READ, Hemel Hempstead, 1843

February, 2005

Patricia Branch (branch @t of Ashwater, Devon, writes: I have only recently begun to attempt to track down my ancestors - some of whom lived in Hertfordshire in the 19th century and probably earlier.  From your website alone, I am learning a huge amount. I have a copy of my 3Xg grandfather's death certificate which gives the following information. His name was Joseph Read and he was a blacksmith.  He died 2nd April, 1843 at The Bell, Hemel Hempstead.  A coroner's inquest was held 3rd April 1843 and the cause of death was given as 'fracture of the scull'.  He was buried 4th April, 1843. [The National Burial Index gives his age as 45.] Would there have been a newspaper account of this?  (I imagine he was kicked by a horse - if his fatal injury occurred while he was working). 

Before 1855 stamp duty was payable on all newspapers, which made them very expensive, and very small, and most poorer people would not have been able to read them. Probably the nearest "local" newspapers were the Bucks Herald (published in Aylesbury, Bucks) and the Aylesbury News (founded by my great Great Grandfather, John Gibbs in 1836). Unless there was anything really exciting these two papers would be unlikely to contain more than a couple of column inches of news for the whole of Hertfordshire in a typical week. The Hertfordshire Mercury was published in Hertford so was a similar distance to the east and most weeks would have no significant news from the west of the county. It is therefore extremely unlikely that such a "minor" incident, happening in Hemel Hempstead in 1843, which probably involved a commonplace industrial accident, would have been reported in any newspaper.

However there is a possible uncertainty if the death certificate only says "The Bell, Hemel Hempstead" because there were two Inns with that name. 

In Hemel Hempstead High Street there are a number of public houses, including "The Bell" and in the 1840's it was run by Mrs Mary Jones, and is described as a commercial and posting inn in the Hertfordshire trade directories of the time. In 1839 William Gates was a smith and farrier in the Bell Inn yard, with 3 others smiths/farriers based in or near the High Street. The High Street was not a major through route for long distance horse traffic.

At Two Waters, Hemel Hempstead there was another Bell Inn, this time on the main London to Birmingham Road (the Sparrows Hearne turnpike) - and hence very busy with horse-drawn traffic until the railway opened in 1837. In 1839 George Buckingham was the landlord,  and James Smith was the local smith/farrrier at Two Waters.

 Whichever it was, a common procedure (in the days before refrigerated mortuaries) was to hold the inquest in a public house close to where the death occurred, within 24 hours or so, with the jury viewing the body. My guess is that the Bell in the High Street is the most likely place for the death and the inquest - but one needs to keep an open mind. My experience is that it is very unlikely that the coroner's records have survived, but it is always worth asking HALS if they have anything relevant.

From the Family Search website, I believe he left a widow: Sarah (b Olney, Bucks. abt 1811); and three children: Thomas, Mary (my 2Xg grandmother), and Elizabeth - all under ten years of age.  What would have been the likely subsequent outcome for them?  Any information - or directions you could point me in - would be greatly appreciated.

Familysearch has two different types of records relating to the family. 

The baptismal register extracts for St Mary's, Hemel Hempstead, record the baptisms of two children to Joseph & Sarah. It shows that Thomas was baptised on 13th January 1833 and Charles was baptised on 19th November 1836 and buried on 24th November of the same year [National Burial Index]. There would appear to be no register entry for either Mary or Elizabeth.

There are also three sets of identical LDS Family History records which are undoubtedly copied from the same research. They show Thomas baptised on 3rd January 1833 - and the date is almost certainly an error, if only by a few days. Mary and Elizabeth are simply given years rather than a precise date - which suggests that they were almost certainly NOT baptised at St Mary's - and the date and place of birth may be little more than guesses - see The Limits of the IGI on Familysearch

So what next? There are two lines I suggest you should follow.

If Mary and Elizabeth were born in the Hemel Hempstead area (not necessarily in the town itself) at about the years mentioned, there should be no difficulty in getting their birth certificates. Hopefully this will give you an address for the family in 1841 - allowing it to be located in the 1841 census. One can then check the 1851 census to see if they were still living at the same address.

Contact your nearest LDS Family History Centre to see if you can see the family tree the original Family History records came from. While we already know it is not perfectly accurate it could save you a lot of work and lead you to distant living cousins you didn't know you had.

SAPWELL, Wheathampstead, late 19th century

Patricia responded with some additional information relating to the Sapwell family of Wheathampstead: Very many thanks indeed for your answer to my queries about Joseph Read. The amount and detail of information you've provided me with is astounding - it gives me a much better understanding of that particular time, and also some very practical leads to follow up.

I would just mention that Mary Read's place of birth was given as Pickett's End, Hemel Hempstead in the 1881 census. By then, she was married to James Sapwell (an agricultural labourer, and subsequently a shepherd) and was living in Wheathampstead. They had three children. I have vivid memories of the two younger, although only knew them when they were both elderly.

"Pickett's End" will be Piccotts End, a hamlet on the outskirts of Hemel Hempstead, about 10 minutes walk from The Bell, in Hemel High Street.

Ellen Sapwell (the middle child) was my great-grandmother. She left Wheathampstead in order to marry my great-grandfather in 1892. Like many other young women she had been in service, although I don't know where.

James Sapwell (the younger son, who never married), was an agricultural labourer - and also poacher, who escaped arrest at least once in a tussle with a local policeman. In later years he lived - in exchange for doing various odd jobs - in a garden shed belonging to Mary Cox, who I believe was the wife/widow of a Wheathampsted game-keeper. She and Ellen were great friends. My 84 year old uncle (Ellen's grandson) recollects being taken in the early 1920s to stay at Mrs Cox's house during summer holidays.

William Sapwell - whom I never knew - was Mary's oldest child. He lived in Wheathamptead with his aunt (Ann Parkins nee Sapwell) and her family. I believe that he also remained unmarried, so the Sapwell name in Wheathampstead died out.

There are web page for Hemel Hempstead and Wheathampstead.

If you can add to the information given above tell me.


Page created February 2005