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Illegitimacy in Wickhamford (1755-1796)

The Baptismal Register for the Church of St John the Baptist, Wickhamford, in the second half of the eighteenth century records 16 cases of illegitimacy.  The vicars during this period were the Reverend John Rawlins, until 1784, and then the Reverend George William Auriol Hay Drummond.  The latter never officiated in the parish, nor resided in the area, his work here being done by a succession of curates.   Both were vicars of Badsey as well as Wickhamford.  The Baptismal Register for Badsey during the period here reviewed makes no mention of illegitimate children, but in about 20 cases no father’s name is entered – there were a total of around 600 baptisms in Badsey in this period.

The total number of Wickhamford baptisms during the 41-year period discussed here, from the baptism of Mary Viggers in late 1755 to that of Ann Clarke in late 1796 was 147.  Therefore, almost 11% of babies were illegitimate in this specific period (1755-1796); this was three times the incidence in Badsey for this period.  In some cases, there are clues as to the father of the child.

Recorded cases

  • 16 November 1755:  Mary, daughter of Jane Viggers was baptised, the vicar noting that she was ‘a base child’.  Mary’s surname, was given in the register, as ‘Smith’, so the father’s surname appears to have been identified.  Jane Viggers’ name does not appear in any other records for the parish, or in Badsey. (Also, see below – 7 December 1777).
  • 7 February 1761:  Richard Mills was baptised and recorded as the illegitimate son of Elizabeth Mills.  His mother was baptised in Wickhamford, a daughter of Thomas and Anne, in 1741, so she was a 20-year-old local girl.  Neither mother nor child appear again in local records.
  • 24 June 1767: Anne Garfield Webb was baptised and she was the illegitimate daughter of Esther Webb.  Her second name probably indicates who her father was likely to have been.  At this time, a John Garfield lived in Wickhamford; he died in 1776 and was buried in the village. Esther had another illegitimate child four years later.  
  • 29 May 1768: Thomas ‘Cotteril’ Young was baptised, the illegitimate son of Mary Young.  Again, the second name given to this child may be a clue as to the father.  Cotterel was a name that occurred in Badsey at this time.  Three possible fathers of Thomas were born in Badsey:  Pigeon Cotterel (b. 1738) and Harry Cotterel (b. 1740), but, given the baby’s first name, Thomas Cotterel was born there in 1733.
  • 24 June 1768: Mariah Bed?????, a daughter of ‘A wanderer’ called Betty, was baptised.  The surname is largely illegible in the Register.
  • 14 July 1771: William Webb, the second illegitimate child of Esther Webb was baptised, but with no clue as to the father this time.  Esther married William Frost in Wickhamford in 1776.  Frost’s Christian name may be clue as to the father of Esther’s child five years before their marriage?
  • 30 August 1772: William Young, illegitimate son of Mary Young was baptised.  A Mary Young married Thomas Baylis in Badsey in February 1790; this may or may not have been the same woman.  In 1822, William Young, a widower, married Elizabeth Farmer in Wickhamford.  Young was not a common name in the locality at this time, so maybe this was the same William returning to Wickhamford for his second marriage, as it was the place of his baptism?
  • 17 October 1773: John Barnes, illegitimate son of Sarah Barnes was baptised.   Sarah married Thomas Izard in Wickhamford in November 1778.  They appear to have left the area as no further local records pertain to this couple.
  • 25 February 1776: John Brown was baptised, the illegitimate son of Elizabeth Brown.  The child died not long after birth and was buried in Wickhamford on 10th March 1776.  There are no other parish records concerning Elizabeth.
  • 7 December 1777: Mary Smith, illegitimate daughter of Mary Smith was baptised. Mary and Joseph Smith had a number of children baptised in Wickhamford – William (1765), John (1771), Joseph (1774) and Esther (1776).  Mary Borton had married Joseph Smith in 1764. He did not die until 1796, when he was buried in Wickhamford, aged 58.   It would appear that Joseph denied parentage of Mary.  (Was he the ‘Smith’ mentioned in Mary Viggers baptism in 1755?)
  • 12 March 1780: Elizabeth Wilks was baptised, the illegitimate daughter of Mary Wilks.  Mary went on to marry Thomas Barnes in Wickhamford in November 1788.  They had a son, John, baptised in the village in March 1788, before their marriage, but there was no comment on this in the Register!   A daughter, Nancy, was born in 1790 and she married in the village in 1809.
  • 21 May 1780: Ann Bird, illegitimate daughter of Mary Bird, was baptised.  Mary stayed in the vicinity as she had another child a little over two years later.
  • 10 June 1782: Samuel Bird was baptised, another illegitimate child of Mary Bird.  There are no other references to Mary in the area after this.  There are two Badsey baptisms for ‘Mary Bird’ - one in 1751, who died a few days later and another in 1753, to different parents.
  • 17 (month unclear) 1788: William Reeves Gladding, ‘Base child’ of Susannah Gladding, was baptised.  Here again, the second name of the child may indicate the name of the father, although the surname Reeves does not appear in local records at that time.  A man of that name was born in Pebworth in about 1760 and did not marry there until 1795.
  • 7 December 1793: Thomas Gladding was baptised, a second illegitimate son for Susannah Gladding.  He died soon after birth and was buried in Wickhamford on 10th December. There was no hint of a father’s name this time. Susannah remained in Wickhamford and was buried there in 1807, still unmarried, aged 46.
  • 6 November 1796: Ann Clarke, was baptised, the illegitimate daughter of Temperance Clarke.  The mother had been baptised herself in Wickhamford in 1774, a daughter of Richard and Mary Clarke.  She later married James Huband in Wickhamford on 8th May 1799 and their daughter, Elizabeth Huband (who died in Australia in 1876), was baptised in the village on 30th June 1799 – seven weeks later. They went on to have five more children after leaving Wickhamford.  Temperance died in 1850 and was buried in Salford Priors, Warwickshire.

Relative incidence of illegitimacy in Wickhamford

Looking at five 50-year periods during 1651-1900, it is apparent that the time reviewed here was exceptional for illegitimacy in Wickhamford.  The incidence of cases in these half-century periods was: 

1651-1700 – none out of 125 baptisms (0%)
1701-1750 - four out of 170 baptisms (2.4%)
1751-1800 – sixteen out of 181 baptisms (8.8%)
1801-1850 – six out of 202 baptisms (3.0%)
1851-1900 – seven out of 154 baptisms (4.5%).  

There are no obvious economic or social reasons for an upsurge in illegitimacy in the second half of the eighteenth century, so any particular cause can probably be ruled out.  In some cases, there are no other records of the mother or child in Wickhamford, so some may have come to the village from other locations to get their child baptised.  The mother’s pregnancy may have come about due to a number of possible scenarios – a love affair, an assault, an employer taking advantage of a servant.

A McLaughlin Guide, by Eve McLaughlin (1979), entitled Illegitimacy, is an informative, and amusing, general source of information on this topic. She has a section at the start of the booklet called ‘Some bastards are more equal than others’.  It is a list of public attitudes to different sorts of bastards, in descending order of acceptance:

  1. The child of a couple who intend to marry when possible (or where the man died before the wedding or deserted at the last moment).
  2. The child of a stable relationship where couple cannot (or will not) marry for a valid reason (mad wife, deserting husband, religious scruples).
  3. The children of a rich man’s mistress.
  4. The product of a casual seduction of a young girl.
  5. The children of a poor man’s steady mistress.
  6. The children of a prostitute or promiscuous amateur.
  7. The child of a married woman by another man.
  8. The child of incest.

With regard to the Wickhamford cases, speculation is all that is available, but the incidence statistics are nevertheless intriguing.

Tom Locke – October 2020