James Fretwell’s Diary – circa 1720

James Fretwell, of Thorpe-in-Balne, kept a diary of his day to day life. I used to think that anyone that kept such a record was a little sad, however, as an amateur historian; I have changed my mind completely. Diaries are a window to the past from the eyes and minds of the people. They are an insight into the weather, work, families, happy times, and sad times, ad infinitum.

Excellent, honest James Fretwell, of Thorpe, was the son of industrious and pious parents. He was clearly one who dearly loved a gossip. “He had a finger for every man’s button hole”. “He helped to distribute wherever he could, in the busy haunts of men, or the secluded village, the chit-chat of the hour – social, political, and miscellaneous.”

He wrote about many local landmarks and people but one of those places stands out from the page more than any other account. This is the church of St Oswald, on the banks of the river, at Kirk Sandall. He describes the scene this way,

“…from early morning to deepening twilight, lingering in the green lane to tend cattle, and who took great delight for once in his life. But whilst the wayside, field, and meadow, were glowing with flowers, the stream and pond had their appropriate floral ornament. The white crowfoot was still adorning the silver current, and duckweeds floated on the placid surface of the pond. A profusion of flowers were sprinkled all around, and the finger-post reads ‘Bentley and Arksey’……..”

Another account that he goes into detail on is that of the ancient chapel in Thorpe and a horrific incident that occurred there. Originally the building was encircled by a moat. Charles Hatfield, taking inspiration from Hunter, describes it this way “It is a longitudinal building: the nave twelve yards and a half in length, the chancel three yards, the width six yards, divided by an arch into two equal portions. The principal entrance is on the north side, by a doorway beneath several semi-circular arches springing from cylindrical columns. Light is admitted by two lancet-shaped windows on each side, and another at the west end; while on the east wall are three, placed round one which is wider than the rest. The openings in the wall, which is very thick, widened towards the interior. On the right side of the altar is a small recess in the wall and a very fair piscine with a trefoil top and a shelf within.”

The terrible occurrence that took place within these walls in the autumn of 1452 is spoken of in great detail by James Fretwell indicating that, although over 250 years had passed, the grim legacy that was left was still very much at the forefront of peoples minds. The incident led to an act of parliament being passed in the same year for the ‘redress of the grievance and the better protection of females’.

“In the ancient Baronetage of England there are few more illustrious houses than the Beaumont’s, whose direct descent in a male line from the Royal House of France appears to be satisfactorily established. During the reign of Edward III, John Lord Beaumont married Eleanor, one of the daughters of Henry, Earl of Lancaster. Among the possessions of this great family was Thorpe-in-Balne, which is mentioned in an inquisition of Henry, son of John De Beaumont, in the 39th year of the reign of King Edward III. The estate was lorded over by one Sir Henry Beaumont, a younger branch of the family. On his death he left a widow named Joan, and two children named Henry and Annis. Joan remarried Charles Nowel, Esq. in 1452.”

The following Friday, “before the feast of All-hallows, in the 31st year of the reign of Henry VI, or October 27th, 1452, the said Joan being in God’s peace and the King’s in the chapel within the town of Thorpe-in-Balne, hearing her high-mass, there came one Edward Lancaster, of Skipton-in-Craven, Gentleman; William Lancaster of Burgham-in-Westmoreland, gentleman; John Curson of Belthorpe, gentleman; John Paslewe of Barnby-on-the-Don, gentleman; with others, to the number of forty persons. Edward Lancaster, assisted by the rest with force and arms, feloniously ravished the said Joan, and having set her on horse-back behind a man of his, binding her fast to him with a towel, conveyed her away to some unknown place, and then in order that she might have no suit against him for rape, took her to a church, where a Priest was ready to perform the ceremony of marriage. She utterly refused to say the words of matrimony stating that she was the wife of another person. When she persisted in this opposition Lancaster threatened to beat her and to carry her off into Scotland. She still resisted, asking the Priest how he dared to marry them, since they had not been lawfully cited in the church; he replied that he dared not do otherwise for fear of his life!”

“…And so she was; against her will, married to Lancaster. At the same time her daughter, Annis, was carried away from Thorpe after being made lame, and that John Cooke and John Louth, servants of Joan were wounded in the struggle, also, goods to the value of 100 shillings were carried away. “

Edward Lancaster was later imprisoned on a charge of rape and trespass. New powers were given to justices to annul marriages that were believed to have been forced by violence. It seems that, women who had inherited monies from a deceased spouse were extremely vulnerable indeed.

And now back to James Fretwell’s Diary – “…..my Grandfather, William Fretwell, married a widow in the village of Thorpe-in-Balne; her name was Jennings. He bought the ground where my father built our house in 1696. I have relations from my mother’s side at Barnby-upon-Dunn called Brewster’s and who went to Sandall School in the time of the Civil Wars.”

He continues, “I was a very weakly child and at an early age I was sent to an old school dame; but not coming up to her expectations, my mother sent me to Kirk Sandall School, where one Mr. Edward Ounsworth was Master. At the age of 5 I was expected to walk to and from school alone but the distance being too long, my father boarded me with a widow woman at Sandall named Mary Stainforth, returning home on a Saturday. Afterward, on the death of Mr. Ounsworth, came Mr Thomas Mawhood, son of John Mawhood, of Skellow, and I was boarded in the same house with him. I remained in these schools until the year 1713, when I was moved to the Free School at Doncaster. I boarded with another widow, this time a Mrs Jarratt, next door, save one, to the Angel Inn. At this school I got through vulgar arithmetic and decimal fractions, with some little of practical geometry.”

“On the 16th April, 1715, my father put me to trade in his own business (carpentry), and I commenced with the practical part, riving laths and hewing wood with my father’s workmen. I worked in Bird Springs Wood, near Stubbs-Walding (Walden stubbs), Edlington Wood, and the following year in Burghwallis Wood (see the maps at the foot of page for these locations). Later in life I would have the privilege of planting my own woods and so in November 1735 I planted a young orchard at Norton in a place called the Wainhouse Garth, the trees I had grown from seed myself!”

“On Monday 13th May, 1750 came the death of Roger Portington, esq. Lord of the Manor of Barnby-upon-Dun. He was a very honest gentleman and a good neighbour, but I think sometimes a little disordered in his mind, especially if he got ever so little liquor…..”

“The following year, 1751, saw the death of another great man, Bryan Cooke died on Tuesday, November 26th. He was interred Bryan Cooke Esq. of Owston, and recorder of Doncaster; I think he was but about a year older than myself; we were school fellows at Doncaster; he was never married and had only one brother living, Anthony, to whom his estate descended; he was not married at last time, but after some time married a daughter of Mr. Eyre, of Adwick-le-street.”

Mr James Fretwell left a great legacy through his upright spiritual life. He was a kindly gentleman who was well known in the area for his pleasantness and honesty. Mr Fretwell’s last will and testament came into play on the 8th of July, 1772, upon his death. At the service the vicar described him as a man “of eccentric habits, full of humour, and who loved a joke.”

A copy of the will was entered in the Parish Registers and “deposited in an oaken chest, double locked; and seldom opened, in the vestry of the Parish Church of Barnby-upon-Dun.”

The will is as follows:

(Note from Editor – The following is pretty heavy-going, if not a little repetitive, therefore, I have highlighted the main points in bold type)

In the name of God, Amen. I James Fretwell, late of Thorpe-in-Balne, in the Parish of Barmby-upon-Dun, in the County of York, Yeoman, being in perfect health of body, and of sound and perfect memory (thanks be to God for the same), and calling to mind the uncertainty of this life, judge proper to settle my temporal affairs while I have an opportunity of doing it, knowing assuredly that there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, whither I am going. And therefore I do make, ordain, and declare this, my last will and testament, in manner and form following (that is to say): First and principally I commend my soul into the hands of Almighty God, hoping, through the merits, death, and passion of my Saviour Jesus Christ, to have full and free pardon and forgiveness of all my sins, (of which I desire, and will, by God’s grace, now endeavour sincerely to repent) and inherit eternal life. And my body I commit unto the earth whence it was taken, desiring it to be decently interred in the Church-yard of Barmby-upon-Dun aforesaid. And as touching the disposal of my temporal estate (after returning my sincere thanks to Almighty God, my good and bountiful benefactor, who blessed me with it), I give and dispose thereof as follows:-

Imprimis: I will that all my just debts be paid and satisfied.

Item: I give and bequeath, unto my loving brother, Thomas Routh, of Pontefract, Grocer, and Michael Woodhouse, of Stubbs Walden, in the Parish of Womersley, Tanner; my loving kinsman, Robert Atkinson, of Hatfield Woodhouse, in the parish of Hatfield, Gentleman, all of them in the County of York, and the Constable of Thorpe-in-Balne aforesaid for the time being, and to their successors (to be chosen as hereinafter directed) for ever, the yearly annuity of £5 of current money of Great Britain, to be paid out of my lands in Norton, in the parish of Campsall, in the County of York, by four equal quarterly payments; that is to say, one pounds five shillings upon the twenty-fifth day of March yearly, one pound five shillings on the twenty-fourth day of June yearly, one pound five shillings on the twenty-ninth day of September yearly, and one pound five shillings upon the twenty-fifth day of December yearly, without any deduction for or in respect of taxes or assessments, charged by authority of Parliament or otherwise upon any of my said lands in Norton aforesaid, now in the tenure or occupation of Thomas Wilson or his assigns; the first payment to be made on the second of those days which shall happen next after my decease; and if any of the said quarterly  payments shall be behind or unpaid by the space of thirty days next after the several days appointed for payment thereof (being lawfully demanded at the house in Norton wherein the said Thomas Wilson now dwells or in any other place of the person in possession), then I will that my trustees or their successors, or any of them, shall have full power to enter into all or any part of the premises charged with the said annuity to make a distress for the said quarterly payment of the said one pound five shillings, or any arrears that shall be behind or unpaid at the time of making this distress; and also for the charges of such distress, in the same manner as the law shall direct and allow landlords to do in the case of rent; which said annuity of five pounds I will that my trustees before-mentioned, and their successors forever, shall dispose of as hereinafter directed, and to no other use whatever.

First, upon condition of the minister of the parish church of Barmby-upon-Dun aforesaid (for the time being), do yearly and every year, upon the first Lord’-day in the month of May, in the afternoon of the same day (and without omitting the usual forenoon sermon), preach a sermon in the said Parish Church, upon the subject of sanctifying the Lord’s Day; and also yearly and every year, upon the first Lord’s Day in June, in the afternoon of the same day (and without omitting the usual forenoon sermon), preach a sermon in the said Parish Church, upon the subject of family religion, and particularly on family prayer; and I will that my trustees, and their successors, shall and do yearly, and every year forever, pay unto the minister of Barmby-upon-Dun aforesaid (for the time being), the sum of thirteen shillings and fourpence, but if the minister of Barmby-upon-Dun aforesaid (for the time being), shall refuse, neglect, or omit to preach the said two sermons, or either of them, upon the day before appointed for preaching the same, or shall not preach upon the subjects before appointed, or shall omit the forenoon sermon on either of those days, then I will that the said sum of thirteen shillings and fourpence shall not be paid to the said minister of Barmby-upon-Dun aforesaid, so often as such refusal, neglect, or omission, or nonconformity to this, my said will, shall happen, but that it shall be disposed of as hereinafter directed.

Item: I will, upon condition, that the minister of Campsall, in the County of York (for the time being) do yearly and every year, upon the first Lord’-day in the month of September, in the afternoon of the same day (and without omitting the usual forenoon sermon), preach a sermon in the said Parish Church, upon the subject of sanctifying the Lord’s Day; and also yearly and every year, upon the first Lord’s Day in October, in the afternoon of the same day (and without omitting the usual forenoon sermon), preach a sermon in the said Parish Church, upon the subject of family religion, and particularly on family prayer; and I will that my trustees, and their successors, shall and do yearly, and every year forever, pay unto the minister of Campsall aforesaid (for the time being), the sum of thirteen shillings and fourpence, but if the minister of Campsall aforesaid (for the time being), shall refuse, neglect, or omit to preach the said two sermons, or either of them, upon the day before appointed for preaching the same, or shall not preach upon the subjects before appointed, or shall omit the forenoon sermon on either of those days, then I will that the said sum of thirteen shillings and fourpence shall not be paid to the said minister of Campsall aforesaid, so often as such refusal, neglect, or omission, or nonconformity to this, my said will, shall happen, but that it shall be disposed of as hereinafter directed: and my will is, that the first of these sermons, in either of the churches before mentioned, shall be preached upon the first of those days before appointed for preaching the same that shall happen next after the day on which the first quarterly payment shall become due to my trustees as above directed.

Item: I will that my trustees and their successors forever, shall provide two bibles yearly, of an octavo size, containing all of the canonical books of the old and new testaments (and nothing more), which they shall give on the twentieth day of June yearly) to two poor children (of my poor relations), if any such apply for them, (or if none such appear) then to two poor children living in Thorpe aforesaid, whether legally settled or not, who are of the full age of twelve years, and can read, and can also repeat or say without book those parts of Scripture following, that is to say – the fifteenth, the one hundred and first, and the one hundred and forty-fifth Psalms in prose of the last translation of the Bible; thirteenth chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians, the third chapter of his Epistle to the Colossians, and the first chapter of the First General Epistle of St. James; and my will and meaning is, that if only one child qualified shall apply to the said trustees for a Bible, it shall be given to such child; but if either one or both of the said Bibles be not disposed of as aforesaid for want of a child or children qualified as above directed presenting themselves, that then such Bible or Bibles be reserved until the next year, and so from year to year until they shall be disposed of on the terms before mentioned. But my will is that no one child shall receive more than one Bible, if they should present themselves at any other time afterwards.

Item: All the remainder of the said five pounds annually, after having paid the sums before mentioned, upon the conditions before appointed, I will that the trustees and their successors forever, shall apply to and for the teaching of poor children to read English and to instruct them in the principals of the Christian Protestant religion, and in the choice of the said children, I will that if any of my poor relations offer themselves, that they shall have the preference of any others; but if no such present themselves, then any children residing in Thorpe, whether legally settled or not. And my will is, that no child shall be taught who is under six years of age, nor shall continue to be taught above three years; and as the children are to be chosen by my trustees and their successors so I will that they be removed by them before the expiration of three years (if they shall see good reason for so doing), and others put in their stead. And if the ministers before mentioned, or either of them, do not perform the conditions before mentioned to entitle them to the said sums mentioned to be paid unto them, or if their be not Bibles bought yearly as aforesaid, then I will that all such sums remaining in the hands of my trustees, or their successors, shall be applied to and for the teaching of poor children to read English as is before appointed. And to the end that all persons concerned may be satisfied how the before bequeathed annuities are disposed of, I will that the Constables of Thorpe-in-Balne aforesaid, for the time being, who is one of my trustees, shall keep, or cause to be kept, an account, to be kept in the Town’s book, how the said annuity of five pounds is disposed of, as to what children have been put to school, the time when, and also when dismissed; what Bibles have been bought and to whom given, and the time when; whether the ministers before mentioned, or either of them, have preformed the condition by which they are entitled to the sums before mentioned, and have been paid accordingly, or else have been applied to the use before mentioned; and my will further is, that, upon the death of any of my trustees afore-mentioned, or their successors, or in case of their refusing to act therein (except it be the Constable of Thorpe-in-Balne aforesaid), the surviving trustees shall choose another in place or stead of such persons so dead or refusing to act as aforesaid. And lastly, I desire that this last paragraph of my Last Will and Testament, relating to the several charitable bequests before mentioned, may be transcribed into the town’s book of Thorpe aforesaid, and also into the parish register of Barmby-upon-Dun aforesaid. And as it was from a principal of Christian love that I have made this small provision for the benefit of my poor Christian brethren, so I desire and hope that my trustees and their successors will, from the same benevolent principals see that it be employed to the uses designed by me; and for their encouragement in doing so, they have the best assurance of being requited by Him from whom every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour; and I pray God to give a blessing to this small beginning, and to raise up benefactors to this poor village, who are of abilities and disposition to do more than is in my power to do for it.

Item: I give and bequeath to my sister, Mary Routh, the sum of three hundred pounds, to be paid by three yearly payments, the first whereof to be made within twelve months after my decease, the second within two years after my decease, and the third within three years after my decease.

Item: I give and bequeath to my sister, Elizabeth Woodhouse, the sum of two hundred pounds, to be paid within two years after my decease

Item: I give and bequeath to my brother, William Fretwell, his heirs and assigns forever, all my lands, tenements, and hereditaments whatsoever, lying and being in the township of Norton aforesaid, and in the township of Kirk Smeaton in the County of York, he and they paying the annuity of five pounds per annum, before charged upon my estate in Norton, according to the true design and intent of this, my Last Will and Testament.

All the rest and residue of my personal estate, goods and chattels whatsoever, I do give and bequeath to my loving brother, William Fretwell, who I do hereby constitute full and sole executor of this my Last Will and Testament. And I do hereby revoke, disannul, and make void all former wills and testaments by me heretofore made. In witness thereof, I, the said James Fretwell, to this my Last Will and Testament, and containing three sheets of paper, have set my hand at the bottom or foot of the two former sheets, and to this have put my hand and seal, this thirty-first day of December, in the twenty-fifth year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord George II, by the grace of God King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, and so forth, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and fifty-one. Signed, sealed, published, and declared by the testator to be his Last Will and Testament, in whose presence, and at whose request, we have hereunto subscribed our names as witness to the execution thereof:

John Bower

Mary Routh

John Bower Jnr

James Fretwell.

Maps of wood locations today.


And finally, I understand Burghwallis Wood to be now called Squirrel Wood 

2 responses to “James Fretwell’s Diary – circa 1720

  1. Those 18th century wills. Having transcribed several in the course of family history research I feel sure that the solicitors who drew them up were paid by the word.

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