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Dear Reader #106

Dear Reader,

Where there’s a will there’s a murder, and my 12 x great grandfather Thomas Brereton (born 1555) was implicated 😱 The case reached the Star Chamber, who produced a report covering 106 large sheets of parchment. Was Thomas innocent or guilty? More research required…

My latest translation, the Portuguese version of A Parcel of Rogues.

My 7 x great grandfather Sandford Brereton was a Norwegian rug maker in Cheshire in the 1730s. Here’s a design from that period. I shall endeavour to discover how he became involved in that trade.

A scene familiar to my London ancestors, London Bridge looking north to south, 1890.

Many of my Welsh ancestors were agricultural labourers. A local view, taken today, and an image they would be familiar with.

The Dent branch of my family dates back to Sir Roger Dent, born in 1438, a Sheriff of Newcastle in the north-east of England. The line continued through his son, also Sir Roger and a Sheriff of Newcastle, to Robert, William, James and Peter until we arrive in the seventeenth century with the birth of my 12 x great grandfather the Rev Peter James Dent.

Peter was born in 1600 in Ormesby, Yorkshire. In 1624, he married Margaret Nicholson the daughter of the Rev John Nicholson of Hutton Cranswick in the East Riding of Yorkshire. Margaret was baptised on 8 March 1602 at Horton in Ribblesdale, Yorkshire.

The couple had five children:

William, my direct ancestor, born 1627

Peter, born 1629

Thomas, born 1631

George, born 1633

Stephen, born 1635

Dorothy, born 1637

In 1659, Thomas emigrated to Maryland with his cousin John Dent and his nephew Nicholas Proddy.

The Rev Peter James Dent was a Professor of Natural Sciences at Cambridge University and practiced medicine as an apothecary.

An apothecary. Image: Science Museum.

In addition to dispensing herbs and medicines, an apothecary offered general medical advice and a range of services that nowadays are performed by specialist practitioners. They prepared and sold medicines, often with the help of wives and family members. In the seventeenth century, they also controlled the distribution of tobacco, which was imported as a medicine.

Medicinal recipes included herbs, minerals and animal fats that were ingested, made into paste for external use, or used as aromatherapy. Some of the concoctions are similar to the natural remedies we use today. 

Along with chamomile, fennel, mint, garlic and witch hazel, which are still deemed acceptable, apothecaries used urine, fecal matter, earwax, human fat and saliva, ingredients discredited by modern science.

Experimentation was the name of the game. Detailed knowledge of chemistry and chemical properties was sketchy, but if something worked, such as drinking coffee to cure a headache, it became the elixir of the day.

A page from the Voynich Manuscript a book, possibly, used by apothecaries.

Peter left a Will, which I include here in his own words, for they offer a great insight into his life and times.

In the name of the Lord God my heavenly father and of Jesus Christ my sweet Saviour and Redeemer, Amen.

I, Peter Dent of Gisbrough in the County of York, apothecary, being in health and perfect memory, blessed be the name of God, doe make this my last will and testament the ffifth day of August one thousand six hundred seventy and one, hereby revokeing and making void all wills by me formerly made.

Ffirst, I give and bequeath my soule into the hands of the Allmighty, my blessed and heavenly Creator and Maker, fullly believing to be saved by faith in his mercy throught the meritts of Jesus Christ my alone redeemer and Saviour, my advocate, my all in all.

Item, I bequeath my body to the earth whereof it was made and the same to be buried in the parish of Gisburne aforesaid at the discrecon of my wife and friends.

Item, my will is first that my debts be paid and discharged out of my estate which being done, I give and bequeath unto my sonne Wm Dent all the estate and interest that I have in the dwelling house in Gisbrough aforesaid, wherein he, the said Wm Dent doth now inhabitt, he paying the rent and taxes lyable for the same.

Item, I give and bequeath to my wife, my house & garden and backside, which is in northoutgate called northoutgate house and garden, as alsoe the shep and stock in itt under the tollbooth and the two closes called the Turmyres and which I hold under Edward Chaloner of Gisbrough, Esq.

Item, I give and bequeath to my sonne Peter Dent halfe of all my goods belonging to my Apotheray trade or the value of them, with all the instrunts and other things belonging to itt, my debt books, all other my bookes, one great morter excepted.

Item, I give to my said sonne Will’m Dent the somme of ten pounds.

Item, I give to my sonne Thomas Dent tenn pounds.

Item, I give to my sonne George Dent the sume of tenn pouonds.

Item, I give to my sonne in law Oliver Prody my great brasse morter now in his shop as alsoe the summe of tenn pounds.

Item, I give to my daughter Dorothy Prody, wife of the said Oliver Prody, the summe of ten pounds and thirteen shilllings and foure pence to buy her a mourning ring.

Item, I give to each of my grandchildren which shall be living at my death tenn shillings as a token of my fatherly blessing upon them.

Item, I give to my daughters in law every one of them a mourneing ring about thirteene shillings foure pence a piece.

Item, I give to the poore of Ormsby five shillings.

Item, I give to Sarah & Abigail Nicholson, James Paul & Elizabeth Dugleby, each of them five shillings.

Item, I give to my sister Eliz. Prody 10s, to Kath Clark & Jane Con each of them 5s & to Eliz & Jane Prody 5s a piece.

Item, I give to (Christ)inna Dent, daughter of my brother Geo Dent, dec’ed, the sume of 10s.

Item, all the rest of my goods, moveable and unmoveable, I give & bequeath to my wife & desire her to discharge my funerall charges & expences not exceeding, but in a decent maner. And I give to the poore of Gisbrough ten pounds to be disposed as she shall think fitt.

Item, I do make my wife Margret Dent sole Executrix of this my last will and testa’nt & desireing her that my daughter Dorothy Proddy if living at my death may have after her mothers death the Northoutgate house and garden and all that belongings to it, except a lodging to my sonne George Dent in the said house dureing his batchlourship onely.

Item, I desire, nominate and appoint my cozen Thomas Proddy and my cozen Thomas Spencer to be sup’visors of this my last will and to each of them I give tenn shillings.

In witness whereof I have here unto sett my hand and seale the day and yeare above written.

Peter Dent

Sealed and published in the p(re)sence of

Ger. Ffox

Ja Wylnne

5 Oct 1671 – probate issued

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #101

Dear Reader,

My latest translation in Portuguese, The Olive Tree: Roots. A Spanish Civil War Saga. Available soon 🙂

Many of my London ancestors came from Lambeth. This is the Thames foreshore at Lambeth, c1866, a photograph by William Strudwick, one of a series showing images of working class London.

My article about SOE heroine Eileen Nearne appears on page 36 of this month’s Seaside News.

Mapping my ancestors over the past thousand years.

Map One: Twentieth Century.

My twentieth century ancestors lived in Glamorgan, London and Lancashire. My Glamorgan ancestors were born there while some of my London ancestors were evacuated to Lancashire during the Second World War where they remained for the rest of their lives.

Map Two: 1850 – 1900

Three new counties appear on this map: Carmarthenshire, Gloucestershire and Yorkshire. Yorkshire is represented by a sailor who lived in Canada for a while before settling in London. My Gloucestershire ancestors moved to London because they had family there, and no doubt they were looking for better employment opportunities. My Carmarthenshire ancestors moved to Glamorgan to work on the land, on the newly developing railway lines, and in the burgeoning coal mines. Some branches emigrated to Patagonia, but my direct ancestors remained in Glamorgan.

Published this weekend, Stormy Weather, book eighteen in my Sam Smith Mystery Series. My intention was to write one book, but I’m delighted that Sam convinced me to develop her story into a series 🙂

My 2 x great grandmother Jane Dent was baptised on 9 October 1870. The eldest daughter of Richard Davis Dent and Sarah Ann Cottrell, she lived in Whitechapel during the terror of Jack the Ripper.

The police investigated eleven brutal murders in Whitechapel and Spitalfields between 1888 and 1891. Subsequently, five of those murders were attributed to Jack the Ripper, those of Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly, the murders taking place between 31 August and 9 November 1888.

The murders attracted widespread newspaper coverage and were obviously the major talking point within the Whitechapel community. What did that community look like and where did my ancestor, Jane Dent fit in?

Members of the public on the streets of Whitechapel, London, circa 1890.

By the 1840s, Whitechapel had evolved into the classic image of Dickensian London beset with problems of poverty and overcrowding as people moved into the city from the countryside, mingling with an influx of immigrants. In 1884, actor Jacob Adler wrote, “The further we penetrated into this Whitechapel, the more our hearts sank. Was this London? Never in Russia, never later in the worst slums of New York, were we to see such poverty as in the London of the 1880s.”

In October 1888, Whitechapel contained an estimated six-two brothels and 1,200 prostitutes. However, the suggestion that all the Ripper’s victims were prostitutes is a myth. At least three of them were homeless alcoholics. The common thread they shared was they had fallen on hard times.

Jane’s father, Richard Davis Dent, died in 1883 when she was twelve so Jane lived in Whitechapel with her mother, Sarah Ann, and younger brothers and sisters, Thomas, Arthur, Eliza, Robert and Mary. The 1881 census listed Jane as a scholar, and it’s likely that she became a domestic servant after her schooling.

Charles Booth’s poverty map of Whitechapel. The red areas are affluent while the black areas indicate criminals and extreme poverty.

The Dent family lived in Urban Place. Their neighbours included a toy maker, a tobacco pipe maker, a French polisher, a vellum blind maker and a cabinet maker. These people were skilled artisans, so it wasn’t the roughest of neighbourhoods. Nevertheless, did Jane and her family discuss Jack the Ripper and his latest atrocities over the dining table? Almost certainly they did, and mothers throughout the generations have echoed Sarah Ann’s warnings to her daughters.

Did Jane meet Jack the Ripper, socially, at work or in the street? Possibly. Did she have a suspect in mind? Her thoughts were not recorded so we will never know. Did she modify her behaviour and avoid Whitechapel’s network of dark and dangerous allies? It is to be hoped that she did.

Although there are numerous suspects, from butchers to members of the royal family, it’s unlikely that we will ever discover Jack the Ripper’s true identity. The police at the time were led in the main by retired army officers, and were not the brightest detectives. Forensic science was basically unknown, so evidence gathering was limited. Nevertheless, the police’s failure to identify Jack the Ripper does raise some serious questions. 

‘Blind Man’s Bluff’. A Punch cartoon by John Tenniel, 22 September 1888, criticising the police investigation.

Was there a cover-up? It’s likely that members of the royal family did visit prostitutes – this is a common theme over many centuries – and the government would have issued instructions to the police to cover-up any royal association with prostitutes for fear of a public backlash and revolution, which was rife in parts of Europe. Any royal cover-up would have hampered the investigation, but ultimately Jack the Ripper evaded arrest because the Victorian police force did not have the skills required to solve complex murders.

By 1891, the Whitechapel murders had ceased and Jane had married William Richard Stokes, a cabinet maker. The couple moved to Gee Street, in the St Luke’s district of London where they raised a family of nine children, including my direct ancestor, Arthur Stokes, and Robert Stokes who died on 26 June 1916 at Hébuterne, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France during the First World War.

Jane Dent survived the terror of Jack the Ripper, but memories of his murders must have remained with her for the rest of her life. After all, she was only eighteen years old, an impressionable age in any era. She died on 6 June 1950 in the London suburb of Walthamstow.

As for Jack, I suspect that either he took his own life in November 1888 or, unknown as the Ripper, he entered an asylum at that time, and remained there for the rest of his life. Jack the Ripper was a compulsive murderer. He didn’t stop killing, something stopped him.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

Bestselling psychological and historical mysteries from £0.99. Paperbacks, brand new in mint condition 🙂
https://hannah-howe.com/store/

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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #98

Dear Reader,

Through Joyce Alneto and Robert Mansell I have traced my family tree back to Alfred the Great, he who burned the cakes. At least I now know where my gene for burning the family dinner comes from 😄

Currently in production and available soon, Operation Broadsword the third audiobook in my Eve’s War Heroines of SOE Series, all narrated by Paula Branch.

America, 1930s. Not a competition for ‘Miss Ku Klux Klan’, but contestants for a ‘Miss Lovely Eyes’ pageant.

Horse-drawn and motorised traffic at the junction of Holborn and Kingsway in London, 1912. My 2 x great grandfather Albert Charles Bick was a car man, a person who drove a horse and cart in this area during this period. Albert transported coal and pipes.

A colourised version of the same picture.

Continuing the story of the Preston branch of my family.

Sir Richard had a son, Sir Richard, whose son Sir John also served in Edward III’s parliament. Sir John was the last of the Prestons to hold Preston Richard and Preston Patrick. Sir John’s daughter, Margaret, married Alan Pennington and he inherited Preston Richard.

Sir John’s son, Sir John, was a judge at the Court of Common Pleas under Henry IV and Henry V. Sir John retired in 1427 due to old age.

The Court of Common Pleas was a common law court in the English legal system that dealt with actions between individuals, actions that did not concern the king. Created at the end of the 12th century, the Court of Common Pleas remained as a mainstay of the legal system for around 600 years. 

Sir John had three children: John, who became a priest; Richard, my direct ancestor; and a daughter who married Thomas de Ros. The de Ros’ feature on another branch of my family tree and they produced Catherine Parr, wife of Henry VIII.

The Court of Common Pleas

Richard Preston married Jacobina Middleton, daughter of John Middleton of Middleton Hall. He added the manor of Under Levins Hall to the family estate and the couple produced my direct ancestor, Thomas.

Thomas married Miss Redmayne, adding Twistleton to the family estate. They produced a son, John, who also married into the Redmayne family. John married Margaret, daughter of Richard, of Harewood Castle and Over Levins Hall.

John and Margaret’s son, Sir Thomas, married Ann Thornburgh, daughter of William Thornburgh, of Hampsfield in Lancashire. Through the Musgrave, FitzWilliam, Plantagenet and de Warren families, Ann’s branch leads to William the Conqueror. Many noble families intermarried so I have several branches that lead to William the Conqueror.

Sir Thomas further enriched the family estate by adding Furness Abbey and Holker Park in Lancashire. Furness Abbey was the second richest Cistercian abbey in England, after Fountains Abbey.

Sir Thomas acquired Furness Abbey thanks to Henry VIII and his dissolution of the monasteries. Sir Thomas’ estates generated an income of £3,000 a year, approximately £2 million a year in today’s money.

Furness Abbey, c1895.

Sir Thomas had three sons and six daughters, including my direct ancestor, Christopher who founded the powerful Preston branch at Holker Hall. The line of Ellen, Christopher’s sister, led to William Morley who discovered the Gunpowder Plot in 1605.

Christopher married three times: Miss Pickering, Margaret Southworth and Anne Jepson. The union with Margaret Southworth produced my direct ancestor, John Preston of Holker Hall. Christopher had a further son and two daughters, and died on 27 May 1594. 

Holker Hall

John Preston married Mabel Benson, daughter of William Benson Esq of Hughill. This marriage brought part of the Preston Richard manor back into the Preston family’s hands. John’s successor and only child was George Preston, my direct ancestor. John died three years after his father, on 11 September 1597, aged 48.

George Preston was a great benefactor of the stately church at Cartmel, Lancashire where the remains of his grandfather, Christopher, and of his father, John, lay buried. He also supported the poor people of Cartmel by arranging apprenticeships. Furthermore, he established a foundation for scholars so that they could attend St John’s College, Oxford.

George died on 5 April 1640, and was buried at Cartmel. His marriage to Margaret Strickland, daughter of Sir Thomas Strickland of Sizergh Castle, Westmoreland, produced my direct ancestor, Elizabeth. Elizabeth married John Sayer, uniting the Preston and Sayer branches of my family.

Memorial to the Preston family, Cartmel Priory

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx