard of St Faith’s, Overbury, with the following inscription:
SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF
LATE OF THIS PARISH
AND FORMERLY OF KING STREET
IN THE CITY OF LONDON
WHO DIED JAN 28TH 1848
AGED 68 YEARS
Elizabeth Thorp’s mother-in-law, Frances Thorp, died the following year at Overbury and was buried in the Quaker burial ground at the Friends’ Meeting House, Evesham.
In the 1851 census, Elizabeth Thorp, a 32-year-old widow, described as proprietor of a silk factory, was visiting her three children – Eliza, Frank and Fanny – who were boarding with Mary Sprague, a governess on Vine Street, Evesham. The place of birth for Eliza and Frank was incorrectly given as Badsey.
A few months later at Evesham, on 24th September 1851, Elizabeth married widower, Robert Mansell Stratton (1782-1869) who was 36 years her senior. In 1841 and 1851, Robert, an Evesham-born man, had been living in Eastington, Gloucestershire, working as a surveyor of taxes. It is likely that the Thorp and Stratton families had known each other for some time. Both Robert’s mother, Sarah (1749-1810) and Elizabeth’s step-mother, Frances (c1798-1826), were members of the Atkins family of Evesham. Robert’s father, Matthias Stratton, who had been Mayor of Evesham on four occasions, was a wine merchant and gin distiller, so in the same trade as Elizabeth’s step-grandfather. In addition, a John Stratton, possibly a brother of Robert, was Master of the Silk Mill at Blockley.
The couple had only two years together, as Elizabeth died at Wheatenhurst, Eastington, on 14th October 1853, aged 34. She was buried in the church there five days later.
Shortly after Elizabeth’s death, Robert Stratton came to live in Badsey, as did his step-children it seems. Possibly he decided that he needed to be close to his step-children’s inheritance, as the silk industry was going through a difficult time. At the end of 1854 the silk mill was being used for social events when a ball with a hundred people in attendance was held there. We know from an entry in Billings’ Directory of 1855 that it was hoped that operations would begin again: “… the silk factory has been closed for some time, but work is now about to be resumed … by Mr Isaac Gee.” But this is thought never to have happened.
Robert Mansell Stratton, was living in Badsey in 1861 (in part of what is now The Wheatsheaf Inn), together with his son from his first marriage, Frederic Thomas. Robert was described as a Late Surveyor of Taxes and Inspector of Stamps. Robert died at Stow on the Wold in January 1869.
Eliza Thorp (1839-1916) and Frank Thorp (1842-?)
At the time of Elizabeth Stratton’s death in 1853, she had two surviving children: Eliza aged 14 and Frank aged 11. It is assumed that they remained living with their step-father until of age. They were living at Eastington, Gloucestershire, at the time of their mother’s death, but then moved to Badsey with their step-father. Certainly Eliza Thorp was living in Badsey in 1860 because an indenture of 15th September 1860 in which Eliza took out a loan of £200 described her as “Eliza Thorp of Badsey”. By 1861, both Eliza and her brother, Frank, were boarding at Bridge Street, Swindon.
On 12th October 1863, a few weeks after Frank Thorp’s 21st birthday, he and his older sister, Eliza, arranged for Badsey Mill to be auctioned at the Northwick Arms Hotel, Bengeworth. The mill had lain dormant for a good many years, possibly since the death of their mother ten years previously. The purchaser was William Parker who paid £490 for:
All that Water Mill then formerly used as a Corn Mill but since converted into a Silk Mill (formerly called the two Water Mills) together with the Messuage Tenement or Dwelling House thereto adjoining and belonging and commonly called or known by the Name of Badsey Mills and all the Machinery Gears Stones Fixtures and Implements now in and belonging to the same Mills and also all that piece or parcel of Garden Ground lying near the said Mills commonly called or known by the name of the Swan’s Nest being encompassed about with the Mill Pond and also all those two pieces or parcels of Meadow Ground lying near or adjoining unto the said Mills commonly called or known by the name of the Naite containing by estimation two acres or thereabouts be the same more or less being encompassed about by the Brook abutting Northward upon the Mill Bridge and Southward upon the floodgates together with the Silk Mills formerly erected thereon by the one John Thorp deceased near to the Old Mill with the Wheels Machinery and Appurtenances to the same belonging …
The conveyance was formally signed on 25th January 1864. Eliza was described as late of Badsey and now of Swindon, Wiltshire; Frank was described as a draper’s assistant, late of Evesham, but now of Eynsham, Oxfordshire.
Eliza Thorp never married. By 1871 she was living at Lime Cottage, Chelford Road, Macclesfield with Ann Airey (née Paxton), a widow, who was described as her aunt. Ann was most likely the sister of Eliza’s aunt, Frances Thorp (née Paxton), who had died in 1849. Eliza later moved to London and ended her days in Sussex, described as “living on own means”. She died at Hove on 14th September 1916. The whereabouts of her brother, Frank, are unknown after the sale of the mill.
Maureen Spinks, November 2020
We are grateful to the late Kate Pearce (née Thorp), great-great-granddaughter of John Thorp’s cousin, John Thomas Thorp, who supplied much extra information about the Thorp family.