Answers to Questions


PIERCE, Ware, 1750

September, 2005




Santa Traugott (strau @t of Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA writes: In his will, probated July 1750, Harvey Pierce willed to his son John Harvey Pierce, his "freehold estate" in Ware. (I obtained this will from UK gov archives) I have no idea how to go about looking up the location and name of this estate, but I am very curious as to whether this is the "Wychurch" in (at?) which John Harvey Pierce is supposed to have been born.  Is it possible for you to identify this estate from this scanty information (which is all I have at present)?

When someone dies all the things they own make up their estate. A "freehold estate" could be any kind of property which the person owned outright. In theory it could be anything from a pig sty to a large house with a significant area of land. In many cases it might be the place where the deceased lived and worked, while another possibility is a row of workers cottages whose rent would provide some income in retirement (effectively a pension fund).

From the little information you have supplied one can do no more than to suggest some possible limits. Reference histories such as the Victoria County History and Cussans give details of property owners of the various manors which typically make up what we might now call a country estate - and no-one called Pierce is listed. At the other end most people were tenants and would not have owned any freehold property, and would not have been well enough off to consider paying to have a will drafted.

The will may contain other clues. For instance, if Harvey Pierce was described as a Gentleman he may have lived on the rent from the properties he owned. If he was a yeoman the property may have been his farm. If, for example, he was a brewer the property may have been a brewery. In addition the property may have remained in the family for several generations - and may be more helpfully described in other wills.

So what sources might be available. HALS has the land tax returns for Ware from 1712 to 1831 which cover the period that you are interested in. There would be a return for each year which would detail the owner, tenant if any, and the tax due. If you are lucky it may include the address or at least a street name - and the tax paid would give you some idea of the value of the property. By looking at successive years this could help you to find the dates the Pierce family owned the freehold.

HALS may also have other records from the period, but you will need to ask them.

"Wychurch" may be the town of that name in Kent - I am not aware of the name from Hertfordshire.

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