House move unearths ancient will from the 1800s

The last will and testament of James Elliott, formerly of Cowper Road in Boxmoor
The last will and testament of James Elliott, formerly of Cowper Road in Boxmoor

A family who were packing boxes ahead of their house move discovered a man’s will which dates back to the 1800s – and now they’re trying to track down his family.

Tony Grange, 57, and wife Sandra are moving in with Sandra’s mother, and Mr Grange said it was when the trio were packing boxes in the bedroom that they came across the document.

Tony Grange with the will of James Elliott, who died in Woodhall Farm in October 1888

Tony Grange with the will of James Elliott, who died in Woodhall Farm in October 1888

The 2ft by 2ft piece of parchment details the will and testament of a James Elliott, who lived in Cowper Road, Boxmoor, but died in Woodhall Farm in Hemel Hempstead on October 11, 1888.

The ancient document was found in the possessions of Mr Grange’s late stepfather-in-law Peter MacDonald, who helped run a nursing home in Woodhall Farm with his first wife Rosemary.

Mr Grange, of Eight Acres, Tring, said: “We were just sorting through some things ahead of the move and my mother-in-law found it folded up in an envelope in a bedside cabinet. We would really like to get it back to Mr Elliott’s family, because it’s no use to us but we did not want to just throw it in the bin.”

Mr Grange believes the late Mr Elliott could have been a resident in the nursing home in Woodhall Farm.

According to the document, the value of the late Mr Elliott’s estate was £2,916, seven shillings and seven pence, which would equate to around £265,000 today.

He appeared to be asset rich, owning two houses, three cottages and shares in the railway.

He left £1,800 to his five children and ensured there was enough cash left over to enable his wife Mary Ann to pay for his funeral expenses.

Volunteer researchers from the Dacorum Heritage Trust have since discovered that Mr Elliott was born in 1824 in Aldbury, the son of a William and Mary Elliott.

He then married a Mary Ann Spicer in Middlesex on December 22, 1848.

According to the census returns, James and Mary Ann lived in Bury Mill End from 1851 to, before the 1881 census confirms they were living at Wood Hall Farm on the Redbourn Road.

It could be that this is where Mr Elliott died on October 11 1888, as on the will the place of death is listed as being in Woodhall Farm, which could also be Wood Hall Farm.

After her husband’s death, Mary Ann lived with her son Frank who farmed Tunnells Farm at Great Gaddesden.

James and Mary Ann’s son William Spicer Elliott (b.1850) married Sabina Headhech in 1878.

He died in 1913 having followed his father into the malting and brewing trade while living at Bury Mill End running the Star Brewery.

William and Sabina’s daughter, also named Sabina, married Hamilton Payne Lavers (from the timber yard business) and resided at Corner Hall Wharf for some years.

Nina Glencross, from the Dacorum Heritage Trust, said: “We believe the two most likely ways Mr Macdonald came to be in possession of Mr Elliott’s will would be either through a family connection of the Elliott’s and the McDonald’s – though more information and research is needed to confirm this – or through a property transfer. “Sometimes the wills of individuals who own land or property are attached to the property deeds.

“We were unable to find documented proof that there had ever been a care home at Woodhall Farm.

“We wondered if this could have been a small scale convalescence home possibly set up during the First World War to look after wounded soldiers.”

> Do you think Mr Elliott is your ancestor? Call the news desk on 01296 619762.