Margaret and Mary L’s story

The name Lovegrove was around in Chippenham for centuries. There’s a marriage of a Lovegrove in the records from 1611, so the family were probably the town during Tudor times. However, by 1802 the name had died out, having gone to ground with a childless widow and her unmarried sister-in-law.

Mary Dunn, from Chippenham, became Mary Lovegrove when she married Ambrose Lovegrove at St Andrew’s church in 1762. At the time, Mary was around 43 and Ambrose was around 40 – which might indicate why the couple did not have surviving children. Ambrose’s sister Margaret, who appears to have lived with the couple later on, was about eight years younger than him. They had also had a brother, William, who was younger than Ambrose but older than Margaret, but he died in the 1740s aged just 16. There were other Lovegroves in Chippenham during the 18th century, but gradually they either moved away or died out.

Very little is available about Mary and Margaret’s earlier life, but by the late 1780s they were all living in a property in Chippenham known as The Bacon House. Exactly where this was located has not come to light, but with that name it is likely to have been a historical property, and tax returns and a later inventory indicate it was sizeable, and was probably somewhere in the older part of the town. Later on, it was sold to a Mr Spencer. However, it is not listed as a local seat in a list of gentry in 1791, so it clearly was not in the landed gentry realm.

The family appear to have been yeoman farmers by tradition, and Ambrose and Margaret’s father William’s earlier 18th century accounts detail land held at Rowden Down and many sales of pigs around the district. However, after he died in 1778 the pig business appears to have gone south, and daughter Margaret – who had inherited £1,500 on his death, a yearly stipend, and all his household goods – used his books for household accounts.

Directories of the late 18th century give Margaret and Mary as local gentry, meaning that they didn’t have to work for their income – bills show that they had income from a turnpike at Stanley and Stanton St Quintin, in opposite directions but just outside Chippenham, and rents from parcels of land that they let to tenants at Tytherton Lucas and off the town’s Causeway. Once William Lovegrove had died, they also rented the land formerly used for pigs at Rowden Down. They also invested large sums – at least £500 at a time – in the stock market. Ambrose was on the list of voters for parliament around that time, and also helped elect someone for knighthood.

When Ambrose died in 1788, Mary was 69 and Margaret was 58. These were considered advanced ages for the time, and they lived together and supported each other. Margaret’s detailed accounts give a full view of these two older women and the sort of life they led in the last years of the 18th century. For this pair, money was not a problem, so they were able to eat and drink what they chose and furnish their lifestyle as they saw fit. The fact that Margaret was literate (unlike many people of that time), and able to run accounts and manage their money, gives an insight into a purely female household.

She details their day-to-day expenses. There are regular purchases of meat (veal and beef were favourites), fish, butter, sugar, bread, chocolate, milk and “gardenstuf” – effectively 18th century shorthand for vegetables like potatoes, turnips, carrots, onions, cabbages, and other greens.

Gardenstuf, in the 18th century

More unusual items in the lists include: “a pig’s face and an ounce of tea”, and “An ounce of coffee, a brush and six faggots”. She also lists household items and other expenses – candles, occasional oranges, a pack of cards, payments of poor rates, a pack of cards, charges for using the highways, two gallons of Lisbon wine, an old cheese, cleaning and mending a clock, and five shillings to Mr Coombes the organist. Services are also recorded in the book – six months’ wages to trusted servant Mary, the weekly use of a washerwoman (it cost a shilling), ironing of garments, and whitewashing the house and sweeping the chimneys.

They also had building work done on their house in 1798, as there’s a receipt from Margaret paying the workers. While we don’t know exactly where The Baron House was – and indeed the area of Chippenham where it must have been located saw various development since the early 19th century so it may not even exist anymore – their tax returns indicate that it must have been sizable. The window tax dues show that there were up to 16 windows on the house that they were taxed upon. To give a comparison, the nearby Angel Hotel, which was in use as a coaching inn on the great Western road at the time, has 20 windows that face the street, and the current rectory (which wasn’t used for that purpose in Mary and Margaret’s time) has 22. Although not all of their house’s 16 windows would have faced the front, this gives the impression of a fairly grand property but not quite as big as others belonging to local gentry.

Another tax that they had to pay was that on hair powder, brought in in 1795, meaning that they almost certainly wore wigs.

Among her other documents, there is also Margaret’s bill from a Chippenham general merchant from 1800. Here she bought the household rush lights, candles, muslin fabric, pocket linings, sugar, cheese, butter, bombazet fabric, cotton fabric, nails, cotton stockings, worsted fabric, and tea. Fabric purchases probably mean that they made their own clothes, as there are no bills for dressmakers. At Mary Landen’s shop there were purchases of pork, bran, cakes, sugar, tea, a leg of lamb and chops, bread, and water of lye – which would have been used for washing. She bought a dozen wine from merchant John Goulten.

Bombazet fabric

There are also bills for reblackening of a tea kettle and a frying pan, and replating of metal items – sugar tongs, wine funnel, pepper box, gold rings, coffee pot, ladles, spoons, a silver snuff box. Snuff, a type of dipping tobacco that would be placed under the nose or between gum and upper lip, was often a female way of using tobacco at the time – both women and men would more often smoke it in clay pipes – and there was a stereotype of older ladies working hard outside with a lip full of snuff. Mary and Margaret, because of their class, are more likely to have used it discretely in the home – if they used it at all, as snuff or tobacco does not feature in their accounts.

Mary died in September 1800, aged 81. This left Margaret to settle all of her affairs, and there are extensive receipts for this. Mary had clearly been ill since the beginning of the year, as a doctor’s bill shows repeated instances of medical services. Dr Thomas Greensmith, who was based towards the village of Box, billed her for: pints of nervous mixture, a bottle of lavender drops, countless large boxes of pills, cardiac mixture, opening a vein, a blister on the stomach (a plaster with caustic ointment on it to draw out toxins), saline draughts, tamarind, balsamic draughts, pearl barley, attendance in the night, ointment for the blister, a pint of Imperial water, extracting a tooth, an aperient (laxative) draught, camphorated spirits of wine and port, essential oil of peppermint, a bottle of emetic mixture, febrifuge (fever reducing) balms and mixtures, and more aperient pills.

From this mixture of cures, it seems that there wasn’t one specific thing ailing Mary, and this seems like general maladies caused by old age. 81 is a particularly old age for the time, when most died much earlier. And the year’s bill came to £5.1.7d.

As Mary’s executrix, Margaret’s records also include bills for her funeral expenses at Chippenham’s St Andrew’s church. She was laid to rest next to Ambrose and his parents. Expenses ran to a grave digger, a shroud and a coffin lining. Mourners were bought hat bands, capes, black ribbons and silk and kid gloves. She left five pounds to several people, and sixty pounds to her niece Elizabeth.

As part of her affairs, Mary’s house had to be valued by solicitors. Taking place in October 1800, this gives a better idea of the sort of dwelling the Baron House was. There was a kitchen (with a spit, roasting rack, knives, toasting forks, a copper warming pan, and various other items), a hall where they ate, a parlour, three bedrooms (one with a four poster bed), a pantry, a brewhouse, a stable, a coal house, a cellar and a garden – where there was a chicken coop. On this inventory list, Margaret has written “mine” next to things that she owned rather than Mary. The household was valued at £103.16.6d.

Once Margaret was alone, her household bills continued unchecked. She invested in the stock market, and commissions, which gives an indication of how finances for them worked once the pig business stopped. Their various parcels of land were rented to others, and they had a share in a dwelling at the Kings Head inn, next to the church.

She had been left a house and decided to sell it. She put adverts in the Bath newspapers and on handbills around the town. It was bought at auction by a Mr Spencer, and the paperwork drawn up by local solicitors. Whether this was actually The Baron House or a separate dwelling is not clear, as she appears to have spent the rest of her days in the house they had lived in together. Mr Spencer would appear to be surgeon Thomas Spencer, and his wife Alice.

Part of the reason for the sale is that Margaret appeared to be making provision for her eventual demise. Her will, written around this time, says that she leaves all her plate to Miss Thermuthis Ashe – daughter of Squire Ashe of Langley Burrell – and Mrs Sarah Randall, formerly Miss Sarah Goldney, daughter of town clerk and bailiff Gabriel Goldney. “Plate” in this case included a coffee pot, a set of teaspoons, a cream jug, pepper box and sugar plyers. She also left a silver teapot to Sarah’s mother.

The list of Margaret’s friends who were in line to receive five guineas to enable them to buy a mourning ring – a strong 18th century tradition – when she died shows the circles she moved in. They are mostly widows and spinsters, with nobody carrying a title. She also left her trusted servant, twice-widowed Lucy Gawen, ten pounds in her will.

18th century mourning ring

Margaret died in June 1802, aged 70. She was buried with her parents, brother and sister-in-law at St Andrew’s Church. Her affairs were wrapped up by solicitors, with her household re-inventoried. Their multiple bills and Margaret’s meticulous record keeping paint a very vivid portrait of life for elderly women at the tail end of the 18th century.

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