Now I have to 'fess up: I've always been fascinated by churchyards. To me they represent libraries filled with the life-stories of those interred within, all laid out and filed in a random system of headstones and tombs.
And there's one large, distinguished-looking family vault, resting in a prime position just beside the wall of St Mary's church that's always made me pause.
The family name, Strudwick, sounded very solid and English and respectable to my Irish ears. And I've always wondered about the patriarch lying within, surrounded by several of his nearest and dearest. His rather succinct inscription reads:
William Strudwick died December 30 1829 aged 60 years
The other morning I had to wait around for some workmen. I couldn't get on with any proper work of my own. But I had my laptop and an internet connection. So, to while away the time, I decided to do a little on-line detective work to see what I could unearth about this William Strudwick.
I started off with the surname, Strudwick. A short internet search revealed it to be an old Saxon surname that originally hailed from Sussex, the ancient land of the South Saxons, where it meant something like farm on the marsh.
Looking at William’s antecedents I could see that the family were descended from a miller in Chichester, which tied in rather nicely with the Saxon origins of his name. It immediately struck me as rather grand to have someone of ancient Saxon lineage lying in that tomb.
More specifically I discovered that William was born on 7th January, 1770, which made him a Sunday’s child. I wondered whether he was fair and wise. The Parish records show that he was baptised here at Saint Mary’s on Sunday 1st July, 1770. He was the third of the five children (three girls and two boys) born to his parents, John Strudwick and Elizabeth Hayward.
To give the date of his baptism a little historical context, Captain Cooke, who had a few weeks' earlier in June 1770 become the first European to discover Australia, was that morning sailing his ship, the Endeavour, around the Endeavour River estuary on the Cape York Peninsula in far North Queensland. His ship’s log for that Sunday records a day of light breezes, cloudy weather and gentle showers. His men went fishing, and explored a little inland, having established that the natives weren’t hostile. Meanwhile little baby William was being baptised here at St. Mary's in Ealing ...
I could find nothing further about William’s life until I found his marriage banns, which
were read in the parish church of St. Marylebone on 22nd December, 1805. The 35 year-old William was hoping to wed Hannah Howard. Miss Howard, believed to have been born in 1778, would have been about 27 years of age at the time.
Clearly no one knew of any just cause why the two should not be joined together, and they were duly wed on Sunday 12th January, 1806 in St Marylebone. They went on to have a family of four boys: William, John, Thomas and James Hayward.
William gave his occupation as that of cheese-monger and grocer. He must have waited to get himself established in business before taking a wife. No doubt he was anxious to gather together the wherewithal to support her and a family before he took the plunge. I was slowly getting the impression of someone hard-working and steady in his ways.
The most revealing document relating to William was his will, which he executed on 19th March, 1825. It reveals that he owned a cheese/ grocery shop at number 24 Clipstone Street in St. Marylebone. He had clearly become a successful businessman as a number of other properties around town are listed and disposed of. There were houses at 16 Duke Street, Lisson Grove, 18 Euston Street, Euston Square, numbers 3 and 4 Southampton Court, Tottenham Court Road, and a half share of the house at 31 Devonshire Street in the Parish of St. Marylebone. In addition to the real estate William owned shares in the Eagle Insurance Company and the Kent Water Works. By the standards of the day he was a rich man.
All of his stock in trade, business and outstanding book debts were bequeathed to his widow and to his eldest son, William, who had presumably followed him into the family business.
A direction was made in the will for the payment of an annual annuity to his uncle and late partner, Mr William Hayward, for the rest of his natural life. I imagine that our William Strudwick had been named in honour of this uncle, his mother's brother, who later became his patron and partner in the grocery/ cheesemonger trade.
Joint probate of the will was granted on 24th April, 1824 to Hannah, his widow, together with his brother James, who was a builder in Ealing and to his friend, John Peterkin, who was a coach builder.
Hannah survived her husband for a number of years, eventually passing on at the age of 67 on 26th March, 1844. By that time she was living in a property at number 5 Stanley Terrace, King's Road in the Parish of Saint Luke, Chelsea.
Her will opens with this amazing preamble:
It is my desire if consistent with the convenience of my children that I should be interred by the side of my late husband in the church yard of Ealing, Middlesex and that the funeral be conducted in as plain a manner as is consistent with the manner of my life.
She leaves her home at 5 Stanley Terrace together with the house and business premises at 24 Clipstone Street to her eldest son, William. All of her household furniture, glass, linen, plate and books were left to her younger sons John and James Hayward, and her prized possession, a gold watch, was left to her son John.
In a touching line she writes:
I give to my only Sister Ann Howard Spinster of No 14 Millman Row, Chelsea all my wearing apparel.
She also directed that an annuity of £20 per annum be paid to this sister for the remainder of her natural life out of the residue of her estate.
Isn't the internet an amazing tool? I think it's going to do little to diminish my enthusiasm for churchyards. And from this point on I'll be walking past the Strudwick family tomb with a feeling that I almost knew them ... almost.
All the best for now,