Inventories in the Probate Records of the Diocese of Durham


7. Names, residences and status

The name of the deceased is usually given just as 'John Smith' and 'Jane Smith', 'Mr.' or 'Mistress' or 'Sir' being rarely written before the name; an inserted 'Mr.', before Cuthbert Bainbridge's name in 1692, indicates that he was held in respect.28 The status or occupation of the deceased thus is given usually after the name or after the abode.
Women's names pose certain problems. There can be various reasons, besides the nefarious, for the occasional variations in their surnames. Probate documents need to make clear exactly which person is concerned, and therefore cite more than one surname, if the woman had been so known for any memorable length of time. If a woman died as a wife, any alias given is most likely to be her maiden name, but of course she could have been widowed during an earlier marriage. If she was given an alias while dying a widow, then that could signify that she was widowed twice. Again a widow may have returned to using her maiden name and give her married one as an alias. Sometimes a woman may appear named as her husband's widow on an inventory but with an alias on a bond of near date, signifying rapid remarriage.29 The other probate documents accompanying the inventory will often elucidate the circumstances. One must also be prepared for the Scottish custom of referring to a wife by her maiden name only, for example, Jane Lang wife of John Thompson.
The place of residence of the deceased person can vary greatly in its exactitude. Sometimes it is omitted altogether, or appears in such unhelpful forms as 'of Cow Close in the Diocese of Durham'. Usually the relevant parish or town is given, though occasionally it figures only in the endorsement on the inventory by the clerk in the office of the Consistory Court. If this endorsement were made when the exhibitors were present to confirm it, then it should be accurate; if added later, when the inventory was folded and filed, then it is probably less reliable.
Some of the Durham Probate inventories relate to property in the diocese of Durham, and left by people who were not residents of the diocese. Thus Theophilus Anderton lived in Ipswich, Suffolk, but his sister Martha Anderton of Plessey, Stannington parish, Northumberland presented his inventory in 1691 comprising only a debt upon a bond, which she held, due from Mr. Thomas Algood of Hexham. As Hexham was a peculiar of York diocese Miss Anderton may perhaps have sent the inventory there, since according to law, if property were owned in more than one diocese in a Province, then the estate was dealt with at the Consistory Court of the Province, be it Canterbury or York. If property were owned in both Provinces then the matter went to Canterbury. In this Anderton case, the involvement of both Northumberland and Suffolk would suggest that the matter belonged properly to Canterbury. However anomalies abound. For convenience Durham was often used to prove wills which properly should have been handled elsewhere, as with the will and inventory in 1634 of John Newton of Manfield proved in Durham; he resided near Coniscliffe in County Durham, but lived on the Yorkshire side of the river Tees in the Archdeaconry of Richmond, outside Durham diocese.30
The occupation or position of the deceased, tells of their standing in their neighbours' eyes. Comparison between status or occupation, as given (a) by neighours in the inventory and (b) as endorsed by the Consistory Court clerk, can be illuminating in their promotions, demotions or concurrence. Thus in 1642 David Lee terms himself a 'yeoman' in his will, but the inventory describes him as a 'labourer'; perhaps financial troubles became apparent between the two documents.31 Tudor inventories often give status rather than occupation.
In Durham City where the trade guilds were prominent, men tended readily to use such occupational descriptions as 'butcher', 'tanner', 'saddler', whereas in Berwick upon Tweed the city fathers terms themselves 'burgesses' - their actual occupations (as with their equivalent in Morpeth) can be found from the contents of the inventories.
If the occupation given is butcher, tanner or one of those familiar jobs for which one expects to find a guild or company in the local town, that occupation may not be what it seems. The guilds had their political affiliations, and men might be admitted to a guild as a freeman on the eve of an election in order to swing a vote, their actual means of livelihood not being a criterion. This practice was established in County Durham by 1700 and a particularly bad case occurred in the Durham City election of 1761, which led to preventative legislation.32 By the eighteenth century, outside London, the local guilds had often become clubs similar to the gentlemen's political clubs of the capital. Knowing a man's club or guild might thus tell more about him than the way he earned his living. A good example is provided by John Bailey who died in Durham in 1692. The heading of his inventory claims that he was a saddler, yet his inventory shows that he was a draper, selling cloth and haberdashery; among the thimbles, lace and tape is ls.6d. worth of girth webbing, the only item appropriate to a saddler. In late seventeenth-century Durham the saddlers and upholsterers formed one guild and the drapers and tailors were another. To claim that Bailey was a saddler in Durham City put him in a category his contemporaries understood, but which, without his inventory, would be misunderstood by later readers.33

8. Women and inventories

Women's inventories differ little from those of men. The few married women's inventories made relate to items held for them separately through a trust set up at marriage, or perhaps as a legacy, as the Married Women's Property Act was not passed till 1870. There are full inventories for unmarried women and for widows, many of whom carried on in business after their husband's deaths, in either existing or new ventures. Women also occur as debtors or creditors in other businessmen's inventories.
Women as official appraisers are rare, although no doubt their opinions are incorporated. Appraisers could both be women, as with Richard Addison in 1690 or a woman alone, as with Theophilus Anderton in 1691. Countless executrices were sworn to exhibit inventories and many women stood surety. When Nicholas Shuttleworth died in 1705, both the bondsmen standing surety for his executrix were women, in two bonds, each for the large amount of 1,000. In 1691 unusually Ellener Humble supervised her own inventory-making before her death; her will reads 'I leave ... out of this prasement one ... bed.'34


28 DPR, 1692, Cuthbert Bainbridge, inventory.
29 DPR, 1669, Barbara Young or Dowfoot, wife of William Young, debt list.
DPR, 1675, Mary Cowling or Allanson, widow, inventory and bond 436.
DPR, 1677, Elizabeth Finley or Hutchinson or Baxter, wife of Robert Finley, inventory and bond 79.
DPR, 1686, Rebecca Lamb or Todd, wife of Thomas Todd, inventory and bond 275.
DPR, 1790, Phillis Stevenson Spain or Campbell, widow, will and affidavit.
30 DPR, 1691, Theophilus Anderton, inventory, commission and bond 35.
DPR, 1634, John Newton, will and inventory.
31 DPR, 1642, David Lee, will, inventory and bond 104.
32 ASC Baker Baker papers, Box 11. Durham City election 1761.
33 DPR, 1692, John Bailey, inventory and bond 163.
34 DPR, 1690, Richard Addison, inventory and bond 235.
DPR, 1691, Theophilus Anderton, inventory, commission and bond 35.
DPR, 1705, Nicholas Shuttleworth, bonds T 141-2.
DPR, 1691, Ellener Humble, will, inventory and bond 125
< Previous page Previous page Next page Next page >