A Withybrook Will and the Mason Family History

A view of cottages in Withybrook. 1930s
IMAGE LOCATION: (Warwickshire County Record Office)
Reference: PH(N), 888/829, img: 6826
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The will begins:

I Nathaniel Mason of Withybrook in the County of Warwick Grasior being of sound and perfect mind memory and understanding God be praised to make and ordain this to be my last will and testament in manner and form following and first and principally command my soul in the hands of God Almighty and my body I commit to the earth to be reverently buryed  at the discretion of my executor herein after named and as for and concerning such worldly estate as it hath pleased God to bestow upon me I give and dispose as followeth

WOW – didn’t know that there was no punctuation in those days and that it would go on for three pages in a script and wording  with which I was not all that familiar. It soon became clear that Nathaniel had died childless and that his brother JOHN MASON and his brother-in-law JOHN BLOCKLEY, husband to his sister ELIZABETH,  would be his executors and that JOHN MASON would get the largest part of the estate. Guess this is why the Johns in my direct line farmed the land in Withybrook. John Mason born in 1748 is my 3x great grandfather and it is his daughter Ann Mason that marries into the Perkins family: my ancestor John Perkins was her son.

Help with my family tree

Why would I want to spend so much time on the will of someone who died almost 300 years ago? The answer is “I’m  crazy – well yes – but I am also curious and a family historian” and this will gives me a great deal of information about my Mason family. They appear to have lived in Warwickshire for a very long time: Sarah, daughter of Thomas Mason was born March 4, 1653 in Withybrook and a Thomas Mason was buried there in the church cemetery age 91 in 1691 – meaning he was born around 1600. Good possibility that he was the father of Thomas Jr. born in 1633 – so there we are, almost 400 years on the farm.

A Withybrook farmer

Right at the start, I had to access the Concise Oxford English Dictionary: what is a Grasior or Grasier? “Someone who feeds cattle for market or a large scale sheep or cattle farmer”.  After the preliminaries of the will, Nathaniel begins his bequests. He takes care of his wife Elizabeth for the remainder of her life by a trust  of 240 pounds managed by the two Johns. He gives her “my BED in the parlor with all the bedding thereunto belonging in my chest standing at the said bed foot all my linen except for what is used with my other beds all my pewter which was my wife’s at the time of our marriage.” Nice of him to return it to her.

Monetary bequests

He then goes on to make monetary bequests to his brother John’s children:  “How I give and bequeath unto my nephew JOHN MASON … the sum of 100£ . To my nieces ELIZABETH DALTON and SARAH MASON … to each of them 40£ apiece. To MARY MASON” and so on as the money is doled out. Hard to equate the value of this money in today’s terms, but I would guess that he was a reasonably wealthy gentleman. (In 1720 an ounce of gold in London cost about £4.31  and today it costs £768 and a middling type of family could then live on 40 to 60 pounds a year.) He takes care of John’s younger children: “How I give to my nephew DANIEL MASON … the sum of 10£ to be paid at age 13 in order to put him into an apprenticeship.” Apprenticeships were commonly arranged for the younger children in large families so they would be able to earn a living.

Bequests of possessions

Next he disposes of  his possessions, many of which go to his nieces: “How I give and bequeath to my niece ELIZABETH DALTON my bed in the chamber over the hall with all the bedding thereunto belonging and my best brass pot. How I give unto my niece SARAH MASON my bed standing at the stair head with all the bedding thereunto belonging. How I give to my niece MARY MASON my great table with the joynt stools thereto belonging. And the other chest in my said parlor and also my best cupboard in the said hall.

Information about relatives

The next part of his will is very useful as it names men that his kinswomen married, where they lived and what they did – a big help in family history research. There are bequests to his sister Blockley’s children: “How I give to my nephew JOHN BLOCKLEY … the sum of 100£ and to my niece ELIZABETH … 40£ and to MARY BLOCKLEY … 20£. ” He also gives: “to my kinswomen ELIZABETH AND MARY ROBINSON daughters of LUKE ROBINSON of ANSTEY in the CITY OF COVENTRY GRASIER and to each the sum of 20£ at the ages of 21 years.” So this clues me in to the fact that the  Robinson’s and the Blockley’s are extended family and I know where they are living. Since land is passed only to the eldest son, it is important to determine what happened to the rest of the sons and daughters. These women are likely his cousins/aunts which mean I have more help to trace backwards to the common ancestors: Thomas Jnr (1633) and/or Thomas Snr (1600).

The value of wills for the family historian

So, there you have it: the information that can be gleaned from a Will. The names of the recipients are helpful in constructing a family tree and the bequests tell us about the financial standing of the family; it would appear that this part of my family was doing OK! Two other articles describe how another Mason made his fortune in London.

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