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Jonathan Heskins - vicar of Wherwell

The Life and Times of Rev’d Jonathan Heskins

Part 1 – Early Family History (1621 to 1645)

Searching the Internet is always likely to provide fresh insights into the lives of previous generations of one’s family. This was the case when I came across a reference linking Jonathan Heskins with the parish of Wherwell. It was here, over 300 years ago and rather late in life, at 58 years old, we discover that Jonathan was vicar for less than 15 months.

Jonathan started his life in the Gloucestershire town of Wotton-under-Edge, situated at the south western extremity of the Cotswolds. His father, John Heskins, a maltster, had married Ellen Pincott on January 19th 1614 and their first child, Benjamin, was baptised on February 26th 1615. There is no further mention of Benjamin or the birth of any other child until the baptism of Jonathan, which is recorded as taking place on November 25th 1621. It was in this year that the trouble brewing between James I and Parliament came to a head. James had summoned Parliament for his own ends but these were not met. Parliament asserted its rights as representative of the people; James asserted his right to dissolve Parliament. This was to be the historical backdrop to the start of Jonathan’s life.

The Heskins family of Wotton-under-Edge were of the ‘middling sort’, providing mayors and jurors on various occasions. They were obviously friends of other notable towns-people as witnesses to wills. The occupation of maltster was highly regarded, providing the malt for beer making, indeed John Heskins may also have taken the process further and also been a brewer. So Jonathan was born into a relatively well off family, with young cousins of a similar age, including Nicholas who was later to be mayor. These close family relationships became more important when Jonathan’s mother died in August 1623, when Jonathan was barely two years old.

John Heskins did not remain a widower for any length of time but married Alice Wickwar on June 23rd 1625. This couple provided Jonathan with a number of step-siblings: Hannah, baptised January 26th 1628, Samuel, baptised May 1st 1630, John, baptised April 2nd 1632 and Nathaniel, baptised January 31st 1635. Meanwhile Jonathan had been educated to such a level that he entered Oxford University, as recorded in Alumni Oxonensis: Jonathan Heskins, son of John of Wotton-under-Edge, Glos, Pleb, Lincoln Coll, Matric. 25th Jan 1638/9 aged 17.   This would suggest that he entered Oxford at an earlier age, as was usual at that time.

James I had been succeeded by his son, Charles in 1625. The 1630s were relatively peaceful, Charles reigning without recourse to parliament but in 1639 Parliament was recalled to deal with the Scottish question. Matters came to a head in 1642 when Charles raised his standard at Nottingham, in August, calling men to his side against Parliament.  Before this point Jonathan had disappeared from view. There was certainly fighting in the Wotton-under-edge area, Gloucester was besieged as was Bristol.

John Heskins lived throughout the vagaries of the Civil War, dying near its close, being buried in Wotton-under-Edge on 14th January 1645. In his will John bequeathed ‘ unto my sonne Jonathan Heskins the sum of five pounds of current English money to be paid him within one year next after my death’.

This is in stark contrast to John’s bequests to his other children. Hannah received ten pounds, Nathaniel seems to have inherited the business, ‘the tableboard and frame in the Hall, the table board and frame in the parlour and the bedstead in the best chamber’ plus half of a piece of woodland. Mention of the three rooms suggests that the family lived in a substantial house. Samuel received five pounds and the other half of the wood. As there is no mention of Benjamin or John junior it is assumed that they have died – or have been disinherited. John’s wife, Alice was to act as the executrix of the will and was to inherit everything not mentioned previously. The inventory was valued at £600, a sizeable sum.

Part 2 – Later Years (1662 to 1680)

After the death of Jonathan’s father, there is a gap 17 years before we find another reference to Jonathan, in 1662 at Frampton-on-Severn, Gloucestershire: February 26th 1662/3 Edward Haines [gent] and Mrs Rosamund Clifford, both of this parish were married at Frampton church by Jonathan Heskins[clerk], in the presence of many neighbours and kindred by banns etc.

The Cliffords were an ancient Gloucestershire land owning family, apparently including the ‘Fair Rosamunde’, unfortunate mistress of Henry II in the twelfth century. The account in the Victoria History of Gloucestershire states; John Clifford (d. 1684) may have fostered the Rosamund story locally: he named one of his daughters Rosamund, he had his pedigree copied with the original Rosamund included. So there may be some truth in the rumour of the connection or was John Clifford a precursor of those who take part in ‘Who do you Think You Are?’, where family rumours are held up to scrutiny.

Jonathan was married at some point because on September 8th 1664 it is recorded that ‘Jonathan, son of Mr Jonathan Heskins, vicar, was baptised’. It would appear that his wife’s maiden name was Webb and that she may have lived in the Basingstoke area.

During the time that Jonathan served at Frampton-on-Severn the name of John Barnsdale, vicar of Cam, also appears. There may have been a link between the two parishes because there was a decline in the population of Frampton in the mid–seventeenth century, according to the Victoria County History. This could mean that the parish was unable to support a vicar.

The Alumni Oxonensis for Jonathan Heskins continues, ‘one of these names – Vicar of Marlborough St Mary, Wilts 1668.’ At some point in his ministry Jonathan behaved unlawfully; ‘So after Jonathan Heskins of Marlborough St Peters had been suspended for performing marriages without banns or licences, the bishop refused to restore the minister despite the attempts at persuasion by borough magistrates.’Eventually he was restored, ‘after the minister had acknowledged his fault and the magistrates had promised to use their best endeavour to execute the ecclesiastical laws…’

Marlborough was a town with two parishes, St Mary the Virgin and St Peter’s. Jonathan’s name is linked to both. An Exchequer document dated 1674-5 relates to an incident between Jonathan Heskins, clerk, and Richard Heller and his wife, Katherine. The dispute concerned a passage way. It was claimed that the Hellers had encroached upon the passageway by moving a boundary between cottages and the tower of St Mary’s church. Marlborough had been devastated by fire in 1653. The boundary was moved by two feet at that time.

Jonathan resigned from Marlborough in September 1677. It is assumed that he stayed in this locality until he was appointed vicar at Wherwell on 25th September 1679. Sadly, this appointment lasted less than 15 months, until he died on 7th December 1680.

Part 3 – Samuel Heskins (and other family members)

Samuel Heskins followed his step-brother Jonathan to Oxford; pleb, Merton Coll., matric. 12th February 1647/8 aged 17, BA from Brasenose Coll. 1st June 1649. Amongst those who went up at the same time as Samuel was the historian Anthony Wood.  Samuel was at Oxford during the time of the imprisonment of Charles I, his execution and government by Parliament alone under the Lord Protector. Far more is known about Samuel’s career than about Jonathan’s, particularly the latter part. He was instituted as rector of Choldrington, Wiltshire, on 4th December 1651. The village is now known as Cholderton.

Rev Samuel Heskins ‘succeeded Nathan Noyes in the rectory of Choldrington. And he, finding the parsonage house, and barn stables out of repair and almost falling to the ground through the neglect of the former incumbent, who in the Civil War was some years absent from Choldrington and never after lived there but at Sarum because the parsonage house at Choldrington was not habitable. He, the said Mr Heskins, at his own cost and charge began to repair and build up the dwelling house, barns, stables and outhouses.’ The account of the repairs runs from 1652 until 1703 at which date much of the original work was damaged by a tempestuous wind on November 26th and 27th 1703.

When Jonathan moved from Marlborough to Wherwell, he was moving closer to his step-brother, Samuel, and to Samuel’s son, also Samuel, who was rector of Hurstbourne Tarrant and rector of South Tidworth. Thus, both father and son had parishes in the neighbourhood of Andover.

It has not been possible to trace any of Jonathan’s children with any certainty. In 1735 a person named Jonathan Heskins was drowned in the River Severn on August 22nd. He and two others were buried in the churchyard of Elmore, up-river from Frampton-on-Severn. No Jonathan Heskins was born in Elmore, so could this have been the son who was baptised at Frampton in 1664, now aged 71 years?

Another Jonathan Heskins was buried on 8th May 1700 at St Leonards Shoreditch. The boys born to Samuel Heskins of Choldrington all moved from the village, to London as merchants or to Cumberland as an excise officer. The records of Marlborough, St Mary, include the marriage of Edward Heskins on December 6th 1692; could this be a son of Jonathan?

Jonathan Heskins lived throughout the times of the Stuart kings. He was born during the reign of James I and died in the reign of Charles II. He had received an excellent education and had entered a profession. He had lived through one time of conflict in his early twenties and was entering another at the close of his life when the Duke of Monmouth was starting to make his claims to the throne. As there is no record of Jonathan as a Church of England minister during the time of the Commonwealth it could be that his churchmanship was not acceptable, or he may have been abroad.

Tracing family history is akin to detective work, with some mysteries being solved, but with many questions remaining. Names and dates are all very well but delving into the available records gives evidence of the people of the past who are a part of wider families. It is my understanding that I am descended from Samuel Heskins, vicar of Choldrington through his son, Thomas, who became a London merchant. So I share my ancestry with Jonathan, tracing it back to Wotton-under-Edge in the early seventeenth century.

© 2011 Janet Heskins

Janet Heskins has been interested in family history since a teenager but did not start research in earnest until about twenty years ago when, together with two second cousins, all people in telephone books with the surname HESKINS were contacted. Holidays in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire involved visits to the archives to find out information on HESKINSes of the past. This could only take place in summer holidays as Janet was teaching Physics and Chemistry and running the Careers Department  at Rosebery School, Epsom.  

Janet now teaches at the London International Study Centre, a short walk from her home in Surbiton. She is a member of the Guild of One-Name Studies, taking responsibility for researching the lives of people bearing the name HESKINS at all times and in all countries. Collecting information is relatively easy but writing up the research is vital. An Oxford on-line course in Local History, leading to a diploma, gave impetus to study for an MA in Historical Research at Roehampton University, completed in 2009. Her research continues, largely via the Internet, but writing has become a priority.

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