18th Century Family Values and Legacy

A Testament to Diligence and Prudence

In the quiet parish of West Newton, nestled between the quaint villages of Appleton and Sandringham, the testament of William Bell, a farmer of considerable repute, was proven on May 12th, 1748. This document, penned with the careful hand of a man cognizant of his mortality, offers a fascinating insight into the social norms and familial expectations of the 18th century.

The Elder Bell’s Wise Decree

William Bell, the offspring of Thomas Bell and Elizabeth Paine, left an indelible mark on his family through his will, written on January 9th, 1747. In this will, William Bell made a curious stipulation for his progeny: a bequest of five shillings apiece, to be received on the day of his interment, and critically, “no other sum of money or advantage” from his estate.

A Symbolic Gesture

The five-shilling legacy may seem modest at a glance, but it represents more than mere coin; it is a symbol of a paternal blessing, a final token of remembrance, and perhaps, a testament to a philosophy of self-reliance that William wished to instill in his descendants.

The Eldest Son and Executor

Thomas Bell, designated as the executor and the testator’s eldest son, was entrusted with the solemn duty of ensuring his father’s will was executed to the letter. This role, fraught with responsibility, would have been seen as a badge of honor, cementing Thomas’s position within the family hierarchy.

Reflections on Inheritance and Legacy

The stipulation within William Bell’s will invites contemplation on the customs of inheritance of the time. The specific bequests and prohibitions against further claims suggest a desire to prevent familial discord or to encourage his children to forge their own paths without reliance on a significant inheritance.

THE ELDER BROTHER’S Heritage of Trust and Stewardship

In his father’s will, Thomas Bell, born on October 7th, 1711, and brother to William Bell, was given a considerable responsibility along with the tangible assets of the family. Thomas inherited the full extent of his father’s stock, marking him as the principal heir. But it was not just the livestock or the remaining lease of the family farm that came into his stewardship; Thomas was also entrusted with all household goods and the entirety of the personal estate—a weighty endowment by any measure.

More precious than any material good was the duty bestowed upon Thomas to care for his sister, Ann Bell. Thomas Senior’s will explicitly charged Thomas with the task of “providing for and assisting her in the world as her merit and behaviour shall deserve” This clause speaks volumes about the social norms of the time, reflecting the patriarchal structure where women’s welfare often rested in the hands of male relatives.

Adding to his inheritance, Thomas received the copyhold messuage (Copyhold: Copyhold tenure was a form of customary tenure of land within manorial systems, particularly prevalent in England. The term “copyhold” refers to the fact that the title to the property was recorded in the manor court’s rolls, and the tenant (or copyholder) held a copy of the court roll as proof of title. Copyhold tenure was abolished in 1922 by the Law of Property Act 1922. Messuage: A messuage is a legal term for a dwelling-house and also typically included outbuildings, orchard, curtilage or court-yard and garden. In the context of a copyhold, a messuage would have been the main house or dwelling place of the tenant, along with its outbuildings and adjacent land, as recorded in the manorial rolls.) or tenement at Hatcham.

This property, secured not only for Thomas but for his heirs “for ever,” was a testament to the permanence and stability that Thomas  Senior desired for his lineage.

Honouring the Bell Legacy Today

As we explore the history of William Bell, we are reminded that the narratives of our ancestors are not just tales of dates and bequests but are rich with lessons and values that transcend time. William’s decision to limit his children’s inheritance to a symbolic amount speaks volumes about his character and the ethos of the period.

*In this article, we’ve touched upon the life and final wishes of William Bell, a man whose legacy extends beyond material wealth. His testament is a window into the past, a snapshot of the values held by a father, a farmer, and a figure of his community in the 18th century. Let us honour his memory by reflecting on the virtues of independence and prudence that he so valued.*