Where there’s a will . . .

Mary Slater
 JOURNAL 
 2014 
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

In the 2003 Journal an article entitled ‘Carrs in Langcliffe’ recorded their early history in the village from documentary evidence. A 1697 Court of Chancery pleading in The National Archives has now been found, which throws further light on a part of the story.

There is a datestone over the door at what is now Manor Farm House, Langcliffe. It reads C LI 1678, the initials standing for Leonard and Isabel Carr. Their marriage date, and Leonard’s birth date, have not been found, though the latter is likely to have been shortly after his parents’ marriage in 1637. The house was no doubt built on the site of a previous one; Leonard’s father William was a Newcastle upon Tyne Merchant Adventurer and is recorded as paying for three hearths in the Hearth Tax record of 1672. Leonard had been admitted in 1670, by patrimony, to the same trading association. William died in 1674 and left his estate in Langcliffe to Leonard his elder son, together with his interest in Langcliffe Mill, a turbary, and a new house and shop in Settle which Leonard was then occupying. The new stone house in Langcliffe was built, bearing the 1678 date, a document of 1681 noting it had four hearths. In 1692 Isabel died, her burial on 26 December being recorded in the Giggleswick parish register, where her husband was styled Gentleman.

Nearly three years later, on 10 October 1695 and possibly now aged around 57, Leonard remarried, this time to Martha Steward, a widow of Badsworth near Pontefract. It would be interesting to know how the couple became acquainted. As transpired from the recently discovered document she had been born a Ramsden. There was a large, wealthy and influential family of Ramsdens in that area and across to Huddersfield. She may be the Martha Ramsden, daughter of John Ramsden, alderman, whose baptism on 21 September 1656 was recorded in the Pontefract St Giles and St Mary parish register, and therefore probably aged 39 on remarriage. The union was short-lived however; Leonard died in the following year, being buried at Giggleswick on 11 December 1696. He had written a will three days before. Under the terms of this, Martha, his widow, was to receive £20 within a year of his death, as well as £15 per year during her lifetime, payable by his nephew William Carr to whom all Leonard’s ‘messuages, lands, tenements and hereditaments and appurtenances’ were left. If this £15 were unpaid or in arrears, Martha was to be able to ‘enter unto . the said premises and to take . the yearly profits thereof ‘ until the arrears were paid. The will also listed sixteen legacies to relations, servants and others, to be paid within a year, totalling £93-5s. He also gave his younger brother Thomas (his nephew William’s father) £6 a year during his life. William Carr and James King (of Skellands, Kirkby Malhamdale) were appointed executors, but as William was at this time only a minor of fourteen years old, two Governors for him were also appointed - the above James King and Richard Lawson of Langcliffe.

A week later an inventory of Leonard’s ‘goods, chattels and credits’ was made by four local men. The inventory listed and valued the very basic house contents, and farm items in the barn and stable, together with some goods elsewhere and some linen. These were valued at around £70. In addition there were his clothes and money in his purse, valuation £5, and £249 in debts owing to him - no mention is made of any debts owed by him. One significant entry reads ‘one table reading desk and books in his closet’. In the light of what follows, these may have been account books.

One year later, on 28 December 1697, a Bill of Complaint addressed to the Lord Chancellor at the Court of Chancery, the Right Honorable John Lord Summers, Baron of Evesham, showed that all was not going well with the execution of Leonard’s will. The plaintiffs, or orators, were the young William Carr backed by Richard Lawson and James King, and what they were complaining about was the behaviour of Martha, Leonard’s widow (the defendant) and the difficulty of fulfilling the terms of the will.

The Bill set out the situation from William’s point of view. His story was that his uncle Leonard Carr had possessed a messuage, tenement and lands in Langcliffe yielding about £30 annually. When he was thinking of remarrying, a treaty of marriage (a pre-nuptial agreement in modern terms) was arranged over several meetings, with friends of both parties present. It was agreed that the marriage should go ahead and Leonard would settle £15 a year on Martha in his will if she survived him. Martha on her part had professed to have about £150 of her own money lent out at interest, in particular around £100 ‘in the hands of William Ramsden of Pontefract . Gentleman, her brother, or otherwise let to interest by him in trust for her use’. It was agreed at the treaty meetings that this £100 should be called in and paid to Leonard, or the securities for the money should be put in his name, in order that debts owed by Leonard could be paid. After the marriage, Leonard approached William Ramsden to see about this, and Ramsden did indeed pay over a small part of the interest, and agreed to pay the rest of the capital sum and interest, or change the securities into Leonard’s name, soon afterwards. But then Leonard died, having made the will described above.

The plaintiffs described how Leonard had died very much in debt, and with all the legacies to pay as well, a large part of the Langcliffe property would probably have to be sold, such a sale being barely likely to cover the debts and legacies. Thus the legatees, especially William himself, were likely to lose their legacies. Before he died, Leonard had been assured by Martha that her money in her brother’s hands would be paid to Leonard’s executors so that the terms of his will could be carried out.

However, the plaintiffs now alleged that Martha and her brother Ramsden were conspiring and confederating, with other unknown persons, to keep back the money in Ramsden’s hands, and what is more, were still forcing William Carr to pay Martha her £20 legacy and also the £15 annuity. If it were intended to sell any part of premises to pay Leonard’s debts, and she did not receive her £15, she threatened to ‘enter upon all the said premises’ as outlined in the will, thereby preventing William Carr from disposing of any of it. Moreover, Martha and Ramsden were now saying there never was an agreement to hand over her money to Leonard; that it was secured by bond to Martha - this despite the fact that some interest had been handed over to Leonard, and at Ramsden’s request and in his presence this had been entered in Leonard’s book in his own handwriting. Martha would not take security out of a part of the premises only, but wanted all of it, and she and Ramsden would not hand over any of the money that was with Ramsden. The plaintiffs felt these actions were ‘quite contrary to right equity and good conscience’ and requested relief ‘by your Lordship in this honorable court where matters of this nature, being fraud, oppression, covin (prejudicial collusion) and breach of trust are properly examinable and determinable’.

The matter had come to the Court of Chancery rather than be determined at Common Law because the plaintiffs did not actually know if the securities had been altered to Leonard in his lifetime, nor the precise sums of money involved, ‘few or no witnesses being privy thereto’, such as there were being ‘dead or aged and unfit to travel or gone into remote places unknown to your orator’ and unavailable to testify at any trial. The plaintiffs hoped that the Martha and Ramsden would answer truthfully what was actually set out in the marriage treaty, what sums of money and securities were involved, what and when was any payment made to Leonard and what witnesses there were; furthermore, that they would be compelled to make the various payments due and Martha be made to take security for her annuity out of a part only of the premises, leaving the rest to provide income to pay off the remainder of the debts and legacies. The Lord Chancellor was therefore requested to issue a subpoena to Martha Carr, William Ramsden and any other confederates if found, to appear before him in court and answer the questions and abide by whatever order and direction he might make.

The Bill of Complaint is today held in The National Archives, and is marked Bill Only, with no other following documents to be found. Perhaps these are lost, or more likely the case was settled before further action was taken. If I were the Lord Chancellor I would ask where now was Leonard’s account book in which the interest paid back to him was allegedly noted! In any case, Thomas, William’s father and the intended recipient of the £6 annuity, died in 1699, as did Richard Lawson, one of William’s Governors. What more is known is that William Carr, after coming of age, married Grace Claphamson and must still have continued in Langcliffe, making a trust settlement in 1718 to secure the continued use of the premises for his descendants, provision being made for a division of the house and land to accommodate Grace should she be eventually widowed. Other disposals of property took place thereafter, one such transaction in 1724 stating the sale was for the benefit of creditors, evidence that he was probably in financial trouble. The mill was sold in 1728, and eventually in 1747 a document refers to a messuage and tenement and other lands in Langcliffe as being where William Carr formerly lived. It appears he died and was buried in Mitton in 1766 where one of his sons was the vicar, having outlived Grace by about ten years.

Sources of information

  • Slater, Michael J., 2003. Carrs in Langcliffe (and Sources of Information thereto).North Craven Heritage Trust Journal, available on the NCHT website
  • The National Archives. C5/152/54
  • Ancestry.co.uk. West Yorkshire Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1512-1812
  • West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield. QS1/20/8/8/13

doc.jpg
To the Right Honourable John Lord Summers Baron of Evesham . . .
suppliants William Carr of Langcliffe . . .
. . . Leonard Carr late of Langcliffe . . .
© The National Archives. Used with permission.



doc.jpg
To the Right Honourable John Lord Summers Baron of Evesham . . .
suppliants William Carr of Langcliffe . . .
. . . Leonard Carr late of Langcliffe . . .
© The National Archives. Used with permission.