The Tenant Of Yew Tree Farm: Another chapter in the Family Saga

Where did Abraham Scott and his brother Isaac come from? A mystery yet to be solved.

Around 1715, he was the tenant of Yew Tree at Goldenhill, Tunstall, probably the home farm on the eponymous estate held by Henry Bourne. The Bournes lived in the “Big House” as we can tell from the will of the elderly gentleman William Bourne, who mentions at least 17 rooms. Abraham’s will mentions far fewer than that.

He was a potter, and must have been a man of some social standing since he married Barbara Copland, daughter of Thomas Copland and Barbara Wedgwood, both well-respected pottery families. Barbara was born about 1679, so we can assume that Abraham was also around the same age. They married on 21 April 1706, and had at least four daughters and a son. Sadly, only two of these children survived, and it seems likely that Barbara died in 1718 in giving birth to her last baby, who was also named Barbara. The other little girl, Sarah, would have been about three at the time of her mother’s death.

Abraham managed somehow with his little family, but then in 1727 he remarried, this time to Hannah Colclough who was considerably younger than himself, and came from another well-established Tunstall family. Together they had five more children, although their second son Isaac died in his first year.

From various documents, we know that Abraham was involved with several other men in exploiting the natural resources of the land of which he was tenant. He is described as an “earth potter” in one bill, suggesting that he used clay dug from the soil of his farm, which although not good arable land, was also rich in coal and iron. He and a number of other men were mining this in the 1730’s, as we know from two cases brought in the civil court disputing the rights and title to the mines and the “coal gotten therefrom”. Did this hard work and these disputes contribute towards his bad health? We are told: “Despite great demand for the products (cannel coal and ironstone), operations were not on a large scale, six workmen being the maximum number employed at any one time. Great expense was incurred in drainage, and there were several old workings, 14 yds and more deep and some 150 yards long, which the partners cleared of the dirt and rubbish filling them.“

Towards the end of 1736, Abraham was taken ill and less than two months before he died he made his will. It is very clear from this that he was a most loving and solicitous husband and father. The inventory of his goods, cattle and chattels includes his “potting tools” but does not mention any mining operations. Besides his widow he had 6 daughters to provide for and one son, still just a baby at the time of his death.

His eldest daughter Sarah was already suitably married and her husband had received articles covering her portion of Abraham’s estate, so he didn’t have to concern himself too much with her, but he obviously cared very much that his second daughter, eighteen-year-old Barbara, should not be neglected. At that period, in a time before banks, people did not necessarily have a lot of money. Abraham’s bequests to Barbara are valuable pieces of furniture with sentimental value: many pieces belonged to her mother, whom she never knew.

My feeling is that Barbara had a very special place in Abraham’s heart. She is the very first person mentioned in his will, and receives the sum of fifteen pounds to be paid in two annual instalments – that is, unless his beloved wife should marry again, in which case Barbara would need the full sum as soon as possible. In addition, she receives: “one Bed that was her Mother’s standing in the Parlour Chamber with its Bedstead, Hangings Bedquilt and all the furniture hereunto belonging and one pair of Flaxen Sheets that were her Mother’s and one Chest of Drawers and one Chest both standing in the said Parlour Chamber and one Oval Table standing in the Houseplace and a Long Table standing in the Parlour and two of my largest Pewter Dishes.”

The other children were aged one to eight years at the time of their father’s death. Each girl is bequeathed £5 and son Abraham Jr the sum of £10, on attaining the age of 21. He makes a point in his will of charging their mother “my loving wife … to maintain, educate and bring up my said four children”.

His widow, Hannah, seems to have fulfilled this charge and young Abraham became a potter like his father. My feeling is that Hannah and Barbara got along well and probably shared the task of raising the three little girls and the little boy, since Barbara seems to have been in no rush to marry and get away from her stepmother. In fact, Barbara didn’t marry until she was 27, and presumably she then took her furniture with her. Did this leave the house half-empty? Just one month after Barbara’s wedding, in July 1745, Hannah remarried too, and lived – I hope happily – for another thirty-two years. The pottery business remained in the family: young Abraham married another Colclough girl and appears to have had a son, also called Abraham, who took it into the third generation, as is shown on his 1799 marriage record.

What happened in the nineteenth century is another story.

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