Monday, September 5, 2011

Victorian Mystery at Wick Farm

Today Wick Farmhouse is a substantial six bedroom house overlooking the Prinnels housing development in West Swindon.

Once part of the extensive Bolingbroke estate, the former 150 acre dairy farm dates back to the medieval period. Aerial photographs taken in the 1970s clearly show the ridge and furrow pattern of open field farming.

During the 19th century Wick Farm was home to Jonas Clarke senior for over 26 years. The Clarke family were pretty unconventional by Victorian social conventions. Although married in his late twenties, Jonas soon began an alliance with a servant girl called Alice Pinnell. Thirty years and seven children later they eventually married at St. Mary's Church, Lydiard Tregoze in 1853, after the death of Jonas' first wife.

After Jonas senior's death in 1862 the tenancy at Wick Farm passed to his son, Jonas Clarke junior. A desirable property, the Clarke family obviously wanted to keep their stake in the farm, resulting in a Victorian mystery which today remains unsolved.

On 3rd April 1881 - census night, Jonas junior, aged 56, head of the Wick Farm household, is apparently in residence, with him is his cousin Kate, employed as his housekeeper, and three young children, Jonas 4, Sarah S. 2 and two week old Robert. Cousin Kate was the children's mother but their birth certificates contain no details of a father.

But Jonas couldn't possibly have been at the farm on census night. He had died in February of the previous year.

To add to the mystery, a report in the North Wilts Herald the previous month stated that - 'Mr Jonas Clark, farmer of Lydiard' was summoned for the non payment of £24 6s 3d poor rate.

Were the Clarke family trying to keep his death a secret? In a small rural parish this would have been impossible, or would it? Perhaps Kate was trying to hang on to the farm? Was Jonas the father of her three illegitimate children? Was she really a 'cousin’ or was the relationship more intimate - like his father, Jonas junior already had a wife.

Now lets rewind the story a bit as writer and local historian Mark Child, author of Swindon Old Town Through Time has eventually got to the bottom of the mystery.

Kate Trinity Clark, the daughter of Benjamin Clark, was born in Hullavington in 1830 and was indeed the cousin of Jonas Clark junior. Her father's elder brother was also called Jonas, a popular family name. Born in 1823 and 1826 respectively there was only a few years difference in the age of Uncle Jonas and Jonas junior, which lies at the heart of the confusion and a brilliant piece of detective work by Mark.

Kate and Jonas junior's relationship began in the late 1870s with Kate's uncle Jonas and his son William joining the family at Wick Farm around the same time. Mark's research reveals that it was Uncle Jonas who had died in 1880, his death certified by Dr William Baines Dawson and not Jonas junior as I had previously deduced. I had searched for Kate and the children following Jonas junior's supposed death - problem was I didn't widen my net far enough!

So what happened to our elusive Jonas Clark junior?

The following ten years proved eventful for Kate and Jonas junior.  The couple left Wick Farm in 1882 and moved to Darby Green Farm at Yately, Southampton where in November of that year Jonas junior was declared bankrupt.  Six months later the family moved to Bleddington and at the time of the 1891 census Jonas, then aged 65 was living in Pebworth, Gloucestershire with Kate and their six children.  But the family was still far from settled and within a few years moved yet again to Haselor Hill in Warwickshire. It was here on their small holding that Jonas junior died in 1898 aged 73. They had never been able to marry and Jonas's wife Elizabeth outlived him, dying in 1903 at the age of 92.

Kate continued to farm the property at Haselor Hill with the help of her elder sons and in 1911 she was still there with Clarence, her youngest son and the only one still living at home.  Kate died in 1924 aged 66.

Mark's persistent research has proved a cautionary tale in the danger of jumping to genealogical conclusions.

A memorial in the churchyard at St. Mary’s, Lydiard Tregoze records the burial of: Jonas Clarke died March 31st 1862 aged 74; Cordelia Ann Carey, his granddaughter, died December 8th 1861 aged 16 years old and Jonas Carey, his grandson, died January 18th 1863 aged 14.

St Mary's Church, Lydiard Tregoze

Clarke family memorial

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