Joseph CHRISTOPHER was the first person with the surname of Christopher to live in the rural parish of Cheselbourne. He was the son of Humphrey CHRISTOPHER (1665-1724/5) and baptised at Hazelbury Bryan on 12th March 1702/3. His ancestry has been traced back another three generations and can be accessed via the link provided. Surprisingly we know of his arrival in Cheselbourne not from the 374 records that we have located in the parish bearing the Christopher surname, but from his marriage in nearby Hilton to Joan HOOPER on the 16th July 1728 where he gives his home parish as Cheselbourne. The death of his father Humphrey Christopher at the age of 59 at Hazelbury Bryan on 9th January 1724/5 meant that his surviving sons had to find more lucrative work, probably because the landlord would have sought a new tenant capable of paying the rent. The largest traditional hiring fair for the region sat at Dorchester 10 miles south of Hazelbury Bryan (easy walking distance by standards of the day) so it's not surprising to find his younger brother Charles settled at Fordington prior to his marriage there in 1727 and Joseph in Cheselbourne half way between the two.
The HOOPER family had lived in Hilton for generations appearing in the earliest registers starting in 1603/4. The Protestation returns for 1641/2 for example show 3 families of that name living in the parish. They are mainly recorded as being at the tiny hamlet of 'Ansty' just over a mile west of Hilton and three miles north of Cheselbourne. Although we have Joan Hooper's baptism at Hilton on 7th March 1704/5, annoyingly the parish clerk chose not to record the parentage of many of the baptisms that took place at this time. Looking at the sequence of births however its seems likely that she was the 6th child of John HOOPER junior of 'Ansty' (1). The important point however is that she had an extensive family of support in the parish.
Following her marriage at the age of 24 in All Saints church (shown above) on 16th July 1728, Joan gave birth to a son they named Simon CHRISTOPHER. Even if she had moved on marriage to her husbands parish it was traditional for the wife to return to her home parish for the birth of her first child where she had the support of her mother. As expected therefore Simon was baptised at Hilton on 13th Dec 1730 and I give a short account of his life below.
After the death of his first wife and son Simon found work at 'Worgret' which lies just west of, and on the outskirts of, the market town of Wareham. When he remarried in 1770 he gave 'Worgret' as his place of residence so he is likely to have moved there in 1769 the year after the death of his first family. In 1770 the only building of consequence at 'Worgret' was the Manor House, so I assume that Simon was working as a labourer in the extensive grounds owned by the manor. It still exists today and is still surrounded by the fields in which he would have been working. In 1770 Simon remarried to Elizabeth VALENCE(1742-1772) who originated from 'Stoborough'. The hamlet of 'Stoborough', like 'Worgret', sits on the outskirts of Wareham but to the south of the town so there is only a couple of miles between them. Both hamlets fall within the parish boundaries of Wareham, 'Worgret' within Lady St Marys parish and 'Stoborough' within that of Holy Trinity. Simon and Elizabeth were married on the 11th September 1770 by the Rev John Hutchins at Lady St Mary's church (where he had been rector since 1744). As a local historian I have much to thank the Rev John HUTCHINS (1698-1773) for so I have supplied a link to more information about him on the OPC site. Elizabeth was the eldest child of Thomas and Mary VALENCE and had been baptised in the tiny parish church of St Nicholas at Arne on 29th September 1742 so she was 12 years his junior being aged 28. The hamlet of Arne sits isolated on the peninsula that juts out into the estuary some 5 miles from Wareham between the town and Poole Harbour and many of its parishioners were married in Wareham which was the nearest market town. Elizabeth however also died quickly, again possibly from childbirth complications, being interred at St Martins church graveyard in Wareham on 19th July 1772.
Simon must have been made of fairly stern stuff as at the age of 43 and just 7 months after Elizabeth's burial he re-married (correctly recorded as a widower) for a third and final time. It was to prove to be the most successful of his three marriages. After the publishing banns on the 17th, 24th and 31st January the ceremony took place on 11 February 1772/3 at the Holy and Undivided Trinity church of Wareham when he married Elizabeth PUNCH (1748-1800) the eldest child of Thomas PUNCH by his wife Elizabeth nee GOODWIN. His third wife came from a more religious background, Elizabeth having been baptised in Wareham at the Presbyterian Non Conformist Chapel in Church Street called 'The Old Meeting House' on 7th October 1748, the year after it was rebuilt. Unfortunately it was destroyed by fire in 1762 before being rebuilt again. Elizabeth was baptised there as 'Betty' the daughter of Thomas and Betty PUNCH and was therefore 25 years old and 18 years his junior. They had 3 children baptised in Wareham:-
(2). Robert CHRISTOPHER (1776-1777) was baptised on the 1st November 1776 at Holy Trinity church in Wareham and buried the following month at Lady St Marys church on 15th January 1777.
(3) Simon CHRISTOPHER (b.1784) Unfortunately all that we have so far managed to locate is his baptism at St Martins church in Wareham on 31st October 1784..
Although Simon senior lived and married twice in Wareham his place of Settlement always appears to have remained as Hilton, for at the age of 68 in April 1798 when he needed support it was the Overseers of the Poor of Hilton who gave him relief of 10 shillings. On the 29th May the same year they helped him out again by paying for some new cloths for him, but 5 months later he died and was buried at Hilton on 21st Oct 1798. Elizabeth's fate is not clear at this stage there being several possibilities but she may have returned to Wareham.
Following the baptism of their son Simon in Hilton at the end of 1730 we loose track of the family for over a decade. The next record that we have is the baptism of William Trask Christopher at Cheselbourne in 1741 followed by the baptism of Jenny Christopher in 1745. I am a direct descendant of William Trask Christopher (Gx6) so I have more than a passing interest in his fate and I cover the life of these two children in the next section below. The real question is 'are these also children of Joseph Christopher?'. We have not been able to locate anything about Joseph himself after 1730 including his death. It's possible that this may be down to the absence of proper burial registers for Cheselbourne as the earliest recorded burial for a Christopher in Cheselbourne is currently 1768 and this comes from the Bishops Transcripts. This still needs further investigation.(2)
Apart from the 10 year gap in births there are several other factors that suggest that the last two children may have been illegitimate. First, both baptisms are recorded as being a child of Joan with no mention of Joseph which would normally be the case if he was living and still with her.
Another possible indictor to illegitimacy is the fact that Joan named her next son William Trask Christopher. It was very unusual to give a child a second name at this time and most often it was used for baseborn children. This was because prior to 1743 a bastard had legal settlement where he/she was born and if no marriage was taking place and the mother or child seemed likely to fall on the parish for support, she would be questioned on oath by the Overseer of the Poor and the churchwardens, as to the fathers identity. The answer would be recorded and the putative father required to pay for the woman’s lying in and support of the child. If they were wealthy or now lived elsewhere a Bastardy bond might be sought. Young single men were usually “encouraged” to marry but this was not always possible where for example the father was already married, the man had absconded, or left with the militia, and in more cases than you might think some actually died before the birth. Where they knew the father, he was still alive and his whereabouts known, the churchwardens had the power to apply to the Quarter Sessions for a court order obliging the father to pay for support. Militia records for example often include lists of men in the unit who were obliged to make regular payments to a named parish to support dependants.
Often the desired result could be reached without fuss by the father verbally agreeing to pay the Overseer his paternal dues. To make sure, it became common practice for mothers to publicly declare who the father was during baptism by branding the child with his surname as a second name, indeed it's not unknown for the churchwardens to insist upon it.(3) This created peer group pressure for the father to stand by the family. The name 'Trask' is well known in Cheselbourne as a surname. Once it had served its purpose it was also common for the individual to drop use of the second name as there was no advantage in advertising his/her illegitimacy.
There are three possibilities (1) That Joseph & Joan had more children during the missing decade and Joseph is still the father of William and Jenny. Records are better after 1741 and we do not seem to have any other children with Joan. Certainly from 1754 we know a lot about Joan and the support offered to her by the church wardens and she is not supporting other children whilst William is named and the poor rate equates to just 2 children. We can't rule this out however as the missing children may have died or by 1754 already left home (2) Joseph could have been elsewhere, such as serving with the Militia etc and only returned circa 1740. The absence of Joseph's death in Cheselbourne however makes both of these unlikely in my view. (3) That Joseph died during the missing period and Joan had a liaison which later produced 2 children, possibly with a member of the Trask family who also lived in Cheselbourne. As more and more records are digitised I hope that some further facts will come to light that may help resolve this difficult issue one way or the other.
Whilst we are missing a decade's worth of information about the family and there is no sign so far of Joseph, we do know a lot about what happened to Joan and her children. On 12th July 1741 at the age of 37 Joan had her son William Trask CHRISTOPHER (1741-1785) baptised at Cheselbourne in the parish church of St Martin. Cheselbourne is situated 8 miles northeast from Dorchester and 11 miles southwest from Blandford. The church of St. Martin is an ancient edifice of flint and stone in the Gothic style, consisting of chancel, nave, aisles, north and south porches and an embattled western tower, with pinnacles, containing 5 bells: it was restored in 1875, and has 200 sittings. An Elizabethan cup dated 1574 survives as part of the church plate as does an 18th Century paten (shallow dish) that would have been used for bread at Eucharist
St Martin's Church - Cheselbourne
© Picture Copyright Miss Steel and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence.
Parish registers also show a third and final child born to Joan in 1745 when she was aged 41. She had a daughter whom she named Jenny CHRISTOPHER baptised at St Martins on 19th May 1745. Given her poor diet and situation Joan now over 42 may then have been at the end of her childbearing days. Taking the three pictures below in turn, the first shows the aisle inside St Martins down which Joan would have walked to have her children baptised. My wife is reading the inscription on the memorial tablet which is set into the floor and marks the final resting place of the Rev. Richard Baskett (1623-1684). As can be seen it has pride of place at the end of the aisle immediately facing the alter just outside the chancel. Given its position, Joan would have walked over his impressive memorial stone many times during her 40 years in the Parish, for example when John her nephew was married and when he had children baptised there. Inside St Martins Church the Pillars, Nave and South Aisle are unchanged dating from the 13th Century whilst the Chancel was added a hundred years later. I have no doubt that the restoration work undertaken in 1875 and 1924 would have changed the church somewhat from how it actually looked on that day, but much still remains intact and would have been recognised by Joan.
Chief among these is the original 12th century font shown in the second picture below in which her last two children were baptised, and also the Jacobean Pulpit from which the sermon would have been preached. In Joan's day however they would have rung the medieval church bells to call the faithful to worship, but alas these have only been chimed since 1875 as the tower is now unsafe. Baptisms are still held in the church today using the same font and there are of course still weddings and funerals on be carried out. Declining numbers however have meant that the rector now covers a number of villages and services can no longer be held every Sunday at St Martins.
Inside St Martin's Church - Cheselbourne
© (Pictures 1 & 3) Michael Russell FIPD - 2007 & Picture 2 © Miss Steel - 4 Nov 2008 - licenced for reuse under the creative commons licence
The next event that happened (that we know of) occurred on 13th January 1754 when Joan, aged 50 falls sick and turns to the Overseers of the Poor in Cheselbourne for help. They pay her two shillings (twice the weekly rate) and a further shilling to purchase a half bushel of wheat. On the 18th April 1754 Joan receives another shilling in relief, and the Overseers pay 3 shillings for a new coat for William CHRISTOPHER plus a shilling to have it made and a penny for the buttons. Children generally worked from the age of 7 and whilst young Jenny would have been expected to help Joan, William was probably labouring in the nearby fields (aged just under 13) so a new coat would have been important in helping him to keep working and bring in a small income to support Joan and reduce her need for subsistence. Clearly Joan has fallen on hard times and is struggling to earn enough money to buy food for her family. In July the Overseers pay for a new gown and shift to be made for her and she is recorded as being sick and in receipt of relief again in October and November. On 15th December they even pay for William's coat to be mended and a new coat for Joan cost them 4 shillings and six pence on 12th January 1755.
By April that year it is clear that Joan cannot cope with temporary relief so she is placed upon the weekly list for the parish getting 1 shilling each week. This seems to settle the family down with only the odd item being paid for in addition to the basic subsistence. On the 2nd April 1756 we get the only reference to Jones daughter Jenny, when the Overseers pay a guinea for 3 yards of Linsey. She was then 11 years old so had probably outgrown her other garments.
Cheselbourne being only 8 miles from Fordington nobody would have thought twice about walking there for the day to attend a local fair or visit relatives and as we might expect Joan seems to have remained in close contact with her brother-in-law Charles CHRISTOPHER (1705-1791) and his Family who lived in Fordington. Before 1759 Charles third son John CHRISTOPHER (1734-1804) must have moved to live permanently in Cheselbourne. Indeed if her husband Joseph died during our 'missing decade' its possible that he was sent there to lend Joan support. He probably lived with Joan and if as I have already postulated Joan's last two children were the result of a liaison with a member of the Trask family, John also would have been in close contact with that family. Be that as it may we know for certain that on the 30th August 1760 he married at St Martins to the young widow Elizabeth TRASK. I have already covered his life with her which can be viewed under the above link so will not go over the ground here again. Suffice it to say that for the rest of her life Joan remained close to John CHRISTOPHER.
Early in December 1761 we know her son William Trask CHRISTOPHER left Cheselbourne and traveled to Fordington as her subsistence payments from the Overseers were reduced from 4 to 3 shillings a month. William now 20 obtained work in the vicinity and met Elizabeth DARK whom he married at her home parish of Stinsford a year later. [Link to account of life of William Trask CHRISTOPHER 1741-1785] . On the 9th Feb 1761/2 payment to Joan however dropped again to 2 shillings. Jenny CHRISTOPHER is now 16 years 9 months old and it seems reasonable to suppose that she would have found work somewhere nearby. Children of this age were treated as adult and the Overseers would be pushing for her to become self employed and independent to reduce their expenditure. Jenny is a colloquial form of Jane and she appears next under that name at the age of 23 in the parish registers of Winterbourne Clenston when she marries John BUTT on 13th June 1768. They raise a family of three children that I know of in Winterbourne Whitechurch and Winterbourne Clenston between 1769 and 1776 before Jane dies. She was still only 33 years old and was buried at Winterbourne Whitchurch on 26th April 1778. John Butt her husband also died young only surviving her by a couple of years being buried at Winterbourne Clenson on 26th Nov 1780 (4). It took me a while to realise that she had relations in both parishes. Humphrey Christopher (1692-1776) lived in Winterbourne Clenston and his 2nd wife Edith died in the parish in 1758 so I think that when it came time for Jenny to find work she probably went to stay with Humphrey as housekeeper and from there met and married in the parish. Also at Winterbourne Whitechurch was another relative Anne CHRISTOPHER (1718-1776) the wife of Christopher CUFF whom she had married in 1766 after the death of his 1st wife and had 2 young children to look after from that marriage. It makes sense therefore that Jenny's first 2 children were baptised in that parish, the second being named Ann Butt.
The 10th November 1772 would have been a highlight for Joan as her son William (Trask) CHRISTOPHER and his wife Elizabeth returned to Cheselbourne to have the latest of their 5 children, whom they named George CHRISTOPHER, baptised at St Martins. Given the closeness of the families there would have been quite a crowd in the church with John Christopher, his wife Elizabeth two of his own surviving children and Elizabeth's 3 children from her fist marriage. Jenny only lived 4 miles away at Winterbourne Whitechurch so perhaps she came with her husband and two children as well.
Over the following years there were sporadic extra payments to Joan from the Overseers but on On 18th December 1775 Joan became ill and John seems to have attended to her and caught the same infection as he too received payment 'in his illness' the following month. Whilst he then recovered, his son Thomas fell ill in February followed by his wife Elizabeth in March after which all seems to have been well. In late April 1780 however Joan Christopher again became ill this time gradually getting worse. She obviously needed constant care as the Overseers paid for seven consecutive weeks for John Christopher to attend her before she passed away and was buried in Cheselbourne on 17th June 1780.
Joan and the family were well respected in the community as this proved to be the most expensive funeral paid for by the ratepayers for several years. They paid two shillings for example for her to be properly laid out in St Martins church, even providing an extra 6d for beer for the ladies that undertook the task. Sarah Drake who would have been one of her closest friends received another two shillings as she undertook washing the body and 'the waking' which was an all night vigil next to the body in the church. Joan, as required by the Acts of Parliament passed in 1666 and 1678, was dressed in a woollen shroud which cost them four shillings and eight pence and a further six pence for the affidavit which had to be signed by a relative before the vicar, so this must have been done by John Christopher. Her Coffin was the most expensive item costing eight shillings and and six pence. On the day of the burial they paid another three shillings and six pence for the grave to be dug and the church bells to be rung followed by two shillings for beer for the bearers of the coffin.
(1) The parish registers of Hilton record the marriage of John HOOPER (junior) of Ansty to Jane BRADRIPP of Mear [Mere] in Wiltshire on 12th April 1686 and the following baptisms of children of a John Hooper between 1686 and 1710. His father John Hooper Senior of Ansty was buried at Hilton on 23rd April 1710 and he appears to have survived until 19th June 1743. Although the baptism of these children all follow a rough sequence the problem is that the scribe did not record the parentage of children 4 to 7 and the final baptism gives his wife's name as Ann. Its possible that the burial of Jane Hooper in 1697 is that of his wife Jane rather than his daughter and that he remarried outside of the parish but there is insufficient information to draw any firm conclusions
(2) Baptized 1689: This first of September Jeane Hooper the daughter of John Hooper of Anstie baptizen
(3) Baptized 1692: Thomas the son of iohn [i.e. john] Hooper of Ansty April ii (& buried October 29th 1697)
(4) Baptized 1694: Jane Hooper of Ansty: March 22 1694/5 (and buried June 5th 1697?)
(5) Baptised1699/1700: Thomas Hooper of Anstey: Jan:18:
(6) Baptised 1704/5: Jone [Joan] Hooper: March 7
(7) Baptised 1706/7: Margaret Hooper of Ansty baptd March (and buried 20th Aug 1732)
(8) Baptized 1709: Eliz: [Elizabeth] Hooper daughter of John Hooper & Ann his wife of Ansty June ? 1709
(3) An analysis of the Cheselbourne Baptisms registers from when they started in 1663 up to 1790 produces 887 baptisms and only 8 have a second name (i.e. less than 1%) as below. Four of these (50%) relate to what appear to be single women and have what appears to be a surname as the second name.
(2) 13 Jan 1713/4 - William Foot son of Mary Gillingham
(3) 21 mar 1737/8 - Sarah Davis daughter of Sarah Kexstone
(4) 18 Jun 1738 - Edward Berkley son of William & Hussey Box born and privately baptised
(5) 01 Mar 1739/40 - Hussey Gould daughter of William & Hussey Box born and privately baptised
(6) 12 July 1741 - William Trask son of Joan Christopher
(7) 30 Dec 1764 - John Arnold son of Thomas & Mary Whittle
(8) 23 Jan 1790 - Ann Maria White daughter of Ann Sturmy
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