William Brasier Jones, (1796 – 1846), A Regency Sudbury Rogue
The SFS website owes a great debt to the historian, Allan W Berry. He spent many hours in record offices and libraries chronicling the everyday life of Sudbury in Suffolk and the history of its freemen. This was at a time before archives became more accessible online, so his work involved a significant amount of travel as well as the many hours involved in typing up and collating handwritten notes.
In 2002 he published a small book: ‘Early 19th Century Sudbury’ – a year by year account of the town from 1801 to 1850. Material in the book came from various sources but much of it was based on snippets of news from local papers such as ‘The Ipswich Journal’. There is a good index of names, (which is especially useful for anyone who is researching Sudbury family history), and a wonderful collection of incidents which bring the past to life by vividly portraying not only local characters but ordinary and extraordinary events as well.
Riot and Assault
Whilst, for example, compiling the highlights of 1823, Allan W Berry described some very troubling behaviour at the Dolphin Inn, (since the mid-19th century known as ‘The Angel’), in Friars Street, Sudbury, which had serious repercussions and led to an indictment for riot and assault.
November 9th was the day Sudburians celebrated the election of the new mayor as well as the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Together with the formal arrangements organised by the Corporation, a popular celebration took place on the Market Hill which traditionally included a combination of fireworks, bonfires, and tar barrelling through the streets. The timetable was generally spontaneous and often so dangerous that people could not cross the Market Hill safely. Those in authority tended to ignore behaviour which would, on any other day of the year, lead to prosecution.
Therefore, November the 5th, when most other places were commemorating the downfall of Guy Fawkes, tended to be much quieter in Sudbury. 1823 proved to be an exception to the rule when four young men, from land-owning families, forced their way into a local inn and attacked two women.
Brothers William Brasier and Abijah Jones from Woodhall belonged to a family that was very influential in the town in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. (The wider Jones family included local politicians, brewers, landowners, farmers, victuallers, butchers, and builders). Their brother-in-law, Thomas Adkin, (Freeman of Sudbury, coal merchant, and miller), was also part of the group together with Jeremiah Wase from Pentlow. All those involved were persons of considerable wealth and it is likely that their behaviour at ‘The Dolphin’ came about because of the drunkenness that was common at the time.
In the 1820’s ‘The Dolphin’ was kept by the Lawrence family – James and Elizabeth and their daughter Amelia with the help of a servant, Harriet Wallace. There was also a lodger, Mr. Bean, who worked for the Post Office. With a theatre at the back of the Inn, it must have been a very busy place when Mr. Fisher’s Company of Actors was visiting Sudbury.
On the night of November 5th, 1823, Mrs. Lawrence and her daughter were relaxing by the kitchen fire with Mr. Bean, Harriet, and a friend, Esther Weakly. No doubt they had all had a busy day so were not pleased when they heard loud banging on the front door at 10 o’ clock. Mrs Lawrence unlocked the door and four young men forced themselves into the narrow passage; she asked if they would walk into the parlour or the bar. Without taking any notice of her question, one of them swore that they had killed all the constables, justices, and the mayor of Sudbury. They proceeded to the kitchen and told her that they were coming to give her a treat that would make her remember Gunpowder Treason.
Once in the kitchen, William Brasier Jones took a candle and started lighting fireworks known as ‘serpents’ and ‘squibs’. The noise from exploding squibs and the pungent smell of sulphur from the black powder must have been terrifying in a small space. Mrs. Lawrence did her best to put the fireworks out by stamping on them whilst her daughter, Amelia, struck William on the arm as he attempted to light four or five at once at the candle but became very frightened and ran behind Mr. Bean. Jeremiah Wase then pushed her into a corner of the room and held her down by her shoulders whilst Thomas Adkin sat on her feet. Wase threw a lighted firework under her dress, burning her linen petticoats and shawl. Harriet, the maid servant, was also subjected to the same treatment; she was pushed over and the heavy wooden settle was thrown over her, so she was much bruised.
Such shocking behaviour had repercussions as Messrs. Wm Brasier Jones, Abijah Jones, Thomas Adkin and Jeremiah Wase were convicted before the Mayor, Branwhite Oliver, for firing and throwing fireworks into the Inn. They were fined twenty shillings each and costs. The consequences did not stop in Sudbury as the landlord of ‘The Dolphin’, James Lawrence, prosecuted the four young men for riot and assault. The case was heard at the Bury Quarter Sessions in January 1824. The defence tried to argue that the incident on November 5th had been more of an ‘idle frolic’ than a ‘malicious one’. It is very likely that the defendants had been drunk but throwing lighted fireworks around in the kitchen of a timber-framed house, (which probably had a thatched roof), was dangerous. Putting lighted fireworks under the petticoats of dresses when so many fatal accidents at the time came about because of sparks catching hold of combustible materials such as linen, muslin or cotton was incomprehensible.
Amelia and Harriet were called as witnesses. Both produced their clothes which had been much damaged by the fireworks. Fortunately, Amelia had been wearing a dress made of a woollen material otherwise the consequences could have been life changing. The Jury did not take long to find all four defendants guilty, and they were sentenced to fourteen days imprisonment and each fined £50.
The defendants may or may not have served their sentences. It is doubtful if the father of William Brasier and Abijah was particularly upset by the incident at ‘The Dolphin’ as Regency Britain could be a brutal place and he had a reputation for violent behaviour as well as a bad temper. In 1816, for example, a young man called James Game brought an action against him for a vicious assault. Counsel for William Jones tried to argue that he had been very annoyed by people trespassing on his corn but, having reviewed the case, the Judge decided that more than nominal damages was required and granted the unusually high sum of £80 – equivalent in purchasing power to about £8,000 today.
Brothers William Brasier and Abijah Jones were admitted by birth to the Freedom of Sudbury on June 12th, 1826, just in time to vote in the general election of that year. The Jones family supported the Tory Party and opposed reform. Allan Berry notes that, in 1832 William Jones, (father of William Brasier and Abijah), “marked the passing of the Reform Bill by hoisting a black flag to the top of a tree on his farm, annoying local Reformers, one of whom, John Adams, climbed the tree and removed the flag. Caught in the act, he was sent to Bury Gaol.” The flag continued to float as William Jones believed that the Reform Bill was “an omen of coming evil.” A popular toast amongst local Tories that year was: “May he long live to wave his Black Flag in spite of either Whigs or Radicals.” (Non-resident freemen lost their right to vote but non-freemen in the town were able to vote for the first time by virtue of a property qualification.)
William Brasier continued the family tradition of taking a warm interest in the Conservative cause when, in 1835, in Ballingdon, he threatened a mild-mannered and respectable clockmaker who was attempting to help a neighbour by removing a blue flag which had been affixed to her house without permission. William Brasier and his Tory friends were taking liquid refreshment at the Ballingdon ‘White Horse’ when they noticed the clockmaker, Henry Howes, throwing a cord over the flagpole so they ran towards him. Mr Howes, suspecting violence, drew a brace of pistols from his pocket which were unloaded and waiting to be repaired. He then, very sensibly, walked to the house of the local constable for protection. Meanwhile, William Brasier Jones went one step better by approaching a local magistrate and swearing that his life was in danger. He persuaded the magistrate to issue a warrant and some additional special constables were sworn in to seize Mr. Howes when he came to vote. The plan was frustrated by the clockmaker’s friends, and he polled the second day of the election.
The day after the election, Mr. Howes went to the magistrate’s house to meet the charge and was kept in custody. William Brasier continued to state: “I’ll swear my life is in danger, and I go in bodily fear of Howes; if he is not bound over, I shall leave Ballingdon – I must leave Ballingdon.” The result was that the clockmaker was ordered to be kept from his business and imprisoned for a further six days. Four months later the unfortunate Mr. Howes was taken to court in Colchester by William Brasier and was not only bound over to keep the peace for six months but also fined £50.
Despite his apparent terror at having a brace of (unloaded) pistols presented at him during a particularly rowdy election campaign in Sudbury, William Brasier Jones loved to shoot at things. His fascination with field sports must have been nurtured by his father on the Woodhall estate. Aged 25, he made national headlines in October 1821 when he shot what was described as ‘a unicorn partridge: a partridge which had a horn growing from its head of the following dimensions – one inch and a half in height, three quarters ditto in width, and one quarter in thickness, a little curved backwards, and somewhat resembling the thin end of a sheep’s horn.’ Perhaps he also liked to pursue the art of collecting and preparing trophies for display?
Described as a ‘gentleman’ in the Sudbury Poll Books, he had a very large estate in and around Sudbury. Tithe Map records show that he owned land in Essex in Bures Hamlet, Middleton, Great Henny, and Little Henny. In Suffolk, his holdings stretched beyond Sudbury to Great Waldingfield and Long Melford.
In 1839 he was involved in another incident involving a misuse of guns; he who had been ‘threatened’ by pistols, was charged with wilfully shooting at a young boy at Middleton, near Sudbury. The details of the case were widely circulated in local newspapers. Rev. Oliver Raymond, who not only owned land in Middleton but also leased part of the Windham Estate disliked William Brasier Jones because he persisted in shooting upon Mr. Hurrell’s land contrary to his wishes. One September morning, he was out shooting with his servant when they met Samuel Plum, (a Ballingdon butcher), in a turnip field and spotted Jones sitting in a cart by the roadside with his gamekeeper and two dogs. Oliver Raymond asked him what business he had to shoot there; he replied that he had a right and immediately went into the field to join his friend. George was left to keep watch as his master was deeply suspicious. Meanwhile Plum found a bird and fired at it; he shot at it again. The defendant and his friends went into another field to hunt with their dogs and then came back.
Seventeen-year-old George Candler described how Jones, when at a distance of about 40 yards, twisted himself round, levelled his gun and aimed at him: he fell over backwards, and the shot struck his cap and his face. He watched Jones reload his gun and observed the two gentlemen laughing. When George went home, it was noted that his face was scarred and bloody as was also his hair. When he looked in his cap, he found holes in the pasteboard which had been made by the shots. With the assistance and encouragement of his master, George sought legal redress. However, members of the bench were inclined to believe Jones who insisted that he had not seen the boy when he fired the gun at a pheasant. They could not see any specific reason why Jones should fire at the boy; if any ill blood had been shown it was between Jones and Raymond and not Candler.
The magistrates in Halstead may not have been privy to the history of William Brasier Jones. They had allowed the case to be remanded at the last Bench to give him an opportunity to obtain Counsel’s opinion as to whether or not Samuel Plum could be called as a witness for the defence. When the case went to the Essex Quarter Session at Chelmsford in October 1839 the Grand Jury threw out the Bill, believing that William Brasier Jones did not set out to ‘feloniously and maliciously’ shoot at George Candler.
Field sports and politics continued to dominate William Brasier’s life. He made an unsuccessful attempt to be elected as a town councillor in 1837. There were four councillors to be elected but his ideas were not appreciated by those Sudburians entitled to vote as he polled only 16 votes whilst support for the other three candidates ranged from 155 to 405 votes.
A move from Ballingdon to Friars Street, Sudbury, between 1839 and 1840 was probably not related to a threat of violence from Mr. Howes the clockmaker. Abijah Jones, (brother), died in February 1831 at Woodhall. Hannah Wright, (wife of William Brasier), died three years later in 1844 after ‘a long affliction, borne with patience and resignation’.
Hannah Wright was the illegitimate daughter of another William Jones whose memorial can still be seen in St. Peter’s Church, Sudbury. Hannah was only 15 when he died unexpectedly after a trip to London in January 1814. It was said that her father had started business with only £100 but had left a fortune of £200,000. There were no legitimate children as his wife, Sarah, died childless so, in the last few days of his life William dictated a will to his old friend and neighbour Robert Frost. The explosive contents of the will were kept secret until it was read to the family mourners after the funeral. There were many legacies assigned to William’s brothers and sisters, nieces, and nephews in Sudbury but the most controversial bequests were a generous annuity to his mistress and two large estates for his illegitimate children – Hannah and William Wright.
William Jones had bought lands in Essex as provision for Hannah and William with the intention that the Stour would separate them from those inherited by his nephews. Some of the nephews contested the will, even persuading the Attorney General to present their case, but the jury found for the defendants and the will was valid. Nevertheless, the will was not proved until 1819.
Hannah Wright, therefore, became a wealthy young woman with every prospect of a comfortable and secure future but it was not long before one of the nephews developed a plan to claw back the estates she had inherited from her father. The nephew behind this scheme was none other than William Jones, the heir to the Woodhall estate in Sudbury. Hannah was persuaded to marry his son, William Brasier Jones, and the wedding took place on August 23rd, 1823. Someone, perhaps her brother William, was cautious and established a Marriage Settlement which set aside a small portion of her property – a woodland in Bures and £1,000 from her inheritance – but the rest of her estate was controlled by her husband.
Hannah’s married life may not have been very happy. During this period married women had few legal rights and could not make a will without the consent of their husbands. With the help of her sister-in-law, Naamah, and husband Henry Meeking, Hannah made a will in 1839. The will may have been made in secret as it was written five years before Hannah died and not proven until after the death of William Brasier Jones. The timing of the will possibly coincided with the move to Prospect House in Friars Street, but the contents offer a rare glimpse into Hannah’s relationship with her husband.
With the intention of providing for her daughter Diana as her son William Michael was already very well provided for with the Woodhall estate and the land in Essex, Hannah left her £700 and two parcels of woodland. She also made a plea to her son that he would always be kind and liberal to his sister. She left a warning for her husband. “My watch I leave to him as a silent monitor for the future with a hope that he may be enabled to lead a better life and to treat his children with equal justice and affection.”
A Good Samaritan
The ‘Essex Herald’ provides a very positive story about one of his activities in the last few months of his life. In March he managed to save the life of a small child at ‘The Christopher Inn’ in Sudbury. He just happened ‘to be on the spot’ when the landlord’s child went missing. The brewhouse door had been left open and George Gross went in and while playing slipped into the underback, (large tank), charged with wort. His absence led to a search of the Inn, but it was W. B. Jones who found George and managed to extricate him from a very dangerous situation.
Meanwhile, William Brasier Jones still managed to enjoy his favourite activity and a report from May 1846 in ‘The Essex Standard’ noted that he won a prize at a pigeon shooting contest at Lavenham.
He died on July 13th,1846, in his fiftieth year. Described as ‘a very jovial soul and not a tee-totaller’, William Brasier Jones was a colourful character in Regency and early Victorian Sudbury. He was a wealthy landowner, but the fortunes of the family soon went into decline after his death.
Diana Margaretta Jones, aged 18, married almost six months after her father’s death. William Bonython Moffatt was fifteen years older than his new wife. He was the son of a builder who had persuaded the architect James Edmeston to take him on as a pupil. Moffatt became a partner with Sir George Gilbert Scott, but the partnership was dissolved in late 1846. Moffatt and Scott had made their name by gaining workhouse commissions after the passing of the Poor Law Amendment Act in 1834. It was unfortunate that whilst Scott became very famous for designing symbolic buildings such as St Pancras Station and the Albert Memorial, Moffatt’s career floundered. Despite his great work ethic and his talent for planning and organisation he was not always an ideal business partner. Extravagant, rude to employers and addicted to speculation in railway shares, Moffatt lived a chaotic lifestyle. He may not have been ideal husband material either. The Moffatts had six children; the three youngest died soon after birth. Two daughters survived into old age, but a son died at the age of 21.
Just like his brother-in-law, William Michael Jones was also extravagant. One of the first decisions he made after his father died was to commission an expensive yacht at Wivenhoe. There are several examples in the local press which show he had small unpaid debts. His life was to be very short as he died at the age of 26. A few weeks before he died, the yacht – ‘The Isabella’, named after his wife – was put up for auction. Ironically, the place of his death was ‘The Dolphin’ in Friars Street, Sudbury; by then re-named ‘The Angel’ but no doubt remembered as the site of his father’s and uncles’ misconduct on November 5th,1823.
Early Nineteenth Century Sudbury Allan W Berry
Eighteenth Century Sudbury Allan W Berry
The Sudbury Poll Books
Bury and Norwich Post; The Ipswich Journal; The Suffolk Chronicle; The Essex Standard; The Essex Herald
Signed Will of William Jones, common brewer, merchant and farmer of Sudbury, Suffolk, proved 21 July 1819; Will of William Jones, Gentleman of Sudbury, Suffolk, 24 September 1835; Will of William Brasier Jones, Gentleman of Ballingdon, Essex, 6 February 1847; Will of Hannah Jones Wife of Sudbury, Suffolk, 28 April 1847