Some thoughts on the will of John Champain (died 1756)

What can we learn from the last will and testament of John Champain, the London citizen and wine cooper who died in 1756, and what light, if any, can it throw on the lives of his daughter Ann, her husband Richard Collins – and their sister-in-law, my 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth Gibson?

John Champain made his will in 1750, six years before his death. By this time, his son James Champain had been married to his first wife Hannah for six years and they had three young children. John’s other surviving child, his daughter Ann Champain, had been married to Richard Collins of Epping for three years. As for John himself, we learn that he is definitely ‘late’ of Thames Street, London, and now very firmly of Epping Long Green. This suggests that John might already have passed the family business on to his son James, who we know was living in London and working as a wine merchant. We can also assume, from the fact that she is not mentioned in the will, that John’s second wife Sarah Stumphousen, whom he married in 1735, had died by the time he made his will.

The most frustrating thing about John Champain’s will is that its main business appears to have been conducted elsewhere. We learn that John has already ‘fully advanced’ his daughter Ann (was this the marriage settlement of £1200 made in 1747, or does it refer to some other payment or legacy?), and at the same time his will gives no details of the remaining ‘Estates and Effects’ bequeathed to his son James. We know from his own will of 1781 that James Champain owned property in Essex, presumably inherited from his father, but that document is equally lacking in details.

Passmores House in 1974

Passmores House in 1974

Did John Champain’s bequest to his daughter Ann include Passmores, the country house in Great Parndon where Richard and Ann Collins would be living in the year after his death? (Great Parndon or Parringdon is about six miles north of Epping, and now part of the new town of Harlow.) We know that the couple had two children: a son, Champain Collins, and a daughter Ann. As yet I haven’t been able to find any evidence of the former’s birth, but some time ago I came across a reference to Ann’s baptism, on 26th April 1757, in the parish records of Great Parndon church. According to the register, Ann was the daughter of Richard and Ann Collins of Passmores.

We know that Passmores was still in the family in 1771 when, according to one source, ‘Mrs Collins of Epping’ held the manor (Ann had been widowed in the previous year.) The same source states that from 1775 Passmores was owned or occupied by ‘Mr. Collins.’ I believe that this was Richard and Ann’s son Champain, who is named as owner of the property, and ‘son and heir of Richard Collins’, in a document of 1778 concerning the assignment of a mortgage in relation to the ‘Manor of Passmores and capital messuage called Passmores and land in Great Parndon’, and a similar document concerning a mortgage of £1500. These documents concerned the transfer of the property to Francis Bayley, whose family was still living there in the 1850s.

Passmores certainly wasn’t among the properties left to Richard by his father Richard Collins senior. The latter did leave some land in Great Parndon to his second son John, and it crossed my mind that these might have passed to Richard, perhaps in the wake of family disapproval of John’s clandestine marriage in 1753 to my ancestor Elizabeth Gibson. However, the name of the property left by his father to John Collins was Deacons, and it is described as being at Stivyers (or Sivers or Chivers) Green, on the borders of Epping and Great Parndon, and thus encompassing land in both parishes. Once again, there is no mention of Passmores. Nor can the property have been inherited from Richard’s maiden aunt Elizabeth Collins, since she would not died until 1761; and anyway, she doesn’t mention Richard in her will.

Passmores and Epping Long Green are visible on this early 19th century map

Passmores and Epping Long Green are visible on this early 19th century map

Since Richard and Ann Collins were living at Passmores in 1757, the year after the death of John Champain, it’s certainly possible that Ann inherited the property as part of the legacy to which her father refers with such frustrating brevity in his will. Another possibility is that Richard Collins bought Passmores at some point. The only reference I’ve found to its earlier ownership is in a document of 1723 which names the owner at that date as Mr John Ellis ‘who holds it in the right of his wife’.

John Champain’s instructions for his burial are as oblique as his bequests to his children:

I desire to be buried according to such directions as I shall leave in writing for that purpose but in case I leave no such directions then I desire my Funeral may be decent and private at the discretion of my Executor. 

However, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I discovered a record of John’s burial in the parish registers, not of Epping or Great Parnford as one would expect, but of St Peter’s, South Weald, some eighteen miles away. On 4th April 1756, ‘John Champaigne Gentleman of Tower Street London’ was buried in the churchyard there. The reason for this choice of location remains shrouded in mystery, but the record caught my eye because, seven years later, my 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth Collins née Gibson, now a widow, was married for a second time – to Joseph Holdsworth, originally from Yorkshire but now a yeoman farmer in South Weald, the village where they would live for the next thirty years or so and where their seven children would be born.

Parish church of St Peter, South Weald (via photoanswers.co.uk)

Parish church of St Peter, South Weald (via photoanswers.co.uk)

We know that Richard and Ann Collins would be living in Shenfield, just two or three miles from South Weald, by the time Richard made his will in 1763 (the year of Elizabeth Collins’ marriage to Joseph Holdsworth); he would died seven years later in 1770. Perhaps John Champain, although officially resident at Epping Long Green, also owned property in South Weald, thus explaining his attachment to that parish? And perhaps he bequeathed that property to his daughter Ann, thus explaining how she and her husband Richard came to be living nearby seven years after his death?

I’ve yet to transcribe the last will and testament of Richard Collins, which might throw some light on some of these questions. I’ll share my transcription in another post.

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