What can we learn from the will of Thomas Ellis?

In my last post I included a transcription of the will of Thomas Ellis (1780 – 1838) of Richmond Street, Soho. In this post, I’ll summarise the new information provided by the discovery of this document.

The first revelation is that Thomas was a man of property and presumably of some wealth. I’m still not exactly sure what you had to do to merit the epithet ‘gentleman’ in the Georgian / early Victorian era. Presumably it denoted an independent source of income (though I’d be happy to be corrected on this). All the other records that we have for Thomas, as for his son Richard, describe him as either a carpenter or a builder, but until now we had no idea of the extent of his business or of his social status. However, from his will we learn that Thomas not only had two properties in Richmond Street (numbers 2 and 3) but also another in neighbouring Princes Street (now Wardour Street). Since the latter was occupied by an upholsterer, we can assume it was (perhaps like the Richmond Street houses) both a shop  / workshop and a family home. In addition, we also learn that Thomas was able to afford the services of a housekeeper, one Sarah Jennings.

A Georgian gentleman and his family

The other new information concerns Thomas Ellis’ family. We already knew a fair amount about his son Richard (born in 1814) , and I recently confirmed that Thomas and his wife Sarah had three daughters: Sarah (born in 1808), who married shoemaker Richard Metcalf; Mary Ann (born in 1817), who married Whitechapel stationer John Blacklock; and Susanna (born in 1819). Thomas’ will makes no mention of his wife Sarah, confirming the fact of her death (which occurred in 1826), or of his daughter Susanna, leading me to believe that she too had died by the time it was written.

However, the will introduces us to three sons of whom we were not previously aware. The other executor of the will besides Richard is his brother Charles: the fact that his name always comes first leads me to suppose he was the elder of the two. The fact that another son, Edward, is not named as an executor suggests he was not old enough to fulfil this role: perhaps he was still legally a minor.  We also learn about Thomas’ eldest son, another Thomas: rather, we read that provision is to be made for his children, from which we can assume that Thomas junior had died by the time the will was written in 1836.

St Anne's church, Soho (close to Richmond Street and Princes Street)

Unfortunately, I have so far been unable to find any definite information about Thomas junior (who obviously left a wife and children), or about Charles or Edward. If Thomas was the eldest son, then he would have been born before Richard – i.e. before 1814 – but after his parents’ marriage in 1803. If he had time to marry and have children before his death, I reckon he must have been born some time in the first decade of the century. If Edward was still a minor in 1836, he might have been born in the early 1820s. As before, the absence of records for Richmond Street in the 1841 census makes research more difficult: it’s possible that the two properties were large enough to house a number of the Ellis siblings with their families. As it is, we only have the records for 1851, by which time only Richard’s family, and Sarah’s son Richard Metcalf, are living there.

More generally, however, this will extends our knowledge of our ancestors’ lives, placing them in a network of relationships that includes John Jones, carpenter, and James Dixon, both of Denmark Street, and Charles Fancutt of Long Acre (who some records suggest might have been a watchmaker), as well as placing them in a broader and richer social and historical context.

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