Given the TV programme featuring Britain’s biggest family, you might be interested to hear about a very large Warwickshire family reported by the Rugby Advertiser in 1912 as follows. It claims 42 children!
In the churchyard of this village [Monks Kirby] there is an interesting tombstone, which, I think, is very little known, and which shows that years ago some people, at least, did their duty well in the way of helping to increase the population of their country. The inscription, which is somewhat defaced, reads as follows: – “In memory of Eliz. Mott, wife of John Mott, who died October the . . ., 1786, aged 70 years. Married 44 years, and mother of 42 children. A loving wife, and a tender mother, Scarce left behind her such another.” How she would have delighted President Roosevelt, and many others who deplore the declining birth-rate of the present day. The present sexton told me that the good lady had twins at each birth, but I felt I ought to take this statement cum grano salis. This stone, together with several more, was many years ago taken from its station against the churchyard wall and laid down on the footpath, and the passing of footsteps and a wheeled bier over the spot have caused great damage to them. I earnestly recommend to the Vicar and Churchwardens the paramount necessity of at once rescuing this stone from its undignified position, having the letters re-cut, and the stone placed in some prominent and safe place.1
What’s in the parish register?
I consulted the parish registers for Monks Kirby, cared for by Warwickshire County Record Office. There clearly were Motts living in the local area, and I even found two sets of Mott twins – Basil & William, baptised 24 February 1728, and Elizabeth & Mary, baptised 20 September 1735, all children of William and Mary Mott of Street [the nearby hamlet of Street Ashton].2
However there was no sign of an 18th-century marriage between John Mott and Elizabeth, no babies baptised at that time, nor a burial of Elizabeth Mott in Monks Kirby in that year. On the point of giving up I consulted the Memorial Inscriptions for Monks Kirby at the record office and discovered that Elizabeth Mott’s tombstone says she died in 1730 but her burial record is October 1726, not 1786 as the article suggested3 – no wonder I couldn’t find her 60 years later!
With this information I was able to find a marriage between John Mott and Elizabeth Smith on 26 November 1683, and eight of their children baptised in Monks Kirby (though no twins): Latticia in May 1687, Maria in December 1688, Richard in August 1690, Thomas in January 1692, Francisca [?] in November 1693, Sara in 1694 [month unclear], Bridgid [?] in July 1698 and another Sarah in January 1700.4 I may have missed some because the entries are in in Latin and the writing is hard to read. It’s rather surprising that no children are recorded in the first four years after their marriage and ancestry does not reveal any baptisms elsewhere in Warwickshire or adjacent counties. The family lived in Newnham Paddox from 1688 onwards, and Elizabeth was living at ‘Ye Lodge’ when she died.
Was it true?
If the tombstone is correct in her age (70) then she was probably the Elizabeth Smythe, born in Monks Kirby to John and Hannah on the 5th February 1656. This would mean she was 27 years old on marriage, and had already missed 10 years of fertile life.5 It seems almost impossible she would have been able to produce 42 children between then and the menopause.
I wonder if the tombstone included her grandchildren? I was unable to find it in the churchyard at Monks Kirby, though there’s one illegible tombstone on a path that could perhaps be it. There are a number of references on the internet to John and Elizabeth Mott’s enormous family – and it is said to be the largest family in England – but I suspect we should take the claim with a grain of salt, as suggested in the Rugby Advertiser.
So is it true or a myth? You decide!
1 Rugby Advertiser Sept. 14th 1912, page 3 col. 1.
2 Parish Register for Monks Kirby, Sept. 20th 1735, Warwickshire County Record Office reference DR 380/1.
3 Ibid, Oct. 27th 1726.
4 Ibid, various dates as shown.
5 Ibid, Feb 14th 1656.